Posts Tagged ‘Natal’



July 26, 2014

Well we’re finally back from our 35 day trip to Brazil to attend the World Cup so I thought I’d share some random thoughts on our visit.

The most common question I’ve received since I practically first set foot on Brazilian soil has been “How do you like Brazil?”. More on that one later.

I’ve been told by many people I’ve met over time that Brazilian people are some of the friendliest and nicest people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. For the most part I can attest to this. Just about everybody we met was very friendly and helpful. However, the dark side is most people don’t really realize how innately capitalistic Brazilians are. Sometimes the overly helpfulness is because they have their left hand in your pocket. I’m not saying this to be mean, just candid. This happens everywhere in the world and it certainly happens in Brazil. Just letting you know sometimes that smile is there because you’re being sized up on whether you’ll pay $50 or $100.

My goodness there are a lot of beautiful Brazilian people. You can’t stand on a sidewalk swinging a dead cat over your head and not hit 12 beautiful people with one swing. These are the people you see on your television back home. However, there are tons of people here in Brazil that are not quite as beautiful. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I’m the ugly fat Gringo here myself so I have nothing to say. But there are an awful lot of people like me down here. Stated otherwise, normal people.

On the heels of the above paragraph Brazil has some of the most stunning and beautiful landscapes you’ll see before you exit this spinning ball of ice called Earth. We saw mountain after river after ocean after waterfall after you name it. The Brazilians are truly blessed with some natural beauty you don’t see just every day. However, Brazil has a serious poverty issue as well. You can see equally ugly vistas around any corner. People living in a lean to, sleeping on a cot under a business door jam to avoid the rain, walking through two feet of water in their homes while you pass by on a brand new multi-million dollar subway line right above. This country has a lot of poor and a lot of squalor and without getting too political about this I think the government needs to step in and do something because sometimes only something as big as the government can fix something that is that badly broken. Enough said.

We were here for the World Cup and make no mistakes: soccer is religion here. Not only is it religion here it is religion for just about every country that played here during this tournament. These people take this very seriously. They will cry uncontrollably at a loss while the next guy in line will beat your ass because you’re wearing the jersey of the team that just beat his. So it is all fun, well and good but make no mistakes. This is a serious affair when you attend the World Cup and the deeper teams go into the tournament the more serious it gets.

If you really like pepper on your food then you had better bring some with you in your suitcase. Carry it around in your pocket every time you think you might be eating a meal. These people have a serious aversion to pepper. Something to do with trading with another country in their history and only receiving pepper in return. In any case, you’ll have a really hard time finding it on any table in Brazil and if you ask for it you’re going to get a small jar of pepper sauce similar to Louisiana or Tabasco or Sriracha.

Along the lines of the previous paragraph if you have a strong affinity for things like ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise then you might think about bringing those with you as well. If you ever find these on a table you’ll likely find a 1 gram packet of something that once upon a time might have resembled the condiment you’re seeking. Odds are pretty high it won’t even be there and if you ask for it you won’t get it. If you do, see above. It’ll be a 1 gram packet of suck.

If you are in a big city like Rio de Janeiro think long and hard about ever taking your cell phone out of your pocket while in public. The second you raise it to your ear I will just about guarantee you that you are now a made target waiting to happen. You might win, you might lose. In either case, I don’t think it is worth it. We saw this in action ourselves and it is quite fast and dare I say impressive to witness. If you really need to even carry your cell phone with you always step inside someplace to make or take a call or exchange text messages.

Along the lines of above plan on getting pickpocketed at some point in your trip. Take the necessary precautions to not get pickpocketed but plan on getting robbed at some point in your trip. If you do get robbed it’ll be done and over with and on you go. If you don’t, you’ll consider all things great and a wonderful vacation had. I don’t say this to be mean or negative but the reality is we stayed at several hotels across several cities and I heard several stories over the course of the trip of somebody getting robbed or pickpocketed. It just happens with a reasonable enough frequency here that you might get nailed so prepare for it and forget about it if it happens. All the normal rules apply. Don’t go anywhere alone, down dark streets, carry objects out in the open, wear any jewelry, dress flashy, etc… Same things you’d practice in any major city in the world. Some of the best advice I heard before this trip was “Don’t take anything with you in the morning that you want to bring back in the evening.”

If you’re flying inside the country TAM has made great strides in improving their fleet and service.  They are actually now part of the OneWorld Alliance they’re doing so well.  On the flip side Gol has fallen quickly and hard after their promising start.  I’d say avoid Gol at this point.  Azul is a bit of an outlier but I enjoyed both flights as they are a 2 by 2 leather seat configuration with plenty of room, live TV, etc…  Patterned after U.S. carrier JetBlue.  I also heard that if you can get it due to limited routes most Brazilians that want a quality experience use Avianca.

