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THE REAL SALVADOR - BEYOND BRAZIL'S TOURIST CENTRE
 
(2014 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: JENNIFER FODEN WILSON



I have to admit—I never had any interest in travelling to Salvador, Brazil’s third most populous city, 1,600 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro.

Maybe it was never on my radar, maybe it’s often overshadowed by Rio, São Paulo and the Amazon—or maybe I had heard one too many stories about how it’s “notorious” for street crime. It wasn’t until my younger sister Stephanie stumbled across Salvador (and moved there) in November 2012 that I became intrigued by the city’s architecture, history, music and food. Finally, after many stories and too much time apart, I arrived in Brazil’s “capital of happiness.”

I soon learned from the locals one of the reasons for Salvador’s reputation for street crime: businesses and government have helped spread the fear in order to contain tourists (and their money) to the old city centre of Pelourinho. Don’t get me wrong—Salvador is not perfect. There is crime, of course, but not unlike many other developing or newly industrialized countries, equipped with some traveller’s common sense, it’s quite possible to go beyond the tourist centre and explore what the real Salvador has to offer.

Connect With Nature

For a city of more than three million people, Salvador boasts a surprising amount of opportunities to connect with nature. Just a 30-minute bus ride east of Pelourinho is the Pitauçu Park where, for just 10 Brazilian reals (R) each (R2 equal $1 CDN), we rented bicycles for a 15-kilometre ride through the urban green oasis. Pitauçu Park is, to my amazement, an undiscovered gem—we came across only one other tourist during our leisurely three-hour ride. We took the time to stop and explore the old, abandoned military training camp (just before you finish the first kilometre) and the openings that lead from the bike trail to one of the park’s many tranquil, picturesque lagoons.

Next to Pitauçu is Jaguaribe Beach. A weekend spot well-liked by locals, Jaguaribe is full of its fair share of Brazilian street (beach) food vendors and itsy bitsy bikinis. We headed to Jaguaribe to check an item off our bucket list—surfing. CTS Surf offers 90-minute lessons for just R40. If breaking waves aren’t your thing, the Atlantic waters surrounding Salvador offer everything from whale-watching and paddleboarding to diving and sailing.

Culinary Delights

Salvador is a food lover’s paradise. An absolute must-taste is the acarajé, a Salvador Afro-Brazilian street food specialty. Think of it as a small deep-fried sandwich, with the “bread” made from mashed black-eyed peas and the filling consisting of shrimp, vegetables and hot pepper sauce. Interestingly, Salvador food vendors who sell acarajés are mostly women, recognizable by their mainly white cotton outfits.

Moqueca, a seafood and coconut milk stew cooked in a large clay bowl, is another delicious dish. The best place to order moqueca is in Ribeira, a charming beachside neighbourhood known for its fresh seafood, seven kilometres from downtown Salvador.

My favourite Salvador food experience was beiju, or as my sister and I like to light-heartedly call it, the “Brazilian taco.” The tapioca starch shell is plated like a crepe and packed with shredded beef and cheese. Other filling options include banana, cinnamon and guava. This, coupled with a caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail), or a local brew, definitely hits the spot.

For Culture Buffs

You haven’t experienced Salvador’s enthusiasm and spirit until you attend a football (soccer) match at Arena Fonte Nova. One of the venues for the 2014 World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Olympics, Fonte Nova holds up to 50,000 passionate Brazilian football fans. The energy is similar to a Canada vs. USA Olympic hockey final—multiplied by a thousand. It’s worth the R50 just to hear the sound of the crowd roar.

For music lovers, a true local favourite is Jam no MAM, a jazz jam session that happens every Saturday night at the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia. Recommended by Salvador Free Walking Tours (a knowledgeable local guide and professional photographer), there’s no better way to spend a Saturday night in Salvador than sipping on a caipirinha and listening to world-class jazz under the stars. However, you never have to go too far to find music in Salvador: harmonious locals and budding musicians are singing or playing drums everywhere from the bus to the Barra Lighthouse to the architecturally-rich streets surrounding the historic centre.

Sure, Salvador is not without its flaws. There is (some) street crime, a transit system that leaves much to be desired and beautiful architecture begging for restoration. But, Salvador is unlike any place I’ve ever been—it’s humble. Yes, it has its “Disneyland” tourist centre, but beyond Pelourinho, tourists (and locals) don’t realize that Salvador is full of character, plentiful green space, world-class cuisine, dance and music, energy and culture. It has more than enough to satisfy, regardless of your interests. I adored Salvador, despite its few shortcomings. No different to a relationship between sisters.

Travel Planner

Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies direct from Toronto to São Paulo. From there, you can catch a domestic flight to Salvador with TAM Airlines (tam.com.br). For accommodation in Bahia’s capital, consider Estrela do Mar (estreladomarsalvador.com),
a charming pousada (B&B) right by the ocean.

For more information, visit:

Brazil Ministry of Tourism: visitbrasil.com

CTS Surf: ctssurf.com

 
 
 
 
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