By Shannon Cronyn
After the near-insanity we had experienced waiting for repairs in General Acha, our sheer glee at being on the road again was palpable. But there we were, late in the afternoon, General Acha and Juan Manuel ever shrinking in our rearview and our beloved friends awaiting us in Buenos Aires. Normally, we don’t ever choose to drive at night for safety reasons but given the hot hot heat of the summertime Argentinian pampa and the promise of beer and ice cream from Brendan and Bridget, we said, f—k it, let’s drive!
The tension of the first kilometers gradually wore off as Masi rumbled happily along and we let ourselves relax at last. Night fell and with it, a cool breeze and some light rain. As we drove, the sky put on a show for us. Nearly 360° of crackling lightning as far as we could see, illuminating cloud formations and sometimes striking the ground in the distance. We both had never seen anything like it. It was a surreal drive if there ever was one. We diligently stopped every 100 km, giving Masi a rest and keeping our fingers crossed that she’d make it the 700 km to Buenos Aires. At nearly 3am, we pulled wearily into a parking spot outside Brendan and Bridget’s Airbnb that we’d be sharing for a couple of weeks. Hugs, smiles, and excited chatter eventually gave way to happy sleep as we settled onto our air mattress.
This was the second time we had been in Buenos Aires this trip and it was like coming home. Having the time for a place to become familiar is one of the greatest blessings of this trip and BA will forever be one of our favorite cities. Over the next couple of weeks the four of us cooked a lot, made twice-daily trips to the ice cream shop (BA has hands down THE BEST ice cream and they know how to pack a cone ‘til it’s nearly falling over), sweated it out at in a Crossfit class, practiced tango in the living room and went to a couple of milongas (tango dances), took a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class (Brendan’s first, Bridget and I watched), and attempted, unsuccessfully, to find a climbing gym (about the millionth time in South America that the Internet says something is there when it actually isn’t). We also got to meet up with our good buddy Gareth again! He and his friend Katie were traveling together and the six of us enjoyed some lazy park days complete with Mölkky and Pimms in a thermos, a drumming/percussion dance party (La Bomba de Tiempo—amazing, don’t miss if you’re in BA), and the subsequent dancing in the street with hundreds of other people.
As the summer days rolled by, we became painfully aware we would have to say goodbye to Brendan and Bridget for the third and final time. They were selling their beloved Pepe to another traveling couple and getting on a plane home to South Africa and then Australia where they’d be setting up their new post-living-in-a-van life. There were more tears of course and promises to meet up again either on their continent or on ours. But first, it was me who had to say goodbye. My sister and her husband just had their first baby, a beautiful girl named Evanna, and I had planned months prior to fly home to Southern California for the birth. She arrived early, little scamp, but the trip had been booked and I was excited to meet my first niece and spend time with my family. Of course Danny and I never learn that we don’t do well apart and it was a heart wrenching goodbye at the bus station. And so for the next two and a half weeks, I was in California and Danny was working hard on a consulting contract in Buenos Aires teaching Latin American marketing execs how to be better at their jobs. It was a bittersweet and difficult period, one that we don’t intend to repeat (even though we do a few months later, told you we never learn). I returned to Buenos Aires at last and we both wanted nothing more than to savor our first moments back together and above all get our butts back on the road. Groceries bought, gas in the tank, and eager to make tracks, we started off, this time to a new country and a new language. Yep—Brazil!
Three long driving days, three gas-station nights, and one smooth border crossing later, we arrived in a small beachside town on the Southern coast of Brazil called Garopaba. The American couple we met at Sergio’s in Trevelin had recommended it to us and after weeks of the dusty Argentinian pampa and the humid summer heat of Buenos Aires, we were thrilled to find a campground where the sound of the waves would lull us to sleep at night. In between sleeping late, strolling the beach, and discovering our first taste of fresh Brazilian sushi and yes, even an American burger joint started by an actual American, Garopaba was exactly what we needed. A few days later we had to get on the road north to meet up with another great friend who would be meeting us in Florianopolis.
It was a short drive from Garopaba to Florianopolis, or Floripa as Brazilians call it. We pulled into the tiny airport and there he was—dapper as ever with his side swept hair and stylish travel duffel, Tall Paul! It was our first friend visit since Sean came to see us in Buenos Aires months ago and we were stoked to show him a good time. We had booked an Airbnb for a week and truly we were all most happy when we were sitting around together, eating, drinking, and playing guitar in the hammocks outside. Gareth and Katie made an appearance as well and there more than a couple nights spent sipping caipirinhas (thank you Gareth!) and singing into the wee hours of the morning. We even had a Disney sing along—it was epic, mainly thanks to my having had more than a half a caipirinha and Paul’s princely singing voice. Floripa also has dozens of stunning beaches so we spent a few days exploring them, most notably Praia Lagoinha do Leste. About 90 minutes of hiking up and down over a mountain and we arrived on a pristine white sand beach that was blessedly devoid of both tourists and touts. It was a perfect day and we didn’t even mind that much that we had to hike back because the fishing boats taking people back to town were full. We filled our remaining time together with good food, great laughs, and even a bit of skateboard watching (the 80’s empty pool skateboarding trend is alive and well in this part of Brazil). Soon we had to hop in Masi and drive north to Curitiba so Paul could catch his flight home. We spent one night in a two-star hotel in the city center (bad idea, nothing going on except nefarious characters loitering on street corners) and the next morning managed to squeeze in a visit to the lovely botanical garden before heading to the airport. (Shout out to Paul for being so awesome and coming so far to pay us visit. We miss you buddy!)
