April 16, 2007
It didn’t take long for me to come to terms that this is going to be one difficult country to communicate in. I just assumed that
Spanish and Portuguese were going to be similar (after all, Italian and Spanish are). Wrong, wrong, wrong. Just to make things even
more difficult, South Americans don’t tend to engage in charades when they see that somebody doesn’t have any idea what they
are saying – instead, they start talking a-mile-a-minute in a language you can’t understand for the life of you. Do they really think
that if I couldn’t understand a few words, I am going to understand a string of words that just lasted for almost ten seconds???
Could you give me a gesture to indicate what you are trying to say?
So it is right here and right now that I will confirm that this is the most challenging country I have found to communicate in. I wasn’
t prepared for this. But no fear. My skills can only improve at this point. Carlos, the owner of the pousada (I just loooove the sound
of the word 'pousada' - it screams 'vacation' to me!) near the beach that I am staying at, taught me five or so basic words/phrases
when he drove me from the airport. It’s a nice start but I sure have a ways to go…
I experienced this communication barrier when I ran into another roadblock: trying to use my ATM card.
I am staying near the water (as opposed to the tourist-hub) in a wonderful pousada. Before heading into the center of the city, I
needed some reials (the Brazilian currency). There was a bank on the corner. Perfect. I went to use my debit card. Denied. Tried
again. Another rejection. I managed to find out there was another bank a few doors down. And ATM card denied again. I had some
U.S. Dollars with me. I would now resort to changing them. But I would come to find out that neither of these banks change money.
Their branches in the center of town change money. This didn’t help me as I had no money at this point to get to the center of
town. There was a girl in line who spoke a bit of English and she was acting as my translator. I was quite thankful for her services
yet it didn’t solve my problem. I needed just two reials (about $1 US) to make my way to a bank that could help me. This girl-
turned-translator offered to give me the money for the bus. But really…how nice is that??? Brazil is a massive country but this one
girl immediately painted an amazing picture of the people of her country (well, with the exception of those Brazilians that I have
heard a lot about that take it upon themselves to relieve tourists of walking around with too much weight over their shoulders or in
their pockets with the aide of flashing them a knife). But here was the thing – I couldn’t take it. I thanked her and told her how
sweet she was. But I really didn’t feel right taking her money. I knew there had to be a solution.
I proceeded to walk around and BINGO! I saw a 5-star hotel next to the beach. It would be a bad rate but I knew that they could
change money. Slowly but surely I was figuring things out. I was finally on a bus to the Barra area (at the coast) of Salvador. I even
found an ATM while I was out there that cooperated with my debit card. Things were looking up - with the exception that it started
to rain. But the rain gave me a chance to duck into different stores and to find an outfit that I ended up buying. It’s actually a very
‘Brazilian’ type outfit. I can see my sister looking at it and saying ‘Oooooookay, Jen’. Maybe I was influenced by my two hours in
this country? But I think I can pull it off - at least in Rio and Buenos Aires…
April 17, 2007
And off to Pelourinho I went this morning…
This is definitely the area to experience more of what Salvador is about (though, because it is a tourist hangout, it is also known to
be more dangerous).
Before roaming around, I needed to do a bit of ‘due diligence’ first. I have to catch the ferry tomorrow to go to Morro de Sao Paulo. I
knew it was in the vicinity. But sometimes I end up carrying a bunch of bags running around like a chicken with its head cut off
trying to find a place. This was not going to be happening tomorrow. I was going to seek out the ferry station to make tomorrow
morning an easy process. I took the ‘elevator’ that takes you from the upper part of the city to the lower part of the city (for the low
cost of 5 Brazilian centavos). I saw a near-fight almost occur near the Mercado Modelo between male and a female stand-owner. I
asked a police officer if I was heading in the right direction. He pointed out to me where to go. Then I found it. I now knew where to
go tomorrow. And that was that. No getting lost tomorrow with my bags in tow. I could now go back to exploring Pelourinho…
I still had one more errand to run. This one was a biggie. I needed to get an airplane ticket for Rio so that I could take a big 'pass' on
a 26-30 hour bus ride. I was given good and bad news.
Good news? Only $70 US for the ticket for the date I wanted.
Bad news? The flight was at 3:30am.
That was the only flight with such a low fare. The one leaving at 8:00am was around the $450 mark (as were the ones in the
afternoon). 3:30am flight it would be! I can forgo some sleep for a cheap plane ticket! (I later found out today that the bus ticket
would be over $100 US! I am saving money by taking the 2-hour flight vs. the 26+ hour bus!)
And now...let's talk about Salvador.
Holy lord, this place has flava! It seriously does.
The culture here revolves heavily around the Afro-Brazilian make-up of this city. The history in this region of Brazil isn’t a very
pretty one. There were more imported black slaves imported here than anywhere else in the entire world. Once slavery ended, the
culture didn’t. Salvador maintained an African culture that is reflected by music, dance, food and arts. (Carlos told me yesterday
that this city is actually made up of 70% Afro-Brazilians.) While the history is troubling (one of the main squares used to be used to
auction slaves while being beaten on a pelourinho – a whipping post), the current vibe is anything but. Whether it’s while sipping a
cappuccino or putting back some caipirinhas, you can witness a lot of the action from a table on the street. (Unfortunately, sitting at
these tables also makes you bait for all of the people trying to sell their goods. But a simple ‘no’ and they are on their way.)
It almost feels like the Caribbean-meets-South-America out here. But it actually feels less ‘South America’ than anywhere else I
have been considering this is the lone country in this continent that speaks a different language than Spanish (i.e. a language in
which I can somewhat communicate). The dresses that many of the women wear (mostly for tourism purposes though it is still
great to see) remind me of what I have seen before in certain islands in the Caribbean. This is made complete with the stuffing of
their butts (I remember being in Jamaica in high school and thinking that some of the women’s butts were just that big!).
I couldn’t help but fall in love with the ‘look’ of this area – sun-faded colonial buildings, small alleyways, massive churches,
traditional artwork, hilly streets, etc.
I took advantage of a cooking school out here that was recommended to me by a man at the tourism office when I asked for advice
of where I should go for some Bahian food with a nice atmosphere. The service was impeccable. And what a wonderful opportunity
to try so many regional dishes! All sorts of fish and seafood in palm oil, fish in coconut milk, several bean and rice dishes, stewed
chicken, many meat dishes, stuff with mandioc, bananas in rodelo syrup, bananas in the form of a jam, a coconut ‘candy’…just to
name a few things.
And to cap off my time tonight I followed the music which led me to a main square. I went to a stand and got my caipirinha. It was
time to watch one of the main specialties of this area – capoiera. This is a type of dance unlike anything else I have ever seen. I
would compare it to a combination of a few things: at first they move around as if they are wrestlers, then they start doing some
kickboxing moves where their legs move up and around the other person’s head, then they do some breakdance-looking moves.
And with their skills and practice, all of these things flow together and are awesome to watch. A couple of the dancers came over
and sat with me during their breaks. Really nice guys. One was hitting on me. Sometimes a communication barrier is a good thing as
it allowed me to be completely oblivious to what he was saying. Even though I knew what he was getting at, I just kept saying “No
entiendo”. (Note to self: I need to learn how to say ‘I don’t understand’ in Portuguese.)
|Some street capoiera dancing.
|Pelourinho - Isn't it wonderful???.