Posted by: Alex MacGregor | July 7, 2013

Cidade Baixa, Salvador

From our hostel’s window in Salvador, we could get a glimpse into a part of the city I found utterly fascinating: Cidade Baixa.

Salvador’s unique geography actually divides its downtown in two. Cidade Alta (the “upper city”) is where we, and nearly all tourists, chose to spend nearly all of our time (and what all of Caroline’s post is about). But what about Cidade Baixa (the “lower city”), which you occasionally get a glance over from the safety of the carefully-policed tourist district?

baixa from above

The area is emblematic of a problem that many Brazilian business districts seem to deal with. During business hours, the area bustles and is safe. But at night, or on weekends, you’d best stay away. Shops close, security guards go home, and the area becomes a ghost town. Sounds like a great place to visit, huh?

But, since the city’s ferry dock is in the area, we had cause to check out the area (during working hours, of course).

elevador blocked

Our first attempt to go to Baixa, to buy ferry tickets, was thwarted by protests. The protesters chose to barricade the only reliable, safe way of getting down to Baixa.

elevador3

We persevered, and the next day we made our way to the 200-foot high Elevador Lacerda. Built in the late 1800s and refurbished a couple times since, it’s the way the everyone goes between Alta and Baixa–either the elevator, or a taxi. You’d be an utter fool to go on foot.

elevador view

Baixa from the elevator. If you walked from Alta to Baixa, you’d go down the road on the right: a deserted street with no chance to escape. I’m not sure we’ve ever been to a country that has relatively-safe and completely-off-limits areas juxtaposed quite like this.

elevador2

Waiting in line for the elevator. Three elevators run all day, but the crowds frequently overwhelm it.

elevador lacerda.

The elevator from below.

mercado modelo2

mercado modelo

Mercado Modelo, the city’s main tourist market, is at the foot of the elevator.

street2

street1

Baixa’s streets frequently reminded us of different places we have been. The sterile, concrete-and-glass expanse of the center’s business streets couldn’t help but remind us of Portuguese-speaking Maputo, if only a little.

street como paris

A couple blocks look downright Parisian.

street como havana2

street como havana

Other areas, still, scream Havana.

baixa old

No matter what city Baixa is standing in for, it certainly could use some rehabilitation. But, given the area’s double-life as the city’s commercial center and a dangerous dead zone, it seems unlikely help will come any time soon.

coco1

Baixa was the first place where I got to try Brazil’s take on a new health trend in the US–coconut water. I’ve enjoyed the canned stuff in the US several times now…

coco2

…but how can that compete with the real thing?

tourist caricatures

According to this tourist map, caricatured tourists sometimes flood Baixa from cruise ships, although we didn’t witness the phenomenon in person.

ferry baixa1

As our ferry pulled away from Baixa, en route to our next destination, I snapped a few pics of Salvador from the sea. The old, crumbling buildings of Baixa below, and the relative prosperity and order of Alta above.

ferry vitoria

Naturally, neither Baixa nor Alta is actually what wealthy Brazilians call home. Salvador’s elite favor the highrise districts of Vitoria and Barra, a little further down the peninsula.

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