Salvador: Cults, culture and crazy street parties!

Trip Start May 10, 2009
Trip End Nov 02, 2009

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Flag of Brazil  , Bahia,
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Salvador... what a city!

After a 25 hour overnight-and-overday bus marathon from Fortaleza, including a disaster of a lunch experience, sore backs, tired bums, bored stiff and starving we were only to glad to spot the golden arches and demolish some burgers! For the first time in a month, to order something you knew what it would taste, look and smell like was exactly the comfort we needed, before getting ripped off once again by Mr Taxi Driver en route to our hostel. Unfortunately we arrived at about 8pm, i.e. after dark, which in most Brazilian cities is not exactly the time to be lurking about bus stations with backpacks and lilly-white legs, hence Mr Taxi Driver got to buy a few rounds for his friends that night at our expense. 

Our hostel was in the Pelourinho (Pelo for short). To give you a better idea: The Hood, the Ghetto, Govan Mbeki ave, Hillbrow JHB or Peckham. This we only really discovered after leaving the hostel during the day time.

Even so, the Pelo is a fascinating area, packed with history and intriguing stories. For those interested in a bit of history, it used to be the first capital city of Brazil and was the main trading post for African slaves. This is why Salvador has such a strong African influence and is known as the culture capital of Brazil. Pelourinho means 'whipping post' in English and used to contain one for beating disobedient slaves to death. Sickening...

The area is divided into a 'lower city' (near the docks and containing the Modelo Market) and the 'upper city', joined by an elevator and a furnicular railway. These cost 5 centavos a ride (1.5p) and is a pretty good business seeing as it carries up to 50,000 people a day! Some oke is coining it... literally!

The Modelo Market is where they used to trade slaves much like livestock are traded today. The slaves were kept in the damp, dark cellars below. Another punishment for them was to tie them underneath the market (which is above the water) and let them drown when the tide came in. Today it is a more acceptable souvenir market.

We also visited the Sao Francisco church which is a lavish building covered in gold inside! 1500 tons of gold (or something to that effect) just for the decoration on the walls and ceilings. The church was built by the slaves and to demonstrate their displeasure they purposefully disfigured the angels and statues throughout by making them look pregnant, having deformed faces or ridiculous oversized sex organs! 

Our guided tour of the area was brilliant and we learnt so much more, too much to fill in the screens of this blog. A few more details are in the pictures...

Sadly though, the area is a hotbed of drug activity now and there are countless kids (some as young as 10) hooked on crack cocaine which is readily available just meters from the main sites. It is so terrible to see these wrecked shells of children, totally emaciated, spaced out and useless, crawl out of various holes begging for money for the next hit.

On a happier note, we arrived in Salvador in time for the start of the Sao Joao (Saint John) festival which, in typical Afro-Brazilian culture, means 2 weeks of street parties all over Salvador, mainly in the Pelo! There are 8 stages set up around the city with live bands performing every night from 7pm tp 3am free of charge! Our hostel was about 5 minutes from the main stage with 10,000 people partying it up every night. It was amazing to see these okes going for it! Beer stalls and vendors made a fortune with their 3 beers for 5 Reals (£1.50) specials. Vendors ranged from geriatric boozers in tents to 12 year old girls carrying cooler boxes under their arms through the crowd. You can imagine the carnage, especially on the night there were 10,002 people having the time of their lives... he he he... As with all these things there is always the bad element, so MC Camera, DJ Watch and MixMaster Cellphone had to stay home with cocoa, biscuits and the 8pm movie.

Another fascinating experience was attending a Candomblé ceremony. Candomblé, in a nutshell, is an Afro-Brazilian religion that evolved during the slavery years and has vague links with Catholicism and Indian influences. It was basically a means for the African slaves to maintain their beliefs and culture. It is a religion that has no right or wrong, no heaven or hell, no sin or forgiveness but just believes in the spirits of their dead ancestors protecting them in the guise of various gods. We are told this is a serious occasion and are not to wear dark clothing etc. The women and some men dance around welcome the spirits and then some get possessed by various gods and go into a trance. This all happens to Yorubu chanting to the beating of drums. There is also a 'queen' of sorts who is selected because of her divinity and they all bow down randomly and pay homage to her.

In our unenlightened opinion, it looked like people dressed up as African women, shuffling and jerking around, pulling faces and squawking like chickens from time to time. Also convulsing on the floor in front of their 'queen'. The people that enter the trance reappear later on dressed as though they are heading for a cowboys and indians fancy dress party!

It is hard not to sound condescending but upon reflection they might think similar things of our religious practices. I suppose one would have to grow up with these beliefs to fully appreciate the ceremony. We are glad to have experienced it, but its all a bit much for us.

We spent another day in the calmer, more relaxed Barra area, walking along the beachfront and swimming in some rather aggressive waves. We wondered whether Iemanja, the sea god, was unimpressed that we didn't embrace Candomblé!

After having invested a small fortune in souvenirs from the markets - we loved everything so much and were so taken by the vibe we couldn't help ourselves - we headed off. It was sad to leave such a vibrant place after only a few days but the show must go on...

(Unfortunately, not too many pics of this place as we were not keen on getting the camera out in some areas due to the dubious characters around and also rules against photography in all churches and the Candomblé ceremony.)

Next stop... Lençois!

Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Albergue do Pelo
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