Brazil 2014: Salvador

In this episode, a lot of cultural notes, makeup tips, and street hustles.


Of all the cities on our potential venue list, Salvador was the one we were most excited about visiting. Mike’s mom had taught at the American school there for a few years, and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s the center of Afro-Brazilian culture, filled with music and art and wonderful colonial architecture, all leading to the lighthouse at the tip of a peninsula on Brazil’s northeast coast. Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, beautiful music, beautiful people, Mike’s mom promised, the best of the country all in one spot.

I was particularly keen on visiting Salvador after having taken up capoeira earlier this spring. Capoeira has its roots largely in Salvador, and I was hoping to get to play or visit a group while in town. I was also unaware how many of my traveling companions were unfamiliar with the discipline until I had several of the following conversations:

“What’s capoeira?”
“The traditional Afro-Brazilian martial art, kind of half martial arts, half dance.”
“Y’ever see the Bob’s Burger’s episode where Tina takes up ‘sexy dance fighting?'”
“Like, Eddy Gordo from Tekken?”
“The video for the official World Cup song they play before every game, the dudes in the white pants kicking each other by doing cartwheels.”

I’m pretty lousy at it, but it’s fun as hell, and so when I had to push a berimbau, the main musical instrument in a capoeira ensemble, out of the way to climb into our airport pickup, I knew we were in for a great week.

On the way to the house, the driver and host, Baden, chatted with us about where we were from and what we knew about the town; he spoke Portuglish and I answered in Espanuese. Things were going well until we hit a subject I hadn’t counted on having to explain: my name.

“Rosie, isso é um nome popular, há uma famosa cantora chamada Rosie,” said Baden.
“Sim, esse é o meu nome do meio. Meu primeiro nome é Prairie, em português é ‘pradaria,'” I said, taking advantage of my first name being a regular ol’ noun with a regular ol’ translation, or so I thought.
“O quê?”
Crap. “Uh…em espanhol é ‘pampas,’ ‘llanura,’ eles têm em Porto Alegre e Argentina…como uma granja?”
“Não, não, não, uh, pero você poderia cultivar alli, creo?”
Eventually I think I managed to convey the concept of “like a farm with nothing on it” and “sim, como ‘cachorro de pradaria'” to a reasonable extent.

Baden turned the car on to a dead-end street and parked at the seaside cliffs. We hauled our luggage up winding concrete stairs, slid open a blue door, and arrived at Dandara’s house, where we would be staying that week. Filled with artwork, the house had three bedrooms, two with bunk beds, and one, a tiny loft above the porch, with ceilings barely big enough for me to stand under. This loft was our room, and what it lacked in height, it made up for in an ocean view and waves singing us to sleep at night. Dandara explained the lay of the house while an affectionate grey mutt and a tuxedo cat whom the neighbor kids had dyed pink competed for our attention. After we settled into the room, Dandara invited us to eat supper with her and Baden, treating us to a home-cooked meal of whatever the Brazilian term is for hoppin’ john, farofa, salad, and cake. Things were off to a great start.

The next morning, we walked down the shoreline (as much as we could; some of it is inaccessible due to rocks and a military installation) to the Barra, one of the two main tourist districts, where we strolled around what was allegedly the FIFA Fan Fest. As with the two previous tournaments, FIFA set up giant outdoor viewing areas in the host cities for people to gather and watch the games. However, the site they picked in Salvador, right in front of the lighthouse, might’ve been scenic but was in direct sunlight for most of the day, making it difficult to see the screens. I also gathered that now that it was the knockout stage and it was not a Brazil matchday, nobody really cared, which is why when we arrived in time for the Netherlands-Mexico kickoff, the Fan Fest appeared abandoned, with visitors only there to tour the lighthouse and hang out on the beach.

We ended up watching the game in the upstairs of a bar, the only people wearing orange in a room full of green shirts. Towards the end of the game, an Englisman leaned over to Mike and asked about our team’s strategy, who would be coming off the bench, how would they break through Ochoa.

