325 days ago
Monday, March 17th, I landed after 4 other stops: Porto Alegre, change flights in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Porto Seguro. I was starving and Cristina could not wait for me in the airport, so I took the bus with some Uruguayans, thanks to a lady whose nephews waited for her at the airport. I got off at the right stop (by pure hazard) and then I went round in circles looking for the address because somehow I didn’t get the directions right. With all my luggage on, obviously, in the tropical temperature. My hosts were to be Cristina, baiana, university professor of Education Sciences and Eric, from Québec, anthropologist and professor too. I caught Cristina in the door, as she was going for her evening walk. We went out, walking by the sea as the evening was coming down on the city. Apparently it always comes down around 6pm, all year round. That’s annoying.
She made me drink coconut water and taste acarajé (one of the delicious afro-brasilian foods, deep fried bean paste balls, filled with shrimp, vatapa and God knows what else, made and sold ont the street by decorous black women). We sit down, had a few beers and started to get to know each other, as we hardly spoke in Montréal at her good-bye parties and only exchanged a few e-mails.
Back home I got to know her angel like son: Enrico, a green eyed and blondish 4 years old who speaks Portuguese and French. Eric, her husband, was giving classes until late.
Tuesday Cristina took me to the Porto da Barra beach and went to work. The water was crystal clear and although I had left my towel and had no goggles I enjoyed a lot my encounter with the tropical seas after such a long absence (since I left the Caribbean cruiseships in 2004). At lunch time I went home and had some delicious crab pasta Eric has made. I spent the afternoon in the Pelourinho, with Titilho, history teacher and Cristina’s friend, who accepted to play the guide. The historical district is charming, old and colourful, but a big tourism shop window. Thanks God I don’t appear too exotic here, rather local.
Mercado Modelo is a big shopping center for souvenirs: music instruments, statuettes, t-shirts, blouses and skirts, masks and jewels, etc. The t-shirts are much nicer than in other cities, I guess I’ll get some. I was really impressed with two Baroque churches: Sao Francisco and Igreja da Ordem Terceira de Sao Francisco. The first with an impressive gold decoration inside, the second with a flourinshing façade. There is still a lot left to explore. Including terreiro do santo, the place dedicated to afro-brazilian cults, where the divinities are called orixas and the ceremonies candomblè. I have to find out who’s “daughter” am I or, in other words, who’s my orixa. The pai/mae do santo (father or mother of saint) will ask on my behalf.
Wednesday it rained the whooooooooooole day. I went out only to exchange money and to meet a charming couple who’s thinking about moving to Montreal. Their 3 years old daughter, Olivia, looks like a little mulata fairy.
From Thursday to Sunday I was invited to Bom Jesus dos Pobres, to spend Easter holidays with Cristina’s family, in her parents beach house. A line of colourful houses watching over the sea, most of the neighbours are lifetime friends or family. Unbelievable landscape: a line of hills covered by lush tropical forest, reddish and whitish rocks and fine sand beaches that get larger and larger during the low tide and get narrower and narrower as the sea grows. The food is amazing: vatapa, caruru, bobo de camarao (shrimp), manisoba (mandioca leaves pure), moqueica (could be made of fish or shrimp) and mariscada (contains all kinds of seafood, including softshell crabs - siri mole – that people fish at night with lamps, during the low tide). Plus passion fruit, goiava, papaya, mango and other fruits whose names I won’t even bother remembering, they are far too many.
At night people would play guitar in front of the house and sing Brazilian songs: popular music, bossanova, samba de roda.... Most of Cristina’s friends can sing. Most probably I’m the only one who can’t and won’t. And they do much more than singing and playing guitar. A few examples:
Teca, her cousin, is a psychologist (who works in a clinic but also in prisons) and a prize winner amateur photographer. Valeria studied music and fine arts and is a professional photographer. Jacira, the aunt, teaches Education Sciences at the university, she’s a hard core woman who knows how to live life. Mercia is studying cultural and historical tourism, doing her masters degree. “Café” is a designer and caricaturist, he also teaches. Cristina’s parents are Cleo – she paints and Camilo – he’s a lawyer. Everyone is fun, open and has stories to tell, questions to ask and answers to my questions. They are not just talented, they are warm hearted and received me with open arms. I felt like part of the group already on the first day and I’m already dreaming about coming back. It’s probably also the fact it is not a strange culture to me, partly because I speak the language, partly because I was familiar with some things due to the Jorge Amado novels and certain films and finally because on some sides it’s similar to the Caribbean.
The boat trip on the river Paraguaçú was memorable, floating amongst green hills, the thick vegetation was a refuge for runaway slaves (a quilombo). We stopped in Sao Francisco to admire an amazing church, now left at the mercy of time and weather. We drank beer in the middle of the square, the village is hidden by the trees, invisible from the river. Only the church faces it and a few poor homes. Almost fiction. We had a rain shower on the way back, but the dolphins swimming by the boat sweetened the pill.
Saturday night, at Easter time, we burned Judas on the beach, an impressive silhouette, all dressed and filled with newspapers. The custom also requires a testament to be written and read. Cristina was in charge. For the charming Romanian with big feet he left his shoes. Not that he was wearing any. In the village main square they were also planning some games to take place, like climbing a slippery pole covered with grease, with money and prizes on top, or hitting with a bat a hanging ball filled with prizes, with eyes covered.
Anyway, it’s just amazing how Cristina and Eric, busy with their work routine and little Enrico, invited me to stay over. People here work really hard, sometimes at weird times, early in the morning and late in the evening, having several jobs. Cristina told me otherwise they won’t survive. So the clichés that people in the tropics don’t really work, are lazy, etc. are just bad taste jokes, spread by the ones who don’t really know a damn thing about the country. They work hard but they also know how to enjoy themselves, even with little money. Some people just don’t get that.
I don’t know how will I get to know more of Salvador in just four days. On Thursday night there’s a good bye dinner home. On Tuesday and Wednesday I want to go see some free theater in the Pelourinho district. I also plan to go swimming in Porto da Barra every day. Hope to do it all. I’m also anxious because I have to watch out and be careful every single moment. Salvador does not suffer because of a high violence degree but robberies are frequent. It’s stresful then to be a single female tourist. Maybe I’m not that adventurous after all