2019 has been a crazy year. It has without a doubt been the most eventful and emotionally taxing year that I can remember, starting off with our CON Air flight to Zanzibar back in January, to both my Dad and my Aunty getting diagnosed with cancer, to me having an operation, to Josh and I deciding to take the plunge and enact Project Escape starting with a 6 month long trip to South America , to both of my brothers announcing that they were going to be having a children, the first of my Mum’s grandchildren and thus my first neice and nephew (both due whilst we would be away), me passing my driving test and leaving my job of 12 years.
So, 2019 for me has been a year of constant change.
My sister was also going to doing a 6 month trip around South America at the same time as us so both her and my youngest brother have plans to meet up with us when we get to Colombia.
The only people we knew who had heard of Florianopolis was our Brazilian friends. It seemed that outside of Rio De Janeiro, the Amazon and perhaps Sao Paulo , the majority of Brazil was still quite rural and undiscovered so despite the scale and abundant natural beauty of the country, the beaches and the warm and friendly people, not many people seemed to know much about anywhere else. Certainly not in England anyway.
But we were looking for somewhere special. We wanted to find the kind of place that we had such a natural affinity to as to make it almost impossible to leave. We had found such a place only a few times before and we were always in search for somewhere a little off the beaten track that had a authenticity and a natural charm.
Josh had heard about Florianopolis from someone he met at a networking event and what he had heard plus the name of the place had intrigued him so we done some research on it and there it was: Floripa or The Magic Island as it’s affectionately named. Located in the south of Brazil the magic island of Floripa was only a 2 hour flight from Rio, and just 1 hour from Sao Paulo but rather then attracting the kind of international tourism that it deserved it attracted many wealthy Brazilians who chose it to build their second homes.
What was special about this place, other then it’s great weather, Latin hospitality and relatively unknown location was the fact that it had 60 beaches! Yes, you heard me, this amazing, small(ish) island boasted a staggering number of beaches, all as interesting and diverse as the people that inhabited the land. There was a beach for everyone: for party animals, fitness lovers, nature lovers, surfers, swimmers, sun bathers, families, friends and couples.
Though we aren’t necessarily beach bums, we found the idea of having a beach to choose from every day of the month and then some very appealing. And who knew? maybe I’ll even learn how to surf whilst we’re here?!
We were going to be staying in the most affluent part of Florianopolis, Jurere.
Jurere Internationale, the playground of the Brazilian rich and famous was a mere walking distance from our apartment which was located right on the beachfront. With crystal clear waters as still as a bath, and beautiful and as yet undeveloped beach, we had unknowingly arrived out of season which meant that we could avoid the hordes of tourists that turned up every November/ December to overwhelm the city. And since we were going to be staying in Jurere for a month and a half that meant that hopefully we would get the best of both worlds: calm and tranquility now whilst it was relatively quiet and then towards the end of our stay more life and atmosphere as the beach bars would be opening up in preparation for the party animals as people arrived to celebrate Christmas and new years here.
For us, this wasn’t just a holiday (though at times it certainly felt like it was!), we were also going to be working here, so having a place with a bit of peace and quiet so that we could work uninterrupted whilst also being able to stroll down to the beach whenever we felt like it without being bombarded with party loving Brazilian tourists was a definite plus.
Our apartment which we found on Airbnb was in the perfect location, walking distance from shops, cafe’s, restaurants and the beach bars in Jurere Internationale, but on a stretch of the beach that was so natural, unspoilt and quiet that it almost felt as though it was private.
We were on the 4th floor which had incredible panoramic views of the whole of the bay where we could see far out into the misty mountainous distance. To think that we had found this magical, laid back place just by clicking through some pictures on Airbnb was quite a wonder. As for the apartment itself, well, it could have been better. It was apparent by the poorly chosen decor and plastic cooking utensils that this was an apartment that was purely used for it’s income. It definitely wasn’t someone’s main residence or home and it had a distinctly musty smell as if it hadn’t been aired in awhile, but what this apartment didn’t have in sophisticated decor in keeping with it’s locale it made up for with it’s incredible views, an (almost) private beach on one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, and stunning private tropical gardens with a pool, jacuzzi and barbeque.
