Dirty, Dirty Ihla de Mare: Brazil

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


La Paz Witches’ Market: Bolivia


La Paz is home to rough-around-the-edges attractions like Chola Wrestling (women beating the crap out of each other), Route 36 (a gringo coke den), and a famous Witches’ Market hawking dried llama fetuses and spells for fertility. Surprisingly (or not?), the Witches’ Market is the most Disney-fied of the three. Don’t get me wrong, this market has got some weird, weird shit. But overall, you won’t find the lawless craziness you tend to expect out of Bolivia here. In fact, for Bolivia, you’ll feel quite safe.

This is, after all, the country that offers rides down Death Road (Yungas Road), a treacherous mountainside path with a one mile drop, and tours of mines in which each touring party blows up his or her own dynamite. A tour of the country’s breathtaking salt flats may result in an alcoholic driver or a loss of ones luggage. An overnight bus ride takes you past burnt wreckage of countless buses that could have been yours. But at La Paz’ Witches’ Market, you don’t have to worry about those elements of danger.

The Witches’ Market is basically several blocks of stores with a handful of stands in front. They sell your typical touristy alpaca gear–supposedly handwoven sweaters, hats, blankets and bags, leather purses, trinket-y jewelry, and other various South American novelties. It’s all so cheap that one needs to show restraint to avoid looking like the ultimate SA backpacker cliche, clad in head-to-toe alpaca.

One also needs to listen carefully, as the sneaky saleswomen will often mumble “baby alpaca” when pointing at a sweater or hat, but they’re actually saying “maybe alpaca.” Meaning, it may be alpaca, but it may not be. Lame trick, I say. Either way, don’t pay up for anything.

And while fuzzy wool sweaters and socks are nice for La Paz’s freezing nights, this is the majority of the Witches’ Market’s offerings. Only a small handful of stands sells the crazy shit you’ve come here to see, and admittedly, that small amount of shit is indeed crazy. You can buy the carcass of a llama fetus, dried with fur or without, as a good luck charm. They aren’t exactly good for those of us trying to pack light, and I’m not exactly sure one could safely cross into the States with one’s llama baby, but, you know, its nice to see some genuinely witch-y stuff. Other finds include creepy masks and various spells offering beauty, luck, money, sex, fertility, less jail time, revenge on enemies, etc. Most of the spells are a packet of weird plastic trinkets, glitter, and maybe some pieces of food, with lots of dried herbs, which you throw into a boiling cauldron and stir (seriously).

You also can buy yourself a cheap bag of coca leaves with the alkaline “enhancer” but don’t expect the sales ladies to show you how to chew it. (Read up online, alternatively just stick a wad of the leaves in your mouth with a tiny piece of the alkaline and chew very lightly.) Yes, its what they make cocaine from, yes, its legal, and no, its not much of a drug experience. Yes, it helps with altitude and appetite, and yes, it tastes like soggy crap. Just, you know, don’t try bringing that back to the States, either.

By: Erin Griffith, Photos By: Travis Harwood