Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Salvador is sensory overload. The coastal city in northern Brazil is bursting with color, music, and flavor. And that’s to say nothing of history and culture. The annual Carnival in Salvador attracts visitors from every corner of the globe, but even outside of the festival season the city overflows with life.
I arrived in Salvador on a short flight from Rio de Janeiro last Friday. My hotel, the Pestana Convento do Carmo, was housed in a former convent right in the heart of the famous Pelourinho district. The beautiful building was the first historic luxury hotel in Brazil, and I was excited to be offered a night’s accommodation during my stay in the capital of Bahia.
The hotel had a gorgeous swimming pool in the middle of a courtyard, a tranquil library, a small spa, a bar, and a restaurant. The rooms were located down long, tall corridors, and mine was set over two floors. The top floor had a large, comfortable bed and bathroom, and the bottom floor had two sofas, a desk, and another bathroom.
I could have stayed at the hotel for my entire visit to Salvador, but there was more to explore beyond the cloisters. Out I went into the summer sunshine, down cobblestone streets, past brightly colored buildings, and alongside crumbling colonial churches.
The highlight of seeing Salvador was wandering around the historic city. Everywhere I looked there were galleries featuring colorful art, clothing stores selling long white dresses, and street vendors tempting passers-by with fresh coconuts. All the while the sound of samba filled the sweltering summer air like a fresh ocean breeze. It reminded me a lot of Cartagena in Colombia and San Telmo in Buenos Aires.
After walking around for awhile, I took the city elevator down to the waterfront. There I found myself in front of Salvador’s famous Mercado Modelo market. Both outside and in, vendors were hawking beaded bracelets, cotton clothing, and Salvadorian souvenirs. I walked around for awhile, picking up a cheese-filled pastry for lunch at a secluded stand along the way.
Back up in the old town, I stumbled upon an impromptu capoeira performance in the square in front of the cathedral, drank an acai smoothie with granola and banana, and ate dinner at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Cafelier.
The restaurant only had a handful of tables, all of which overlooked the ocean on a terrace high above the sea. The scene was so dream-like that I could have sat there forever enjoying my food and listening to the sounds of samba music. But I had more of Salvador to explore, and my next stop was outside of the historic Pelourinho district.
On my second night in Salvador I was invited to stay at the Pestana Bahia Lodge. The hotel was located on the waterfront several miles away from the old town. I had a bit of trouble after checking in, as the first room I was given had a strange smell and the second had a malfunctioning air conditioner. The third one was better, though, and the staff was helpful. After getting situated, I settled in for another day in the summer sunshine.
The pool at the lodge was under maintenance, but there was a second pool at the other section of the hotel that I could use. I spent a long lazy afternoon there on a lounge chair, broken only by a walk into the city to find food.
My stroll took me into a very different part of Salvador than the famous center. The colorful buildings were fewer, and the area was more of a local neighborhood. The beachfront added a nice ambiance, though, and a smattering of sculptures lent the area an artistic air.
Everywhere I looked there were cafes with bright plastic chairs spilling out into plazas. I walked around until I found a restaurant called Dada with a funky interior and an appetizing menu. There I ate two pasteis de Dada for lunch. The cheese and chicken pastries were excellent, and after finishing them I returned to my spot by the pool.
As the noontime sun faded into the golden light of evening, I peeled myself off my lounge chair and headed to the airport. It was sad to leave Salvador and its abundance of colors, vibrant music, and beautiful beaches. But I wasn’t finished with Brazil yet, and I looked forward to spending two more days in Rio de Janeiro before my South American adventure was over.