Ilhabela – a little paradise next to Sao Paulo

Okay, so I am officially in love. With Brasil that is. My 3 total weeks of life spent there between the last 2 visits have totally sold me. Now don’t get me wrong, the mountains are still what awaken my  soul, but, wow, I can totally understand why people say Brazilians are some of the happiest people in the world. Not happy like Scandanavian country type happy, where you’ve got all the education, resources and opportunities you could possibly need, and so, obviously, you’re pretty damn happy. But happy like, smile radiating from the inside, face lit up and I’m dancing in the street type happy. Waiting at the bus stop, taking a piece of gum out of my purse and offering it to the foreign girl waiting next to me type happy. Inviting the american girls into my families’ house and cutting coconuts off the trees to offer them refreshing coconut water type happy. Opening up my restaurant early just because it’s the american girl’s birthday type thoughtful. Riding the bus and bonding with the girl next to me for four hours even though I speak only portugués and she speaks only spanish, sharing pictures of family and a smile so big I swear my cheekbones are about to popout type happy. Slowing down in my car and trying to see if the frantic foreign girl is lost type thoughtful. Buying a bus ticket so a random frantic foreign girl who can’t access her money can get back to the airport in Sao Paulo, 4 hours away, type generous. Offering free beers to the tourist girl sitting at my beach bar and writing in her journal type giving.

