We’re in a taxi on our way to the airport in São Paulo. Next destination: Salvador da Bahia, for the biggest street Carnival in the World. Our friends Avinash and Dushi came from Dubai to meet us in Brazil and after a couple of uneventful days in São Paulo, we are all excited to hit Salvador and enjoy the next four days.
I ask the taxi driver to take us to Terminal 4, where our flight is departing from and the man tells me there is no such thing as Terminal 4! On the highway, we pass several luminous signs pointing towards the exits that lead to Webjet (our airline) but Mr. Taxi insists that he knows very well where we should go. Long story short, we end up in the wrong terminal and have to take a bus back to the place we were supposed to go.
Let’s face it: I have big communication problems with taxi drivers in Brazil. I am from Portugal and, quite obviously, that’s where the Portuguese language is originally from before Brazil started using it. Still, taxi drivers laugh at my way of talking and say things like “oh…. you even know how to talk Portuguese more or less”! One of them, after I said I’m from Portugal (he wanted to know, it’s not like I go around saying such things) even asked: “does that mean you understand all the words in Portuguese?!” I would like to see a British person being questioned about their ability to talk English! I don’t know if they enjoy messing with a girl here or if it’s just lack of exposure. Probably a bit of both…
We finally make it to the very clearly existing Terminal 4 and after a short flight, landed in Salvador at around midnight. We take an overpriced cab to town to meet a lady that rented us an apartment close to the historic center. During Carnival prices rise up to ridiculous heights and we were about to pay USD900 for 4 people/4 nights/ 4 walls! And this is not just an expression here. That’s pretty much what we got for our money: 4 walls, 4 cheap-ass mattresses on the floor that were deformed after the first night of half-sleep, super synthetic sheets (probably the cheapest ones from whatever might be the equivalent of a dollar shop in Brazil), 4 plastic chairs and 4 not so absorbent towels rolled nicely on top of our mattresses. It’s about 32C and there is no AC. Not even a fan. We sleep with all doors and windows open (the responsible thing to do in this kind of country) to allow some air circulation to come in and keep us alive.
We wake up covered in sweat but ready for Carnival. That’s what we came here for!
We shall party like it’s 1999, bitch!
By afternoon the streets of Salvador are already packed! The vibes are intense – all kinds of vibes. Massive trucks pass by with big bands playing on top and thousands of people follow their route dancing, singing and shaking everything like only Brazilians know how to. It’s extremely hot out there and looking at the ocean in the lower part of the city just makes you feel like leaving the parade and going for a swim. Although temperatures go up high here, there are not that many working ACs and fans in Brazil… locals have found a refreshing substitute for these in “cervejinha gelada” – ice cold beer ubiquitously sold, as cheap as water. 5 Reais (USD 3) can buy you 3 or 4 cans in the Carnival circuit, depending on the spot.
No wonder that at about mid afternoon the percentage of intoxicated people is probably higher than those that aren’t. The streets start smelling strongly of alcohol, sweat and piss. I start wondering if anyone eats during Carnival, as there is probably 1 hot dog being sold for every 3,000 beers! Oddly enough, the rare food stands available are placed on the same streets as the portable toilets, making it very unappealing to snack. I guess this could serve as one more good reason for people to dedicate their mouths and reais to beers…
All of the above is not a turn off when the music is loud, people are dancing and their energy is so contagious. So we mingle with everyone, dance a bit here and there, have fun with our badly coordinated samba moves and sing along “Nossa, nossa…. asssim voce me mata. Ai se eu te pego, ai se eu te pego!”, the only song we know and that locals seem to love almost as much as they love football and sex.
It’s evening and we have been roaming the streets for hours…
The party has been going for long now but we know this is just the beginning. I have an intense craving for coffee – I truly need some caffeine to keep up with Carnival. While everyone out there has beer instead of blood flowing in their veins by now, all I care for is a cafezinho com leite. So we do a much needed stop at a 3 star hotel that, just to highlight how extortionately crazy things go, is renting their double rooms at USD400/night. Ashray and I had coffee with a view and Avinash and Dushi got to try their first caipirinha(s).
The Carnival celebrations in Salvador da Bahia are divided in 3 circuits: Pelourinho (the historic center), Campo Grande and Barra, by the sea. By dinner time we make it to Barra – according to the lady that rented us the 4 walls “the safest place for Carnival at night”. And you know what? Barra is crazy!
The place is packed, the trucks pass by slowly, blasting music that almost feels like it’s meant to be heard on the other side of the Atlantic.
And there we go… following the Carnival route.
