By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
BAHIA – The streets of Ilhéus were quiet as our bus coasted in from the terminal. The side streets appeared run down and at night the numerous house-covered hills loomed ominously around us. “What have we gotten ourselves into?”, I wondered out loud to my friend Adrian just before the bus driver indicated our stop had arrived. She pointed down a dark street with a smile.
We stepped off the bus apprehensively and made our way towards the center of town at a brisk pace. It only took two blocks before the dimly-lit streets began to reveal beautiful colonial buildings, their colors glowing under the street lamps.
I was skeptical at our first choice of lodging. The place looked poorly-kept with rather dubious sorts leaning against the wall in the shadows. “We are only here to help the tourists,” a toothless man grinned as he took a swig out of a plastic cup of cachaça.
Surprisingly, he kept his word ten minutes later when I slipped out of the window of our second-storey room to snap a few photos. “It’ll kill you!”, he shouted in concern as I moved to rest my lens on a monumental tangle of electrical wires.
Having missed the opportunity for a sudden power boost, Adrian and I decided to seek inspiration elsewhere. We followed the sounds of live forró to Bar Vesúvio – the drinking hole of Ilhéus’ most famed resident, writer Jorge Amado. Amado was brought up in the city and although he only wrote some of his earliest works here, it was the subject of several of his books set in the days of the great cocoa plantations that ruled Bahian land and politics in the early half of the twentieth century.
We woke the next morning to a glass of sweet cocoa juice and then made our way through the pedestrian streets to the museum that had been Amado’s house in the center of town. We had the misfortune of entering behind a loud group of school kids.
Admittedly, we were annoyed until the tour guide’s presentation began to unravel in the simple speech appropriate for eight-year-old children. Nonetheless, the Portuguese surpassed our linguistic abilities and we left the museum none the wiser.
After wandering among the colorful period buildings of the center, we had to choose between visiting a chocolate factory and going to the beach. The climbing sun seemed to answer our dilemma.
“Chocolate melts in the heat,” I reasoned as I slung a towel over my shoulder. A 45-minute bus ride did nothing to change my opinion. We crossed a high bridge replete with views of the hills and multi-hued houses of a city cut into rounded sections by the Rio Cachoeira. The bus bounced along the coast until we could hear the waves crash on the beach at Olivença. As we looked out past the surfers at the crashing sea, I couldn’t help but think of Amado’s book, Home is the Sailor.