My chosen means of transport from Recife to Salvador, the largest city in the state of Bahia, was bus. I made my way to Recife’s central bus terminal which, ironically, was so far from the city centre that I need to take a bus just to get there.
I had booked the ticket without looking at the details of the route. In retrospect, a 13-hour journey to cover 600km as-the-crow-flies ought to have alerted me to the fact that the route was going to be less than direct. And how! We stopped at every bus stop, shack, porta-loo and gazebo en route. Had Macbeth not murdered sleep, the Recife-Salvador coach trip would have done the job for him.
At last, after some restive dozing and some very dull conversation with the very dull German in the neighbouring seat, we pulled into the Salvador bus station. I got off the bus with my fellow passengers and made my way to the taxi queue. When I gave the address of my hotel a seed of concern was sowed when the taxi driver didn’t immediately recognise it. The seed became the green shoots of worry when he then laughed and smiled gleefully. After 45 minutes in the taxi the green shoots had bloomed into the flower of consternation with the petals of dismay: on seeing half of my fellow passengers leaving the coach I had followed suit, oblivious to the fact that we had not yet arrived at the final destination. The saving I had made by taking the 13-hour hour bus rather than a 60-minute flight had been roughly £40. The taxi cost me £60.
Arriving at Estrela do Mar B&B in the Barra. District of Salvador, disgruntled at my idiocy and crumpled from folding myself into the small seat, I needed TLC (but I didn’t need no scrubs – joke for 30-40 year olds). My prayers were answered. I was greeted warmly by Sean, the charming Irish owner of the B&B who had arrived in Salvador with a backpack 30 years earlier and had yet to leave, and was invited to sit and have breakfast. What followed was a feast, a cornucopia: juice, coffee, eggs, bread rolls with cheese and ham, fresh fruit and some kind of traditional tapioca pancake. My discontent was born away on the wings of deliciousness.
After a shower and brief snooze, I headed out, blinking in the bright, 30-degree sunlight, glad that I had chosen to visit in winter. Barra is a coastal district some 15 minutes from the historical city centre, Pelourinho. It is most famous for its beaches and “O farol da Barra” – the lighthouse.
As I strolled along the promenade set back from the beaches, I was struck by both the ethnic diversity of the Salvadorans and their beauty. As Salvador was Brazil’s largest slave colony, with Angolans being brought across the Atlantic by the Portuguese, there is a heavy African influence on culture and ethnicity which, when added to the cultures of the indigenous Amerindian tribes and the European settlers, creates the modern-day melting-pot that it now is.
In the afternoon, I sat on the grass by the lighthouse to watch the sunset with a crowd of 100 or so people. Brazilians routinely clap when a plane lands safely and when the sun sets successfully. I joined in.
The following day, after a spectacular beach metamorphosis from a whiter shade of pale to a tender pink, I climbed the lighthouse tower. Turns out it was a similar view to that at ground level. But higher up.
Having signed up for a show in the city centre, I was collected from my B&B and driven to Pelourinho. I will state for the record that we passed through streets so intimidating that the driver did not even stop for red lights. I was later to learn that just metres from Pelourinho there is a turf war between “the crack people and the cocaine people” and there were certain areas that even the police dared not set foot.
The show was in a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet. The food was less than impressive but the samba dancing, capaouiera and acrobatics were more than impressive so the cosmic balance was maintained. I was even dragged up I stage to imitate the reggae-samba moves that were being demonstrated. Thankfully, I have no footage of this.
Most of the week was passed in beach-based, sun-drenched bliss, however, salient episodes include dancing samba with a mother and her two daughters and being invited back to their house because she wanted to cook for me (I politely declined), happening upon a motorcycle meet-up, eating the most delicious meal of my life at Boteco da França in Rio Vermelho and visiting a turtle sanctuary in Praia do Forte.
Heading back to Rio for 24 hours now before moving on to Montevideo, Uruguay, for a week, ahead of my Salkantay + Machu Pichu trek.