A Free (Virtual) Walking Tour of Salvador!

Mary Kate Mueller - Brazil

April 23, 2013

Let’s take a (virtual) walking tour through the ruas ativas of Salvador, Bahia!  Stay close and attentive, be sure to keep your belongings secure, and look both ways about 47 times before crossing the streets!

Let’s begin our tour along the Orla, in Itapuã, where the locals go for some of the best beaches!  I’d prefer to find a plot of sand on the beach that is not filled with people, so we may have to walk a bit, but it will be worth it!  I can almost guarantee that you will make some new amigos on the beach today, everyone loves to converse over some Skol or água de coco.  In the mood to buy a dress, necklace, ice cream, henna tattoo, floaty? Or some ovos de codorna (quail eggs), sunglasses,  or acarajé (a baseball-sized bean fritter, fried in red dendê oil)?  Well if so, you are in luck because finding a local selling these things is no challenge.  Please tell me you brought the sunscreen though… Despite living here for six months and being quite fair-skinned, I still forget it….

Vamos, bora, let’s keep going!  Next stop:  Praça Farol da Barra!  Even though Rio Vermelho would be the next stop in terms of order, we’re gonna save that trip for later.  Believe me, there is not much to see in Rio Vermelho during the day… So let’s hop on the ônibus.  I take this ol’ beauty anywhere from two to six times a day (spending anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours–yay traffic!).  Keep a tight grip to your bus fare of 2.80 reals because the buses tend to make some wide, sharp turns. Let’s try to get a seat next to a window: that coastal breeze will help make this full bus much cooler.  Thirsty? Lucky for you! Go give that man yelling, “água gelada” 2 reals.

Chegamos–we’ve arrived!  Praça Farol da Barra is similar to the Orla of Itapuã, with the bustling street bustling speeding buses, cars and motos, and the beaches catering to dozens of bikini/Speedo wearing sunsoakers.  However here, in Barra, we have many options for where to eat açaí!  What is açaí?  What you will be eating daily in Salvador (if money grew on trees). Made with frozen and mashed açaí palm fruit from the Amazonian region, this cold dish is served with granola, bananas, honey, and other toppings.  This is not the best dessert to order when on a date: your teeth will become nice ‘nd purple…. Barra also has a Shopping! Shopping is a mall, and no, I don’t understand why it was translated from English like that.  So, since we’re on that note, let’s take (yet another) bus to Salvador Shopping, the most chique mall!  Here, one (usually a Global Citizen Year Fellow) can temporarily escape the heat and reside in the air-conditioned stores.  If today were a Tuesday, we could stop by the Global Citizen Year Portuguese class in the book store! Buuuut it’s not.  You may ask, why is everyone so dressed up to go to the mall?  I don’t have an answer for you, besides that going to the mall requires the attire of going to, let’s say, the opera.  Feeling a bit underdressed?  Don’t worry, you’ll be glad you’re not wearing heels as we’re walking the cobblestone streets of Pelourinho later…..  Shoppings are filled with ridiculously large food courts (with great variety), movie theaters, stores, and more.  Ta bom, vamos gente! Next stop: Cidade Baixa!  If you’re wondering what time it is on this walking tour, well, don’t…. usually traffic and other factors make doing this much in one day impossible, but well, this is a magical virtual walking tour. How nice!

Cidade Baixa, the Lower City, is directly connected to Cidade Alta, the Upper City, by the famous Lacerda Elevator.  Let’s take a moment to walk through Comércio, where I always find Brazilians wearing their long pants, cardigans, and other work attire that would make me melt in an instant.  Comércio is filled with working citizens, restaurants, busy and bustling streets, banks, and, of course, the Mercado Modelo!  At this market, you can have that full-on touristy shopping spree you’ve been craving.  Bright-colored Bahian dresses, drums, hammocks, liquors, jewelry, artistic crafts, and more. Don’t worry too much about looking like a total gringo/a–there are plenty of those here (including me!).  Our next and final stop in Cidade Baixa will be where I spend much of my time: Uruguai.  Time to get on–you’ve guessed it–yet another bus.

Uruguai was the site of my first homestay, and where my apprenticeship was for the majority of my seven months.  I’ve made two video-documentaries on this community, here and here.  There is Rua Direita, where you can buy just about anything (beds, fruit, televisions, clothing, really anything)–and unlike Salvador Shopping, it is affordable!  I would not advise petting the stray dogs, despite how cute some may look.  Uruguai is mainly a residential community, and the two places I worked at are Espaço Cultural (a cultural center) and the Associação dos Moradores do Conjunto Santa Luzia, (an elementary school), both places where I taught English.   Uruguai has a strong sense of community, and especially in these two places, it’s really easy to find a friendly familiar face.  So, it’s almost dark, and it’s time to head to Pelourinho!  Back on the bus…..

Pelourinho is a cobblestoned, colorful neighborhood that mainly caters to gringos/tourists.  Here, you can find some delicious açaí, great tourist shops, and cafés.  I don’t recommend wandering the streets of Pelourinho at night, but I do recommend going to the many live concerts and cultural events that take place in the neighborhood’s main square! On your left, you can see the elevator that connects the Upper and Lower cities!  Let’s keep walking, and now, in the main square, we can see some locals doing capoeira with the accompaniment of drumming.  The buildings are beautiful pastel tones, and the architecture has a clear Portuguese influence.  Since it is home to many hostels and tourists, there are always people selling some traditional colorful bracelets, beads, and art.  Remember to be polite if you turn them down!

So, this has been one full day. You look a bit sun-burnt… Welcome to the club. Let’s end it in the small yet promising neighborhood of Rio Vermelho. Spoiler alert, there is no red river.  Thankfully, we’ve arrived on a full, fun evening!  Mercado de Peixe, the neighborhood’s fish market, is an area with restaurants and the occasional live music. Now, let’s walk through the crowds of people and tables overflowing with beer and laughter, and head to the other side of Rio Vermelho, Dinha, where I love to get beiju (a crepe-taco-like shell made with manioc flour and topped with either sweet or savory fillings–you will love it!). To give you a visual, Rio Vermelho’s two main areas are a huge cluster of red or yellow plastic tables, each decorated with either acarajé or other dishes, beer, soda or água de coco. It basically pulses with music and loud conversations. Like just about every other place in Salvador, there is always someone selling peanuts, and there is always a huge turnout of happy, loud and life-lovin’ Brazilians.My time here in Salvador is coming to its end.  I am happy and proud to say that I know this city very well, and can now call the many lively streets of the Bahian capital a second home.






Mary Kate Mueller