Our first week in Brazil starts with the arrival at Salvador Airport. South America, a continent we both have never been before. We don’t really know any friends or family who have been here. But now the time has come, we are here ourselves.
We get off the plane and immediately get struck by the heat. This is something different than summer in Europe. We notice that we won’t need these winter clothes we’re wearing from hitch-hiking any more. That’s a good thing because we forget to add this weight to our count. These clothes add another 5 kilos to our backpacks (shoes included). So we want to get rid of this heavy stuff as soon as possible, but we might hold on to them until we’ve been to Patagonia. We’ve heard it can be pretty chilly there.
Once we’re out of the plane, we walk towards customs for a passport check. We were in the back of the plane, and only the front door opens, so everyone that was on the plane is standing in line in front of us. Like in many airports, they only have like 2 desks open, while they know a big plane has arrived. I still can’t understand this, really. So we’ll be here for at least an hour.
After we get our stamps we go to the look for our bags. Fortunately, our bags are already there. Actually, they are the only ones there. I guess that’s the only good thing from standing at the back of the line. We walk into the terminal and immediately there are people jumping us. They all want us to go with their taxi, and they are all the cheapest. And all expensive… Turns out this really is a touristic hotspot and they all want your money.
We decide to look for an ATM machine first and then look for the bus. Our Couchsurfing host, where we will spend the night, told us this is the cheapest option. We walk outside the terminal and there are even more taxi drivers who all look at us like we are wearing a huge sign that says: ‘talk to me please, i’m stupid’, so they all start talking to us. Eventually there are a few drivers that tells us the bus terminal is on the other side of the parking lot but there are no more buses at this hour. We assume that they are being honest, but next time we will go check it ourselves. ‘Like I have been taught in the Fire Department: ‘it’s good to assume, but it’s always better to check’
So we start to look for a taxi who will drop us of in front of our host’s house, which is nice at 0:15 am in a city that’s known to have a lot of criminal activity at night. We negotiate a bit and finally we find a man who looks reliable and who is willing to help us for a set price (80 Brazilian Real, which is about $ 30,-, in stead of the initial 140 Real) The bags go into the trunk, the navigation is set and we leave the airport.
In Brazil it seems like the traffic rules have not been invented yet: overtaking on the left and right side, and so close to the next car that the mirrors almost crash into each other, tailing so close that the bumpers almost touch, go through red lights, speeding and so forth. We are pretty relieved to finally get out of the car safely at our ‘home’. We unload the bags, pay for the taxi and cross the street towards the door.
The house is behind a big blue wall which is about 2,5 meters high upon which are steel teeth to prevent people from climbing over it. There’s also a door with a doorbell and a garage door. We ring the bell and wait, but we don’t hear the bell ourselves, is it broken?
We wait patiently but after a few minutes the door is still closed and we don’t hear any movement coming from the other side of the wall. Looking from across the street we can see light through one of the windows so we start to ring, knock and shout a bit more intense, because the people that are passing us in the street don’t look to friendly. We would really like to get inside and be safe. We did get a phone number from Marcelo, our host, but this number is incorrect so there is no use in calling him.
After like 15 minutes we are still standing there and we decide to go look for WiFi, maybe he left us a message? At the airport the WiFi was not working so we couldn’t check it unfortunately.
We walk a bit and eventually we get to a small, crooked hotel where the people are trying to sell us a room immediately. We try to explain our story as good as we can and with the help of Google Translate (what an invention!) it seems to be working. But every five minutes or so, we still get asked if we would like to have a room. We ask for the price of the room, just in case we are unable to sleep at our host. “180 Real”, the man says, which is like $80, and he is not even joking about it. No way we are going to pay that much for such a crappy looking hotel! So after we check everything and send our host a few messages, we decide that it’s time to head back to the blue wall. Is Brazil really that expensive or are we just being screwed?
