2004 Brazil – Natal

The boys (and girl) from Brazil…

(Trip 2, Natal)

17 September – 2 October 2004

Exactly 4 months after we returned from our relaxing trip to Brazil we boarded yet another plane to bring us back to the largest country of South America. Once again we had taken the risk of waiting for a last minute and this time we ended up in Natal, the capital of the province of Rio Grande do Norte, approximately 1200 km north of Arraial d’Ajuda. This time Hans and Gerda, two good friends, would join us on what would be their first long distance holiday.

The flight took less than nine hours, still long enough to get terribly uncomfortable and bored. Whatever, from the moment we landed at the airport of Natal the sun was shining… however? We noticed immediately the difference at the airport, which was much larger than the one in Porto Seguro. Not surprising, since there’s approximately 700.000 people living in Natal. 

We were staying in Apart Hotel Nautilus, a small hotel in Ponta Negra, an area of town located directly at the beach. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel was not very promising. I did not like the urban feeling and arriving at the hotel, which was located on a busy road, did not make things better. There was no tropical atmosphere or whatever we expected, this was ehh, well, different. I was in shock and was not happy at all. Also I felt embarrassed for Hans and Gerda bringing them over here, though they seemed to take things much better than me.

Being tired from the long journey we decided to go for dinner and call it an early night. The first quest however was finding a working ATM in order to get some local money. That turned out to be more difficult than expected but after that problem was solved we were treated with one of the many delights to follow the next two weeks. Dinner, which existed of grilled lobster, king prawns and fish, was an absolute delight. It seemed the sun started to shine again and although all disappointments earlier that day we fell asleep with a smile on our faces.

A good night sleep and a wonderful breakfast had changed the world. I had refreshed my mind and expectations of a second Arraial d’Ajuda had vanished and now I was ready to see what Natal had to offer. Fortunately the others had the same feeling so we went off to the beach of Ponte Negra and were pleasantly surprised by it’s beauty.

Of course it was much busier than the empty beaches in Bahia, but this also had it’s charm. We found a nice spot very close to de Morro do Careca, the dune of the bold man which is one of the landmarks of Natal, and decided to make this the center of our explorations. After all, like last time this holiday was meant to relax, sun bath, swim, wine and dine, and cocktails… I can already tell you we did very well on the last subject.

The beach was much more lively and at regular intervals vendors passed by with a variety of ‘must have’ souvenirs. Fortunately th most of them were not persistent and left after we showed no interest. One guy though, who was extremely funny, created beautiful pieces of art by painting with his fingers on tiles. The result was amazing so we left home with quite a number of painted tiles in our luggage. While he was painting music vendors passed by while the latest Brazilian hits blasted out the speakers of their beach stalls and last but not least a mobile cocktail bar came by.

During the week it was relatively quiet at Ponta Negra but during the weekends it seemed whole Natal came to the seaside to enjoy the sun and refreshing seawater. At some places you could see people dancing and children playing. Families and couples parading the waterfront, this was certainly the place for a stroll, watching people and being watched. Brazil is famous for the women and their thongs and indeed Natal was no exception to that. The impression was massive.

On one of the many beach walks we passed Morro do Careca and came to an extremely quiet area. It was strange looking back and seeing the skyline of Natal while in front of us it was absolutely deserted, with the exception of a few fishermen. It was a beautiful stretch of nature but also rather windy. With no possibility of sheltering from the burning sun or have a drink it was not strange at all why this area was so isolated.

As said before we visited Ponta Negra beachside on an almost daily basis. It was relaxing, we were well taken care of with food and drinks and something was going on most of the time. At the end of each afternoon small boats set of, most likely for a catch of fresh fish for dinner.

Of course we did not travel all the way to Brazil for only laying at the beach, Although we spent the most of our time at the beach we also did a number of daytrips. The first one Dunes brought us to the dunes of Genipabu. we were picked up by a buggy early in the morning and headed northwards from Natal.  After crossing the wide river on a ferry we drove a long stretch over the beach before arriving at the world famous dunes. I have long time had this dream of massive sand dunes but so far I never made it on my travels. Well, this time they would come in a blast and I was not disappointed at all.

