Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
I had this really heavy, ominous feeling in my gut before boarding the flight last night. It was odd, and very atypical for me. The memories of my terrible experience with Venezuela's airline, Aeropostal, about a year ago are still fresh in my memory.
I felt much better once I got on the plane and seated. The jet wasn't the rusting hulk of a commuter aircraft that I expecting, but an Airbus A320 that couldn't have any more than two or three years old. I was taken aback by the number of passengers on board, a good 30 rows filled to capacity, with six seats per row.
Not a single backpacker appeared to be on the TAM flight, which was surprising. I observed the people queuing at the gate, looking for signs of non-Brazilian travelers, with the hopes that I'd be able to find someone to split the expensive taxi ride into town with. Rumors of my cheap flight spread through the hostel in Rio quickly, and nearly a dozen will be flying to Salvador over the next three days, instead of taking the 27-hour bus ride.
I didn't realize that Salvador's time was an hour behind Rio—but sort of started figuring that detail out when my 1-hour flight time hit the 1.5-hour mark. It's odd to loose an hour, as Salvador is more eastward on the continent than Rio.
Something I find entertaining, and for some reason rather pleasing, is the vintage—chauvinistic?—flight crews of Latin America. I'm transported back in time to a 1960's world where men are pilots and women are stewardesses. A captain and co-pilot will walk through the terminal, surrounded by an entourage of their attractive female flight crew (wearing uniforms that would make a blind man smile).
It was after midnight, and I was watching the taxi counter near baggage claim (from a distance), when I spotted my opportunity for a cheaper ride. A trio of girls were at the counter, and one had a Lonely Planet guidebook out. I walked over, said hello, and asked if they were interested in splitting a taxi.
A side note: This is why long ago I covered (camouflaged) the outside of my guidebook with heavy construction paper.
It turned out that there were two groups: A pair of Irish girls and a French woman (with her boyfriend collecting the bags) helping them with the taxi counter by doing some rough translation. A "safe" taxi organized at the counter cost BR$76 (about US$35) to the historic center. A taxi procured at the curb could be negotiated to somewhere between BR$50–60. I tossed BR$25 to the French couple and we were off, wishing the Irish girls well (as they didn't have reservations, deciding to take a cheaper ride to a closer district town instead).
The airport is a good 30km from the historic center, and driving into the city I couldn't help but think I'd been transported back to Los Angeles. Freeway overpasses stacked on top of each other, highways zigzagging this way and that—I haven't seen anything like it in Latin America.
We took a sharp turn off the highway and suddenly we were on hilly, cobbled streets, in what looked to me like a slum. Sitting shotgun in the passenger seat of the mini-van, I looked upon the scene with wide eyes. Lots people were on the streets, all of them black, and most of them looking awfully drunk. Pairs of military police stood on corners along the outskirts of the crowd.
Even if it had been a bunch of white people, the condition of the neighborhood, time of night, and intoxication of the participants would make me on edge. I thought to myself that I'd need to roll out with a posse here to feel safe.
I wondered if the scene was an example, but a single drop, in the upcoming rainstorm of Carnival. What have I gotten myself into?
As I'm writing this I'm told that what I was seeing was a typical Tuesday night (as it's the day of the week for nightlife here).
I got to talking about Salvador with a pair of Aussie girls and an Israeli guy last night before heading off to bed. One girl had been here for a month, the other for a week, and the guy for just a day. I broached the topic of crime, as the scene I saw in town looked a little uninviting.
The girls haven't had any problems, and feel comfortable because the historic center of town is monitored by so many police. The guy thinks the city is unsafe, and already has a personal mugging story under his belt from a failed attempt to buy drugs on the street.
Curious if the hostel crowd in Salvador tell tales of crime (like in Rio), I asked if anyone had heard any stories of problems here. The Aussie girls had none that came to mind, but the Israeli said he heard about a girl that had an encounter. Hearing about crime all the time is a big negative, and I'm refreshed that it doesn't seem like the subject is much of a topic of conversation here.
The population of the city is black, with strong ties to the African slave trade. I think there's a pregidous in most (caucasian) travelers that equate dark skin with crime (or negatives), totally unconscious in the majority. Studies have shown this relationship (test yourself). I feel it, but am aware of that sensation, and keep myself in check.
Up With The Sun
Brazilians are serious about their breakfast, and the hostels I've stayed at do their best to live up to this part of the culture. Fruits, jams, sandwiches, pastries, milk, coffee, tea, natural juice drinks, and sometimes eggs—pretty much a full blown Sunday brunch every day.
This hostel is amazingly unique in that nearly every traveler staying here is actually up and out of bed by 9:00—9:30 at the latest. No, really, this is something else. It might have to do with the breakfast here, served from 8–10:00. I was surprised to no end to see a woman making fresh doughnut holes with sugar for the guests—good lord.
So I'm taking a snapshot or two from the patio, hammocks all around me rocking in a light morning drizzle, when one of the staff members comes to remind me that I'm checking out today.
I said no… I wrote in my e-mail that I needed the room until the morning of the 10th. Looks like they made a mistake and were already booked solid for today.
We sat and figured some things out, eventually deciding that the staffer would give up his bed to people arriving and stay at his girlfriends place.
It was my original plan to spend the 7–10th here, then jump to another beach town for the 10–14th, and return for Carnival… but it looks rain is forecasted for the next 10 days, and I have no reason to uproot if the coast is soggy. So I've extended my stay at the Nega Maluca (horrible Web site warning) until the morning of the 14th.
I've got in my pocket a list of four places in NE Brazil that have nude/clothing optional beaches, procured from staffers at my former hostel in Rio. This makes me smile, as I can't wait to get some much needed sun on my booty.
Some additional smiles come from the good news from my Aussie friend Dr. Mario—we have an apartment for the 14th–22nd for Carnival. A place that normally sleeps 6 will now be the home of 12, for BR$300/person for the week (about US$140). This is fine, as I really just need a place to shower and keep my backpack secure. I still haven't seen what the place looks like though, or even know where it's at (waiting for an address), but I trust that Mario wouldn't place us in a lackluster part of the city.
I have a good feeling about this city. The sun is out, it's a great day, and I'm wondering if I should jump to the beach or walk around the town… decisions, decisions…