Norte do Brasil
America may have my body & mind and India may have my soul, but Brazil has taken my heart. As much as I loved the cities of Colombia and the history and children of Peru and will surely love the vibrance and tastes of Argentina and Chile, none can compete with the profound beauty of Brazil and its people. It is to Brazil that I owe a renewed appreciation for living life to the fullest, for relaxing without feeling ashamed, and for being a warm and inviting person. It is Brazil that has brought me valuable friendships (law school bestie!) and experiences over the years and in recent weeks, and perhaps most importantly, it is Brazil that brought me the travel-loving Tyler I married. Tyler’s first international experience was when he studied abroad for 3 months in Fortaleza, Brazil. Exactly 10 years later, we chose Fortaleza as our first Brazilian destination to explore due to the insistence of Otavio, one of the host families for T’s study abroad program. Even though Otavio and his parents were not T’s host family, thanks to the awesome invention that is Facebook, T has been able to keep in touch, and they graciously offered to let us stay with them for what will end up being 17 days. This is despite the fact that Otavio’s own experience studying in the USA for a year was horrible and includes a nightmare story of his host family in Alabama stealing his money. If we take nothing else from this entire travel experience, T&I are determined to host foreign exchange students in our home in the future, and we would urge you to consider it as well.
Fortaleza is the capital of the northeastern state of Ceara with a population of around 2.5 million, making it Brazil’s 5th largest city. Though it is technically winter right now, the weather is pretty much consistent year-round with an average temp of 80 and a glorious and constant sea breeze to cool you off. Due to its consistency, the breeze is unlike any I have experienced before, especially in a large city. The surrounding beaches (Beira Mar and Praia Futuro being the 2 we have visited most often) are within walking distance of the house and are clean, uncrowded, and expansive. The beaches of northern Brazil have the most sand I’ve ever seen, which in the neighboring towns of Fleischeras and Jericoacoara, as you can see from our pics, turn into massive and gorgeous dunes. Fortaleza is also home to Beach Park – an expensive but really beautiful water park on the beach – and includes the largest water slide in the world (aptly named Insano). Naturally, I didn’t go on it, but Tyler did 3 times.
Brazilians know how to have fun, and Fortaleza provides ample opportunity to eat, drink, and be merry. The beautiful people congregate at beachside parties and love to drink Heineken and Budweiser (both bottled nearby and thus considered inexpensive but cool import beer – we much prefer Brazilian beer, especially Devassa and Antarctica). The young people (say 18-26) are well dressed and groomed, but friendly and inviting. We have been offered free drinks at every party we’ve been to and are genuinely touched by the enthusiasm of strangers at our crazy answer to “what brings you to Fortaleza?” That would never happen in the nice clubs of NYC, Miami, Chicago, LA, etc. People here are excited and proud to be Brazilian and love nothing more than to help you see why. That’s the thing about Brazil – the natural beauty is breathtaking and the people beauty is frustratingly awesome – but it’s the generosity of spirit and friendly warmth of its people that really make this country unique. Are there thieves and murderers and liars and other miscreants? Of course there are. But the regular person in line behind you will be a nicer stranger to you, despite the language barrier, than any American stranger ever will. It’s a remarkable cultural norm here to be outwardly kind, trusting, and helpful. Maybe it’s because the country’s doing so well right now – people are happier and thus society is more pleasant – or maybe it’s just an inherent part of being Brazilian – but whatever the reason, the result is unlike any other I have experienced. And in some ways, I think it has made me a smidgeon more patriotic about America – I too want to be proud of my country and its people and the many things to see, do, and eat. It’s getting harder and harder to be proud because the country is wrought with internal political/religious/social strife, but it’s something I hope we can all learn from our South American friends.
