I have spent the last 5 weeks living in Pelourinho, the historical centre of Salvador, in Bahia… and it’s definitely been a unique experience – entirely different to the rest of my time in Brazil.
I think most people believe that the soul of Brazil, it’s passion, comes from Bahia and, more specifically, Salvador. Pelourinho has inspired lots of artists and music over the years and definitely has a rhythm of it’s own. Due to the large number of slaves brought to Brazil during the 18th and 19th century to work on sugar plantations, there is a huge influence of African culture reflected in everyday life; the religion of Candomblé, the clothes people wear as well as the music and style of dance here. Nearly every day a drum band called Olodum assembles at the top of the Lago do Pelourinho and play for hours on end. They’re really popular, you can see them performing with Michael Jackson in Pelourinho in his music video ‘They don’t care about us’.
Because of all of this, Pelourinho is the place where all of the tourists (aka the gringos) go. However that’s not really a good thing. It’s really a stroller’s paradise during the day, with lots of museums and beautiful baroque churches and even live Capoeira, but at night the vibe changes entirely as some of the people that live here view the tourists as wealthy and easy targets to rob. Because of this, I think Pelourinho is the most dangerous part of Salvador.. there are robberies all the time and I don’t think I went a week without hearing about a couple of people being held at knife point. I was fairly fortunate that nothing happened to me during my stay but I also think I was being really careful; I always tried to go out in groups, I only went to place I knew were safe and I never took anything valuable with me. More than this, I think I may have been slightly lucky.
My first day in Pelourinho pretty much set the tone for the rest of my stay. I arrived on a day called Terça do Benção (Blessed Tuesday) which is weekly event where the churches in the area give food and gifts to the poor and homeless and consequently the town erupts into a giant street party. Seriously, every week there was a big stage set up on the hill with samba music playing and people drinking and partying in the street until around 4am. I really can’t even imagine this happening in the UK with the amount of laws we have. Also, because I was working in a hostel, it was pretty much parties (or at least drinking and drinking games) nearly every night. It’s safe to say that my health this month has just dropped and the free caiprinhas haven’t helped in the slightest!
The biggest party night of the year came on the buildup to New Years day. There was an enormous free festival set up about 15 minutes from our hostel with tens of thousands of people tightly packed in front of the stage. The humidity in the centre of the crowd, with everybody dancing, was too much!! There were lots of great acts that came on during the night. For me, the highlight was when Bob Sinclair came on as at this point we were at the very front and dancing like crazy in a circle with a load of Brazilian friends we had just made. It was awesome.
While I really enjoyed my time this month, I was also a bit disappointed by the progress I made with my Portuguese. I was surrounded by English speaking people in the hostel and I never had much opportunity to practice. To get around this I had to force myself to speak to as many Brazilian people as possible (but there were times when I was lazy and spoke English instead if I knew they could speak English). But, all in all, the Brazilian people I have met here have been some really great people and I have made a lot of cool friends. They’ve also taught me a lot of slang words and expressions which is really interesting and definitely useful here!
For New Years, I was invited to go camping in a place called Moreré on the Island of Boipeba by a friend I met. I think I was feeling pretty crazy by accepting the invite as I didn’t really know any of them and they didn’t speak English. However, after a while, I decided that it would be an interesting experience and an adventure no matter what happened and it would help me with my Portuguese.. so I summed up the courage and went. However, to get to Moreré was a giant mission. I arranged to travel with my friend’s friend as she knew the way to the place but this friend didn’t speak a word of English and we had never met before. In total, our journey went from a taxi ride – to a ferry boat – to a cab – to a bus – to a river boat – to a tractor!! I left at 6am and arrived around 8pm! And not only this, the friend was taking the mick out of my accent the entire time. It turns out I can’t even pronounced the colour green correctly or even Brazil! Aeey
But that night was incredible, at midnight the fireworks went off at the beach and we partied and sambaed (attempted to samba) until there was a sunrise! There were only a small group of about one hundred people on the beach, but that was enough. When the sun rose everybody went into the shallow water and then danced to the live music playing. In Brazil the people believe that wearing white is a symbol of peace for the next year.. so imagine the view of all of these people dancing in the sea wearing white during the sunrise; it was pretty magical.
The next few days flew by, we went from tropical beach to tropical beach. It was paradise. After a few days of camping I said my goodbyes and returned to Salvador.
I really liked with my stay in Salvador but it has also been really hard. It’s difficult when you make some good friends who are travellers and, just as you are getting to know them, you realise that they are leaving the next day. Even worse is when you have friends that you are leaving behind. It sucks. It’s a feeling of unfulfillment – a mix of an expectation for something that you thought might happen but understand never will. But you have to accept these things.
Bit of a long post this time, I’ll try to make the next one shorter! I’m now off camping for a few weeks with my friend Diarmuid (aka Thomas) from home and some people we met here.
Key things I’ve learnt: How to cut limes and make Caiprinhas!!!