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The Land of Happiness – Salvador, Brazil

August 1, 2011 by Michael Eiseman divider image
salvador da bahia, brazil

The trip began with a flight to Rio filled with the Brazilian Men’s Swimming Team and the Italian Men’s Beach Volleyball Team (who needed movies with those passengers). After a short flight from Rio to Salvador, my Brazilian excursion began.  Salvador as well as a business trip to Rio de Janeiro completed my itinerary. My experience of Salvador was nothing short of amazing with the new friends that I met and the interesting discoveries I made along the way. The cobblestone streets there aren’t laid with precision but instead are mixed like the cultures that have combined to form this historic city. Some areas are jagged, some worn smooth; however, I found that a walk along them was the easiest way to introduce myself to the rhythm of Salvador. Similar to the differences between the reggae samba drumming groups that spontaneously appear on the historic side streets after dark, each path you choose sounds out a unique beat. The maze of streets teases your senses with new treasures in the form of sandstone church facades that consume your eyes with their intricacies, street food that’s smell leads you like cooling pies in windows, and of course, the echoing sounds of the music that draws your entire body to hunt down the magical source. Between the music, historical significance, preserved architecture, religious buildings, and cultural heritage, it isn’t surprising that Salvador is one of the most popular destinations in Brazil.

Pelourinho unesco site, salvador, Bahia, Brazil

The overarching joy and liveliness on the streets was delightful. As one observes locals of all ages dancing to the music, your body involuntarily moves separate of thought to the beat of each new sound you encounter. The unique instruments being played were created with a simple love of music. The friendly combination of modernity and tradition was also very obvious. I noticed traditionally dressed women chatting on their cell phones with a coconut in hand, occasionally sipping out of the straw.

salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Salvador is a dynamic integration of different music, religions, and periods of history. A laid-back culture that’s open to new ideas and new people, it’s the perfect place for tourists to blend in as much as they desire. The spectrum of experiences leaves you lacking any possibility of disappointment. Eager to see and do everything, I decided to be as adventurous and outgoing as possible on my excursion. checked into my beautiful room at Villa Bahia, showered and was off to explore the city with the owner of our ground partner. Our first order of business was for me to enjoy a cup of coffee from my perfectly located hotel. Villa Bahia’s coffee, pure Arabica, is purchased directly from the plantation. It’s so fresh that the coffee beans arrive still green prior to being roasted and ground at the hotel. I found out that Villa Bahia only serves six of Brazil’s best varieties, from five different regions: Bahia, Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, São Paulo and Paraná.

salvador cultural tours

Next, we took a tour of the upper section of Salvador; from Villa Bahia hotel we were so close to everything. As we walked side by side through the city streets, he pointed out the historic sights along the way as well as explained the history of this amazing city. I learned that Salvador is a port city divided into the upper section and lower section with the sections being connected by an elevator that has been in operation for over 100 years. The city was an important center of the sugar industry and the slave trade as well as the first colonial capital of Brazil. After Brazil’s independence from Portugal, Salvador was the first capital until Rio de Janeiro took over.

We spent the evening watching the sunset near the elevator overlooking All Saints Bays.It was an incredible introduction to a city I had fallen in love with upon first glance. Still exhausted from my flights, I escaped to my room to relax a bit before dinner. I was staying in the Timor room at Villa Bahia. The 17 rooms in this charming boutique hotel are all named for different ports on the spice route.

