Expectations are dangerous; they rarely serve a useful purpose.
Or perhaps that should be high expectations are to be avoided, leading as they often do to disappointment.
The key to a good life (and marriage I hear some wag shout from the back): keep your expectations low. At least that’s what Lucy says 🙂
However we couldn’t help but get on the plane from Recife to Fernando de Noronha with high expectations. It is the sort of place that people talk about with reverence and dissonance – they want you to know, they want you to go but they don’t really want to share the secret and hate a part of themselves for telling you**.
A few separate groups of friends mentioned this place, we read about it briefly and suddenly it became the centre of our two weeks in Brazil. As the 1 hour flight from Recife flew past and a large hunk of volcanic rock laden with trees loomed out of nowhere, it felt like disappointment was not going to trouble us. Neither Lucy or I had a reference point. I haven’t been to Cape Verde or the Dominican Republic or Montserrat, but it looked like I imagine they do. Every square inch has something growing on it.
Fernando is a group of 21 islands with only the main island being inhabited. It has become famous for the beauty, the wildlife and then strict controls in place to protect both. The history is colourful with previous owners including the Portugese, Dutch and English. They used it as a penal colony, defensive site, military base in WWII and also a US missile-tracking station. Today eco-tourism rules. The Government takes a tax on arrival, which for 5 nights for is ~£75 per person. Then to visit half the beaches you pay a separate Marine Park ticket. The funds go to protect what is in place. Only three incoming flights a day are allowed so that incoming tourists are limited to ~500. The Government has the place by the short and curlies and so as long as you don’t want to be treading new ground with your machete in one hand and TV show pitch treatment in the other, I think you’d like it here.
The remote setting fuels the magic. We are 525 km from Recife which is 14 hours on two planes from the UK. So nobody turns up here by accident; it is a very deliberate decision and that is why we saw couples taking selfies as soon as they got off the plane. Most of the tourists are Brazilian and they appear no less happy than we are. A lovely couple from the capital Brasilia tell us that “the flights are just as expensive for us to go to Fernando from south Brazil as it is to go to Europe” so there is financial sacrifice, joy and no little expectation for all us tourists.
So what do you do here? Diving, snorkelling, hiking, chilling, surfing. Gazing, absorbing, enjoying. Eating. Drinking.
Our first outing didn’t work. The weather in May / June is not good – overcast, rain, cloud and then maybe a bit of sun if you say enough prayers. Our arrival at one of the famous ‘swim with the turtle beachs’ revealed big waves, zero visibility and park rangers who told us the south coast of the island would be a write-off all week. Well, we had a minute of the d-word before catching a lift in a buggy (an adventure in itself) to another beach which instantly goes into our Top 10 Beaches of the world. Huge cliffs, perfect sand, a lazy horseshoe shape and jade water.
To get there you have to go down two ladders placed inside the cliffs. The girls do brilliantly and we buzz with pride. We swim but our UK goggles do not reveal any fish. Change of tack needed.
Half a day in and no wildlife. Tourist Tick Box Anxiety*** sets in. We head to the Port Beach with dreams of turtles. It looks ominous – large unemployed and dishevelled boats sit on the sand waiting to be resuscitated.
A few lads play foot volleyball and display skills which in England would see them playing at the World Cup in Russia. The low grey sky is unwelcome and seems too England-familiar to us. We hire some kit and soon learn that it is possible to snorkel and scream simultaneously as L-Zo (Lola) screeeeeeches upon seeing her first turtle. Heads turn in shock until they realise there is no danger.
There is no danger at all, just wonder and love coming from the four white British tourists swimming with turtles for the first time in their lives, floating with the push and pull of the current as we gently harass these otherworldly hard-backed animals. At one point I have a child’s hand in each of mine as we watch a large and small turtle together. Applying our amateur anthropomorphism they become mother and baby. They ignore the high-pitched English noises, they ignore the Go-Pro’s thrust near their face by some Japanese swimmers, they ignore the flippers which come too close for comfort to them.
We have what we came for. Just one swim and we can declare this a victory, full of the magic of the island. The anxiety dissipates. The girls are lost in the moment and not listening to us outlining the context: we’ve lived 87 years between us and never swum with turtles before today. Apparently forcing gratitude onto your children does not work, but ask us again in 12 weeks / 15 years.
** You get this with Druidstone too.
*** The sense that you have to experience the famous aspects of a destination as soon as bl**dy possible.