By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
FORTALEZA – Glistening skyscrapers reflect the baby blue waters across a thin border of white beach. At night, the city illuminates the ocean and gradually comes alive to the sound of dance music and forró. Fortaleza is Brazil’s modern metropolis of the north, attracting both international and Brazilian tourists by the thousands every year.
As Brazil’s fifth largest city with a metropolitan population of over three million, Fortaleza is also the capital of the state of Ceará, around 2000km due north of Rio on the northeast coast.
Despite the city’s modern appearance, Fortaleza was founded around four hundred years ago. Translating as “Fortress”, it was first constructed by the Portuguese and named Fortim de São Tiago. The Dutch briefly occupied it before the Portuguese re-conquered the area shortly after, and the village began to develop in the nineteenth century as a result of the burgeoning cotton industry.
With a minimum temperature that never drops below twenty degrees, Fortaleza enjoys a perpetual summer that is only broken up by the rainy season, which lasts around six months from January to June. It is, however, a windy city, making it a great place for wind and kite surfing, but besides the surfers and tourists, a growing energy industry has begun to harvest the power of the winds in recent years.
You won’t need to look hard to find some sort of homage to Iracema, the female character in José de Alencar’s famous fictional tale (also called “Iracema”), which is set in Ceará in the early days of Portugal’s colonization of Brazil. Iracema, a Tabajara indigenous Brazilian, had a stormy relationship with the Portuguese Martim, producing a mixed son who Alencar portrays as the first true Brazilian. Modern day Fortaleza doesn’t allow the stereotype of ‘European male conquering an indigenous American female’ to stop them from celebrating this ‘deeper Brazilian-ness’ with numerous statues that naturally highlight her naked physicality.
Despite the modern appearance of the city, Fortaleza culture takes off when it’s time to party. Holidays and festivals are plentiful throughout the year, with the city closing roads and regularly hosting live concerts in the streets. Celebrations particularly worth checking out are Fortal, an off season Carnaval every July and Reveillon, a pyrotechnics festival to celebrate the passing of the year.
Even if it’s not festival season, though, the city maintains a high caliber of nightlife on virtually every night of the week. There are numerous clubs, though some will find it hard to even make it past the hundreds of drink carts offering cheap caipirinhas outside nearly every establishment. Many locals head out to the suburbs or venues as unusual as a rock quarry where techno DJs and live reggae have been known to thunder off the stone walls.
As for the food, Fortaleza is a wonderful place to sample some local lobster. Crustacean season takes place between January and April, during which time their harvesting is legal, and the prices in all the restaurants tend to be at their lowest.
Several pousadas also offer reasonable accommodation, including the architecturally pleasant Albergue da Juventude right on Iracema beach, the Pousada Veleiro or for the budget traveler there is Backpackers Ceará.