Fond Memories of Brazil 2009: Natal + Maceió

FIFA World Cup 2014 starts tomorrow! In its honor, today’s post is about our stays in Natal (one of the host cities) and Maceió. Enjoy!

After several incredibly relaxing days in laid-back Jericoacoara, Aaron and I eventually decided it was time to leave paradise and continue our journey down the Brazilian coast. Our destination by default became Natal, the next large coastal city with beautiful beaches. We hopped on an overnight bus ride headed south, and arrived in Natal about 8 hours after departing from Fortaleza.

Our route from Jeri to Natal: map credit Rome2Rio

Our route from Jeri to Natal: map credit Rome2Rio

Fortunately, we were much more impressed with Natal’s city beaches than we were with Fortaleza’s, so rather than make the trek to nearby Praia da Pipa (which is apparently awesome and very similar to Jeri), we decided to stay in the main part of the city. But if you have time to kill in Natal between World Cup matches, I’d definitely recommend a quick Pipa trip!

Our days in Natal were spent eating açai bowls on the beach, watching a local surf competition, and walking around the coastal Ponta Negra neighborhood. All in all, we may not have had any culturally important experiences during our short stay in Natal, but we were certainly happy to be there. Oh, and we treated ourselves to a delicious rodizio shrimp dinner on our last night in town… which also happened to be Yom Kippur. (Sorry, Mom!)

Praia de Ponta Negra: photo credit Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

Praia de Ponta Negra: photo credit Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

Our next stop after Natal was Maceió, home to some of the absolutely most beautiful city beaches that I’ve ever seen. Why did we decide to stop there? Do a quick Google Images search for “Maceió” and the color of its water will speak for itself. We jumped on another overnight bus in Natal and arrived in Maceió about 9 1/2 hours later.

Another overnight bus ride from Natal to Maceió: map credit Rome2Rio

Another overnight bus ride from Natal to Maceió: map credit Rome2Rio

Because our digital camera stopped working while we were in Natal, our days in Maceió were spent between 1) looking for a camera-repair shop, 2) looking for an internet cafe to search for said camera-repair shop address, and 3) making exclamations about the gorgeous turquoise water.

Despite its beautiful municipal beaches, Maceió was, at least in 2009, definitely not set up to be a tourist destination, which really caught Aaron and me off guard. All of the tourist-friendly things that we’d come to expect (plentiful hostels/hotels, internet cafes, various day-tours, etc.) were missing. We hardly saw any other travelers around, let alone any Americans. It was actually pretty mind-boggling to us that a city with such incredible beaches could attract so few foreigners. We thought must have just visited during an off-season, because surely Maceió had to be popular with backpackers heading down the coast of Brazil; we just must have missed them… right? But several weeks later in Rio, when we mentioned our stay in Maceió to a Brazilian who was from there, he was absolutely shocked that we Americans visited his hometown.

Praia de Pajuçara boardwalk, Maceió: photo credit Dario Sanches

Praia de Pajuçara boardwalk, Maceió: photo credit Dario Sanches

Despite the lack of tourism infrastructure, I ‘m still glad that we stopped in Maceió. Especially in retrospect, I think it’s pretty cool that we were able to experience a city that so few Americans choose to visit. It’s also really crazy to think about how dependent we once were on internet cafes back then! What are we, dinosaurs? Alright, alright, enough blabbing from me. I’ll let Aaron’s email take it from here.

Q: Tell us about the drive from Fortaleza to Natal.

A: The drive, if I had to describe it in one hyphenated adjective, is: trash-strewn. Honestly, every plastic bag mankind has ever used, all throughout history, winds up on the side of the road in northern Brazil. With the incredible beaches and the beautiful people and the soccer dominance and whatnot, you can forget how much of Brazil is a poor and dirty place. I know all countries are like that, too a point, but wow … when you see it, you understand.

Q: So … Natal. What did you know about Natal before you went there?

A: Well, one of our guidebooks said it had the second cleanest air in the world, after Antarctica. Which is nice. Also, we knew it was called Brazil´s “Sun City,” since it had the most sunny days in the country, so obviously it would rain off and on for our entire time there.

However, thankfully, whenever it wasn´t raining, it immediately became perfectly sunny, so we were able to spend plenty of time at the beach.

Q: And then … Maceió?

A: I mean, yeah, that´s the quick version. Beaches, great weather, good times, relaxing. Honestly, I feel like I´ve been typing this email for hours, and now I´m about to gloss over roughly five days, which feels like cheating. Maybe I´ll do a second Director´s Cut email later this week or something.

Q: Right, right, yes, for all the people who don´t think these emails are long enough. Why don´t you finish with three strong questions.

1) Over the past seven weeks, you´ve spent maybe three hours more than fifteen feet away from Ilana. That kind of proximity teaches you things about people. What is the weirdest thing you´ve learned about her?

A: Ilana is absolutely mortified by wet money. It´s absolutely beyond my comprehension. When we go to the beach, we try to bring as little as possible, so it doesn´t get stolen, and also just so we don´t have to carry it. So, in these situations, I´ll keep a few small bills in the little pocket of my shorts, just in case we want a Coke or some meat on a stick later. I´ll go swimming, and obviously the money will get wet. Later, I will try to pay for things with this money, and Ilana will act as if I just spit in the face of whoever I´m offering the money to. She once said, “I know money is money, but seriously, it´s like you just wiped your butt with it or something.” That … seems harsh. I´ve had far too many jobs that involved handling money, and at every one I can remember taking wet money, and never being offended by it. Maybe I should have been.

2) Not a question, but confess that you´re turning into your Dad.

A: This is hard to talk about. On our yearly baseball trips, my Dad will get up early, head to the hotel´s free continental breakfast, stuff himself, then wrap a muffin in a napkin for later. This is all the food he will eat for that day. I, on the other hand, will sleep through said breakfast, then wonder why it´s 3:30 in the afternoon and my Dad, who´s driving, hasn´t once even mentioned stopping for food.

Well, in Brazil, almost every hostel offers a free breakfast, a huge buffet of fresh fruit and breads, and sometimes even eggs and meat. And, in Brazil … well, things are expensive. And we´ve been at this for seven weeks now, and we need to save money when we can.

So yes. Sometimes we get up, eat as big a breakfast as we can, and then try not to eat again until dinner. Yes. We do this. You win, Dad.

3) And finally, after two weeks in Brazil, are you doing any better at fitting in?

A: In Natal, there were a lot of great per-kilo restaurants around our hostel, where you just load up your plate with as much food as you want, then put it on the scale when you check out. You can come and go as many times as you please, and they just put in on your tab. As with any tab, they need to put a name on it. We thought it was weird when, one day, they never asked either of us our names. Later, we got the bill, and at the top, in big letters, it just said, “GRINGOS.” Yup, we´re fitting in just fine.

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