I arrived in Fortaleza on Thursday and found myself in a humid, dangerous, crowded paradise.
The guestroom I rented through AirBNB was two blocks from the beach and less importantly, the owner was friendly and the complex had a tall gate and a big guard. It feels odd to hope for safety when I travel to a city where locals carry dummy cell phones everywhere to give to robbers, but I still do. I spoke with the apartment owner for thirty minutes and found out that I do indeed speak Portuguese, then went to the beach where I remembered again that nothing in the world feels better than a cool ocean tide rushing over your feet.
My body wasn’t beach ready. During Oregon’s fall I used foot pain as an excuse not to run and in the winter I used the cold rain as an excuse to stay indoors. I gradually put on weight that I always meant to get around to losing, but nah. I wore sweatshirts and loose jeans everywhere which fooled the people around me, but did not fool the flight of stairs which collapsed under my shocking new weight. Now that I’m in warm weather and am completely healthy for the first time since I was a teenager, I’m out of excuses.
On my first run, a pier suddenly transformed from a brown walkway into hundreds of boards, each unique in its mix of cracks, knots, white spots, and swelling. No big deal, I told myself, I’m just more perceptive in the city. The day after, reading street signs and differentiating faces became difficult during my run. Well, “shucks” I told myself. Here we go again. Epilepsy has been an off and on battle for the last eight years. It defeated me in Georgia, but I was the victor for several years during college, and after some sucker punches at the beginning and end of my last trip — two years across six continents — I had won. I have no plan to surrender in Brazil.
After five days I’m already seeing the effects of my running and terrible diet: A small bowl of cereal for breakfast; two 100-calorie packets of yogurt for lunch; whatever I can buy on the street for $2.00 for dinner; plus tangerines and water throughout the day. Combined with spending hours every day running or walking on the beach, I’m already watching my clothes fit looser as I lose pounds of muscle mass. I want to get a membership at a nearby gym and buy some whey protein but everything has been closed for Carnaval.
Did I not mention Carnaval already? I’ve wanted to get to Brazil for a while, but Carnaval was the reason I chose February. Fortaleza’s celebration is more subdued than those in Salvador or Rio de Janeiro. While those feature naked goddesses wearing feathers and painted green and riding atop floats surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the city, Fortaleza’s version is a huge beach party. Live bands play samba music on a temporary stage on Irecema beach every night, while thousands of people dance in the sand and hundreds of others nearby are playing soccer and volleyball on the beach and middle-aged men surf in the background.
Life is good.
After a few hours at one of the parties, shadows became three-dimensional and people became two dimensional. I thought this was behind me. Hell, I even used some alternative facts to get nine months worth of anti-seizure medication from the VA before leaving — on previous trips I only had three to six months with me. When the visions got worse I realized it was time to go.
The visual tricks my mind was playing on me did little to distract me during the week. I spent hours every day at the beach, met plenty of charismatic people, and greatly improved my already passable Portuguese. If this isn’t paradise, paradise doesn’t exist.
But all of that ends today. Ash Wednesday was the last day of Carnaval, and today marks one week in Brazil and the beginning of work. I had started organizing my next book* a few days ago and found that the source material was much stronger than I thought, but will take a significant time to change it from journal entries and rants into an intelligible book.
There couldn’t be a better place to spend significant time.
*The working title of my next book is Altruists Anonymous. It will be a memoir and how to guide for working and/or creating DIY charities with no organization or overhead costs. It includes stints as a real-life superhero, interpreter at a refugee camp, and several jobs for local-run organizations in the global south. It will be every bit as weird as it sounds.