Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Ho Da Jo

Salvador, Brazil


There is a certain pattern to the OC's arrival in a new town. Once the bureaucracy (sometimes as complicated as international customs, sometimes as easy as stepping off the bus) is concluded, we crack open The Lonely Planet and look for somewhere to sleep that is a healthy and delicious casserole of location, price, and amenities. And so it was with Salvador. I happened to be the chairman of the housing committee this time around and deemed it best to stay in the historic city center in a particularly well-regarded hostel. A half hour and 50 reais later we were standing at the right spot, but the place was either closed or full or just not accepting guests of our stature.

Two gentlemen approached with offers of assistance. One was a toothless vagrant with a wandering eye and an odor that could only be described as super unleaded.
The other was either a policeman or one of the village people. Despite a strong sense of fear and revulsion, we went with the copper. He lead us down a hill and to the entrance of the Pousada Da Jo, a small hotel in a restored mansion house. It did not take long to have a look around and negotiate a price. They cut us a slight deal on a double room as we were taking it for 7 nights. Our quarters were not quite ready, so we were ushered upstairs to have a bit of a late breakfast.

It was then that we met Jo. At first, I thought she was some sort of oversexed cleaning lady with a feeding fetish, but it turns out that she was just the oversexed owner with a strong sense of hospitality. Between shoulder rubs, ass grabs, and suggestive glances, she stuffed us full of pancakes, coffee, fruit, and cane liquor. It did not end with this enthusiastic greeting. Jo never let up one bit during our stay. On one memorable occasion, I was woken up for breakfast by the leaping arrival of Jo and an avalanche of kisses. You had to mind your butt, as a pinch was never far at hand. She was like Charlie - you never saw it coming.

Jo was only one of a cast of characters that inhabited and operated the Pousada. Her trusty gay lieutenant and pet Willy was in charge of cooking and a bit of washing. He and Jo shared a room (the notorious Cuarto 7, think House of The rising Sun) - Willy apparently sleeping curled up on her feet. Always present at the front desk was one or both of "the gorillas" - two hefty fellas of 17 and 18 years named Edge and Davidson that provided the triple service of security, handymen, and comic relief. They had an intensely sophomoric interest in making Jason say dirty things in Portuguese. Davidson nicknamed me Jack Bauer (of 24 fame) for reasons that are not clear. Our relationship was based almost entirely on discussions about terrorist activity in and around Salvador. There were a few other minor characters like the grumpy laundry lady, the serious younger girl that handled the money, some skinny gay guy whit a nice smile and a strong handshake, and Andre 3000 - a smiley man not directly connected with the pousada, but a frequent beer-swilling occupant of its doorway. Altogether, it was quite a cast.

Our hostess did an excellent job of keeping us well fed and watered. A hearty breakfast was served every day complete with sweet and savoury foods, piles of fruit, and bottomless coffee. I rarely felt the need for lunch. If Jo was not personally accompanying us to dinner, she was telling us just where to go to get the best grub. Usually around 6, you could score a few free cocktails if you were willing to put in some time on the chopping and squashing necessary to prepare a caipahrina (sp?). Bottles of beer were always going around in the early evening and just about every night a crew was assembled to hit one of the number of parties going on in the lead up to Carnaval proper. She even took us shopping and treated us to a snack at McDonald's.

There were only a few negatives to life at Jo's. Most evident was the lack of air conditioning. I woke up every day already getting my sweat on. It would have been nice to have a few perspiration free moments each day, as Salvador is a damp brow kind of hood. Space was tight and largely communal, so one was forced to converse with the constant stream of folks coming and going. This might be considered a bonus, but at this late stage of the OC I am getting tired of explaining our route and getting harangued over the antics of the Bush administration. The biggest annoyance, though, was intimately tied to the charm of the place. The sitcom-esque hijinks of the staff were always good for a laugh, but you just could not escape them. You had to leave in order to find a quiet spot to read or write without being interrupted by a discussion about a possible bomb and the urgent need for Mr. Bauer's assistance.

You take the good, you take the bad, you taken 'em both, and there you have, the Pousada Da Jo. It was a good place to relax for a bit before the Carnaval madness and a most welcome change from the air-conditioned but anonymous hotels and mosquito-filled huts we frequented in Brazil's interior.


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