Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Salvador, Morro de Sao Paulo and Itacaré

While I was in Ciudad del Este I had to make some quick decisions about where I would go next, in about two days time. After throwing it out to Facebook for some suggestions, I decided that Salvador would be the next stop. That said, not having a definite plan in advance and buying a last minute flight for New Year's Day is not ideal. Still, it had to be done. I was on a clock now and every day counted.

Brazil is an hour ahead of Paraguay so I had to get up even earlier to make the flight. This is where not writing yourself off on New Year's Eve comes in handy. The woman at the hostel booked me a taxi and confirmed with him how much it was to the border. He shows up and tells me that immigration will be closed cos it's public holiday. It’s not. People are stupid. It's a major international border. As if it's going to be closed. However, you have to be careful to get your stamp out of Paraguay before going to the Brazil office otherwise the Brazilians sting you with a big fine.

Now, the bridge between Paraguay and Brazil is called the Friendship Bridge. However, this is really unsafe to walk across. Apparently there is a very high likelihood you will get mugged, which isn't very friendly at all if you ask me. 

So I asked the taxi to wait while I got stamped out of Paraguay and then drive me over to Brazil for safety reasons. He was fine with this and there were some dodgy, homeless, drunk-looking people wandering about so this was probably a good idea. On the Brazilian side he gets stopped and isn’t allowed to go any further. Basically all the contraband is coming out of Paraguay so the Brazilian police like to crack down and search vehicles and bags when they feel like it. I can see the bus stop so I decide to get out and walk. Then he tries to tell me the price is in Brazilian money not Paraguayan money (which is worth a lot less). 

Oh another day, another taxi driver trying to scam me!

I tell him the price was agreed in guaraní and give him a bit extra (all I had left) for taking me over the bridge. He wasn't happy but neither was I. I'm sick of people trying to rip me off all the time. 

So I go and wait for a bus. It is a bit of a dodgy area and was really desolate at 8am on New Year's Day. However, I'd seen one bus go past already so I knew they were running. This is looking back towards Ciudad del Este with Brazilian immigration in the foreground.

My bus turns up and I get to the airport in good time. Then I had a big wait in Sao Paulo for a few hours, which was good for catching up on tv. Plus lots of Brazilian airports have free internet now, so that has handy. Waiting at the airport is much less boring these days.

I arrived in Salvador and got a taxi to the hostel. I even managed to have a basic conversation with the taxi driver with my bad Spanish if he spoke slowly in Portuguese. There is a bus but Salvador is a big city and it takes a couple hours to get all the way down the coastline to Barra. I didn't want to try this at night, in a dangerous city, not knowing where to get off.

This hostel had the friendliest staff I've ever experienced. Plus it's in a rich part of Salvador so it's fairly safe. I did not feel threatened walking around here once, even in the evenings.

The next morning me and some American guy who was super paranoid about getting robbed went into the historic centre. This is a risky area especially at night. However, it was quite beautiful and because it’s peak season, there were tourists and therefore tourist police everywhere. I don't know what it's normally like but I felt safe walking around during the day.

This statue is something to do with slavery. I think Salvador is where the first African slaves were brought in from.

Cool capoeira demonstration.

Salvador is the other city Michael Jackson filmed his video for "They don't care about us". He stood on this balcony overlooking this square.

Mark and I then went looking this vegan restaurant, which is near the Michael Jackson square. I found it, but it was closed for the New Year holidays. Outside I met some Argentinians who were also hoping to go there for lunch. At this point I ditched Mark, who decided to try somewhere else for lunch and started walking around on my own. Although unplanned, I ended up at this place with the Argentinians. They invited me to join them since the dishes are for sharing and this meant there was four of us. Perfect!

Zen serves traditional Bahian food. It was so good. All these people who tell me you can't experience local dishes unless you eat meat are such bullshitters. If I've learnt one thing from eating my way around South America, it's that the local tastes mostly come from the spices used and how the food is cooked. Plus there were some unusual veggies in these pots that must be unique to Brazil cos the others hadn't seen them before. It was really nice meeting some long time Argentinian vegetarians, given how much beef that country consumes. I found them really interesting to talk to. They also gave me some tips on where to eat in Mendoza (their home city). 

After lunch I went down the public lift to the lower part of the city. 

All the guide books say do not under any circumstances walk down the road even during the day cos gangs will rob you. Down the bottom was not very exciting except for getting some photos of guys jumping into the water. Then you have to line up again to take the lift back up.

Cone of silence?

The next day I decided to explore Barra. The beaches were really crowded, which is to be expected since everyone is on their summer holidays. Barra is definitely the nicest part of Salvador that I visited.

I'm pretty sure I saw this woman in yellow on the left squat behind a rock to take a piss. Um... This is the rich people's part of Brazil. It's not Bolivia. 

