Brazil 2 - Salvador

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June 18th 2016
Published: June 19th 2016
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June 15. In Rio we woke at 5:00 am for our flight to Salvador in the state of Bahia, which is the size of Texas. Strangely, Wayne and a couple of others got an email saying our flight had been delayed and that we could find out more at 10. Giordanna called the airline and was told, no, everything is on time! Sure enough, at the airport the plane was ready, and all was fine. If we had been traveling alone we would probably have missed the flight! Someone proposed that that is what they do when the plane is overbooked to reduce the number of people that show up!

In line to check baggage a very pushy woman kept trying to cut into the middle of our group from the row behind us. She had her luggage on a cart and kept hitting my ankles. We were relieved to finally get our whole group aboard the plane. It was about a two hour flight, and then we were in Salvador which has a hotter, wetter climate, although the temperature was pretty pleasant around high 70s when we arrived. It is winter, and the locals think it is cold!

Salvador is on the biggest bay in Brazil and was the first capital and sugar cane center. During three centuries of slavery, 6 million slaves were brought here from Africa, about ten times the number brought to the US. Today Salvador is about 80% Black.

We heard a lot about the main religion of the Salvadorans, a blending of African (Yoruba) animism and Roman Catholicism called candomble (accent mark on the final "e"). They have 12 major gods called Orixas, each with a domain in nature, e,g. rivers, and a color. To maintain their religion under the Catholic regime they cleverly equated each Orixa with a saint and so were able to mask their worship of a particular Orixa with the celebration of the saint's feast day. Today many of the Salvadorans attend mass but also go to a candomble temple where they sing and dance and may go into a trance.

We are being affected by government activity. Today the dollar decreased from 3.45 reals to 3.20 (or more accurately, the real rose), because the politician who led the impeachment of president Dilma Roussef and who is very corrupt himself, was finally arrested, giving hope that Brazil is truly cleaning house.

After arriving in Salvador we had lunch at a less elaborate but still plentiful pay-by-kilo restaurant and checked into our very nice Sheraton da Bahia, complete with spa and gym, which we used three times!

We met our local guide, Gabriela, who took us to a museum and lighthouse in the neighborhood of Barra. Suddenly the wind was gusting at 50 mph, and it started to rain hard, so we all got soaked crossing the 200 yards from bus to lighthouse! We could climb up to the top of the lighthouse for a view of the bay with its wild waves, and the wind was so strong that when it stopped raining we dried almost immediately. The museum had exhibits about seafaring and especially about the hundreds of slave ships that came here.

We had another excellent dinner at a family style restaurant with chicken, pork, beef, manioc shells stuffed with cheese, manioc mash, black-eyed peas and manioc, and, my favorite, a very chewy cheese cube covered with molasses. Did I mention manioc? Also called cassava and the source of tapioca, it is used in almost every meal here and in varied ways.

June 16. The breakfast buffet here is wonderful! Most fun is an omelette station at which you can choose traditional egg omelette or a tapioca crepe with sweet or savory fillings. The tapioca is chewy like boba, and we had one with dulce de leche, guava jam, and coconut. Yum! On the bus by 9, and off the old part of the city where we were greeted by several baihanas, women dressed in traditional candomble dresses with huge hoop skirts, headdresses and beads. Slave women adopted this dress to hide their bodies from Portuguese masters. The old city is beautiful with narrow, cobblestone streets and squares and many churches elaborately decorated with gold, the only way the Brazilians could keep their gold from being shipped back to Portugal. My favorite item in the church of Sao Francisco, however, was not made of gold but of bread rolls, a bouquet meant to ask for the blessing of food and material provision.

Our group leader surprised Wayne and me at lunch with an anniversary dessert (dulce de leche, ice cream, and a fried manioc pastry). Our 37th! There was a very persistent but friendly necklace vendor following our group, and I liked one blue shell necklace that Susan had bought, so I told him I'd buy one of those if he could find it, but it was not in his inventory. Not too surprisingly, there he was outside our restaurant after lunch with the very same necklace, so I gladly gave him the 30 reals.

Yet another church visit, this time at Bonhim, where we were officially blessed, not so voluntarily, by candomble priests who waved leaves over us and sprinkled us with scented powders (expecting payment, of course). Next an ice cream stop at a popular local place with about 50 flavors. We tried some tropical fruit tastes like biribiri, very tart. We probably recognized only about half of the flavors offered, and the rest were from fruits you can't find in America.

Danna invited those who wanted another local eating adventure to accompany her on the public bus that evening to a plaza beside the sea where one can eat acaraje, literally edible ball of fire, a ball of flour and black eyed peas fried in palm oil until it turns red, then stuffed with smoked shrimp (shell still on), a cashew and peanut paste, and a little salad, with a very hot sauce on the side. We split one three ways. I think it's an acquired taste which I haven't quite acquired yet.

June 17. Our morning at the market at Terminal Sao Joaquim. Wow, what a huge place selling everything from fresh produce to hardware to clothing to supplies for the candomble rituals. It was noisy and dirty, and at any moment a cart or scooter or, in the wider aisles, even a truck might come up behind you at any moment. We bought some fruits, saputi, caja, cashew, mango to try at lunch and then were sent on a mission in groups of four. We had to use Portuguese to ask for a certain item and had to find out what it was a where it was sold. Our group said, "voce tem olio di boi?" And were directed to another stall and given three large nuts, "eye of cow", used in candomble rituals. Very fun. Finally, we left the market and went to a favela for a home lunch. Favelas, of course, are squatter communities usually built on hillsides by the occupants themselves. We were in the home of Patricia, and it was immaculately clean. She cooked pork, beans, rice, and salad for us. We ate with her and her teenage son and daughter and her mother. Other family members also have homes attached in the favela. Most impressive is that she has worked hard enough to send her children to private schools, paying more than half her salary to help them get ahead. Public schools are notoriously bad, so to have any hope of college or advancement this is necessary. Fortunately her son has done very well and was able to win a prized spot in the university.

One more trip into the old town this night for an African drumming lesson with Macambira, famed teacher who has performed around the world. He gave us the easy parts and improvised on his own congas! Then delicious dinner at Uaua, Brazilian fish stew made with coconut milk called moqueca. We could look out onto the street from two little balconies and see the celebration of the festival of St. John going on. Apparently St. John was quite a party animal, because there were bands and dancing everywhere. The streets had been decorated with colorful streamers, scarecrows, and sunflowers, and I'll always associate Salvador with the sound of wind rustling the hundreds of little flags on the streamers over our heads. After dinner one more stop: the Bahia Folklore Show with traditional singing, musical instruments (including berimbau), and dancing by costumed Orishas and me doing the capoeira, a meld of dance and martial arts with athletic flips and kicks. Finally to bed for a short sleep before flying to our next stop, Manaus.

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