Sunday, May 26, 2002

Bahia!!!!!


Braaazzziiiillllll! We have been having a fantastic time, made all the better with the companionship of Sasha and Jimbo. A special note to our dear friends: We are so glad that we could share a holiday with you, and wish that you were still here getting rounded and sympathizing with the ole' lingua breakdown. A note to all others: What are you waiting for? Get your asses down here!

After a week in Rio De Janeiro state, we flew to Salvador, Bahia. Turbulence...whoah! Thankful to land, we headed for Pelourino, the preserved colonial center of Salvador. Pelourino means 'whipping post', as this is where the slaves were sold and tortured. Bahia has come a long way since then, and now Salvador is referred to as the black Rome. This is the first place that my skin color has so obviously made me part of the minority, yet I felt welcomed by the vibrant African culture, and thoroughly fascinated with the friendly and celebratory nature of the Brazilians.

Our first night found us following a Reggae bus / Bob Marley parade through the windy cobble-stoned streets in the pouring rain. Music was blaring from the two story vehicle, the crowd was skipping, and we were following the 'bob' with a beer in hand. The nightlife is incredible in Salvador, a place where drumbeats are heard at every corner, dance is a way of life, and spontaneous festivals are frequent. Our night culminated at the popular Bar do Reggae. The tropical rainstorm did not prevent the outdoor venue from being packed body to body. We were the glaring whiteys, warned by the staff to hide valuables and watch out for pickpockets, yet we felt safe and welcome, singing Bob Marley, and smiling with the crowd. I got drunk, surprise, surprise, and had to be dragged outside in search of food. We stopped at an outside stall, attended by a large Bahian women dressed in flowing white dress and a turban. She served the specialty of the region- acaraje, which is made from a large fried ball of mashed brown beans, salt and onions, which is cut in half and stuffed with dried shrimp, tomato sauce, pepper and dende oil. It is divine, and manages to drip all over your face like a greasy taco.

Our days were spent exploring gold laden churches, beaches, and planning our next meals- which were fantastic. I must say that we have thoroughly enjoyed Brazilian food. I find the ingredients to be fresh and healthy. One night we had a fantastic meal of grilled cheese appetizer with a molasses syrup, green salad, and the national dish of Brazil - feijoada, a shredded meat stew with beans, and spices, served with rice and manioc flour.

We also did some shuffling and searching for affordable accommodation. It is not always easy to find that combination C's- cheap, clean, central, and charming. Oddly enough, the best place we found was a 'love' motel. This is the type of accommodation that can be rented by the hour, and was frequented by scantily clad women, followed by shifty-eyed older men. While popular and accepted by the culture, I'm sure you get the idea. BUT, the rooms were very clean, with good ventilation, bright white sheets, private bathroom, and t.v.s (of course, this was the first place where we found most channels to be occupied with 24 hour porn). Needless to say, we visited a few more churchs to balance it out...

At night, we were entertained with music, dance and condomble. We saw the Bale Folclorico da Bahia, an impressive show of various Afro-Brazilian dances of region, such as capoeira (a martial arts acrobatic dance with high kicks and flips), and fire dances. The dancers were stunningly beautiful, lean, and ripped with glistening muscles. This brings up another subject - beauty. A general statement - These people have some of the best bodies I have ever seen. I know the boyz would agree. Most people are strong and slender, long-limbed, with the highest, roundest bums. The heat and pride of the people means that little clothes is worn, and their physical shapes are showcased. After our dance performance, we were picked up by a guide, who took us to a condomble ceremony, in one of the favelas on the fringe of Salvador. This is a religious dance celebration which is very African. Slaves were prohibited from practicing their own religions, so to avoid persecution, they gave catholic names and identities to all their gods (orixa), and worshipped these deities behind the representations of the Catholic saints. The dancers, women dressed in white lace and hoop skirts, work themselves into a trance, where they become mediums for their various gods. Eventually, all the dancers leave the room (terreiro), to change into costumes which represent the various deities, and then reenter for a final celebratory dance. This is an honest religious ceremony which is not oriented to outsiders or tourists.

Our last night in Salvador was spent dancing to the drumming of Olodum, a party which lasts into the wee hours. The flirtatious nature of the Brazilians was in full swing, with black beauties hanging on Dan and Jimbo, and drunken men insistent on a dance. I left the evening early, but Sasha, Jimbo, and Dan stayed out longer, getting deep into Gamberland. Dan's admirers included a man, Sasha had her first dance with a girl, and Jimbo only managed to get half of it on video.

In need of beach time, and sleep, we took a nauseous ferry to Morro do Sao Paulo, an island with a string of white sand beaches and blue-green water. The sun was intense. We sat in the shade of an umbrella, sampling what the passing vendors had to offer. Everything from grilled cheese on a stick, to coconuts filled with potent cachasa. The boys surfed in the morning, then joined Sasha and I for sunning, swimming, and lounging. We all sampled the most delicious variety of tropical beverages. At night, the main strip (a sandy, narrow lane, of restaurants and small shops), was lined with jewelry, dessert, and alcohol-fruit stands. We mixed everything from kiwis, mangos, pineapples, ascerola, guavas, lime, etc. with vodka, and proceeded to get 'rounded'. Our only exploration of the island led us inland, to where the locals live. There we met Jessica (14) and Anderson(8), who spontaneously escorted us on a 30-40 minute walk to a waterfall (a small spout of cool refreshing water that we all dunked under), then on to Gamboa, a small town/beach on the other side of the island, where we could take a ferry back to Morro. The next day we had to say goodbye to Sasha, and it was sad to see her go. Jimbo was staying on one day longer before heading South for work. Once both of our friends had departed, it was time to hit the road.

