Moving to Arembepe, Bahia!

At some point I realized that if I was to stay in Bahia longer, I needed to move somewhere cheaper. I decided to move to a town called Arembepe. Packing my backpack was a trial. I am not the neatest person in the world, and in the one week of staying in my own room at the hostel, I had thrown everything everywhere. I really wonder how everything made it into the backpack - that was nothing short of a miracle. As I waited for my friend to take me to Arembepe, I decided to find a nice quiet place with wifi where I could blog. I found a cafe in Pelourinho called "Cubanos". I wanted to order something cheap to sip on then stay therefor hours and use their wifi. I ordered a drink called "green coconut" and what showed up on my table was a humoungous green coconut, with a straw. Not exactly what I had in mind to while the time away - especially given the coconut could not stand on its own. Finally I left for Arembepe, and my backpack nearly killed me. I had forgotten how heavy that bag was. 

On my first day in Arembepe, we walked for half an hour to get to a very beautiful river and went swimming there. At some point I was getting carried away by the euphoria (and maybe the cachaca in my system too), and swam out further. My friends stopped me and told me not to go too far because of the snakes and the plants whose tendrils could entangle someone. I asked, "What? There are snakes in this river?" and my friends responded, "Yeah, but at this time they probably won't bite. They have already eaten." I didn't get the logic of it, but at that point I limited my swimming close to the shore. The day was so hot that at some point we passed a dead frog on the road that must have died from heat exhaustion - at least that's what I think. 

In the evening we explored the town and ate the most amazing acaraje in the city center from a lady called "Cachita". She has had her stand there for over 20 years. Yummmy! We then joined some friend's of my friend's friend for drinks. 

It was an early night after all the traveling. 

 

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Cachita!

Cachita!

Islands and birthday parties.......!!

On my first Saturday in Bahia, my friend invited me for his uncle's 60th birthday party. It was lovely! His family were really great and the food was amazing. I couldn't eat as much as I was still having contractions from that herbal cough remedy. I did have some little dough coated cheese and shrimp delights. The cake was beautiful, and was surrounded by hundreds of cute little chocolates. I think it's a birthday tradition because the next birthday party I went to also had a cake surrounded by little chocolates. I had the most interesting discussions with his cousin's and siblings about race in Brazil. They said that even though Bahia is predominantly black, there is still quite a bit of discrimination against blacks with most of them being economically disenfranchised and many times being passed over for jobs in favor of hiring whites. There are quite a few Indian native tribes in Bahia, and the situation was said to not be any better for them. It was a very thought provoking discussion because I wondered how it works for those who are of mixed ethnicities. Of course I had seen many black people who completely looked like Africans, and I had seen white people who looked European, but I had also seen dark black people with green eyes or naturally blond hair or white people with tough afros or black people with Indian hair. I have always thought racism is such a stupid thing, and a lot of work too. To think that in South Africa, they had Black, White, Indian and then Colored (which I guess was the catch-all for mixed). In Brazil you even have more permutations of what people could be. Why is skin color such an important thing? It is so arbitrary. Discrimination could even have been along the lines of hair color for all you know. It would be a world of dark haired against brown haired, against blondes etc. What would happen if you grow old and your hair turned from black to white? Would you then move to the group? Anyway, my basic logic is that racism = stupidity. They also did highlight a bit that class issues are quite serious in Brazil. To quote one of the cousins "The poor people, we all get along/intermarry/work together/mix whether Black, White or Indigenous, but the higher social classes are the ones who discriminate against us."

Later that evening, we went back to the Old town and went out to a Samba club in the area. It was lots of fun dancing - it is all about shaking your hips and butt, which I can do. I was happy it had nothing to do with leg-hand coordination - of which I have none. The next day we left for the lovely island of Vera Cruz. Specifically we were going to a part called Nazare to visit my friend's sister. On our way out of Salvador, we passed by the large Bahiana woman statue, and we also took the Elevador Lacerda - the elevator connecting the lower part of the city to the upper part. If I am not wrong, I think Salvador must be the only town that has an elevator for public transportation. Salvador is unique in that the city is split into two parts by an escarpment with the top part of the city being close to 300 feet above the lower part. Since 1873 there has been an elevator linking both parts together.

