No, it’s not a giant redwood. It’s much stranger than that! A great sprawling Cashew tree spreading over a huge area.
It is always fascinating to arrive in a new country. I was eager to get a look at it. Natal is a city on a river surrounded by rainforest.
I was suffering from a feeling of despondency. At the beginning of the trip those fifty five days had stretched out before me like an infinite universe. I had not been sure if I would enjoy the motion of the boat, the relentless drone of the engines or being confined to a small ship and the company of an assortment of humanity. I thought I might find the tiny cabin claustrophobic and the endless days boring. But there were the delights of those destinations to look forward to. Well there were lots of things about this trip that I had grown used to and thoroughly enjoyed. I felt as if the cabin was home. The motion of the sea and constant drone was soothing. I had greatly relished having time to read, write and think without the constant distraction of chores or people to contact. In the middle of the ocean you could not communicate with people and if something went wrong at home there was nothing you could do about it. That was a weight lifted. There was a freedom to cruising and being pampered – meals and drinks on demand. I was enjoying it. But we were running out of destinations and soon would be running out of sun.
News back home was of cold, rain and snow.
I sat on the deck with my book, visited the Jacuzzi, wrote a few pages and contemplated our last visit to Brazil – probably the last time we would ever come back.
As we approached Natal the sun was rising, filling the sky with pink, orange and mauve. By the time we were passing under the famous suspension bridge it was already up and the light was bright. The tub brought us in to dock and I peered over the rail. On one side was the sky-scrapers of Natal with its traffic and hordes. On the other was the verdant mangrove swamp. I knew which side I preferred.
We knew what we wanted to do – we were off to see the biggest cashew tree on the planet.
On the way through the city we saw the familiar tall buildings of concrete and glass, the new concrete evangelical churches, and ubiquitous graffiti. Natal looked a bit more prosperous than most places in Brazil. There did not appear to be either shanty towns or favelas – but then perhaps they were in another part that we weren’t driving through.
We headed out of the city on a highway and into green fields and countryside. We stopped briefly to see the Brazilian contribution to the space race. There was a launch site for satellites complete with a very slender missile, which looked little more than one of the ten penny rockets I used to buy as a kid, and a device that looked as if it sent out death rays.
Eventually we reached our tree. It was not quite how I had imagined it but was very impressive none-the-less. The tree was a low sprawling affair – about twenty feet high but covering the area of a football pitch.
We made our way through the myriad of stalls selling everything from snacks, coconut drinks and coffee to cashew nuts and trinkets. There was no time to shop; we had branches to peer at.
There was a path laid out so that you could walk in a circular fashion under the whole tree. Above my head the branches interlaced and dived back to the ground. The tree went on and on, dipping and rising. It was very impressive – like being in the middle of a giant rhododendron bush!
At the end we climbed up on to a platform that enabled us to look out over the whole huge expanse of the tree. It was a great green mass of bright leaves. I bet it produced a pound or two of cashews. There were brown lizards charging around fighting with each other and defending territory. I guess we had come in the mating season!
We sampled a cashew juice drink supposedly high in antioxidants and bought enough cashew nuts to sink the ship. Then we headed for the beach and a welcome cooling coconut or two.
The beach was a long expanse of yellow sand with bright beach umbrellas but of more interest to me was the black volcanic rock that formed reefs at intervals along it.
Back in Natal we went along the beach to the fort that stood at the entrance to the port. There was a shelf of volcanic rock alive with sea birds.
The Atlantic pounded in with crashing rollers that sent spray up into the air. I noticed they had one of those goddesses of the beach here as well.
Perhaps they had them everywhere in Brazil. It was a superstitious country. Those beaches were very beautiful. I wasn’t sure about the way they built their high-rise apartment blocks on the edge of the beaches – but that was Brazil. The temperature was hot – the breeze pleasant – the people friendly. I would have like to have stayed longer and chilled out; to have bathed and soaked it up. I would have liked to have gone inland and checked out the jungle and wild-life. Brazil was a violent place but it was also the place for lovers.
And that was it. Our South American adventure was at an end.
We had three more stops on the way home but they felt to be like fillers. We were leaving Brazil and South America.
Once again the timing was immaculate. There was a party on deck and the samba beat belted out as we glided under that huge suspension bridge. Two little boys were in the middle of that bridge as we passed under and they waved us away. I waved back.
The sun was setting. It was setting on us, on South America and on our voyage.
As we passed I looked back along reef along the beach and the fort where we had walked. I looked back at the bridge as it receded with the sun setting behind it. It seemed appropriate.
I could see that bridge in the orange light for a long, long time.
There were eleven days still to go and three more destinations, that was as much as most people had as a whole vacation, but it felt as if the adventure was already over. we were on the return leg.