Salvador Offers Taste of Africa with Brazilian Twist

Day 50, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023; Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

Salvador, the fourth largest city in Brazil, welcomed me with a fun tour of the lower city that included a sacred church, beaches (of course!), art and markets selling food and handcrafts.

Unfortunately, the welcome for a few of our fellow cruisers involved muggings and theft. I know first-hand of a handful of cases and through social media posts and onboard chitchat of others. Most common, it seems, were smartphone thefts – grab and runs while the owners were taking pictures. Another couple lost their necklaces – nothing fancy, just stainless steel MedAlert chains – right in front of the cruise ship terminal. I haven’t heard of any serious physical injuries.

Before several ports we received written warnings about opportunistic crime. Of course, it can happen anywhere in the world (I think Barcelona is one of the most notorious). Nowadays, when our cellphones also are our cameras and thus used frequently while on tour, a loss may mean a security risk and an interruption in communications.

I had planned to wait until next summer to upgrade my iPhone, but I might buy a new one while between cruises in Florida next month, thus having a backup. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I’ve always felt that being over prepared helps to ward off problems.

Back to Salvador. It was the first capital of Brazil and has a lovely collection of colorful colonial buildings. The town is divided into two parts – the Upper City with all those buildings and the Lower City by the water. The Lacerda Elevator near the cruise terminal connects the two and costs just 15 centavos (3 cents in U.S. currency).

My half-day tour with Do Brazil Right was of the Lower City, so I missed the more stately colonial area of Pelourinho.

I wasn’t disappointed, as today Salvador’s upper city also was the site of a huge African parade and celebration, including Afropunk, a major black music festival. The city has more black residents than any other Brazilian city, a lasting result of the slave trade. Those who did go to the Upper City in the morning said streets already were closed in preparation.

Salvador is built on the huge Baía (Bay) de Todos os Santos, and we visited the protected beach where for years wooden ships are brought on the sand for repair.

We drove to the Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church, described as the most famous church in the city and the home of a huge procession of pilgrims seeking miracles each year. While Catholicism is a major religion here, so too is Candoblé, a culmination of religions Africans brought to Brazil. I enjoyed sketching from a bench in the large plaza in front of the church. The faithful tie Bonfim ribbons to the metal fencing, in the belief that wishes will be granted when they break.

The most colorful stop on our tour was the Feira de São Joaquim – a market where locals go to buy almost everything, our guide said. We wandered a labyrinth of alleys, jumping out of the way of motorcycles and wheelbarrows demanding passage. It is the opposite of the clean modern markets we visited in Ecuador and Peru, but busier and just as mesmerizing.

Not only was virtually any food available, but also coils of tobacco and the clothes, dishes and other items appropriate for the multiple Candoblé practices. It was a feast for a photographer – only one merchant waved me off when I started to take a picture of his snake.

The Mercado Modelo is a better market for souvenirs and thus filled with tourists. Booths offer everything from t-shirts, trinkets, wooden carvings and beaded jewelry to linens. Earrings and a necklace made their way into my bag, both meeting my criteria of only buying something I would pack for a cruise. Interestingly, we were advised by the ship that any wooden purchases would be stored in the ship’s freezers for 48 hours to ensure they weren’t hosts to stowaway bugs.

I did violate my buying criteria by purchasing a hand painted tile during our tour. The artist invited me into his studio, featuring work in progress and his kiln. Of course, I chose the tile with a sailboat. You never would guess from the exterior that the building is full of beautiful tiles.

We stayed in port until nearly midnight, but I doubt many passengers ventured out. We now have two sea days before arriving in Fortaleza.

Update on the Amazon River

At noon on Sunday, Sept. 26, the captain warned us that our week-long cruise on the Amazon River, including an overnight in Manaus, is in jeopardy, due to low water levels. We’ve been reading about the issue and wondering how the conditions might affect our cruise. We won’t know definitively for a few days, as we are not scheduled to enter the river until around Dec. 1. Missing the Amazon would be a huge disappointment, but there isn’t much we can do about it. I’ll report more when I learn anything new.