We Got The Beat

AMID stunning wilderness scenery, pretty towns and everything else South America has to offer, we have spent time in some of the continent’s major cities.

Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Lima and Quito all left their mark in various ways.

Welcome to Salvador

But after our 11-day beach week jaunt along the Bahian coast, Salvador came as something of a shock to the system.

Mind you, Salvador is likely to come as a shock to anyone’s system.

It is a heady mix of colour, rhythm, cobbled streets, church, music, tourist traps, history and the clash of South American and African cultures.

The top of the lift in the old town, looking out over the bay

Brazil’s third biggest city – after Sao Paulo and Rio – made its name (and money) through the slave trade and attendant commercial opportunities and is billed as the biggest African city outside the continent itself.

Perched on the huge Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay), it is split in two by the cliff which initially made it so attractive as a natural defence – the Cidade Alta reached from the lower Cidade Baixa by the Elevator Lacerda lift and funicular railway.

It comes with a reputation for a unique culture and as a dangerous place for anyone wandering in to the wrong place or touting anything worth taking.

Which, even after one of our party found out the perils first hand on an early-morning solo explore, provides a difficult conundrum.

Very hard to explain, even now

Leaving all but essential items behind and with as little money as necessary, particularly after dark, it leaves you with a difficult decision – leave or take your camera or phone when there is so much to capture as you wander around the upper old town.

All this had been drummed into us as we arrived, a bit frazzled in the heat after a wait to cross the bay from the ferry, and bade farewell to the truck for a few days.

But our life was made easier by a lift ride up to the higher level and a mercifully short walk to our digs in the cobbled Pelourinho district – most of us in an annexe (named the Dog House) round the corner from our hostel with its associated bar and restaurant across the road.

And life became even easier as we regrouped moments later for the hostel’s nightly happy hour of free caipirinhas.

Guaranteed to give you nightmares – the sculpture, not us. Something to do with carnival apparently

Which we took full advantage of each night. Some almost by accident while doing laundry.

Refreshed by the caipirinhas, piles of food served up on the street pretty much outside our room, a live music show complete with extraordinary drummers and a mysterious Bez-style figure in a gimp suit, air con, a first bed for almost two weeks and an absence of sand, we were ready to explore at a fairly civilised hour the next morning.

By the time we regrouped for more free caipirinhas that evening, it was clear most of us had fallen for the charms of Salvador and, in many cases, had rather less room in our luggage with new purchases.

And that was before we took to the narrow cobbled streets and got swept up in the hypnotic drumming which took over the entire district.

The plan was simple. Find a group of drummers and follow them and the rhythm until you stumbled across another one.

Ridiculously over the top

Utterly joyous and captivating as the smiles when we again regrouped outside Zulu Bar would attest.

And quite tiring apparently, considering how quiet much of the next day was, although a lot of that was down to the heavy rain which had us sheltering back in the bar to do our Suriname visa applications before a sedate evening.

After a few more free caipirinhas.

Refreshed, much of the group headed out on a morning walking tour but by the time we jumped ship after the ridiculously gold Sao Francisco church there were just a couple left.

The nightly gathering of the clan

More rain provided an excuse for a quiet afternoon while others attended a class in cooking a moqueca – a Bahian form of fish stew/curry (which they are currently trying to put into action around me) – before a final assault on the free caipirinhas and an evening at a dance show telling the story of slaves and Salvador.

Surprisingly enjoyable and athletic, even if we had no idea what was going on half of the time.

And with that, we bade farewell to Salvador and turned away from the coast which has been our companion for much of the time since leaving Ushuaia at the far south of the continent.

Lencois

Our next stop in Lencois was much quieter, to the point it was easy to find which street stall people were drinking outside because there was not many streets to search.

What the well-dressed cave explorer is wearing this season

When we found them, certainly did not expect to have our pina coladas topped up liberally by a waiter brandishing a bottle of vodka which may have been older than him.

Much of our time in Lencois was spent sheltering from the downpours, listening to the music which booms out regardless of the time and heading out on day trips around the local natural attractions.

Not going any nearer that edge

Which, over the course of a couple of trips in differing conditions, dependent on who was feeling well enough for the first one, we headed out to explore caves, snorkel with turtles (just Lisa got lucky on that one), shelter from the rain, climb a cliff for some stunning views, ruin some Instagram pictures and swim in a river. Before it got too deep after the rain.

Rain ensured a soggy end to our next bush camp on the banks of the Rio Palmeiras – where even in the middle of nowhere, somebody was having a party until the early hours within earshot.

But after Salvador, we are up for anything.

Not your standard waiter

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Wherever I Lay My Phone

Beach life

FROM time to time this blog likes to provide a few tips, probably learned the hard way, which may come in handy for anyone planning their own overland adventure.

So to that end, one piece of advice became as crystal clear as the water which helped create the problem – do not jump off the back of a boat with a phone in your short pockets.