Back at the door the light is still on. Maybe our host fell asleep on the couch? I inspect the wall again and try to see if I can look over it. That works but I can’t see anybody in the living room. While Milou is ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door, I am off to find some small rocks to throw against the window. It sounds easier than it is because the wall is high and there’s a huge palm tree standing next to the window. The leaves are hanging in front of it, blocking all my stones. Every now and then one gets through and they softly hit the glass, but this also has no effect. We are still there after another 15 minutes. Might he be out for a drink, or does he even live here at all? The story gets more doubtful by the minute and we wonder if he gave us the right address. And if not, what kind of person lives here? What would he do if he sees 2 white Europeans, who woke him out of his sleep in the middle of the night by pounding on his door, screaming and trying to break his window by throwing stones?
Maybe it’s time to give up and to go look for an alternative. Sleeping on the beach? Stay up? Go look for a hostel?
Considering it’s our first night in a brand new continent, we think it’s better to sleep inside somewhere. We find a hostel on our map and cross the street towards it. At the corner I look around one more time and what do I see? The lights are out! So there must be someone home, which is a good sign. We run back to the door and make this our final attempt, all or nothing!
Ringing, screaming, pounding and rock throwing, like a bunch of idiots, we stand in front of a closed door in a huge blue wall in the middle of the night. That must have looked rather funny from a distance.
After a few minutes we hear some movement coming from behind the door and then finally it opens. Anxious we wait what kind of person there is on the other side, a bodybuilder, an old man, a young woman? It is our first host, Marcelo! Yaaaay!
He apologizes like 10 times, but we don’t care that he didn’t open up sooner. He’s here now and we are so glad we got a place to sleep instead of wandering the streets of Salvador at night. We can’t really blame him for falling asleep since we arrive in the middle of the night. We drink some water and talk for about 10 minutes, then it’s time for bed, we’re beat.
The next day we get up at 09:00 even though we have already been awake several times. Apparently it starts to get light here around 05:00, that in combination with the time difference and the flight that we could barely sleep on, has pretty much messed up our internal clock. Add to that that there are like 15 roosters screaming to be the loudest and every car is honking like a mad idiot at every intersection.
When you finally succeed to fall asleep you get stung by 30 mosquitoes, which makes you wake up scratching yourself all over your body. They just sting through the blankets and your pj’s, the bastards.
Marcelo is already awake. He’ll leave for the gym soon and wants to drop us off at a supermarket, about 30 minutes walking distance from his house. When we get back, Marcelo is already back too. Apparently, his boxing lesson got cancelled because the instructor wasn’t there. He said this is rather normal in Brazil. We decide to do some washing and then go for a walk on the beach. We’re only 50 meters away! Marcelo tells us there’s a jam session in the evening, on a terrace at the beach, where you can see the sunset. That sounds very appealing!
The sun sets here at 6.15 pm. After a few hours at the Jam, we could go home to meet him, and go to a garage, which at night transforms into a discotheque. We think that sounds rather cool and we tell Marcelo that we’d like to go there with the three of us.
First we go for a walk along the beach, and after we get on a bus to the Jam. It’s already packed with people, but we manage to find a nice spot. Unfortunately, we can’t see the sun set, because it’s behind a lot of clouds.
The jam session seems a little rehearsed, or they are just really, really good. It’s Jazz music and we enjoy it for about an hour. After that, hunger takes over and we decide to go back home to cook. ON the way here, we went past the Jam, to a bus stop pretty far away. That’s why we decide to try and find the bus stop ahead of the Jam. This turns out to be a bad choice…
We walk on the biking lane of a bridge, which has a few openings that lead to slum neighbourhoods. There are a lot of homeless people sitting on the bridge. Some of them build a fire and are sitting around it. We’ve been warned several times to look after our belongings and ourselves, so we feel little (ok, a lot) uncomfortable walking past all these people with a bag that shouts: ‘I cover a really expensive camera!’.
