Written by onesundaymorning on 19 Aug, 2006
This is everything in Brazil. No matter where you go you can see capoeira. This is a form of martial arts done to a Samba beet that was invented by slaves in Brazil. They were forbidden to learn a form of self-defense so they created…Read More
This is everything in Brazil. No matter where you go you can see capoeira. This is a form of martial arts done to a Samba beet that was invented by slaves in Brazil. They were forbidden to learn a form of self-defense so they created Capoeira. This was a style of fighting that looks like dancing. It was done to Samba music, so when the slave masters were coming a look out would warn the people playing the music. They would change the beet slightly signaling for the fighters to break into dancing
If you have the time I suggest taking a class. It will cost about $20 and last an hour. There are several places in the Cidade Alta where you can take a class. It is the most invigorating thing I ever done. By the end of the class you are so sweaty, but never so energized. This is easily seen in any capoeira performance. The performers are always more amazing at the end then at the beginning.
If you aren’t interested in a class, take in a show. The dinners are usually over priced and bad, the show more then makes up for it. These shows usually fall along the same lines. They tell the stories of the Afro-Brazilian gods though the form of dance. At the end the capoeira performers come out. They end up flipping off the walls. Sometimes they even pull the people in the audience up on stage to dance with them.
The city is divided into two levels, the lower level and the upper and the upper level, Cidade Alta. The lower level looks a bit seedy where, as the upper level is very clean and very touristy. However keep in mind tourists shouldn’t be up…Read More
The city is divided into two levels, the lower level and the upper and the upper level, Cidade Alta. The lower level looks a bit seedy where, as the upper level is very clean and very touristy. However keep in mind tourists shouldn’t be up there at night. I know at least four people who were beaten up and robbed there in the same night.
There are two ways to get to the upper level one is by cable car and the other is by elevator, yes it’s really an elevator. Just below it there is a wonderful market where you can find everything from cloths and jewelry to musical instruments and hammocks.
The Cidade Alta is very clean and so beautiful, especially all of the old churches. If you are looking for some place to eat there is a little pizza shop and Internet café in the plaza area where you can get very good pizza at a decent price.
At night the upper level turns into one big dance party. When I was there was a big bus with the playboy logo on the side blasting music. Everyone stopped what they were doing to dance in the street. Although it was fun this was the point of the night when all the tourists were getting robbed.
Written by actonsteve on 21 Mar, 2005
As I strolled along Itaparica beach, there was a movement off to my left. The water splashed, and a man's head emerged. The rest of him followed, striding out of the surf, black as ebony, clutching a snorkel and dripping water in the sun. He…Read More
As I strolled along Itaparica beach, there was a movement off to my left. The water splashed, and a man's head emerged. The rest of him followed, striding out of the surf, black as ebony, clutching a snorkel and dripping water in the sun. He smiled a greeting, then threw his catch onto the sand - a huge starfish as big as your hand that writhed and wriggled. With a grin, he scooped up his prize and made off down the beach, an air of satisfaction apparent from his swagger.Itaparica beach is as close as I have come to paradise on this trip to Brazil. The sense of remoteness and space on the beach were one of the attractions of my tour of the Baiae dos Todos Santos (Bay of All Saints). An agency in Pelhurinho fixed me up with an excursion that included a day adventure around the enormous bay that enfolds Salvador de Bahia. For fifty reals (£12/$15), I got a trip in a sailboat which took in numerous islands and beaches and fitted in a lunch at the biggest island - the colossal Itaparica. The Baiae do Todos Santos is one of the main attractions in Salvador de Bahia. The city itself sits at a right angle on its edge overlooking the bay. There are over 31 islands within the bay, mostly uninhabited, and the biggest Itaparica is so big that it looks like the mainland across the bay from the heights of Salvador. I thought I saw good beaches on Ilha Grande...but nothing prepared me for the vastness of Itaparica.Early that morning, I had to get myself to Marina Bahia in the Cidade Baixa. When the sun is out in Bahia (and that is a lot, even in spring) the water of the Baiae looks bright blue, and bobbing in the marina was our lancha (sailboat). The boat was too stories high, with plenty of seating for the hundred or so tourists on board who look out on the open sea. The view as we chugged away from the marina was impressive. The whole of the Cidade Baixa in its dilapidated glory soared above us. The stark marble of the Lacerda elevator could be seen, as could the