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South America » Brazil » Rio Grande do Norte
January 4th 2011
Published: September 30th 2017
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The Giant Sand Dune at Ponta Negra ...The Giant Sand Dune at Ponta Negra ...The Giant Sand Dune at Ponta Negra ...

Imagine sandboarding that thing??? Too bad it's closed to the public.
Geo: -5.88333, -35.1667

Rain. A lot of it. Apparently yesterday was beautiful and sunny as it has been here in Natal for the past week, but the clouds decided to come out today. Booooooooo!!!! Without the beach, there really isn't much to do here in Natal, especially in Ponta Negra, where I'm staying, since it's more of a beach resort-type area. There are a couple of churches and museums downtown and some shopping centres, but not much else.

The area around Natal is renowned for having some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Brazil, with Pipa being a particularly popular one, largely because of its hippie-like atmosphere. Unfortunately Pipa isn't on the itinerary, as I'm just passing through Natal on the way down the coast to Recife. I seem to be missing out on a lot of great little beach towns in Brazil, but that's the problem with a brisk travel pace - I'll have to return one day, taking some more time to lounge and linger. The World Cup in four years, baby!!!

The rain in the morning trapped me at the hostel, not that the options were terribly appealing. The best things to do around Natal are day trips away from here - dune buggy tours are quite popular but today wasn't the best day for it, and I don't think I could've booked it anyway, since I arrived so late last night. The good thing about the rainy weather is that I had an excellent sleep last night, the first in a while - a deliciously cool sea breeze kept the room at a wonderful temperature last night.

Ponta Negra has a long stretch of beach with an accompanying boardwalk and I was able to walk for a while in the afternoon, rain-free, until the skies opened up again - big time. People were scurrying for cover and I hid out with a coffee for a while until it cleared up a bit. The weather alternated between a drizzle and a downpour until I finally made it back to the hostel.

Funny how quite often when traveling, the most memorable experiences happen while sitting around with other travelers, talking about nothing in particular. A few of us picked up some bottles of wine, each successive bottle getting worse and worse in taste, until we ended up with some truly terrible Portuguese vinho verde. I've tried this before and it was quite nice, a slightly carbonated white wine. But somehow, we ended up with a red wine version of this ... imagine carbonated red wine - not pleasant!

Luckily the stories we heard were much better, especially those of Mark, one of those travelers who is wandering the globe until the money runs out. So far on this trip, he has ended up in the hospital on four separate occasions - the least gruesome of the three involved a bashed-up face after a tumble from a mountain bike in Peru. Slightly higher on the grotesque scale was some poisonous sea creature in Thailand nearly resulting in an amputation of his leg. Pretty good stories, right? Well, Mark threw down a story that managed to top them all.

It's not really a gory or gruesome story, but definitely the most life-threatening of the three. Mark had booked a trek through a desert in Northern Brazil with a French couple that was to last approximately 24 hours, involving a six-hour hike to a lodge for the evening, where they would be given a bed and food, and then a twelve-hour journey to finish it off. Things started off badly - their original guide
Lunch At Yet Another Per Kilo Restaurant ...Lunch At Yet Another Per Kilo Restaurant ...Lunch At Yet Another Per Kilo Restaurant ...

The fried chicken was the star of the show here, but everything else was pretty good. At only 10 Reais/kg, you can't beat that kind of value with the selection and quality.
backed out, leaving the travel agency scrambling to find another. The group pressured the agency to do so since backing out wasn't an option - because of everyone's schedules, the trek had to happen that day, or not at all. Then on the day of the trek, they found out that the second guide had backed out, but luckily the agency had managed to find yet another replacement.

So the group set out on their trek and soon after, noticed something disturbing - their guide seemed awfully young ... fifteen years old, in fact. But this was no big deal, as no reputable tour agency would trust the lives of people with a less-than-qualified individual, right? Right??!!????! As the afternoon wore on, the guide didn't exactly inspire any confidence in the group with his demeanour - they began to question the guide's qualifications, but were constantly re-assured that they were fine and that everything was on schedule. But soon it became painfully obvious that the guide had no idea what he was doing, or where he was going. By the time they finally got him to admit this, it was well into the night and they were hopelessly lost - in the middle of the desert, miles from civilization, and with only enough water and snacks to the last the six hours the first leg of the trek should've lasted ...

