Ilha Grande - Beyond the Beaches
by Elizabeth Willoughby
A chance glance into the nighttime sea and my flashlight lands upon a white disk rushing through the water towards me, glowing and growing ever larger, and finally revealing its head and legs. Within moments the sea turtle passes just overhead with nary a glimpse at the audience, and the illumination is gone.
Scuba diving in Brazilian waters is an indelible experience that I never tire of as I espy something new and thrilling with every dive - a seahorse making its way to a plant to anchor its tail around, then some stingrays float by in the distance; moray eels peer out amongst plants growing off a sunken helicopter, then a blowfish meanders past.
There are a few places close enough to São Paulo city to make weekend trips worthwhile, like Laje de Santos, Ilhabela and even Paraty in nearby Rio de Janeiro. But a long weekend is ideal to take advantage of another prime diving location that isn't too far away, Ilha Grande just off the coast of Angra dos Reis in Rio. Ilha Grande is famous for its unspoiled Atlantic rainforest and tropical beaches (more than one hundred) − a seductive getaway. The island, nearly two hundred square kilometres, has but three tiny communities that range from modest to no infrastructure. Only one, Vila do Abraão, has a ferry connection, B&Bs and camping for tourists. A former penal colony reminiscent of Papillon, the eerie ruins can still be visited from this settlement, as well as treks through the forest to various beaches and waterfalls, day cruises and diving excursions.
Way on the other side of the island, nestled on tiny Praia Vermelha (Red Beach), awaits the adventure that every scuba diver covets: a secluded pousada (pension) with all amenities, an air compression station, a dock and diving boat and a natural aquarium. Leisurely dives begin after a hearty breakfast and end mid-afternoon.
After observing fish of every colour combination, catching sight of giant sea turtles coasting by, discovering creatures with both fins and legs, and discerning a camouflaged ray only because it was startled and sped off, the boat takes divers back to the pousada. Following a warm shower and fresh clothes, I lounge on the patio with a cool drink and, with waterlogged fingers, fill out my logbook before I forget the day's sightings. I watch the sun set behind the mainland mountains, waves lapping on the shore just beyond my feet. A child runs by giggling, pursued by his father. They play hide and seek among the partially submerged pillars of the dock. Whiffs of churrasco (barbecue) reach me: beef, sausage, fish... my mouth waters as the plates are served.
After dinner I'll check my flashlight batteries before we head out for another night dive. Down in the dark and gloomy water lurks a nocturnal marine world I'm anxious to discover more of.
© Elizabeth Willoughby 2002
This article was originally published by Sunday News, São Paulo.
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