Eleanor Hughes is mesmerised by the sound of Brazilian history.
The Candomble ceremony I witnessed last night, shortly after arriving in Salvador da Bahia was bewildering.
An Afro-Brazilian religion, brought to Brazil by West Africans during the slave trade which began around the mid-16th century, it's a mixture of Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs, and Catholicism.
White-dressed followers lunged and twirled on a red-painted floor strewn with eucalyptus smelling leaves in the hot, claustrophobic room of a suburban house. Eyes rolled back, bodies trembled, some shook violently as if possessed. Bizarrely, popcorn was thrown around. Almost unabated, men beat drums. My ears still ring from what reminded me of African tribal beats. It had to be well above the decibel safety standard.
This morning, Candomble followers are distributing popcorn from straw cradles on street corners in Pelourinho, the historical centre of Salvador da Bahia and a Unesco World Heritage site. It's perhaps a bit early for the drumming.
The aroma of urine in the car-wide, cobbled streets befits the black mould growing on walls. Bougainvillea and yellow and green ribbons hang across roads brightening the decay. A good waterblast of much of the city wouldn't go amiss.
Perhaps it's the climate. It's year-round hot and sweaty, day and night, with occasional downpours. Salvador, founded in 1549 by the Portuguese, was the capital of Brazil for two centuries. The restored 17th and 18th-century pastel-coloured buildings, picturesque with wooden shutters and wrought-ironed narrow balconies, suggest it would have been grand back then.
Painted scenes on the dark wooden ceiling of San Francisco church's entrance hall are still bright, reminding me slightly of those in the Sistine chapel. And inside the church I'm dazzled. Intricately carved figures, intertwined designs, pillars and more, are all covered in gold leaf. I've never seen so much gold.
Outside, red and yellow umbrellas cover restaurant tables on Lago do Cruzeiro de Sao Francisco, where tourists wander and bright paintings of Afro-Brazilian figures entice. I buy cashew nuts from a man selling bags of them from a tray hung around his neck.
Further along in Terreiro de Jesus, the main square, the morning has progressed. Drumming has started. Capoeira players make martial arts moves to the rhythms of a drum, tambourine, and the twang of a berimbau, a long arched stick connected to a tight string with a bowl at its base. The moves would put my back out. Developed by African slaves, the capoeira dance was outlawed in 1890 after its moves were used to commit crimes by gangs trained in the martial art. It was forced underground until the 1930s when the President declared it the only true Brazilian sport.
An Afro-Brazilian woman in an orange hooped skirt, orange scarf wrapped around her head approaches me, her bangles and necklaces jingling. I can have my photo taken with her for a tip. I agree. Her "tip" becomes a charge of 10 reals, around $4. She grins a white-toothed grin. I shrug and hand it over.
Young boys tie fitas, thin coloured ribbons, around my wrists, insisting they are gifts. The good luck charms are tied with three knots - a wish is meant to be made with each knot and the fita worn until the ribbon falls off in order for the wish to be granted. Once tied however, money is requested. It's all done with a smile, in good humour. Police look on.
Food stalls in the square open up as midday nears, some advertising acaraj, a traditional black-eyed pea fitter with shrimp and chilli inside. They look good, but not liking shrimp I give them a miss. It's too hot to eat anyway.
I pass by stalls in Praca Se where T-shirts, and handbags made from can tabs, are sold. Hair-braiders ply their trade beneath sun umbrellas and red-uniformed Kibon ice-cream vendors sell from wheeled chillers. More capoeira dancers perform near a statue of Zumbi, an Afro-Brazilian warrior who fought the Portuguese against slavery. Drums of all shapes and sizes hang outside storefronts with berimbau and colourful maracas amongst them.
Nearby is Elevador Lacerda, an art-deco elevator that gives a quick trip down a cliff-side from the upper city to Cidade Baixa, the lower city. I get a view over the Bay of All Saints. On the still, blue water, yachts and launches lie anchored. Five million African slaves arrived in Brazil between the 16th and 19th centuries, the majority of them to this harbour.
Palms and a few green trees add freshness to the slightly dilapidated buildings in Cidade Baixa, where I visit Mercado Modelo, an artisan market housed in what was once the Customs House. Slaves were housed here on arrival from Africa. Built in 1861, today it consists of two floors and 259 stalls. Wandering the wide, tiled aisles, I'm invited in by friendly, non-persistent sellers to view leather products, clothing, embroidered tablecloths, Afro-Brazilian figurines, wooden instruments, paintings, hammocks. I spend a good hour there, it's colourful and fun.
Back up in Cidade Alta, the late afternoon brings the sound of beating drums from upper, open-sashed windows. I wander unevenly cobbled back streets between pastel, two and three-storey terraced buildings before coming across squares where groups of youths with shiny metal drums practice tinny, catchy tunes.
I find my way to Largo de Pelourinho, a triangular-shaped, cobbled square, once the site of slave whippings. Downhill on the right is the powder-blue Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos. This, the Church of the Rosary of the Blacks, was built by slaves in the 18th century.
The interior resembles a theatre. Red-curtained, narrow balcony-like stalls are high above the crowd gathered for the 6pm Tuesday mass. With no room in the pews, I stand. Images of black saints among white look on as drum and tambourine music has me almost dancing while a congregation of tourists and locals sing and clap or sway their upraised arms. It's the liveliest mass I've ever witnessed.
Muffled drumming reverberates in the humid evening as I dine, seated in a cobbled road lit by large black lanterns. A slight breeze cools, I sip on a lime caipirinha while awaiting my meal.
My stroll back to the pousada is interrupted as I follow the sounds of pulsating drums. In the orange glow of a street lantern on a sloping street, I join a small crowd. Drummers beat red, green, yellow and black striped timbal, surdo and caixa. In time with the rhythm I bounce from one foot to the other, mesmerised by the surdo player throwing the huge drum into the air while still beating it. The beat is intoxicating, I stay a while.
Pousada-bound again, I find a bigger crowd gathered at a street intersection where a women drummers perform. The historic heart of the city is pounding.
Several steep streets away, my room faces Pelourinho. Shutters open in the hope of cool air, I lie staring out at dots of golden light in the black night listening, well past midnight, to the distant sound of Salvador da Bahia's Afro-Brazilian beat.