Jan 21. The 27-hour bus ride went very quickly as we traveled north from Rio through the hinterlands of the Brazilian coast to Salvador. We stopped about every three hours to eat, visit the baneiros, change drivers, and stretch our legs. I’ve tasted three different kinds of flan already, but none so good as that made by Vera. I can recommend the grill, and we’ve seen small herds of cattle everywhere. The cattle are very large, with floppy ears that hang down, and some with ferocious horns. We have blankets to cuddle under and a fascinating view of endlessly changing terrain as our driver takes us through mountains, very rich tropical valleys full of banana palms and red flowering trees. We see isolated clusters of houses, capped with red tiles, and rolling hills to the horizon. Finally our bus turns down to the coast and Salvador, a busy port town yet with a sophisticated beach front. Workers set up temporary viewing stands for the Carnival begins in just two weeks.
Our hotel, the Pousada do Boqueirao, hides behind a colonial façade. We enter into sunlit rooms and up the marble stairs, past a large painting of a mermaid (Yemanja), and down a dark hall to the back of the hotel. Our room opens with a verandah and an ocean/bay view. We can watch ships leaving, hear the chip-chip-chip of hummingbirds over the traffic far below. Tomorrow we’ll explore. Tonight we’re just exhausted. We took a shower in our little blue and white tiled bathroom and are relaxing in our room, complete with hammock, view, lovely old table with two chairs, a sofa, an armoir, and elegant high ceilings with a fan. It’s barely cool enough for us to open the shutters. Later, we’ll go out in search of a television to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama.
I begin to understand the preoccupation that Latin American writers have with isolation and decay. Even with the scope of what we saw today, the countryside seems barely tamed. I find myself more comfortable in the cities, as large and busy as they are, for the jungle looms trackless and endless. Everywhere we see little isolated houses that have been abandoned. The heat continues as well, making everyone move slowly, if at all.
While in Rio, we took the bonge (trolley) up to the Santa Teresa district to visit ruins and the Meuse Ceu (lovely art by Concalvo, Portinari and others, and a 18th-19th Century library, with some prints and books dotted with age). And yet, as we walked down through this lovely colonial district, some homes had also been locked up. Their fine colonial bones were covered with graffiti. I could almost see them mouldering away in the tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marca. We saw two old women sitting in a shady garden talking, not moving, entirely white, as if the sun had never touched them, the neighborhood aging around them. One feels enervated, waiting for the sun to fall into the sea, and thirsty for water all the time. Only the vibrant music wakes us up, transforms us, propels us to dance in the streets, even the old ladies tap their feet; magical realism simmers under everything Latin American.
Update: It´s now Friday and I´m down the street from our hotel, fighting a Portuguese keyboard and slow internet access, but all is truly well. We´re back on the bus on Tuesday, another 20-hour ride to Belo Horizonte. It will be hard to say goodbye to vibrant Salvador with its sweeping vistas of the bay, vibrant Bahian culture, and wonderful, wonderful foods. I wish you all just one day of 90 degrees to compensate for the snow that some of you are having. Think hats, suntan lotion and lots of air conditioning. And dinner on a verandah overlooking the bay as the sun fades to starry, starry night.