After Brasilia, we flew east to Salvador. Salvador is the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. With 2.9 million people (2013), it is the largest city proper in the Northeast Region and the 3rd-largest city proper in the country, after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Bahia is the Afro-Brazilian capitol and Salvador is known for it’s Afro-Brazilian culture (Almost 4 million African slaves were brought here from 1550 to 1850 to build the city and were able to preserve their religious culture “Candomble” while blending in some Brazilian influence). The city has amazing arts, frequent wild festivals, drum corps, capoeira circles, stunning Atlantic coastline and 17th century architecture. For more information see this wikipedia link.
We spend about 5 days total in the city, 3 days in a hostel, Open House Barra by the beach in Barra and 2 days at one, Hostel Galeria13 in the Old Town of Salvador (The Pelourinho district). We were pleasently surprised in Salvador, almost all of the tourists were Brazilian. No one speaks English, and our Brazilian Portuguese language guide was almost completely useless in Bahia, so we communicated with a combination of bad Portuguese, Spanish, French and wild hand gestures, which seemed to work well enough.
Barra has a large stretch of beaches, lined with umbrellas and beach chairs, where Brazilian entrepeneurs walk the beaches selling cold beers, fresh aqua de coco, catpiry (Brazlian cheese) and acaraje (shrimp and bean fritters) both on skewers cooked on a hand held grill at your beach chair. Along with artisan jewelry, flip-flops, hats, sarongs and whatever other beach essentials one might want. There is a padestrian boardwalk full of restaurants and cafes to fullfil all your caipirinha and acai bowl needs.
In Barra, we swam in the ocean, watched the surfers catch some waves, and strolled around the beachfront checking out the neighborhood.
One day, we took an all day schooner ride to 2 islands to chill on the beach in the Salvador Bay. There were many boats taking tourists to these islands. The boat ride was wonderful. It was relaxing and steady. They sold cocktails and beer on the ride, which was about an hour to our first stop. On the first island, we swam and layed out on the beach chairs. The beach was beautiful, the water was clear blue and we saw a turtle. We ate lunch on the second island. The lunch was a buffet style serving amazing Brazilian food. The beach here was equally beautiful as the first, but it was a more unique experience. It was very shallow for a long way out, so you couldn’t swim. Everyone was sitting in the water drinking caipirinhas and cevejas. Even though it was touristy (Brazilian tourists, we didn’t come across any non Brazilians while we were in Barra), it was a great experience and value. The US dollar being 4 to 1 Brazilian, the price was $20 per person for a 6 hour excursion.
We were lucky enough to spend a Tuesday in Old Town. Tuesday is a Holy Day in Bahia. It is known as Terça da Benção (Blessed Tuesday). It’s the day parishioners of the São Francisco de Assis Church give out bread and donations to the poor. Every Tuesday is a huge celebration in the Pelourinho district of Salvador (Old Town). In the evening, locals and tourists gather in the main squares and stroll up and down the streets, watching musicians preform. Since it was so close to Carnival, most of the music groups and drum corps were preforming in the streets (practicing for their parades). Shiny Carnival decorations hung between colonial buildings above the narrow cobblestone streets. Music seemed to pour from every corner and people of all ages danced, drank, and sang along with one another. Some of our favorite music was a Reggae band playing in the street and an all girl drum corps walking up and down the city while people followed, dancing to the rhythm of the music. It was an amazing experience and showed us how alive, proud and colorful the Bahia people are.
On our last night in Salvador, we took a Capoeira class. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. It was developed in Brazil, mainly by West African descendants with native Brazilian influences, beginning in the 16th century. wikilink Salvador is considered the home of modern capoeira branches. We found the Capoeira school, Fundacao Menstre Bimba, just by walking up and down the streets, looking for capoeira signs. Their classes are open to all who want to join in. We shared an hour class with 4 advance practitioners and the instructor, Deivison Braga. They all made us feel very welcome and were encouraging. For us, capoeira was extremely fun, but an intense workout. At the end of the hour, we gathered around a circle (Roda), with the instructor playing a musical instrument (berimbau), which sets the tone of the “dance,” taking turns as two people “dance fight” one another. We probably didn’t look quite as graceful with our kicks, but we really enjoyed ourselves. It was truly a wonderful experience especially since we were the only beginner and non local people in the class.
The food in Salvador was excellent. Bahian cuisine has a strong African influence. It features coconut cream, seafood, hot peppers and coriander. Other than the restaurants, food stands sell cheap Bahian food like shrimp and bean fritters and pastels (pastries stuffed with meats or seafood that look like empanadas), grilled meats, cocktails like caipirinhas and fresh fruits juices. We ate a lot of grilled meat on skewers (one meat skewer with rice, beans and salad was $2.50). Our favorite dish was Moqueca (a spicy stew of coconut milk, vegetables and seafood cooked in a clay pot).
Barra: Open House Barra. www.openhousebarra.com The hostel was about a 5 minute walk from the beach. The owners Alex and Jacqueline, are local artists. Jacqueline painted all the walls so it is extremely colorful and beautiful. The common rooms were many and spacious. Alex, the owner, is Brazilian, but speaks English well and was extremely helpful answering all our questions, telling us all the things to see and do. They cooked breakfast for us each day of pancakes and fresh fruits (papaya, watermelon and mango). We stayed in a private room that was clean and simple.
Pelourinho: Hostel Galeria 13. www.hostelgaleria13.com The hostel was in a great location right in the city center. It has a small swimming pool and deck area that were great for their Happy Hour of free caipirinhas everyday (which usually lasted a few hours) so all the guests could mingle. Breakfast was included consisting of fresh fruits, juices, breads, cakes, and eggs with sausage. We stayed in a private room that was clean and simple.