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Published: February 28th 2017
I feel Bahia before I could see it. That electric Carnival energy rattles me. In the historic district, where are hostel is, a cluster of bright colored houses sit in rows. Almost like something out of Key West. Our hostel is Nega Maluca, a quaint hostel right near Pelourinho. Inside, there is a tiny hallway that leads to a community kitchen and back outdoor balcony, overlooking the rest of the historic district. Travel photography lined all the walls, except it wasn’t places being captured – but people. There are pictures of dark, dusty workers from China, a mother and her baby in full face makeup from India, and a Namibian girl with black skin and hair painted bright red. The look on their faces captured perfectly in that you could feel them, like you knew them. All of the portraits are lined at the bottom with a signature, “Inbal,” the woman I had been corresponding with for the reservations. Except she isn’t a woman at all, but a man. I associated the name, Inbal, with a female…but I guess that’s what happens when you correspond through only the written word.
“Hello,” he greets Jon and I, “Welcome to Nega Maluca.”
He is a bald man. A shirtless man. He speaks with an accent, different from Brazil, I don’t even think South American. Inbal has a friendly expression that balances equal parts compassion and ‘don’t fuck with me.’ …Quite the metaphor for South America, honestly. He quickly grabs my bag and takes Jon and I to our room upstairs. He is leading us between tight corners and stoned tourists. I noticed his tattoo draped across his upper back of the world map. Detailed to the core, it seemed like 80-90%!o(MISSING)f the countries were filled in with different color.
“I like your tattoo,” I say.
“Thank you,” Inbal replied, “All the countries that are filled in are the ones that I have visited.” I look at it again, almost ramming into him when he stopped walking outside our door.
“Your pictures are amazing too. What place has been your favorite?”
“Bahia, always been Bahia. You will never know a place with more soul”…dramatic pause… “Alright, here is your room!”
He opens the door with a large gold key and handed it to us. It is a small room, but with A/C. Thank
god. The only thing missing is any sort of shelf space. Our clothes and luggage will now reside on the floor. Jon and I meet the hostel’s ughh—house boy? His name is Fedo. He is short, skinny with dark curly hair. His voice is both raspy and high pitched. He would later become our weed-guy, or what they call “weed” …more like stemy-seedy bush to me. Fedo would also later hate us, for reasons you will understand when you finish reading this passage.
“Laundry is upstairs, kitchen is downstairs. The second floor has the biggest shower, and the only one with hot water. All the others showers are down below. Try to keep the showers under 10 minutes, or there will be no hot water. Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet either, our pipes are too small. Put everything in the trash can. Good? We all begin the party at 8 o’clock." Jon and I nod and begin stuffing our dirty clothes in the teeny-tiny white square they called a washer machine.
In Bahia, Carnival works like this: there are two main parties that happen. One is in Pelourinho and one in Baja.
They are the yin and yang of options. One hand you have Pelourinho which is the more “family friendly” of the options. There are parades and dancing. Beautiful decorations of Samba dancing hang from the buildings. There is even a Michael Jackson tribute outside the window of a room he stayed in in the 90’s.
Then you have Baja, the big parade mecca of Carnival. This area contains the images and stories you have undoubtedly heard of. And with that, the decision of where to go was made. The traffic to get anywhere close to Baja is madness. We are warned, again
, by the taxi driver about the dangers of getting mugged. At this point, Jon and I respond simply by rolling our eyes, "We know
." I don’t even have anything of worth on me, just a crappy digital camera and some boob cash. We get out and follow to crowd to the beach.
Drums. All I hear is drums. Bahia's Carnival is world famous for its rich history during the slave trade. Their coast was the stop where all the Africans were taken to from slavery ships. They tribute to this with the Carnival decorations. Groups of
people, of all colors, remembered their rich history through songs, wardrobe, and dance. The music was centuries of woe and sorrow and anger and happiness and every emotion under the sun was being drummed out in unison, by all of the locals.
I had my cat ears on and my digital camera hanging from my skirt. Even with it being just a little exposed, three little old Brazilian ladies came up to me and pointed to my camera and shook their heads at me, warning me that it might get taken. Seriously? Would someone please rob me already? Because I’m starting to not believe this whole ‘Brazil is Unsafe’ gimmick.
