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Exploring Ilhabela, Brazil’s Largest Off-coast Island

View of Ilhabela and its surrounding waters where boats are traveling.
Photo © Jorge in Brazil, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Brazil’s largest off-coast island is only a 15-minute ferryboat ride from São Sebastião. Once you’re there, it’s utter relaxation all the way (provided you’re armed with mosquito repellent—85 percent of the volcanic island is covered in damp virgin Atlantic forest and, as a result, extremely annoying bloodsuckers called borrachudos are usually out in full force).

With dozens of beaches, over 300 waterfalls, and constant breezes (which make the surrounding waters a sailor’s and windsurfer’s dream), the island is a magnet for every kind of nature enthusiast, ranging from hikers and deep-sea divers to indolent hammock-swinging Robinson Crusoe types. It also draws a fair amount of fancy folk from São Paulo—many of whom have luxurious villas tucked away on beaches, along with private piers and helicopter pads. This explains the high number of eco-chic hotels and gourmet restaurants as well as the somewhat high prices. Things get especially astronomical on holiday weekends and in January, and it gets crowded, with traffic jams on the island’s main coastal road. If you’re in search of peace and tranquility, avoid these times like the plague.


Map of Ilhabela, Brazil
Ilhabela

Vila Ilhabela

The island’s main settlement is the pretty little town of Vila Ilhabela. It is located on the sheltered west coast of the island, a 20-minute drive north from the ferry dock at Perequê. Aside from a small (fairly touristy) commercial center, the town has some attractive vestiges of its colonial past, including the charming white-washed Igreja Matriz. Several kilometers before the entrance to town, on the way to the ferry, is an impressive 18th-century mansion belonging to the Fazenda Engenho d’Agua, one of the most important of Ilhabela’s many former sugar plantations. This history of cane cultivation explains the preponderance of fine cachaças on the island.


Additional Area Information

Parks

The reason that Ilhabela’s nature is so unspoiled (and its eastern coast so inaccessible) is that the majority of the island is preserved within the limits of a 270-square-kilometer (104-square-mile) natural park known as Parque Estadual de Ilhabela (tel. 12/3896-2660, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily). Whether you decide to explore the island’s treasures by sea or land (there are plenty of hiking trails and several dirt roads), in most cases you’ll need to do so with an organized excursion. Archipelagus (Av. Pedro Paulo de Morães 713, Pequéa, tel. 12/3893-1478) offers boat, Jeep, and trekking tours around the island for R$60–80. Among the most popular trips are a bumpy Jeep ride across the park to beautiful Praia de Castelhanos, trekking to Cachoeira da Laje, a spectacular waterfall near Praia do Bonete, and climbing up the Pico do Baepi, a difficult three-hour ascent that pays off with incredible views of the mountainous mainland.

Should you want to do some exploring on your own, an easy solo outing is the 3-kilometer (2-mile) hike inland from Praia de Feiticeira to Cachoeira da Toca (8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, R$15), a waterfall with various cascades and pools as well as ropes and a zip-line course (R$10–15). Within the Parque Estadual, the Cachoeiras da Água Branca (9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, free) are the only falls (there are five) you can visit on your own. Access is close to the park’s entrance.

Renting a bike is also an interesting option. An easy ride is the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) bicycle path that runs from the Vila to Perequê. More ambitious souls can rent a more robust two-wheeler and venture the 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) to Praia de Castelhanos. Juninho Bike (Av. Princesa Isabel 217, Perequê, tel. 12/3896-2847) rents simple bikes (R$7 per hour) for short jaunts and 27-speed models (R$50 per day).

Water Sports

Ilhabela boasts a fantastic array of water sports. Due to the winds that blow off the northern tip, the island is considered one of the best places for sailing along the Brazilian coast. In July, it hosts Latin America’s most prestigious sailing regatta, the Semana Internacional da Vela. If you want to take sailing lessons, or rent a sailboat or kayak, contact BL3 (Av. Pedro de Paula Moraes 1166, tel. 12/3896-5885). Aside from renting sailboats (R$120–140 for 5 hours), you can rent kayaks (R$30 for 2 hours) and other small vessels. Private sailing, windsurfing, and kite surfing lessons are also offered at hourly rates ranging R$150–190.

With its crystalline waters, particularly off the east coast, Ilhabela boasts excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities. Beginners can get their feet wet at the Reserva Marinha da Ilha das Cabras, an island off of Perequê, where you can view coral, anemones, and a parade of colorful fish. Another underwater adventure is exploring the handful of sunken ships. Colonial Diver (Av. Brasil 1751, Pedra Miúdas, tel. 12/3894-9459) offers diving lessons and excursions and rents equipment. A two-hour dive for beginners costs R$220.

Information

At the ferry landing at Perequê there is a Posto de Turismo (Rua Bartolomeo de Gusmão 14, tel. 12/3895-7220, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun.), where you can pick up detailed maps of the island. Check out the beaches yourself at photoladen websites such as www.ilhabela.com.br and www.ilhabela.sp.com.br. In Vila Ilhabela, Standby (Rua da Padroeira 63, tel. 12/3896-6843) is the island’s only cybercafé—luckily it’s open 24 hours.

Getting There

Balsas (ferries) (tel. 0800/773-3711, pedestrians free, cars R$13 weekdays, R$19 weekends) make the 20-minute crossing from São Sebastião to Ilhabela every half hour 6 a.m.–midnight, and hourly midnight–6 a.m. There’s no fee back to the mainland aside from a R$5 environmental tax. If you plan to rent a car on the mainland (which will give you great mobility on the island), be aware that traffic lineups are insane on weekends and in summer. From Perequê, municipal buses (R$2.20) leave regularly for Vila Ilhabela and for Praia do Curral.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.

Brazil’s Best Beaches: Ilhabela, São Paulo

View directly at the water of a golden beach, calm ocean, and hills across the water.
There are dozens of beautiful beaches on Ilhabela. Photo © Alberto, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Ilhabela has no shortage of stunning beaches. Those on the west coast facing São Sebastião have calmer waters, but they are also smaller and often more crowded. They can be easily reached by car as well as the municipal bus line that goes up and down the main paved road. This road extends along the western coast from Porto do Frade in the south to Ponta das Canas at the northern tip, where strong breezes attract windsurfers and kite surfers.

Map of Ilhabela, Brazil
Ilhabela

South from Ponta das Canas, among the nicest beaches are tiny Praia do Viana, Feiticeira, and Praia do Julião, all of which are relatively tranquil and popular with families. The young and restless tend to congregate on Praia do Curral, known for its restaurants, bars, and nightly festas where DJs and dancers take to the sand. Its neighbor, the more tranquil but up-and-coming Praia Veloso, is the last beach accessible by car.

The most gorgeous and wild beaches are those on the eastern coast—which also happen to be the most tricky to get to. While some beaches can be reached by following the hiking trails that wind through the jungle, others are only accessible by Jeep, and getting to the most far-flung spots requires a boat.

Praia do Bonete, a tiny fishing village on the southeast coast, attracts surfers, as does Praia de Castelhanos, a magnificent 2-kilometer (1-mile) stretch of beach with a waterfall named after the Castilian pirates that frequented it centuries ago. The macabre name of Praia do Fome came from the slaves who arrived from Africa com fome (“with hunger”) and were taken to this beautiful beach to gain weight before being sold. Relatively more accessible, on the northeastern coast of the island, Jabaquara is a lovely beach fed by two streams and a freshwater lagoon.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.

Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil

It might seem as if American voters have a difficult choice to make between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for president. However, just think of how confusing it is for Brazilians faced with no less than 16 Obamas running for office in the country’s upcoming municipal elections, the first round of which takes place on October 7.

[pullquote] Like many other aspects of Brazilian culture, politics often possesses tinges of the whimsical and the absurd, not to mention the Carnivalesque.[/pullquote]

Like many other aspects of Brazilian culture, politics often possesses tinges of the whimsical and the absurd, not to mention the Carnivalesque. After all, this is a country whose best loved president in history – Luiz Inácio da Silva – was universally known by his childhood nickname of “Lula” (squid). However, the vast number of candidates in the running for city council seats, coupled with impressively loose restrictions on the names that can be placed on ballots, mean that things can get particularly delirious during municipal elections.

The bar has been raised particularly high since 2010 federal elections, when Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, who had already gained popularity for his role as a clown on a popular TV show, was elected to Congress under his stage name of Tiririca (“Grumpy”). Not only did Tiririca break records by earning more votes than any other Brazilian congressional candidate, but he inspired a new wave of candidates to go all out in donning names and personas capable of providing them with a differentiating – and winning – edge.

This year’s ballots are rife with superheroes (there are five Batmans alone), fictional characters (James Bonds are seeking council seats in both Birigui, São Paulo, and Ponta Grossa, Paraná) and American pop celebrities (Lady Gaga is running in the São Paulo satellite city of Santo André while Michael Jackson is alive and well and running for office in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul), not to mention famed political figures as diverse as Bin Laden (vowing to “blow up corruption” in the town of Guarpimirim, Rio de Janeiro) and the aforementioned 16 Obamas.

