Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 4 – Ilha Grande & Morro de Sao Paulo Vacaciones


The word vacation is wildly misunderstood. In Spanish, people often ask why I am in South America for 4 months. No job? I must be on vacaciones (vacation) or on holiday. I’m not on vacation, I’m travelling! The difference? Travelling is fucking hard! As my blog depicts, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Carnaval gave me a serious culture shock and I fell into a pretty deep sadness afterwards. I felt fatigued from being in a dark cloud of self-doubt, anger and sadness. It’s impossible to pinpoint what was causing me to be so down, but I am sure that the spike in endorphins and body-draining partying was a big part of it.

Unlike other bumps in the positivity path I couldn’t shake this one. I had to leave Rio, even if I didn’t really want to.

I heard Ilha Grande was a must see, so I set off from my hostel after 12 nights there and embarked on one of the most touristy excursions I could have ever imagined.

Ferry to Ilha Grande was like refugee ship carrying gringos in search of a vacation

But, touristy doesn’t mean bad!

I’ve learned to hate the word touristy. People can be good! For instance, Ipanema beach – it was good because of the people watching.

Since Carnaval, I admittedly got a little testy when people were negative about Brazil. So when people said they hated places like Ipanema or Ilha Grande because they were too touristy I pried and asked why? What is wrong with people on a beach? The answer: They don’t like people walking or talking around them.

It’s not like we are at an amusement park here people, no one is that loud at the beach. And usually if you walk a little up the beach there is a quieter area. But, omg ewww walking!

At the same time, tourists can really suck and I can understand the upside of a chilled out tranquil place. I could list all the annoying tourist attributes, but that’s as easy as poking a beetle who is stuck on it’s back. Everyone travels for their own reasons. Some just want to tan on the beach for a week, some want to practice the local language and learn the culture, others want to snort coke and party. All are fine if that is what you want.

When a place is sucked of it’s culture and conforms only to what tourists want (or what they think tourists want) it is pretty sad. On the other hand it is a good short-term way for locals to profit from their astonishing natural resources.

Ilha Grande was certainly built with the tourist in mind – every building was a tour agency, hostel or restaurant and the restaurants served gringo delights like pizza and sushi for astronomical prices. But, it was actually quite a treat to be honest. The service was great, people really cater to you and you feel like you are on a magical vacation as you walk through the tiny streets, on the boardwalk, or along any of the hiking trails. If I was in a long-term relationship or on a cruise ship I would love to spend a romantic week in Ilha Grande.

Sorry no photos, DSLR malfunctioned a while ago and the digital camera Bruno gave me also stopped working…

Yet, unlike in the past when I met people instantly, I was still sad and angry at other travellers for not being as cool as the Brazilians I met on the street in Carnaval. To clear my head I went for a run, alone, in my Toms shoes for about 2 hours both ways in the blazing heat to a small waterfall on the island. On the way, I heard a steady growl along with the occasional baah! I inched closer to the sound as it continued for a solid 3 or 4 minutes, but I couldn’t reach it. I am assuming that this was a large cat like a puma or jaguar eating some mammal like a capybara (huge rat-thing), but I can’t be sure. Still, it was an amazing thing to be so close to and it motivated me on my run – kinda sadistic eh?

At night, making sure to go early as to not have to pay cover, I went out to a hostel on the beach called Aquarius for this big party I had heard about on the ferry ride there. On the boat they told me that Aquarius was a drunken gringo orgy. How could I refuse? But if not for the beautiful views and clear open sky, the club could have been like any night at home in Canada. The bar was full of gringos, mostly the partier/snorting coke ones from Australia or England. The DJ played the same standard gringo club playlist of Avicii, David Guetta etc. to which the gringos fist pumped the shit out of. I went sober cause I had given up drinking since Carnaval, which was a good thing cause the drinks were insanely overpriced.

You might say it was a bullshit touristy gringo party, but then again, you are probably a bullshit tourist gringo, just like me, so let people travel and do as they please, jerk ;).

After Aquarius, gringos would flock to the beach for a campfire where locals were playing drums and singing reggae music. As cliché as reggae under the stars in Brazil sounds, it was just awesome! But I also love clichés if you haven’t already noticed.

lopez mendes
Lopez Mendes beach, Ilha Grande – Google Images

The next day I ran/hiked 2 hours across several beaches to the island’s most famous beach Lopez Mendes. Imagine, white sand so fine, so immaculate that when you walk on the sand it literally squeaks! There, I meditated, did yoga and cleared my mind of the negative thoughts percolating into my consciousness every few breaths.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to learn how to be alone without needing people. As Christopher McCandless portrayed in the must-see traveller’s movie “Into the Wild” realized, we need people to survive, but on Ilha Grande I really felt that I remedied myself without help from anyone else.

That’s a lie, the music on my iPod helped a lot! Big ups Macklemore and company!

