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They Call Me Tommy Morrison

Two days until the first day of winter here in Salvador de Bahìa, and the temperature has already dropped down to a nippy 31C. Please send my mukluks.

I have been in Salvador for four days now, and I am still trying to get a complete impression of it. The problem is that between day and night here, it seems like a completely different city. In fact the difference is like... ah, nevermind.

During the day, Salvador just comes across as a huge tourist town, where peddlers are constantly all over you, selling you things you would never want; people telling you where a good place to go is, then trying to charge you for being your guide; others taking your photo, then charging you for the service (which is much cheaper than the option of trying to get your camera back). I accepted this kind of tomfoolery in Indonesia, but here, which really is a first-world city, it doesn't play as well for me.

What's more, this the first time I have any reservations about traveling in off-season. There are other travelers in town, but not many - you may not see other westerners for hours at a time - so as soon as I am spotted in town, I instantly become The Great White Hope, and am flocked to by everybody selling everything. It's hardly awful, just generally tiresome.

Night, however, is a completely different matter. Around nine o'clock, the downtown area, The Pelourinho, turns into a huge party. Bands play at virtually every bar, all different styles of music, and people dancing in the bars, out of windows, in the streets. They close off most of the roads so there is more room to dance and party, and things don't really start to get busy until about 1 a.m.

On the first night, and most after that have been similar, I wandered from bar to bar, listening to Samba, Bossa Nova, Hank Williams-esque country crooning in Portuguese (though it makes me laugh in any language), and a popular African-style music called Forro (pronounced Foh-ho) that was being performed by some guy that was the spitting image of the Brazilian Randy Bachmann. It is also refreshing to see that The Old Drunk Guy Dancing Alone In The Middle Of The Floor is a multi-cultural phenomenon; in fact, I haven´t been kicked out for doing it in any country yet.

The food here is an incredible blend of flavours and spices so hot, I don't know how they can even be eaten. Typical foods are barbecued goat leg, spicy shrimp in a fried flour pastry and huge platters of mixed seafoods, all of them delicious.

The music, still, is the highlight. Throughout the night, bands of 10-12 people parade up and down the street in colorful costumes, with people marching up and down beside them, just dancing and heading whereever the band heads to. A very common tribal martial art here, Capoeira, based on ancient slave rituals, is accompanied by drums and a berimbão - a stringed iunstrument - when it is performed. And the best, to body, was on Friday afternoon, and every Friday, Os Filhos De Gandhy ("The Children Of Ghandi") march through the streets, people dancing in tow, dressed in white tunics and drumming and trumpeting throughout the main square. Ghandi would have been proud, except for that whole vow of silence thing.

Theft is rife in Salvador, unfortunately, much as in the rest of Brazil; of my four roommates in my hostel here, one was held up at gunpoint and two others were chased through the streets at 4 a.m. but managed to get away. The interesting thing is the politeness of the thieves: one took the time, despite the police being on the way, to help the victim get his insulin out of his backpack; another returned minutes after the robbery to give the young American one Real so he could at least catch the bus home. Kind of interesting.

Getting robbed in South America is hardly an inevitability, but it is exceedingly difficult to be more than one degree of separation away from someone who has been.

For the record, I am officially Italian. The Brazilians all think I am from Italy and are so convinced of it, many of them simply take to saying "Bongiorno" as I walk past them. I'm thinking of emigrating.

Besides spending my nights partying, I have been walking through the city during the days here. The best sites to see, besides witnessing live Capoeira, have been the old Catholic churches, which are an incredible mixture of Baroque and Rococo architecture. They are exceptionally impressive, though when inside I part of me can't help but think: "Man, these people killed a lot of Indians when they came over here." I guess I have ruled out Heaven as an option.

Other than that I have spent a day at Projeto Tamar, a Sea Turtle conservation site 1.5 hours away, and visiting various African cultural museums in town.

Last night, however, I experienced my favourite individual event in Brazil so far: I went to a soccer game. I went to a game two weeks ago in Brazil, which was fun, but last night was the state championships, between two local teams, so I had to go. It included everything you would imagine when you think of Brazilian soccer: 60,000 crazed fans drumming and waving flags; massive fireworks displays; fans lighting flares in the stands; armed guards being pelted with beer cans as they try to break up fights in the stands; players literally having to jump out of the way of fireworks that are shot onto the field; feeling a concrete stadium shake as 60,000 people jump up and down; fans dancing on the ledge with no protection between them and a 40-foot drop; armed guards having to escort the referees on and off the field for fear of danger from the fans. Unbelievable.

All my bank and credit cards continue to fail me, and it is still very difficult to change traveller's cheques anywhere, making plans be determinate on whether or not I can get cash to go. And this is in Brazil, the most first-world of all the countries I will be in the next couple of months (others being Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia). Did anyone know that impending doom smells like barbecued goat leg?

I will probably head inland to Lençois next, to do some mountain hiking and caving, and then up north to Natal for some dune buggy riding. After that, I'll try and find a way into the Amazon. These plans, of course, will be different by the time I hit the send button.