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Brazil

Day 36: Salvador

 
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In the kitchen at Dadá's seafront restaurant. 'Cooking for me is like having sex.'
Michael Palin - BrazilApparently the Baía de Todos os Santos, of which I catch tantalizing glimpses from my balcony, is not quite as perfect as it looks. Shining bright and stretching away to the horizon, it would seem to be the perfect getaway from a busy city. The reality is that Bahia and the bay from which it took its name are insidiously intertwined. Eighty percent of all the state's sewage drains into the waters of the Baía, and it is all untreated, as is most of the industrial effluent from the plants and refineries around the bay. There have been crisis meetings between the environmentalists and the water board, but I read that, for now, the pollution continues.

Today, of all days, I wish I hadn't read that, for we're being taken out onto the bay for a sail. And not in any ordinary sailing boat, but in one of the increasingly rare saveiros, the big, thick, timber-built barges which were once the workhorses of the inshore cargo trade.

Yesterday's rain has blown through leaving a perfect morning of high blue skies and deep blue seas. We make our way down to the Cidade Baixa, the Lower City, to the port area where the ferries leave for Itaparica Island on the opposite side of the bay. This once-busy, now down-at-heel port area is dominated by the seventy- two-metre-high shaft of one of the city's most remarkable landmarks, the Elevador Lacerda. This great vertical tube has provided pedestrian access between the Higher and Lower cities since 1874. The present monumental construction was built in the 1930s, with an Art Deco finish, and its four separate lifts take about a minute to rise and fall. A ticket costs around 3p. On working days it's busy, for apart from the ferry terminal, there's a big tourist market down here, and promised investment in a new hotel, as well as the recently opened Museum of Black Music, should regenerate this seedy strip by the time Salvador hosts the World Cup.

The two men who are to be our hosts today are, for various reasons, passionate about the old boats. One is Bel Borba, a trim, dapper artist who's just had his first child at the age of fifty-four. He looks like an artist. An Impressionist maybe, all in white with a straw hat and a sharp black moustache. He's bright, expressive and famously prolific, producing portraits and lithographs and ink-point sketches and, most spectacularly, a lot of street art. They were his white seagulls that decorated the underpass as we first drove into the city, and since then I've seen another Bel Borba-decorated embankment, this one covered in orange fish. His fellow director of Viva Saveiro, the trust that is trying to save and restore these old sailing boats, could hardly be more different. He's a very large man called Malaca, an engineer by trade, wearing shorts and a voluminous yellow T-shirt with a picture of a saveiro printed large on the front. He seems to talk entirely in jokes, and is loving the fact that our sound recordist Seb can't find a microphone harness long enough to fit round his waist. If the Brazilians have a word for extrovert, Malaca would be its embodiment. But I'm sure they don't. Brazilian means extrovert.

The boat lies moored up at the end of a long wooden jetty, the yellow, red and green stripes of its wide wooden hull conspicuous amongst the monochrome fibreglass yachts around it. Malaca hails the crew, an older man called Jorge who's the skipper, and a much younger mate who is immediately despatched to collect supplies of beer and food for the barbecue lunch. Malaca looks up at the sky with approval and shouts something to Bel, which makes him smile.

'He says São Pedro won't take a piss today,' Bel translates, adding helpfully, 'São Pedro is the patron saint of the weather.'

When eventually we're ready and the supplies are on board, the mighty sail is raised, reminding me of the high-masted wherries of the Norfolk Broads or the Thames Estuary, and we move majestically out towards an old fortress that guards the harbour. Having no engines, we're at the whim of the wind, and until we can get up some speed the trans-bay ferries glide effortlessly past us. All of them are named after famous women. I note the Anita Garibaldi heading out, as the Vittoria Regia makes her way in.
 
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Enjoying the rewards of our morning together. Superb moqueca and a lot of laughs. Very Bahian.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 36: Salvador
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Salvador
  • Book page no: 155

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