We got on the boat to Vera Cruz and instantly people came on the boat selling cold beers. I could tell this day was going to be a fun one. It was a 45 minute boat ride to the island then a 1.5 hour cab ride to get to Nazare.

The first thing that struck me in Nazare were the horses. There were horses everywhere, and not just the Karen types like in Kenya. These were functional horses, skinny horses, worn horses. It was a strange sight. All the horses I have seen in Kenya are mostly ornamental/for show. No one actually gets around town on a horse, but in Nazare that was one of the forms of transportation. We got to my friend's sister's place and drank feijoada. Instead of the usually thick meal, this was a lighter version that you drank from a cup "to prevent you from falling asleep." It is crazy but true, Brazil is so hot that any time I have had a heavy meal for lunch, I have wanted to pass out.

We then left the house and walked along a lovely river and crossed a bridge. From there we got a lift to a birthday party my friend's family had been invited to. Yes, I know. I am a major poxer. Showing up at a 15 year old's birthday party when I don't know them:-) 15 year birthday parties are a big deal in Brazil for girls. I was told it is the equivalent of 18 year old birthday parties the world over. The party was great. Lots of nice people, lots of food and drinks. The music was so fascinating. It was zouk/kizomba. I could have closed my eyes and been in Angola or Cape Verde. It was really fascinating how African the music was. The other fascinating thing was how people dance. The birthday had people of all ages, but there was quite a bit of booty-shaking - even by the older people. I tried to picture a similar party in Kenya and most likely there would be two parts. One part where the older folks drank tea/pretended to drink tea as they were actually getting smashed and the other part where the younger people would be - probably with some booty shaking......but definitely no bootys would be shaking infront of the older crowd:-) It's a different culture I guess. I always say that culture is not a constant. What might seem normal to me based on my culture, might be completely strange to someone else based on theirs.

Another thing that fascinates me about Brazil is how old people are very flirtatious. I remember an older lady in booty shorts at the party telling a young guy that she wishes she was younger so she could take him. I was so amused. It is the same with guys. I have been hit on by really old guys, and I remember a friend of mine saying that guys even in their 80s still think they have a chance. They are quite confident though, and you have to give them marks in Brazil for all keeping themselves looking good even when much older. I definitely did get shown a family photo album in Bahia with grandparents kissing passionately....the things you will never find in Kenyan family photo albums....Hell, you might not even find one of grandparents holding hands, let alone standing closer than 1m apart....always have to have a tree or a chair in between them for decency's sake:-)

After the party, we went to a bar close by. I have never seen such amazing dancing as I did from two girls outside the club. It was a mash up of full 100, twerking, doing a split etc. Do not try this at home unless you are ready to be carried out on a stretcher. Nazare was also my first time I heard this music called pagochi. It was love at first beat. It started off when we were on the boat. This group of 8-10 guys started playing drums and a one stringed instrument (random musical outbursts in Bahia are quite common:-) It was amazing! You couldn't help but dance. Later that night we went to a larger club. That was where I witnessed the funniest scene. Here is the excerpt from a whatsapp conversation I had with my sister the next day:

Thekenyanexplorer: Yesterday at the club, there were some thugtypes who were speeding off on horses....and they had guns in their pockets

My sister: What?

Thekenyanexplorer: Yeah, like it's a motorbike

My sister: Speeding off on horses with guns? Now that's a blog entry

Thekenyanexplorer: You know! They were kanyagaing (stepping on) the brakes last minute. So you hear "Clopp! Cloppp! Clopppp! Neeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiggggghhhh!"

My sister: lol!

Thekenyanexplorer: Yeah, it was even scarier than a matatu (minibus) pandaing (climbing) the curb behind you.

