Destination Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia.
Negotiations at Terreiro de Jesus, ice-cooled beer cans, and a drinking challenge…
Tuesday, July 25, 6.30 am.
Terreiro de Jesus
Terreiro de Jesus grants the name to Igreja dos Jesuítas, the Jesuit church, now called Catedral Basílica. This impressive building is hard to miss, when you enter the Terreiro de Jesus from Praça da Sé. On the right, there is a number of small stores with an interesting assortment of handicraft. One store is specialized in music instruments, such as the samba drums. The facades above these stores were brightly illuminated. The Faculty of Medicine is located at the other side of the square. The remainder of the square is surrounded by a number of churches. The square itself is almost empty; I could only could two statues and two palm trees. When we entered the square, it was crowded: the square was full of locals and (foreign) tourists.
Entrepreneurs were taking advantage of the large number of potential customers; we observed a great number of small food stands, and stands with handicraft. Ambulant vendors try to sell their self-made merchandise. Many of them sell necklaces, made of seeds, wood, shells. Cunning vendors try to sell them for higher prices to unsuspecting tourists, who consider these prices as extremely cheap and pay the requested amount without hesitation. Since I am not a rich tourist, and that I am still adapting myself more tho the Brazilian way of life, I am already used to the Brazilian way of negotiating. And I may have some success. One ambulant vendor tried to sell five necklaces for ten reais, and he quickly realized that I was not a common foreign tourist. I managed to obtain twelve necklaces for ten reais, and no one of our group achieved to have the same bargain. They had their bargain with ten necklaces for ten reais.
I can imagine that there are readers who think that I am taking too much advantage of these poor vendors. They may criticize me that I was trying to lower the price, even when the price was extremely cheap. Those critics may start to try to view this through Brazilian eyes. Brazilians in general are not rich, and are not eager to pay more than the value of the merchandise. I had the luck that my Brazilian friends helped me to evaluate the quality of the merchandise, making use of their experienced eyes. For sure, I have to obtain this level of experience with the years, but I already was familiar with their way of negotiating, to their great surprise. Some days later, I was successful in bargaining for a popular T-shirt at Mercado Modelo. This T-shirt, with the images of the orixás, was offered for 35 reais. Normally you may buy it for 25 reais, after intensive bargaining. That day, I was able to lower the price to 23 reais even. My friends had bought them for 25 reais, at another location.
Beer cans on ice
We took our time to walk around the immense square. Some of us had become very thirsty and were desperately looking for beer sellers. At a night like this, with many cultural activities in the historical center, ambulant vendors tried to make extra money by selling ice-cooled cans of soda and beer. On their shoulders, they carry a styrofoam box that contains ice cubes and a large number of cans. They can refresh they ice cubes at many locations, even at gasoline stations, where big (ten liter!) bags are available. The prices for soda and beer cans varied greatly. They asked two reais for half a liter, while the smaller cans were one real each. Some vendors are selling for lower prices, but their cans are floating on melted ice. Even the very thirsty customer will refuse even to touch these cans. This vendor better can buy another bag of ice cubes, for the price of four reais….
There was not only beer available. Also stronger alcoholic drinks. Among them cachaça and a local liquor that is called ‘cravinho’, that is made on the basis of clove. The name containing ‘vinho (wine)’ is somewhat confusing, since this liquor is not a wine at all and contains a higher percentage of alcohol. Good for the cold winter months… Another liquor that I encountered in Bahia is made on the basis of manioc. This liquor has a deep blue color, almost like spirit. At our final night in Salvador, which we spent at the UFBA, a student from Rio de Janeiro, a so-called ‘carioca’, challenged me with a Bahian drinking game. A combination of drinking beer and the manioc liquor. I was somewhat suspicious, but I accepted his offer and drank a bit of the blue liquor. Then we took a swallow from our beer cans. And again, Aylton (the carioca) offered me the blue liquor. And he repeated this offer four more times, and he encouraged me to take another swallow of beer after each offer. Beer and manioc liquor. One student from our group was a bit worried, she kept an eye on me. And also her friends were looking worried, and they showed their disgust of this brawling carioca. We went on with round five. The worried student tried to stop me, but I gave a her a meaningful wink. Mr. Carioca was already staggering, but he did not give up.
We went on: round six, round seven, as in a boxing match. He tried to give me a knock-out, through too much alcohol. But he was staggering dangerously. He gave up after the eight round, he was no longer able to stand upright. The others were deeply impressed that I was still having my locomotion under control. A born drinker? No way! I already had given one of them a hint with my wink. I was not crazy, not a ‘bobo’. In contrast to Mr. Carioca, I did not swallow much beer, I only took little nips of it. I pretended to have drunk a lot, but I did not allow too much beer enter my throat. And what about the blue liquor? I was putting the glass to my lips, but I had my lips firmly closed. And I quickly wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, in order to avoid contact with beer. It was as if I was cleaning my lips after another delicious nip of that liquor. The carioca was knock-out. I had won this challenge by a technical knock-out. The student showed her beautiful big eyes, full of surprise. Then she quickly explained her friends my trick, in a soft voice. You can imagine that there was a burst of laughter when they understood all of it. And I gained another reputation: “esperta”, or: intelligent, cunning. At least, I had managed to maintain my reputation as a scientist. And indeed, sometimes it is not too bad to know more than science only…
By Dr. Adriano Antoine Robbesom
- Travel in Brazil: SALVADOR (26). Pelourinho, Historical Heart Of Salvador I (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: SALVADOR (22). Itapuã Beach (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: SALVADOR (23). Itapuã and Barra (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)