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Most people think of Rio De Janeiro or may be Sao Paulo when asked about Brazil. But the lesser known Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, holds fascinating insights into Brazilian history and culture. Many residents of Salvador De Bahia call it the city with most negros(people of African origin) outside of Africa.
It is a city rich with culture, music, friendly people, great weather and beautiful beaches. You can read about my personal experiences in Salvador here and here.
Most guides and travel agencies suggest visiting the beaches and churches of the city, which you must. The point of this guide, though, is to take you to the other side of the city that most tourists don’t get to see. These are the Eccen-tips for Salvador.
1. Visit A Candomble Terreiro
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and is witness to defining moments of the country’s history. African slaves landed here to work on the sugar cane estates. Later they formed a syncretic religion of African faiths and Catholicism. The religion is called Candomble.
This colourful religion is unlike any that you might have already experienced. Candombleros believe in the almighty Oxumare who is served by lesser gods known as Orixas. Every follower of the religion has a corresponding Orixa who guides him/her through life.
Their places of worship are called terreiros, which are basically houses where religious ceremonies are carried out. The houses make for an interesting visit. Whitewashed walls, musical instruments and statues of Orixas, the terreiros are a different world altogether. A world that you wont have the opportunity to visit often.
2. Attend A Candomble Or Umband Festa In Salvador:
If you want to take your involvement in Afro-Brasilian religions a notch higher, then it is advisable that you stay back in Salvador for a few days and look for a Candomble festa. A festa is nothing but a party, just that in terreiros it is centred around religion.
These wont fit your conventional idea of a religious ceremony. Its a lot like partying with Gods and everyone is invited.
It starts with prayers and drumming and the intensity keeps increasing. Candomble priests receive spirits of Orixas and dance in a trance. They also sing and interact with people. In some cases, the audience can also ask questions and receive advise from the manifested Orixas. That’s not all. Most festas also have free food and sometimes alcohol(depending on the type of ceremony).
The high intensity event is bound to leave you shaken with the array of colours, foot tapping music and the spectacle of having Gods dance with you.
Salvador is dotted with numerous such terreiros, this website states that there are more Candomble houses than Churches in the city.
A good place to find information about schedule of such events is FEDERAÇÃO BAIANA DE CULTO AFRO BRASILEIRO, located at Rua Portas do Carmo, 39 (1st floor) in Pelourinho.
OR – make some local friends and ask them to find out for you. Which is what I did.
3. Party In A Favela:
Now this one comes with a caveat. Just like Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, crime is rife in Salvador too. In fact, reports now suggest that it is way more dangerous than the other two megalopolises of Brazil. So be sure where you are going and who you are going with. Also, its best to avoid carrying cameras or any other valuables even if you deem that the favela is safe.
If you do manage to ask around and get a local friend to accompany you into a favela, the rewards are pretty good. Life in a favela is a lot different than we imagine it to be. While there is crime and poverty, these are also places with friendly people who enjoy drinking a cerveza or two. Life is lived on the streets, quite in contrast to the apartments in Brazilian cities which seem secluded and closed.
You can watch kids playing futbol, girls dressed up going out for a night of partying or some people improvising and playing music without actual instruments. The best is if you get invited to a favela party, which mostly will be the case if you go on friday or saturday night. You can try a move or two on funk music, which is the most popular with people living in these places.
The only favela I can confidently recommend visiting(with a friend) is Curuzu. This favela also houses the band of Ile Aiye and is comparatively safer and I found people here to be friendly.
4. Attend an Afro-Brasilian music concert
More than the beaches and sights of Salvador, it is the music that defines the city. It is one of the best cities around the world to visit for a music aficionado. They say that Samba, Bossa Nova and other forms of Afro-Brasilian music originated right here in this city.
So how can you visit the city and not listen to some live music?
Listen to Samba, Bossa Nova or Afro music in the many bars around the city. But the best is to have an opportunity to listen to the famous bands from the city. Filhos De Gandhy, Olodum, Ile Aiye and Timbalada are top music groups from Salvador’s famous carnival. Sometimes, they do shows in the city. Best is to ask around or get a local friend to find out any such events happening in the city.
5. Gorge On A Bahian Meal:
Bahia, the state of which Salvador is the capital, is also arguably the best place to eat in Brazil. Soterpolitanos(residents of Salvador) suggest that the famous Brazilian dish of pork & beans, Feijoda, was invented here. But the delights of Bahian food go beyond this famous dish.
Try the Acaraje, a dish that is closely associated with the city. Made of fried chickpea dumplings and then stuffed with dry prawns and vegetables, it is a mouthwatering snack that will probably make you want to come back to the city.
On fridays, most al kilo restaurants in the city serve traditional Bahian food such as Vatapa, Cururu and other dishes. Each one of them is unique and will make you overeat.
But the pick of all the dishes from Salvador(in my opinion) is the Moceca, this spicy coconut milk, prawns, tomatoes and sea food gravy is enough to make you thank the long haul flight to Brazil. The best place to have Moceca is in Itaparica, an island close to the city.
Well these are our eccen-tips to Salvador. However, there are many touristic delights that you should not miss. Here are some of them.
1. Igreja Nossa Senhora Do Bonfim:
This church where Jesus is syncretised with Oxala, a Candomble Orixa, is probably the most famous in the city. Here you can tie a coloured ribbon around your wrist with three knots that signify three wishes which will come true by the time this bracelet falls of. But beware, don’t discuss your dreams with anyone. At least that is what I was told!
This is the historic centre of Salvador and also the place where most travelers hang out. Soak in the beautiful coloured buildings, cobbled streets and gastronomic delights.
The island of Itaparica is a weekend retreat for soterpolitanos, and it is only at an hour’s ferry ride from the city. It has multiple beaches and resorts.
4. Sorveteria Da Ribeira:
This is the most famous ice cream shop in the city. With its natural ice creams and many tropical fruit flavours it draws a huge local crowd. Give it a try.
5. Our Lady Of The Rosary Of Black People:
This church in the heart of Pelourinho will interest all culture buffs. The service on tuesday evenings showcases the African influence on Catholicism in this part of the world.
There we go, those were some of the things to do in Salvador. Hope you have a great time exploring one of the most fascinating cities on the planet.
If you have some other eccentric recommendations for Salvador, do share them in the comments. Also, if you have questions, shoot and we will respond as soon as we can.
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