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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

Fernando de Noronha - The Jewel of the Atlantic

Most people have never heard of this island that is often called the Jewel of the Atlantic. We didn’t have time to visit on our last trip, so I made sure that we included it in this itinerary. When we arrive, I’m very glad that I did. IT IS STUNNING. I love islands, and have been to many, but this island, fairly untouched and not overly touristy, is beyond anything I imagined. Let’s face it, any beach is beautiful, but what makes these beaches so beautiful is not just the fine white sand and the turquoise water, it’s the landscape that meets the sand. Towering cliffs with green teasing between the rocks, bright red flowers, palm trees, lush forest and boulders blanketed with white waves crown these beaches into masterpieces. It’s a volcanic island, so the contrast of the dark rock and the clear water is magical.

The first beach we visit is Conceicao Beach. We walk from Vila dos Remedios, but it is a long, rocky and scorching walk. We stop under trees whenever we can, and the views help with the agonizing walk. We are high up on a cliff and down below turquoise water is framed by trees sporting gorgeous red flowers. It’s hard to believe that we are on an island in the Atlantic, and not the Caribbean. When we arrive at the beach we are grateful that there are giant umbrellas we can rent to hide under. I never thought I would be the type to seek shade, but that is how hot I am. The humidity is high and I don’t remember ever being so hot and sweaty in my life. The water here is 29 degrees - even so, it’s the most wonderful feeling when we run headlong into it. Salt stings my eyes and strong waves knock me to my feet, but I feel like I have finally discovered my paradise.

This island is beautiful, but it is also very expensive and complicated. Very few people speak English here and we have difficulties with several things we need to sort out before we can fully enjoy the island. When we arrived, we paid approximately $200 Canadian in National Park fees. (Foreigners have to pay more than Brazilians). This was a surprise as we had already paid about $75 for our marine park pass online. What came as even more of a surprise was that we now needed to go to a place on the island with this receipt, where they would issue a special card and take our photo. This card is scanned every time you enter the port and must be paid in order to enter the water and beaches. The only reason I knew this is because I had to check in at the dive shop where I was diving the next day. Getting around is also complicated - it’s just too hot to walk that far and the bus comes every half hour (or so) and it’s so full that you can’t even get on. So we take a taxi to get our park passes and taxi back to our pousada. Bottled water, soft drinks and restaurants here are outrageously expensive. I had been warned that it’s expensive, and I knew I would be paying more to experience an extraordinary place, but it’s much worse than I thought it would be. Even the Brazilians in our pousada are complaining….

The next morning I wake early for my first dive experience here and I am not disappointed. The sun is shining and the water is bluer than ever, even as a rainstorm hits. Our first dive is at a site called Cagarras Funda, and I can hardly wait to get into the water. The dive is amazing. I spend 45 minutes going over beautiful corals and seeing most of my favourite tropical fish - parrotfish, triggerfish, angelfish, damselfish, barracuda and even colourful sea slugs. But the second dive is by far my favourite. Ilha do Meio sits in a channel that separates two parts of the island and is a favourite for wildlife. I see black tipped reef sharks, a green turtle, a nurse shark and countless fish. But the beauty of the dive lies more in the landscape - there are rock shelves that jut out over us and we glide underneath them, looking up at coral and getting so close to fish that I could touch them if it wasn’t forbidden in the marine park. A giant stingray is nestled under a colourful rock outcrop and I swim close so that the photographer can snap my photo with the magnificent creature. I love diving - seeing things very few people get to see is a privilege, but I love the solitude and relaxation that comes with only hearing the sound of your own breath and the crackling of the coral. It’s magic.

I’m back from diving by 11, which leaves the rest of the day to head back to my new favourite beach. The waves are even stronger today and surfers are out flying through the white water. The beach has huge dips in it from where the waves carve out ditches. You can’t see them as you walk in the water, and I stumble and fall several times. As I’m standing waist deep, enjoying the water cooling my overheated body, I see a man running into the ocean, Baywatch style. He must not know about the dips, because he is running quickly and not looking down. Within seconds he hits a dip and flies face first into the water, his body somehow flattening out behind him so it looks like he is flying as he belly flops into the water. Without missing a beat, he jumps up and continues his run, water streaming off his entire body. I’m laughing so hard that I’m crying, so I don’t see if he falls again, or how far he makes it before he falls again. I laughed at myself when I fell, so I can laugh at others who do the same thing, right? I mean, he clearly didn’t hurt himself! LOL

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