Praise Be to Boipeba

I don’t care what anyone says.  I defy you not to feel cool arriving somewhere by speedboat.  Sure, your face may be wind-whipped and salt-encrusted.  And, sure, you might have spent most of the hour-long journey from Valenca clenching your jaw due to the many last-second, high-speed turns to avoid the sandbanks.  But cool.  Definitely cool.

Ilha da Boipeba.  A little Bahian island paradise, a few hours south of Salvador.  Described in the guidebooks as “like Morro de Sao Paulo was 20 years ago”.  That appealed to me, because I’m basically like I was 20 years ago.  Immature.  Broke.  Trying to avoid doing any work…

My final beach break.  Last chance to soak up some sun and relax before the long flight home.  Fairly achievable goals, I thought.

And yet…

divino spirito santo

As a (very) lapsed Catholic, my knowledge of holy days is a little sketchy.  So, I didn’t know that they would be celebrating Pentecost, the feast of the holy spirit, during my stay.  I arrived on Friday afternoon to find the town square festooned with multi-coloured streamers, fluttering prettily in the breeze.  On closer inspection I realised they were made of strips of plastic, but the effect was very beautiful.  (As an aside, Brazilians love plastic bags.  Nothing makes them happier in shops than to put only one item in a plastic bag, or preferably, in a bag inside a bag.  Largesse with plastic bags is a point of national pride, I think).


When I went in search of food that evening, I was accosted by a guy with dreadlocks, who insisted on being my companion for the evening.  Our first stop was the church, where they were just getting to the good part of the service.  I stood aside to let the young actors playing the fishermen pass, with their traditional hats, oars and nets.  They rowed and cast their way up the aisle in a way that was wholly in keeping with the island’s traditional fishing past.

Then came the word of the Lord, played by a young actor in priest’s robes, flanked by two other boys who were playing the part of the church, carrying an arch draped in cloth.  The fishermen fell to their knees and cast off their nets, before following the pretend church out of the doors of the actual church, followed by the actual priest and the congregation, who were singing beautiful, moving, but uplifting hymns to a slight samba beat.

I retired, with my companion, “Jackson”, to a nearby restaurant.  Jackson told me he’d been married to a French woman, but that she’d ultimately been too possessive and wouldn’t let him express himself through his passion, capoeira.  He then pointed out a Dutch girl that he’d been in a relationship with and spoke of an Argentinian he’d been involved with a couple of months back.  I was beginning to form a picture of the ecosystem of this island and feel a little bit like conspicuous foreign fish, small pond…

He turned out to be a nice guy, if a little intense.  I’m not sure that my laughter was the correct response to his pronouncement, eyes flickering and hands constantly tugging at his dreads, that he was living a simple, holistic life now.  No more drugs.  No alcohol.  No cigarettes.  Only marijuana…

He explained that I’d picked a great time to visit.  The feast of the holy spirit was a bank holiday, so the whole island would be celebrating, with music in the town square.  I’d already noticed that they pumped music through a PA system attached to electricity poles (like a cool version of the musak rocks that you get in crap theme parks), so I was looking forward to getting a little more musica brasileira in my life.

holy moly

I spent Saturday on the beach, snoozing and watching a hippy dad play a very authentic game of ‘sea monster’ with his young kids.  They seemed to be laughing, but they may have delayed PTSD.

My pousada was only 50m from the main square, so I heard the first band start early evening.  It was a bit louder than I expected, but it was exciting, having this just next door.  I decided to give it till 8, get some food and see what it was all about.  I stepped outside and, naturally, bumped into Jackson.  He took me to a tapioca stand run by friends of his and sat with me whilst I ate (chicken and fried banana – my new staple).  His sister and her kids came passed and he introduced me to them.  I didn’t know the Portuguese for, “I’m just being polite, I’m really not in the slightest bit interested in your brother/uncle”, so I just smiled and said hello.

Jackson was going to a house party and invited me along.  As much as I would typically love to go somewhere with a load of people I don’t know and can’t understand, on this occasion I declined.  I said I was staying for the music.  Which he told me didn’t get going again till 10pm.  So I slunk back to my room and waited.  At 10.01, I ventured out again.  I stood in the field to the right of the stage and tried to look inconspicuous.  I slurped the heck out a caipirinha (gotta keep busy) and watched the townsfolk having fun.

Ultimately, though, there’s only so much fixed-smile swaying you can do.  I was in bed by 11pm.

