Brazil: This little piggy went to market
After Fortaleza, our next destination was Natal. Not sure why, but it seemed to be the next big place on the map. There were lots of nice beaches listed in the guidebook that were around there, so we decided to make that our home base for a few days while we explored. Hostels are getting more expensive as we make our way down the coast so we had a hard time finding something in our budget but we finally found the Hotel Beira Mar. For 60 Reais per night, we got a beachfront room with a balcony, a TV, an awesome buffet breakfast, and our own sticky-fingered cleaning lady. Yep, that´s right. We´ve had our first casualty: stolen MP3 player and Leatherman. I lost the MP3 player and Lani lost her fancy pocketknife. We didn´t realize it though until we´d left and were in our next city. I´m bummed, and I guess I´ll have to sing myself to sleep at night now. Lucky Lani.
Natal was a decent place to spend a few days, but trying to navigate it by foot was like playing spin the tail on the donkey. Between the 2 of us, we had 3 maps of the city and we still were lost every time we tried to go anywhere. Either that, or the places we were looking for didn´t exist. We´d ask for directions to someplace and they´d tell me it was 2-3 blocks away and we´d wander 20 and never find anything even remotely close. It´s still a mystery. By bus, however, we were pros. #38 was our tried and true route and seemed to take us everywhere we needed to go.
One day we went to a beach called Genipabu about 30 miles north of the city. It wasn´t the “gem” the book described, but it was still a nice beach. We´d wanted to go on a dune buggy ride, but as everything in Brazil has been, it was about 4 times more expensive than what our book said, and too expensive for this kid. So we just bummed it on the beach. They also had camels you could ride. Yes, camels. I´m no expert, but I´m pretty sure that camels are not native to Brazil, or anywhere in South America. So the poor animals were probably shipped all the way over here just to haul tourists around on sand dunes. That part made me not like Genipabu very much….Not my cup of mate.
The following day we went to Pirangi, a beach town south of the city. The attraction here was the world´s largest cashew tree. That probably doesn´t sound that cool to you, but it was a really amazing tree. It covered a whole city block and was spilling out into the outer edges. We walked down underneath the tree and all it´s embedded branches and then walked up to an overlook deck to try and take a picture. As you can see, we still couldn´t get it all in one shot. I was impressed.
That night we decided to go on our first dinner splurge. We went to a rodizio style churrascaria and it was the best!!! I think it might go down in history as one of my finer Brazilian moments thus far. What could be better than cute Brazilian waiters bringing around endless skewers of grilled meat? Maybe that´s just the midwest-farmers-daughter in me talking, but it was HEAVENLY!! The atmosphere in the restaurant was great, the caipirinhas were great, and the dessert – grilled pineapple with cinnamon and caramel – to die for. We realized a few days later that it was Valentine´s Day when we went out and let me tell you – Lani´s a cheap date! Our total bill, with tip, beverages, and 1/2 a cow was a whopping $30!! Uau!!! (that´s how they spell wow down here – it makes me smile every time I see it spelled!)
It was a good thing we splurged when we did, because the following morning we learned how much it was going to cost us to stay in a hotel during Carnaval…basically it´s complete highway robbery during Carnaval. Brazil in general has been quite a bit more expensive than we´d anticipated. I was expecting it to be about twice as much as previous countries, but it seems to be more like 4 times. Food and lodging has been ok, but it´s the transportation that´s killing us. Everytime we get on a bus, our wallets slim down. So, we´ve decided to only go as far as Salvador, and then fly to Argentina, as it was cheaper to do that and we didn´t have to spend 55 hours on a bus. Only one more week of Brazil to go….how sad.