As the jeep struggled up the muddy road, Alexandre underlined in a genuine Brazilian caiçara: “This is nothing now. You would have to see Ilhabela in the summer. Sometimes there is a line of vehicles stuck and no one else can go forward.”
This is just one of the rebellious facets of Ilhabela. Above the height of 200 meters, the luxury villas, like any other type of housing, are left behind and give way to a steep wilderness and dense vegetation where anything is possible.
The demarcation of the State Park protected the forest from human invasion, with the exception of the caravans of 4WD vehicles that take visitors to the Atlantic side, to the Baía dos Castelhanos, a painful crossing of first up and then down which is made in approx. two hours.
A Beautiful and Vast Island
It's May. The charged clouds pass at great speed over Pico de São Sebastião (1378m), the highest elevation on Ilhabela. Despite this, the sun had room to shine and it has been a long time since the tropical rains of December, January and February, responsible for the chaos of off-road traffic described by the guide, have fallen.
With an area of 340 km2, Ilhabela is the largest island off the coast of the Brazil. It is part of a homonymous archipelago to which the islands of Búzios, Vitória, and the islets of Pescadores, Sumítica, Serraria, Cabras, Figueira, Castelhanos, Lagoa and Anchovas belong.
Its volcanic origins are clearly marked in a majestic and abrupt topography which, due to its position, just below the Tropic of Capricorn, is covered by a lush green mantle that hides dozens of crystalline streams and around 360 waterfalls.
From Tupi-Guarani to Portuguese settlers
In pre-discovery times, these lands were the domain of Tupi-Guarani tribes, as evidenced by the proliferation of Indian place-names such as Pacoíba, Baepí, Pirabura, Pirassununga (exactly, the famous cachaça!), Jabaquara, Perequê, Itaquanduba, Itaguaçu, Cocaia , Guarapocaia, Piava, Piavú, Pequeá, Parrot, Itapecerica, Sepituba etc. etc. etc.
The colonial history of Ilhabela began when the members of the first expedition sent by Portugal to the Land of Santa Cruz arrived in Maembipe on January 20, 1502, the day consecrated by the Church to São Sebastião. It was this expedition that renamed the island of Maembipe with the name of the saint, but changed little else.
It was only in 1608, 106 years later, that the first colonists and slaves were established, transported there to feed an intense slave traffic or to work in the cultivation of sugar cane and the consequent production of cachaça.
Both activities made the fortune of the overseers and lords of Ilhabela, a wealth that can be witnessed, even today, in the size and sumptuousness of some manor houses, such as the one on the Fazenda do Engenho d'Água.
Since its discovery by the Portuguese until the XNUMXth century, the waters around Ilhabela were intensively patrolled by European and, later, Argentine adventurers, corsairs and pirates. Among the most famous were the English Francis Drake, Thomas Cavendish and Anthony Knivet.
Another regular customer was the French Duguay Trouin.
The Horrific History of Ilhabela
As a result of attacks or due to a treacherous sea that the ancient sailors said had a magnetic field that deceived the instruments of course, the area became known as the Bermuda Triangle of South America.
Dozens of sunken vessels of the most varied types lie around Ilhabela, many of which are victims of shipwrecks as recent as the luxury liner “prince of Asturias”, in 1916, or the English “Crest“In 1982.
The very beach where we were heading now – Castelhanos – as well as two others located right next to it, were named according to one of the many maritime terror stories that, contrary to its name, were associated with the island.
As the locals say, the Castilians were the castaways who washed ashore after the sinking of the boat they were following. As if that wasn't enough, the blood they shed when they were thrown against the rocks gave rise to Praia Vermelha and, some time later, most of the decomposing bodies were found in what is now Praia da Caveira.
Currently, if we leave out the oil tankers that visually pollute the São Sebastião channel and the caiçara fishermen's canoes, most of the boats that circulate around Ilhabela are recreational. They provide moments of pure leisure, not drama.