Next to the original Barack, the Obama currently getting the most press in Brazil is “Obama BH” who is running for city council in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais. The 44-year-old Obama BH, whose real name is Gerson Januário de Almeida, has the advantage of bearing an uncanny resemblance to the U.S. President. Indeed, his nickname came about when, upon riding the cable car up to Sugar Loaf, in Rio, Almeida overheard some American tourists gasping at his striking similarity to the real Obama.

The fortuitous comment not only provided the catalyst for a supplementary freelance career in which Almeida poses as the president at various promotional events, but has also brought him national media attention. Ironically, just like his famous doppelganger, Obama BH, who works as an administrative assistant in Belo Horizonte’s public health system, is making health care reform a major part of his platform.

Meanwhile, interestingly, and perhaps cannily, this time around, not a single Brazilian candidate chose to run for office using the name “Mitt Romney”.

Exploring New Orleans with Laura Martone

1. When is the best time to visit New Orleans?

From October to May, New Orleans can be a wonderful place to explore. Although the extreme heat and potential for hurricanes keep many people, including me, away in the summer months, the weather is fairly mild and inviting during the rest of the year. Still, my favorite times to visit are late October (specifically around Halloween), December (during the Christmas season when many restaurants have special réveillon menus), February or March (whenever Mardi Gras occurs), and mid-April (during the French Quarter Festival).

2. What’s the best way to get around the city?

New Orleans and its environs comprise a fairly compact area, which you can easily access via plane, train, car, or cruise ship. If you plan to spend most of your time in the French Quarter, Garden District, and Uptown area, then public transportation, including buses and the historic streetcars, will be more than adequate. However, you will need to rent a car if you plan to explore the Greater New Orleans area, so be sure to make such arrangements in advance.

3. How would you recommend spending a night out on the town?

While the Uptown area offers several legendary live music venues, such as Tipitina’s and the Maple Leaf Bar, I’d definitely spend at least one night in the French Quarter—especially if you’re a first-time visitor to the Big Easy. Here, you can catch some live jazz at the historic Preservation Hall, enjoy a potent cocktail in Pat O’Brien’s courtyard or the atmospheric Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, then catch a burlesque show or live concert at the Bordello-style One Eyed Jacks. If you’re still wide awake, you can always head to Bourbon Pub & Parade, a 24-hour gay nightclub that features variety shows, drag queen competitions, comedy showcases, and late-night dancing.

4. Which sight is an absolute can’t miss?

No visitor should leave without experiencing Jackson Square, which lies at the heart of the French Quarter. Besides strolling through the picturesque park and mingling with the artists, musicians, tarot card readers, and street performers along the pedestrian mall, you should also take some time to explore the historic structures that surround the shady square. In addition to the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, you can peruse curious historical exhibits inside The Cabildo and The Presbytère and glimpse period Creole furnishings inside the 1850 House, part of the oft-photographed Pontalba Apartments.

Of course, if you have more time, I’d suggest taking a Mississippi River excursion on the nostalgic Steamboat Natchez, hopping aboard the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar, and paying a visit to The National WWII Museum, which lies in the Central Business District (CBD) and features a variety of engrossing exhibits, a Tom Hanks-narrated documentary, and an old-fashioned dinner theater experience in the Stage Door Canteen.

5. Which neighborhood is your favorite to explore?

Though it might seem cliché, I absolutely love living in and exploring the French Quarter. The atmospheric Quarter, the undisputed heart of New Orleans, lures tourists with its wealth of seafood restaurants, historic museums, and curious street performers. Here, visitors can stroll beside the Mississippi River, browse the art galleries and antique shops along Royal Street, enjoy live music on Bourbon Street, or take a carriage ride through the fabled avenues. With iconic images like the St. Louis Cathedral, flickering gas lamps, and wrought-iron balconies veiled by cascading foliage, the lively Vieux Carré is, not surprisingly, the city’s most photographed neighborhood.

6. World-renowned for its music scene, what’s your favorite place to catch some live music?

Along a three-block stretch of Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny, you’ll find several hopping places playing everything from reggae and rock to jazz and blues. My favorite joint here is The Spotted Cat Music Club, a smoky, somewhat cramped jazz bar made a bit more famous by HBO’s Treme. Meanwhile, my favorite place in the French Quarter is The Kerry Irish Pub, a neighborhood bar that, depending on the night, features live folk, rock, Irish, or country music.