The manager of the apartments also seemed very nice with a decent command of English that far surpassed my extremely limited Portuguese and he made it very clear to us that he was happy to help us with anything we needed at any time of day. So after we’d dropped off our things at the apartment we walked the very short distance to the supermarket where we stocked up on some much needed food and condiments. The fact that we would be able to cook our own food from now on if we felt like it was definitely a bonus. We like staying in Airbnb’s when we do long stays in a country as it affords us much more space, privacy, comfort and we can cook there. And apart from the horrible villa we’d had in Bali where we were under siege from every creature going, we hadn’t had any other bad experiences and even in Bali they eventually moved us after a relentless campaign of complaining by Josh and I.
The only thing about staying in an Airbnb versus staying in a hotel for a long stay is their strict policy if you don’t like it/want to leave. Thankfully with the case in Bali, the country had at the time been experiencing a volcanic eruption scare, so it looked like if it wasn’t for that we probably wouldn’t have been able to leave because from what we had seen it needed to be pretty extreme to get out of your booking and get your money back once you were there. Also, if you had any problems with creatures (i.e caterpillar’s like we had in Ubud, tookay’s like in Thailand or bats and snails like in Bali), you had nobody really to complain to or to dispose of them. And I seriously cannot deal with creatures!
Obviously I didn’t particularly relish the thought of any animals gaining entrance to my abode but spiders and cockroaches are an definite no no. I simply cannot deal. And Airbnb pictures can and do lie. You could easily turn up to a property thinking that it is going to be exactly like it is in the pictures but you can be in for a bit of a shock as some of these places don’t have their most recent photo’s up and the people who own them don’t even live in the country. This means that whoever is tasked with looking after them can easily allow the place to get into a state of disrepair as it’s not their property (or their reviews) afterall.
Plastic Not-so Fantastic
Our aparment in Jurere wasn’t rundown or unclean, but the owners seemed intent on kitting it out with any and every low grade plastic home accessory that they could find. What is it with these people and their plastic home accessories? I got it, this wasn’t someone’s home but did they really need to make that so obvious? Even the kettle looked like it came from another era!
I decided that in order to make our stay more comfortable for the time that we were here the place needed some sprucing up and that persistent musty smell needed to be banished once and for all so the following day we took a trip down to a larger supermarket where we picked up more food and things for the apartment including some breakfast bowls, a tea towel plus some air fresheners and scented candles. I was also tempted to buy a little rug for the place but I conceded would have been going too far! Whilst in the supermarket we actually spotted alot of the things that we had in our apartment for sale which confirmed my sneaking suspicion: they had furnished the place with whichever convenient cheapness they could find!
On the Airbnb it had claimed to have a washing machine in the building for free or for a fee and I had been very much looking forward to using it whilst we were in Rio. Sad as it may sound I had been daydreaming about the convenience of being able to wash my clothes in our apartment and hanging them out to dry as there’s nothing worse then carrying around dirty clothes. But I could see no washing machine in this apartment and when I asked the manager where it was he told me that we would need to take our clothes to the local laundromat. Great!
Our apartment literally being right on the beachfront was a luxury that I wasn’t about to start taking for granted. Just looking out at the serenity of this beautiful stretch of beach was wonderful, but hearing the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore was so relaxing it was almost hypnotic. Our apartment was small but a perfect size for the 2 of us, with a modern design featuring large windows overlooking the gardens and beach, an open kitchen with marble counter tops, a big desk where we could work from and a double bedroom with an ensuite.