fading pastel colonial buildings high on the outcrop. We also had musicians to play for us - three lads who sang bossa nova anthems. Each one was very good - assured drummer, enthusiastic tambourine player and very professional ukulele strummer. It really added ambience to the journey.It took two hours to cross the Baiae do Todos Santos. With capirinhas with little umbrellas being passed around, I was beginning to feel a tourist rather than a traveller. It was all abit "Caribbean wedding" or "Pirate Theme night", and it was an unenthusiastic Steve who saw Ilha Mare loom up on the horizon. The lancha moored on a little breakwater, and we had to walk along this breakwater to get to the beach. This was fine until we realised we had to pay to reach the beach. Tourist trap? Oh, yes, they even charged you for using the toilets, and passengers were plied with so many capirinhas, they had no choice. The tourist hordes descended on the obligatory white-sand beach, and the hawkers and sellers descended on the hordes. Unfortunately, rain prevented any serious beach enjoyment, as the tourists hid in the covered restaurants from the downpour and the hawkers found they had their customers trapped. I can now add Ilha Mare to Phuket and Buzios on the list of tropical resorts I have visited in the pouring rain.Then it was back on the lancha and another hour south across the Baiae to the prime attraction - Itaparica. The tropical sun came out, and as we approached the island, an endless screen of palm trees filled the whole horizon. White flecks of beach could be seen rubbing up against the moving surf, and this surf seemed to stretch for tens of miles in every direction. As we glided in, we had to moor 100 feet from shore because the water was so shallow. Motor canoes crewed by teenage islanders came out to meet us, and everybody, young and old, had to feel their way into the canoes, which buzzed back to where the surf was breaking. There, we still had to jump into the water to reach the shore, and to everyone’s amusement, the older generation were carried on the backs of these islanders.Then it was a couple of hours on Itaparica beach. Brazil is famous for its beaches. Jericoacoara, which is way up on the Caribbean coast near Fortaleza, is regularly voted the best beach in the world. But for sheer size, Itaparica has to be one of the best I have ever seen. You literally couldn't see the end - it vanished into the distance. The backdrop was palm forest interspersed by little wooden shacks. The sun came out and lit up everything, and the beach itself was mainly compressed sand with water drifting in to little tidal inlets, staying shallow hundreds of yards out to sea. I strolled for an hour along its shore, watching the Baianos on horses gallop past and letting the warm water lightly brush against my feet.After we climbed back aboard the lancha, the rain clouds moved back in. I didn't mind because it created a huge rainbow arcing over the beach at Itaparica. One final good memory to keep...
Just how many times can you watch a turtle swim around its pool in the pouring rain?Well, despite the weather, the turtles fascinated me. There is something primeval about them--something slow and ponderous, as if they have just emerged from the Jurassic or Cretaceous age.…Read More
Just how many times can you watch a turtle swim around its pool in the pouring rain?Well, despite the weather, the turtles fascinated me. There is something primeval about them--something slow and ponderous, as if they have just emerged from the Jurassic or Cretaceous age. With their strong jaws, leathery backs, and protruding eyes, they do look like something out of the age of the dinosaur. They are something rare and special, and the sanctuary I visited was set up to protect this exceptionally endangered species.Brazil has some of the greatest turtle populations in the world. It definitely has some of the longest tropical coastline in the world--a coastline whose temperature starts to rise just north of Sao Paolo and stretches tens of thousands of miles, around the bump of South America to Guyana and Venezuela on the Caribbean coast. These thousands of miles of unspoilt beaches are where turtles have hauled themselves up to lay their eggs for millions of years. Unfortunately, due to the depredations of man, the sea turtles that use this coast are in trouble. Project Tamar at the turtle sanctuary seeks to reverse this decline by releasing new turtles into the sea each year from its beaches.And I must admit that I have a weakness for animal viewing. I was a week in Salvador de Bahia, and while I met friends in the evening, I felt I had time to take one excursion out of the city, and Project Tamar was my first choice. A very good travel agency on the Terreiro de Jesus fixed me up with a day trip for fifty reals. Salvador has been on the domestic Brazilian tourist circuit for many years (it is seen as very exotic even by Brazilians) but has only just been building the big resorts for international tourists. We stopped at a few of these on our way north out of Salvador and the big chain hotels looked out of place in Ondina and Pituba. The northern suburbs of Salvador stunned me - I did not expect beach after beach after