This week the extravagant festival known as Carnival exploded onto the streets of Brazil, most notably in the cities of Rio De Janeiro and Salvador. Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, is known for hosting the wilder celebration.
A few weeks ago however, crime and violence broke out in Salvador. Certain groups of police had gone on strike, then murder rates doubled, there was rioting on the streets and looting and criminals were killed execution-style -- still handcuffed or with hands behind their backs. People were concerned about more increased crime surrounding Carnival with less police protection. I couldn't believe this was the city I once adored in peace, when basking firsthand in its energy. Fortunately, days prior to the first hours of revelry, order was restored just in time for Salvador's biggest money-maker to descend upon the city.
I fell in love with this city last year, when I first stumbled upon its cobblestone streets and gawked at its baroque architecture and the colorful façades of colonial buildings. Salvador is a magical place. I was so keenly aware of the centuries of slavery that haunt its every corner, yet at the same time, I was constantly presented with these vibrant visuals to numb any sting of injustice. Salvador itself sits on the water, with one of the longest coastlines in Brazil. When the sun sets here over the water's horizon, it punctures the sky with deep shades of pumpkin and gold.
The true beating heart of Salvador is invisible. The Afro-Brazilian influence on its food, its music, its dance, and even its religion is multi-layered and deep, stirring even the most stoic of souls to take notice. The hypnotic sounds of the Olodum drummers are often heard in the distance. Capoeira dancers display their acts of flexibility in town squares. The greasy scent of acarajé, black-eyed peas fried in palm oil, sold in carts on streets and sidewalks, linger on the nose. Women in traditional Bahian garb, dresses in doily-like fabric with large rotund skirts and a turban atop the head, roam the streets in search of a willing tourist who will take their picture -- for a few Brazilian reais, of course. Each element of this seemingly ordinary, everyday life inspires the unsuspecting visitor.
I was enchanted by this town, but also acutely aware of potential danger that existed just steps away. One day as our taxi slowly made our way through traffic, our driver told us there was a raid up ahead. He informed us that the city and its police were "cleaning up" the shantytowns of Salvador -- the efficient killing of drug lords and criminals, right in their own home turfs within the favelas. It was said so matter-of-factly, just another day in the life of Soteropolitanos (as the inhabitants of Salvador are called.)
Despite its dark side, I intend to return one day to experience this city in full during Carnival. These may have been negative reports as of late, but still not enough to deter me from a future week of hedonism in a city as spectacular as Salvador.