“Thirty percent of Brazilians live in favelas,” says Michael David Lynch, proprietor of Albergue Pedras da Sereia in Salvador, speaking of neighborhoods like the one he moved to 25 years ago.
Basically, favelas are built like sand-drip castles of concrete, wood and straw into valleys and on hills throughout Brazilian cities. Recently, the word has become synonymous with gang warfare, urban squalor and the abysmal gap between Brazil’s rich and poor.
During my stay at Lynch’s beachfront favela hostel, I found a new and beautiful connotation:
The albergue has a millionaire’s view, and there is poetry to the whimsical and towering neighborhood stacked on a small coastal reef point. His neighbors smile, work and play with an easy samba rhythm reverberating from the cars beside. They live abundantly, with little material abundance.
From my room on the first floor I could watch the waves breaking on the Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) shore – from behind. We were level with sea fishermen.
Like most favelas, most homes are semi-legal and on military property. Lynch, an expatriate from Louisiana, worked hard to get an official deed, but the land can be recollected by the government should there be a revision of the Anglo-Dutch wars (where the land was first won). “They’ll have to settle with me first,” he proclaims proudly.
He is clearly, and happily, anchored.
And for the drifting poor-but-snappy traveler, it couldn’t get much better: Lynch’s property is on the Atlantic side of Salvador, two kilometers north of the “chique-chique” Barra neighborhood (pronounced ba-ha, as in Baja CA). Directly south is the bohemian Rio Vermelho (Red River) district.
It’s good to know all the “must-sees” are near, and I visited many. Even so, I mostly enjoyed the view from Lynch’s albatross perch. In an extraordinary reversal of fortune, the crashing waves drown out the sound of the rush hour traffic.
Lynch goes on to tell me about the heavy Afro-Brasileiro influence (80% of the local population is of African descent). The culture finds expression in its rich colorful dress, capoeira dance-fighting (an export from Angola), the falafel-like aracajé (black-eyed pea dough fried in palm oil), and other coconut-laced seafood.
I watch as locals play futebol (soccer) on the ebb tide sand using sticks of driftwood for goal posts. Children play on the sand and surfers ride the crisp, blue shore break until the sun goes down. Seaside drink shacks sell beer for R$ 1 (currently US$ .60) and fresh iced coconut for $R 1.50 (US$ .90).
“The locals don’t have trouble celebrating life,” reflects Lynch as we stare out at the crystal blue sea, the varied points and grassy areas, the iconic Farol Barra, and the sun behind.
“They even clap for the sunset,” Lynch chuckled. I laughed. Then, as the sun descended, I heard the jubilant cheers and the sounds of hundreds of hands clapping.
One could do worse than live on the rocks.
See the author's photo album here.