Day #11,055: When the morning starts out like this, you know it shall be a Most Glorious Day.
Mr. M (sick with a sore throat and head cold, poor thing) & I awoke to the sound of waves rippling on the rocks below our balcony and parrots chattering in the palm trees above.
Sarie, mother of Riann, who had cooked us an amazing dinner the day before, was the original founder of Vila Pedra Mar along with her husband Jo, and it was she who met us upstairs with a feast of a breakfast overlooking the harbor.
While she cooked us her world-famous scrambled eggs (she raved that they were the highlight of one woman’s review on Tripadvisor), Mr. M & I peppered her with questions about how she managed to find this corner of paradise so far from her native South Africa. When she laughed and said she could’ve written a book with all her stories, I knew we were in for a treat.
While Sarie & Jo were on Ilha Grande visiting her cousin Christian (who, she said, had his own stories to tell), they were walking the trail in back of what’s now Vila Pedra, saw the empty land, and asked if it was for sale. She’d been on the island less than 24 hours. Three days later, she had made up her mind that she was moving to Brazil, would be buying the lot, and would build a pousada (B&B) there from the foundation up. Her husband Jo could follow if he liked.
I was starting to fall in love with this woman already.
Jo apparently agreed because he undertook the insane task of purchasing said land, the story of which made us grateful that we’d had only minor cash problems the day before. Because they were unable to wire money to a Brazilian account, Jo had to fly to Brazil with tens of thousands of South African Rands strapped to his body- and a large coat to conceal all of this $$- and then visit countless exchange houses in Rio to change all his cash for Brazilian reals to purchase the land. Dare I say, it takes some cojones to meander through Rio like a walking, pin-less ATM.
But it wasn’t that easy, Sarie told us… as if I had imagined all that to be an “easy proposition.” All building materials- cement, furniture, everything!- had to be brought by small boat from Angra (which takes 2 hours each way). There are no roads in the beach village of Praia Vermelha, so everything had to be carried up the jungle hill.
Partway into the building process, all of Ilha Grande was placed on a construction embargo. It took two years, and many, MANY 8+hr roundtrips into Rio to fill out even more paperwork to get the appropriate licenses to continue building. In the meantime, government officials came to the island and took a jackhammer to the foundation they had already laid.
Sarie & Jo eventually bought a small boat to bring their own building supplies back to Praia Vermelha and named it Truck. Sarie laughed and told us about the time Truck (carrying a full load of cement) nearly capsized when caught in a sudden storm off the coast. When they finally anchored Truck in the harbor, swam to shore (there was no jetty at the time) and made it to solid ground, she and Jo just looked at each other and laughed.
“Imagine what other people our age were doing while we were nearly drowned off the coast of Brazil!”
And just like that, I desperately wanted to be Sarie when I grew up.
She told us other stories, too… I couldn’t get enough. About how she was a ballerina when she was young and toured with the Royal Academy. At some point she lead a successful career as a chiropractor. As part of another story, it came out that she had a position traveling around the world for the Mercedes-Benz corporation (doing what, I have no idea, although I imagine it was Career #3, not chiropractor-ing).
Two hours after sitting down for breakfast, I made her pose for a picture- which she found quite funny- and determined she was to be my new, secret mentor. (Secret because it’s embarrassing telling someone you just met that you now have a schoolgirl crush on her.)
Newly inspired to grab any bull by its horns, Mr. M & I determined to get off our lazy rumps and head off for a day hike on a nearby island trail. Within minutes, we found a deserted tropical beach that looked like it should be on the cover of some Travel + Leisure magazine, and sat there for an hour or so without a single other person stopping by.
We hiked through the jungle for 45 minutes more, past another rainbow-colored island beach to the small town of Praia Grande, which looked to be the Cinque Terre of Brazil.
A sandy, very well-groomed path (which we saw being raked and tended by seriously, like 10 men… moving together in a determined group, with two actually raking and the rest seemingly providing moral support…) links beachside houses and pousadas and cafes.
We passed neighborhood dogs lazing about in the shade, a whole group of schoolkids clamoring outside school walls on a break, an old man watering his garden… it all felt so Real. We didn’t see one single other tourist the entire time we were on the island.
Halfway through our hike, we decided to stop in at a little oceanfront restaurant for a snack.
After we ordered, the owner struck up a conversation (in Portuguese), and amazingly… it took! I spoke Spanish- peppered with the few random Portuguese phrases I’d learned in the past week, and somehow we managed to communicate. He told us about an emerald green lagoon on the other side of the beach and how the hills we were facing looked like a caiman alligator in profile. He pointed out a sea turtle swimming right below us, and then told me to ‘prepare my machine’ (?), came back, and tossed a chunk of bread into the sea. HUNDREDS of silvery fish swarmed. It was beautiful. And my camera wasn’t ready. “I told you to prepare your machine!” He laughed in Portuguese.
Touche, my friend, touche.
After hiking back to our oasis at Vila Pedra Mar, Mr. M & I decided to go for a swim. We grabbed two of the snorkel masks and some floating noodles thoughtfully left out by the jetty and jumped in for some fishy sightseeing. Just under the jetty we found a lion fish, a whole bunch of zebrafish, and a big school of silvery unidentifiable ones.
I generally only factor a day or so of relaxation into our international trips… and those are merely to keep Mr. M from becoming mutinous at the hands of my get-your-butt-in-gear, see-it-all-do-it-all, down-to-the-minute itineraries. I can’t rid myself of that gnawing need to see it all, to do it all, to become Sarie when I grow up and have a life laden down with swashbuckling adventure.
But we soaked so much in during our spectacularly relaxing Ilha Grande days. Maybe there is something to be learned from taking it slow and just letting the place and its people unfold before you.
To read about the next day’s adventure high over Rio de Janeiro, click here!
Details of the Day:
Accommodation: If you take nothing else from my post, make it this: you must go to Ilha Grande, stay in the honeymoon suite at Vila Pedra Mar, and have Sarie tell you stories. In an effort to stretch our travel $$, I originally booked a standard room. Then we found pictures of the honeymoon suite, and Mr. M convinced me not to be a cash-hoarding tightwad. The room, including kayaks, snorkel equipment, massive breakfasts & dinners- no other meals were realistically needed, we’re just fatties- came out to about $300. Expensive, but not so much when you think of it as the all-inclusive it is. We decided to make this our splurge. You should, too.
Mr. M & I have a list of what we call our ‘5 Star Places.’ (After putting this in writing, I realize it has the unfortunate distinction of sounding both elitist and unoriginal. We need to come up with a new moniker… does ‘Illest Cribs’ sound any better?) Snooty and trite though I may be, the sentiment remains that they are our Absolute Most Favorite Places We’ve Ever Stayed. The Illest Cribs currently number five, and Vila Pedra Mar is among them. (In case you’re curious, the other three out of four that I’ve mentioned thus far in the blogosphere are Hotel Coeur des Alpes in Zermatt, Switzerland, The Andaman in Langkawi, Malaysia, and Hotel Kajane in Ubud, Bali.)
**Writing this post made me curious, fellow wanderlusters… what do you consider the best way to experience the world? Do you live by down-to-the-minute itineraries designed to maximize time, or do you relax and float where the travel winds may blow?**