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Bahia - Brazilian Sun & Soul

The warmth of a tropical sun is something that comes to mind when we think of Brazil: golden sand beaches with palms blowing in the wind, warm green waters, and a cool beverage in hand to pass the time.  Bahia is all of that and much more to offer.

Located in the northeast region, Bahia is a large state of Brazil famous for its history; one of Brazil's most important carnival locations, a land of eternal sunny days, and some even say where the soul of Brazil actually resides.

Bahia is the actual birthplace of Brazil as a nation and will always remain a very desirable location for Brazilians and foreigners alike.

The Portuguese explorer Pedro Cabral made the discovery of Brazil for the Portuguese officially on April 22, 1500. Near present-day Porto Seguro in southern Bahia, Cabral spotted the 1500 foot hill known as Monte Pascoal (Easter Hill), landed, built a cross and performed the first Christian service to the amazement of the native Indians that greeted him. Brazil was named Terra de Vera Cruz (Land of the True Cross).

Bahia is divided into 3 regions: the Atlantic Forest (Floresta Atlantica) the recôncavo, the area surrounding the Baia de Todos os Santos, and the planalto, the elevated mountain plateau which includes the sertão, the famously drought-stricken far interior of Bahia.

It is estimated that 80% of Baianos (natives of Bahia) are of African descent. Baianos are known and even envied by some, for their easy-going life-style. Things are taken down a notch in the sense of urgency, as there will always be another sunny day soon to follow in Bahia.

The booming sugar industry was the motivation to import 10's of thousands of Africans into slavery, and Bahia was the largest area for the development of agriculture in Brazil. Tobacco and cattle farming also proved to be profitable industries.

Mineral wealth was also a huge source of wealth for Salvador, with the discovery of gold and diamonds in the interior of Bahia, in the Chapada Diamantina.

After the sugar industry declined in the 1820’s, Bahia was left behind to fend for itself by the federal government, as the interests of the Portuguese shifted south to Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, as the federal capital was transferred to Rio in 1763.

Salvador da Bahia, the capital of the state of historic Bahia, served as the official colonial capital of Brazil from 1549 to 1763. Holding true to its roots, the culture of Bahia defines itself from its African descendents, one of few places in the new world that embraces their African influence.

African culture, cuisines and colors thrive in Salvador, as it is known. It is said to have a church for every day of the year, many richly decorated (some in gold leafing), a testimony to all of the wealth acquired in the Serra de Sincora in the 1800's.

Religion in Bahia is known for its many gods, called orixas. Catholicism was blended with African cultures to accommodate both the church and the people of  Brazil. Candomble is one of the best known Afro- Brazilian religions and popular throughout Brazil.

The Sao Francisco catholic church was built by forced labor by African artisans, whom were not allowed to practice their own religion. The artisan slaves responded to this injustice by distorting many of the images in the church during its creation.

Pelourinho (little pillory) is the historic area where the slaves were sold and tortured, located in the center of the cidade alta (high city).

Salvador is known for its music and has no shortage of live music and nightlife to celebrate. Carnival in Salvador is famous for the street parades and Trio-Elétricos, large flat-bed trucks laden with amplifiers, musicians and participants, which crawl throughout the city with hordes of revelers in tow, blasting out highly infectious dance rhythms.

Bahia is known for producing some of Brazil's most popular musicians. Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso both had a substantial influence on Brazilian Tropicalismo, music blended with other genres and peppered with lots of percussion. Other well-known and influential musicians include; Ivete Sangalo, Gal Costa, Daniela Mercury and the godfather of Bossa Nova, Joao Gilberto; all that hail from Bahia Brazil.

Bahia struggled along with the decline in sugar until cacao (cocoa) was introduced to the coastal region of Ilheus from Belem in 1881. Cacao went on to become known as white gold, and unscrupulous landowners in the Cacao Coast known as the coroneis, (coronals) scrambled to attain as much land as possible to farm the cacao.

As fate had it, the boon in cacao came to a streaking halt when the disease known as vassoura de bruxa (witch’s broom) swept over the Brazilian cacao, diminishing the once vibrant tree to shriveling sticks that wouldn’t produce fruit. What remains in Ilheus is its wonderful beaches and churches.

Brazil’s best known romantic novelist, Jorge Amado, describes the times of cacao prosperity in Ilheus in many of his books. 

Baiana cuisine is typically hot and spiced with hot peppers, coconut milk, coriander, shrimp and dende oil, taken from an African palm tree. It has a yellow color and although exotic and delicious, it has a reputation as being hard on the unfamiliar stomach.

Capoeira is a dance, game and martial art that was invented in the slave era. The art was thought to be developed to fight back against the slave owners, and it was quickly prohibited by the authorities. The practice went on to be developed in the forests, hidden from the masters, whereby the dance-like moves were encouraged with little physical contact being made. The berimbau is a single-stringed instrument used along with clapping and other instruments like the tambourine, to keep the rhythm.

Bahia is known for its 365 days of sun and  beautiful beaches. Porto Seguro, Costa do Sauípe,  Morro de São Paulo, Itacare and Ilhéus, are some of the better known beach destinations in Bahia. Depending on your personal preference, you are not limited in your options of Bahian beaches.

Porto Seguro is one of Brazil's top tourist destination, one known for the active year round nightlife and axe music; a fast paced dance music, blended from samba, pop, reggae, funk and rock. Other beautiful  beach settings include the neighbor to Porto Seguro, Arraial d' Ajuda. Trancoso is close by and known for a tranquil refuge away from the party scene.

Morro de Sao Paulo is a community at the north end of Ilha Tinhare, south of Valenca. Morro has been given the distinction as one of the best beaches in Brazil, and continues to grow as international visitors take advantage of the tropical paradise and its clear waters and reef pools. Although cars are not allowed, tractors run up and down the beach, taking people to accommodations, bars and restaurants.

Eco-tourism in Bahia has a excellent destination west of Salvador named Chapada Diamantina. Incredible hiking trails, waterfalls, caves and much more wait those that appreciate these outdoor adventures.

The colonial town of Lencois was founded when diamonds were discovered in the Serra de Sincora, and serves today as a base for the growing eco-tourism of the beautiful Chapada Diamantina. The Fumaca Falls holds the title as the largest drop of water in Brazil at over 1000 ft (340 m).

The Chapada Diamantina region has many waterfalls and caves as well. Gruta (cave) Azul and Pratinha are connected by a subterranean canal. Gruta Azul has transparent waters where you can snorkel. Lapa Doce is one of the largest caves in Brazil with 12 miles (21 km) of extension. Only 1 km can be visited, with a fee being collected by the owners of the land, with guide provided.

Various hiking trails can be made with the help of registered guides. The Vale de Paty is the test of fire for those interested in a hike of 35 miles (50 km). The hike usually takes 3 days, two of those nights camping in the wild.

Biking tours are another outdoor sport available, averaging 5 days through some beautiful vistas. They can be arranged out of Mucuge and Palmeiras.

There you have it - Bahia, Brazil. Sunny skies and tropical flavors are waiting to be enjoyed!






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