Arrival in Natal
Rogerio was so kind to pick us up at 3 a.m. in the morning at the airport in Natal. This was the first act of an endless stream of kindness we would experience over the next five days. Rogerio spent time living in Pacific Grove when he was in high-school, as a foreign exchange student. He is the same age as Alex's brother Peter and while there, formed a very special bond with Alex's family. She had not be able to attend his wedding two years earlier, so we was so excited to see him now. He brought us to his parent's home and showed us our lovely room. Soon after we were sleeping until the late morning.
We had breakfast, which included a variety of local fruits in the form of smoothies. This day generally speaking was rather calm but we spent time together checking out the city, visiting Rogerio and Michele's own apartment, seeing her office as well as the place where Rogerio worked. Lastly we saw the church where Michelle and Rogerio were married. Somewhere in there we stopped by a bakery and indulged in some heavenly decadent desserts and learned that Michele could sustain herself on chocote alone. Chocolate cake with chocolate sauce - enough said.
The world's largest cashew nut tree
On the second day, Michelle and Rogerio took us out to the countryside. We went and visited the worlds biggest cashew nut tree, a whole block of tree. This was followed by a quick stop at the coast where we looked out over the ocean hoping to see dolphins. Around lunch time we went to their family's cabin by the sea and enjoyed a lovely meal prepared by the housekeeper. The best, however, was the cake for dessert of which I had a lot. The remainder of the afternoon was spent hanging out in the hammocks and looking over the ocean.
A day at the Beach
For the second day in a row we left town on a day trip. We were planning to go to Pipa, a small fishing village by the sea that is now also known as a good place for surfing and kite boarding. On our way out we went through many poor villages but noticed that almost all buildings had a satellite TV dish on its roof. It was a weird picture seeing these very simple structures with such high-tech attached to them.
We decided to spend the day at a "day visit only" resort that offered great food, drinks, swimming and massages for its guests. From there we were able to go down to the beach and actually swim in the Atlantic. It turned out to be the only time we did this on our trip. It was a lot of fun especially due to the relatively high waves allowing for body surfing. At the end of a restful stay at the resort Alex, Rogerio, and I enjoyed a fine massage. We left the resort by taking the same way we came in: using the hillavator (a cart type vehicle that descended and ascended on steep tracks up the hill). For afternoon coffee we hit the village of Pipa and enjoyed a lovely early evening stroll through town after an obligatory stop at Michele's favorite crepe restaurant - for a chocolate crepe. Alex had a Crepe Suzette - with fresh oranges and teh perfect amount of liguer. Oooh, there was nothing better she said. Upon arrival in Natal we enjoyed traditional Brazilian food at a very typical Brazilian restaurant. It was again one of those "weigh your food" kind of restaurants. This restaurant had borrowed its name from the Brazilian version of "Robin Hood", a couple that once stole from rich to give it to the poor.
Our first sugarcane juice
Both Michele and Rogerio had to work today and so it was our turn to have some fun with Rogerio's Dad. Now he did not speak English and we did not speak Portuguese but we are all very smart and somehow using Spanish as a bridge, were able to communicate with him quite well. First thing he did was to take us to the citadel of Natal, a historic building once utilized to defend against enemies. We then went on to see the old harbor and the nice historic buildings there. It was pretty run down but he explained to us that this once was the best part of town and that became what it is today by rich people moving on to another part of town. He said the good news is that this neighborhood is getting slowly but surely restored. At the end of our trip with him he took us to a place to offer us fresh pressed sugarcane juice. It was the first time we ever had it and it tasted good - the owner of the place even showed us the machine he uses with brute force to get the juice out of the rigid sugarcane plant.
With a buggy through the dunes
Natal is known for its great sand dunes nearby. One gets to explore these via a buggy ride starting from town. The first stop is a ferry that takes you across the large river and soon thereafter you find yourself driving on the beach with the sounds of the buggy engine rattling in your ears. The next stop was a large dune with an amazing view over a lake at its foot. Local entrepreneurs were offering camel rides or the opportunity for short sand boarding session. We drove on and shortly came to a stop in a line of cars, most of them buggies, waiting for something. The driver said another ferry and so we waited patiently. The line was moving fast and very soon we came to see the "ferry". All the cars in front of us got onto floating platforms that then were stalked across the river by pure manpower. It was an absolute unreal picture but very soon it was our turn and we were on top of one of those platforms drifting across the river to the other side. After some more cruising along the beachfront we stopped in dunes at a place that had a lagoon for us to swim in. We hung out for about 45 minutes before it was time to board a buggy again and headed to the main area with huge dunes everywhere. Again we stopped and this one was voted our favorite one: here they had strapped very long zip lines from the top of the dune across the water of a lake below. Visitors like us could get into the sling and zip line down until your body collided with the water below. It was incredible fun and we both did it several times.
After your slide you had to swim back to the bottom of the dune and then ride up a cart on tracks (which looked like it was straight out of the movie Waterworld) to the top again, just to find the next available zip line for your next run. The other enjoyable thing about this place was the food: BBQ'ed chicken and lobster fresh off the grill. We ordered one of each to be polite and then ordered several more before we hd even finished the first. We drove on and now our driver went crazy driving full force through the sand, making us and the buggy bounce around like there is no tomorrow.
Before he hit the gas, he had asked "Con emocion?" and when everyone, including Alex agreed, there was no turning back. I was sitting at the back and in fact lost my hat to the wind. Luckily it was not a problem to go back and retrieve it. After that, we visited some of the other attractions such as sliding down a steep dune with a simple board until you hit the water. If you did this really well you could make the board hydroplane on the water and go quite a distance before sinking in. Neither me or Alex tried it out but it was fun to watch nevertheless. At lunchtime we stopped at this restaurant by the sea and had some amazing shrimp. For those of you who know me very well: Yes, you read correctly: "we had some amazing shrimp". It was one of the few times I did venture into the realm of sea food.
From there on it was more or less straight back (on the beach) to the city and by late afternoon we were tired and happily back at Rogerio's parent's home. That evening we had dinner at home and made it a quiet night.
Sadly the time had come for us to say goodbye to the Barros. They have given us hospitality beyond any expectations and we were very grateful for the time we were able to spend with them. Before we went to the dinner, which was more the birthday party for Daddy Barros, Mom Barros shaved my head rather professionaly but with motherly love. She only refused to use the lowest level as I requested fearing that that would be too short. The dinner was absolutely amazing, in a place that was very well designed (all the way to the details in the restroom) and on our way out we had shots of a local drink.
Both, Michelle and Rogerio, took us to the airport for our flight to Rio. I believe we all were a little sad having to say goodbye especially not knowing when we would be able to see each other again.