The North East coast of Brazil
07.07.2008 - 11.07.2008 32 °C
As we sat in the internet cafe in Manaus trying to organise our holiday post-Dragoman, it became apparent that internal flights in Brazil were more expensive than Europe, so our plans of sunning on the beaches of North East Brazil were thrown out the window. We could only afford to fly to Rio for our last 2 weeks. I was looking at hostels in Rio, trying to find a nice, cheap, social place to stay and Dee cried "Look at this one!". I leant over to her computer to see that she was looking at the Copacabana Palace hotel, the best hotel in Rio, "It's only £250 per night for a deluxe room". It seems we had difference of opinion of how we want to spend our last couple of weeks in South America. While Dee was getting all excited looking at the 5* hotels on expedia, I managed to find a good, luxury hotel at a fairly reasonable rate; £56 per night. We were just about to book when I looked up the weather forecast for Rio; 28degrees and raining. That was it, we were going to Natal on the North East coast and it was going on Dee's credit card. She exclaimed, "There's no way I'm going back to England without a tan, I don't care about the costs!". We organised a flight to Natal that left Manaus at 1.20am, stopped at Fortaleza for 6 hours and finally arrived at Natal at 2.20pm. I managed to find a really nice hotel at a cheap price. We booked into the Honeymoon Suite (hey, it was on Dee's credit card) which had it's own living area, kitchen and private rooftoop pool!
We arrived at the airport with ample time and was able to check in our over-heavy bags, so looked around the touristy shops. I bought something I didn't realise I needed until I saw it - a varnished piranha. The flight was delayed by an hour and we kept saying "It's weird being alone isn't it?", missing the comfort of the group. We arrived at the massive coastal city of Fortaleza at 6:30am, shattered from not sleeping on the plane at all. Our bags were being transferred automatically onto the next flight, but we decided to check the baggage reclaim anyway. Good job, because we saw our bags, complete with their luminous pink TRANSFER tags tied around them, which we had to check in again while we looked like zombies from lack of sleep. We headed straight for some quiet seats and plonked ourselves on them for a couple of hours sleep before our flight that afternoon.
Out of the window Fortaleza looked like an exciting place. There were huge skyscrapers jutting out of the skyline and loads of people about. It has a reputation as a party city but we just sat and played cards till our flight took us to Natal (delayed again - I think this is a common theme for TAM airlines). Natal was unexpectedly big. We thought it was a small beach town, more like a fishing village, but it was a huge metropolitan city. We were staying in Ponta Negra, a tourist destination South of the city, which was a short taxi ride away. We passed huge supermarkets and really nice restaurants on the main road through Ponta Negra and arrived at our hotel to be taken to our rooftop suite. The hotel wasn't directly on the beach, it was a couple of blocks back, but we could still see the sea and the famous Morro do Careca, (or Bald Spot Mount), a sand dune which used to be used as a ski slope, until it became too eroded for use. I jumped in the private pool and then quickly jumped out again. It was freezing, good for cooling off, but the weather here was cloudy, much to Dee's dismay. That evening we just got some snacks and watched TV in our outdoor lounge, complete with a hammock to relax in.
The next day we went to breakfast and the sky was full of dark clouds. I tried to reassure Dee that the clouds would clear, but I think she could detect doubt in my voice. It wasn't long before the heavens opened and it began raining. It wasn't the rain that we get in the jungle that only lasts a few minutes. This was Manchester rain, light and unending. After a lot of persuasion, I managed to get Dee off the dry sofa and leave the apartment. We walked to the famous sand dune and walked down the main street, looking for a restaurant we had seen on a flyer. We walked for about an hour, occasionally the rain got heavier, but it wasn't cold and Dee had her umbrella. Dune buggies zoomed up and down the roads here, as there are some good dunes to the North of Natal. We walked back along the promonade and watched the dedicated surfers for a while then stopped in a bar for a drink. The barman assured us that the next day will be sunny, I hoped so for Dee's sake. We ate at a really nice pay-by-weight restaurant that evening. That night I went to sleep with my fingers crossed, hoping it would be sunny the next day.
We awoke to the same cloud as the day before and Dee was almost suicidal. "I'm going to have to go back to England whiter than I left", she snarled angrily. I could see blue sky on the horizon, but it was like trying to humour a child, "Come on Dee, it might clear up soon, cheer up". She was adamant that it was going to rain for the rest of the time in Ponta Negra, so she sulked on the sofa until the blue sky on the horizon moved overhead and the sun emerged. "What's the point in going to the beach, it's not going to last". I pretty much dragged her to the beach anyway and by the afternoon the clouds had lifted, as had Dee's mood. The waves here were massive, so that was me entertained for the afternoon. The beach sellers parolled the beaches selling clothes and jewelery, so that was Dee entertained for the afternoon. I hired a bodyboard for 2 hours for £3 and burned my face waiting for the perfect wave. By the afternoon we were both glowing so we headed back to our apartment. In the kitchen was a small barbeque so we thought it would be a good idea to go the huge supermarket and have a meal indoors that night, to save money. It actually ended up being more expensive than the nice meal we had the previous night, but Dee got to have a couple of bottles of wine, so she was happy whatever.
The next day, sunblocked to the max, we went to the beach again and I tried bodyboarding again. I also got a pina colada from a beach bar, which was expensive, but served in a hollowed out pineapple, complete with pieces of fruit toothpicked to the outside. We had one more day here so we looked into dune buggying, a popular tourist activity in this area. It was only £20 each so we booked it in to leave the next morning. After finishing the left overs from the night before we went back to the pay-by-weight restaurant and shared a plate of sushi. Although we were getting up early for the dune buggies, we went to the main nightlife area of the town. It was full of cheesy clubs and open air bars, but it was busy and good people-watching. There is a large hostel in this area which is done up to look like a medieval English castle, but we didn't dare go inside to the Taverna club in the basement.
The dune buggy picked us up at 8:45 the next morning. The dune buggies here were a different style to the ones we had been on before. Their centre of gravity was lower and the engines not as powerful. The buggies can hold 4 people and it was cheaper for us to shack up with 2 others - a brazilian woman and her son. We shot along some beautiful empty beaches and flew over the sand dunes with about 50 other buggies. We stopped at some touristy markets where you can ride camels and take photos of the views. There was a bar/restaurant we visited which had tables and chairs in a lagoon. It was nice to swim and cool off a bit. Even Dee went in.
After flying over more sand dunes and crossing a river by ferry, we stopped at a large dune that had zip wires into the lagoon below. It was only £2 a go so I bought the ticket and got strapped in. I shot off without even thinking of the landing until I saw the water approaching very quickly indeed. I skimmed across the water on my bum and let got of the harness. Getting back up the dune was easy - a boat took us to the chair lift. At the top there was also a steep slide into the lagoon, which Dee persuaded me to have a go on (she didn't exactly have to twist my arm).
The next stop was for lunch at an expensive buffet restaurant, which we didn't eat at. We returned to our hotel at 5pm, 8 hours after we left. Our flight was leaving 1:30am so we packed our stuff and headed off to the same pay-by-weight restaurant (we are so boring!) and we ate a huge plate of sushi each before heading onward to our last adventure.