Fortaleza, Brazil – October 2000


Natal


Our BootsnAll visitors

I must start off with a quick hello to Bart, Ester and Jeff, BootsnAll readers who popped down to see us last month. They seemed to enjoy the city and beaches and I suffered from some particularly bad hangovers. I have some more BootnsAll people arriving this month and I am beginning to fear for my liver – but its always nice to meet new people and swop outrageous travel stories.

Without a doubt, and I have been saying this for years, Brazil is now a seriously hot property. Not only do we have a Dutch company running charter flights here – this site is actually in Dutch and if anyone wants any help with this I can translate it – but a few UK companies are beginning to dip into the market as well. Which is good news for anyone who wants to see this strange and enchanting company without blowing a grand on flights. London’s Sunday Times, which is always ahead of the pack, featured two articles on Brazil recently. One on Salvador and its carnival and one on Natal, which is about 8 hours by bus from here. The Times said:


The best beaches in South America are in Natal, in the Rio Grande do Norte state of Brazil – and now is the time to enjoy them in their weather prime. Since there are no direct flights from the UK in winter, it makes little sense to go all the way to Brazil just to undress. (Despite all the fanfares about Airtours’ and Unijet’s first charters from Britain, they do not start until May and will only operate during the summer months, the worst time of year for weather.)

But as an add-on to a classic tour of Brazil, taking in Rio, the Amazon and the Iguassu Falls, the beaches make an ideal wind-down, especially since the opening of a handful of charming hotels such as the 25-room Manary Praia, on Ponta Negra beach, a member of “Roteiros de Charme,” Brazil’s equivalent of Relais & Châteaux. The region also has several rich archeological finds, including the world’s longest dinosaur track (55m and still being excavated) and 12,000-year-old rock paintings.

Sample package: £915pp at Manary Praia (flying via Lisbon then nonstop to Natal), with Last Frontiers (01296 658650).

Well, ahead of the pack as ever, I was there a few weeks ago. The story of my trip can be found at Prohibition Town Blues.

Let’s dissect the Time’s article and see what truth there is in this.

The best beaches in South America are in Natal
Fact or fiction? Well, for my money and after having spent a weekend in Natal recently I would say there is pure journalistic hyperbole. In a recent survey in Terra (a low budget Brazilian travel magazine styled on National Geographic) Natal’s beaches hardly got a look in. There are wonderful beaches all over Brazil, and of course compared to a wet afternoon in Blackpool, Natal is heaven, but it would be a big step to say that Natal has the best beaches in South America.

According to a journalist chum down in Rio the best beaches in Brazil are:

1. Guarda do Embaú (Santa Catarina)
2. Ilha do Cardoso (São Paulo)
3. Saquarema (Rio de Janeiro)
4. Itaúnas (Espírito Santo)
5. Ilha do Lençóis (Maranhão)

Now is the time to enjoy them in prime weather
This really doesn’t make much sense either as the weather is more or less always going to be hot and sunny in Natal. In fact, we are moving into the rainy period now and can expect some heavy downpours each day. Normally, last year was an exception, the showers only last for a short time, or occur at night, and really shouldn’t interfere with your tanning too much. For my money, April is about the best time to come as the weather is not too hot (mid 30s) and the chance of rain is slim.

As there are no direct flights
True, at the moment. But with Q International running excellent deals out of Amsterdam a direct flight isn’t really necessary. Getting to Amsterdam has never been more then a short hop and almost every regional airport in the UK has direct flights. However, not a lot of people outside of Holland know about Q international – yet!

25-room Manary Praia, on Ponta Negra beach
Ponta Negra is a quaint kind of beach which is not yet terribly developed. It has a kind of twee charm, but little else. When I was there a few weeks ago there was a grand total of two restaurants (excellent pizza) and a handful of bars – one bar even tried to charge me for sitting on the beach! I actually liked the place a lot as I was in desperate need of some chill-out time, but I imagine that the lack of night life there would drive tourists mad. And, besides, let’s be honest – who is going to fly all this way to Brazil and then stay in an anonymous tourist hotel? There are a number of cheap beach front pousadas at Ponta Negra which are not only cheaper, but a lot more “authentic” as well.

The region also has several rich archaeological finds, etc
Ding Dong – tourist shake down. These are actually in the next state in a town called Sousa. It is no easy task to get there by bus and would take at least a day or so from Natal – that’s assuming you are ready to brave the local buses and have enough Portuguese to get by. To mention this in the article just seems a bit strange – obviously this tourist company will be running expensive day trips there. I would have been happier to see them mention places such as Pirangi do Sul and the beautiful Pria da Pipa as reasons for visiting Natal. Saying you are going to stumble out of the hotel onto the remains of Jurassic Park is rather misleading.

So, the hundred million dollar question is would I recommend Natal. Well, yes and no (you didn’t really expect me to give a straight answer, did you?). If you are on a whistle stop tour of Brazil then Natal is probably not going to be of much interest to you (you will, of course, have already checked out some of the other beaches in the north east of Brazil) as there is little more there than beaches. It seems to lack the buzz of Fortaleza.

