Pelourinho, Salvador da Bahia
I set out on foot for a restaurant about an hour after sunset on Monday, 14 July 2003. I soon got lost. I should have turned around and gone back the way I'd come. Instead I walked on, finding myself on Ave Contorno, the main street leading from Campo Grande in the Upper City to the center of the Lower City.
Halfway down I decided to take a ladeira, a small lane, directly back to the Upper City. I was reassured by the presence of a policeman, a member of the Policia Militar, at the head of the ladeira.
The cop's response to my request for directions was to signal two thugs who knocked and held me down while the cop rifled my pockets and ripped off my watch and pouchete (money belt).
A friendly passerby then took me by the arm and led me to a police car at Praca Castro Alves; those cops drove me to the Policia Militar station in the Pelourinho, where I gave a statement which was entered into a computer. Had they taken me to the Policia Turismo instead, something more might have been done. (Not knowing if policemen protect one another in Brazil as they do in the U S, I didn't mention that one of the robbers was a cop. Otherwise, my ride home -- in a police car -- might not have been so friendly.)
The next night the desk clerk at my hotel called to say that a woman had "found" my credit cards and was waiting in the lobby to return them. (It's a scam friends in New York City have experienced.) I played along and gave the young woman, who had two small children in tow, a small gratuity. (I had, of course, already cancelled the cards.)
Lesson: Warnings about avoiding the ladeiras connecting the Upper and Lower Cities are to be taken seriously. Otherwise, Salvador is still one of my favorite places.
As for Pelourinho, heavy policing keeps the area generally very safe, there is, however, an area which should be off-limits to anybody who doesn't know what they could be getting into by entering it, and that is the area to the right of Praça da Sé as one enters the praça, and to right of Terreiro de Jesus as one enters from Praça da Sé. The first street parallel to Praça da Sé is okay during the day, it's the electronics shop district, but by night this street and certainly those deeper into this area should definitely be avoided. It's beyond me what runs through the minds of those hare-brained tourists who consider wandering these unwelcoming-looking streets at all! The far side of this area (called vinte-e-oito -- twenty-eight -- by the locals, after one of the principal streets running through it -- Rua 28 de Dezembro -- also known as Rua dos Tijolos) is defined by the Ladeira de São Francisco. This is the street that descends from the Igreja de São Francisco to the right as one faces the church, heading straight down to the infamous Rua 28 de Dezembro.
If you are walking around Pelourinho, be carefull, 'cause even being an amazing place, its colours hiddes many dangers, and the most popular are the Hunters !!! These guys are there everyday, like caracters from a comic book story, almost all the time just watching people, or better, their "victms". They first come to you friendly, then try to get your confidence, and once you trust them you're trapped, specially if you're a girl or woman. Men are not out of risk, they have no problem in making you pay them everything they ask you ! They also take you to areas out from Pelourinho, where you'll be an easy target, you'll get robbed, they steal cameras, money, tennis shoes, watches and so on, you're lucky if you come back home with your clothe, so whatch out ! They're so damn crazy that they fight in between to see who will go to the next girl or guy ! The Touristic Police Station in Pelourinho has a book with many snaps showing these troublemakers' faces, so if you have the unpleasant experience of being robbed or hurt by a hunter, go directily there and luckly you will find your agressor. The best you can do if you go to Pelourinho is: to walk prefferencially in groups, not carrying a lot of money, NEVER show your money in a wide open place, not carrying whatches or expansive tennis shoes, and be always wide oppened eyes whereever you go for a drink. You shall also don't give the guys any kind of attention, just say " não, obrigado", and follow your way up. I'm a local, and be sure that following these advices yo will have a good experience at Pelourinho !
PS: Take care also with the capoeira players, many of them are hunters as well ! If they ask you for money for snaps of their public showtimes, DO NOT PAY, 'cause Pelourinho is a free place, and all that you don't buy shall not be payed, if they threat you, just call the police !
Be carefull with the small local children. Most of these have no parents so they're used to robbing to live...avoid showing you have expensive things with you...after all and if you think about it a digital camera will give them enough money to eat for more than a week.
If you can avoid Pelo altogether, it's a much more authentic trip. However, there are fine reasons to go there (Dada's restaurant, great shops hidden away, beautiful colonial architecture), so if you must go, then do so. It's not unsafe, its just a hassle. Schoolchildren will incessantly approach you asking for 1R (often with just a finger raised if they dont speak your language) and women will offer their newborn babies as evidence that they havent enough to eat, while you try to enjoy your lunch at an outside table at the cafe. Dont look to the restaurant for assistance, often, they will expect you to give to the needy. Simply be firm in your refusal, should you choose that route (If you vacation on a budget like I do, you will give a bit, but your hard earned reais are valuable to you!!) and walk away. Often you can be charmed by people claiming to work for AXE BAHIA who will offer you fitas (ribbons) as gifts, at no cost. before you know it, you'll have on a necklace that costs $10R. Not that much, indeed, but when you hadnt planned to spend ANYTHING on a necklace you neither want or need, it can become an annoyance. Be firm in your refusal and dont make any conversation with people in an effort to try to explain why you cant help everyone.
Pelourinho is full of cobblestone streets and steep hills, so be ready. If you come during the summer when it's really hot, be sure to drink enough fluids if you'll be walking around a lot. These hills can be exhausting.
If you are in pelourinho at late night, beware with the boys in the streets, they are not danger only don't give any attention, ignore and walk away , they always ask for change. Nothing to worry.