Porto Seguro, 700 miles north of Rio, is the spot where the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral bumped into (that is, discovered) South America. That was in 1500 and he was seeking a trade route to India. When we deplane at the tiny airport, we’re delighted to find that there’s little to no security and that the only soft drinks for sale are coconuts. We’re seeking escape and it looks like we’ve landed in the right place.
We’re headed for the Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa in the fishing village of Trancoso, 18 miles south of Porto Seguro, and we have two choices: cross the Buranhem River by road or ferry. Of course, we opt for the latter to enhance the sensation of escape, then Mrs Smith fearlessly confronts the bumpy roads all the way to the hotel. We make the trip in 55 minutes and she flashes me her ‘Aren’t I a good driver?’ smile. (After all, she beat the hotel's predictions it would take an hour.)
The hotel is on the Quadrado, a historic hilltop square overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This large lawn rectangle is lined by a paintbox of houses (red, blue, pistachio, peach), some of them still private homes, with the rest having been turned into restaurants or mini-boutiques that open only at night. Halfway between the entrance to the square and the iconic white São João Batista Church stands the unassuming Uxua Casa. We walk down a small alley at the side and emerge into a frond- and flower-filled garden with a pool of translucent green water, an effect produced by the stones set in the bottom. There are 10 casas here, ranging from authentically restored fisherman’s houses to a sleekly opulent but eco treehouse, the Casa de Arvore.
‘We are in the treehouse!’ whoops Mrs Smith, when we’re shown to the room. Made of reclaimed wood, the casa is furnished with a huge bed shrouded in muslin, beyond which is an open-plan terrace with a hammock, a sofa and minibar, and on the lower level, a swing and hot tub. Lascivious thoughts immediately descend upon me, and indeed, you can wander naked from the hot tub to the bathroom (but Mrs Smith has imposed a gag order here). In the latter, the sinks, baths, and showers are carved from fallen tree trunks found on the property. It's exactly how a castaway with plumbing and carpentry skills might build his abode.
It was tempting to just close the door and stay in for the duration, but being ardent beach goers, we head out, turning right at the church and then proceeding through a forest of mangroves. We emerge on a broad, large hard-packed expanse of sand – the sort of beach you find on the coast of Wales but far more alluring, of course. Uxua has its own bar here, a shipwrecked boat and a few chairs and daybeds. This day, and many that follow, consist of lazy people-watching, gazing at the sapphire-green sea, nibbling on coconut and fresh cashew, and lunching on grilled charcoal cheese on a stick and iced Bohemia beer.
Several hours later, after Mrs Smith treats herself to a body scrub at the new spa, we are in the square, headed for Para Raio, a small indoor/outdoor club, to see two legendary Brazilian performers, Elba Ramalho and Elza Soares. Elba, in her mid-50s, opens with her Mr Smith, who is 30-ish. After an hour, Soares, 81, takes the stage, escorted by her 26-year-old boyfriend. She sings for three hours in a voice that can only be described as half Louis Armstrong, half Tina Turner. (Which could also be said of her physique.) At 2am, Elza is still going strong, but we are not. We wander back through the Quadrado to the church, which looks like a miracle in the moonlight.
A deep, deep sleep later, we awake to the heady scent of the rainforest, the clamour of insects and birds, and crossbeams of sun formed by the slats in the walls. We breakfast on fresh exotic fruits, just-baked cakes and breads, cheese, cereals and squeezed-for-us juice, then we retrace our steps to the beach. A swim here, a snooze there, such is life. The finale is a dinner at the hotel of delicious Bahian cuisine, a fish stew known as mocqueca, casquinha de siri (a crabmeat fritter), and an Argentine white wine.
Had we had more time, we might have taken day trips to Caraiva or the famed Espelho beach. That’s for the next visit. On this one, we happily honed our skills at doing nothing.