Salvador de Bahia is one of the oldest cities in Brazil. The first thing a Brazilian will tell you is that the northern cities are not the same as the southern cities (like Rio) with about the same disapproving tone a Bostonian uses to talk about Montgomery.
Salvador has a far different feel. You can see its history everywhere. Old buildings abound. As do derelict buildings. Without UNESCO's assistance, Salvador's old town would look less like this --
And more like this --
Tropical conditions are not kind to man's edifices. Robert Frost said it well: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." In the tropics, "something" is heat, humidity, mold, and insects.
But there is something amiss with Salvador's soul, as well. In the midst of all the restored beauty, every resident is a hustler. Where Brazilians will regularly touch your arm during conversations, Salvadorans will grasp your arm and try to cajole money from you. Women in hooped dresses prowl the square seeking tourists to take their picture -- for money. Athletic young men perform capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial arts dance, on the public street while their colleagues chase down tourists and demand $10 for any tourist so bold as to take a picture.
The buildings and the history attract the tourists, but the sheer desperation of the street hustlers scare them away.
Having had enough of the constant barrage of requests for money, I decided to take an alternative route back to the ship. I should have noticed that I was now the only outsider milling amongst the crowd. I turned a street to get down a hill to the port, and found this fascinating street.
On the left of the street was a series of small metal-working shops, one which featured this pagan sculpture. Bahia's African roots are apparent in almost all of its art.
At the bottom of the hill, I encountered this interesting bit of graffiti. An artist had added handmade tiles to the piece.
While photographing one of the tiles, I heard a young woman's voice. I looked up to find a very soiled young woman leaning against the wall asking me to take her picture. I had learned the photograph=money lesson earlier in the day. When I declined, she demanded money because she was hungry. And I did not doubt that. My Salvation Army training is that when I encounter a need, I should attempt to meet it. As I handed her the equivalent of $30, another fellow rushed over to me as the woman started yelling. Another bystander motioned me to start walking and to put my camera away. I did. But as fast as I walked, the woman followed asking for -- more money, food, cigarette, alcohol (her full litany of English).
When I told the story to my American and Brazilian friends on board, they wanted to know if I was going to report her. For what? The city is filled with people doing exactly as she did. The sad thing is that the behavior will drive tourists away and the poverty cycle will be worse.
I loved the city, but I doubt I will return. And if asked, I would tell anyone the same thing. If you want to see a lovely colonial city, visit Recife and Olinda. Skip Salvador.
Next stop: Recife.