Saturday, September 1, 2007

Settling down in Salvador

Now we are finally in Salvador, the capital of Bahia region, which was the aim of the trip. The travels in Brazil are not over yet, however we will stay here in Salvador for a couple of months. Salvador is a city with 3 million inhabitants, located on a peninsula which faces the biggest bay in Brazil – Baía de Todos os Santos. The areas by the sea are more organized, but they are far away from the noblesse of Rio’s. The beaches here are more modest and with a more homely feeling, crowded with regular people. The city is divided into the lower and the upper city. It was in the upper city, 70 m above the sea level, where the city was founded. It is possible to walk down steep narrow streets, to go by a small funicular (or cliff railway / bergbana) or to take one of the many elevators in the elevator tower to reach the lower city, where there are the port, some markets, some commercial centres as well as access to the beaches.

Pelourinho is the colonial part of the town and the most popular place for tourists. It is an old, well preserved and also recently restored part of the city. There are many churches with one tower missing, one or a few with both towers, museums, reconstructed houses, hostels, bars, festivals, event houses, parties and thieves. We stayed there for a week in a nice and cosy family hostel. Every morning we got waken up by drum bands practicing in the vicinity or spontaneous parties by a group of street vendors. And in the evenings we couldn’t just go to sleep, since there were so many parties and events going on. The Bahian culture is country-wide known as the most relaxed and partying. It is in this region where the most African slaves were brought to. And it is here where the Portuguese culture well mixed with the African one and left the richest folkloric tradition. Besides original and unique cultural traditions, Bahia posses a famous coastline with coral reefs, beaches and year round warmth. It sounds like a paradise –which we haven’t yet experimented much. Lately we have been busy arranging things to settle down – finding a place to live, learning the language, inquiring about residence permits, bank accounts, acquiring a computer and fixing the Internet access. Since then, the computer was fully occupied by us and local kids, spending time playing online games.

We were lucky to find a small room in a big house with a nice family. The house is located on a street in the upper city, with one side having a nice view over the ocean. Unluckily our house is on the opposite side, so we can’t see the sea. We like our street where we live though. It is a part of the old historical town, with streets paved with cobble stones and local people playing or watching the street. The houses of the street still preserve the same outlook, with colourful façades, as they had it some centuries ago. A nice touch to the area is that some houses have façades with peeling paint and some windows or other ornaments missing, while others have been renovated in the last years, making them look overly colourful but maybe similar to what they once looked like. The houses here are now occupied by middle class families and majority are black, like Bahians in general. The working day of the people in this street is short and it reminds of Pirovac and such towns in Dalmatia on the Croatian seaside. As people here don’t work much, but mainly spend their time chatting and raising kids. And they have many kids, who seem to belong to everybody. Children enter any house, play with anybody or go anywhere. People know each other’s stories and lifestyles. It seems to be a really authentic street, lost in time. It feels really relaxed. The blocks near the historical centre are becoming very dependent on tourism, so the majority of inhabitants of the street in one way or another live off of tourists. This way we also got to find the family we stay at. We feel quite safe here, particularly due to the fact that people from the street know everything, and therefore they know us as well. We still hear lots of warnings of thefts, robberies and other crimes in the city. But our neighbourhood keeps pleasantly silent in the evening; while in the night there is only one animal in the neighbourhood who starts to crow “Kikiriki” (kuckeliku) at 3 am in the morning. The dawn starts at 5 am, so he is a bit too early.

The city looks really much more different when you take a bus ride to the commercial and business areas, where streets are crowded by fancy cars, well-dressed people and modern skyscrapers. Further we’ve visited two other types of residential areas. One crowded with people on the street and churches all over, and one mixed area with huge residences and narrow poorer blocks all within 1 km, as well as small offices – and one small computer repair shop where we bought a computer. We are lacking green areas and parks. It seems we will have to satisfy the need of nature by spending time on the beach. For the last week we’ve been trying to learn the local way of life. That means lazy days, lots of cooking, gossiping about and spending time playing with the neighbours and their kids. We’re waiting for the summer to burn away the quick rain showers so we can leave the umbrellas at home and explore more of the city, really enjoy staying on the beach, or do some trips around the district – which probably means bus trips of 450km or so in each direction. Until then we will try to feel at home.