beach. They were lined with Afro-Brasileiros clutching surfboards, showering off the sand, or just hanging out with friends. Some Bahians may be very poor, but the beach is free.North of Salvador, we cleared the suburbs and followed the A102 along the Bahian coast. This is where the famous dunes of the Northeast start. They were also covered in palm forests. One of the biggest exports of Bahia is cashew nuts. The nuts are poisonous in their natural state and have to be baked before they can be exported and eaten. Swathes of palm forest covered the resort of Praia do Forte which twenty years ago was a small fishing village of 200 people and now is a big, sanitised resort with a purpose built tourist village selling T-shirts, jewellers, surf boards and beachwear. It was the same antiseptic, spiffy clean as I remember from Buzios - not a street child or beggar in sight. However, the hawkers were just as persistent as they were in Pelhurinho.The turtle sanctuary is at the end of the main street and costs 6 reals. Inside was a beach (praia), and thick and deep white sand covered everything, and dotted around were a number of pools and aquariums. The pools contained sea creatures - sand sharks, rays, and a monster fish called a 'Mero'. There was a tub full of baby turtles and a huge pool of sharks and eels. Rain was now coming down, making the sand rather sticky to walk on, and each pool was now splattered with rain droplets. But I entered into the spirit of the excursion and was impressed to see the whole project backed onto the beach. Turtle eggs were buried on the beach, ready to hatch; each one was covered in wire netting to protect it from predators. Project Tamar has a big responsibility. It watches and protects the hundreds of turtle nesting sites hundreds of miles up the Brazilian coast. It boasts reintroducing 100,000 new hatchlings to the wild each year.And can you view the adult turtles? There were truly some monsters there - according to the literature, one of the big male turtles was over 60 years old. Most were too old or two unhealthy to cope by themselves in the wild, so instead they swim around saltwater pools and are ogled by hundreds of tourists. I must admit they are friendly - a couple of the larger hawksbill turtles would come to the pool edge and snort hello. One of the best pools was a large central one containing six huge monsters. A humpback bridge crossed where you could watch these big titans, which were often four feet in diameter, effortlessly glide below you...I found myself absolutely enchanted by these creatures. Rain? Ha! Who cares... Close
In Salvador de Bahia, capoeira occurs daily.
On the strike of the clock at 11am, Bahian youths dressed only in white trousers climb onto a podium in the restaurant area of the Mercado Modelo and start to dance/fight.
Percussion instruments create a ryhthm for their leaping and…Read More
In Salvador de Bahia, capoeira occurs daily.
On the strike of the clock at 11am, Bahian youths dressed only in white trousers climb onto a podium in the restaurant area of the Mercado Modelo and start to dance/fight.
Percussion instruments create a ryhthm for their leaping and kicking. This "semi-balletic" art form is an expression of Bahian culture. Two sinewy black lads spin and whirl around each other in "mock combat" (see photo). People gather to watch a dance created in years gone by for people to settle their differences without resorting to violence. It's very popular. I've seen teenagers on the promenade at Barra mimic capoeira. A form expression for the poor in some ways it exemplifies this city - energetic, macho, violent, and very exotic.
Capoeira is found each day at the Victorian market (Mercado Modelo) situated in the Cidade Baixa (lower city). This is the section of the town which lies below the great towering granite buff of Pelhurinho and contains the market, marina, and ferries to the outlying islands. It is workaday Salvador, containing office blocks and bus routes, but I found it more relaxing than the hawker-infested upper city. It looks fairy neglected, and most 18th-century buildings have not been given the lick of pastel paint that their countenances on the bluff above have had. It's also hotter, and Pelhurinho benefits from breezes not caught by the lower city and the docks.
To get there, head for Praca Municipal in Pelhurinho. The whole of the northern side of the Praca is a balustrade viewpoint looking out to sea. From here, you can see the bright blue of the Baiae do Todos os Santos, and directly below is the marina, modern art statue, and the Mercado Modelo. Perched on the edge of the Cidade Alta is the Lacerda elevator - the best way down to the Cidade Baixa (low city). The elevator (see photo) is a strange contraption. A marble tunnel leans out over the edge, and at the end is the elevator which travels up and down an enormous leg. It costs five centavos, and you have to queue to use the three lifts. I thought it would be a barn-like structure that packed in many people. Instead I got an office-type lift that only took about fifteen at a time. It was perfectly safe, as a female attendant was in there all day. And I must tell you - hang on to your stomach. The elevator plummets like a stone!
