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?
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.