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Published: November 17th 2006
If you were cursing me after the last blog then no doubt you'll be very pleased to know that it seemed to jinx the weather completely and we even had two days of solid rain in Salvador (I can feel the sympathy from here). In fact it seemed almost as if a higher force was deliberately trying to disprove everything I wrote about in the last blog. For a start, there was a film on the bus (although given that it was a romantic comedy about two people with learning difficulties falling in love, it was still rather a radical departure from the usually-preferred South American genre of mindless violence). Then, on arrival, Salvador seemed considerably less edgy than we had been led to believe, mainly due to the zillions of armed police and huge parties of French tourists off the cruise ships moored in the bay (although we still met other travellers who were robbed and pick-pocketed while we were there). But the biggest contradiction was the noise. Did I say Brazil was quiet? Well, Salvador completely rubbished that theory; in fact my ears are still ringing!
However, none of this is to say that I didn't like it;
Don't worry, girls, the tops came off later!
I absolutely loved it there. For three centuries Salvador was the centre of a thriving slave trade and is now described as the most African city in the western hemisphere. I found it a really vibrant place with loads of energy where there was always something happening. I also really liked the mix of people. It was quite touristy, especially the Pelourinho area where we were staying, as since 1993 the authorities have been trying to clean up it's image and safety record, but I still felt enough of it was authentic. The African influence was everywhere. As was capoeira a sport developed from a traditional foot-fighting technique introduced from Angola by slaves. The best way to describe it is kind of a very graceful and energetic mixture of break-dancing and a martial-art!! (try to go with that description). The main features are very fast windmilling legs and no-handed cartwheel-kicks (helping any?) and was amazing to watch. It is accompanied by loud music on the drum, tambourine and berimbau and lots of clapping and singing (source of noise no.1).
It looked so cool that I decided to have a lesson, which turned out to be a little intense as
Cheesy Tourist Photo
Hanging with the capoeira dancers
it was just the teacher and me. It was great fun but he really wasn't going to accept my pathetic protests that I can only do right-handed cartwheels (badly). If I say that my ham strings and calf muscles ached so much that I could hardly walk up or down stairs for the next two days, you will probably get an idea of how it was! There are both orgainsed and impromptu capoeira displays everywhere and it seems open to men, women and children. Although I approved heartily of this equal opportunity I seemed to prefer watching the men for some reason which I'm sure had nothing to do with the fact that they were topless with fantastic six-packs seemingly being obligatory.....
Candomblé is also a big part of life for many people in Salvador. This is a kind of religion, again brought over from Africa by the slaves and adapted to be disguised from the Portuguese slave-owners. At it's centre is the worship of deities, or orixás, mainly connected to elements of nature. So far it's sounding pretty run-of-the-mill, right? Well, more unusually, people believe that each of us are connected to one of the orixás and that
we can be possessed by them. During a candomblé ritual some of the worshippers perform chants and dances that summon the orixás and then the 'lucky' ones go into a kind of trance and are possessed by their orixás, much to the excitement of the general congregation. Now it would be wrong of me to poke fun at anyone's religion so I mean it respectfully when I say that seeing an eighty year old lady be possessed and then gallop around the room like my class during a PE lesson accompanied by much whooping and cheering, has to be one of the strangest things I have ever seen in my life! In case you're wondering, this wasn't some sort of special show put on for tourists. Out of about 200 people only about 10 of us were obvious tourists. However about two thirds of the people did clear off once the free dinners had been given out so Im not sure that everyone's motives were purely spiritual! With all the drumming, chanting, wailing and whooping plus all the amazing colours and costumes our senses were completely overwhelmed and poor Fiona ended up with a headache that she couldn't shift for
the next few days.
It probably didn't help that our hostel was right next to a drumming school which practised for a couple of hours every morning, but at least they had the decency to wait til 10 before they started. African drumming is also everywhere in Salvador with lots of different groups who rehearse and perform and are fundamental during carnival. The dynamism (and noise) of these troupes was quite incredible. Add to all this the fact that every night, except Sunday and Monday, there was a choice of samba, reggae, axé, and forró bands playing in the different squares and you can see why it's not the place to go with a headache. Its also not the place to go if you want to sleep. It was just as well we had already got that in mind as, due to the high prices of accommodation, we had to share a dormitory in the hostel with ignorant people who seemed to think it was normal behaviour to walk into a room full of sleeping people and talk at length at the top of your voice. Luckily my bunk was about 4m high so I was away from everyone
else and my trusty earplugs and eyemask continued to serve me well.
Despite this, the hostel was a great place to meet people and we had some good nights out. The bad weather did put a real dampener on things though as all the music was open air. The only real good weather we had was when we went up the coast to Praia do Forte to visit a turtle sanctuary, to indulge our new-found love of turtles and to have a day on the beach as respite from the noise! Tuesday night is the biggest party night of the week in Pelourinho and we deliberately planned on having this as our last night in Salvador. Unfortunately though it was still raining (sporadic massive downpours), which meant that the band we really wanted to see was cancelled and there were less people around than a normal Tuesday. Also unlucky Fiona was then struck down with some sort of stomach bug and was too sick to go out at all. However I feel I still managed to say goodbye to Brazil in true Brazilian style; too many caipirinhas and dancing like an idiot with some friends we'd made (after dosing
Praia do Forte
Just so I can have one photo with blue sky
Fiona up on rehydration salts, I'm not really that bad a friend-honest!). A taxi was booked for 4am to take us to the airport so obviously there was no point in going to bed. I was full of good intentions to look after Fiona as I stumbled home at 3.45 but luckily she had recovered sufficiently to look after herself which was just as well as come daylight I was not really capable of doing anything more than sleeping.
And so it was we arrived in Santiago. Hungover and ill. Probably not the most auspicious of starts! First impressions? The shift in affluence was tangible before we'd even left the airport and we were able to book a plush mini-van to take us to our hostel with zero hassle. Where was the clapped-out collectivo? Where were the hordes of hustlers undercutting their competitors with offers of a better/faster mini-van? We didn´t even have to watch carefully over our bags as none of the smartly-dressed people would have dreamed of touching our smelly rucksacks with a barge-pole! Our hostel has boiling hot water from a shower that won't eletrocute you if you touch it and all kinds of mod-cons we'd
Descent into Santiago
Awesome but trying not to think about that film, Alive
forgotten even existed including a TV room with a huge flat-screen TV. Most importantly though you can actually put loo-roll down the toilet (I think. After 3 months I'm strangely apprehensive about doing this but the open bins of used toilet paper have disappeared so I´m guessing that it's normal here). Out on the streets of Santiago today it all felt very European, the people even look European. If there are any indigenous people here then they are not in evidence on the streets, and definitely not trying to sell you stuff you don't want or insistently trying to shine your flip-flops. It all seems so normal
that it made me miss Brazil instantly! Its also sunny but quite chlly in Chile and time to dig out long-forgotten items, like socks, from the bottom of my rucksack. However, we're not staying in the city long. We're soon off to the mountains, lakes and glaciers down south that we've heard only good things about so we're getting very, very excited. (Fiona's feeling better now too)
The condensed version: Pardon? I can't hear you.....
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