Cholera, Covid-19 and quarantine
Had my holiday been booked any later - I flew out on 15 March 2020 – I would almost certainly not have made this trip. I would definitely not have been allowed onto Ilha Grande.
My relief at getting to my holiday destination turned into anxiety about getting off the island when, around a week into my stay, and after almost all shops and restaurants closed, I found out that all boat and ferry traffic was restricted to residents only. At that point I felt like a prisoner on an island infamous for its high security prison and lazaretto for cholera infected Europeans. But I imagined it would be a temporary situation and my initial thoughts were not to let anxiety about leaving get in the way of spoiling a dream holiday.
Enjoyable as my first two weeks were, there were quite a few anxious moments. There was the first of many cancelled flights home. At first I was not worried, I assumed my holiday would be extended by a couple of weeks, kind of a nice problem to have to deal with in a beautiful place with an helpful Airbnb host and understanding employers who were incredibly supportive eventually furloughing me when it became clear I would not be able to return any time soon.
It would get worse – far worse. Norwegian Air cancelled my flight no less than 4 times, it would be a month before I got any reply from the FCO (after which they were great) and of course Covid-19 mortality and infection rates soared in England after I left and then started to take off in Brazil. It came as no surprise when Brazil became the new epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, with daily deaths regularly exceeding 1,000 per day towards the end of May.
Another issue I experienced was harassment – I might even be so bold as to call it xenophobia - by a few locals. Every now and then a vigilante island resident stopped me on the street and questioned me about when I had arrived and why I was here, the implication being I was not welcome. There were few tourists on the island other than South Americans who were either working or on extended travels and blended in with native Brazilians. I on the other hand stood out as a gringa with my relatively pale skin, elementary Portuguese and conspicuous Canon camera with telescopic lens. In all the time I was on the island I only heard one other person speaking English or a European language with a European accent.
Rather than allow these setbacks to get to me, I made a conscious decision to make the most of being on a beautiful tropical island. For me, observing and photographing birds is one of the best ways I know to deal with anxiety and with Ilha Grande’s outstanding opportunities for bird viewing and photography I managed not to obsess about how and when I would get off the island.
I welcomed the local recommendation to wear masks and bought one from an enterprising seamstress in one of the side streets. It was a home-made affair sewn from material featuring palm trees and pink flamingos. After that the harassment stopped. Masks were a social leveller – we were all in this together – and wearing one made locally almost marked me out as a moradora (resident).
It seems as if I am here for a while at least.