Music, samba, bikinis, football, cerveja and 2 bicicletas por favor!

Brazil's flag
South America » Brazil » Bahia » Salvador
May 11th 2014
Published: August 1st 2014
Edit Blog Post

BRAZIL! I had been dreaming of going for years. After the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, I had decided to make my dream come true in 2014: I would kill 2 birds with a …football! I’d get to visit Brazil and attend the most amazing football competition ever! Could I possibly throw in a bit of bicycle-touring on top of it all? Hell, why not?! Given my father’s love of the beautiful game, I could not go to Brazil without him. And so the 2 of us landed in Salvador, Bahia, at the beginning of May, a month before the start of the World Cup. We would buy 2 bikes in Salvador, cycle down the coast of Bahia for a month, then sell the bikes (if possible) and make it to Sao Paulo just on time for the opening match on June 12. My Mom would meet us in Sao Paulo and we’d spend a 2nd month driving around the states of Parana, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Brasilia and Goias, and finish off in magical Rio de Janeiro. Now THIS is life, my friends!

I must admit we both arrived in Brazil extremely excited but a bit worried at the same time. I had read a couple of guide books on Brazil as well as many online articles on tourism and the people who write these always highlight how much crime is happening in the cities, how armed bandits rob entire restaurants in Sao Paulo, how it’s probably safer to stay away from any favela and how even beaches are unsafe… And then on the Internet, all we could find on cycling inBrazil was that almost nobody did long distance biking there because the roads are supposedly bad, because drivers are crazy (if not on drugs!) + driving your own vehicle is also highly inadvisable according to Lonely Planet and other websites… On top of this my Dad and I don’t speak Portuguese… So we were a bit anxious at the beginning, especially since it had been pouring rain in Salvador for the last few days before our arrival and the fact that I hadn’t heard back from any bike shop in the city concerning our purchase of 2 sturdy bicycles…

But in spite of the rain and an expensive taxi ride from the airport to our guesthouse in Barra,Salvador, we got to relax as soon as
where we bought the bikeswhere we bought the bikeswhere we bought the bikes

the mechanics were uber-friendly!
we walked in Open House Barra where Alex, the owner, greeted us with a large smile and 2 passion fruit cocktails! Our holiday could start!

We spent our first day in Salvadorlooking for 2 cheap but reliable enough bicycles. I had gathered the address of different bike shops around the city but when we got there we realized they only sold top of the range mountain bikes. We didn’t bring our own (quality) bikes because the price TAP Air Portugal was charging us for oversized luggage was pretty much the equivalent of 2 standard bikes in Brazil… And since there’s always the fear of getting the bikes stolen + riding on the beach (sand + salt = very bad for the gears) I thought we could ride on basic mountain bikes for a month and beat the heck out of them without too many second thoughts… No luck with the first bike shops but I still had one last address, 1 hour away from the city center. So we jumped on a bus to Boca del Rio, in the suburbs to the north of Salvador. And in the bus I sat down next to Alberto (gotta love the name!),
Thanks guys! Time to roll!Thanks guys! Time to roll!Thanks guys! Time to roll!

En route with 2 Caloi!
a very laid-back-looking Brazilian (aren’t they all?!) with long curly white hair and a delightful laugh! It turned out that Alberto had lived in Francefor 23 years! When I told him we were looking for a bike shop, he immediately called a friend of his who knows Boca del Rio like the back of his hand to find out more about the exact location of the bike shop. Alberto personally walked us to the shop and here they were: 2 devilish-looking red Caloi mountain bikes waiting to be tamed by 2 crazy Frenchmen! Alberto helped us bargain and we spent exactly what I had budgeted: 1100Real (= 500 US dollars) for the 2 bikes (Caloi is the most famous Brazilian bike brand) + back-racks + bottle holders. We realized right away that these bikes were not of great quality. The pedals were made of plastic; the gear shifter on the handle bar looked very fragile; and none of the screws were stainless-steel so they started rusting very fast. But the bikes were light (aluminum frames) and they looked pretty! ;-) We knew we would have to be careful, and try not to stand up on the pedals for example, which meant definitely riding slower than usual. But we’d only be riding for a month so these 2 bikes would do!