Seriously, that’s just a tiny glimpse.
The random acts of kindness and rays of just pure internal beauty shining through these people was in such abundance that you realize it is just plain simple, it’s who these people are.
My first trip was to Sao Paulo for work, after which I escaped to a little island off the coast for four days before heading back to Santiago. The island was called Ihlabela (in english, the beautiful island). And the name didn’t dissapoint. Four four days I simply relaxed, joking to my friends that I was taking my first 30+ vacation, a getaway to get away. hahah. No parties, just me, my journal and bumming around and leisurely seeing the sights as I wanted and when I wanted.
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It all started with a three and a half hour bus ride from Sao Paulo to the ocean. I approached my seat on the bus and there was already a lady in the aisle seat, I tapped her shoulder and pointed that I had the window one. The way she looked at me and smile and got up so I could scoot in, it was wierd but I had this distinct thought of “I bet she’s a really nice lady.” For about an hour I shut my eyes and she fiddled with her phone, listening to voice whatsapp messages, looking at pictures of what I assumed were her family. Then, she was ruffling through her bag and pulled out a little chocolate bar… and offered me half of it. I broke off a little piece and she looked at me, with seriously a glisten in her eye and big smile on her face and said the portuguese equivalent of “yummy.” I laughed and showed her I though it was delicious too.
From then on, we started talking, her in Portuguese and me in Spanish, understanding enough of eachother to get the gist. She was on her way back home, she had just dropped her daughter off at the Sao Paulo airport. Her daughter now lived in Germany and was married to a German man. The pride dripping from her voice was so apparent, but I could also see how much she missed having her around. She has two other children who live in San Sebastian with her still, and she told me all about them and showed me pictures, and we bonded over me saying “so beautiful” or “so handsome” or “so cute.” Her daughter in Germany had met her now husband like a fairytale… he was in this tiny tiny town of San Sebastian, vacationing in Brasi and passing through little towns that had good open air markets. They ran into eachother and somehow hit it off, her a dark skinned little Brasilian and him a tall, white German man with blonde hair and blue eyes, just a week and a half before he headed back. They kept in touch, he vacationed back to Brasil… and history was made. She repeatedly said how beautiful of a couple they were, taking about her this dark little woman and him the tall, blonde and blue eyed man. I know in America we are also still, even though we don’t like to admit it, conditioned towards that tall, white, blonde and blue eyed beauty, but, for so many here in Latin America, it’s really on a whole nother level. She told me about her other two children, one a mechanic who she laughed was married to a woman who hated to get dirty. The other a single mother who worked all days and studied at night to pay her way through university. She was very proud, such a beautiful smile and just so obviously a genuinely open, warm person. She reminded me so much of my mom, just replicated as a Brazilian :) I showed her pictures of all my family, which she loved. Her stop was right before mine, as her town was along the water, and I needed to take a ferry to get to the island I would stay at for the next four days. It was late, almost 11:30pm, and she was worried about me getting into the island at midnight and going around trying to find a hostel… because I hadn’t understood her when she asked if I had a place to stay, and told her no. She put her head on her hands to show sleeping and pointed as if I should get off the bus with her, saying I should come spend the night at her house and then in the morning go to take the ferry, so during the daylight I would go looking for a hostel. She said, if I were your mom, I would be worried. Then, I understood and assured her I had a place to stay and that there would surely be a taxi at the other end of the ferry, that I’d take to the hostel, and that I wouldn’t walk alone. She said, oooooh good, and hugged me such a warm motherly hug. It was really nice, and then she got off the bus, and waved to me from outside the window as the bus drove away. I wish I would have taken a picture with her, it’s little moments like this that really represent why I love traveling.
The next four days were utterly relaxing. The humidity surprised me, there was no chance of putting on lotion after a shower, because there was no way it would rub in. Makeup, therefore, was also a no-go. My hair was huge. But I felt glowing somehow, with the sun, the lack of product, the naturalness of it all.
The first day I took a boat-transport to a more isolated beach on the south end of the island, where the water was a beautiful green, reflecting the vegetation rich and extremely lush surroundings. There, I simply laid on the beach and later walked around the area. Around 100-200 people live in this sector, I can’t even imagine. Most make a living watching the beach, having a tiny restaurant or ‘watching’ the weekend houses of the people who live in Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is the business center of Brasil and is only 3-4 hours travel from this island, so many people who live in the city and have money, have weekend/getaway houses on Ihalabela, and then pay locals to take care of the house while they aren’t there. I was talking to one of the locals who works as a lifeguard on the beach, and went with him walking maybe 10ish minutes past some houses and into the field, soon arriving at this gorgeous river, that also had little pools of water for swimming. It was incredible swimming there, being so disconnected from the world while, at the same time, so in touch with the world.
Heading back to the center area, where my hostel was, in the night I walked along the beach, where there were many little open air bar restaurants. I found one for the evening, sat with my journal, feet in the sand, ordered a beer, chatted with the waiter and owner and watched the sunset. Just. Plain. Lovely. I ordered a 600cc beer, which, due to the heat, they serve in a big coozy with a little little drinking glass. The next day I bummed around the center of the town and walked all the way to the north end of the island, checking out each beach along the way. It felt so nice to have no agenda. That night I went out for dinner to an open air restaurant on the beach, everything there is open air. I had an amazingly delicious grilled fish with the traditional black beans (feijuada) and salad on the side.
The next day I took a jeep tour to a waterfall. We went to in a jeep a couple hours through a wet forest, until getting out and walking a couple hours to arrive at the waterfall. There, we swam a good hour in the pool underneath it, face splashed constantly with from the rushing water, it was marvelous. Below the waterfall was pure lush green forest in sight, that, and clouds. So beautiful. Experiences like this really are just so humbling. After eventually getting back into the jeep, we stopped at a crystal blue beach on the way back to where we started. Stopping there for lunch, beers, and beachtime.
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I met a group of Brazilian girls who were on a girls getaway, befriending them and agreeing to meet up later that night. It was the first night of Carnaval activities. Carnaval is on a Tuesday, but activities start Friday night. In general, the big Carnaval party is in Rio de Janiero, but all the cities and towns have some sort of celebration, just varying on how big it is. On the island it was much smaller, naturally, but I decided to check it out and at night walked from my hostel to the center of the town. It reminded me of summerfest, but small town style. The core to Carnaval is the dancing, Samba is the dance of Brasil.
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Various “schools” of samba work to get their performances, costumes, themes and perfect choreography, to show during Carnaval. At night, a main road was closed and the schools basically had a “dance off,”  withthe top three being named. During these times, the crowds lined the streets, watched the dancing and cheered. It was awesome to watch the dancing, the costumes, and the crowds. The public was also dressed up, so many men dressed up as women, which I guess is a Carnaval thing hahaha. But others just dressed up in general, some sort of costume, and everyone dancing in the streets. The surprising thing to me, though, was that there really wasn’t any stands selling food or alcohol or anything. Just open music and dancing. The american in me felt dumbfounded by the “lost opportunity” hahaha. But, for the lack of formalized stands, there were many intelligest people with their coolers and grills, selling beers by the can or kabobs of meat/veggies/etc. It was a really fun experience.
On the day I needed to leave, I hurried to the ferry and then to the bus station, to take a bus back to Sao Paulo, in time for my flight. I get there, thankfully with time wiggle room. Upon trying to buy my ticket, I realized I had no cash left. I really thought I had some in my purse, but must have remembered wrong. Also, the credit card machine wasn’t working. Yikes. Hauling my suitcase, I hurried all over that little area, looking for ATMs. None were working, and the ones that were wouldn’t take my card. I was sweating (it was so hot) and I was mentally freaking out. A car slows along my side and two people start to talk to me, at first I didn’t understand why and I ignored them, then I realized that they were trying to help me. They were asking me if I was lost and if I needed help finding my way somewhere, gosh, these people are so thoughful! I said thanks and that I was heading to the bus station, and, although I knew where it was, thanked them as they carefully explained the turns “one block there, then left, then two blocks and right…” Realizing there was no way to get money, I headed back and desperately explained to the lady the situation. She was so nice and we tried a couple solutions of me transferring money, but the online site wasn’t working. Then, I just asked if I could just get on the bus and on a stop along the way, get out and pay with my credit card (because the bus stops picks up people in cities along the way, back to Sao Paulo).
Then, some guy comes out of nowhere with his wife and little daughter, and literally pays my ticket. I started crying, and thanked him from the bottom of my heart. The ticket was about $20, but that is no small amount here where the minumum wage hovers around $300. And, contrary to what people think, just as in America, many, many, many adults and families live on that amount. They paid my ticket, and I could see the little girl, who was probably 5 or 6, looking at me and realizing her dad just did something nice. She had such an interesting look on her face, processing the situation, and it really hit me how those little moments impact us as children, in how we grow up, think, treat others, and co-live as adults. It is those moments of us treating strangers with respect, giving the benefit of the doubt, gifting smiles and hellos, living in a way that adds value to the workings of this world that can, and do, change this world. Having good energy, vibes, and actions means that they ripple out further and further through each interacion we have, because one positive from me to you, results in your positive from you to another, and on and on and on.
Four days just to me, for self reflection, centering, and genuine appreciation, was just what the doctor ordered, in a place so precious, with people so alive, so genuine, so internally vibrant.
Maybe its the climate that keeps them outside breathing fresh air, maybe is the green vegetation surrounding them, maybe its the loud energetic music constantly playing somewhere, the kind of music that just sounds happy and makes your legs literally want to dance… but I really left with an appreciation for Brasil, its people, and a reminder to keep my internal light lit, in order to live my days in a way that spread light to those around me.

 

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