7. Which Mardi Gras parade should visitors make sure to see?

Although my favorite annual event is actually the French Quarter Festival, which usually takes place in mid-April and features a weekend of regional cuisine and free Louisiana-style music, from jazz to zydeco, most out-of-towners visit New Orleans during major events like Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in New Orleans during Mardi Gras weekend, you should plan to see all the major krewes, which includes Endymion on Saturday, Bacchus on Sunday, Orpheus on Monday (Lundi Gras), and, on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) itself, both Zulu and Rex. If, however, you only have time for one parade, I’d suggest attending Zulu. Officially begun as a humble, African American procession in 1909, Zulu has since become one of the most anticipated parades of the Carnival season. Typically, this one-of-a-kind, historically controversial parade kicks off at 8 a.m., starting at the corner of Jackson and South Claiborne Avenues in Uptown and eventually ending at Orleans Avenue and North Galvez Street in the Faubourg Tremé. Besides typical throws (such as colorful bead necklaces), spectators are sometimes lucky enough to take home one of the much-coveted painted coconuts, which Zulu krewe members now hand out to onlookers in lieu of hurling them into the crowd as they once did.

8. What dish is a must-have while in New Orleans?

Given that I’ve been savoring New Orleans cuisine since I was a kid, I’d find it hard to pick just one dish—much less one restaurant. Admittedly, I’m fond of the Italian-style muffuletta sandwiches at Café Maspero, which also offers enormous portions of fried seafood for some of the cheapest prices in the Quarter. I’m also a big fan of the seafood gumbo and raw oysters served at the Oceana Grill, the overstuffed shrimp po-boys at Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, and, of course, the messy beignets at the Café Du Monde in the historic French Market. For a fancy French-Creole meal, I’d opt for Antoine’s Restaurant, the Quarter’s oldest restaurant and the birthplace of such culinary classics as oysters Rockefeller and eggs Sardou. Another favorite of mine is Jaques-Imo’s Cafe, a funky Uptown eatery celebrated for its creative contemporary dishes as well as traditional New Orleans standbys.

9. What are the top family-friendly spots?

Despite its reputation as a debaucherous party town, New Orleans can be quite welcoming toward families. In fact, there are several attractions popular among young travelers—particularly, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, where kids can touch sting rays, feed colorful parakeets, and observe an albino alligator; the Audubon Insectarium, where little ones can learn about a wide array of creepy-crawlies, from speedy cockroaches to kaleidoscopic butterflies; and the Audubon Zoo, which features an engrossing Louisiana Swamp exhibit. Another ideal spot is Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, which offers a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the art of designing and constructing vibrant floats and sculptures for the Carnival season. Even City Park is a great place for families, where, in addition to riding rented bikes, horses, and paddleboats, kids relish the chance to explore a fairytale-themed playground, take a spin on a vintage carousel, and board a miniature train that tours much of the park.

10. What’s the city’s best-kept secret?

In a tourist-friendly city like New Orleans, it’s hard to keep too many places a secret, and yet visitors are often surprised by the Rock ‘N’ Bowl. Founded in 1941 and recently relocated from Mid-City to the northern edge of the Uptown area, the Rock ‘N’ Bowl is not an ordinary bowling alley. Almost nightly, patrons can listen to live music here, from swing to zydeco to rockabilly. Such concerts, which are typically affordable (or free if you’re already bowling by start time), often feature major performers like Kermit Ruffins, Amanda Shaw, Tab Benoit, and Buckwheat Zydeco.

The Greatest Crime Writer

Books to Die For, a collection of 120 of the most influential living writers of crime and suspense discussing their favorite works, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, will be available this Tuesday, October 2nd.  We may not be publishing it ourselves, but we’re sure as hell excited about it–which is why we’re featuring Jo Nesbo’s essay today on Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, available as a Mulholland e-book for $4.99.

Dubbed the “Dimestore Dostoevsky” by novelist Geoffrey O’Brien, Jim Thompson (1906–77) published more than thirty novels during his career. Despite early critical praise, and particularly positive reviews from Anthony Boucher in the New York Times, Thompson’s talent went largely unrecognized during his lifetime. He made his debut in 1942 with Now and On Earth, and is best known for novels such as The Killer Inside Me (1952), Savage Night (1953), A Hell of a Woman (1954), The Getaway (1958), and The Grifters (1963), all of which were characteristic of an oeuvre that unflinchingly explored the darkest and nastiest recesses of the human psyche. “He let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it,” declared Stephen King. Well served by film adaptations, and particularly French filmmakers, Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me was remade in 2010, directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Casey Affleck.

