Ihlabela wasn’t originally on my travel itinerary. I had been staying up the coast in Paraty just south of Rio and the circus had come to town. That, or some kind of festival that employed trained live animals. Antonio, the proprietor of the pousada where I was staying informed me that as much as he liked me whiling away my hours around his pool, he was booked for the festival and I would have to leave. He recommended Ilhabela down the the coast, saying I would have no problem finding a place there this time of year (July). “Just take the local bus and walk around the [350 km2] island until you find something,” he suggested. Not confident that such an approach would end well I chose instead to go online, throw some darts at Google, and see what came up. Surprisingly a pousada that said they provided no English language services responded in English that they had a room (quite a few actually) and could provide a single rate.
Ilhabela is basically a playground for Sao Paulo’s rich and famous, at least on weekends and during the Brazilian summer and Carnival. On a dreary July weekday during the depths of the Brazilian winter the area looks and feels a bit like the Irish coast, just with bigger palm trees. To cross from the mainland you basically walk on to a beat up open air car ferry and ride it out, rain or shine.
When I arrived on the island my first concerns was getting online. Work had followed me to the southern reaches of Brazil and I had to finish a write ups on the habits of restricted range canopy avians, among other things. I found neither Internet nor any useful information around the car ferry port but did run across the island police chief who saw me wandering up aimlessly from the ferry and checked in on me. I played dumb, gave the chief the address of the place I was staying, and minutes later was sitting in the back seat of his cruiser on my way to the Vento Sul, my Pousada for the next four nights.
Two young men, Flavio and Umberto met me at the Vento Sul. Flavio appeared to be a youngest member of the family that ran the pousada and had been given the unenviable task of keeping an eye on the place in the off season. This meant, as far as I could tell, sitting around at the reception area and interacting with Brazilian girls on Adult Friend Finder. More on that later. Umberto was the help, a fine bartender, and based on his social network and understated charms, probably the future mayor of Ilha Bela. Again, more on that later.
Flavio spoke not bad English and seemed anxious to make sure I had a good time on Ilhabela. This wasn’t as easy as it sounded with many restaurants closed for the winter and temperatures running around 20 degrees with a lot of cloud cover. I was not all that demanding. I needed a place to plug in my laptop and Internet access to conduct some business. Power I got from the Vento Sul pool bar. Internet access came courtesy of the reception area computer, which Flavio provided after my computer couldn’t connect with Vento Sul’s wireless network. The only drawback with this arrangement was continuously having to contend with correspondence from Flavio’s myriad new Adult Friends, their faces popping up on the screen like hand puppets.
Lonely Planet touts the wildness of Ilhabela, something that young Flavio didn’t appear that interested in. Too much “sacrifice” is how he described trying to reach the island’s mountain trails and isolated beaches. Instead he drove me around to island bars, restaurants, and central beaches, where he assured me the most beautiful women in Brazil arrive every summer. His preference appeared to be blonds and he firmly believed the most striking Brazilian women came from the south, which was settled in part by Germans. Interestingly, on my last night on the island I shared a couple drinks with him and his girlfriend, a beautiful, dark-haired woman, who along with his mother had come down from Sao Paulo for the weekend.
Drinks were definitely not in short supply during my stay at the Vento Sul. With the laptop humming Umberto churned out the Caipirinhas like we were counting down to Armageddon. Caipirinha is a combination sugarcane alcohol, sugar, and lime and serves as a national drink of sorts. Despite that one temptation, distractions were minimal at the Vento Sul and I was able to finish up whatever work I had to do and get in some pool time, often simultaneously. When was all done and my stay winding down, Umberto took both Flavio and I out for drinks, where, due to his connections with the local association of bar owners we met plenty of Umberto’s friends, had some fine draft (chopp in Brazil), and never paid a centavo. No better way to sell a destination than some good old fashioned hospitality.