Salvador both disappointed us and exceeded our expectations.
We found a cute B&B through one of our new favorite websites: www.airbnb.com. The place itself was what we expected: a 5 minute walk from the beach in Barra (remembering that the “rr” is pronounced as an “h” would have been helpful before we tried to get there on a bus from the airport), a balcony with views of the ocean in every direction and a bathroom with separate hot and cold water faucets. What we weren’t expecting, however, was how much we’d like our host and his friends. Neil is an expat Welshman who has been living in Salvador for two years and Claudia is an English teacher from Ouro Preto with a love of Wilson Philips. Neil made us feel instantly at home and Claudia was invaluable in providing us with suggestions for things to do during our stay.
Salvador is considered Brazil’s capital of African culture. From what we’d read, we expected the plazas to be full of impromptu capoeira performances, Candomble dances, Olodum drummers, and other live music. When we first ventured into the Pelourinho, the reputed center of it all, our expectations were high. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite tame… The cobbled streets were pretty empty, with no sign of colorful characters and music oozing from the windowsills. Luckily, we had Neil and Claudia with us, and they led us through some back streets to a free concert that included a line of wild haired women drummers.
We originally planned to stay in Salvador only three days, but extended our trip when we were told we needed to see a folklorico show and witness Salvador on a Tuesday evening. The former almost didn’t happen since despite being told on the phone that we couldn’t reserve tickets ahead of time and the show was already sold out when we arrived. We decided to wait it out and watch the remaining tickets like hawks. Two separate groups arrived to “claim” tickets by having lengthy discussions with the vendor and then handing over some money only to have new tickets miraculously appear from under the counter (in fairness, one of the groups was led by a nun so it may have been a miracle). Each time he would look nervously at us and tell us there were no more and to leave. Eventually, we harassed him enough that he relented and let us through the back entrance to stand and watch the show. It was worth the wait. We finally saw good capoeira, heard music from an old instrument that looked like a bow, saw women dance in hoop skirt costumes and saw a man walk through a bowl of flaming coals (his feet stayed on fire for a few seconds after and any remaining sparks he quickly picked up and ate).
Neil went out with us on Tuesday night and once again proved invaluable. He adeptly led us to all the best places attended by local Brazilians and we heard lots of good live music.
Apart from that we took our first (and probably last) tourist sightseeing bus, tried biri-biri sorbet from a famous sorveteria, went to a modern art museum that is reportedly haunted (no sightings by us, unfortunately), and felt more like a part of a city than we had in awhile.
Oh, and if any of you ever decides to cover your body in tattoos (esp. butterflies) or gets a big beer belly and becomes allergic to shirts, Salvador is the place for you.
More pictures here: