Salvador has surprised me in so many wonderful ways. Salvador is the third largest city in Brazil with a population of 2.7 million and was once the capital city. Salvador is extremely rich with history from its African and Portuguese roots which strongly influences vibrant festivals, exotic cuisine and architecture. Salvador also holds the Guinness world record for the largest street party in the world during their annual carnival. I knew none of this before arriving. Everything I am learning and experiencing since arriving in Salvador has inspired a sense of child-like wonder and has maintained my hearty appetite for travel.
Brazil had recently lifted many of their Covid restrictions making it possible for us to visit, and we really wanted to return to Brazil after a pleasant yacht charter down in Angra Dos Reis a few years ago. Angra is quite far south, so while searching for alternative destinations further up the coast we discovered the metropolitan city of Salvador. The internet in Saint Helena and Ascension made it difficult to do intensive research, but we read about all of the essential information and a saw few pictures that inspired us so we decided on Salvador.
We departed the middle of the Atlantic Ocean towards Salvador armed with a couple of Português words in our vocabulary, a brief overview of the check in requirements and a WhatsApp message from a marina in Salvador saying there would be a berth for us. We spent ten days at sea sailing towards a lot of unknowns and wondering what awaited us. Thankfully from the very moment of our approach and arrival we were welcomed to so many wonderful surprises.
Arrival - Surprisingly Big City
We approached westbound towards the city of Salvador, and spotted the city halo of lights over 40NM out. After spending nearly ten days at sea and remote locations the previous three months, these lights represented the end of the Atlantic crossing journey, and a reminder that we would soon be in civilization.
As we sailed into the Bay of All Saints, we saw sprawling skyscrapers, cliffside favelas and beautiful beaches. We could even smell the city, which was probably a mix of car exhaust, dust and other smells associated with an urban environment bustling with people. Although it is seemingly a negative smell, after on a strict breathing diet of sea air, it was a bit exhilarating since it represented entering the big city. Island and sea life is amazing, however, peppering in some city life can be very enjoyable for conveniences of choice in provisioning, unlimited water, fast internet and access to supplies.
There are few feelings as euphoric in life that I have experienced compared to arriving into a new port after a long passage. It is a mix of positive emotions combined with being intoxicated by fatigue of the journey. Our last big city was in Africa and now we were entering South America! Seeing Salvador on the horizon represented safety, accomplishment and a new culture to experience.
The Marina - Surprisingly Central
We entered Terminal Nautico Marina mid morning and were treated to a beautiful view of the old town. We were greeted by the helpful marina manager Dominique (who is French and thankfully speaks perfect English) and a dockhand to help us with our lines. Dominique advised us to visit his office once we settled in, and he would brief us on the entry formalities. He then suggested once we complete the check in process to try a caipirinha, which led me to believe perhaps he is a mind reader!
We booked Terminal Nautico marina primarily for its central location and were not disappointed. We quickly discovered that the marina is within a ten minute walk from the all of the official offices for check in formalities, and a close proximity to all of the touristy sites. Directly outside the gates there are tons of local vendors selling coffee, popcorn, hats and more. The Market Modello is a stones throw away including the famous Lacerda Elevator that is the quickest gateway to the old town. For visiting yachts its the perfect place to enter.
We were berthed next to a 74ft sailing mega-Catamaran, that we had been across from in Cape Town at the V&A marina a few months prior. It is amazing how after so long we ended up back within 200 feet of each other. It is also amazing how after being at rough anchorages and at sea for over two months, how much growth was on our waterline. There is nothing that inspires/shames me to get in the dinghy and clean Skylark more than being berthed next to a crewed perfectly maintained super yacht with their Swiss owner on board and their cockpit facing our side. Within a day of arriving Skylarks hull was clean again.
The marina itself feels very secure, and there is a gate with a guard as well as security
cameras and bright lighting at night. The docks are med moor style with lazy lines. However, it’s important not to tie too closely to the dock since there is a surprisingly nasty surge that will slam the stern of your boat if you do not allow enough room.
The daily rate for Skylark was reasonably priced at about $25/day including unlimited power. Water costs less than $10 per cubic liter. If you are filling your tanks, the water is drinkable once passed through a filter. Give yourself lots of time since the water pressure can be extremely weak occasionally. Our 900L tank took all day to fill up.
Check-In Formalities - Surprisingly Pleasant
Dominique provided detailed instructions of the check in process to Brazil, and where each office was located including walking instructions and pictures of the buildings and we were advised men are required to wear long pants and shoes.
