318 days ago
Bahia, Brazil, was definitely the most challenging phase of this trip down South. The most provoking and that left a strong mark in my memory. I cannot say I like Salvador 100%. I was expecting more glamour, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I had a mythical image about it, mostly due to the Jorge Amado descriptions of the city, obsviously out of date due to the galloping modernity. I also think that Salvador is a city you discover in time, with its local artists, life music, theaters, candomblés. A short visit is not enough.
Montevideo and Buenos Aires are more similar to what I know and I am accustomed too. Salvador made me come out of myself and experience a different culture. It wasn’t really a cultural shock, rather getting accustomed to other visual and spoken codes and languages. There was no bubbling nightlife as I expected and people are rather poor or middle class, far from the money producers and big spenders in Sao Paulo or the glamorous and playful Rio, Salvador is rather joyful than hedonistic.
I tried to imagine the arrival of the first Portuguese colons, the view of the rolling hills with luxurious vegetation and the blue, iridiscent, sometimes opalescent waters. The Mata Atlantica, a stretch of rainforest running along the coast, reduced now to 5% of its surface, still hosting endangered species. Salvador da Bahia developed around the gulfs and bays formed by the Atlantic Ocean, it was the first capital of Brazil, until the court moved to Rio. It started from Pelourinho, the now charming recuperated historical district, I don’t know where it went from there. I saw older houses in Barra, Vitoria, Rio Vermelho, Cidade Baixa. A lot of them are rundown. The best looking places are new impersonal condominiums. All guarded, like in other big brazilian cities, Salvador is the 3rd biggest, I presume after Sao Paulo and Rio. Approximately 2.700.000 people, in 2005.
Out of the recognizable coast the city look to me like a chaotic labyrinth, everything taking the same shapeless shapes. High rise and low rise buildings, poor houses climbing up to the top of the hills, deprived of any trace of green. The familiar favela look with their steep narrow streets and houses pushing eachothers, lack of space and air. I don’t know if they were real favelas, I don’t know what defines them, looks, degree of poverty or violence?
Once I got off the bus in the wrong area, near Lapa, nothing was identifiable to me, I felt like getting crazy, lost in post modern Babel tower, sorrounded by highways and car repair workshops. The infrastructure is bad, there are no buses after 11pm, no weekly or monthly cards, so you pay every single trip in cash and the itineraries are winding and long. The terreiro do santo I went to surrounded by that poor neighbourhood made me feel fear and distrust, then I relaxed and confided and felt good about going there.
Some of the best experiences in my life came from overcoming my fear of the unknown. Get over it and step forward. It always paid off and I never got in deep trouble so far.