A popular refuge from São Paulo
Thanks to the strong wind that runs through the São Sebastião Channel, Ilhabela is the Brazilian capital of sailing. Every year, it hosts several national and international competitions of this sport and hosts hundreds of sailboats in its marina, as well as many motorized boats of all sizes and shapes.
Ilhabela is a kind of insular playground of the Paulistas with more possessions. From time to time there is seen, over the São Sebastião channel, another helicopter of a VIP, such as the famous presenter Ana Maria Braga and the actress Regina Duarte who have vacation mansions on the island.
The couple who accompanied us, jolting, in the back of the jeep were much better off and from the poor surroundings of São Paulo, but, using the savings and hospitality of some local friends, they also had the right to a few days at one of the divine retreats of the state.
The two hours passed with the most varied conversations including explanations about the local fauna. As always happens in Brazil, once again, we hear legends of jaguars and ocelots that roam the local jungle, seeing them is no way to think.
The winding road, this one, already on its descending route, finally revealed, through the mesh of vines, the emerald waters of the bay.
From there to the white sand it only took a few minutes and, in a short time, we were climbing to a makeshift viewpoint on one of the bay's slopes to appreciate and photograph the so famous heart shape of the beach.
This was followed by a dip, with a few strokes of the mix and, soon after, a simple but rewarding lunch in one of the humble local restaurants.
The next day, we exchanged the jeep's jolts for the rocking of a schooner. In the relaxed fashion of Brazil, the departure, which was scheduled for 9.30, was delayed.
The reason: “the guy who had been bringing the drinks never showed up again”.
The Adés Family Reunion
Fortunately, at the village dock, the Adés family – who were in a kind of diaspora for professional reasons and had chartered the boat for a trip to commemorate their reunion – was as late or later than the guy in charge of the drinks.
So, the only ones to wait were us and the crew, but considering that Commander Marcos took advantage of the dead time to unwind his inexhaustible knowledge about Ilhabela, navigation in general and the local weather, no one was left to lose.
Once the drinks and the little ice that was left there, we took the Adés family and headed north, along the coast, towards another of the island's scenic charms: Jabaquara beach.
Along the way, some of the key points of the northern part of the island followed one another, such as Praia da Armação, the Ponta das Canas lighthouse and Praia da Pacuíba.
The scenery became greener and more natural as we advanced along the north coast and, after skirting an imposing rocky inlet, we came across the small cove that protects the beach.
With its brownish-yellow sands and a leafy row of coconut trees, Jabaquara left the Adés so pleased with their return that some family members (the younger ones, of course) didn't even wait for the schooner to drop anchor and the boat to take them to the beach, to kill their nostalgias. . They simply dove and went swimming.
Jabaquara is a beach that delights any visitor but, as with the other 38 and other natural attractions of Ilhabela, it charges a high price, in bites.
The rubbery - a tiny but persistent vampire insect – it is a constant in life in Ilhabela, to the point where, in the village, there is a sandwich shop named in its honor.
During any visit to the island, either one reinforces the repellent layer with unerring regularity, or prepares the mind for days of itching and more itching.
The natives have long opted for the second option and are so prepared that they no longer care. Don't think about achieving this karma within a few days of visiting. It's something you conquer over time. A long time.
South Coast: Interior Beauty but Mainly the Coast
Since we were staying on the coast facing Brazil, the only one with a paved road (which we traveled more than once a day) and after the tours we had already done, we clearly needed to explore the south of Ilhabela. That was the next plan to carry out.
The next day, we left early and went to take a look at the section that was from the ferry port down. With a much nicer look than the area to the north, there are small beaches or mere coves without sand: Praia da Feiticeira, Praia do Julião, Praia Grande, Praia do Curral.
To the opposite side, the scenery is grand. Imposing peaks that give way to long slopes lined with majestic trees.
Interestingly, the grandiose is also harmonious in this area of the island. Something that not only the haughty domain of the lush mountains explains.
There are also the chapels overlooking the sea, the narrow road that seems to be swallowed up by vegetation at any moment and the discreet but friendly presence of Ilha das Cabras.
It's all this but so much more. We would still have to walk to the nearby fishing village of Bonete.