Published: April 10th 2009March 21st 2009
Vendor selling grilled cheese-on-a-stick on Morro de Sao Paulo
We were waiting to post our Salvador blog entry until we developed the rolls of old-school film. We finally accomplished that, so here is our lost entry from March...
Salvador de Bahia
We left Rio de Janeiro by plane (no 25 hour bus for us!) and headed to Salvador, a large city in Bahia state known for its crazy Carnaval, African influence and the historic colonial district, called the Pelourinho. Salvador has a reputation for crime-- especially robberies of tourists-- so we had our guards up. We weren´t robbed but we did get scammed out of US$4 when a fake bus attendant insisted we pay the fare before boarding the airport bus. Ugh! We only lost a few dollars but it was a real blow to our self esteem.
From the airport we headed to the Barra neighborhood, which has a more suburban feel and better beaches than downtown Salvador. We booked a double room just one block from the beach at the Hostel Porto Salvador. I would not recommend it-- we tried out 3 rooms in 2 days, and each had a unique problem (e.g. non-working AC, AC flooding the room, and an overpriced ´superior´room that was basically
the same as the ´standard room´). Plus there was no security-- anyone could come rght in and go up the elevator to the rooms. The location was great though, and our timing was perfect.
Our first night coincided with the 'Summer Festival´and there was a giant street party right outside of our door. Musicians performed on a barge in the water and thousands of people lined up on the beach and street to watch the concert, drink beers and eat street food. It was like being at a mini-Carnaval, and partially made up for us missing the real thing in Rio. We drank Skol on the beach and Jake tried a super cheap hot dog (US$0.40) and a tasty kebab (US$1). The next day was a Sunday, however, and the area was pretty dead... except for the beaches, which were clogged with people to the point you couldn´t see any sand, and the shopping mall, where people actually lined up outside waiting for it to open so they could run to the food court. We checked out a popular beachfront bar/restaurant packed with locals eating crabs. The process looked really interesting-- they give you a cutting board and a
plastic mallet and you pound the crab apart. Jake tried it and found out eating a whole crab is harder than it looks. Good thing it only cost a dollar :)
We decided to move to the historic center, the Pelourinho, and got a room at the HI-Lanjeiras hostel. We liked the area a lot better than Barra-- there was more to see during the day, and there were still free concerts and alcohol/food stands in the plaza. A great combo! There was also some sort of mini-bloco procession at night, with a percussion band marching around the square and a bunch of dorky Anglo tourists following them and dancing wildly. That was pretty hilarious, but alas we have no photos. The historic area is so compact, we managed to hit up the major sites in one day (mostly since we just looked at the colonial churches and didn´t pay money to go inside). There were a couple of good, touristy restaurants right by the hostel so we got to try a vegetarian version of moqueca, a famous fish stew from Bahia. The portions at every restaurant were huge, and whenever we had leftovers a street person would magically
appear and beg the restaurant to give him the remaining food. There are tons of street kids, beggars and vendors around Pelourinho and there is also a strong military police presence. Still, there are lots of winding alleys that are semi-deserted, so we didn´t venture too far off the beaten path. Pelourinho seems to be a popular spot for older packaged tourists, and we saw many tour groups walking around the cobblestone streets with guides. We bought tickets to a dance show at the Teatro Miguel Santana and were surprised to see we were the only people under 50 in attendance!
I had been to Salvador 10 years ago with a group of friends. I don´t remember much about the trip except haggling at the huge tourist market complex (which is still there), seeing child sex tourism on the plaza (fortunately that seems to have improved), and going to a remote beach called Praia do Forte. I recall taking a bus there and then hiking to a deserted stretch of sand. When we went back this time, I found out that Praia do Forte is now a super-developed tourist destination, with tons of pricey restaurants and shops, and even
a Subway sandwhich franchise. Crazy how much some things have changed!
Morro de Sao Paulo
After a few nights in Slavador, we were ready to hit the beach again. We booked a ferry to a nearby island, Morro de Sao Paulo, through the HI hostel. We weren´t sure what to expect of the island, but it ended up being a cool destination with a relaxed vibe and beatiful beaches. Like Ilha Grande, cars are not allowed in the tourist village, so locals offer to move your bags on wheelbarrow taxis. The first impression after coming off the ferry is not good-- tons of porters and hotel touts try to solicit you, and there is a mandatory tourist tax of US$7-- but once you are in the village, things are more laid back. There are lots of steep climbs and descents, so staying here a couple of days can really work those leg muscles. We stayed one night at the local HI hostel, which is in a super remote location on a hill far from the beach. The receptionist was giving us evil Donnie Darko stares and was super unfriendly. Fearing he might kill us in the night, and not
impressed with our US$36 room, we moved to a cheaper, family-run pousada closer to the beach. The staff was friendly and the location was perfect, but the room had the lingering musty/moldy smell that is so common in beach towns. We probably would have stayed in Morro de Sao Paulo longer, if not for the must factor.
It was a nice change being on a ´safe´island where we didn´t have to worry about flashing a camera or leaving our bag on the beach as we swam nearby. Also, there was plenty of open sand to hang out and even natural shade, so we didn´t have to rent an umbrella or chairs. Much better than the city beaches! Although there does seem to be a strange local conspiracy to not provide any free maps (even at hostels), so tourists have to pay US$2 to get their bearings. Extortion! ;)
We spent most of our time exploring the 4 main beaches (called first, second, third and fourth beaches... how easy). Even without a map, it is very easy to get around and walk to each beach. The water is crystal clear at each and there is even some decent snorkeling
right off of the shore. The beaches look totally different with high and low tides, so one can be great for swimming in the morning and not that good in the afternoon (and vice versa).
The second beach is the most popular and is lined with restaurants and bars. We didn´t spend much money on drinks, since we realized we could sit on the sand, drink beers we bought at the supermarket and listen to the musicians playing at the restaurants without paying a cover. At a certain hour, drink carts set up at the end of the beach, loud music starts pumping and a dance-floor forms on the sand. We ordered a tasty vodka drink blended with exotic fruits and watched the drunken revelry from our beach blanket... there were some 18 year old backpackers really living it up. Very entertaining ;)
Like the beach towns near Rio, Morro de Sao Paulo was packed with Argentine tourists, who seem to make up the bulk of the international visitors. We randomly met a couple from the US, and it turns out they live in Long Island, in the next town over from my parents. Random! They were travelling
Statue in the Pelourinho, Salvador
... we were able to snap this photo quickly before being descended on by crack addled vagrants! This seems to be their turf
around South America for a few months. We have yet to meet any Americans backpacking around the world for a year. But hopefully it will become a trend soon!
We returned to Salvador and spent a night there while trying to book a plane ticket to Recife. (Recife sounded like a good launching point for Fernando do Noronha, an island with the most beautiful beaches in Brazil). However, all Brazilian airlines require a national identity number for online booking, so we couldn´t book the flight to Recife ourselves. We discovered that most travel agents in the Pelourinho are closed on Sunday, so we had to go to a super sketchy one, with a crazy old lady shouting at us outside and a man selling hammocks from the front gate. Turns out the hammock guy worked there, and he directed us to an art gallery to find an English speaking agent. The computer wasn´t working at the gallery, so we headed back to the travel agency... we were very skeptical of their abilities at this point! After finally talking to an agent, we found out they charged an extra US$13 a person to book the flight. Being cheap
and already sketched out, we blew them off and set out for the bus station, only to found out that the bus to Recife cost almost as much as the flight. Ooops! We ended up getting the next bus to Aracaju and then to Maceio, which we liked much better than Recife. So in the end it worked out for the best :)
There are more photos below