Discovering Fortaleza: The Nagoya of Brazil

After spending one week in Belem do Para, my next stop on the Brazil trip was Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceara.  My reason for choosing Fortaleza was simply that I wanted to stay in the north of the country, on account of the warmer weather, and I wanted somewhere that had inexpensive-ish direct flights from Belem and to Brasilia at a reasonable hour.  It came down to either Fortaleza, Recife or Salvador.  Fortaleza won in the price category, and so my decision was made.  In retrospect, there’s probably a reason that tickets to Fortaleza are cheaper than the other two cities.  I knew very little about Fortaleza, other than it’s a beachy touristy kind of place.  According to the Ministry of Tourism, “In 2016 the city reached the mark of second most desired destination of Brazil and fourth among Brazilian cities in tourists received” … Seriously, Ministry of Tourism?

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Fortaleza is a nice place.  It’s sunny and warm and has a very laid back, uncomplicated vibe to it.  Pretty much the entire length of the city is fringed with beaches, and as far as city beaches go, they’re decent enough.  The avenue running alongside the beach is lined with reasonably attractive high-rise apartment blocks, one of which I’m staying in. There’s really nothing to dislike here.  At the same time though, there’s nothing really to get too excited about either.  It’s like if you were travelling in Australia and you went from Sydney, to Alice Springs, Fraser Island and then your next stop was Wollongong.  Or if you were in Japan an went to see Tokyo, Kyoto, Hokkaido and then your next stop was Nagoya.  What would you think?  What would you write in your blog?  If you know, let me know.  Maybe I’ll just plagiarize your blog and substitute the word Fortaleza for Nagoya… For me, Fortaleza is the Nagoya of Brazil, albeit a tropical Nagoya.  I will say though, that it’s one of the more attractive cities in Brazil with wide avenues and colourful buildings, and not too dirty or run down… But hey what does that even mean?  It’s like saying Katherine Kelly Lang is the best actress on the Bold and the Beautiful.  You don’t have to jump high to get over that bar.

The view from my maximum security Airbnb, complete with partially built, abandoned aquarium…

Immersing yourself in a foreign language, especially one that you don’t even speak, is a big challenge.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge for the most part, but after a month of trying to speak and understand Brazilian Portuguese, I feel myself running out of steam a little bit.  Hence, this post is a little whingey.  Mind you, I’m quite proud how well I’ve done considering I’ve never studied or self-studied any Portuguese.  I can now fend for myself in most situations, albeit with high level retardation.  And of course, I’ve relied heavily on Google translate.  Some of the time, I just type in single words, and other times I use the speak function and say entire phrases or sentences.  I find that if I have a good signal, speak clearly with no background noise and keep the sentences short, I have about an 80 – 90 % success rate of being understood by Google. If the sentences are too long however, or there is background noise or a weak signal, the success rates just about halves.  This got me wondering about the speaking section in PTE.  I wonder how accurately the test-takers are being recorded?

The Cathedral of Fortaleza…


Although I’ve been mostly able to fend for myself, I have had some epic communication fails.  The first one occurred at Belem airport on the way to Fortaleza.  I was hungry and went into a little restaurant and ordered, or at least tried to order, a cheese potato bread.  I admit my Brazilian pronunciation isn’t great, but I think I was well and truly in the ballpark. “Eu quero um pao de batata e queijo, por favor”.  Immediately a red flag was raised when she replied by asking me if I wanted a large on or a small one, because I didn’t see two sizes of potato cheese bread there.  But anyway, I just replied “large” and then she indicated that I should sit down, and she would bring it to me.   A few minutes later, she brings me a large cappuccino.  Really?  Cappuccino?  Even in the worst possible mumble, the words “cheese, potato and bread” sound nothing like “coffee, milk or cappuccino”.  The second communication fail happened here in Fortaleza.  I was struck down with a case of diarrhoea on the first day I arrived, so I went to a nearby pharmacy to try and get some over-the-counter remedy.  I entered the pharmacy and with my best Brazilian pronunciation, I confidently announced to the man behind the counter, “Eu tenho diarreia”.  I have diarrhoea.  You would think you couldn’t too wrong with that;  three words straight and to the point with no other words to distract from the message.  After I made my announcement, he replied with, “Eu tenho generico”.  I have generic.  Again, a slight red flag was raised because it’s not really the most logical response.  I have diarrhoea… I have generic?   But anyway, I’m like, “Yeah, sure, generic is fine” and he brings me a generic package with the drug tadalafila.  I’m looking at this name, tadalafila and trying to get an antibiotic or an Imodium kind of vibe from it.  I’m looking at the packet and scratching my head because it just didn’t sound like an anti-diarrhea kind of thing to me. So then he pulls me over to his computer and shows me on the screen that it’s like a kind of generic Viagra.  Thank God I sorted that one out before I started popping three of those a day!  The third communication fail was a minor one, but involved me blurting out retardedly to someone that I don’t like acai, when the question was, “Do you want to go out?  In my defence, the way Brazilians pronounce “sair” (go out) does sound a bit similar to acai.  The letter “r” here is either pronounced as an “h” or not at all.

Continuing on the whinge theme, let’s address the elephant in room… Vegetarian travel in Brazil sucks the big one.  I mean, it really, really sucks.  It’s a meat country.  At the very minimum, everything has ham in it.  In Sao Paulo and Rio, there are vegetarian places if you’re prepared to look, and to Belem’s credit it has Govindas, but on a general everyday level, you’re pretty much restricted to pastel de queijo and eating the side dishes in buffet restaurants.  Some buffet restaurants are better than others, but they’re basically geared towards meat eaters and so the side dishes are very simple and basic.  For example, there’ll be a bowl of sweet corn, a bowl of canned peas, some pickled vegetables, a bowl of rice and beans, invariably with ham in it.  I think it was eating at all the buffet restaurants that gave me the diarrhoea.

It’s been nice here in Fortaleza having an apartment with a full kitchen and well stocked grocery store within walking distance.  I even managed to find plantains!!

Just some random snaps …

Fortaleza has been OK but now now it’s off to Brasilia my final stop on the Brazil tour.  Everyone I’ve encountered along the way has been absolutely savaged Brasilia.  The general vibe has been take photos of the Oscar Niemeyer building and then get out.  Let’s see.


Friendly Istanbul

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It seems that I’m on the Rainbow Tour… Wherever I go, the universe keeps sending me rainbows!  Is it a sign? … I hope so! Certainly so far, aside from the small speed bump of leaving my luggage on the airport shuttle bus, things have been sailing along very smoothly.  Istanbul is indeed a friendly place, and what’s more, people actually seem genuinely friendly.  The last couple of days have been smooth sailing except that my plan of having a wild and crazy weekend in the bars and clubs of Taksim never came to fruition due to extreme exhaustion and severe jet lag.  Damn you jet lag!  It’s probably a good thing though.  The days have just been spent staring out at the view over the Golden Horn from my apartment or going for walks along Istiklal street and over the bridge to Sultanahmet and having random encounters.


As I mentioned before, the people here, with the exception of the carpet sellers of Sultanahmet, appear to be genuinely friendly.  It’s sad, but after so many years of travelling, you just automatically assume that anyone who approaches you in the street is either a prostitute, pimp, drug dealer, scammer, thief, wants money or all of the above.  However, that hasn’t been my experience in Istanbul. People approach me on the street just wanting to chat and then offer me cigarettes and alcohol.  I wish I was a smoker.  I even got one invitation to attend someone’s work cocktail party, but alas, jet lag got in the way of that one.  The upside of the jet lag, however, is that I’ve been up very early and managed to go out sightseeing at dawn’s crack, before the swarms of tourists and midday heat arrive.


This morning as I was walking to the Suleymaniye mosque, I stopped in a café to have a coffee.  One of the other customers began chatting with me and offered to drive me on his motor bike the rest of the way to the mosque and escort me inside.  It was a small gesture but extremely kind and helped to restore my faith in humanity.  The mosque itself is truly a breathtaking piece of both architecture and interior design.  After having a look around, I thanked him and continued on my way to Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque.


Suleymaniye Mosque:


Hagia Sophia:


The Blue Mosque:

Interestingly, or not so interestingly, another random encounter I had was with Javi, a Venezuelan from Maracaibo.  Javi is fleeing the revolution in Venezuela by way of doing a PhD at a Turkish University.  The PhD is very useful in escaping a crisis: economic, political or personal or else it is given in pity to ex-prisoners.  It would be interesting to see Javi in a couple of years… Will he still be passionately embracing the PhD or will political oppression and food shortages suddenly start to look more attractive?


The down side of all this smooth sailing and healthy living is that it doesn’t make for interesting blog writing.  I did, however, manage to make an attempt at my first vlog.  It’s about the apartment and  surrounding area.  The internet here is insanely slow, so the quality isn’t great.  Nevertheless, here is the link.  Look if you’re game!




One night in Incheon

This is only my second time flying on Asiana Airlines and second time passing through Incheon. The first time was 14 years earlier in 2004 and proved to be so traumatizing that I vowed never to return to the Korean peninsula ever again.

Let me first take you back to 2004 when a couple of young, happy-go-lucky chappies landed in Seoul on a stopover from Tokyo to Sydney. I was living in Tokyo at the time and flying back home for a holiday with my friend Shinya. My choice of flying Asiana back then, like today, was purely financial: It was the cheapest airline flying that route. Nevertheless, I decided to embrace this opportunity to stopover in Seoul and have my first experience of Korean culture. I booked a hotel in Myeongdong online. Everything was set and so off we went.

After a short flight to Incheon and then a bus ride into the city, we arrived at our hotel in Myeongdong, the so-called “Shibuya” of Seoul. No doubt a lot has changed in 14 years, but back then, clearly the person who drew the Shibuya comparison was using strong hallucinogenic drugs. Like the rest of Seoul, it didn’t have immediate aesthetic appeal. Unphased by our grim surroundings however, we proceeded to check in to the hotel, only to be greeted by the three hotel receptionists from hell, who had obviously misunderstood “hospitality” industry for “hostility” industry. They were clearly not as enthused by our presence in their hotel as we were about our holiday and embarked on a thirty minute passive aggressive dialogue (emphasis on the word “aggressive”) about why we wouldn’t be happy in their hotel. They obviously did not want us there, but didn’t have the courage to straight out say it. Although we did manage to stay at their hotel in the end, the damage had been done and I was scarred for life. As far as I was concerned, all Koreans were horrible. The final nail was hammered in the coffin of Korean hope when some years later I was working for a Korean employer who managed to cheat me and all the other staff while playing the victim himself.
Fast forward to 2018: I’m flying Sydney to Istanbul on Asiana Airlines with a one night stopover at the Best Western Premier Hotel Incheon Airport. A lot was riding on this: this was to be a return to the past and an undoing of the past. It was up to the Best Western Incheon to right the wrongs of their Myeondong predecessors.

The flight on Asiana Airlines was fine and we arrived at Incheon at about 8 pm after a ten hour flight. Five minutes in a shuttle bus later, I arrived at my hotel, the Best Western Premier Incheon. Much to my surprise (and relief) I was greeted at reception by extremely friendly, smiling and welcoming hotel staff who this time had clearly received the memo about “hospitality not hostility”. The room was comfortable, the shower was hot, the Wi-Fi was strong … and the staff were pleasant! Wow… winning!

After a good night’s rest, I got up, had breakfast, hopped back on the shuttle bus and arrived back at Incheon airport. I proceeded to the baggage drop-off area only to become alarmed by the realisation that I had left my suitcase on the bus. Despite all the yoga that I do, it didn’t count for a thing in this moment and I rapidly went into meltdown and turned into a hysterical screaming maniac. I ran out to the street but couldn’t see my beautiful purple case anywhere. I jumped in the first taxi and went straight back to the hotel. I raced into reception and in blurted out, “I left my case on the bus and now it’s gone… I can’t find it anywhere!!! Help me!!” Sensing my panic and desperation, the two hotel receptionists mobilized into action like two superheroes, Batman and Robin. Robin got straight onto his mobile phone and started calling all the shuttle bus drivers while Batman whisked me out the back to the Batmobile and we zoomed back to the airport. We located the shuttle bus in question but shockingly, there was purple bag in the luggage hold. Back into the Batmobile and after a sweaty 15 minute loop around Incheon, we managed to locate the purple beauty on the side of the road. Thank God it was Korea because in Europe or the Americas, an unattended bag outside an airport would have brought in the federal police and the bomb squad. Thankfully though, the Koreans weren’t concerned. Suitcase in hand, I expressed my gratitude to Batman and I was ready for the next leg of the journey: Non-stop to Istanbul!

