Off to Natal

Trip Start May 02, 2004
Trip End May 14, 2004

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Wednesday, May 5, 2004

We arrive in Natal just south of the Equator where the prawns and sand dunes are king! The dunes here are truly incredible. Some places look like the Sahara where all you see is sand for miles. These dunes drop right into the ocean some several hundred feet high. The main mode of transportation around the Ponta Negra area is dune buggy. We hired a driver to help us explore the dunes that make this place famous. You can go north or south out of town on these buggy excursions. To the south the dunes are smaller but there are other things to see along the way, such as the worlds largest cashew tree. With a circumference spanning some 1,650 feet, it is 70 times larger than the average cashew tree. If you've had "Brazil Nuts", there is a chance this is where they came from. There is also Praia de Pipa, a small secluded village that is rated one of the top ten beaches in all of Brasil. That is a bold statement considering the more than 6000 miles of beaches Brasil boasts. If time permits, the south tour is a must. The north tour is what most people come to Natal for. The "Extreme Dune Park" at Genepabu is a sand roller coaster with thrills that will rival any modern day coaster. Up and down several hundred feet at a time sometimes sideways, sometimes straight vertical, this is a must for even the moderate thrill seeker. You also make several stops to try some sand boarding and the "aerobunda". Aerobunda is a harness that you sit in atop a 200 foot tall sand cliff. Upon your release you ride this cable down until the cool waters of the lake at the bottom slow your decent. Once refreshed in the cool waters, a man will navigate a floating platform bringing you back to dry sand. Once on loose sand again, you are instructed to sit in this metal bench that is connected to a track system that whisks you back up the dune to ride again.
Natal's other specialty is prawns (huge shrimp). We dined at Camaraos which had shrimp every way possible and many that I had never thought of before. One thing to remember in Natal is to ask how many people the menu item feeds. Our experience is that an order was usual for two. So if there are two of you and you want to try different things, you have to ask for a half order. Another great place was Cipo Brasil. This place is obviously hard to find as we recommended it to some friends who were in Natal after we returned, but they missed it. It is located on the beach front street of Ponta Negra. All you will see is a sign and some steps leading up 30 or 40 feet. There you will find picnic tables under a canopy. This place has the best pizza we have ever tried. The garlic pizza was an extra special delight, but the other varieties were great as well. We ate here 4 times during our short stay, because it was that good. On a similar line, everything here is so cheap compared even to Rio. Beachfront lots could be found for US$40K, two can eat a wonderful seafood dinner with beers or frozen drinks for US$10. This would be a great place to live like a king in retirement, if you could handle the equatorial sun year round.
Forte dos Reis Magos, a five sided fort built in 1598 by the Dutch, is said to be one of the best strategically designed forts ever. It lies right on a reef along the coast. When the tide is high, the fort is surrounded by water minus a six foot wide bridge leading back to dry land. When the tide is low the reef is exposed making the fort just as difficult to storm.
Natal's dunes are a must see, and you can eat like a king for next to nothing. This combined with some of the other attractions mentioned makes Natal a great place to spend 4 or 5 days. Just make sure you bring your sunscreen!
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