I considered staying more time in Morro Branco, bouncing around the dunes in a buggy did sound fun, but I just went with the option of a lazy morning. I had a lazy morning, going for a dip in the ocean, another dip in the pool, and catching up with some work. Leaving just after lunchtime meant riding in the heat of the day, but a few short breaks and water bottles filled with icy drinks meant it wasn’t too bad.
I figured I’d get to Aracati, meaning riding about 75km, and stop there. I stopped just before the town at a police checkpoint to consider my options and when I asked to fill my water bottle, I was shown to the kitchen where I could fill my water bottle, and help myself to a plate of rice, beans, meat and lasagna and told that it should keep me going for a while. It was then a bit difficult to ask if I could sleep there, so I kept on, not before they gave me a couple of bags of bread for the road.
The sun had set, and I made it about another 15km to a “Posto de Fiscalização” which is some kind of checkpoint that are generally by state borders. It’s where I had been given a free lunch leaving Maranhão and it seemed a good place to ask about sleeping. I was immediately pointed to a couple of trees and slung my hammock up. I was offered a coffee, but turned it down and within 15 minutes I was sleeping.
Even though I’d ridden in the dark for a while the night before, I was still up and on the road before the sun came up around 5:15am The joys of being near the equator and having long nights. 30km later I was a bit peckish and wanted something to go with the bread I’d been given the night before by the police. There was a small community at the border of Ceará and my next state of Rio Grande do Norte, and I stopped at the last shop. I bought some goiabada – guava jam – and got talking to the owner of the shop who gave me some more bread to go with it. He liked to travel, but had been in a motorbike accident 7 months earlier and was still on crutches. Apparently it might take another year ‘se Deus quiser’ until he would be ready to ride again. I don’t know if that’s because of how serious it was, or an indictment of Brazilian health care. Brazilians mention God frequently when speaking, with the standard reply to me saying that I’ve not had any problems being “Graças a Deus/Thanks to God” and the hope that it continues being “se Deus quiser/If God wishes aka God willing”.
After the border and riding past plenty of oil derricks I got to the town of Mossoró where I found my new favourite place, a Restaurante Popular. They are government run restaurants where a plate of rather bland food costs 1 real (40 cents). When I’d been riding from Macapá to São Luis I’d said how expensive the food was to someone, and they’d mentioned that in São Luis I’d be able to eat for 1 real per plate, but I thought they’d been joking. Inside there’s a long line, that leads to a cashier to buy a ticket, then a sink with signage to wash your hands, a person to take the ticket you were just given, a person to watch you pick up your plate, and then 3 people to fill it up with the rice, beans, salad (lettuce and tomato), farofa, and either chicken or lasagna. You then get a cup of juice and a piece of goiabada for dessert. I got two plates, and chomped away. It wasn’t up to the standard of food I’d been eating, with a definite lack of taste, but it’s much cheaper than the alternatives and is greatly appreciated by the locals – shown by just how jammed it was.
A bit out of town I found a bus stop to take a nap, letting the mountain of food digest, and then about another 30km later stopped at a petrol station. I asked at the adjoined cafe if I could fill up my water bottle, and was pointed to a water fountain. While filling up there one of the fellow customers, a trucker, bought a 1.5L bottle of water and gave it to me telling me it was better. Then I was given a piece of cake, a coffee and even 10 reals to buy dinner that night. It’s things like this, that happen frequently that make me dismiss the constant negativity I hear. I’d also been considering asking for a ride – but it’s a bit hard to ask for a ride when you’ve just been given things for cycling!
The next town came, but the wind, that had been an ever present for the last couple of months, was waning so I decided to keep going. I’d been on the road since just after 5am, and by the time it got dark at close to 7pm I’d been on the bike for about 10 hours and ridden 160km. I saw several decent places to stop, but other than the odd truck refusing to brake/trying to kill me and incoming traffic with headlights on full blast, it was lovely riding. The surface of the road and the shoulder was perfect without even a bump in sight so I had no problem going up and down the constant climb almost blind. I could spend the time without traffic looking up at the stars, enjoying the lack of wind and almost perfect temperature.
After 174km, I saw a restaurant with a bar next door. They still had the lights on and so I stopped. I could have kept pushing on to the next town, but it seemed a good time. The bar was closed, and the restaurant barely had any customers, but the owner of the bar was doing some washing up outside. I was immediately told that of course I could put my hammock up, and after an 8-year-old boy came out to talk to me for about half an hour I went to sleep. I’d wanted to do so before that, but the kid had such a look of wonder and amazement on his face that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
When I stirred at 5am, the first thing I noticed was that the wind had come back. What had been a still night, was gone and the all too familiar headwind was back. It, and a heat that got ridiculous by 8am, would accompany me for the whole ride. I was close enough to Natal that if the wind had stayed like the day before another long day would have got me there. Thankfully as well as the wind and sun, I had Pico do Cabuji , a volcano, to keep me interested in something other than the white line between the shoulder and road.
I stopped for lunch in Lajes and was disheartened to find that there wasn’t another restaurante popular, meaning I had to pay 10 reals ($4) for the meat with buffet side dishes on offer. The side dishes on offer were rice, rice with a bit of flavour, farofa, spaghetti, beans, mantioca and cous-cous. To make sure I got the best value I ate 5 plates worth.
With my stomach full to bursting I was back on the road and making slow work going into the headwind up the hills. I had ridden about 90km, when I was waved down by a man called Raimondo standing on the side of the road. People have warned me not to stop, but he seemed nice enough. To be honest, the speed I was going if he wanted to pull me off my bike he could do that with me in full motion anyway the speed I was going into the wind. I asked him if everything was OK and it turned out he just wanted to talk. When he heard I was going to Natal he pointed at his truck, full with bagged limes and crates of bananas, and suggested putting my bike there. With my porque no/why not approach to travel I accepted and within a few minutes I was in the truck.
Raimondo and his business partner were friendly, but taciturn. I asked a few questions, but was met with short answers. They were on their way to Natal, as they do every Tuesday, to sell the bananas and limes that they grow in Ceará. I got in touch with my host, Jac, and confirmed that it would be OK to arrive a day early, and so got a ride the 90km to Natal saving me a day of riding into the endless headwind.
On the way into town we stopped to drop off 20 crates of bananas. The road into town frequently had no shoulder, and would have been horrible to ride on, especially as it was already dark. We stopped about 5km from my destination where, not content with giving me a lift into town, they took me out for dinner. After that they drove over to the market where they would drop the limes off and we said our goodbyes.
I got to the house of Moab, the boyfriend of Jac, where I would stay in Natal and was immediately made to feel welcome. Moab was waiting outside for me, and after cleaning up we went out to meet Jac and have some more food – delicious skewered beef, bacon and cheese. Jac and Moab had done a bike trip in Europe and we exchanged travel stories.