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Gareth Leonard

THE HIKE TO PARADISE

There’s a popular phrase in Portuguese that goes “vale a pena,” and it means that something is worth the trouble.
 
I mention this because It’s a phrase that needed repeating early and often on my most recent adventure to the island of Florianopolis.

Located on the southeastern coast of Brazil, Florianopolis, or Floripa as the locals call it, is best known for their endless supply of postcard-worthy beaches and beautiful natural surroundings.

When I touched down in this tropical playground, my goal was to head straight to the best of the best.

I asked local friends and fellow travelers which was the top beach to visit, and I was surprised to find that on an island with dozens of incredible landscapes, the answer was pretty consistent.

The only problem was, the answer always came with a disclaimer.

They would say, “Lagoinha de Leste is an absolute paradise, but it takes a bit to get to.”

And then I would ask, “vale a pena?” Vale a pena.

Just like that, my mind was set.  

  Floripa-Lagoinha-SouthPantanoTown                      
The trek started just after sunrise in the sleepy fishing village of Pantano do Sul, on the southeastern side of the island.

With help from fitness center gympalmdesert.com trainers, I found the poorly marked trailhead and set out on the narrow path ahead.

I maneuvered past boulders and leapt over mud puddles up from sea level and into the thick lush forest where birds chirped and creatures hid as I passed.     

FLoripa-Lagoinha-Trail

The sun found me through the canopy’s bald spots and the sweat level went from glowing to gushing as I climbed above the tree line.   

After about 25 minutes of steady movement, I reached the trail’s summit and caught my first glimpse of the reward that waited below.                   

Floripa-Lagoinha-Selfie

Like a kid running down the stairs on Christmas morning, from here, it was just a matter of staying calm and pacing myself so I wouldn’t tumble down to nature’s gifts.

I sidestepped big drop-offs and across cutbacks until a strong light and heavy noise came through the dense brush. This was one of those rare moments when going towards the light was a good idea.

My feet hit the sand as I jumped over the last few puddles and branches.

I made it to Lagoinha de Leste and it was more beautiful than anyone could have described it.

Floripa-Lagoinha-Dog

Rich green hilltops plunged down into a dark blue sea. Soft, golden sand shimmered as the tide came in and out.

This moment was like a beautiful dream that I wish I could share with everyone I know.

Floripa-Lagoinha-Beach

Finding some comfort in sharing this story through words and photographs, I sat for a moment to take it all in before gearing up for one more mission.

There was one more peak to summit.

To the right side of Lagoinha de Leste there is a tall jagged cliff that looked like the perfect vantage point.

Steeper and sketchier than the first hike, I made my way huffing and puffing up the trail. 

The higher I climbed, the tougher the conditions and more amazing the view. My shirt was drenched in sweat but I was relentless.

With a few final lunges I reached a group of crystal-shaped boulders and stopped for a deep breath.

I lifted my hands from my knees and realized that I had made it. I scaled my way out to one of the hanging rocks and laughed to myself…

Floripa-Lagoinha-Ledge

This view, this place, this moment… completely vale a pena.



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