The city of Natal, “Christmas” in Portuguese, takes its name very seriously. There are still Christmas lights everywhere in the main street of Ponta Negra as well as a giant Christmas tree that lit up at night. It’s actually a landmark for locals—for me, it’s an easy way to remember where the Hiper Supermercado is.
We got… pretty much nothing.
We jumped on a bus, passed several US-style malls and got off close to the city centre about twenty minutes later. “Let’s follow the signs to the tourist info and the beach,” I suggested. We didn’t have a map, but how hard could it be?
There was no shade and it was hot. The sidewalk wasn’t very stroller friendly and the streets were empty, the doors shut and the business closed.
“I hope we are going somewhere,” Feng muttered.
“There! Let’s check that!”
“No Mark, it’s not a… you know what? Maybe it is a church. Let’s see!”
“He’s gonna be disappointed,” Feng noted.
“He’ll get over it. I can’t push the stroller here anyway, he needs to walk.”
Feng and I both knew it was the tourist information building because we read signs. Mark doesn’t and the old building on top of the hill could have been a church.
Of course it wasn’t, and even Feng and I were disappointed because there was no useful map available. The UNESCO World Heritage site only housed an overpriced and tacky “craft market” for tourists. I guess tour buses stop here. We stopped to check out the view. Barbwires. Favelas. A nice bridge far far away.
Okay, maybe there wasn’t much to see in Natal. Maybe there was a reason why everybody was staying in Ponta Negra instead.
Still, we walked a few blocks but we quickly turned around because we were heading toward a rough neighborhood. Don’t ask me what the clues were—we just knew we weren’t supposed to be here.
Eventually we found our way to one of the city beaches. Nice beach, empty and fairly clean. Then we spotted the bluebottle jellyfishes, the same ones as in Australia. Okay, never mind. We walked to the other beach—that’s the great part of the coast, after a beach there is always another beach, then another one. We could have walked all the way back to Ponta Negra actually, but we didn’t since the area looked really tough.
“We need to get out of here,” I said after a while.
We did. Back to Ponta Negra. Back to the popular beach and the streets were you can walk without feeling like you are about to get into a peligrosa situation.
Natal? Meh. It’s funny, locals tend to think Recife is this super dangerous place but I didn’t get that “must get out of here now’ vibe over there. The streets were busy and chaotic but lively and people were friendly. Deserted Natal scared me more. Oh, I’ve just seen it’s on the list of the 50 most dangerous cities of 2014, by murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants. Ah. I knew it.