Last updated: 10:39 PM ET, Thu March 19 2015

Dispatch: A First Encounter with Salvador, Bahia

Tour Operator | Avanti Destinations | David Cogswell | March 19, 2015

Dispatch: A First Encounter with Salvador, Bahia

PHOTO: The balcony at Sheraton da Bahia in Salvador. (Photo by David Cogswell)

On my trip to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, I flew with TAM Airlines. It seems to be the ideal way to travel to Brazil. In a very real sense I started my immersion in Brazil at New York JFK International Airport.

It was a great trip, independent of the fact that when it was over I was going to be in Brazil. I was able to fly business class. I had a seat that folded out flat as a bed. It made it possible to actually go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning, almost as on a “normal” night. Okay, it was not as comfortable as my bed at home, but it was as close to it as you could hope for on a flight. And having a crew of smartly turned out Brazilian women walking around as flight attendants was a huge mood elevator.

I had champagne and wine, and for dinner I had a steak. When you see “steak” on a menu in a hurtling aircraft you don’t expect so much. It’s not quite fair to expect it to live up to the quality of the best restaurants in New York City, for example. But this steak was tender and perfectly cooked and as delicious as any steak I’ve had. At least it seemed so at the time. It pushed out all other culinary memories for the moment.

For people who are used to traveling to Europe, or Asia or Africa, there are some great extra advantages to traveling to Latin America. One is that you don’t get the same kind of jet lag. We flew roughly nine and a half hours, starting from 8:30 p.m., and ended up in a time zone only one hour later than New York.

Instead of jumbling up your diurnal clock, you are traveling from the northern hemisphere to the southern. You switch from late winter to late summer. And the water spins the opposite way when it goes down the drain. I don’t know exactly what the implications of this are for your bodily processes, but once I had taken a shower I felt pretty much in tune with the environment.

It’s always good to re-set yourself with an immersion in water to re-ionize yourself, switch your valence, and get your molecules spinning in the right direction.

I flew to Rio first, arriving there at 7 a.m. local time, then changed flights and took a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Salvador. This time I sat in the back of the plane and had a window seat. I could see the deep greenish blue Atlantic and the marbleized green and brown landscape as we followed the coastline 700 miles northeast.

The coastline was gorgeous from the air, decorated with many elaborate bays and inlets, and rivers that curled around like ribbons. It must have been hard for the Portuguese to decide where to establish their base with so many beautiful places to choose from. Salvador had to have a great deal to offer.

I’ll be learning more about why they chose Salvador and Bahia this week as I explore, but it’s easy to see immediately that the land here is prodigiously fertile. Palms and other trees seem to be practically bursting out of the earth wherever they are not blocked off somehow.

Salvador was the Portuguese empire's headquarters for reaping its bounties of sugar cane, coffee, chocolate, and later for the mining of precious metals. It’s enormously rich in natural endowments.

I was met at the airport by Avanti Destination’s representative Marcos, a highly cool and self-assured Brazilian man who practically floated across the shiny tile floors of the airport as he led me to meet our car. He and the driver escorted me to the Sheraton da Bahia, which is going to be my home for six nights. I have a perfect room and a balcony with table and chairs and a view out over the city. It gives you a sense of ownership to have such a view, like a highly perched bird of prey.

I could not wish for a better home in Salvador (although I did like the look of the former royal palace that housed the Portuguese royalty when they lived here to keep out of the way of Napoleon when he was trampling over Europe).

This hotel embodies a great deal of history itself and also houses enough fine art to almost qualify as a minor museum. It was originally constructed from 1947 to 1950, and though it was has been radically remodeled and refurbished since then, its owners took pains to maintain its original 1950s style.

This trip is designed to be independent. I have a lot of freedom to design my days as I wish, with a few activities scheduled in coordination with Avanti. After arrival, the first day was free to rest, unpack, get moved in and oriented and do whatever I wanted. I took a walk down the street that runs by the hotel, Av. Sete de Septembro.

I did not know the historical relevance of that street name. I later found out it is Brazil's Independence Day. But it is typical of this place that things cry out to you with layers of historical meaning practically everywhere you look, from the oddly shaped cobblestone patterns in a sidewalk to the ancient trees that grow within the architecture of the Sheraton da Bahia. There is much more to take in than you can ever hope to really understand. But you can feel much more meaning than you can hope to comprehend rationally.

So there it is, my first day in Bahia. It’s not even over yet. It will be hard to let this first day end.

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