The check-in was straight forward and we first visited the immigration police for passports, then customs, then the harbor master. The immigration police visit took about 30 minutes, and the officer was fluent in english and extremely friendly. He advised us we
need to return before exiting Bahia to enter another state, and chatted briefly about sailing. We finished immigration around 11:30. We proceeded to customs that was less than a 5 minute walk away. They were about to close for a 2 hour lunch so we were asked to return after 2pm. After a leisurely seafood lunch at the nearby Mercado Modelo we returned to customs and were told to return on Monday since the lady who does the paperwork was out. The harbor master closed early on Fridays, so Chris visited the harbor master the following morning and received the port clearance with ease. For Skylarks customs clearance, we quickly stopped by Monday morning and it took about 30 minutes with the help of a friendly agent and google translate. This all sounds quite long and lots of running around, however, with the close proximity, friendly officials and the ability to eat tasty food in between stops it was all pleasant.
This whole check-in procedure starting with Dominique at the marina, and completing the official clearances was welcoming and set a positive tone for the beginning of our stay in Brazil. We already knew before entering Brazil that Brazilians are known for being warm and inviting people so that does not come as a huge surprise, however, we are still so continuously impressed and grateful with each act of genuine kindness.
The Lacerda Elevator - Surprisingly Convenient
This Lacerda elevator connects the lower city to the upper city which is home to the old town, and a 5 minute walk from the marina. It is a 72m and 30 second vertical journey. It was built almost 150 years ago and renovated during the art-deco era of the 1930’s. You don’t pay for this ride by giving your two cents to the cashier, but instead by giving 3 cents, which is 0.15BRL.
Make sure you have small bills or coins. If you are fresh from the ATM with only 100BRL bills, buy a bottle of agua from the nearby water vendor for 1.50BRL and he will find you change. It’s pure magic entering at the lower part of the city into the elevator and then exiting at the top into a whole different world. There is also a viewpoint with panoramic views of the city from the windows on the upper deck that is not to be missed!
Can you spot Skylark in the picture?
The Pelourinho District - Surprisingly Magical
As soon as you step through the elevator doors into the Pelourinho district it is magical. It is sort of like in the Chronicles of Narnia where the kids enter a wardrobe and step out into a completely magical and wonderful world back in time. You enter the elevator in the lower city that is a bit rustic, and 30 seconds later exit into an Afro-Brazilian-Portuguese style old town.
The first time we exited the elevator up top we experienced a delightful sensory overload and a feast for the eyes. The architecture is stunning, and there are several picturesque streets and squares lined with quaint shops and restaurants. The Pelourinho district was rightfully designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and restored in 1990.
Our first evening we strolled around in delight seeing an eclectic mix of drummers, street performers and vendors creating a festive Brazilian vibe within a bright city teeming with European charm. Everywhere you look there is something to eat or drink or simply gaze at in
awe. We visited during the holiday week of Saint Johns, and there were many decorations lining the streets and stages set up with performers.
We did a walking tour one morning with a wonderful older gentleman named Ray. We were solicited outside of the elevator and were keen to learn about all of the sites we were looking at. He took us all over the city and told us about the history of the slaves, carnival, and about the unique cuisine of the Bahia region. Ray introduced us to one of the police officers we passed while walking next to the House of Benin, who was his friend and spoke perfect english. We made some small talk and found out Ray was the guide for Malala, the inspirational Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate for girls education rights, during her visit to Salvador. This police officer made us feel very welcome, and feel safe to stroll around the old town and truly enjoy ourselves.
Transport - Surprisingly Plentiful and Inexpensive
We drove back regularly from the old town to the marina, since once you exit the old town its not quite as safe once the sun goes down. Uber has been the easiest and cheapest (about 12BRL, Less than 3USD), but we did have some drivers cancel sometimes from the old town, possibly since our drive was not very long. There is a taxi stand, and if you are negotiating with a taxi driver you maybe pay 20-30BRL(4-6USD). The first night we paid 30BRL since we had just come off passage and didn’t want to haggle, and the second time we asked if we could go for 20BRL(4USD) and the driver said yes. The drivers friend even asked if we wanted to make change before we got into the taxi and we exchanged a 100BRL note for 20BRL notes. It was so such a relief to be in a touristy area at night where taxi drivers were so helpful.
Overall the Ubers have been a very convenient way to get around other areas of Salvador, and the most expensive Uber ride we had was still under 30BRL(6USD) for a nearly 30 minute ride across town in an Uber Comfort. We generally order the Uber while we are still on Skylark, and by the time we walk through the gate the Uber is rolling up. It’s quite a freedom to explore distant places across the city with an abundance of safe and affordable transportation options.
