February 19, 2007

Carnival 2007 Chaos: Day 5
Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Buses, bandits, and beer.

Carnival, Day 5

I awoke to a body in pain, like so many mornings prior—if I hurt so much, why do I only sleep for 4–5 hours? Shouldn't my body demand more time to heal?

My hearing had been diminished by longs nights of dancing next to concert-sized speakers—the high-tones muted, like a stereo with the treble turned all the way down.

…At least one part of my body was better than it was 24 hours ago—my right eye seems to be back up to par and focusing fine.

Folks were relatively surprised to wake up with me in the apartment (yep, I will occasionally turn up and occupy more space than a backpack in a closet), giving me the opportunity to hear a few stories from the past four nights of festivities. The particular one I was the most interested in hearing was how Mario lost part of his ear, and after he'd woken up was game to give me the details.

Technically he misspoke when he said he'd had half his earlobe sliced off—a part of his ear (the tragus, for all you medical folk out there) was actually torn off in a fight, not sliced. Amazingly it had actually gotten stuck in his ear canal, and when taken to the hospital the plastic surgery staff were able to stitch it back on (although Mario, a doctor himself, says it looks like the tissue isn't looking particularly viable).

Acts of chivalry aside, Mario isn't particular prone to getting into fights (even though he is an Aussie), so I wondered what happened. Mario recounted that not long after the group had seen me (on night three) they were constantly getting attacked as they moved through the beach section of the Barra circuit. People were trying to start fights with them, punching or slapping them in the back of the head and torso—anything to provoke a reaction.

Thieves take advantage of a scuffle to rob and steal, exploiting a distracted or incapacitated tourist. Mario knew better, and kept yelling at everyone to stay together and not react. Well, one of the guys in the house reacted, Mario ended up in the mess (trying to assist), and got a part of his ear torn off as a reward—miffed that he never even received a thank you from the housemate.

After listening to a few stories I focused yet again on trying to get my sandal repaired. Walking around the Historic Center and Campo Grande, I found even fewer shops open than the day previous. I ended up asking the hostel I'd stayed at over a week ago for suggestions, but was told that it'd take a miracle to get it repaired during Carnival (as everyone was taking the holiday off).

I can be a stubborn (if not resourceful) guy, and decided to create my own miracle by repairing the damn sandal myself. I wanted to do a proper job, but that would have taken proper supplies—and all the stores were closed.

So I looked to my inventory and assessed options. The best thread I could think of was the waxy, braided stuff that I used to create my necklaces and anklet (that's been in place since the middle of last year and hasn't shown any signs of damage); I upbraided a lengthy strand of the brown thread. The needle wasn't a problem, I had that as well (a part of the clothing/person repair gear I carry around).

Sandal reborn

Using a collapsible pair of pliers borrowed from a Israeli in the house, I sat and created my Frankenstein sandal—reborn with the stitch-job of a mad scientist. Success was mine—my injured feet rejoiced.

The sandal was Objective One for the afternoon—Objective Two was securing transport out of Salvador… which turned out to be easier said than done.

I had picked two destinations to the north that I needed to price out bus and flight options for: Maceió and Recife. The flight prices I could determine online (but am prevented from purchasing directly because I'm not a citizen), whereas the bus schedule and times almost warranted a trip to the station (time consuming, and not what I wanted to do).

I sought out a travel agent, but in the chaos and pandemonium of the streets (brass bands and drummers marching this way and that, deafening the hoards of bystanders), it was impossible to find one. I turned to the tourist information office for a point in the right direction.

I had them call up local travel agents between the noisy sessions to confirm my flight findings (plus commission). Additionally, out of their books I was able to find out the prices and times of the departing buses—although what I wasn't able to do was get a ticket or confirm capacity over the phone.

Because the cost of ground transport is so back-assed in this country, the flights turned out to be similarly priced in comparison to the buses. The deal-breaker for me was going to be arrival time of day. Buses to Maceió take 10 hours, 13 to Recife; flights are just an hour or so in duration.

My options looked like this:

  • Maceió via bus—BR$58, arrive 04:00
  • Maceió via bus—BR$86, arrive 08:00
  • Maceió via bus—BR$58, arrive 16:30
  • Maceió via bus—BR$86, arrive 22:00
  • Maceió via plane—BR$110, arrive 16:00
  • Recife via bus—BR$100, arrive 07:00
  • Recife via plane—BR$130, arrive 04:00

I don't like arriving in cities at dark, so half the buses to Maceió were out, as well as the flight to Recife. I also wasn't about to try and get to the bus terminal at 06:30 in the morning to spend 10 hours on an economy bus without A/C in the middle of the tropical summer, so a third bus to Maceió was out—leaving me with three options, all within about US$10 of each other.

  • Maceió via bus—BR$86, arrive 08:00
  • Maceió via plane—BR$110, arrive 16:00
  • Recife via bus—BR$100, arrive 07:00

The catch was that the flight was on the 23rd, requiring money be spent on another night in Salvador (as I lose my home on the morning of the 22nd), whereas the buses departed in the evening, without such need.

I decided that Maceió was the best option—as it should have nice beaches and be relatively quite (unlike Recife/Olinda, who will just be coming off their own Carnival craze). I needed a place where I could spend my days on the beach and my evenings catching up on writing.

Unfortunately, the choice between flight and bus came down to if there was vacancy on the bus leaving town on the 22nd—and seeing how the phone number was disconnected the only way to verify would be to make a trip to the terminal myself.

It was already getting late into the evening, and the last thing I wanted to be doing on my second to last night of Carnival was head out to a bus depot, but it was the price I had to pay for procrastination (I could have bought either a flight or bus ticket long ago). Brodie and Christoph were expecting me at their apartment in Barra; I had push it.

