THIS POST COVERS JANUARY 19TH – FEBRUARY 8TH
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So I hope that that little narrative in the last post gave you an idea of what life on the road was like. So here are some quick shorthand stories, observations, and photos from the trip from Rio to Bahia (Salvador)
First stop after Rio was a hippie festival that Vanessa (Our couchsurfing angel in Rio) had told us about. Its called a Rainbow Gathering and they happen all over the world and last for 30 days. The main ideas behind these are peace, love, harmony, freedom and community (Yea…like I said, hippies.). I had been to a very small one in Guatemala years ago and Safira had been to several. It was more or less on the way and free so we stuck the destination into Ecowapi (the GPS) and hit the road. It was basically what you might expect…lots of hippies living in the forest (The place was really stunningly beautiful with a nice river to swim in and waterfalls)….yoga, drum circles, dreadocks, people walking around naked, etc, etc. These are things that I can and do relate to and feel comfortable around normally but these people were WAY into the whole thing…so much so that it was hard for me to really feel part of it. But it was still an experience which after all is what traveling is all about. It was interesting observing the characters in this community (some were pretty far out there) and the ideals of the community in motion. We stayed only for two days. Knowing that my return to reality was right around the corner, I figured “What the hell…” and I gave myself over to their way of life for the brief time I was there and had fun with it.
We also picked up a new passenger at the gathering…a Swiss girl named Silvina who would prove to be quite a character…often playing the role of the antagonist in the road tripping adventures that were to come. She could be fun and spontaneous but also very opinionated and difficult. But hey…all part of the big adventure. So off we went, heading north. We made lots of stops along the way, a beach here, a Buddhist monastery there, and of course passed through lots of random little town and villages stopping for gas or lunch or just to stop. Let me pause here and say that really the meat and bones of this whole trip was seen and experienced through the windows of Coco. The best memories I have of the whole thing were the glimpses of Brazil, the landscape and the people, all seen through the windows of the bus. Unfortunately I was always driving so I couldn’t photograph what I saw everyday but here’s an idea:
Lots of agriculture. The crops depended on the region with the exception of Sugarcane which was EVERYWHERE…fields as far as the eye could see. Other times it was cacao, coffee, soybean, or palms. In the state of Espirito Santo there was lots of eucalyptus farms. The tree is planted in perfect rows with only about two meters between each tree. They cultivate them because they don’t need much sunlight to grow so they can plant them so close together to get a better yield form the land. Also because they grow really fast (about 20 inches [50 cm] a month!). They harvest them and use them for lumber, toothpicks, coal, etc. So most of the scenery we saw between towns and cities was agricultural, the rest was either picturesque beaches and coastline, grassland for cattle, jagged green cliffs, semi-arid sand dunes or sandy scrub brush, or tropical forest and jungle. Other common sites from the road:
- My favorite was all the people selling things. Sometimes staked out under small huts built from palm leaves, other times just sitting in front of table with their goods out on display. Lots of fruit of every kind imaginable (and lots that you could never imagine), sometimes handmade crafts, cashews, or shrimp, fish, lobster or big bags of live crabs squirming around.
- Love Motels. Yep…they are all over the place and very normal and socially accepted. The fact is that many Brazilians live in the same house with several generations (kids often continue to live with their parents into their 30’s) so Love Motels are not thought of as sleazy (Although they do live up to Kitch standards with heart shaped jacuzzi tubs and mirrored walls and ceilings), but cater to couples who are just looking for a little privacy that they can’t find at home. The best part about them is their names. They make no qualms about what they are with names like Palácio do Prazer (Palace of Pleasure) and sometimes with Vegas like architectural themes (Mid-evil times, Egyptian, Parisian).
- Lots of animals…cows, goats, sheep, dogs, and pigs all strolling along the highways and taking siestas between lanes.
- Passing through small towns at night EVERYONE is out in front of their houses. Perched on chairs or just sitting on the steps of their houses. Sometimes just a couple sitting there in silence watching the cars go by enjoying the respite from days heat, other times a family or group of friends drinking beer and talking. But when the sun goes down in small-town-Brazil, life happens on the front steps, not in front of the TV.
- Capoeira…this is like a blend of martial arts and dance that has been around in Brazil since the 1500’s (!!!). Two people enter a circle about 15 ft. in diameter and combine acrobatics, kicks, and leg sweeps into what looks like a artistic mock fight. The further north I went the more you would see of it. In small towns you would see the circles marked out in the dirt or sometimes they would be concrete circles. This is where they would have public capoeira matches.