Backtracking wasn't an option, as they had taken an arcing trajectory that would be impossible to retrace, and the guide had been navigating by the moon, which really can't provide any accurate gauge of direction. The group decided that the best thing to do was to take control of the navigation themselves, and try and push on in the morning after sleeping out in the desert, something that proved impossible because of the cold temperatures and their lack of any survival gear.

They set out the next morning, exhausted from a combination of the long hot hike of the day before, and the lack of both food and sleep. They hiked ... and hiked ... and hiked ... and didn't seem to get anywhere. Mark recounted that it was at this point that he realized one thing - though he had survived other potentially life-threatening situations on this trip, he was absolutely certain that he was done, that there would be no miraculous escape from his impending doom. The group was so desperate for water that they began drinking from some ponds they had come across, but luckily they were clear and appeared relatively safe for human consumption.

As day turned to night, they finally came across the oasis they should've stayed at on the first night of the trek - they were saved! Well, sort of ... they were fed and had access to clean drinking water, but there was still a problem - in this particular national park, there was no phone service whatsoever, whether it be via a land line or cellular, so there would be no immediate help. They could wait around for another group to come by, but it was impossible to predict when that would be, and even then, that group would have to complete the remaining twelve hour hike to get any help. The only way out was to do the hike themselves, something which seemed impossible given their state of exhaustion.

They debated - do they set out now, still tired, but at least able to hike through the night, avoiding the harsh Brazilian sun? Of course, this meant not being able to see where they were going ... waiting until morning meant they could, but it would also mean hiking in some pretty brutal heat. What to do? Then all of a sudden Mark heard something - a vehicle of some sort! But ... nobody else did. Vehicles don't travel through this particular national park, so it couldn't have been one. Was he hearing things, perhaps a result of sleep deprivation and exhaustion?

Though nobody would listen, Mark refused to believe it was anything other than a vehicle and ran toward the dunes, with another group member following. Then, ever so faintly, they could hear some intermittent noise - it was a vehicle going up and down the dunes! Luckily for them, some tour guide had decided to take his group off the beaten path and out into this area, just for a look. They were given a lift back to civilization, and safety - a happy ending to this story, right? Wrong!!!! Not for this guy ...

A few days after being rescued, Mark ended up in the hospital with a stomach parasite. How did he get this, while nobody else in the group did? Well, they all managed to fill their water bottles at a pond with relatively clean-looking water, but Mark ended up leaving this bottle behind. His big pet peeve is people leaving behind trash in the wilderness and he happened to see a water bottle lying near the pond, so he packed it in his backpack to dispose of it properly - pretty good of the guy, considering they were at a point where they were fearful of their impending deaths. But in doing so, he ended up forgetting his own water bottle, full of fresh water! So he ended up refilling the empty water bottle at a pond that was filled with algae and hence, ended up with a stomach parasite.

So after getting to the hospital, it was a happy ending to this story, right? Wrong!!! Mark was in pretty rough shape at the hospital, but improved enough to be discharged. A few days later, he wasn't feeling so great - luckily for him, some doctor friends back home advised that he return to the hospital for further treatment, as the first go around may not have been the right treatment for his particular parasite.

So Mark goes back to the hospital for another IV - he's finally alright after that, right? Right??!??! Nope! The nurse is too busy hitting on him, commenting on how handsome he is and how beautiful his eyes are, and doesn't notice that she hasn't inserted the IV into a vein. Mark's desperately trying to tell her that something is wrong because he's in pain, and sees this big lump forming in his hand, until he finally passes out. So finally ... after all that, Mark is discharged, as healthy as such a cursed man could ever hope to be. It kind of makes me wish I had such crazy travel stories of my own to tell ... or ... maybe not!

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