Wednesday evening, our group was taken to Solar do Unhão restaurant. This restaurant was once the site of horrible slave quarters complete with torture devices. Inside were tables surrounding a stage. Several tables had an obstructive view of the stage due to the columns. Unfortuantely, the bus from my hotel was the last one to arrive so Traci and I had to settle for an obstructed view. We had a buffet of Bahian food and then settled in for the show.
Paula, our tour guide, had given us an explanation of the show on the way to the restaurant. The show began with dancers in elaborate costumes telling a story through dance and drums. At one point, one of the female dancers appeared on stage topless. This became a topic of debate on the bus ride back to the hotel because people wanted to know "were they real?".
The second half of the show consisted of a Capoeira performance. Capoeira is a form of martial arts and dance that began in Bahia during the slavery days. The slaves diguised the martial arts as dance to avoid being punished by slave owners. The guys who performed for us that evening displayed their flexibility and balance to the rhythms of the drummers. The performers did flips, kicks, balancing acts on one hand or their head. However, the real show began when one of the drummers began to tap out a rhythm on the berimbau. The berimbau is an instrument that looks like the bow of a bow and arrow. The musician taps the string with a stick to make music. The berimbau solo seemed to signal the start of the Capoeira sparring. The performers would begin to kick and punch at each other and then duck or jump to get out of the way of their opponent's attack. Although no contact was made, the fighters were within inches of each other throwing full power punches and kicks. All this was going on while the drummers were drumming like mad and working up a sweat. When the tempo of the rhythms reached a climax, two fighters began a kick, duck, and jump sequence that was so fast that they looked like a blur. If either of the two performers didn't jump or duck at the correct time, they would most likely end up in the hospital. The show was amazing!
a story told through dance
more dancers join in
Capoeira - sparring
Uh oh! Audience participation time!
The show ended with the performers bringing members of the audience on stage to dance. The object of the dance was to see how low you could go to the floor while shaking your body to the rhythm of the drums. One of the females pulled me on stage. Fortunately, the drumming stopped before I had a chance to embarrass myself. With that, our dinner show ended. I had enjoyed every minute of the performances we witnessed that evening. Some of the dancers were selling video tapes of the performance for 20 reals. I didn't buy one; however, now I wish I had.
Traci and I signed up for the optional Cachoiera tour. We boarded the bus Thursday morning for a 2 - 3 hour bus ride through the countryside and to a small town called Cachoeira. Paula gave us commentary during the whole trip including the bus ride - both directions.
Our first stop was at a farm community. We were given a tour of the property by an elderly lady who lives there. Paula translated for us. The principle crop on this farm was the cacao. The farm workers live in small one-room houses/huts on the property. These houses seem to be made of bamboo sticks but were covered by what looked like garbage bags. The elderly lady invited us in to see her house. She had very modest accomodations, to say the least. Her house had a dirt floor, chickens roaming freely, some small portable cooking utilities, a bed, and a table. Although the houses don't have running water, several of them did have electricity. The lady we visited had a television.
Farm worker house
This nice lady gave us a tour of her home
We also visited a school which is on the farm. Class was in session while we were there. The teacher paused briefly to allow us to come in. The children smiled and waved at us.
After the farm tour, we boarded the bus and headed to our next destination, the town of Cachoeira. Paula gave us a walking tour of the town. It was a very hot and humid day. Despite this, Paula continued to feed us with her vast knowedge of the town and history. Cachoiera is known for its wood carvings.
We had lunch at a former convent and then continued touring the town. We visited artists, churches, and historical landmarks.
Our last stop of the tour was the meeting place of the Sisterhood of the Boa Morte, the oldest black sorority in the western hemisphere. This sorority began in the slavery days. We met four senior members of the sorority. These ladies were wearing traditional Bahian garb consisting of big skirts and head wraps. Paula was the interpreter as ladies gave us some history. The Sisters Of The Boa Morte used to be a group of women who helped newly freed slaves survive. Today, the Sisters are involved in educational and community service. About midway through the presentation, a man who helps out at the building came in to talk about the Sisterhood. He was very long-winded. Someone from our group asked how long the Sisterhood had been in existence. Paula translated the question. The man went on and on in Portugese for almost five minutes. When he finally paused, Paula turned to us and said, "Over 200 years. Anymore questions?".
