Bonfim to Yemanja in Salvador, Bahia

I really did not plan it this way.. but, I guess I am lucky. Millions of people were in the streets of Salvador partying the day I landed and the day I left Salvador, Bahia. Yup… Bonfim to Yemanja.

I reached on the day of Lavagem do Bonfim, a sacred festival where the steps of Igreja Bonfim is washed. There is a long parade from the heart of the city to Igreja Bonfim, almost 9 kms away. Millions of people make their way to the church, dancing, singing and drinking beer. Once they reach the church, they tie colourful ribbons which say ‘Lemrbranca do senhor do bonfim da bahia’. Every ribbon is tied to the fence of the church with three knots and you are supposed to make a wish for every knot. After dancing all the way to the church in the heat and not really drinking anything (I dont like to mix religious festivals with beer), I was more than glad to get my share of ribbons.

Bonfim made me realise that Salvador can be overwhelming even without all the Capoeira I was looking foward to. I was staying with Alda, who incidentally I met in Peru on a boat trip. We just hit it off because she loves India and I love Brazil. She invited me to stay with her at her place in Rio Vermelho, a beautiful beach 30 minutes west of the historical centre of Pelorinho. I was glad to be far from the tourist crowd and more than happy to see that my room had the most amazing view of the sea.

Salvador is supposed to be the Mecca for Capoeira, one of the main reasons I wanted to travel to Brazil. Just the week before reaching Salvador, I had attended a huge event of capoeira in Ilheus Bahia. The event was Capoeirando, the annual event for my Capoeira group Cordao De Ouro. As much as I had been looking forward to this event for as long as I knew, I discovered many things about Capoeira and the way I feel about Capoeira in those few days. I am not going to really elaborate too much on this. But, Ill talk about the few things I learnt…

Capoeira is my Capoeira family back home. I was with 200 people, who all belong to Cordao de ouro family, the group I am a part of. But, at the same time, I did not feel a part of this larger family. Maybe it was my mental state of mind or missing home or whatever you call it…. To me, Capoeira is my group back in India. They are my family and the entire event seemed meaningless without being able to share it with people I love to play with. With people I learn from. With people whom I drink beer with at home. For the first time in these 3 years, I was afraid to enter the Roda and I did not like that feeling.

Brazil cannot make you do a backflip. Well… everyone thinks that training Capoeira in Brazil is going to make you fantastic Capoeirista. Well, I suck big time at that. I havent been playing regularly. I havent been learning anything. I think I was playing a much better game when I was at home. In Brazil, Ive been caught up so much with the whole `I want to soak into the Brazilian culture` that a lot of things other than capoeira have taken priority…. So, unless you focus on Capoeira, whether its at home or in Brazil, no miracle can happen. And especially, attending a huge Capoeira event cannot teach you anything superhuman. Philosophy is the only the only thing youll get. So, am enjoying that.

Mestres are not Gods. I loved waking up in a small house (Casa of Dona Maria) in Capoeirando and walk out to see Mestres lying around in the hammock, drinking coffee, singing, talking, walking… doing everyday stuff. Mestre Suassuna was staying in the same house. Mestre Lobao was our neighbour. Mestre Deputado always hung out in the verandah. All the Contra mestres stopped by for coffee. It was a little dreamy… yet so real. I used to know all these Mestres only thanks to the MP3 songs in my Ipod. It was amazing seeing them in flesh and blood and realising that they are human… (I guess Ill be partial to Mestre Suassuna here and call him God.. it was truly incredible to meet him)

Everyone is a student at something or the other. All mestres, contra mestres, intructors, students.. everyone is learning something. Working on something. No one is really perfect at everything. Capoeira is something you learn all your life. Baba, my teacher at home has always told us this. But, it was nice to see this in Brazil. To see that everyone is putting effort on something that they know they have to work on. It just inspired me to take up one movement or one song a month and work on it. Im sure that by 4 or 5 years, the list of things I can do will be substantial then.

Women can play kickass capoeira too. It was fantastic to see some women mestres, contra mestres and students playing some fabulous games. Even at home, we have more women in the group, but since acrobatics gets associated with Capoeira, people think women cant play. Thats not true. Capoeira is not just about acrobatics. It was wonderful to see challenging games devoid of acrobatics and yet look fabulous. (Dedicating this para to my dear friend Mel, who I share a laugh with everytime people are doing one hand Au’s and flips)

Back to Salvador from Capoeira….

