We took a one-day tour to the countryside northwest of Salvador, ending up in the old colonial town of Cachoeira (waterfall in Portuguese), founded in 1650 on the Paraguaçu River.
The 11th in a series of blogs about Semester at Sea, a round-the-world voyage with 600 students. David Mould is the author of Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia (Ohio University Press, 2016) and the upcoming (2109) Monsoon Postcards: Indian Ocean Journeys. Read excerpts at www.davidhmould.com (Travel Blogs) or Facebook /PostcardsFromStanland/
This is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Brazil, where the Portuguese established sugarcane and tobacco plantations, shipping their produce down the rivers that flow into the Baia de Todos os Santos where it was loaded onto ocean-going ships. Today, agriculture is more mixed, with maize, rice and a wide variety of fruits (mangoes, papayas, oranges, bananas, jackfruit, cashew fruit) grown. Bamboo, originally imported from Southeast Asia, became not only a cash crop, but a local weed, growing wild along roadsides and in fields.
Along the road we stopped at a cooperative farm—an example of what agrarian reform can achieve. The land was repossessed by a bank when the landowner defaulted on his mortgage payment; then the bank itself went bankrupt, and the government seized the land to pay back taxes. It distributed it to about 150 landless families, each of which has five hectares, a house and a garden; they contribute labor and part of their income to the community to support a school and other services and sell the rest of their produce.
Cachoeira is a sleepy country town with gorgeous colonial architecture that recalls its history as a major river port and commercial center. With funds from UNESCO and foreign donors, some buildings have been restored. After lunch at a pousada, a country inn in an 18th century house, we visited the cigar factory where Stephanie learned how to hand-roll a cigar.
Our other out-of-town trip was by schooner—a replica of the ships that traded between ports on the bay in colonial times—to the small Ilha dos Frades (the Island of the Friars), and the larger Itaparica Island, where middle-class Salvadoreans have weekend homes. The beach at Frades was idyllic, with white sand, and clear, warm water. After lunch on Itaparica and a quick tour of the town, we enjoyed the 90-minute trip back across the bay with good views of the old city.
Next week: The rhythms of shipboard life