By Ricky Skelton
I was looking forward to my trip to Salvador. I couldn’t wait to get to the heart of Brazil’s African culture, and sample food and music that were different to the more European-influenced areas of the south. I enjoyed the journey there, bouncing along at the front of the boat as the city slowly appeared on the horizon. Most other people didn’t though. Todo mundo were seasick.

Maybe it was because of the sky and the sea being the same colour that rough day, but at first sight, Salvador appeared to me to be totally grey. This wasn’t what I’d expected! From everything I’d read about the city, I thought I was going to find bright swirls of African colour on every corner! The buildings of the lower part of town seemed run-down and empty, even if there were shops on the ground floor. The ride in the lift to the high part and the old slave market gave me a good view of the bay and the islands in it. I think that was the last time I felt relaxed in Salvador.

Out of the doors, it was time to run the gauntlet of hawkers and beggars that is Pelourinho. The people you encounter most are those that sell fitas – the bands of different colours that are tied around your wrist with three knots. The three wishes that you make while tying the knots are supposed to come true before the band falls off. Plainly this is nonsense, in the same way that ‘lucky’ heather doesn’t appear to be lucky at all for the lady who has huge bunches of it but is still selling twigs on the streets of London. That is, of course, unless the fita sellers all wished to be selling bands on the streets of Salvador. I should have proved the truth of it by wishing for ridiculous things: to grow an extra leg; to become President of Haiti; and to write a good article. My band didn’t have enough time to work anyway. Somebody had tied one onto my wrist as I walked through the square. I snapped it off angrily and checked for my wallet. I didn’t have a problem with the band, it was the sales tactics – way too aggressive. And it happens all the time, eating food outside, drinking, talking, looking at maps, people always arrive at your side asking for something and seeming like they won’t take no for an answer. I spent a whole night without even talking to my friends. ‘Não, obrigado’ was all I said. Every two minutes. Minimum. Even to the Capoeira boys.

I had to walk away from the scenes every time. I don’t mind watching people somersault down the middle of the road to vault over a friend holding a stick full of sharp facãos pointing at the sky. I’ll pay to watch that, every day if possible, especially as it involves that element of danger (for somebody else). But I get a bit bored after a few minutes of watching people rolling around the floor. I just want them to hit each other!

I’d like to say what my favourite thing was about Salvador, but nothing springs to mind, sadly. The whole city was dirty and rundown, including the beaches I saw. The only clean parts were the sterile Shoppings, which needn’t be a big problem. But I’d been so excited about going to ‘the city where the music never stops’. It might not stop, but somebody had definitely turned it down when I was there. The only live music I heard was from people playing guitars in one of the squares, and they looked like gringoes. What happened to the crazy rhythms of those African drums? I think I should wait for Carnival next time.

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Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

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