The village of Dois Rios is home to one church, two restaurants, zero grocery stores, and about 90 residents living among dozens of buildings that are being swallowed by the tropical forest. It sits 100 miles west of Rio de Janeiro on the southern coast of a rugged, largely untouched island called Ilha Grande, where a small plain breaks the mountainous landscape.
Despite the lush, encroaching canopy, the buildings are not hard to find. They are scattered among the eerily empty streets—cars are banned in Ilha Grande, and Dois Rios can be so quiet you can hear your footsteps—that stretch between the foothills and the white sandy beach, where two rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean, giving the village its name (Dois Rios means “Two Rivers” in Portuguese). Tropical vegetation has grown inside many abandoned houses, making the paint flake and the ceilings crumble. The forest has reclaimed the old soccer pitch, now an impenetrable grove. The old main square has turned into a meadow, and the old obelisk in its center sticks out of the tall grass.
Locals go about tranquil lives at this edge of the world. “It’s a very quiet place,” says Moises, a middle-aged street vendor who asked to be identified with his first name. “It’s good for the second part of your life.” Moises makes a living selling food and drinks to the tourists who visit Dois Rios’s beach. They usually arrive from Abraão—the only sizable village in Ilha Grande, on the north coast—taking a two-hour hike on a dirt road that serves as Dois Rios’s only land connection. […]
As he holds a metal cup from which he sips chimarrão—a hot, bitter infusion that is southern Brazil’s answer to Argentinian yerba mate—Moises concedes that young people wouldn’t find Dois Rios exciting. “There are no jobs, there is nothing to do,” he says. There is also no phone signal, and he uses a yellow two-way radio to reach his supplier.
The reason why Dois Rios feels like a ghost town, but one that hasn’t quite died yet, lies in an imposing white building at the end of town, opposite the start of the dirt road to Abrãao. This place, which now houses a small museum, is what remains of one of Brazil’s most significant prisons, most recently known as the Instituto Penal Candido Mendes. Its walls keep Dois Rios’s darkest secrets.
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