Byline: Paul Douglass
SOMEHOW and very suddenly we were thundering across the golden sand at full gallop while the ocean foamed on the rocks and wind roared in our ears. My hoarse cries rent the air in vain - ``Whoa, boy!'' - and then I remembered we were in Brazil. Perhaps my feisty steed would respond to Portuguese.
But I only knew the word ``obrigado'' - meaning thank you - a message I really didn't want to convey, and we were fast running out of beach. Mercifully we slowed to a canter at last, then a sedate trot.
What a baptism, I thought, as we followed sunhammered tracks back to Costa do Sauipe's equestrian centre. And what a resort this is.
Lying in the north-eastern Bahia region, it will become Latin America's biggest tourist complex by 2010, with 50 hotels offering holidays from package deals to luxury breaks.
Here already are Marriott and Renaissance, two sister hotels perfect for keeping fit or chilling out. There's sport for tennis or football freaks and sunbathing for swimming pool devotees. Just minutes away is a tranquil beach fringed with coconut palms.
We stayed at the Marriott Spa and Resort, where the spacious rooms were immaculate and the meals mesmerised. The fish stew at the hotel's Orixas Restaurant and the Japanese cuisine in Spices were mouthwatering. All that food fuelled the desire to explore. Near by is the quaint resort village of Vila Nova da Praia, selling souvenirs, knicknacks, jewellery and clothes.
From there the Costa do Sauipe complex sprawls across forested hills and swathes of white dunes stretch miles inland. Beyond this is a nature reserve supporting an ecosystem rich in cacti, cashew trees and mangrove swamps. And further up the coast near Praia do Forte is the Tamar project, which helps preserve endangered sea turtles. Linking this lush land to Brazil's beaches is the Linha Verde, or Green Road, a state highway stretching south towards the old capital of Salvador, our next destination an hour's drive away.
The Portuguese founded the city in 1549, and the toil of African slaves in its sugar and tobacco plantations helped the port become a wealthy hub of the colonial empire.
Some of Brazil's finest buildings can be seen in the old town, which overlooks the harbour from a clifftop, while grand squares and 365 Catholic churches enhance its crumbling charm.
Salvador has been dubbed the ``Black Rome'', and its most glorious church is Sao Francisco. Com-pleted in 1723, its walls are lined with gold, an irony for a church dedicated to the patron saint of the poor.
In 1763, Rio de Janeiro replaced Salvador as Brazil's capital, and a twohour flight south took us there over dense jungle and looping rivers.
From the air, Rio is vast. This city of nine million sprawls around a tropical rainforest that carpets mountains rising from the ocean.
On the seafront, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches lure the world's sunseekers. The climate is warm and humid all year round and can spiral to 40C (104F) in December, the hottest month.
Like the weather, the people of Rio, known as the ``Cariocas'', are sunny natured - always smiling and frequently tactile. And what better place to sample the sultry vibes than outside our hotel, the Rio de Janeiro Marriott, situated towards the southern end of Copacabana's golden crescent.
Here you can watch the locals play beach football and volleyball - and if that looks like thirsty work, buy acoconut for 30p to drink the juice, then get it hacked open to eat the moist, sweet flesh. …