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Hunkering Down in Salvador, BR


March 18th, 2020

The Overlanders’ Dilemma – do we stay or go? The entire world has had to make some tough choices for the greater good but the issues facing international overlanders have been a bit different to those faced by people of fixed abode.

We have a few friends who’ve left leaving their vehicles behind in the country they were in, headed home and hope to come back one day to find their vehicles were safe.  In most cases, I’m sure that won’t be a problem given the circumstances but you never know!  Some of our overlanding friends have decided to stay, like us, as they are healthy, following protocol and feel they are better off living down here for several months than spending through their nest eggs at much higher rates than living here.  An important factor is of course, our “home”  – we have no brick and mortar one so for us, staying is a (so far) a no-brainer.   We considered Brazil as a whole:  supply chain, availability of necessities and the country’s self reliance – Brazil has manufacturing and agricultural areas that should keep essential items available.  While we’re here we are also contributing to the local economy.  

Prevailing advice is to avoid all unnecessary international travel. Why on earth would we sit in two, three or four airborne tin-cans to get home (assuming none of the flights s get cancelled) for at least 24 hours amoungst 200+ potentially infected people, merely to arrive in a country, itself struggling desperately under the strain. Nope. We’re doing our #STAYHOME here in Brazil.  This is made easier, of course, in this day and age by the internet so we can keep in touch with family.  IF we were to return to the US or Canada, we’d also have no health coverage – currently we have travel insurance that does cover us for COVID 19.  If we were to go to Canada, where do we “isolate”?  Hotels are closing and we cannot put our family members at risk in case we are carriers.  So far now we stay put. 

As we drive toward Salvador, we again have this conversation.  Brazil’s president has been slow to react and still feels it is all media hype against him (sound familiar?) but luckily his Health Department and the governors of the states are not so blind/moronic.  We continue to monitor the situation of course, and moving north in this country away from the epicentres of São Paulo and Rio is a good idea.

We arrived in Salvador in the late morning, stocked up on groceries and made our way to a small caravan park owned by a local in a suburb called Itapūa.  The campground is a walled in small lot with a grassy section, a small kitchen area with a big screen TV, table and chairs and a sofa.  There is a full bathroom with a hot shower, two other bathrooms with no showers in a separate block and 3 outdoor cold showers.  We have access to decent Wi-Fi, a washing machine and good security as the gate remains locked at all times.  Each camper is given a key to the pedestrian door in the gate.   There are several small grocery stores nearby, with larger ones a little further out including a Walmart Supermarket.

our first spot
our more permanent spot when we were alone
communal kitchen

The owner, Paolo, was not here upon our arrival, but one of the campers was overseeing the place while he’s away.  She is a Brazilian, Iara, and her husband Jean is from France – they call Belo Horizonte home now.  There is one other young Brazilian couple here from up the coast, Irene and Eduardo.  So there’s plenty of room and we think it will be a good place to socially distance ourselves for at least two weeks anyway.  The best part is there is beach access less than two blocks away!

Iara and Jean speak good English and on Thursday morning we asked her to call the Policia Federale for us (in Brazil, this branch of the police is the “immigration” department as well).  Our 90 day visas expire on April 4th and we want to renew.  We had heard from an American couple a couple of days ago that they attempted to renew their visas and were told that no renewals were taking place in these uncertain times but also that no penalties would be levied if you overstay during the crisis.  However, they could not get this in writing.  So we wanted to be sure for ourselves.

Our original plan for today had been to take the tourist hop on hop off bus in the city but given the current situation, we thought it best not to do so.  One of the stops was near a police station but since Iara made this call for us, we are not going into the city anytime soon.  She was advised to call a different office – the one at the airport – and they confirmed the information that Geneva and Mike had received: no extensions and no penalties.  She was told it was on their website but so far we’ve not found it (we did a few days later).  We feel better now.

Salvador (which in English means “Savior”), is the capital of the state of Bahia.  It lies on a small, roughly triangular peninsula that separates the Bay of All Saints, the largest bay in Brazil, from the Atlantic Ocean.  With nearly 3 million people it is the largest city in the northeast region and the 4th largest city in the country. 