I think the music stopped sometime around 4.30am…


on the seventh day

Right, so basically “religious festival” in Brazil is synonymous with “all night rave”.  Now, I’m not sure if this is a Vatican-endorsed initiative (South American pope, after all).  But if my formative experience of Catholicism had been like this, I think it’s safe to say I would still be a believer.

The Sabbath.  A day of much needed rest after a sleepless night.  The double-couple retirees staying in my pousada had invited me on a jaunt to Morro de Sao Paulo, a couple of islands away.  But instead it rained all day and all night.  Fat, heavy, curtains of rain.  Non-stop.  Typical bloody bank holiday weekend weather.

typical bank holiday weather

raindrops keep falling…

So I was stuck in my room for the best part of 36 hours.  I braved the deluge only when I got so hungry that I was close to passing out (at least I was horizontal, should that have happened).  And I discovered two things: (1) the music, which was loud outside, was amplified about tenfold inside my room, as the bass reverberated around the walls, and the stage PA competed with the local bars’ soundsystems; and (2) the same four songs were being played over and over again.  And one of them was Gangnam Style.

I couldn’t understand it.  It was clearly different bands, playing different styles of music.  Some samba, some bossanova, some a bit more pop.  This great tradition of Bahian music. But they played the same four songs.  Even sometimes within the same set.  It became a form of torture and I found myself developing Pavlovian responses to certain tunes, particularly the “jiggy jiggy boom” song.

Now, God moves in mysterious ways, but I don’t think even He could be bothered to have come up with such an elaborate plan to show me the error of my ways and get me to repent.  Also, I suspect He was pretty preoccupied with the mortal souls of the grinding girls who were putting the ‘carnal’ into carnaval up on stage.

I was very grateful when rain finally stopped play at 1.30 in the morning and I could fall asleep.  Well, except that I couldn’t quite fall asleep.  Because, for a reason known only to themselves, the owners of my pousada had clad my windows with aluminium foil, inside and out.  And every time the wind blew (which was all night), the tin foil rustled loudly…

older, no wiser

Monday, I was determined to hit the beach, whatever the weather.  Praia de Morere was voted 4th most beautiful beach in Brazil by an influential guide, so that was my destination.  All I knew about getting there was that you have to cross a river, so you need to check the tides.  Check.  There aren’t much in the way of maps of Boipeba.  A few curvy lines on a bit of paper and that’s it.  So I just picked a path and followed it.  10 mins down a deserted track and I hit some monster puddles.  I’m just about to turn back when an old man appears coming from the opposite direction.

I ask him if I’m going the right way and whether it’s navigable.  He smiles a three-toothed grin and says that he’ll personally accompany me to the beach, so that I don’t get stuck.  We talk and walk.  He is very complimentary about my (broken) Portuguese and about English people in general (bad judge of character).  After a further 10 mins, we hit the beautiful Praia de Cueira, all sweeping sand and palm trees.

My friend says he’s enjoying my company so much that he’ll walk me to the next beach.  He’s very pleased that our paths crossed today.  He says this whilst putting his skinny arm around my back to pat my shoulder.

We reached the river crossing, but I decided it was too deep for me to cross easily with my bag.  I said I was going to stay on the beach till the tide went out a little.  My friend said he had to go back into town, where he was heading before he met me.  I smiled and started to thank him for his help.  He took me by the shoulders in a surprisingly strong grip and I turned my cheek towards him.  And before I know what’s what, he’s kissing me full on the mouth and planting gummy smackers all over my face.

I managed to pull away, still muttering “thank you, thank you” as I beat a hasty retreat.  I took my chances with the river crossing, holding my bag high above my head with water up to my chin, and just about avoiding being swept out to sea with the current that was stronger than I expected.

I recounted the story to The Mack that evening.  When he finally stopped laughing, all he said was, “I think it’s time for you to come home now”.  He’s got a point.

Morere - worth being molested by an old man

Morere – worth being molested by an old man

Costa do Cacau: Ilheus and Itacare

I spent a night in Ilheus mainly because I couldn’t face another hour on the bus. But I told myself it was a culture stop to break up the beachfest.  This time, you’ll be pleased to hear, not only did I arrive after 8pm in the dark, but I hadn’t been certain of getting a seat on the bus from Porto Seguro, so I hadn’t booked anywhere to stay.

Things did not look promising in the bus terminal.  D.E.A.D.  I did a quick tour and found a cranky man behind a counter in the little café and, mercifully, he had some computers.  I don’t think my overwrought gratitude did anything to lift his mood, but I at least managed to find somewhere to sleep.  Of course, it was way across the other side of town and cost more in a cab than my 6 hour bus ride, but given that the alternative was playing hobo in the bus station, I wasn’t about to complain.

