I hesitate to utter the word “Bahia”. Bah-eee-yah. It’s beautiful to say it aloud. Also known by its epithet, the “land of happiness”, Bahia is a vibrant state in Northeastern Brazil that for whatever reason has managed to evade many a Latin America travel itinerary. My hesitation to utter the word is in part because of this: what makes the region so special is its unrivalled beauty, twinned with the fact that it still remains in relative obscurity to much of the international community. Until now, Bahia has retained so much of its rich cultural heritage, protected national parks, and beautiful coastlines that have not suffered the fates of Bali and Goa. I hope that it can continue to do so, and that to utter the word is not to let the cat too far out of the bag.While it is home to the biggest – and arguably best – carnival in the world, in the state capital of Salvador, Bahia is perhaps most known for its beaches. Those making the pilgrimage up from or down to Rio generally do so at a laid-back Brazilian pace, hopping from secluded spot to secluded spot, with plenty of fresh fruits including hydrating coconuts to accompany the journey along the coast. To the cynic, the never-ending coastline may seem like much of a muchness, but there are some gems to be found that truly stand out. Boipeba is one such place, a tiny island tucked against the shore just a few hours south of Salvador. Despite its relative proximity, it is hard to imagine that the island even occupies the same state as the bustling city. Boipeba moves to a different beat. Just ask anyone who has been about the energy or the vibe, and they’ll tell you. But be prepared for a long, meandering monologue of inexplicable details that will never compare to the joy of experiencing it for yourself. Named after the sea turtles that populate its coastlines, Boipeba is a paradise of ecological diversity. Home to rich Atlantic rainforest ripe for inland hiking trails, secluded beach spots framed by boulders and swaying palms, and a massive mangrove forest best navigated by kayak, the island has plenty to keep you entertained for a sleepy yet action-packed Brazilian getaway. Oh, and the coast is also sprinkled with natural pools boasting colourful corals and marine life, when you need to escape that intense midday heat. While that might sound like any other island paradise, there are a few standout features that make Boipeba a unique gem within Brazil. For starters, you can leave any safety concerns back at the mainland docks. Although the nation has seen a surge in crime in recent years, the island is composed of small villages in which everyone knows everyone, and visitors are free to walk through the night and day, comfortably carrying phones, cameras, and cash – a luxury that cannot be said about the mainland. While the children of the west have been relegated to dark rooms and smartphone screens, the kids of Boipeba are out in force as much as the island’s population of friendly, community-owned pups, making the most of the sun and sand. It’s refreshing to visit a place where people still know their neighbours and make an effort to keep the sense of community that much of the world has lost. It is that sense of community that binds the people of Boipeba to one another, and to their home. The island is bestowed with world heritage status from UNESCO, an accolade that its people wear with pride and are apt to maintain. Motorised vehicles are banned from the island, with visitors instead relying on old fashioned tractors – or their own trusty feet – to shuttle them across the island. With many of the community still relying on traditional agricultural and fishing methods for their livelihoods, it is important that development on the island is kept in check, and not allowed to interfere with local customs. Amabo, the Association of Residents and Friends of Boipeba, was founded to protect the life of residents and the local environment, as well as educating people on the conWWtemporary issues at play. It is just one of the groups that are protecting that coveted UNESCO status. With the constant threat of international developers intent on building resorts on the island, groups like Amabo play an important role in the discussion. While the would-be developers argue that the island belongs to Brazil and is fair game for acquisition and development to help bolster the nation’s economy, residents and conservation groups take the view that the island’s delicate ecosystems belong to all of humanity and cannot be decimated in the name of capital and growth.
With a little help from a team of dedicated pro bono lawyers, the residents and friends of Boipeba have – for now at least – managed to keep unwanted, unsustainable resort development at bay. But with President Bolsonaro intent on opening the nation to international investment, with little regard to the delicate ecosystems worth fighting to maintain, the security of Boipeba’s UNESCO status – and the livelihoods of its residents – is still under threat. In this regard, Boipeba Island becomes a symbol to which we can all relate, and its fight for sustainability a cause we can all get behind. Whether it’s a faraway tropical island, an even farther polar glacier, or a beloved woodland by our own backyard, we know that it is worth standing up for voiceless entities, against capitalist growth. That way our planet may retain its balance and beauty – indeed, remain a place on which we all can live – for many years to come.
A tale of two towns:
No trip to Boipeba would be complete without ample exploration of its two famed villages, Velha Boipeba and Moreré. To help you better understand the island and community while keeping in line with sustainable ideals, we recommend two lodgings offering a unique Boipeba experience.Fernando’s: Instagram @FFernandoSS11.
Tucked behind the little cobbled streets of Velha Boipeba is the home of Fernando and his mother, Dona Nilda. The family offers simple rooms within their home, use of the kitchen, and a delicious breakfast prepared by Nilda to set you up for a hard day at the beach. At Fernando’s you will come to understand family life on the island, which will probably include drop-in visits from some of the local children looking for a fresh juice made from fine fruits you’ve probably never heard of, and some of the local hummingbirds on their morning flight. The family are happy to help make your stay as much as they help the local community, offering guidance on places to walk and where to eat. Perhaps most importantly, Fernando is a talented chocolatier creating a range of delicious products using freshly-picked cacau, as well as teaching local children about his craft. Do not leave without sampling some of the tasty treats on offer, and taking some for the road.
Casa Bobo: Instagram @EcoCasaBobo. Perched from a terrific vantage point above Moreré and neighbouring Bainema beach sits the island’s top rated eco pousada. The reputation that couple Myriam and Nilton have built up over the years is legendary, with plenty of awards and reviews that speak for themselves. Casa Bobo is a set of three gorgeous bungalows constructed using locally-sourced labour and materials, with beautiful communal spaces to enjoy both sunrise and sunset. Worthy of its eco pousada title, Casa Bobo is involved in many sustainability projects: providing space to build much-needed water tanks, donating materials to university recycling programs, and organising regular beach cleanups. They are also on the frontlines of the ongoing battle to protect the island’s UNESCO status. And then there’s the wonderful selection of food, freshly prepared with ingredients sourced from the ranch’s stunning gardens, laying to rest the idea that Brazil can’t deliver gastronomy. With Myriam on breakfast duties, and Nilton’s sunset bar whipping up tasty acai bowls, caipirinhas, and grilled fish, you are in the safest of hands. Oh, and you’ll also find a selection of Fernando’s treats available at the mini bar. Above all, Casa Bobo is a place filled with love. Love for the island, support for its local businesses, and an unforgettable experience for any visitor lucky enough to bag a bungalow for a few days.
You can help the Boipeba community curb unsustainable development on the island by taking a moment to sign the petition at bit.ly/2tmNAXY.
For more information on visiting Bahia or Boipeba, please contact the Editor.