Friday, September 3, 2010

Salvador de Bahia, Brazil: Beaches, Surfing and Samba

Coconut water vendor on Praia de Buraquinho  (photo by Luis Bastardo)

I couldn't get the melody of "Mas que Nada", the quintessential modern Bahian song out of my head the entire time we stayed in Salvador de Bahia. It just seemed to fit the mood. The old city is filled with color, from the traditional outfits of the Baianas, the Brazilian women who walk the streets in large hoop skirts and African headdress to the numerous food stands featuring bright orange, red and yellow seafood stews known as moquecas and multi-colored acarajé fillings to the pastel-colored facades of the preserved Portuguese colonial buildings in Pelourinho. The wind-swept beaches host brightly colored kites, windsurfing boards, beach umbrellas and food kiosks. The area is a riot of exotic color, sounds, smells and tastes. Although much of the atmosphere has been preserved and is exploited for tourists, it nonetheless has the desired effect, to impart a feeling of living in the modern world, while honoring the traditional by keeping alive Bahia's African and Portuguese roots.

Windsurfer taking advantage of the strong afternoon breezes (photo by Luis Bastardo)

For the first few days, we stayed at a family-run pousada called Oasis de Luz (Oasis of Light) within walking distance to Praia de Buraquinho (Buraquinho Beach) so that we could relax on the sand for a few days. It was out of season, so we had most of the beach to ourselves, except for the surfers and windsurfers who flock to the perfect waves and breezes of the northeast coast of Brazil. The swimming was somewhat limited because of the strength of the current, and we were warned by the lifeguards not to venture out very far, so we spent much of the time watching the surfers and kite fliers. Most of the owners of the beach side cafes and restaurants allow you to buy food and beer and take it back to your beach towel as long as you remember to bring back their glasses, plates and coolers, so were able to spend much of the day soaking up the sun, splashing in the surf, drinking cold beer and sampling local freshly grilled fish and vegetables. Life can be tough sometimes.

Enjoying having the beach (more or less) to ourselves (photo by Luis Bastardo)

When we returned in the evenings to the pousada, the family was generally in full party mode, Samba music blasting and kindly asked us to join them, offering us cold beer and snacks like boiled, salted peanuts, which I soon became addicted to. Every night, the family seemed to expand and we were constantly introduced to new cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles. On the last day, there must have been more than 40 people coming and going and I lost track completely, aided by the fact that almost everyone bore a strong family resemblance so that, in the end, I couldn't tell one cousin from another. It didn't seem to matter though, especially since neither Luis nor I understood more than a smattering of Portuguese and no one in the family spoke a word of English. We had to rely on the universal language of smiles, laughter and cold beer, but despite the language barriers, we left smothered in hugs and kisses and the impression that we had made lifelong friends.  

Young local beachgoers test the water (photo by Luis Bastardo)

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