Reveillon - the name of the massive Brazilian celebrations that take place each New Year's Eve. The biggest party in the country will be in Rio, but the second largest takes place in Fortaleza, with an estimated 2 million people expected to attend. So the plan for today? Take it easy in preparation for the insanity!
Dragao do Mar - Fortaleza's cultural complex, with art, museums, a planetarium, and theatres. Seems like a really interesting place to visit but unfortunately, everything was closed for New Year's Eve. So instead I wandered around ... in this part of Fortaleza, there is a distinctly dodgy atmosphere - derelict buildings and hardly any people in the streets ... some parts feel perfect for a mugging! I briskly walked down to the beach to avoid any potential troubles. I shouldn't have been surprised as this neighbourhood, Iracema, is the centre of Fortaleza's sex industry. Apparently, sex tourism used to be quite the big industry here, but local authorities have tried to combat this perception of the city.
Fortaleza is sprawling - a walk along the numerous beaches is nice but time consuming, as it's quite a hike from the hostel to any worthwhile beach, since the ones nearby aren't really beaches by anyone's definition. However, they still offer some nice spots for lunch, with great views of the ocean and a nice ocean breeze - though temperatures here are higher than in Rio, it's more pleasant in Fortaleza with such cool, fresh air constantly circulating. The high rises along the waterfront also provide a number of nice shady places to hide from the sun.
Today was the first absolutely beautiful day in just over two weeks of travel in Brazil - the rain seems to have been following me wherever I go, but perhaps I've finally left it behind. I've somehow managed to burn my eyes here in Brazil ... the sun here is a lot stronger than you think, and now my eyes are quite sensitive to the sun, now that it's finally come out. Or perhaps I'm blaming the wrong culprit, it's possible that it's because of a little too much fio dental research ... Sheylla and Raphael stopped by in the evening with a couple of friends to pick me up for Reveillon, and we ended up picking up a couple of additional peeps from the hostel, a mother and daughter that were staying in my room, and a couple of guys who are running a hostel in Barcelona, who are here to investigate opening an ecological hostel in Brazil. We ended up getting separated from the the additional peeps which was probably a good thing, as the mother was getting a bit annoying.
The streets of Fortaleza were packed - it's hard to describe what two million people on the beach and in the streets feels like, it simply needs to be experienced. It was a little bit like New Year's two years ago in Valparaiso, Chile, but in that case it was two million people in the entire city, not two million just at the beach. The heat and the crush of people was crazy and the atmosphere electric, and this eventually grew tiresome ... we'd been wandering around since about 8:30, and were getting antsy for the countdown. It didn't help that the first performer tonight was Caetano Veloso, a famous Brazilian singer, whose music is something that ends up putting you to sleep. Things improved as the music turned to samba, and the crowd started to ramp it up again.
Then the countdown started ... and the insanity began. Champagne bottles popping, people singing and screaming, fireworks going off for nearly twenty minutes ... it's the kind of New Year's Eve celebration we can't quite pull off in Canada, because we simply don't have the weather for it. Who wants to be sprayed with champagne when it's -30 C outside? And where would we find two million people to celebrate with?
On the way back to the hostel, we ran into the daughter, who appeared to be lost - she had gotten separated from her mother before midnight, celebrated New Year's by herself, and had been searching for her mother since. It was now nearly 3 AM, so she had been standing there waiting for her mother for several hours. Sheylla did her best to comfort her, but what could you do, looking for one person amongst nearly two million? Impossible. The daughter had been fruitlessly calling her mother's two cell phones, but neither one was on. We grabbed all her contact numbers and told her I'd give her a call if her mother happened to be back at the hostel.
Given how oddly her mother occasionally acted, I had a suspicion that she would be already back at the hostel and she was, already fast asleep. Not wanting to wake her up, I tried using the hostel's phone to call the daughter but it wasn't going through, so I finally woke up the mother and attempted to explain the situation to her. She didn't understand at first, but finally got the fact that her daughter was currently standing in the streets waiting for her, and had been doing so for hours.
The mother told me that it would be ok, that she would eventually return, and not to worry about it. Huh? So you get separated from your daughter amongst a crowd of two million, and you make no effort to contact her, even making every effort to not contact her, by shutting off both of your cell phones? I explained again that her daughter was waiting all by herself, at 3 AM, in an area that would become quite dodgy as people dispersed and that she should call her. "Don't worry, she'll be fine." Finally I got pissed off and told her "Call your daughter!", and she finally relented and did so. It's funny sometimes ... I show up in a city where I know absolutely no one, and end up ringing in the New Year with a great bunch of people. The daughter comes here to celebrate with her mother and she ends up celebrating it alone, with the mother seemingly not caring one bit. This lady is, simply put, a strange one ...