Little Brown Dune Buggy

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Feb 01, 2005

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Monday, March 8, 2004

After missing my stop on the bus to the hostel and then tripping over whilst completely laden for the second time in one day (this time skinning my knee) I wasn“t sure what to make of Natal.

Living on top of a sand hill and spending my 4th birthday party at a big sand dune "The Wave" nearby I thought I“d seen them all. However this didn“t stop me from being fascinated by the sand dunes in the middle of the suburbs of Natal. On one side there is a factory and a road on the other, with a big dump of dune right in the middle.

I arrived at the HI Lua Cheia castle, complete with drawbridge and statues of little boys peeing into the pond under it, and was awed by the place. In my dorm room of 5 beds, Cripta dos Deuses (Crypt of the Gods) there are 10 paintings. Across the road a lively bar scene was warming up although after a drink and some dinner I was off to bed.

Coming back from breakfast the next morning, a Brazilian girl in my room asked me the time, which was 9:15am, and then jumped up from under her sheet completely stark naked! I hadn“t even met her, yet I saw more than most people probably had. After recovering from my shock, I managed to get ready and then went to the foyer where I met Paulo the Photographer from Rio. He was making a trip to Genipabu and the postcard and brochure famous Bar 21. I decided to go too and discovered during the course of our 4 bus rides and day together that he is a little bit strange (others at the hostel called him the plant because he didn“t speak, he just sat there and my roommate even thought he was mute).

Most of the day was spent in silence, yes I know that it is difficult for some of you to believe that I can be silent for more than 2 minutes, but things are different here. Although he spoke quite good English, I think the language difference was a factor.

Bar 21 is this thatched hut on a point where the sand dunes meet the sea. There are great postcard shots with the bar jutting out over the sea when the tide comes in and the steep sand dune behind it.

Paulo showed me a really nice and cheap restaurant on the beach at Ponta Negra (the suburb the hostel was in). I had grilled chicken, rice and sauteed potatoes for R$4.10 - less than $2!!! It also had the added advantage of a TV screening Da Cor Do Pecado. This became the turning point in my addiction as Paulo explained some of what had happened and I understood everything so much better! Since then, I“ve been back to the Blue Bayou for dinner and novela every night!

The next day I hung out on the beach with Clare, who had coincidentally met Jacarč in Itacarč 3 years ago and discovered that he has been romancing gringas the whole time. I“m glad I didn“t get sucked into his ploy as some other girls obviously had.

That night I was talking to a Brazilian guy, Emerson the Engineer, who had just finished a stint on an oil rig off the coast. He was on his way back home to his girlfriend the next day. He persuaded me to go out with him for a drink and I wasn“t interested in him, so thinking that he had a girlfriend I thought I would be safe from any advances. That was not the case. He tried to hold my hand, then he kept moving closer to me at the bar. A rose seller walked past and he bought me a rose. I had always wondered what kind of losers bought them - now I knew. After one drink I had to leave and told him I was tired and wanted to go back to the hostel as I had to wake up early to go on my buggy tour. He tried to convince me to ditch the buggy tour and go to the beach with him, but there was no way!

The Buggy Tour
I had booked a buggy tour of the sand dunes north of Natal the day before. There were 4 of us, Karen, Craig, Tristan and I and we managed to get an English speaking driver called Alan. He had been driving on the dunes for 15 years and knew them like the back of his hand.

We piled into the little brown beach buggy, which is kind of like a mini moke, and three of us squashed into the back seat for the drive through the city until we could sit on the back.

We weren“t the only buggy. Our ferry was full of buggies and people heading out to the sand dunes for the day. After the ferry, we had a bit of a turn on the sand dunes, roaring our way up the dunes to a lookout over the city. Before stopping to join the other buggies at the top of the dune, Alan performed his signature piece, driving over the edge of a 30m steep sand dune into the basin where lakes are formed after rains are filtered through the sand dunes. Ours were the only tracks down this sand dune and we were all exhilarated, and then understood the meaning of having to hang on!

