Shopping at “Artist’s Beach” in Natal

<div class=\"postavatar\">Shopping at "Artist's Beach" in Natal</div>

Continuing with what’s great about Natal… In this video I interviewed a shopkeeper at the Praia dos Artistas (artists beach). While Brazil is changing rapidly with millions of people moving up to middle class each year, in places like Natal you can still find quality souvenirs hand made by the local people.

Culturally the Brazilians seem to have an artistic, fashionable mindset. From their bikinis and shoes to unusual architecture in cities like Rio, Brazilians have a built-in sense of what looks good. Even wearing simple jeans and a t-shirt they somehow manage to look very stylish. Maybe it’s something in the personality that shows through. You can see some of it in the smiles of the shopkeeper. I hope the growing prosperity doesn’t dampen any of the natural enjoyment of life that seems to flow from them. Even in the “favelas” (Topic of an upcoming post) you find many people have a smile and hope for their future.

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Natal, Brazil – Casa de Taipa Restaurant

<div class=\"postavatar\">Natal, Brazil - Casa de Taipa Restaurant</div>

The city of Natal has long been popular with Brazilians as a great tourist destination, and in recent years, Italians, Spanish and Danes have discovered it’s charms, buying up homes and land on and near the beautiful beaches.

Natal is likely to see even greater growth since it has been named one of the cities to host the 2014 World Cup soccer events. If you’re thinking about visiting Brazil you won’t want to miss this 500 year old city named “Christmas”! (so named for the day it was discovered)

To start off my series about Natal, I’m featuring a great restaurant on a street known for it’s party atmosphere and good eating. The “Casa de Taipa” is as laid back and rustic as it gets. The floors are sand, and the walls are sticks, mud and straw decorated with local folk art. It’s the perfect place after a grueling day on the beach.

I tried it myself and the food was delicious, so the next day I met with the owner and did a short interview to share with you. She doesn’t speak English, but I can tell you that like most people in Natal she was … simpatico. Hmm, we really need a word like simpatico, our translation of “like able” just doesn’t do enough. Anyway she took time out of her busy preparations for the evening rush to show me around and explain more about the food.

The food is served in a few minutes after ordering, but the basic ingredient, tapioca (actually cassava root) goes through a preparation that can take several days. Fried and filled with your choice of various meats, seafood, vegetables or even fruit, you’re sure to find something to excite you.

Any taxi will know the way, or if you’re driving the hotel front desk will know how to get to this very popular street.

Casa de Taipa
Rua Doutor Manoel Augusto Bezerra de Araújo, 130-A
Bairro: Alto de Ponta Negra

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Brazilian Pantanal and Amazon River

The photos and videos of Rio de Janeiro, hang-gliding and famous views I posted around the net are really great, and they’ve been done by so many others. Like my header photo above, Guanabara Bay and the Sugar-Loaf mountain are beautiful but there are probably millions of shots just like this. A few other places around Brazil are not as well known or photographed. Here’s a photo I took in the Pantanal region of Brazil.

Caiman on the Paraguay River in Brazil

Caiman on the Paraguay River in Brazil

Approximately 10 million individual Yacare Caiman exist within the Brazilian Pantanal, representing what is quite possibly the largest single crocodilian population on Earth.

I’m holding one of their little brothers in the photo below on the Amazon River at night. They’re easy to find at night. You just shine a flashlight in almost any direction and their eyes reflect like beacons, even from hundreds of yards away. The other part is not as easy. That’s when you paddle the canoe up to them and jump out to grab one. I stayed in the canoe. Sorry but pitch black in the middle of the amazon, I watched how it was done and that was good enough for me. He turned out to be a little guy but we still brought him back to the boat for pictures. A little while later we put him back where he came from.

Caiman on the Amazon River at night

Caiman on the Amazon River at night

By the way, they’re incredibly strong. As small as he was you had to hold on tight with two hands to keep him from getting away.

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São Paulo, Rio, Bahia and Natal

Why these cities? Well I’ve lived in each one and each represents a different culture. The Paulistas (People of São Paulo) are like the go-getter workaholics. They make fun of the Cariocas (people of Rio) who go to the beach every chance they get. Then a thousand miles to the north you have Bahia, Salvador actually. Bahia is a state, but if you say Bahia, most people assume you mean the city of Salvador in Bahia. Even further north you find the city of Natal. Except for São Paulo (Santos) theses cities have world renowned beaches.

In future posts I’ll pass along some of the fun things to do in each of these cities and some idea of the differences in attitude, food (It’s all good!), and lifestyle. I’ve also visited many of the other areas; Foz do Iguaçu , Manaus (Amazon river), Recife, and the Pantanal.

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There’s so much to see and do, you can only see a small piece in a 2 or 3 week trip. It’s the 5th largest county in the world and is blessed with many scenic as well as man made wonders.

The Balata Tree

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Brazil, it’s not just the Amazon

When Margaret Thatcher (former prime minister of the UK) first visited Sao Paulo, she supposedly commented “Why didn’t anyone tell me this was here?” This is a fairly common reaction to people flying in and seeing a forest not of trees, but skyscrapers in this city of 12 million people. We hear so little about this vast country, the tendency is to think of Brazil as just another one of those South American countries, Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, etc. However Brazil is larger than the 48 contiguous states, the USA surpassing Brazil in size only when Alaska became a state.

Beyond it’s physical size, Brazil is also a modern industrial and farming nation, the world’s eighth largest economy, and the world’s third largest aircraft producer. Yet most people know Brazil for it’s coffee, soccer and the Amazon Rain forest, recognized as having the greatest biological diversity in the world.

Why all the hype about industry? People hear about the loss of the rain-forest without understanding the forces behind the problem. Think about this; we have less than 5% of the original forests that stood in the US when Europeans arrived. Without new thinking and appreciation of the causes, the same thing can happen to the Amazon.

Some have refereed to this largest of the worlds rain forests as the “Lungs of the World” and now there is great concern over the de-forestation that’s taking place  The reasons are diverse but one of them is that people everywhere look not only to survive, but to improve their lives and the lives of their children. If that means chopping down or burning a tree it could be “Oh well, that’s progress!” In and around the Amazon one method that can help preserve the forest is to provide a lifestyle that contributes to people and their families and maintains the forest at the same time.

The Balata Tree is an example of sustainability. You can chop the tree down and make furniture, leaving behind a devastated ecology or we can work with what nature has given us and maintain the forest. Harvesting the sap from the tree as the natives have done for 100’s of years doesn’t harm it. People and nature living in harmony – life under The Balata Tree.

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Be sure to stop back as we update you on life in this fascinating and exciting part of the world.

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