Rohit Chandra

Brazil – Salvador

The state of Bahia in Brazil is often referred to as the ‘Soul of Brazil,’ in a large part due to the strong African influence in this state, and Salvador is the ‘Heart of Bahia’. The pulse of Salvador however is trapped in a neighborhood called Pelourhino, which literally translated means whipping post – alluding to the era gone by when slaves were tortured and sold here. Now for my:

MEMORIES FROM SALVADOR (BAHIA)

  • Pelourhino is more African than Africa, (and I’ve been to Africa! ;))
  • There are black people everywhere with dreadlocks and braided hair
  • The old town is justifiably noted for its enchanting music, indigenous musical instruments, exquisite dance forms, folk art, lasting heritage, and a unique religion – Candomble
  • Pelourhino is a delight to hang out at. It is made up of lots of open-air piazzas that are (surprisingly) locked in by buildings from all sides. One has to go through restaurants and bars to get to them. Once there, more often than not, you are treated to a live musical performance in progress 😀
  • Buildings are painted in solid colors, with complementary white trims and an array of contrasting colors used across buildings on the same block.
  • Pelourhino is peppered with art galleries in local homes: galleries of paintings, paper mache, hand-painted t-shirts, ornaments, and a variety of miscellaneous handicrafts.
  • It is also home to many baroque churches built by African slave workers from an era gone by – some with very distinct Portuguese feel to them: like the blue & white porcelain tiles.
  • Perhaps the only irritant was touts, urchins and hawkers running up to you and trying to tie a fita (yes, ribbon/lace!) around your wrist for a small donation. This, to fuel a local belief that the fita allows the wearer to make 3 wishes that will come true by the time the fita naturally falls off.
  • There are always people milling around – no matter what day of the week, time of the day or time of the night – the drums, the MUSIC, and the dancing never stop!
  • Prasa do Reggae and Bar do Reggae, with live African drum frenzy was an amazing place to hang out at. On my last day in Salvador, at 10 o’clock in the morning there was an afoxe’ (carnival group) practice in progress with active audience participation – ah, what a memory!
  • Outdoor café-bars abound with people drinking beer out of tiny glasses with the beer bottle in a long insulated plastic bottle-holder
  • The streets are buzzing with musicians, revelers, tourists, street touts, police, and exotic vendors-
    • Big black women in their traditional white African attire (dress including headgear) are smattered on stools in the middle of plazas, selling traditional soul food: deep-fried in front of you on portable stoves.
    • Vendors of “café” with their tiny hand pushed carts, no more than 8 inches wide, with their miniature truck-heads, and a disproportionate sized steering wheel, to navigate, on top. The sides lined with thermos flasks holding scalding hot coffee
    • Vendors of home made musical instruments, cotton candy, and of hand held paper-wind-mill-on-a-stick toys (charkhi)
    • Vendors selling paneer-like kebab skewers; instantly grilled on hot coals in a small metal container that they carry with them.
    • Popcorn vendors with their mobile carts popping fresh corn, and young coconut water
  • Raw (green) coconut shaped: phone booths, handcarts, trash cans et. al. (On an aside, phone booths by themselves, were distinctly unique all over Brazil – in fact I have some interesting photographs of them)
  • I relished eating Mosqueca and Empanado, not to forget the lobster!
  • ..and dining at some of THE Finest restaurants in the entire state of Bahia;
  • ..and staying at a fancy hotel – eating breakfast overlooking exquisite views of the Bay.
  • Given the HUGE tourist appeal – international AND domestic, there’s LOTS of Tourist Police at literally every street corner in Pelourhino
  • …despite which a taxi driver tried to take me for a circuitous ride – quite the story 😉 (On a side note, often times fixed price fares with a cabbie were better than meter dictated fares, and did I ever share my story of my scuffle with the border troops at Argentina? One day…)
  • The STEEP slopes of Pelourhino are unmatched – not even San Francisco! So much so there’s even a public elevator, Elevador Lacerda, that climbs up 85 meters, and transports over 50,000 people daily! Cost of a ride: 0.05 Real i.e. appx. $0.015
  • At the foot of Elevador Lacerda is Mercado Modelo teeming with souvenir stalls – got a few very nice trinkets from there. 😀
  • Beautiful Christmas lights – jungle of trees lit up with multi colored lights wrapped around the trunk, a palace with a façade and silhouette of lights.
  • All this amidst very pleasant weather, not unbearably hot. In fact I witnessed a couple of quick showers that quickly cleared away.
  • All white Brazilians at Barra in stark contrast to all black Pelourhino, just a couple of miles away
  • …with garbage cans literally every 50 feet! Very impressive!
  • All white affluent teenagers at Aeroclube plaza, where “every teenager goes to Disney World for their 15th birthday” as I was told by one of the breed
  • Capoeira is performed everywhere in Brazil – in open plazas, on the beaches of Rio, in fancy cultural shows – anywhere where there is a gathering of people!
    • Capoeira originated in Bahia, as an African martial art form developed by slaves to fight their tormentors
    • It was later disguised to look like a sort of acrobatic dance form to cover this act of defiance; the movements are always fluid and circular, and the performers playful yet respectful
    • Rhythmic clapping by bystanders and the plucking of berimbau are the minimum accompaniments for a performance
  • Candomble is a religion that is native to Bahia. It derives its roots from Africa, some say Angola. Attending a Candomble ceremony is arguably the number 1 thing to do on a trip to Salvador.
    • I was fortunate to be there during a festival – Festa de NS da Conceisao
    • I saw about 20 people including some audience members going into a trance – mostly women save one guy

I think Candomble deserves an article on itself. More about it another day…, enuff said for today, so until the next one…
_Rohit!

P.S.
Sorry had to rush this one out quickly since I’m off on my next adventure to Costa Rica, I promise to do a less rushed job on the next one!

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