Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Bahia is beautiful. Miles of coastline mean big, bright beaches and rich marine life, and the region’s natural endowments lure visitors from all over the world.
After my flight from Rio, I started my trip to Bahia with a visit to Salvador, the first capital of Brazil and one of the most important cultural centers in the country. But Salvador wasn’t all that Bahia had to offer, and I wanted to see more of the region on my short visit.
Fortunately I was offered the chance to do so by Tours Bahia, a company that invited me on a day trip from Salvador to Praia do Forte and Guarajuba Beach.
I was picked up at my hotel at 7:30am and met up with my tour bus at 8:00am. I boarded the bus and started listening to the sounds of samba that were to play over the stereo all day. From there we spent another hour picking up other people at various hotels around the city before we arrived at our first destination: a lagoon made famous by a samba song.
The stop at the lagoon was a quick one, and soon we were driving off to Praia do Forte. I was particularly excited to visit the town because of the famous sea turtle conservation project there. An organization called Tamar had been working with locals for three decades to save five species of endangered sea turtles in Brazil, four of which could be found in Praia do Forte.
The first thing we did upon arrival was visit the turtle center. There we had free time to see the turtles swim, learn about their life cycles, and understand the conservation work being done throughout Bahia and the rest of the country. My favorite part about the visit was seeing the baby turtles testing out their flippers in a big pool.
After parting with the turtles I had some extra time to explore Praia do Forte. The upscale resort town reminded me a lot of Lahaina in Hawaii or Port Douglas in Australia. Pedestrianized streets were lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes, and the beach was packed with sun worshippers from all over.
At the suggestion of my tour guide, Rachel, I went to a street vendor to try the local Bahian specialty of acaraje. I had been warned by a Brazilian friend that it wasn’t the most appetizing food, but I wanted to try it anyway. Made with deep-fried black-eyed peas and shrimp, it looked delicious. Unfortunately, my friend was right that it was a bit bland.
What wasn’t bland was the next food I tried. Again at Rachel’s suggestion, I wandered over to Tutti-Frutti, a scoop-it-yourself ice cream shop that sold flavors by weight. I piled my bowl with all kinds of sorbets made from Brazilian fruits I had never heard of. On top of those I placed scoops of acai, pina colada, coconut, and passion fruit ice creams. The end result was delicious.
Back on the bus, the next stop on our Bahia tour was Guarajuba Beach. There we found a long, wide stretch of golden sand with rows of tall palm trees on one side and gently splashing waves on the other.
Along the beach were bars and restaurants selling everything from chicken dishes to caipirinhas. Having stuffed myself full of acaraje and ice cream in Praia do Forte, I skipped the chicken and went straight for the caipirinha. Full of fresh lime and cachaca, it was the perfect antidote to the sweltering summer sunshine.
After my liquid lunch I decided to go for a walk along the beach. The water was perfectly refreshing as it lapped at my ankles while I made my way up and down the sand.
The bus was supposed to pick us up at 3:30pm to take us back to Salvador, but it arrived an hour late. It was the only hitch in an otherwise good day. Two hours of samba songs later, I was dropped of at my hotel in Salvador and my day trip in Bahia came to an end.
I was glad to have seen a few of the highlights of the region, but knew that in a country as big as Brazil, I had barely scratched the surface on my Bahia tour. The area’s islands, inland territory, and other beaches still beckoned, but I wanted to explore the gem in the region’s colonial crown: Salvador.