“Hell if I know,” said Mike, “I’m American, I’m just here for the enemy of my enemy.”

Alas, despite Ochoa’s heroics and Mickey Mouse cosplay, Rafa Marquez just had to be Rafa Marquez and take down a known diver; the ref decided to favor the diver over the hothead, and Mexico went home. Memo should be allowed to sleep with Rafa’s wife for that. Possibly also Robben’s, depending on how you feel, but I’m coming from the rival angle here.

We spent the rest of the day climbing the lighthouse and ambling over the rocks and pools in the shore. When we headed for home, we opted for a city bus. In Salvador, as in many parts of Brazil, you board the bus at the back and there is an attendant with a little table collecting fares and making change on the spot. Which is great, except the drivers don’t always notice people who are still boarding, and will close the doors and pull away even if someone has only partly stepped into the bus.

Mike learned this the hard way. Multiple times.

Monday morning, we awoke to the sounds of Baden cooking breakfast while listening to traditional capoeira tunes. Grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, juice, coffee, and, of course, cake. The cheese sandwich, as common a breakfast food in Brazil as cake or fruit, usually comes with ham, called ‘presunto’ in Portuguese. That’s probably a cognate of ‘prosciutto’ but I like to think it means ‘presume’ as in ‘we presume you like ham sandwiches.’ With ham, the sandwich is a ‘mixto;’ without, it’s ‘quejo quente.’

Later that morning, we headed out to the Pelourinho, Salvador’s historic district, where we promptly fell for the dumb tourist scam where some dude ties a bracelet on your wrist and you give him a couple of bucks just to get the hell away from you. This is especially common in Salvador, where one of the major souvenirs is what’s known as fitas do bonfim, which are colored ribbons, about 18″ long, that you tie on your wrist/your church fence/your car’s gearshift/your purse/your pets/your genitals/whatever in three knots while making a wish. The ribbons are not to be cut, but rather allowed to fall off on their own, at which point your wish is granted. On the one hand, they’re a popular symbol of Salvador and Candomblé, the syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion (along the lines of Santería and Voudu); on the other, having one on your wrist is like wearing a t-shirt reading “EU SOU UM TOURISTA IDIOTA.”

We strolled the Pelourinho’s cobblestone streets, taking in the marvelous colonial architecture and stunning array of souvenirs that are not necessarily considered racist in Brazil but would, at best, get you some dirty looks back in the US. I picked up a flyer for a capoeira school that held open roda (pronounced “hoe-dah,” it’s when everyone gathers in a circle and takes turns playing each other) on Thursdays for visiting students. Beautiful! I would have to ask my group at home if it was okay to join in, because you can’t just rock up to an unfamiliar capoeira group in your group’s uniform. There’s politics and etiquette involved, different schools teach different styles, and you risk creating drama if you’re not careful. I’m vastly oversimplifying, but suffice to say this is one of the few instances in Brazilian culture where you can’t just show up.

After a walk down the hill through Vitoria to the shore, we ate lunch and watched France-Nigeria at an awful tourist trap restaurant, then rented stand-up paddleboards for an afternoon dip. This ended up being the second scam that got us–the store owner charged us over the quoted rate, knowing we wouldn’t really be able to argue the difference in Portuguese. We’re also not positive, but we think while he offered to watch our stuff while we were in the water, the owner lifted R$100 (about US $45) from Mike’s wallet; combined with the overcharging, a US $40 afternoon activity turned into an $80 one without us really paying attention until it was too late. Ugh. At least the paddleboarding, around the calm waters of Porto de Barra beach, was great, even though Mike’s board was not quite large enough to allow him to stand. We closed out the day by catching the end of Algeria-Germany at a burger restaurant in a mall, delighted at the chance to see what constituted a veggie burger in Brazil, then headed home for a good night’s rest in advance of Tuesday’s USA-Belgium game.

