At last we made it across the Atlantic Ocean to another continent on this journey – South America, and specifically Brazil. Brazil shares a border with every country in S. America except for two – Chili and Ecuador – and has a population of over 200 million.
Today we docked in Fortaleza, the capital of one of Brazil’s 26 states, Ceara. This is a city of contrasts and a big disparity between the rich and the poor. From the ocean, the city looks modern with high rise buildings. [We saw later that this is just a small part of this city.] We had been told by Barbara and others who had been here before that this is not a safe city (by day or by night) and that we were never to walk around on our own. Much of the crime is muggings and petty theft – due in large part to the large number of people in poverty here. That is why most people did a ship’s tour or took the ship’s shuttle bus service into one market place in town.
We were on a ship’s tour “Fortaleza Highlights.” We were docked in a true working harbor and had a long walk to the place where the buses could park. The buses were surprisingly nice. What we soon learned was that every bus had a “tourist police” escort. At every stop where we got off the bus, there were many, many armed military or police.
We drove along the coastline to begin our tour. I was so glad that I had changed from my original “beach day” tour to this city one. We went by what is considered one of the loveliest beaches here – Futuro Beach. It is a sandy beach that stretches for four miles and is popular with families. Our guide said that this is the one really clean beach in the area where you can swim and not worry about the quality of the water you are in. And it was very near the port where we were docked. But while the water was perhaps clean, the area was certainly not inviting. The thatched umbrellas were there, but the other picture shows what was next to it.
It was Sunday, so there was not a lot of traffic which made getting around easier and faster. The part of the city we drove through at first was mainly tall buildings that were the nicer businesses or condominiums. But then there was this large dirt soccer field in the forefront that told a different story – and soccer is really big here, so much so that some of the World Cup games will be played in this city.
On our way to our first stop, we passed by a large weekend market that went down one street for blocks. It was pretty typical of what we saw throughout the day in this town. Just blocks from this was the Central Market (Mercado Central) where there were a variety of items sold on three different levels – everything from food to clothes to regular souvenirs to local handicrafts. As we got off the bus, the first thing we saw was a group of armed police. However, the building was actually nice with the carport on the lower level. This is taken from the top floor looking down. We were hoping to find 2014 World Cup soccer shirts here but there were none to be found – only 2010 ones from the games in S. Africa. I think we looked in almost every stall hoping to find some. We later learned that no one from the ship found any – and there were a lot of other grandparents searching for them as well! But we did see a woman making lace using the wooden handles (the way it is done here) which was fascinating to watch. She has large pins holding the finished lace (which is on the very colorful bundle of material) and then she is holding the wooden handles that hold the thread to make the lace as she intertwines them. She let me take this picture of her as she worked on her craft.
We boarded our bus for a two block ride to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza. It would have been quicker and easier to have just walked down the sidewalk, but we couldn’t because it wasn’t safe. This neo-Classical cathedral is the third largest in Brazil and was beautiful both on the outside and inside with its large stained glass windows. This window is the one you see between the two tall steeples on the outside. There were two other large round ones, equally as intricate and beautiful.
Our next stop was the art nouveau style Jose de Alencar Theater built in 1910 and is still used today for theatrical performances. It was named after the 19th century Fortalezan writer. It has a beautiful white front building that is just the initial entrance. You then are in an open courtyard that is in front of the actual theater. The ornate ironwork (both inside and out) was fashioned in Scotland. The inside is beautiful with its painted ceilings and tiered seating. The chair seats and backs are made of cane. It would have been wonderful to have been here for a performance.
Our last stop was one of the city’s major attractions – “the metallic bridge. The iron structure is covered with a wooden roof and is known for having the most beautiful sunset views in all of Brazil.” This was how it was described in our tour info. Well, as seemed fitting for this city, it was “closed” so that you could not walk out on the wooden wharf because the wood was rotting and it was too dangerous. Apparently, this had only happened in the last day or so because none of the tour guides were aware of it nor other locals who came here with families on this Sunday. And it did not seem like a ‘”bridge” because it didn’t connect anything – it was just a wharf out over the water. The first picture shows one side of the wharf. The second picture was taken from the other side where there was a wide beach where people were swimming and surfing the waves. And even with the pretty beach and lovely water view, this was what we also saw that again showed the two very different sides of this city. Unfortunately, when I think of Fortaleza, I think of armed police and graffiti everywhere.
On the drive back, we drove through a very surprising and beautiful coastline with beautiful beaches on one side and high end hotels and restaurants on the other side with the high rise city buildings in the background. Our guide said that while the beach area was beautiful to look at and we could see lots of people in the water, it was not a clean area and not recommended for swimming. That seemed such a shame since it had such great potential. However, we saw lots of these little areas along the long beach that were full of locals enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the beach.
I think the thing that disturbed me the most was the graffiti that was not only on almost every flat wall surface, but also on some of the city icons such as this unusual octagon sided lighthouse that was near our dock and the tall statue of Jesus that was in the city. In this picture, you can only see the top where the Jesus statue is, but it is on the top of a very tall pillar overlooking part of the city.
In summary, this truly was a city of contrasts – best shown in some pictures I took.
While I am glad to have seen this port to know what it is and to better understand the great disparity in this part of Brazil, I probably wouldn’t want to return. I anticipate watching the 2014 World Cup games that are played here to see how things have hopefully improved by then and for that event.
At our sail-away, I snapped this last picture which was a bit unusual with the haze of the city in the background and this lone boat with its red sail in the foreground.
We didn’t feel like going to dinner tonight so we ordered room services (good ol’ standard sandwiches and chips) and watched the movie Closer. We really enjoyed the evening just relaxing like we were at home!