We spent a few days in Salvador, the third largest city in Brasil. A wonderful beach town filled with Afro-brazilian cultures. My brother Stuart was drawn to this place because of his time spent training as capoeirista. Our journey from Rio was a 33 hour bus-ride, which took us through the rolling landscape of Brazilian countryside through safari like landscapes and shanty tin-roofed towns.
The first impression of Salvador came from a beautiful half-moon that filled the sky! This is the closest I’ve been to the equator, and seeing the Moon from this angle. When you are south of the equator, the Moon waxes from left to right-opposite of the northern hemisphere. There seemed to be some deep symbolism in the Brazilian way of life and how it approaches fullness from the opposite direction-both hemispheres growing to the same completeness from opposite sides.
Our hostel was in the historic district of Salvador, and we were greeted by David. I was surprised immediately at the tempo of his speaking speed. I had all but given up on trying to understand multiple cariocas speaking at once at the speed of sound. David’s speech was like a soothing melody, and at first I guessed it was because of his experience with tourists. The next day, as we took in the vibes of Salvador, we learned that the city had a laid back tranquilo atmosphere. Well-except for the protests that left the museums we were looking to explore closed, but the street art was phenomenal! The level of quality and respect that street artists had for each other’s art (read: they didn’t graffiti on top of nice works):
(I haven’t figured out how to download photos from instagram, but the whole process of downloading then uploading then embedding was getting cumbersome. We’re in the 21st century so it’d be easier just to follow me on there and have access to the full album of each place I visit!)
In the evening after a delicious shared pot of seafood moqueca, we had the good fortune of seeing a meeting of several schools of Capoeira play together in a roda. This is a circle that is formed by the participants, where many will be playing musical instruments-the most famous being the berimbau. Funny story-I joined the Capoeira club while I was in Japan-and had the chance to play a berimbau. It is not easy, my hand went numbs several times just trying to hold it, let alone keep up with the rhythm and the beat of the group! Much respect to Stuart who had made his own out of piano wire and bamboo back when he used to practice this art.
The moves they displayed in the roda were astonishing, I got to see true mastery of this art. An elderly man (my guess 50-60s) had an excellent flow and precise control over his body. In the game, because capoeira was designed to disguise martial arts training from slave owners, the elements of dance are mixed with fighting and in this way you do not ever attempt to injure your opponent. The fascinating thing is how clear it is who the ‘victor’ would be as the two players face off in the ring, kicks flying centimeters away from faces and sweeps that knock opponent’s off their center. We were not allowed to participate without the right outfit, but this may have saved us some sore bottoms.
What we weren’t aware of before leaving for Salvador was how rainy it is during the winter season. This kept the tourists crowd away, but it dampened my hope for a nice beach day. The best chance we were going to get according to weather reports was a 60% chance of rain on Saturday. We set off, because hey if you’re at the ocean and you’re in the water the rain doesn’t change much then! We set off in the opposite direction of the historic district into the so-called “dangerous” part of town to catch a bus. The hospitality at the street stall we had breakfast in was beautiful, and I was filled with joy at seeing a mother working with her daughter at their own little shop.
First thing was first at the beach: I drank from a fresh coconut and we went up to the Jesus statue that looked out over the sea. It began to rain lightly as we enjoyed wind and the view. Like out of storybook we descended the hill where Jesus was on toward the beach and the sky parted and the Sun began to shine on us. I immediately was drawn to the sight of bodyboarders! I was hungry for some waves that could be ridden after the frigid waters at Copacobana and the aggressive riptide at Barra. We walked the length of the beach, and Stuart checked out the lighthouse while I relaxed with the waves. We made our way back to the surfers, and I tried out my new “go with the flow” technique of not fighting the waves. I faced that fear of going deeper into the waters, a man with a Black t-shirt that had the number 13 guiding my path (away from the rocks). I had a trans-formative experience when I let the waves take me and I curled up into a fetal position-completely relaxed in the flow-feeling reborn as I was carried to shore.
We recharged for body-boarding when a happy musical man offered us grilled queijo coalho on a skewer with his portable coals. His happiness was so infectious, basking in the moment was effortless. The bodyboarders were getting ready to leave, but they agreed to rent me a board for an hour or so. Getting past the breakpoint of the waves was the hard part, but navigating the turf of other surfers and when to catch a wave was much harder! They didn’t have fins that fit me either, so I spent most of the time working up courage to let a wave crash down on my head.
I let my brother have his turn with the board, and lived vicariously as I saw him catch a wave. It slammed down on him but his grip on the board kept him out in front of it. During the bonus minutes we had it, I paddled out again with the determination. Well, not so much determination as it was an acceptance “so the wave might crash down on me and I go for a tumble, so what?” I also was eavesdropping on my renter who was instructing a girl on how to bodyboard, and tried to copy the angle at which to catch the wave. I caught one wave for a little while, and then found I was at my limit for pushing past the where the waves broke. I used the board as a bed until it was time to go.
We walked and found a beautiful place with a view of the ocean to eat some octopus risotto and a shrimp salad. My brother confessed that if money were no object this would be the perfect place to have a second home-to dodge the winter year round. I felt incredibly blessed as the sunset, and to add onto that the fare taker for the bus gave us a free ride because he didn’t have change for our bills!
The last day in Salvador was the Festa da Bahia, and you can watch some highlights from the great parade on my instagram. With only three days, we didn’t get to experience too much of the rich spiritual practices of Salvador, so this post definitely doesn’t do justice to the depth of this magical place. Check it out for yourself (during their spring-summer months!)
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