Hate me if you will as I type these words, but as I exited the hot tub – muscles relaxed – on the deck (of our upgraded room with all the toys) my Ipod shuffled to a song to which I hadn’t listened in years and it reminded me that I had returned to the scene of the crime in Bahia, Brazil. Or as my wife preferred to call it: “la ruta de la enfermedad.”
It’s fascinating how the brain and indeed the pre-frontal cortex can cause such powerful recollections and thus it was with British Sea Power’s “It Ended on an Oily Stage” and how this track took me back to the depths of my struggles with hemorrhagic dengue and malaria in 2006 in Ilheus, Itacare, Itabuna and Salvador in Bahia, Brazil. And so a song with no relevance at all to Brazil has become the soundtrack to my illness along with the perhaps more appropriate ditty by the Eels’ “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)”.
So yes, we were in Brazil for a fortnight recently. Rather than make this a list of hotels frequented and meals eaten, I’ll say that my return to the northeast was a wonderful reminder of how special this region is, and while it almost killed me back in 2006, I can now put this fully justified grudge behind me. I was able to stop by a hostel in Itacare and visit the owner who can be credited in rushing me to hospital with her sister in a private car. Of course, she made a point when she said that an appropriate thank you would have been to have stayed in her place!
Aside from my very real fear of contracting dengue once again, one thing at the fore of my mind was how much everything had changed. Sure, 8 years have passed, but Salvador has witnessed a construction boom unlike any other I have seen. And it’s not just the capital city of Bahia, money has been pumped into the tourist destinations beyond Salvador such as Trancoso and Itacare. The latter was a quirky and accommodating haunt for surfers back in 2006, now there are luxury gated condominiums along the main drag and chain hostels taking over. God forbid I mention that there’s even a Subway sandwich outlet as well?
And of course, being a football fan I couldn’t help but peer at the endless construction, the traffic and the airport chaos, and think about how Brazil will cope with the World Cup in June. Frankly, we all know that it will be one enormous party and the Brazilians will be the most gracious of hosts, but, and herein lays the “but”, the transport infrastructure may just collapse. During our stay another worker on the stadium in Manaus was killed on the job.
Inevitably comparisons arose between the boom in Brazil and the construction taking place in Colombia, not to mention the desperate need for infrastructure. How would Colombia fare with a World Cup within her borders? Not terribly well, one fears. Brazil has made some incredible strides forward in the eight years I have been away from the northeast, but, like Colombia, she too has elections in 2014 and big decisions need to be made.