BAHIA has a population close to fourteen million. This state sits on the East coast of Brazil It has the largest coastal area of the country and we have come to the beach to chill out for the last two weeks of our time in South America. They say that “Bahia brings out the best in people” and we have certainly been aware of the friendliness, courtesy and happiness that surround the people who live here. The Portuguese who set out from Lisbon in 1500 with thirteen vessels and 1500 men landed here after forty four days at sea and discovered “Vera Cruz Island” which later went on to be called Brazil. Bahia depicts Brazil, and all around we see why, with five hundred years of history at our feet. We have had an incredible journey up to this point and we have spent sometime in these last few weeks reflecting on it all.

First we go to Trancoso, a small beach community well known for its Quadrado, and 16th century church. In the Quadrado there are many coloured one story houses which today serve as homes, restaurants and shops. This small community over the past few years has become a hideout for many people escaping the northern hemisphere winters, but I see little change since I came here for a weekend in 2006. We are staying at the Villas Trancoso, a small hotel on the beach which has the most interesting breakfasts that we have so far encountered. The owner tries to enourage us to travel from the hotel but we explain to him that we are here to just “chill” and he politely accepts that. We are the only people here so we get a great deal of attention. Things hot up towards the end of our time when preparations get underway for a large wedding party who will take over the entire place for five days!! The beaches are second to none, white sand with a backdrop of no visible property, the law has prevented anyone from building right on the beach so consequently the vista for as far as the eye can see is clear of houses and hotels (of which there are very few anyway.

Our next beach “time” is on the island of Tinhare. The main town being Morro De Sao Paulo. Our flight from Salvador takes twenty minutes. It is a small six seater plane. There are only four of us. The other couple, both Brazilian and in their twenties had decided that the notorious boat ride in bad weather was not for them…..Past experience was the reason that I thought we should fly there also and with the weather taking a turn for the worse, I was very glad that with four of us it meant that there were enough people to make the flight possible. Morro has changed since I was there last but everything that has changed is for the good of the island and its people. The main street is now paved with brick and tastefully done. There is so much rain there in the rainy season that when the streets were just sand (which many of them still are), massive puddles make life very difficult. There are basically no cars permitted, so the only transport is either by wheelbarrow (all taxis are wheelbarrows) mule, tractor or (and I only saw two) buses. There are four main beaches and each beach is simply called, one, two, three or four. Beach two is the most lively and we are staying there. The view from our room is straight to the beach and now that they have a wooden pathway outside all the hotels, restaurants etc. on beach two, it attracts the most people. Music is playing all the time and it is all traditional Brazilian, no pop or disco sounds are heard. We enjoyed three days of sun before the rain came and when it comes there is no warning, it is tropical and down it pours in sheets, for hours. We enjoyed our time there and again found the people so friendly, warm and inviting. We fly back to Salvador this time we are the only passengers….what a way to go!

Then to Salvador da Bahia. Salvador is the third Brazilian capital and it is home for the largest black population outside Africa. Three races together Indian, African and White synthesize Brazil today. It has no less than 365 churches! I did voluntary work here in 2006 and did not expect to return but it was on our route back to Europe (tomorrow we fly to Lisbon) and so I thought it would be interesting to show Guy places like Pelourinho and the lower city. Pelourinho, a UNESCO site has been undergoing restoration since 1992 and it still has a long way to go.
It has the largest baroque collection outside Europe. The famous “Olodum” was born here and as is the case on Tuesday nights many of the new students take to the streets and play the drums followed by people dancing, there is a great sense of joy and appreciation all around. We are staying at the Convento do Carmo in Pelourinho a former convent and now fully restored as a hotel. It is huge and restored in a way that the original character has not been destroyed. Guy keeps reminding me that it was home to many a “nun” who probably felt imprisoned by its huge thick walls…..somehow I would rather not think about that but just enjoy the space and tranquility and architecture that it offers! We will be here three days and then move on to the next leg of our journey. Ahead we have routes planned to Austria, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, France, Germany, Scandinavia and the UK and anywhere else that we might want to go……how lucky we are!

About 200 of us followed the Piper through the narrow streets of Pelourinho last night. Anyone who remembers Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child” (from the Rhythm of the Saints album—if it isn’t handy, it is on YouTube) will remember the incredible drummers from Salvador: Olodum. Well, we gathered in the street at Casa De Olodum somewhere around 8:30PM to join 8 drummers who took us on more than a journey. Soon we were marching through these streets no more than 15 feet wide including the sidewalks. Everyone had to move. Everyone did move. The embracing rhythms soon had more than the drummers swaying, swinging, not marching really but dancing, dancing, dancing. The procession soon had the 8 drummers’ captivating rumbles reverberating off the walls followed by a train of some 200 people in various dances, led by impromptu dancers who clearly knew how to dance. The somewhat discrete police blocked the tiny intersections with their Toyotas (one was enough to block the whole intersection). There wasn’t any traffic anyway so the police could enjoy the parade too. This is Bahia and it lives up to its reputation: friendly, happy, mostly open people. Sometimes, usually, disarmingly so. In all the hubbub, clamor, and music not just from the drummers, but music and other urban sounds coming from the clubs we passed, the suspicious dark alleyways, emanating from the upper floors of the 2-story residential neighborhood, people were happy. Crowds jostled and people politely apologized or gave hand signals: “I’m cool, you cool?” Bahia extends to Morro de Sao Paulo where we “rested” from our travels before coming to Salvador. The most laid-back place I think I have been. Smiles and friendliness offset the initial reaction to the Portuguese language which, in my opinion, is rough and sounds angry even when sweet. Then, this small town atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone (including us by the end of our stay), and their boisterous greetings initially seem argumentative or angry—then all smiles, hand waves, pats on the back. Body language—more communicative than words, as usual. That a former cloistered convent should serve as host for our 50th bed (Bunny keeps track of these kinds of things) seems somehow appropriate and odd at the same time. The Pestana Convento do Carmo is a fabulous conversion of this 500+ year old monster of a convent into rather elegant suites (I shared apartments when I was young with 5 other men in apartments smaller than our suite). I’ll save for another time my personal thoughts about the role of convents and monasteries in the perversion of Christianity (no matter what your views of Christianity) and the role of the Church in perpetuating the power elite through the suppression and enslavement of the minds and bodies of the poor—thousands of whom were consigned to these stone prisons also known as “cloisters”. Oops, did I not save the discussion after all? But it is a magnificent building perhaps better suited to its contemporary use(s).

Morro de Sao Paulo reminded me of the work I did for years in the Pacific Islands to help them manage the growth and development proposals that were flooding them as they were discovered by the rest of the world—and as air travel became so much easier. Tiny islands with indigenous populations of less than 20,000 were poorly equipped in the 1980s to deal with major hotel chains and huge construction companies overwhelming them with beach front concrete wonders (and suitcases full of cash to make getting to “yes” easier). For a global corporation wanting to build a $100 million hotel enclave on the best beaches (circled with walls to keep non-paying locals at a distance), another million dropped strategically from suitcases was small potatoes. I worked on about 15 such islands trying to produce some kind of thoughtful order and consideration to the proposals, their merits, impacts, and measures to involve the communities rather than isolate them. I have been reluctant since then to go back and see whether passion and public service carried the day or whether the suitcases did. Now I think that I am ready. As Morro has moved further into the 21st century, whomever the decision makers are seem to have done a pretty good job of maintaining the charm and beauty of the place as they have paved streets, built “new” “hotels”, etc. Instead of the all too common rebar and concrete, only semi-complete, started projects are also generally completed and the streets, etc., are paved with very attractive paving bricks laid out in attractive designs. Murals, plants, and other décor maintain a local sense and natural environment. It gives me some hope that the Pacific Islands came to their senses soon enough to realize—before they created too much of it, that they and their great grandchildren were going to have to live with what they were creating. That doing so means a “permanent” commitment of manual labor for the wheelbarrow taxis and donkey supply/work trains, etc., cannot be ignored. Apparently the people have looked at the question and have satisfied themselves that economic opportunity, wheelbarrows and all, offer a more participatory economy than walled-off fortresses owned and operated by foreigners with a few jobs for locals for the manual labor to build the roads, etc., to serve those fortresses.