The first place I stayed when I got to Salvador was Itapua. Itapua is a beach town about 30 km from downtown Salvador, but it's close to the airport, and after my trip I just asked for a pousada (basically, a crappy hotel) that was close and cheap. I was pleasantly surprised with the town. The had live bands down by the beach every night (well, this generally meant a guy with a microphone and another guy with a keyboard), everything was cheap and people were really friendly. I met people every night I went out, and they seemed really eager to show me around. Basically, the place is like one big Santee Alley (for any people from L.A. reading) by the beach. This is nice for a few days, but since I had three weeks in Salvador, I needed something a little more fulfilling than walking around during the day, and having a drink by the beach at night, so I moved to Pelourinho (Pelo for short), the historic center of Salvador where I hoped it would be easier to find something to occupy my time.
I mentioned the old European architecture in Florianopolis, but Pelo takes it to a different level. There are blocks and blocks of really beautiful portuguese buildings and countless cathedrals. I think the portuguese thought each family needed their own cathedral or something. It's seriously ludicrous.
I believe Pelo is a UNESCO protected world heritage site, whatever that means. It's pretty sad that the nicest buildings in the city are 400 yrs old, and now there's grafitti and street kids sleeping on the sidewalks here. That's the other thing,
Pelo is a big tourist draw, and rightly so. But when you mix rich tourists with a dirt poor local population, you'll get a huge amount of thieves, beggars and people trying to sell you useless stuff. I've heard there's 50 million people in Brazil that don't have official employment. Half of them must be here.
Apparently my tan doesn't adequately disguise my gringo-ness. I think it's the cargo shorts. I need to invest a dollar or two in some old boardshorts and a dirty tank top (I never thought I'd see the day when my clothes were too fancy). I can't go 5 minutes without someone trying to sell me something, or worse... you'll notice the low resolution of the photos in this entry. You can probably guess what happened. I was the main character in a dumb tourist story.
It goes like this: Once upon a time, there was a dumb tourist (me) walking through Pelo at 10 am or so. Apparently, the thieves don't take a break during the day here. A black guy with blond hair (has relevance later) came up and introduced himself, and told me he was a drummer in a samba group wanted to show me this place where he played every night. I was kinda nervous about going but I was too polite to say no, and I figured as long as I stayed in public I'd be ok. He brought me down this street that was pretty crowded and to this square with a security guard, who he knew. That put me a bit at ease. After that, not 5 feet from the security guard, he said he wanted to take a picture of me and his friends. I don't know what I was thinking, but I gave him the camera. On the one hand I didn't know how much choice I had at that point, I kind of felt like the Ethan Hawke character in Training Day at the mexicans' house when they asked to see his gun, but also, I figured he couldn't do anything in a crowded street with tons of people who know him, and a badass looking security guard with army boots and a beret (not the wussy french kind, but the special forces tough guy kind). Well, right after I gave it to him, I realized how stupid I was, and I asked for it back. He answered, "you don't wanna give me any problems" like returning my camera would be some kind of inconvenience for him. I told him giving my camera back wouldn't cause any problems to him. He wasn't convinced by my reasoning. Instead, he said he'd give my camera back if I gave him some money. This is where my stupidity reaches epic proportions. I actually gave him 40 reais!! (about $25) As it turned out, the guy that just stole my camera was not a man of his word. Shocking, I know! Mind you, the whole time this was happening, there were about 20 people standing around the street, not to mention the security guard, who seemed completely disinterested. The blond guy passed the camera to his friend, and everyone took off. I thanked the security guard for all his help. He told me it was his job to guard the park, and we were 5 feet outside of it. Luckily, one of the people standing around actually told one of the cops, and since that idiot had blond hair, he was hardly incognito. The police had him seated on the curb at the end of the block 2 minutes later. The cops here are pretty tough. I think as long as they don't kill someone, they won't get in trouble. As you can guess, they were pretty rough with him. He said something while he was sitting defensless on the curb, and the cop grabbed his head and smashed it with his knee! While I understand the guy is just a poor street kid and all, and barely surviving robbing people, I have to say, I felt a little guilty pleasure when he took the knee in the side of the head. Unfortunately, he didn't have the camera anymore, because, as I said, he'd handed it off, but I did get the 40 Reais back. I waited around the police station, while they looked for the other guys. After all the cops were making fun of him, they took him to a back room where they did who knows what. Overall, I felt sorry for the guy. In the big picture, he'll still be a poor street kid in prison, and I'll just have lost a couple days' pay.
