When Amerigo Vespucci (whose name gave us America) sailed into the harbor of what today is known as Salvador da Bahia, he named it the Bay of All Saints since he arrived on November 1, 1501, All Saints Day. It took fifty years before the next European remembered it was here. Fifteen forts were eventually built in this wonderful natural harbor to protect Portuguese interests from pirates and the other Europeans who were always looking for a new spot to colonize. The city was built high up on the hills and reminds some Americans of San Francisco. A funicular makes the trip to the top where the old town is located convenient and easy. Salvador was the capital of Brazil for a few hundred years until the focus moved on to Rio.
The climate here is tropical, warm and humid, and the salt air did a job on the quaint, historic old buildings. Luckily UNESCO stepped in and has donated massive amounts of reals to promote restoration and repair of this picturesque area. Our guide said that Salvador is known for having a church for every day of the year, but this is incorrect - it only has a church for every other day. Many of them are closed now, but the ones in the historic area have spectacular interiors, rococo to the max. Our cynical guide pointed out the class stratification within the church - the more $$$ you donated, the closer you sat to the altar.
We enjoyed the old town area for its shops. The things they sold were not made in China and reflected the unique design and sense of color that typifies Brazil. Some showed resourceful thrift - purses crocheted out of phone cards and soda can pull tabs. Women dressed in colorful costumes with huge skirts which slave women wore until the 1880's, posed for photos.
Our tour took us to the more modern skyscraper area where our guide lives. She said that while people typically leave their windows open, she had to leave hers closed. Even though she lives on the eighth floor, monkeys climb the trees in her courtyard and come into her kitchen to steal fruit. This area also boasts the first lighthouse built anywhere in the New World.
We also passed housing that no American would live in. About ten years ago as the coast became more developed and pricey housing was built there, the poor squatters who lived in cardboard shacks in areas known as favelas, were booted out and had nowhere to go. The government began to pay attention to the poor in a way they had not done before. Surveys indicated that 60% of the population lived below the poverty level, however that is defined here. The poor were given the tiny plots of land their shacks rested upon and water, electricity, and sewage were brought to the area. Residents were charged small amounts for these utilities, and the pride of ownership made all the difference. Although these homes still looks below par to us, they have built solid walls and real roofs and are gradually moving into a standard of living that will promote good health.
We were extra sorry as we sailed out of the All Saints harbor tonight. Of course, we wished for more time to enjoy this picturesque city, but more significantly, the next time our feet touch the ground, our cruise will be over. One more day at sea will ease the pain and give us plenty of time to pack those suitcases.