Hello from the somewhere between Salvador de Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yesterday we were in port in Bahia and it was nice to be back on land after 5 days at sea. Of course, there was no time to be bored on those 5 sea days because there always are so many activities going on as well as nice places such as the pool deck or solarium where some rest and relaxation can take place.
It was interesting as we approached Bahia because we started to see birds near the ship, then we could see buildings on the distant shore, as well as lots of small fishing boats. Once we started to go into the bay, there were many boats and ships of every size, but no other cruise ships, which was a first for this trip. Always there have been other cruise ships at each port. It is also interesting to see the layout of the town and the different areas as we get closer and closer to the dock. Bahia is a huge city of about 3 million, but the main tourist part is the old city, or Cidade Alta. It is called this because it is high on a cliff, with the lower city, or Cidade Baxia below it. This is the scruffier area that we had to go through to get to the old (and high) city. Unfortunately, both the guidebooks and some of the so-called experts on board all gave grave warnings about the dangers of being mugged or having your pocket picked, told how dangerous walking the streets is, etc. so most of the people on the ship booked tours. We however, always feel comfortable walking around these places since it is broad daylight, and we know enough to take the proper precautions, such as wearing no jewelry and using a money belt under our clothes for valuables. Actually, we just took very little money with us, and we made sure to go in a group. Ten of us walked through the port area together and took the Lacerda Elevator to the upper city. It is a huge elevator tower with at least 4 big elevators in it which carries people between the two parts of town at a very rapid rate. Because it is primarily there for the regular population, it was very cheap to use at .05 Reals per ride. There are 2.5 Reals per dollar. Once we all reached the top, Joe and Carla went with Elaine and me, while the 6 Houston friends all went off together. It is just too cumbersome to explore anywhere in a group bigger than 4. And we hate traveling by “committee”!
Many of the tour groups from the ship were there ahead of us so we went to an internet place for 30 minutes to clean out our mailbox and real e-mails while the crowds cleared. The internet places were also cheap at 2 Reals per 30 minutes. Thanks everyone who sent us a newsy e-mail. We enjoyed them all although there was no time for individual responses. It was nice that the internet place was somewhat air conditioned, as it was a hot and humid day, with plenty of sun. We all were sweating copiously after only a short time away from the air conditioned ship. Elaine and I enjoy the warm and humid weather better than everyone else does. It makes our skin look younger and I even have thicker looking hair with some curl in it!
Then we explored some of the places of historical interest. There are about 166 churches here, but we only went into 3 of them and those only because they had been highly recommended in the guidebooks. One of them had the most fantastic ceiling which had largely been covered in gold leaf, and also some impressive side altars as well as the sacristy. Another had a front façade of sandstone carved in a mix of rococo and churrigueresque. (I’m sure I am misspelling that but it is an architectural style that we have seen in Mexico and which is very distinctive).
Inside this church, which was the Church of St. Francisco, there were many blue tiles from the 17th and 18th century with scenes on them of not only Bahia in the past but also Lisbon from before the devastating earthquake there in 1755.
Of course, Brazil is a former Portuguese colony, everyone here speaks that language, and we noticed many similarities to Portugal in Bahia.
There is so much more to Bahia than just the churches. There are many other colonial buildings in the upper city and they have been delightfully painted in pastel colors and many have cornices with ferns or other plants on them.
The streets are mostly cobblestone and as we strolled along, enjoying all the life on the streets and the vibrancy of the place, we felt right at home because there were so many street artists and vendors with all their wares such as we are used to from Mexico and Central America. The art is so colorful and innovative; we were sorry we couldn’t buy a lot of it – so we took pictures.
The people are also interesting as this was the biggest slave port in Brazil and Bahia has the highest percentage of Africans in Brazil, as well as mixed race people. There is a lot of African culture mixed into the Portuguese culture here and it is easily seen in the costumes, food, handicrafts, dancing, etc. We stopped to try one of the local beers and it was excellent. It was so much fun just to walk around in the streets!
On our way back to the ship, we took the elevator back down to the lower level and stopped to see the huge Mercado Modelo. This had a lot of small stalls with handicrafts as well as cheap food places, a produce section, etc. We also bought some soft drinks in a local store to take back to the ship. Everywhere the people were helpful and friendly. In this part of the city there were a lot of areas of broken up cobblestones, graffiti on the buildings, litter, and areas where there was a strong urine smell. This really influenced how a lot of people from the ship felt about this town, since we heard a lot of negative reports when we were back on the ship. We four had a wonderful day and thought the town was worth coming back to, since we missed a few places we wanted to see.
Tonight is the last formal dinner of this leg of the trip, and we are hoping it is also lobster night. Tomorrow we will arrive in Rio at about 3 in the afternoon, and the next day is the day our Houston friends will be leaving us, as they are only doing the first leg. The rest of us will be taking an all day tour, which has been arranged ahead of time by Tom & Rocki Blair. That is also the day that many of us are supposed to move to a different cabin, so we will have to be packed and our room stewards will move our stuff while we are touring. It will be interesting to see how they handle all the associated paperwork, change of Sea Pass cards, etc. Also, there will be nearly a thousand more passengers on this leg, which starts in Rio and ends in Valparaiso, Chile, going around the Horn. It has been nice having a ship that isn’t full, as it is easier to use the exercise room, get food in the Windjammer, etc. Hopefully, all the changes coming up won’t be negative ones!
I will post another report after our tour of Rio, and after we have been established in our new room and at our new dining tables. Until then, we hope that all is going well for all of you back home and we are sending you big hugs.