March 6, 2007
I got into Natal early this morning tired and frustrated that all I had was a terribly-drawn Lonely Planet map of the very center of the city. The bus stations in Brazil are inevitably located outside the downtown area, and although Brazilians try as much as they can to help, they usually have no idea how to deal with a tourist who doesn't speak much of their language. For example, when I ask how to get downtown they'll start talking about landmarks that I've never heard of. I have to explain that while they have lived here all their lives, I've only been here for five minutes. Eventually, they always start asking me the same questions: Where are you from? First time in Brazil? How long are you here for? Are you traveling alone?, etc. I don't normally mind this type of small talk, but when it's 5:30 AM and I barely slept last night and I'm in a strange city carrying a fifty-five-pound backpack with everything I own in it and have no idea where I'm going or where I'm going to stay or what I'm going to do when I get there, I just want some good, simple directions.
After much confusion, I hopped on a bus, still not quite sure where it would take me. I when I saw the ocean thirty minutes later, I figured I'd had enough and got off. I walked around a bit more and discovered that I had landed more or less where I wanted to, found a cheap hotel right next to the ocean, and rewarded myself with a nice, long nap.
Later in the day I discovered that the city's main attraction (besides its beaches) was the old fort. Construction began on the Forte dos Reis Magos on January 6, 1598, the "Day of the Three Wise Men," which is how the fort got its name. It was built on top of the reefs, which meant that construction could only take place at low tide. For this reason, the fortress took thirty years to build. It's main purpose was to keep out invaders, but this failed miserably in 1633 when the Dutch took over. A few decades later the Portuguese took it back for good.
Bus after bus full of tourists passed me as I walked to the fortress, which was a lot further away than it looked due to its large size. The surrounding beach was quite nice, the fortress was sturdy as I expected it to be, and the lady outside even sold me a bottle of water for the normal price after attempting the traditional tourist markup of about 50%. Ah yes, my first day in Natal was a success.