Salvador is a really gritty place.
I don’t really take everything in the guide book I have seriously, and prefer to make my own observations, but the first line they say about this city is “If there is a city you are likely to be mugged in, it is Salvador”.
I didn’t get mugged. But I can see where this comes from.
Coming into the city by bus, there was a good 10 or 15 minutes of favelas to either side of the highway, piled up high on the hills. Just based upon this, it appears to be very poor. Unlike Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires, it is recommend you stay only in a few neighborhoods. The first two days, I stayed in a hostel one block from the beach. The hostel was fine. Actually, I don’t like hostels, because I didn’t come to Brazil to meet Australians, Americans, and British people. But anyways, I could not find a couchsurfing host, so hostel and gringos it was.
Favelas going into the city:
My timing was quite nice. The day after I arrived was Brazil’s first world cup game. People live by soccer here. Anyways, not more than 5 blocks from the hostel, on the beach, there were 3 massive jumbotrons set up for the game with some grandstands as well. The game was at 330, and by 1pm there was a buzz in the street, air horns going off, cars honking, people migrating their way to the beach, and yellow and green everywhere. You could really tell that this place was about to let loose. We had a barbecue at the hostel, ironically, with a bunch of gringo’s (at least it was cooked by a guy from Brazil). Everyone watched the first half in the hostel, then we headed out to join the crowd and watch on the jumbotron for the second half.
There was a drizzle on and off, but that didn’t prevent at least several thousand people from taking to the street to watch the game. Luckily (but predictably), Brazil won. Anyways, people lingered in the streets into the night near the jumbotrons (this was a Tuesday!), and it kind of felt like one of the street parties they had in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. Just people selling drinks from grocery carts, people selling food, and a large crowds of people hanging around.
The scene after the game:
One of the jumbotrons for the game:
I had found a couchsurfer for the rest of my time there, and she lived in the center of the city, with a great view of the impressive coastline. From there, I was able to walk to the historic center of Salvador in about 30 minutes. This is really where I felt like I could have been mugged.
View from couchsurfer apartment:
Salvador is basically all afro-brazilians, so having light colored skin, I was automatically labeled a tourist. I was automatically someone to sell stuff to. Comments like ‘Where are you from’ ‘France?’ ‘Hi, How are you’, and ‘Are you from Sao Paulo’ were very frequent and annoying, and I’m sure the only sentences these people knew in English. So basically, I felt like I was always being watched. Thankfully, the city puts lots of police in this area.
But the center has a large quantity of very old, beautiful churches. The most famous church is filled with gold, everywhere, it was incredible. The center is very hilly and full of cobbled streets and plazas. The center is called the ‘Pelourinho’. There is one steep, triangular street, that they call the ‘largo do Pelourinho’, which basically means the area where they whipped slaves publicly (whipping post). The area is famous for its type of religion, called candomble. Unfortunately, I did not get to learn more about this interesting type of religion. But instead of explain about it, send yourself to wikipedia, cause it is interesting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candombl%C3%A9
Took this photo from the point where they used to whip slaves publicly. I think people probably watched from below.
The city center is on top of a giant favela. It rises rapidly from the coastline, the favela, to the city center. Actually, there is a giant elevator between the city center and the coastline below. This is to bypass the favela. It is that dangerous. You can walk the road down, but everyone recommends against this. It cost about 7 cents to go on the elevator, down to the lower part of the city/coastline. If I haven’t mentioned, Salvador is on the northeast coast of Brazil, so the city follow the coastline, and is quite beautiful. It has some great beaches as well.
Looking down on part of favela plus lower city:
The elevator from upper city to lower city:
Part of the coastline:
I forgot to mention it was god forsakenly hot and humid the whole time there, this being the middle of winter. Shorts, sandals, and sleeveless tshirts for all men. The 30 minute walk from my couchsurfers place to the center was interesting. There were real stores along the way, but street stalls as well the whole way, selling everything possible. Most notably, hundreds of tables selling womens underwear, with many clients, piled sky high. This just seemed weird. In addition, salls with tons of universal remotes and cpvc pipe. Hundreds of stalls with kids Brazil clothing. One guy was selling dead rats that looked like he dried out after finding on the street. On top of this, plenty of beer vendors and coconut sellers. It was just a total mess. I walked back one weekday at 2pm and there were thousands of people, body to body at some points, and quite uncomfortable. Also, every 3rd storefront was selling home applicances…I don’t get this, because this seems to be a very poor area.
So, I suppose Salvador was as unique as everyone had made it up to be before I went there. But, I don’t think it was my cup of tea.
A street in the historic district (Pelourinho):
Just one room in the Church that was really elaborate:
Inside the church, this is all gold:
The main church in Pelourinho: