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Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Barra Grande, Finding Peace on Brazil'™s Hidden Islands

Written by Nathan Slavik
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barra grandeEverywhere we went it was the same story. The young girl working the desk at the palm-tree draped inn, the weather beaten ex-hippie selling coconuts out of a beachside cooler, the chiseled surfer napping under the afternoon sun, they all found paradise, in Barra Grande, a remote island off the northern coast of Brazil.

Tina, the woman responsible for setting up our elaborate breakfasts, came to the island for vacation from Sao Paulo and never left. Jackie and I slowly savored each morning. She explained the island was “the most beautiful place in the world; How could I go back?”

It was easy to understand Tina’s sudden change of residence. We had been on Barra Grande for a little over a week and already the specter of a return to grid-locked commutes were weighing on us. It wasn’t that Barra Grande was untouched by the modern world; it was that the residents seemed so unimpressed by the world’s mechanized offerings. There were very few clocks in sight, what did it matter what time it was? We woke when the sun began creeping over the tropical Atlantic waters and when it became too dark to travel we settled into a hammock and let ourselves be lulled to sleep by the sound of waves.barra grande


Jackie and I had come here to get away from the smog and façade of Los Angeles. With no clear destination in mind we had flown into Recife and then set out from there. Relying only on the recommendations of people we had met to determine our next step. Countless bus rides and one nauseating ferry crossing later we had ended up on Morro de Sao Paulo, a small island brimming with tourist friendly fare. There we heard whispers from a constantly laughing Argentinean that there was another island close by that was even more beautiful. If we were willing to make the trek he promised it would be worth it. We discussed our options over a dinner of tiramisu and coffee and set off the next morning. The magnetism of travel had drawn us closer with every unplanned step, why stop now?


As far as we could tell a sizable portion of the island’s meager population had arrived the same way we had. Driven by some unnamable need to chase the next horizon they had stumbled upon Barra Grande and became hypnotized by its quietly swaying rhythm, they never left. Jackie and I were both work driven to a fault, yet somehow just a few days walking the island’s beached perimeter has inspired amnesia. I had forgotten about my job, appointments, the broken water heater, and began to notice how Jackie’s shoulders were slowly turning cinnamon brown. As we walked she talked about putting aside some money every month to buy one of the brilliantly painted houses hidden among the palm trees. I’d never heard a better idea in my life.

barra grandeFor all its splendor Barra Grande is not heaven, it is a real and tangible place. Shipments from the mainland were infrequent and occasionally non existent, if the store was out of bread they were out of bread. And yet there was a strange beauty in sitting down to a lunch of cheese and saltine crackers. We didn’t need expensive bottles of wine and four course dinners to find each other again; we needed sunburns and afternoon naps. We needed to ration our water and brush sand from our hair. In that scarcity we found the wholeness we were looking for.

All good things must come to an end. At least that’s what they say. We eventually began our trek home where we found schedules and endless numbers of TV stations waiting for us. Only now we have a different sound tucked somewhere inside us. If we can only shut out the noise of the rushing world and hear Barra Grande’s swaying orbit, the peace we felt there is not lost. We carry it with us, at least until we return and buy the small orange house lost in a maze of palms. Then when travelers find us we can say, “You see, we came here on vacation seven years ago and never went back.”

barra grande

© Nathan Slavik

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012