With heavy steps I trudge upstairs, find my room, and in defeat throw my backpack onto a bottom bunk. Generic pop music blasts from the bar below, sending the hostel walls vibrating. In the adjacent dormitory, thirteen giggly girls are entering hen night mode, makeup bags rattling and hairspray wafting. This is not what I had imagined. Not at all.
After spending a month on Brazil’s party beaches, I have travelled for an hour across open waters to reach what I had supposed would be the remote and once-in-a-lifetime destination of Ilha Grande. I came expecting something unpredictable and different; something scrapbook-worthy. But it seems the island’s natural splendour has been diluted by a steady influx of rowdy Westerners – the very thing I came here to escape.
Downstairs, the barbecue is firing up and cocktails are pouring. I’m tired of parties, and feeling like that awkward kid in high school all over again. For the first time I find myself contemplating going home. Maybe I’m not cut out for backpacking life. Suddenly this faraway island, somewhere off the South American coast, feels frightfully isolated.
Another backpacker enters the dorm and notices my sullen mood. She insists I join the festivities, and with nothing better to do, I drag my feet downstairs.
There, in the middle of the room, I see an exotic mam’selle dancing with wild abandon, braids swaying and wrap-around skirt flowing. She stands out from the crowd like a bright desert bloom. Before long, we are chatting and laughing, bonding over our outsider-status in this Spring Break crowd.
“I don’t care if they think I’m weird!” she shouts over the music, then grabs my hands and initiates a sort of pagan boogie. “In fact, I enjoy giving them good reason to think so!” People stare as we swing around, stumbling and laughing.
We sneak outside to explore. Away from the party hordes, the island is quietly spectacular. Sandy pathways lead us to the harbour, where we encounter a group of local men playing djembe drums. I can’t resist the rhythm and soon I’m drumming away, our beats rising above the island and echoing through the jungle-clad hills. My friend dances, and passing locals join in.
The drummers invite us to the beach, where people have gathered around a blazing bonfire. Some are dancing, graceful limbs twirling about the flames; some are playing music and singing softly. Seated on the warm sand, I drink in the beautiful scene. Behind us, the dark forest ascends into an awestriking backdrop. In front, soft waves roll in and sigh onto the shore, gently rocking the sleeping fishing boats. A full moon lights up the beach, its silver face warped in the ruffled ocean surface.
Five hours earlier, I wanted to end this adventure. Now, I find myself in the midst of a stunning midnight beach celebration, experiencing all I had hoped island life might be like. Of course I will carry on with my trip, because that’s the magic of travel – you just never know where it will take you.
We stay until dawn, and when I get back, I put it all in my scrapbook.