Brazilian drivers including your taxi driver love their cell phones while driving.  Make no mistake, everybody has a minimum of one cell phone stuck to their ear while driving, taxi drivers being professionals have two while they are driving.  Don’t fear for your safety.  They are properly distracted.  If they hang up the phone and see what you’re seeing while they’re driving they’d shit their pants in fear and kill you in a fiery crash.  Roll with it.  It is normal in Brazil.

So back to the original question. “How do you like Brazil?” The answer is I like Brazil just fine. It is a beautiful country filled with happy, tortured souls if that makes any sense at all. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Rio, explore the Iguazu Falls and visit Florianópolis which is the one city I wanted to visit that I didn’t get to visit on this trip. There are also a couple of minor areas like Paraty. So yes, I like Brazil and would go back. I’m just not in a hurry to return. After all, I have two more continents to visit.

Hope to see you again soon.



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Apart Hotel Serantes
Rua Doutor Silvino Meira e Sá Bezerra, 130
Ponta Negra, Natal – RN, 59090-170, Brazil
PHONE: +55 84 3219-2959

Apart Hotel Serantes

Apart Hotel Serantes

June 11th through 16th, 2014

Apart Hotel Serantes is a small to medium sized hotel located a block and a half off the beach in Ponta Negra, Natal, Brazil. It is somewhat reminiscent of the motor lodges I would stay in while traveling by car with my family growing up in the U.S.A. Independently owned, clean, comfortable, affordable lodging that won’t make you feel pampered like a luxury resort but won’t break the bank as well.

The hotel is located down a side street roughly halfway between the main street through Ponta Negra and the beach below. When you first arrive you almost feel like you’re approaching via an alley and are wondering what you might have gotten yourself into. Feel comfortable that this is typical in this area and after we got settled we never felt uncomfortable or out of place in our immediate area.

The hotel looks a little dated (I don’t know when it was last renovated) but I will say it appears to be very well maintained. Our room was spotless from top to bottom which is criteria number one anywhere I stay while traveling. The furnishing could be a bit more comfortable for my large American frame but in all fairness I haven’t found a comfortable couch or chair in the country as of this posting. The bed is clean and fairly comfortable but it is a little noisy and after about 7 hours in it you’re definitely ready to get up. Rooms include a kitchenette with a four burner cook top and a full sized refridgerator. These came in handy a few occassions when we simply reheated leftovers from the day before instead of venturing out in the rain for lunch. There is also a flat screen TV which includes cable service.

The complimentary breakfast each morning is one of the best for a small inn I’ve seen in quite a while. The spread and breadth of food is pretty amazing. There are hot dishes such as scrambled eggs, breakfast meats and the like. They’ll cook you “tapioca” fresh to order which comes in sweet and savory versions with your choice of fillings such as coconut or ham & cheese. There is a full bar of cold meats, cheeses, pastries, pies, cakes and fresh fruit. The fruit we experienced was excellent. So needless to say you are definitely getting a good value here. You can fill up and prepare yourself for the day ahead.

The service here is extremely friendly and helpful. Everybody from the operator down makes you feel welcome and will go out of their way to help you in any way they can. They scheduled a taxi with driver to meet us at the airport the day of our arrival. The operator took us in his personal car to get cash from an ATM and pick up our tickets to the World Cup including translation services just because he wanted to make sure we were OK and got everything handled properly. Of course he wouldn’t take a dime in compensation. The cleaning staff took excellent care of our room while there. The front desk staff went out of their way to help us by calling taxis, ordering take out delivery, giving directions, planning tours, anything we needed.

Security and safety at the hotel was very good in my opinion. There is only one entrance to the hotel and that is the open breezeway in front occupied by the 24 hour hotel staff. Nobody is allowed into the hotel unless they stay or work here. No exceptions that I noted. I watched the front desk staff turn more than one person away during our stay.

Laundry service is available via an off premise laundry company but be sure and allow at least one extra day for turn around. If they can’t get to your clothes within 24 hours they have no problem calling the front desk and telling them your stuff will be delayed a day. Plan accordingly.

If I have one negative about Serantes it is the free WiFi internet access. It’s free but it is woefully underpowered. We were here for a working vacation and it could barely keep up with basic internet browsing. It simply could not handle VPN connections to business servers and Skype was limited to instant messaging instead of voice or video calls.

Conclusion: I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. The hotel is clean and comfortable and the staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome. I’d recommend it.

