Fortaleza and the cachaça museum

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En route from the Amazon to Rio, our ship stopped at the city of Fortaleza, in northeastern Brazil. We were completely ignorant of this place, and so were amazed at the immensity of the city. It is a city of over two million people. Approaching from the ocean, we saw a wall of apartment buildings along the beach.  

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Like Manaus, this city has the reputation for economic and security challenges. We had selected a shore excursion whose destination was outside of the city, so we witnessed cityscapes only in transit. Just as our bus pulled out of the cruise-port parking area, we could see this interesting chapel — or perhaps water tank. 

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Just beyond it, a favela faced the rocky reefs. 

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Our guide explained that this neighborhood, adjacent to the cruise piers, was not very safe. He recalled some cruise travelers who wanted to walk from the piers into the city, and he had to discourage them. If we hadn’t had an organized tour, we would have been tempted to do that walk as well — without really understanding the realities of Fortaleza. 

On our highway route out of town, we saw a mashup of modern apartment towers, and brick and tin favelas. They were all woven together, rather than distinct separate districts. During the bus trip, our personable guide shared an introduction to Fortaleza and its region. The Spanish first visited the area in 1500, but it wasn’t until 1603 that Portuguese colonization began. Sugar cane, slavery and trade with Europe have been important economic engines for the region through the centuries. Slavery wasn’t abolished in Fortaleza, and Brazil, until 1888. 

Today, one of Fortaleza’s important crops is cashew nuts. Apparently, for Brazilians, Fortaleza means cashews. (We bought and ate a few!). We had never thought about how cashew nuts grow. The fruit of the cashew nut tree is colorful, like an apple, with the nut protruding from one end. The fruit part is edible as well, and is made into preserves, chutneys and liquors. Seeing how labor-intensive it must be to extract one nut from each fruit makes it clearer why cashew nuts are expensive. 

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photo from the internet

As our bus was leaving the urban area and entering the lush countryside, our guide asked if anyone needed some insect repellent. He handed around a small bottle for those who hadn’t planned ahead. We had been careful. Preparing for our trip into the Amazon meant our receiving an injection against Yellow Fever, as well a pills for resistance to malaria. Fortunately, by the end of our trip, we had barely encountered any mosquitoes. Someone in the bus asked our guide if he’d ever had malaria. He replied, “Oh no.” He continued, saying that while malaria, dengue fever, zika and other tropical diseases are common in Fortaleza, he’s only had zika. He felt very bad for a while but recovered. He explained as if he had just had the flu. We made sure our insecticide covered every square inch of exposed skin. 

Our tour destination was a so-called Cachaça Museum.

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Cachaça is Brazil’s favorite hard liquor. Like rum, sugar cane is its main ingredient. Unlike rum, whose source is molasses, which is a by-product of the cane sugar-making process, cachaça is made from fresh sugar cane juice. Its most famous cocktail is the caiparinha. Simple recipe: muddled lime, sugar, ice and cachaça. There are many variations with mashed fresh tropical fruits. It’s refreshing — and powerful! Sip at your own (happy) risk. 

The cachaça museum is part distillery, part exhibit, part outdoor family fun park, called, inexplicably, iPark.

We visited on a Tuesday. While there were acres of walkways, ponds, paddle boats, exhibits, swimming pools, and petting zoos, there were no visitors but our cruise group of about 20 adults. It was a sunny hot day, but almost no sound or movement. The staff said that a weekday not in a school holiday week meant no visitors. On the weekends, however, the place would be packed. 

The core is the original cachaça production buildings, dating from the mid 1800s. As you’d expect, we were shown exhibits about the history of the family that founded and developed Ypióca, and about how cachaça was and is made.

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Our lives are a bit fuller now: We’ve seen the largest wooden barrel in the world, purportedly full of cachaca.  

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Nice display of Ypióca’s branding over the years:

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Their inevitable, and anticipated, tasting room was full of character, although a bit claustrophobic. At this bar, we tasted so-called mild versions, and powerful varieties. Just like wine, different flavor nuances and colors come from the use of different wood barrels.

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We are good impressionable tourists, so we bought a bottle to bring home (mostly because we liked the woven cane sleeve). 

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