Destination Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia.
Buying handicraft and souvenirs at Mercado Modelo.
Friday 28 July, 11 am.
It was our final full day in Salvador. It took some time before we all agreed to spend the final day with some shopping. Like most European tourists, Brazilian tourists need to buy souvenirs for the homefront and for themselves. One of the most popular items is the T-shirt of the city visited. Wearing such a T-shirt is also some kind of status symbol: you have spent money to visit the popular touristic destinations. You will not notice too many T-shirts from – let’s say – São Paulo or Belo Horizonte, but more of the most popular beach resorts: Porto de Galinhas, Porto Seguro, Búzios, Fortaleza, Natal, and also Salvador. Most of the T-shirts are white with a broad range of colorful prints. Many of them are embroidered. These embroidered shirts are more expensive, but also more durable.
Even at touristic locations, T-shirts are really cheap at local markets, but you need to pay attention to the quality. The quality of the tissue, the final touch of hems and seams, the print, the embroidery. You may pay about ten reais (in 2007!) for a T-shirt of average quality. The price will rise quickly to – let’s say – thirty reais, for a much better quality. Three T-shirt prints were popular in Salvador at that time: Ribbons of Senhor de Bomfim, prints of Orixás (candomblé gods), and the print of percussion band Olodum, by far the most popular. These shirts were mainly black, green and red, according to the African colors. The symbol that is used by Olodum is the peace symbol, the sign of pacifism.
Mercado Modelo is one of the most favorite locations in Salvador for buying souvenirs and T-shirts. It is located between Pelourinho and the ferry station. We were here last Wednesday, when we rushed through the market, on our way to the ferry station, and get the ferry boat to Itaparica Island. This morning, we would spend much more time; walking along the numerous stalls, and searching for bargains. Igor and Leo were about to arrive later, since Igor got some stomach problems and wanted to rest a bit more. Carol was absent that day. She was visiting her uncle and his relatives here in Salvador. I was accompanying the couple, which I had met in the empty house in Olivença, and the two ‘baixinhas’ (little girls, a somewhat impolite name these lovely girls). We took the bus to the basis of the Lacerda Elevator, from where he had to cross a crowded street, parallel to the shoreline. We then had to cross a large square before we arrived at the Mercado Modelo. There were numerous stalls on this square, with a wide variety of handicraft, art, and souvenirs. Ready to be bought by the tourists.
It is sometimes amazing to notice how inventive and creative some Brazilians can be. With the years, I was repeatedly amazed and marveled about their creative inventions. Their level of creativity is not really marvelous, when you consider their life standard in Brazil. Literally everything may be used to obtain the desired results. Plastic PET bottles are cut open, in order to serve as a toilet brush holder. When this holder is too ugly, you simply cut a new one. Since paper tissues are quite expensive, better quality hygienic paper is used as an excellent alternative. Empty carton boxes are painted and glued with decorative paper, in order to serve as a gift box. At one stall in front of the Mercado Modelo, I encountered materials that were made of tabs from cans. Really inventive!
Without doubt, jewelry is very popular, and is offered in large amounts. Besides, also music instruments, wood carvings, paintings with local scenes. Embroidered cloths, clothes, plastic bag holders, towels, guest towels. There a serene atmosphere at this open air market. The slowly wandering tourists, the enthusiastic vendors, who showed their eagerness to receive money in their pockets. Ambulant vendors trying to obtain their marginal share. You need to pay attention, but I Brazilian is always alert. They seldom leave their bag unnoticed, or leave the bag open. They often keep the bag in front of them.
We then entered the building of Mercado Modelo. We each went our own way, in search of souvenirs. I was accompanying the couple for some time, I was paying attention how they acted and negotiated, and with the new knowledge I went on my own too. And I was successful. The crash course was fruitful. I managed to negotiate with one vendor, even with my poor Portuguese, and I obtained a very low price for a T-shirt with the Orixás print. During my walk in the mercado, I was halted various times by vendors who tried to sell their paintings or wood carvings. Sometimes they even lowered the price to no more than one quarter of the original price offered. But I didn’t buy more. As a poor student, I needed to be cautious with my money.
About two hours later, we had seen and bought enough. It was about time to leave the market, take a ride with the Lacerda elevator, to Pelourinho. Finally, we had opportunity to visit this interesting historical district at day. For me it was an excellent opportunity to take more pictures of Pelô…
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom
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