Monday, March 17, 2014

Beautiful Island - Ilha Bela

Houses perched on the coast of Ilha Bela

Off of São Paulo's "litoral norte" or northern coast lies the large island called Ilha Belha. The actual name is Ilha de São Sebastião but I've never heard it referred to as anything other than Ilha Bela. I went there first almost 15 years ago--it is a hiking, snorkeling and wind sport (sailing, windsurfing, etc) paradise. Half the island is only reachable by dirt trail and you have to pull out your 4x4 "jipe" to get you there. Or take your boat.

We were invited this past weekend by Brazilian friends to stay at their house near the Ponta das Canas. It is at the very end of the paved road. These friends are probably our very coolest ones--sorry, if I am insulting anyone, but here it is--the husband is a competitive sailor and the leader of a digital company, the wife is a partner at a marketing agency, as well as a tireless mommy. They have two boys and Renata is expecting another boy in May. This does not stop them for one minute from driving at 9 pm from São Paulo, and arriving at the house at 1:30 am. We are not this cool--we left at 5 pm and arrived at around 10:30 after a stop for sushi. Cause we're just cool enough. 

The trip there was pretty good. The formerly scary Rodovia dos Tamoios highway has been "duplicated" and actually looks like a real highway now rather than a cowpath. Things were a little hairy in the "serra" -- the coastal mountains-- oh, okay,  I might have cried from fear. BH was on a business call so the driving fell to me...just as a huge fog fell over the road and I could see only a few feet in front of the car. Terror. 20 minutes of sheer terror on the steeply descending curved road.  Then the crying.

The ferry ride is always an adventure. The same ferries have been used for more than 30 years. They are basically flat parking lots on floaties, or so it seems. Fortunately we had pre-programmed our trip (Hora Marcada) and did not have to wait in the three-hour line. Unfortunately we started out in the wrong line and had to go 4x4 over the divider. Love that Volvo. Nah, I really don't but it does do 4x4 well. The ride lasted around 20 minutes--one of the twins was scared and stayed close to mom, the other loved watching the huge oil tankers and mining ships in the port.

When we reached the other side, we jostled for position -- or is that jockeyed? I dunno but man, Brazilians are nuts in cars. After driving a bit, one of the twins asked for a sushi stop and I have never been known to deny a sushi stop. So we stopped at a lovely little restaurant with picnic tables in the garden and my kids laid waste a whole lot of fishies. We also had a house specialty which was fresh lychee fruit stuffed with gorgonzola--it was delicious!! 

At around 10:30 pm we were approaching the house. We made one mistake and got ourselves onto the mysterious dirt road that goes around the island. A U-turn later and a stop at the security gate and we climbed into the hills. Our friends' house clings to the hillside with a huge deck and pool--all of it left open for us. We put the sleeping kids in bed and wandered out to look at the full moon. 

An hour and a half before, while on the tiny putt-putt ferry, I had said to BH: "Why in the world do people take this 3 1/2 hour drive, a slow petrol-smelling ferry and another 20 minutes on the other side to come here?" I got my answer.

Morning's light out the guest room door

All this week I'm going to talk about Ilha Bela and why in the world people live here in São Paulo when they could live there. And it's threatened--the port is expanding and the oil tankers increasing.  More tomorrow.

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