National Geographic : 1942 Oct
Air Cruising Through New Brazil A National Geographic Reporter Spots Vast Resources Which the Republic's War Declaration Adds to Strength of United Nations BY HENRY ALBERT PHILLIPS T HE geographical immensity of my pro posed circuit of Brazil did not strike home to me until I called on the Ford Rubber Plantation people in Rio in quest of information. "You would like to visit the Ford Planta tion, eh?" they said, in an ominous way. "Have you any idea where it is and how far?" I confessed my knowledge was hazy. "For the first 2,500 miles you follow the coastline north, around the hump of Brazil, to Belem, capital of the State of Para. At Belem you turn left and go up the Amazon for another 500 or 600 miles-to Santarem. There you turn off into the Tapaj6z River and pro ceed for nearly another hundred miles. Traf fic on the Tapaj6z is by native trading boats, which are few and far between, or by a steam launch once a month-maybe." With a healthy respect for my undertaking, I set out by air from Rio de Janeiro at 6 o'clock one morning on the first leg of my 10,000-mnile circuit.* Exactly 6 hours and 15 minutes after leav ing the capital, we taxied down into an arm of the sea at Salvador, also called Bahia. Both titles are derived from an early designation: Bahia de Sao Salvador de Todos os Santos, or Bay of the Holy Saviour of All Saints. Bahia "Capital" of Many Things Brazilian Salvador must be considered as much for what it was as for what it is today. Its rich history came back to me gradually as I strolled through the Lower Town and gazed toward the Upper Town. That skyline nearly 300 feet above me had changed little since the days of the 16th-century building boom. I could count at least threescore of its hundred or so churches. For two and a half centuries Bahia, first capital of Brazil, remained the capital. It has been the "capital" of many things Brazilian. I was reminded that it once was the slave capital of the continent when I saw all about me black burden-bearers "toting" everything on their heads, from newspapers to pianos. A distinguished marker of the time when it was the ecclesiastical capital is the old Cathedral, which still stands in majesty around the corner from my up-to-the-minute hotel * See Map Supplement, South America, with this issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. with its too-active radio, its bootblack stand, and trolley cars almost cutting off my toes at the door. Unfortunately, the district of onetime reli gious processions has sunk into disrepair. A street altar with a cross of iron is half lost amidst profane surroundings. On evening strolls my appreciation was cen tered on Salvador as the tobacco capital as I smoked one of the famous Bahian cigars. The city is most active today perhaps as the cacao capital. The modernistic Cacao Institute building illustrates the story of cacao like a world's fair exhibit, with thousands of bags of cacao going through the adjoining works on their way around the world. Walking up Salvador's steep cliff was diffi cult. Along the way, however, were sights and sounds and smells I shall long remember: per fumed gardens, historical bastion walls, sacred shrines, mango trees, and mysterious walls over which floated snatches of song in the words and rhythm of Africa. Salvador citizens seemed to work all day in the Lower Town and play nearly all night in the Upper. Mornings I would go down to the warehouses, wharves, alleyways, and mar kets and enjoy all the atmospheric clutter that goes with a tropical seaport. Sometimes I used the glorified electric ele vator plying between the Upper and Lower Towns (page 504). Then again I would board the rickety tram to go up and down. It had the eccentric movement of a balky mule, plus shuddering brakes that almost shook my head off my body. Attending the "Barefoot Mass" An outstanding experience was my visit to the "barefoot Mass" at the celebrated church in the Bomfim suburb overlooking the bend in the bay. I went by a bus which took on passengers at every stop sign until we were packed in like anchovies. There were numerous old mammies in stiffly starched white frills, and younger women arrayed in fiesta finery. At the end of the line the motley crowd milled up a broad, palm-lined avenue walled with rich balustrades and overhung with gar dens. We could look down into the sea and into the gardened estates of potentates of church and commerce of bygone days.