Today we arrived out of the wilderness and entered the sprawling mass of urban hell that is Salvador. Now I really don't mean to be overly harsh when blogging about Salvador described in tour books as 'the Jewel of Bahia' and the proud centre of 'Afro-Brazilianna' however our experiences of the place left few positive memories. First allow me to justify this statement; Salvador is the third largest city in Brazil and home to 2.7 million souls (and apparently 5 million stray dogs and cats to be seen limping, squelching and prancing in every section of the city). So try to imagine this city. 2.7 million people, 5 million strays and, I don't think I am exaggerating here, a truly apathetic approach to municipal cleanliness. With the temperature averaging 30 the smells as you drive through the city in the inconceivably expensive taxis or buses is really quite offensive. The only thing to make this journey worse is the terrifying nature of the way Bahians drive. It seems that road lanes are merely a fanciful concept as buses and taxis weave willfully sometime menacingly diagonally across 3 lanes of traffic missing other road users by cms. Even the bus drivers here like to overtake cars by veering into oncoming traffic. The concept of a red traffic light seems to have not been understood - neither the speed limit. Marry this with a strange language developed by Brazilians everywhere of talking to each other by beeping their horns repeatedly then the scene is set for a full on assault of the senses. The smell, the sound and the dire need to relieve yourselves in the back seats. We caught a taxi from the port to our hotel (and discovered the prices here are equal to that in London) which surprisingly was excellent. After some of the places we stayed this one was one of the best.
After a quick check in we caught the bus (see aforementioned description) to the largest shopping centre in the city. This was one excellent Mall. A brand new eco building with a HUGE foodcourt and a splattering of some interesting shops. We got some lunch and then I drove Vanessa crazy but comparing the prices of everything to London. I still can not believe it but almost everything is more expensive than London prices and in quite a lot of cases a LOT more expensive. Ipods are hugely overpriced here. I struggle to understand how there is a market here given that the majority of the population earn just a fraction of London wages. Then we stayed at the complex and went to see Avatar 3D which was great (and I am happy to report cheaper than the UK at around £6 per ticket).
We were warned not to use public transport after dark so we caught a taxi back.
The next day we went on a tour with a wonderful company. They stopped at a few interesting points in the city before heading north to Salvadors best beaches. First stop was Praia do Forte and visited the TAMAR centre (a centre set up in the 1980's around Brazil to conserve and protect the 7 species of marine turtle). All throughout my trip in Bahia I had lamented at the lack of education and respect that the majority of Braziliand show towards the environment and whilst we were in the centre our annoyance grew even more. Firstly by people ignoring signs asking them to respect the fence line surrounding the animals and then watching a bratty little girl kick sand into the open aquarium at the baby turtle within. It really seems that the environmentalists and conservationalist really have a tough battle here! Nonetheless the exhibits were nice and lots of positive news about their work. So with that pleasant experience we moved on to the next beach Praia de Guarajuba for a nice lunch and rest on the beach. We got back early to the hotel and decided to go and see the Pelorihno which is the historic centre of the city (and to be honest the only part worth seeing). We took another expensive Taxi and were in a state of shock as we dove down alley after alley filled with Crack addicts and prostitutes. Finally we turn out of one such alley and into a square. THE CENTRE OF TOURISM FOR THE CITY IS AN OVERUN HIVE OF CRACK HEADS, PROSTITUTES AND BEGGERS - OH AND STRAY DOGS!!!! As we pulled up a begger was waiting for us (which meant following us around - tugging my arm and rattling a few Cents in his open hand) As soon as we lost this idiot a new one arrived so we took sanctuary in the tourist office. We asked for a good restaurant (all the books say this place is the centre of nightlife here) and got a few recommendations. When we asked if it was safe here the girl smiled and said 'No not really'! GREAT! We chose a restaurant that was the closest to where we were and pretty much ran there. Infact we had a great meal (despite a kid coming to the open window and yelling trying to catch our attention to beg for more money). After the meal we ran to a cab vowing never to return.
The next day we visited an area called Barra. A seaside part of the town with a famous Fort (and Brazils first lighthouse).
On our last day we actually tried the Pelourinho again - reasoning in the daytime it might be nice. We were right - the centre was terrific. Some astounding churches and squares. Wonderful Baroque architecture in the unique pastel colours of colonial Brazil. We only got bothered twice by beggars - their sophisticated scams involved walking alongside you and giving you a type of friendship bracelet unique to Bahia. When you refuse they insist telling you its for free. Once they have given it to you they then promptly ask you for 1 Reais for it.
Despite its negatives there are many good points to Salvador. The people are so nice (well the ones that aren't begging for money). The new buildings and architecture are fantastic and the history is interesting.