It opens opposite the marina and the mercado. This is workaday Salvador, with buses disgorging passengers and people scurrying off to the scruffy office blocks that dot the lower city. Across the road is the market but better still is the marina, where jagandasfishing boats tie up and the water here is bright sapphire. Beyond this, across a busy road, is the Touristicus Terminus. It is here where boats and ferries to the islands in the Baiae dos Todos os Santos leave. The most popular of these is the boat to the Morro do Sao Paolo, a tropical paradise not yet discovered by the crowds. Trips of the bay can be arranged here and cost about 50 reals for an entire day.
But the big draw of the lower city is the Mercado Modelo. The old Victorian half-dome market is very popular with tourists. The big minus is the number of hawkers you have to endure to reach the market. The stalls are quite good - selling corn-on-the-cob, moqueta stew, teak souvenirs, T-shirts, and towels. But the worst are the irritating grabbing women trying to sell you beads as you enter - they will literally try to grab your arm. A firm "nao!" doesn't always deter them, and you may find yourself shrugging them off. Inside is like a South American Aladdin's cave - there are goods and provisions from everywhere. On show were laquerware, jewellry, paintings, fridge magnets, clothing, stuffed piranhas - all designed for the tourist. The upper level has just as many stalls and a couple of restaurants with balconies overlooking the Cidade Baixa.
But the main draw for me was the capoeira. To me, the spirit of Salvador occurs in this dance/fight ritual, and I wanted to get it on film. However, the market had a charge-for-photos policy. I was determined to get around this, so I lurked near the entrance. When the capoeira started, I clicked off a few shots. Of course, I was spotted, and the Brazilian equivalent of "Oi you!" was thrown at me.
But I had my running shoes on and was speeding away before then...
Azulejos?You know azulejos, those beautiful ceramic tiles they have in Portugal. They are generally white and blue, and each piece completes a part of a wall-covered scene of everyday life. In Salvador they are a work of art imported from Lisbon and cover the courtyards…Read More
You know azulejos, those beautiful ceramic tiles they have in Portugal. They are generally white and blue, and each piece completes a part of a wall-covered scene of everyday life. In Salvador they are a work of art imported from Lisbon and cover the courtyards and churches of the city. I stood in one courtyard, and all four sides were covered in azulejos, which told allegorical stories as they wound their way around the cloisters. Salvador de Bahia has the ambience of old Europe. It just takes a second in the mind's eye to imagine 18th-century Portuguese jesuits gliding around the cloisters and the sound of Mass coming in from the chapel.
Without doubt, one of the greatest attractions of Salvador de Bahia are the baroque churches. Tourists come to see the religious treasures of over 500 years, for this was first stop for the Catholic missionaries who came from Europe. From here, they headed into the interior to convert the indigenous population, and as the colony grew, the landowners and wealthy denizens built churches to rival those built in the baroque age over the sea. Their wealth was so enormous that they covered ther churches in a river of gold plate, making it one of the best places in South America to see such religious treasures.
Pelhurinho has the biggest concentration of churches clustered around the Terreiro de Jesus. At the southern part of the Terreiro is the Largo de Cruzeiro de San Francisco, which is a cobbled pedestrian space overlooked by one of the most famous churches. Its sides are swarming with gentrified buildings painted red, blue, and yellow house restaurants, souvenir shops, and e@cafes. Offical hawkers wander the streets, and the tourist police look on from their base on the eastern side.
But the reason everyone heads here is the Igreja de Sao Francisco church (see photo). The outside facade is very impressive, and entry only costs 3 reals. But the big surprise here was when I wandered through the cloisters and found myself in an extraordinary courtyard. Dotted with columns and stone flagstones, it was the walls which were impressive - covered floor to ceiling in colourful azulejos. There are very few places in Portugal and Spain where tiles from this period stand. But tucked away in a South American church were some of the most impressive in the world. The pictures told little allegorical stories - ie "Death is a great leveller", with images of both monarch and peasant succumbing to mortality.The pictures showed scenes of what life was like in old Portugal. Many people think that the portraits are Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake, and if so, then it is the only portrait we have of the city in those times.
Literally next door is the Igreja do Ordem do Sao Francisco - its sister church. Here, the church facade is even better - it was hidden for hundreds of years under mortar until workmen disturbed it in 1935. Inside was a training college for Jesuit priests and one of the best chapels in Salvador. I got an inkling of its impact as two nuns entered ahead of me, and I heard their gasps of incredulity. And the reason? Gold! It covered everywhere - every column, every pillar, and every side chapel and spread across the altar and ceiling. The only thing not covered in gold was the Virgin Mary. The feeling of the wealth coming out of Brazil in those early Portuguese years was overpowering.
