The Uber dropped me off right in front of a giant plastic caranguejo, giving me a flashback of Aracaju and the bizarre local fascination with a similar giant plastic crab.
Mind you, I still felt the need to take a picture. I’m a gringa but an enthusiastic one. Crabs are cool? Crabs are cool, tá.
Brazil is a place you just have to embrace wholeheartedly. It’s big, wild and diverse, but it’s also full of Brazilians and unless you’re one of them, you’re the minority. This is one of the few times in your life when it actually pays off to follow the crowd. Brazilians (usually) know what they are doing. Going counterculture is just counterproductive. I don’t always get Brazil and they are plenty of “Brazilian things” that will remain “Brazilian things I tried, and no thanks” or just Brazilian mysteries, but I also learned a lot by observing what Brazilians do.
Okay, never mind what I’ve just said, sometimes I do behave like a gringa. I was still in the airport arrival hall when someone tried to convince me to jump on a minivan straight to Jericoacoara, a famous and supposedly amazing beach located… 300 kilometres from Fortaleza. It’s a popular same-day trip, leaving at 3 a.m. Thanks but no thanks.
And after careful consideration, I also opted out of the “three beaches in one day” day tour offered pretty much anywhere. I flew all the way to Fortaleza to explore Fortaleza. It’s a big city with kilometres of “city beaches,” there’s plenty to see. I’m sure I’m missing amazing remote beaches in the state of Ceará but hey, one step at a time.
On my first day in Fortaleza, I went straight the to beachfront promenade, a twenty-minute walk from Aldeota, the residential and vaguely upscale neighbourhood I picked because the Airbnb looked good.
I started with the fish market, where the bestsellers are shrimps—Brazilians basically worship shrimps—and langoustine, then I walked to Meireles, Fortaleza’s most famous beach. The promenade and the beaches were pretty quiet, not so surprising for a weekday afternoon, so I decided to check out the (recommended) Mercado central and the cathedral in the city centre.
I took another Uber—Fortaleza is big and not particularly safe.
The market wasn’t that great—one of these “Brazilians love it but I don’t” moments. The aging building reminded me of these giant Chinese malls in the late 1990s with tons of stalls full of souvenirs and Nordeste crafts. The cathedral next door was… you know, a cathedral, not exactly a rare sight in South America. I was going to walk to the nearby cultural centre; also a Fortaleza must see, but centro felt super dodgy and I wasn’t sure where I was going, so I took another Uber back to the waterfront.
The next day, I headed to the Praia do Futuro, an eight-kilometre-long beach located on the other side of the city. This is where the Uber driver dropped me off in front of the crab.
Praia do Futuro is a very long beach, but I found it a bit disappointing. First, it was kind of dirty, second, it was kind of empty. The sea is rough too, it’s pretty dangerous.
I came back to Meireles. In doubt, go where everybody is going.
I sat on the sand and opened my Fortaleza “checklist” on my phone. Done, done, done.
Time to go with the flow, observe people, and just explore freely.
I eventually found the best way to get to the cultural centre without crossing the downtown core (and chickens led the way…!). I got used to the weather as well—very hot, very humid, often looks like it’s going to rain but it doesn’t (or it does so in the middle of the night, very convenient, thank you Fortaleza).
And I found a bunch of cool places not highlighted in most travel guides.
I’ll show you.
The key was to follow the crowd, not the guides.