Salvador, in Brazil’s North-East state of Bahia is a vibrant fusion of cultures, colours and landscapes. The home of Afro-Brazilian culture: capoeira; samba; and moqueca, a delicious fish stew.
We arrived on a evening flight from Fortaleza. The next morning over a leisurely breakfast we waited for the rain to ease and spent much of the day exploring the city centre, Pelourinho. Most of the cultural sights around Salvador are centred in Pelourinho, with many churches and everything seems to double as a museum. We stopped for a drink and dessert at Mamabahia, one of the many touristic restaurants with waitresses dressed in traditional Bahian dress. The drawcard was the musician playing and the outdoor atmosphere, and the delicious chocolate mousse dessert. We also tried Bar Zulu, which is attached to our hostel Galeria 13. Zulu makes amazing moqueca, but the service is a little slow and like most restaurants in Salvador it’s expensive. I recommend the street food, which is tasty, hygienic and cheap if not very healthy. Surprisingly good hotdogs and pastels (deep fried meat-filled pastries) are available for a few reals on most street corners.
In the late afternoon, the african drumming schools make their processions through the streets of Pelourinho, ending in the Largo Terreiro de Jesus, alongside the capoeira performances. Tourists are often lured into participating in a capoeira or music performance. The performers will be all smiles posing for photos with you of course and then ask for money. You need to watch out for scammers too, people will try to grab your arm, put a wish ribbon on your wrist and ask for an exorbitant amount of money. There’s a lady (maybe several) who goes around telling people they have terrible posture, grabs them by the shoulders and ‘fixes’ the problem, then asks for a large fee. I had to laugh when walking back to our hostel late one night, she walked passed us and said ‘posture’ in a feeble attempt at one last customer.
Feira de São Joaquim
The next day we took a walking tour with Jonathan, who works at the hostel. For $R10 each a group of us spent over five hours exploring the local markets near Liberdade, well away from the main tourist district. The tour runs on a Tuesday and Friday at 10am from Galeria13, if there are enough people wanting to join. On the way we stopped by a fish market to sample oysters and drink tasty coconuts sold for $R1 out of an abandoned building. You know its authentic when a local drops by to fill up her water bottle with a fresh coconut! In the Feira de São Joaquim market we ate fruits unusual to our taste such as Cacau and Macanju (the fruit of the cashew nut, which has a spongy, furry texture), before passing through the meat market. The lack of hygiene was almost enough to turn me back into a vegetarian! Every part of the animal had a use and it was all out on display in less than sanitary environment. On the waterfront at the edge of the market we took a pit-stop, sipping drinks alongside locals beside Porto do Salvador.
Santo Antônio Além do Carmo
In the late afternoon we headed back to Pelourinho for an early dinner and to rest up before heading out with Jonathan to a Samba street party in Largo de Santo, a beautiful Square in the Santo Antônio Além do Carmo district. We passed through this district earlier in the day on the way to the markets. It’s about a 15 minute walk from Pelourinho and is high up on the hill and has a view overlooking the harbour. Salvador locals flock to this party on the last Friday of every month. Samba musicians played in the centre of the square with everyone dancing around them. There are lots of Samba events in Salvador, especially in the bars and restaurants in Pelourinho, but this one definitely felt the most authentic.
On our third day in Salvador, we explored Comercio and Praia do Barra, along with an Englishman from our hostel. From Rua Chile in Pelourinho we took the Elevador Lacerda ($R0.15), Brazil’s oldest elevator (built in 1873) which connects the upper part of the old city to the comercio district on the waterfront. We browsed the Mercado Modelo, a Bahian art and handicraft market. This is the main attraction in comercio but it is also a centre for local buses to Barra and other parts of the city. While on the bus we met a friendly local who asked us if we felt safe travelling on the bus in Salvador and if we feared being robbed. He thought it was unusual we were on the bus and said most tourists prefer to take taxi’s. It was daytime and I didn’t feel particularly unsafe, to be honest I was more afraid the driver would crash the bus as he madly sped around the city! Our hostel advised it would be better to take a taxi to the bus station as we were leaving late at night. This was $R30 from Pelourinho.
Praia do Barra
Barra is the only district I’ve mentioned not within walking distance of Pelourinho. Praia do Barra is Salvador’s main beach. It was cloudy, not the best weather for swimming. We visited the Museo do Nautical. The $R15 entry is a little steep and I question many of the ‘facts’ provided. Such as the blatant suggestion that the first ‘real’ Brazilians are those of Portuguese decent. Some of the information is in English, the rest we had to guess. We walked to the top of the Barra lighthouse as a part of the museum. It houses some old nautical maps and other artefacts. After that we stopped by a local shopping centre in search of food, where we found some decent and cheap pizza in the food court. Our search for a good coffee in the shopping centre left us sipping yet another disappointing Brazilian brew. I had hoped that in an upmarket neighbourhood such as Barra in a more touristic city we would find half-decent coffee. As I finish off this entry from Argentina, I can say we never found good coffee in Brazil.