Well I have left the Caucasuses behind, spent two lovely days in Dubai (and the amazing souks) where I was able to buy a replacement Lumix camera (yay … goodbye crappy camera), and survived 22 hours flying to Salvador, Brazil. The flight from Dubai to São Paulo was on an Emirates A380 and was by far the most comfortable and amazing plane I have ever flown on. The plane had two levels, with the first floor made up of economy class and the second floor made up of business and first class. First class had the famous suites and showers (which I was not able to see) and business class had the famous back of the plane bar (which I took full advantage of). The food and my seat (11F) were fabulous. Highly recommend the A380.
Anyway, I arrived in Salvador, Brazil just after 8:00 p.m. on Saturday and reached my hotel by just before 9:00 p.m. My hotel is a small boutique hotel owned by a French couple and both gentlemen were in the lobby to greet me. And I have to say, these guys run a slick operation. First class accommodations and first class staff. My hotel room is lovely with a balcony and view to the Atlantic Ocean, a gorgeous pool and a rooftop bar. Right up there with the best hotel I have stayed in on this trip.
Now a little bit about Salvador. Salvador is located north of Rio de Janeiro in Bahia State. Salvador was settled by the Portuguese in 1549 and was at one time the capital of Portugal’s New World empire. Shortly after area was settled, African slaves were brought to Salvador. Today, their descendants use music, food, martial-arts, dance and religion to preserve and celebrate their heritage.
The city is divided into the upper city, which includes the historic Pelourinho district, a UNESCO world heritage site, with cobblestone alleys, large squares, colorful buildings, spontaneous dance parties, lively bars with street music and baroque churches, and the lower city comprised of the commercial center, with a port and market. (My hotel is located in the Pelourinho district and when I arrived on Saturday night, the streets were packed and I could hear music all over the place. In fact, Michael Jackson filmed a video right outside where my hotel is located so if you want to get an idea of the area Google the video “They Don’t Care About Us”.)
After I arrived, I spent Sunday relaxing with a few pints to celebrate my 16th anniversary of my kidney transplant and was even able to watch the Seattle Seahawks football game on T.V. in Portuguese. The hilarious part was that every time the Seahawks scored a touchdown, the announcer went nuts and yelled Tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuchdooooooooooooownnnnnnnnnnn (yes tuchdown not touchdown) as if it were a soccer goal. I am really mad I did not video tape it.
Anyway, on Monday, I met up with my guide, Fernando Bingre to tour the Pelourinho area in the afternoon and then enjoy a “beach party”of sorts at “Hood” Beach. We began the tour in Pelourinho Square and the first thing I learned was not pretty. The name Pelourinho means “whipping post”. Apparently during the slavery period that lasted almost 300 year, there was a public whipping post in the square where we stood where slaves were publicly whipped. It was a pretty harsh introduction to this historic area.
We then wandered down the cobblestone street past the 18th century Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People church and down the hill towards the San Antonio district, which is a more residential area than the Pelourinho filled with 16th century to 20th century buildings and lots and lots of churches. The streets were narrow and very, very hilly. And as we walked, we passed street vendors selling everything from tapioca to coconuts.
At the top of the hill we took a look in the Our Lady of Carmo Church before doubling back and walking down a different street past Art Deco residences and buildings. We ended up taking a detour to ride the funicular down to the lower city just for the fun of it before turning around and riding it back up to the upper city.
We then walked back to the Pelourinho district and down the street past the Olodum headquarters. The Olodum is a cultural group based in Pelourinho that helps young people to boost self-esteem and combat racism. The Olodum is most famous for its Afro-Brazilian percussion group, which was featured in Michael’s Jackson video I mentioned above.
Anyway, as we walked further down the street we could hear the sound of drums and low and behold, there was a percussion school where kids were practicing their drumming skills. Unfortunately, the doors were closed, but we could hear the riveting sounds through the windows.
We then wandered down yet another narrow alley to the front of the São Francisco Church that dates to 1723. Now I was not planning on visiting any churches in Salvadore, but Fernando suggested the trip inside was worth it so we paid the 5 reals for entry and took a trip around the interior. And while I found the refurbished interior garish to say the least, the church did have two pretty cool attractions. First, the original tile paintings in the courtyard each came with their own description of what the scene was supposed to depict. My favourites were “Money Permits Everything”, “All Obeys the Money” and “Envy is Great Evil” (which I thought should be the “The Dog Wants My Apple”). Made me laugh all the way around the church.
