About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

09 February 2008

Salvador to Brasilia

The longest bus journey I have every been on - just a bit over 24 hours! And to boot, the route was hardly scenic. Brasilia, the capital of Brazil is on a plateau of sorts - similar to highveld in South Africa, but just not as high. It is a very fertile area, and thus the only scenery was agriculture and what is left of the original vegetation. The stops were interesting, but to be honest, the bus journeys in Peru we more pleasurable - there was no TV or music on this bus, and the only "comfort" apart from the toilet (which I did not use) was mineral water (which ran out, half way through).

07 February 2008

Reflections: Salvador

Salvador is one of the oldest western cities on the Americas - established by the Portuguese, it served as an early capital of Brazil. The old city - the suburb of Pelourinho, has been largely restored, and features a number of old buildings, especially churches. I had intended to go and visit some of these places properly after carnaval, but never got round to it - it was both a bit of laziness and tiredness.

The city is built next to a rather large bay - and for the first time on my trip, it seem a lot like home. In fact, except for the language, it could easily be in Africa - most of the people are descendants of African slaves brought over from Angola and West Africa; the food has a definite west african flavour, the musical style features a lot of drums and the weather reminds me a lot of Durban.

Salvador is a big city - and in terms of population, it is probably bigger than Cape Town. It is also quite spread out, but since there is no big mountain in the middle of the city, distances are more manageable. The public bus system is quite efficient, so getting around is not difficult.

I have not spent much time in Salvador when it was not carnaval, and thus my experience is a bit lopsided. But I have found it relaxing, and even though it has been my longest stop on my trip, and I am restless to move on, part of me also wishes that I stayed on a bit, and experienced a bit more of the culture, and the food.

I have had quite a bit of the Bahian food, and I absolutely love it. The main specialities, not surprisingly, is based on sea food and coconuts and the food has a very rich flavour although not really fatty. It has also been a long time since I have had green cocounut water (really refreshing, especially when the coconut has been refrigerated) and sugarcane juice.

Salvador is on the Atlantic coast, but because of its position, it is one of the few places in Brazil where one can see a sunset over the ocean!

06 February 2008

Carnaval in Salvador

Carnaval, or Carnival in English, is celebrated in a number of catholic countries, but IMO, there are only two really well known places for Carnival: Brazil and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is based on a catholic holiday (Ash Wednesday), which is based on an earlier pagan holiday, and in Brazil at least, the religious roots seem to have completely disappeared.

Carnaval is celebrated all over Brazil, but there are basically three recomended cities to go: Rio De Janeiro, Salvador and Olinda. Rio De Janeiro is famous for its samba school parades, but in Brazil, Salvador is famous for the party. Simply put, carnival in Salvador equates to a 6 day party, running about 18 hours a day! It is quite possibly the greatest and biggest street party in the world.

The weather has been stunning - it did rain briefly one night, but other than that, it has been clear days and night time temperatures of 29 degrees Celcius!

The Routes

There are apparently four major routes; but I only went to three of them ... the last was just too far away. The most traditional, was the route in Pelourinho, the old colonial quarter of Salvador (see my post on Salvador for more details on Pelourinho). This route mainly features drum bands, some elaborate costumes and is really intimate - the bands walk through narrow cobbled stoned roads with spectators squeezing in between the walls and the bands. The busiest quarter during the day was Campo Grande, where during the day, there are easily over a million people on the streets. The busiest quarter during the night, and also where I spent most of my time, is a 5Km stretch in Barra, the seaside suburb on the Atlantic coast. I think there were less people in Barra, but I am told by Paolo that there is also about a million people on he streets on the busiest days (Saturday - Monday).

Technically Impressive

In Campo Grande and Barra, the bands travel on massive trucks which carry massive speakers, and sometimes also have elaborate light shows and dancing girls (one bloco featured two naked dancing girls covered only in body paint). The trucks can be heard from quite a distance, and apparently all run on Bio-Diesel. After carnaval was over and things were being dismantled, I also noticed that the city has invested quite a bit on providing electrical supplies for lighting etc. on the routes - so they do not have to install everything from scratch every year.

The Music

Across Brazil, Salvador is pretty much known for its music scene, one of the many factors behind the popularity of the carnival. Music in Carnival could be classified into four types:

  1. Brazilian Pop music mainly by big Brazilian music stars, most of whom are natives of Salvador or the state of Bahia

  2. Samba and similar styles

  3. Drums, well with support from saxophones and trumpets, but mostly drums - the most traditional music of Salvador, whose people are mostly descendants of African slaves brought over from Angola and West Africa.

  4. Electronic music, well there was only two instances: DJ Tiesto on Friday and DJ Fatboy Slim together with DJ David Guetta on Tuesday

To be honest, while the pop music was very catchy, there was not much variety. The big bands played more or less the same songs, and they played them over and over again (more on that later). That said, the party was the best at these bands, simply because there were a lot more people dancing and partying away! I suppose my disappointment with the bigger bands stems from the fact that many of them are known for their vast music catalogues, and playing simply the top hits and covers of other artists was disappointment.

The other music styles were a lot more interesting, maybe because they were not repeated that often. I particularly enjoyed the drum bands - the energy of the drummer was amazing. There were also a few fixed stages, which had a more chilled environment, but the music was great none the less.

Performer Endurance

The blocos in Campo Grande and Barra move quite slowly - for example it takes over 5 hours for a bloco to go from start to finish in Barra. While the revelers can take a break anytime, there is no such breaks for the performers - they sing, play and dance for the entire route! And some big name artists, like Ivete Sangalo, performed every night! And one band, Chiclete com Banana, did both Barra and Campo Grande on the same (last) day!

Men in drag

There were not many costumes on show - but a reoccurring theme did seem to be men in drag. And it was not that the men were gay - many were chasing women ... a bit strange in many ways.

Filhos De Gandy

One of the oldest traditional groups of the carnival, they do not have any of the Gandhian traits - they drink a lot, chase women and considering the number of beads they wear, are flashy dressers too. Their main bloco was rather boring though ...


While accommodation prices sky rocket, other prices are remarkably stable, and cheap really. Drinks and food prices do not seem to rise at all for instance! That said, Brazil is still a very expensive place (when compared to Peru), and costs are higher than South Africa for most things.


There is a massive security presence in Carnival, with raised police platforms and regular patrols by police through the crowds. They are very quick too - and good at apprehending trouble makers who start fights etc. Apart from the threat of pick pockets (which cannot really be avoided in such massive crowds), I never really felt in danger.

Final Thoughts

One of my aims in visiting Brazil was to sample the various music styles - and carnival was a great way to do that! I even got to see performances by one of the greats of Brazilian music - Gilberto Gil, although he played a lot of covers (quite a bit of Bob Marley). I do not go to many parties ... and I probably spent more time partying away here than all the previous hours put together! That was mainly due to a great group of people that happened to be staying together - a core group of about 5/6 of us (such as Jen) went to many of the events together, which made it really good. That, above all else, has made this trip a success ... I doubt I would have enjoyed myself as much if I went to Olinda and Rcife (which have bigger events apparently) alone.

And best of all, the music was all free ...