Salvador, Brasil — August 2014
I covered my stay in Salvador by working at a local hostel. I worked three times weekly, meaning I spent many days exploring downtown Pelourinho and frequenting the beautiful beaches.
Salvador. What a circus. Definitely my favorite place I’ve lived. Also, the biggest, most entertaining, and most dangerous place I’ve lived.
In fact, everyone there was robbed at gunpoint last month. But that is another story and shall be told another time. Like tomorrow.
While there, I only worked three nights a week, this I had tons of time to explore.
Leaving the hostel, you walk straight into the heart of Pelourinho. Left meant up a hill towards churches, pricey houses, and “the stairs,” an outdoor stage with a free Samba concert every Wednesday night. Straight was a road frequented by drug dealers that we were ordered to never use, while a parallel street led to the church where I got my exorcisms and the grocery store where we went to buy food for Monday’s churrascao (barbecue). Right was uphill and towards Largo Terreiro de Jesus, the city’s center for celebrations, protests, history, and tourism.
I typically went right.
Up the hill was Casa de Jorge Amado, better known as the blue house, and a standard museum. The Olodum percussion group often practiced here and it was amazing to see and hear. Olodum is an Afro-Brazilian cultural group with the goals of fighting racism, promoting equality, and improving self-esteem, but is most famous for its percussion section.
Michael Jackson’s video for They Don’t Care About Us was largely filmed here and featured the Olodum drumline, leading to Jackson being some sort of saint in Pelourinho, with many posters and paintings of him around. I still can’t wrap my head around this… King of Pop or not, Brasil is Latin America’s core state politically and economically, plus has a very distinct and celebrated culture. The area marrying itself to Jackson after being featured in one music video and then choosing to ignore the circus his life became after he started bleaching his skin seems a bit desperate. Whatevs.
Just to the left of the drumline above is Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (The Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks), also known as the Blue Church. Logically sound, the slavemasters introduced their slaves to Catholicism and explained that while they couldn’t step foot in any of the existing churches, they would still be bound for eternal hellfire and whatnot if they didn’t attend mass and take communion. Altruistically, the slavemasters then allowed the slaves to gather the materials for the church themselves and build it at night so that their daytime work wouldn’t slow down. There are many statues of black saints inside, as well as a cemetery in the back for slaves.
The church is also well-known for its tradition of healing. Roughly two million people stand outside and try to tie colorful knit bracelets on your wrist as you walk. If let up your guard and they get a knot in, you’re obligated to buy one. These bracelets are for either healing or luck: if you purchase one and tie it to the fence outside of the church and wish for healing, you will be healed; while if you purchase one and make three wishes while tying it on your wrist with three knots, your three wishes will come true when the last knot comes untied. Thousands of these colorful bracelets are tied to the fence of the Blue Church, creating a unique and vibrant gate.
A block further up the hill was Largo Terreiro de Jesus, Salvador’s traditional Latin American central square. It was the city’s best spot to grab local street food and get pickpocketed. Acarajé (a ball of fried and stuffed black-eyed peas) and espitinhos (meat skewered and roasted over an open flame) are musts when visiting. Free advice: Don’t tell Brasilians that you don’t like beans unless you have a death wish.
Head left at the square and you go through a commercial district for around 15 minutes before reaching Arena Fonta Nova, a 55,000 seat stadium built to host World Cup games. It was actually built on the spot of an old stadium that was even larger. While there are two professional teams in Salvador, neither is in Brasil’s top league. I’m told that the stadium never approaches half capacity. To recap, they tore down an existing stadium and threw over $100,000,000 into building a smaller stadium on the same spot, despite not having a major team in the city. Because FIFA.
I tried to go to a post-World Cup game there once, but due to fans throwing flares in previous games the teams were punished by not allowing fans in. The result was Bahia vs. Vitoría, the city’s two teams, playing to an eery ghost stadium with a large crowd outside trying to watch the game through the entrances built for the equipment trucks and team buses.
If you choose instead to go right in the square, you head towards the ocean.
Before reaching the beach you will reach Elevador Lacerda. The elevator connects the high and low cities. The high city was built for the rich and for the government offices, while the low city was where the working class lived and worked. This still largely holds true, though the government offices have moved across town and been replaced by the tourism industry. Tragically, the government forced many poor Bahians who had lived in the area for generations to move in order to restore the fronts of buildings… with the goal of maintaining the historical legacy.
The idea of the elevator is awesome. A gigantic elevator, overlooking the ocean, that quickly takes you between the two distinct districts of the city? It couldn’t be much more picturesque. What’s not to love? Others have picked up on this as well. You’ll see plenty of postcards and shirts with outlines of the elevator. You get excited, no? Then you get inside. There are no windows and the walls are sterile grey. The ride down is no different from an elevator at your local mall or office building. But those are free and without long lines.
Staying on the same road for another 15 minutes, we hit Farol de Barra, the lighthouse that heads down to the city’s best beach. The best time to come is right before sunset, when you can watch Por de Sol over the water and remind yourself that this is why you quit your job and gave your pets away. Immediately after the sunsets, the stereotypical Brasilians you see on TV (perfect bodies, great teeth) come out to exercise. Sensing the crowd gathering for the sunset, they strip down to tight shorts to run up and down the beach and definitely aren’t begging for attention and approval.
You then repeat this routine daily, because you’ve somehow managed to find a job here that gives you the days and evenings free.
Unfortunately, my phone crashed and with it went all of my photos that weren’t saved elsewhere. This resulted in me pulling a lot of photos from google for this entry. Any photos without citations were taken by me. Others were taken from the sites listen below.
“Farol da Barra – Salvador, Brazil” by (User: Hentzer) – I (User: Hentzer) created this work entirely by myself.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Farol_da_Barra_-_Salvador,_Brazil.JPG#/medi/File:Farol_da_Barra_-_Salvador,_Brazil.JPG