While Rio is certainly a beautiful city to visit, the best beaches in Brazil are actually to be found in the Northeast(see: Maceió).
I had a couple days off of school, so I took a week off to visit Fortaleza in the state of Ceará, and Salvador, Bahia. I was planning on meeting up with people I knew in these cities, but for the most part I would be traveling alone. According to a UN report recently released, Fortaleza and Salvador are two of the 30 more violent cities in the world, with Fortaleza boasting an average rate of 72.81 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and Salvador trailing slightly behind at 57.51. As a matter of fact, 7 of the 12 cities hosting FIFA Football World Cup matches are in the top 30: Fortaleza, Natal, Salvador, Cuiabá, Manaus, Recife, and Belo Horizonte.
I understood the risks I was taking on by moving to Brazil in the first place, especially right before the World Cup where São Paulo is constantly being interrupted by riots and demonstrations. Even today, 9 bus terminals were shut down due to unhappy bus drivers and municipal teachers demanding higher wages in a thousand person protest happening on Avenida Paulista, the main street (a favorite for protestors,) just next to my school. I had to push past some protesters on the way getting home today and saw them putting the finishing touches to their signs in the metro. Just last week, I got caught in one of the 9 staged protests around SP for the World Cup corruption which ended in fires, tear gas and smashed windows. I’ve never been this close to chaos before, but luckily I’ve avoided trouble so far.
My trip to Fortaleza and Salvador was anything but chaotic. I visited the most unique and beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, got a chance to experience a completely different side of Brazil, and came back relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on São Paulo again.
In São Paulo I became good friends with a Mexican couple, Jonathan and Dani. They moved to Brazil for Jonathan’s work, and had recently relocated to Fortaleza. I went to Fortaleza to visit them and finally see the famous beautiful beaches nearby. We booked a day trip to see the beaches along the coast, Morro Branco, Praia das Fontes, and Canoa Quebrada.
After visiting the first beach, we took dune buggies down the coast, experiencing it all in a unique and fun way you can’t get from a regular road trip. One interesting part of the tour was witnessing how dedicated the local Brazilians were to tourism- one of Brazil’s best commodities. One of their tactics was to offer to take pictures, and around 15 minute later, they distributed little wooden boats with the pictures printed out on the sail. If you wanted it, it was 15 reais ($6.70 USD), and if you didn’t want it, they would just throw away the sail and save the wooden part for the next batch. This was really interesting because we were in a secluded area and I had no idea where they were stashing a wireless printer to speedily print out ~30 sails and string them up onto boats.
After a few days in Fortaleza, I flew to Salvador. I had been wanting to visit Salvador for a while, so it was really exciting for me to finally make the trip. One really interesting thing about Salvador, is that not only does it have some of the most beautiful beaches nearby, but its historic centre, Pelourinho, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The first day in Salvador I went to a popular, crowded beach called Porto da Barra. This beach was right next to the city, and is a popular place for tourists (making it a popular place for theft.) I was alone on the beach, and I quickly realized that if I wanted to get into the crystal clear water without risking my stuff being stolen, I was going to have to make a friend. I met Mary, a Swiss traveler who had been in Salvador for the past 3 weeks. We were both traveling alone, and after chatting for a while on the beach, she invited me to a Brazilian capoeira class.
For those that don’t know, capoeira is a type of Brazilian martial art. Its origins are debated, but from what I learned, it was developed by the Brazilian slaves as a way to learn to fight. Since slaves were not allowed to practice fighting (and were heavily punished if caught), capoeira was disguised as somewhat like a dance, thus concealing the training of combat and self-defense. Doing capoeira was one of the strangest, most interesting thing I’ve ever done. The main move is called the ginga and consists of weaving back and forth in a triangle shape. The other moves included cartwheeling, crouching down and balancing sideways on your upper arms (basically crow pose in yoga), and what I’m pretty sure was Warrior III pose . At one point I had to head-butt my opponent’s stomach as she cartwheeled over me. It was pretty intense. I didn’t take any photos out of respect for the training area. It seemed very disciplined; there was no talking aside from instructions, and our shoes and phones were kept in another room.
The next day, I went on a walking tour with Salvador Free Walking Tours, a recurring event I found on Couchsurfing.com. Stephanie and Pedro, our guides, took us on an atypical tour of Salvador’s historical district. The duo took us through the “uncharted, rough-around-the-edge, off-the-beaten-path realms of Salvador’s Historic Centre.” It was an incredible tour that ended at a coffee shop watching the sun go down across the Atlantic Ocean. One really fascinating thing about the centre is that it is made up of these incredible old-fashioned buildings with only the ground floors being used as stores. The upper stories, with their elegant 17th century building façades, were just sitting there as old, abandoned, storage areas. In Europe or any other place, these places would undoubtedly be converted into million dollar apartments for the city’s elite. Our tour guides told us that at night after the stores closed, the area was completely black and was roamed by crackheads. New business venture anyone?
The very last day, I decided to take an hour bus ride out of Salvador to visit Praia do Flamengo and Stella Maris. These beaches had no tourists (it was also a Wednesday) and I spent a very relaxing afternoon reading my book and meeting the friendly Baianos (people from the state of Bahia) until it started pouring rain. Eu amo Salvador! Eu vou voltar 🙂