To Morro (de São Paulo) we go!
One of the difficult things about travelling at our age is that in the back of our minds we always have an invisible deadline. No one has forced this upon us but it is one that Wade and I discuss regularly. Whether it be our families, the idea of having kids, money (or lack thereof!) or a potential job opportunity, we both know that this dream we are currently living won't last forever.
The fact that we also want to see as much as we possibly can within this imaginary time frame also means that even when we find that perfect place, we both know deep down, that like it or not, in a few days we will need to pack our bags again and move on.
This was exactly how we felt leaving Itacaré. The people, the atmosphere, the stunning coastline. We could have spent months there. In fact I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I spent a solid afternoon dreamily crunching some numbers and deciding I would buy a restaurant/guesthouse there and never leave! Time, a hammock and a few beers can do wonders with the imagination. It would have been perfect except for one thing - Wade quite simply refused to accept the dreadlocks that I felt would be a necessary addition to my new lifestyle! Damn!
As mentioned in my last post, after nine days in this blissful paradise, we reluctantly booked our bus tickets, packed our bags and said goodbye to yet another temporary home as we set off for our next destination.
After a five hour bus trip (with both of us running on 3 hours sleep), a short taxi ride (where the driver's 4 year old son felt it necessary to poke me and stare angrily at me throughout the trip) and a 45 minute ferry (that smelt like we had our heads deep in a bucket of fuel), we finally arrived at Morro de São Paulo, or simply Morro as it is better known.
From the small wooden jetty that we pulled up to, Morro de São Paulo didn't look like much. The mountainous coast we had weaved our way along for the past 15 minutes was unexpected and after hearing that there was no motorised transport on the island I was picturing some serious bush bashing jungle walks over the coming days. Where were the beaches??
After turning down the option of a porter with a wheelbarrow guiding us to our guesthouse, I slightly regretted this as we climbed a calf-burning hill straight off the boat. At the top of the hill was the town square. The lack of motorised vehicles means that a passing donkey, horse and cart or a fruit vendor selling grapes out of a wheelbarrow is completely normal and after seeing the quaint, quiet town square, we carried on through to find our accommodation.
Five minutes later, we threw our bags down on our bed and sighed. Our new home sweet home.... For this week anyway.
We had timed our travel to make sure we arrived in time to watch the Brazil Vs Germany FIFA semi final on the large screen in town square. Let's say that afternoon was the most awkward 2 hours of our entire trip and rather than partying the night away with the locals as we had hoped, we were tucked up in bed by 9:30pm!
The beauty of arriving in a new destination late in the afternoon is that the following morning, I always wake up early with the excitement of exploring our surroundings. No lonely planet guidebook, travel doco or online reviews can take away the thrill of seeing and discovering a new place for yourself. Morro de São Paulo was an absolute treasure to explore. On that first morning, we walked around 10km of curving, stretches of yet more stunning Brazilian beaches. Just when you think you've seen enough beaches in Brazil, the next one is unique in one way or another and equally if not more beautiful than the last. The beaches on Morro are numbered - first beach, second beach, third beach and fourth beach. Original hey?! The further you venture down these beaches the more isolated and peaceful it becomes.
On the downside, walking in the morning sun until you are 10km from the main beaches and realising it's suddenly midday, meant that after a relaxing swim and multiple applications of suncream, we were ready for the long, hot walk back.
The first thing we noticed upon arriving in Morro from Itacaré was the crowd. Because of its proximity and easy accessibility from the major city of Salvador, Morro is a real tourist paradise. While we don't really enjoy the packed beaches or the prices that these places inevitably attract, Morro de São Paulo is big enough that you can easily escape both of these things with a small amount of effort.
The town itself is full of tourist shops and small handicraft stalls along with plenty of icecreameries, bars and restaurants. Although it is touristy and busy, it's a beautiful little town in a natural paradise and definitely one of the places we have felt safest throughout our trip.
After a day of rain, we were bursting to continue exploring this incredible island, so on day three, we headed up to the Farol de Morro (Morro lighthouse) first thing in the morning.
The walk up the forest-covered hill was not the best idea after a day of pouring tropical rain. We played a game we like to call "Mud or Poop?" as we avoided questionable puddles along our route to the lighthouse - Wade wearing his hiking boots, while I was in thongs..... damn! After a sketchy walk up a slippery path, we arrived at the lighthouse which I was disappointed to discover is all locked up so you can't get right up close to it. However by following the path around the lighthouse we discovered two beautiful views. One looking north over the ocean where we saw a pod of dolphins playing in the water and the other looking out South over the first and second beaches of Morro. It was well worth the mud/poop that now covered my feet.
Back down the hill, another track leads around the headland to the old fort. I'm not entirely sure of the history of the fort but it is a beautiful old building and hiding just behind it are some calm, protected natural rock pools where we spent hours just floating around while discussing just how lucky we are to be sharing this experience with one another.
Photo: Morro de São Paulo Fort
Another day of island life passes and yet there is still so much of this unique place to discover. Day four came and I convinced Wade that we could walk from the main town of Morro (where we were staying and the northern tip of the island) to the less touristy yet just as beautiful town of Gamboa on the Island's north western coast. Ferries run all day between the two towns but who wants to take the easy way..... Right Wade??
