Salvador, 6-9 June 2011

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June 12th 2011
Published: June 12th 2011
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We THROUGHLY enjoyed Salvador! The weather is more like Brisbane's in October and the beaches are nearly as good as in Australia. Having flown in from Rio, arriving at about 2.00pm we caught a bus and travelled for 1 ½ hours to Barra which is a southern suburb of Salvador. It cost 3 Riels ($2.00 Aust) and we later learned it didn’t matter if you travelled 1 stop or for 2 hours, a bus trip always cost $R3. We had picked up a couple of maps from the tourist office at the airport so knew where we were going.

We started talking to a Korean girl who was staying at the same hotel so we kept each other company and shared a taxi from where we got off the bus. The Barra Guesthouse which is run by an English-Brazilian couple has a bed capacity of 38. They run an efficient show.

Russell, the English owner, gives a briefing to new guests twice a day and provides excellent advice on tours and best restaurants and where to find the best local cuisine so we found him very helpful. It was like he had a big family and made sure everyone was organised for the day with tours and hiring surfboards or getting on the right bus etc. etc. He loved it. He also gave one free caipirinhas (caparinha, lime, sugar and ice...very strong if you don’t let the ice melt) at 7.00pm. They also offered dinner for $R10 each night.

He was very careful to give us safety advice and where to go and where not to go around this suburb, and the city area of Pelourinho (The Old Town). The city area contained a lot of heritage listed buildings in the Old Town, so it has a lot of character and colour. Our 1st full day in Salvador, we decided to visit the Old Town. For security reasons we took the old Canon Ixus camera - it is small and easily hidden. But......the battery died after 10 or so photos and we didn't have a spare with us. So the next day we retrace our steps for some better shots.

Salvador and Barra are on the coast of a large protected bay, with Barra being the bottom point adjoining the Atlantic Ocean. There is a lighthouse there which was one of the 1st if not the 1st in South America and a wonderful Maritime Museum inside it. The scene from the top of the lighthouse of the beaches was fantastic.

Our hostel was in a quiet Rua (street), and at the end (100 metres away), there were 3 places to eat and drink (one on each corner) so we had plenty of local choices. The clientele in the Barra Guesthouse was young, so there was plenty of enthusiasm and energy, and a mix of nationalities (Mexico, USA, NZ, England, Germany, Korea etc).

The second night we were there, 8 of us went into Pelourinho by bus for a free concert of local bands and singers. We stood on a flight of steps, leading up to the old church, and which formed a natural amphitheatre. The steps and street was packed. The crowd was well behaved and the band played local music which is strongly African influenced. The artists include a well known South American singer, Geronimo who performs there every Tuesday night, at the foot of the stairs leading from an old church, attracts the same numbers. He invites other musicians to join him. There was a Brazilian dancer who circled her hear so fast it was amazing to watch.

The concert finished about 10.30, and everyone dispersed rather quickly, so we and the German girls grabbed a cab and were back at the hostel in 20 minutes. However we noticed the 3 "pubs" were all open and kicking on well, so went back there for a drink or 3 with the USA guys and the German girls. When we left, others from the concert had returned home, and they decided to go down for a drink too.

We also went to a live theatre show on Monday night in Pelourinho which featured the African culture and its music, and we found the drums became quite hypnotic with their rhythm - it was good. The name of the musical was Capoeira which is a unique mix of dance and martial arts of Afro-Brazilian origin, combining agile dance moves with unarmed combat techniques. Capoeira in Portuguese literally means "chicken coop." The presence of capoeira in Brazil is directly connected to the importation of African slaves by the Portuguese, and Salvador is considered the centre of origin of the modern capoeira branches. The initial purpose of Capoeira's emergence was to boost the slaves morale, remind them of their homeland through music and to defend themselves against aggression from their owners. The art of Capoeira is uniquely identified by swinging hips, arm stands,head butts and sweeping feet movements. The art required a good level of agility and core strength. In the first half of the 20th century, Salvador-born masters Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha founded capoeira schools and helped standartise and popularise the art in Brazil and the world. The practice of Capoeira was banned in 1892, though in 1937 it was made legal.

Capoeira practices are accompanied by special music and songs. Musical instruments used in capoeira music include many of the local Brazilian instruments. Capoeira has moved from the senzalas and quilombos of Brazil to New York, Berlin, Australia, and just about every place in between.

Our last night in Burra, we went to one of the corner restaurants, down the bottom of our street and sampled one of the local cuisine, which was spicy and based on seafood (shrimp, fish), strongly relies on typically African ingredients and techniques, and is much appreciated throughout Brazil and internationally. The most typical ingredient is azazeite-de-dende, an oil extracted from a palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) brought from West Africa to Brazil during colonial times. Also using the milky coconut juice, they prepared this sea-food based dish, Moquecas. The remaining of the Portuguese Stew sauce was mixed with manioc flour to make a mush, which is a traditional Indian dish.
It was beautiful. We washed that down with a crisp white wine (blanco in Portuguese).

Salvador (meaning: "Holy Savior of All Saints' Bay") is the largest-city on the northeast coast of Brazil and the capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Salvador is also known as Brazil's capital of happiness due to its easygoing population and countless popular outdoor parties, including its street carnival. The first colonial capital of Brazil, the city is one of the oldest in the country and in the New World.

