Welcome to beautiful, benighted Brazil! The site you're on began as, and still is, a Guide to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil & Environs. "Bahia" is the old spelling for "bay", and the great bay which gave (the Brazilian state of) Bahia its name has a couple of unique distinctions:
1) More slaves entered this bay than were taken to any other place on the planet.
2) These slaves (or enslaved people rather), in vast testament to the human spirit, created arguably the most soulfully and physically uplifting music ever sung and danced to.
This music in Brazil is analogous to the delta blues and early jazz in the United States in that it is the deep source of so much which would develop out of it. But unlike the blues, known worldwide and played from Tokyo to Timbuktu, this primordial Brazilian music — still played by the descendents of the people brought to work the sugarcane plantations here — is virtually unknown, even in Brazil. Disparagement yields untold lost riches. So...
In order to alert the world to this music's existence, and that of the splendid people who make it, we've borrowed from pre-Civil War African Americans' "grapevine telegraph" (you know, origin of the expression "I heard it through the grapevine"?), allowing anybody to participate in recommending these people to anybody who might land on the recommender's page. But now the magic manifests itself:
For this to work for Raimundo Sodré and João do Boi and Bule Bule, it has to work for Herbie Hancock and Tommy Peoples and Quincy Jones. Because we're not talking about recommendations which reach to the next page and stop. We're talking about internet vectors, long series of recommendations, forming a vast interlinked grapevine capable of taking people from one person to any number of people in any number of places, playing any number of styles and variations of styles of music. Thus one might start with someone one knows personally, a friend maybe, or with somebody one knows of, a highly talented and respected musician, and wind up...God knows only where...there are pathways to (among so many other, better known, places) even the little villages on the far side of the Bay of All Saints, where so much inhumanity was unable to kill perhaps the noblest human virtue of all: the desire not merely to survive, but against all odds, somehow prevail. Music and the arts are powerful stuff. -- Sparrow Roberts
The Sunny Side of the Street
Brazil, which in the "international mind" was for long associated with exoticism and romance, carnival and mighty jungles, beaches both idyllic and urban, the latter populated by flowering hard-bodied youth (including the Girl from Ipanema, now the Grandmother from Ipanema)...is now unfortunately associated with criminality, both (mostly) at the top of society's economic echelons and at the bottom.
Heloísa Pinheiro, the real, "historical" Girl from Ipanema, nowish and then.
The criminality at the top will affect visitors to Brazil (unless you're invested in Petrobras) mostly by means of the outrageous taxes surreptitiously folded into most everything here, ranging from some 20 to 50 percent and more heavily weighted toward the latter. Much of this goes to support the royal lifestyles of elected officials and those they appoint (judges and prosecuters and whatnot), who beyond great salaries and the right (in the case of elected officials) to retirement at full salary after only eight years of "service", have their clothes and housing paid for (even if they own their houses), and of course their trips, and their lunches (even when not travelling), and their extensive staffs...having their asses kissed by the sycophants around them, with the occasional exceptions of Dilma and Lula, who are booed and cursed when they set their disingenuous faces before a public which has for the most part figured out what they are full of.
(Yes, I know this need updating! Things are moving fast here.)
Ex-governor of Bahia, made Minister of Defense by Dilma when he didn't even bother to keep the historical center of his state's capital safe. Now he's Dilma's chief-of-staff, doing what he can to keep Eduardo Cunha in office after it's been discovered that the guy has at least 5 million undeclared (stolen) dollars in Switzerland, this in exchange for Cunha's not pulling the impeachment trigger (which as president of congress, it's his prerogative to do). Of course it was this same Dilma under whose tenure as CEO of Petrobras billions of reais/dollars were stolen, some of which was funnelled to the treasurer of her party (PT), but of course she knows nothing of any of this and is herself outraged that the name "Petrobras" is even attached to it.
A list of taxes by product is here. One of the more outrageous (I need to find another word, but it's hard when this is exactly what I want to say) things about this list is the 56.9% tax on gasoline. The federal government ordered Petrobras to sell gasoline here at a loss, ostensibly to keep down inflation and help the consumer. Then they tax the f*#k out of it, so that gas is expensive here anyway, basically picking the pockets of Petrobras shareholders. Yeah! Outrageous!
Brazilian gasoline prices are here.
This lack of civic responsibility extends down to the criminal "justice" system, which, when the police go out of their way to arrest somebody for armed robbery for example, usually turns the criminal back out the the streets within a day or two (no space in the jails and prisons; state governments don't like to invest in their construction and operational costs, the money to be grafted in the former apparently not enough to offset the latter). The upshot being that criminals know that crime pays and there's usually little if any punishment, even if they're caught (unless they mess with somebody like a judge; then there's hell to pay. If they kill a policeman/woman then then not even the dysfunctional court system comes into play; they are killed in an "exchange of gunfire").
