Northeast Brazil, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is by turns peaceful and hectic, dirty and lovely, crowded and wide open. Of course, this can be said about just about any city of course, if you know where to look. There are areas on the beaches where you feel like it is the end of the world and other times on the city streets in traffic where you don’t understand how they can fit one more car, motorcycle or street vendor into a space—until someone comes in and offers to clean your windshield or sell you a steering wheel cover while you are sitting at a stop light.
Dr. Matias Nochetto and I have come to Natal, Brazil to meet with and learn about a group of harvesting divers—more about that in the next blog. Part of understanding what drives these divers to dive as they do, though, involves understanding where they live. So, after 30 hours of travel time, we made it here in time to hit the ground running.
While Natal is a reasonable-sized city, packed with people and shopkeepers continually sweeping the streets in front of their stores to keep the wind-blown dust and dirt out of the inside, the villages are much simpler and quieter. While this is nice and idyllic, there doesn’t seem to be much to do in the villages either—farming and fishing are about it. Farming is limited to subsistence agriculture as the major crops in the country-side seems to be sugar cane.
In the suburbs and villages, it’s not unusual to see men riding horses or donkeys pulling carts. Not that they are everywhere, but it’s not as unusual as you might think. In the last 10 to 15 years, I was told, motorcycles have become cheap and readily available replacing the need for animal help. An unintended consequence of this is that villagers are simply turning their donkeys lose rather than keeping them and feeding them. Of course, the animals thrive on their own, but they are now wandering the streets and becoming road hazards..