I often daydream about living beside the sea but buying a seafront property in France would not only be small in size but extortionately expensive too so we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably won’t be able to live on a beach but being a short driving distance from one would be amazing. What I loved about this beach especially was the fact that it felt as though it hadn’t been discovered yet. Apart from the beach clubs at Jurere Internationale which only opened in the high season there didn’t appear to be alot of development around here but the sea and beach was very clean and it felt safe that I felt that it was only a matter of time before that happened.
Our beachfront apartment in Jurere
We went out and walked the length of the beach which took us about an hour stopping off to snoop at the beach clubs dotted along the beach. It was already starting to feel as though we’d been here a long time but infact we had only been there a day!
The large supermarket had a coffee shop on the top floor so we went there to work and get some coffee. In there we got talking to the waitress, a Brazilian woman whose name was Lily who told us (in perfect English with almost no distinguishable accent) that she used to live in the UK and offered to help us if we needed any. She was very friendly and even introduced us to another English lady who had moved there with her Brazilian husband to start a new life with their young daughter. We swapped numbers with her. We were already finding that the people here were very friendly!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no creatures here. Like, literally none! I had yet to be bitten by any mosquitoes and apart from the 1 small cockroach that I saw on the first night we arrived in Florianopolis, who looked just as shocked as we were to see us, I hadn’t seen any others. This I simply could not believe. A place like Brazil with no crawling or flying creatures? no mosquitoes or cockroaches?! – it seemed too good to be true, but after coming up to a week since arriving here with no mosquito bites whatsoever (and mosquito’s LOVE me!), I stopped wearing any insect repellent: I simply didn’t need it.
Also it wasn’t sticky and humid like I was imagining. It was hot yes, but not ridiculously so, and it wasn’t sunny all the time, it has rained here too, plus being on the beachfront meant that we were getting a constant breeze so we never felt overheated. Truth be told: the weather was pretty perfect.
The private tropical gardens of our apartment leading out to the beach was a real sanctuary. Green with lots of different varieties of trees, plants and foliage it afforded us almost complete privacy whilst at the same time allowing us to see the people strolling passed on the beach. Great people watching could be done here as the gardens were so perfectly hidden that they couldn’t see us at all. The next morning we were planning on spending some time in the gardens, perhaps having a swim, a sunbathe, or go into the jacuzzi for a bit but when we looked out our window to check that nobody had got there before us we spotted what looked like a gigantic lizard on the grass!
The SIZE of the thing! I knew that this was a wild and natural place but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a pre historic dinosaur on my doorstep. Alas when we left our apartment and went into the gardens it had disappeared so after our daily stroll on the beach we returned to go and have a lay down on one of the sunbeds but then we saw it: A beast! The thing was bloody huge! Looking very much like an iguana, a big lizard or small alligator this big scaly creature had huge pronounced gills on it’s wide and solid looking head, it’s tongue was long and much like a snake came in and out of it’s mouth rapidly looking very questionable indeed plus even though it was moving slowly on the grass it looked as though it could shift at any given moment. I had never encountered such a beast of this size and to think that here it was in the garden casual as you like just as Josh and I were about to settle down to sunbathe was quite surreal.
The manager of our apartment saw it too and was standing there casually watching it as it ate an egg (which I presumed that either him or someone else had given to it). I wasn’t sure whether seeing it eating an egg was more or less disconcerting but it meant that it was otherwise occupied so wouldn’t attack me but perhaps more importantly it meant that (probably) it was a herbivore which also gave me some comfort because that meant that it wouldn’t be interested in devouring me but then I saw it scooping up insects with it’s long pink tongue which made me reconsider.
Surprisingly though despite the slight horror of seeing this beast less then a metre from my scantily clad skin I was able to remain in the garden whilst he continued eating his egg (though I wasn’t that brave as to take my eyes of him just incase), but then soon after the manager had left us to our dinosaur watch a second one turned up in the garden! So now there were 2 gigantic beasts roaming about the place a mere metre or so away from us and the other one looked like he’d had his tail chewed off!