Not far from here, just down Rua Gregorio Matteus, is the massive Largo de Pelhurinho - Salvador's most photographed open space. The walk to here takes you through some of the side streets of Pelhurinho. They are exquisite as the buildings have been cleaned up and are painted bright colours. The cobbled streets lead up and down and most buildings are converted into T-shirt shops or art galleries. But a lot are still lived in, and the inhabitants can be seen looking down from their balconies. This is where Bahian kids trot off to school and people shout to each other across the street. There is a sense of real life that goes on here, including some very poor people - but now they make their living out of tourism instead of other means. However, at night, it is probably better to keep in the tourist police-watched part of Pelhurinho, as further out, they are not so friendly.
The Largo de Pelhurinho comes as quite a surprise. It drops away at a 45-degree angle and opens up to a panorama of the terracotta rooftops of Salvador. In the near distance is Noss Sonora Preto church, with its sky blue exterior and baroque bulbous towers (see photo). At the top of the square are two balconied buildings; the one with red paint is Museum of Salvador (not worth a look), and the other one is Casa Jorge Amado, where the famous writer lived. The hotels and shops that line either side blast with reggae and samba at high volume. There is no doubt that the musical heritage of Salvador is extraordinary. The singers Maria Githania and Gal Costa were Biananos, as was Gilberto Gil and Jao Gilberto, the original proponent of bossa nova. During the famous Tuesday night all-night parties, people come here to listen to the free music events. Salvador does indeed move to a different rhythm.
While I was pondering this, the two nuns I had seen earlier emerged from a side street. They must be the most conspicuous tourists in Salvador. Mind you, who would be so wicked as to mug a nun??
One of the features of Salvador that adorns all the postcards are the Baiana women.
Often they are Afro-Brasileiro ladies of ample girth, wearing headscarves and dressed in billowing skirts. They are "local characters" for the tourists to have their photos taken with, and they represent…Read More
One of the features of Salvador that adorns all the postcards are the Baiana women.
Often they are Afro-Brasileiro ladies of ample girth, wearing headscarves and dressed in billowing skirts. They are "local characters" for the tourists to have their photos taken with, and they represent the culture of the Brazilian northeast and its African heritage. They hang around Praca Muncipal, waiting to embrace tourists in a bear hug, sporting a wide grin and asking for ten reals for the privilege. But there was something faintly creepy about them, as Salvador is the centre for candomble, and often these women are priestesses in this strange and mysterious African religion.
The centre of Salvador, Pelhurinho, is rife with candomble and many other spectacles. It is the mainly 18th-century Portuguese colonial centre of Salvador. It stands on a rocky buff overlooking the Baiae dos Todos Santos and is divided into Cidade Alta (high city) and Cidade Baixa (low city). The two are connected by numerous ladeiras (winding streets), funiculars, and the Lacerda elevator. The area consists of five colonial squares connected to each other by numerous cobbled streets. Gentrification has taken place, and each building has been given a lick of pastel paint. But it is also a place to live and work - the place is thronged with people, hawkers bother you, old men peer from balconied windows, and the chatter of the Baianos goes on incessantly.
It is also one of the strongest cultural centres in South America. Tourists from all over the world come to view the baroque churches, colonial pracas, and exotic African heritage. This wasn't always the way. Until the early nineties, Pelhurinho had sunk into crippling poverty. I suspect Salvador has always had its share of hardship, but the old centre of the city was prey to crime and drug problems. The cities government turned this around with massive investment and the tourists keep on coming. Money has been spent on Pelhurinho and extra policing, and the rewards are amazing. The tourist dollar and the wildness of Bahia clash in Pelhurinho. Each tourist is watched over like a rare endangered animal but at night-time an older wilder Salvador appears. There is no doubt that this city, on the surface, is just as wild and gritty as Rio, but at the same time there is a will to do something about it. Tourists are well-looked-after in Salvador, and most come away stunned by the cultural riches the city has to offer.
Some tourists elect to stay in Pelhurinho. There are a wide range of hostels, hotels and pousadas dotting the streets often at bargain prices but Pelhurinho can be very noisy at night. I elected to stay in the beach suburb of Barra and take the bus in each day. The 101 bus can be caught all along the seafront at Barra and then climbs the hills, past Campo Grande, to deposit you just behind the Praca Municipal. The buses come in two types - the busy city buses cost only 1.50 reals, while the sleek A/C upholstered executivo cost 4 reals. You can follow the crowds to the Praca Municipal, and it might be an idea to orient yourself here, as this is the equivalent of the city centre. The white rococo Palacio de Rio Branco dominates the praca's western side, but it is the northern side that attracts you. It stands hundreds of feet over Baiae dos Todos Santos, and you can stand at the balustrade and view the myriad islands across the blue water. It also is the main high city embarkation point for the Lacerda elevator whose morning commuters pour out and are swallowed by the city. I wouldn't advise taking the winding lanes down from the high city. No one walks that way and you could be targeted for robbery.
