In the past when I thought about going to Brazil, I always thought about visiting São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro…I knew nothing about Bahia save hearing it named in an old David Rudder calypso.
I went to Bahia in 2016 with WE-Change to present at AWID’s Black Feminisms Forum. As I was there primarily for work, I only had one free day which I spent in Bahia’s capital, Salvador and I’ve been dying to go back ever since. Bahia is magical. There’s a high concentration of Afro- Brazilian culture because it was the first slave port in the Americas and 80% of the population is Afro-descendant. It’s also the city with the largest black population outside of Africa. I never knew any of this before visiting- I don’t know if it’s common knowledge – but I was blown away by how much black magic there was in Salvador. It is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas and cool fact: there’s a lower town and an upper town which are connected by an elevator. Part of the upper town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Salvador was beautiful, my soul felt full after just one day there – the architecture was breathtaking, I loved the street art, the churches, the food…the vibe was just amazing.
I was really interested in seeing as much of Salvador as possible and I knew I couldn’t do it on foot, so I opted for a tour. Josuel of Olafemi Tours was tour guide for your money (literally). I really thought long and hard about if I should do the tour. It was pricey ($130 USD) inclusive of transportation, lunch and a guided tour of Salvador. Getting to Brazil from Trinidad is not cheap so I knew I wouldn’t be back in the near future, so I closed my eyes and paid for the tour and I have zero regrets.
Communication wise Josuel was great. I contacted him a month before my trip and he responded quickly to my emails and even called me the day before I left Trinidad to confirm the tour and ensure I knew what it entailed. I did the tour with three other women who were also attending the conference – all from the USA. On the morning of the tour he picked us up and we were off to the capital of Bahia, Salvador.
The hotel was about an hour from Salvador and we got a solid history of Bahia on the way. Josuel specialises in tours focused on Afro-Brazilian religion, history and culture and I loved every single minute of it. One of our first stops was the Dique do Tororo Lake which has Orisha sculptures in the middle of the lake. Josuel told us that this was tied closely to the Candomble religion that originated in Brazil during the slave trade and is still practised today (think Santeria). Josuel actually belongs to the religion and spoke extensively about how it is a source of pride for so many in Bahia. I found that quite refreshing as so many people still associate Afro-descendant religions with evil.
We walked and drove around the town and did a tour of the African Brazilian museum, the Sao Francisco Church of Gold and the Slave church, getting an extensive history lesson along the way. The Church of Gold, like many churches in Bahia, was constructed by slaves in the early 18th century at a time when slaves were not allowed to attend the very same church they were building. Josuel showed us something interesting – while building the church, the slaves rebelled by carving disfigured faces and grotesque genitalia on to the statues in the church (there are a lot). The priests were embarrassed so they removed genitalia from all the sculptures but they couldn’t do much about the faces so the rebellion lives on! The church was magnificent – all the surfaces are covered in gold leaf and there’s a large outside courtyard with interesting Portuguese tiles.
After that, we were off to lunch at Odoya – I still cannot get over how good the food was. Their caipirinhas (this is all I drank for the entire trip) were excellent, the seafood stew was glorious, sauces creamy…literally every single thing I had was completely scrumptious.
We ended the day with a shopping trip at two markets and more food!
Bahia was honestly a fantastic trip – I had the hugest mental shift while there. A lot of this had to do with the Black Feminisms Forum but the one day in Salvador was enough to leave me thinking a LOT about mental slavery, Afro-descendant religions, colonialism and sourcing caipirinhas in Trinidad. One thing to leave you with which I found interesting is Brazilian ribbon. These ribbons were traditionally tied onto church gates and are now tied EVERYWHERE. Read up on them – really interesting – you tie it three times and make three wishes- they’re supposed to come true when it falls off. One year later – I’m still wearing mine.
Put Brazil on your travel bucket list, trust me and be sure to visit Bahia – one day soon I’ll lah hay over to Rio and Sao Paolo and I’ll be sure to take you with me 😉