Salvador: Where Every Tuesday Is Super Tuesday
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
If you’re looking for an evening that’s wild, fun and authentic, this is it.
By Shannon Sims
No lie: The city of Salvador is one of the roughest in Brazil, especially for tourists. Cab drivers take the curvy colonial roads to run up the meter. Danger lurks in the dark alleyways around the historic center. Even so, something special happens on Tuesday nights in the historic district of Pelourinho that outweighs all those negatives: an amazing confluence of Afro-Brazilian religion, dance and song.
Here’s a guide to Tuesdays in Salvador.
Salvador is surrounded by beaches and full of opportunities to take in history and shop, but do it early on Tuesdays. You’ll need empty hands and plenty of energy for your Tuesday night. Forget wearing heels. Keep your hands free and your night safe by leaving valuables at home: jewelry, cameras, sunglasses, passports. Instead, carry no more than $100 cash, a photocopy of your ID, and, if you must, a cellphone. It’s money belt time, folks.
Watching the sun set over the azure waters of the Baia de Todos os Santos — All Saints Bay — will offer a moment of peace and orientation before you embark on the rest of the evening. Catch it from the top of the iconic Elevador Lacerda .
Either before sunset or after, or both, drop in the old-school dive bar called O Cravinho at Praça Quinze de Novembro for a sample of its namesake drink. It’s a concoction of cachaça (Brazilian distilled sugarcane liquor), cloves, lime and honey, poured from spouts out of kegs flocked with bees. Served in a tiny plastic cup with a colorful straw, it warms the throat fast. Pro tip: Grab a plastic bottle to go, which is just about the cheapest and most effective way to drink your Tuesday night away. Ask for the garrafinha (ga-ha-feen-ya), the little bottle.
Before the night gets wild, pay respects to the complex religious context that infuses Salvador’s historic center. The Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos — the Slave Church — baby blue with colorful ribbons tied to its front gate, hosts a weekly Mass, which lends the name Blessed Tuesday to the evening. The Mass begins at 6 p.m., which, depending on the time of year, may conflict with sunset plans, so you might have to choose. To get a seat, arrive by about 5:45.
On the left side of the church (sit there if possible) is a small band that plays percussion and Afro-Brazilian rhythms during the Catholic Mass, conducted in the West African Yoruba language, in a memorable display of the confluence of Catholic and Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazil. The Mass lasts less than an hour, and the highlight, aside from the music, is the passing of the blessed bread at the end.
Next stop: dancing. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Olodum, the city’s most famous drum troupe. The band is an institution in Salvador (even featured in a Michael Jackson music video ), and to see the members perform their samba-reggae rhythms is an unforgettable experience that will dare you to not dance.
Olodum’s headquarters is located in Pelourinho at Rua Gregório de Mattos, 22, but you can also find the band just by perking up your ears and listening for a deep drumbeat. Follow the rhythm to find a Carnival-esque parade through the historic center, and jump in behind the band for a dancing tour through the city.
Tuesday’s finale is a revered weekly concert by Salvador’s native son, Geronimo. The setting is unforgettable: The crowds wind up the streets of Pelourinho and gather along the steps leading to the Church of Passo, near the Ladeira do Carmo. From the Blessed Tuesday mass, it’s a straight shot down the hill and back up the next, following the crowds.
There, by 8 p.m., Geronimo Santana plays his distinct mix of Afro-Brazilian music, often sung in Yoruba, backed by horns and soul singers. His marquee song, which he slips in during the show, is “É D’Oxum ,” a moving ballad tribute to the beauty of Salvador and its Afro-Brazilian religious culture. The show ends by about 10 p.m.
Now you’ll finally get a chance to get something to eat after all your cravinho and dancing. Try the local seafood stew moqueca at one of the many restaurants with chairs out in the streets, or grab an acarajé street snack — stuffed deep-fried black-eyed peas — from a vendor out on the Cravinho plaza.
It’s done by midnight, and given the danger involved in cruising Salvador tipsy at night, you’re best advised to go ahead and hop in a taxi, even if you think you could walk. You’ll have had a full night already, full of history, flavors, sounds and energy, the recipe that makes Salvador brilha — sparkle — as described in Geronimo’s song “É D’Oxum”: “Everyone here radiates magic.”
Did we mention that all this — except for the $1 cravinho shot — is free?