FEAR And LOATHING In FORTALEZA, Part 1 | Robin Sparks


September 9, 2005
Fortaleza, Brazil

A man in the hotel lobby introduced himself as Steven. He was a stocky American with a Brooklyn accent, mid 60’s, wearing a wife beater shirt, baggy shorts that ended below chubby knees, and teva sandals. He had a voice that bespoke thousands, maybe millions of cigarettes.

Steven had a project – a yacht harbor he wanted to build near Fortaleza. He’d called me in the US before I left to tell me about it, to talk me into coming to Fortaleza. He hoped that my stories would attract investors, and eventually hordes of foreigners to Fortaleza. Since I’d been thinking about it anyway, I tacked Fortaleza onto the end of my itinerary.

“I have a proposal for you,” he said leaning forward on the couch. “My partner and I and our wives are taking off tomorrow morning to scout out sites. We’ve rented two four-wheel drive jeeps and we’re gonna drive all the way up to Jericoacoara, with a few stops in between. I’d like to invite you to join us.”

I’d just arrived. My clothes were dirty. I needed a bikini wax to go with my new itty bitty Brazilian bikini. (You know the world’s gone global when you can’t find a Brazilian bikini wax in Brazil, yet every Vietnamese-run salon in San Francisco offers them.) I needed a pedicure (make that a sandblaster), and there was the updating of my website to do, not to mention wading through hundreds of emails. But with Northeastern Brazil being known for having the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, some would say in the world, it was a generous offer, and a chance to see a part of Brazil I might not otherwise have the chance to.

Steven suggested I meet the gang that very evening. I accepted. Meeting the players ahead of time, would allow me to switch on my intuitive pilot before taking off for Who knows Where with Who knows Whom.

I met the women, one Russian, the other Brazilian, and Steven’s partner Dan, a Brit. The partner, like Steven, is a mid-life, post-divorce anglo man. He was reserved and seemed more egghead scientist than yacht designer. Both struck me as middle-aged men who had stepped into an adult version of Never Never Land. The kind of place where young exotic women desire you even though you are old and have seen better days. I couldn’t blame them. They seemed to be, like so many other men I’d seen here already, taking a last swipe at life. taking their last swipe at life, Tania, Dan’s “wife” was a towering, buxomy, heavily made up, blonde with hair that verged on huge, and a blouse that opened to her belly button. She was wearing four- inch platform shoes. She rolled herRrrrrrr’s; she was Russian. And yes, that’s what I was thinking too. The group was rounded out by Yvonne, the Brasilera. A tiny, bubbly, chocolate woman who spoke English with E’s on the end of every word: “like-y” and “My name-y is Yvonet-chi”, and who took it upon herself to be the caretaker of us all. Were we happy, would we like this, some more of that? Like Steven, she was a chain smoker. The story of how she and Steven met went like this. She was the family maid in Steven’s US household when he decided to divorce his wife and marry her. His kids were still pissed off, but Yvonne and the ex-wife were now friends. The Frenchman, Dierdre, would join us in the morning.

Steven didn’t look or sound the part of a bigtime bank investor, but it was clear he was in love with this part of Brazil.
“Can you believe this Robin?” he said repeatedly. “Believe what?” I’d answered. “This!” he’d say looking about him dreamily, sweeping his arm, taking in the whole of Fortaleza. “Sure.” I’d answer. Truth was, I hadn’t made up my mind yet. I needed to see more. “The Northeast” – are words that are spoken by Brazilians with a mixture of affection and….and, something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Sort of like how one might speak of a “special” relative in the family.

At the end of the evening, they wanted to know, was I in or was I out? I thought about it for a second…

There were the famed white beaches and turquoise waters, the sand dunes waiting to be topped in four-wheel drive jeeps, and there were the five merry pranksters I hadn’t known two hours earlier.

“In” I said. We were on.

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