Returning to the Scene of the Crime

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.”

Itacare, Brazil

Triririca Beach, Itacare, Bahia, Brazil

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)”.

Brazilian food

Interesting foods enjoyed and some not even tested

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!

memory lane

The journey down “illness” memory lane or la ruta de la enfermidad

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?


The jemanja festival: beer was drunk, revelry had and an “interesting” DJ spun some records.

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.

World Cup in Brazil

How is Brazil going to cope with the World Cup?

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.




About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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7 Responses to Returning to the Scene of the Crime

  1. Richard, thank you for this sobering reminder regarding life-threatening diseases in tropical areas. I won't be visiting Brazil this time around, but do have an important question regarding travel in Colombia:
    To the best of your knowledge, are there presently any areas in Colombia that should be avoided at all costs due to the threat of contracting dengue fever or malaria?

    • Richard says:

      Malaria is contained within jungle areas here in Colombia and dengue is all over the lowlands, it's just about being aware.

      • Thanks for your reply, Richard. A bit of clarification. please. When you say "lowlands," how low are we talking about? In other words, at what altitude does dengue fever cease to be a threat in Colombia? And one more question: were you following the typical guidelines for dengue prevention in Bahia six years ago: long sleeves, long pants, mosquito repellent, etc.?

        • Richard says:

          I was living in Brazil but yes, I was aware and very careful but if you are bitten you are bitten! Anything below 1000m could possibly have dengue. All of the Caribbean coast certainly has outbreaks of dengue depending on the rainy seasons.

  2. steveh says:

    dengue is bad news, and unfortunately growing (and under-reported) in Colombia, thanks to the private health system that often fails to report notifiable diseases. FYI some stats from recent years show Tolima and Cauca as the worst-hit (usually rural or peri-urban areas) more stats at
    Recent research suggest the aedes mosquito that carries the virus is becoming resistant to pesticides used in water tanks to control it, also bad news. The problem here is people often collect rainwater or store piped water in open tanks or the clothes-washing 'pilas' in their house – where the mosquitos live. In Australia and India there are laws and building codes requiring mosquito-proof tanks, and a lively market in mossie protection (screens, flap-valves for tanks). Here it seem there is nothing similar on the market. OK, it would take many years for everyone to mossie-proof tanks but we need to make a start some time!
    Years ago I worked with a Mexican entomologist who told me ´aedes mosquitos are lazy flyers, so if you dont want to get dengue live on the third floor´. I am not sure if this is scientific or not, but if you are staying in hotels in dengue areas might be wise to get a room upstairs!
    The aedes mossies are morning and evening biters, to say that a mossie net on the bed wont help much for dengue. Use repellent (DEET) and wear long trousers and socks and shoes when out in the evening (the mossie is probably looking for a drink just the same time you are taking your sunset beer!).

    The good news is that mostly malaria strain here in Colombia is vivax. Vivax is a headache but wont normally kill you. In theory Falciparum (cerebral malaria) is also present but much less common. This can kill if untreated. I have spent years in low-land areas here and never got malaria, and never used pills, but always use bed-nets at night, long trousers are sunset, and repellent

  3. Malaria is contained within jungle areas here in Colombia and dengue is all over the lowlands, it's just about being aware

  4. Delora says:

    Thank you for making the sincere try to explain this. I think very robust about it and wish to be told more. If it’s OK, as you reach extra extensive wisdom, could you mind adding more posts similar to this one with additional info? It would be extremely helpful and helpful for me and my colleagues.

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