Sun, sea and a whole lot of sand in north east Brazil
Sadly, this is my last update from Brazil as I'm finally heading into Bolivia tomorrow. However, I've definitely ended on a high, spending the last couple of weeks on the beautiful north east coast. I enjoyed a week in Natal with an old student of mine (Ligia) and her family. They could not have been more hospitable and welcoming to me, everyone rallying round proud to show me their hometown and the surrounding areas. I even got taught some forro (a popular Brazilian dance). It was nice to enjoy some home comforts for a week too including some delicious home cooked food. I had a day of pampering where I had a massge and then Ligia gave me a long needed haircut, washed (with conditioner-a backpacker's luxury!!) and blowdried!
I had a tour round Natal on Ligia's nephew's motorbike (which I really enjoyed after a few initial screams!). I saw all the sights including the haunting statues lit up at night of the three kings and the star which represents the city, as Natal means Christmas in Portuguese, as well as the World Cup countdown which was at 617 days to go when I saw it. I also visited the maior cajueiro do mundo which is the biggest cashew tree in the world - it is absolutely huge as it's branches twist and turn growing outwards rather than upwards and covering an area bigger than a football pitch! It's only here in Brazil I learnt that cashew nuts come from a red or yellow fruit.
At the weekend, we went to Ligia's beach house in Barra do Cunhau which was right opposite the sea. We visited lots of beautiful beaches along the coast including Pipa, Sibauma and Tibau do Sul where we were lucky enough to see wild dolphins jumping out of the sea at sunset! It was like they were putting on a show for us - the more people clapped and cheered, the more the dolphins jumped out the water! We went to Genipabu which is a picturesque beach known for its impressive sand dunes, beach buggies and lots of camels.
I ate some amazing food in the North East too including lots of yummy regional cheese, tapioca, fresh crab (although I didn't particularly enjoy having to bash the shells open with a bit of wood!) and carne do sol (delicious strips of meat in a creamy sauce). I've also been drinking lots of agua do coco and mouthwatering freshly squeezed juices of fruit I'm not entirely sure of what they are, like goiba, mangaba and maracuja! I tired caldo do cana which is a delicious drink made from sugar cane, known in Brazil to give you lots of energy!
After a sad goodbye to Ligia and her family, I headed further north along the coast to Jericoacoara which is in the middle of a national park and can only be reached by beach buggies! It is a small hippy beach town surrounded by sand dunes and kite surfers as well as countless donkeys and cows roaming the sandy streets. It wasn't uncommon to be followed by one of the cows or to find a donkey in a shop doorway! It's a very easy place to get stuck in and I ended up spending nearly a week there. I met some lovely people in my hostel there too (a guy from Chile, two girls from Argentina and some Brazilian girls) so it forced me to practise my Portuguese! We went on a beach buggy tour one day which took us to numerous stops including the famous Pedra Furada (a big arched rock - perfect for cheesy tourist photos!) and Lagoa Azul which we had to wade/swim across to get to. Once over there, we could relax in the hammocks in the crystal clear water!
We watched the sunset a couple of nights from the top of the very windy (I still have sand in my ears!) Sunset Dune where I also tried mate which is a hot tea traditionally drunk in a wooden cup through a silver straw. Hundreds of people dash up there to get a good spot, clap and cheer as the sun sets, then run (or tumble) down the side of the dune in time for the capoiera dancing and enchanting beat of the drums on the beach below. We went horseriding over the dunes too where we got some incredible views. We went by ourselves without a guide so we asked for a 'tranquillo' horse for me but it ended up being so calm it barely put one foot infront of the other, apart from when it realised we were on the home straight and suddenly had a spurt of energy, running all the way back!
I then headed back to Fortaleza and treated myself to a stay in a beautiful guesthouse called Pousada 0031 in a little beach town called Cumbuco. There, I went on a 4x4 beach quad ride too and was even allowed to be let loose behind the wheel for part of the journey along the beach! Back in Fortaleza, I watched the impressive gothic church lit up at night change colour from blue to green to red to purple. I visited Dragao do Mar, a cultural centre buzzing at night with people in the restaurants and bars, where I saw a hip hop show taking place (think Brazilian answers to Flawless!) and listened to lots of live music.
I have just arrived in Corumba in the south west of Brasil after getting two internal flights, three local buses and then another 7 hour bus journey from Fortaleza in the north. Tomorrow is the overnight journey from Brazil into Bolivia on the 'death train' (don't worry - it gets its name from transporting yellow fever victims many years ago, not because of its safety record)!
I've had such a brilliant time in Brazil and could definitely stay longer but after spending over six weeks here (longer than I originally intended) it's time to move on to Bolivia. I have met such amazing, friendly Brazilians along the way who have made my trip here even more special. I'm also going to miss acai, guarana, caju juice, caipirinhas, not to mention Avenida Brazil - the novela (soap) that has somehow always been on TV in the background wherever I've gone since my first week in Rio and like nearly every Brazilian, I have become an addict!
Brazil, tchau for now but I will be back...xx