Day 15-19: Salvador, Brazil
On Easter Sunday we woke up in our hotel room, still blissfully happy from our engagement the night before.
We said goodbye to Rio as we boarded a plane to Salvador, 700 miles up the coast.
Our hostel in Salvador had given us broad instructions to take a public bus into town, and we circled outside of the mostly deserted airport, unable to find anyone who could point us in the right direction. Finally, we spotted what appeared to be a bus stop across a field behind the parking lots and waited there, wondering if we should go back and spend the $10 on an uber.
Two English speaking Jehovah’s Witness missionaries noticed our confusion and approached us, explaining which bus to take while handing over pamphlets about how we need to be saved. They definitely saved us, and 30 minutes later we paid 80 cents as we loaded our backpacks onto the bus and settled in for the 15 mile ride.
15 miles turned into two hours, as the bus stopped every few blocks, opening its doors to a rotating cast of interesting characters. We were told to get off at the last stop, and that we couldn’t miss it as the bus would stay there for several minutes. We knew it was getting close, but then it started driving in the opposite direction. Worried we had missed our stop and unable to ask anyone (language barrier) we decided to hop off at the next stop, which was now nearly a mile from our hostel. In most places this wouldn’t be a problem, but this is Brazil. We’d heard the constant warnings from both locals and travelers to stay in crowded areas/safe zones, and this bus stop was neither. It was raining and the streets were deserted, apart from a few questionable wandering men. We had no choice but to walk with all of our belongings to our hostel, fast.
Even walking the streets alone in Vietnam I felt more safe than I do here (both Rio and Salvador) in broad daylight with Lucas. Maybe we’re being overly cautious, but we’ve met people in every city who had been robbed or witnessed a robbery. Our hostel gave us a map with a path drawn and warned us to stay on that path. As we were nearing our hostel that day, about to turn right, a local stopped us and motioned to not walk down that street (which looked just like any other street). Cops in military gear stand on the street corners all day, and behind us as we eat dinner on the sidewalk as if they’re our personal guards.
I rarely took my phone anywhere and only brought my camera out of the hostel once. Being an obvious target doesn’t help the situation, but it’s unusual to not be able to freely explore a city and to be on constant high alert.
On the first day, we took a risk and brought my camera out of the hostel to try and capture a few shots. A capoeira group was in the main square putting on a show with a drum ensemble. We approached them and they grabbed Lucas to join in (video coming soon!). It was one of the highlights of our time here, and fascinating to watch.
But the biggest highlight of Salvador… it’s where I found my ring!
If you read the proposal story, you know that Lucas had lost the ring so we planned to find a new one together at our next destination. We walked into a jewelry store with nothing specific in mind, except that it had to be unique and non-traditional. I’d heard that Brazil was known for its gemstones, and the jeweler said she had something special that she thought I’d love. She opened a bag of raw uncut imperial topaz jewels, which are rare and mined only in Brazil.
I chose the palest pink/peach stone and had it cut into a 3.8 carat irregular shape, and set into a custom brushed rose gold band. Three days later it was ready, and it’s absolutely perfect.
On Tuesday we had a boat trip planned, but I woke up feeling sick and couldn’t make it out of bed, let alone a boat. Worry began to set in with all of the potential viruses in the area, so we decided to see a doctor to be safe. After getting instructions to a free clinic, we finally found it and attempted to communicate (via google translate on our phone). It was a long and confusing process, and they had us wait in a hallway for an hour before telling us the only doctor who speaks some English couldn’t see me that day.
With half the day wasted, we then got an uber to another free clinic 5 miles away, and watched the lost driver circle around the city for an hour, not following GPS. When we finally arrived, there was a line of 50+ people out the door of a sweaty dark room with bugs and screaming kids. With my condition deteriorating, I attempted to ask how long the wait was but they didn’t understand/wouldn’t answer. Frustrated, we gave up and got a taxi back to our hostel. It was easily the worst day of this trip… but then I stop and realize where I’m at, who I’m with, and I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world.
Still determined to find a doctor, we bit the bullet and went to an expensive private hospital. Like the day before, it was a long process with many obstacles, but after several hours we were able to confirm that it was indeed a regular flu virus and nothing more. Whew.
At the pharmacy we stocked up on every medicine we could and I hibernated in bed for the next couple days. Unfortunately, the symptoms only worsened and the next day we had tickets to Gamboa Beach, next to the bustling town of Morro de São Paulo. We stuck to the plan though, anxious to leave Salvador and see one last town before leaving Brazil.
Day 20-22: Gamboa & Morro de São Paulo, Brazil
Continuing our trend of bad luck with transportation, the tour bus forgot to pick us up and we spent all day waiting in their office. By sunset we boarded the ferry and stood on the top deck for the 80 minute ride, watching the sky change colors and the cars sway beneath us.
The warm breeze felt refreshing on my achy body as I was taken back to the feeling of my ferry boat rides across the open ocean in Thailand. This time around it’s much more fulfilling.
The next three hours consisted of more transfers, the coldest two hour bus ride of my life, another boat ride and carrying our bags along an empty beach at night until we finally found our hostel, 12 hours after we’d left that morning. Travel days can be the most challenging part of backpacking, and it’s compounded when you’re sick.
Between crowded airports, stuffy buses packed with people, dirty hostels, lack of sleep, new germs and weakened immune system, illness is almost guaranteed. It’s also a reminder that we’re not on vacation—this is our life for the next 7 months, and as tempting as it is to want to live it up in every city with the new friends you meet, we need to take time off to rest. We’re not in college anymore and our bodies can’t sustain that lifestyle (getting old is no fun, am I right?!) so we’re still trying to figure out the right balance.
Our $45/night pousada (we upgraded from a hostel) was the ideal place to detox. We had the entire place to ourselves, and enjoyed the company of the sweet family who ran it along with two playful puppies.
See the favela on the hilltop in the background? We were instructed to stay on the beach and not take any back roads. Didn’t feel safe in Gamboa either.
On Friday it rained, and we sat in the hammocks overlooking the ocean and beautiful gardens for 10 hours straight—just what the doctor ordered. I even started to feel better, so we finally booked that boat tour we’d been looking forward to.
The recovery was short lived though, as I woke up Saturday morning in a deteriorated condition with loss of hearing in one ear due to congestion. We canceled the boat trip (again) but we hadn’t come all this way for nothing, so instead we caught the next ferry to Morro de São Paulo.
And within moments of stepping on shore, I was in my new favorite place in Brazil. It felt like a Disney park with hilly cobblestone streets, walls painted with bright intricate murals, lush plant life and a winding river—and it felt safe.
We made our way through narrow alleyways until finding our new pousada, tucked away in a jungle-like setting with a rooftop view.
We spent the day on the beach, soaking up our last rays of Brazilian sun, eating ceviche and sipping from coconuts. It was a national holiday weekend so the island was packed, and we were surely the only Americans there (still nowhere near tan enough to blend in).
At night the streets filled with live music and lively crowds singing in a mix of Portuguese and Spanish. We found an Italian restaurant with a deck view of the festivities below and spent the evening people watching. When we come back to Brazil one day, Morro de São Paulo is a must visit—I just wish we had more time here.
As we make our way back to the airport bound for Peru tomorrow, it’s hard to believe we’ve only been here three weeks. It feels like ages ago that we took in Rio’s breathtaking skyline from a cable car on our first night in the city, and I’m leaving this country a different person than when I entered—now engaged and planning a future for two.
Brazil will always hold a special place in my heart, and now I’ll carry a piece of it on my ring finger forever. Thank you for the memories.
See you next week from Peru!