A mile out to sea, a man walks on water. Presently a woman joins him, and another; in a pool of pale green, they stand together like the last survivors of a drowned world. These shallows are made by the moon; they appear at low tide, off the coast of Boipeba island.
Low tide today is early morning, clear and still. A handful of us, visitors on our little wooden boat, jump down into water full of sunlight. Hushed cries of ‘Fish! Fish!’ and flashes of iridescence. A shoal of sergeant majors flickers through our legs, synchronised swimmers in their yellow stripes. Wading out deeper, I peer beneath the surface in mask and snorkel and join an underwater world. Inky damselfish studded with diamonds peck at the coral; a curious wrasse, rainbow scales flashing in rods of sunlight, swims along with me, guileless and affectionate as the family dog.
Over the fizz and click of the underwater world comes a roar – an engine. More boats putter in from nowhere, hulls curving up against a blue sky. People pour down ladders, tanned skin oily as seals’, squealing and splashing, suddenly loud in the wake of the stillness. Radios play; trays of drinks bob on the water. In a moment a floating community has sprung up, with more people than I have seen for days; our otherworldly world interrupted.But on Boipeba, it is never very hard to find yourself alone again.
The island is relatively unheard of, even in Brazil. There are few tourists; those who do come hop off the boat with a swimsuit, a book and little else, and stay in simple beach huts. There are no cars, no roads; its metropolis is a happy, self-contained village whose cobbled lanes converge at a green.
In the evening this is where the action happens, such as it is. Chairs are brought outside; long-limbed boys shake off the languorousness of the afternoon heat and play football; children take turns in the saddle of a communal bicycle.
At the other end of the island, the boat drops us off at the nearest beach, Praia do Moreré. It is as utopian a beach as there could be: white sand, frayed palms, limpid sea. There is nobody here except a boy, sitting cross-legged with his guitar beneath a cashew tree, singing reggae which sounds, in his easy lilt, like a Latin love song.