Salvador, Bahia

Leaving the chaos and fun of Rio behind a very tired Annie boarded a plane for Salvador a city on Brazil’s northwest coast known for it’s Afro-Brazilian culture and beaches. Arriving in the evening I bussed to my hotel Casa Inglesa (would highly recommend) (I splashed out after the not particularly good hostel in Rio) and promptly told the hotel owner that he didn’t need to worry about giving me activities or things to do that evening, all I wanted to do was shower and sleep! To my delight the hotel owner did inform me there was Netflix on the TV in my room… So for the first time in a long time I lay in bed watching TV as I fell asleep and when I woke up I continued to watch TV and not do anything for a while… It was bliss.

When I finally forced myself out of bed I was treated to complimentary breakfast which was a real step up from the complimentary breakfast we were served in Rio ! I started the meal with fresh fruit (melon, mango and papaya), followed it with some granola and yoghurt and finished it off with a cheese tapioca… It’s fair to say that I was taking full advantage of the breakfast and had zero intention of purchasing lunch that day. Leaving the hotel I initially struggled to find the bus stop as there were no visible signs of one, after wandering up and down the street for about 10 minutes I noticed that the bus appeared to just stop where the crowds of people had chosen to congregate along the street. So I joined one of the groups, asked if they were waiting for a bus to the historical centre (or if they could tell me which line was) and I was set, within 5 minutes I had boarded a bus with AC and wifi (very upmarket I thought) and off to the historical centre I went.

Lift between the Upper and Lower parts of the historic centre

Salvador’s historic centre is divided as an upper and lower area, while you could walk up or down the hill between these two areas it is far more novel to take the lift that costs all of $0.10 NZ between the two levels. Getting into the lift with 20 other people, there was no AC and just one man sitting on a chair playing music from his phone very loudly who operated the lift. After 15 seconds the cramped and hot journey was over and I stepped out to this view…

It’s fair to say that a lot of Salvador is missing the facelift that I suspect Rio de Janeiro had prior to the Olympics. Buildings like these littered the streets of the historic centre. I wandered the streets in search of the Mercado Modelo which I had been told was full of artisan handicrafts from Bahia. Finding the market I should probably not have been surprised to find that the area was full of junk and all those useful travel items I had been missing such as hammocks, drums and Gollywog dolls… Obviously it took an awful lot of self-control not to buy everything in sight!

After a brief wander through the Mercado Modelo I headed back up to the upper level of the historic centre, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, to have a look at the colourful buildings and just wander through the streets. The area was full of touts, pastel coloured buildings, musicians, women dressed up in traditional Bahian dress… It was everything a tourist attraction should be!

The Church at the end of this street, Igreja e Convento de São Francisco, gained my custom due to the promise of a bathroom inside. While the Church’s interior is enormously ornate and golden, my favourite part was the blue tiling in the courtyard which depicted scenes based on quotes from the bible, my favourite quote being…

Which translates to ‘Nothing is more useful than silence’… I like it in more of an ironic rather than instructive way.

As I wandered down the side streets of the historic centre I was surprised to find that unlike many European cities, the historic centre is still very much an area where people live. There were kids coming and going from school, houses opening out onto the streets and men sitting on verandas shooting the shit.

While walking through the streets I was also able to see a drumming band walking through the streets, with the noise so loud you could feel it vibrating up from the streets and through your bones.

The streets were just very full of colour, both in buildings and in the way people dressed. It is evident everywhere you turn that Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian culture is well and truly alive and thriving in the city.

This was the only evidence I found that Salvador was involved in the Olympics at all!

Leaving the historic centre around 2:30 I headed back to my beachside hotel for an afternoon of blobbing on the beach and basking in the sunshine. After negotiating the buses back to Barra I stumbled across a vegetarian buffet restaurant that was heaving with people and decided I would be silly not to give it a crack. After some confusion over how the buffet worked the staff successfully explained to me that this was a restaurant where you weighed your plate at the end of the buffet and paid based on the weight of your plate! Excited by the prospect of this I loaded my plate up with all the delicious and mysterious things I could find (only one item of which I deemed uneatable)…

What this meal lacks in presentation it made up for in customer satisfaction… it was nearly all delicious!

Stuffed full of veges I wandered down to the beach where I concluded my day lying in the sun reading, swimming and watching the sunset… 

After sunset I somewhat lost my nerve to hang around that area by myself and sought refuge in my hotel room excited by the thought of Netflix, my book and another big night of sleep!

My second day started with another delicious breakfast, made even better than the day before by the discovery that I could have a banana and Nutella tapioca (naturally I had 2)! After breakfast I had organised to go on a tour 70km up the coast to a beach town called Praia do Forte. As I left my hotel it was pouring with rain and the thought of a day at the beach seemed somewhat ridiculous!! On the tour with me were two lovely Italian sisters, one of whom is currently living in Salvador working on her architecture PH.D., an Argentine woman, about six Brazilians and another Italian couple. While it appeared that every person on the tour spoke Portuguese except me I was lucky enough to have the Italians help translate everything into English for me so that I knew what was going on. Arriving in Praia do Forte the weather cleared, the sun came out and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.

We were taken straight to the Tamar Turtle Sanctuary which is a conservation effort that occurs down the coast of Brazil to help sea turtles. It was amazing to see the turtles and watch them cruise about… I even got to touch one… I couldn’t help but feel that this conservation effort was slightly misguided, the turtles were kept in very small pools and given that some of them migrate up to 10,000 miles each year.