Sisterhood of the Boa Morte
Despite the long-winded man and the heat in the chapel, I felt honored to have the opportunity to meet these influential women of the Sisterhood of the Boa Morte. At the conclusion of the presentation, we were given the opportunity to walk through the building and look at exhibits that depict aspects of the Sisterhood organization. I looked for a short while and then waited outside for Traci and the rest of the group hoping to catch a cool breeze. I wasn't the only one hoping for some heat relief. There were several other guys from our group also waiting outside. One of them joked, "Man, I've been in some hot churches in my life, but nothing like this."
Later that evening, our group attended a farewell party at a nightclub called Casquinha de Siri. We had a buffet dinner there and then watch the show. The show was a variety show with Brazilian songs and a little Capoeira. However, the Capoeira was no where near as good as the Capoeira we saw the night before. Despite this, the performances were still very good with very elaborate with lights, smoke, and an incredible sound system. After the show, the dance music began and people began to party on the dance floor. It was a very pleasant evening.
Friday morning, we all checked out of our rooms. Since we all had an evening flight, we had to wait several hours for the buses to take us to the airport. The problem with this is that we had to sit in the lobby without luggage during that time. The hotel tried to accommodate us by designating several rooms from our group for luggage storage. However, they neglected to tell the people who had been staying in the rooms. Therefore, in some cases the people had already left the room or were still in the process of packing. Most of us just opted to stay with our bags in the lobby or in the pool area. Traci caught a bus to the Barra Shopping Mall in the Lower City while I sat with our bags and chatted with some of the other group members.
Eventually, our buses arrived and took us to the airport. On the way there, Paula, told us how much she enjoyed working with our group. We, in turn all applauded her and went into a spontaneous, "Go, Paula! Go Paula!..." cheer. There was no doubt that we all thought highly of her. She and her tour company had really help make our trip, which started out as a disappointment in Rio, turn into a trip that I and many others will always have fond memories of. We all gave her a nice tip as we left the bus.
Our flight plan was to fly from Bahia to São Paulo, Brazil, and then a red eye flight to New York. As all 180 of us formed a line at the check-in counter in Bahia, we were informed that due to mechanical problems, our flight from São Paulo to New York had been delayed until 10 a.m. the next morning. We flew to São Paulo that evening, where arrangements were made for an overnight stay for all of us in three downtown hotels. Our group was divided by the vacation package we paid for (3-star, 4-star, or 5-star).
Traci and I were assigned to the 4-star hotel, San Raphael, in downtown São Paulo. We arrived there around midnight. If I didn't know we were in Brazil, I would have sworn we had been dropped off in New York City. We got our room key and found our way to our room. The room was very basic and kind of shabby, but at least we weren't going to be sleeping at the airport. We were allowed one free call (3 minutes I think) to the U.S.. Unfortunately, this was never conveyed to the hotel staff who tried to charge everyone's room at checkout for the long distance call. No one had to pay, though. I called my pick-up person in Pennsylvania to let him know we would be arriving a day later. The hotel treated us to a free buffet that had food similar to the food you find at the buffet in a restaurant like Sizzler's. Most of the food on the hot bar was room temperature or cold so Traci and I just nibbled on some desserts from the dessert bar. I was impressed by the efforts the trip organizers and the hotel to accommodate the group.
After the meal, Traci and I, along with several others from our group, decided to walk around outside to see what we could of the area. It was around 2 a.m. and there was a lot of activity outside the hotel. (Note: Normally Traci and I wouldn't go wandering in a strange town at night; however, in this case we felt relatively safe since we were in a group of 10. ) There were police cars speeding through every few minutes. There was a bar up the block from our hotel. We could hear the music and see a large group of people hanging outside the bar. We went to check it out. As we got closer we realized that this was a gay bar. There was lots of PDA ("public displays of affection") going on and several men in drag. We continued to walk around for little while longer before heading back to the hotel for a short nap before checkout.
There was a long checkout line in the lobby by 6:30 a.m.. The line moved slowly at first because of the mix up of the courtesy phone call; however, the hotel staff eventually just ignored the calls and collected room keys. By 8 a.m., everyone was on the bus headed for the airport. The flight home was uneventful. Our Brazilian vacation had finally ended. I could finally cross Brazil off of my list of "Places I'd Love To Visit". Main Page...
Magnet Purchased on this Trip: (click to enlarge)Entire fridge magnet collection...