Salvador de Bahia
|Walking down the street in busy down-town Comercio District, the green coconut seller smiles. At the bus stop an old lady dancing to the music of the CD salesman grins. When you are lost, people don't just tell you how to get there, they take you. When you are struggling with heavy bags, someone will help carry them. When you leave your mobile phone in a taxi (yes, I did!), the driver will do everything he can to get it back to you. When you want to buy something expensive, they won't sell it to you until you have checked you can't get it cheaper elsewhere (now, that is annoying!). |
Our friend Sue took a watch to a street stall where they fix watches and phones and everything. The vendor spent a whole hour trying to repair it, he polished it, changed the seal but couldn't fabricate the missing part. He didn't charge anything!
If Salvador de Bahia entered the 'most welcoming and friendly city in the world' competition, it would win hands down.
Brazil is a rich country, only some people are more equal than others. Wealth and material possessions are important here but not over and above happiness and friendship it would appear.
Kath posing in front of Barra lighthouse (I thought that was in Scotland, FF)
The first week we were still recovering from the sleep deprivation of the crossing. We had arrived just in time for Easter, an important festival in a Catholic country. We went to see the 'Passion of Christ' play, part of the Arts Festival of the Sacred. To obtain tickets we had to bring two kilos of non-perishable food each. All the food would be distributed to poorer people. We caught the bus after lunch to Barra where the stage had been erected on the quay. Barra is the famous site of the first Portuguese fort and lighthouse in Brazil, built in 1598 to defend Salvador, the then capital of the colony. We joined Bahians enjoying time off and wandered along the prom blending in with the locals. Five air-conditioned coaches from a cruise ship which had arrived that morning disgorged their contents of fluorescent white aliens who spent thirty minutes 'doing Salvador' through the screens of their cameras. A Ferris wheel and slack line were providing entertainment and we stopped to watch.
We found a street stall selling cold green coconuts, the top is hacked off and you drink the 'water', deliciously refreshing and not too sweet. We had an early dinner and our first Portuguese misunderstanding, whatever drink we ordered we ended up with beer or beer or non-alcoholic beer! We returned to the stage area and found our seats, the air was warm and smelt sweet, a mixture of sweat, (in 35 degrees celsius perspiration just pours off you, the scent is like warm bread and isn't acrid at all), garlic, incense and popcorn. The performance, 'Cirque du Soleil' style (in case you are familiar with this successful Canadian circus company) was energetic and beautiful. Jesus was born, crucified and resurrected to a fast cadence of acrobatics, fire breathing and belly dancing performed by a hundred actors in stunning costumes.
Party atmosphere in front of Barra lightouse
Forty days of temptation in the desert
Interview with Pontius Pilate
As usual we have a list of things to buy and fix. If we achieve one thing a day, we celebrate! Everything here takes a lot more time, sailing kit is hard to come by (fishermen use rowing boats, rich people own motor yachts, in a country of light winds few people bother with sailing boats) and you need to be in the know as to where you might find things. Shopkeepers want to be helpful so if they don't have it they will suggest where to try next. Sometimes after four or five different places we would be sent back to our start! We met Marcelo, a fixer for the yacht world, he runs a small chandler 'Bahia Boats' and knows how to get things done, he has been very useful.
Of course this is Brazil so life can't just be about work. We caught the giant lift which links the commercial sector to the upper city and visited Pelourinho, the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the highest concentration of baroque buildings outside of Europe. The narrow streets are lined with music shops, art galleries, churches and restaurants. Samba schools rehearse outdoors and young Salvadorans hang out, there is a party atmosphere nearly every day of the year.
Just outside the Terminal Náutico, you can catch a bus to just about anywhere in Salvador, they are affordable (Reais $3 = GB 40p.) and easy to use, though sometimes we may not have taken the most direct route.