That was a fun and strange night. The next day the process of leaving the island was a tough one. I hadn't realized that the part of the island we were in didn't accept credit cards, and we were out of cash to leave the island. Yeah, I know it's kinda pathetic. My main memories were dying of thirst and at some point sitting on the floor of Banco Brazil as we waited for my friend to get some money transferred into his account so we could get back to the mainland. This reminds me of one time I was almost stuck in Sicily, but that's a story for another day. We finally got back to Salvador and the main item on my agenda, was to go to the bus station and cancel my ticket out of Bahia. I was having so much fun that I knew I just couldn't leave. It was a long process though. You would think I was revoking my citizenship instead of just canceling a bus ticket - had to fill in lots of documents asking me if I was really sure I wanted to cancel my bus ticket. I was even expecting them to chuck alcoblow for me - "M'aam, are you sure you are in the right frame of mind as you cancel this ticket?" [Translated to Portuguese of course:-) ] 

 

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Elevador Lacerda

Elevador Lacerda

Horse, sufferer wa Jah

Horse, sufferer wa Jah

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Horsing around at the club

Horsing around at the club

First unsuccessful attempt to leave Bahia

My bus to Brasilia was to leave on Saturday morning. Friday morning I woke up and went on a city tour with my friend. It was amazing and I really started to wonder why I was in such a rush to leave Bahia for the great unknown. I had a bus booked to Brasilia, but from there I would have to figure out my way to get to Amazonas which was all the way in the other side of this massive country, and then get a boat to Peru. I was beginning to really enjoy myself in Bahia, and woke up with the suspicion that I might change my ticket. We started off by going to the church called "Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks" that was the first church that African slaves were able to go to. They were not allowed to worship in any of the churches, and they really wanted to have a place of worship. It took more than 100 years for them to build it, and they worked mostly at night because they had to be on the plantations all day. Seeing it filled me with a sense of awe. I cannot imagine how difficult their lives must have been, and it was just admirable that they would put in so much work to have a place where they could congregate, encourage each other, sing/dance to lift their spirits. The strength of the human spirit through adversity is really uplifting. To think that all day they would spend slaving away, toiling on the land for no pay, suffering cruel punishments, and that by night they would go and build their own church - brick by brick. To know that given it took over 100 years to build, some of those who worked so hard never actually got to worship in it. It's sad, but also very inspiring. Up to this day, there are still church services held here and they incorporate the beating of drums and a few other things that are uniquely African.

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We then walked along the full length of Pelourinho which is the historic centre of Salvador. It's history is a sad one. The word pelourinho means "pillory" - a wooden device that was used to punish people by locking in one's hands, legs and head.  Pelourinho was where public whippings would be conducted. The architecture of the place is such that it is quite hilly with a deep valley. Slaves would be forced to watch the public whippings to discourage them from any revolt or any "bad" behaviour - where "bad" behaviour included anything as small as completing a task slowly, looking badly at the master etc. It is said that the valley on Pelourinho was always filled with streams of blood from the public whippings. One can only imagine how much pain and suffering slaves went through in this square. Historically, Salvador is extremely important when talking about slave history. About 40% of all slaves who were taken from Africa entered the Americas through the port of Salvador. Salvador was also the first colonial capital of Brazil and its economy was driven by the sugar trade. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery - only abolishing it in 1888. Common literature states that Princess Isabella of Portugal was the one who finally emancipated slaves, but discussions in Bahia credit emancipation to Carlos do Patrocinio's influence on the Princess. He was a famous black writer, pharmacist, activist, orator, journalist etc who is said to either have been the princess's good friend or lover. 

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After this we walked further down to the tonnes of galleries in the old city. My favourite works there were 1. The dancing Bahianas and washerwomen paintings by my friend, 2. A painting of Jesus and the 12 disciples as rastafarians and 3. Various works of cubism by a 72 year old painter we called "Superboy". "Superboy" sometimes stayed in our hostel and he was simply amazing. He told me that when the spirit touches him, he can stay awake for days on end and do 2-3 paintings. Even at his advanced age, he is still a very keen painter, and has trained quite a few other painters on technique.

