After Pernambuco, Alagoas and Sergipe, here is Bahia and Salvador, the state capital. The name probably rings a bell—this big state is the birthplace of samba, capoeira, the epicentre of Afro-Brazilian culture and it throws a hell of a Carnival party every year.
It’s not Carnival yet and I won’t be there for it, yet I’m ridiculously happy I made it to Salvador. Six weeks ago, I picked up a map and decided to travel from Recife to Salvador by bus along BR-101, stopping along the 800-kilometre journey.
I took a minute outside the rodoviária to relish the moment, then I looked for a taxi because Salvador’s bus terminal isn’t the kind of place where you want to linger with all your belongings.
The taxi driver was chatty, loud and patriotic. He loved Salvador and his country. We agreed on the fact that Brazil was a wonderful place, that Salvador wasn’t that dangerous, that the homicide rate was way down—I took his word for it—that there weren’t that many favelas and that I should totally survive as long as I didn’t try to buy crack.
I wasn’t planning to, so all good.
“Funny that you speak Portuguese, though,” he noted as he stopped in front of my Airbnb building (the perk of having a patriotic taxi driver, he actually knew where he was going). “You’re not Brazilian, aren’t you, though?”
No, not that I know of.
“Tá legal!” (“It’s alright”), he replied.
So Salvador started with a patriotic taxi driver and at the elevator.
Okay, to be honest, Salvador started with a late-night grocery shopping trip at Walmart in Barra because I arrived around 5 p.m. and I needed water and food. But this doesn’t sound very exotic, so let’s fast-forward to the following day where Salvador started at the elevator.
Yes, Elevador Lacerda, an actual 19th-century elevator that connects the lower city (Cidade Baixa) to the upper city (Cidade Alta). The 30-second ride cost 0.15 reais ($0.035) and the four elevators are always packed because the ladeiras (the old steep streets) have a really bad reputation even during the daytime. Mind you, so does Cidade Baixa and many other places in Salvador…
I always see Praça Tomé de Souza and the elevator as a fascinating crossroad. It’s the door to the Pelourinho, the historic centre up on the cliff that start with the L-shaped Praça da Sé, but also to the harbour down by the bay, and to Centro, a commercial street packed with clothing stores and sidewalk vendors. It’s the place where tourists meet locals, where you can stop and choose the next barrio to explore depending on what you’re looking for—a ride down to the Mercado, a stroll through the “Pelô” and its many churches, some acarajé (deep-fried beans) on Praça da Sé or mingling with the crowd on Av. Sete de Setembro.
Plus the view… worth the one-hour hike from Barra!