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June 17, 2014

Won the broken seat lottery

Won the broken seat lottery

Today is a travel day for us. We had a great time last night watching the USA v Ghana game but now it is time to head to Manaus to catch the USA v Portugal game, do a little work and hopefully see a few cool things like the meeting of the waters.

Early rise and grab some breakfast before hurrying off to the front office to wait for our pre-arranged taxi…an extra 45 minutes. Lord how I love foreign countries where 7AM means whatever. My best defense which I used in this case was to schedule the taxi 1 hour earlier than I originally planned to leave. He shoots he scores. Net 15 minutes to Joe.

The drive to and from the new airport in Natal is pretty much an adventure. The old airport is roughly 15 minutes from anywhere in Natal. The new airport is a minimum of 1 hour outside of town assuming your driver is aggressive (he is because this is Brazil) and he’s not bothering to watch the road so he drives even faster (he’s not because he’s on not one but two cell phones at once) and his car doesn’t get swallowed by an uncountable number of sink holes along the way (yes, I’m not joking, I saw them). Roll with it baby. He’ll get you there in an hour somehow and he’ll do it for the bargain basement price of $60-70 USD at the current exchange rate.

We arrived at the airport roughly an hour ahead of flight time (remember me ordering the taxi one hour early?) and the line was typical out of country check in line. Stretches one hour to the north and is moving at a snails pace. No problem for this Gringo! (Anybody non-Brazilian in Brazil is a gringo…everybody). I spy the two bored, not doing anything ticket agents in the elite and special needs line. So Mr. OneWorld checks in, gets his boarding pass, clears security pre-TSA style (when is the last time you heard of a Brazilian airline being ran into a building?) and is sitting gate side sipping an espresso inside of 10 minutes. There is a reason why some of us swear off family 50% of the year. It’s not this. This is the side benefit and we love experiencing it with our loved ones on vacation.

The flight to Manaus was pretty uneventful. Airbus 320. I thought I had won the broken seat lottery (extra shoulder room) but they declared the entire row out of service. So they wanted to cram us window aisle and middle next to the 200lb sleep monster that never stirs but yours truly scored the aisle seat with the empty middle next to him while Momma Bear got her coveted window with an empty middle. Winner-winner Chicken Dinner.

So we get to Manaus and grab our bags in about 5 minutes (no, I’m not kidding you) and then a taxi in less than that and off we rocket to our hotel in the Centro. I’m serious when I say rocket. As the Brazilians say when they translate their own language into English we “rode with passion”. I’ve seen all crazy manner of stuff but this guy needs to be driving the President away from danger in White House Down. This guy could cram a watermelon into a banana peel, he could hit a speed bump with nary a movement in the cabin, he could outrun the Road Runner with only three wheels on his taxi. I’m pretty certain the old record from the airport to Hotel Lider was easily eclipsed by a good 10 minutes.

The hotel is pretty much crap. I’ll do a write up on it later after we check out. I don’t want to risk them stuffing our severed heads into a laundry bag for off site service before we actually leave this place.

We had a good dinner. Short walk from the hotel. As I aready posted on “The Facebook” dinner was fun, Zero stars…serviceable to good food…stiff drinks…fun!

So Cynthia is already nodded off in our sweat smelling single beds (don’t ask) after a long day of travel and I’m just answering emails both work and pleasure and burning up this blog. Sorry for being so long winded tonight but this is one of those rare occassions when I can just type away at random, share my thoughts and experiences with you while there is a sort of peace surrounding me at the moment. I think I’ll be nodding off as well soon.

Hope to see you here tomorrow.


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June 16, 2014

USA v Ghana

USA v Ghana

Today is our last full day in Natal!

We were very fortunate today. The sunshine came and pretty much held throughout the entire day and into the night with a tiny rain after the game had ended. Almost perfect soccer weather today.

We spent the morning up to the mid-afternoon working in the room. I say working because everything we did was offline since the Internet has been pretty much down since last night. The hotel is completely full with mostly Americans and definitely all World Cup attendees and in the day and age of smart phones, iPads and netbooks the internet service for the hotel just doesn’t stand a chance.

We leave early for the game. Plenty of time. However, when we ask the front desk to call us a taxi (the only way there besides city bus or feet) and was immediately told there are no taxis. Period. AFter a few awkward moments looking around one of the staff calls a friend and he offers to take us to the game in his personal car. Not only that he also offered to come back after the game and pick us up at the exact same spot. Absolutely amazing. This is the friendliness and helpfulness that is the Brazilian people.

It was a fun game to watch. Ghana beat us every way they could but one…the final score. Two really exciting goals from the U.S. made for a lot of excitement for the rabid U.S. fans in the stands. We’re looking forward to getting to Manaus and see how they step it up against Portugal. Should be good fun.

