Zimbo Tropical was tucked away on Isla Itaparica in Aratuba.
Philippe from Old France had ended his wanderlust here. He had fallen in love with the country, the land, the climate and at least one of the people. With his local wife, Sueli he had built up nine (9) isolated cabins in his own creation of a tropical paradise.
Heavily planted with banana trees, palms, ferns and dense tropical foliage you could live in isolation without fear of peering into your neighbourīs business. Semi-tame, miniature monkeys moved about the canopy or at eye level if you had something to eat.
Zimbo Tropical was only 35 km from Salvador and its 2.5 Million people but it could have been a million miles away. It was easy to add days into my program to relax in the tropical ambience. The bathtub warm waters of the Atlantic were less than a 5 minute stroll away.
But Salvador beckoned. It was a Love/Hate relationship. It was a Colonial Gem that came with the stigma of crime and a large, black underemployed population. It was the African Soul of Brasil. It grew with the slave trade...that trade in bodies wretched from their Mother Country, packed onto slave ships and chartered to the New World...to Salvador.
Over 10 Million were shipped to the Americas over the 300 year period from 1550 to 1850. 3.5 Million came to South America. From the mines of Potosi, Bolivia to the coastal hell of Brasil many came but few survived.
They worked the banana plantations, the sugar cane fields and the mines. Those riches combined with the gold and diamonds of Diamantina flowed through the ports of Salvador to Europe and fueled a religious frenzy the likes of which the world has not witnessed before or since. A total of 365 churches, cathedrals and basilicas were reportedly erected, one for every day of the year. Some plazas had three and four such constructions, packed side by side and cheek to jowl.
The Carmelites, the Franciscans, the Catholics, the Jesuits...they were all here competing for Godīs attention, erecting not just stone boxes to house the sinners but rather artistic monuments smothered in idolatry and gold. Gold, GOld, GOLD!! The walls literally dripped with excess. The vows of chastity and poverty long forgotten as religious fervour was replaced with pagan pageantry.
In their quest to populate the New World with Portugese genes even the priests openly pursued the acts of procreation. Some even kept mistresses within the confines of the Church. One Bishop reportedly wrote: "I feel that I am on the edge of Soddom and Gomorrah and there is naught I can do about it."
And still the slaves came. And still the slaves died. Pelourinho, the whipping post, was where they were brought for sale and beat into submission while awaiting the autioneers gavel. The neighbourhood still exists today but the post is long gone...destroyed, broken, burned and buried in the quest to destroy the memories. But the past can never be destroyed or forgotten. The memories are too severe...too unforgettable...too unforgiveable.
Then the sugar market collapsed, the gold and diamond mines dried up and the slaves won their freedom. It is almost as if in protest of all the pain and suffering and wasted lives they have rebelled against the society that brought them here. They have not worked a day since and continue in that fashion today, contributing to the stigma that is Salvador...Black Africa in the New World!
Salvador is built on the folded grid, bent spoke pattern where there are no parallel or straight streets in the entire layout. It is Old World, Portugese planning at its best, unsurpassed, even in Rio. Added into the mix are one-way streets diverging into infinity.
It was with this chaotic thought that I disembarked the ferry. I could see the "Old Town" from where I stood but could I get there from here?
I had barely touched Terra Firma when my guide materialized before me. Did he have a premonition or had he received a call? It did not matter. I hired him on the spot.
I volunteered the names of some hotels I had selected that sounded promising. The first one was Hotel Convento do Carmo. It had a charming name and a pretentious setting and an undisclosed price since it was new on the market. We navigated the maze of hilly streets, lanes and alleyways until I questioned whether my guide was leading me off to a Sacrifical Salvadoran Slaughter or truly taking me to my destination. His Honda 125 easily outdistancing me as he zigged and zagged through the chaotic frenzy of cars, trucks and minivans and navigated through two foot gaps.
Finally, the pristine majesty of Hotel Convento do Carmo loomed before me. This was no $50 hotel I could tell. The bellhops stood at the ready in their pressed black suits and starched linen shirts. Not one to be intimidated by excess, I parted the crowd and walked to reception in my full riding suit, the cool air-conditioned room saving me from heat exhaustion and collapse.
The rich definitely live different and today I would not share that excess with them. A single room was 1200 Reals but I could have it for only 800 R. Truly a bargain I would have liked to take, but not today. Back on the road and half an hour later I had my poor manīs room that was perhaps better suited for my program.
I warmed slowly to Salvador. In my escorted driving tour of Cidade Alta I saw many contradictions. People flooded the streets in cars and on foot. That provided a sense of security. But, the uneven cobblestone streets amidst the decaying architecture and derelect blacks easily removed any sense of confidence I had gained. There was an untidy, unkempt, insecure feel to the whole area, arrested in part by the highly visible Tourist Police presence. My mind calculated my options as I processed the data. I would stay one day at least.
My guided walking tour totally upset the data I had collected and collated on my riding tour. At street level the same flaws were evident, but the grandeur and beauty of the city opened up before me. It is neither possible, nor practical to iron out 450 years of growth and destruction, wear and tear, decay and neglect to make a city presentable. The cracked mortar showing through the freshly painted stucco added character. The neglect and decay mingled with the restored added a sense of realism to the scene. The grandeur and majesty of manīs creations mingled with his pagan erections to his servient gods added a surreal flavour to the ancient, urban scene. Decaying men lied amongst ruined foundations in stark contrast to the brilliant restorations and hip hop tourists whisking through the scene in a Dali-esque collision between the two worlds.
The Blacks ruled the night. The Whites ruled the Blacks. But who ruled the Whites?Posted by Robert Bielesch at August 08, 2006 10:19 PM GMT
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