Getting down to specifics, when in Salvador's Pelourinho during the day you will see police and guardas (the former wearing brown khaki and under the aegis of the state of Bahia; the latter wearing blue and under that of the city of Salvador) standing around in pairs and groups all over the place, shooting the shit. It's better to have them around than not, a little. A little because enough of them are happy enough to have a camera-snatching thief dash past them without their twitching a muscle. Hey!...THEY didn't get robbed! Why sweat it? In these cases you are at the mercy of the individual integrity of the policeperson in question. And of course the thieves know this.
So although Pelourinho is generally safe during the day, it's still not a good idea to ostentatiously wave an iPhone 6 around, or even less exalted tablets and smartphones. People take photos with pocket and larger cameras all over the place; I don't think they're very highly rated on the fenceable items list, but still one should be aware that a snatch-and-run is possible.
And snatch-and-run is almost GUARANTEED if you are wearing a gold chain/necklace, or one that looks like it could be such. The creeps often work in pairs; one will snatch and hand it off to another and off they go. You or somebody gets the snatcher and he of course protests wounded innocence and impugned integrity!
There's an area of Pelourinho which was never rebuilt when Pelourinho was reconstructed in the early '90s...the so-called seventh stage (sétima etapa). It LOOKS like it was never rebuilt, with mostly crumbling houses and buildings and with questionable-looking characters lurching about. This is to the right of Praça da Sé as one looks north, particularly after the first street running parallel to Praça da Sé (Rua do Saldanha, lined with electronics shops). The area is, at long last, getting better and more secure; the state is settling policepeople into reconstructed houses (and these houses are LOVELY when they are redone; under the grime and crime this is a beautiful area!).
It's a crime this place looks like this!
So let your good sense be your guide: Everywhere in Salvador is questionable these days. But SOME places are more questionable than others, and they look like it!
When entering Pelourinho from the Praça da Sé for the first time you are likely to be met by very welcoming baiánas, Bahian women dressed in the traditional big dresses of Candomblé...smiles and hugs and have your photo taken with an extremely friendly native woman in the Land of Happiness!
Of course what these women are wanting to welome is your money into their hands, a fact which is only mentioned after the photo/s have been taken. The "price" can vary, but it usually tends to around 20 reais.
No, this is not a hustler. This is Dalva de Cachoeira, a "real" baiána!
Then there's the "massage lady". She'll show up at your table, or catch your attention on the street, throwing her shoulders back with the implication that yours are drooping. If you are at all caught by curiosity at what she's on about, she moves in, grabs an arm, and goes to work correcting you. It's unbelievable to me that so many people will allow a complete, dodgy-looking stranger put her hands all over them like this, yanking and pulling...
And then it's time to pay! Forty reais! Don't pay up and she ain't smiling anymore! I saw her do her thing right outside the shop here and the victim only had a fifty. No problem! She'd change it and come back. Not. I've heard she asks for as much as a hundred reais.
Then there's the pathetic starving kid out front of the pharmacy on Praça da Sé. He'll tell you he doesn't want money...all he wants is powdered milk! Poor guy! How much more innocent of a request could somebody make?!
A lot! He'll take that milk around the corner and trade it for the crack he really wants. I'll bet that pharmacy only sells milk to this one kid! Their prices are so high that only (or mostly, anyway) tourists buy in there. Powdered milk is used to cut coke.
So the bottom line is that anybody approaching you in Pelourinho wants money, whether it be by pestering you into buying overpriced costume jewelry by enticing you with the offer of a "free" fita de Bonfim (ribbon to be tied around one's wrist) or by holding a supposedly starving stomach and grimacing pitifully in the hope that a contribution from you will go up in smoke for them. The best way to handle these people (assuming you're not going to buy or give) is to not let them catch your eye, looking off into the distance and waggling one's hand from the wrist with the index finger raised (a gesture I'm told is common in Italy also) to indicate "no", and keep moving.
What's the Story with Those Little Ribbons Anway?
(taken from our Sites section)
Igreja do Bonfim
The Igreja do Bonfim commands a high position on the peninsula of Itapagipe (an area of land which spreads out from the cidade baixa into the bay) and is notable for being a place of veneration not only for Catholics but for Candomblistas. It is the endpoint of a yearly procession called the Lavagem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim), which is more accurately a reference to the washing of the church's steps by mães de santo (candomblé priestesses) who lead the procession from the Mercado Modelo to the igreja. This happens in mid-January, and the procession following the mães de santo is actually an enormous party, with drumming and dancing and eating and drinking slowly spreading from the area around the Mercado Modelo to the area around Bonfim. The church houses a curious room called Sala dos Milagres (Room of Miracles) where people leave votive offerings in thanks for cures, the votives forming a rather bizarre collection of hanging plastic replicas of multitudinous problematic body parts.
The Igreja do Bonfim is closely associated with fitas do Senhor do Bonfim ("fita" is "ribbon", and the Senhor do Bonfim is both Jesus Christ and his syncretized counterpart Oxalá), which are sold by wandering vendors both in Pelourinho and in front of the Igreja do Bonfim itself (unhappily, "sold" isn't really a very good way to put it, "pushed" and "foisted" being more like it). The idea behind the fitas is that they are tied around one's wrist with three knots, the knots corresponding to three wishes made as the knots are tied, and when the fabric wears out and the fita drops off...the wishes will be granted.
