A Weekend in Salvador, Brazil

It has been cloudy and raining in Joinville for weeks, almost months. There is a strong El Niño effect this year, and while it is creating drought conditions in most of Brazil, here in the south we are experiencing nothing but clouds and rain. Joinville normally gets a fair amount of rain. Situated between the coast and the the Dona Francisca mountains, the moisture from the Atlantic rolls in and is trapped by the Dona Francisca mountain range. We always jokingly call Joinville “Chuville” (chuva being Portuguese for rain).

This weather is getting to be depressing. I mean, like Seattle-level depressing. When my dad visited in September we had rain for all but two days in Joinville. Fortunately, when we visited Foz do Iguaçu and Rio we lucked into some perfect, sunny weather. Unfortunately, that had been almost a month ago and we have literally only had sunshine for a few hours during 3 days. I couldn’t take it anymore!

Elizabeth had gone to the States to visit her family and I was alone – watching it rain. Something had to give. I started looking at the weather forecast for various destinations in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The coastal cities of central and northern Brazil were looking like winners, so it was off to check on flights. Basically, I was looking for someplace sunny with (relatively) cheap and easy flights. And I found a winner. Salvador, Bahia.

What better place to start than the third largest city in Brazil which was also declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Salvador is located in the north of Brazil and it is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. Salvador is also known for hosting the world’s largest Carnival. The people of Salvador love a good party!

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Everywhere you go in Salvador you find music playing. A jazz band playing with the Barra lighthouse in the background

Flying in Brazil is never easy – particularly out of the Joinville airport. Usually, we try to fly out of Curitiba. It’s an hour and a half drive through the mountains (up to 3 if a wreck shuts down the highway), but there are more direct flights and, most importantly, you have much better odds of your flight not being cancelled. For this trip I rolled the dice and flew out of Joinville – and I rolled snake eyes! Short-story long, I ended up in a taxi for the Curitiba airport anyway. And, instead of arriving in Salvador on Thursday night I spent the night in São Paulo! I arrived at my hotel at 2pm on Friday. I was pretty exhausted – and a little upset to have lost an entire day. However, the view over the Porto da Barra beach across from my hotel (and the sunshine, did I mention the sunshine?!) made up for it.

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Golden Hour at Porto da Barra

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The sun setting on my first day in Salvador. 

Pretty sure it’s no secret at this point that we love the food here in Brazil. If we did have a complaint it would be that (here in the south) they don’t use many spices when cooking. For those of us that love hot, spicy food it gets a little bland sometimes. Not in Bahia! They love their spices there. Perhaps their most famous dish is the moqueca. A spicy stew of seafood and spices in a coconut milk base, the moqueca is served bubbling in a terra cotta dish called a capixaba. My particular favorite is the shrimp version.

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My delicious Shrimp Moqueca

Another famous food item in Bahis is Acarajé. This is a traditional West African dish made of fried balls of a dough-like substance (made from peeled beans) that are split and filled with a variety of items. Most ususally a paste (made from palm oil, cashews, shrimp, and other bits), whole fried shrimp, and a relish-type salad of onions and tomatoes. Served with a delicious hot sauce it makes for a tasty snack.

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Frying the dough for Acarajé

Salvador’s historic center, the Pelourinho, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s cobblestone alleyways and colorful, Portuguese colonial architecture are well worth the visit.

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A view of the colonial architecture of the Pelourinho

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Ladies in the traditional, African-inspired garb

Another notable feature is that the city of Salvador is divided into two sections, the upper section or “Cidade Alta” and the lower section, “Cidade Baixa”. They are connected by Brazil’s first elevator, “Elevador Lacerda”

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The elevtor between the upper and lower city.

While I was there, a group of drummers from the Olodum Band were performing in the street. The Olodum was founded in 1979 as an African bloco to perform during Carnival. They are famous now as a samba-reggae drum ensemble that has performed with many famous artists around the world. Michael Jackson filmed a video for his song “They Don’t Care About Us” in Pelourinho with the backing of the Banda Olodum. The day I was there they only had a twenty or so drummers, but their playing echoed through the narrow streets.

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The band leader

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There was no better way for someone who hopped a flight to Salvador to escape the rain to wrap up the trip than to take a boat tour? Salvador is located on the Bahia de Todos os Santos, or All Saint’s Bay. This is the largest bay in Brazil and contains 91 islands. There are regular tour boats that go out and visit several of these islands. For R$100 – or around $25 USD – you get an 8 hour cruise of the bay with stops at two islands – Ilha dos Frades and Itaparica. The islands and bay were beautiful.

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Arriving at  Ilha dos Frades

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Our ride

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The water of the bay was beautiful

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Looking back towards the city

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Yeah, no boat ramps here!

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Local taxi

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Sunset over the bay as we returned to port

Salvador was a great place to get away from the rain for a few days. The Bay and its surroundings are absolutely beautiful. It should be mentioned that Salvador can be a dangerous city to visit, so one should be very careful and pay attention to your surroundings. There is a strong police presence in all the major tourist areas, but if you venture too far away from there you need to be cautious. Salvador has the 17th highest homicide rate in the world. Like most cities, this centers around the drug trade and in the more impoverished areas, but that seems to exist all around the metro area so just be observant of where you are. You can read Elizabeth’s article on staying safe in Rio for some good tips.

Having said that, I would definitely return to Salvador. More than likely I would want to get away from the city to one of the many beautiful beaches around the bay. The weather, food, and atmosphere are hard to resist!

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Salvador at night from the bay