By Rachel Hartman
Adventure Number 1: Lavagem do Bonfim
I carefully tied the white bracelet to my wrist. Three knots, as instructed, wishes laced in between each. I briefly glanced over my right shoulder to find a group of men dressed up in spooky costumes. A bit frightened, I briefly glanced over my left shoulder to find a group of women dressed up in large, white dresses. I was thoroughly confused about my surroundings as well as the fact that everyone, including myself, was wearing white. But, I was there. I had my camera out, ready to shoot. My sneakers on, ready to walk.
Not knowing what was going on, we waited around for the locals to lead the way. And so it began. The four mile walk to the Bonfim Church for a ceremony we knew nothing about. All I was informed of was that the people of Salvador come together to celebrate the washing of Bonfim Church (Lavagem do Bonfim).
A headache and three hours later, we finally arrived at the church. All ten-thousand of us. Thousands of hands were in the air ceremoniously. Tears streamed down the faces of the locals. I was amazed at how passionate the people were about this event. Just minutes ago, we were walking amongst drunks and musicians and dancers. And now? People in prayer with and for one another.
While amongst the crowd, we managed to lose one of our group members. She was found two minutes later with the other half of the volunteers. Together, we walked off to find a taxi back to the base house. Absolute disaster. Despite the fact that we asked the police to point out where we would be able to catch a few taxis, we managed to be walking around in what a New Yorker would call, “The ghetto.” I felt completely safe because it was the middle of the day and there were people walking around, but the vast majority of the group did not. I am pretty sure that every single local that was on the street where we were searching for a taxi managed to stare us down. After all, it was quite obvious that we had no idea where we were going and we did not belong. Forty-five minutes later, we got our act together and walked to a main intersection to catch three taxis within two minutes.
It gets better. From our location, the taxi drive should have taken about ten minutes. Maximum. Of course all of the roads that lead directly to the house were closed for the march to the church. That taxi ride was the most frightening ride of my life. There were four of us in my taxi. All girls. As much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I was very doubtful that we were not going home. Five minutes into the car ride, we were in the middle of the favelas. Not somewhere we should be. Not somewhere the car should be stopped in traffic. Not somewhere the car should be without gas in the tank. Or with four female tourists in the car. Forget the fact that we almost did not make it up some of the extremely steep hills and half-way down one of them. Our main concern was the fact that our gas tank was on empty. But, once again, we made it home safe and sound (although we were all extremely nauseous from the two hour ride).