Fortaleza, Brazil – September 2000
September – Philip’s birthday month
(hint hint – I like vintage champagne)
Once again, welcome to this month’s fact-filled Fortaleza update. This last month has been incredibly tiring for the posse here as I had a near-miss with death in the form of a job interview – for a real job!!
After 29 years of never having a real job (sorry Federal University of Ceara – you just don’t count) I managed to land myself an interview with one of the UK’s largest aid agencies. Thankfully, after the initial phone interview they realized, quite correctly, that me in a suit and tie wasn’t going to work and that the first time I went overseas on a job would probably be the last time they saw me until my company credit card run out. So, as a mark of admiration and respect for their MD, who saved me from a life of servitude, I shall be sending him a bottle of champagne and a Fortaleza goody-bag.
The positive side of all this is that I am committed to stay in Fortaleza for at least another year and can continue roving the continent reporting from the last bastions of sanity in South America. In the coming year I have trips planned to Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Suriname to name but a few. Of course, these reports will appear exclusively here on BootsnAll – the original and best!.
This month, I am going to turn my attention to the musical scene here in Fortaleza, and try to answer the question “why doesn’t old music ever lay down and die, like it should?”
I must confess I am a bit of an old sucker for cheesy poppy type tunes (despite only finding out a few weeks ago who Britney Spears is) and have an embarrassingly large collection of musical tat back in London. But my own passions are totally surpassed by the Brazilians who seem to recycle music well beyond its sell by date. For example, in the space of a few short hours the other day I heard “What’s up”, by the Four Non-Blondes (being played on the bus to work), “Planet Rock”, by Africa Bambarta (at an aerobics session I was watching), and some old and very dodgy stuff by the Cure (in a lift in a government building).
The Brazilians love it – the bus driver, for example, refused to believe that 4 Non-Blondes were not the latest thing in Europe and made me stay on the bus well past my stop to sing the chorus with him. The aerobics instructor seemed horrified when I told him the record must be twenty years old – but let’s be brutally honest, it still sounds fresher than anything that Britney bird could come up with.
And if this wasn’t enough, I mean being forced to relive my musical past each day (which, incidentally is costing me a fortune as I keep having to ring my friends back home and ask who the artist was before it drives me mad), the Brazilians will blatantly plagiarize anything with a reasonable tune and add Portuguese words over the top. Just a trawl along the radio dial gives “American Man in New York”, “Great Balls of Fire”, and several tunes I just can’t quite place now all using exactly the same tunes with Portuguese lyrics.
The most annoying one to date is a cover of an old rock and roll number which basically just shouts the names of the Brazilian states over the top of the famous rhythm. I bow down to such creative talent. Meanwhile the Brazilians are packing out the clubs, going wild over this kind of nonsense, claiming that their music is the cutting edge of popular culture. I don’t know, I have my reservations, but I only just found out that Take That are no longer cool.
First stop on anyone’s musical stroll through the city should be Cidade FM (95.1 FM), which is well on its way to being the world’s funkiest and eclectic radio station (London’s Jazz FM withstanding). Every Saturday, just as people start to think about heading out into the night (around about 10pm), they have a fantastic mix show – Britney rubs shoulders with TLC, with Brazilian music, with some wicked samples from Eminem. The mix of music is so diverse and off the wall that you never know what they will play next. Nothing is sacred and more than once I have found myself bopping around the apartment getting ready to rock to something I first heard about a million years ago.
Currently, the hottest, and perhaps, sleaziest joint in town has to be Orbito (in the cultural center). Over the last few months this place has turned into somewhat of a legend, attracting more and more drunken party people every night. Most nights they have some kind of live music, which ranges from the surreal (a surf Pink Floyd cover band), to the Funky Café Crème house band (well worth checking out) to anyone with a pair of bongos and a lurid pink viscose shirt (hey, man, that’s my dad).
The cover varies from night to night, but you have to be Brazilian about these things and pay the doorman a solid 5R$ at the back door like we always do. The musical policy is as off the wall as you can possibly get. About the only thing I haven’t heard (recently) is “King of the Road”, but I am sure that if I hang around long enough I am bound to catch it in the mix.
The three most important things to remember about Orbito are that the bar is at the back, and you have to buy drink vouchers from the desk and then present them at the bar. Quite why Brazilians use this system I really don’t know. They have a similar system at bus terminals where you have to buy a ticket at one desk and get the food at another – which is a problem if your Portuguese extends to pointing with a finger.
The second thing to remember is that no matter what time you arrive, even if you plan to stay for only one drink, you will end up leaving at 5:45am. I have no explanation for this, at all.
