Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quando eu penso na Bahia

Salvador, Bahia. Been there, done that. It was fantastic, but I'm glad to be back in Rio. Allow me to begin from the very beginning: We flew into Salvador last Saturday, August 1st, around 5pm. We had the great fortune to arrive at the exact same time as the São Paulo soccer team, who was in town to play a match against Bahia's Vitória FC. Since São Paulo is one of the most popular clubs in Brazil, we were met by a screaming throng of boisterous fans as we exited the airport. Now I know what it's like to be a professional soccer player, so I can check that one off the list. The ever-jovial Fred Bomsucesso, Bahian tour guide extraordinaire, met our group outside the airport and herded us into a bus to our hotel.

Give me a moment to praise our accommodations. We stayed at the Hotel Tropical da Bahia, arguably the most luxurious hotel in the state. It was even good enough for Angela Davis, the famous civil rights activist who sat next to me at breakfast every morning for the entire week. Swimming pool, exercise room, three fresh self-service meals per day, chic dance club, convention center, and all the subtitled horror films you could ever need right at your fingertips. Saturday night we were tired from traveling, so we just stayed in and relaxed by the pool with a large group of Californians from a UC Davis study abroad program. I was proud of my ability to pick them out as Californians before I even heard them speak. Sho nuff, they were. Hella cool.

On Sunday we hopped on the bus and traveled to Praia do Forte, a touristy beach town home to a ruined castle and Projeto TAMAR, a project that protects endangered marine life native to Bahia (especially turtles). I played lots of beach volleyball and bodysurfed in the ocean, then went swimming with a program friend in the freezing hotel pool when we got back to Salvador. Throughout the week we attended lectures on everything from race relations and national cinema to candomblé religion and Bahian samba. I especially liked the capoeira class and the forró tutorial (the forró dance is pretty much Mexican banda).

Remember what I wrote in the last post about visiting the nicest restaurant ever? That whole red light, green light deal? Yeah, the Brown in Brazil program outdid itself again. We ate at a churrascaria in Salvador called "Boi Preto" that was more ridiculously expensive and varied than Barra Brasa in Rio. The buffet included caviar and strawberry sushi, and the filet mignon was to die for (literally, some cow gave its life to pleasure my palate). Nothing else was planned for that evening, or the morning after- that's an indication of how much you're expected to eat at a churrascaria, especially one that costs R$80 to enter.

Tuesday was a day for city exploration and money spending. I went with some friends to the Mercado Modelo, an immense indoor souvenir market at the foot of the Elevador Lacerda, which connects the lower and upper parts of Salvador. I bought a classy black t-shirt decorated with a colorful sketch of Pelourinho, the historic center of the city. We spent the evening learning capoeira from a world champion named Jair Oliveira de Farias (Mestre Sabiá) at Ginga Mundo, an organization dedicated to teaching youngsters respect, responsibility and- of course- how to pretend to beat the s*&# out of anyone.

We spent Wednesday in Cachoeira, an historic city considered a national monument for its role in the formation of the Bahian economy (sugar, cotton, tobacco, gold) and cultural development (center of candomblé, a syncretic African religion). Along the way we made a stop at an MST encampment (Movimento Sem Terra, or Landless Movement), which was really intriguing. A disheveled man called Chileno told us in thick Portunhol about MST's efforts to instigate land reform in Brazil, where just 3% of the population owns two-thirds of all arable lands. He warned us to watch the news tomorrow morning (Monday, August 10) because MST members are planning to occupy the federal courthouse in Brasilia. "I'm always willing to die for the MST," he declared. "I hope I won't have to, but I'm willing."

After escaping Chileno's socialist tirades we made our way to the Fazenda Santa Cruz for a delicious lunch overlooking the Paraguaçu River, followed by a visit to the Dannemann cigar factory and art gallery. The rolling green hills reminded me so much of Sonoma County! Skipping ahead- we drove back to Salvador, went out seeking entertainment in Pelourinho only to fail miserably, and fell asleep around 2am. On Thursday we had a race relations lecture in the morning, dance class in the afternoon, and then group volleyball/cannonball practice in the hotel pool until we could no longer bear the cold.

Friday was a marvelous day from start to finish. We attended a lecture on Afro-Brazilian religions in the morning and then visited a favela NGO called Grupo Cultural Bagunçaço that teaches kids music, computer literacy and film production. I had a blast playing percussion with them and laughing at their hilarious music videos. I could definitely see myself dedicating some time to something honorable like that. From the favela we drove to the Museu de Arte Moderna, where we took gorgeous pictures along the beach as the sun was setting. At night the group went to watch a balé folclórico performance in Pelourinho, but I stayed behind because I was waiting to hear back from Juliana, a Brazilian friend of an Italian hostel owner I met last summer in Calabria. Talk about global networks, huh? She picked me up from the hotel around 11pm and we went to a hole-in-the-wall club called Borracharia in the Rio Vermelho neighborhood. We danced to James Brown and Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Brazilian reggae all night and into the wee hours of the morning. I won't tell you exactly what time I got back to the hotel, but birds were chirping and the doorman said "Good morning."

I slept until 11am, packed up, ate lunch, pretended to play snooker in the game room with a friend, and checked out of the palace. We caught our plane back to Rio de Janeiro and all went our separate ways. I fell asleep early, but not before reading the postcards that came during the week from friends in London, Australia, France, and China. It's crazy that I know so many other kids on similar adventures around the world. We are truly blessed.

Today was a day for rest and relaxation at home. I caught up on emails, wrote in my journal, and read the entire newspaper. The first day of classes was postponed until NEXT Monday because of the swine flu, so I have a completely free week! Tomorrow I have an interview with the director of the Italian consulate in Rio to discuss a possible internship for the next five months, followed by a "Networking Night" for the participants of the Brown in Brazil program to meet with organizations and- surprise!- discuss internship opportunities. We are movers and shakers, are we not? On Tuesday I might travel to São Paulo for the rest of the week, or if I'm daring, to Buenos Aires. I love freedom. Check back soon for updates!

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