Off on a new adventure


Take me away to LA!! (Even if it is only to transit)

I’m going with the “flying kangaroo”… As torturous as 14 hours non-stop in an aeroplane is, it’s still preferable to making a stop over. Maybe. It’s always a bit of a roll of the dice with Qantas. You could be flying the friendly skies or you could be flying Kath and Kim airways. I remember the last time I flew Qantas… It was to Hong Kong and it was my first (and so far only) time on the A380. My allocated seat number was 80. Now, never having been on an A380 before, seat number 80 sounds to me like it’s going to be way down the back of the plane. Of course, when I got on the plane, there was no-one to guide me to my seat and I figured I’d need to walk quite a long way before I would need to start looking at seat numbers. Little did I realise that they start numbering the seats from the front of the top deck, so “80” on the bottom deck is actually fairly close to the front. By the time I started looking at seat numbers, I had already walked past it. Oh em gee!! Then, suddenly Miss Flight Attendant asks what seat I’m looking for… When I tell her it’s “80”, she rolls her eyes, lets out the loudest and longest groan like it was the most idiotic thing anyone has ever done, points her finger toward the front of the aircraft and whines, “You’ve gone TOO FAR…It’s back THAT WAY!” Clearly (to her anyway) I shouldn’t be allowed on aircraft.

Today’s flight has been relatively good. It doesn’t feel too much like being trapped inside an episode of Kath and Kim…Except that they made a point of handing out menu cards at the beginning of the flight but then didn’t actually serve what was on the card. They then had to tell everyone individually what the choice was and we’re getting quite frustrated that people were asking for food that was on the menu.


Qantas has never killed anyone! That’s what we proudly tell anyone who dares to bad-mouth the flag carrier of our nation… Or maybe that’s just me. Last year at the place where I was working, one of the employees was a Chinese woman… She was from Shanghai and her name began with an “E”. In order to protect her identity, I’ll just refer to her as “Ecstasy”. At that time, I was considering flying somewhere on China Eastern and so I asked Ecstasy what it was like. She recoiled in horror and gasped, “Oh my God it’s soooooo bad! Don’t fly with them… It’s EVEN WORSE than Qantas!” I’m sure it is worse than Qantas, I was just surprised that she used Qantas as the comparison and the way she put it. We all know Qantas is a bit rough… But hey, we can say it. Non-Australians can’t.

Incidentally, Ecstasy is the same person who shoved toilet paper in my face when one day I asked her if she knew where a guy called Pedro was. The boss had asked me to find his guy and send him to her office. I had never met him and had no idea what he looked like. So, I thought I’d just ask Ecstasy. “Hey Ecstasy, do you know where Pedro is?” … “Toilet paper? You want toilet paper? Here, toilet paper.” … “No, no, no, Pedro” … “Here, toilet paper.” I can’t remember how the conversation ended but I eventually found Pedro and managed to score some toilet paper in the process.


Nada más surreal que la realidad


My virgin blog… And my virgin blog post!! Woohoo!!

I decided that there wasn’t already enough unnecessary information on the Internet. Clearly, there is a need for more… So with my ramblings on this blog, I’m hoping to fill that gap.

OK… I was being sarcastic.

Actually, to be honest, I feel a smidge guilty about releasing another yet blog into the world. We’re already living in a world of information overload. You click onto the news, you’re bombarded with stories of terrorism, murders, natural disasters… You click onto social media and you’re bombarded with everyone’s fabulous life..Everyone is a blog writer, reality star, starting a new business, expressing their undying love for their “friend” on Facebook, in a new relationship or incarcerated… And we’re expected to care and have an opinion about ALL OF IT!!

I worried about ISIS, I cared about earthquakes, signed every petition, supported every new business, gushed over every new relationship, cried more over the death of convicted heroin traffickers than deaths in my own family…. Eventually my brain ran out of bandwidth. I had too many windows open and it crashed! So I’ve been taking time out to reclaim ownership of my mind. I’ve been carefully filtering what goes in and reminding myself, “Yes, the it’s shocking what’s going on in Syria but I don’t have a solution. The earthquakes are terrible but what can I do? Fly there and start shovel sand? It’s great you’ve embraced veganism, but I don’t care… And it’s OK not to care!

So, it’s kind of hypocritical I guess starting a new blog, given what I just said. Instead of helping to find a solution to the problem, I’m merely contributing to it. My disclaimer is though, I have no sense of entitlement… I admit this is just rambling to help fill the time while I’m away. Afterall, there’s only so much rum or tequila you can drink, photos you can take or colonial arquitecture you can wonder over. I’m doing as a kind of diary aswell, for my own record. So if you too have ran out of bandwidth, don’t read! Turn off Facebok and go and do Bikram!