Brazil is a bloody big country – you couldn’t walk across it in a day, that’s for sure – and boasts a diverse range of environments and cultures. With time running out on my South American adventure (this leg of it, anyway, because it looks like I’ll be back there before anyone has a chance to miss me) I flew far up the coast from Rio to Salvador, the capital of Bahia. On its golden beaches I found a very different Brazil – wilder, noisier and rawer. The sun beats down, the drums beat loud and you could be forgiven for beating yourself off on the beach because there are so many bikini babes around. I didn’t do that, though, in case any Brazilian mobs are reading.
Unlike Floripa, which is relatively modern and western, Salvador feels like it’s straight out of Africa. As the beating heart of Bahia, where the descendents of Brazil’s black slaves are the overwhelming majority, Salvador feels a long way from the western world. After travelling through Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, which all wear their European histories with pride, it was a culture shock to jump into a city that’s as far removed from Madrid or Lisbon as you could possibly imagine.
Salvador’s Old Town is truly beautiful – at least from a distance. Brightly-coloured towers cling to the rugged cliffs, overlooking the glittering Atlantic Ocean. People scurry through the streets, selling fruit and vegetables. The crumbling Portuguese architecture shines under brilliant blue skies. There’s no doubt that it’s pretty, but Salvador is drenched in the ever-present feeling of danger, because it’s one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. If you want to rock up and take heaps of selfies, don’t be surprised if some dude in a Neymar soccer shirt snatches your brand new iPhone out of your hand and kicks you into the gutter.
The bizarre Elevador Lacerda is the most curious thing to see in the Old Town, joining the upper and lower sections via an 85 meter elevator (just in case the name didn’t give it away). It was built way back in 1873, but I honestly don’t know what the point of it is, since a decent set of stairs would do the job better. As it is, locals line up around the block to travel up and down, and a trip in it is the best way to experience the overwhelming stench of 45 sweaty Brazilians at one time.
Salvador is famous for it’s beaches, and the best of them are a decent bus ride from the inner city. With the standard of buses in this part of the country, I decided to save myself the hassle and check out a couple near my hostel. Praia do Porto is the most famous, and is crawling with tourists, locals and beach vendors flogging everything from sunscreen to cocaine. I’d never considered taking up a crack habit, but I was bored and the bloke selling it had a winning smile and a charismatic attitude, so now I’ve been forced into prostitution to cover my $1200-a-day habit.
The strangest thing that happened to me during my trip to Salvador occurred within hours of arriving. I scraped into my hostel around 1am, tired and grumpy after two days of travelling, and dreaming of 12 hours sleep. Fernando, the little bloke who checked me in took a shine to me, however, and strung out his tour of the hostel as long as possible, including an in-depth seminar on the cultural history of Salvador. When he showed me to my room, he lingered for a while, looking at me shyly. I thought it was a bit weird, but was glad when he finally gave me my key and fucked off. That wasn’t the end of it, though.
As I was undressing, there was a knock on the door, and when I opened it Fernando was standing in the moonlight with his hands in his pockets. He flashed me a toothless smile, and spat something dark and slimy onto the ground.
“I finish at two,” he whispered. “After that I’ll be in room 16.” With that, he flittered into the night.
I was relieved to finally have a chance to
pull myself off sleep, but as my head hit the pillow there was another knock on the door. When I opened it, Fernando was there again, flashing me an impish grin.
“Would you like some chocolate?” he asked softly. When I told him I was on a diet he looked crushed.
“I wasn’t talking about that kind of chocolate…” he said sadly, caressing his dark skin, before disappearing into the moonlight.
It wasn’t until the next morning, when the sun was up and I wasn’t three-quarters asleep, that I noticed the rainbow flags and erotic male-on-male posters decorating the hostel. Turns out the Delicioso Doodle Hostel caters to a certain demographic, and turning up there as a staunchly heterosexual man was like waving a juicy steak in front of a hungry vegan. Oh well, Fernando, I’m sure someone will want a an arse and a half of your full-cream dairy milk!