A beach sleepover
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Everyone who visits Ilha Grande wants to visit Lopes Mendes. It is said to be Brazil’s second most beautiful beach and I was determined to see it before I left the island. Two kilometres of powder fine sand, uninhabited, proper surf, birds, monkeys, agoutis and caimans. Obviously, I had to get there, one way or another. With only two weeks on the island and no boats to get there, there was only one option. Walk it!
My first visit to Lopes was accidental and I certainly had no intention of spending the night there. The original plan was to go to Caxadaço, another remote beach with spectacular rock formations, and then return to Abraão, a 23 km round trip.
The first part of the hike to Caxadaço was via a wide dirt road leading to Dois Rios, a small village on the opposite side of the island from Abraão. Though certainly steep it was quite manageable. Small streams crossed the trail at regular intervals providing welcome drinking water. I could hear frogs chirping loudly around the streams. There were signposts to other trails along the way including one to Bico do Papagaio, the island’s second highest point by trail at almost 1km above sea level. The sign warned against setting out after midday and advised against going it alone. No danger of that, I thought, looking at the almost vertical rocky trail. I later heard from a local guide of someone who had ignored the warnings and set off for Bico do Papagaio alone. He had spent a week up in the mountains completely lost before making it back down to safety. I would never do anything so silly, I thought smugly.
After the turn off from the main road which continued on to Dois Rios, the trail to Caxadaço was (by my novice standards) nothing like anything I had experienced before. It was challenging to say the least – 3 hours of navigating really steep inclines, clambering over boulders and tree roots on paths (if you could even call them that) where you were likely to fall and injure yourself if you did not grab hold of lianas, tree branches and every now and then guide ropes. It would have been easy to stray from the trail which sometimes seemed indistinguishable from the surrounding jungle other than for marker ribbons tied around trees every few metres. Okay I could have done it in a shorter period of time but I stopped quite a lot to photograph birds (obviously) – and to rest. The steepness of the trail AND two snake encounters (a Coral and then a Jararacuçu) as well as a chance encounter with a couple of trail junkies who said the onward trail to Lopes was easy made my mind up. At that point I would have done ANYTHING rather than return from Caxadaço on the same trail. Also, if I got to see Lopes on the way that was a bonus. I was at that point in denial about the journey home beyond Lopes. I figured any way back to Abraão other than via Caxadaço and its snake-ridden trail would be the better option.
The trouble was, the trail junkies’ idea of “easy” was anything but for a novice hiker like me. It took a further 3 hours via the most difficult trail I have ever experienced - far more treacherous than that to Caxadaço - to get to Lopes. By the time I got there I was utterly exhausted and it was getting dark. Nightjars were beginning to come out – really exciting for a birder like me – but I could not even haul my camera out of its bag. Agoutis were running along the beach foraging for wild apricots that lay on the sand. Yes, Lopes Mendes was incredible, possibly the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my life but frankly I barely cared.
I had no insect repellent, no torch, no change of clothes, no food and no tent or shelter. All I had was a bottle of water and my trusty but extremely heavy camera. My greatest fear right then was being attacked by borachudos – nasty bloodsucking insects that came out at dusk with a bite far worse than mosquitoes and to which I appeared to have an extreme allergy.
At the far end of the beach, so a mere 2km distance from where I had entered, I saw some boats and a couple of fires. Normally a rather shy person, I decided to take my chances and ask for help – my hope was that I could get a boat to get me somewhere within striking distance of Abraão.
The first group of campers – two fathers and their grown sons on a jet-ski adventure from Rio - offered me coffee and insect repellent and they will never know how truly grateful I was for the latter. However, as they had only one tent and I did not fancy sleeping on the sand next to their fire on the beach – which they kindly offered - I decided to venture further up-beach and then weigh up my options.
Hoping against hope that the second group of campers, who appeared to have a couple of boats, might be able to get me home to Abraão, I plucked up the courage to approach and was really glad I did so. A group of youngish men from Rio who were self-quarantining on their yachts, they seemed determined to have a good time. Not only did they have a spare tent, they were great company and had food and drinks to spare. The first beer they offered me – a cold Heineken - was possibly the best I have ever tasted in my life. They were true gentlemen and I really don’t know what I would have done without their help. I don’t think many people have had the privilege of spending the night on Lopes but I woke up to the most incredible sunrise on the second most beautiful beach in Brazil.
After a cold shower from the natural pipe at the end of the beach, I said goodbye to my generous hosts. Following a delicious breakfast of coconut water, fresh coconut and beach apricots and a morning rambling along the beachfront and swimming in the crystal-clear green rollers of Lopes I set off on the homeward trail. I felt very blessed and looked forward to my next visit. The trail back via Pouso and Praia de Palmas was very hard – around 6 hours hard hiking – and I was extremely thankful that I had not attempted it the previous night.