Last month, my family and I went on a two-week vacation to Brazil – not to see the Olympics, but to see my sister Laura, who was studying abroad in the city of Salvador, and to reconnect with a country we love, since we lived in Sao Paolo when I was very young.

My parents and I flew into Salvador on a Sunday night, with just enough time to take Laura out to dinner before she had to get ready for school the next day. We stayed in the Pelourinho, which is an old historic section of Salvador, complete with cobblestone streets, brightly colored colonial buildings, and gorgeous churches.

While Laura was in school the next day, we took the opportunity to really explore the Pelourinho, visiting churches, exploring restaurants, and walking around. The topography of Salvador is quite interesting, with lots of hills, and the Pelourinho is located on the very top of a cliff that drops off suddenly to the port below. This is where the famous market is, and so we took an elevator – literally a large, outdoor elevator – down to the market, where we saw vendors selling everything from tablecloths to musical instruments.

The next day, we took the ferry across the bay to the island of Itaparica, where we hung out on the beach. We saw a great view of Salvador from the water and it was great to swim in the ocean.

We ended the day with a fabulous dinner prepared by Laura’s host mom. I missed Brazilian food so much – fresh rice and beans seasoned with farofa (essentially a light breadcrumb mixture to give some texture to the food), seafood stew, and freshly squeezed local fruit juices.

On our last full day in Salvador, we visited the newer section of the city, checking out the Farol da Barra (a lighthouse) where we could see a great view of the whole city. After a late lunch by the water, we met Laura for some acai bowls and then headed back to the Pelourinho.

The following day, Laura finished up her classes and started a 10-day school break – so we booked it out of Salvador and headed to a remote island called Boipeba. It took five hours to get there – a car ride, and then a small motorboat – and we finally arrived at sunset after a beautiful last leg of our journey cruising through the river and observing flocks of birds as they glided across the orange sky.

Boipeba was everything we ever imagined. I instantly converted to “island time”, where you don’t set an alarm and it doesn’t matter if you eat lunch at 3 in the afternoon or take a nap at 5pm. We stayed in the quaint Pousada da Santa Clara, owned and operated by two American brothers who moved to Brazil in their twenties for a life of adventure. Charles is the host and manages the logistical side of running the inn, while Mark is the cook that prepares beautiful local dishes with a different menu every night in their fabulous restaurant.

We spent three full days on Boipeba, and spent most our time wandering along the beach, swimming in the ocean, checking out the local village, and lounging in hammocks. This was the real “vacation” part of our whole vacation in Brazil.

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Boipeba was so special for me because with only 3,000 locals living there, it was not as built up as other nearby islands like Morro de Sao Paolo. Nature was the main attraction, with the delicious seafood lunches coming in second place. I enjoyed long, reflective walks on the beach, watching the tide come in and out, and hiking through the jungle to make my way to different parts of the island.

 

Our last activity on Boipeba before leaving the next day was a family canoe ride into the mangroves. Boipeba is one island in a larger archipelago, and it is surrounded by dense mangrove forests. I have always felt that there was something special about mangroves, and there is – they are trees that grow in the water, completely interacting with their marine environment – they exchange gases with the surrounding water, bright red crabs crawl up and down their spindly branches, and flocks of birds come to nest in their realm. Our guide miraculously fit all four of us into a long, wooden canoe and paddled us over to the mangroves, taking us through natural tunnels where we became completely surrounded by the trees. It was like another world in there – the sounds of civilization very muted or not audible at all – and I was entranced by how close we were to the village, but how far away it all seemed once we entered the mangroves. Within the thicket, all noises from the trees were magnified: a cracking branch pierced through the air and water droplets rang in my ears.

 

Our visit to the mangroves was a perfect way to end our wonderful stay in Bahia, the Brazilian state known for its beaches, beauty, and warm weather. During the second half of our trip to Brazil, we flew to a completely different region of the country: the Amazon rainforest. Stay tuned for another blog post on our experience there, and the unexpected friends we made.