Current Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2003 12:30 p.m. (Brasilia)
Current Itinerary: Leaving here tonight on an overnight bus to Belo Horizonte. From there to Pouso Alegre and then to Sao Poalo by the first week of May. I plan to look for a job there or maybe go to Curitiba to look instead.
Note: Okay, sorry I didn't get to everyone over the weekend as I promised before. I did not realize it was Easter...hey, cut me some slack, I have been in the Amazon...virtually everything has been closed for the past 4 days (in Brazil, Monday is also a holiday). A constant flow of journals is coming now. Again, I apologize that so much will come at once. Read at your on leisure.
Woke up in Praia de Pipa following my second night at the So Easy Bar. We decided it was time to move on...we would head for Natal to have a good Saturday night in a bigger city. We hopped on a bus just after noon and got to Natal about 2 hours later.
I had read that Natal was one of the most modern cities in Brazil. I could really tell by the first glimpses I had of the city. The main road going in is very nice...well paved and there are a lot of stores that run along either side. After we got of our bus and were walking to the local bus we needed to get to our hostel, I made a comment on how it looked a lot like any city in the US, and if I didn't know better, I could actually be in the States at that moment. Not 30 seconds later, a horse drawn buggy came galloping past us ON A 3 LANE highway!!! I immediately retracted my statement.
We got to the hostel Lua Cheia, that had been suggested to me by Doug McLean and as usual, it was a good call! It is a cool hostel that is designed in the style of an old castle...complete with drawbridge that you must cross to enter. It is a very cool hostel that is in a perfect locatiion. It is in Ponta Negra...the happening are of Natal. The hostel is a short walk from the main beach, it is surrounded by popular cafes/bars and is actually connected to one of the most popular bars in Ponta Negra...note for light sleepers...this will not be the place for you. The bar is open until 4a.m.
After checking in, we headed to a place to do internet for REAL for the first time in MANY days. I killed a couple hours there and then went back to the hostel to find Stephan. On the way, I stopped and called Pedro, a guy from the hotel in Recife during Carnaval. He said he was going to stop by the hostel. Stephan was taking a nap when I got back so I went to this crepe place across from the hostel. Eventually, Stephan showed up...Pedro never did, so we headed down to the boardwalk/beach area. There was a VERY cute Chilean girl in the hostel that I tried to get to come with us, but it didn't happen. Oh well. There was a considerable amount of action going on down there. Many many restaurants/bars to choose from. Lots of music and people selling things on the sidewalk...and wouldn't you know it, they just happened to have my favorite...meat on a stick. Mmmmmm. Had TWO for 1 real. What a bargain! We sat on the seawall for about an hour, just talking and watching the folks go by. Finally we settled on going into this place, the Ponta Negra grill. I ended up randomly running into this guy from the hotel during Carnaval. That was cool. We hung with him and had a few beers. I am learning that it is very easy to see people over and over again as you are traveling the same route.
He told me the place to go for the night was Taverna, the bar that is attached to the hostel. I didn't necessarily want to go there b/c there was a huge cover. I got some advice on a different spot near the Shopping mall from Barbara...another girl who I had met during Carnaval, so I decided to go there instead. Stephan was a bit tired so he went home, and once again, I was on my own. This seems to be a common occurrence for me.
When I got into a kombi, one of the passengers told me about a better place to go that was closer called Bar Umo. Sounded good to me so I went...my philosophy is that you can't really go wrong listening to a local. It was a cool live rock/Reggae bar. I went in and had a few caipirinhas. I ended up meeting two pretty cool Brazilian guys who introduced me to some girlfriends of theirs. We all danced until about 3:30 and the guys gave me a ride back to the hostel. I went to the "Taverna" (bar attached to hostel) for about 10 minutes after I talked the bouncer into letting me in for free since they were about to close. The place was still pretty packed but I was beat. On my way back into the hostel I ended up getting into a pretty good conversation with the girl at the reception and a few others...basically about the US and the war. Bed at 4:30.
