The village of Boipeba isn’t quite silent on a Saturday night. A group of men play an animated game of checkers near the docks. Brazilian Portuguese issues from one or two television sets along the cobbled street that leads uphill to the broad grassy square at the village’s heart. And over all of it there is a vague rhythmic pounding, a surprisingly insistent pulse for anyone who has spent the day enjoying the tropical almost-silence of rustling palms and lapping surf.
The music is louder up on the square, where the island’s residents gather in the evenings for a snack or a Caipirinha. The sound, as it turns out, comes from a group of 20 or so people clustered at the far end of the square. Some are carrying drums, others use short lengths of rebar to beat out a basic rhythm on the heads of farm tools. They are practicing to perform at a village festival the next day; this is about as exciting as things get here in Boipeba.
Though only 50 miles away from Salvador, the nearest major city, and due south of Tinhare Island, where parties rage year round in the popular beach town of Morro São Paulo, Boipeba has maintained its tranquilly rustic identity, especially during the low season, which coincides with the northern hemisphere’s summer. This is at least in part thanks to the relative difficulty of getting here. Though Morro São Paulo can be reached in just two hours by direct boat from Salvador, arriving in Boipeba requires a ferry from Salvador to Itaparica Island, a bus to the small city of Valença, and a speed boat through mangrove lined rivers. All things told, the trip takes a minimum of four hours.
The sense of distance, though, is essential to the island’s charm. No cars are allowed to ply the dirt tracks that cut across lush hills to connect the handful of coastal villages. Transit here happens by horse, boat, foot, and the occasional tractor. Souvenir shops are few in the village, and there is absolutely nothing in the way of tourist hassle.
Pousadas are scattered throughout town, with the loveliest of them lining the beach just past the docks. Simply decorated rooms in cabins with small private verandas amongst flowering gardens are the standard (hammocks are de rigeur), and during low season should cost roughly US$60 per night (during high season the price can double). From town, the best way to reach some of the island’s most pristine beaches is on foot, a short walk only possible at low tide. On these beaches you may see faint silhouettes against the blue water, fisherman scouting for the small lobsters served at the handful of basic seafood places on the shore. You might see a horse grazing under the palms. You may see no one at all.
These silent days inspire a special kind of delirious bliss. Yet more than the quiet or the sea or the solitude, you are likely to remember the drumming on Saturday night, the man who handed you rebar and a farm tool and taught you the rhythm, the girls who showed you how to samba at the open-air bar on the square. These sounds, these people, are the stuff of paradise.