22nd January – I think it is a Friday – Salvador, Brazil
No rain. Remember the talk of flash floods and thunderstorms? This forecast has now been transferred to Rio, not Salvador. Okay, the humidity was high. You could pretty much touch the air. And there was about half an hour of what an optimistic Brit might refer to as spitting, but you had to pay really close attention to notice – there was not much enthusiasm behind it. And that was it for the moisture. It was in the air and it stayed there.
We walked into town. Can’t take the mobility scooter on cobbles – mum likes her vertebrae to stay in the same order – and anyway, the road tarmac here has a tendency to stop a foot before the kerb, which would not have been conducive to stress-free wheeled travel. Luckily, the ship’s berth was smack bang where we needed it to be. We came out of the terminal, got harassed by a significant number of taxi drivers, who all suddenly lost all semblance of English once they realised you were asking for directions, not prices, and then walked the few blocks to the funicular. This was without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of my day. I LOVE funiculars. Cable cars? Meh. Lifts (of which Salvador has 16 due to its split level layout – half on top of the cliff, half at the bottom)? Meh. But a funicular is a whole other world of joy. They call theirs an inclined railway, I think – my Portuguese is pretty much non-existent, so I may be wrong on this. The term is ‘plano inclinado’, but I have no idea what ‘plano’ means. I’m guessing at railway.
The port talk woman said that everyone is happy to accept dollars. Erm. Nope. Wrong again, lady! So we went to the café next door to the funicular entrance, where a man sits outside and he is the “Cambio” or money changer (these men are dotted all around the touristy areas). He slightly gouged us on the exchange rate, but we weren’t that fussed. All for 15 Reals (about 20p?!) for me to ride the funicular. Turns out old folk go for free. Worth noting for future reference.
So up we went, in a beautiful, wrought-iron Victorian car, with surprisingly comfy wooden benches. We had to wait a few minutes for the car at the top to fill up, as it works on a simple counterweight + gravity principle. And then up we went. Sadly, it didn’t take long, but it was definitely the best bit of my day.
At the top, we found ourselves in the old town, known as the Pelourinho district. Or, as the port talk miserable cow put it, not a really old town, but just built to look like it. Really? Cos I don’t know how many buildings you walk past every day that were built in 1911, love, but that is over a century ago. I guess they’re allowed to call that old. We can’t all be Skara Brae, you know. And as they have gone to all the trouble of putting the dates on the buildings and all 365 churches in this town, maybe we should just let them call it the Old Town. Urgh, her negativity is really starting to grind me down now.
The buildings were in a variety of colonial styles – French-style ironwork and balconies and some Dutch-style roof patterns. Which bearing in mind this part of the world was mostly the Spanish and Portuguese (I thought), shows just how styles influence each other and how people copy the best bits from other cultures and societies. Some of them were rather confused confections (yes, they really did look like cakes!), but they are busy restoring and repainting ready for the summer, so they all look very pretty. The colour scheme here is pastel walls (pink, yellow, blue, turquoise) with white woodwork. Very nice indeed.
The flag of Brazil is green and yellow with a bit of blue in the middle. I checked. But here in Salvador, the local colours are red, green and yellow. They seem quite convinced that they are all (a) African (b) in Africa and/or (c) Jamaican and (d) in Jamaica. Entire shops sold nothing but African art, photographs, carvings, prints, beads and dreadlocks glued to hats, and there were numerous street stalls for plaiting and braids and cornrows. It was rather odd. This is South America, people, pay attention. Wrong continent.
We wandered around until we found a café. Not many to be had, funnily enough (normally they’re epidemic in frequency), and most were shut until about 1pm, which meant a LOT of cruise passengers had walked past their closed shutters, including two entire walking tours. In other countries, we have had the opposite problem – you can buy morning coffee and pastries til the cows come home, but no one serves lunch (i.e. Iceland, as I recall). We went to the Café Cuco, which has beautiful toilets, but pitiful wifi. And the service is so slow, I think they must lose money hand over fist, because people just get tired of waiting for attention, and leave without paying their bill.
Outside the café, a young Christian tied a free ribbon around my wrist with three knots and asked me to make a wish with each one he tied – a gift from his church. I don’t know what sort of Christianity he follows, but I’m not sure wish granting, per se, was in any version of it that I ever learned (at dinner, Nicky suggested it might be a Voodoo influence/convergence). He also gave me a little shell on a string to put around my neck. I don’t much like these, because I think shells belong in the sea, but he was quite insistent. The rest of his wares were hideous lumpy necklaces that I wouldn’t wear under any circumstances, and anyway, I had no currency, so we parted ways – quite amicably considering the amount of freebies I was now wearing. When I found mum and dad, mum, too, had one of his ribbons around her wrist, which I duly removed for her. He was a busy boy!
When we had finally succeeded in paying for our drinks, we took the elevator back down (disappointing – no windows, stick to the funicular – but still free for mum and dad) to the indoor market, which was, as with all such places we visit, bustling and fun. Mum bought a long-sleeved blouse, because she hadn’t packed any (I’ll explain why we need them in a sec), and I got a Salvador t-shirt and some postcards. We then went upstairs to the restaurant, and sat on the balcony with chicken and chips and Coke Zeros, watching the boats in the marina bob up and down in the surprisingly choppy waters, and the mounted military police passing by below.
Long sleeves. Zika virus. We had a letter yesterday evening, warning us about Zika virus. If you’ve been watching the news, you’ll know. It causes a bit of fever and conjunctivitis, if you’re healthy to start with, but the main problem is birth defects if you’re bitten while pregnant (pretty sure Mum and Dad are safe on that one. So am I, frankly). Microencephaly cases have gone up from 150 last year to 3,996 so far this year – this means babies born with skulls too small for their brains to grow properly. But, and this is the important bit from our point of view, they are DAY-BITING mosquitoes. Usually, mosquitoes come out at dusk, by which time we are back on board and smugly sailing out on the evening tide. But these are day-biting buggers. So we were told to wear long sleeves and long trousers and DEET. All of which I did, but virtually no one else we saw had! Mum thought she should get a long-sleeved blouse, at least for the remainder of the affected places we will be visiting. The full list is: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin/Saant Maarten, Suriname, Venezuela. Here’s a memory game you can play. Can you name all the ones we will be visiting on this cruise, without looking at the itinerary?
The surprisingly choppy waters? When we got back on board, Dad spotted that the harbour wall is not a harbour wall. It’s just a breaker, with free-flowing water going around both ends. Which is why the inside is not much calmer than the outside, and why all the marina boats were bouncing around so cheerfully.
On the way to dinner (BOB was 4.30), I passed the on board shops. They have a whole section of memorabilia for this cruise (W16, which apparently means World Cruise 2016, despite the fact that we were told it can’t be called a worldy unless it’s a circumnavigation). There is even a slogan: “The Greatest Show Is Earth”. Very nice. Just one problem. As soon as I looked at the mugs, tea towels, etc, I spotted a mistake. They have picked out the continents in blue dots with red dots for the ports we are visiting. We aren’t visiting mainland Spain or Portugal or Gibraltar. Unless something changes radically! And yet, there is a red dot in the bottom left-hand corner of the European continent. Oops. Seriously, does no one proofread ANYTHING any more?! Hundreds of tea towels, t-shirts, bags and mugs, ALL with the wrong ports marked on them. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.