Mystery Island

Maybe you are bored with conventional vacation spots. What about:

Ilha da Queimada Grande

The small island is located off the coast of Brazil and surrounded by the beautiful blue Atlantic Ocean. It is 21 miles south of Sao Paulo. About half of the island is rain forest, which you may want to avoid (more on that later) with the remaining parts rocky or open grassland.

The critically endangered locals are called golden lanceheads. Sure, they are poisonous snakes but they are the only poisonous snakes on the island and that is why you want to avoid the rain forest part.

Birdwatching is more than a hobby with these fellows because a sort of flycather, the Chiliean elaenia, hangs out in the rain forest, too. These seem to be the only birds these snakes can catch. And the birds probably are sorry they left Chili for Brazil.

Now you may have to pose as a snake researcher to get on the island. Check in with the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation. If that ruse doesn’t work, join the Brazilian Navy and ask for the lighthouse checking duty of the island.

The lighthouse has been there since 1909 which is more than you can say about the people who gave up on banana growing sometime ago. But not before cutting into the rain forest with a burning technique that resulted in the name Burnt Island. Queimada means ‘to burn’ in Portuguese.

Ilha da Queimada Grande and its smaller sister island, Ilha da Queimada Pequena are part of the Ilhas Queimada Pequena e Queimada Grande Area of Relevant Ecological Interest, created in 1985. How many hectares are we talking about? 33. Acres? 82. Square meters? Who cares?

Now, let’s say you are heading for higher ground to avoid the snakes. How high could you go? 206 meters (676 feet) above sea level. At that point, wave your arms to the helicopter pilot you hope will rescue you.

If the island is uninhabited, who runs the lighthouse, you say? It has been automated ever since the snake incident that no one wants to talk about. 

Now, really, about how many snakes are we talking about? Early estimates were around “a hell of a lot” and “more than you want to think about.” But these estimates were found to be as inacurate as a former lighthouse keepers estimate of “Muitos malditos, é assim que muitos!” which means “Too damn many, that’s how many!” Today, researchers say 4,000 max. In fact, the researcher who said that was Maximilian José Bonifácio de Andrada, or Max, to his fellow researchers.

Sadly, it is the only place the critically endangered, venomous Bothrops Insularis can call home. It is thought the snakes became trapped on the island when rising sea levels covered up the land that connected it to the mainland but who really knows. Good luck visiting this off the beaten snake path island.

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