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Very uneventful day but a cool night. Woke up at 11...went in search of food and internet. Found a place I could install programs AND connect my pocket PC. Spent ALL day there uploading pics, updating website and sending journals.
I returned to the hostel around 9:30 and found Stephan at the cafe across the street talking with Lara/Switzerland and Vanessa/Germany who had arrived at the hostel that day. They had really come a long way in a short time. They had spent Carnaval in Florianapolis and had already made it to Natal...easily over 100 hours of bus rides in two weeks...and I thought I was moving too fast! They were cool though and were discussing doing buggy rides the next day.
I should explain...the main reason most people stop in Natal is because they have these buggy tours to the north and south of the city. The trip north takes you to some sand dunes and various beaches and it is supposed to be very adventurous. The drivers come very close to tipping the buggies on the steep dunes. The trip to the south actually travels to Pipa (where we had been prior to Natal) and is a more tranquil, but beautiful ride. Of course, we were opting for the trip north and we were planning to do it on the next morning. By the way, for anyone wondering, you can organize it through the Lua Cheia hostel.
Anyway, the girls were tired from their bus ride so they headed home. Stephan and I stuck around the restaurant b/c I wanted to eat. Well, it is an outdoor restaurant and it started to rain. Only about half the tables in the place are covered so the two of us had to move to another table...but the only one open was a large one for about 6 people. Oh well, it was late anyway and the place was pretty empty. So while sitting there talking and eating, these three girls come into the restaurant. Of course there is no where to sit, but there is plenty of room at our table so they sat down with us. Hmmmm, what a fortunate turn of events. They all ended up being VERY nice. They were Telma, Loais, and Gabriela, all from SP and up on a short vacation to Natal. We ended up talking to them and having a few more beers until the place closed at 12:30 and really had a lot of fun. They gave us their numbers and we decided that we would hang out the next day!
When Stephan and I got back to the hostel, we found Aaron/Boston (remember, from Recife hostel and Porto de Gallinas) there!!! He had just returned from the island that night and had chosen the same hostel as us!! We were happy to see each other again and quickly traded stories about the previous week. His trip to the island sounded amazing!!!( but expensive) He was sitting in the common space at the front of the hostel talking to the cute girl from Chile that I mentioned from yesterday (can't remember her name for some reason...dang it). Stephan and I put our names down for the buggy ride to the north the next day and we were lucky enough to get the same one as Aaron (four people to a buggy). We still had an extra space left and Aaron was on a mission to try to get that girl to go with us...he tried for quite some time but sadly failed. In the end, that would be a blessing but we were both kinda bummed at the time.
Ended up talking until around 3 and then finally hit the sack.
Monday, March 17, 2003
Got up early, around 8 to eat before the Buggy ride. I think that was the earliest I had gotten up since the day I left for South America! Wouldn't you know it, getting up early still isn't any fun. We had breakfast and then found out the fourth person in our buggy was another guy named Stefan/France who turned out to be very cool. Our buggy headed out from the hostel just after 9. It took about 45 minutes to get to the first area of dunes. It was a beautiful sight...the dunes were very cool. We sped up and over them, but it was not quite the adrenaline rush that I had hoped...it seemed like the other drivers were moving a bit faster than us...hmmmm bad sign. I like to live right on the edge...we were more like about 5 or 6 feet from the edge. We made a few "touristy" stops that I didn't particularly like. One at place where they just sold a bunch of stuff to tourists. I guess I did benefit though because somewhere along the way I lost my unlosable sunglasses (I had bought them last year before coming to Brazil...I had lost them several times but somehow they always came back to me...but this time they were gone. It took me a whole month before I finally could bring myself to buy another pair...but that day I had no choice, the sand was really whipping up in our faces...so if you do this ride WEAR sunglasses). I was happy with my new purchase and hoped they would last as long as my last pair...a year is pretty good in the life span of sunglasses...incidentally, this is why I refuse to buy an expensive pair...they always get lost or broken.
