Salvador – before and after

First – some bragging. Our Indian food “thank you” dinner on our last Saturday in Fortaleza was an all-day affair and a total success. I have never cooked for 10 people and certainly don’t cook Indian food very often and definitely not in other countries, so I was a wee bit nervous. Otavio drove us to a fancy grocery store that fortunately had quite a few spices (in Portugese, so we had to open everything and smell it to figure out what it was- quite fun) – the store had everything we needed but garam masala, which is kind of a key ingredient. Tyler decided we should just make our own mix of garam masala, but after reading its components, realized that was impossible (some sort of bark is in there- who knew?). So we bought what we could and hoped for the best. I ended up just throwing in random amounts of a variety of spices into each dish (cumin, cloves, cayenne, turmeric, bay leaves, paprika, salt, black pepper, curry powder) and eventually developed the flavors I wanted. Now I know why my mom always sighs with frustration when I ask for a recipe- Indian food just doesn’t work that way. You have to just throw some stuff together and keep tasting it until it is right. We made aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower in a spicy tomato curry), butter chicken (chicken in a spicy creamy tomato sauce), rice pulao (pilaf), and cucumber raita (cucumber yogurt salad).Everyone had second helpings, even Otavio’s godfather who hates onions (conveniently in almost every dish). It was a ton of fun, and we were proud we pulled it off so well, but it did make me a little homesick since the smells of the spices and curries reminded me of my mom.

We left Fortaleza on Monday via WebJet, the very budget airline with the itchiest fabric on airplane seats I’ve ever experienced. We arrived in Salvador and took the public bus for 1.5 hours to our hostel in the historic area called Pelourinho ($3 bus vs $40 cab – no brainer). We ended up staying in a dorm room with 10 bunks and 1 bathroom since it was so much cheaper, though it worked out well since we met some really cool people, including our first Americans in a while. It reminded Tyler of his sophomore year of college when he lived in a 10 person dorm of similar size in a fraternity house – his mom cried when she saw his quarters.

The Pelourinho was the city’s center during the Portuguese Colonial Period and was named for the whipping post in its central plaza where African slaves received punishment for various torture/disciplinary purposes. Salvador was the first colonial capital of Brazil and the area certainly has a plethora of historic buildings, monuments, churches, forts and other sights to see. Salvador is the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture and has a very unique vibe that in many ways resembles Caribbean nations more than northern or Amazonian Brazil. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday walking around and visiting a few museums, churches (including Sao Francisco Church and Convent – supposedly the oldest in Brazil), and art galleries (all either free or incredibly cheap), people-watching, chatting with new hostel friends, and watching random street shows of music, dance, and capoeira. We didn’t really leave the area, though Salvador is huge and has many neighborhoods, including beaches. We were limited in time, and to be frank, it’s not the safest of cities, and we didn’t feel particularly confident trying to navigate our way around on the buses/streets, especially after hearing the many stories from fellow hostel-mates about people getting robbed (including at gunpoint).

Tuesday night was the real Salvador highlight and one of the most fun of our trip. After spending the day sight-seeing, we went to dinner with a new friend (a teacher from SF) and tried a traditional Bahian seafood stew dish called moqueca.  The dish is a feast for your nose and eyes (and mouth, obviously) – it’s a mix of fish, crab, and shrimp with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic and coconut milk – all stewed together to perfection in a clay pot (which it is also served in). It was served with plain white rice and a side of black eyed peas, a dish appreciated equally by my Southern self and Indian self. After dinner (and a few ever-present, ever-cheap, ever-delicious, and ever-strong caipirinhas), we headed to the Terreiro de Jesus Square in Pelourinho because we had heard rumors of a live band. In keeping with our now commonplace experiences in Brazil, we weren’t disappointed. As if the party in the square wasn’t enough to keep us entertained all night, a drum band approached, leading hundreds of dancing revelers through the streets of Pelourinho, in a traditional celebration of Terca de Benca (Tuesday of blessing), the day Saint Francis of Assisi would distribute food to the needy. If you know me at all, you know I can never say no to a good dance party, so into the mass we went! I have no idea how long we were following the band or even how far we went, though we stayed in the same neighborhood. All in all, a hilarious, unique, and  fun day and night, which ended in our hostel bunk beds with 8 of our new closest friends.

Salvador Drum Concert Video

We left Salvador on Thursday for Morro do Sao Paulo, an island a few hours off the coast and a top vacation spot for Brasileros. After spending extra money for the “fast boat” option, we were unpleasantly surprised by a 4.5 hour journey via 2 slow boats and 1 bus. Tyler’s Portuguese skills were sufficient enough to uncover that the fast option was impossible due to weather conditions – apparently bright and sunny just isn’t good enough sometimes. We made it to the island shortly after sunset and stayed until Monday morning. There are 4 main beaches, and the further you walk from the town center, the more remote and secluded each beach becomes. It is very picturesque (ironically, since we took all of 5 pics probably) with cliffside beaches, gorgeous blue water, interesting rock formations, and vast differences in scenery between low and high tide. We spent our days lounging on the beach, wandering, and eating street meat kabobs (steak, sausage, and our favorite – chicken hearts) and beach vendor queijo (Brazilian squeeky white cheese cooked on a stick over coals and topped with oregano). Our evenings were spent finding a reasonably cheap and healthy dinner (why are decent vegetable dishes so hard to find in other countries?), listening to the street musicians, and watching little kids run around in circles until they collapsed from exhaustion. All in all, not a bad way to spend a few days. Though the island is certainly beautiful, it’s a bit too touristy for our taste, and we wouldn’t call it a must-see.

Stay with me – I’m almost at our current location.

On Monday, we took a 40 minute actual “fast-boat” ferry to Valenca, a taxi to the bus station, and then a 4 hour bus to Itacare. We were expecting a school bus or otherwise crappy vehicle since it was a relatively short ride (and only $10/person), but were pleasantly surprised to be seated in a nice coach bus with reclining seats and a luggage compartment. I have always been a sleepy car/bus rider, but through this trip, I’ve developed a physical handicap and don’t even pretend to try to read on buses anymore. I just try to get comfy and immediately fall asleep. My neck always hurts and most of the time, I’m more tired than I was at the start of the trip, but there’s something about moving vehicles – I’m like a baby being rocked to sleep. So the 4 hours felt like nothing and suddenly we were in this cool surfer town on the coast, about 6 hours south of Salvador. We arrived at our hostel, which we had already paid a deposit for via hostelworld, and were horrified with how disgusting it was, so first on the agenda was finding a new home. We usually don’t pay deposits, and not to toot my own horn, I am AWESOME at finding good places to stay, but Buddy’s did not meet even the most basic of standards (black mold and old, dirty mattress = definition of gross). Within a few hours of arrival, we ran into a few friends we made in Salvador, ate falafel for the first time since leaving Chicago, and found a new pousada to move to, conveniently located right on the beach – it’s usually a thousand times more expensive (literally), but because they’re empty this week, we negotiated a helluva deal.  Rampant mosquitoes aside, we slept much better last night than on Monday – something about a lack of a smelly mattress (and being serenaded by the waves) makes for good zzzzz’s.

We will be in Itacare until at least Tuesday so T can get the last of his surfing fill in until Asia and are trying to figure out where to go next. Our original thought was Rio, but it’s very expensive to get there, stay there, and eat there, so we may skip it, especially since we have both been. All we know for sure is we want to visit the Pantanal region for at least a week before the next event I’m looking forward to the most – meeting my parents and brother and his girlfriend in Iguazu, Argentina, on August 17th!

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