Naturally, I hadn’t researched much about Ilheus, other than that it was the capital of the cocoa trade, historically.  But I was game for seeing its sights.  The girl on reception laughed uproariously at my suggestion of walking to the town centre, but I made it part way via Praia dos milionares (millionaires’ beach).  Another day, another empty beach…  My only compadres were a pretty dead crab (as in: all dead, but nice to look at) and some shells that just called out for me to turn them into a crap miniature owl sand drawing.

Ilheus is a proper, bustling little city, but I’d tentatively suggest that it only really warrants a couple of hours’ exploring.  The historic town centre is really small and the important buildings (cathedral, presidential palace, theatre etc.) are within 2 minutes’ walk of one another.


To up my culture credentials, I visited the home of the famous Brazilian writer, Jorge Amado, which is now a museum.  It’s a really lovely old colonial townhouse, with wonderful interiors (jacaranda inlaid floors and windows and Portuguese leaded lights).  There were two very friendly and enthusiastic girls giving the guided tours, taking visitors around each room and explaining the significance of them to the writer.  A crying shame then that I barely understood a word they were saying.  And it didn’t help that I’d never even heard of Jorge Amado or read any of his books.  Yep.  Philistine.


Still, I thought I’d made a pretty good show of it, all told.  Nodding sagely and hmmm-ing in all the right places.  Didn’t embarrass myself too much, I thought.

And then I blundered into a downstairs room where a TV crew was filming.  ::Cut::

Bad enough.  And then worse.  Because the TV presenter, a girl so highly polished that it hurt my eyes to look directly at her, pointed her microphone at me and started asking me questions.  Where was I from?  Was I a big fan of Amado’s work?  What did I think of the house?

Well folks, I’d love to tell you that, under pressure, I suddenly discovered a fluency in Portuguese that had previously eluded me…

Ha!  As if.  Nope.  Instead, I stuttered, flushed and mumbled something about it being very interesting.  The presenter nodded encouragingly.  So I repeated that 3 more times.  And when I realised that the cameraman was following me round the room, I found myself adopting studious “how very interesting” poses as I looked at the various objects.

And that’s a wrap.


Itacaré surprised me.  It’s a real little beachy/surfer town and even in off season it has a bit of life to it.  And it’s more touristy than I was expecting.  It has a strip of restaurants and bars (and, randomly, falafel to rival North London’s finest) and shops selling handicrafts and beachwear.  It’s not tacky, just seems more geared up for gringos than other places I’ve visited.  If you’re young and travelling around Brazil, then Itacaré should definitely be on your itinerary – it feels fun and sociable.

It’s got several beaches, all walkable from the town.  To get from one to the next, you just hop over the rocks.  Often, there’s no-one around, so you can have a little bay all to yourself.  My first day there, that’s what I did.  I hopped from Resende to Tiririca to Costa beach.  Costa was empty, so I made myself at home.  Just me, the sea and a rather excellent summer playlist (classic Prince, a bit of Roachford and Maxi Priest).

After a while, I went for a little paddle.  Out of nowhere, a lifeguard appeared.  He explained that the current in Costa was crazy strong, so I shouldn’t swim there.  I promised to stay in the shallows.  He told me his name was Jesús.  Very apt for a lifeguard, I thought.  We chatted a bit.  He spoke reasonable English and I’d already displayed my Portuguese prowess with my knowledge of “sea” and “dangerous”, so conversation was easy.

He told me about a beach a couple along, Sirioco, which was amazing and great for swimming.  He offered to show me if I wanted, since there was no-one on Costa that needed guarding.

As we hiked up a little forest trail behind Recife beach, climbing over a 7ft high locked gate onto a swing bridge high in the trees, I inwardly praised myself for my spirit of adventure.  This is the reason for travelling, I told myself: to be spontaneous and open-minded and meet friendly people.  I felt pumped.


Although I was pretty knackered by the time we descended to the beach, I had to admit:  Sirioco was spectacular.  A little cove with a tangled wild forest backdrop.  It was pretty special, alright.

It was also totally deserted, but for the two of us…

I wasn’t worried.  I was an adventurer.  And besides, I’d been brought here by a lifeguard called Jesus.  When he said that he’d keep an eye on me whilst I swam, I was delighted he took his job so seriously.  My own private beach and my own private lifeguard.  I could get used to this.

