12 August 2015

Heaven on Earth?

First sight of Noronha at dawn
 Paraphrasing, our Brazilian guide says Fernando de Noronha is better than heaven so, of course, we had to check it out.  The difficulty was that as the bird flies, it was a 660 NM upwind and going upwind we would once again be bumping along on a back and forth course.  Even I thought heaven had to be worth it.

Our course took us 712 NM in 4.5 days.  We were joined by dolphins and harassed by a few squalls but otherwise a straightforward sail apart from having to slow down to get into harbour in daylight.  

On my watch, at dawn, the islands came into view.  They were spectacular.  A beautiful green with black cliffs and jagged peaks in a deep blue sea and sky.  Surf pounded on the rock on the windward side but the leeward was sheltered and relatively calm.  
View from Milly's stern with constant audio of roaring surf.

View from Milly's bow.  This is where we saw the spinner dolphins but too distant for photos.

Whenever we come into port after a passage, no matter how long, we rarely go ashore until the following day.  Although we always feel we could keep sailing if the trip was longer, when we put the anchor down we suddenly we feel exhausted.  The boat is in passage-making mode, inside and outside.  There is lots of stuff to stow - headlamps, rainjackets, lifejackets, ginger candy, binoculars, warmer night watch clothing etc. etc - lines and sails to tidy and an inside and outside clean up.  We eat, drink, relax and fall into bed, often sleeping twelve hours.

Favourite tourist activity.  Dragged at low speed behind boat with  mask and snorkel.  We did not partake but used own locomotion.
View from the fort of downtown - church and city hall
Idyllic, well-preserved fort on hilltop.  Free admission
View from the fort of the anchorage.  We were the only cruising boat.
Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago but only one island is accessible.  There is one village, two supermarkets, one bakery, several restaurants, several forts, a church and two museums. Most of the main island and the other islands are a rigidly protected national park. 
We weren't allowed to take our cow to the beach.  Nor our horse. 
Sensational views wherever we looked.

It is called the Galapagos of Brazil because of it’s sealife.  Snorkelling, which we did almost daily, was amazing.  Clear water with coral reefs and a multitude of colourful fish, big and small, including harmless sharks.  Notably, we swam with sea turtles, two white snakes - not my favourite -, a ray and tons of other fish.  No sharks.  On land we saw an ugly eel and from the boat we were delighted by a pod of spinner dolphins.  They jumped high into the air spinning as they went.  It was quite a show from our cockpit.
Not my favourite

Definitely not my favourite
Even the crabs were beautiful.  Red against the black volcanic rock.
One day, we rented a dune buggy - the only rental vehicle available for good reason.  We met the renter in a parking lot and he babbled away in Portuguese.  We heard the word gasoline and assumed that, like everywhere, we should return the vehicle with a full tank.  None of the dials on the dashboard were operational and the start button didn’t work very well.  However, off we went on the one paved “highway”, the B-53, 7 km long.  Other roads are magnificently potholed, red dirt lanes or, in town, cobbled with “blackheads” the round, black rocks from the beach.  We were deep on one of these roads, heading toward what is touted to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, three of which are on Noronha.  The buggy had already stalled a few times and shifting from one gear to another required a knack which, before Peter got the hang of, made terrible grinding noises.  Finally, the buggy stalled and refused to start.  We happened to be outside the headquarters for one of the island tour operators where the buses were diligently cleaned while standing in pools of mud. One of the bus drivers came to give Peter some advice in gestures and after eventually getting into the driver’s seat, declared we were out of gas! A woman in a car behind us which we were blocking, luckily spoke some English, called the renter and told us he was coming with some gas.  She also filled us in that cars in Brazil are rented without gas and we had to fill it up before we took off. After waiting for over an hour with no sign of gas, one of the bus drivers took pity on us.  He siphoned some gas from his motorcycle, primed our carborater, partially filled our tank and sucked the fuel line to draw the fuel from the gas tank.  Only tools - jerry can and mouth!  He’d obviously done it before.  After profuse thank-yous, we went directly to the gas station, the only one on the island.  Lesson learned the hard way!
Three beaches were named - by Brazilians - as the three most beautiful in the world.  This is #1.  Rugged and wild.

#2 -  surrounded by very high cliff.

Descent to beachside via two very sturdy, well-maintained, long, vertical ladders that...

descended through this crack in the cliff.  

#3 - Tiny, accessible only at low tide.  We took TomTom the following day to access by a swim from the beach beside and explore by snorkel.
One of the trails was only accessible with a guided hike, an experience we had on our last day.  The hike took us along the top of black cliffs on grass covered headlands.   At two points we made our way down precipitous paths to tidal “pools” connected to the ocean by crashing waves and strong currents going out to sea.  With life jackets, we snorkelled in clear water to see multitudes of fish and one snake hanging out in the calmer water of the pool.
Views on our hike.  

Cliffs, frothing surf and grass plateaus.  

Whenever we see these glorious spots, I wonder if the other ports of call we make as we continue on our journey can be as beautiful.  Then I see pictures on other blogs in Sardinia or the Pacific which look equally spectacular.  We are so lucky to be able to live in our home as we check out the world!  Was Noronha deserving of it’s reputation as heaven on earth?  It is definitely worth an upwind sail and a wonderful way to say good-bye to Brazil before a 1300 NM passage to St Laurent de Maroni in French Guiana.

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