Shopping in Salvador

Times Staff Writer

We arrived at Salvador, the same way the Portuguese did in 1549: lured by the bay. Then we shopped. Travelers Cheques - which seem like Monopoly money - were exchanged for another type of play money, the Brazilian real. One dollar of our currency is worth 2.2 of theirs, even more on the black market.

The paper flew into the hands of shopkeepers and beggars, latte makers and taxi drivers. Plastic shopping bags were stuffed with yellow soccer jerseys that had "Ronaldo" printed across the back as well as gifts for future birthdays and holidays and presents for everyone we've ever met. We grabbed pretty much anything that dazzled, dangled or looked dangerous.

It's easy to take home everything if you don't have to worry about packing it all up for months.

Weighed down by hammocks (is there a way to hang them in the cabins?), students returned to the ship long enough to unload, then fly off to Rio or the Amazon. Some stayed closer to the mother ship, but not necessarily to do what mother would like. Just as they did in Venezuela, they threw caution and customs to the wind. They paraglided. They repelled into pitch-black canyons. They spent the night in 40-degree weather wearing only shorts and T-shirts and packing Pringles.

A few had their cameras stolen. The police recovered two cameras after the thieves took photos of themselves and left the images in the cameras before they sold them.

One student said he was mugged. This is how it happened: He asked a man on the street for directions to a balloon shop. Since the man couldn't speak English and the student couldn't speak Portuguese, they communicated through pantomime and gestures. Somehow, the man understood "balloon" and escorted the student to a store. The student wanted a big bag of balloons and the man, working with the salesperson, said it would cost $10. Then the man said there was an extra $5 charge. The student didn't think the bag of balloons was worth $15, so he asked the man to take him to a hardware store instead. There, they bought a rope. Then the student wanted to go to a grocery store to buy whipped cream and so they did.

The student then changed his mind about the balloons and decided that $15 was a good price, so he asked the man to take him back to the first store. The man did and the student handed over the $15 to give to the salesperson. It was then that the man took the money and started to run down the street. The student, who is about 6-foot-3, chased after the man, yelling "Thief! Thief!" When he caught up to the man, he grabbed his arms. The man bit him, picked up a rock "the size of a baseball," said the student, threatened to hit him with it and then ran away again. "I'm out $15, but it really could have been worse," said the student, shaking his head.

Why did he need those items? Some kind of school project? No, he said, explaining with all seriousness: The balloons were for a water balloon fight; the rope for a tug-of-war contest; the whipped cream for a pie-throwing contest. All to be held on the tight-quarters of the ship.

Imagine the gestures the student made to explain his needs to someone who isn't conversant in frat party. I think I know why the Brazilian man ran away.

Next: Hanging with the archbishop

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