Sabbatical 2012 [Days 20-23] Salvador de Bahia

Our arrival in Salvador was one of the latest we had the entire trip. We wanted to have enough time in São Paulo to be able to have a relaxing lunch before the flight. Pizza, unfortunately, didn’t work out as planned. The flight on Gol went quite smoothly. Deboarding the plane was quite fast and efficient, although they kind of routed us around the airport in this big horseshoe shape which was odd. By the time we made it through the rat maze, our luggage was just getting onto the baggage carouselle.

Now, to get the pre-arranged taxi ride that our Airbnb host, Liliana had arranged for us to bring to her apartment. We waited. Nobody with my name. Why not get some money from the ATM while we wait? Sure, not too difficult this time, surprisingly. Wait some more – still no driver with my name on a sign.

At this point, I decide to put my TIM Sim Card to use and call Liliana to see whats up. She calls the driver, and says that he’s running a bit late. Ok, we wait. Wait. Then some guy comes by with my name on a paper and walks us out to the curb, except he says something about him not actually being our driver. So we wait at the curb for our driver, who doesn’t come.

I call Liliana again. Its been about 35 minutes. She gets a call at the same time from the driver, who is “10 minutes away and has a friend there who can get us”. We wait another 10 minutes – and nobody comes. Screw this. We get in a normal cab and give him the address.


Liliana was in the gate of her apartment waiting for us when the Taxi pulled up, and she showed us into her lovely apartment that had ecclectic art pieces covering nearly any free space to decorate it. This was our first time just renting a room at somebody’s place where they would still be living there. We were hoping it’d be a good experience – learn some more about the local neighborhood, culture, get good hints, and see how somebody in Salvador really lives.

It was interesting to sit down in a home of somebody you’ve never met before as a guest. A bit awkward, certainly.

So… who are you? Here is your bedroom.

We made some smalltalk, asked where to get some decent food, and were told that the Shell station at the corner of the block has some really good Crabs. “Try the Tuna Crab”. Tuna Crab? Interesting….

So we walk to the Shell station. Indeed, there is a restaurant located there right along side the parking lot, and its nearly packed with people. We get some menus. Crepes. OOOhh… Good Crepes. Tuna Crepes. It makes sense now. They were indeed pretty good, considering the location and the price.

Both tired from traveling and waiting for the Taxi, we returned to Liliana’s to go to bed. Somehow we either thought that we’d be fine without air conditioning, or didn’t notice that the place didn’t have air conditioning. The room was pretty warm at night, and the street noise from outside kept us up and from sleeping very well. So it goes.

Pelourinho – Aka Peló

The next day we woke up and took a cab to Pelorinho, the historic part of town. It was an interesting area, with lots of brightly colored buildings a la Valparaiso, and many women in these big-butt traditional dresses out in the streets trying to get you to come into their souvenier shops. We saw a couple guys doing capoeira in the square, but it seemed half-hearted and solely to get tips or photos. I’ve seen better capoeira in Austin.

We finally walked into a church. Kind of amazing it took that long to get into one, considering their abundance in South America.

Sometimes, two just isn’t enough.

I was hoping there would be a lot of live music, from things I’ve read. Unfortunately, this wasn’t really the case. I did hear a catchy song though. Not a good song, but a catchy song. It was blasting out of giant speakers mounted to the top of a car. Every block, we’d hear it approach in the taxi, and then we’d hear it disappear for a bit, then get louder. Then Doppler effect. It turns out, the song was a jingle for a political candidate, Petro Godinho. We heard this song pretty much any time we were on the street.  It got stuck in my head more than any Samba or other Brazilian music that I’ve had in my head since going to Spain. I’ll bet you could hear this song. Thanks to the interwebs, it is possible!

You might think this was a unique and interesting way to broadcast your campaign. Or, you might think its silly and outlandish to have such a jingle play on the streets. Except, in Salvador de Bahia, it seemed every single politician had their own African-inspired-music jingle to play on rooftop-mounted speakers. Its just the unfortunate norm for propaganda distribution.

It came time to eat. We wandered around a bit, found this little side street where this guy with dreds showed us his menu which didn’t look too great. But then this big bubbly happy lady came up to us and said we could have some free caipirinhas and had a better-looking menu, so we sat down next door. I felt kind of bad for not going to the first guy’s restaurant, but hey – this lady was super smiley and did a much better job selling.

We got our free caipirinhas, and a big bowl of this boullobaise-like dish with lots of seafoods inside, along with a plate of rice, some corn flour, and hot sauce. It was pretty delicious, but incredibly salty and buttery. I had a headache from it by the time we left.

It was time to go to the beach. Nice, warm waters and did the usual rent-a-chair and get some beers as in Rio de Janeiro. The way the Porto de Barra beach is situated, you actually get to watch the sunset from the beach, facing the ocean. Salvador had that going for it over Rio – where the sun sets behind you. A woman happened to come by offering a chair massage while the sun began to set. Sure, why not? Yeah, its a bit overpriced for how long it lasted, but you know what? It was dang worth it. Paradise.

The next day was also spent almost solely at the beach. I failed to find any kind of cultural offerings that had tickets still available, such as the Folkloric show or a drum show by a group called Odulum. Shame, really, to miss such an opportunity.

Salvador’s Recent Decline

Speaking with several people, we got the clear picture that Salvador has been on a downward slope over the last 5 years or so. It is less safe, larger, and dirtier than it has apparently been in the past. Theories are abound as to why this is – either the growth itself or that the drug lords from the favelas in Rio and São Paulo were forced out of those cities during the cleanup, and sought a new businessplace in Salvador.

Favela Rooftops near Pelourinho

The result was kind of deprsessing. Nobody walks around at night for fear of mugging. We always had to be on guard, which isn’t exactly how you want to be when on vacation. Even Pelorinho felt empty compared to what I had read and heard to expect from it. I certainly hope that Salvador can bring itself to be the city that it once supposedly was.

Buildings missing roofs

Crazy Taxi Ride to the Airport

We say goodbye to Liliana, and head to catch a cab to the airport early in the morning to begin travel to our next destination – Recife. At the same Shell station where we previously had gone for Crepes, a taxi flashed its lights and pulled up to our assistance – except there were already 2 passengers in the back seat – a mother and her young daughter. They say that they’re getting off in a couple blocks, so we go ahead and get in the cab.

The mother explains to me in Portuguese that they’re heading to the little girl’s school, that she’s late because they were actually in another city the night before. We drop the girl off, the woman gets back in the taxi, and we presumably begin to head towards the airport. She explains that she lives on the way. Fair enough.

At some point, the driver gets a cell phone call, and there is some exchange between the woman and the driver. We pull off to the side of the road at a random driveway near the beach, and the woman says something about getting out into another cab. I wasn’t sure if she meant that just she was going to take another cab, that we should take another cab, or that all 3 of us are getting in another cab. It was the latter. So we transfer all of our luggage to another cab and our new taxi friend and new driver, and off we go to the airport.

The woman begins to bad-mouth the previous taxi driver who she revealed to be her neighbor who she depended on for rides for years, saying he was rude and that she’d never use him for a ride again because it was so rude that he took another fare when he already had us in the car. It was kind of funny, but I almost felt bad that maybe we had instigated some falling out between neighbors.

She got off at her stop, and we headed on her way to the airport. On time. No luggage missing or kidnappings. Hey, at least we got the story and had some fun exchange with this lady.

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