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My New Challenge, the Long “Madrugada” Bus Ride to Natal

“Madrugada” is one of these Portuguese words I love. It’s the period of time between midnight and sunrise, and it just sounds poetic. Plus, it’s easy to pronounce.

Well, let me tell you that “madrugada” is best appreciated when you’re tucked in bed, dreaming—it’s not that great of a concept when you’re heading bleary-eyed to the bus station after a sleepless night.

Fortaleza is a pretty isolated city. Not as in middle-of-the-Amazonas isolated, but still, the nearest big cities are São Luís, almost 900 kilometres north, and Natal, 530 kilometres south.

I’m going south, so Natal it was. “No need to fly,” I told myself when I was sketching out the trip from the comfort of my bedroom in Ottawa. “I’ll take the bus.”

I even bought my ticket a month ahead because my only option was the 6:30 a.m. bus. Leaving at 9 a.m. wouldn’t make a huge difference and I’d arrive in Natal around 7 p.m., which is pretty late. As for the 8 p.m. arriving at 4:45 a.m., thanks but no thanks.

The nine-hour bus trip remained a somewhat distant event for a few weeks. I mean, we still had the trip to Mexico, then I had to get to Brazil, spend a few days getting rid of my Spanish accent in São Paulo, the flight to Fortaleza, basically plenty of steps and cities I had to worry about first.

But obviously, at one point, I ended up in Fortaleza.

Feng and I both checked—no last-minute cheap flight to Natal.

The long bus ride was suddenly very real, and so was the early departure.

“I have to leave at 5:30 a.m.,” I told Feng. “No point in sleeping. There’s no way I can go to bed by midnight and feel rested enough—I have to eat, pack, work… I’ll sleep on the bus.”

Feng, Mark and I are night owls by nature. Part of it is probably the way I’m wired, but a weird, flexible schedule also comes with freelancing. I handle last-minute assignments, the “I need it by tomorrow morning” kind. Staying up until 5:30 a.m. didn’t feel like a big deal to me.

Except that there’s a big difference between working late before passing out in bed and actually starting an adventure at 5:30 a.m. and trying to be awake enough to function.

Staying up all night is much, much cooler when you’re a teen.

I worked most of the night, may as well be productive. I left the lights on. I had a late-night cup of coffee. I ate dinner in the middle of the night. I avoided the bedroom, I stayed on the couch. Eventually, at 5:00 a.m., I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and grabbed my backpack as if I was facing a new day after a normal good night’s sleep.

It gave me a flashback of the first few months with baby Mark, ten years ago, when I would just drift off to sleep and then suddenly, the most stressful sound in the world meant it was time to pretend I was wide awake to soothe, feed, and change him, no sleep for you, ah, ah.

“On the road again,” I muttered to myself.

The taxi was waiting for me downstairs, a small victory because I was worried it would be hard to find a ride to the station at 5:30 a.m.

It was already hot and the sun was rising, another day starting. I tried to pretend I was ready for it—hint, I wasn’t.

“Are you at the bus station?” my Brazilian friend texted.

“Go to sleep, it’s like 6 a.m.!” I texted back. “Aguardando minha cama.”

“But I’m worried…”

We joked around. He kept me awake during the boarding process.

“The bus driver is apparently discovering how to check tickets no celular” I reported as the driver was struggling with QR codes.

Twenty minutes later, I texted a picture of me finally on the bus.

“Now I can RIP,” he texted. “Let’s see how far you’ll be after my sleep.”

The bus was packed. This is probably the only thing I miss from the last two years of pandemic travel, most of the time I had two seats to myself. Except for that, Brazilian buses are super comfortable, so I fell asleep as we were leaving Fortaleza and only woke up for good when we did the classic middle-of-nowhere lunch break.

Roads are pretty bumpy in the states of Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte, I can tell you that much. It’s a land of sand dunes, heavy clouds, and small towns.

I finally arrived in Natal around 4 p.m.

Another adventure is starting!

Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m.
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m., I'm so passing out in this bus...
Terminal Rodoviário de Fortaleza, 5:30 a.m., I’m so passing out in this bus…
Somewhere between Fortaleza and Natal...
Somewhere between Fortaleza and Natal…
Somewhere between Fortaleza and Natal...
Somewhere between Fortaleza and Natal…
Somewhere between Fortaleza and Natal...
Somewhere between Fortaleza and Natal…
The classic "middle of nowhere" break at noon
The classic “middle of nowhere” break at noon
The classic "middle of nowhere" break at noon
The classic “middle of nowhere” break at noon
The classic "middle of nowhere" break at noon
The classic “middle of nowhere” break at noon
The classic "middle of nowhere" break at noon
The classic “middle of nowhere” break at noon
Fuel for the ride of the ride
Fuel for the ride of the ride
The classic "middle of nowhere" break at noon
The classic “middle of nowhere” break at noon
Amost there...
Amost there…

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