How come they aren’t sleeping? It’s like 3 a.m.! What are they doing?
I squint and try to figure out what the guy is doing. I think it’s a guy but I’m not sure—the building is right in front of me but still pretty far, across the street. However, the curtains are open and the light is on so I can clearly see a living space, a living room, maybe, or a bedroom. Looks clean, modern and cozy. A bachelor pad. Come to think of it, I think the guy is playing video games or watching TV. He just got up to get closer to the screen. Maybe he is an older version of Mark, who doesn’t want to go to bed because the movie isn’t finished yet and there is something else on TV after (“Mark… there is ALWAYS something on…”).
The lights are on in the apartment below as well. There are three or four people sitting on the floor. A group of friends meeting up at home because it’s a rainy Saturday night?
I wonder if they can see me watching them. Shit, did I…—yes, I’m wearing a t-shirt. Phew. One of the perks of being in a tropical country is sleeping naked. I got quite used to it, which is surprising because, on the other hand, I like to be tucked in bed to feel safe and comfortable.
Watching neighbours doing things from a high-rise building reminds me of our stay in Shenyang where we were also lost in a residential concrete jungle and where blinds were apparently optional.
It’s funny, at street level, Florianópolis Centro doesn’t look so spread out and buildings don’t look so tall. But the skyline from the top of any building proves you wrong. This is a big city.
To anyone who came to the Ilha de Santa Catarina looking for amazing beaches, Florianópolis can be disconcerting, disappointing, even. Technically, the entire Santa Catarina Island is Florianópolis as well as a continental part and surrounding small islands, but people refer to the centre as “Florianópolis” and call the beaches—yes, they do exist!—by the name of the neighborhood in which they are located. There is a 15- to 45-kilometre drive between the centre and Praia Moçambique, Praia dos Ingleses, Praia do Campeche, Praia de Canasvieiras and dozens of other beaches. I won’t go by driving time because if you’re lucky, the beach is only a thirty-minute drive away… but if you get stuck in the traffic, you’ll get there by sunset.
This is the main issue with an island. You go round and round and there is no escaping the traffic jams, especially with a few one-lane roads, occasional accidents, protests and construction work.
Staying in Florianópolis Centro makes sense. Hotels there are cheaper than renting a pousada by the beach and you have all the conveniences of a big city within walking distance—supermarkets, shopping malls, restaurants, etc. Just be prepared for a workout. The steep streets go uphill, downhill, then uphill again and you wondered why you went downhill just seconds ago. Walking around feels like being in a rollercoaster, minus the loop. I think I spent most of my time in Florianópolis looking for Rio Branco, one of the main arteries and going up and down the damn avenue.
The mood in Florianópolis changes as much as the weather does, depending on the time and the day in the week. In the morning, the pedestrian streets and the market area are packed with shoppers and office workers who come to enjoy a big lunch at one of the comida por kilo or bufê livre restaurants. Businesses close early, so in the evening, anyone who isn’t still stuck in a traffic jam tend to be somewhere along the waterfront, between the Beiramar shopping mall and the restaurants. At night and on weekends, the centre is completely dead and homeless people take over the street, setting up a temporary shelter made of carton board and old bedsheets… unless there is a party somewhere, in which case, hundreds of people show up in a square or in a pedestrian street.
Florianópolis isn’t a pretty city, yet it’s less run down than Porto Alegre and it’s fairly clean. The island lives off tourism so it shows its best side during the high season. It goes as far as selling Argentinian facturas and empanadas so that Brazil’s neighbours won’t feel homesick!
I’ve said it before—Brazil is somewhat of a challenge to us. It’s a rewarding country but not one in which we can operate intuitively. It takes time to appreciate it and understand “Brazilian logic.” Same goes with many cities, except maybe Rio that has an amazing in-your-face natural setting. Most tourists would rather be at the beach than lost in the street maze of Florianópolis’ streets. But I grew to like the contrast between an empty stretch of sand during the day and a modern shopping mall at night, between tacky souvenir shops and large supermarkets, between the churros cart on the beach and the efficient gas station convenience shops at night.
Yes, Florianópolis Centro is the heart of Ilha de Santa Catarina.