These special synthetic travel clothes I picked up for this trip are just spectacular – I can’t believe I’ve been traveling so long without them. In a hot, tropical environment like Brazil, cotton starts smelling unbearable after about an hour outdoors. But even after a full day of running around in the humidity this stuff is just fine. Plus I can wash it in the shower and it’s dry by the next time I go out. I packed enough clothes for a week, but find myself rotating the same 2 outfits over and over – because those are the things that always stay the cleanest.
Carnaval in Salvador officially ended at noon Wednesday. Peder and I were out on the streets until 8am Wednesday. The plan was go to back home at 8, shower, sleep 45 minutes, and head out one last time. To go out with a bang.
But for the first time since I can remember I slept right through my alarm. We woke up at exactly 12, too late to catch the last bloco of the year.
Did this prevent us from donning our Sparta costumes anyway?
We were the only ones still in Carnival gear by the time we got out the door at around 1:30. Some people looked at us like we were insane. Some ran up to ask “Where’s the next bloco!?” Some commented “Hey, isn’t Carnaval over?” Some even recognized us from TV or from the streets during the previous few days.
In any case, we maintained our spot at the center of attention 😉
We walked the entire length of the beachfront, retracing our steps from the night before and revisiting the slew of interesting encounters and experiences. It was fun. But I was at the limit of my energy; I could only push myself so far. It wasn’t long before I proposed we take a cab back home and get some actual rest.
But not before having my first taste of fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice purchased from a vendor at a bustling beachfront bar. It was outstanding.
The rest of the day we did nothing but lay around and recover. Carnaval was at long last over, and it was everything I’d ever dreamt it would be. Now it was time to get a weeks’ worth of sleep in one day.
Looking back at all the picturess and videos from Carnaval, I really wish I could’ve taken more; everytime I took the camera out a concerned local would warn us “be careful with that…don’t let it get too visible…” so I’d stop. I got a lot of good ones, but there were hundreds more amazing ones I skipped due to fear of theft. This was true outside of Carnaval as well; time after time I found myself thinking “That is the PERFECT picture,” but then turn to find a group of not-so-friendly looking beer drinkers eyeballing me with utmost intensity. Especially in Salvador, where I was so clearly a tourist – I’d often go hours without seeing even one other Caucasion. So I’d choose the safe route and skip the photo. Pretty frustrating though.
It’s really difficult to describe just how third world a country like Brazil feels if you’ve never been to one. It feels like almost everyone you see around you is living on the edge, just barely fighting to survive. There are laws and rules, but not really. They aren’t followed. The necessity to break the law is just accepted as a way of life, of survival.
The other day I was walking through Cidade Alta, an the absolutely gorgeous historical center of Salvador. A young boy who couldn’t have been over fourteen years old walks up to me. “American? Cocaine? Marijuana? Sniff Sniff?” he asks.
Minutes later a little old woman with no shoes runs up and starts tying a bracelet frantically around my wrist. “No, no, I don’t want it” I say, trying to pull my arm away. “OK! Please take! For world peace! Present!” she says with a huge smile. I insist that I really don’t want it, but she holds on and continues to tie, assuring me that she just wants to give me a little gift for luck. Then the INSTANT it’s tied on, her face shifts completely, from a smile to a look of horrible pity. She starts pointing down at her blistered feet and holds out her hand, “Now I can have a gift too?”
“In the Pelourinho (an area of Cidade Alta), everyone and their mother will ask you for something, even if it’s just a sip of your water. You will be shown unfilled prescriptions, broken limbs, infants and empty bellies. Street kids may lead you to the store to buy them powdered milk. It is of course up to you if you believe their stories, but it should remembered that the use of drugs such as crack and solvents is high in this impoverished community. Everything from the can of milk, a sandwich, your wrapped-up dinner leftovers and, obviously, cash is capable of being traded for drugs.” -Lonely Planet
It’s really a sad thing to see.
Another Lonely Planet quote about Salvador:
“What these black-and-white referencences can’t relay is the pack of children that burst through the crooked doorway from their capoeira class, the guy walking through the streets playing tambourine with his elbow, and the magnetic sound of a drum rehearsal floating out of an open window. You find that just taking in the unique vibrancy of the city has added yet another day to your stay, day after day”
Salvador really does have soul. I think we all felt it the first time we got out of our taxi and started walking through the Pelourinho, where although most of the structures are old and crumbling, their colorful designs have so much personality they’re just impossible to look away from. Cobblestone streets, brightly colored buildings, carefully carved wooden signs, huge towering churches, little food stalls, interesting architecture, music and capoeira performances everywhere. Even the ultra-detailed graffiti, which almost seemed like deliberately-placed artists’ murals, added a great amount of personality to the old historical district. What a vibrant neighborhood. An absolute can’t miss.
After Carnaval ended the four of us spent virtually all of our Salvador time in this one little area. Although quite touristy it still somehow felt authentic, and I think we all loved the European-style café culture of drinking and dining out on the streets with live music being performed all around.
One night in the Pelorinho Peder and I saw a live African dance show. It was incredible. At one point we made eye contact and he verbalized exactly what I’d been was thinking almost the entire time: “Couldn’t you just close your eyes and imagine you’re in Africa right now?”
Salvador supposedly has the most well-preserved African culture anywhere outside of the continent itself.
It was obvious.
Speaking of live performances, wow, Capoeira is absolutely INSANE. A sort of fusion of dance and fighting, this martial art was developed by the African slaves as a way to practice self defense without arising suspician from their masters. The Pelorinho is lined with Capoeira schools. And watching them practice in person, it’s impossible to believe that these performers are actually human beings. Jumping and flipping and spinning with perfect grace, bringing their bodies to a stop on their hands then jumping to perform a mid-air roundhouse kick, missing their opponent by millimeters.
I want to learn.
The only church we actually visited in the Pelourinho, an area renowned for its churches, was Igreja e Convento Sao Francisco. Its internal carvings, already stunningly intricate, are covered in gold leaf, creating a dazzling backdrop.
But this isn’t the true draw of the 200 year-old structure, at least not for me. It’s the story behind it.
African slaves were forced to build the church for their rich masters, even though they weren’t allowed to practice their own religion. So as a means of silent rebellion they responded through their work: the faces of the cherubs are distorted, some angels have huge sex organs, and others were carved to appear sick or dying. It wasn’t quite as obvious as I’d expected, but still pretty interesting.
During our last full day in Salvador we finally made it to the beach. Not that we haven’t been to the beach before, but we hadn’t been swimming at all – in Rio it was raining nearly the whole time, and I’m sure you can imagine how dirty the water gets for the few days after rain washes all the street grime into the ocean. And since arriving in Salvador, every minute has been about Carnaval. I needed some sunlight and saltwater.
The fourty-five minute bus ride there was my favorite part. Brazil’s cities are amazing, but its countryside is even better. Truly a tropical paradise, with clear light-blue waters, cloudless skies, and lush rainforest hugging the fluffy white sand. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I just wish it weren’t such a crime-filled society. I could see myself spending a long, long time here otherwise.
Another thing I’ve found really interesting about Brazilian society is the sexual openness, both for men and women. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. If you see a girl you like, you can pretty much just ask a Brazilian guy, “Hey, I want that girl over there,” and he’ll gladly run over and handle it for you. “Sure, just wait here, I’ll be right back….(a minute later)….okay, she says you should go over there and kiss her.”
When David was in Sao Paolo he actually had a note thrown at him from across a restaurant. It said something to the extent of “I’m the girl in the blue skirt; my friend who’s sitting with me likes you and wants you to talk to her, so come on over!”
Something like this happened while at the Salvador beach mentioned above. First, an older woman came over to David. She started saying something about the lifeguard, pointing back and forth at him and her. The gist of it was obvious.
She also presented him with a gift: two bottom-halves of a soda can that had been cut and re-joined. The significance of this still remains a mystery.
After a few minutes the woman left and then came back over. “Oops, I made a mistake…it was YOU she wanted me to get for her!” she said to me.
I went over and tried to talk to her, but she didn’t speak a word of English. Sometimes it sucks not being able to speak the a country’s language.
An even more direct example: our last night in Salvador we went out for drinks and some live salsa music in the Pelourinho. A girl at a nearby table asked the waiter to send Peder over to talk to her. It turned out that she was a Brazilian who had been living in Oslo and overheard his Norwegian accent.
Several hours later the Friday-night group had grown to seven: me, Peder, Dave, the Norwegian girl, someone Johnny met during Carnival (and had been spending a TON of time with since), and two girls I started talking to when we witnessed a police fight break out on a nearby street. We split two cabs to a nearby club but were rejected on account of Dave and Johnny’s shorts. It was getting late and I was still feeling tired from Carnaval, so I decided it was time to head home.
“This is my last night in Brazil, I want to ****!” said the girl who’d been living in Norway. It wasn’t said to anyone in particular. “Um, I think I’m gonna head home and get some rest” I said. “Damnit, there’s a hotel RIGHT over there…just give me 20 minutes” she said.
“Alright, then I’m gonna go find a strip club.”
And she even had a husband back in Norway.
What an odd society this can be.
Even the friendly taxi drivers almost immediately start talking about women and sex. “Take us to this disco,” we’ll ask. “Oh, lots of hot women there!” he’ll respond. Or we’ll get in and the driver will inquire “How’ve you been enjoying Carnaval? Enjoying all the hot women in bikinis?”
Or he’ll ignore us and complete a drug deal over his cellphone.
An odd society indeed.
This and the following were originally one long post which I split it in half several months later to make adding photos easier. Please continue to part 2 of the original post here.