Head east from here, and you are at the administrative heart of Bahia - the Praca de Se. The southern side is lined with 18th-century Portuguese colonial buildings. Each one is painted a pastel pink, yellow, or blue, and each one houses an e@cafe, music shop, or restaurant. Music plays a big part of the culture of Pelhurinho, and as you wander along, the notes of Jao Gilberto and his bossa nova are strong, as well as reggae and tropicalismo. Modern fountains dot the praca, and this is where the Baiana women hang out with arms outstretched to bring you into their ample embrace and charge you for the privilege.
The southeast corner of the praca is the entrance to Terreiro de Jesus, and once you turn the corner, you encounter one of those views of Salvador. The ones that make you go, "wow!" Here is an authentic Portuguese square smack in the middle of Salvador, and it is a stunner. In the centre is a green garden with palms and a baroque fountain. On the eastern side were 18th century municipal buildings and the western edge were pastel coloured gems converted into tourist options. The southern and northern sides of the praca, however, have a cathedral each. It was like stepping back into a different age. But where you get tourists you get hawkers and the ones in Terreiro de Jesus were some of the most persistent I have ever encountered. They mostly target the tour groups and luckily left this swarthy sunburnt "gringa" alone. One thing I noticed was that the hawkers in Pelhurinho were legally there. Many wore official 'prefeitura' identity badges saying they were licensed to bother tourists with sunglasses and postcards.
But the big attraction on the praca for me was the Candomble Museum. Entrance costs 5 reals and it is really one room broken down into many exhibits. Almost as soon as Brazil was discovered did they start importing slaves from Africa. The Portuguese already had colonies in Angola and the Bight of Benin and crossed the Atlantic to unload their cargo in the Baiae dos Todos Santos. The religion of Brazil was, of course, Roman Catholicism, and no others were tolerated, so the old African superstitions went underground. The Candomble gods were given Catholic names and identities to avoid detection. The saints are called Orixas, and god is called Olurum. He is, of course, too busy to attend earthly matters, so his Orixas do the work for him...
The museum showed evidence of this creepy religion that is still practised today. Costumes and pictures of candombleceremonies adorn the walls. There were some interesting sepia photos of 19th-century candomble goddesses. Most looked like your grandmother, but occasionally you could detect arrogance and sparks of power behind the eyes. The ceremonies still go on. My travel agency did tourist excursions to real-life candomble ceremonies up in the hills around Salvador. The ceremonies are laid on for the tourists and are priced at about 100 reals. After many hours chanting, an old woman goes into a trance and claims to be possessed. Her Orixas ask her all kinds of questions and she can supposedly predict the future..
All very creepy if you ask me - it's scary enough walking about Barra at night... I think I'll pass...
One morning in Barra, there was a memorable sight taking place on the beach in front of the hotel.
Watching from the promenade balustrade was a small crowd. They were viewing a group of boys and girls on the beach, doing samba exercises before work. I…Read More
One morning in Barra, there was a memorable sight taking place on the beach in front of the hotel.
Watching from the promenade balustrade was a small crowd. They were viewing a group of boys and girls on the beach, doing samba exercises before work. I began to watch, and they rotated in a ring, swivelling their hips to samba music and letting out whoops of delight. Olodrum drummers beat out a rhythm, and each person moved his or her body to the music. To me the scene epitomised Salvador - taking advantage of the beaches and living life to a musical rhythm.
Barra is the closest beach suburb in Salvador to the centre. It forms a right angle to the Baiae do Todos Santos, with the famous Farol de Barra (lighthouse) at the very apex of that angle. The beaches start about 500ft away to the north of the Farol at the Porto do Barra (where I stayed) and then turn to the east where they run forever along the coast of Brazil. Salvador is an extraordinary city, many of its residents are very poor, but everyone has time for the beach at the weekend. My recommendation to anyone coming to stay in Salvador is to stay in Barra. The advantage of the beach is obvious, but it is slightly more relaxed then the madness of Pelhurinho. Connections to the airport and bus station are close, and although noisy at night, there is a chance of sleep - something you don't get in the more budget options in Pelhurinho. As discussed before, the airport bus runs the entire length of the Orla Atlantica before heading to Pelhurino, making getting to and from the airport easy. But more importantly, ordinary buses ply this route, allowing you to sightsee in Pelhurinho during the morning and head back to Barra for a swim in the afternoon.
