Insights & Experiences

“The Northeast”

Like most typical gringos—foreigners in Brazil—I fell prey to the erroneous belief that the best beach in Brazil was Rio de Janeiro. Obviously, as the iconic destination for Carnival, and former capital of the country, Rio is very renowned throughout the world. When I arrived in Brasilia and spouted poetic intentions for swimming in the pure, uncontaminated, famous waters of the city, students stifled their sighs

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Ponta Negra Beach with the Bald Head Hill

of irritation and (thankfully) patiently explained that I should try other, “better,” beaches in Brazil. How could there be better beaches than Copacabana or Ipanema in Rio? I was skeptical of the claim, and I let my students know it. After many conversations in which students suggested the “Northeast” I finally concluded that there must be some legitimate reason for their uniform persistence. To be honest, it was always the same thing that they said to try to convince me: “the water is so warm you won’t believe it!” or “the shrimp is so delicious and cheap!” or “the beaches are much cleaner than in Rio!”

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Open air fruit market at sunset

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Clear, fresh waters of the “hidden” lagoon

With this, I felt that I at least should consider going to one of the cities that students suggested, Fortaleza in Ceará, Pernambuco in Recife, Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, João Pessoa in Paraíba, or Salvador in Bahia. Finally, an opportunity arose and I had the chance to go to Natal for a university graduation. Although I stayed in a semi-secluded beach, far from the tourist beach called Ponta Negra, and its famous Morro de Careca, or “Bald Head Hill,” I feel that I had a fulfilling experience at Cotovelo Beach. The irony is that on the day that I left, Brasilia was a bright, sunny day, and to my surprise, when I arrived in Natal, it was an overcast day, complete with a light drizzle and grey clouds following me as we drove from the airport to the apartment without a crack of sunlight breaking through. Despite this, I was determined to get into the water and test it out. Would it be true, would the water be as warm as everyone promised? To my delight, the turquoise water was a lukewarm saltwater bath—even with the drizzle and clouds menacing above. All in all, I experienced just what my students told me. I enjoyed the beach like a Brazilian tourist, ate many delicious shrimp dishes, went to a hidden freshwater lagoon, and had a great time listening to the traditional forró music at the graduation party that I went to. Finally, to conclude, I will give credit where it is due: my students have been right all along—Rio de Janeiro does not have the best beaches in Brazil. However, I will still be honest by stating that it still remains my favorite city!

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