The second was the carved angels in the church. Apparently slaves were used to help construct the church and in order to subtlety show their displeasure at their enslavement, the artisans carved “creepy” angels. Now not all the angels were creepy, but their was certainly a fare share of creepy angels so that it was pretty obvious what the artisans were up to. And all I have to say is well done people!
We left the church and walked across another square where we were stopped by a “Bahia woman”. These are women who dress up in bouffant traditional dresses that were worn by enslaved women who worked in the homes of the Portuguese and earn their money by having their pictures taken with people. The bouffant dress was supposed to hide the shape of the enslaved women so they were less likely to entice the Portuguese men. However, as Fernando pointed out, the getup did not work since there are a number of mixed race people in Bahia. Anyway, I bit and had my picture taken with the lady for 5 real (less than $1.50…. You gotta earn a living somehow).
Our last stop in Pelourinho was a square where a statue was erected to the memory of Zumbi dos Palmeras, an enslaved man recognized as one of the pioneers in the resistance against slavery in the 17th century. He was eventually killed and his head was severed and placed in a square in Pátio do Carmo in order to deter the resistance effort.
We then stopped for a look at the waterfront before taking the Elevador Lacerda down to the lower city. Now the elevator was first used in 1610 to transport people and goods from the port to the upper city. The elevator was run using a system of ropes and pulleys. This was replaced by a steam engine to run the elevator system and finally the current electric system was installed in 1928.
The trip in the elevator took less than 5 seconds (it was FAST), and at the bottom, we visited the Mercado Modelo, which was once the site where slaves were held and later sold. The site is now a two-story market where local handicrafts and food is sold. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with the market. Most of the “handicrafts” being sold were junky Chinese made stuff that in no way looked “handmade”. Big disappointment.
We then climbed into a cab to head to watch the sunset at Hood Beach. Unfortunately, the trip took a bad turn when we were held up in a massive traffic jam, which we soon learned was the result of a fatality motorcycle accident. And quite frankly, given how reckless the many, many motorcyclists appear to be in this area (weaving in and out of traffic and cutting off cars at very high rates of speed), I am surprised we only saw one fatality.
Anyway, when we finally arrived at the beach the sun had already set, but I still managed a nice picture or two. Now the “Beach Party” is actually a regular Monday night neighborhood block party for the black community from a nearby favela (a polite word for slum). Many who live in the favela work on Sundays, so the beach party is a way to extend the weekend. The locals gather at the beach to watch the sun set, then the barbecues start up, the beer is opened and the samba music begins. Fernando used to live in the neighborhood and likes to bring tourists to the party since it is about as far off the tourist path as you can get.
We walked down a narrow alley filled with people who were already in full party mode, and it was quickly clear that I was the only Caucasian at the party. We reached the beach and after some pictures, took up residence in a beachfront bar where music was already playing. One of Fernando’s friends quickly found us by spotting a white woman with a camera. Yikes. Nothing like standing out in a crowd.
Shortly after sitting down, the place began to fill up and the beat of the music had the locals shaking their booties. It was a fascinating. We ordered some drinks from a woman who seemed to be in charge of the drink cooler on the patio where we were sitting. The lady clearly knew everyone and was not taking crap from anyone. My kind of woman!
So we sat, drank, listened to the music and watched the dancers samba away in the very sticky night air. As I watched, I kept wondering how the Brazilians could shake and sway their butts back and forth and perform fancy step moves all at the same time. I have trouble walking….
Anyway, after about an hour and a half of being completely entertained, we took our leave. As we paid for our drinks, I handed the boss lady back the 10 real in change she gave me for her tip. I thought she was going to cry. She started shaking, showed me goosebumps on her arms and hugged me. Huh? I only gave her about $3.50. Then it hit me. The folks from the favelas don’t earn much and the minimal money I tipped was probably more than she would earn all night. How much I take for granted….
Fernando and his friend ordered an Uber for me and escorted me back to my hotel. It had been a thoroughly fun and educational day. Tomorrow we do the lower city and then tomorrow night we will be experiencing Blessed Nights. Rather than explain it now, I will save it for me next blog. Until then … it was time for bed.