To get there, take a taxi from Pelhurinho (10 reals) or a bus. The bus, heading south, will pass the impressive Campo Grande. If you want a good example of the gentrification of Salvador de Bahia, then have a look at this massive square. I suspect it was a no-go area twenty years ago, but now it is rather classy. I walked through one day, feeling very safe and enjoying the hot sunshine. Care has been taken with it, with trimmed green lawns, Greek temples, gold statues, and gushing fountains.
But the southwestern exit is what you will be interested in, as it turns into Avenida Sete Semptembre. This is Salvador’s uber-rich street, with towering condos standing on cliffs overlooking the Baiae. If you are staying in the area, it is useful for its supermarkets and houses a number of English/Portuguese-language colleges. Then it dips severely downhill, almost to an excessive degree, before levelling out at the start of the Orla Atlantica and the start of the beaches. This area which contains a bus stop, open-air restaurants, and all the amenities of a small community is called Porto do Barra
Barra is primarily for Baianos. There are foreign tourists there, but essentially the beach is for those who live in Barra or nearby. Therefore it attracts many different characters. During the daytime, things are mostly good - the coco-verts sellers sell their ware for about 1 real, surfers clutch surfboards on their way to catch waves, and the whole promenade sounds with the noises of laughter and music.
This continues when the sun goes down (a classic Bahian attraction is watching sunset at the Farol), but I think Barra changes character at night. More desperate characters arrive, and as a tourist, it pays to exercise caution. The authorities in Salvador have noticed this and post armed police every 50 yards along the promenade to watch over visitors. It would be a shame to avoid Barra at night. The chatter of people along the seawall is very atmospheric, and one evening as I was enjoying a capirinha, two Bahian children started to do an impromptu capoeira dance in front of me. A word of caution about the street children in Barra: if they do bother you, then walk away quickly. It’s not their fault they live a desperate life, but perhaps avoidance is the best policy for a tourist.
The first sandy beach you will find will be at Porto do Barra. Barra beaches have the prerequisite white sand but also as this is a promontory, they have plenty of surf and rockpools. Swimming is possible if done carefully (I did see a lad limp back after a swim in the sea) and due to the sun looks emerald green. The main attraction is the Farol de Barra but if you follow the right angle around you can reach the Morro de Christo. This is a large grasscovered mound that sticks out to sea. You need to hop over the wall and pass through a copse of palm trees and walk up the dusty track. At the top of the mound is a small white Chisto Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), just like the one overlooking Rio de Janeiro. From here, you get a superb view over the surf lashed beaches and the Praia de Farol, which is a gentler beach and where families head to on a Sunday.
But the attraction where all the tour buses pull up is the Farol de Barra. Of course, there are Baiana's selling corn-on-the-cob and other hawkers, but it is really a very impressive example of Brazils heritage. This is ground zero for Brazil - this is where their country started. The Portuguese didn't sail into Guanabara bay in Rio back in 1500 - oh, no - they sailed into the Baiae do Todos Santos. The lighthouse stands on the site of a colonial fort built in 1534 whose cannons were aimed at the bay and were primed to blast the Dutch, English, and Spanish competition. The fort/lighthouse itself has commanding views of the bay with stone octagonal walls soaring forty feet into the air each one topped by a turret. Before you enter the lighthouse, have a wander around its walled circumference at the wave-crashed inlets and the views up and down the bay.
To be frank, this is the best museum I saw in Salvador. It had been upgraded in 2000 and was complete with English translations was fully worth the 3 reals entrance. First was the history of Salvador and its inclusion on the trade routes from Africa and India. Next were 16th-century nautical maps of the area. I could even see how deep the water was in the bay from readings taken in 1558! Old maps picked out the sweeping beaches, the island of Itaparica and the rocky escarpment that Pelhurinho was built on. There were plenty of shipwrecks in these waters - models of galleons, ship lenses and figureheads dotted the museum. The massive courtyard had been turned into an open-air restaurant. I climbed up to the battlements and looked down on the restored cannons and lighthouse tower, and the view across the bay was amazing. I'd say the Farol de Barra was worth your time - a lot of thought and care had gone into it.