At least, that’s what I had in mind, until about two that morning, when I woke up with my body insisting on ridding itself of anything I’d eaten in the last 24 hours. That’s about as graphic as I’ll get here, other than to point out that in Brazil, as in many Latin American countries, the plumbing is not set up to handle flushing toilet paper, and man, not until you get food poisoning do you realize how much of a privilege that is back in the US. I went back to bed, hoping things would settle down by gametime.

It didn’t quite, but if I wasn’t sick enough to be hospitalized, I was well enough to head to the stadium. Baden made me some tea while Mike enjoyed breakfast with the other houseguests, four British guys (two English, one Welsh, one Scottish) who’d all met at the University of Leeds. I tried to sleep it off all morning, but eventually it was time to pull myself as together as I reasonably could and get set for the game.


Base: Neutrogena Ultimate Sport Sunscreen SPF 70+, Paula Dorf Magic Stick concealer, Paula Dorf Perfect Glo foundation
Lips: NYX Jumbo Eye Pencil in Milk as base, OCC Lip Tar primer, OCC Lip Tar in NSFW, MAC Lipglass in I think Snowgirl but I can’t remember, it’s probably too old
Eyes: Violent Lips Violent Eyes American Flag Glitterati, the Balm Body Builder mascara
Top: the Balm Sexy Mama powder, some cheap iridescent glitter because this is me you’re talking about
Brushes: Royal & Langnickel Revolution, which I should disclose I was given as a professional sample
Cleanup: ELF remover wipes, Lush Ocean Salt, Nippon Kodo Deitanseki soap

We took a taxi to the arena, in front of which is a lagoon where giant metal statues of Candomblé orixas watch over the city. The Arena Fonte Nova was our favorite stadium of the trip, as it was the one that felt the most like a regular ol’ stadium that’s full every week for the city’s regular ol’ club teams. While it’s true the stadium was built from scratch for the tournament after an older one collapsed, this was not a half-assed retrofit or an instant white elephant. A team actually lives there, the neighborhood is built around it, and it shows.

Y’all know how the game turned out. I was a lot less upset by it than I expected; to me, it seemed a tough game where someone had to lose and that someone was the US. It’s funny to come back and see everyone freaking out about Tim Howard, when I think I’m a latecomer to the man, as I was not a Metros fan back in the day (I did, however, see his last game for them in 2003–a 3-3 draw that was neither his nor Adin Brown’s best showcase). Coming in to American soccer at 2002, I see Timmy as another in the string of large bald men who catch the ball, the one position the US men have had nailed down for a generation. And I gotta say, if Kyle Beckerman had short hair, ain’t nobody would have said shit about him not belonging on that roster–his being benched in fear of card accumulation really did hurt. But still, as Ronaldo once said, we lost because we did not win, and I left the stadium sad for the loss but hopeful for the next cycle.

Also, shivering, because the ibuprofen had worn off.

We ran into our British housemates at the cab stand on the way home. During the ride, we got to play one of our favorite games: Explain MLS Rules to European Fans. This turned into a discussion of current Revs players who’d had national team appearances besides the US. “Oh yeah! We got a Welsh international, Andy Dorman!” said Mike.

“It’s, uh, kind of more impressive to find a player Wales wouldn’t cap,” came the deflating answer.

Wednesday was a holiday in Bahia, the state independence day, with lots of street festivals and parties, including one in which Dandara and Baden were performing. Naturally, we spent the day within a few blocks of the house; while the food poisoning had cleared up, the exhaustion and lack of energy had not, so we were not especially in the mood to check out the scene. We also started the day off with a bang by breaking the housekey in half, necessitating a phone call to a mobile locksmith. While we waited to replace the key, we got to experience another facet of Brazilian culture we had been warned about but had not yet seen in action:

Wanna go visit a buddy? Don’t call, just roll on up. Buddy not there? Eh, just hang out and make yourself at home until your pal shows up. Have a drink, watch some TV, no big deal, we’re casual around here.