Early flight tomorrow so it is off to bed. Hope to see you here tomorrow.


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La Cachette
Av. Eng. Roberto Freire, 3218
Ponta Negra, Natal, Brazil 59090170
Phone: +55 84 3219-3068

La Cachette Swiss Fondue

La Cachette Swiss Fondue

June 13, 2014

It has been raining all day today here in Ponta Negra. We’ve run out of food stores so we finally had to give up and brave the rains. So we decided to dawn our rain ponchos and take the short walk of about a block down the street from our hotel Apart Hotel Serantes and give La Cachette a try for dinner.

La Cachette has a varied menu but their specialty is Fondue. It seemed an appropriate choice to add a little variety to the endless parade of beef that is Brazil. The restaurant is above the sandwich shop on the street level which apparently has the same ownership. The restaurant facilities are fine, clean with a mix of indoor and alfresco dining.

We started with the fried cheese appetizer. They use a local cheese and fry it in a little oil like you might see in a Greek restaurant. It tasted fine but was a hair on the cool side. I wouldn’t recommend ordering again, especially if you plan on ordering a cheese fondue.

The cheese fondue was solid. It was a good mix of classic fondue cheeses with a little kirsch or vermouth added. It isn’t anything special but certainly a solid representation. I’d order it again as part of a larger meal.

The banana crepe with chocolate was average in my opinion. That is mostly due to the bananas which I felt were a bit too hard and almost green like in nature. I would pass the next time myself.

Service was attentive throughout.

Pricing is good. We had and appetizer, main (fondue), dessert, 3 drinks, 2 bottled waters and a digestif for roughly $58.00 USD ($130 REAL). So there is decent value here, obviously dependent on what you order.

Credit cards are accepted.

Conclusion: La Cachette is a nice restaurant in a nice environment with average food and a good price. If that’s your goal, seek it out. Especially if you’re close by.

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June 15, 2014

Cynthia happy it is not raining

Cynthia happy it is not raining

Day 5 here in Brazil and you guessed it…it is still raining. Hard. It is supposed to do this all day again today. Absolutely unbelievable. I was chatting with the hotel owner over breakfast and he says this NEVER happens here in June. They are always dry with no rain and the plains in the south get this non-stop rain instead. Right now it is flipped. The south is dry as a bone and they have more rain than they know what to do with here. There is quite a bit of flooding in the streets here at this point with no real end in sight.

Just as a friend predicted…it is 11AM and the heavens have parted and their is sun, glorious sun. So we immediately head down to the beach and spend a couple hours walking the beach, testing the water, snapping some pictures, watching locals play beach soccer, etc… We then watch the Swiss v Equador game in…wait for it…the Swiss Bistro! Right across from the beach there is beautiful water and the opposite direction the beautiful game on the big screen. We enjoyed the afternoon.

It is Father’s Day in the United States (my sons have already skyped me my happy father’s day) so we head out to a a local churrascarria called Sal e Brasa in Ponta Negra. Since we basically skipped lunch on purpose we wanted an early dinner so that we could get back to the hotel early enough to catch the Argentina game. Argentina is my favorite to win this tournament. I also love the country, the people and the wine isn’t too shabby either. I’d consider retiring there someday but that is a different topic for a different day.

So all and all it was a nice recovery day after something like 54+ hours of rain (I officially lost count). Hopefully tomorrow will be grand with us finally attending our first game in person here at the World Cup in Brazil.

Hope to see you tomorrow.


NOTE: Sorry for the delays in posting and the numerous posts to catch up. I’m suffering from BrazilianPissPoorInternetConnectionDisease. I’ve gone basically a couple of days with no connection. I’m now in Manaus. I had to fly 1,400+ miles across this country to find a working connection.

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June 14, 2014

Rain monster

Rain monster

…and it’s still raining. The rain started yesterday morning around 8AM and other than maybe a couple of small breaks it has been raining ever since. Currently it is a fairly light rain as opposed to the the downpours of yesterday. Perhaps we can find something to do in the rain. Doubtful since all activities in Natal are outdoor.

…5 hours since the last update and it is still raining. Hard. We have no choice at this point but to dawn our rain ponchos in search of substinance. So we walk roughly a block and a half, maybe two blocks to Max Fast Food. It was neither. It might have been Max but it was neither fast nor food. I’ll try to post a quick note later.

…7 hours since the last update and it is still raining. Hard. We decided to order pizza delivery and eat in our room since the 7PM game is the England v Italy game. This game is definitely high on our list to watch. So we decided to take the easy route and stay in. So far the rain is winning during this trip. We are definitely losing.

By the way, when I finally gave up and went to bed…it was still raining. Hard.

Hope to see you here tomorrow.


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