The Regional Cuisine - Surprisingly Inspired Exotic Flavors
When we first arrived, I was obsessed with the idea of finding churrasco. I looked all over the internet for a churrascaria where they would shave meat off large skewers in front of me that I enjoyed so many times in the past. I loved the challenge of prioritizing the different cuts, carefully analyzing in the span of seconds how delicious it was going to be simply by
appearance and experience, to decide whether it was worth the precious limited space in my stomach. Usually I would try and pass on the sausage or anything that looked like it was cooked well done and was 50/50 on the chicken depending on how tasty it appeared, to save room for the precious picanhia. Picanhia is the holy grail of the churrasco experience. Although we enjoyed some picanhia when we first arrived, we were surprised and delighted to discover several Brazilian specialties that are rich in history and flavor and it maintains our interest to keep trying new dishes!
We discovered that if you come to the Bahia region you have to try a Moqueca. If you do not, it is like visiting Naples and not eating pizza. Moqueca is a fish stew inspired by Afro-Brazilian culture and generally served in portions for two which also makes for a romantic
meal. It is frequently spotted on menu's and it can be ordered during a nice restaurant in the old town or a quick lunch at the fish market. Moqueca is not difficult to find in Bahia. The broth includes sautéed onion, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers, fresh chili, coconut milk and the important dende oil (a red palm oil). There is always fresh seafood in this strew including fish, shrimp, octopus, crab or a combination of them. It is served with white rice, farofa de pilao(manioc flour toasted in dende oil) and pirao (a creamy porridge made from cooking manioc flour in fish stock).
Some restaurants we have seen Moqueca served with a fresh chili sauce on the side, and
other times not. The second Moqueca we enjoyed while at the fish market, I was a bit naughty and sneaked a bit of hot sauce from my bag and painfully learned my lesson. We were at a super casual restaurant I judged it was an appropriate venue to put a drop or two of my newly acquired hot sauce onto the middle of my plate. I had not shaken it and there was an oil concentrated at the top of the bottle that came rushing out super quickly. The first bite was okay and after the second and third bite the burn went from a mere flame to a full blown inferno in my mouth. It was slowly extinguishable by white rice and beer and the power of time. Since then, I have generally eaten Moqueca without chili and enjoy the subtle flavors.
Maniçoba is another dish I did not know existed, and something we were thankfully recommended by Ray. Our walking tour concluded at a restaurant in the old town that seemed to have other foreigners and their tour guides also dining at, but nevertheless boasted a great ambiance and an interesting menu so we decided to give it a try. We were glad we did. Maniçoba is not typical to Bahia, but a festive dish from the Amazon, and made with leaves from the Manioc plant that have been finely ground and boiled for a week to r
emove the hydrogen cyanide that it contains. These leaves are mixed with salted pork, dried meat, and smoked ingredients such as bacon and sausage. It was served with the same side dishes as a Moqueqa. Perhaps I like to dine a little dangerously or maybe it was the bacon, however, the once poisonous leaves made for a surprisingly delightful and a unique dish, even within Brazil. We never would have tried this without having it recommended to us, so at future restaurants in Brazil we have got into the habit if possible of asking what their speciality is.
Compared to lengthy meals such as boiling poisonous leaves for a week, there is also the simple delight of ‘queijo coalha’. This is cheese broiled over hot coals and served as an appetizer at a restaurant or more surprisingly as a snack on the street. We first saw this in the old town, where a man was holding a pot of hot coals and a container full of cheese on
sticks! Before coming to Brazil, I used to have to dine at Barbacoa AND wait for the dessert churrasco course (and hope there is still stomach space) to see a skewer of cheese. Now I was seeing vendors selling this cheese everywhere! Vendors were selling their hot tasty grilled cheese on a stick for about 5BRL (1USD) on the streets, the beach and even to you while you are already seated at a restaurant! Dreams do come true. We also found these skewers at the supermarket and bought a pack that we later used for a beach BBQ.
Brazil has so many surprisingly tasty things to eat and the amazing items mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. When aiming to be a bit adventurous when at restaurants, or simply walking down the street and saying "sim"("yes") to whatever delicacy is being offered, I have surprised myself with flavors and concepts I didn't know existed. Everyday is a new opportunity to surprise your tastebuds.
Fresh Juices and Coffee - Surprisingly the Best
We had just spent several months at sea or at remote islands where our favorite drinks were either understandably expensive or entirely inaccessible at their remote location. It was a treat to enter the beverage paradise of Brazil, where a wide variety of delicious alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages are available at affordable prices and of great quality. The abundance of strong delicious coffee and fresh juices is amazing and I cannot think of a better country to enjoy such quality at such prices that I have ever visited.