But the main attraction in Barra is the beaches. I got myself into a routine the eight nights I was there - sightseeing in Pelhurino in the morning, back about two for a sleep, change into swimming trunks, and run across the road to the Porto do Barra beach, followed by drinks with friends at ten o'clock at night. But the best bit was definitely the beach - running across the sand, diving straight in, total immersement in the green water. Lord, it was wonderful. I felt I could play in the water to my hearts content...
This is the life....
Greg Victor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described Brazil as a country that is trapped between two worlds, the first and the third. Upon arriving in Salvador it isn’t hard to feel the same way. Everywhere I looked I could see industries emerging and technological advances, but…Read More
Greg Victor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described Brazil as a country that is trapped between two worlds, the first and the third. Upon arriving in Salvador it isn’t hard to feel the same way. Everywhere I looked I could see industries emerging and technological advances, but that is coupled with third world poverty, corruption, and crime left me to wonder if I would ever be able to know the real Brazil?
Salvador, for the most part, is run down, but it’s the tourist, clean areas that gave me a false sense of safety that proved to be the most dangerous. The favelas also can’t be ignored. At times I felt like I was back in the US, but the favelas were always there as a reminder of where I was. The favelas are where the poorest of the poor live in Brazil, and by the size of these areas it wouldn’t be any stretch of the imagination to say that a majority of the population lives there. So why visit Brazil? What makes this place so intoxicating? It’s simple: the culture.
Everywhere you go, kids and some adults will run up to you and offer ribbons that they tie around your wrist. Everyone who gave them out gives them for free. Most times they will just run up to you and tie them on your arm before you know what is happening. However, they will most likely try to sell you something as well, but if you don’t want it just say no and they will leave you alone for the most part.
The ribbons themselves are really run. They come in a variety of colors. They are tied around your wrist with three knots. Each knot represents a different wish that you make. When the ribbons fall off that means your wish will come true. On average they last up to three months. Mine, however, lasted just over a year. Now they are commonly seen in taxicabs as a sign of good luck and around the wrists of tourists. They can be found in markets where they can be purchased by the dozen or out can get them individually on the street, usually for free.
Brazil saw the largest import of slaves, who integrated their African beliefs into Brazilian culture and what was created is beyond words. Several examples could be seen everywhere I looked. Capoeira, a sport created in Brazil, is practiced on the streets. Capoeira looks like a cross between martial arts and break dancing. The slaves created it as a form of self-defense. Slaves weren’t allowed to practice fighting so they created a rhythmic dance to the beat of a samba. When a look out would spot a slave master approaching he would signal to the band who would change the beat slightly and the slaves would stop fighting and start to samba.
Also not as noticeable, but always present is Candombe; this is another roll over from slavery. Slaves weren’t able to practice their religious beliefs, so they turned their gods into Catholic saints. There orixas, or gods, can be seen throughout Salvador. One of the most popular in Salvador is Iemanja, the goddess of the sea. She is sometimes characterized as a mermaid or as the Virgin Mary. Ceremonies are harder to see. There are special ones that are done for tourists, but don’t think this is the real thing. In the ceremony a group of people dance around until a few go into a trance and one to the orixas enter their body.
Brazil is a wonderful combination of so many flavors. I realized while I was there that sometimes trying to find the familiar isn’t always the best way to look at a country. Brazil is what it is and that’s what makes it so wonderful.
Written by MikeInTown on 08 May, 2005
We enjoyed our time in Salvador da Bahia, visiting interesting sites and partying; however, I would not be accurately describing our experience if I did not mention the poverty we saw. There was a sad element to this trip. Salvador has its share of high…Read More
We enjoyed our time in Salvador da Bahia, visiting interesting sites and partying; however, I would not be accurately describing our experience if I did not mention the poverty we saw. There was a sad element to this trip. Salvador has its share of high unemployment and poor. As we traveled from place to place, we sometimes rode through some very impoverished areas. These neighborhoods are called favelas. Almost anytime we saw hills, we saw favelas. They look like shacks stacked on top of one another. These favelas were not always in the hills. Once while we were on one of our tours, we approached an overlook. As I looked down, we could see miles of these communities that seemed to go right up to the edge of the bay.
The saddest scene for me, however, was the street children we encountered occasionally. I saw a few of them in Pelourinho, and one very malnourished boy in Cachoeira. Some of these children did not appear to be much older than 10. They would beg for money or food. It was a sad sight - very sad.