Fun in Floripa
23.02.2012 - 06.03.2012 27 °C
Recently voted as Brazils most liveable city, Florianopolis (or Floripa as it is more affectionately known) sits on the mainland side of the bridge that links the city to the magnificent Ilha de Santa Catarina.
An island largely invisible to the rest of the world until recently.
Paul and Tom.....two of my compadres during the rigours of Carnivale had visited the island prior to their Rio Experience and pronounced it variously "Bloody awesome mate" and "a splendid place to visit" being , as they are , from Melbourne and ( a graduate of ) Oxford respectively.
Floripa sits white, splendid and confident on the hillside like a good humoured custodian....keeping a relaxed but watchful eye on the increasing number of visitors to the island.
At a little over a million souls it ranks as Brazils 20th largest city . However its income per capita positions it as one of the Nations wealthiest and with the relaxed beach lifestyle , sweet, Mediterranean style climate and laid back inhabitants...whats not to like ?
The Ilha de Santa Catarina itself lies tethered to the mainland by the bridge leading to Florianopolis and is a popular tourist destination to the south of Brazil . In practical terms a two hour plane ride Via Sao Paulo from Rio. In terms of lifestyle and pressure however the two destinations could not be any further apart. Closer to Montevideo than Rio ,being here one gets the impression of being in an entirely different country. This impression is magnified by the fact that the local inhabitants, largely as a result of a large influx of Northern Europeans over the past Hundred years (mainly from Germany and Poland)....are often different in physical characteristics to the average man or woman in Rio. Mixing of races means that it is not uncommon to see an olive skinned person with Blue eyes........and there are certainly more individuals with Blonde hair !!
This difference is more pronounced in the female than the male. There appears to be a disproportionate number of Tall females....statuesque Amazonian women slimmer and less buxom than their Northern cousins yet no less strikingly beautiful.
The other difference engendered by this European element is that purely and simply...the beer is better ! The cold but unimpressive and bland beer brands of Rio give way to more European styled brews, usually sourced from a series of Boutique breweries in the Locale. It is possible to tour these breweries and sample their wares.......Loney planet recommends this......but Im afraid this will have to wait for my next visit !
I must confess however to enjoying a couple of Steins of a most agreeable Pilsener as I soaked up the peace of inactivity with sand between my toes and the sun dipping red and swollen over the edge of a darkening ocean.
Popular with the locals for many years...it has only been since the late 1970s that international visitors have begun to gradually discover its charms ,which include some majestic scenery ,excellent hiking to Pristine ,remote beaches......Fabulous fresh, delectable seafood and for the surfing enthusiast no less than 22 seperate surf beaches to choose from, and to the North of the island the correspondent Surf culture which render the area not dissimilar to the relaxed ,Bohemian Byron Bay on the East Coast of Australia.
There is also a series of huge sandhills close to Lagao de Concecau down which its is possible ( for the princely sum of Ten Dollars) to snowboard all day if you are a thrill seeker looking for a change from the surf !
Lagao de Concecau in particular is blessed with a number of excellent restaurants (the Sushi is to die for!) cafes and bars and much to my delight a very strong musical culture which made for some memorable evenings.
My favourite was the Brazilian Beatles cover band......regaling a delighted crowd at the "Black Swan" with versions of "I wanna hold your hand" and "Can't buy me love" in a heavy Portuguese accent.....priceless !!
One of the more attractive surf spots is the world renowned Barra De Lagoa....(a good 8km hike over the hills from The Lagoa de Concecau .....a laid back Bohemian town at which I spent the second week of my time On Catarina)......often known as the"Bunny Slope" of Surfing. It is home to world champion Jacqueline Silva and a couple of clicks from Praia Mole which has played host to the WCT Surfing Championships on several occasions . Barra da Lagoa is a quaint fisherman's village but the physical characteristics of the beach make it the perfect place to learn to surf with a small but reliable swell.
It was disappointing , therefore that I only discovered this spot near the end of my stay on the island as I would loved to have had a crack at improving my almost non existent skills in this regard. Skills which would have been useful on my return to the sparkling surf of my home town of Sydney.
The beach is popular here with families and couples as well as surfers and gets quite crowded on the weekend with its string of surf side seafood restaurants and shops selling surf gear and beach clothing (Havaianas....being Brazilian are plentiful and cheap) . For those in search of a wholesome snack the beach stalls selling ice cold coconut water sipped from a freshly opened fruit or piping hot corn on the cob brushed with butter and salt are very popular and inexpensive....which meant that I enjoyed their wares on several occasions.
