Vida na Ilha–Sem “Estresse”

After a busy first few weeks orienting ourselves with the summer intensive program part of our study abroad experience, we were given a weekend to explore on our own.  And so began my adventure with Rebecca and Ryan to the island of Itaparica, which lies in the Bahia de Todos os Santos, directly across from Salvador.  After one turnaround, two bus rides, and twenty questions later, we arrived at last at the “fehee boachee” that would take us across the bay to the Ilha.  The breeze, the bay, and the boats were glorious; and as I drank in the view, the other passengers lounged in their cars or on top of their motorcycles, eating snacks and drinking from the bright-yellow cans of beer that are ever-present to celebrate any and every occasion.

When we got to the island, however, and scanned the bleaching boats splayed on the deserted beach in front of the darkened windows of little painted houses, we realized that we had no idea where we were going or what exactly we were going to do there.  After the bustle of the disembarking crowd dispersed, our uncertainty was quickly seized upon by a multitude of van drivers, or motoristas, pitching the prices of their various destinations.  Then one taxi driver appeared and wouldn’t leave our sides as we raced through the gauntlet of hungry hawkers, until we finally stopped, allowing him to flash his certificate as an “official tour guide of the island” and to give us a price much lower than those that we had been hearing.  As we re-traced our steps on our way to his car, we had the pleasure of proclaiming our procured price to our previous prospects, who widened their eyes in disbelief, and then shrugged and laughed once they saw our driver, putting their arms around him and saying that he was truly of “gente boa”, or good people.

After traipsing over the speed bumps in the little dirt-road port town, we were soon whizzing by the luscious green foliage of the interior of the island.  Although the plan was to take us straight to the historic town of Itaparica on the top tip of the island, our guide pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of the forest, beside a crop of small of buildings.  Initially the most hesitant to go with this guy, at that point, I was sure we were being kidnapped.  After pointing out the first group of houses as the compound of a historic terreiro, or house of Candomblé, on the island, our guide told us to get out of the car because he wanted us to see the pousada, or hostel, of his friends.  Oh boy.  As Ryan awkwardly engaged in small-talk with the owners, a Dutch man, who recently inherited unexpected money and so opened this pousada, and his Brazilian wife, I wandered around taking pictures, while Rebecca carefully watched our guide as he grabbed two coconuts, hacking off the tops and handing them to us with straws, to see if he put anything else in the fresh, sweet água de coco.

Thankfully, the other van drivers were right about our guide being gente boa, and after we made on more stop to drop off a credit card at his sister’s house, we eventually made it to the little old town of Itaparica, whose painted buildings reminded me of Pelourinho, the famously historic bairro of Salvador.  The entire experience was perfect proof of the kind of island-living, “sem estresse”, or without the stress of the big city, that our guide constantly professed to be the greatest attraction of Itaparica.  Ironically, however, the stress-free living of our guide added more than a little stress to ours, unused as we were to the laid-back lifestyle of “vida na Ilha”.  

Embarking on our adventure to the Ilha da Itaparica, the largest maritime island in Brasil.

Embarking on our adventure to the Ilha da Itaparica, the largest maritime island in Brasil.

The best part of the ferry ride was seeing all the fishing barges in the bay.

The best part of the ferry ride was seeing all the fishing barges in the bay.

There are lots of little boats as well in the bay, fishing for sport.

There are lots of little boats as well in the bay, fishing for sport.

The barges reminded me of the ones that pass by on the Detroit river between the Great Lakes in Michigan.

The barges reminded me of the ones that pass by on the Detroit river between the Great Lakes in Michigan.

Views of the peninsula

Views of the peninsula

Beautiful blue bay

Beautiful blue bay

A Ilha! The entire ferry ride there took about an hour.

A Ilha! The entire ferry ride there took about an hour.

The island was much poorer than Salvador and much simpler.

The island was much poorer than Salvador and much simpler.

Salvador's skyline, viewed from Itaparica

Salvador’s skyline, viewed from Itaparica

Arriving in the dock!  Literally everyone crowded down from the upper levels of the ferry, ready to disembark.

Arriving in the dock! Literally everyone crowded down from the upper levels of the ferry, ready to disembark.

The vegetation in the interior of the island was luscious and green--a welcome break from the high-rise apartments of the city.

The vegetation in the interior of the island was luscious and green–a welcome break from the high-rise apartments of the city.

A terreiro (house of Candomblé) as viewed from a pousada that we stopped at because the taxi driver wanted to visit some friends of his....

A terreiro (house of Candomblé) as viewed from a pousada that we stopped at because the taxi driver wanted to visit some friends of his….

