Friday, December 12, 2008

Finger Lickin' Nasty

I've given in. It just got to be too much for me and I couldn't take it anymore.

I bought bug repellent.

Really, the mosquitoes just wouldn't let up. As I've wandered around Salvador, I find that I keep looking at everyone's legs, to see if they are as damaged as I am. I have ridiculously sensitive skin, so your mosquito bite isn't as nasty as mine. So the 20 or so bites on each (each!) leg and foot are now welts and damn sexy.

I figured out that my useless vegan deodorant also contains the same stuff used for anti-itch pastes... I hit the supermarket and bought some Bahia proof deodorant and bug spray, and used my old stuff to relieve the itching. And just in time, because the damn things bit me on the ass the night before.

This didn't stop some strange man from making out with my hand, but I'll get to that.

Pelourinho is the other super touristy (and therefore somewhat dangerous) part of Salvador, built in the colonial period around 1549 or so. There are rows of beautiful, pastel colored, European-ish buildings all crammed together... but you see quite a few of them with peeling walls, broken windows and missing roofs as well. There is as much rust and destruction as there is polish and gleam, really. And I think people still live in there, complete walls or not.

I went first to the Mercado Modelo, where every tourist has to go, but locals also find it fun from what I've heard. It was full of stuff - lots of little booths selling musical instruments, food, paintings, jewelry, fabric, clothes... you get it. But even within the place, you got a lot of repetition. Like every 5th place was selling the same painting. That was a bit disappointing, but the space was cool and the people watching was pretty great.

It got infinitely better outside. It just felt looser, more relaxed - even though people were still all over your shit to sell you something. I saw some really creepy yet hilarious things for sale - weird skulls with fake eyes and straws in their mouths, or made to look like fish with monster heads, or... well, I can't really describe some of them. Of course, I wanted to grab one for my brother who likes all things freaky. Checking stuff out, I learned that they had something to do with candomblé, which is a sort of voodoo-Catholic hybrid which originated in Africa but really got going in Salvador. Kitaytay has seen some interesting stuff via candomblé, and says you just don't mess with it, so I opted not to buy my brother something that may add a little more than just a kooky decorative feature to his SF pad.

And next to the Mercado was The Butt. I don't remember the real name, but it's a sculpture that looks like 2 Picasso-esque asses stacked on top of each other. And locals call it The Butt. Really.

There was also a pretty massive street market happening: bananas (many varieties, yum!) and other fruits, veggies, chickens... This was all located in the lower part of the city, Cidade Baixa, so named because Salvador is a mass of hills and valleys, and there is a very large and distinctive drop right in this part of town. Everything I had read said never to walk to Cidade Alta as those streets are beyond sketchy, but to do what everyone else does and take the elevator. Elevador Lacerda is a deco-style, granite elevator that is blessedly air conditioned, making that short, 2 cent trip up pretty heavenly.

Once in Cidade Alta, there are two areas to check out: Praca Da Se and Terrerio de Jesus. Both are large city squares filled with food carts, hair braiding stands, music, vendors, and panhandlers. I tried to be as sly as possible when taking pictures, because as soon as you were spotted holding a camera, everyone pounces. I had one guy who was following me around for a bit. I mean, a girl - in a dress - with a camera - alone? You could say I felt vulnerable, despite my solo traveling experience. Eventually he offered me a fita, which is a ribbon someone has to give you (you can't buy them!) and tie onto your wrist. You make a wish for each knot, and wear it till it falls off. Fortunately, I've had one on for a couple of months now (tied on by Kitaytay at her wedding) and have generally been able to fend people off with it. But this guy wasn't really interested in selling me stuff, he just wanted to talk to me. So I busted out some Spanish instead of my practiced Portuguese phrases and he said, "Ah! Española?" Damn. Caught. I blend in pretty easily most places I go (even in Thailand where I was taken for Italian, Israeli, or Indian) but if I was going to say more than a few words, I would obviously be an American speaking horrible Spanish. Sigh...

The Española thing had already happened many times, and I didn't mind. I kept accidentally speaking Spanish when I meant to say something in Portuguese (picked up from a handy phrasebook that very day, most likely), but the phrase would vanish and Spanish would take its place. I didn't mind people assuming I was Spanish of some sort, because in those situations, we were just having a conversation. This guy WANTED something, and he was creepy. I told him I was leaving, and he grabbed my hand and melodramatically said, "No!" He then proceeded to kiss my hand, but somehow his tongue got inbetween my fingers. I was now thoroughly grossed out and tore my hand out of his mouth and headed for the nearest fountain so I could rinse. Bleach wouldn't have made me feel better at that point.

Terreiro de Jesus is so named because of the four churches that sit on each end. Old, sometimes crumbly but beautiful churches, most with dogs or people sleeping in front of them, and a center filled with guys doing capoeira. I went down some side streets, keeping an eye on the names of these places because I had been warned about several, and then just decided I wanted to go home. It was too stressful staying on top of things, and I was just getting followed around a bit too much.

Just off the Praca De Sé was a plaza with a panoramic view of Baia Todos Os Santos, which is the bay that lines much of Salvador's coast. I hung out there for a bit, just chilling out. It was really beautiful. As I turned to walk away, a really crusty little kid ran up to me and started aggressively asking for money, going on angrily about something. I just kept walking but the kid wasn't going anywhere, and then who should return? The Fingerlicker, of course. But this time, I was glad to see him as he chased the boy away, told me the kid just wanted money for drugs and it was good that I didn't give him anything, and that he hoped I had a good visit. Then he grabbed my hand again and I pretty much yelled, "No!" He jumped a bit and I made my getaway.

If only my hand had been covered in bug repellent that afternoon...