I arrived a little early to meet friends for a couple beers in front of my hotel, so I ended up having a great conversation with two photographers whom I had met earlier on my tour of the city. They joined us for drinks and ended up joining us for dinner, which made the night even more memorable. For dinner, our group headed down the street to Restaurant Uaua. It’s an adorable but simple authentic restaurant with delicious traditional food dishes. On our way we passed an amazing all female drumming group so we stopped to enjoy the rehearsed movements and interesting beat combinations. Not to be outdone, an all male drum group started to perform on the street below the restaurant at the end of our meal so we were able to watch them groove from the restaurant’s balcony.

salvador da bahia, brazil

My guide, suggested that we see a free local concert that performs every Tuesday night with vocals, drums, dancing and even a trombone. Thousands of people had already peacefully gathered by the time we arrived just happily enjoying the music and atmosphere. I could have stayed there all night watching the performances; however, my body was yearning for sleep. I headed back to my hotel and fell asleep immediately. After sleeping in my first full day in Brazil, I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast served complimentary from the hotel. Just another of the wonderful service examples at Villa Bahia: they let you decide when you are going to enjoy breakfast in the morning instead of having set breakfast times. Afterwards, I wondered around just a two-block radius of the hotel for hours. There was so much to see and so many people watching opportunities that I found myself unable to decide what to even focus my camera on. I took pictures of everything! A 4GB memory card later, I met my guide for the day, Carlos, at the hotel. He took me to the lighthouse and educated me on the various beach areas that Salvador offers as well as the various forts along the coast of the city. Since this trip wasn’t just a vacation, I spent the rest of the afternoon doing hotel checks for work. I visited Pestana Convento do Carmo, Aram Yami Hotel, and Casa do Amarelindo.

I returned from my hotel checks to Villa Bahia to find my two new friends from the previous evening having drinks outside at my hotel. We had a happy hour caipirinha together with another new friend I had met while having coffee before my half-day tour with Carlos. Starving, and eager to dine at another great restaurant, the four of us decided to take Conor’s suggestion and dine at Boi Preto Grill. We quickly all squeezed into a cab and were on our way. The restaurant was wonderful offering assorted meats served non-stop to your table as long as the card you were given was turned to the green side. We stuffed ourselves thoroughly and then went back to our various hotels to rest.

afro heritage tours

My second full day in Salvador, I set out, after another wonderful breakfast, to explore the different squares in the city. I wanted to take videos and pictures of everything before having to switch hotels for my last night in town. Before I checked out of Villa Bahia, I was able to meet with Bruno, the director, and tour all the beautiful rooms with the manager, Leo. Each room was so unique and had luxurious features making it a truly special experience to stay in. It made me want to stay at the Villa Bahia for my final evening even more then I already wanted to; however, I needed to investigate a different view of the city.

Conor met me for another coffee at the hotel and then took me out to check on more hotels in town. I toured Casa da Vitoria Pousada, Zank, and the Pestana Bahia Hotel. I checked into the Pestana Bahia Hotel on the coast. Due to the way this hotel is built, all rooms have an ocean view. With 430 comfortable apartments, including 42 Suites and 3 Presidential Suites, the Pestana Bahia Hotel had a much different feel than Villa Bahia. I must admit to preferring the specialized service and cozy environment of a brilliant boutique hotel like Villa Bahia much better although the view from my room was extremely impressive.

That evening the Nelman picked me up to go check out the Bale Folclorio Show. I must admit to being a little hesitant about going to see this show because I felt I would rather see and hear all of these things live on the street; however, I understood immediately why the theater was full after the first segment of the show.

The vibrant colors and the decadent sounds force you to clap your hands and become involved in the performance. This amazing show put on by a 38-member group of dancers, musicians, and singers is based on “Bahian” folkloric dances of that include slave dances, capoeira (a form of martial arts), samba and many that celebrate Carnival. The movements were exquisite. The culture and musical vibrations moved me.

After the show, I met one of my new friends at Villa Bahia (just two blocks away) to have dinner together at Maria Mata Mouro Restaurante just around the corner. It was a delightful small restaurant with the best caipirinhas that I had in Salvador. They have an intimate open-air back patio perfect for a romantic meal. I had a filet with chocolate sauce and puff banana for desert. Since my flight for Rio de Janeiro was early the next morning, I had to cut my evening short though I didn’t want to.

It was sad leaving Salvador since I adored the city so much; however, with so much more left to see there, I hope to return soon.

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