“Good morning, good morning!” said expedition leader Lucho Verdesoto over the loudspeaker on National Geographic Explorer. Was this a dream, being that it was so early in the morning, only 4:30 a.m.? No, it was not a dream. That was the plan: to wake up early in the port city of Fortaleza for an adventure into the high country at Maciço de Baturité, roughly three hours away by coach.

After a quick breakfast, the birders left on the first coach at 5:00 a.m. Most of us departed the ship at 6:15 a.m. Our destination was Parque das Trilhas, which is a nature area with good hiking trails at an elevation of about 2,000 feet. We observed farms and villages as we passed through coastal sand dunes and savannah-like, dry vegetation called Caatinga. Then we began climbing up in elevation. We observed banana plantations and red laterite soils before moving into more lush vegetation to reach our destination. Here, we split up into groups with our local guides for hikes of various lengths. The trail system was extensive, and we all had a marvelous time admiring the abundant birdlife and humid tropical forest.

We met back at the entrance to the park. Our coaches drove us to a nearby restaurant called Sitio São Luís, a former, elaborate residence with distinctive architecture, including large support columns. We had a buffet lunch and enjoyed sitting out on the shaded patio and listening to local accordion music as we ate. Then we boarded the coaches for the drive back to the ship. Once everyone was aboard, the ship set off immediately, and evening cocktails were served, followed by recap and dinner. Night fell under cloudy skies, and we all thought about how wonderful it was to be back on-board National Geographic Explorer, our home away from home.