Brazil's Intoxicating Bahia (where Brazilians go on vacation)

Beautiful native girl in Bahia

Brazil — the first thoughts that often come to mind are the girl from Ipanema, samba, football, favelas, the Christ Redeemer statue towering over Rio and these days the Summer Olympics Games. As the fifth largest country in the world there is so much more left to discover. And so, I headed for Bahia — the place where Brazilians go on holiday.

Bahia, in the northeast region of Brazil, I was immediately welcomed by its candy-colored Portuguese colonial architecture and rainforests full of life. It was February, Brazil’s summertime, and the first stop in Bahia was Santo André. It’s a sleepy fishing village only accessible by ferry boat and nestled between Rio João de Tiba and the Atlantic Ocean. We were surrounded by wild empty bays, mangroves and beaches walkable for hours, never crossing another person. It’s almost a mystical place where horses run wild, indigenous tribes emerge from the rainforest to fish along the golden coast and bright-eyed marmosets steal bananas off your plate if you’re not looking. It was a perfect place to make friends with nature, get lost in a book on the deserted beaches or indulge on Brazil’s national cocktail — the caipirinha — paired with some pastéis to fill your day.

I most fondly recall sailing through the mangroves down the João de Tiba River, grilling off the back of the boat, birdwatching and swimming between the maze of trees and sinking our feet beneath the shallow waters into the smooth clay river bottom. It was like being lost in paradise, yet we found a piece of ourselves in this striking, raw nature.

Our journey continued southward to Trancoso, the jet-set destination of Bahia. The drive here was a bit of a rollercoaster ride along unpaved roads until we finally found the isolated cliff top village. Trancoso is set in a dense rainforest overlooking golden beaches and protected by mangroves. I heard Trancoso described as the Saint-Tropez of Brazil, but there is nothing pretentious here. Locals and tourists, rich and poor, are equals here. We settled into our new destination with tapioca in the Quadrado square, located inthe heart of the village.

When the sun is blazing, it’s abandoned save for a few wild horses. At the cliff’s edge, we discovered the entire village relaxing by the South Atlantic, some playing football,, horse drawn carriages selling oysters and even a family of humpback whales in the distance.

As the sun set, we headed to our pousada to freshen up for an evening of shopping and socializing as the Quadrado comes alive. The bright pastel painted houses swung their doors and windows open, tables were set with white linens and paper lanterns were strung to decorate the square. As the evening markets opened, bossa nova echoed out of the cafes. The second oldest church in Brazil, the São João Batista, stood chalk-white in the center of it all. Somehow we couldn’t decide if we’d been here before in a dream or if this is what heaven would really look like. The fresh breeze, live music, smells of fresh lobster on the grill and tropical flowers intoxicated us.

I still refuse to clean the few remaining remnants of sand and shells from my suitcase. The day we were leaving my daughter told me her goodbyes because she decided she would be staying in Trancoso. As it would be irresponsible to leave a five year-old behind, we both felt like we found a piece of ourselves in this raw paradise. For two weeks, emails, television, traffic, shoes, were nothing but a faint memory of a life we had once lived. If you want to really discover Brazil, do as the Brazilians do, and get lost in intoxicating Bahia.

Read the article here in Upward Magazine :

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