The homeless people shout lots of things that don’t make sense to us. Some of them have eyes so big, they seem to be in a different world. It also smells really bad here, like piss and shit, literally, we even see it at some places. Not a good place to walk in your flip flops! We take the risk to cross the busy road and go walk on the super small side walk. On this side, we might get robbed, or worse. So we cross the street and continue our search for the bus stop. Again, our map (on the maps.me app) helps us out and we find it, even further away than the other bus stop. We have absolutely no idea which bus to take and which street goes where. Luckily, Brazilian people can be really helpful when you’re able to explain what you want. Thanks to two older man, we finally get on the right bus.
At Marcelo’s, we cook some diner and decide to lie down for a little while, until Marcelo gets home and we can go to the disco. Unfortunately, we’re unable to stay awake.
The next morning we rise at about the same time as Marcelo. Turns out we missed him by a few minutes. He came home at 10.30 pm, and went to bed after 15 minutes. And we woke up at 11 pm to brush our teeth. Oh well, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see the discotheque, but apparently we were so warn out from the jetlag that we would’ve wanted to go home anyway.
Today we’ll go to the beach. We didn’t get to swim yesterday, because we didn’t have enough time at the beach. So today, that’s our only plan. At the boulevard, they have a few nice stands. We pick one to buy a young coconut, and get it chopped open to drink the water and scoop out the flesh. So good! Then off to the beach, where there seem to be only local people. Doesn’t matter, we don’t really fit in with our extremely pale skin, but we don’t care. The water is lovely, not to warm, not too cold. The only thing is that there are lots of sea weeds, floating in the water. You get scared easily, every time something slimy touches you. Luckily, we don’t meet any jellyfish and are stuff is still on the beach when we get out of the water. It’s so easy not to trust people here, with all the preconceptions at home, about all the criminals that should be walking around in Brazil. Turns out there’s a higher chance to get caught by the current than to be robbed at this beach.
Anyway, we had a nice (and safe) swim and tan for about half an hour. Then quickly back home, because our skin is not used to the sun at all. Of course we use sun block, but we still get a little sun burn. The rest of the day we don’t do too much. Another walk to the supermarket, some cooking and for the rest we just chill.
On the way to the supermarket, we see lots of people working really hard to build the stages for the Carnival. Apparently, carnival in Salvador is one of the greatest parties in Brazil. It lasts 30 days, where in other cities it’s only 4 or 6 days. The stages look like complete buildings, with multiple stories. They work day and night. According to our host, his neighbourhood is completely blocked during the Carnival, that’s why he flees the city at this time. On the way back from the supermarket it seems to be ‘siësta-time’, because all the workers are napping in the shadow of their van, or in the back of their car. Some of them have complete meals prepared for them.
The last day in Salvador we spent in the walhalla they call an air-conditioned mall. One of the biggest we’ve ever seen, so it’s hard to find all the stuff we need. When we get home, Marcelo is outside, in his hammock. We ask him if he eats the coconuts that fall from his tree. He tells us those are no good, but he can’t get the good ones from the palm trees. Some YouTube-research later, Marcelo and Riny hang from the tree with a rope between their feet. Some scratched later, Riny’s got two coconuts! This is the real life, laying in a hammock, sipping the water from you coconut through a straw. At night we share some beers with Marcelo, and then he takes us to the bus station. We’ll try to get some sleep on the bus, because it’s a 7 hour drive to Lencois, our first stop in Chapada Diamantina National Park. Good night!
Our first impression of Brazil is that it’s very, very hot (lol, of course it is!). There’s a mosquito plague, and these mosquitoes prefer the blood of tourists. The creams from home don’t work here. Luckily, our sun block does work, but we use one bottle every 3 days. People in general are very friendly and helpful. They warn you for criminal activity in the city, mostly at night, and unfortunately we’ve experienced that this should not be taken lightly. Next time we’ll take a taxi in the evening. Taxi’s don’t cost a thing, and buses even less. Although you should always negotiate about the price, because they try to get as much money from you as they can. After sundown, traffic rules no longer exist, and you should never think it’s safe to cross at a green light. It’s even allowed for cars to ignore the red lights.