Les Trois Escargots

A growing family of snails.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fernando de Noronha

The little plane circled the island of Fernando de Noronha - former pirates' lair, leper colony and prison; present day untouched tropical paradise - and urgently slowed to a stop on the short runway which seemed to take up most of the length of the southern part of the island. A buggy - think 1970s kitsch beach buggy - took us to meet Jainina, a local who had agreed to rent us her house for the week.

The island and its coast are protected. Surfers, honeymooners and rich Brazilians all come to enjoy the wildlife, waves and romantic beaches. We were two of only 4 "backpackers" who got off the plane - our budget for the week was a thick wad of notes in the wallet. Albane pointed to all the activities that she wanted to do and I had to wonder if our trip was going to end a few months early!

One morning we went to a tidal pool and snorkelled with schools of tropical fish, went mask to tentacle with an octopus and watched a small moray eel protect its cave. It was like swimming in a fish tank. At high tide, we would invariably swim 15 minutes across a bay to snorkel with Hawksbill turtles grazing on the coral. It was incredible to watch the wise reptiles with their beaked mouths swim beneath and around us, their front fins flapping like wings. On one occasion we saw 7 together, a feeding frenzy conducted at a sedate pace.

At low tide, we would walk the coves on the west coast, idyllic palm-fringed curves of white sand and clear water. We would swim, dry off and then walk to the next beach before doing the same. In a couple of hours, we walked a roll call of beaches - Borde, Americano, Padre, Baia do Porcos (named after its Cuban namesake) and Sancho, the most beautiful beach in Brazil.

On a boat trip, we anchored on an offshore reef and snorkelled over rocks occupied by shoals of parrot fish, small yellow-striped fish and tiny shiny purple aquarium fish. The sandy bottom was 20 metres below us, but we watched a stingray flap far below us as if it were within reach.

For the last two days, we rented a motorbike, a 250cc Honda dirt bike, and rode the dirt trails to remote beaches where the turtles laid their eggs at night. One small crash on a slippery morning dented my riding skills more than ourselves.

On one afternoon, we hung onto small boards attached by a rope to a speedboat and were dragged through the sea. A small tilt of the board downwards and we slipped beneath the surface to fly through the water. It was great fun and we were soon swooping and arcing through the deep blue like the Spinner dolphins that we watched one morning at dawn from a cliff.

And like all good boyfriends, I bought Albane cold caiparinhas to drink at a beachside bar as we watched the sunset. Who said that romance is dead?


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