However, if you are in Brazil for a few months or longer, Natal may just be that perfect place for you to go for a few days, unwind and spend half a day whizzing around in a buggy and spend some time laying on Pria da Pipa. For my money there are better places to visit for tourists in Brazil.

Some good sources of information on Natal can be found at:

  • Natal.de (English, Portuguese and German)
  • Rio Grande do Norte (English and Portuguese)
  • A list of pousadas (in Portuguese)
  • Turismo RN (a good tourism page)
  • Spaceships in Natal? The tourist board never mentioned that.

    Blazdell’s Surreal and Bizarre Brazil
    There have been three things this month which have made me wonder if the locals are all a little bit bonkers.

    1. What Time is it?

    A few weeks ago Brazil entered summer time and we all moved our clocks forward. Of course, this being Brazil, some towns and cities were a bit premature and altered their watches a week early – you can imagine the chaos this caused. But we thrive on chaos and all learn to deal with this.

    Then, for no discernible reason, the president (old FHC as he is known here) decided, on a whim, to change the clocks back. This would have been fine if he had bothered to tell anyone and the whole country found itself even more confused and no one ever bothered to turn up for meetings. As I write this I am not sure if it is Monday 9am or Easter Sunday. It’s all still mixed up. Travellers should be aware of the rubber nature of time here and plan their flights accordingly.

    2. Import Tax
    Last month I ordered some gloves for the gym from the USA. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get them here, it was just that I was too lazy to go to the shops. When they arrived they were impounded by customs and I was forced to pay a whopping 60% import tax. Further investigation has shown that anything ordered from outside Brazil (with the exception of books) is subject to this outrageous tax. You have been warned.

    3. Visas
    Last month I went to renew my working visa. The Federal Police had been calling me every day and generally making a nuisance of themselves to remind me that I needed to present the documents a month in advance (this in itself involved some frantic phone calls to Brasilia and some Faust-like bargaining) or face the consequences.

    At the last possible moment, something I have learnt from the Brazilians, I took my papers down to the police. After they had scrutinised them, prodded them and generally abused me, they told me that they would be sent to Brasilia and my new visa issued there. He told me this will take about 6 months!!! So now I am in the country with no current documents and no valid visa.

    Quite what happens when I go off on a new adventure in a month remains to be seen. Perhaps the next issue will be written from a jail cell somewhere on the Paraguayan boarder.

    Blazdell’s Medical Briefing
    Although I hope people don’t get sick when they are here, this month we have found an English speaking pharmacist. Although she learnt her English in Belgium (!!!) it is absolutely perfect and she loves to talk to foreigners. She is a fully qualified pharmacist and full of useful advice. She works at the Pague Menos drug store opposite Fatima Church (Av. 13 Mayo) either in the morning or the afternoon. Her name is Rose.

    Have a good month where ever you are in the world and happy travels.

    Geography

    Located just under the equator, in a clearly tropical position, is the Cearense coast. The greenish-blue water is warm all year around. The average temperature ranges from 25 to 28°Celsius.

    Fortaleza is the capital of the North Eastern Brazilian state of Ceará. It is a large, modern city where bold, new architecture contrasts with beautiful beaches and tall coconut palms.

    Brazil Map

    Ceara State Map

    Weather

    Why ask? It’s going to be hot, between 27 – 33°C, blue skies and heaven is a local call.

    Accommodation

    Accommodation falls into three categories. Hotel, motel and pousada.

    Hotels range from the reasonably priced such as the Hotel Passeio (tel/fax 085 252 2104) which has doubles for about R$30 a night, to the mid priced Olympio Praia Hotel (about US$100 a night) which includes a massive breakfast (tel 085 244 9122) to the massive Ibis Hotel (silly price).

    Motels are a Brazilian institution and most rent by the hour. Mostly, or so I am told, they are clean and reasonably priced. If you are considering staying in one it might be a good move to check the room before handing over any cash.

    Most people stay in a pousada. These small, often family fun hotels generally offer excellent value for money, clean rooms and friendly service. There are about 65 officially registered pousadas in central Fortaleza. Unless you are arriving in the height of summer, finding a nice room shouldn’t be a problem.

    Health

    Generally Fortaleza is a healthy place – the odd hangover permitting. However, there is some concern about a recent outbreak of dengue fever. As always, plan ahead and ask your local doctor before travelling. Malaria is not an issue in this area. Up to the minute updates can be found at:

    www.cdc.gov

    And more specifically on dengue.

    Travel

    Fortaleza is three hours flight, or two days by bus from São Paulo the main gateway to Brazil. The flights are not cheap, but sometimes Varig has special deals.

    The best way to travel around Brazil is with an air pass, which must be bought outside the country.

    The Author
    The author, who by his very own low standards is a hell of a guy, spends as much of his time as possible travelling. When not waiting for a bus in some remote part of South America he can be found guiding tourists around town, or muttering something about having to be in Poland next week. If he were a country in South America he would be Suriname.

  • Traveler Article


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