For a long time, it was simply known as Bahia, and appears under that name (or as Salvador da Bahia, Salvador of Bahia so as to differentiate it from other Brazilian cities of the same name) on many maps and books from before the mid-20th century. Salvador is the third most populous Brazilian city, after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and it is the ninth most populous city in Latin America.

There are over 3.7 million people residing in the Metropolitan Region of Salvador. Most of the population is in part descended from Black African slaves, who were mainly Yoruba speakers from Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
According to an autosomal DNA study, the ancestral heritage of the population of Salvador was estimated to be 49.2% African, 36.3% European and 14.5% Native American.

Salvador is notable in Brazil for its cuisine, music and architecture, and its metropolitan area is the wealthiest in Brazil's Northeast, its poorest region. Over 80% of the population of metropolitan region of Salvador has Black African ancestry, the African influence in many cultural aspects of the city makes it the center of Afro-Brazilian culture and this reflects in turn a curious situation in which African-associated cultural practices are celebrated, but Black Bahians due to their low income are apart from most of the city life options.

We hadn’t realise the extent to which African culture is part of the Brazilian life and particularly this part of Brazil as well as further north. Some 5 million slaves were brought here from West Africa from 1650 to 1859s. Many died but many remained and survived well. Salvador was a huge sugar and coffee growing area, so the slaves were used for that. This area is called the Ba'hian state so the people look African, dress and act like Africans, and the music is 90% African.

The historical center of Salvador, frequently called the Pelourinho, is renowned for its Portuguese colonial architecture with historical monuments dating from the 17th through the 19th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.

Salvador's considerable wealth and status during colonial times (as capital of the colony during 250 years and which gave rise to the Pelourinho) is reflected in the magnificence of its colonial palaces, churches and convents, most of them dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. These include:

• Cathederal of Salvador: Former Jesuit church of the city, built in the second half of the 17th century. Fine example of Mannerist architecture and decoration.

• Convent and Church of Sao Francisco: Franciscan convent and church dating from the first half of the 18th century is another fine example of the Portuguese colonial architecture. The Baroque decoration of the church is among the finest in Brazil.

• Elevador Lacerda (Lacerda Elevator): Inaugurated in 1873, this elevator was planned and built by the businessman Antônio Francisco de Lacerda, The four elevator cages connect the 72 metres between the Thome de Souza Square in the upper city, and the Cayru Square in the lower city. In each run, which lasts for 22 seconds, the elevator transports 128 persons, 24 hours a day.

As I mentioned above, we decided to return to Pelourinho to take more photos of the sights listed above, and from there we caught a ferry ($R3) across to the island of Itaparica for a walk along the beach and a visit to the main town. This large island in the Bay of All Saints, can be visited either by a car-ferry, or a smaller foot-passenger ferry which leaves from near the Mercado Modelo near the Lacerda Elevator.

Salvador is located on a small, roughly triangular peninsula that separates Todos os Santos Bay from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The bay, which gets its name from having been discovered on All Saints’ Day forms a natural harbor. Salvador is a major export port, lying at the heart of the Recôncavo Baiano, a rich agricultural and industrial region encompassing the northern portion of coastal Bahia. The local terrain is diverse ranging from flat to rolling to hills and low mountains.

A particularly notable feature is the escarpment that divides Salvador into the Cidade Alta ("Upper Town" - rest of the city) and the Cidade Baixa ("Lower Town" - northwest region of the city), the former some 85 m) above the latter, with the city's cathederal and most administrative buildings standing on the higher ground. An elevator (the first installed in Brazil), known as Elevador Lacerda, has connected the two sections since 1873, having since undergone several upgrades.

The Salvador coastline is one of the longest for cities in Brazil. There are 50 km of beaches distributed between the High City and the Low City, from Inema, in the railroad suburb to the Praia do Flamengo, on the other side of town.

Salvador holds an international reputation as a city where musical instruments that produce unique sounds are made. These instruments are frequently used by world-famous artists in their recording sessions. A place to see Salvador's handcrafts production is Mercado Modelo, which is the biggest handcraft center in Latin America.

Another aspect that Salvador is famous for is According to the Guinness Book of Records, the carnival or Carnaval of Salvador da Bahia is the biggest street party on the planet. For an entire week, almost 2 million people celebrate throughout 25 kilometers of streets, avenues and squares.

So it was a wonderful place to stay and we wished we had another couple of days there but we were looking forward to catching up with our past neighbors from our Chapel Hill Road place before they moved to Sao Luis, out next stop.

I had my second run in a row, on the last morning and Tom met me down the beach and we had a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. It was BEAUTIFUL. The temperature of the water was perfect – even for me! So on this trip, we have swum in the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean.

We went back for another hearty breakfast (fresh fruit juice, fruit, scrambled eggs, ham and fresh bread roll and black coffee. We packed our bags and Russell from the Hotel drove us to the bus stop. We hopped on the bus and later boarded the plane to Sao Luis via Recife. While we were waiting for the bus, we looked up the beach and nearly walked back to the Hotel....but didn’t. A highly recommended place to visit.

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