It’s gritty, it’s poor, and it’s not much of a tropical paradise, but all that’s part of the charm.
Northern Brazil’s region of Bahia is peppered with beaches of every variety: surfer, hippie, resort, etc. There are also the small, undeveloped, car-less fishing islands with very little infrastructure for tourism. Ihla de Mare, located off the coast on hour south of Salvador, is one such place.
We wouldn’t have considered or even known about it if a French student we met hadn’t invited us. It also helped that his Portuguese was better than ours (we sadly retained little beyond “cerveja”).
The Portuguese proved integral, because getting there wasn’t easy. From the touristy confines of Salvador’s Pelourinho area, my travel mate, myself, and our trusty French sidekick rode a city bus for one hour through Salvador’s loud, dusty shantytowns and favellas.
Everything was bustling and everyone was, for some reason, yelling. We eventually hopped off at a somewhat random stop, walked for another hour to find a beach, boarded a tiny, shitty little boat at the end of a pier, and proceeded to teeter across the choppy sea for what felt like 20 years. Every treacherous lurch and stomach-churning drop was met with wild screams (delight? terror? not sure) from the passengers, followed by a massive spray of salt water.
Of course I vomited on the ride. Choppy teetering isn’t ideal when you’ve eaten several fried shrimp sandwiches for breakfast.
When we arrived, the operation got even more budget. We were ushered into a wobbly rowboat, which taxied us for around 100 meters, where we were told to get out and wade to the shore in waist deep water. Glad I didn’t wear my designer swimsuit cover-up (that’s a joke).
I was doubly glad after I slipped on a rock and slid down a muddy hill. Anyway…
We explored rugged, rocky beaches, kicked a pelota with some friendly children, waded through packs of roosters, and downed a few very cold cervejas. It wasn’t beautiful or a slice of paradise, but it was definitely a slice of life. The island was the first place I’d found in Brazil where I could hear my own thoughts–a relief after three weeks in the bustling cities of Rio and Salvador, where all places, at all times, blare samba. Or the Black Eyed Peas. Ihla de Mare felt removed from reality by by 20 years; I imagine it will for 20 more.
By: Erin Griffith, Photos By: Travis Harwood