|The beach at Barra is popular
all year round.
da Bahia, Brazil
On his around-the-world cruise, Gordon Garrison finds a bewitching,
radiant "Land of Happiness."
Text and photos by Gordon Garrison
When twilight is deep in the sky
The song I first heard some six decades ago has always remained
with me. Enchanting. Beguiling. Seductive. Can any place on earth
lure someone through a melody; haunt one's soul for so long a time?
Bahia. Can the place be as exciting, as exotic as the tune that
has run around in my memory for so many years? I was about to find
As the liner Ocean Explorer 1 approached South America, David Waas,
an anthropologist, through lectures, added intrigue to my list of
Bahian adjectives. In the European quest for adventure, exploration
and conquest, Prince Henry's Portuguese navigators found their way
to South America, landing in 1500, at a spot now called Porto Segura.
In 1549, Salvador da Bahia was established on a high ridge overlooking
the South Atlantic. Government, such as it was at that time, was
centered in the new settlement, which remained the capital of Brazil
until Rio de Janeiro took over in 1763. In 1960, in an attempt to
open up the interior of the country, a new capital was established
at Brasilia, some 500 miles to the north of Rio.
The old section of Salvador the locals refer to as Pelourinho (Pell
oh REEN yoh), is an interesting jumble of narrow cobbled streets,
dotted with the occasional plaza or park. The Colonial City boasts
the largest collection of Baroque architecture in Latin America.
In "Pelo" you are bound to see Bahian women selling acaraje and
abara, typical cuisine of the region. The ladies will be dressed
in traditional white costumes called "Baianas", and will be happy
to smile for your camera for a dollar or two. You can pick up your
souvenir T-shirt and help a good cause at the same time, at MODA
AXE, a shop operated for the benefit of Salvador's street kids.
|The Church of Sao
Francisco in Salvador's "upper town"
In Pelourinho you are always close to a house of worship. The most
famous, and consequently the most visited is Sao Francisco. which
boasts one of the most ornate interiors of any church in the new
world. Adjacent is the chapel of the Third Order of St. Francis.
Its Rococo exterior is photographed by virtually every visitor who
walks the avenues to its entrance. If you 'collect' churches you
will have nearly three hundred to choose from here.
African culture found its way to South America via the slave trade.
As a consequence, nearly 85% of Bahia's population has a black bloodline.
The slaves had their own superstitions; their own religious rites,
so they too erected several churches in Pelourinho. Early discrimination
dictated that these must be built at a lower level than the Cathedrals
of Roman Catholicism. Today, Candomble, as their beliefs are called,
is practiced side by side with Catholic, and often the same church
is used for services.
Salvador can no longer be referred to as a 'settlement'. Pelourinho
is bordered by a semi-circle of high rise buildings: offices and
apartments with spectacular views of the Atlantic and its islands.
The upper town is reached by roads, a cable railway, or one of several
elevators. The Lacerdo elevator, a local landmark, carries passengers
71 meters from one level to the other. At sea level is Barra, pronounced
bah-hah in Portuguese. South America's first lighthouse is here.
Built some 250 years ago, it still warns shipping that the coast
is near, still lures passengers with its silent, flashing siren's
song, to come, see and be bewitched by this Brazilian treasure called
Bahia is just one of 27 states in Brazil. Over 100 tropical islands
are dotted along Bahia's 932 kilometer coastline. Fifty of them
are scattered up and down the Bay of All Saints, adding more beauty
to the already lovely peninsular setting for the city of Salvador.
For tours outside the city, try Morro de Sao Paulo, on Tinhare Island,
with its many coves and coconut plantations. Two communities, Belmonte
and Canavieiras feature canals amid a myriad of mangroves. We have
already mentioned Porto Seguro, known as the birthplace of Brazil.
Ambiance is the operative word here, both day and night. For the
nature lover, seek out the Abrolhos archipelago, where migrating
sea birds congregate, and where from August to November, humpback
whales carry out their mating rituals. Inland, a mountain range,
Chapada Diamentina presents unusual rock formations, interspersed
with caves, rivers, waterfalls and lakes.
Today's tourism brochures offer additional adjectives for Bahia:
mystical, colourful, irresistible, radiant. "The Land of Happiness",
they exclaim. We saw nothing to dispute the claim: smiling faces
everywhere; the joyful sounds of children at play; lovers strolling
hand in hand along the boulevard that showcases the Dique de Tororo
with its fountains and statues of African deities. Laughter and
playful shouts echoed up from the lighthouse beach, where a game
of volleyball was in progress. Even the friendly bickering at the
markets had a happy tone.
|The "low town",
Barra, and the "upper town", Pelourenho, overlook the Bay of
All Saints, Salvador da Bahia.
In the past, low income residents of Salvador, as elsewhere in
Brazil, often lived in hillside hovels, without such facilities
as electricity, garbage collection or running water. The lot of
'favela' dwellers, as they were called, has improved considerably
in recent years with the availability of modern services. Most now
watch television, many own refrigerators, even autos. All, it seems,
rich or poor, enjoy the music of the land.
African culture is evident again in the beating of Bahian drums.
Small drums. Big drums. Drums played with the hands. Drums played
with sticks. Drums with names like quika, surdo, pendeiro, tambarim,
snare and congo. Our ship invited a group to entertain passengers
while in port in Salvador. Eight drummers, a lead singer/chanter,
numerous dancers in extravagant costumes and masks, a fire-eater.
Eight young men demonstrated 'capoeira', a mix of ballet and martial
arts. It was one of the most breathtaking acrobatic presentations
this traveler had ever witnessed.
When the dancing was over, the drumming was still beating in our
hearts, if not our heads. The melody lingers on. The land of happiness,
indeed. "Oh Bahia. Bahia-ia..."
Details: Information on Salvador, the state of Bahia:
Bahiatursa: Phone: 011 55 71 370-8690
FAX: 011 55 71 370-8697
MODA AXE, also known as Projeto Axe, can be found at Rua dos Laranjeiras,
9 Pelourinho, Centro Historico Salvador-BA 4000-100, Brasil. Telephone:
Connections from North America to Salvador are presently available
via Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The Brazilian carrier, Varig flies
from Toronto, New York, Miami and Los Angeles to both Rio and Sao
Paulo. Air Transat will offer direct flights from Toronto to Salvador,
effective Nov. 13, 2000 to March 26, 2001.
Gordon Garrison, a past Chairman of the Canadian Chapter of
the Society of American Travel Writers, has been writing and broadcasting
travel features for 35 years. You can look forward to more adventurous
stories about his world cruise on travelterrific.com.
To read his story, Cruising Around the World in 127 Days, click