Dan and I left for the next island destination - Boipeba, which is considered less touristy, and more quiet and rustic. Morro do Sao Paulo has no cars, so our journey was on a tractor pulling a passenger trailer. 2 hours up and down, bouncing over ditches, crossing small rivers was not the most enjoyable experience. In addition, we shared the journey with 2 demon children (J & S - you know the ones!), who were impelled to climb onto and over everything,and were unrestrained in sticking their legs and arms out the side of the vehicle. We had a short boat crossing to Boipeba, with the bad seeds, jumping on and off the boat, before it had even moored.

Once in Boipeba, we discovered that we had arrived in time to participate in the annual patron saint festival. The locals had a procession through the village, where they carried replicas of the Mother Mary with baby Jesus, Christ on a cross, and their holy saint, high on their shoulders. There were fireworks, music, and an all-night party in the center (the local soccer field). It was a small-town celebration with not many tourists. The next day, we were able to lay on a pristine, deserted beach, no hawker in sight, and read, listen to music, search for sand dollars, nap and swim.

Surprisingly beached out, we decided to head inland to Lencois. This involved an excruciating long day of travel - our worst day yet. We woke at 4:15AM to catch a 5AM ferry to Valenca. This was a slow 4 hour trip through a shallow mangrove river. In Valenca, we waited until 12PM to catch a 3 1/2 hour bus to Feira do Santana. Once there, we discovered that the next bus to Lencois did not leave until 12:50AM. We had 9 crappy hours to kill in a town that was a cross between Tijuana, Odomxai, and Market St.. No internet cafe, no nice restaurants (at least near the bus station), and major lingua breakdown. We were carrying a bag of wet laundry that had not dried before our departure, and was beginning to smell of mildew. I was not happy. After dark, we gathered that our neighborhood was not really safe for strolling, so we spent our final 4 hours in the bus station, with a few homeless crack-heads. At 1AM we boarded a 5 hour bus ride, and arrived sticky and exhausted.

Lencois, is located in the Chapada Diamantina, a hilly, lush green landscape of rivers, waterfalls, highland peaks, and caves. The colonial town, which was established primarily by the French during a diamond mining boom, is very charming, painted in shades of pastels, with cobblestone roads. The boom went bust, and now the areas' economy is directed at coffee and manioc cultivation, along with tourism. In order to take in the sights of the Nacional Parque, we joined a tour to visit some of the highlights. We met up with an entertaining crew of backpackers, and all became fast friends - The Canadians and Americans talking trash, the Dutch and Germans trading insults, and the Swiss staying neutral. First, we visited Lapa Doce, a huge cave formed by a subterranean river with impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations. Then we went to Pratinha, a crystal clear, light blue lake that is partially covered by a deep, long cave. We rented snorkeling gear, and flashlights, and were taken on a guided swim into a dark cave, filled with fish and bats. Despite the fact that we were all freezing, this was a definite highlight. After our swim, we hiked to another grotto - when the sun shines on Gruta Azul, the clear water reflects a deep royal turquoise shade of blue. Back in the jeep, we were taken to Morro do Pai Inacio, the most prominent peak in the immediate area, which we hiked up for awesome views of the Diamantina Chapada region. Our final stops were to the Rio Mucugezinho, and a trail that takes you to the waterfall and swimming hole of Poco do Diabo (the devils well). This river and region is dominated by massive pale pink, rock boulders.

At night, Dan and I had scoped out a mexican restaurant called Santa Fe. We we're ecstatic to test its authenticity, and we were not disappointed! We treated ourselves to the most delicious tacos, burritos, and salsa, that either of us has had outside of California. The chef was a New Mexico expat, who made his tortillas fresh, and had his spices worked just right. After dinner, we joined our new friends to brag about our meal, and play a couple games of cards.

Our last day in Lencois, we took it easy. We slept in, then went on an easy hike to a nearby river, known for its' natural rock slides, and walked around the little village. For dinner, we HAD to repeat the night before, and joined Caroline and Glenn, our new Canadian friends, for some gluttony. Later, we were joined by Jesse and Raul for some late night cervejas and caipirinhas.

Now, we are back in Salvador for a short errand run, before journeying North. We miss you all, and send our love,

Blazing thru Brazil....Worldcup starts 31May!!!

Sarah and Dan

P.S. Thanks to Glenn (and our friend Andrew from Australia), I think that Dan is getting inspired to compete in a triathalon. I don't know how and when he/we will fit the exercise into our schedule, but lookout 2003!

P.S.S I think the caipirinhas were talking when Sarah heard that...dg

Checkout the new photos at http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/brz2

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