I have to do a double-take when I see the long, knobbly legs, protruding face and distinctive humps moving slowly across the horizon in the distance.
“Phil…is that a camel?”
Moments later another one appears on the scene, this time straddled by two people wearing bright headcloths and sunglasses.
The setting could otherwise be perfectly normal – stretches of rolling sand dunes and blazing heat.
But we are on the northeast coast of Brazil. What are they doing here?
The answer lies in our current home – the city of Natal. Translation: Christmas.
If seeing a camel spitting while looking out to the shimmering sea at Genipabu beach wasn’t strange enough, we later see an imposing Christmas tree formation made up of lights by the main road.
Not to mention the many statues of the Three Wise Men following the star.
I used to think the festive-themed press releases sent out in June were a tad premature – but this takes our love for all things Christmassy to a whole new level.
Natal is the closest point to Europe from Latin America. Its beautiful white Forte dos Reis Magos (Fort of the Three Wise Men) was established on January 6, 1598 – the Christian feast day of Epiphany – by Portuguese forces assigned to protect the area from French traders, who had taken to doing business with the native Indians.
Natal itself was founded on December 25, 1599 and to this day hosts its own loud, colourful, off-season Carnaval every December – known as Carnatal.
It is dubbed the “Sun City” for the 300-odd days of sunshine per year that form part of its humid, tropical climate.
In the tourist-friendly area of Ponta Negra, we walk along the pristene beach and sample music-themed cocktails at Decky bar (the “Steve Wonder” was a favourite).
Later we stroll through the shady roots of what is believed to be the largest cashew tree in the world, planted back in 1888 in Pirangi do Norte.
Research suggests the 8,500-square-metre tree grows about three metres every year. It is 80 times the size of a normal cashew tree, due to genetic anomalies that means it grows sideways instead of upwards.
Phil and I duly return home laden down with a variety of lip-smacking versions of its tasty nut – toasted, sugar and chocolate-coated. Though, sadly, by car and not the Camel Express.