Riding out of this shop felt incredible! We reached the ocean in 5 minutes and we followed this beautiful cycling path along the beach for kilometers out of the city. It was so exciting! I felt so free, so alive! It was fabulous! We rode back into town to our hotel as conquerors and I’m pretty sure we spent the entire evening smiling at how lucky we were to be in Brazil… on bikes! We will never forget Alberto’s Brazilian accent as he was telling us in French we were about to embark on an epic journey, a crazy journey according to him as the roads in Bahiaare all “routes de merde!” (do I need to translate?...) Haha! He also said it was all up and down for 1000km to Porto Seguro. Perfect! We wouldn’t want this to be too easy, right?

I fell in love with Salvador very quickly. The city has character and soul with hundreds of old colonial buildings all throughout. There are stunning churches on top of every hill (usually overlooking the ocean) and
We are in Salvador!We are in Salvador!We are in Salvador!

great afternoon light!
who doesn’t like cobblestone everywhere? (cyclists!) We watched the sunset at the beach with beautiful women eating ice cream on one side and men showing off their football skills on the other. People seem to be doing sports at all times inSalvador. The setting is perfect for running, cycling, or rollerblading along the shore and of course surfing and swimming. Wandering inSalvadoryou can’t miss the many women wearing spandex rushing to the gym! Houses in Salvador are very colorful and the city center around Pelourinho is simply incredible in terms of colors, contrasts, brightness: you pass by pastel-colored facades and then bright pink and yellow walls before reaching a striking plaza surrounded by old buildings and carvings. It’s so beautiful! It’s true that many houses in the old quarter are abandoned and they’re falling apart but I suppose this ads charm to the atmosphere. And wherever you are inSalvador, you’re never too far from the beach! Can’t beat this!

In Salvador(like the rest of Brazilas we’ll realize later on during our trip) we found people very easy-going and polite. We rode our bikes everywhere in the city and we got lost many times because the old city literally is
I really like this shotI really like this shotI really like this shot

My Dad is in Brazil! May 2014
laid out as a maze but people were always super helpful and they constantly smiled (nice change coming from France!). Traffic was pretty crazy after 5pm but we didn’t hear a car honk (compared to Chinawhere I live!). People seemed very patient and relaxed. In the touristy area of Salvadorthe shop attendants or the peddlers weren’t annoying. They were happy to chat (I used Spanish) and didn’t seem to care whether or not we’d buy something from them. In Salvador we decided to go pick up the World Cup tickets we had purchased (smart idea to carry them for a month in our bike panniers?...) so we crossed the entire city on our bikes to get to the shopping mall where the FIFA had set its ticket booth. We got to cycle pass different favelas which reminded me a lot of old suburbs in Chinese cities: lots of red-brick houses built really close from one another; clothes hanging from every window and satellite dishes on every balcony…

We didn’t know what we’d be eating in Salvador but we quickly discovered most local restaurants served prato feito: ready-to-eat hot meals that include rice, beans, a choice of meat (delicious beef!)
this is Geronimo!this is Geronimo!this is Geronimo!

Thank you for an incredible evening! So much fun!
and a salad at a very reasonable price (usually around US$6). These are no light meals and Brazilian portions are huge but as we were always on the move, hiking or biking, these daily lunches were perfect!

I fell for Salvador de Bahia and its beautiful beaches, the blue sky (with a lot of showers in May though!) and the amazing light especially at twilight, the colorful architecture, people’s genuine smiles and of course the musicality of Brazilian Portuguese. The few days we spent in Salvador were most pleasant. We heard from many people that we should be very careful in Salvador as there is a lot of poverty and crime and apparently some very sketchy neighborhoods a few blocks away from the city center but (maybe because the world cup was looming and security was enforced?) we never felt ill at ease.

