Travel In Salvador de Bahia


“For Sale” signs hung from dilapidated buildings, past their days of UNESCO-style preservation, but charming nonetheless. Families sat out during the brief periods of sun, having Sunday lunch and sharing drinks. Normal people moved in and out of the houses- more than just the facades of hotels that the buildings represent in the center of Pelourinho. Taking the time to walk past the crowds and up to the oasis was more than worth it.

We regathered our energy in the new spot, then headed back to cheery Pelourinho to see it in the daylight. But this time were given the recommendation to head to Santo Antonio: just past the main road of Pelourinho, this is an extension of the neighborhood with the same look, just more lived in. We wandered past one exquisite church after the next, most hand decorated by slaves to resemble churches from Portugal. The cobblestone roads continued infinitely, and the houses only became more colorful- if a bit less cared-for. When we climbed the slope of Santo Antonio, we stumbled across the non-touristy, real-life part of Pelourinho.


One our way down, we made perhaps the most important stop of all: lunch at the SENAC cooking school. We had been searching for the perfect place to try moqueca, the spicy Bahian seafood stew known as the region’s main dish, but hadn’t been sure where or how (from the backpacker budget perspective). We read about the cooking school in Lonely Planet, offering a buffet of all of Bahia’s typical dishes at a set price, all-you-can-eat style restaurant. Lunch was about R40, the exact same as most restaurants offered one typical dish for. We walked into the beautiful, air-conditioned building and got cozy.

Taking the famous Elevador Lacerda from Cidade Alta to Cidade Baixa, we emerged at sea-level once again to really indulge our touristy sides. We wandered the rows and rows of typical instruments, lace beach coverups, wish bracelets and endless trinkets emblazoned with “Salvador” all over them. We had read really great feedback about the market, but imagined something different from what we saw.

Over an hour there, we tried moqueca with every kind of fish or shellfish. We made our own mini acarajes, and tried all the fillings individually. We ate every unrecognizable dumpling, rice mixture and stew, before going wild on the desserts of every form of fruits and coconut you can imagine. Even our friend who was a vegetarian found it worthwhile, picking through the endless seafood (a dream for foodies like us). We kept track of our culinary conquests, and left no dish uneaten. It was delicious, exciting, and the absolute best way to sample the cuisine in one go.

Stomachs full, we powered on to our final two tourist stops of the trip: Mercado Modelo and Igreja Nossa Senhor do Bonfim.

We had been intrigued by the culture meant to surround the place- locals dancing capoeira out back (martial art style of dance created by slaves to disguise it from their masters), ghost stories of the allegedly-haunted market that had previously been the center of Salvador’s slave-trade. But in the end, we found ourselves in yet another tourist trap, selling the same things we saw everywhere, and not in an even remotely interesting style. The vendors are enthusiastic though, and if you linger around a music shop you’ll definitely get a free show with instruments you’ve never heard or seen before.


Quickly done with that stop, we made it to our final destination: the Bonfim church. The furthest item on our list, Igreja Nossa Senhor do Bonfim is just towards the edge of the city. It was what many people came to Salvador to see, so we had strategically saved it for last. We hopped off the bus, in front of another market, and climbed up the hill. There it was- the church known for so much of Salvador’s attention. Gates covered in rainbow wish ribbons blowing in the breeze, it was unlike your typical South American Catholic church.

We stood outside in the breeze watching the wish ribbons dance, and could all agree that it carried an environment of hope that the people inside would definitely use. We supported an overcharging vendor out front and bought two wads of wish ribbons, and left our own hopes tied to the gate.

Complete with our day and ready to stop being tourists and just be travelers, we wandered the nearby roads following the sound of live samba. We came to a stop at Espaco Cultural do Bonfim, where we saw large families sharing big dishes, and swaying to the booming music. With one look to the people to the right of us, we did a, “I’ll have what she’s having”, and followed their lead. A wait and a half later, we were presented with the best reward for being spontaneous: Pirao de Aipim.

We peeked inside, where Sunday service was in session. Ornately decorated, we noticed that it was full of people who could not have lived in homes remotely as decorative. We glanced around at the dedicated crowd, as a girl from our hostel whispered, “An expensive church full of people who hardly have enough money to live.” And she was right. A woman handed us a program, and we watched on as the devotees scraped their pockets to fill the collection bowls, being asked for money they didn’t have. Singing songs of worship in time with the well-dressed priest up-front. It was a beautiful setting, but seemed to juxtapose the socioeconomic gaps of Brazil that these churches seemed to occupy.

Pirao de Aipim, Salvador de Bahia, Brazil--- The Borderless-Project

We walked the people around us get up from their meals to sway to the samba, laughing with friends and yelling across the room, and knew that even if the tourist spots didn’t provide it, we had found the real Salvador on a little side street in the neighborhood around Bonfim. The happiness of Salvador that everyone rants about exuded from each of the people. Nobody seemed to have any conception of time, but by letting ourself into that mindset too we began moving at the Bahian pace.

Our translator told us it was cassava root paste- hardly descriptive enough. Like a bowl of mashed potatoes (but actually mashed cassava), it was mixed with spices and then topped with chopped steak and green tomoatos and onions, with a bottle of homemade hot sauce on the side. Simple as it sounds, it was absolutely heavenly, and we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore.

While the rain had stopped us from see the dancing crowds each day, or capoeira behind the market, we could feel the soul of Salvador in these little places. In our taxi driver from the airport giving us a free ride. In the people around us, eating, drinking and laughing. In the determined hope of the people fulling the churches. Salvador truly has it’s own personality, and it’s just as happy as they say.


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