He was right.  It was a great place to swim.  Big waves but no drag.  If I went out too far, Jesus whistled me closer to shore.  A real pro.

I came back in to dry off.  Laid out my sarong on the sand, shut my eyes and zoned out.  And it was wonderful.

Until I suddenly felt Jesus’ hands massaging my shoulders…

It was one of those moments where it dawned on me that I might have massively misread the situation.

This is a common enough occurrence for me.  But not normally in such extreme circumstances.

As Jesus was working away at the knots in my shoulders and telling me that he’d spent 18 months in Sao Paulo learning various massage techniques.  I was calculating my chances of survival if I ran for it and wondering if he was even a real lifeguard.  I mean, he was definitely wearing a red and yellow vest.  But I realised I hadn’t noticed what it said on it.  Oh no. Maybe this was some incredibly elaborate ruse to prey on naïve, 35 year old tourists.

Fortunately, Jesus was behind me, so he couldn’t tell that I was frantically scanning for objects to use as weapons.  He must have sensed something though.  “You’re very tense”, he said.  No kidding, strange man who’s touching me.  I took that as my cue.  “Erm, thanks very much, Jesus.  You’re really good at massage, but I’m just not feeling very comfortable”.

Basic positive rejection psychology.  Praise followed by a reasonable, non-specific let down.

Jesus stopped massaging me and didn’t look at all put out.  So then I wondered if I’d got it wrong?  Maybe massage is just like shaking hands in Brazil?  Oh, why was adventuring so hard…?  I decided that I’d over-reacted and that it was just a friendly gesture.

We walked back via a different route.  We reached a waterfall and Jesus said “let’s go for a shower” and started stripping off.  Friendly?  Maybe.  But I think my Great British reserve just kicked in…

on the set of El Shining… Uruguay and out

It says a lot about us that The Mack and I decided to ditch a trip to Iguazu Falls and the nature reserves on the Argentine/Brazilian border in favour of a few nights unbridled hedonism in the Uruguayan Ibiza, Punta del Este.

It says even more about us that we turned up in Punta del Este to find that we’d well and truly missed the party.

The plan seemed foolproof and awesome.  By boat from Argentina to Uruguay then up the beautiful coast to Brazil.  For The Mack, it meant 3 countries in 3 weeks.  For me, a nice little sojourn before the Brazilian main event.

Buenos Aires to Colonia


catholic upbringing

A hop over on the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia for a spot of lunch.  Pretty little colonial town (clue’s in the name). Coloured houses round a cobbled square, old jalopies with foliage dotted about the place, that kind of thing.  Just the right side of Disney in the sunshine.

Except that by the time we’d got off the ferry, found the tourist office, then found the bus terminal, booked our onward bus and dumped our luggage, we only had 2 hours to eat it and beat it.  Still, what we saw looked cute enough.  Even if all of the people in the town looked to be from the same family.  Very distinctive features, Uruguayans.  I think it’s the straight noses.

Colonia to Montevideo

We’d been told that the bus journey from Colonia to Montevideo was around 2.5 – 3 hours.  What they hadn’t told us was how unbelievably comfy the bus seats were.  Like they’d been woven from our most beautiful dreams, to gently cradle and cosset us.  Not only that, but the buses have wi-fi.  And they run on time.  And the staff is incredibly helpful and courteous.  The word that sprang to mind was “agreeable”. Uruguayans are just very agreeable people.  We think we figured out why, but more on that later.

What we hadn’t factored on was the bus stopping everywhere on route to pick up passengers.  Mainly in lay-by’s where there didn’t seem to be a single building within 5 miles.  And you’d be able to spot it.  Uruguay is very flat (probably).  And very rural.  All the shops we passed en route were selling tractors or farm implements.

We had seats assigned to us on our ticket.  But there was someone in mine when we got on the bus and there were plenty of other seats, so we did that very British thing of just taking the seats in front rather than trying to make a fuss in a foreign language.  Which was fine.  Right up until a young couple got on at about the 24th lay-by and told us we were in their seats.  So we got up, ready to recover our rightful seats.  Only to see that they were now occupied by a fast asleep guy and a woman with a sleeping toddler in her arms.

But it was ok.  We stood, figuring we only had about a half hour left of the journey.  Chalking it up to experience.  And then I made the mistake of thinking out loud to The Mack that maybe we’d screwed up and this wasn’t a direct bus, given the number of stops it was making.  By now it was 8pm.  We were hungry, crotchety and standing.  I didn’t have a ready guesstimate of how long it would take.  I wasn’t an expert on the arterial roads of Uruguay and how this affected journey times.  I should have kept my mouth shut.  I was saved when we rolled in to Montevideo 45 minutes later.