Good Lord, that was a ridiculous tangent. After the "buy stuff here" spot we went over some pretty cool dunes and our driver actually got the adrenaline flowing a little. We made a stop at an okay beach, but once again, it was too touristy. I went for a swim though and got to talking with Stefan/France. He had been traveling for almost THREE years!!! That is amazing. He began in Mexico and and traveled through Central America and into South America...stopping along the way in several places to work. VERY COOL. When ever I meet someone like that I treat them like Kramer (Warning: upcoming Seinfeld reference) treats a proctologist: "If you ever see a proctologist at a party you plant yourself by him because you will hear some GREAT stories!! See, nobody ever wants to admit that they stuck something up there. Every proctologist story ends the same way...It was a million to one shot doc, million to one!"
Anyway, that guy DID have some great tales but he also gave me an idea. Maybe I will try to return to the States by going the reverse path. I have many friends who are from Central America and I would love to see their home cities that I have heard so much about.
We left that beach and headed for this lake where we stopped again, but this time for an hour. The spot was not that cool but luckily I had great people in my buggy so we had some fun conversation. One pretty hilarious thing was that I had heard about this thing called "Aerobunda" from Doug McLean and some others that was supposed to be this cool zipline into the lake type of thing (think Mountain Dew commercials). I was really excited about trying it out. When I got to this lake stop, I got my first look at an Aerobunda. I gotta tell you it looked like I could get a bigger adrenaline rush from crossing a busy street. The thing was at an almost horizontal angle and was only about 20 feet off the ground. It was just this slow sort of thing that carried you over the lake and then dropped you at the end...not in the middle where the water was deep, but rather at the bank on the other side into about 2 feet of water!! We sat back and watched the ensuing comedy of people being plopped on their asses right into the muddy river bank. The Aerobunda costed 4 reals, but it was probably worth 2 just to watch people land with a thud when the guy would release the rope way too late everytime. Needless to say, I was not only dissappointed, but I did not do it.
We left the lake and headed over some more dunes. Just as I was there thinking, "How could Doug McLean steer me wrong? What is up with that?" we pulled up to what was the REAL Aerobunda! It was a zip line on top of a hill about 60 or 70 feet above a huge lake...now THAT is more like it. In an extreme twist of irony, it was actually CHEAPER than the other cheesy Aerobunda we had seen at the first stop. Needless to say, I hopped right on and it was great! I knew Doug could never let me down!!
By then, we were starving so we all finally got lunch which was good and then we made our first cool stop...near a small brooke that flowed amongst a bunch trees. It was all overlooked by some cool sand dunes. We chilled there for a good 45 minutes and it was great because most of the other buggy drivers did not stop there. I mostly sat and looked at the scenery and just thought about things. It was good to have a quiet moment in the midst of a day of activity. While at the dunes, I ran into this guy that we had seen on the street back in Porto de Gallinas. He had spoken to us in English back then and he remembered me. It turned out to be this guy Adam, from Chicago. He was looking for some folks to do the Amazon with so I was glad to have him team up with us. We exchanged e-mails and he went on his way.
Finally, we headed to what would be the climax of our dune buggy adventure. We were slightly perturbed when our driver asked us to pay R$2.50 each when we arrived at the entrance of the park with all the dunes...we had been told there were no extra fees. Hmmm I did NOT like our driver at all before that point...he drove to slow and was not that fun, but after this I was livid! He knew there was nothing we could do as he could easily say forget it and take us back. Once again, it was NOT the money, it was just that the guy was ripping us off! We put up an argument but eventually paid.
Anyway, we were happy we did because the final part WAS pretty cool...lots of really high dunes and some good fast driving. At one of the dunes we stopped with one of the other buggies from out hostel. So the dunes are very large but sometimes are not quite as rounded as some might think. Several of them have pretty steep drops at the edge...which ended up providing us with some serious entertainment. You could run and jump off the edge, soar about 15 or 20 feet horizontally, but drop down about 10 feet in the process and land safely in the soft sand. We exhausted our selves doing this for about 20 minutes but I got some REALLY good pictures!!
