How to deal with criminals

Salvador is a big, beautiful (in its way), poor city. Most people who come here never feel threatened, and most leave without anything unfortunate having happened. But keeping a few things in mind can improve one's chances for experiencing only the good even further. I'll start with Carnival.

My advice in three words is: Don't use pockets. Carnival is CROWDED! More likely than not you will occasionally find yourself in the midst of virtual crushes of revelers. And you will almost certainly have hands in your pockets, sometimes surreptitiously, but usually very blatantly. And if there's nothing in your pocket to steal, all the better, but still it's a very unpleasant experience.

I NEVER go out to Carnival wearing pants with pockets -- on the outside that is. I have something like gym trunks with a simple pocket sewn into the inside. I have friends who use a strong safety pin and a small change purse. However you do it it's the only way to fly. You breathe a lot easier in those crowds knowing that nobody is going to try to finance their next round of beers at your expense. It's good to be careful the rest of the year as well.

And one thing that helps is looking as little like a "gringo" as possible. Looking like a tourist is advertising that one is walking around with money in one's pocket.

A few things you can do are:

· Don't wear black (or dark) socks with shorts. NOBODY here does that, except for European gringos (you German and Scandinavian guys mostly). It's a dead giveaway.
· The socks you do wear with shorts should not be pulled up high like a football (soccer) player. They should be pulled down loose around the ankles.
· Hair is another dead giveaway. The guys here don't have hair that is spiky or sticks up or swooshes back. Anything between Johnny Rotten and James Dean means you're a definite out-of-towner. A baseball cap is a good idea. They are really common here, and they are also very practical under the glare of the strong tropical sun.
· Dressing down doesn't make you look poor; it makes you look like, again, a gringo. Brazilians, even poor Brazilians, like to dress decently. Their clothes are clean and pressed, even t-shirts. I'm not saying not to wear what you like to wear (read: old, faded clothes with holes), but again, be aware that it sets you apart.
· Oh, and you German guys (I swear I'm not picking on you) who like to show off your legs in those short jean cutoffs, if you wear them here everybody will think you're gay. Hey! If you are gay, or have no problems with being seen as such, no problem!
· Avoid walking around with a backpack firmly planted between your shoulderblades. If you do for any reason go out and around with a pack, and it's not too heavy, wear it slung over one shoulder. If it's too heavy or bulky for that, and you're walking down a crowded sidewalk or taking a city bus, wear it in front, like a baby carrier. That's what people here do. It's not uncool; to do otherwise makes you look like an otário (sucker).

Something else: Watch your watch! Most people don't know how easily a wristwatch can be snatched from a wrist until it's too late. The pins holding the band to the watch bend and pop right out. This happens to (obvious) tourists all the time here, particularly at crowded festas. I've seen it happen on a bus. So leave your Rolex at home, and either stick with something cheap or forget the rigid constraints of the twenty-four hour day.

Barra & Pelourinho

These are the areas which get the most tourists, and consequently they are the areas which attract those who would prey upon those tourists.  Barra (and more to the point Porto da Barra) while generally safe during the day, is very iffy late at night and in the wee hours of the morning, particularly on the back streets. 

Most robberies are of the grab-and-run or the give-it-up variety and hence aren't physically dangerous.  But things can get dicey -- and hurtful -- if resistence is put up. The Cristo (the hill with the Christ statue just north of the beach at Farol da Barra) should definitely be avoided at night, as should walks around and behind the Farol (lighthouse).  There have even been incidents at the Farol and the Forte Santa Maria (to the side of the beach at Porto da Barra) during the day lately, so conspicuous jewelry and display of expensive (or expensive looking) cameras should be avoided.

As for Pelourinho, heavy policing keeps the area generally very safe (though not free from constant entreaties to buy or give).  There is, however, an area which should be off-limits to anybody who doesn't know what they could be getting into by entering it, and that is the area to the right of Praça da Sé as one enters the praça, and to right of Terreiro de Jesus as one enters from Praça da Sé.  The first street parallel to Praça da Sé is okay during the day, it's the electronics shop district, but by night this street and certainly those deeper into this area should definitely be avoided.  Quite frankly, they look like they should be avoided, and it's beyond me what runs through the minds of those hare-brained tourists who consider wandering these unwelcoming-looking streets at all! The far side of this area (called vinte-e-oito -- twenty-eight -- by the locals, after one of the principal streets running through it -- Rua 28 de Dezembro -- also known as Rua dos Tijolos) is defined by the Ladeira de São Francisco.  This is the street that descends from the Igreja de São Francisco to the right as one faces the church, heading straight down to the infamous Rua 28 de Dezembro. 

You definitely enter at your own risk! Ironically enough, one is far less likely to encounter problems in the vast majority of Salvador's innumerous poor neighborhoods than in (or on the outskirts of) the tourist magnets.  I don't mean that a gaggle of camera-toting tourists looking like they've lost their way wouldn't attract unwanted attention.  Rather that where the money is, those that would have it go.


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