I am astounded every single day by the randomness of traveling. The cutest mom and her little baby girl sat next to me on the plane from Fortaleza to Salvador. The mom had red hair and freckles, but was speaking Portuguese to the baby. The baby had white sandals with bows on them, and she kept kicking me all through the flight. But she was so cute I didn’t even mind! “Sem problema! No problem!” I said to the mom when she scolded her child. Then yesterday, I was walking around an area called Pelourinho here in Salvador, and across the street I spotted the same girl with her baby, except this time the baby rode on her daddy’s shoulders. I couldn’t believe it!!! In ALL of Salvador, I see this girl from the plane. “Oi!! Chica!!” I squealed in excitement at the sheer randomness of it, and she looked over. A smile of recognition crossed her face and she waved. Crazyyyyy…..
Salvador, formerly the capital of Brazil until it was re-located to Brasilia, is a huge thriving town in the state of Bahia. Salvador is famous for its Afro-Brazilian influences, brimming with rich culture, music, drumming, dance, and capoeira. I am staying in Pelourinho, which is the historic center. The hostel – Acai Hostel – is simply awesome! Owned and operated by the nicest Brazilian guy from Sao Paulo, it has an inviting common area on the top floor which includes a big table with bright yellow chairs, a comfy couch, bean bags, and a deck where you can sit in the beautiful sunshine and watch the street life below. There is always music playing. The kitchen is cheerful, boasting a shelf with an endless supply of rice, pasta, and a few other essentials available for everyone’s use. Acai’s staff are so nice and accommodating! The owner even went out with us last night to the street samba party.
When I arrived the night before, I was told that the next night – Tuesday – was THE night to be here. The weekly samba party would be taking place, and this is definitely not to be missed, they said. I keep getting lucky! It seems like every place I go, I happen to be there when something special is going on. Like in Buenos Aires for the famous San Telmo Sunday market. Had no idea about that, but people came from all over just to enjoy it! Went to bed early that night… like around midnight haha. Hey, that’s early in South America! But first I went to a sandwich shop which had terrible service (not uncommon) and it took 40 minutes to get my egg, cheese, and salad on a bun.
Tuesday I took a walking tour with a handful of people from the hostel. A young Brazilian boy took us all over town, explaining the history behind everything. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with tightly packed venetian-colonial style houses painted in every hue of pastel. I’m not totally sure if “venetian” is actually a legit style, but I am using it. I feel like Easter is everywhere! The other really cool thing is that they are putting up all the decorations for Carnival, so there are also gaudy paper machete figurines and statues everywhere, as well as brightly colored streamers hanging over the streets.
The guide took us to a capoeira school where we played the instruments and learned basic capoeira maneuvers. My favorite instrument looks like a bow and arrow minus the arrow. It has a gourd at the bottom of it. You take a rock and hold it against the metal string, then you hit the string with a stick. You basically can only make about 3 notes out of it, but that’s all you need for the capoeira songs. We took turns “fighting”, and I got paired with a guy from the hostel who actually does capoeira back home in France. He’s really good. I definitely pulled my right groin muscle on a high kick, though, and now I am semi-limping around. Dangit, always the groin muscle!!! Anyways, we learned that you always look your opponent in the eye and always cover your face. After we were all thoroughly exhausted by this, the cute old lady with the puffy yellow skirt who ran the place taught us how to dance samba. She especially took a liking to the American boy from Michigan in our group, backing her booty up against him, wiggling it and winking while we cheered “Opa!” and he awkwardly shuffled around.
After that we went to the square and wolfed down a street-food called Acaraje, which is a big bready ball made from black-eyed peas, deep fried, and filled with various toppings such as a bean paste, sautéed okra, hot pepper sauce, salsa, and shrimp. We were all “hangry” after our capoeira lesson, so these went down fast. They were delicious and rich with flavor. The Brazilian guy in our group also ordered a weird looking flat dark meat that was also deep fried. When we asked him what it was, he replied “placenta”. Eeeeewwwww!!!!!! Almost threw my Acaraje back up in my mouth.
To end our walking tour, we went down some elevators to a humongous market in a building that resembled a ferry building. While en route, a short and very dark Brazilian street vendor basically forced a necklace onto the American guy’s neck and then walked away. 5 minutes later he came back demanding payment. The American tried to give the necklace back but the Brazilian refused it, becoming belligerent, pushing him aggressively and saying “You waste my time!!” He did this several times… refusing the necklace, walking away, just to come back a few minutes later repeating this same behavior. We were all starting to become really concerned, but our tour guide was doing nothing about it. Finally, after an especially aggressive encounter, the tour guide finally got involved and I seriously thought there was going to be a fight. But the Brazilian left us alone after that, and we all learned an important lesson: when in Salvador, you really have to watch your back (and your bag), and say “NO, NO, NO!” to these vendors. Apparently this is a pretty common practice – to force things into your hand and then try to intimidate you into buying them.
After enjoying a simple pasta dinner back at the hostel, we all went out for the Tuesday night street parties. We started at the steps, where a live band was performing traditional Brazilian music. The steps were jam-packed with people from the street all the way to the top, swaying and clapping to the rhythm. We walked around town and listened to some other bands, including a reggae one that we really liked. There are sooooo many Rasta people in Salvador, the men displaying chiseled features and thick dreads; the woman wearing colorful flowing skirts and head wraps. Finally, we ended up back on the street in front of our hostel where the actual samba party was already underway. Beautiful bronzed locals moved at lightening speed while us tourists just tried to keep up in half-time. The live band, composed of 5 guys in their 20’s, rocked it with their energetic sound. Now I know why people at the hostel were so excited about it. It was by far one of the most fun parties I have been to in all of my travels!