Ihla grande ( pronounced: ee-le gran-jay) is a beautiful island just off the coast of Brazil, about 2 hours south of Rio. The weather was pretty good when we arrived so we headed for the beach. It was a small beach just a little outside the town. Little did I know at the time that this beach would pale in comparison to every other beach we would venture to for the rest of our stay on the island.
The weather got a bit cloudy for the next couple days but our hostel told us that the Olympic torch was due to pass through the island on one of those days. Silver lining and all that… It was great to see the Olympic torch, not something you plan to or expect to see on your travels! The town was busy for the torch relay but the locals were protesting all through the procedure in a stance against the government’s idea to privatize the island. Currently there are no cars or ATMs on the island so you can imagine the impact a government privatization scheme might have.
We stayed in the Biergarten Hostel which was recommended by a few people. It was a cool hostel, apart from the lottery when it came to getting a hot shower or not! Like most hostels we’ve visited so far, pets were a given and there was one particular cat that seemed to have a liking for my bed! More than once I went to lie down and nearly squished the cat without realising he was there. We decided that we’d make a big effort to cook most of our meals because we were going to be there for 6 nights and eating out all the time was starting to burn a hole in my pocket.
On one of the cloudy days we walked a trail to Lopez Mendez, apparently one of the top 10 beaches in the world. The trail was good but my knee was still hurting from the football in Paraty. When we arrived the beach was nice and the waves were huge but I struggled to see what made it stand out from any of the other beaches we’ve seen for it to be voted top 10 in the world. Maybe the clouds took away from it but I have my doubts.
On Thursday one of the hostels by the beach threw a party. Everywhere we had been so far was ‘off season’ so it was great to finally get a good night out and have a bit of craic. We met the Dutch lads and the German girls from our hostel there too.
I generally get quiet lucky when it comes to hangovers but Friday was not good. I think it was largely down to being in a hostel that didn’t really have a place to unwind or chill that was really comfortable, as in there were no hammocks or anything and the only place left was my bed – the bottom bunk with not much head room. I decided to get me ass out of bed and go for a walk so I went to see the waterfall on the island and try shake off the hangover. On my way to the waterfall I met Sinead on her way back, guess she had the same idea! The waterfall was a lot further than I anticipated and it really wasn’t worth it – I guess any waterfall after Iguazu is going to be disappointing!
Sineads brother (Shane), and his girlfriend (Alva), arrived on the Friday and we went for dinner on the beach once I was over the hangover! The restaurant was so nice, the waves would literally crash in front of us as we sat at our table on the beach. Every second restaurant on the island had the same set up so it was nothing special but still a great way to eat.
On Saturday there was another party, in a different hostel, so I headed out with Shane, Alva and an English guy and his French girlfriend. The Party was good but it didn’t start until 1am so pre drinks had taken its toll at that stage. There was a band on stage at one point banging drums and getting a good samba vibe going, but that’s about the jist of what I remember.
When we first arrived on Ihla Grande I was happy to be staying a place for a week so there wasn’t any buses and moving about for a while but by Sunday I was ready to go. I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic or something. The island was quiet small and although our hostel was nice, I didn’t feel like I could really chill out and relax there so I was feeling a bit trapped. We still had a few nights left but I was already looking forward to Rio.
That evening Sinead and I got empanadas that the English guy recommended. They did not disappoint. An empanada is a pastry that is eaten as bit of a quick bite and its made differently in different countries in South America. These were my favourite so far, for sure.
On Monday we just hit the beach and chilled out, the Dutch guys were leaving the next day so I went over to their hostel and had a few beers with them. It was nice to have a bit of craic with the lads, few drinking games and few games of cards. I didn’t drink too much though because I had planned to go scuba diving in the morning.
So for Tuesday, our last full day on the island, we decided to go scuba diving. The weather wasn’t great that day anyway so it worked out perfectly. The first dive was cool, we seen a turtle, and plenty of fish along the way. It was my first dive since I did my PADI course so I was a bit nervous starting but once we got going I was ok. Although I did struggle with my buoyancy. I knew I would, I was pretty bad with it in the course too. We were scheduled to do 2 dives but I felt a bit nauseous after the first dive. When we moved to the second dive site, the sea was a lot rougher and my nerves got the best of me when it was combined with the nausea. I didn’t fancy getting sick underwater either. I sat it out for the second dive but everyone said it wasn’t as good as the first dive anyway so I didn’t miss out too much I guess.
For our last meal on the island we decided to to go out for dinner to Dom Marios. I got steak and it was fantastic and the portions were huge. Great combination. We had an early start in the morning to get our transfer to Rio so an early night was had too.
As the bus entered Rio it was raining and traffic was bad, it felt a bit like home! The Olympic vibe was everywhere though and the closer we got to our apartment in Ipanema the cooler the city was feeling. The weather improved and the place was bustling. We had arrived. Saint Sebastion Rio de Janerio. Home of the 2016 Olympics.