Finally we headed back to hostel, just as it began to rain...good timing. I gave the SP girls from the night before a call and we decided we would meet up at this place on the boardwalk at midnight. I needed to go to the bank and get cash and Aaron needed internet as he had been trapped on the island for the previous week. We headed to the Paia Shopping, where I found the good old B do B and we found internet. I gave Pedro (from hotel in Recife) a call again and he said he would pick us up at the mall. We waited for about 45 minutes and he did not show up AGAIN (that was the end of calling that guy) so we went back to the hostel to meet up with Stefan.
Everyone from the hostel was at the little cafe across the street. The whole group of us headed down to the beach area where all the bars and cafes are. As usual with a large group, it was impossible to coordinate everyone together and get agreement on a place to stop. Aaron did not mind though, he was spending most of his time talking with the Chilean girl. Eventually, Stephan, myself, Lara and Vanessa broke from the pack and went to the Ponta Negra grill where we were to meet the girls from SP. Eventually they showed up and it was a good time. Eventually, everyone left except me, Gabriela and Telma. We went and sat on the beach for awhile, talking and watching the surf. It was a beautiful night and the moon was full...which reminded me of my tale from Porto Seguro!! I sat there and spouted off stories of my trip for about an hour...life was nice...sitting on the beach with two beautiful girls, talking and watching the full moon. I tell you, it almost seems unfair at times!! Yeah, coming on this trip was a reeeeeeeaaaaaallll bad idea. (note: That was sarcasm)
We went back to the hostel to get my camera. I wanted to show them pictures and also we took a few together. We ended up hanging at the hostel for another hour talking and finally I walked them back to the house they were staying in at about 4:30. Action packed day...great night with new friends...what more can a guy ask for?
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Got up around 11 in the hostel and sat with Stefan and Aaron and recapped the night. Aaron had a flight out that day, he was headed back to Buenos Aires. We went out for a farewell lunch with the three of us and Laura/Buenos Aires who we had met in the hostel. Lunch was cool and I got a chance to know Laura better...she is a great girl. Finally we said goodbye to Aaron...good luck to you buddy. I hope everything goes well in Japan!!
Stefan and I went into the city to do some exploring. There was not much to the Natal center...it really is not the area where people congregate. Natal has a large stretch of beaches along one side, three of which (Praia dos Artistas, Praia do Meio, and Praia do Forte) are heavily populated with people, bars, and nightclubs. (note: there is not near as much action here as there is in Ponta Negra...anyone coming to Natal should really stay at Lua Cheia or somewhere nearby) We eventually found our way to that area but it was a gray day and there was not much action. We sat at a great bar on the pier, Cais 43, and had a couple beers and just watched the ocean. I seriously believe that doing that might never get old. Stefan decided that he was going to move on that day and head for Jericoacoara. We figured we would meet back up there. I wanted to stay in Natal for a couple more days to get some things done with internet while I had the chance and I was also interested in doing another buggy tour with the SP girls.
I gave them a call while we were in city and we decided to meet up that night at the house where they were staying, which belonged to a guy, Daniel, who was dating one of the girls, Lais. Back at the hostel I said goodbye to Stefan and went to meet up with the girls. Gabriela had left that day to go back to Sao Paulo so only Telma and Lais were still there. The house where Daniel lived with his father, Tony, was really cool. They used to own an antique store so the house was filled with many interesting items. It was very open and spacious...very few walls. I seriously spent the first hour there just looking at all the different stuff, pictures, and asking questions. Tony was SUPER nice. Of course he spoke no English, so I was really working on my porteguese all night. We all just chilled in the living room talking for several hours and was really a lot of fun. In fact, in the end, we didn't even go out.
Nights like that are really cool when traveling. I mean to say that hostels are great and you really meet a ton of people from all over and it is an important part of traveling...but also I am here to immerse myself in the Brazilian culture and get to know more about the people. That night, I was lucky enough to spend time at that house, away from the tourist world. Tony had endless stories about the times he spent in Sao Paulo and the Carnival celebrations there. It was also cool just to hear part of his life story. I also got a chance to know the girls better and it was a WONDERFUL evening. We decided that the next day we would do a buggy tour to the south. Went back to the hostel around 2.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Woke up at nine and was pretty disappointed to see that it was pouring cats and dogs outside...that meant no buggy for us for the day. I waited until around 12 when there was a brief break in the rain and then went to visit the girls. They were also pretty bummed about the weather but what can you do. They had made lunch plans already so they took off and I decided to take advantage of the rainy day and head for the internet place. I saw Laura/Buenos Aires again and she was just about to take off. We said goodbye...hope our paths cross again!!!