I was not keen on watching these two beasts fight but thankfully it seemed that they knew each other (perhaps the smaller one with the bitten tail was a friend or family member or something?), and he followed the other one about until eventually they both disappeared into our foliage: Thank goodness!
Alas I still maintain that I’d rather have an iguana in my garden (if that was what it was), then a cockroach or a gigantic spider in my house. I simply could not deal with any of those things.
We were struggling with the language. It seemed as though apart from the woman we met in the coffee shop we were the only Brits on the island. Of course I’m sure that was not the case but we certainly hadn’t encountered any other native English speakers since we’d arrived. One good thing though was that now that Josh’s tan had began to take effect (which generally happens pretty quickly), people now assumed that he was Brazilian so began talking to the both of us in Portuguese. Unfortunately for us though we couldn’t respond back to them as apart from saying Hi – Ola (the same as Spanish), we only knew one other word: Obrigado (Thanks). I kept on saying to Josh that we really need to up our language game and get a few more words and phrases in our arsenal but for some reason despite all of our raving about the fact that we were going to use our language translator (which was not cheap) everyday to converse with the locals we had yet to use it. Nonetheless, we managed to get about with our few words, and we seemed to understand people (kinda!). Still, we’ve only been here a week so we’ve got much more time to get used to the language and thankfully Portuguese is very similar to Spanish which we have more knowledge of.
After a nice long stroll around the neighbourhood whereby we saw where the rich and famous hung out, and all of the multi-million dollar homes that were in our neighbourhood, we went out that night to a local restaurant that had been recommended by Tripadvisor. Called simply Jay’s Bistro the casualness of the name belayed it’s high level fine dining experience. Fed up to the back teeth of eating beef I was determined to find something on the menu that didn’t come from a cow.
After looking at the very accomplished menu (which they also had in English), I chose to have the Patagonian Lamb with Truffle Risotto and Josh had Carbonara, which came with a breaded egg and sausage (interesting I know). Alas I can confirm that the food (and the Caipirinha that accompanied it) #caiprinhaaday was delicious. Like, really good! The imaginative presentation, flavours and textures wouldn’t have been out of place in a high end European restaurant. And of course the chef had trained in Europe and come back to his native Brazil to treat the fancy people of Jurere to his talents. The portion size had been a bit of a concern for Josh and I as we knew that this was a fine fining restaurant and you usually get small portions there. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but tonight we were starving so when the dishes arrived and we saw that the portion sizes were generous we felt very relieved. The risotto was perfectly cooked (no mean feit) and the lamb too, done as I asked it to be done: medium, no less and no more.
Again, as with most other places the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, but it had a very laid back atmosphere. And even though I could tell the people had a bit of money to splash about they weren’t flashy at all, they were just chill. The service was excellent too. For dessert I had creme brulee (one of my favourite desserts), but this one was truffle flavour not vanilla as is the norm. I have had a passion fruit creme brulee and a pistachio one before (delightful), but I’d never had truffle and I was a little concerned that they meant truffle like the thing that I’d just had for dinner (you know the really expensive ingredient that they get special dogs to forage for) but when I asked Josh he said he thought they meant truffle as in the chocolate kind. So I ordered it only to find that they infact did mean truffle the fungus kind so I was truffled, twice over.
Now obviously I do like truffle hence why I ordered it as my main but had I of known the chef was going to also put it on my dessert I would have declined as I do not like it that much! However to be fair to him, he clearly knew what he was doing as it was delicious. It came with an intensely raspberry sorbet with a soft biscuit crumb and together with the truffle creme brulee was surprisingly tasty. Would I order it again? Sure, but this time I would miss out the truffle main!