We left much later than planned after spending a solid 2 hours looking up satellite imaging on google maps to try and figure out a suitable route to Gamboa. We knew it was possible, we just didn't have a map or any real idea of what to expect. Meh, no biggie, it's just a steep, partly jungle covered island, with no motor transport to rescue us and no one that actually knows we've gone exploring for the day. What could possibly go wrong??
We set off South from our guesthouse and soon found ourselves in a very local area of town. In any other Brazilian city this could be considered a slightly sketchy "favela" but the people on Morro are so incredibly welcoming and friendly that we had no hesitations. We came to a steep staircase that looked like it led straight into someone's house so I stopped to ask three curious looking men who were muttering under their breath while watching us naively scratching our heads. My dodgy and previously unheard-of dialect of Spanish-Portguese somehow managed to get a smile and a laugh out of these serious looking men. They helpfully explained that yes, you could get to Gamboa by heading in this direction but most of the rest of the info was lost in translation. However, the one part that Wade and I both agreed on without a doubt was that the men said: "When you get to a three way intersection, don't go left, don't go straight, go right and there will be a beautiful view from where you can get down to Gamboa".
Sweet! We held off on the high five until we were out of view of our new friends and then continued our climb. Soon the shops, houses and people became more and more sparse. The wide track became a sandy path and before long it was just us and the odd donkey or two lurking in the bush.
Without even realising it, I began following a path around to the left before Wade stopped me and pointed out that this could be our intersection. Hmmm it did look like a three way intersection but there was just one problem. The track on the right led behind a peeled back barbed wire fence with a sign that, regardless of our poor understanding of Portuguese definitely read "Do not enter". I shrugged and took a swig of water before turning to Wade to ask what he thought, only Wade was gone. Apparently not understanding the sign makes it null and void! Wade was on a mission to find Gamboa and a small hurdle such as private property wasn't going to stand in his way!
We came to an incredible view where we could finally see Gamboa and realised that we were a bloody long way up from the beach way down below us. After seeing our destination from this great vantage point, my doubts subsided and I willingly followed my always reliable husband. As our clear, open path disappeared and the bushes became thicker, I called out that I was going to wait while Wade saw if the path opened up again. Two minutes later a scratched and sweaty Wade returned. The path "kind of kept going, and it could be done. We will definitely get down to Gamboa but it was steep and not worth being scratched by all the trees" (* please note this is a direct quote from Wade Harris and will be referred to shortly).
After a bit of searching, we found an alternate path that even had a wooden staircase and handrail built into a steep section of forest. As we weaved our way down the mountain we could feel that we were nearing the coast and hopefully civilisation when we came across a small cascade that had pipes running to a water tank. FINALLY! We continued down a more defined bush staircase and eventually saw a house ahead of us. After a short discussion on whether either one of us knew how to explain "Sorry, we got lost" in Portuguese, we decided to try and politely sneak past the house and out their front gate to the refreshing and relieving beach. As we walked through the front gate Wade jumped straight in the ocean while I made sure I was a good house guest/trespasser and closed the gate properly. It was while closing the gate that I noticed the large "BEWARE OF THE DOG" sign staring me in the face. Lucky for us, the dog must have been asleep today!
So after a quick swim and an evaluation of where we were it was decided that we had somehow come out around 1 km north of Gamboa. Seeing it wasn't high tide, we could easily walk along the beach for the rest of the way and after seeing a family playing on the beach (the first people we had seen in around 2 hours) we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves.
A few minutes later, and while Wade was blissfully strolling along the beach we came to this: (see picture below).
This eroded and crumbling section of hillside just happens to be the end of the "path" that Wade specifically said "could be done". Hmmmm I don't know if it was the concerned and shocked look on my face or the realisation that this is what he had been bush bashing towards but Wade let out a giggle like he had just pooed his pants a little. After a silent moment of reflection on our near death experience, we both laughed it off and kept walking! C'est la vie!
After such an epic journey, the reward was definitely worth it. While there were still tables and chairs lining the beach and a few people swimming or chilling at the tables, it was blissfully quiet, significantly less touristy and they had ice cold beer! We ordered a decadent seafood platter complete with lobster and four side dishes that totally blew our usual lunch budget at a total cost of $40..... and it was utterly worth every Brazilian Real!
Our final reward for the day was an unexpected one. Just as we had lathered ourselves in suncream and bought a cold bottle of water for the return journey overland, our waiter asked if we were ready for a boat transfer back to Morro. I politely declined and told him we were walking back when he laughed and then said in a serious tone "No. You can't walk there. I'll tell the boat to wait". Wade and I exchanged confused glances before a slight disappointment but also relief came over us as we were given a free pass out of our return bush bash. The relaxing boat trip back was the perfect end to an awesome, slightly risky but hugely rewarding day.
A week earlier, we begrudgingly left Itacaré only to find ourselves in yet another amazing paradise where we could have stayed forever. And then just like that, six days had flown by and once again we had to begrudgingly pack up and move on.
With the World Cup now over and the streamers being pulled down from the town square, it felt like a fitting time to board the ferry to our next destination. Our two weeks of blissful beach life in Itacaré and Morro were over for now as we headed to the original capital city of Brazil, Salvador.
Plenty to tell about this interesting city of course but I'll leave that for next time. For now, I'll leave you with this image and hope that wherever you are, you're doing the math on how you're going to find yourself in your own private paradise because we only get one life and at one point or another, we all deserve to experience natural beauty such as this!
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Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.