Tuesday 16th February
An announcement this morning said the emergency medical disembarkation happened at 23.20, but the port's bureaucratic procedures caused delay and we didn't get underway until 01.30. Our new arrival time in Natal would be 11.15 (it was previously scheduled for 08.00), and the tours would be able to go ahead with revised timings. We were booked on the 'Highlights of Natal'. Natal means 'Christmas' in Portuguese, as the city was founded on 25th December 1599.
The approach to Natal was quite dramatic as we got closer and closer to the coast which alternated between high skyscrapers and tree covered white sand dunes just as high as the skyscrapers. Then we headed for a gap in the coastline where a suspension bridge went over the mouth of a river. The ship went under the suspension bridge with what looked like only inches to spare!
We travelled down the river towards the port area. Once in the port the ship turned 180 degrees on the spot, helped by tugs, and just within the space marked by two buoys in the river, so that we were facing the right way when it was time to leave.
Our trip today took us through different parts or, districts of the city of Natal, passing old historic, and new modern buildings including the cathedral shaped like a ski jump that had 10 roof trusses called 'the fingers of God' and a sculptural 3D cross that could be viewed as a cross from any angle. There was a castle like building that took one man 14 year to build all by himself, and an odd building in the middle of nowhere that had airplanes and rockets all around the outside, fenced off with barbed wire topped France's and guarded by armed guards. We were probably told what it was by our very entertaining young enthusiastic local guide but I can't remember what he said as there were burrowing owls just outside the fence that I was taking pictures of! We also went over the suspension bridge we had sailed under.
Our first stop was to see the largest cashew nut tree in the world. It had a genetic mutation that meant it grew outwards instead of upwards and covered 8000 square metres. We walked along a low boardwalk in amongst its branches and then went up a wooden tower to view it from above. It was very impressive. The nuts are harvested twice a year but unfortunately not at the time that we were there - all the 2 tonnes of nuts harvested are given out to visitors to the tree. Next we were off to Pirangi Beach, where we were given a green coconut to drink from with a straw poked in the top to get at the water. It is a very popular, naturally occurring drink in Brazil coasting as little as 1 Real (15-20 pence) when in season. We had about 20 minutes to explore the beach so not enough time for swimming, which was a shame as it looked amazing. We went out into the sea on a small wooden pier and could see along the coast to the high sand dunes and kite surfers nearby. Back on the coach we were taken for a photo stop at a 16th century fort which was star shaped...not that we could see that from the ground, but we caught a higher glimpse of it as we went back over the suspension bridge.
Back on the ship the music had started on the Pool Deck for our South America Sail Away Party. The fishermen on the little boats next to us in the harbour were dancing away to our music and waving to us as we left. As we went back out under the suspension bridge we has a sneaky kiss as the guide on the coach said it was a local custom that if you kissed as you passed under the bridge you would be together for another 30 years!
Later that evening we had a Black and White Oscars Party, with a late night buffet out on the Pool Deck. It looked spectacular, with more fruit carvings and ice sculptures decorating the tables. Unfortunately towards the end it started raining and although the umbrellas were up over the tables the wind started to get a bit fierce and blew some of them over!