When I interviewed the late Julio Trindade (owner of the iconic Pirata Bar), he mentioned that Fortaleza had become what he called a ‘dormitory city.’ Quoting that interview (which ran both on The Brasilians and Brazzil.com), he explained that “tourists simply sleep in town and book a van to visit far-away beaches in Canoa Quebrada, Lagoinha or Cumbuco.”
He added that “These days, in Fortaleza, there are no resorts or beachfront hotels that are worthy of international tourists.”
That was not true a decade ago when I lived in Fortaleza. Back then, there were many visitors to the city who enjoyed its various attractions, reveled in its nightlife, shopped in the city and frequented its beaches.
Today, there is very little left of that scene. Sure, you can have a nice stewed crab at Praia do Futuro, spend some time at Centro Dragão do Mar’s excellent restaurants or shop for artisans’ works at Beira-Mar avenue, but when you walk by the seafront hotels, you don’t see the crowds you used to. Sure, the hotels are all booked, but first thing in the morning tour buses will be picking visitors up for ‘beach tours.’
Most of the blame can be laid on the recent administrators of Fortaleza, who have done very little to encourage tourists to stay in the city. Of course, there was a reason for that. During the late 90s and early 2000s, sexual tourism became quite rampant there, and many popular areas like Praia de Iracema or Mirante (a gorgeous hill where you can see striking views of the city) deteriorated. The result was that the restaurants and clubs fled to safer areas where local patrons could enjoy their cuisine and musical attractions.
Today, you cannot walk around Praia de Iracema anymore without noticing how things have changed. The elevated sidewalks built in the mid-80s are in horrible disrepair. The Ponte dos Ingleses (Englishmen’s Bridge), a pier where young folks congregated to watch the sun go down is now nicknamed ‘Ponte dos Assaltos’ (Mugger’s Bridge) due to the large number of muggings there.
Mirante is now abandoned, and Avenida Beira-Mar is empty at night save for a few caipirinha vendors (excellent there for a great price), tour agents selling packages to attractions out of town and random locals looking for a cheap drink.
Representative Artur Bruno (Workers Party, Ceará state) writes on his website that “Fortaleza should receive an average of 370,000 visitors during the July school recess season.” What he neglects to say is that few of them will actually stay in the city and move its economy.
There is talk of rehabilitating some of the abandoned tourist attractions with the influx of foreign visitors during the 2014 World Cup (Fortaleza will be hosting some of the games), but I don’t think I can take them seriously.
Let me tell you that I do NOT want to give Fortaleza a bad image. It is after all one of the few places in the world I can call home, and I love it when I get a chance to visit. But I am tired of looking at the places I knew before and seeing them as a mere memory.
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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