Praia do Forte, Bahia
The front desk guy at my hostel in Salvador told me it was easy and that no one had ever come back reporting any issue. I guess that means my experience was unique.
I didn't have a phone, but it wouldn't of helped anyway; Google Maps said no routes existed. Instead, I wrote down front desk guy's instructions on a piece of paper and marked up a tourist map from the hostel. The instructions sounded easy enough and if all went well I would arrive at Praia do Forte in an hour and a half.
To find the bus, I had to ask a few different people for help. Nobody spoke English and I don't speak Portuguese, but I finally managed to get to the bus I was looking for. It wasn't at the bottom of the elevator, like front desk guy said it would be; instead, it was a 10 minute walk down the road.
A few minutes after the bus pulled away from the stop, I asked the driver, "Praia do Forte?" and pointed at my written instructions. By now the bus was speeding and it was almost impossible to stand up. He looked at my piece of paper and shook his head. I don't know exactly what he was saying but his body language was clear: you're on the wrong bus. (Repeating my question several times did not change his response.)
To my ears, the name Bahia sounded equally exotic as dangerous — for me, that was part of the appeal in going there. But now I was faced with the reality of a potentially dangerous situation. There I was on a bus to who knows where with no map, no GPS, and no way to communicate. I could feel my heart beating faster as I looked out the window at my surroundings and realized that getting off was not option.
Salvador is a place that has armed police trucks on every corner in the tourist areas and now I — a solitary gringo without a clue — was far away from that protection. What do I do? Where am I going? Am I going to die?
I looked around the bus and noticed two backpackers sitting in the last row. Maybe they speak English and maybe they know where we are. Luckily they did...sort of. They confirmed the bus was traveling north (the direction I needed to go) but, unfortunately, they had no idea where Praia do Forte was. I felt slightly better but I was still lost.
Then something amazing happened.
A man in a white uniform shirt and dress pants — he was on his way to work at the airport — smiled and said, "I can help you get there." About an hour later, we got off and waited at the transfer stop together. He showed me which bus to get on. Technically it was a van, not a bus, with no signage on it — just a guy hanging out the sliding door yelling, "Praia do Forte!"
This isn't the first time I've been saved by the kindness and generosity of a stranger while traveling. I'm insanely grateful whenever it happens. It's one of the things that makes traveling so special.
Two hours, an exceedingly full bladder, and many, many stops later, I arrived at my destination— my heart still racing and legs shaking. I spent that afternoon on a secluded beach and woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning to watch the sunrise. Despite all the effort, it was worth it. And in fact, looking back, the journey was the most memorable part. I was after a relaxing beach weekend, but instead I got one hell of an adventure that stretched me well past my comfort zone.