Close Encounters of a Red Kind: Scarlet Ibis

Accessible by boat only, Algodoal is an island less than 1°S of the Equator  that took us back in time for a few days; almost a week actually.  The lure of low-key surfing, cheap accommodation and white sand made it easy to get stuck here a bit longer than we anticipated.   Sand roads which get scorching hot in the midday sun are trodden by barefoot locals and horse drawn carts – there are no cars.  The kind of place that makes you want to curl up with a book and forget the rest of the world.

At low tide, the beaches sprawl as far as the eye can see, and then further still as the ocean disappears into puddles in the sand.  Hard packed ocean floor makes a perfect yoga practice spot.  My first practice on the beach was spectacular, no bugs and not a soul in sight.  There is just something about practicing outside in such an environment and vast space when you’ve been cramped up in small rooms with no airflow.  It`s easier to forget about the mechanics and get lost in the flow – the perfect way to start the day; after coffee of course.

At high tide the beach on the west side (where we were staying) is separated from the northern and eastern beaches by canals that meander through the centre of the island – requiring a “traverssa”, or boat to cross from beach to beach.  Our timing had us at low tide during the day from about 9 am to 5, leaving us the area to explore on foot.  Our attempt to walk showed us that getting around on foot wasn’t going to be so easy – at least not the route we took.  One small canal remained between us and the next beach. Thinking we could walk it or swim across, lead us to get absorbed in the knee deep mud which inevitably borrowed our flips flops.  We didn’t make it across but it was much more fun than taking the long way around.

When the tide rolled in, it did so with force;  creating a swell and surf waves that varied from 3 – 6 feet, 10 m off shore, and 20 steps from our pousada.  The problem was that by the time the surf was decent, it was filled with local talent for the hour or so of daylight that remained.  For our first couple of nights we didn’t find anyone renting surf boards… and all the boards we saw were much smaller than either of us had ridden.  We decided to observe, watch the sunset, and drink beer as the locals ruled the waves. There will be plenty of opportunity for us to surf further down the coast.

Our favourite, and most activity filled day was our second to last which took us to the opposite side of the island.  Fortalezinha – a village we had been offered expensive horse cart rides to twice a day, we figured must be worth going to.  We decided to walk, knowing that from the hand-drawn local map we would need a short traverssa to get to the foot path, and then we’d be about 2 hours on foot to the village.  A boat wasn’t hard to find, for $6R we were taken on the slow 20 min ride to Caamboinha.  En route, we spotted our first Scarlet Ibis.  Whether they are sitting in the mud at low tide or taking flight overhead their contrast with the brown of the sand and light blue of the ocean and sky makes these crane-like red bird easy to spot.  Damn, one of those moments we wish we had a camera.

At Camboinha, we connected with the foot path, and directed by the locals ventured off towards Fortalezinha, two hours away.  After an hour, sand trails and hot sun made us think twice about continuing on – but we were determined, and hungry.  It was interesting to see the vegetation change from sparse dry palms to thick forest, lined by striking clusters of creaking bamboo.  We also spotted potentially the world’s largest ants, at nearly an inch long as they crossed our path.  It was hot; we had water but were drawing more tired with each step.   By the time we wanted to turn around or considered that we may have made a wrong turn and doubted how far we had come, we decided it was further to go back than to continue on.  Twenty minutes later, we came upon a village where we asked “Onde a Fortalezinha?”, the girl answered us with, “A qui (“here”).  We had made it.  Finding the beach was easy.  For some reason we thought that the tide would be in on this side of the island.  We were wrong.  We had just walked two hours in blistering hot sun just to have lunch.  There was nothing else here.  I`m sure it’s beautiful and lively when the tide is in, but when it’s out, the beach is muddy, the ocean is about 1km out and everyone is sleeping.  We did, however, have an amazing fresh fish lunch accompanied with coconut brought to us by the local crazy man.

Our walk back to Camboinha seemed shorter.  Conversation is so much different when you have a full belly, you know where you are going, and how far you have to go.  It was a pleasant walk back.  Back in Algodoal, we were totally exhausted but just on time to grab a beer and catch the end of a local football (soccer) match.  Even the old guys are good!

Later that evening, we experienced our first and only power outage on the island.  Not bad since Algodoal  has had electricity for less than five years.  Dinner by candlelight at our favorite local spot preceded an evening of card playing followed by fan-less (still no power) sticky sleep.  We had to sleep with the door open to allow for some air flow.  The next morning, we woke up with a dog under our bed. Paranoid he would bring with him fleas – we quickly shooed him away.

After a week, it was time to go back to the mainland.   We were two hours early for the boat launch to cross back to Maruda.  Luckily, we were entertained by a single dolphin that was frolicking in the canal beside the pier.  It came within 4 feet of us as we waded out to get closer.  It just kept circling the area, breaking the surface every few minutes, for over an hour.  This made the time pass without a second thought.

Once we got back to Maruda, it was just a matter of finding a bus to get to São Luis.  It would be a full day of travel


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