There’s a clip in the Sylvester Stallone film, Cop Land. The clip only lasts about one or two seconds, and doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the film. It’s a brief flash of a sign showing the number of inhabitants in the town. The sign says, “Pop. 1280.”

I looked around the cinema when it came on the screen, and listened. No reaction. Obviously. Because it was 1997 and this was a coded mes- sage for the initiated few, a bonus for those who had dived into the deep- est depths of pulp literature and found Jim Thompson, the genius who portrayed the American psychopath in the first person some forty years before Brett Easton Ellis did the same in American Psycho.

I personally hadn’t had to dive so deep myself. I was served Jim Thompson on a silver platter by a friend, Espen, who told me it was “old, but good stuff.” The book had the very promising title of Pop. 1280 and a not-quite-so-promising sheriff on the cover. And maybe that was the only way to discover Jim Thompson: you had to be guided to him by someone like Espen, someone who moved freely beyond the main highways and narrow paths of literary snobbery. Continue reading “The Greatest Crime Writer”

The Beauty Queen Killer

Michael Robotham’s BLEED FOR ME, which Booklist called “crime fiction of the highest order” in a starred review, is now available in paperback in bookstores everywhere. Join the celebration with the below guest post by Michael Robotham on the chilling, real-life inspiration for the novel’s villain.

Villains are more fun to write than heroes. They get to wear cooler clothes and stroke cats and have monkey paws or steel hooks instead of hands. They also get to date dirty girls with names like Pussy Galore, Solitaire, Honey Rider and Mary Goodnight.

I have always taken a lot of care with the villains I write. None of them are evil because I don’t think evil exists. They do terrible things, but they have reasons. Mitigating circumstances. Nothing excuses their behaviour, but I do attempt to explain it.

In my new novel BLEED FOR ME I have created a number of villains but by far the most interesting are those who seem completely normal. Better than normal. Nice. Charismatic. Handsome. Popular. Loved.

We often assume that we would recognize a true psychopath. We see photographs of serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and we think, ‘Yeah, they look like bad’uns,’ but the truth is, until their crimes were revealed we could have walked past any of these people in the street and not looked twice. They could have been living next-door, or working at the local garage, or teaching our kids piano.

My first experience of this dissonance between perception and reality occurred more almost thirty years ago when I was a young journalist working on an afternoon newspaper in Sydney. I was sent cover a committal hearing at a local magistrate’s court. A man called Christopher Wilder was appearing, charged with the sexual assault of two schoolgirls.

Wilder had grown up in Australia, the son of an American naval officer and his Australian bride. He was educated at good schools and given every opportunity in life, but found trouble in his teens when he pleaded guilty to the gang rape of a girl on a Sydney beach and was given probation.

He married at the age of twenty-three, but the union lasted only a few days. His new bride complained of sexual abuse and found photographs of naked women in Wilder’s briefcase, as well as items of underwear that weren’t her own. In 1969 Wilder avoided prison again after blackmailing a student nurse into having sex with him by taking compromising photographs. She complained to the police, but the charges were dropped when she refused to testify in court.

Wilder’s father told him he should go to America and start afresh with a clean slate in a new country. He moved to Boynton Beach in Florida and found his calling as an electrical contractor and construction engineer, making millions from the property boom. By his mid-thirties he was worth millions with a luxurious bachelor pad and a string of sports cars. Continue reading “The Beauty Queen Killer”

Plans and Punctuality

Analog clock
Photo © Michael Sommers.

I often only realize how “Brazilian” I’ve become when I see myself through foreign eyes. Two years ago, I spent my end of year holidays at Barra Grande, an idyllic beach getaway on Bahia’s Baía de Camamu, where I met and became friends with a German surfer/financial consultant named Dirk. At the time Dirk was in the throes of being seduced by Brazil, so much so, in fact, that he has since returned here every year to travel, surf, and perfect his Portuguese.

Dirk’s 2012 Brazilian Adventures began this week when he touched down in Salvador, prepared to plunge into two weeks of intensive Portuguese classes. Upon his arrival on Sunday, he sent me an e-mail inviting me to lunch on Wednesday at 12:30. When I responded in the affirmative and then said I’d call him on Wednesday to confirm, he seemed mystified that a confirmation was necessary. Meanwhile, when Wednesday rolled around and he called me at 12:25 to let me know he’d be five minutes late, it was my turn to be surprised.

