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!

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.