This part of Salvador da Bahia dates back to the 1550s. Not too old, but pretty old.
That’s the first thought that popped into my mind on the first morning of my solo trip to Salvador da Bahia. Salvador is one of the major cities of Brazil in the north eastern region, known for its history of sugar cane-driven slavery and consequently predominantly Black population. Wanting to dig deeper into this history, it became the destination of my first solo trip ever.
On the first day, I sleep-drunkenly ambled through my morning routine, feeling uber groggy and just wanting to bounce off my thoughts on the previous day with someone. I was sort of looking for a ghost person. You know, a friend on your right or left side to just say, “hey, what did you think of…?” only to find no one there.
The only one responsible for me was myself in a city where I knew no one and no one knew me. If I decided to jump off the boat (I did go on a boat trip my first day), or maybe if I ‘fell’ into the sea never to be discovered again, only strangers would be left to call my emergency contact. Such a…solitary…concept…
Well, one thing is, gotta learn to perfect the selfie. I hate them, but they become a necessary evil when you’re alone
Traveling alone as a woman
Because, c’mon, there was that brief flash of surprise when I’d tell people that, yeah, I was traveling alone.
To be honest, I was very apprehensive at the prospect of a truly solo trip prior to buying my ticket. I thought about it practically: I wasn’t confident in my Portuguese (much less with the famed unintelligible north eastern accent), I didn’t have friends or anyone waiting there for me, and really, I just wasn’t sure about traveling alone under those circumstances as a woman, a woman of color. As the colorful woman that I am.
I’ve heard the stories and the fables—women swallowed up by machismo, black women mistaken for prostitutes (that actually kinda sorta did happen to me), women kidnapped, yadda yadda…I could explore a foreign European or American city by myself without thinking twice. But Latin America? Brazil? Uhhhhhhh…..???
…If I were a man, this wouldn’t even be an issue.
Funnily enough, my mom was the one who told me to go for it. She was like, “Go! You’ll be fine. You’re able to read and you have common sense. Just enjoy your 20s.” And she said it so nonchalantly as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. That was all the encouragement I needed—someone to say yes to my crazy idea without doubt in their eyes.
How was the trip? Awesome. Packed with a gabillion realizations, as per usual, with some to share.
A rear view of the elevator, yes, I said elevator, that connects the lower city to the upper city
My Portuguese is actually better than I give myself credit. Or maybe I should spend less time with my fellow exchange students, with whom I invariably end up comparing my language skills. Or maybe I just needed to be in a situation where I had to fend for only myself, different from São Paulo where I usually have company. A friend of mine has a name for this phenomenon: ‘having the conversations that you don’t want to have, but have to have’. Like my first month in São Paulo with 90% less “hmm” and “umm” and crying. But actually, even with choppy language skills, people actually understand you. Brazilians especially make the effort. So really, language isn’t a barrier (mostly).
Don’t doubt yourself—if you wanna go, GO. Just be smart, walk with confidence, and get ready to laugh at yourself. I went to Bahia for many reasons, with a particular date in mind, and it tugged at my heart so much so that I had to go, and I had to go alone. The reason for this is deeply rooted in my spirituality and perhaps, in time, I’ll write an article about it. Nevertheless, I’ve realized that generally, women are told ‘yeah, you can do that!’ yet there is still that expression of surprise when the woman actually goes after it—Yeah, you can be president! Oh, you’re actually running for office? Yeah, you can totally travel alone! Oh, you’re actually booking a ticket?—The double double standard. The thing is, once you’re armed with information about where you’re going and what you’re doing, you’ll be fine. The rest is to simply enjoy, explore and laugh at yourself when you trip on the sidewalk in front of the locals.
Took part in a capoeira roda. This sport is the very root of my first fascination with Brazil
Know what you want, and know what you’re willing to give up. I suppose it’s fun to pick a city blindly, but it’s important to do your research and know what you’re heading into before you get there. This is especially true if you intend to ‘rough it’, by which I mean the ultimate backpack-style travel of buses and walking (taxis are for squares). Before I left, I read a gabillion and one blogs and travel guides about Bahia and all the need-to-know’s. Armed with this information, I had the blueprint of what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. However, I met some awesome people at my hostel, wonderful enough that I didn’t mind dropping some of my plans to compromise with them. After all, I value conversation over sights any day. But, I successfully persuaded them to consider doing some my ideas, too. Win-win.
Met these crazies at my hostel. Ended up spending the week together. Apparently, this is normal in the traveling world.
Wherever you go, whatever it is, it might be better or worse than you imagined. Sometimes the lows are as low as the highs are high. Maybe you won’t like traveling alone. Perhaps you already know that you don’t. But I’m making a case to really just say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, nor is it a promised death sentence. I had a conversation with a fellow female traveller on this trip who told me how you’re never really ‘alone’ when you travel alone. You meet people at the hostel, or on the tour bus, or even on the street (all three happened to me) and you end up hanging out with them for part or all of the time. You end up having wonderful conversations that you never would have had if were you traveling with others. It ends up being more than you possibly could have imagined.
But again, it really all depends on what you want, or what you think you want, out of traveling. To each their own.
We sat for a while just watching the magnificent waves crash against the rocks. The might of nature.
You can walk along the coast of the city and see this view, one of the many bays of Salvador.
Cheese roasted right in front of you. Found at any beach. Oregano topping is a must!
Happy bee with mah cheese!
Trans: “Between colors racism does not exist”
Snapshot of the Pelourinho, an area well-preserved from the colonial days. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Shamelessly a tourist in this one. =]