Leaving the Andes of Ecuador for Florianópolis’ tropical beaches was a bigger shock to the senses than I anticipated. I was in Quito, Ecuador volunteering and teaching on my own, now I’m hitting the books again as a student with ISA in Florianópolis, Brazil.
While the historic center of Quito was all colonial style buildings, white cathedrals and narrow streets, the center of Floripa is a strange mix of modern condos, plain 90’s style buildings, colonial facades and colors only found in beachside towns. The contrast is sharper when examining the people. Because of the European influence in the region, there is not one face that stereotypes the people, not one generic appearance. This makes blending in as a blonde gringa much easier than in Ecuador, where the mestizo look is predominant.
This difference in cultural heritage is evident beyond people’s appearances. Floripa is heavily influenced by the Azoreans, immigrants from the Azores islands off the coast of Portugal. This is evident in how fast the people speak in Floripa, relative to other Brazilian states and cities. But Germans, Italians, Argentines and Portuguese have all shaped the island through language, gastronomy and dance. After living in Quito, where such a great percentage of the people are indigenous, I was almost surprised not to see any in Floripa. During my first few days in Floripa, I was still looking for some resemblance to Quechua women in bowler hats and pollera skirts.
What’s more surprising is how intertwined nature and human civilization are in Florianópolis. Quito is known for the splendor of its surrounding volcanoes, just as Floripa is known for its paradisiacal beaches. But while Quito’s native ecology has been pushed outside the limits of the city, aside from Centro in Floripa the lines separating human and the island’s flora and fauna are more blurred. Walking on the lakeside street that crosses Lagoa da Conceição I saw a large otter swimming under the streetlights. The proximity of nature in part attracts the evident hippie population to Floripa. So do the beautiful hiking trails that traverse the entire island. To hike, I only need to walk a few blocks down the road to take a trilha, or trail, to another part of the island. Yesterday I hiked Lagoinha do Leste, said to be the most scenic hike on the island. I went with another girl from ISA spring semester and her friends that go to UFSC, the state university on the island. We took two buses south from Lagoa and hiked to three different beaches. At one of these beaches I learned that penguins migrate through the tropical waters around the island during the winter. We finished the day in a small fishing town called Pântano do Sul, refreshingly not yet taken over by the tourist industry. There, we learned that the town is coping with a resurgent crocodile population, as we saw one languishing in a creek just across from the bus stop.