In spite of the high temperature I remember having plain goose bumps at the sight of the scenario below. The massive dunes disappearing straight into the water were of an almost unearthly  beauty hardly to describe in words.

A bit further north we once again had to cross the river on small ferries, just big enough to fit one buggy. It was rather adventurous but being mesmerized by the fantastic landscape surrounding us I did not have a single moment of uncertainty. It was just to beautiful to be true.

Once again we had vast amounts of sand around us and the view over the ocean was absolutely stunning. It seemed we had ended up in a dream where one exciting scenery was followed up by another. We had the choice between a ride with or without emotion. Of course we choose the slightly wilder variation, with emotion in other words, but our very skilled driver was in full control of our buggy. At some spots she had to stop and investigate the slopes before going over the edge and rushing down. Needless to say we had the ride of a lifetime…

At two points during the ride we made a stop for some more ‘sportive’ events. The first was a kind of cable car ride which ended up with a refreshing splash in an inland lake. The second thrill was snowboarding one of the sand dunes. To be on the safe side I opted out on the stand up variation and decided to sit while descending, the fun was no less.

Although the dunes were as far north as the trip was supposed to go our driver gave us the opportunity to have another ride over the beach to the point where Brazil lays the closest to Africa. Sitting on the back of our buggy we enjoyed racing past the waterline which was an exciting experience. On the way to the most north eastern point of Brazil we passed a funny shaped tree which brings good luck to lovers when they sit under it. Being very happy together already we still sat under the tree together for a while and enjoyed the beach view. On our way back we still had one more stop at a fantastic restaurant where we enjoyed local specialties. The most of them were fish dishes but the freshly grilled beef was absolutely mouthwatering.

After a couple of more days on the beach of Ponte Negra and halfway our holiday we decided to escape the hustle and bustle from Natal and travel 70 Kilometers south to the much quieter Pipa. Once again it was an adventurous buggy ride which took us over there.

The first part of the trip we were still following asphalted roads up to Pirangi, a small village where we visited the biggest cashew nut tree in the world. It’s sheer size was in one word amazing. It was almost unbelievable that this giant roof of leaves all came from one trunk. Of course we did not leave Pirangi without trying some of the fresh grilled Cashew nuts and Inhepoan, the locally brew cashew liquor, which tasted surprisingly well.

Shortly after leaving Pirangi, we abandoned the paved roads and some hours of ultimate fun started while we raced over the beach. While there were now two buggies for the four of us it turned out to become a bit of a race which only enhanced the excitement. At several points we stopped in order to enjoy the breathtaking environment. By that time we had already decided that we were entering a far more exciting area.

There was not a lot of time to spoil since we had to be at the ferry crossing to Tibau do Sul before a certain time because the beach we would be riding on simply would disappear when the tide was coming up. Time was running out and both our drivers were becoming a bit impatient and nervous. On the last stretch we were really racing against time while the water was visibly rising. Maybe it was not as much fun for our drivers and Gerda especially, but we enjoyed every second of it. Of course we made it in time to catch the last ferry.

On the ferry we realized how short time had been. On the other side we saw a car being late and struggling with the incoming water. The passengers had already abandoned it and it would only be a matter of minutes before it would be washed away. As there was nothing we could do we continued our journey south and passed a breathtaking area. Once again we had to cross the river on small ferries which was a lot of fun. With the rush of making the ferry in time gone we now had plenty of time to enjoy the numerous viewpoints.

We had a belated lunch at Barra do Cunhau. The site could not have been more idyllic and the food hardly better. Seated on the beach but sheltered from the burning sun a fantastic seafood grill plate was served. Once again we enjoyed lobster, king prawns and fish which seemed to be so fresh it could have been caught minutes ago. One could get used to this life…

After lunch it took not long before we arrived at our final destination, a wonderful resort on top of the hills above Pipa. We made ourselves comfortable in a beautiful apartment, which would be our home for the next two days and headed for the pool. In the evening  we explored Pipa and had major difficulties selecting a nice restaurant for dinner, there was just to much choice.

