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Published: February 25th 2016
Tuesday 16th February, 2016. Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Natal is the capital and largest city of ro Grande do norte State in north-eastern Brazil. It is approximately 873 kilometres (543 miles) northeast of Salvador and 2,068 kilometres (1,285 miles northeast of Rio. It has a population of approximately 803,739.
Natal is a city built on sand. It blows across the city streets and piles up like snow drifts. It lines the city's beaches, landscapes and city parks. Outside of the centre, the sand spreads in mountainous dune ranges that stretch for miles and miles. This was the first thing we saw as we approached the entrance to the Potengi river that is the entrance to the city docks.
Natal is one of the 8 most visited cities in Brazil and is regarded as being significantly safter and calmer than other cities we have visited like Recife or Salvador. It is only 32 km (20 miles) from the northeastern tip of South America, Cape São Roque which was first visited by European navigators in 1501. However, it wasn't for decades after this that a permanent settlement was established in the area.
At the time the area was inhabited by the Portiguar tribe which are a nation of indigenous people in Brazil. They live n the state of Paraíba in the Northeast. The Potiguara population is made up of 12,000 Indians and occupied 26 villages in 3 reservations. The name Portiguara means "shrimp eaters" and they were allies of the Portuguese during the colonial period.
Natal was founded on Christmas day 1599 - hence its name - as Natal means Christmas in Portuguese. The fort, city and surrounding areas were occupied by the Dutch from 1633 to 1654. In the last century Natal benefited from the growth of the salt and petroleum industries. Natal grew rapidly, in a controlled way, so transit flowed smoothly, public services were well distributed and violence levels were low. Tourists began to arrive at the city and today it is one of the major tourist destinations of Brazil.
We arrived around 12.00 pm so we only had a few short hours to see the place. The queues for the shuttle buses were horrendous so we decided to take a tour in a taxi. We couldn't find anyone to share with us
- everyone we asked said they wanted to go into town to get online! We haven't posted for a long time because of the lack of internet access - so be warned a lot of blogs will appear all at once.
Our driver took us first to the Fort of the Dos Reis Magos. He parked in the car park and we had to walk along a causeway to get to the Fort. At the beginning of the causeway we found ourselves very close to the new Newton Navarro Bridge. This is one of the highest bridges in Brazil and connects the beaches from the north of the state to the city. We could see the sand dunes stretching for miles towards the city to our right and also as far as the eye could see to the left. Entrance to the fort was fee. Construction of the stone fort began in 1598 and marks the foundation of Natal. It stands in its original five-point star shape on the reef at the top of the penisula at the north end of town in the mouth of the Potengi River. It is separated from Natal by a sand
bar that is covered at high tides. Once inside we found a central courtyard which contained a small pavillion containing statues of the 3 Kings (Balthazar, Gaspar & Peichior) after which the fort is named. Under the Dutch occupaion the name was changed to "Fort Ceulen" after one of their commanders. The courtyard was surrounded by an old jail (now a cafe which was closed), soldier's quarters, ammunition store and chapel. We climbed up to the walls and took some photos of the cannon and guards huts.
We returned to the taxi and he drove us into the city to Artist's Beach which is one of the popular northern beaches. We took some photos of the beach and procured the mandatory FM from a shop in a small mall next to the taxi. We continued on to a large sundial that marks the boundary of Artist's Beach and Areia Preta Beach. The red flag was flying "Peligro" which means danger. There was still someone in the water though! Next we followed the main road and turned off to Mãe Luiza Lighthouse. The guard wouldn't let us in but we took some photos from outside.
We returned to the highway and continued along the Via Costeira with mountainous sand dunes on our right, past the turnoff for Ponta Negra until we came to The Barreira do Inferno Launch Center (Portuguese: Centro de Lançamento da Barreira do Inferno; literally meaning "Hell's Barrier") which is a rocket launch base of the Brazilian Space Agency. It was created in 1965, and is located in the city of Parnamirim, near Natal. It has been used for 233 launches from 1965 to 2007, reaching up to 1100 kilometers altitude. It provides tracking support for launches from the Alcântara Launch Center and Guiana Space Centre. We looked at the Sonda 1,2 and 3 rockets which were outside the centre. Then we went inside and had a look a the exhibits. D took a photo of a photo of a launch and M pretended to be an astronaut. In one corner there was an exhibition of turtle eggs, burrows and skeletons, together with some rather gruesome jars of "pickled" baby turtles that didn't make it to the sea when they hatched. Outside we looked at the Brazilian fighter jet dating from the 1950's or so and took a snap of M with
Back in the car we turned back along the highway and came off at Ponta Negra. Our driver parked up and we agreed to meet him again in half an hour. We met some others from the ship and were directed to a kiosk where we purchased a beer. We sat on the the Barreira d'Agua beach and took in the atmosphere. This beach is 8 kilometres (4 miles) south of Natal.
We met up with the driver at the assigned time and he drove north back to the city. He took us to the Arena das Dunas which is considered to be one of the most beautiful stadia built for the World Cup when Brazil hosted it in 2014. They are very proud of this structure. The next tour of the inside wasn't for another half an hour which would have been too late for us; however, after we explained we paid the £3.00 each for a private tour. We couldn't walk on the pitch but M got to play substitute in front of the players tunnel.
We returned to the ship and passed the time until dinner.
After dinner we went to the Black and White Oscars party to celebrate leaving South America. We are now heading for the Northern Hemisphere!
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