[pullquote]The thing is about time in Brazil (and, once again, Bahia in particular) is how wonderfully flexible and elastic a concept it can be.[/pullquote]

Both Dirk’s mystification and my surprise stem from the fact that in Brazil (and particularly in Bahia) it’s customary to extend invitations to lunches, outings, and events that don’t yet exist – and may not ever materialize. For this reason, it’s customary for the Invitee to call the Inviter on the appointed day to confirm that the original event is actually taking place let alone that it’s happening at the same location and the same time. It’s often quite likely that, in the interim, the Inviter will have concocted entirely different plans (in which the Invitee might or might not be included) or may not have any concrete plans at all (although new ones might eventually emerge hours later after various mutual friends have been called and conferred with).

Dirk’s perplexed reaction to the confirmation rule not only amused me, but also made me realize how second nature such Brazilian behavior is to me. The truth is that there are times when I enthusiastically and, without a trace of guilt, accept an invitation to Something, knowing full well that:

1. It will possibly never come to fruition
2. I might not actually go (either because I just don’t want to or because I’ll only decide on the spur of the moment if I actually feel like going).

An added bonus is that even if I do initially accept the invitation, it won’t be considered a faux pas if I change my mind and am ultimately a no-show.

Meanwhile the fact that Dirk’s punctuality – not to mention his calling to inform me of his five-minute delay before the actual fact – freaked me out made me realize how great I’ve become at shaking off the shackles of Time (or, viewed through an alternate perspective, how great I’ve become at making people wait on me).

The thing is about time in Brazil (and, once again, Bahia in particular) is how wonderfully flexible and elastic a concept it can be.

For example, formal sit-down meals are rarer than casual festas at which the contents of multiple pots and pans can be savored throughout an entire afternoon or evening. This means if the party officially starts at 1pm, showing up at 3pm is quite acceptable.

Similarly, get-togethers in bars or on the beach usually involve small congregations. As such, you can rest assured if you’re running late that someone else will get there first. However, even in a one-on-one situation, if you’re 20 minutes late (30 minutes is pushing it), nobody is ever bent out of joint at cooling their heels alone in the sand or at a lively bar table.

For me, a major advantage of this loose concept of time is the lack of stress involved. Harboring no expectations that whomever you’re meeting is going to arrive at the appointed hour, you’re not constantly watching the clock and getting increasingly peeved as the minutes tick by. Lateness isn’t interpreted as a lack of respect. Moreover, since you’re not banking on punctuality, time spent waiting is not considered a “waste” of time.

Meanwhile, knowing that you have some leeway in terms of your own arrival time means there’s no need to rush or get anxious. Even better is that you don’t have to wrack your brain trying to come up with credible excuses for your tardiness and heartfelt pleas for forgiveness. In Brazil, a little lateness goes a long way.

The Disapearance of Lynette Dawson

Oceans, hearts and ghosts.Twenty-eight years ago, a young mother disappeared from her home in Sydney’s northern suburbs, leaving behind two daughters and a handsome football star husband.

 Lynette Dawson, a nurse and childcare worker, has never been seen since, but the mystery of her fate continues to haunt her family, friends and neighbours. It also provided the seed for bestselling author Michael Robotham’s thriller, BLEED FOR ME, now available in paperback in bookstores everywhere. Here, he explains how …

I was a young journalist working for an afternoon newspaper in Sydney when Lynette Dawson disappeared in January 1982. It didn’t make the headlines or cause a ripple of publicity, because nobody reported her missing at first.

Her husband, Chris Dawson, was a PE teacher at Cromer High School, on Sydney’s northern beaches. He was also a champion rugby league star for the Newtown Jets, playing alongside his identical twin brother Paul, who coincidentally taught at the same high school.

Former students say they were the coolest, most popular teachers and parents remember them as being incredibly charming and handsome. Both men had done modelling work and moved on to play rugby union.

According to his police statement, Chris Dawson dropped Lynette off at Mona Vale shopping centre on the morning of January 9, 1982. She had organized to meet her mother at Northbridge Baths that day, but didn’t show up.

Chris called his mother-in-law and said that Lynette ‘needed some time on her own’ and had gone off for a few days. On that same day he also called his 16-year-old lover, Joanne Curtis, and said, ‘My wife has gone away. She’s not coming back.’ Continue reading “The Disapearance of Lynette Dawson”

Early Peoples of the Virgin Islands

A view of a crescent beach with a strip of white sand surrounded by heavy vegetation.
A view of Trunk Bay Beach on St. John. Photo by Phil Comeau licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Four waves of pre-Columbian people settled in the Virgin Islands: the Ciboney, Igneri, Taino, and Kalinago peoples. Each group arrived in the Virgin Islands from South America, and each brought new advances in crop cultivation, social structure, and tools.