I’m somewhat confused why we call sunglasses “tortoise shell” when it’s definitely a turtle’s shell that they mimic!

I then went to explore the town of Praia do Forte. It has a real “resort town” feel, like Denarau in Fiji. Walking down the Main Street the buildings alternated between restaurant, shop, souvenir stall (rinse and repeat). After about 30 minutes of wandering up and down the Main Street we got back into the mini van to go to another, less crowded beach for lunch and a swim. As we climbed into the van the weather turned at alarming speed, one moment it was a crystal clear, blue sky day and then all of a sudden the sky was full of black clouds that promised torrential downpours. 

We arrived at the second beach and decided that we would try wait out the bad weather by having lunch at Bar do Carlinhos. Sharing a meal with my new Argentine friend Silvia we ate moqueca de pescada amarela and camarão. A fish and prawn dish served in a broth with rice and some sort of cheesy mashed kumara. It was seriously delicious, traditional Bahian cuisine!

Again, looks don’t do this justice!

After lunch and another hour and a half of Spanish-Italian-Portuguese-English conversation the rain showed no sign of abating and so as a group we decided to head back to Salvador early rather than trying to stick it out in the rain.

As night set in and the heavens continued to pour down on Salvador I lay in bed watching multiple episodes of Gilmore Girls in the dry safety of my hotel room. The highlight of the evening was finding the perfect volume that didn’t need to be changed when the theme song was playing… Which was inexplicably much louder than the rest of the show!

As occurs everywhere I travel, inevitably at some point life admin, such as washing, must be done. So my third day in Salvador started with me trying to work out which of my clothes were dirty and which just smelled a bit funny because they have been travelling round in a backpack for four months. My two new Italian friends then invited me to their house for lunch to stopping by the vegetarian restaurant I found to buy some cake to take with me I tootled off to their house where I enjoyed a delicious Italian meal… “Just like Mama makes it”. We had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon talking about our experience in Brazil, my travels in Italy and their plans for the future. It was somewhat startling to hear these 28 and 30 year old girls talk about how they couldn’t move out of their parent’s house in Milan because it was so hard to find work and they just couldn’t afford it. They were equally surprised to hear me say that in NZ the norm is to move out of your parents’ house when you leave school and (unless you are like me) not move back in. After lunch we wandered down to the beach and stayed there till the sunset, laughing at the Brazilians cheering at the end of the sunset – I was then informed that that happens nearly every night!

My evening took a slightly strange turn when I returned to my hotel and found two Canadian women in the lobby. While normally that is not cause for concern or alarm given out history it was a seriously strange coincidence.. To explain this I must backtrack a bit…

While in Rio, travelling to the Modern Pentathlon, Angus and I helped two Canadian women on the train who were confused about where they should be getting off. We told them we were getting off at the same stop so we would let them know when to hop off. We did that, parted ways and thought nothing more of it. That night, after roaming the streets of Rio for a wee while Angus and I ended up at a random little cafe in Saint Teresa and ended up seated right next to these same two Canadian women. None of us could really believe the coincidence, while these women were dining near their hotel Angus and I were not near our hostel and had ended up at that cafe by accident because we didn’t like the menu of the cafe I had originally suggested we go to. We chatted to the two women a wee bit, laughed at the coincidence and discussed our respective travel plans. Realising they were also going to Salvador we laughed and said imagine if we ran into each other there – realising this was near impossible given the size of Salvador and the fact that our trips only crossed over by two days.

Back to Salvador… After a day with the two lovely Italian girls I walked into the hotel lobby (this hotel has 8 rooms… More of a guesthouse) and who do I see sitting in the lobby but the two Canadian women. After recovering from the shock (which in my case presented itself as a laughing fit) we all agreed clearly the fates were pushing us together so we popped out to a vegan restaurant down the road and had dinner together.

My final day in Salvador commenced with me doing battle with my backpack which seems to be getting harder and harder to close with each passing day. When I finally got to the zipper to close and lick I stored my belongings and headed off to the Afro-Brazilian Museum in the historic centre. The museum was very small and informative, explaining the influence of the African slave trade that was headed up by Portugal on the modern demographics of Brazil and in particular the Bahian region. My favourite part of the museum was the wood panel carvings at the very back of the museum by Hector Júlio Paride Barnabó. The wood panels had Afro-Brazilian deities carved into them and then had been made three dimensional through use of metal. 

Leaving the museum I got caught in a surprise thunderstorm and in the 50m I ran to reach the shelter of a cafe I was soaked to the bone. As I burst through the door of the cafe the waitresses response was perfect, she simply picked up a pile of napkins, walked over to me and started patting me dry. The staff at the cafe took a liking to me and gave me my second cappuccino free and both of them were decorated…

Jumping on a bus to head back to my hotel to do some odd jobs, such as buying presents for people in Japan, I became slightly distracted by the wifi on the bus… I missed my stop and didn’t notice for 20 minutes at which point we were well and truly in the slums. I decided to sit tight as I thought surely the bus would do a loop. Well, an hour and a half later the bus did turn around to complete the loop.. We had reached the airport!!! 

A map of my extended bus trip

Three and a half hours after boarding the bus I made it back to my hotel. Losing faith in my bussing ability I called and uber and ubered to the airport setting off on my final adventure of my five month trip. Back to Japan to climb Mt Fuji!!


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