The bus to the Zoobotanical gardens was interesting. A lady at the front jumped up suddenly, dashed over to us and started talking in very fast Brazilian. We eventually worked out that she was concerned that we had missed our stop, as we hadn't all was fine. Salesmen often hawk their goods on the buses. They get on, hand out their wares to the passengers, make a speech (God usually gets a mention), go round collecting the money or the unsold items. We noticed that most passengers go along with the routine whereas we have been declining the goods. A crazed looking toothbrush salesman with a very large tongue took umbrage when we failed to buy a toothbrush. "I have one already" I protested (in Portuguese). "Haha you don't speak Portuguese" he exclaimed, "what about Jesus?" he added and laughed hysterically, oversized tongue hanging out.
Entry to the gardens was free. We walked up a path, avoiding the puddles left by the earlier downpour into shady forest and the warm earthy tropical smell of rotting vegetation. There wasn't really a botanical garden as such, it was a small zoo set within a splendid wooded landscape. We saw many Brazilian birds and parrots, blue, red, magenta and crimson, and monkeys with very long tails that we may see later in the wild. As with zoos everywhere, we felt some of the cages were too small.
As the rainy season started, we discovered a different, darker side to Salvador.
We had been surprised by the vast number of police on the streets. The atmosphere isn't threatening, this isn't a police state but the message is clearly zero tolerance of crime and drugs.
Many of the people living on the streets are alcoholic, often with mental health problems. Drug dealing is barely hidden and drinking beer, Caxaça (Brazilian rum, it tastes like vodka) or caipirinhia is a popular pastime. One evening we ate in the main square in Pelourinho, our waiter was a little strange and his enunciation was odd, as if he had a speech impediment. Next thing we knew he was spread-eagled up against a wall, one military policeman searching his bag while the other held a large stick in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other, pointed at the floor for safety. They found something and crushed it on the pavement, he was then taken away. Drug consumption carries a six months to two year prison sentence while dealing is more than five years. We saw him again a few days later, he seemed a lot calmer.
We let Marcus fill his water tank from our tap. Originally from Germany, he bought his boat in Burnham upon Crouch and has lived in Brazil for the past twenty-one years. He was full of horror stories about yachts being attacked though had never experienced anything first hand. His most recent story seemed to date a couple of weeks back and was alleged to have taken place on Itaparica, the island across the bay. Later, when I read the same story on Noonsite (an info website for yachts) I paid attention.
The next day a Swedish boat arrived. Steffan told me his story: they were anchored off the Itaparica marina and popped into the village to buy some groceries. While they were gone, another Swede saw three youths jumping off their yacht into a fishing boat, he gave chase in his tender. Steffan returned to the marina, saw what was happening and joined the pursuit. They caught up with the fishing boat and the young men dumped a bag overboard which they were able to recover, it contained Steffan's cameras, phone and computer, ruined by the water. They took the thieves to the police station where the lads accused the yachtsmen of running them down and the police believed their story. All were taken to the police station. Swedes and robbers sat in the same room eyeballing each other for a couple of hours, the youths were relaxed, confident they would shortly be released. Enter stage left the state prosecutor, married to a Swedish businessman, she shook hands with Steffan and his friends and introduced herself to to the intruders who blanched - the tables had been turned. Boarding a yacht without permission carries a five year prison sentence.
It turned out the day before, a Swiss sailing couple had had a bag robbed at machete point while on the beach and a French boat had been burgled at night while they and their dog slept.
Local people were very upset and are determined to make Itaparica the safest place in Brazil.
We have now spent two weeks and a bit at the Terminal Náutico and are now the longest serving yacht on the pontoon! Since we knew everyone, we hosted a party for the crews of Revelation 1 (South Africa), Yao (France), Yemanja (Germany), and Tango (Sweden).
From left to right: Wiets, Franco, Sue, Marianne, Tommy, Steffi, Jean-Loup, Annika and Steffan
From here we will head further into Bahia de Todos Santos (the Bay of All Saints).