Groundhog’s Day

February 16, 2010

I woke up this morning in our hotel room in Fortaleza with more of a Groundhog’s Day feeling than I had ever had in my life.  Somehow, I was still here, doomed to relive the same day I had yesterday and the day before in this terrible city.  At least I know there’s an end tomorrow when we head to Jericoacoara.

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Here are some pictures of Fortaleza…A real looker, huh?

I don’t think this next picture really captures how weird this place was.

We walked to the end of the beachfront where we’re staying and I had read that the really nice beach with barracas was Praia Futuro, on the other side of the point.  When we realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to walk there (so far we haven’t been able to walk anywhere aside from a couple of miles in each direction along the water by our hotel) we jumped in a cab and asked him to take us there.  We drove through actual squalor.  There was a favela to the right and then just empty, worn down cement buildings, dust, garbage.  A little farther we passed the Petrobras plant on one side of the bumpy street and then the Shell plant on the other side.  We kept going, and it remained just as bad–cheap, dirty motels, a few plastic table bars.  The cab driver eventually made a left and dropped us off at the Praia Futuro.  It was this whole collection of barracas–open air tables with umbrellas.  There were so many people–each table was full, I think claimed for the day, and people were getting settled, drinking beers from small cups poured from big bottles, kids in bathing suits.  Through the mess of people there was sand and dirty ocean.  The whole thing was just astounding.  It was like a hive of cheap florescent bathing suits and clamoring noise in the hot, greasy sun.

The Sisyphean Craft Market

February 15, 2010

The main Fortaleza craft market is right across the street from our hotel, on the water side of Avenida Beira-Mar.  It has all the usual crap–cheap soccer jerseys, stalls with cashews and dende oil, things made out of coconuts, hammocks, jewelry made out of Amazonian berries and shells, and fairly nice white embroidered and crocheted things typical of Bahia.  It’s big, and we wandered through it the first day we were here.  We realized yesterday that it gets taken down and set up again every single day.  Every day a collection of metal poles are fitted together to create the structure and tables are set up, the goods are rolled in in big crates, and everything is taken out and displayed.  Each night, all of the components are packed up again into the boxes, the structures are dismantled, and by the next morning it’s bare space again, with faint markings on the ground mapping which merchant goes where. It’s sad, really.  Sisyphean.  Why can’t they build a real structure?  Or is it more poignant that people don’t have anything better to do than to build and take apart the same thing every day.

Pizza Hut

February 14, 2010

There wasn’t much to do today in Fortaleza. We went to Shopping Iguatemi, which bears very little resemblance to the elegant mall in Sao Paulo. The stores were closed so we went to the movie theater there. It was packed–lines for tickets snaking around the waiting area. We saw the new Mel Gibson movie, which was entertaining enough. We came back and had to switch rooms because our air conditioner was leaking, a lot (Nossa air condicionario esta chuvendo!). Our new room is a little brighter and nicer ( we’re staying in the weird business part of a regular Brazilian hotel. The two hotels have the same name and same entrance, but two reception desks.) but the Internet doesn’t work, whick kind if stinks. I went for a run and Scott tried to find us another room that had Internet, to no avail.

The highlight of our night was dinner. We just waited for twenty minutes for a table at the very clean, big Pizza Hut next to our hotel. I have to say that given our other options up here, it was delicious.

O Carnaval: Dia Um

February 14, 2010

We spent yesterday walking along the beachfront of Fortaleza, scoping out the Carnaval venue and trying to get a feel for what this city is like.  The answer is that most of it seems pretty mediocre–crumbling cement and brick buildings, empty streets, hotels from the 1970s, drug stores and nameless sorvetterias–but there’s a little bit of a nicer area along one stretch of the water.

Carnaval was extremely fun.  We started it off by going to a Valentine’s Day dinner last night because the restaurant that Scott had discovered as the best in town ($15 entrees) was only open yesterday and wouldn’t be open again until Thursday.  The restaurant, Mercado, was empty, save for one other table.  It was almost classy, with a rustic wooden table in the middle and nice-ish wrought iron chandeliers, but the chairs were still stained and the table cloths were a tired floral print.  We’ve seen this empty restaurant phenomenon before, last year in Salvador.  But we embraced it this time.  There was an acoustic guitarist, who, in a nod to the gringos, sang some version of “New York, New York” between his Brazilian easy-listening set.

From dinner we went to the Praia Iracema where the bandshell was set up.  Our cab driver let us out a few blocks away, and when I guess we hesitated for a minute, he told us, unprompted, “Esta tranquilo.”  It’s okay here, don’t worry. We went to where the crowd was gathered, and like so many other events here that we’ve been to (it felt like Reveillon, or the day Rio won the Olympic bid), there were people selling beers from styrofoam coolers, and agua de coco and meats on sticks. Couples and groups of friends gathered on the sand and parents brought children who eventually grew tired and dozed on shoulders.  Everyone was dancing and happy.  At 11pm, Diogo Nogueira came on, the main act to kick off carnaval in Fortaleza.  With much introduction, he came on wearing a white suit, with a white wife-beater tank top on underneath.  He looked a little bit like a Brazilian Justin Timberlake and as his voice carried over the crowd, feet started flying.  Samba is extremely fun to watch, it was at Carioca da Gema and it was here, too.  It’s fun to see it start, like a secret, that spreads from one person to another as they just can’t help moving along with the music.  There was a group of girls who were about nineteen, who were laughing and dancing with each other, cool and relaxed.  There was a ten-year-old girl in knee length denim shorts and white and pink tank top just tearing it up, the music coursing through her, from her bent elbows, through her hips to her feet. Best of all, there were two guys, both shirtless, wearing shorts–one guy was wearing yellow shorts, the other green–sneakers, and one of them had a Brazilian flag tied around his head, dancing in a circle created by the crowd.  They weren’t young, and both had small pot-bellies, but their dancing was amazing.  They exuded happiness, and I wish I could have dipped their feet in paint to follow their tracks, a million mini-steps.

Cumbuco

February 13, 2010

So while Cumbuco (the town 30m outside Fortaleza) isn’t so terrible, our hotel creeped us out last night.  We were the only ones in the restaurant and there was no one else around AT ALL aside from the few staff people.  It’s a big hotel, and sort of austere, all the lighting was florescent.  We decided to leave this place behind today and go stay in Fortaleza.  It’s slightly better here in the light of day, there are a few families eating breakfast, but we had to move tables a few times at dinner last night to find ones without unidentifiable gross things on the chairs and I slept in a full long sleeve shirt and pants last night so as not to touch the bed.  Time to go be part of Carnival before heading to Jericoacoara and then maybe to Bahia for the last leg of our trip before we go to Belo Horizonte and then back to Sao Paulo.

Bem-Vindo a Ceara

February 12, 2010

We just landed in Fortaleza and arrived at our hotel.  So far, driving from the airport there seem to be a lot of typical Brazilian elements going on in this town very far north.  We hit some traffic, and found the same lanchenettes and car mechanic shops.  While I fully admit that the areas around airports are not usually the best the city has to offer, Ceara looks like a serious downgrade from Pipa.  Our hotel resembles a Holiday Inn on the beach, but at least it’s on the beach right?  We’re staying 30km outside Fortaleza itself, which may prove to be a mistake, we’ll see.  We’re a little bit stuck by carnival package cancellation fees and the fact that every hotel has been booked for weeks.  Seems like we’ll be making lemonade out of only slightly sour lemons.