The town where we're staying is called Natal, which means Christmas in Portuguese. It's named this because it was founded by the Portuguese on Decemeber 25, 1599, and it is a popular tourist destination for southern Brazilians during their winter (which is, of course, North American summer).
Reason number one is beach cheese. Yep, you read that right. Beach cheese. I don't actually know what they do to this stuff, but whatever it is, it's delicious. It's like little skewers of yumminess. The char-grilled cheese gets warm and kind of crusty on the outside, but somehow it doesn't melt. It reminds me a little of that Greek cheese you can flambe, but it's not quite the same.
Grilled cheese cubes, straight from the grill cart, is a treat!
The char-grilling creates a delicious crust on the cheese.
|Skewered, grilled cheese (left) is an even bigger treat when accompanied by grilled garlic bread!|
|Bite-sized pieces of bala do coco|
|A lady selling bala do coco on the beach|
Reason number four is fresh grilled fish right on the beach. Like, without moving from your lounge chair. It's so delicious. (Can you see a theme here? I guess all I really do on Brazilian beaches is eat.) On beaches here, you can use lounge chairs and umbrellas for free as long as you order food and drinks from the owner, so we pick a spot to plant ourselves on the beach based on the menu. My favorite fish to order is called dorado. I'm told that this translates to mahi-mahi, but it doesn't taste like it to me. It's much steakier. (I'm just making up all kinds of words today.) Anyway, it's a great way to take a break from all that lounging and reading and bala do coco eating.
Reason number five is the availability of relatively cheap one-on-one surf lessons. You can certainly take surf lessons in the US, but a 2-hour private lesson in Hawaii will set you back about $150. Compare that to about $35 for an hour-long one-on-one lesson here, and you've found yourself a bargain. Kinley took a lesson when we were here in 2014, and she took two lessons this year. The instructors don't speak much English, but they're still able to get the basics across. The lesson starts on the sand to help the student learn how to balance, and then it's time to try out your new skills in the water. Kinley was able to catch some waves all three times she took lessons, but doing it on her own after the lesson was a different story. During the lesson, the instructor would paddle her out past the breakers so that she could surf back in. But when you're on your own and paddling for yourself, you expend so much energy getting yourself out beyond the breakers that you don't have any energy left to surf back in. It's a service that's worth every penny. Knox preferred to spend his time boogie boarding both years which was also a cheap way to enjoy the waves.
Pictures from 2014
Pictures from 2016
Reason number six is the lack of body self-consciousness or body shaming. Some Americans may find this plethora of unabashedly-exposed bums and boobs off-putting, but in Brazil, the people I observed on the beach weren't afraid to wear whatever bathing suit they liked. No matter the size or age of the person, the bikini was teeny. Just being around people who were so comfortable in their own skin was liberating enough that I even considered buying a bikini for myself. And let me tell, you, if you're in the market for a new swimsuit, there's no better selection than in Brazil. These people are serious about swimsuit options.
Consider this beauty that I saw in Rio. Where but Brazil would you find an emerald-encrusted swimsuit? But my favorite swimsuit shop in Brazil is much more affordable, if only slightly more practical. It's called Agua de Coco, and I'm obsessed. I didn't buy a bikini, but I did treat myself to a dress and a one-piece swimsuit. Unfortunately, I can't seem to shake my own American self-consciousness about my 45-year-old tummy and thighs long enough to shell out the cash for a Brazilian two-piece.
But that's ok. I'll just keep sitting under an umbrella with a book and a skewer of grilled cheese, enjoying the view while waiting for the next crepe cart to stroll by. And I'm good with that.
Recipe for Bala do Coco (aka Beach Crack)
200 mL coconut milk
200 mL water
1 kilo sugar (Yes, really. 2.2 pounds of sugar.)
Use an aluminum pan, and also prepare a marble slab for later. It should be cold and could be covered with waxed paper. Combine the ingredients in the pot off the stove. Mix thoroughly. Scrape the sides of the pot well. Put it on the heat and don't mix it. It will grow and then reduce in size. When it bubbles, turn down the heat. It will turn yellow. Test it with a spoon. Put a bit in a cup with water, and swirl the cup. It should string. Try to break it like glass. If not, it's not ready. Butter the marble. Pour the mixture onto the marble. It should harden. When it is able to be handled, you need to pull it until it's white. Then you can cut it into pieces. It should soften after you cover it in a container. Good 5 days on the counter, 1 month in the refrigerator, or 1 year in the freezer.