Sometimes, things look better after a good night’s sleep, when the sun is up and you feel rested.
Except that I didn’t sleep well and the dozens of dead bugs on the tiled floor were a visual reminder to get dressed, freshen up and hurry to check into the new hotel down the street.
I fumbled around to open the front door and stepped out. Did Aracaju look better in the daytime? The streets had felt like a maze the night before—you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…
Phew, I could see the waterfront a few blocks down, easy to orient myself.
I could also see mountains of garbage on sidewalks, vacant farm land (unleashed dogs and starving horses optional) between fancier towers, an intriguing “Pousada de luxo Num Sei Sex Shop” (“first condom free!” the sign said), and room-by-the-hour hotels.
Rural Brazil meets Pigalle and hopes for tourists.
The hotel did have a room ready for me and I could check in early. Nothing fancy but “economy single bed room #348” at $30/night had an old-fashioned air-con unit and seemed bug free. It would do for a couple of days.
I walked back to the Airbnb from hell to grab my backpack. I vaguely considered taking pictures of the place, but it felt like “CSI Aracaju,” and frankly, it was a bit too early to zoom on dead bugs. What was I going to do, anyway? Complain, ask to see the manager? I just wanted to move on, not have an argument in Portuguese with the host(s).
The family was eating lunch in the kitchen. I retrieved the yogurt I bought the night before from the fridge and just left, leaving the keys in the room. They didn’t try to contact me through Airbnb when I officially cancelled.
What was I going to do in Aracaju for two days?
Even before I came, I suspected it wouldn’t be my kind of place. The look on the face of my lovely Maceió host when I told her my next stop was Aracaju said it all, added to the challenge to find “normal” accommodation, what I had seen so far of the city, and the night in the Airbnb from hell.
I’m quite okay with ending up in places I don’t love. It’s part of the experience.
I grabbed coffee from a deli, took a sip and decided to give Aracaju a chance.
I’d just go with the flow, I told myself.
But on second thought, I go with the flow better if I have a map. I stopped by the tourist info centre and asked for one.
“A map? What for?”
“To… ahem, know where I am.”
“Well, this is Aracaju.”
Phew. For a second there, I thought I was in Easter Island!
Never mind, no map, then.
At this point, I probably have to tell you that Aracaju isn’t a tiny dot on the map in the middle of the Amazonia but the capital city of the state of Sergipe with a population of 500,000. It’s halfway between Maceió and Salvador and it’s actually a fairly popular tourist destination in Brazil—you’ll find Radisson, Ibis, Mercure and all the big-name hotels close to the Praia de Atalaia.
I was actually standing on Av. Santos Dumont, the main avenue along the beach, but I… couldn’t see the ocean.
I couldn’t take another disappointment—”aracaju, the only city with a beach but no ocean!”—so I decided to explore the city centre instead and jumped on the next bus that said “Centro.”
Half an hour later, I was in the municipal market. On Saturday, at 2 p.m., the streets were already almost empty and all stores were closing—this is normal in Brazil, not an Aracaju moment. I wandered around the fruits and veggie stalls, then I went to see the cathedral but it was closed.
Better not linger when the streets are empty. I decided to walk back to Atalia following the river, which featured giant sculptures dedicated to the people of Sergipe.
Aracaju loves corny sculptures—the most popular one is a giant crab at the Praia de Atalaia.
At one point, I noticed police cars blocking traffic. Then I saw a few people wearing Carnival t-shirts and next thing you know, I was in the middle of a bloco.
That’s Brazil for you, there’s always a party somewhere. Good thing I walked instead of taking the bus as well because otherwise, I would have been stuck forever.
I soaked up the pre-Carnival atmosphere and found my way back to my neighbourhood, across the bridge.
I stopped by the RioMar mall to buy food—the hotel employees had told me it wouldn’t be a problem for me to use the microwave to warm it up anytime.
I spent the night on the waterfront which turned into a “discover the great state of Sergipe!” marketing campaign once tourists were back from the beach (or done using the free condom at the Sex Shop hotel). There were many night markets featuring Sergipe food, art and craft, live bands everywhere and people dancing. I’m still not sure what Sergipe is famous for and I skipped buying an “Eu amo Aracaju” t-shirt because I doubted I’d wear it, even ironically, but at least the neighbourhood was lively.
Late at night, after completing a few assignments—to the sound of the great Sergipe music outside—I asked if I could warm up my dinner in the microwave. I sure could, but we discovered the microwave wasn’t actually working. “Oh well, let’s do it the old-fashioned way,” the night-shift employee suggested. This is how I ended up in the hotel kitchen stirring my fish and veggies over the stove while the employee was slicing food for breakfast.
Acaraju, the place where nothing goes as planned…