The historic town of Itaparica, with buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The historic town of Itaparica, with buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The streets were mostly deserted; apparently, 80% of the houses on the island are vacation homes, frequented in the summer months.

The streets were mostly deserted; apparently, 80% of the houses on the island are vacation homes, frequented in the summer months.

Igreja de São Lorenço, built in 1610.

Igreja de São Lorenço, built in 1610.

Another church that looked old and historic

Another church that looked old and historic

Forte de São Lorenço, dating back to 1711, was built on the remains on the original fort, constructed in 1631, which was occupied by the Dutch invasion and used to withstand Portuguese forces.

Forte de São Lorenço, dating back to 1711, was built on the remains on the original fort, constructed in 1631, which was occupied by the Dutch invasion and used to withstand Portuguese forces.

Praia Ponta da Areia

Praia Ponta da Areia

There were more raindrops than people sprinkling the beach.

There were more raindrops than people sprinkling the beach.

My wonderful amiga, Rebecca!

My wonderful amiga, Rebecca!

Camera fun

Camera fun

Rainy streets

Rainy streets

Of course there were vacas in the street....reminded me of my last summer spent in Nicaragua.

Of course there were vacas in the street….reminded me of my last summer spent in Nicaragua.

On the way back, we took a "lancha" instead of the big ferry, which was a smaller boat that clipped across the waves still rolling from the storm--a Salvador-style rollercoaster

On the way back, we took a “lancha” instead of the big ferry, which was a smaller boat that clipped across the waves still rolling from the storm–a Salvador-style rollercoaster

Leaving the island from Porto do Bom Despacho.

Leaving the island from Porto do Bom Despacho.

After the storm

After the storm

Rainbow arching over Salvador's skyline

Rainbow arching over Salvador’s skyline

The best way to display a promise

The best way to display a promise

On the way back home, when I clambered over several people to poke my camera out the other side of the boat, I almost cried as I saw the most beautiful rainbow arching across the city skyline, settling at last in the water.  It was a reminder that God is faithful, and just as He was with us that day, He would be with us on the many more adventures that are to come.

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)

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Into the Interior: Chapada Diamantina

Contrary to what any map might tell you, the state of Bahia is made up of two parts: the city of Salvador and the “Interior”.  After asking countless cab drivers, college friends, and professors about the origin of their birthplace, I have learned that if you are not from the city of Salvador, then you are from the other “half” of Bahia–the interior.  It doesn’t matter if it’s thirty minutes or three hours from Salvador, everything outside the bustling bounds of Salvador’s metropolis is classified as the “interior”.  If you press for details, then you will hear the names of little towns called “Senhor do Bonfim”, “Santo António de Jesus”, and “Euclides da Cunha” (also the name of a street by my house).  But as most people start and finish their pre-city existence with the one-word answer “interior”, my interest was piqued to discover what really composed the rest of Brazil’s fifth largest state, comparable in size to the country of Kenya.  Thanks to CIEE, my “intercambio” program here, I spent a weekend in Chapada Diamantina, six hours into the interior of Bahia.

“Chapada” refers to the steep cliffs that edge the multitude of plateaus whose wild beauty is what make’s the park’s topography so stunning.  “Diamantina” tells the story of the discovery of diamonds in the hills during the mid-nineteenth century, and the mining legacy that followed.  Created in 1985, I got to meet the man who helped the area receive national park status, which sparked the ecotourism that completely transformed the sleepy town of Lençois, and continues to drive their economy today.  While their fathers were burning down trees and burrowing caves into the cliff-sides in search of diamonds, young men and women learned to care for and protect the creation in the park, becoming guides for hiking to the waterfalls, snorkling in the natural pools, and climbing down into forgotten caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  As visitors oooh-ed and ahhh-ed at the breathtaking nature, the chests of locals puffed out a little more, and they walked a little taller down their dirt roads, as they began to see new treasures in the hills surrounding their old town.

Lençois was like stepping back in time, with narrow dirt roads that wound down the hills to the cluster of painted houses in the heart of the little town.  Apart from signs for internet cafes peeking out of doorways, you could catch glimpses of the mining era, a century-and-a-half ago.  Locals claim that there is never any crime, and even at eleven o’clock at night, little children were still darting between the candle-lit tables of late-night diners in the streets.

