10 Apr – 30 Apr
I had heard much about Salvador da Bahia and its rich culture, fabulous beaches and amazing food, which was part of the reason why I chose Salvador as the location for my first Workaway experience.
Workaway is a website that helps link people who need help with various things with volunteers. The general agreement is that in exchange for about half a day’s work, the host provides usually 2 meals and accommodation for the volunteer, who then also has some free time to tour the area. It is an excellent, not to mention economical way to travel, while getting to know some locals and also contributing something to the country.
The place I had chosen was called Sitio Folha d’Agua, a natural sanctuary located in the little beach town of Arembepe that offered yoga retreats and healing courses, in addition to having a dog pack with 16 dogs. It sounded like a slice of heaven to me, and the perfect place to get over the little bit of travel fatigue I had developed.
So when my bus finally pulled into Salvador after another excruciatingly long bus ride, I was not done. I hopped on another bus headed for Arembepe, and slightly more than an hour later, I was in Arembepe, where I called my host Evelyn, who had agreed to pick me up. I finally arrived at the Sitio, and was introduced to the wonderful dog pack. It was slightly overwhelming but the dogs all seemed lovely,
as did Evelyn and the two other Workawayers, Khalil and Rhea, a French-Scottish couple. I was slightly exhausted after the long travel day and headed to bed early after the dinner that Evelyn very kindly provided.
The next day, I awoke early, at about 6am, because of the dogs’ delighted barking when Evelyn went out to greet them. I headed out to join them and the morning passed quite rapidly, with a couple of hours spent on brushing the dogs and checking them for fleas, followed by a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits, bread, and coffee. I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the compound pruning dead leaves and branches, a very pleasant activity I quite enjoyed doing.
For lunch, Evelyn took us all out to the town of Arembepe as a welcome treat for me. We had moqueca, a regional speciality only found in Bahia – a rich seafood stew that was absolutely bursting with flavour.
After lunch, I supposedly had the afternoon off, but decided to accompany her to the grocery shop to pick up some supplies for myself. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with the delightful dogs – Princesa (the oldest of the pack), Bambi (the leader of the pack), Foucinha, Bambinha, Brisa, Amigão, Putchu, Xuxa, Zooey, Boli, Xaru, Linda, Luana, Paje (who barked at everyone), Lobo and Albert. It took a couple of days to learn all their names and recognize them but it helped that they were such lovely dogs.
The next day, there were a bunch of visitors coming to the Sitio for a spiritual healing ceremony, so the morning passed in a blur of preparations – raking the leaves in the garden, bringing out the things necessary for the ceremony, and then helping the visitors with their preparations as well. Things quietened down a little in the evening once the ceremony started as I wasn’t involved and just had to keep an eye on the dogs, a relatively easy task.
The next day was a Sunday, and technically my day off but because some of the visitors to the ceremony had stayed on, I had to help with getting breakfast ready, but after that, I was free to do as I pleased. I decided to make use of the little outdoor pool in the Sitio and go for a swim to cool off from the heat, after which I simply relaxed in one of the many hammocks in the Sitio, reading and stroking the dogs as they came by to see what I was up to.
Monday was back to work, and Evelyn set me to the task of raking the leaves. I found that I enjoyed it tremendously – there’s something about gathering all the fallen leaves together and bringing some order to chaos. And of course, I learnt that a freshly raked garden stays freshly raked for about five minutes. My morning of work done, we had lunch and I headed off to explore the town.
It turned out to be a quiet little town right on the beach with not too many inhabitants and I loved its tranquil atmosphere.
I spent the next two days doing general gardening type jobs at the Sitio as well as helping with the care of the dogs. The afternoons and evenings I spent at the beach, swimming and reading while basking in the delightful sunshine.
I even took a trip to Projeto Tamar, a turtle conservation project dedicated to finding and protecting turtle nests on the shore. It was pretty cool to see some of the turtles they had rescued and learn more about their conservation efforts.
It was my day off on Thursday and I decided to head to Salvador to see a bit of the city, so after breakfast I set off. Now, there had been a police strike the day before, but listening to the news on the radio, I found out that the army had been activated to replace the police presence in Salvador so I figured it would be pretty alright to visit. So I caught the bus to Salvador after breakfast and arrived at about 11am or so.
I spent a couple of hours walking around
and had my favorite moqueca for lunch
before turning up at the plaza where the free walking tour was supposed to leave from. I waited and waited (and happened to meet Jacek again!) before finally realizing that perhaps the tour had been cancelled because of the strike.
Ah well, I had more time to explore but unfortunately for me, most of the tourist sights were also closed because of the strike. Finally tiring of walking around aimlessly on deserted streets, I decided to head back to the bus station to take a bus back to Arembepe.
Unfortunately for me, Elevador Lacerda which is the most practical form for transport between Ciudad Alta (Upper City) and Ciudad Baja (Lower City) was already closed – but this meant I had a legitimate excuse to take a moto taxi, essentially pillion on a motorbike! However, when I reached the bus station, much to my dismay, I found out from some of the street vendors that the last bus to Arembepe had left 6 hours before, at noon, because of the police strikes. All the decent hostels in Salvador are in Ciudad Alta, which meant I had to take another moto taxi up to find myself a hostel for the night, but one of the street vendors, Valnei, I had been talking to took pity on me and offered me a place to crash for the night. He was a really nice guy so I accepted his offer and spent the night at his place with his little brother, his girlfriend and two adorable dogs. It was also a chance to see what life in the favelas of Salvador is like, and in the morning, Valnei put me on a bus back to Arembepe. My trip to Salvador turned out to be quite an interesting adventure indeed.
The next few days passed relatively calmly – I worked in the Sitio in the mornings, gardening, pruning, planting, raking and caring for (aka playing with) the dogs, and went to the beach to swim and relax in the afternoons and evenings.
I met some handicraft sellers in Arembepe and joined in some of their festivities occasionally, even meeting the family of one of them, Eddie. Eddie and I became good friends, and on my next day off, we decided to go to Praia do Forte, a beach town about an hour from Arembepe.
It was an interesting town with a cool old fort on the beach that was built by the Portuguese settlers.
Apart from that, Praia do Forte is also home to a larger branch of Projeto Tamar, and we had a fun afternoon checking out the turtles and even some sharks they had rescued.
All too soon, my time at the Sitio was drawing to a close and I spent the next couple of days tying up some loose ends with Evelyn and my marketing efforts for the Sitio. I also had to say goodbye to my newfound friends Eddie and Cyntia
but we had a nice day together the Sunday before I left, watching some movies and hanging out at the beach.
I set off for Salvador on Tuesday, intending to spend a couple of days there before heading to my next destination. I ended up on a super long bus ride from Arembepe to Salvador, somewhat like a tour of the suburbs but eventually I made it to the city centre. I dropped my stuff off at a hostel and had lunch and made it for the free walking tour of Salvador that I hadn’t managed to go on my previous trip there.
The tour turned out to be very informative and interesting and definitely provided a different perspective of Salvador that made me fall in love with it a little bit more. I went samba dancing with some people from my hostel and it was super fun, although I discovered that I still have two left feet.
It was more walking around Salvador the next day.
I also sent a package back to Singapore with some random bits and pieces which turned out to be a super expensive package. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the wonderful Salvador
and to take my bus to Lençois, my first stop in Chapada Diamantina!