I left the apartment dressed for Carnival, after another argument about house keys with one of the girls (more on that later). The plan was to get to the bus terminal, decide on a bus/flight option, bus down to Barra, see the boys, and live it up.

It ended up taking forever and a day to get to the terminal, the sun setting long before I arrived. I was worried when I saw that 80% of the agency windows were closed, but smiled when I saw that the one I needed was still open (that would have been a mess).

As I selected my assigned seating preference on the computer, I noted that the bus was only about half full—leaving me to wonder exactly how quickly the rest of the seats would be sold off, and if my forethougth was a little excessive. Ticket in hand I zipped and zig-zagged around the complex, trying to figure out where the local buses departed for Barra.

Finally on a bus towards Barra—standing room only—surrounded by people in bloco shirts and costumes, I enjoyed a moment of calm before another night of excess.

After Dark…

It was after 8:00 in the evening with no answer at the apartment of my friends. Unless by some off chance I ran into the two on the streets below, it was going to be a solo night out.

It was later discovered that not only had I missed the pair by a marginal amount of time, but that both Brodie and Christoph had bought their way into a bloco—reported to me by several housemates that had coincidentally participated in the same group and saw them in the crowd.

After my night three experiences in Barra I was being more cautious with my temperment (although not with my drinking). I quickly discovered that getting beer was both cheaper, safer, and easier to do if I withdrew myself from main avenue and went onto one of the parallel side streets. The Mexican beer, Sol, was the best (read: cheapest) option, consistently selling at BR$1/can for both tourists and locals alike. Finding a Sol distributor was like striking gold (as they were generally uncommon), and I made mental notes of locations, as a military strategist would note depots for supply lines.

The greatest pleasures and pain of the Barra circuit are folded into a section of the avenue that curves by the lighthouse and along the beach—for it is here that I get the most attention from gringo loving girls and viciously persistent pickpockets. Early into the evening I focused my energy on keeping the beer in my hand full/cold, my temper down, and the groping to my pockets at a minimum (…but only my pockets).

Techniques discovered will be summarized later, but the most easily accomplished for reducing the assaults on your person and pockets is to simply leave the highly popularized beach zone. Follow your favorite bloco down the lengthly circuit a few hundred meters, and as you leave the well lit street filled with newscasters and television cameras behind, you leave almost all of the hostility and crime with it.

The Barra circuit was different this night—less trucks and more homosexuals. I was walking in front of a trio eléctrico when I looked around—something was off. Ahh, that was it—guys-on-guys, girls-on-girls, and an abundant amount of transvestites. Ahh, I'm in front of a theatre truck… The opulently outrageous black and white feathered dress the female singer atop the truck was wearing was jaw dropping. I stayed with the group for a bit just to admire her outfit and voice.

I think it was unofficial gay night in Barra, as it was excessive beyond anything I'd seen previous. But hey, no problems here, although it did seem to result in less real girls around to flirt with.

As with every night prior, I was a dancin' machine—truly not understanding where the energy or tolerance came from—feeding off the crowd, perhaps. The sun was rising by the time my stomped, bruised, and bleeding toes/feet screamed out for mercy.

I slowly made my way to a primary busing platform—the same that had given me problems the day before—this time armed with intel from my prior hostel that told me which buses would take me home.

On the inner-city bus, sitting in the front near the diver, I struggled to stay awake. I was coming down off the adrenaline-high hard, and caught myself falling asleep. No! I had to stay awake for this ride, focus, keep your eyes open… I'd nod off again for a few seconds—caught someplace between worlds.

I looked around for threats—there were none—the entire bus was asleep. Everyone was absolutely exhausted. I then noticed the driver cycling the florescent lights inside the vehicle as we approached each stop, passively trying to alert the dozing passengers.

Street cleaning crews were in full swing as a rising sun illuminated a beautiful pastel sky over the colonial district of Salvador. Soon there would be no trace of the chaos of the previous night, paving the way for Carnival's final (official) night of celebrations—Fat Tuesday.

I walked through the door of my apartment and the surprises were doubled—I was shocked to see people awake, they in turn absolutely astonished that I had returned home at all. In a hushed cry I proclaimed Surprise! I like to mix it up a little bit by coming home every now and then. Smiles, still shocked.

I was catching another wind of energy, but knew it would be short lived—I had 20 minutes to strip, shower, and change before my body completely shut down. As I approached the door to my bedroom I was intercepted by an Aussie girl, saying with a wry smile that perhaps I shouldn't go in there right this moment… her friend was… busy.

I knew exactly what that meant, and where—my room, my bunk, my bed. I was an unexpected return this morning, my sleeping space had been usurped again by the same girl that had claimed it that first afternoon in the apartment.

If you think I'm shy about walking in on people having sex, you should think again—I have no such qualms with your coupling in front of me or being a total dick and walking in mid-session. I've been living in shared living environments for long over a year now—no place for bashfulness or forgetfulness to lock a door. Respect? Hey, my bed, remember?

The simple truth was that I would have interrupted the pair even more if they had indeed locked the door, as I would have been insistent on obtaining my towel, at minimum. The guy with this Aussie girl was a young Israeli—I thought that with several years in the military my presence surely wouldn't break his concentration too much (group living and all).

I did intrude, the only punishment received for my behavior was the sight of his naked ass. I gathered my things, enjoyed a wonderful shower, intruded one last to time to lock up my closet (curiously testing how far I could push the situation), and sat with the those still awake, recounting for them a few entertaining stories from my Carnival.

I was given an unsoiled bed in the girls room, and promptly passed out. Somewhere an inaudible bell rang—ding! ding!—Round 5, complete.

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