Rio de Janeiro - Jennifer and I are standing in the lobby of our gloriously rundown hotel in the heart of Rio's red-light district.
It's mid-February and over 40°C. Sweat is dripping down our sleep-deprived faces. Beto, the amiable front desk manager, is giving us suggestions of "must-see" places in the state of Rio de Janeiro. All partied out after a mind-blowing week at Carnival, we just want a quiet beach and, in a perfect world, luscious scenery.
With our words in mind, he declares Playa Vermelha (Red Beach) on Ilha Grande (Big Island) our best choice. With its 106 beaches, he's certain we'll find sand to our liking.
The next day we arrive in Angra dos Reis, an overcrowded port town 155 kilometres away from the bustle of Rio's sexy but overcrowded beaches.
We head to the port and start asking for Señor George, a friend of our recent landlord's. "Are you Señor George?" we ask sailor after sailor. No after no, we slowly make our way across the port until we strike gold and find George's son. He's a shy, gangly teenager who tells us his dad will be here in about an hour and assures us he'll take us to Playa Vermelha.
Metres from George's boat we spot a snack stand. Cold beers, pop and cigarettes being our only choices, we decide that a liquid lunch will do us just fine. I buy the first round, and we sit down to a game of Go Fish.
Many beers later, Señor George arrives. At first he seems annoyed that his friend Beto has sent us to him, but his son, amused by our saloon-like behaviour for the past couple of hours, convinces him to take us.
When we step on board, we're shocked by the primitive nautical design. There's no way this sardine tin can sail through the ocean for nearly an hour.
Then we remember the dwindling Brazilian reals in our wallets, and we sit down on a mouldy, disintegrating plank.
The overzealous motor roars and wheezes. Fearful and silent, we pray for a happy ending as warm ocean spray soaks us.
Somewhere in the middle of the trip we can no longer see Angra, nor can we see the island we're headed to. The motion of the Atlantic Ocean all around us is exhilarating. I wonder if Christopher Columbus felt the same awe and wonder as he traversed the oceans. Was his boat as great as he wanted it to be or was it a source of fear and a piece of crap like ours?
Suddenly, our young skipper announces Ilha Grande. As we get closer, we see it looks exactly as we'd imagined, an abandoned aquamarine beach surrounded by a mountainous canopy of palm trees.
As our makeshift boat pulls up on the beach, I can make out a group of lively young folk under a thatched awning. One guy is wearing a straw cowboy hat. Immediately, my heart sinks, thinking we've travelled all this way to end up with a group of rowdy Americans. To our delight, it's a group of five Cariocas (Brazilians from Rio), two couples and a young teenage boy, sitting at the bar.
Like long-lost relatives, they invite us to join them. Moises, the hat guy, jumps up to buy the first round of beers and potato chips.
The sun has nearly set, and we announce that we've got to scout a location to set up our tent. Lucky for us, our new drinking buddies want to keep partying, so they invite us to stay with them for a few days at their beach house.
Half an hour later we're in their kitchen helping prepare a Brazilian feast of the day's catch, fried plantain, rice and fresh papaya. Thanks to Beto from Rio, we've found our paradise.