Brazil is well known for having delicious coffee, and on the streets of Salvador you can buy a cup of strong delicious coffee for 1-2BRL (0.20-0.40USD) just about anywhere. This coffee is
consistently strong, hot and bold. We also bought freshly ground coffee at a supermarket for 250 grams from a machine that grinds the beans on the spot, and cost less than 3 USD and started many mornings off well on Skylark. We both agree it was some of the best coffee we have ever had. This is even in comparison to the famous Saint Helena coffee which costs up to 6000% more. We drank it for 2GBP a cup while in Saint Helena, but we learned that at Harrods in the UK, Saint Helena coffee costs 150GBP (180USD) for 250 grams.
Juices in Brazil are also an excellent deal and abundant in quality. I used
to spend 1$ for a small lime, and here a KG of big juicy limes at a fancy supermarket is less than 1USD. While out, you also do not have to commit to a massive glass which is nice if you want the taste of fresh juice without overindulging. In Salvador we were surprised to see
freshly squeezed orange juice on the street next to the elevator that is about 100mL and costs 1BRL (0.20USD). If you take the elevator ride plus a small orange juice that will put you cost only 23 American cents. We also bought 1 liter of orange juice from a cafe that we watched them freshly squeeze many oranges to make, and it still only cost 15BRL or 3USD, or a 500mL jug at a restaurant of whatever fresh fruit they had such as mango, pineapple or even fresh passion fruit(as pictured - Imagine how many passion fruits have to be squeezed for that!?) for less than 15BRL (2USD). Like the coffee, the juice is not watered down and you get a pure, bold and delicious product that is simply the best.
The Chandlery - Surprisingly Well Supplied
Spare parts and nautical supplies are important to keep systems running, and depending on where you are visiting its difficult or impossible to source required parts. We were surprised at the ease to source both yacht services and parts in Salvador, with helpful vendors and well stocked shops nearby.
We did a quick walk through a few of the local chandleries and found an abundance of parts, much more than we were expecting to find! There was even a Mercury service center located at the Bahia marina located a 15 minute walk away that was convenient to us since our Mercury outboard was once again being a nightmare. Also, at one of the chandleries we found the exact replacement for an antenna holder for our SSB antenna that had cracked in Saint Helena and was epoxied together. What we thought would end up being a costly imported specialized part, was less than 30USD (150 small orange juices). I will never forget Chris’s face when during checkout I spotted this item and it was exactly what we needed. What a surprise!
The Birds -Surprisingly Bold
One of the biggest surprises we had while in Brazil was a couple of hours from Salvador at our first Anchorage in Bahia next to Bom Jesus Island (Good Jesus Island). We were making breakfast (including our favorite coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice) and we heard a loud deep squawk from something that sounded big. Really big. This squawk prompted me to stick me head into the cockpit from the companionway and I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. There was a giant bird poking his head into the cockpit next to the port side sunshade. In shock and wanting to capture the moment without scaring the bird away, I
returned down below pretending to be calm for the big birds sake and told Chris in a shaky voice to get the camera. Since I was nervous nor a birder, I told him there was a toucan trying to come into the cockpit. Quickly and quietly we tip toed up the steps into the cockpit carefully and were face to face with this fearless bird which Chris corrected me was a Macaw, a form of parrot. He or she looked as if they wanted to enter our cockpit, and we were concerned if they flew into the cabin we wouldn’t be able to get them out. Oh the damage they could do to the wood! We were looking this bird in the eye trying to will it away from entering and it was a bit sassy and glared back at us and bopped his head forward with a biting motion .
I was filming with the Sony, and Chris was filming with his phone. I quickly exited the starboard side and scampered around the main mast to the port side for a better viewpoint of this colorful bird. I quickly spotted its lover on the spreaders and I shrieked. It flew away and landed on the starboard side next to Chris. We had no clue if these birds would try and peck our eyeballs out or bite us with their huge beaks, so we tried to keep our distance.
They were nibbling on the winches, railings and canvas and although we wanted to be gracious hosts to these visitors we didn’t want any damage as a consequence. One of them actually nipped a bit of our UV cover on the mainsail, which is a bit irritating but how many people get to say they have Parrot damage? We have previously seen this type of bird in a zoo or a cage, but it was surprising to see them come to Skylark and not want to leave us! They finally they flew off to visit another boat and we were left excited after this big bird surprise.
These are only a few of the pleasant surprises we have encountered so far, and each day we continue to experience wonder as we explore and taste more of what Brazil has to offer. We are grateful for the opportunity to visit this amazing country and for the hospitality provided by the wonderful people of Brazil!