“When was the last time I set my foot on a small island like this one?” – I asked myself when I first saw Ilha do Mel on the horizon.
We were going there by boat, and the journey was short, but very pleasant. On board, there were only two more passengers, the sun was shining, and views were spectacular.
The island we were heading to was quite unusual. As far as the progress of civilization is concerned, it stayed behind, and is not looking to catch up. There is no concrete, no cars, no roads. The three “villages” of the island (Fortaleza on the north, Encantadas on the south, and Brasilia in the centre) are connected by few forest paths, or by beach. The only available means of transport is a bicycle or a wheelbarrow. Optionally, you can take a boat to move from one part of the island to another. It is mainly nature that surrounds you there. There is not much land to cultivate. Local people live in small wooden huts, connected by tiny sand paths.
On the entire island, there are only three small shops that provide basic products, food, and drinking water, one school and a hospital. Every here and there, you can find a phone box, or a post box. Surprisingly, for being such a small community, the islanders constructed plenty of churches and football pitches.
A significant part of the island is not only uninhabited, but it is considered dangerous and inaccessible. It has been turned into a natural reserve of vegetation and wild animals, and even the locals try not to go there. We have been told that once,1000 Brazilian soldiers were sent to inspect the uninhabited territory and 100 of them got lost. Apparently, at certain point, their compasses stopped working and they had to seek help from local fishermen.
Ilha do Mel may not exactly be a place where inventions of modern technology make everyday life easier. It feels like time stopped there. It didn’t stop tourists from visiting, though. During our stay, due to the low season, it seemed a bit deserted, but still we had no doubts, that tourism was what keeps this place going.
We called at a little port of Brasilia, and we saw a tourist information right in front of us. Anderson, a guy who worked there, told us about the accommodation options. There were plenty. Later on, we discovered, that every second house on the island was a hotel or a camping, whereas almost every household offered a room to rent.
We were looking for a camping and he recommended one, quite far away from where we were. With our backpacks on, we had to fallow a small path leading through the forest. It was an exhausting half an hour walk, but it was worth the sweating. The place was situated right by the sea, so we could eat our breakfast on the beach, and every night, we would fall asleep with a soothing sound of breaking waves.
On top of that, soon we discovered that we became close neighbours with Anderson, the guy from the tourist information. He was renting a hut from the two brothers – owners of the camping. It was nice to make friends with someone who had all the important information about the island. He told us, for example, that when the electricity was brought, most people moved to the areas where it was possible to connect it, and formed the villages, but three families stayed in the reserve and still live there. There is a church, where the first marriage on the island was solemnised.
We were really keen on exploring the wilder parts of the island, but Anderson warned us, that even though it seemed easy, it was not always possible. Without knowing the place well, we could have been trapped between the beaches. If the tie went up, we could have been forced to go into the see and swim, or to walk into the forest. On top of that, there was a risk of coming across a dangerous snake or caiman.
In fact, the place was full of snakes. We were told, that there was a cobra that always came to the camping. Everyone knew it. It could be spotted on trees, or simply moving around the houses and tents. Every day we were aware of its presence, luckily, we newer saw it. One of the brothers showed us the skin it once dropped by his house. He had to raise his hand high above his head to present its fool length, and the tail was still on the ground. The cobra was far over 2 meters long!
It felt good to be surrounded by all this natural beauty. One day I walked out of the tent and saw a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower right in front of me. We admired some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. For the first time, we went into a beach cave.
What turned out to be interesting too, was to see how people lived. There isn’t much to do on the island. Life is simple, but good. Many people live their lives following an uncomplicated daily routine. They go fishing, take care of their households, eat, surf and rest. Before the sunset, the guys from our camping would simply go to the beach, pick some fresh mussels, and cook them with tomato and pasta for supper.
I must say, that the peacefulness and simplicity of this lifestyle was tempting. Watching those people made me wonder why most of us still choose to rush, stress, and consume. Soon I had my answer. There was one thing that made my life on this island absolutely unbearable. One tiny thing that I would never be able to accept. Mosquitos!
They were everywhere. They would start attacking around 5PM, right before the sunset, and bite every uncovered part of my body (due to the weather condition most of the parts of my body would be uncovered). There were millions of them. They were restless. They were quick like a jet … and they wouldn’t react to any sort of insect bite protection. After two days my skin was covered with mosquito bites. I had them in the most unusual places. I was constantly itching. We soon realized that the only way to deal with it, was to go to sleep at 6 in the afternoon. One night, I stayed up longer to hang out with Anderson and his friends from the island. I put all my warm clothes on, and covered as much as I only could. The mosquitos were still biting me through my jeans. They were even biting my face: the nose, eye leads, lips… I could not believe, that all the guys were sitting there, in their trunks, right next to me. I didn’t find enough courage to ask them the key question. I figured, there were two possible explanations. Either they were used to being bitten, or it was my fresh blood, that drove those miniature vampires crazy.
Salvador da Bahia is the first colonial capital of Brazil, the city is one of the oldest in the Americas. The African influence in many cultural aspects of the city makes it the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. This is something you can feel when you walk along the little roads in Pelourinho – historic center of the city. Pelourinho is a very beautiful place. It was named a world cultural center by UNESCO in 1985. The area has a lot of pretty old squares and little roads and offers numerous artistic and musical attractions. It was a nice surprise to see a policeman in every road and every corner, that made us feel very safe.
In one of the main squares of the city – Largo de Pelourinho – there was a shop that caught my attention. The shop was really small and it was all about Michael Jackson. I walked in to see what they had and surprisingly this old man had any single item you can imagine related with the King of Pop.
I spotted a little TV in one of the corners of that shop and I watched a Michel Jackson music video that was filmed in that very square we were at. The famous song was they don’t really care about us!
The center of Salvador is on top of a hill and the the view is impressive! You can see the old market, the port, part of the bay and the islands. In Bahia I tried for the first time a very typical Brazilian drink called Caldo de Cana. This drink is made from a sugar cane. They have those rudimentary machines that crash and smash the sugar cane and you drink the juice that comes out of it. The liquid has a greenish color and the first sip I had it tasted like root from a plant after this first flavor a sweet taste came to my mouth. People say it has a lot of vitamins and it is very good for you. Personally, I did not like it much.
Salvador is well known for its music. We wanted to find a nice place where we could see a music show. We asked a guy who worked at the hostel where to go. He told us about a local bar that he goes sometimes that has live music.
When we walked into this little bar, every single person was dancing and the atmosphere was incredible. Everybody was having a lot of fun and enjoying the music. The place felt very local, somewhere where tourists normally do not go and where everyone knows each other.
We enjoyed every single note the band played and every single step the crowd danced. The band that was playing was formed by four musicians even though sometimes a random lady was joining them on stage to play percussion with a cheese garter!
The last song of the night was sang by the drunkest guy in the bar. The musicians gave him the microphone and he sang a well known Brazilian song while the crowed laughed and danced. That was a perfect way to end up the night!
Enjoy the song: