Nope, I'm not referring to the monkeys on the island, although there are quite a few curious-looking ones (at least to us). For those who were fortunate enough to grow up during the advent of personal computers and computer games (remember 5.25-inch floppy disks and "CGA" monitors?), you would have heard of the awesome computer game by Lucas Arts. It's basically centered around Guybrush Threepwood, the main character and wannabe pirate, who explores various islands (one of them being Monkey Island) in search of treasure, love, other pirates - the usual fun stuff. And Ilha Grande really reminds me of these islands that Guybrush have to explore.
It's basically a little island - about 193 square km (as comparison, Langkawi is about 480 square km with over 100 times the population) - off the coast of Rio. It's got 1 small village - Abraao - which according to wikipedia, contains less than 2,000 inhabitants. There are a number of restaurants, a church, an old prison, a post office, a few grocery stores - those who has played the game will appreciate the parallel quite quickly. There are no motor vehicles and it is only reachable by ferry / boat. In fact, it took us about 3.5 hours to get there from Rio - a 2.5 hour mad drive by van (our driver, Alejandro, was constantly overtaking cars on a single lane in heavy rain while texting on his mobile, but overall nice guy) plus 1 hour by ferry. When we arrived on the island, it took us maybe 5 minutes to find our "pousada" (or local BnB in Brazil-speak), Pousada Telhado Azul (which means Blue Roof in Potuguese) - the village is really that tiny. And apparently it is illegal to expand the village any further.
Needless to say, the place survives on tourism. And it helps that the island has some of the best beaches I've ever seen and that this part of the world gets sunshine pretty much 365 days a year. Well, except for the day we arrived. But to make up for the crappy weather, we met the nicest couple - she's from Sao Paulo (let's call her Ci) and he's an Italian (let's call him Ferru) who seems to have been to every interesting place there is to see. We pretty much spent the next 3 days on the island with them - not just because they're local (Ferru has been living in Brazil for the last 2 years so he's quite local himself - even speaks Portuguese quite fluently) and can help us order food / negotiate prices, but also because they're genuinely nice people. So much so that when they found out that we will be going back to Sao Paulo towards the end of our trip, they immediately offered their place for us to bunk in if we needed to. Of course, there is still the outside chance that they could be planning the most elaborate con of the decade by befriending us now only to rob us more than 2 months later in a different city. But since we just got married and things are still nice and rosy, we're choosing to believe in the good of people.
As far as activities go on this island, we're pretty much limited to hiking (there are maybe 20 different trails to choose from, some of which are downright dangerous and require a guide) and sun-bathing. Fortunately for us, the weather got a lot better after we arrived so we managed to do a bit of both.
We did two hikes - the first was a 3-hour hike (including getting a bit lost the first hour) that took us up and down 3 hills and ending on a stretch of white sandy beach facing the open Atlantic. The waves were at least a storey high - true story! I guess that's why the locals call it the Angry Sea. By this time, we had nearly exhausted our supply of packed food and water. And while hiking back was an option, we decided to pay the R$15 each to take the ferry back to Abraao. We are on holiday afterall.
Our second hike the next day took a little longer - 4 hours in total covering 16 km but on easier terrain. It took us to a ghost-like village (another similarity to the computer game minus the ghost pirates) called Dois Rios (Two Rivers) on the opposite side of the island. It's ghost-like because there is an old prison and a number of houses that are now mostly abandoned. The prison guards used to live in these houses but have since left after the prison was decommissioned. As much as I would have liked to explore these abandoned homes, the attraction of this place was actually its awesome beach. I have a mental image of old prisoners looking out to the beach through their little windows but not able to actually lie on it. Brazil have a strange sense of humor.
That pretty much sums up Ilha Grande for us - 3 nights here was just nice before we ran out of things to do. We could try out the other 18 or so trails but there are a lot more things to do here in Brazil. Like hand gliding over Rio - watch this space!