Beach football....and by football In South America (with the exception of the Argentinian Rugby team) we are referring to the round ball contest..... is very prevalent here and played not only casually but with an organised series of league competitions.
It is amazing to watch the skills of the Brazilian locals as they play the beautiful game on this soft surface and I enjoyed several games with the sun at my back.
There was also a volleyball competition.......yes the Brazilians enjoy their sport ! In fact as a nation the fitness culture is pretty well entrenched. There are a disproportionate number of beautiful bodies here.....and with the male of the species ,more six packs than Dan Murphy!
However there are two sides to this island....whereas the Surf spots of the North are vibrant and buzzing the southern area of the island is the direct opposite.
My modus operandi had been to get as far away from the Carnavale madness as possible and chill out and gather my resources for Lisbon....my next Port of call.
With this in mind I selected Pantano de Sul (A fishing village in the remote southern corner of the island where the most exciting thing to happen in the daily schedule is the return of the fishermen late afternoon with the fruits of their pescatorial prowess) as my destination .
One of the peculiarities about this island is that wherever you want to travel to usually necessitates a change of buses ..and in my case two buses on the day of my arrival from Rio when I was negotiating the 35 km trip from the Floripa airport to Pantano. This is because each town is only serviced by one of three main bus stations on the island. It really gets quite complex to plan a bus trip,particularly as no one seems to speak English here .
The buses have turnstiles as well...so the idea is you pay your fare and negotiate the turnstile....travel to the bus station which services your destination, disembark and await one of the infrequent Charabancs which go there .If you happen to be a fully laden backpacker (complete with recently purchased travel guitar ) you may well , like myself find these turnstiles and bus changes something of a challenge...particularly if ,as was the case with me you are operating under the influence of recent sleep deprivation as a result of your exertions at Carnivale in Rio.
It was after dark when I finally arrived at what I thought was Pantano de Sul..I had actually travelled one stop too far...and found myself...laden with my luggage In the dark streets of an even more remote village than Pantano. I did not realise this until the bus had left ( This being the end of the line and with no guarantee of additional transport that evening).
Someone must have been watching over me as three Young Argentinian men.....staying at a hostel in this village.......stopped their old Ford to ask if I was OK?
When hearing of my destination they very kindly offered to deliver me.......and despite being somewhat imbued with distrust following my Rio experiences I accepted their offer . Five kilometres back down the road these young men had restored my faith in human nature...and being fluent in English (definitely the exception to the rule in this part of the world). They were able to accept my offer of a cold beer the next day to repay them for their kindness.
The beach here is not a surf beach..it is a sheltered bay where small fishing sculls lay at anchor when not in use.......however the outlook is spectacular...the water crystal clear and eminently swimmable and with a westerly aspect and a fabulously photogenic sunset it is a great place to relax, knock off a couple of novels and jog on the beach.Which is essentially what I did for a week!
There is only one public computer in town also..which hardly ever seemed to be available ,which meant that devoid of my currently pilfered I phone I was essentially out of cyber communication for a week........which was a strange feeling...but somehow liberating.
There are several hamlets like this to the South of the Island where the lure of 21st century consumerism has been resisted with vigour,and life here goes on very much as it must have done in the 18th Century. Their determination to escape the evil tentacles of the English language have been equally vigorous and I basically spent a week here gesticulating to get my meaning across....being almost entirely deficient in the Portuguese native tongue.
There is one restaurant in town however, "The Arante", which stands out ..not only because you wouldn't expect to find a restaurant of this stature it in a hamlet so small and remote,nor would you expect cuisine of the quality turned out by the chef,but also because of the nature of the Decor,which is quite unlike anything I have seen before.
Basically every inch of available wall and ceiling space seems to be covered by hand written notes...........over 100,000 notes left by visitors since the early 1970s...when the early surfing visitors...before the days of easy communication ,used to leave notice at this watering hole for their friends, of their expected whereabouts on a given date.
Over the years these notes have become more creative....in all different languages....and it is entertaining to spend an hour simply reading them. In fact a book has been written capturing some of the more remarkable I shall post the link when I track it down.
I added my own humble contribution....left notes for my loved ones if they ever make it to this corner of the world...and whilst they may not have been amongst the most creative they were certainly heart felt.I challenge you to find them !!
So there you have it.....Ilha de Santa Catarina..............a sparkling jewel of a destination ,an island of contrasts and a wonderful place to recuperate and recharge my batteries before my next stop....Portugal !