While those who are used to First World amenities and services may balk at some of the infrastructure standards on the island (and perhaps in Brazil generally - a perspective which may be justifiable to some extent), there are pros and cons. A commentary follows.
The mainland has resurfaced highways, with lots of traffic, the city of Recife has everything an international city should have (and like all cities in the world, bad areas with drug and crime problems), and the airport has direct connections to North America, Europe, Central and South America, as well as all major cities in Brazil. But things on the island are a little different…
On Itamaracá, there are no motorways, nor famous-name fast food outlets, car dealerships, high-rise apartment complexes, multi-story car parks, industrial or business parks, Michelin-starred restaurants or nightclubs – but all this can be found a short drive away on the mainland if required. Some may view this as a disadvantage, others a good thing.
There is only one roundabout, no traffic lights (but a few speed bumps), and currently only one means to drive on and off the island. At peak times (eg Carnaval and New Year) long queues can build either side of the bridge, which can be a nuisance. The beach-front road has never been adopted by the authorities and most of it has remained as part of the beach. This may make driving parallel to the beach less attractive (you have to use the main road 100m away), but it does mean that most beach-front homes have direct beach access – as there is no road in front.
There are only 3 properly paved roads on the island, and while many others are cobbled, many more near the beaches are basic clay or sand and subject to flooding in heavy rain, as they lack drainage. This may make average speeds slower for drivers in a hurry, on the other hand many may find it quaint or even safer – and driving through puddles can be fun!
Rubbish collection has improved over the years, but lags behind what most in the west would describe as acceptable. Perhaps Brazilians do not help by sometimes discarding rubbish sacks on street corners, but much responsibility for this must rest with the town hall.
However, as there is no industry allowed on the island, tax revenue is very limited, and the mayor has to do what he can with what he has. Rubbish is a typical situation where the expat group is trying to help – by making donations, offering to run initiatives, advising, and proposing and managing projects.
The much-publicised ‘Car Wash’ (Lava Jato) corruption investigations into top politicians and businessmen has been a huge success for the Brazilian people throughout Brazil. It will mean, in the future, more public funds will be channelled to where they are needed, rather than into the pockets of those that control such funds.
At busy times, when everyone is trying to fill their pool or take a shower, the water pressure drops and may even stop altogether in some areas. All houses therefore have an underground water reserve pumped up to the tank on the roof to help counter this lack of supply.
Like most small islands in the world, there is no mains sewerage so all houses have their own soak-away type septic tanks. These may need emptying every 5-10 years, but there is a company that offers this just off the island.
Due to the climate, there is no need for central heating, insulation, fireplaces or hot water in sinks, and bathrooms usually have electric showers. Many doors and windows are left open all day to allow cooling breezes to pass through, often with grills fitted for peace of mind.
Excessive, incomprehensible bureaucracy is found throughout South America and southern Europe, and is in abundance in Brazil. There is no quick answer – it is just the way it is…! You just have to accept it, and get on with it.
Island life is slow, relaxed and very comfortable; big city life can be hectic. Most islanders would welcome some improvements to the infrastructure, but not at any cost. The expat group on Itamaracá share this view with the locals, and work towards improvements, while maintaining the charm and authenticity of the island without affecting its originality.