25.04.2016 - 26.05.2016
The Lonely Planet's introduction to Salvador isn't very encouraging. "If you're going to be robbed or mugged anywhere in Brazil, it's probably going to be in Salvador." Still, pictures of the heart of the old city were very picturesque and it was supposed to have an interesting and vibrant culture, so we went anyway.
Our hostel organised a pick up at the airport, which made things a little easier on us. Salvador seemed vast as we drove in on the new freeway. A new light rail was being built to link the airport with downtown. It seemed like a city going places.
The heart of the old town is called Pelourinho, with its cobbled streets and old Portuguese buildings and churches. The streets were well lit and there were armed police on every second corner. This was a bit of a surprise. They weren't ordinary police but military police, with automatic weapons and flak jackets. This is how seriously the city treats security in its one tourist asset.
Our room at the Solar Das Artes Pousada was fabulous, but up three flights of very narrow, steep stairs. We cleaned ourselves up and set out to explore. It was only early, maybe 7.30pm, but there were few people on the streets and fewer places open.
A band played fairly ordinary American jazz tunes in the centre of the square for the patrons of the four open restaurants in town. We chose the Cuco Restaurant in the main square for dinner and both had steaks, washed down with a generous dose of caprihinia, and agreed this was the best meal of our trip. It was so good we went back the next night, something we never do when travelling.
By 10pm everything in the city shut down, which was fortunate for us as there was a rap session in the bar beneath our room. We slept well.
The next day we explored the old town. We visited the two main churches, San Francesco and San Dominco. The interior of San Francesco was the epitome of baroque madness - coated in golden extravagance. San Dominico had a side chapel decorated with life size effigies of Christ and the saints, all grim, with tortured expressions. It was obviously intended to put the fear of God in you.
The surrounding streets of the old town were quaint and charming, but a few streets from the old town you find yourself in Salvador's favelas - the slums. These streets are not so safe to walk around.
We wandered back up to the centre and over to the Elevator, which is exactly what it says - an elevator that links the upper old town with the old port. It costs 25B cents one way (which is around 12c Australian). The old port and market was pretty run down so we didn't stay too long.
Brazil itself has cities like Salvador to thank for its existence. During the Age of Exploration when the Spanish and Portuguese were competing to find the route to India, the Pope was concerned that his two Most Catholic kingdoms were fighting each other, so to avoid further conflict, he agreed to split the world between the two. In 1494 the Pope, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which gave Portugal the right to all lands east of a line 500 leagues west of the Maderia Islands (in the Atlantic). Spain was granted all the lands west of that line. Spain of course went on to found colonies in the Caribbean, South and North America. Portugal went east, around Africa to India but were still pretty pissed at missing out on the Americas, until they accidentally stumbled on the far east coast of Brazil. By good fortune Brazil's far eastern coast was just across Portugal's side of the line.
The establishment of Portuguese colonies on the east coast of the South American continent blocked Spain's expansion to the south, forcing the Spanish to cross the isthmus at Panama and then progress south, down the west coast of America, a route which would lead them to the Incas and the jewel in the Spanish colonial crown - Peru. But that's a story for another time.
Salvador was Portugal's slave entrepot. Millions of West African slaves were shipped to Brazil and elsewhere over the centuries and Salvador today is dominated by their descendants. It has a different culture to Rio, merging Brazilian-African influences in music, food, art and dress.
After a couple of days we moved down to Hostel Pousada Papaya Verde in the beachside neighbourhood of Barre. Things were pretty quiet there, even at night. We visited the Farro (lighthouse) built on the base of a 16th century fortress. The fortress houses a small maritime museum which recounts the early exploration of the area and Salvador's slave history.
The next morning we were off to the Amazon.