Off Salvador's Beaten Track
Most visitors to Salvador get to know two areas: Pelourinho and Barra.
Some will get up the the coast a bit to the praia (beach) of
Piatã. But there's a whole lot more to Salvador than this. Here I'm
going to talk about some areas where you'll be unlikely to see anybody
Beco de Gal -- You wanna samba? This is the place! A Salvador institution!
Lady Gal herself!
Tucked into a small alley (beco) is a very local place run
by Gal (Maria das Graças
da Silva Oswaldo), samba singer and afficionado extraordinaire.
The tunes (live) are top notch and the vibe is very chilled. Wednesday
night is the big night here, the music starting around 10:30 or so
and running until 3 a.m. (why Wednesday? that story's here).
Getting on towards midnight the pace usually picks up and the dance
"floor" is jammed with gyrating bodies (and they gyrate
very well indeed!).
Note: Gal's place is now on the Dique de Tororó, Gal having been forced out of her beco. It's still an interesting place, but this place doesn't have the intimacy that Gal's "original" place had, nor the same magic.
Gettin' Down at the Beco
And while I'm on the subject of samba, there's also this place...
It's the football (soccer) field of the Esporte Clube Tejo (Tejo Sports Club) in the neighborhood of IAPI. On Mondays, after the game is over and the sun has set... the samba begins.
Garcia -- [* Note: The outside pagodes described
here have been prohibited by the prefeitura (city government).
They had become too popular and the influx of people into the neighborhood
was disturbing some of the local residents. This area nevertheless
remains an interesting and lively place to go (for those so inclined,
anyway) on Saturday nights.]
Garcia has two ends: The fim de linha (end
of the line; the bus line, that is) end, and the Campo Grande end.
The Campo Grande end is middle-class, while the fim de linha end is
a bairro popular (working-class neighborhood) that cooks on Saturday and Sunday nights with pagode fundo de quintal.
Pagode is a popular samba form, and "fundo de quintal"
means "backyard". It's a style where the players sit around
informally and play for themselves, their friends, and families. Two
sides of the square in this part of the neighborhood have such bands,
and the bands are surrounded by people dancing (get into the mix and
you'll see some really good moves!) and having a general
good time. This is Salvador at it's most fundamental. It's beautiful. Buteco de Farias is a restaurant on the square (Farias is
the owner's last name, as in Rubens Farias) with great and inexpensive
and very-typical-for-this-sort-of-area food. It's a simple place,
but that's the beauty of it.
The music starts between 8 and 9:00 p.m. on Saturdays
and 7 and 8:00 p.m. on Sundays. Saturdays wind up around
1:00 a.m. and Sundays an hour or so earlier. A cab from
Campo Grande will cost you five reais or so (I'm
guesstimating there), or you can get a bus (the sign on
the front will say Fazenda Garcia;
that's "Garcia Farm") at the bus stop on the
street (Avenida Leovigildo Figueiras) to the right of Teatro
Castro Alves (as you face the theater), across the
street from the theater. That's also the best place to
get a cab (getting a cab at the wrong spot will mean
taking a huge spin around Campo Grande, and possibly
several other blocks as well). Garcia is great, and it's
a huge change from the usual tourist areas.
Ribeira -- Is a neighborhood or bairro (ba-EE-ho) on the bay side of the city, not too far from
the Igreja (Church) de Bonfim on the
peninsula of Itapagipe in the lower city (cidade
baixa). It has a long stretch of beach and barracas
and barzinhos (literally: little bars; this term
is used to denote the simple unpretentious bars that
Salvador is full of). Sunday is the big day, with
seemingly endless streams of people eating, drinking,
listening to music, dancing, and socializing. The view
across the bay to islands and hills on the far side is
lovely, and the boats on the water are usually moving
under the power of either wind or human muscle (as
opposed to waters off Barra).
Getting to Ribeira is easy by bus. Just take the
Elevedor Lacerda in the Praça Municipal (very close to
Pelourinho) down, get off, and walk to the bus stop
directly in front of you. Buses going to Ribeira (with
big signs on the front saying so) pass every several
minutes. Ribeira is the end of the line. Now, getting back by bus can be a different matter; if you leave in the
afternoon you'll probably be forced to battle your way
onto the bus with hoardes of unruly kids. Once your on,
any bus which passes through Comércio (or
downtown, where the bottom of the Elevador Lacerda is
located) will get you close to where you started out
from. Or if you are feeling more gentil (and
have some change in your pocket), you can take a taxi.
São Tomé -- Is another beach on the
bay side. It's beyond the peninsula where Ribeira is
located and, again, is the end of the line. You can get
the bus at the same place you get the Ribeira bus, and
getting back by bus is no problem (each way takes the
better part of an hour). One of the interesting things
about getting to São Tomé is getting there. The bus
follows Avenida Suburbana, and the suburbs in Brazil, in
great contrast to the U.S. or Europe, are where the have-nots live. These are favelas (shantytowns), scattered
up in the hills like houses-of-cards, wherein reside the
majority of Brazil's population. Most visitors to
Salvador never see this and leave with a mistaken
impression of Brazil's living standards.
Anyway, the beach at São Tomé is beautiful in its small-community way (in spite of a ship-loading pipeline located off to the beach's left) and on
Sundays it's very lively. If one wishes to go a bit
further, there is a long pier (you can't miss it) and
from there you can get a boat to the island of Maré
("maré" means "tide"), about twenty minutes away. There's no pier
in this area, so everybody jumps out into waist-deep water
(in terms of the average adult) and wades up to the
beach. It's fun! There are plenty of boats back; you just
wade back out and jump on. More information on Maré is located in the "Islands in the Bay" section.
Disembarking at the Ilha (Island) of Maré
At Sete Portas: Some of the Primary Ingredients in Bahian Cooking