Bright lights wake me abruptly and I drag my sleepy body off the coach and into the darkness.
It is soft beneath my feet and awash with stars above.
Fellow passengers are clambering on to a multi-coloured doorless truck. This strange magical mystery sand dune bus is the only way we can get to the fabled isolated village we have been told about.
I launch my hefty rucksack towards the man on the roof and take a seat at the front. I am still in a dreamy state as the engine grinds into action and we enter the national park of Jericoacoara.
Situated on a peninsula in north-east Brazil, ‘Jeri’, as the locals affectionately refer to the small coastal settlement that shares the park’s name, was ‘discovered’ by hippies in the 1970s.
It has since become a hotspot for wind and kite surfers – strong gusts making it the perfect site for such adrenaline sports.
When our magical mystery bus arrives after a two-hour journey through the dunes, past startled cows and donkeys, we are pounced on by a plethora of touts, each desperate to persuade us to stay at the pousada they recommend.
In the darkness I plump for the tout who shouts the least, a softly spoken Argentinian woman. As we walk away, another insists that we have made a ‘huge mistake’ but that he will be back to help us in the morning. How thoughtful.
It is not the nicest of welcomes to this supposedly back-of-beyond spot, but morning brings a sweep of blue sky and bright sunshine. There is no tarmac here, the streets are covered with sand and no vehicles are allowed. It gives the town a sleepy, hippie-like quality.
We meet up with a couple of Chilean guys – Diego and Esteban – who are travelling around South and Central America and embark on a jaunt along the beach and over the sand dunes to a picturesque inland lagoon, where hammocks lie partially submerged in the fresh water. The legs of tables and chairs also disappear into the depths below.
This is a popular spot for Brazilians wanting to escape the hectic pace of city life in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro and we chat to several, including the second ginger Brazilian that I have met on the trip.
Journeying back to Jeri, the jeep gets stuck in the sand just as the rain starts to pound down. Rainy season in Brazil isn’t like England drizzle. When it rains here, it really throws it down.
Three times we have to dig the massive 4×4 out before giving it an almighty push. Finally, on the third attempt we clear the super soft terrain and are back on track.
The following day we swap the big jeep for a little buggy, and our Chilean friends for a Brazilian PE teacher and a hairdresser, and head in the other direction (left) along the vast stretch of beach.
A narrow river offers up the chance to see baby seahorses swimming in the mangroves.
As we gently glide along, I tell our Brazilian puntsman that he’s good enough to make it as a gondolier in Venice.
He pulls a couple of seahorses out of the water and their distinctive telescopic noses and long tails dance around in a bowl. We snap away before they are returned to the mangroves.
We reach another river and our little buggy squeezes onto a raft, where I take a shift at shoving the long pole into the murky water to push us across.
Our vehicle is the perfect size and set-up for riding over sand dunes and through pools of water, but these mounds should not be underestimated. Even in a super shock-absorbing, low-geared mini motor, climbing these hills is a challenge and they stop us in our tracks on several occasions.
We make it to the top of a huge sand dune where a group of youngsters are ‘surfing’ down the slopes on makeshift bits of wood. Gnarly.
I am invited to have a go and so flip my cap back, swagger over and declare that I’ve done a bit of snowboarding, before descending three metres and plummeting into the sand.
Cue much laughter and shouts of “snowboarding’s easy.”
“I said I’d done it, I didn’t say I was good at it,” I reply pathetically.
In the evening, we join the crowds settling atop the big sand dune at the left end of Jericoacoara for the daily tradition of watching the sun set.
Due to its location, this is one of the few places in Brazil where you can see the light fade over the sea.
Even the local dogs come out to see this spectacle, which is renowned across the country. It is a breathtaking scene and, as the last shades of orange clouds turn to black, capoeira dancing starts up on the sand and the party begins.