Ciboney

The first humans are thought to have been present in the Virgin Islands as early as 2200 b.c. These earliest islanders, called Ciboney by the Spanish and Ortoiroid by today’s archaeologists, were fisher-foragers who did not make pottery or cultivate plants. They lived nomadically and used crude stone tools to prepare food. Shellfish was probably an important part of their diet.

The Ciboney lived in crude shelters, fashioned out of palm fronds and other material at hand. Social organization was primitive; families who lived and traveled together constituted a single band, without organized leadership. Archaeological evidence of these Stone Age people has been discovered at Krum Bay, St. Thomas, and Brewer’s Bay, Tortola.

Igneri

The next wave was the Igneri, or Saladoid, people, who migrated from South America around 400 b.c. and lived undisturbed in the Virgin Islands for almost 1,000 years. They cultivated crops, including yucca and cassava. In addition to fish, the flesh of the agouti, a ratlike animal they raised, was their primary source of protein.

The Igneri knew how to make pottery and produced thin griddles on which they cooked cassava. They lived in communal round houses.

Taino

Much more is known about the third and most sophisticated group of pre-Columbians to live in the Virgin Islands. These people, defined by a different style of pottery and more advanced cultivation and social systems, have become known as Taino (the Arawaks of popular legend). Tainos lived throughout the Virgin Islands; archaeologists have found evidence of Taino settlement at some 32 sites on Tortola alone. The Salt River Bay area of St. Croix is widely believed to be an important Taino settlement and has been studied extensively. Digs at Cinnamon Bay, St. John, and Hull Bay, St. Thomas, have unearthed evidence of Taino settlements at those locations.

Tainos traveled between islands in large canoes. Their caciques (chiefs) arbitrated disputes, oversaw cultivation and hunting, and made decisions about the future of the village. Cacique was a hereditary position.

Ornamentation was important to the Tainos, for it was linked to their religious beliefs. In their worship they used zemis—idols made of wood, stone, bone, shell, and clay—through which they worshiped the gods and sought to exert control over them. The Taino god of wind and water, Jurakan, is the namesake of today’s hurricanes. Some zemis were believed to influence the weather, crops, hunting, wealth, and childbirth. Religious leaders called behiques communicated with the gods and healed the sick and injured.

Taino villages were typically a ring of circular huts. The cacique lived in large rectangular houses with his wives; commoners lived in round thatched-roof huts with dirt floors and one door. They slept in hammocks.

Tainos enjoyed parties. They created castanets out of stone and used them to make music. Both men and women played a ball game using a rubber ball. Evidence of ball courts has been found at Belmont, Tortola, and Salt River Bay, St. Croix.

Kalinago

The final wave of pre-Columbian people arrived in the Virgin Islands shortly before Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the islands. The Kalinago (popularly known as Caribs) were a martial society that had made its way northward from South America, conquering the more peaceful Tainos along the way. Defeated Taino males were killed or taken as slaves, while Taino women were absorbed into the Kalinago society.

It was a Kalinago village that Columbus and his men set upon on November 1493 when they sailed into Salt River Bay, St. Croix, but archaeologists do not know whether the Kalinago had reached St. Thomas, St. John, or the other islands at that time. No archaeological evidence has been unearthed that they had, and since Columbus and his fleet did not stop at any of the other Virgin Islands, no documentary evidence exists either.

The myth that the Kalinago were cannibals has never been substantiated, and, if they did eat human flesh, it is almost certain they did so for ceremonial purposes only. More likely, the myth came from the Kalinago’s fierce nature and the fact that their way of honoring the dead was to hang their bones in pots from the rafters of their homes—a practice misinterpreted by the Spanish who came into contact with them. The Spanish, who originated the myth of the cannibalistic Carib, benefited from its spread because it justified their ruthless extermination of the islands’ native populations.

Like Taino marriages, Kalinago marriages were polygamous, although not every man could afford to have more than one wife. For Tainos, it was the caciques who were most likely to have multiple wives; for the Kalinago it was the warriors. Believing that it made them more beautiful, the Kalinago flattened the front and back of their children’s heads.