We had found a few local places now that we could rotate. They included the coffee shop on the top floor of the supermarket where we could also see our nice new Brazilian friend who worked there, the Jurere Open Shopping Centre, which was an open air shopping area which was very classy indeed and where there was a really cool coffee shop where we could work during the day. A juice bar called Brasil Berry where they had healthy snacks and drinks made from a local berry grown in Brazil: Acai. Then there was a coffee shop across the road from there which looked pretty new. In there we met a waiter called Gino who we found out was elated to meet us as he had been studying English but had never had an opportunity to use his learned words (until now), as he hadn’t met any other English speakers. He was really sweet and put us to shame with the amount of words he knew in English. But to be fair to us neither of us had learned how to speak Portuguese, we were simply using a language translator to get a few words under our belts.
In this coffee shop we ordered a Cappuccino (you know what that is right?), well here in Brazil a Cappuccino is not what you think it is. They have there own version which is more like a Hot Chocolate, infact it IS a Hot Chocolate with cinnamon in it. Don’t get me wrong it IS delicious (especially how they made it, it reminded me a lot of a Jamaican hot chocolate, but a Jamaican hot chocolate also has vanilla pod and nutmeg so tastes even better), but I was confused. How do I order a Cappuccino if all I want is a Cappuccino and not a Hot Chocolate? Even the bill said Cappuccino! I was truly baffled.
Confusion aside, it was delicious. Definitely the best Hot Chocolate I’ve had apart from my Mum’s Jamaican Hot Chocolate. And we also had a cheese and ham croissant. Sounds basic I know. But this croissant was no basic croissant. It was tasty beyond belief. It had salad in it and mayonnaise and was slightly blackened and crispy on the top but was full of flavour. I wondered what cheese they used? as I know that they didn’t have cheddar here. Delish!
We got to try one of the famous Empanada’s too. Very much like a Jamaican Pattie (hey, I’m noticing a pattern here!), it had the same thick and flaky pastry but with different fillings. Remembering that they don’t really do spice in Brazil (still something I’m slowly getting used to), I chose their “Caprese” filling (which I assumed would be cheese), but was actually ham or bacon. Josh had chicken. My ham one was lovely but the filings in the Jamaican Pattie’s have more flavour (and spice), so they are better.
Empanada’s – very similar to a Jamaican Pattie!
The following day I heard the news that I was expecting (and very looking forward to hearing): my very first nephew, my little brothers son was born that morning. I had been devastated to learn that he was expecting this (very unplanned) baby whilst I was planning on being away but I was very much looking to holding (and kissing!) him upon my return when he would be around 6 months old. But he was born on this day and my brother and Mum sent me picture of his beautiful little face which looked so much like my brothers. Beautiful and innocent, both my brother and Mum are naturally head over heels in love with him! And apparently he smells like what heaven would smell like if it existed. I have something wonderful to return to 🙂
The following day however I received some bad news from my Mum: My Aunt had died. She had been unwell for awhile as she was recently diagnosed with cancer but I had seen her a few days before we left London and she looked well. It didn’t occur to me for one moment that she would pass away whilst both my sister and I were travelling. And unlike when my other Aunty died (my Mum’s sister), I couldn’t just up and leave and go back to the UK to attend her funeral. But I was devastated. She was such a warm and happy person, made whole by her wonderful and adoring family who just seemed to grow and grow every year (she surely must have around 6 grandchildren and counting!). And her husband seemed to love and adore her very much, they made a lovely couple.
I could only imagine how he and her 3 daughters must be feeling, particularly her youngest who only had twins a year ago. When I went to see her with my sister and my Mum she was happy at home playing with her beautiful grandchildren and though I could see that she had lost alot of weight and her hair (through the chemo treatment she had had), had fallen out it didn’t occur to me that she would be gone this soon. Her cancer was terminal but it seemed as though she had more time. She deserved to have more time. But life is unfair, cruel and unforgiving, and even though I could celebrate the birth of this beautiful baby, my nephew who is going to be loved within an inch of his little life, now here I was mourning the loss of my beautiful, warm and sweet Aunty who had the most infectious laugh and was a happy and hugely funny and charismatic human being. I am going to miss her so much, and undoubtedly the world is much worse off without her being here.
Me and my sis with my Aunty at my Mum’s 60th birthday celebrations