Surfing in Bahia, Brazil

By Jane Wynyard, October 28 2012

Last Summer I returned to beautiful Brazil to a surf camp in Bahia, near Salvador called Bahia Surf Camp. My friends were coming a week later and I’d only have to spend 8 days on my own. We were staying in a surf camp so i was confident I’d meet other people.  

On the website, the surf camp looked amazing with hammocks, beautiful surf huts, blue sky, beach view, lush gardens and lots of visitors. The owner had assured me that I would meet lots of people and it would be fine to travel on my own.

Reality was a different story. After a long flight from London, I arrived in Bahia in the middle of a heavy rainstorm to discover I was the only guest, the surf camp was in the middle of a building site miles from anywhere and it smelt like wet dog. There were no surf front views, the ‘surf camp instructor’ was a 21 year old Swede who was so laid back that he barely spoke, slept all day and hardly went into the sea, and the surf was about 10 foot and pounding.   I initially wondered what I’d got myself in for and wanted to cry.

But despite paying £1000 to stay for 16 days at the surf camp and being disappointed, I decided the only way forward as to make the most of it. There was no point in getting upset – there was nothing I could do about it. 

Besides the beach was absolutely stunning – flanked by coconut palm trees, white sand, the warm blue Atlantic Ocean and not a soul for miles. And without blackberry and internet, I could truly relax

Making the most of it

And make the most of it I did. We were joined a few days later by a young Swiss who was also extremely laid back. The surf calmed down to a manageable size. We spent the days surfing different breaks including Itacimarim where we saw turtles swimming in the sea, Hallelujah which had a great laid back bar with white beds but a heavy surf break and a few attempts out the front of the surf camp once the swell had dropped. The afternoons were spent dozing in the hammock or reading books and the evening playing cards and poker. I lost a lot of Brazilian Real to these two card sharks. 
Bar at Hallelujah beach

Beautiful swamps and incredible sunsets

I also discovered a bike and would cycle every evening when it was cooler past beautiful swamps, locals fishing and swimming, families of little monkeys running up and down the power line and tall white storks searching for fish.  

The sunsets were incredible. I also made friends with the camp dog, Iron, who spent most of his time locked in an enclosure and then went berserk when he was let out.  I took him for walks every day and spent the whole time shouting ‘pare’ which means stop as he would bounce all over the place, leap and paw at you with his unbelievably sharp claws.  

The Brazilian workers thought I was a crazy white western women although there was one sweet young local who obviously loved Iron and took him for walks when he could.

Brazilian food

Despite the rough conditions of the surf camp, we had the most amazing meals every single day cooked by the staff at the camp. Feijoada of all sorts including Feijoada Carioca (the Rio speciality), rice, chicken, fried fish and salad for lunch with fresh fruit juices and the most heavenly desserts including one with passionfruit and ice-cream. Breakfast was eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit including mango, papaya, watermelon, fresh fruit juices and Brazilian coffee. 

We had to surf twice a day just to keep the weight off. The staff at the camp were so lovely and taught us lots of Brazilian language.  I adore the Brazilian portuguese language – it’s so musical and sexy.

Busca Vida, Bahia

The owner, Beto, is the Mayor of Busca Vida – the region where we were staying – but we hardly saw him as he spent most of his time on the building site.  I felt sorry for his family crammed into a tiny house while his new place was being built. We were staying in a really expensive part of Bahia with million pound houses dotted up and down the beach. 

The place next door, with indoor swimming pool and countless rooms, was for sale for £5m. My favourite was a blue house down the road with white shutters and a beautiful peanut shaped pool in the front yard with a very cool bar. It looked very colonial on the beach. Bahia has a great African influence which you could see in the people, the houses, the roads, the beach. I often felt like I was in Kenya.
My favourite colonial blue house

We had some spectacular storms that would suddenly sweep in from nowhere. The skies would open up and the rain would just drop from the sky as though someone had just opened a dam. It was so hot and muggy that the rain was a cool respite for a few minutes or so.  

It was even more exciting when you were in the surf and you could see the storms rolling in and lightening striking the sea in the distance. I remembered stories in Morocco about how a local had nearly been electrocuted by lightning while surfing, so I always swam close to the shore during storms in case I had to run out quickly. 

On the streets, the cool weather brought out monkeys on the hunt for bananas – the little hairy guys were so cheeky – jumping from tree to tree and then racing across the lawn. Plus we saw tons of tiny bats eating the insects at dusk flitting around like starlings and making lots of high pitched squeaky sounds.

Capuchin monkeys on the wire

Visiting Salvador

By the time the girls arrived, I was so chilled, tanned and surfed out that I felt I’d been away for months. More days of sunbathing, surfing, eating, sleeping followed as well as some amazing trips into the city of Salvador with its brightly coloured but very run down colonial churches and buildings and cobbled streets including a number covered in gold. We visited the church of slaves where we saw a shrine to a famous black slave who had been forced to wear a hannibal style mask to stop her speaking and drinking. Horribly, she eventually starved to death.

We found a beautiful colonial cafe called Cafeteria in Rue de Combo with the most incredible views of the port, distant islands and glimmering ocean where we ate fresh fish and drank caiprinhias and mojitos surrounded by cascading bougenvillia. 

It was truly enchanting although as soon as the sun went down, Salvador’s laid back style changed and we could see why it was known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  We got harassed by drunks, drug addicts, homeless people and packs of dogs. I was glad when our taxi finally turned up.

By the time our holiday was over, I was so laid back that I didn’t even care that I had to spend seven hours in the badly lit, space Sao Paulo airport on the way home although saying goodbye to the ocean and sweet, mad Iron was quite sad. 

Our last night we spent at a local bar listening to a local Brazilian band who did really bad renditions of Michael Jackson hits and fought off the attention of local Brazilians who wanted ‘to get to know us better’. 

It felt great to be with the local Brazilian and seeing how they lived. Brazil is  a country I love and want to explore even further. the music, the culture, the language and the vast diverse landscapes and cultures.

Costs and how to get there 

I booked my trip through Wavepals – 
For 16 nights (May 25 – 10 June 2012) I paid 1340 euros for a single room at the Bahia Surf Camp plus transportation to surf trips. Flights were around 600 euros from London to Rio.  The camp was not worth the price as it was located in the middle of a building site (May 2012). Will be interesting to see if it’s any better in a year or so. Wavepals were very understanding when we complained and Bahia Surf Camp offered us one night’s free accommodation if we return. 

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