The third and most important thing to remember is that that lovely dusky skinned beauty who is rubbing up against you with “come-to-bed eyes” and a body fresh out of Playboy is either a working girl, a guy in drag or on the end of some machete welding, homicidal maniac’s leash who has been drinking cheap Brazilian brandy all day and thinks the world hates him. On a good night she will be all three and the crowd of otherwise friendly party people are in for a spectacular floorshow.
This is by no means a problem and Orbito is not the worst place in town, by far. I have never managed to leave sober either, despite going there with only enough money for one beer. I seem to quickly pass through the drunk stage, through to “hey, why is the floor spinning”, to “oh my, I have just been sick down that girl’s cleavage” stage with consummate ease. If you are in the mood for a laugh and a dance then this place is most definitely worth checking out. It is open every night from about 10 till when ever the last person falls over. It warms up about 12-ish.
And, whilst we are on the subject of partying (which seems appropriate in my birthday month) I have to pay homage to my local supermarket, Pao de Acucar (close to the main bus terminal), which not only is open 24 hours a day, sells wonderful cakes and roast chicken (only a dollar!!!), but has been having a promotion this month on certain drinks.
Now, please don’t laugh when I tell you this, and I only mention this if you promise not to think of me as anything less than a hard man of budget travel that I have managed to convince you that I am over the last 18 months or so, but they have been selling bottles of Martini for about 40 cents a liter. Let me say that again, 40 cents a liter. You can’t get much fairer than that, especially when you mix it with soda (a princely dollar a liter) it goes down a treat. And, comes up just as easily the next day!
Well, with that I shall leave you. Hopefully next month I shall be able to report on my trip down the coast to Natal, but in the meantime have a good safe month wherever you are in the world – especially if you are traveling on the road less traveled.
Philip’s True Story of the Month (Only could this happen in Brazil)
This month’s tragic true story involves a wedding party which took place in the Amazon basin. Urban legend has it that a young girl from a remote village (who for the sake of this story we can assume to be a virgin and achingly beautiful) was soon to be wed to the son of a local chief further down the river (we may again assume that the son lived a blameless life and was well endowed).
The wedding was set to take place in a quaint little church on the banks of the mighty Amazon, and so the bride’s family hired a boat to take their party down river for the happy event. The party must have been large and typically drunk because when someone suggested a game of football on the roof of the boat, no one objected. The women lined the edge of the roof to prevent the ball from being booted into the river and the game was soon underway.
It must have been a hard game but eventually one team scored a goal. The crowd, who were even more drunk now, obviously forgot their place and went into a wild party of celebration (Gooooooooooooooooooal). So wild were the celebrations that the boat capsized and 30 people drowned. Only in Brasil…
Located just under the equator, in a clearly tropical position, is the Cearense coast. The greenish-blue water is warm all year around. The average temperature ranges from 25 to 28°Celsius.
Fortaleza is the capital of the North Eastern Brazilian state of Ceará. It is a large, modern city where bold, new architecture contrasts with beautiful beaches and tall coconut palms.
Why ask? It’s going to be hot, between 27 – 33°C, blue skies and heaven is a local call.
Accommodation falls into three categories. Hotel, motel and pousada.
Hotels range from the reasonably priced such as the Hotel Passeio (tel/fax 085 252 2104) which has doubles for about R$30 a night, to the mid priced Olympio Praia Hotel (about US$100 a night) which includes a massive breakfast (tel 085 244 9122) to the massive Ibis Hotel (silly price).
Motels are a Brazilian institution and most rent by the hour. Mostly, or so I am told, they are clean and reasonably priced. If you are considering staying in one it might be a good move to check the room before handing over any cash.
Most people stay in a pousada. These small, often family fun hotels generally offer excellent value for money, clean rooms and friendly service. There are about 65 officially registered pousadas in central Fortaleza. Unless you are arriving in the height of summer, finding a nice room shouldn’t be a problem.
Generally Fortaleza is a healthy place – the odd hangover permitting. However, there is some concern about a recent outbreak of dengue fever. As always, plan ahead and ask your local doctor before travelling. Malaria is not an issue in this area. Up to the minute updates can be found at:
And more specifically on dengue.
Fortaleza is three hours flight, or two days by bus from São Paulo the main gateway to Brazil. The flights are not cheap, but sometimes Varig has special deals.
The best way to travel around Brazil is with an air pass, which must be bought outside the country.
The author, who by his very own low standards is a hell of a guy, is often found late at night gazing lovingly at bottles of Martini in the local supermarket. He has been in Brazil for almost a year now and hopes one day to have a meaningful dialogue with his pint-sized and extremely mad boss.
He divides his time between a number of low class drinking establishments in Fortaleza, the beach and the local cake shop. He lives in Fatima, with 12 plants, a view of the church and a Dutch ecologist.