Then it was just us two again. Still beaming from the adventures of the past week, we stocked up on food and drove a little outside of town to a super tranquil campground where we planned to hole up for a week. Danny had some work to do for consulting clients and actually ended up giving a livestream presentation inside the van during a hailstorm! Ice percussion be damned, he pulled it off because he’s just that good. So it was a productive and relaxing week. Being low season, there was nearly no one there and we spent a couple days swimming in what felt like our own private pool. The only negative (and this didn’t make itself known until weeks later) were these tiny little black flies called borrachudos. Their bites draw blood but don’t start to itch until days later. Not knowing any better, I scratched them. Turns out this makes them a million times worse and I ended up with scaly, weeping patches of skin around all my bites that didn’t go away for weeks. So yeah. Avoid those suckers at all costs and don’t scratch! Danny also noticed that in the dish-cleaning area of the camp, in the ceiling above the sinks, we had an additional friend- the Brazilian Wandering Spider, aka, the most venomous spider in the world. It was scary enough being bigger than the size of your hand, venomous, and striped and furry…but added a next-level horror factor when one night we found a literal trail of blood dripping from its ceiling hole, likely from a frog it killed and dragged up there.
Curitiba is a on a high plateau surrounded by lush green forest that descends to the coast. Our next stop was to drive down the mountain to a tiny beach town called Pontal do Sul to catch a ferry to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island). We had heard this place was a “can’t-miss” in the Curitiba area and we wholeheartedly agree. With Masi safely parked in a campground for a couple days we hoisted our packs and boarded the ferry. Ilha do Mel is 93% nature preserve and no cars are allowed on the island. There are no roads, only a network of sandy trails that wind through lush forest and emerge onto white sand beaches. We were taken by it’s magic as soon as we stepped off the boat. We hadn’t booked anything in advance since there are dozens of pousadas and hostels on the island so we set off to explore and find something we liked. After about an hour of stopping in to places and finding that they were closed for the season (we were there in low season) or much too expensive for what you got (when $10 dollars a night sounds expensive, just imagine the state of affairs), we were directed by a fully booked hotel to check out Pousada de Charme. The moment we walked through the gate we felt like we had entered paradise. The owner Claudio beckoned us enthusiastically in, which was a welcome change from our reception at the other pousadas where we were treated more like intrusive bothers rather than potential customers. This place was beautiful, unique, and obviously pricier than the other options on the island. But after chatting with Claudio for a few minutes we were sold. Sometimes you just have that feeling you know? Turns out Claudio and his wife Vaninha turned their family plot of land into this luxury bed and breakfast a few years back. Their warmth, attention to detail, and fabulous food (made by Vaninha, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef) all add up to an experience that you want to have again and again. At one point Danny and I looked at each other and we both agreed that this was a place that we would happily come back to, hopefully with family and friends. So we settled in to our cozy bungalow (with the most comfortable bed we had slept in since our own in NYC) then were met by Vaninha who brought us our happy hour snack—delicate spring rolls in rice paper and a local fruit sangria in a pitcher. We took it out to the private deck overlooking the beach and sat quietly for a while soaking it all in as the setting sun recast the lighthouse in shades of pink and orange.
The next day we woke to an unbelievable breakfast spread of fresh fruits, yogurt, bread, cheese, and a made to order smoothie and omelette. After breakfast we took a walk along the beach to a Portuguese fort that was finished in 1769 and has since been restored for tourists. The views from the battlements atop the mountain above the fort were also stunning. That afternoon, we asked Claudio and Vaninha if they had any time to talk with us about their life and how they created their bed and breakfast. We told them we’d like to build something similar someday and when we happen across a place that fits our vision or aesthetic we have to know how it came to be. They graciously sat with us for the rest of the day (even missing their boat back to the mainland to keep talking) and told us all about their life and the vision and process for creating Pousada do Charme. We found we agreed with much of what they said and left the conversation feeling full of ideas and energy about the future. As people, Claudio and Vaninha are that rare couple we felt we wanted to emulate, in their passion for life, for each other, and their family. It was a special couple of days and we hope we’ll cross paths again someday.
The next morning we checked out of our room to hike the rest of the island. Our path took us through forest and out onto beach a couple of times until we reached the southern end of the island and the Enchanted Cave. The cave was, well, a cave, though the hike was what made the visit worth it. We had lunch in the second of only two villages on the island and caught the last ferry back to the mainland where we camped for the night. The next day we started off early to our next destination and also the most fun to say…Ubatuba! We’ll pick it up next time with Sao Paulo rush hour traffic and why Brazil is really good at grading their roads. Not.