Someone, somewhere, really got addicted to SimCity and decided to play the game in real life. Click, add building. Click, add tower. Click, add tall tower.
And there we were, at street level, one foot on the sand, the other one on Portuguese-style street tiles, trying to make sense of Balneário Camboriú.
We left a city with high-rise buildings for a city with an even more Manhattan-esque skyline. Florianópolis is the state capital so the concrete jungle in the Centro wasn’t so out of place after all—people have to live somewhere. But I wasn’t expecting a Dubai-style skyline in a beach city.
The bus slowed down and took the exit to Balneário Camboriú, the city Feng and I refer to as “you know, that place” because we picked it randomly and can’t pronounce the name right. Yes, this is how we choose destinations. We look at the map, hotel availability, distances and just go.
We weren’t sure what we would find there. We never really know, unless the destination is a world-famous city (“yes, Rio, you know, the Corcovado…”) or we’ve been there before (cf. fucking Chuí). Going to Balneário Camboriú had been a last-minute decision, a new stop on the road, an option we choose out of the many we consider.
“How come we’ve never heard of this place?” Feng wondered.
I shrugged. “Brazil is huge. I bet there are hundreds of cities that are famous enough in Brazil but not on the usual tourist trail. Most travellers go to Rio, Foz do Iguaçu, São Paulo and Salvador. Even Florianópolis isn’t that famous outside South America.”
No doubt there would be tons of Brazilian and Argentinian tourists in Balneário Camboriú, but we would be the first Chinese-French-Canadian gang there. Ah.
The bus ride was short and it was raining when we arrived in Balneário Camboriú. The hotel manager was unusually friendly and told us everything about the city, the beach, the business. Of course, it was Sunday so many shops would be closed and the beach isn’t that fun on a rainy day but it was nice to meet such an enthusiastic Brazilian for once—most of the time, we feel like we are intruding when we check in in hotels we booked.
Balneário Camboriú has been described as a cheaper, smaller-scale version of Rio de Janeiro. Like its famous sibling up North, there is an “Avenida Atlântica” spanning the entire length of the 7.5-kilometre-long praia. Like in Copacabana, there are lanchonetes every few metres and Portuguese-style pavement (featuring waves, sandals and fishes). Avenida Brasil, the long street that runs parallel to Avenida Atlântica is a commercial artery, much like Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana.
We started with Avenida Brasil and walked all the way to the southern end, which featured the Passarela da Barra, a brand-new footbridge overlooking the city, as well as a pirate ship and a pier. Then we followed Avenida Atlântica, along the beach. The tall, dense skyline, metres from the sand, was completely out of place yet fascinating. You’ve probably seen 3D renderings of condos or buildings in your city before—you know, these towers with a glamorous and exciting name (“the Soho,” “Montmartre,”, “Tribeca”, etc.) that promise to deliver a fancy lifestyle, a better work environment for only 30 billion dollars, buy your unit now, only 20 remaining, call NOW! Then these projects take forever to be completed and never quite deliver the real estate bliss you’re supposed to experience as you mortgage your life away.
Well, in Balneário Camboriú, most of the the buildings are completed and actually look like the original design. Amazing.
With construction noise and smell as well as the stormy, humid weather, I felt like we were in one of the booming Southern China cities.
But why the real estate boom? And how many people can realistically buy real estate in Balneário Camboriú? We wondered about it until it started pouring.
We quickly realized that the city had two main drawbacks for us. First, the beach wasn’t that nice (and neither was the weather during our stay). Coming from Florianópolis, we had been spoiled with picturesque stretches of sand, turquoise water, a small-town atmosphere. The beach in Balneário Camboriú was picturesque with the skyline as a background and it was perfect for a long stroll but it was dirty. In fact, several signs advised that it wasn’t suitable for swimming at various places. The second main drawback was the ongoing construction work throughout the city that woke us up early.
So we hadn’t found the perfect place, after all.
We still had a good time between Avenida Brasil and Avenida Atlântica. I think it’s the only city where I pretty much walked on two streets, but they were long—several kilometres each. We managed to skip Balneário Camboriú’s two main sights: Cristo Luz, a statue of a Christ on a mountain (much like the Corcovado in Rio) that changes colour at night (!) and a theme park at the southern end of the city. It wasn’t a big sacrifice for us, cheap atheist.
After another short night, we packed and left.
And no, we didn’t invest in the mysterious real-estate boom of Balneário Camboriú.