By Robin Sparks
I am now on the most beautiful tropical island off the coast of Salvador, Brazil.In a pousada overlooking the ocean for $30 a night! Including a bountiful breakfast. Just a 2 hour boat ride to Salvador. No motor vehicles, only sandy streets. And filled with interesting foreigners from around the world.

After my arrival, as I followed the boys pushing my suitcase in a wheelbarrow up a steep hill, I looked up at the houses tucked into the palm-treed hills, and I got that Yes, this might be It,” feeling. A feeling I’ve had in only two other places. Bali and Deia, Mallorca.

Morro São Paulo is an island of hills, monkey-filled jungles, white sand beaches, sandy streets on which no motor vehicles are allowed, all-night every night beach parties, and tourists from all over the world. In other words, it is Bohemian Paradise.

When I haven’t been hanging from a hammock on my terrace writing with the ocean breaking at my feet, or in the sophisticated internet cafe in town, I’ve been out meeting the local expatriates. Walking up and down the island’s hills, through its jungles, and along miles and miles of beaches. Horst from Germany and Leandro from Argentina have shown me many corners of their world. Both moved here over a decade ago and bought land for very little. I have learned that I can rent a beautiful house overlooking the ocean for one year, for less than one month’s rent in San Francisco. I have seen everything from modest homes with ocean views for $60,000, to mansions for half a million dollars, and $200,000 beachfront lots, and $15,000 lots in the jungle.

Horst owns the Naturaleza, a beautiful Moorish style Pousada and restaurant, and has just opened a sailing business. Leandro owns the O’Bar Restaurant, a web design company, a real estate company, and several chunks of beachfront land he’s looking to develop. Both men wear their long hair pulled back and their skin is deep brown. They climb the steep steps of the hills and hop over the rocks on the beach like mountain goats.

In my short time here, what I have appreciated about the village besides its tropical paradisical quality, is the diversity of its people. Both locals and visitors. And the way that children play and work with old people, and all ages in between, and that they come in shades from cafe con leite to dark chocolate. Even the waiters wear constant smiles and dance from table to kitchen and back again. These aren’t expatriates who are running from something. Neither are they looking to get rich. They are here for the “good life” – warm air, the sea, good friends, art, music, dancing, aesthetic architecture, and keeping the environment pure. Most of them arrived years ago when property was inexpensive, and they have watched it appreciate dramatically. But few are selling. More than money, they care about who their neighbors are.

Tomorrow I will return to Salvador to tie up loose ends. I will check out nearby Praia do Forte, and then head south to Marau and possibly as far south as Trancosa. And then to São Paulo where I will climb onto a 747 that will take me out of this life back into the old one. It’s tax time (last extension). And every now and then, I hear something about an upcoming election. There is the new boyfriend back home – a relationship which had just begun when I left. There will be the inevitable sticker shock at prices in San Francisco, and the cool weather clothes gradually replacing my tropical weather duds. I will search for a full-time tenant for my apartment, spend time with my children, my family, my friends, reconnect with writing colleagues and alas, get my wings clipped. Temporarily anyway. The dreaded bunion surgery can be put off no longer. For months I will walk with crutches. And I live on the highest hill in San Francisco!

But enough of that! I have one week left, and I will savor every second.

Editor’s note: Originally published on Robin’s site, August 24th 2004.

This story was written by travel writer and photographer, Robin Sparks. Sparks has written about expatriates and the places in which they live for over 7 years, logging in time in over 23 countries. Read about her adventures at and Although she has been published in over a hundred magazines and newspapers, Sparks concentrates these days on writing for online media, like where she is on the staff.

Sparks also organizes travel writing workshops. The next one will be held aboard a Turkish gullet while sailing the coast of Turkey in a traditional Turkish gulet. The class will be taught by publisher and editor of Travelers Tales books, Larry Habbegger. If you are interested in being in the class contact Robin immediately as there are only 3 seats left in the class of 8. Sparks is presently in Argentina and can be reached at

Previous articles by Robin:

Brazil: Go South Old Man
Walk Like a Brazilian

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