The Kalinago’s social organization was looser than that of the Taino; Kalinago culture emphasized physical prowess and individualism. While settlements had a leader, his authority was limited. War chiefs were chosen from among villagers based on their skill in battle. The Kalinago lived separated by gender; the men lived together in large building called a carbet, while the women lived in smaller houses. Tobacco was the standard of exchange.

Kalinago military dominance was due to the culture’s focus on training and their development of more deadly weapons than the Taino had. Young Kalinago men were trained as children to be warriors, and the values of courage and endurance were highly valued. The bow and arrow was the most common Kalinago weapon; poison from deadly plants was used on the tip of the arrow to increase the chance of death. The Kalinago depended on the element of surprise in achieving military victories.

Demise

Within 100 years of Spanish arrival in the Caribbean, there were no more indigenous people living in the Virgin Islands. Some were captured as slaves to work in Spanish gold mines, and others fled southward to islands farther away from the Spanish strongholds of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The Caribbean island of Dominica still has a “Carib” community—descendants of these people.

Others stayed put and fought their new Spanish neighbors. St. Croix’s Caribs, as the Spanish called them, violently opposed Spanish settlement of the region; the new Spanish settlement on Puerto Rico was the target of numerous raids and attacks between 1510 and 1530. On one raid, the Caribs killed the newly appointed governor of the colony. In response to the aggression, the Spanish crown formally gave its settlers in the region license to hunt and kill Caribs in 1512, a move that marked the beginning of the end for the remaining Virgin Islands native people. Although they continued to raid and attack Puerto Rico between 1520 and 1530, they were ultimately no match for the Spanish. By 1590, and probably well before that on most of the islands, indigenous people had disappeared from the Virgin Islands.

Today, there are no native people in the Virgin Islands. Only a few of their words—such as hurricane, hammock, and barbecue—remain.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Virgin Islands.

Living Abroad in Belize with Victoria Day-Wilson

1. What draws people to move to Belize?

Freedom, a change in life, an adventure, starting something new. Belize is an English-speaking country where all official matters are carried out in English. The countryside is beautiful with lots of under-populated land. There is a wide variety of property choices, including in the jungle, on the coast, or inland, and magnificent tropical fauna.

2. Do you have any suggestions on finding employment? Are there any particular industries hiring?

Unless you are starting your own business or taking over an existing one, employment is hard to find in Belize. If you are, though, business taxes are low.

3. Are there any health risks for outsiders living in Belize?

The main health risks are environmental; car accidents are high on the list, in addition to excessive exposure to the sun, certain plants, insects, and reptiles. There are the usual tropical diseases but it is very rare to catch them. Prevention is the best form of protection—be aware of your surroundings and use common sense.

4. What do you consider essential items to pack before moving? Are there any things you just can’t find?

Good quality electronics and hobby gear. Quality wines and spirits are few and far between and expensive. It’s advisable to bring some good quality shoes and sandals. If you want high quality linens (towels, sheets, etc.), you may want to bring them. Most items are available locally. The main problem is quality, variety, and constant supply.

5. What languages do you recommend learning before moving to Belize?

Although Belize is officially English-speaking, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language and therefore useful to know. If you choose to travel to countries in the region such as Guatemala or Mexico, you will need Spanish.

6. What advice do you have for finding housing?

As well as contacting the two main real estate organizations, look around and ask around. Travel around. Don’t rush; take your time. There are a lot of good choices. Check the deeds thoroughly in the lands office. Talk to other expats about the property you intend to buy and also about the area and other relevant information.

7. Are there any surprising local customs you’ve learned that one should know to acclimate to the culture?

Life is slower; people are more friendly, outgoing, and polite. Punctuality is not always a priority. Slow down; Belize is fairly laid back and a smile works wonders, as does patience. Come with an open mind and accept that you are in a deceptively different culture. What applied at home probably won’t apply in Belize. Try not to judge or compare.

8. What are the most expat-friendly places to live?

Most places in Belize, but key expat areas include around San Ignacio (Cayo), San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), and Caye Caulker; around Hopkins and the Placencia Peninsula (Stann Creek); and around Corozal (Consejo).

9. What do you love most about life in Belize?

The outdoorsy active life, the friendly people, the sensation of space and freedom, being away from the “rat race,” and the climate! Being in one of the few places left on Earth that still has a bit of a ‘frontier’ mentality. I also enjoy the relaxed way of life, the beautiful countryside, the prolific exotic birds and flowers, the historic Mayan sights throughout Belize, and the fact that Belize is small, so in a few hours you can be in the jungle or by the sea or across the border in another country.

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