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Sleepy Salvador

Day 13: Salvador

I was startled to discover the meaning of the word Pelourinho.

My hostel is in the historical district of the city, or Pelourinho, as it is locally known. 

Which is Portuguese for 'whipping post'.  Several hundred years ago, during a more brutal part of Brazil's past, millions of Africans were transported to this country against their will.  When the ships docked, the pelourinho was used to cruelly lash each new arrival, before they were dispatched to labour in fields all over parts of the new country.

It felt odd how such an innocent-sounding word masked such a vicious reminder of Brazil's brutal beginnings as a nation.

Despite the colourful houses, musicians merrily playing tunes on every corner, and the ambient feel of a tourist village, there is a heaviness to the whole area that can literally be felt on your back.  You look around and the place is steeped in history.  Every building tells a story.  Every building had a function in the olden days.  Such a contrast to Copacobana and Ipanema of Rio, which are largely modern creations sprung up from the last fifty years or so.

I went into two shops that sell paintings.  They looked so ridiculously good it was unbelievable.  Authentic.  They tell a story.  Now I get why some people go crazy over artwork.  I found the craftsmanship almost addictive as I stared in fascination, seemingly mesmerised.

My hostel is quiet. Almost too quiet. It's almost a bit eerie in this strange way.  These are my sins for travelling in low season.  On my very first night, I was the only guest at the place.  I hit an all-time low on the second night, when I realised I only had the hostel owner's two dogs to make conversation with.  To make matters worse, both were revoltingly hideous.  Each time I reached over to pat the big dog, I would hastily retrieve my hand when its startlingly red eyes rolled over to my direction.

The thing resembled a demon.

The hostel owner is polite, helpful, and has a strange habit of staring at people, as if scrutinising them, before responding to their question.  Case in point:

Me:  Do you know what time it is?
He stares at me unblinkingly for a few seconds.
Him (without looking at his watch): I believe it is 3:47pm.

A curious mix of part English, part Danish parents who immigrated to Mozambique, where he was born, he then had a recent spell in England before selling up and setting up shop in Brazil permanently.

I wanted to ask what brought him to Brazil but didn't feel like subjecting myself to the stare.

On day three in Salvador, I could have practically jumped for joy and ran to hug the three new people I saw checking in.  But I stopped myself just in time as that would have been bizarre.

One was an American solo traveller, and the other two, a Welsh/Scottish couple. The couple seemed nice enough but much older than me and we didn't really click I suppose. Not that they weren't friendly.   They were, but I probably wouldn't be facebooking them any time soon.

The American guy was put into my room.  He had been on the road for eight months so far and had a month or two left.  I asked him about the most interesting places he had been to.  He reeled them off with the enthusiasm of a five year old reading out their list of chores.  Walter lacked the energy and excitement that other backpackers I met possessed.  I wondered to myself whether he was really enjoying his trip, or if he was just going through the motions and working through a ticklist of sights and attractions that were supposed to be seen.

He sat down on his bed, rummaged through his backpack and pulled out a large laptop and several heavy duty speakers.  It was though Walter had come to this hostel to settle indefinitely, rather than someone who was on the go.  I half expected him to extract and unfold a large desk and chair from his bag, with which to put his laptop on top.

I found myself wistfully wondering if I should have written off the money wasted from not using the Rio-Salvador bus ticket and gone to Florianopolis with my friends.  Salvador is nice, the hostel is nice, but what use is having a swimming pool if there weren't people to chill out with?  Should I just fly down and reunite with them?  Is that ridiculous?  Surely I need to give this place a bit more time?  I just couldn't get over how quiet everything was.

These are my sins for travelling in low season.


Ms Beauty Soul said...

See that sucks! I hope it got better... I've never been in low season so I can't imagine what its like... I hope to hear you met some people in your next posting... apart from the dry american and the couple...

Anonymous said...

You are backpacking in BRASILIA... there are no wrond decisions!


louis said...

Nice, blog i think i stayed at that hostel it was pretty packed that was in january 2010. its also great to read about and from other black and african travelers - i liked the breakfast though. Pelourinho and Salvador takes a while to a while to like.

Great writing

Anonymous said...

That is one thing I am sick of while travelling...being expected to constantly entertain people and always be 'on'. So what if Walter is doing his own thing go do yours. Walk around by yourself. Read a book. Sketch the landscape. I hate it when people require an audience just to function.

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