Other little stories from this leg of the trip…
There was the time when we got pulled over by the police on the highway. Two cops got out of their cars shouting at us in Portuguese with their guns drawn and pointed at us. Turns out a farmer had seen us parked near his property and thought we might be up to no good so he called in a description of our car. Once the cops saw we were just some dumb gringos on a roadtrip he was actually cool and just explained to us that we need to be careful about choosing places to sleep in the car. He wished us a safe trip and sent us on our way
One amazing memory was when we stopped in a tiny town on the ocean called Itaunas. We had to drive for almost an hour on a dirt road (flanked on both sides by cultured eucalyptus forests) to get there. First thing we saw when we pulled into town was a place selling homemade ice cream. We chat it up with the guy working there who happens to be the owner and who was really cool. He gives us a behind the scenes tour of how he makes the ice cream and lets us taste all sorts of flavors and then we tell him we are going to the beach nearby he just says “Give me five minute to close up the store and ill take you to a better beach”. So he just closes up the store (at noon on a Sunday) tells us to jump in his car and the next thing you know we are driving down dirt roads passing beers back and forth an on our way to some secluded beach. So we hang out there for a while then he tells us he has a fish the size of your arm in his freezer and suggests that we cook while he reopens the store. So we ended up having this huge feast and drinking caipirinhas (and we got to use his shower!!!…I think it was out first proper shower in 4 days).
I’d say the coolest place we saw on this leg of the trip was called Itacare. We camped on a beach that was probably in the top 5 beaches I have have seen (and Ive seen lots all over the world). Lush rainforest meets perfect white sandy beaches and transparent blue water. We hiked through the jungle to reach an even more secluded beach called Priahna that was like a small paradise.
From Itacare we headed to Salvador, a big city and one of the main attractions on any trip to Brazil. After Rio De Janiero and the Amazon, Salvador probably draws the most tourists. People come for the colonial and quaint historic center called Pelourihno and to get a taste of what Bahian life and culture is like (Much different from The North/Amazon or the south/Rio de Janiero). Bahian life and culture is much more closely tied to the history and culture of the African slaves from the past. From the music, the food, the dance, and religion, its a fascinating blend of African culture, slave history, and how it has in some ways melded with other more christian or modern ideas and traditions and in other ways has not changed at all. The number of people who believe in and practice african voodoo (known as Macumba, Umbanda, or simple as Black Magic), is more prevalent in Salvador and got even more prevalent as I continued north. Everyday spells are cast on enemies, hexes broken by invoking the powers of the gods, people are thrown into trances, either entered into on their own accord as a way to communicate with the gods or sometimes their bodies are taken over by evil spirits.
In Salvador Safira and I parted ways with Silvina (whew!) and we were hosted by a couchsurfer named Pablo who was a good guy, very eager to do his part in making sure we had a good time in Salvador.
We spent a lot of time wandering around the historic center which is really beautiful but also could be much more impressive with a little work and money. This was somethng that I noticed all throughout the historic areas in the large cities of Brazil. There is no lack of cool old buildings left over from colonial times but many if not most have been left to rot with roofs that have caved in and plants and trees growing out of the windowsills. There are others that are heading in that direction that could still be saved but it seems they have been neglected. Basically there is lots of potential but seems very little resources.
The poverty in the city is not too hard to see although I think it has gotten better in recent years. Crime is a huge issue in Salvador. Most of the local couchsurfers I met don’t even stay out past 11 very often because its too dangerous to be walking around after that hour and they dont want to have to drive or take a taxi.
So Salvador was sadly where I was to loose my travel partner. Safira had to catch a flight back to Europe so we splashed out a little bit with a departing dinner at a nice restaurant that served local food. we shared a Vatapa with crab. Vatapa is like a soup made from coconut milk, Dendê Oil (A very heavy orange oil made from African palms), and spices. It was awesome!
So I said a nervous goodbye to Safira. Nervous because I new I could count on her and her positive energy in the bus, we were old friends and traveling with her was a pleasant breeze…now I had to find new passengers to share the gas expenses! After Safira left I spent a couple more days in Salvador with another couchsurfer, Diana and her family, her husband Tem and her Daughter Luana and they were amazing! One of the highlights of my time in Bahia was being a part of their family for a few days. It was so cool to see a young couple with such clear goals for themselves and for their daughter an with such discipline in achieving those goals. They lived in well cared for but modest home in a very working class neighborhood far from the center that made me think as i drove through it…”Now this is the real Salvador!”. Diana had a great sarcastic wit, Tem was calm and gentle, and Luana was fun and bubbly. I also got to know their close friend Aline who is the kind of person you like immediatly.
Ill leave you now to look at the other photos from the trip which tell the tale much better than I do. Note that a lot of the photos on the Flickr site have descriptions underneath them that will explain what you are looking at or tell the story behind the picture. Click here to see more pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59170494@N05/sets/72157626245806676/
Note: you can click on the little pins for a description…
2 thoughts on “Rio to Salvador…Hippies, Beaches, and Voodoo”
Greetings from SF. I am loving every post.
Travel on dude!
great photos , hope all is well ( your dad is doing well – he and i were fly fishing
for 3 hrs sat 3-19-11 , )