Given that today was our first and only real day in Salvador, we wanted to make the most of the situation by checking out the Pelourinho, the old pedestrian neighborhood now known for being a UNESCO World Heritage site. Before we headed out, we had to check out the spread of freshly baked goods available to us for breakfast. I remember that returning back to our room the previous night, we smelled a sweet, dulce de leche smell wafting from the kitchen; this must’ve been all the prep work done for our breakfast spread each morning. I didn’t recognize too many of the dishes, but they were a mix of both sweet and savory across about 15 different platters. We also had some of the most delicious, freshest guava juice I’ve ever had.
Feeling adventurous, we walked around in search of the “ônibus,” or public bus, that would take us across town to the Pelourinho district. After many failed attempts to hop onto the wrong bus (using clear signs was not a priority in Brazil), we finally found the right one that took us right outside of Pelourinho. Off the bat, the area was unique in that there was an upper level and lower level of the town that was connected by a giant elevator. Lower Pelourinho (Cidade Baixa) consisted of the port for the Bay of All Saints, which provided connections to neighboring ports and islands. It was also here where we could walk through the very busy Mercado Modelo, an indoor artisan market that housed stall after stall of every type of homemade good imaginable – although admittedly catered more towards tourists.
Upper Pelourinho (Cidade Alta) was the more historic heart of the city, with pastel buildings and the greatest number of baroque churches per capita in Brazil. Translated into “whipping post” in Portuguese, the Pelourinho was known for being the center of town where slaves had traditionally been beaten. Despite its violent past, it was here where we could see the proud Afro-Brazilian culture of Bahia really come to life. While I didn’t exactly know what “Afro-Brazilian culture” even was prior to our trip (or the fact that many Africans even lived in Brazil), I soon learned that the Africans that initially came by way of slave trade contributed to the development of capoeira (a dance-like martial arts) and a unique type of steel drum music. Both were in full display during our trip to the Pelourinho in a number of public areas. It wasn’t just the culture that was fascinating in this area; the architecture and narrow cobblestone streets that one could easily get lost among just added to the overall charm.
We spent the morning and early afternoon taking it all in, wandering in and out of old historic churches and little shops. Given its proximity to the arena, it was also a great area to pregame. I’m not sure if this was a regular occurrence, but there were scores of people selling beers on the cheap (as in $0.30 apiece) that one could drink publicly while enjoying the endless TV’s set up in the streets with the World Cup games. This was how we spent the good part of the afternoon – watching the Argentina-Switzerland nailbiter with fans from all over the world on the street, eating yummy street food.
By 3:30pm, people were making a move to the arena, including the official US supporters march led by the American Outlaws. We heard the drums and cheering and planned to join, but missed the boat. Good thing we gave ourselves so much time to get to the stadium, because while it was technically a 10-minute walk, there was no signage so we got lost with the other fans en route to the stadium, hitting every dead end possible.
Since we bought these tickets outside of the US supporters club (which would’ve been contingent only on the US advancing), we were placed in a neutral section which consisted of mainly Brazilians, who strangely seemed to all be pro-Belgium. Even though we met (and heard) a ton of Americans en route to the game, we were majorly outnumbered during the game. Our defense played a solid 90 minutes shutting out Belgium, but our offense let us down with few chances on the attack. After a scoreless 90 minutes, it was onto overtime…again. 2 quick Belgian goals dampened our spirits (and chances), but with still 13 minutes left in the game, Julian Green scored and gave us hope! Unfortunately, that second goal never came – we came close though with a Dempsey chance – and just like that, our last World Cup game also happened to be Team USA’s last game. On the bright side, we witnessed history with Tim Howard’s 17 saves – a record for the World Cup!
Though we weren’t in a celebratory mood, we couldn’t help but take part in the fun as the city really came alive back in the Pelourinho at night. Everyone was out and about – making what normally was a very unsafe neighborhood completely safe – and we sat outside people watching over capirinhas and food. The band of steel drums that Salvador was famous for came to life at night as well, originating with 40 or 50 kids and adults and multiplying by the step with every tourist that jumped right in to dance as well!