The 4 of us and a backpack that hides Dushi’s photo camera and my video camera – her name was Nanelma. Yes, WAS. Everybody knows Brazil is not the kind of country where you should be parading your valuables around and after too much debate with myself and making a backup copy of all my footage, I decided to take the camera out, in order to take some videos for our blog. I thought: “If it happens, it happens!“.
And, oh fuck, it happened!
As we are walking side-by-side with the parade 2 ladies dancing advise me to watch out for my camera. In that very same second I put the camera down towards my chest and tell Ashray to do the same with Dushi’s camera. “These ladies are telling us to be careful. Stop taking photos!”. Never underestimate the advice of a local – they probably know their shit better than any Wikitravel entry! I tell Ashray to be careful and this is the photo he clicked right after that:
This is when a group of about 10 guys separates Ashray from myself, Avinash and Dushi. Some of them came dancing towards us, making it all look very happily confusing and all of a sudden suspiciously crowded in a place where instants ago we could walk with ease. And as I step to the side to let these people pass by, next thing I know I am being brutally hit in the head. There must have been at least 8 hands trying to reach for my camera and the rest are hitting Avinash and myself in the head and back. Not even Vishnu has seen these many arms moving around at once. I never thought I would resist if ever being robbed, specially in a place where the value of life is so little that you might get stabbed to death for holding something valuable, but I wouldn’t let go of the camera. I feel my dress being pulled up and as I lose both my sandals I am aware that I am also half naked in the street, but my hand is not opening up and allowing these motherfuckers to take my camera. We are surrounded by so many people, somebody would help… one would assume. But NO ONE did.
The group of around 18 year old’s, City of God style, start dispersing and I am one-on-one with this asshole that has his hand smashed against mine, inside the camera strap. I don’t want to let go but he starts running and as I am running with him by the strap union that couldn’t be filled with more rage than this, I eventually let go. I look back and see Avinash looking disoriented and Ashray that is asking “what happened?!” after some lady handed him my flip-flops. It all happened so fast that I didn’t even have time (or ability to react) and scream for help. Still, many people were around and they couldn’t care less. Blame it on the beer, blame it on the distraction of the band truck passing by… or, probably more accurately, blame it on the lack of compassion that some people have developed as a tool for survival.
The police is hardly 2 meters from us and I desperately ask one cop to help us. “A bunch of guys robbed my camera!!!”. This guy elbows his colleague lightly and says with a sarcastic smile “Somebody robbed her camera…”. Daily bread in Brazil, I guess. So I carry on “they also beat us up”. I don’t even have time to see the cop’s “couldn’t care less” face this time as Dushi appears from the crowd with his face dripping blood like an open tap. I can’t hold my tears and this is the moment when I get to know what hate really feels like.
These motherfuckers’ strategy is not to rob and run away, like in most places on Earth. To avoid any resistance, they come, beat you up, take your stuff and go. So much more effective, right? Dushi had been punched thrice by several guys and fell to the ground momentarily unconscious. Woke up with a local handing him his flip flops – apparently handing someone their shoes after an attack is as involved as people that night were bound to get. Poor guy was totally spaced out and we had to sit him on the floor. No sight of the police around anymore. They must have had better things to do…
It is clear that we needed to take Dushi to the hospital, he would need stitches on his face. One of the guys that punched him on the nose must have had a ring (stolen, perhaps?!) that opened up a rather deep cut. We take ice from a beer vending lady (finally all these cooler boxes with beers around are coming in handy!) but that wouldn’t just cut it to stop the bleeding. Two ladies advised that we leave the place – Ashray still has the other camera hanging on the neck – and take Dushi to the hospital. They were the only 2 people in the middle of hundreds that cared. The Killers’ song stupid lyrics “are we human or are we dancer?” actually makes sense here. These people are “dancer”. This can’t be human…
Not counting on the first group of cops that couldn’t have been of less help in front on the famous Lighthouse of Salvador, we make our way through the crowd and head towards the beginning of the parade area, where we could eventually find the First Aid station. We see another group of Police and head towards them to ask where the First Aid station is. “I don’t know” was the answer. To be an honest answer it should have been followed by “… and I don’t care”. We keep on walking towards what looks like a Hospital. During Carnival, all buildings along the circuit are barricaded with wood to avoid the crowd’s destructive power. We go ahead to make sure this is the place for us and enter. The gate keeper resists saying we would need to pay 5000 Reais (about USD 3000) to admit someone to the emergency room. We say “That’s OK!” and go ahead. Anything to get in. Finally, in the emergency reception, the attendant confirms he needs to block the amount of 5000 Reais in our credit card to get Dushi into emergency. “Do you think I carry a credit card to Carnival?!!”. Obviously, I was not going to tell him that I was stupid enough to actually carry a USD2000 video camera.
