Welcome to Bahia
In January, in Lisbon I boarded the airplane to Salvador in Bahia, Brazil. After eight hours my plane was slowly landing in the middle of the night. The outside temperature warmed up from -50 degrees to +27 degrees. I like flying close above a city and so I pressed my nose to the window and watched the many fully illuminated football fields from above. I finally landed shortly before midnight at the small airport north of the city centre and started to sweat while waiting for my luggage. When I got my luggage I wanted to storm to the exit to meet Connie who was picking me up there but I was slow down by the Brazilians who walked for me in absolute slow motion. That’s when I really realised, okay you’re not in London anymore, relax, it’s holiday time, there is nothing to do then indulging yourself in a new culture. And I truly needed a holiday, a break. I always need a holiday, a change of routine and sunshine after all these challenging and dark winter weeks. Who would not need a sunshine holiday, right?
The view from my window on my first morning (green trees, palm trees) just beamed me into a dream world of carefreeness. I could feel it right away and thought to myself how lucky I could count myself for this chance to live like a Brazilian for two weeks. Yeyyyy! The best way to travel or to discover a new country and culture is with and through the eyes of someone from there. I think my ideal way of travelling will always be living for a couple of weeks in a new country or in the home of locals.
How did my days looked like? The sun did rise early in Bahia and so did I. My body clock changed quickly from the London winter getting up after 9:00 in the morning to waking up between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning and having breakfast around 8:00. In my eyes, that is the perfect time to start asummer day. Carpe diem! I also changed my diet from bread to fruits and had mango, melon and fried banana for breakfast together with a strong coffee.
Connie and I went to the beach almost every morning. A beach that was so empty, so peaceful, so relaxing and also so close to the house that it was just perfect. After 10:00 or 11:00 I had to get out of the sun to avoid getting burnt. I love the heat but I didn’t want to overdo it anyway and for the first time in my life I used sun protection of 50 LFS! After five years of living in the UK my skin isn't used to a lot of strong sun anymore. (Sorry London but that’s how it is.) I would come back to this beach in the evenings for a long walk or run, watching some surfers and people fishing. When you go over and chat to the people there fishing you will probably get some fishes from them. They are all too generous and super kind here.
The whole two weeks were not only full of sunshine but also full of eating new fruits and dishes. I can’t even remember the amount of new fruits I’ve tried but I must admit that my favourite was Umbu. Umbu is a Brazilian plum and I especially liked it in my Caipiroska in the early evening or around lunch time. Yes, that’s how we lived there. Our aperitivo was a fresh and fruity Caipiroska. I was never a fan of cocktails or long drinks but Caipiroska got me somehow and when going out now and having a Caipiroska that’s my way to celebrate a little bit of Brazilian lifestyle. Apropos lifestyle. Brazilians like to get together, share food and conversation and that’s how I joined several cool evenings in Salvador city. One friend of Connie cooked amazing food, a true mix of everything and although I still couldn’t quite understand what they were talking about all the time and needed to wait for Connie to translate I loved the food, the company and listening to this (excuse my expression) sexy sounding language. After a while I could pick up some bits of the conversation thanks to the nine months I used to live in Spain. I didn’t mention that Connie and her friends were all around 30 years older than me. And on these funny evenings with drinks and food they definitely checked in about my love life. At that time I had a boyfriend and you know what? They completely ignored this fact. I will never forget that moment when five of them stormed through the living room over to me, armed with their smartphones and pictures of their sons ready to show me and to get my approval? Well, … errrr … yes, I must admit they had some handsome sons.
One morning I found myself back again with that bunch of friends on a boat trip to the island Itaparica. At 10:00 am we were dancing to the music of a small Brazilian live band. I danced how I felt because I forgot all my Samba steps anyway. We had fruits and lovely small talk. What else do you need to be happy? Just music, dancing, smiling faces around you, fresh fruits and the sea! Yeah! The beach of this island was amazing. It looked like being in the Caribbean. I bought some jewellery for my girlfriends from a local woman. And I think it was the first time in my life that I met someone who couldn’t do the maths with the change. She probably never went to school. These moments always put the world I grew up and live in into perspective. I felt a little sad and I decided I don’t want my change, she should keep it. I loved the cute bracelets I bought from her and I kept one for myself to remember this moment and to really forget about the doubts that my primary teacher grow with me claiming I was so bad in maths so that doing my A-levels would be really hard for me. I was best in class then by the way but that’s another story.
Back to the amazing beach life, sunshine, heat and fresh food. I’ve tried cocadas for the first time as well. They were very sweet for my usual mustard and pickles preference but the slightly roasted “coco nutty” flavour was delicious. Cocada and a caipiroska were my lunch that day - lovely, don't you think?
Brazil wouldn’t be Brazil with some drama news. And that’s how I learned about the prison massacres and other murders. This paradise country still has a high crime rate (over 50,000 murders in 2015). Not only the number is shocking but also the stories behind them. For example the one murder we were talking about that dinner night was about a Brazilian woman who’s been together with a Greek ambassador for 15 years. She had a Brazilian lover and they decided to kill the husband, take his money and live happily thereafter. Well, not everybody is smart enough to cover up their murder, right?
I personally didn't feel one day uncomfortable or in danger and that’s probably because I travelled and lived with the locals and followed their advise. And living in a condominho that’s been protected by guards day and night also makes you feel really safe.
Salvador has an old part and a new part. Near the harbour I explored some streets and was fascinated by the houses. It’s only that the the city seem to do nothing to protect and restore them. They love their new buildings on the other side of the city. I personally felt sad about it. Walking through these streets, looking at the buildings, half of them already fallen into ruins but still showing this great colonial style, I could see the potential of beauty that could be in this part of the city. When we walked a bit up the hill the streets looked much better and very beautiful. It’s this part of the city where Michael Jackson shot his music video “They Don’t Really Care About Us”. I loved that part. Sweet shops, cafes and churches, markets attract the tourist and of course a bit more money.
Brazil is an intense country and culture. I’ve seen only a tiny bit of it as Bahia is the size of France. Do you know how massive Brazil is? It’s the fifth largest country in the world and I think it will take a lot more weeks, maybe months, to explore the whole of it. I said it’s intense and I also think it’s full of contrasts. The gap between rich and poor, between educated and homeless is huge. Corruption is everywhere and part of the daily life.
But you know what’s else is part of the daily life in Brazil? The appreciation of life. And that’s what attracts me forever with these Latin cultures. “O sol nasceu para todos.”
Have you been travelling to Brazil? Tell us about it!