We also got to experience the local percussions that echo in the cobblestone streets of Pelourinho and it was stupendous! On Tuesday night Alex (from our hotel) advised us to go out to the old quarter and ask for Geronimo… He said this local singer and his band performed in front of a church… So we went to check it out but we didn’t expect to find ourselves in the middle of the most enchanting concert with hundreds of other people on the steps of an old Portuguese church. Everyone was dancing and singing! As we walked in I heard someone calling my name! I was taken aback as we hadn’t really made any friends in 2 days in Salvador but it was Alberto who had helped us find the bike shop. He was sitting in the front row so we joined him and enjoyed Geronimo’s lively songs for 2 hours of free concert! He sang some slow ballades but the highlights were the fast pace songs (I’m not sure what to call the genre) that enthralled the audience. Man, Brazilians can dance! They’ve got such rhythm and their feet move so fast! Quite a spectacle! Geronimo made us laugh too because he would drink some red wine between every song… and as I said earlier he sang for 2 hours… That’s a lot of songs! Right after the concert we ran into a group of percussionists who were marching around the old city. They were wearing colorful clothes and some funny hats. Some of them were beating the drums while mimicking capoeira moves; others were juggling with their drumsticks. A group of tourists was following them, dancing and clapping. We joined them for a memorable night out! It was so much fun! Salvador must be such a cool place to visit during carnival! Or maybe I should just look for a teaching job here (nobody seems to speak English in Salvador)…

The plan was to ride south (to Porto Seguro and maybe even farther) but first I wanted to check out a little coastal village 100km north of Salvador: Praia do Forte. We’d be gone for 3 days only: we’d enjoy the beach there and it would be a good test-ride for our new bikes. If anything went wrong, we’d be back in Salvador to have the bikes fixed before leaving the big city for good…

If you ever get to Salvador de Bahia, we strongly recommend Open Barra House: the owners are friendly artists; the rooms are neat and colorful; there is a big kitchen available any time you need; they serve a mean breakfast with lots of exotic fruit and the location is great as you’re 5 minutes from the 2 city beaches + the fort + a big shopping mall to exchange money.

Voila des années que j’en rêvais : Brésil, me voilà ! La Coupe du Monde en Afrique du Sud (en 2010) m’avait tellement enthousiasmé que je m’étais promis d’aller à la prochaine au Brésil. J’adore le foot, la plage, le soleil, l’aventure…alors, je ne pouvais rêver de meilleur endroit pour passer mes premières vacances en Amérique du Sud ! Et puis, la Copa do Mundo au Brésil, c’est une fois dans une vie ! c’est d’ailleurs pour cela que j’ai demandé a mon père de m’accompagner pour qu’il puisse dire “j’y étais !”

Le programme paraissait simple: on achèterait 2 vélos pas chers à Salvador et on roulerait pendant un petit mois le long de la côte de Bahia pour voir les jolies plages et pour profiter tranquillement des îles. Vers Porto Seguro (1000km au sud de Bahia) on essaierait de re-vendre les vélos puis on rejoindrait maman à Sao Paulo juste avant le match d’ouverture le 12 juin. Suite du programme : nous louerons une voiture et on passera un mois en vadrouille dans le sud du pays. Bon plan? Non ? Excellent plan ! alors, c’est parti …

Evidemment nous sommes arrivés à Salvador de Bahia tout excités, mais quand même un peu anxieux … Avant notre départ, à chaque fois qu’on lisait un document sur le Brésil, il était question de crime organisé, de problèmes de drogue, de chauffards, de pauvreté… On nous déconseillait de rouler à vélo, de conduire notre propre voiture, de marcher sur la plage à la nuit tombée... bref tout ce que je voulais faire au Brésil était fortement déconseillé ! Cela n’a pas réduit notre entrain mais toutes ces informations lues par-ci, par-là, nous ont toutefois incités à la prudence.