There is Samba dancing, alcohol, and...men in dresses
. Instant eyebrow raise. So many men in drag…but not even good drag
. I say this because I might be jaded...living in LA and all, having witnessed the best of the best of drag. But, boy, were they having a great time! We must have landed on the rainbow-side of Carnival, in retrospect. In a sea of man-on-man make outs, there we were, Jon and I on our own little island.
The public bathrooms are destroyed by Carnival
goers, so everyone seemed to use the beach as their own personal oasis. When it was my go to pop-a-squat in the hidden nook of beach rock, I bend down and before I could set stream I notice a clear plastic bag of white powder in the sand. I picked it up and made a quick analysis. White powder + plastic bag + Brazil…could this mean…? Could this mean…?! My intoxicated mind is reeling. We could try it and see if it really was coke and have the best rest of Carnival there…we could sell it and I can make some of my damn money back that I blew during this vacation? The options are endless! I stuff the bag in my panties and made sure to look “normal” when I snatch Jon’s hand and began running from the beach before someone could stop us.
“You found what?!”
“Shh…shhh!!” I wiggle my drunk finger in front of my lips. “The rightful owner could be anywhere lookin for this shit!” I say amidst a crowd of thousands.
“I’ll check it out,” Pablo says.
“Let me see,” Anna chimes in.
seagulls to a chip bag, our new Hostel friends became our new best friends, instantaneously. I tell them that I will go check it out myself first to see what it really is. We all wait in the astronomically long line for the bathroom and I go inside. I reach down in my pants and…nothing. It was gone. Oh well, long live that pipe dream.
The hostel is bustling when we got back. People are on the hammocks, drinking from the bar, playing music and cards. In the middle of the commotion, Jon secretly pulled me into the big shower with the hot water. What could we do? The shower was the largest one I had ever been in! One thing led to another and…well...
let's just say we came out the other side both dirty
. We ended the night, swinging on the hammock, watching the sunrise. The first night of Carnival was a complete success. End scene.
The next morning, I walk downstairs bathroom to brush my teeth. I'm stopped by an enormous “Out of Order” sign with a tiny green sad face drawn on the corner. Good thing we showered
last night. I see Jon on the balcony in what looked like a serious conversation with his 'Mum.'
“Just cancel it then…I looked everywhere for it. If you—Mum—Mum, if you stop talking and listen...Just cancel it and we don’t have to worry about anything now don’t we?” He sees me and waves half-heartedly. I ignore it and go for the toast and sugarless fruit juice.
Jon then emerges from the balcony, “I lost my debit card last night.”
“Yea, I know I had it when we got back to the hostel…I think. I have the rest of my wallet.” Fedo walks in from the basement. He looks overworked, tired, partially hungover…and very dirty.
“Fedo, what’s up my man!” Jon says.
“Ugh…I’ve been working on the pipes to see what the fuck is wrong with the toilet. Seemed like you two had some fun last night,” Fedo nods his head to the bathroom.
“Heh…We did, thanks. Oh, hey, I lost my debit card though, has anyone turned anything in?”
“That’s not good. Probably long gone by now.”
“You canceled it, right?” I ask.
“Yea, I canceled it. I still have
my credit card though, so that’s good. Odd 'cause I don't think I even used my debit last night.”
The day was spent walking around to see nearby chapels and galleries, though many were closed due to the festivities. We eat lunch at the amazing Soho, a sushi place on the water. I buy a little key holder, replicating all the brightly colored houses in the historic district, from one of the sidewalk merchants. My one and only keepsake from my trip.
When we arrive back at Nega Maluca, Fedo was sitting outside on the curb smoking a cigarette.
“You.” He stares at Jon.
“Uh…hey, Fedo. What’s up?”
“You,” he points at Jon, with a little more anger tagged on. “I found your debit card.
Jon’s eyes light up. “Really?! Did someone turn it in?!”
.” Fedo says, unamused. Jon and I look at each other baffled.
“From now on…only one per shower, huh?” Fedo whips Jon's debit at him and storms inside.
Our Beyonce 'drunk-in-love' shower escapade led us to accidentally flush his debit card down the miniscule pipes that is Brazilian plumbing. Jon and I spend
a good ten minutes catching our breath from laughter outside Nega Maluca. We can't get robbed in Brazil even if we tried! Even the one lost debit card finds its way back! And it has Jon’s name written all over it…literally.
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