I ended up passing almost the whole day at the internet place since I was trapped by the rain...but it was cool because I was able to "talk" to my Mom and Dad using the Yahoo Messenger program. That is...I could actually hear their voices which was great!!!! The microphone on the computer I was using did not work so they could not hear me...but it was still cool. Almost like a real conversation...with me typing back responses. We actually "talked" for a couple hours!! It made my day. Technology is grand.
It was still raining when I left the internet place so everything was pretty dead. I had some dinner and went back to the hostel around 9. I took a nap but ended up not waking up until around 12. Telma stopped by the hostel to tell me about a buggy ride the next morning...provided that there was no rain. I didn't feel much like going out so I went back to the room to chill. I met this pretty cool German couple that had arrived that day and I talked to them for awhile. Worked for a few hours on journals and hit the sack. It was a pretty uneventful, rainy day.
Thursday, March 20, 2002
Woke up to the usual sound of RAIN!!!! ARRRRGGH! I was really starting to get sick of it...it had been raining steadily since Monday night! Once again, we could not do the buggy tour so I was bummed. On the bright side, since I got up early, I was able to partake in the free hostel breakfast:) Went back to sleep for awhile and when I woke up...it was STILL raining. It seemed like it was going to be another day indoors:( I went to grab a Misto Quente at a nearby restaurant and I saw a pretty strange sight...there were small monkeys in one of the trees across the street. It was quite strange to see them there in the middle of the city but it was cool. I watched them for awhile and then ran to get my camera...but alas, they were gone when I got back.
After lunch I went to visit the SP girls again. I hung out with them for about an hour and then Telma and I went back to the hostel together so she could talk to a friend of hers that was staying there (they had bumped into each other by coincidence...small world, eh?). We decided that we would all go out to a club that night that Daniel knew about. Headed for the internet place and spent most of the time reading about the war which had begun the night before (I am purposely going to refrain from comment). It is tough when you don't have any other connection to what is happening in the world besides the internet. Although, I guess most news is bad news so it is nice not to have to think about it.
Back at the hostel I met this AWESOME guy, Andres/Chile. We got to talking and he really had one hell of a story. He had left Santiago several years back in order to stretch his wings. He landed in Sao Paulo and got a job working illegally of course. Over the course of a couple years, he had learned Porteguese, got some roots in the community, and is now working legally for an airline in Brazil...which means he is able to travel anywhere they fly for free. We hit it off very well and ended up spending about 2 hours talking over beers. It was weird to switch back to speaking straight Spanish for a couple hours...it seriously took me 15 minutes to stop using Porteguese words. My brain is becoming a mix of languages!! Anyway, he invited me to stay at his place in Sao Paulo when I head back there so that is definitely on my list. It seems that I keep on meeting so many great folks from Sao Paulo. I am really leaning towards stopping there to look for work. It sounds strange I know, as most people just see it as another big city, but I really enjoyed the time I have spent there and now I have a pretty solid base of people I know there.
Anyway, I finally left Andres and went to meet up with the girls at Daniel's house. We went out to a club called "Hooters" (formely known as Chaplin). Don't get excited...it had no connection to the popular American restaurant chain...in fact, the girls were quite amused to learn what "Hooters" means in the US. Anyway, it was a cool club...very big with three different dance floors...techno/house, Forro, and a great lounge area upstairs that played mostly 70s and 80s songs in English. Later in the evening, everyone from the hostel showed up...I took tons of pictures and we danced like fools until about 5:30. Back at the hostel I packed all my stuff and took a shower. My bus to Fortaleza was leaving at 9 so I was trying to stay awake but eventually I decided had to sleep for about 45 minutes...and that was all that seperated that day from the next.
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