For our second full day in Salvador we went to Praia do Forte, an old fishing village that has been transformed into a resort town specializing in eco-tourism. Our friends said that this was a "must see" location. We chose to not stay overnight in this town because of the cost. As we were recovering from nasty sunburns from our previous day on the beach, we thought it would be best to explore some other types of sites on this day.
Castelo Garcia D'Avila
Praia do Forte got its name from this castle built on a ridge above the ocean. It's one of the original colonial structures in Brazil and was inhabited until the early 20th century. It is the oldest of the large colonial buildings in South America. It was surprisingly difficult to find. There were no clear directional signs pointing to the winding road just off the main boulevard to the village. There were very few visitors at the ruins the day we came.
The castle ruins are well-preserved, and the proprietors have installed stairs and platforms so that visitor's could go up to the upper levels. They have also re-built the chapel. One of my favorite details was the colonial era graffiti written on the walls.
The view from the castle was quite stunning, and it helped that it was an absolutely beautiful day. It was the middle of the dry season on this part of the coast. This location was clearly chosen for it's strategic vantage point. It would not have been easy to haul all of the stone and other building materials up to the top of this hill. Nearby the ruins of the main hall were the remains of footings from other structures, probably stables and various utility buildings.
The path to the castle goes through an amphitheater that encircles this amazing fig tree. Brazil has some pretty incredible trees, and they make great back drops for family photos.
The visitor's center had a model of the castle and some artifacts found during archaeological digs on the site. It also has a cafe and eating area for special occasions and a gift shop selling trinkets and paintings made by local artists.
Reserva Ecológica da Sapiranga
A short drive down the hill and under the main highway from the castle is the Sapriranga Ecological Reserve that is managed by the same foundation that does the castle. As with most reserves in Brazil, visitors are required to hire a guide in order to see the park. The guides typically are members of the families that live in the park and help to keep it preserved. This reserve also includes a small visitor's center with specimens collected in the park.
Our tour lasted just under two hours. We hiked from the visitor's center to the river and back. It was a little late in the day to see much wildlife, but along the way we saw a three-toed sloth, a green lizard, some very pretty butterflies, cool funnel web spiders, and lots of ants. I even got a glimpse of a ghost shrimp. Our guide also pointed out many neat trees and told us about some of the medicinal, food and other products made from the trees.
After a morning of hiking through a forest and exploring a castle, we were pretty hungry, so we drove back into the village to find a place to eat. Even though we were there during the heavy tourist season, most of the restaurants that open for lunch had closed and were preparing for dinner. In these resort towns, one of the wait staff will stand outside the restaurant with a menu and invite people to eat there. We were pretty hungry, so we stopped at the first one that looked open and said that it served Bahian dishes. They also had pretty, pink balloon center pieces on the tables. Like Brasilia, restaurant food in Praia do Forte was expensive, costing about R$25 and up per person. I enjoyed a nice plate of fresh fish. Abby and I shared some coconut water as well.
After lunch, we went to look at the nick-nack and art shops in town. A large black woman waved me over and grabbed my hand. She asked me if I spoke Portuguese and then started to compliment me and my family. Then she asked for some money. We had learned that it was common for people to ask for money in Salvador, but I had not expected to be grab and held ransom like that. I also wasn't feeling well due something I had eaten the day before, so I declined and wiggle loose from her grasp.
Souvenirs in Praia do Forte ran the full range in price and quality, and many of the items had an African influence since this is the part of Brazil where the African slaves were originally brought. This being a resort town, it kind of felt like walking through the main street of Disneyland with all of its shops and restaurants. There were even kids dressed in spooky costumes and scary masks running around and shaking rattles to earn a bit of money.
We finished our day at the beach and wharf at the end of the commercial district. The fishermen had pulled in their nets for the day, and a few families were enjoying the evening on the beach. The bars were setting up tables and chairs for the evening clientele as well. As a treat, we a found a self-serve, by the kilo ice cream shop. Brazilian ice cream comes in every flavor of tropical fruit and chocolate and lots of toppings. Generally, the ice cream at shops is made on location in small batches and is quite tasty. Mass-produced ice cream sold in the supermarkets is disappointing.