After this, we went downtown to eat some feijoada. It was delicious. It's a heavy meal that has rice, stewed beef and sausages, beans and a side of chilli. After this meal, all you want to do is sleep on the floor - food coma. I finally gave in to the temptation to change my ticket. I tried calling them a few times, but to no avail. Up to the point I left Brazil, I only learnt how to call out on the last day- and that's because I just called numbers with the full code included ..+55....It is a process. Apparently you have to include a number for your network to call out, and also include a number for the region you are calling out of/calling into. So when someone gives you their number, you have to realize that you will need to include 5 digits before it depending on who your service provider is, where you are and where the other person is.....Greek, I tell you! No idea why anyone would make it so difficult. My friend and I had a few stops before going to the bus station to change my ticket. We went to the local market where I bought a herbal remedy for my cough. No idea what was in this remedy, but it was more of a problem than a cure. It gave me painful stomach contractions later in the day. I decided I would rather take my chances with the cough than with the scary contractions. We then stopped in a different part of town and had a few drinks of "Mulher Barbada (The Bearded Woman.") It was sweet, but that was a scary bottle - why does the woman have a beard? We then went back to Pelourinho and had a few drinks with friends at which point I started getting nervous I would be too late to change my ticket. Brazil time is even crazier than African timing. I found myself to generally be in no sort of hurry when in Bahia. I would plan to be somewhere in an hour, then I would meet someone on the street and chat for 20 minutes then have a beer with them. I just could not hurry up, and neither could anybody else. We finally managed to get to the bus station and change my ticket. We then came back and passed through a really cool restaurant near Pelourinho whose name I unfortunately forgot. It was a very busy day.

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Wait a minute.....Carnival is really over?

If I had known that the previous night was actually the last night of Carnival, I might have partied till 6am. I knew that officially Carnival ended on Tuesday, but I had been told that in Bahia there would still be random Carnival parties happening until Friday. I woke up very energetic on the Wednesday after Carnival, ready to party! I had an amazing breakfast at my hostel - lots of fruits, eggs, fresh juice etc. I then ventured out into the streets and was disappointed to find out that the only people on the streets were the many unconscious people outside....yes, it was around 1pm and yes, there were drunk people sleeping on the streets from the previous night - don't try this in Kenya:-) You will wake up with nothing...the thieves don't sleep.

I decided to do a little bit of sightseeing around the old parts of the town. Almost everything was closed, but it was a nice feeling walking through empty streets in broad daylight. In the evening, I went for dinner down the road to a place I will refer to as "The kissing restaurant." Tables were full of people kissing....instead of eating....Lord knows what that was about. I sat down, read my kindle and enjoyed my quiet meal.

The next day I woke up with a sense of purpose. It was to be my last night in Bahia, and I still had no idea how I was going to leave. I had tried looking online, but couldn't book a bus out of Bahia. I needed to find a physical location that sold bus tickets, but I was not too sure where to go. My plan was to take a bunch of buses to get me to Amazonia in Brazil, then take a boat to Ecuador. On doing further research, I decided to cut out the Ecuador part of my trip. My main reason for going there was to get to the Galapagos Island, but I realized that even once I got to Ecuador, it would cost at least USD 1000 just to get to the island because the only way there was to take a USD 500 flight from Ecuador then accomodation and food in the island for a few days would come up to another USD 500. It was sad, but I had to cut it out because I still needed to survive in South America for another 1.5 months and I could not risk spending all my travel money in the first few weeks. I therefore was looking for a way to get to Peru by bus then boats.

The owner of my hostel was extremely kind. I told him I was having problems getting a bus out of Bahia and he drove me at no cost to the main bus station and played the role of translator with the bus company employees. Me and the hostel owner communicated mostly through google translate - he also did not speak any English, but was very patient. I have no idea how I would have been able to book that bus ticket on my own. No one at the bus company spoke a word of English - and this was the main bus terminal for all of Salvador, Bahia. It makes me wonder how Brazil will manage with the huge influx of tourists who will come in a few months for World Cup. Many people I spoke to told me the main reason for most people not speaking English is because Brazil is so huge and such a developed economy that one can survive easily without ever leaving its borders and also that learning English is extremely expensive. It is generally not offered with the regular school curriculum or even at the university, but only through private courses. One could say it is a luxury to be able to learn English.

