Today we drove away from the ocean, counterclockwise around the large Bay of Todos Santos that forms half of Salvador’s waterfront (the ocean is the other half).
The further we drove from the ocean, the more African the adventure.
We stopped at the enormous weekly market of Santo Amaro, and it felt more like Nigeria than South America. A different, inland sweltering heat; stall after stall of produce I’d never seen before; and most importantly, black, black people. The faces, the bodies, and the postures were not European. For the most part, they didn’t even seem like a blend of races. These men and women, old and young, were black.
In addition to the exotic (to me) produce, I saw about a dozen different kinds of crabs, all of them smaller than Dungeness. Some had legs blue as the sky. Others had bright red bellies. And then there were mud crabs—grimy-looking, slow-moving creatures which had been dug out of the beach mud just hours ago.
There was also the mandatory meat market—cow tongue, pig head, and various cuts of raw beef, pork, and goat hanging in the tropical sun. No extra charge for the flies. It smelled too much like meat hanging in the hot tropical sun, so after just minutes I was begging for the shelter of my air-conditioned car. Luis, the tall black driver, smiled knowingly as we crept through the crowded street out of town.
My guide stopped at a samba school, where I met the headmaster. We clapped a few rhythms together, and I received his approval as pretty darn musical. (I’m not sure that was “OK,” or “OK for a middle-aged white guy.”) I also learned about how the Afro-Brazilians, when the government prohibited samba, syncretized it with Catholic rites so they could continue communicating their “subversive” thoughts and, more importantly, continue their community identity. These days, UNESCO has declared the samba a “masterpiece of the oral tradition and intangible heritage of humanity.”
Continuing through the countryside, we stopped at a farm operated by MST–the landless workers’ movement. In response to Brazil’s awful centralization of land ownership (and the tremendous disincentives to further crowd into big-city slums), these folks claim that every Brazilian has the right to feed his family from farming.
Movement farmers squat on unused land and farm it in groups as they work for land reform. They build schools in each newly-created community, even colleges for agronomy, law, and leadership development. The courts don’t exactly love these people, but in Brazil squatters develop certain rights once they’ve been somewhere for a while. Fortunately violence reactions by the establishment have been rare.
Cachoeira was another 45 minutes away, a lovely town on the Paraguacu River. The town is still reached by a 19th-century box bridge built by the British. The thing is still a charming bunch of steel.
The highlight there was the cigar factory. Built by the 19th-century German businessman Dannemann, I watched a half-dozen women in a brightly-lit, clean loft sort and roll tobacco leaves. There were lots of steps the stuff went through just to create a stogie. I must admit that when packaged in an elegant wooden box, I felt a bit of regret at not smoking. In fact, I realize I don’t know a single person who does. Perhaps it’s just as well—the highest quality hand-made cigars there (on sale at the factory shop, of course) are $20 each!
For old-fashioned quality goods, though, I’ll still take that old bridge.