Brazil | Salvador da Bahia: July 5 – July 9, 2008

July 5th, 2008

After the crazy taxi ride to Recife, and then a quick flight to Salvador, we had to stick around the airport until the bus service started. The taxis were charging R$70 for the trip, whereas the bus ride would cost us R$4 each. Besides, our apartment in Barra (neighbourhood in Salvador) was not going to ready for us for another couple of hours. Our bus dropped us off right at the street we wanted to take, and there was a cabbie napping right there. So after a quick 3 minute taxi ride we got to the apartment. Not so clean…I guess we had high expectations after having experienced Natal’s super wicked apartment, and then the hotel in Joao Pessoa. The location was good, had solid internet connection, and so was the price. Besides, all we wanted to do was sleep! So that’s what we did. When we woke up though, we sent an email to the apartment’s manager right away – telling her she needed to send someone over to clean the place the next day. We then decided to stock up on groceries for the next 5 days – water, milk, yogourt, veggies, fruits and our frozen juice pulps. We walked over to the grocery store (5 minutes away), and noticed it was owned by Wal-Mart! BomPreco, owned by Wal-Mart! So we guess now along with potatoes and Indians, even Wal-Mart is everywhere!! Got back, cooked, settled in, and logged on to make our skype calls, upload our blog from Joao Pessoa, and catch up on work. We really needed to do that! It’s funny how dependent we are on the net…and when we don’t have it for a few days, it’s like an itch…that we just have to keep scratching. Oh wait…another important thing we got on to right away – downloading our torrents. Actually, we did that before we went to nap. We really need our dose of Colbert and Stewart, and other shows that we haven’t been able to watch in a while.

July 7th, 2008

We stayed home yesterday and today. Penny wasn’t feeling well, and there was quite a bit of work to be done. So we played house! We cooked, did laundry, worked, and watched TV (our downloaded shows on the laptop). Doing laundry by hand is one tough job! We soaked the clothes, scrubbed them, beat them, rinsed them over and over until the soap came out, wrung them, and then hung them up to dry. Kudos to our mothers who, back in the day, had to do this regularly…while also taking care of the house and us! Yesterday, Karthik went out to explore and run some errands (banking mostly). He explored the neighbourhood, found out where the post office is and how we can ship our purchases back home, where to go for some rich culture experience, how to get to places, and all that. Penny stayed home, cooked and started laundry. We later realized that we were playing the typical Indian husband/wife roles. That was funny, as it then dawned on us that that’s what we have been doing throughout our trip… Karthik mostly takes care of talking to strangers to find out directions, discussing routes and fares with cab drivers (since his language skills are far more versatile than Penny’s), handles exchanging of money, and carries the heavier bags on our way home from grocery shopping! While Penny takes care of the “home”, stores larger amounts of cash in the money belt, takes care of bills online, writing and updating blogs, backing up data on our external hard drive, and maintaining communication with friends and family! Interesting how all this just came naturally – even though we’re both fully capable of fulfilling all the roles under “normal” circumstances. Also came up in discussion that its neat travelling as a couple…we both share the ‘to-dos’, and since our strengths/weaknesses compliment each other’s quite well, the journey has been quite ‘hassle free’ thus far.

July 8th, 2008

Woke up extremely excited to be heading out for the day! Our plan – visit an area of Salvador called Pelourinho, which is part of the historic center of the city. We decided against doing tours, and taking matters in our own hands! So we caught a local bus from a stop 2 minutes walk from our apartment. Forty minutes later, after going through the lively city with bustling markets we were at our destination. The historic center is in the upper part of the city. We walked around and tried some local snacks for lunch. Then we headed to the lower part of the city to check out the Mercado Modelo, which was a huge arts and crafts market (for tourists). We took the elevator that connects the lower and upper part of the city, which was a cool looking structure and concept, and cost us 5 cents each way. We saw some incredible art work, and again, decided to refrain from buying everything we saw!

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Headed back up so that we can relax at a café before watching the Capoeira show we were so eager to see. The café we sat at was in a beautiful square, called the Praca de Se – again, part of the Historic Center surrounded by buildings with colourful facades, churches, and such. The café itself was a “Bohemian” sort of place, with foreign tourists and a comfy décor. While in the café, we talked about how we would have much rather stayed in this area than Barra, which was more of an upscale beach-oriented area. We were tired of the beach culture and were in Salvador mostly for its culture and music. Pelourinho and the historic center offered just what we were looking for. Since it was too late for that, we decided we must return the next day and explore some more. It was time for our Capoeira show – Capoeira is a form of Brazilian martial art set to the rhythms and beats of drums, singing, and clapping making it a highly entertaining thing to watch. We found that the place we were going to was an academy by one of the most famous Capoeira masters in the world – Mestre Bimba.

Capoeira at Mestre Bimba’s academy

At Mestre Bimba’s academy, ‘students’ were already outside working up the passers-by with loud drum beats and singing. We were getting excited and couldn’t wait! We found good seats, mostly since it wasn’t too packed and there were only two rows, set up in front of the Capoeira “ring”. We were told MANY times that we were not allowed to take videos, although photos were OK. As it’s quite evident, we… ahem, chose to ignore the rules. The show started with some ‘mellow’ performances, as the music had not worked up to a feverish beat yet – remember, all of this was set to the music. Then, as the performance progressed, the beats, clapping, and singing got faster, harder, and more lively. Along with that came more intense moves with stunning flips and acrobatics. We got to see how the students wore different coloured belts – green, then blue, yellow, red, and finally white. Obviously, the red and white-belted students performed in a way that just took our breath away. The class was quite multi-cultural, actually, with white, Chinese, and locals all mixed in. They took a break to engage the audience with some dancing – mostly “Samba-like” stuff. We participated and realized we desperately need lessons! Then, they moved on to using sticks in their routines (sort of the “Dandiya” type stuff we see in Garbas). The final part of the show was topped off with individual performances, and we really got to see the students show off their moves. Some of them did some crazy flips, somersaults, and moves that literally shook the floor! The last routine was these advanced students ‘parring’ each other with their legs in such a rhythmic way that they never contacted each other, while being mere inches apart. With jaws to the floor, we shook the hands of all the students and left to our next event, the Olodum concert.

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The concert was a short walk on cobble-stone paved streets, all part of the historic center’s feel of old-time Salvador. We had already purchased our tickets, so we walked straight in. There was already a crowd in front of the stage, since a band had already been performing. We got some beers and observed, trying to get into the music. Enhh… we both hope this wasn’t “IT” and that it would get better! Bored, we smelt some BBQ going on and decided to try their “Chicken Kabobs”. They were quite tasty, and this made us more content than the music going on at that time. Sigh! So… we decided to practice some patience. After all, this was supposed to the best group in Bahia and their “Schwag” (items with the group logo on it) was everywhere in town AND the tickets were mucho dinero. What a waste, we thought! The beers had begun to do their magic and while we were heeding nature’s call, the band stopped playing. We returned, hopeful that THIS had just been an opening act. We asked someone and they confirmed that Olodum had yet to perform and were on next. The place was now completely packed, and in front of the stage, a huge crowd was moving to the music playing in the background which really sounded awesome! Our hopes up, we waited and saw the band filing in on the stage. What really ‘got’ us were the main drummers (4 of them) who just looked too bloody cool! One of them had colored two-inch dreads, which ran all the way down to his beard, while another had a huge, white ‘rasta’ hat on covering his dreads. The pictures will do them better justice. The drums started banging and we suddenly were filled with joy and excitement. The beats were super awesome, funky, cool, tribal, and wicked… need we say more! Listen! The funky drummers were throwing their drum sticks around and throwing their drums in the air, making it quite the sight to watch. The singer came on and started to sing, and the crowd really went wild now. The music of Olodum was a cool mix of Samba, Reggae, and Afro-beats, really showing off the cultural mix of Bahia – which has a HUGE African influence. Anyone standing there couldn’t resist moving to the beat, and we were no exception. We really enjoyed dancing after a long time.

Olodum – LIVE, IN CONCERT!!

Penny was familiar with some of the songs and beats from her days playing with the Toronto group called Samba Elegua. This made it all the more special for her. Even though the singer was singing in Portugese, it was just an incredible sound overall, with a huge number of drummers on stage. We have uploaded the album we bought from the concert, which you can download here. We were having a really, really fun time but also knew that we had to leave before 11pm, as the buses stopped running then. We checked the time and it was already 11:30! We left and hurried for the square where the buses were, although asking the locals, we found that the buses had already stopped. This taxi driver came to us and asked if we wanted a ride, and even though we hesitated, we knew we had no choice. He was a really cool guy, who played some Samba in the car while talking about how Samba styles were different and then went on to how he likes leading a ‘chill’ life. Actually, when we got to our apartment, we were there for almost 10 minutes talking to him about his attitude on life – tranquility while working and not stressing about anything (he even said he was 50 years old even though he didn’t look it!). Tired, we were happy to be home to rest for the next day.

July 9th, 2008 Our next day of being out!

We decided to take a cab this time, since we saw the relatively short distance the cab took last night to return to Barra compared to the bus route. We were driving past one of the busier streets on our way to the historic center, when we thought why don’t we look around the shops and catch some city life while we were at it. Penny bought a really pretty blue top, even though it was a bit pricey and made in India! We also needed some blank dvds to burn our pictures to send back home (for back up reasons), and even though there were quite a few electronic shops, none sold computer related stuff. Then it occurred to us, that we have not actually seen a store selling computers at all.

Finally, we picked them up from a Kodak store. We got to the historic center and walked around, saw a couple of churches, and hung out at cafes. The churches – the first one, the Salvador Cathedral, was quite gaudy, so we didn`t spend too much time there. The second church, Sao Fransisco Church, only Karthik went, as Penny wasn`t interested in seeing more gold covered, ornate, over-the-top facades. Karthik thought the same of the second church after visiting it, however really liked the courtyard which was surrounded by interesting murals depicting sayings like ‘silence is golden’ and ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. We had fun at one of the cafes (actually it was part of a hotel that was ultra fancy) taking macro shots of the coffee cup and street life. We then headed off to check out the place where they made authentic drums.

Since we like to collect drums (and other instruments we find interesting) from various places we visit, this was on our ‘must-check-out’ list. A cool little place, where two young guys were actually making drums. One of them spoke French, so Karthik managed to converse with him. We asked him about every type of drum they made, and really liked a drum – sort of a big log, covered with some animal skin and weighed about 25 kilos! Only if this was Canada – we could have simply carried it home in our car. He played one particular drum, which we expected to be played like a drum would normally be played (bang its top and sound comes out!). Instead, he took a kerosene soaked cloth, and stuck it inside the hollow part of the drum, and started rubbing it against a long metal rod placed inside. It squeaked. And apparently, that`s the drum`s function – to squeak in different tones! We had a chuckle, and said `pass`. Finally decided to go with something that was uniquely Brazilian, as well ship-able. He even gave us some pointers on how to play it. We then walked over to the theatre where we wanted to catch a folkloric musical. It was full, and after reading the details we learned that it was a ballet. So we were happy to not have went in, and decided to wander around Pelourinho.

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It was dark, and the streets started going down a steep slope. We could see the entire neighbourhood from atop the hill. The bottom of the hill was covered in strings of lights, and there was a truck with a make-shift stage, covered in colourful paint and lights as well. A crowd was standing around this truck, and we didn`t know what was going on. We grabbed some seats and found out that Olodum was to shoot a video there a bit later. We waited and waited, and when it all was to begin, we were asked politely to leave. So we did, and joined the rest of the locals standing around. We decided to try some corn from a street vendor. He pulled out a corn on the cob from a vat in his cart, it was boiled. He then dipped it in salt water, and then some butter, and handed it to us in its skin. It was delicious. Big kernels, rich texture, and juicy. It started to pour, and everyone took shelter wherever they could find it (even under the big umbrella of a street vendor). We decided to take a taxi and head on home. We were getting tired, and had to pack, do laundry, make Skype calls, and tomorrow wake up early enough to get to the post office to ship things back home (which by the way ended up costing us $100!). Our next stop – Iguassu Falls.

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