L’aventure est partie ; La première étape consistait donc à trouver 2 vélos robustes à petit prix… J’avais récupéré des adresses de marchands de cycles sur Internet mais il s’avérait qu’ils vendaient tous que des vélos haut de gamme, trop chers. - nous n’avons pas amené nos propres vélos car le prix fixé par la compagnie aérienne TAP Portugal équivalait plus ou moins au prix d’achat de 2 VTT classiques au Brésil…- Arrivés à Salvador de Bahia, on part donc à la recherche de deux vélos. Après avoir visité 3 magasins en centre ville, il me restait une autre adresse de magasin mais à une heure du centre ville. On saute dans un bus et nous voilà partis pour Boca del Rio… Dieu sait où ! Sauf que dans le bus, je m’assois à côté d’un homme aux longs cheveux blancs et frisés et qui parle français! Son nom est Alberto et il a vécu 23 ans en France! Je lui explique notre recherche. Ni une ni deux, il appelle un ami à lui qui connaît bien Boca del Rio et Alberto descend du bus avec nous pour nous guider jusqu’au petit magasin improbable, caché dans une toute petite rue au milieu d’un énorme quartier ! Et tout de suite nous trouvons ce que nous cherchons : 2 vélos Caloi (la marque la plus connue au Brésil) à petit prix : pédales en plastique, dérailleur à 2 balles, manettes fragiles de changement de vitesses… mais les vélos sont légers (en alu) et puis ils sont super beaux : rouge endiablé ! En 5 minutes, avec la précieuse aide d’Alberto nous négocions les 2 engins, avec porte-bagages évidemment ( !) pour 1100 real (=350 euros), pile- poil le budget qu’on s’était fixé!

Vous ne pouvez même pas imaginer la joie qui s’est emparé de moi quand je suis monté sur mon nouveau vélo ! Nous avons rejoint la mer en 5 minutes et roulé le long du littoral sur une jolie piste cyclable pendant quelques heures. Nous étions au Brésil, à la plage, sur nos vélos, libres, heureux, croquant la vie à pleines dents ! L’aventure pouvait débuter! Alberto pensait qu’on était complètement dingues d’envisager de rouler à Bahia. Je crois qu’on n’oubliera jamais son accent si chaleureux, avec les ‘r’ roulés a la portugaise: “Mais Jér..rémy, ce sont des r..routes de mer..rde à Bahia! ça monte, ça descend, ce n’est jamais plat ! C’est l’! Je te dis, c’est une de folie que vous allez!” J Mais oui Alberto, c’est exactement ce que je recherche ! ( mais peut être pas ce à quoi papa s’attendait! )

Vous voulez que je vous dise : je suis tombé amoureux de Salvador ! Tout d’abord il est impossible de ne pas apprécier la mer et les kilomètres de plages qui entourent la ville, ses pêcheurs, ses surfeurs… A Salvador les gens semblent faire du sport dès qu’ils en ont la possibilité. Nous avons croisé des centaines de coureurs à pied, des marcheurs, des jeunes en rollers. Il y a des salles de musculation de partout et même aux abords de la plage où certains costauds se réunissent pour lever de la fonte en profitant du soleil et du paysage! Les couchers de soleil sur la mer sont magnifiques et la lumière qui vient colorer la ville et la plage est somptueuse! Au niveau nourriture, nous ne savions pas du tout à quoi nous attendre mais nous avons été très agréablement surpris avec les plats préparés dans les restos ; ils mélangent riz, salade, pois et spaghettis (pas très léger tout ça !) et une viande ou un poisson au choix. Et puis les portions brésiliennes sont gigantesques : parfait pour papa et moi qui étions toujours à marcher ou à pédaler!

Le centre historique et culturel de la ville de Salvador s’appelle Pelourinho. Nous l’avons rejoint en vélo (15 minutes de notre hôtel) et nous sommes vraiment restés bouche-bée devant ces centaines de façades colorées, ces balcons en fer forgé et ces rues pavées en pierre qui mènent à de grandes places ombragées où de vieilles églises portugaises surplombent la mer. Quel délice de monter et de descendre ces rues en pente (un peu moins bien pour les cyclistes quand même avec tous ces pavés !) et d’être surpris à chaque carrefour par un point de vue encore plus somptueux que le précédent.

