February 27th: Fortaleza
It is absolutely not this city’s fault that at first sight it was utterly unappealing. The odds were stacked against us liking it.
This is the first port of call that has dared welcome us with dreary skies and rain.
Our ship arrived during carnival and our schedule meant our tour of Fortaleza, of necessity, occurred between 9am and 1pm, which, it turns out, is not a good time to visit a South American town the morning after the night before. Those blasted Fortalezenes were still abed; their shops shut; and the Marie Celeste quality of their deserted city showed up its every little imperfection with 3D clarity.
It was hard to get a handle on what we were seeing. We’d been assured many Brazilians chose to come to this city for their summer holidays to enjoy the magnificent beaches. And yet, the early part of our tour took us through neighbourhoods where ravaged high-rises stood wrecked and abandoned; a testament to failed investments and optimism. Graffiti was everywhere. Our guide bravely assured us this was a local artistic custom, but it wasn’t the most convincing of speeches. Men, and a few women slept on the pavement, dossing down on makeshift cardboard mattresses. There was a pervasive air of hopelessness and poverty.
Downtown, and it took twenty minutes for our bus to gain entry to the market place. Normal businesses may be shut, but the market was in full swing, and absolutely packed. They make beautiful lace here, and I was tempted by a gorgeous trimmed linen tablecloth but couldn’t remember the dimensions of our table. Also, how often at home would Cavan and I dine at a table set with fine lace and linen?
Fortunately for Fortaleza’s reputation, our next stop was the Jose de Alencar theatre which was lovely. The classical Baroque exterior gave way to a wonderful auditorium, filled with fin de siècle wrought ironwork, with art deco, art nouveau and every other eclectic element thrown in for good measure. There’s a gorgeous frescoed ceiling. It was delightful. A light, airy froth of inspiration.
Our return to the ship was along the beach front, past an attractive golden statue in honour of a native Indian woman, Iracema, who had a doomed love affair with an early Portuguese explorer. At last we saw why people come to this town on holiday. The beach is vast stretches of beautiful golden sand, and the high-rise hotels and buildings that line the foreshore are new, shiny and in good repair. It would be cynical to speculate how long they’ll remain in that condition.
Back on board we found that our sick dining companion had returned from the hospital. They’ve established his kidney stones are too small to shatter with ultra-sound so he’s back on board with us, drinking copious draughts of water, and waiting for nature to take its course. It’s a great relief all round, and apparently, the Princess agent on shore was excellent to deal with and efficiently arranged matters for our friends. It also turned out that our friend was only one of three men taken to hospital that morning. It’s enough to make me nervous.
We’ve just crossed the equator, so we’re now in the northern hemisphere. Fortaleza was our last stop in Brazil. Our next destination is Barbados.
We have now officially turned our tracks for home. We’re sailing west and we’ve put our clocks back one hour, so we all had an extra hour to lie-in bed this morning. I imagine the hard-working crew will have enjoyed the extra sleep in as well.