We took off from Buenos Aires on a six hour flight to begin the Brazilian segment in our around the world travel adventure. Located in the state of Bahia on the Northeast coast of the country, we began our journey in the city of Salvador, known as the epicenter of African-Brazilian culture and renowned for its architecture, music and cuisine. We had heard great things about the city and were anxious to check it out.
Under the rule of the Portguese, Salvador was once the capital of the country, which left the city with a rich colonial legacy. The Pelourinho, the historic center of the city and once the center of the African slave trade, is lined with beautifully restored candy-colored churches and buildings lining windy cobblestone streets overlooking the beautiful coastline. At night the Pelourinho (often called the Pelo) comes alive. Locals and tourists flock to the historical neighborhood to listen to live music, dance and soak up the Bahian culture so we of course partook. There are a ton of kiosks set up to sell local food and beverages and a stage where groups perform samba and reggae. Along the streets the blocos (large groups of drummers and dancers) conduct their weekly outdoor “rehearsals” for the February Carnival. They parade through the streets singing and dancing while hundreds of us following behind move to the music with caiprainhas and beer in hand. Here we remembered what it is we loved about Brazil.
I can´t go, however, without noting the other side of this city. As our guidebook notes: If you are to get mugged in South America, it will likely be in Salvador. Not the best way to warm me up to the city and resulted in a state of paranoia throughout our stay. We had heard an innumberable amount of horror stories of aggressive muggings in broad daylight and were urged to take necessary precautions to ensure our safety (not carrying anything on us but the money we would spend, keep belongings locked up in hotel rooms, stay on main roads, etc.). So bad is the crime that the areas with all the main attractions are lined with armed policemen, serving as a constant reminder of the danger of the city. In the Pelo, for example, there is a specific path of streets tourists are told they should walk down (all lined with police), and we were constantly warned that walking just a block off the delegated path could be detrimental. To add to my paranoid state, even the grocery stores had armed guards standing out front holding what looked like machine guns on steriods.
The threat of danger in this city was constantly on my mind and limited our activities, especially at night. I must admit that my fear greatly hindered our ability to really get to know a city I think that we would love, but really, in my mind, what is the cost? Leaving the colorful Salvador behind, I felt it´s a city of great potential but overrun with so much crime, I couldn´t help but feel relieved to move on to the next destination.