After successfully booking my bus ticket to Brasilia, I went out for dinner and drinks with some of my new friends. I drank something called Jurubeba, which was quite tasty, but was said to be an aphrodisiac....actually most of the local drinks are said to be aphrodisiacs, but I think that is just an excuse for bad behaviour:-) The one thing I have to say about Jurubeba is that it seriously raised body temperatures. I was sweating and fanning myself a lot as soon as I drank it. Afterwards we went out to a few places in the area. In the old town of Salvador, one simply follows the music and walks to wherever makes them tap their feet.

Earlier in the day I had the most refreshing drink - it was lime juice with a bit of coconut. It's sold by a guy who is at the square in front of Rue de Pelourinho in old town. That stuff was amazing and so refreshing in the crazy heat.

 

Why am I still in Bahia?

I think I am in love (with a place). It's tough to explain, but this are the symptoms,

  • My lover is not perfect, but I take him as he is: Brazil is crazy expensive, and Bahia is no exception, but I just love it here. Really really love it. 
  • Separation anxiety: I was to leave Bahia on Saturday morning, and I had my ticket booked and all. On Friday I started to get really really nervous and sad. Oh gosh, 16 hours to go, 12 hours to go. Finally after a few drinks, I found myself frantically rushing to the bus station to change my ticket from Saturday to Tuesday. On Monday night, yet again I found myself back at the train station, this time canceling my bus ticket instead of changing the date......
  • I can't talk enough  about my lover: Bahia is amazing. The people, the culture, the food, the music, the art! Where else can you have a new family in a week, have made loads of friends, feel like you've always been.....even when they speak a completely different language from mine. ...There is something magical about this place.

Yes, yes. I know. You are thinking thekenyanexplorer should be out exploring and not settling. I promise to leave Bahia early next week and go off to Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. 

So what did my original itinerary look like? I was to stay in Rio for 8 nights, Bahia for 3 nights, 3 nights in Ecuador (Galapagos islands), 8 nights in Peru (mostly close to Machu Pichuu), 11 nights in Bolivia, 4 nights in Santiago (Chile) and 14 nights in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Bariloche). The plan was to get everywhere by bus and then get to Ecuador or Peru by boat on the Amazon river from Brazil. 

What does my new itinerary look like? Well, I did spend 8 nights in Rio. I ended up flying to Bahia from Rio because with Carnival season, flights and buses were both equally expensive...and the bus would have taken at least 24 hours.  If I leave Bahia next Tuesday, I will have been here exactly 2 weeks. I had originally planned to take buses from here till I got to Amazonia, then take a boat to Peru. I thought the boat to Peru would take 3 days, but it actually takes 9 days. I was able to get a bus to Brasilia from Bahia, but that would only get me quarter way to Amazonia and cost USD 120......and take 28 hours. Yes, Brazil is crazy expensive.  I can't imagine  bus from Nairobi to anywere costing even close to that....even a bus to Kigali is a fraction of the cost. From Brasilia I would somehow have to get a bus that got me to Amazonia. I anticipate it would cost me at least USD 300 and last 2-3 days. From Amazonia, I would have to get on a 9 day boat ride across the amazon river. I think the price of the boat ticket, the hammock (yes, you sleep on a hammock for 9 days) and rope would cost me another USD 300. It is sad that I won't get the whole Amazon experience, but I know I made the right decision. I will fly into Peru next week and I think it will cost me less than the other bus-boat plan. 

My sister always says, "never leave a happening club for another place." Bahia is my "happening" club. I have friends here - family in fact. 

Tomorrow I am off to another part Bahia to spend my remaining time here (Arembepe.) While there I will write more and let you know about why Bahia has stolen my heart. 

For now, I am almost done sipping on my bottle of Jurubeba, and I hear some amazing music down on the street. Free live music on Tuesdays! Ciao! Ciao! I leave you with some pictures.