On a trouvé les gens en ville super gentils et agréables. Ils ont tous le sourire et ils sont tous d’un calme fou. On s’est trouvés dans des bouchons à partir de 17h mais pas un seul klaxon ou geste d’énervement. Pareil pour les vendeurs ambulants ou en magasin, ils sont toujours prêts à taper la conversation (en espagnol pour moi) mais en aucun cas ils ne deviennent insistants ou collants. On s’est perdus plusieurs fois en ville car la vieille ville est un vrai labyrinthe mais les gens nous ont toujours aiguillés avec le sourire. Beaucoup de personnes nous ont aussi conseillés d’être très prudents aux abords du quartier historique - il y a apparemment de nombreux coins malfamés - (nous avons pensé que la sécurité a été renforcée pendant cette période de Coupe du Monde car nous ne nous sommes jamais sentis en insécurité et c’est tant mieux !). Nous avons beaucoup roulé. On a traversé la ville d’est en ouest pour aller récupérer les billets pour les matches de la Copa do Mundo ; nous somme passés proche de quelques favelas qui m’ont étrangement rappelé les banlieues des villes chinoises avec les maisons de briques rouges, les balcons, les paraboles et le linge étendu à chaque fenêtre!

Lors de notre dernière soirée à Salvador, nous avons suivi les conseils de notre hôte, Alex, et nous sommes sortis dans le quartier historique pour profiter du concert hebdomadaire en plein air. Alex nous avait dit qu’une fois dans le centre, il suffisait de demander où jouait Geronimo et qu’on le trouverait lui et son groupe de musique sans problème. Et en effet, on a trouvé Geronimo sur scène mais on ne se doutait pas que des centaines de gens se déhancheraient avec lui pendant plus de 2 heures non-stop sur les marches d’une église! Superbe ambiance! Et puis en arrivant sur place, j’ai entendu quelqu’un crier mon nom… Etrange car en 3 jours à Salvador, nous n’avons pas vraiment eu le temps de sympathiser avec grand monde….… mais c’était Alberto (qui nous avait aidés à trouver le marchand de cycles), assis au premier rang qui nous invitait à le rejoindre avec un énorme sourire! Todo ben! La nuit s’est achevée tard dans les rues pavées de Pelourinho en dansant sur la musique d’un groupe de tambours virevoltants. Quel endroit magique! Parfait pour les vacances! Il faut que je revienne pour le Carnaval! Ou peut être que j’y trouve un poste de prof d’anglais… après tout, personne ne semble parler l’anglais à Salvador!

Additional photos below
Photos: 173, Displayed: 36


Welcome to Open Barra House!Welcome to Open Barra House!
Welcome to Open Barra House!

I traveled from Beijing to France, spent 2 nights in Paris before flying with my Dad to Rio and then on to Salvador.

1st August 2014

better than expected
how nice to read only positive and its more beautiful than i imagined. but you were lucky guys. It can be different picture too..may be china for one aspect better, because less crime? seems wonderful to explore place by bike, probably, no better way, but still courageous, esp for your father. i would of thought bikes not very popular there too, but looking at that beautiful bike road along the beach..puts Eurovelo in Baltic countries to shame
1st August 2014

Nice article. I hadn't such a nice experience in Beazil but I for sure remember the nice Brazilian music and the way they dance! Salvador is definitely on my list on where I want to go next time in Brazil! I was reading your post and I was hoping to read about the whole biking trip, hope a new blog about the rest of the trip will come soon ;)
2nd August 2014

I'm sorry to hear you didn't have such a good time in Bz.
May I ask what happened? We were extremely lucky with my Dad. Everyone was so nice to us. I will post a few other blogs on cycling Bahia + driving around the southern provinces
1st August 2014

Brazilian love for music and dance!!
Nice blog. I want to know the rest of the story of your biking trip; Will you post some blogs about it?
2nd August 2014

Hey Natacha!
More blogs coming up on the whole biking experience in Brazil VERY soon! ;-) Jeremyaroundtheworld + Frenchgirlaroundtheworld... with those names we gotta share stories! ;-)
2nd August 2014

Hi, My card got copied in Brazil in an ATM and someone stole me some cash in a private house in Sao Paulo. However, it's not why I didn't enjoy Brazil so much, it's more because I found it very touristy and in comparison with Namibia, where I was just before Brazil, people were not that friendly. But I am sure that Bahia and other even less touristy provinces are better. Yes, we indeed have the same blog names almost ;) By the way, I am in China now and going to live there from next year on, so we will share even more ;)
2nd August 2014

I'm in Beijing. If you ever make it to the Capital, message me! What will u be doing in China?

Tot: 1.806s; Tpl: 0.029s; cc: 13; qc: 35; dbt: 0.0246s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb