Monday, December 21, 2009

Salvador and Morro de Sao Paulo

Chris and I made one of those snap decisions which make traveling such a pleasure and bought a flight to Salvador, the African heart of Brazil.
From the formation of the country, Salvador has more often than not been the capital, but at some point in the early 19th century the economic centre moved south to Rio and the hinterland of Minas Gerais. Salvador has been left as merely the capital of Bahia, a state blessed with mile upon mile of stunning beaches, vibe and, recently, a bit of a boom time.
I'll throw my cards on the table and relay that Salvador is one of the most impressive cities I've wandered. As the poster-board says, it is blessed with more impressive historical buildings than any other city in the Southern Hemisphere. Such accolades do not though do it justice. It is the combination of slightly decaying historical splendour and a people full of rhythm and warmth.
We were fortunate enough to have the lovely Stefanie as a guide – a German lass I introduced to cricket in India – and we spent a day rambling up, around and across the old town. Modern Salvador hugs the opening rim of a large bay and the old town is perched atop a ridge linked to the sea and old port by a series of nearly vertical trams. Once you have got through the not very attractive hustle and bustle of the “modernised” bit, you walk through one plaza after another richly adorned with seventeenth century mansions, government buildings and churches. Each is impressive in its own right, but the combination knocks you back.
The gold dripping interior of one church gave a sobering reminder that much of Salvador's wealth was built on the slave trade. Apparently slave workers carved the immaculate interior and, if you look carefully, you can see hidden signs of rebellion in the hideous faces of many of the angelic figures and the odd bit of genitalia. Today most of Salvador's population are the descendants of the millions of slaves transported from West Africa and from the pervading musical beats to the art work Africa feels close at hand. Salvador, and indeed Brazil, is though much more than the sum of a number of people who moved or were moved to the New World. It is the melting pot of cultures that has given birth to a fresh culture so openly full of life and energy. It is addictive.

Back to our walks. From the squares, streets lined with countless more beautiful buildings drop away to more squares, streets and hills. Each corner gives a fresh view of vibrancy. The old with the new. Bright colours and crumbling facades. I just loved the place.

Barra and Praias (beaches)

We were staying in Barra, a beach suburb at the bottom of the hill from the old town, at the corner point of the bay. New high rises and the odd colonial relic lead down to golden beaches divided by whitewashed Portuguese fortifications.
These castles add a real texture to beaches full of locals with their oh-too-tight speedos, tiny-tiny bikini's, beer in hand and, more often then not, smiles. It is such a pleasant relieve to return to a place where people seem in love with life. None of this living to work, depressed, cold, wet Northern European shit. That does my head in. Why when we only have a few short years on this earth should we spent it perpetually unhappy. Each to their own I suppose...

Morro do Sao Paulo

On the theme of not leading too depressing a life, after a few days in Salvador we jumped on a few hour choppy ferry to the island of Morro do Sao Paulo. A lush tropical island complete with small colonial town, beach side bars, hammocks, many a palm tree and less and less hassle as you walk along its miles of beaches. A bit like one or other of the many Thai Islands, but without the slightly nasty Thai mafia undertones (as far as I could tell).
My stay can mostly be summed up by a hammock and the Count of Monte Cristo. A flu bug reduced me to that still pretty cool situation.
On the last couple of days I did manage a couple of long walks, some nice chow on the beach, some time staring at the embarrassingly impressive footie-volley (the video doesn't even show the start of it) and even a beer or two.

From those walks I can confirm Christina's reports of a turquoise sea and stunning beaches backed by palm forests complete with the odd miniature monkey, crawled over by crabs and passed over by many chirpy birds. Oh and laid back, friendly locals.

And even the odd very wrong Santa Claus...
We, in are own ways, had found our beach time. Chris looked browner by the day and I kicked that little bug for six while questioning the morality of revenge - nothing like a fever to intensify thoughts induced by a great book.
Back on a boat, an overnight bus and to more Bahain beaches. Fuck winter!
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