Off we go from the Hospital that does not know the meaning of “emergency” and we see an Info booth where they finally point us towards the First Aid station, but not before they ask what country we come from – touristic statistics, I guess. No one seems to be distracted by the fact that Dushi is still bleeding quite heavily. Here, this must be as common as snow in American movies during Christmas.
At the First Aid they also don’t know the meaning of emergency. We must fill the paperwork and answer questions like “what band where you following when this happened?!” before they lay an eye on Dushi. The next hour was filled with a couple of anesthesia injections and 4 stitches on Dushi’s nose. That’s what you come half way around the world to get. It’s the FULL Brazilian movie-like experience my friends. You ain’t getting this shit not even in the most authentic tours, I’m telling you! Experiencing Brazil is more than just to sit in Copacabana sipping caipirinhas. We don’t like disaster , especially after reading in the news that someone got stabbed to death on the same spot we got mugged, on the very next day. The news also read that a total of 26 people had been killed during Carnival’s week this year – I could almost hear a sarcastically celebratory tone as I read the lines in my mind “this is a record low. Homicides during Carnival in Salvador have reduced in whatever percentage…”. Congrats guys, really! To save us from being depressed let’s just focus on the fact that all experiences, even the most fucked up ones, bring something with them that will become an integral part of you and build up your strength.
What’s up with Brazil?!
I can’t help but thinking its society is uncaring. The gap between the rich and the poor is so obvious that, how couldn’t this happen? Living here is very expensive and surviving is the next best thing to living. Still, this is no excuse. The moment I let go of my camera’s strap and that muleque took it away, that was the moment when Evil said: “The world has fucked up all over me, so fuck you. I am gonna fuck you too and it’s gonna be harder than how you fucked me!”. I seek an odd kind of comfort in the fact that probably these 10 dudes ended up fighting amongst themselves to decide who gets to keep the profits of selling Nanelma. One of the great things about this camera is that it looks like a regular handycam but it’s a semi-pro HD piece of candy, and it annoys me that they probably would end up selling it for peanuts, when it’s new and so valuable. Now, I am stuck with a bag of camera accessories. They go for cheap…. anybody interested?
Carnival is a great example of how Brazilian society works. In Salvador, the rich are in a “camarote” (private sitting area) admiring the parade from up high. The middle class dances around the trucks but still in between ropes that divide them from the common mortals standing in the remaining area of the streets and, mostly, sidewalks, where they see the rich world pass by and, conveniently, assault the other rich that dare to mix up on this side of the party.
Party spirit was over for us at this stage. We spent the next couple of days in Salvador literally sweating off the stress of this night and cursing over our land lady for not giving us a fan. How cheap and heartless can that witch be?! We made it to Itaparica Island one day (nothing great) and rented a car on our last day to hit the beaches. We found a lovely place where the river meets the sea that I would love to show you a video off but… oh, that’s right… I don’t have a camera anymore.
Before leaving this city we still had one more amusing episode with a taxi driver – sort of a tradition by now! We caught a cab from Pelourinho to our house not because it was far but because you don’t want to walk around certain streets at night. The driver said he would charge us 10 Reais but I insisted he put on the meter. Then we realized that we only had 8 Reais left with us, but that should be fine. I told the taxi driver that’s all the money we had so leave us when the meter reaches this amount. We made it exactly to the beginning of our road and as we walk towards our gate the taxi driver lowers his windows and starts shouting “you are poor! POOR!! You should have more money… Poor people!” Apparently, calling someone poor is an insult. Go figure once again why society works the way it does in this country… Absolutely messed up!
I am not looking forward to come back to Salvador that soon. Independently of our bad luck which, let’s admit it, was my fault for using my camera in a “forbidden” place, this city didn’t offer anything that special. People were not friendly, prices were high and, on an unrelated note, I am still not over the amount of posters that we saw advertising a hot-line for support for female and teenage victims of sexual abuse. During Carnival, it’s apparently customary to kiss random girls, but the amount of guys that I saw throwing themselves quite disgustingly upon girls while the females were saying NO and still getting someone else’s tongue on their mouths made me sick. Carnival, the feast of the flesh. For some, it’s liberation, for others, abuse.
So, we happily get on a plane to Rio de Janeiro after a subway sandwich in the airport. It’s almost silly how sometimes, little familiar things like this give you a bit of comfort when a place feels so unfamiliar and the people living there make it clear that you are on your own.
Rio de Janeiro. Keeping in mind how many nice songs have been inspired in this city, I believe better days are ahead of us.