As for recovering my camera, I was totally useless as a witness. I told them I think the guy with my camera had a blue shirt or a red shirt. After waiting around the police station for a while, the let me go, less one camera. The whole experience left me more embarrassed than anything. I'm sure the cops were laughing at yet another dumb tourist story back at the station once I left. In retrospect, I don't think I was ever in real danger, and I'm pretty sure if I hadn't semi-willingly handed them the camera, they wouldn't have taken it forcefully, but who knows. I resolved not to let this ruin my experience here, because I knew the city has a lot to offer. You just can't be completely open with every person that comes up to you, you have to learn how to ignore some people even if it seems rude. I DO wish I had better pictures of the city to show though, because it's absolutely beautiful. You'll have to google image search it or something, because a thief with a blue or red shirt has my camera.
To make a rough start to the Salvador chapter of my trip even rougher, it's the slow season for tourism. This has had two negative consequences for me. Number one, the place I'm staying is pretty much dead, and I haven't met as many people as I did in Rio, and most of the people I've met, I have no desire to hang out with at all. Secondly, a lot of the volunteer organizations are on break for the season, so finding work has been impossible. This is exascerbated by the fact that I'm only staying about 3 weeks, and most of the positions require a longer commitment. I think I was getting so desperate I would have cleaned toilets if they'd asked me to. As I said, I was getting desperate, so one day in the internet cafe, when I overheard this brazilian guy teaching his friend english, I went up to them and asked if they were part of an english school or volunteer organization. Turns out they weren't but said they'd be happy to let me help out with the day's lesson, and maybe arrange some other informal classes.
Anderson, the teacher, was a big hip hop fan, so the stuff he was teaching was about as far as fundamental as you can get. The student, Gustavo (Gugee for short), didn't even know things as basic as "how are you doing?" or "where are you from?" but Anderson was on to stuff like "you ain't got the heart to get at me." I was like, "I THINK I know what that means...now, 'aint' usually means "is not" but here it means "do not" and then "got" should be 'have' ..." etc. so it was a mess. They were really good guys though. Anderson runs a souvenier shop with his wife who looks like a 40 yr old trucker wife (Anderson's only 22). Gug works at a local recording studio, DJs, and is studying beat-making (I don't know the technical term, but he composes beats for hip hop and reggae and makes soundtracks). He told me to stop by the studio the next monday, and I came by and met a bunch of the artists and producers. All really cool guys. Then we went off and I tried to teach him english for a couple hours. English is really hard when you try to explain it. Not only the grammar, but pronunciation is difficult to explain in places where you wouldn't think it would be. Like, in portuguese, they say "beat", "beachee", and "hot dog" is "hotchee dogee," "hip hop" is "hipee hopee." But when you think about it, when you say "beat," you almost don't hear the "t", it's just a really abrupt ending, and he had a lot of trouble understanding the contribution of the "t." Also, it took him about 5 minutes to say "birthday." I told him, if he could avoid saying "birfday" he was already doing better than a lot of native speakers. Anyways, enough about that. The silver lining to the fact that I haven't met people in my pousada or in a volunteer organization is that I haven't been hanging out with foreigners. Now that I think about it, Gug and Anderson are the first Brazilians I've really hung out with, besides my teachers in Floripa, and hanging out with Matias' (from Rio) friends a few times, and in those cases, it was always with tourists as well (students in the former case, Matias in the latter).
Pelo, while it's in a pretty big city, has this small community feel to it. Gug seems to know everyone here. We went to a hip hop show one night, and I met about 20 people and I can't remember a single one of their names. I remember one guy in particular though. He was this white guy (I think he was), born and raised in Sacramento, who talked kind of ebonic-ish, but he was a Rastafarian nyabinghi drummer (turban and robe and all)...living in Brazil! I just say that cuz I was thinking about it and it made me laugh, but I guess if you tell my background it's pretty funny too. The show was pretty good, but American hip hop is much better. I think since it's new here, it's still developing it's own identity, but right now it kind of sounds like Marky Mark or something. But the young people here are so enthusiastic about it, and the culture is obviously very rythym oriented, so I'm sure it'll develop it's own sound pretty quickly.
