With more than 600 Baroque and Renaissance buildings restored since its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the early 1990’s, Salvador’s old-town, Cidade Alta (Upper City) is the heart of the colonial heritage. Most of the activity surrounds the Parça e Sé and the Largo do Pelourinho. Some people find that Salvador in Bahia is the true soul and cultural capital of Brazil. It served as the capital of colonial Brazil for more than 200 years beginning in 1549. Perhaps I was overly optimistic, but I hoped to find a pousada, hotel or hostel in the colonial center that would offer good value and secure parking for my motorcycle.
Phillipe & Sueli, the owners of the brilliant and wildlife infused pousada where I stayed in Aratuba, had arranged for me to meet their son, a student studying in Salvador. Arriving in the Salvador after a short ferry ride, I climbed the winding and cobbled streets of the colonial city where I met my contact. I was offered a room in his flat but parking was still a problem. After more than an hour of walking from pousada to hotel to hostel it became clear that my mission may fail. That is, until I met Stefano, the quiet and reserved owner of Solar do Carma. Walking arm and arm with his wife, he introduced himself and showed me where I could park my motorcycle safe and secure just a block from the hotel.
Fitted with internet access and breakfast serviced on a terrace with beautiful views of the bay, the price was a bit over my budget, but I was road-warn, tired and wanting out of my riding suit and boots. I’d have to make up for the extra dollars down the road. But to be just a ten-minute walk from the Pelourinho, I would wander the narrow and steep streets and soak in the history, art and culture. Peeking down nearly every alley I found artisan workshops dance dance or capoeira studios tucked into the 17th & 18th century buildings.
One day while wandering the architecturally rich Pelourinho area I noticed that two school girls seemed to be following or watching me. Stopping for an ice cream as I stopped to snap a few photos, I approached them. They were surprised that I could speak Portuguese and explained that they had a day off from school and came to the area to shop for new shoes. I wished them luck and wandered into the Igreja e Convento São Francisco (Church and Convent of San Francisco) I noticed they were waiting outside when I exited. They agreed to pose for a few photos and then walked me to the elevator that whisks people to the lower city and the vibrant market near the port.
Later, strolling up the steep Largo do Pelourinho (whipping post) I imagined the scene hundreds of years ago when slaves were tortured and auctioned on this plaza by the Portuguese until this practiced was finally banned in 1835. One night I attended a Candomblé, a traditional Bahian dance ceremony with clearly visible African-roots where women in colorful hooped dresses dance to the hypnotic beat of a half-dozen men keeping the rhythm with drums and other percussive instruments. The woman dance in a circle until they put themselves into a trance. While there were a dozen or two tourists crowded into the small room in an old house near the city center, even the men participate. One guy standing directly in front of me began rotating his head pivoting it rhythmically with the tight muscles in his neck until at one moment he dropped to the floor only soon to be helped up by surrounding men and a few of the women. The music and the dance lasted for more than two hours and would continue until each of the women fall into their trance. Shaking and writhing I watched one by one the woman fall and then escorted to a back room.
On another night I wandered through the courtyard filled nightclubs and restaurants experiencing samba, forró and Brazil pop/rock music. A dread-locked colorful artisan approached me and when he learned I was from California he lurched into an animated and rhythmic renditions of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication. Yet with less than two weeks on my motorcycle temporary import permit, I needed to push on.
I hoped the rain would leave me alone.