And you know what me being in Brazil means? Açaí bowls!!! I am so glad that Australia started importing this stuff while I was away and I can now buy it at lunchtime in Brisbane if I want. Yay. Happy days!

There is a massive shopping centre in the middle of Barra with an excellent food court. I highly recommend the Middle Eastern place which has excellent falafels and hummus, among other yummy vegan things.

The super helpful staff in the Barra hostel gave me some ideas of where I should go next. I had to be in Belo Horizonte on the 10th January so I had a good week to make my way down the coast towards there.

Morro de Sao Paulo

First stop was the beautiful island of Morro de Sao Paulo. This is where rich Brazilians go on their holidays. It is just a few hours from Salvador. There are several ways of getting there but I chose the shuttle, which meant I got picked up at the hostel and all shuttles/ ferries were included.

Here is Salvador as I left.

Getting on this first ferry took so long. It literally took about two hours just for someone to pick up our tickets. 

Now to set the context, it was a Saturday, in summer, the weekend after New Year's. So accommodation on the island was limited. However, I found a bed on Hostelworld for two nights. Having a booking in peak season is the only reason I went. When I arrived at about 5pm, the guy tells me he's overbooked. So now I have no where to sleep and all the other hostels (which are all in walking distance since there's no cars here) are also booked. I already knew this from Hostelworld. This was the only place showing availability! So then I try some of the more expensive looking pousadas. Most of them were full too. There was a brief period where I thought I would be sleeping on the beach. 

But then my luck changed. Outside one of the pousadas I met Anne Laure from France. She didn't have a reservation but said she knew a hostel that had space cos she'd called them twice and they said just turn up. However, she couldn't find it. After asking around we eventually found it. But it was out of the way (as far as being on an island goes) up some massive hill. Not ideal with heavy backpacks and me carrying 5L of water.

On the ferry some Brazilians were asking me why I brought 5L of water with me. I said cos water is usually expensive on islands. They all laughed and said no, it's fine. But I was right. My 5L from a mainland supermarket was the same as a  2L bottle bought there. I was financially satisfied by my decision even though carrying it around looking for accommodation was annoying. 

This was the view from our room.

After we'd settled in and had showers we decided to go find dinner. Everything here is really expensive so obviously we went to the cheapest place (which still wasn't that cheap) and turned out to be terrible. The price to quality ratio did not work in our favour this time.

Still, walking around the island at night was really nice. This is Brazil, so there's always a lot going on.

The hostel owner was a bit sleazy. He kept asking us what we like in Brazilian men and if we wanted to meet Brazilian men and that he could help us out with that. Plus he kept talking to us in Portuguese even though most of the time we couldn't understand him and kept telling him we don't speak Portuguese! We also think he was trying to scam more money out of us because one of the ladies at checkin told us breakfast was included but then he said we had to pay extra. So to counter that, we just stole breakfast since he wasn't there. He also made us pay for the internet password. We did share it with each other so we only paid once though.

Anyway, the next day was a beach day. 

And what beautiful beaches!

After stealing breakfast again on the second day it was time to leave. Anne Laure was heading up to Salvador and I was going south to Itacare.


I didn't really know much about this place except that it had beaches and a few hostels so backpackers must go here. Getting here from Moro is not too difficult. It involves a boat, local bus to Valença, taxi to the bus station in Valença (since the bus you're on only goes to the city centre) and then another bus to Itacare. The intercity buses go frequently. I think I waited about 20 minutes. The whole journey takes a couple of hours and people are generally quite helpful to make sure you get on the right buses. 

The town is really nice! Quite small and very beach touristy. It feels very safe walking around. They were repaving the main pedestrian street and putting trees and seats in to make it even better when I was there.

There is a great veggie restaurant in the middle of town. I ate here a few times and it was really good. There's another Arab one further up, but it wasn’t open the entire time I was there so I didn't get to try it out.

I stayed in this hostel, run by a crazy Kiwi and an American dude that came down on holidays and then just stayed. As you do. He owns a restaurant in LA so he made some good veggie stuff for me one night when we decided to do a group dinner. He also had a blender in his room and kept bringing me random juices. In exchange for feeding me, I gave him half a jar of some American brand peanut butter I'd picked up in Panama. He was stoked since he hadn't seen peanut butter in about six months.

I liked the pool here.

There are a bunch of beaches you can walk to from the town centre.

Actually not this one. You need to get a boat over.

In terms of self catering, the supermarkets here are pretty average (small town and all that). I looked in a few fruit shops but some of it wasn't too good. Then I found one near the hostel and the quality and variety were excellent. I found out later from the Kiwi and American guys that fruit shop guy also sells cocaine. They were intrigued by people going in there all the time but then coming out empty handed so they asked him what the deal was. Clearly if you're a drug dealer you can afford to stock the best produce in town! Hey, I wasn't complaining.

Itacare is one of those places you can just hang out in for ages. I would have liked to have stayed longer but alas, I had to keep moving.

Next stop: Vitoria.