from Sandy Needham

Monday, March 21, 2016

Brazil Dispatch 40: Fernando de Noronha

With the dollar strongest yet during our nine-year stay in Brazil, we decided to visit the ecologically protected island, Fernando de Noronha, 350 kilometers from the Natal coast. It is the Brazilian version of Galapagos, with limited tourism and prohibitive costs. Even though the pousadas (casual hotels), interior vegetation and dusty roads are not much to write home about, the beaches that surround the island are among the most stunning we have ever seen. Newton loved the snorkeling and a scuba dive with an instructor; I loved swimming ashore on a boat trip that included a crowd of dolfins frolicking alongside us! The hiking and gazing and swimming immersed in unspoiled nature make for an exceptional, transforming experience. Our friends, Priscila and Ali - biologists at the university, go there frequently for research in fisheries and algae. 

I'll let the photos do most of the talking:

Boarding the small plane to Noronha

This rock face presides over the island

Dolphins surrounding our tourist boat, which they could easily outrun!
Praia Sancho where I swam ashore on the boat trip while Newt snorkled

Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers)

Praia Cachorro ('Dog')
Wall at Cachorro Bar (above Cachorro Beach)

Sunset from Cachorro Bar 
Hiking on the trail above the beaches 
Too hot wearing sun-proof clothes!
We saw hordes of dolphins when we hiked above Baia Golfinhos. Binoculars are supplied. It is literally a dolphin social gathering and resting place. How fascinating to watch them interact.

A little "barraca" for food and drink on Praia Boldró

Hunky swimmer
Newton scuba diving in Baía do Sueste with a turtle...and a reef shark (not pictured!)

That loveliest of concepts: pristine

None of these photos have touched-up color!

Fernando de Noronha island became a trade relay point in the sixteenth century for the red dye wood from the tree called 'Pau Brasil.' This was harvested by mainland natives and shipped to Europe. The island was named after the Portuguese merchant who oversaw this trade. Old forts and cannons on the island are leftovers from seventeenth century battles between Dutch and Portuguese, as evidenced along much of the Northeast Coast of Brazil. The Portuguese managed to wrest the Northeast away from the Dutch, as you have guessed. (Natal, our city, was the original 'Nieuw Amsterdam' before the newly-available moniker referred to New York...before the Brits wrested that city from the Dutch. I would say the similarities between Natal and New York end there.) 

From the late eighteenth century through the mid-twentieth century the island was a penal colony á la Papillon. 

As part of the intriguing history of Natal as an Allied base during World War II, Noronha's airport was built by the United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command in 1942 for the Natal-Dakar route during the campaign in Africa. 

The current ecological preservation of Noronha originated in 1988 when Brazil designated the archipelago of islands as a national maritime park. UNESCO named the island a World Heritage Site in 2001.

Today, along with preservation of its beauty and various ecosystems, the island is known for its refreshing relief from dishonesty and crime. I left my purse hanging on the back of my chair at a restaurant. Sure enough, the cashier was saving it for my return, which required several hours with no phone reception.

We often caught the bus that runs up and down the center of the island. One of my favorite moments was waiting at the bus stop after dinner next to this local "batucada" gathering:

If you're over 60, you ride the bus for free and board at the back; Newton still has to pay and board through the front door. Once when the bus was packed, there was no joining up and sitting together. I was the lucky old lady jammed near three seated adorable, local adolescents: two boys and a girl. The first boy stood up to give me his seat next to the girl, while the boy sitting in front of us - twisted around in order to flirt with the girl - was trying to tell me something. Once I had struggled to get past the armrest into the seat, I then understood he was trying to tell me that the armrest lifts up for easier seating. What sweethearts! They noticed me gesturing and pantomiming, but they didn't understand I was trying to figure out which stop with Newton, crushed up front. I told them that my husband is younger (hence did not enter with me at the back). Then I pantomimed a big heart around the two of them for Newt, which they loved! SO darling.

Our most delicious and $$$ dinner was at Mesa da Ana. A Carioca woman (from Rio) who worked as a chef in France offers nightly dinners in her garden for the first ten who reserve and pre-pay. We five couples savored the multi-courses and the camaraderie, though the hostess' husband apparently doesn't tire of repeatedly entertaining strangers with monologues. The wine costs extra, but the selection is good and our night was moonlit! Very nice and worth it when the dollar is strong.

How gratifying to revisit our days in this paradise.

May these be the only footprints left by humans on Fernando de Noronha! 



  1. Wow, you seem to find the most beautiful places to visit. It looks like an upscale Caribbean but without all the people and a focus on nature.


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