As I returned on the boat to Rio for one night on my way to Salvador I felt rejuvenated. So, what better thing to disturb my dancing on clouds feeling than a fucking 32-hour bus.

Why Joel why!?

Sigh… I thought I could go to the airport and get a last minute flight and get a good deal, but that doesn’t work in Brazil like it does in Europe. Here, the last seat is the most expensive even if it is minutes before take off. Also, when I bought the ticket it said 26 hours, but in reality it was 32 hours. No one, ever, has gone go to Salvador from Rio in 26 hours as I found out later. There was no urgency in the driver or any of the staff to get their on time. This wouldn’t have been a problem if my Brazilian friend Bruno wasn’t waiting for me at the bus station in Salvador!

When I got there he had waited 8 hours at the bus station for me and looked like hell. What a hero! Most people would have left, but not this guy.

I felt it important to man-up and go straight to Morro de Sao Paulo as to not waste a day of his short 4 days off of work.

But, and there’s so often a but, the last ferry had already passed. So thanks to Bruno’s Portuguese ability he negotiated with a tour agency to get us there, but for twice the price of a normal trip.

Things like this are why I have no money left, but it had to be done. We made it there after a spooky 1.5 hour drive across an island in a strange car and a 10 minute ocean-soaked ferry-ride with 9 rowdy screaming Argentinians.

Wet night ferry to Morro

Morro de Sao Paulo is like the Ilha Grande of the northeast. The island is dedicated to the tourist, but it’s size makes it feel less cozy than Ilha Grande. The first sign is that there are no vehicle taxis – your luggage can be wheel barreled to your hostel for a hefty fee


The long pedestrian tourist street is populated with fancy restaurants and tourist shops. Walking till the end will bring you to a boardwalk on the beach that is lined on the sides with delicious fruit stands where they make you mixed drinks or juice with the fruit of your choosing.

I cannot stress anymore how awesome this is!



Craving an acerola (tiny sweet orange fruit)/ jack fruit (massive prickly melon) / strawberry vodka mix? Go for it! There were so many fruits that I have absolutely never heard of and couldn’t relate the names to, but that for me was the best part of Morro de Sao Paulo.

Bruno and I walked along this boardwalk, drinking juice and introducing ourselves to people, as we do best. We met this Argentinean girl Juliette and her and I hit it off, but she had a boyfriend L. I do know, though, that my future wife will look something like her…


The beaches were pretty nice, but the sand wasn’t as nice and it didn’t feel as much on an exotic holiday as I did in Ilha Grande. The water, however, was so warm it was like a Jacuzzi or piss-filled kiddy pool if you prefer. Rock formations created a natural swimming pool because the waves don’t crash into the beach.


But you can always count on the Brazilian beaches for their wonderful bikini attire.


One of the big arguments against the bikini by non-Latin Americans is that their ass isn’t good enough for the bikini.

If this woman doesn’t give a shit what are you worried about!?


When I think back to Morro de Sao Paulo, I don’t think about the beaches, I think about Israelis and Argentineans. That’s because the beach town was absolutely flooded with them! You could call Morro de Sao Paulo Little Tel Aviv or Little Buenos Aires if you like.

I was told that many Israelis “go by the book” and tend to travel to the same places in South America and Morro de Sao Paulo is one of them. It is tradition that Israelis travel after military service and many go to South America in large groups to get as fucked up as possible on whatever they can get their hands on.

In my experience, Israelis are not the most popular traveler to say the least. A fruit stand vendor asked me if I was Israeli because I look like one. When I told him I wasn’t, he began to discuss how much he hates the loud Israelis and jokingly said he wants to shoot them all. My tour guide in Bolivia for the Salt Flats tour expressed similar anti-Israeli tourist sentiments.

I know what you are thinking, but these people are not anti-Semitic. Instead, they dislike Israelis for their loud, obnoxious I don’t give a fuck style of travelling and I understand that, but there is a massive misunderstanding here. Israelis are misunderstood because their language and attitude is generally louder and more in your face than other cultures. Israelis misunderstand the locals because they think they are in danger just because they are Jews, but no one really cares about those politics here. It’s a sad situation.


Israelis even brought their own cuisine, but I opted for a local dish called moqueca:

20120104-SAM_0139It rained for most of the time we were in Morro de Sao Paulo, so that probably skewed how I felt about it, but I was generally unimpressed.

We did go out to a club one night to a foam party and it was surprisingly fun. I met a cool girl from America who works in New York and we had plenty to talk about. Americans get a bad wrap travelling – they aren’t as bad as Australians or English in terms of ignorant tourists.


The next day, I went back to Salvador and Bruno puked on the ferry.


Up next: Salvador, Lencois and Chapada Diamantina


2 thoughts on “Mind Blown by Brazil: Part 4 – Ilha Grande & Morro de Sao Paulo Vacaciones

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