Founded by the Portuguese in 1549 as the first capital of Brazil, Salvador is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. A sharp escarpment divides its Lower Town (Cidade Baixa) from its Upper Town (Cidade Alta) by some 85 m / 279’). The Elevador Lacerda, Latin America’s first urban elevator, has connected the two since 1873. The historic district of the upper town was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.

Salvador was one of the first sugarcane ports and was a major slave port and the African influence of the slaves’ descendants makes it a centre of Afro-Brazilian culture.  It was also a major sugarcane port for shipment to Europe. Owing to whales’ use of this bay as a mating ground, Salvador became a large whaling port during the 19th century but the trade had already begun to fall off well before the end of that century. 

The weather remains hot but not disgustingly hot, it’s humid and we still have the odd rain shower but it doesn’t last too long (so far anyway) and we took advantage of the beach a few times during the first weekend and/or cold outdoor shower often others days.

We have some interaction with the other couples here but as one couple does not speak English although they do speak Spanish, we’ve limited our conversation – of course, we are trying to keep our distances as well.  They are all younger than us but at least not late night partiers!

That afternoon we tried Uber Eats for our first time ever – we got Açai delivered – a nice cold treat in the 30 C / 86 F heat; will probably take advantage of that again over the next while.

Saturday morning Iara and John left early and left us a WhatsApp message later saying goodbye – they decided to return to her family’s farm near Belo Horizonate.  A couple of hours later, Irene and Eduardo also left, giving us instructions on feeding the owner’s two dogs; one big guy named Sadan and a tiny one named Perdita.   They come from up north but were going south to a friend’s place.


So now we are alone other than the caretaker gentleman who comes around once a day to take care of anything needed.  We have been staying inside the campground other than to go for walks, sit at the beach alone or pick up groceries.  Thank goodness we live in a connected world!

Weather continues to be unstable – but it does not rain all day and mornings seem to be the wettest.  When Fran went for her walk on Monday, the 23rd, she did notice that shortly down the beach from where we normally go the beach, has been cordoned off with what we call “snow fence” and there are signs up which seem to mean the beach is “banned”.  We’ll see if they close the one near us.

Sidebar:  To help pass time and since it looks like we’ll be in Brazil for longer than we expected, we have begun learning a bit more Portuguese.  We had been just doing Duolingo to get the basics but now we’ve found some other free lessons.  Problem is – it gets mixed up with the Spanish in our brains! 🙂

On Thursday, March 26th, Paolo, the owner of this campground returned with his wife, Juliana.  They both speak good enough English.  They are going to self-quarantine so we won’t have a lot of contact for a while but he did tell us that is only going to charge us half price during this time – that means $6 a night!   (In addition, the use of the washer costs about $2 per load.)  We have decided we’ll be paying him a little extra since we do use the electricity to run our AC at night.

Saturday the weather got a little warmer and less wet; we’re now hitting the low 30’s C / low 90’s F and we are feeling it.  The beach closest to us is still not closed so we think that the city limits of Salvador end at the nearby lighthouse point.  There are lots of palm trees to sit under for shade and naturally, there are no kiosks selling beverages set up as there normally would be.

We did go down with our own chairs today, brought our own drinks and enjoying the breeze in the shade.  There is a breeze at times at the campsite, but it’s not consistent – there are spots with shade but it’s too hot without a breeze.

Fortunately, the kitchen shelter gets the best breeze, there’s a big table and of course, power outlets, so a good place to chill if we need our laptops.

Monday, we each went out separately and split up the grocery shopping by going to two different grocery stores.  It was a pretty hot walk today and we were glad of the cool outdoor showers on our return.  We’ve been spending our afternoons living in our bathing suits so it’s easy to cool off either here under the shower, or at the beach.

It’s now Tuesday – our 14th day of our “self-isolation” here in Salvador.  So far so good: no symptoms and we are still going for walks, doing shopping (cleaning all items before bringing them into Tigger here at the camp kitchen) and washing our hands etc. each time we go out.

Hope everyone is staying well and feel free to reach out via Messenger, WhatsApp or email if you want to chat.  We all have lots of time on our hands these days.  Thanks to anyone of you who are in the healthcare world or the supply chain who keep working and supporting the rest of us.