To get to more sand dunes, we had to cross an estuary where we drove onto a little raft and were poled across to the other side. After this it was thrills on the sand, zigging and zagging across the playground of sand. We would go over ridges sideways, with the back sliding down first, before Alan would turn the wheel and go down. You needed to be a very skilled driver to get the maximum out of the vehicle without tipping it over and we were grateful that Alan had so much experience.

We made lots of stops to admire the view and spent an hour swimming in a lake in the dunes, formed from the rain. There were thousands of little fish swimming around, and a number of amorous Brazilian couples also.

Before lunch, our opportunity came to go on a flying fox from the top of a sand dune into a lake. I got asked if I wanted it "com emoēćo" with emotion. I said yes and was bounced up and down before being let loose down the line and dumped into the lake where I had to swim to a buoy and wait for the raft to come back to take me to shore. We were poled back and then came the ride up the steep dune in a rollercoasteresque carriage, up the tracks to the top. We were hoisted up by a winch powered by a VW buggy which was perched on the top of the dune. The next thrill was toboganning down a dune and into a lake, but no one elected to do this one. I didn“t really feel like getting sand in every fold of my skin.

After lunch we had a small drive on the dunes before the trip back to the city. Alan enjoyed driving fast and without a working speedo we had no idea how fast we were going, although I think that his lead foot was the cause of us almost running out of petrol on the way back and having him swerve all over the road like a racing driver warming their tyres to try and get fuel into the engine.

I got back to the hostel after visiting the Blue Bayou for dinner and Da Cor Do Pecado and found that my bed had been moved by someone who had newly moved in. I was quite shirty as I was the only person in the room and everything that was on my bed had been moved, except my special grand prix pillowcase that I have brought with me. She had put her pillowcase over the top of it. As she was out, I moved my stuff back and wrote a note explaining that it was my bed and then went out to a bar to watch the Melbourne Grand Prix and get a little bit of home.

When I got back, she apologised for moving my stuff but the woman on reception had told her that I was sleeping in the bed she“d moved my stuff to. It was a misunderstanding and she turned out to be a really nice girl and I hung out with her and her boyfriend the next night.

My second last day in Natal was pouring with rain, so there was no beaching. I went to the Natal Shopping Centre at about 12:30 and discovered that the only things open were the food court and internet cafe. All the other shops opened at 3pm and people were forming lines outside the doors waiting for them to open.

I went to Blue Bayou again for the last time and I was so hungry that I could eat a horse. So I did. I ordered bife a cavalo and after ordering, I looked up cavalo and discovered that it is horse, and I had ordered “steak of the horse“. I was a bit queasy so I kept telling myself that it would be just like eating beef. When it came out, with an egg on top, it looked just like beef and tasted just like beef only a bit sweeter and I liked it.

My last day in Natal, Monday, was checkout day and I found that the buses to Fortaleza didn“t really run at the times I wanted to get me there during daylight or dusk, so I decided to take the midnight bus and then spend the day bussing around Natal. I chose the bus to Ribiera and got off at a market along the street. The area is this huge clothes, shoes, music and electronics market. I went into a couple of shops, one called Docelćndia which is a junk food lovers heaven. I was getting hyperactive on the smell alone!

I then found this really cool and cheap clothes store that has tons of tops emblazoned with slogans. So many Brazilian girls wear tops with odd English phrases on them. I bought one top purely because it had a bizarre and nonsensical slogan. It says "Girls off and jeans girl is the blue 200 5 1994" I don“t know what it is even supposed to mean, but it is so funny!

What I learned
* Dune buggies are fun
* Natal has the purest air in the Americas
* You can eat horse
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Julio on

Hi Camille, i'm Brazilian from São Paulo and i'm liking to read your blog, i've been following your story since Rio... I myself haven't visited most of those places! Bife a Cavalo is actually regular meat, not horse meat! It's just called that way when it comes with an egg. I don't know why... cheers!

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