Ilha Grande is an Island located about 140Km’s southwest from Rio. Both places share a similar landscape with dramatic steep hills, covered in dense jungle and stretches of beautiful sandy beaches; but that is where the comparison ends. Island life contrasts to city life in a number of ways, but perhaps the most interesting difference is the inhabitant’s perception of time or, perhaps more accurately, their lack of it.
Ilha Grande is only accessible by boat from one of the three small ports on the mainland: Mangaratiba, Angra dos Reis and Conceićão de Jacarei. We chose to cross the shortest section from Conceićão de Jacarei, but even so the boat seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. When we finally made it to the island we jumped off the boat, collected our massive backpacks and geared up for the long walk ahead.
Of course, there was no taxi or local bus to collect us. In fact, there is a complete ban on motor vehicles on Ilha Grande which means everyone has to get around the old-fashioned way. In the name of exclusivity, we had foolishly picked the furthest hostel from the jetty, up a steep jungle path.
During our long walk, we had to pass through virtually the whole village (fortunately it’s not very large) and one thing that was immediately obvious was the lack of infrastructure. This is actually quite deliberate as the Government has put restrictions on exactly what can and can’t be built there. The island is, however, still perfectly set up for backpackers, with just a few very simple single story buildings; all of which are either restaurants, bars or small shops. Behind this, there is a maze of sandy paths that lead to the various guesthouses and hostels. There are no large hotels here.
Hungry from our trek, we went down to the beachfront to grab a bite to eat from one of the restaurants found there. Like selecting a bottle of wine, we went for the second cheapest option and we soon learned that everything happens at a very sedate pace. After eventually flagging down the waiter we placed our order of two sandwiches (by pointing at the menu and speaking English very slowly). The waiter nodded, noted something down and returned to the kitchen. About an hour later he reemerged with a couple of dishes that we hadn’t asked for.
Going to the supermarket isn’t much easier. Fresh produce isn’t easy to come by as they are reliant on boat deliveries, and storing food at 35 degrees isn’t exactly ideal. But this isn’t the main cause of frustration. Once you’ve decided what you want you need to prepare yourself for a very long wait in the checkout queue. This isn’t because there are lots of people, just that the cashiers work at tortoise pace. One of our fellow travelers lost patience with it entirely, left their shopping and walked out. We persevered though, finally got to the checkout and paid in cash, which is the only way to pay for anything because there are no ATM’s on Ilha Grande.
It reminded me of Mafia Island in Tanzania, where they use a Swahili expression: “Pole Pole”, which translates as “slowly slowly”. To understand this philosophy, all you need to do is walk to one of the many unspoiled, deserted beaches and suddenly it all makes sense. Time is the ultimate luxury, and when you live in paradise what’s the rush.