Usually before taking a big international trip I like to read the entire Lonely Planet cover-to-cover, taking notes and underlining interesting sections so I’m prepared to utilize every minute possible. Peder’s exactly the same. But because of the short interim after returning from Japan, neither of us had close to enough time to fully prepare. The result has been a great deal of scheduling difficulty.
One such difficulty arose on the 8th, the day before we had to leave our Salvador apartment, because we still had no idea where we’d go the following day. We both had a list of places we wanted to visit, but due to Carnaval most airline tickets were ludicrously overpriced. It looked like we’d be limited to bus, and to a more immediate area. Remember, Brazil is an ENORMOUS country.
I suggested taking an 11 hour ride down towards Porto Seguro, getting us closer to our departure point in Rio. There were so many places I wanted to go on this trip, including the Amazon, but when traveling with such a large group it’s just proven too difficult to move around at an efficient pace (no more trips in groups larger than two people for me…it’s just too hard logistically.)
Then at the last minute, Peder found something. A hidden gem. Morro de Sao Paolo. A two-hour boat ride from Salvador, right in the direction we wanted to go.
We headed down to the port of Salvador around 2pm to buy tickets for the last boat at 4pm. And we learned that the last boat was leaving…now. Our travel group was still 2 members short, and no one was packed. Our only option left was to take two boats and a bus at 4pm, a trip over twice as long as we’d originally planned.
Time to get moving!
The trip itself turned out to be one of my most enjoyable daytime experiences on this trip thus far.
I’ve always loved travel by boat. I think that watching the Salvador coastline dissappear into the backdrop with a cool ocean breeze and brightly shining sun on your back would be pleasant by anyone’s standards.
Five to ten minutes before arriving on the neighboring coast of Itaparica, I noticed something in the water. A person! What could someone be doing this far from land?? Did they need to be saved?
Then I saw another. And another. People were actually jumping from the boat, with the intention of swimming the rest of the way to shore! Would it even be possible from this distance? Wow.
It was pretty quick to see who were the tourists on that boat, as about 3/4 of the passengers sat blankly while the other 1/4 jumped up in shock and started taking pictures.
Especially of the boy who’d jumped overboard and grabbed hold of the side of the boat, allowing himself to be dragged violently through the rough ocean water.
Safety first in Brazil!
Typically when in any area of mass transportation you’ll have both official and unofficial means available. Official means are city busses, taxis, etc. Unofficial means are the guys who run up to you and offer to drive you to your destination for a fixed price. After our boat dropped us off in Itaparica the next step was a twenty-minute ride to the nearby bus terminal. No official means presented itself. So we accepted a ride in a shoddy old VW van that was probably built in the 70’s, owned by a local who’d decided to earn an extra buck by shuttling people back and forth between the ferry terminal and the bus terminal. It was exactly the type of transportation that most guide books warn you not to take; after all, what’s preventing the guy from just driving you to the middle of nowhere and making off with all your belongings?
But we felt it out and the situation seemed safe enough. Plus at that point, it was our only option.
The quiet neighborhoods we passed through on this particular ride felt the most authentic of anything we’d seen so far; no English, no tourists, and in many places, no electricity. Just real Brazilians going about their real day-to-day lives.
We arrived at the terminal safe-and-sound and started unloading our things.
Then we were approached by yet another unofficial driver. He told us that he’d drive us to Valencia, where we’d catch the boat to Morro de Sao Paolo, for 15 reais. It was 3 more reais than the city bus, but his would be nonstop, air-conditioned, and much more comfortable. The vehicle actualy looked quite official, with company logos and all. We decided to go for it.
…You know, I’m really starting to get tired of people trying to rip us off. They see a gringo and all their mind seems to see is a wallet ready for the squeezing. Contrary to his promise there was absolutely nothing nonstop about this bus. Everytime he saw someone standing on a streetcorner he’d pull over and try to convince them to ride his bus instead of the one they were already waiting for. Sometimes he’d stop just to have a chat with his friend on the roadside. The trip took about twice as long as he claimed it would.
But at least the scenery was nice. I was having a great deal of difficulty keeping my eyes opened, but watching the sunset over a Brazilian jungle was something I just couldn’t miss – as were the slew of small villages we passed through on the way.
Authentic travel, like the locals. No tours. That’s the kind of stuff I live for.
By the time we arrived at the port of Valencia it was well past sundown. The bus we’d been on for the past hour and a half came to a stop, and another local threw the door open.
Local Dude: “You going to Morro de Sao Paolo?”
LD: “I’ll take you there for 20 reais.
U: “The guy in Salvador told us I should only be 12”
LD: “Well this is a speedboat, it’ll get you there in 30 minutes.”
U: “The guy in Salvador also said 30 minutes, for 12 reais”
LD: “Yeah but it’s also after 7pm so all the regular boats are gone, you can only take private boats now, which are more expensive.”
U: “Fine, let’s go.”
We got on the boat. It was a rickety old fishing boat. He took us to two other stops before leaving for Morro de Sao Paolo, attempting to pull more Brazilians onboard. It was 30 minutes until we even left. We asked one of the Brazilians how much they’d paid. 15 reais. The “30 minute speedboat trip” had turned into a “2 hour fishing boat trip.”
COME ON PEOPLE, HAVE YOU NO DIGNITY?
But again, the constellation was an extremely pleasant ride.
It was night so I could barely tell what was around me. All I knew was that we were going down some sort of canal with thick jungle on both sides. We felt like a black ops team heading deep into an unknown jungle in Apocalypse Now. Strange birds and monkeys called out in the distance, little more than a humming boat engine and the swish of the river water in the foreground. The starry sky above was clearer than anything I’ve ever seen; I could scarcely believe it was real. Every star was like a piercing point of light in a pitch-black backdrop. Really, really incredible.
Then, finally, we arrived in port. I picked up my backpack. The lid of a huge bottle of fruit liquor Normando had given us had popped open and soaked most of my belongings from the inside.
They stopped our boat next to two others, which we had to climb across to reach the land. We walked up a steep rock embankment with our huge backpacks; it was still almost pitch black. Shouldn’t there be at least some kind of lighting at this town’s only harbor? I wondered what our surroundings looked like. It felt tropical.
On top of the hill we passed through an old-looking concrete arch, similar in style to many we’d seen in the Pelourinho. A right turn and some more uphill walking, and we soon emerged into town square.
We knew we’d found a place we liked.
The small, quaint area lit entirely by candlelight and gas lanterns had people everywhere – at outdoor cafes, food stalls, or just hanging out in groups on the sand.
That’s right, sand.
Although we were probably several hundred feet above the waves, the entire town was paved with beach sand. Small streets lined with cafes and pousadas snaked out in every direction, and the shadow of huge forrested cliffs could just barely be seen against the starry backdrop. It was quiet, but lively. Every now and then someone would run by pushing a wheelbarrow with the word “Taxi” painted on the side. No streets, no cars. Just thin sand footroads traveled by wheelbarrow. It was a perfect little beachfront haven.
And somehow, it felt completely safe. Completely different from everywhere else we’d been thus far. Like we were inside a Club Med or something. Maybe it was because of the heavy tourism that has developed here, but people were walking around on cellphones, restaurants proudly displayed signs of “Visa accepted here,” and everybody was smiling. The first thing I thought about this place was “Spring Break Town!”
It was a feeling that would only be further confirmed over the course of the next few days. But first we had to find a place to stay.
Ten seconds into the square and someone approached us to offer us a room in his pousada. Again, we were advised not to trust such street-peddlers. But we were all exhausted, and on account of the bus driver and boat drivers’ lies had arrived hours later than planned. We decided to take a look at what he had to offer.
He took us around to four or five different pousadas, led entirely by candlelight, until we settled on one we liked; a two-minute walk from town square, two people per room, each with his own bed. 40 reais per person.
We soon found that the reason for the candlelight and pitch-black port was a city-wide power outage. Good thing Peder had about twenty tea candles which we used to light the room while unpacking and getting settled.
And while trying to kill the volkswagon-sized cockroach that jumped out from under the bedsheets when we started to unpack.
Man are those things resiliant.
Soon the power popped back on and we quickly got ready for our Saturday night out. We were presented with two options for the evening: An outdoors all-you-can-drink beach rave or an indoors foam party. Both cost 30 reais or less. Both went from midnight until 9am. With options like these, how can you lose?
We picked the beach party. We hopped on the boat that would take us to the remote beach across the island. Anyone ever heard of a Party Bus? How about a Party Fishing Boat?
I stayed until just after sunup when I left the key with Peder and headed back with some friends I’d met to their beachfront pousada. By the time we got there it was fully light out, and I got my first clear look at Morro de Sao Paolo.
It was absolute paradise.
Turquoise waters, palm trees, perfect weather, white sand, and not a cloud in the sky. Everyone was beautiful, tourist or not. Significantly moreso even than Rio.
I sat with my new friends in a hammock on their beachfront balcony and watched a few sailboats out at sea, just beyond a small island topped off with two or three palms sprouting skyward. Exactly the kind you envision when you think of one guy sitting on a deserted island. Except there was a couple sitting on this one. They must’ve swam out to it.
On the beach in the foreground a small child juggles a homemade soccer ball, and to the right a two-seat private plane puts down its landing gear over small dirt landing strip that had been cleared away of jungle. A group of teenagers practices their capoeira flips before wrestling each other into the crashing waves. A tropical bird chirps in the distant forest. A small kiosk sells a fresh coconut to a girl in a tiny string bikini who lays on the sand while sipping it lazily. An ocean splash. A cool breeze.
As soon as I got back to my pousada I told Peder that I’d be adding at least two more days here. He agreed.