Reaching Salvador, I was keen on getting as much Capoeira as possible. If there is one thing that I have been shattered with in this whole trip, its this wish. I went to many schools in the past 2 weeks…. schools of Angola and Regional… in Pelorinho and other places… but, just did not find what I was looking for. Classes were very touristy thanks to the Carnaval season approaching. I was charged 20 reals per class to play with other tourists. Classes started on Bahian time (thats a whole new chapter I am not getting into.. If you people were making fun of IST.. Indian standard time, you havent witnessed Bahian time). I dont know whether it was the classes I picked or generally
the way things operate here.. But, I really missed the rigour, discipline and more than anything the Axe….. I missed Cordao De Ouro. Also, Im not doing justice by trying a class once and deciding its not for me. Im not doing any justice by staying in Salvador for just 3 weeks and deciding its not for me. I guess thats possibly the reason I will return one day to Salvador maybe for a couple of months and stay put doing Capoeira regularly. But, I am aware that I do need ample time to research the schools that I want to play with. Capoeira was the reason I decided to come to Brazil and Capoeira was the reason Im deciding to leave salvador and go back South. I do know that spending some extra time in Rio and Sao Paulo will only help me discover nooks and corners that I love to stumble upon in large cities.

Anyway… other than the Capoeira fiasco in Salvador, I had a bloody fabulous time thanks to Alda. Alda works in an organisation providing culttural opportunities and leisure activities to industries in Salvador. She has amazing friends, who are involved in something cultural or the other. Every day, we landed up meeting her friends and doing something wonderful… Whether it was a Samba night listening to Lazzo sing… or a Jazz night at the Modern Art Museum.. whether it was evening eating Chocolate desserts… or an Indian dinner night…. whether it was dancing at Boomerangue or Borracharia or getting an Afro hair makeover at home…. whether it was lazing in Praia do flamengo or parading with Hare Rama Hare Krishna group…. whether it was a musical night with Aleh playing the guitar or Danilo playing the Berimbau…. Alda knew how to get things going. I was spoilt like a kid by Alda for a couple of weeks.

More than what we did, its the people I got to meet thanks to Alda…. Willy, her American neighbour who works in Bahian tourism and the only guy Alda allows into her house with shoes… Marie, his friend from France who is a Yoga teacher and a masseuse…. Danilo, a yoga teacher and a experimental musician….

Erica, the American friend who is setting up an NGO for the homeless in Salvador (who incidentally is a woman who has inspired in an unimaginable way)…

Ana, the artist (who is the most beautiful dancer Ive seen) …. Her beautiful son Michail, who I want to adopt….

Rosa and Catarina, who have kids my age, but dance meaner than me….

Aleh, who plays the guitar like god …. Marcela, who resembles Kate Blanchett….

Sujata and Renuka (Brazilians with Indian names) who lived in Osho Ashram, Pune….

Apart from all the interesting people I met, Alda herself is a treat. Her love for aromatherapy… scented oils…. early morning Acai.. fruits…. toasted cheese sandwiches… Coffee… singing Barbosa and veloso…. dancing at every opportunity… obsession for leaving shoes outside the house…. random trampoline jumping classes.. running at 4 in the morning.. sleeping only 4 hours a day… belief that she was a witch in her previous life… love for dresses… her beautiful red wall… her love for African pictures… Being a part of her everyday life was just a treat and a break to me from all the traveling Ive done in the past couple of months. Just settling down in an apartment and doing regular things was a joy and I have only Alda to thank for that.

In this time, I did discover salvador has many colours…. the colours of history… the colours of the streets..

the colours of Bonfim..

… the colours of Capoeira.. the colours of Afro Brazil…. the colours of Baianas…

… the colours of Graffitti..


… the colours of food (Acaraje especially)….

….the colours of music….

…. the colours of the sea…..

It is a beautiful city that you cannot do justice to in 3 weeks. It is a city that vibrates with life.

The life in the city was evident the day I decided to leave as well. The day I left was Yemanja festival… A festival for the sea goddess. People dressed in white, carried flowers to the sea in Rio Vermelho and offered it to Yemanja, thanking her for the year that was and praying for the year to come. I woke up at 4 am to be a part of this ritual… the white, the sea, the flowers everything made the day so sacred and beautiful. Lunch time onwards, the same sacred ritual turned into a wild street party with Samba and beer. You cant take away the beer and samba from the Brazilians.

I arrived to the sound of the drums…. and left to the sound of drums too. A special sound that vibrates in my heart and everytime I hear the drums, I know that Salvador is calling me back.

2 thoughts on “Bonfim to Yemanja in Salvador, Bahia

  1. Hey… I read your information from begining to the end and I think that is interesting information.. I think i will tell this information again to my friend and I hope this information will be usefull for them… oh yes I suggest you to check Yoga Teacher Training Goa on my site , I hope the Information on my site will be usefull for you..and we can share each other. thank you… 🙂

  2. Was away a lot so there’s a lot of catching up on your delicious posts. Hats of to you for writing it all and recording it day to day through photos. I just went to Goa for a week and was too tired to do anything by thre end of the day. I love the Yemanja rituals.

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