Saturday, June 21, 2014

Say good-bye to Natal

Dune buggy and the Ponte Newton Navarro, the signatures of Natal
Natal was the perfect place to watch a few World Cup group stage games.  Sure, it rained a lot in the City of the Sun, but it's the winter and what little rain they get in Natal they get in the winter.  The people were incredibly friendly and absolutely thrilled to host the world.  (Well, hosting Mexico, the USA, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Cameroon, Uruguay and Greece.)

Watching the games was exhausting as each game trip was a seven or eight hour ordeal, fighting traffic to get to the stadium three hours in advance.  Fighting traffic for two or more hours to get home.  Between that and the rain, it did not leave much time for typical tourism, such as a dune buggy ride (which is supposed to be THE thing to do in Natal), or walking the nature trails of the Parque das Dunas (walking to the stadium and back four times was enough of a walking tour), or, and this last option I found out about way too late, a camel ride through the dunes.

These are not the camels you can ride, although, perhaps, the fire extinguisher might come in handy
My flight was scheduled to leave at 5:00PM.  Or so I thought.  This left only enough time for two trips to the airport.  Had I known a trip to the airport would be such an adventure, I'd have gone once.  But the airport was 30 miles away.  Google maps said it was an hour to get there.  It took us two.  Google maps directed us onto some amazingly small, crowded streets in towns outside of Natal.  I got Steve to the airport well in advance of his 11:50AM flight back to the USA via Fortaleza, Rio and Miami.  I headed back to the hotel and got lost in the Alecrim neighborhood.

I got back to the hotel, showered, packed and checked out.  I was on my way at 1:15PM for the one-hour 30-mile trip to Natal airport.
Along the Via Costeira
I took the beach road, the Via Costeira, because it was supposed to be the best way.  I got to the airport at 3:15PM, which is still no problem because my flight to Belém was leaving at 5:00PM, right?  Two problems.  First, Natal's airport is brand new.  It only opened three weeks ago.  There are no signs as to where to return rental cars.  I must parked in the regular parking lot.  Second problem, when I got my luggage out of the rental car, I rechecked my itinerary.  My flight was leaving at 4:00PM.

There was a huge line at the Avis/Budget rental counter.   Mostly Uruguayos, from what I could tell. coming in town early for the Italy/Uruguay game that will conclude the Natal portion of the World Cup.  I waited about one minute, remembered that check-in took about 30 minutes per person, and barged to the front.  The guy trying to pick up a car very politely allowed me to go ahead when I said I was running very late because my flight was leaving in 45 minutes.  He was the only one at the whole counter who spoke English.

I got the car returned in 10 minutes.  Then it was off to ticketing.  Another huge line.  But there was another part of the line with no line.  First class?  Frequent flyers?  I don't care.  I barged to the front.  A couple from Japan also were in panic right behind me, but relaxed when they found out they weren't the only ones with the two-hour 30-mile trek to the airport.

The plane was running a little late, so I had time for a cold beverage (Guaraná Antarctica) and was soon on the flight to Belém via Fortaleza and São Luís.  Yes, it was like taking a Greyhound bus through the sky.  But the layovers were short.

Good-bye Natal.

Natal skyline

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