The next day we went to Dolhin bay, which turned out to be an extraordinary experience. The beach itself was beautiful and a local family selling drinks also had laying chairs and parasols for rent so we found the perfect hideaway for the day. Although it was weekend the crowd was nothing compared to Natal and I totally felt at home. This was holiday for me. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life and nothing but a nice and tropical beach to enjoy. We were in good company, the sun was shining like never before and there was no shortcoming of anything at all. The best thing of the day however was to be found in the water… Now try to imagine this… close your eyes, imagine a quiet and warm beach like in the pictures below and look out over the water. Every now and then you will see dolphins playing and jumping out of the water. You can understand our excitement to get in the water, needless to say we spent more time in the water than sunbathing. The dolphins never searched close contact but the knowledge they were close was more than enough. At one moment I saw a dolphin, no further than 3 meters away from Paul making a big jump. I could only gasp…

At the end of the third day we took the local bus back to Natal. I could easily have stayed a couple of days more but then we were four of us and the majority wanted to return. Well, I had a wonderful experience to look back on. Back in Natal we spend a couple of more days on the beach. Paul had discovered the possibilities of horse riding in the dunes which appealed a lot to him. We tried to convince Hans and Gerda though they preferred to stay at the beach.

So it was only the two of us who were picked up for a day of horse riding. Still having my experience in Ecuador in mind, where I suffered for two days of severe muscle pain after a horse riding trip, I was a bit skeptical but I did not want to opt out now I could share this with Paul. When we arrived at the ranch each of us was given a horse after which we headed off.

The reserve was beautiful and fortunately the pace of the ride not too high, it was all very relaxing. We crossed several shallow lakes and followed horse tracks which were sometimes difficult to see. Our guide was a very skilled horse rider and made sure everybody stayed in the group so we could enjoy the ride without stress. It was highly enjoyable indeed and I remember Paul and myself constantly saying what a wonderful experience this was. Halfway during the ride we arrived at a viewpoint. Natal, though 35 kilometers away, could be seen at the horizon but we were focused more on the landscape surrounding us.

It was a beautiful day and it was great seeing Paul enjoying himself so much. It had been a long time since he had been horse riding and he certainly enjoyed a lot, he was in his element. Even I was in peace with my horse and the environment once I had no more fears of back pain. There was so much to enjoy I totally forgot about that. Far to soon we arrived back at the ranch and if time would have permitted neither of us would have minded to do the whole trip once again, but then the horses had to rest which was far more important than us going on another joyride. We had a drink at the ranch during which the experience was revived. After that we were brought back to our hotels.

One of the big advantages to be located in the center of Ponta Negra was that the restaurants were never far away. And as you can expect in a city of 700.000 people there are plenty of them. Amazing however was the variety. Of course there was a vast amount of local Brazilian Fish and meat restaurants. Lobster seemed not to be such an extravaganza like at home. Rather unexpected were several Japanese restaurants and I like to recall a fantastic Sushi and Sashimi buffet we had one evening. Did you ever come back totally stuffed after a visit to a Sushi restaurant? Well, we did in Natal! It was our favorite passing of time in the evening strolling pass the numerous restaurants in the evening before making our choice. Though we were not impressed by Brazilian wines beer and cocktails were a good second choice to accompany the excellent food which was served night after night.

After 16 days it was time to go home again. The whole stay had turned out to be much better than expected after the initial shock on arrival. We had a wonderful time with the four of us and were nicely tanned. The couple of tours we made had been extremely nice and especially Pipa was a place to my liking. Ponta Negra beach had turned out to be a good relaxing spot to hang out and the variety of restaurants were an absolute delight. There was big joy amongst us when we heard the last evening the plane would have a delay which enabled us to spend a full extra day at the beach. Instead of being picked up at noon we did not head for the airport until 9.00 p.m. The down factor was that we did not take off until 6.00 a.m. the next morning. It was a long, long night of waiting followed by an even longer (and for me sleepless) flight. Exhausted we finally landed at Schiphol airport with a 16-hour delay.

We could look back to a great holiday though both Paul and myself were unanimous in our decision: Arraial d’Ajuda had been much, much better… Also after two extremely lazy holidays we came to the conclusion it’ll be good to go on a much more active and exploring journey and become the traveler again instead of just playing the tourist.