Unfortunately, I couldn't see much of the interior on the way, as we had to travel at night for safety reasons due to much traffic on the roads during the day

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see much of the interior on the way, as we had to travel at night for safety reasons due to much traffic on the roads during the day

Arriving in Lençois at sunrise

Arriving in Lençois at sunrise

Lençois

Lençois

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Exploring the town

Hiking to Riberão do Meio, a natural rockslide and pool

Hiking to Riberão do Meio, a natural rockslide and pool

I went down the slide twice--it was so fast!

I went down the slide twice–it was so fast!

The water was full of iron and very orange

The water was full of iron and very orange

Squeezing juice out of sugar cane.  The juice was literally sugar in a cup.

Squeezing juice out of sugar cane. The juice was literally sugar in a cup.

Hens and chicks (for Dad)

Hens and chicks (for Dad)

Red dirt

Red dirt

The galera at Rio Mucugezinho

The galera at Rio Mucugezinho

More iron water

More iron water

Poço do Diabo

Poço do Diabo

The cachoiera (waterfall) at Poço do Diabo.  I had fun watching people land in the water at the end of the zip line.

The cachoiera (waterfall) at Poço do Diabo. I had fun watching people land in the water at the end of the zip line.

A cahoiera

A cahoiera

A pretty blue libélula

A pretty blue libélula

The middle child standing exactly in the middle of Bahia!

The middle child standing exactly in the middle of Bahia!

cheesing

cheesing

About to hike Morro do Pai Inácio

About to hike Morro do Pai Inácio

Climbing Morro do Pai Inácio

Climbing Morro do Pai Inácio

The galera reppin Brasil on top of Morro do Pai Inácio

The galera reppin Brasil on top of Morro do Pai Inácio

Views from top of Morro do Pai Inácio

Views from top of Morro do Pai Inácio

More views

More views

Being still

Being still

Gruta Azul: The water in this cave is actually clear, but appears turquoise when the light hits it during a narrow sliver of the afternoon, reacting with the calcium in the sand

Gruta Azul: The water in this cave is actually clear, but appears turquoise when the light hits it during a narrow sliver of the afternoon, reacting with the calcium in the sand

Some vacas

Some vacas

The mouth of the cave "Gruta da Fumaça"

The mouth of the cave “Gruta da Fumaça”

The cave was huge, filled with stalactites and stalagmites

The cave was huge, filled with stalactites and stalagmites

The cieling

The cieling

I think the funniest part was hearing the guide pronounce "stalacteechees" and "stalagmeechees" in Portuguese

I think the funniest part was hearing the guide pronounce “stalacteechees” and “stalagmeechees” in Portuguese

Formations

Formations

Lydia, the cave dweller

Lydia, the cave dweller

Four brave adventurers in a jeep, ready to hike to Cachoeira da Fumaça!

Four brave adventurers in a jeep, ready to hike to Cachoeira da Fumaça!

View of the valley and the town we hiked from

View of the valley and the town we hiked from

Views from the hike

Views from the hike

The canyon of Cahoiera da Fumaça

The canyon of Cahoiera da Fumaça

You can't see me trembling, but the guide's hand on my ankle was all the security I had

You can’t see me trembling, but the guide’s hand on my ankle was all the security I had

Cachoiera da Fumaça, the highest waterfall in Brasil

Cachoiera da Fumaça, the highest waterfall in Brasil

Overlooking the canyon

Overlooking the canyon

A little lagarto that I found

A little lagarto that I found

The waterfall is so high up, that the water evaporates on the way down the canyon

The waterfall is so high up, that the water evaporates on the way down the canyon

Views on the way back down

Views on the way back down

The rocky plateaus that give Chapada its name

The rocky plateaus that give Chapada its name

After surviving the 6-hour hike, where we literally bounded like mountain goats up the rocks of a dry riverbed, we went to a natural pool to cool down.

After surviving the 6-hour hike, where we literally bounded like mountain goats up the rocks of a dry riverbed, we went to a natural pool to cool down.

The coldest pool in which I've ever swam, high in the mountains of Brasil

The coldest pool in which I’ve ever swam, high in the mountains of Brasil

Showering in the waterfall

Showering in the waterfall

This place was my favorite from the whole trip

This place was my favorite from the whole trip

Infinity pool...

Infinity pool…

Chapada Diamantina completely changed my concept of Brasil’s topography, with was previously composed entirely of stereotypical images of beaches and rainforest.  These rocky mountainsides, lonely plateaus, and the dry landscape (think Arizona in the tropics) interspersed with glorious waterfalls splashing into natural pools forever opened up my mind to the vast diversity that is Brasil.  Now I am back living in the salt-water, sea-side city of Salvador, but I definitely want to return one day to the agua doce (fresh water) pools and waterfalls that are the true diamonds of Chapada Diamantina.