Seriously, we hung out with a couple of Dandara’s friends who’d just stopped in for a bit even though she was out of the house. Lucky, too, since they were able to negotiate with the locksmith a lot better than we would have been. Once the keys were replaced, Mike and I headed out for lunch, spending the afternoon wandering along the beach in Rio Vermelho, collecting a fabulous amount of beach glass. I got a huge bag full of all different shapes and colors of glass, and am seriously regretting not having learned to say “naw, for real, man, white ladies on the internet will totally pay you a ton of money for this junk” in Portuguese to give the neighborhood kids an entrepreneurial boost.

Our itinerary for Thursday was simple: beach day. We started in Rio Vermelho and made our way through Ondina, stopping for a swim whenever we felt like it.


1. You
2. Just enough cash to buy some drinks or snacks

No towels (maybe a sarong if you want), no coolers, just walk on down. If there aren’t free chairs provided by the city, there’s probably someone renting them. Want a snack? Here’s a guy walking around grilling cheese on a stick. You want a fish? Hang on, I’ll go catch one for you, clean it, and grill it up on the spot. A drink? We got beer, we got coconuts, we got soft drinks, just holler. A sarong? Yep, guys walking around selling those too. Anything you wanted to bring for a day at the beach, someone will be there to sell you. As with many things in Brazil, you just show up and have a good time. Oh yeah, and if you’re a chick, any age, any shape, you’re in a bikini; nobody cares what you look like and nobody wears a one-piece.

If, however, you’re a light-skinned gringo, you probably want to bring sunblock, because even the nuclear strength stuff you usually use will wear off after eight hours of swimming and lounging. Whoops.

That night, I packed my class shirt and abadás and headed back up to the Pelourinho for the open roda. My mestre back in Boston had given his blessing, saying the school I found was part of the same tradition/lineage as ours, and that I should proudly wear our group’s shirt and tell them where I was visiting from.

And then the most BRAZILIAN POSSIBLE THING EVER happened.

I walked into the studio at the appointed time, only to find the place empty, save for a woman minding the office. “Uh, is there a roda tonight?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Usually, we do have a roda on Thursday nights, but since yesterday was a holiday, everyone was out partying and today we decided we’re too tired and hungover to play.”

Unfortunately, the open classes the next morning were not compatible with our flight to Brasília, so I had missed my chance to play capoeira in Salvador. I did get a shirt and some cool photos of the studio, which was covered in newspaper clippings detailing the history of the game, almost like a museum.

In lieu of capoeira, we opted for a different traditional Bahian cultural activity and had a really nice dinner at a restaurant specializing in muqueca. Muqueca is kind of like a curry and stew; it’s a spiced coconut milk and palm oil broth with vegetables and meat, cooked in a clay pot. It’s served with a lineup of side dishes, namely rice and farofa, and traditionally it’s seafood based, but you can make it out of chicken, all vegetables, beef, whatever. Afterwards, we went out for ice cream, where a girl in line wanted to know why I had purple hair and a red nose. Yep, that’s me with a sunburn, all right.

Friday morning, we had one more big breakfast, this time featuring cake Dandara had made with fresh coconut and sweet corn, then packed up for the next leg of the trip. On the way to the airport, we passed all the beaches and parts of the city we hadn’t had time to visit, making a mental note of why we’ve got to go back someday. Salvador really is that fantastic.

While Mike watched the France-Germany game at an airport bar, I walked around to get a few extra souvenirs. I went into the candy store, where the clerks were having a very intense argument about something.

“Não, não, não, este vai aqui!”
“Você está errado, é isso”

They were fighting over filling out their Panini sticker albums. Hey, that is serious World Cup business.

I left them to their stickers and headed for the departure gates. We were off to Brasília.

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