The next day, I went to the beach for the first time since arriving in Pelo. Since Salvador is a major port, most of the coastline of the city is for shipping and you have to take a bus to get to the beach. It's hardly worth the effort, because it's just this small strip of sand without any changing rooms, showers or volleyball nets (not that I play). Also, since it's a bay, there aren't any waves. The weather in Bahia isn't really conducive to chilling on the beach either, because it rains almost every day although just for about 15 minutes at a time. The rain actually forced me into the lighthouse marine museum at the end of the beach. My first museum in Brazil. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say. Not that it was that exciting, but I feel more cultured now.
In a lot of ways, my experience in Pelo feels like the "real" Brazil, for better or worse. Well, to clarify, that's not to say the people in Floripa for example, are any less Brazilian than the Baianos, but the circumstances have forced me to really interact with the residents here, whether it be getting robbed, looking for work, teaching english or just hanging out. There is the aspect of it too that Bahia is much more representative of the stereotype foreigners have of the country, because, in many ways, it's the cultural center of the country.
I spent the final few weeks continuing with the English lessons. I wasn't too thrilled with the progress, but I guess you can't expect too much from a rookie teacher after 5 or 6 lessons. When I think of the 7 years of French I had from a trained teacher, it makes me feel better about the progress that we made.
On June 18th I took a 2 hour boat ride to an island called Morro de Sao Paolo where I spent my last week in Brazil. The trip was pretty rough. About 5 people spent the whole trip puking. It was all worth it in the end. The island is absolutely gorgeous. Around every corner, there's a postcard-worthy view.
It's pretty touristy though, with 90% of the businesses having something to do with the tourism industry. I stayed in a pousada owned by a really nice Argentinian couple with the cutest little two year old daughter. They were nice enough to invite me out to a family bbq on the beach once. I think if anyone in the world is more proud of their bbq than brazilians, it's gotta be the Argentinans. Since it's the low season, I stayed in a room for about $20 per night that's triple that in the high season, that had a beautiful ocean view. My second day in Morro, I wandered around the island, and I was surprised to find little communities of shanty houses like you find in the favelas all over Brazil.
My first impression of the place was that everyone on the island is somehow connected to the tourism industry and would be able to afford something halfway decent. It's especially sad here, because the poverty's kind of tucked away behind the beach bars and restaurants.
The level of poverty doesn't approach that which I saw in Pelo though, there's no one starving to death, sleeping in the streets or begging. I heard there are some robberies, but my approach from now on is to just take a little cash that I wouldn't mind parting with too much and leaving my wallet at home whenever I leave the touristy areas. It feels relatively safe though if you stay in the town.
Since the island is really small, the people who come here a lot or live here all know each other, so if you meet one person, you're going to meet a good portion of the rest of the island sooner or later. Most of the time I was there, a multi-day party was going on called Sao Joao.
I met some really nice locals there, who, like I said, introduced me to a bunch of their friends. I wish I'd been able to spend a little more time there because I was just starting to make some friends, but that's the nature of traveling I guess.
My last week here was perfect. A really relaxing experience (well, other than the marathon return trip) in a beautiful setting before it's back to work. I understand not everyone is in a position to take a trip like this, but I think if possible, it's a really good idea to break the daily routine that most people will follow, more or less, for the majority of their adult lives, to gain some perspective on your place in the world, and what's important in life.
Our perceived differences, or life's little problems seem diminished after seeing how big the world is. It's a bit of a cliché statement, I know, but I really feel like this trip has been a priceless experience for me, and I strongly recommend anyone else thinking about taking an adventure, to stop making excuses and do it. There's no place like home, and I'm definitely looking forward to going back to see my friends and family, but I think, after these three months, Brazil will always have a special meaning for me, and I hope to return soon.
The trip to Salvador was relatively smooth considering my previous trips. I did miss the bus to Curitiba, but that was easily changed, and then, since my flight from Curitiba was delayed, I got to Salvador at about 3:30 am, and rather than pay for a hotel for a couple hours, I just stayed at the airport until morning. Door to door, it was about a 22 hour trip, whereas it's like a three hour direct flight. It felt like I coulda walked there quicker.