I could hear waves crashing onto the shore outside when I awoke Tuesday morning.  I sank deeper under the covers and wondered if my first day off in Natal, Brazil might be better spent relaxing in the five-star Serhs Natal Grand Hotel complete with pool bar and beach access instead of going on the dune buggy tour Jarred and I had signed up for the day before. 


Oddly enough, it was Jarred, who only had one day off that week, who convinced me to get up and get moving.  Our time in Brazil thus far had mostly been spent inside a venue, especially for Jarred after long load ins and load outs with the crew.  And although we’d thoroughly enjoyed the little time, off we agreed we hadn’t seen much of the country yet.  So, despite our sleepiness, we were truly looking forward to seeing the dunes and beaches of Natal that day.

We were the first people to arrive in the hotel lobby (our meeting point for the beginning of the tour) and immediately began to check out the dune buggies.  The vehicles were all brightly colored with low bucket seats in the front and a higher cushion in the back complete with an “oh shit!” handle for the backseat riders to hold onto as the buggy zoomed and skidded across the sand.


It took a while for our large group of 15 to split into groups and fill the buggies, but soon we were on the road.  In our ruby red buggy, or “boogy” as the locals pronounce it (which always reminds me of the booger flavored Bertie Botts Every Flavor Jelly Bean from Harry Potter), was Jarred, myself and Jillian, all driven by Marcillio, our jolly, giant driver. 


As we pulled away from the hotel, he told us Paulo, one of our promoters who had organized the buggy tour, had told all the drivers to be careful with us and to only drive the buggy to the different beaches scheduled on the tour without using fast maneuvers.  We quickly told him that we in fact wanted the full dune buggy experience. 

“Good,” Marcillio replied with a smile.  “Today we will drive com emocao, with emotion.”


As we drove to the first beach along the paved road, the four buggies weaved in and around each other playing like they owned the road as we squealed in delight feeling the ocean breeze on our faces.  Marcillio turned to us as he drove and said in true sincerity, “I want to thank you all because without your country I would not be who I am today.  It was because of the money I earned while working in America that I was able to buy my home here in Brazil.”


Marcilio’s older brother (a big guy he called Shreck the whole day) had gone to the U.S. first.  He told Marcillio when he decided to come to the States, to leave his Speedo behind. 

“’They don’t wear those here,’ he told me.  But we like the Speedo in Brazil,” Marcillio said with a smile. 

Our first stop was a section of beach Marcillio told us was nicknamed the American beach because of the American base that had been there during World War II.  Marcillio proudly informed us that President Roosevelt had even visited Natal and the American base during the war.  We stayed for a while to take photos and use the ATM, and then it was back in the buggy and back on the road. 


Next we sopped at a beach sequestered and calmed by a tall rocky reef that created a pool area for swimming.  We relaxed in the water and ate lobster tail on a stick for 6 Real (about $3.50 USD).  Coconut water and casacha served in coconuts was the drink of choice at this beach. 

After a while we piled back into the buggies and this time the drivers veered from the paved road onto the dunes.  We fishtailed and slid across the blowing sand with ease in the little buggies.  Marcillio told us the engines were actually Volkswagon bugs that had fiberglass bodies to make them lightweight so they wouldn’t sink into the sand.       


Our next stop was at a fresh water lake with plastic tables and chairs set up on the water.  We ordered snacks and drinks and lounged in the water as tiny guppies nibbled at our legs.  One feature of the lake was a tall zip line tower, but Marcillio assured us we’d be going to a much taller zip line sight later in the day, and we took his advice and waited for the real thrill.


When we looked down from the top of the steep dune where the other zip line was located, we were glad we hadn’t wasted money on the other place.  This spot also had a not-so-state-of-the-art water slide which was basically a long tarp laid against the dune.  The man working the slide stood next to a large basin with canvas diapers soaking in water.  When it was my turn, I donned one of the diapers and sat down on the tarp as the man threw a few buckets of water down the slide to decrease the traction.  Before I even had time to catch my breath, he pushed my shoulders, and I was off.  The slope of the slide was so steep that I skidded for a few seconds when I hit the water before sinking into the lake.  As I swam to the shore, I heard the cheers and laughter of my friends at the top of the dune.  It wasn’t exactly legit, but it was definitely the most thrilling water slide I’ve tried. 


Click here to watch a video of Jarred on the zip line 
Click here to watch a video of me on the water slide 

On our way to the next beach, we came to a watery impasse, a shallow river of water glazing across the sand.  To our surprise, we saw flat riverboats shuttling vehicles across the water as we approached, and after waiting our turn in a line of buggies, we were soon aboard one ourselves.  A man with sun darkened skin pushed the flat boat across the water using a long stick of bamboo.  He and Marcillio chatted like old friends as we slowly crossed to the other side. 


The road surrounding the river was laden with puddles and pools of water through which the buggie easily sloshed.  Marcillio turned to us and raised his eyebrows with a mischievous gleam in his eye and before we knew it our buggie had gained speed and passed Shreck’s buggie fast enough to splash everyone in it with the cool water of a nearby puddle.  Everyone shrieked in delight as Shreck pointed a finger at Marcillio guaranteeing revenge. 


The rest of the day was spent in the same way, climbing up incredibly steep sand dunes with speed and sliding down even faster, followed by pit stops at beautiful beaches and lakes for refreshments and relaxation.  It was definitely one of the most adventurous and enjoyable days I’ve had on tour, and I think it was mainly due to the graciousness and happiness of our drivers.  On the way back to the hotel, Marcillio even stopped, and drove backwards about 50 feet to pick up my hat that had flown off into the wind. 


The driver’s had such a wonderful sense of humor and adventure.  And, of course, Shreck eventually got his revenge by splashing our buggie with not just water, but muddy water.  By the time we’d made it back to the hotel, we were a bit of a mess, but no shower could wipe off the smiles on our faces after such an awesome day in Natal, Brazil.