Sometimes traveling is less about destinations and more about the journey itself. So this post is mainly about that.... the tale of our trip to Boipeba, a small island off the northeast coast of Brazil. Our final leg to Boipeba was a 3 hour boat tour. Well, it was advertised as 3 hours, but it ended up being a 4 hours. That's Bahia time for you.
We really wanted to go to Boipeba because it's supposed to be a magical, lush island. Without any cars, or the commercialism or crowds of other popular destinations on the Bahia coast, everyone says it's “muito tranquilo”. Indeed it is all of those things. That's because it's frickin' hard to get to this little magical island.
Chris and I start our journey from Salvador on Thursday at 8am, but wouldn't arrive in Boipeba until Friday at 2pm. Not because it's far, as the crow flies it's only about 60 miles from Salvador. But getting here is just complicated.
Leg 1: Taxi to the seaport, to catch the catamaran headed for Morro de São Paolo, which is the island next to Boipeba. The passage takes about 3 hours (even though they said it was only 2). The boat goes out on the open Atlantic so the ocean swells rock the little catamaran back and forth with force. There is also no AC on the boat (despite the fact that “Ar Condicionado” was clearly advertised), so the approximate temperature inside the boat is 98 degrees. Us, and our 128 closest friends, steamed up the stuffy cabin with our hot breath and sweaty bodies, as the boat sways and sways. Chris and I actually do OK compared to a some. One guy spends the entire ride with his head in his own lap. But certainly, it is not a chatty ride for anyone. I put in my headphones, listen to chill music, and just wait for it to be over.
Upon arriving to Morro, we hike into the island to reach our Pousada (little hotel). Morro is very hilly so there's lots of steps and inclines to contend with. In mid day tropical sun, carrying giant packs, walking uphill after the peachy boat right we'd just had... we are fading fast. But we arrive to small hotel with a great little pool with a view, and immediately head for the hammock, which is a sweet fix. Morro is not the final destination, just the stopover. Even though it is barely 1pm, and the islands are separated by just a small estuary, one cannot get a boat to Boipeba the same day. Everyone must wait until morning. Does this make sense? No. But that's just the way it is. So we enjoy our half day in Morro and wait until morning for our transfer.
Morro is cute but very touristy. It feels a little like Buzios with the bustling restaurant and shopping district, but with a laid-back, hippie vibe. Lots of dreadlocked artists wandering with their jewelry to sell. Restaurants with tie-dyed tablecloths. And live musicians everywhere playing Bob Marley and Pink Floyd. By coincidence, there was a music festival on the island all weekend, which they were setting up on the beach. Apparently, the whole beach turns into an all-night dance party each night from Thursday-Sunday. We tried to stay up to see part of the opening night, but when we learned the main acts go on from 1am – 4am, we bagged it. We had a 9:30 am boat to catch the next day. We did see the kick off drum parade though, in traditional outfits with interesting chimes and drums. Though Morro was fun for a night, the island feels a bit Cancun-esque... promo girls pushing drink specials and hostesses aggressively luring tourists. Not muito traquilo.
Leg 2: 9:30 am, we catch our boat to Boipeba. It was supposed to be a 3 hour tour by motorboat. We must wade out into the water to get into the boat (with our giant backpacks); it's Chris and I, eight other tourists, and one boat captain. No one, including our captain, speaks English. Okay, one guy speaks a little English, but we don't realize this under later. We're used to this situation by now, and are comfortable having no clue what is going on. But the no-nonsense Captain Jonas kicks off the trip speaking emphatically to the group with an explanation. Of safety? Of what's ahead? We're lost. We don't understand it at all, so he repeats himself over and over. He doesn't want to just let us be the unaware touristas, he clearly has something to tell us about this journey. Finally he says “Mar, mar! Cinquante Percente” over and over again, while gesturing his hand in a swimmy fish motion. Now we get it. He's saying that 50% of the ride is going to be rough.
Turns out it was the first 50%, and Captain Jonas was not playing. The tiny boat has to make it's way out over the breakers and hits the waves with impressive force. The boat is being tossed around, water is splashing over the sides, soaking everyone inside. Our backpacks get drenched, too. One of the Brazilian guys, who happens to be sitting directly across from me, has his point-and-shoot camera and keeps snapping photo of the group experience. Why he wants pictures of me making the panicked face of sheer terror as saltwater runs down into my eyes, I have no idea. But snap, snap away he goes, as if this is a moment we'll all want to remember. At one point, I seriously consider ripping the camera out of his hand and throwing it overboard.
Once out on the sea, it's pretty much more of the same. Like being on a log-flume-roller-coaster only there is no track. I hang tightly on to Chris's right arm, and wonder if I'm going to die. But I pretty much always wonder if I'm going to die, so this isn't really a good indication of actual danger. Sensing my panic, Chris periodically checks in with “You OK?” And I say that I am, but really, I'm just coming up with completely insane survival scenarios for when the boat inevitably capsizes. “I think we could swim to shore. Chris is a strong swimmer. I'm not, but I'll let the current take me in.” or “Will I have time to grab a life preserver? Remember where they are so you can grab one.” or “Are there sharks out here? Probably not. But will someone get cut when the boat flips, and will the blood attract the sharks?” I have a fantastic natural ability to deeply worry about scenarios that range from improbable to impossible. I'm hoping this trip numbs me to such worrying, at least a little.
The boat makes several stops and each time I'm lulled into a sense of comfort when we're on land, only to go right back to terror as soon a the boat hits the waves again. But, by the third and final time we head out into the rough seas, I'm actually calm. This is when I realize the boat ride is at least 12% fun, and I try to actually enjoy it. I jokingly and quietly sing the Gilligan's Island theme song in Chris's ear, and we discuss the concept of a remake of the sitcom, this time with two Americans who don't speak Portuguese stranded on a tropical island with six Brazilians who don't speak English, and one very salty boat captain. The parts of bathing-suit clad Chris and Carrie will be played by Channing Tatum and Megan Fox, naturally, since they are our döpplegangers. Captain Jonas will be played by Jimmy Smits.
A few minutes later, we pull into a cove with other boats– looks like we're here! We expect that the entire group will get off the boat, as we did at other stops. But no one moves. The Captain says something to us in Portuguese, and again, we don't get, but he stops the boat anyway. The sweet tourist who spoke a little English translates: “We stop for you, your pousada is here.” Okayyyyy... we get off, I guess? They let us off the boat into water thigh deep, hand us our backpacks (that we precariously hold over our heads), wave “Tchau”, and drive away before we can even wade to the beach. They could have dropped us off anywhere and we wouldn't know the difference! Thankfully, it was the right place, and we hiked a short way to our pousada, having finally made it to Boipeba.
As for the return trip, the ocean-faring speedboat+catamaran combo is off the table unless someone can Fed-Ex me a horse tranquilizer. Instead we'll take a river speedboat to a taxi to a bus to a ferry to another taxi. Easy peasy.