Thursday, June 19, 2014

My visit to the world's largest cashew tree

Bem Vindo Ao Maior Cajueiro Do Mundo
The sign says it all.  Welcome to the world's largest cashew tree.

Visiting Roadside America type attractions -- in this case "Roadside Americas" -- clearly falls into the category of "these are a few of my favorite things."  When we decided to park ourselves in Natal for this World Cup trip, to see whatever group stage happened to pass through town, I quickly figured out that the other thing I needed to do in Natal, without question or hesitation, was to visit the World's Largest Cashew Tree, o Maior Cajueiro do Mundo!

The tree is about a 20 minute drive south of Ponta Negra, in the beach town of Pirangi do Norte.  The road is amazingly well marked, with frequent signage directing you to "Maior Cajueiro," which translates to "Biggest Cashew Tree," usually with the extra added "do Mundo," "of the World"!  Even if the thing weren't so frickin' huge, you wouldn't be able to miss it.  In fact, o Maior Cajueiro do Mundo may be about the only thing that's well marked on all the roads of Estado do Rio Grande do Norte.  Can't say I'd question those priorities.

I drove the 20 minutes in a state best described as "giddy anticipation."  Then we saw this just up the road:

The most beautiful arch in the world this side of St. Louis. And you can drive under this one. Take that, St. Louie.
Note the cashew nut atop the sign.  This was clearly the right place.  A short while later, we were there, at the entrance to O Maior Cajueiro Do Mundo.

Entrance to O Maior Cajueiro Do Mundo
(Actually, it's the exit. The exit was more photogenic.)
But, first, we had to pass under another arch, this one shaped more like the caju fruit.  For the record, the "caju" in Brazil is a delicious sweet fruit in addition to the nut familiar to us in North America.

Looking good! Have you been working out?
We paid the admission fee of five reaies, a bargain if there ever was one, and soon we gained admission to the tree.

Bird statues at the entrance to the tree because why not?
Yes.  Admission to the tree.  This tree is huge, the size of five futebol fields.  It's not huge in the sense that the California sequoias are huge in girth, or the California redwoods are huge in height.  The tree appears to be a forest.

View of the one single tree from the viewpoint
But it's one tree that is a genetic mutation.  Whenever one of the branches touches the ground, it puts down roots.  It's as if it is a tree of multiple trunks sharing a common lattice of branches.

Yes. This is a picture of one single tree.
So wandering "through" the tree is like wandering through a forest.

Still all one tree
Smoking is prohibited under the canopy of the World's Largest Cashew Tree.

Don't want to leave home without it.
The World's Largest Cashew Tree has free wi-fi!  And caju-shaped trash receptacles. 

Even the trashcans are caju!
Caju-shaped imagery everywhere.

Don't eat the giant decorative plastic cashew fruit
You even get the chance to become a caju yourself:

I would NEVER pose as a giant caju. Oh wait.
Of course, it was all fun and games until someone (i.e., me) got stung by a bee watching the Netherlands v. Australia's Socceroos at the tree.*  Yes, even the World's Largest Cashew Tree had a big-screen TV broadcasting World Cup games.  This country is obsessed.  In a good way.

 *  Julie Andrews is a big fat (OK, skinny) liar.  When the bee stings, it doesn't matter if you think of whiskers on kittens, or warm woolen mittens, or especially those d*mn packages tied up in string.  Bee stings sting.  Thankfully the bee sting on my right upper arm didn't swell up like the insect bites I'm collecting on my left upper arm.

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