In my defence, there were extenuating circumstances involving turtles, boobies (yes, seriously), the fact nothing is normally kept in my board short pockets and the sun.

Yes, let’s blame the sun.

Not sure everyone feels the same way about the EU

It has, after all, been ridiculously hot for large chunks of our 11-day ‘beach week’ along the coast of Brazil’s giant Bahia province.

Jumping in the water – not always as cold as you would like – has been a very popular pastime . Just most people bothered to check they had nothing of value in their pockets.

Except me when the first real chance arrived to plunge into the sea on a boat trip during our stay in the sleepy – even outside the hours of siesta – stop of Caravelas.

Our boat, shared with Brazilians and, thankfully, one returning native based in Boston and able to translate what was actually going on to those whose Portuguese still stretches little further than ordering a beer, spent the day heading out, around and back from the islands which make up the Parque Nacional Marinho de Abrolhos.

Turtles bobbing around the boat as we pulled up to our first stop upped the excitement levels before we were ushered in groups into a smaller boat and off for a short walk along the nearby shore.

Boobies indignant at taking any blame over my phone going for a swim

More than accustomed to the influx of visitors, the local bird life barely ruffled a feather as we wandered past just a foot or so away, grabbing the opportunity for rare close-up booby pics (stop sniggering at the back).

All good, all smiles until having used my phone to take pictures, Lisa opted to swim back to the boat and deposited it in my pocket as we clambered back into our lift back.

Where it remained when the end of her swim was met with my less than graceful splash off the back of the boat to make the most of the glorious conditions – right up to the point, several minutes later, my phone being put in my pocket came back to me.

What happens if you let people know the WiFi code while waiting for food

It remained working, right up to the point the advice to turn it off immediately became pretty unanimous and there was nothing to do other than put it somewhere safe and spend the rest of the afternoon snorkelling, splashing around (the two may appear the same in some cases) and trying to get near the food ahead of Brazilians who appear to have no concept of sharing, queueing, not sitting on your stuff or minor inconveniences like someone actually sitting in the seat they wanted.

But that’s for another post.

As for the phone, it was banished to the bottom of my locker in a bag of rice nicked borrowed from the truck supplies for the next few days.

Which at least kept it free of the sand which has got everywhere, but stopped my participation in the endless Instagram posing (always with one heel raised and head tilted backwards) which seems to be the Brazilian way.

Again, that one is for another post.

Remarkably, my phone appears to be working (touching all available wood as that is written), rather unlike one travelling companion who admitted his faulty phone was working fine “apart from the phone and the forward facing camera”.

Most importantly, all the pictures – boobies and otherwise, if you really want to milk that line of humour – appear to be in place and backed up.

Until my next lapse of concentration and it gets dunked in a vat of caipirinhas (highly likely, given the current consumption rate) or buried on a beach somewhere.

Phone drama apart, our stop in Caravelas was a relaxing one.

Sunset over the beach at Caravela

Relax was pretty much all you could do given the wait to receive your food at most restaurants – if you received anything at all, two of us at one point just being given two glasses and a plate because they seemed to think we were sharing other people’s food and drink.

The wait one night was so long, we started tucking in to the chillis in the salsa.

Not the smartest of moves.

Caravelas’ hold on us lasted a bit longer than planned as with our scheduled route out not available, we made the shortest of drives and spent the day and night on the nearest beach, complete with a spectacular rising red moon.

Less spectacular when you consider the colour probably had something to do with pollution.

Most of the truck celebrates a couple of birthdays on the beach at Trancoso, complete with the barbecued cheese bloke. Spot the secret Santa presents.
If people keep breaking chairs, use a doughnut

We headed further up the coast the next morning to Trancoso where the main items on the agenda were hanging around on the beach, sampling the locals bars and restaurants (mainly an Aussie-run coffee shop in our case), exploring the central Quadrado (grassy area surrounded by stalls and cafes), trying to keep the popper on my new board shorts done up, eating street food (surprisingly lovely tapioca wraps) and inadvertently adding to our truck collection of sandwich toasters.

The birthday boy

With a joint birthday party on the beach which featured a fair bit of drama, eskie punch (some of it loaded into a water pistol) and the sad demise of several chairs and loss of our Rio gazebo.

The short drive to Porto Seguro brought us to our next stop, where the Portuguese first arrived and the African influence on the area begins to become evident.

We did explore their landing spot in the old town, collecting hammocks for what lies ahead on boats, but the highlight of our two-night stay was rather more modern – a trip to a water park to celebrate tour leader Danny’s birthday.

What happens when a stall holder offers us a free drink in Porto Seguro

Which left just one more beach stop at Itacare, so brief a lot of us did not bother to make the short journey – basically walking round the fence – to the beach.

Can’t be too careful when you have a phone in your pocket.

The sun sets on our beach week at Itacare
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