What’s that? You’ve got sand in your ass crack?
Sand, sand and more sand. I’m not joking, since we last met I’ve been rolling about in it all day and now my bag has a few extra kilograms of the stuff helping to weigh it down. We last left Recife and headed to Natal, so this episode of the blog will include the delightful seaside village of Pipa; swimming with Dolphins; star-gazing at the clearest night skies; Jericocoara and probably the most unique place I’ve visited so far in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. All of these along the top North of Brazil where it is warm, really warm, like so warm I spent some days staying in shade until 3pm so as not to be instantly incinerated.
Natal — Or Not at all?
Let me save you some time here by telling you what to do on arrival in Natal. Head straight to the bus station and get the next bus to Pipa ASAP. Why? There’s nothing wrong with Natal, it’s fine and has a decent beach in the form of Ponta Negra which is the only real place to stay if you want something to do. If you do end up there for day or two at least do a Dune Buggy tour, they’re pretty good and take you right out of the city to beaches and pretty awesome dunes in the North of the city where you otherwise would be taking an entire day to get to. In saying that I was pretty lucky to enter the hostel there on the final night of a Marine Biology conference and the attendees used this hostel as the final party, so at least I had that going for me!
Pipa — Paradise of Natal
A two hour bus ride South of Natal and you can find the beautiful town of Pipa. It’s bustling main street has few other streets running off it and the central section has gorgeous restaurants and some very cool bars. The nightlife hive of activity on the street is in stark contrast to the serenity of the surrounding beaches which are the epitome of paradise with glistening water and scorching hot sand. The beaches stretch about 5km either side of the main town and two very noteworthy ones are that of Praia do Madeiro and Praia do Golfinhas.
These two are a bit of a walk from the town but well worth it. Very popular with surfers the tides are surprisingly strong. While doing my best seal impression and trying to swim about the beach I had a ‘Life flash before your eyes’ moment. One metre infront of me was a large fin jutting out of the water and the inevitable ‘awh shit, this is it, but what a cool way to go’ thought was quickly flushed away when a friendly pink dolphin jumped out of the water! Awesome! All around were dolphins jumping for fish and competing with surfers to steal their waves, not bad for just taking a dip in the ocean.
Another notable beach is one I don’t know the name of! Head to Praia do Amor and take a right where just around a smattering of rocks at the edge you find not one but two or three empty beaches, perfect to lie down and force your way through the epicly wordy novel Moby Dick (it’s tough going). It’s something of a strange phenomenon with Brazilians, they don’t like to be alone at the beach. They clump together in herds, whilst often a 500m walk away in the same location leads to complete solitude that is sometimes wanted when travelling for such a long time. Pipa is where many Brazilians come to holiday, and you can see why. At night it really picks up and that was aided by the rowdy 18 strong crew of ERASMUS students who turned up in my hostel on the same night! I seem to have a habit of becoming an honourary student in these cases and it always makes for a great night! Hit the town and grab some Caiprainha’s in the bars which all close at 2am before heading to the one nightclub at the far end of the strip. If you aren’t fussed on jumping into the nightclub, head down that way anyway and make a detour to Praia do Amor (preferably accompanied by a friend or two !!).
Jericocoara — Wind, Sand and Argentinians
If Pipa is somewhat of a haven for local Brazilians, Jeri (as it’s affectionately known) is that for Argentinians. This little village is 7 hours from Fortaleza, surrounded by dunes and dirt tracks and the only roads around are all made of sand. The town seems to mainly speak Spanish more than Portuguese and there is very little native English speakers, in fact I only met two, just like in Pipa. I love these sort of situations as it really forces you to make an effort and communicate in another language or through pointing, at which I am now very astute. It was finally great to try out some of the Spanish I’d been learning and thanks to the awesome Eduardo, Rachel and Maia I learnt more useful Spanish in 5 nights here than 3 years in school and a lot of hours on Duolingo.
In terms of wind, it’s a defining factor. A lot would say it actually ruins trying to enjoy the beaches, but there is a reason that this is one of the world hotspots for Kitesurfing and Windsurfing where there are more schools than any other stores in town. Other attractions include the famous ‘big rock with a hole in it’ of Jeri, and I certainly did the mandatory thing of getting a photo in the hole, but the cameraman was terrible so I’ll not share it! Also every evening the crowd of sunbathers, windsurfers and kitesurfers migrate the 800m from the beachfront to the large dune located right beside the beach and watch the Por do Sol (sunset) over the ocean. It’s another magnificent sight, one I watched from this viewpoint 4 out of 5 nights.
A definite must do is a trip out to the Lagoa where fairly empty bars and restaurants are occasionally placed along the edges and thankfully they offer some shade from the scorching year-round sun here. Easily into the 30 degrees I made sure to buy the factor 50 to keep my whites white and bright, have to keep that gringo appeal for the locals! By the Lagoa is some hammocks draped in the water and I spent a perfect afternoon with beer in hand as I drifted in and out of concentration with my copy of Moby Dick (seriously Melville, I don’t care for a triumphant analytical run down of a whale’s face). The nightlife in Jeri is excellent! The locals and watersport junkies know how to party with varying nights throughout the week from Reggae to Forro (sex on the dancefloor) there’s something for everyone. I can’t really describe the Forro dance, it’s intense and considering I have the flexibility of a table I was fairly pathetic! Didn’t stop me trying though.
I don’t quite know why but I had planned to miss this beautiful place and catch my fourth straight bus to São Luís. Thank fuck it was Sunday night and there was no service! I ended up in the only hostel in Parnaiba where the only other occupant was a plucky German kitesurfer who thankfully talked me into sharing a transfer out to Barreirinhos small village on the edge of the national park. Shout out to the Professor at Casa do Professor, a charming little 12 bed hostel that feels just like home, with the greatest banana marmalade you’ll ever have!
Within an hour of my arrival I was in a 4×4 headed off on a sand trail through some lush vegetation for a good hour and a half. A steep climb up a dune then led to a moment I will never forget. Upon reaching the top came a stark contrast to the vegetation of previous and what beheld was the most stunning view out over 1550km2of sand dunes. I was the first atop and not a sinner was around. For that one minute I felt I’d landed on a foreign planet. It was one of those rare moments when we see something so unique, so awe inspiring that literally blows you away. The words that could describe that moment have not been formed yet, it’s one I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s these moments that define life and really show us all how beautiful this Earth of our’s really is. These dunes have thousands of pools situated within them thanks to the heavy rain of the wet season from January to June. The pools begin to dry up in July but generally remain until September before a baron season from October to December.
Unfortunately due to time constraints I didn’t have time to do a 3/4 day trek across the dune. After speaking with those who have and only seeing the park by two day trips I would have to say do it! This place is fairly unknown to the majority of tourists and travelers, not even many Brazilians know of it’s existence. It’s therefore perfect to get their soon before this place becomes more expensive and populated. Once again there were no native English speakers anywhere to be found, the National Park seemed more popular with Germans, Italians and French, and they are doing a good job of keeping it their little secret!
That’s it for this time. Provided I survive the jungle I’ll be updating you guys again soon.
See you soon.
Originally published at thenordienomad.wordpress.com on September 1, 2016.