Stranded in Abraão
Updated: Jun 21, 2020
For the first few days I decided to orientate myself in the island's main town of Abraão -where I was based - before exploring the island.
There was plenty to do and see and the town was picturesque with a laid-back feel. There were lots of pousadas (guest houses) and the main beachfront drag had bars and restaurants which came to life at sunset with tables and chairs set out on the sand. I was dying to try moqueca, a delicious fish stew made with coconut, chilli and coriander as the ubiquitous burgers and other meat dishes were not of much interest to a pescatarian like me. A stylish French bistro/café next to the pier sold the most delicious vegan burgers.
I settled on “Steak ‘n Beach” as my regular hangout for the first few nights. The staff were young Argentinians so spoke Spanish – it was very different to the Spanish I had learned in Spain but still far easier to understand than Portuguese for me. They played great music and even spoke a bit of English when communication got really tricky. I really enjoyed those first few evenings, sipping a caipirinha (or two!) on the beach and dining on fried squid as I watched the sunset light up the clouds in dramatic shades of pink. As darkness settled, giant ghost crabs scuttled across the beach and bats swooped overhead as the waves broke rhythmically on the shore.
Abraão has no fewer than four well stocked supermarkets as well as a fruit and vegetable store. I was completely blown away by the variety of fruit and vegetables for sale. Never before had I seen so much luscious tropical fruit at a fraction of the prices back home in England. I filled my bags with outlandishly huge avocados and pineapples and indulged in fruit I could never afford at home – pineapples, guavas, mangoes, papayas and plantains. I had never seen some of the fruit and yam like vegetables before and it took a while to figure out what they were and how to eat them. Occasionally you could buy jackfruit and breadfruit from locals selling from wheelbarrows in the street – odd looking fruit but totally delicious and very versatile once you knew how to prepare them.
I was frankly astonished at the cheapness of the local spirit made from sugar cane – cachaça – which is the basis for caipirinha. A litre of the stuff cost just R$12 (£2) and 500ml bottles were R$5 (less that £1!). You could even buy what was some optimistic marketing genius called a “cachaça cocktail” which looked to be a mixture of cachaça and E-numbers producing a poisonous looking electric blue drink in a plastic bottle. Most cachaça customers did not bother to make caipirinha - I saw many locals buying it first thing in the morning and drinking it neat in the street. That and the local beer, Itaipava, which cost just R$2.50 (30p) per can. There was a hardy group of men who sat around a bridge crossing the town’s largest river – which I named Cachaça Bridge - and drank steadily all day long. I don’t suppose they were ever sober. Some looked as if they did not have long to live but they seemed to enjoy themselves and were certainly not aggressive or threatening.
And, of course, the birds! Abraão is full of them. The hibiscus hedges lining the car free roads are home to several species of hummingbird as well as other nectar eating birds and insects. Some of the hummingbirds (beija-flor is their Portuguese name which literally means kiss flower) are fiercely territorial with a favourite perch and patch of hibiscus hedge which they defend from intruders including bananquits (cambaçicas) – another nectar eating bird - as well as bees and butterflies. Common also are shrieking bands of parakeets, flying high in the treetops, striking yellow breasted birds with noisy cries which I identified as kiskadees (Bem-te-vi in Portuguese) and stylish black and white birds (masked water tyrants or Lavadeira-mascarada) at the town’s many streams and along the beachfront. I once saw on one of the main streets pecking away at the bark of a tree for insects a tiny woodpecker (Pica-pau-anão) not much bigger than a wren with a vivid red crest. The ubiquitous urubus – (black vultures) perch malevolently on the coconut palms when they aren’t raiding the communal bins - though ugly when hopping along the ground with their hunched shoulders fighting over scraps they are surprisingly elegant in flight with graceful white tipped wings. Egrets with snow white feathers fish in the streams and mangrove creeks.
But I was not there to spend my precious two weeks in Abraão - there was a whole island to explore and I was keen to know what was out there and where the best spots for birding were. My plan was to take a few trips by boat and then do some exploring along the trails – I was not really planning at that stage on doing any of the mountain trails which were for serious hikers, or so I thought.
There seemed no end of local boat trips on offer to the island’s star beaches and I thought I might start with a couple of boat trips before hitting the easier trails. After all I had two whole weeks, plenty of time to get settled and then get seriously stuck into exploring the island. I never did get to go on any of the advertised local boat trips.
Within a day of my arrival everything changed. Restaurants and bars that on my first night had been touting for customers closed their doors as did the shops advertising tantalising boat trips. Many of them displayed a notice to inform customers that they were closing for an indefinite period of time due to Covid-19 with a mysterious addendum to say that they would be closed until the “second order”. Supermarkets, bakeries and the town’s single pharmacy remained open.
Time to start exploring. On foot. And thank goodness I had booked accommodation with a well-equipped kitchen as self-catering was my only option.