My first impression of Bahia came through one of my Brazilian coworkers. When I told him I was going to Brazil he insisted that I go to Bahia after Carnival for the beaches. Then I read a Bourdain book where he detailed going to Bahia with the guys from Sushi Samaba and really enjoying the African influences on the food. Then I spoke to another coworker and as soon as I told her I was going to Brazil she told me I had to go to Bahia since it was a beautiful city and was a lot of fun.
So in summary. Bahia = beaches, food and fun. Sold.
As soon as we arrived from Rio we were eager to grab our bags and set out to see the legendary city of Salvador, but first, there was a blackout at the airport and our stuff got stuck on the luggage carousel. And then we found out it was roughly $70 USD to take a cab to our hostel (note to self: start mapping out public transport) a quote which was negotiated down to about 2/3 of that price. About half an hour later, with most of the drive being through neighborhoods that looked more like run down buildings than beach condos, we made it to our hostel in Pelourinho…sort of. The cab driver couldn’t drive up our street so we had to drag our luggage uphill over jagged cobblestones while a shoeless, pregnant, homeless woman followed us asking for money. When we got to our hostel, we checked in and noticed that the whole main floor smelled like rotting animal due to the tannery next door. I fucking love Bahia.
Finally, we settled in and I finally got to take a breather and take in more of my surroundings. Pelourinho, known as the “Historical Center” is a UNESCO Heritage site and if you ignore the bums and crackheads, it’s actually quite beautiful. Known for its Portugese colonial architecture, the neighborhood features cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks lined with buildings that look like they haven’t been changed in centuries. Back in the day, the state of Bahia was also a center for slave trade in Brazil, and is still known for the strong African influences on the culture. Which would explain why in front of all the tourist shops there were black women in anachronistic white, floor length dresses with a bustle underneath and a scarf tied around their heads (baianas). There were also tons of stores selling colorful paintings, sculptures and various other pieces of art in which you could see the melding of African and Brazilian culture. It kind of felt like being transported to an entirely different era which had it’s own kind of antiquated and endearing charisma.
The other thing I loved about having our windows open was that there always seemed to be faint music coming from somewhere. True we were just coming off the samba music madness of Carnival, but I swear no matter which way I turned I could always hear drums coming from the distance – and that’s not a complaint. It kind of felt like the entire city was constantly vibrating with music.
A bit more relaxed, we also decided to check out the rest of the hostel (AKA find the strong wifi) and discovered the view from the back terrace. The second level of the hostel courtyard which was on a hill, overlooked the waterfront area which featured the most beautiful bright blue water I had ever seen. The sun was shining and the clear blue water seemed to stretch on for miles. I was literally at a loss for words – it was simply one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.
Later that night after some research we headed out to dinner at Maria Mata Mouro for some delicious seafood and to see some of the area. We had been advised by Ivan “Don’t go out in Bahia after midnight, it’s dangerous, and I’m from a favela,” and wiki travel also advised in big, bold letters not to stay out late at night so we enjoyed our early dinner and headed back a few blocks. En route, my sense for drums started to perk up. True I had been hearing drums regardless all day but the sound seemed to be getting louder. I followed my ears into a square where a stage was set up and people seemed to be congregating. Just in time to catch a free soul show. Sweeet!
Not only was the show free, and the beers cheap, but I love drums and this did not disappoint. There were 12 people on the stage and 7 of them were drummers! Heaven! And while I wanted to stay longer, I do have to admit I was a bit afraid to head home solo after Ivan’s warning so I left early with my friends. There’s always tomorrow.