We’d only planned to stay one night in Monte.  We weren’t convinced of its merits when we did our pitiful research.  I think we were right.  However, our hotel was adorable.  The Hotel Palacio.  Just off the main square and staffed by spritely septuagenarians.  The Mack was expecting a s***hole.  What we got was a spruced up turn of the century room with great big bathroom and a huge terrace overlooking the city.  Not bad for £30.  And a lovely old man who spent 10 minutes showing me how to work the cable TV (there were 2 on buttons and an up and down programme selector involved… and he had bifocals).

view from the terrace

view from the terrace

We tried to have a night out in Monte.  We’d heard that it got a bit lively on a Saturday night.  It certainly had a strip of pubs/bars to rival even the ropiest UK town.  After careful deliberation (based on the severity of the look of horror on my face), we picked one that had “Pony” in its name.  It didn’t disappoint.  All you need to know about it was that our drink of choice was Long Island Iced Teas.  And the covers band started with a Bon Jovi ballad.  It was all we could do to drag ourselves away.

Montevideo to Punta del Este

The Mack was quite excited about hitting Punta.  He’d been allowed to choose the hotel for this one and we’d upped the budget so that we could do a bit of pimpin’ in Punta. We’d booked 2 nights, so that we’d have plenty of time to recover from a big night on the razz.

I’d checked where the hotel was before we left Monte.  I knew that it was a bit out of town, and I’d mentioned it to The Mack before we booked it, but he said he was fine with it.  Perfect mix of detox and retox.

When we arrived at the bus station at P del E, I asked the lady at the info point to show me on a map where our hotel was.  But she couldn’t.  Because her map didn’t cover a large enough area.  Because we’d booked into a hotel about 15km away in the next resort.  Literally miles away from the action.

So you see Punta del Este on the right.  And the arrow on the left.  Well look above the arrow and you'll see a lake in the middle of nowhere.  That's us.

So you see Punta del Este bottom centre. And the arrow on the left. Well look above the arrow and you’ll see a lake in the middle of nowhere. That’s us.

You think that was a disappointment…  Fortunately, it didn’t matter so much when we walked into the town to find a cab only to discover that it was empty apart from some tumbleweed blowing down the main street. Apparently, party season in Punta del Este stops at Easter.  Who knew?  Clearly not us.

Ok, no problem.  So what?  We get to spend a couple of days in a lovely golf and spa resort on the banks of a lake.  Tennis courts, bike rides, swimming pools, the works.

lady of the lake

lady of the lake

Oh.  And one other thing.  It’s deserted.  Most of the lights are switched off in the common areas.  They’ve drained the jacuzzi and turned off the sauna. You’re paying over £80/night to stay in a mausoleum.  The rigidly bored girl on the front desk tells you they’ve upgraded you to a lake-view room.  You realise it’s so they can better keep an eye on you and they only have to hoover one corridor.



We tried to escape on some rented bikes.  After an hour’s cycle of pedalling past weird thatched cottages, swearing, reattaching our chains every third revolution and a knackering hill climb, we saw Punta del Este still miles out of reach.  We cycled back, dejected and resigned to our gilded cage.  Pimpin’ it weren’t.

El Bungalow.  Honest to God.

El Bungalow. Honest to God.

We had a hushed dinner in an all-but-empty restaurant.  The food was good, but it came at a price.  I had no idea tedium could be so costly.  We marvelled at the fact that the mixers in the mini bar cost the same as the spirits.  So we just made stronger drinks.  We slept.  A lot.  And our dreams were a montage of The Shining and Cocoon.

the no-reservations policy had somewhat backfired...

the no-reservations policy had somewhat backfired…

We pondered on Uruguay.  Its political and economic stability, compared to its better-known neighbours.  It’s cleanliness and organisation.  The agreeableness of its people.  And we realised, it can be all of those things because… THERE’S NO-ONE IN IT.

So we decided to cut our losses.  No adventuring in search of people in ever remoter fishing villages up the coast, as originally planned.  Nope.  You won’t find anyone there.  We spent a heart-breaking amount of cash on a next-day flight to Sao Paulo.  But when we paid almost the same again in a taxi from the resort to the bus station at Punta del Este, we knew we’d made the right decision.  And I vowed never to let The Mack choose anything, ever again.