Have you ever heard someone talk negatively about a place you loved and wondered how they could get it so wrong?
Sometimes it takes time or a different perspective to discover the merits of a destination.
On my first visit to Florianopolis on Brazil’s southern coast, I really wasn’t impressed. All I’d heard from other travellers was that it was amazing. A lush green paradise speckled with gorgeous beaches and sand dunes. A fun party town. A place where hot Brazilian men wander around in their Speedos, serving deliciously refreshing caipirinhas to combat the sun’s incessant rays.
My actual take on it? An overcrowded excuse for Ibiza, where people with more money than sense go to flash the cash, get wasted and dance to loud, repetitive beats in pretentious night clubs.
With few exceptions, my first time in Florianopolis was disappointing. Cash points refused to recognise my selection of credit, debit and travel money cards; it rained heavily every day; food and drinks were overpriced; and I contracted mild food poisoning.
When it stopped raining long enough to visit the beach, there wasn’t a hot Brazilian guy in sight – Speedos or no Speedos. Instead it was crowded with families with screaming infants enjoying the tail end of their Christmas vacation. It was also a solid hour’s walk away and so overcrowded with parasols it was hard to distinguish it as a beach at all.
Still, I threw myself into the activities with all the enthusiasm I could muster. I slapped a smile on my face and set about making friends in my hostel. I’d chosen Tucano House because the reviews showed it to be a sociable spot, where I’d easily meet people to hang out with. At least that part wasn’t too hard. In the late-afternoon hours of each day, the chat flowed as much as the bar drinks and I would even go so far as to say I was having a good time.
But then there was no question of what would happen after 10 pm, when the hostel bar stopped serving drinks: everyone would head out to the biggest club night in town. And every bar or club was the same type – the sort where I would have felt out of place even if I’d had my full wardrobe from back home to choose from. The girls in my hostel would sit by the pool applying fresh polish to their recently manicured nails, before disappearing for a full hour to work magic with their hair straighteners (I mean, what respectable backpacker carries hair straighteners?!).
The final straw for me was being told that I wouldn’t be allowed entry to the night club on my last night because I didn’t have suitable shoes. It was almost laughable. Florianopolis is a big backpacker destination, and yet, in this case, suitable meant big, heavy, shiny heels with spikes so large they couldn’t fail to cause massive shampoo explosions in your backpack. I can’t think of a more unsuitable shoe for a traveller to lug around.
But I wasn’t going to be defeated. I asked around my new friends and they set about trying to find me something ‘suitable’. The number of spare heels among them was astonishing. I had my choice of about 10 pairs. Unfortunately, the only ones that fit me were some massive purple wedged heels that made me well over 6 feet tall and forced me to walk like a drunk before I’d even started on the liquor.
I shuffled about in them at the bar, prompting some middle-aged Austrian guys to take a photo of my legs. They were even cheeky enough to berate me for not smiling in their photo – as if I’d known they were taking one until the flash gave them away.
Feeling somewhat violated and already reeling from the pain in the balls of my feet, my friend Ryan helped my sift through the lost property bin until we found some flatter sandals that would just about pass the security inspection.
I felt like I was back on an 18-30 holiday as they plied the minibus with bottles of vodka and energy drinks. We made the most of the freebees – knowing that the club prices would be extortionate – even though most of the sticky substance sloshed all over our knees every time we went over a bump in the road.
And finally we were there. I passed the scrutiny of the doormen, although I suspect they judged me for my lack of nail extensions, blow-dried hair and jewel-encrusted party dress. No doubt they also questioned why I’d never had a boob job and bum implants too.
I did my best to enjoy myself. I really did. I chatted to the people from my hostel, who were clearly massive fans of house music, and I chatted to strangers, who were clearly so spaced out on drugs that at least they would be massive fans of house music for the next few hours. But I couldn’t handle it. I was – to put it frankly – plain bored.
I lasted about an hour, eventually resigning myself to the fact I would have to get an expensive cab back on my own. As I sat in the back, thinking about the evening, I wondered if I was just getting too old to party. But I really don’t think that’s it. I can stay out all night throwing stupid dance moves or butchering power ballads in karaoke bars. I wondered whether every single other person in the club was on drugs that made jumping around all night to the same incessant beat seem like I great idea, but I doubt that was the case either.
It was only when I returned to Florianopolis three weeks later to meet a friend that I realised I’d been going about things the wrong way.
I know the way I like to travel and I know the kinds of evenings that I’ll remember as a great night out. We stayed in a quiet guesthouse called Floripa Home Hostel on the other side of the lagoon and the owner was kind enough to drive us to a different beach each day. We explored the island’s hidden gems and still found time to go out in town. Instead of the massive, overpriced club nights, we found locals to hang out with – even spending one evening learning how to play a ukulele while drinking beers in the parking lot of a petrol station!
Of course, the beaming sunshine and presence of a good friend helped lift my spirits, but in the end, it was the realisation that my clubbing days are behind me, and my house music days never began, that made me see the beauty and attraction behind Florianopolis.