Waxing poetic aside, we have taken 2 short trips to nearby beach towns since arriving in Fortaleza. T has been to both towns but wanted me to see them since he enjoyed them so much 10 years ago. The first was last weekend – we went to a small fishing village called Fleischeras, about a 2.5 hour drive from Fortaleza. Otavio once again provided us with amazing housing at his godparents’ beach house, and the 3 of us and his friend Natasha had a blast relaxing, cooking, drinking, and enjoying the fresh ocean air either on the beach or from the gorgeous deck. Fleischeras is a tiny village with a handful of businesses to support the beach house goers from Fortaleza. The house had no internet and no TV – nature was our only entertainment and didn’t let us down. The water was warm, the breeze was strong (which at times meant sand in our eyes, but well worth that nuisance), and the beach was pretty much entirely ours. Otavio is quite the cook and prepared a delicious shrimp pasta dish for us on Friday night (dinner at midnight, like true Brasileros). On Saturday, we kept it simple with brinner (i.e. breakfast for dinner). Since Otavio and Natasha are real people with jobs, the brief respite was especially needed, and we all felt rested and happy coming back on Sunday.
On Tuesday, T&I took a ~6 hour trip to Jericoacoara, affectionately known as Jeri, and now on my list of favorite places in the world. It’s easily my favorite beach town. It’s a pretty popular vacation spot for Brazilians though it’s a difficult journey. After flying to Fortaleza, you can either take the bus like we did or hire a private jeep transfer for approximately $500-800 one-way. Or take a helicopter, of course, if you’re willing to spend about $1000/person. The bus is a nice coach bus for about 4.5-5 hours on the highway and then you’re on a giant open air buggy/truck sort of thing for 1-1.5 hours over some road, then cobblestone road, then all sand. Jeri is built on sand – everywhere you walk – sand. There are no normal cars because you have to have a 4×4. See above comment about ridiculous amounts of sand. It’s beautiful and rustic and relaxed and tranquil. Mind you, there are nice resort hotels and expensive restaurants and stores, so if you want to really treat yourself, Jeri will let you. But it’s really mainly a chill, down-to-earth type of getaway destination where you can buy $2 caipirinhas (or coco locos – our new favorite drink) and $1 giant steak/chicken kabobs at various stands and sit on the beach and watch the stars. It’s also the site of world class kite-surfing and wind-surfing because the wind is outrageously strong and constant. There are also very few waves, and you can walk into the ocean for an exceedingly long time before actually having to swim (again – see comment about amount of sand).
On Wednesday we went on a dune buggy tour of the local area. Environmental concerns aside (yes, I read up on it, and yes, we did it anyway), this was one of the most fun days we’ve had on our trip. We were fortunate enough to be paired with a cool couple of 30-year-olds from Rio de Janeiro, Daniel and Silvana. Through our broken Portuguese and their English, we were able to chat all day and have a fantastic time together. The dune buggy is a fun vehicle to ride in, and our driver was careful though still managed to jostle us around enough to make for a really exciting ride. The entire area around Jeri is a national park and is protected sand dunes, essentially. We visited 3 different freshwater lakes that are created amidst the dunes because of rainfall. The water at the Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) was the clearest blue I’ve ever seen in a lake. We also climbed on top of a couple dunes which was difficult (sand doesn’t provide the best footing), but provided unique vantage points of the surrounding area. Since we didn’t want our fun to end, we agreed to meet Daniel and Silvana for a forro later that night. After showering and dinner, we took a nap to prepare ourselves for a midnight party. Forro is a popular genre of music and dance in northeastern Brazil and also refers to the name of the event itself. The music is traditionally based on a combination of triangle, accordion, and a type of bass drum. The dance is done in pairs and is sort of similar to salsa in some ways, though it has some more traditional waltz elements as well. Needless to say, T&I did not excel at said dance, but we had fun trying, and Daniel and Silvana were great teachers! Our night ended at 3am when we finally gave into our sand-blasted eyes and went to sleep.
We are back in Fortaleza for one last weekend with Otavio – we leave for Salvador on Monday. We are going to attempt to make Indian food tomorrow for Otavio and his parents (I’ve found the first place in the world that Indians haven’t moved to – no Indian restaurants in this city!) and provide a hopefully delicious Thank You for all that they have done for us. Though we have had an incredible time in Northeastern Brazil, we are excited to explore the Afro-heritage of Brazil in Salvador and the beaches of Bahia. Staying with a family and experiencing a true feeling of “home” has really reenergized us in a way we didn’t even realize we needed, and we are so grateful to the Sydriaos for their generosity and kindness – we will strive to pay it forward!