The length of the ribbons was originally determined by the length of the right arm of the statue of Jesus at the top.
The length of the fitas (47 centimeters) corresponds to the length of the right arm of a statue of Jesus positioned on the church altar, the statue having been carved in Setúbal, Portugal during the 18th century. The original fitas do bonfim were first produced in 1809, in accordance with common Portuguese custom. They were made from silk, worn around the neck, and were hung with small medallions bearing saints' images. And they were used after a cure via miraculous intervention, after the placing of an image or wax representation of the affected body part within the church (per above).
You see them all over nowadays, one very common place to hang them being the rear view mirror of Salvador's taxi cabs (quite often together with a figa, a good luck charm used to ward off the evil eye).
Officially accredited guides hang around Pelourinho and the Praça Municipal (the big public square which gives on to the elevator between the upper and lower cities) trying to bag tourists. They can be identified as official by their blue T-shirts reading "Monitor do Turismo" and the plastic badges hanging around their necks (I've seen plenty of home made badges too!). From what I gather the official accreditation is pretty worthless. I've heard any number of untrue things being "explained" by these guys to tourists not in a position to know any better. There was one I knew who was honest, smart, truthful and interested, but he's moved on. And there's Gilmar, a tiny guy who works in the diretoria of the Filhos de Gandhy and who is very nice and I assume knowledgeable... But there's also a tall bald guy by the name of Marcos, nickname "Carioca", who hangs around and who will soak you out of money any way he can. You'll simply have to use your own discretion if you want to hire one of these guys.
And speaking of discretion...people can be such fools! Countless times I've seen tourists being taken on what we call "Saciturs" (Saci tours), "Saci" (sah-see) being the local slang for cracksmoker, the term coming from the mythological (pre Sítio do Picapau Amarelo) Brazilian Saci-Pererê, a disturbed and disturbing child...groups being led around by a dirty, crazed, know-nothing kid, apparently thinking they're benignly helping the unfortunate when they pay this kid enough for him to buy god-knows-how-many "pedras", crack rocks.
At 6 p.m. or so, as evening sets in and one would imagine that with the onset of darkness in an ostensible tourist area the police presence would be reinforced, most of them go home. And later - tourists are not known for necessarily retiring early - the police disappear almost entirely, although there is usually one of their mobile units (vans) at the bottom of the Largo do Pelourinho 24 hours.
That hasn't prevented a hostel some 20 meters away from being broken into and the guests robbed twice in the last year though!
Table of Contents
An Introduction to Salvador da Bahia
A Brief History of Salvador da Bahia
Pelourinho: The Centro Histórico
Our Cana Brava Record Shop in Pelourinho, specializing in samba and related styles
Important Salvador Sites
Festas: The Sacred & the Profana
Carnival in Salvador, Bahia
Candomblé: Ubiquitous Deities
Capoeira: Dance Like a Baryshnikov; Hit like a Kalashnikov
Salvador's Afoxés & Blocos Afros
Fiction from Bahia
The Music of Bahia
› Currently working musicians from Bahia are here!
A Short History of the Music of Brazil
› Currently working musicians from Brazil are here!
A Tour Guide to Salvador & Environs
The Beaches of Bahia
Fab Apartments to Stay in While You're Here!
Salvador Central Members/Nodes
There's a lot of spectacle in Bahia...
Carnival with its trio elétricos -- sound-trucks with musicians on top -- looking like interstellar semi-trailers back from the future...shows of MPB (música popular brasileira) in Salvador's Teatro Castro Alves (biggest stage in South America!) with full production value, the audience seated (as always in modern theaters) like Easter Island statues...
Carlinhos Brown's Museu do Ritmo (Rhythm Museum; an entertainment venue) all done up Bahian faux tribal showbiz style...glamour and glitz and press agents...
Carlinhos Brown: Man with a Shtick...er...Stick
And then there's where it all came from...the far side of the Baía de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints), a land of subsistence farmers and fishermen, many of the older people unable to read or write...their sambas the precursor to all this, without which none of the above would exist, their melodies -- when not created by themselves -- the inventions of people like them but now forgotten (as most of these people will be within a couple of generations or so of their passing), their rhythms a constant state of inconstancy and flux, played in a manner unlike (most) any group of musicians north of the Tropic of Cancer...making the metronome-like sledgehammering of the Hit Parade of the past several decades almost wincefully painful to listen to after one's ears have become accustomed to evershifting rhythms played like the aurora borealis looks...
So there's the spectacle, and there's the spectacular, and more often than not the latter is found far afield from the former, among the poor folk in the villages and the backlands, the humble and the honest, people who can say more (like an old delta bluesman playing a beat-up guitar on a sagging back porch) with a pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) and a chula (a shouted/sung "folksong") than most with whatever technology and support money can buy. The heart of this matter, is out there. If you ask me anyway.
Alumínio Saturno, resident of Pitinga, Bahia, chuleiro and subsistence farmer; now with God