I´d heard about Olinda from another traveller I met on the way to Sao Luis. She´s from Berlin and we´d spent quite a bit of time talking about Berlin. It was a city which really stunned me, and I was telling her that I want to go back to explore the cultural side of Berlin. Since it´s cheap a lot of young, creative people have moved there making it very hip in Europe. She told me that I should definitely go to Olinda because it´s got a great history of being an artist city.
Olinda´s on the northeast coast of Brazil and it was about 24 hrs on a direct bus. It´s essentially a suburb of the big city of Recife, so it took a while to get here. At the tourist office in Recife, I asked about a cheap hostel to stay in Olinda and was told to go to a place called Casa du Hilton. It´s my first time in staying at a place called the Hilton! It´s an interesting place though. It´s run by 2 young Brazillians, and is very basic but clean. Most of the other people staying here are Brazillian, except for 2 Germans (they´re everywhere) so it´s a nice change from some of the other hostels/posadas I´ve been staying in.
After the long bus ride, I was quite tired so I took a short nap. Spent the next half of the day, walking around aimlessly and was surprised by Olinda. I was a bit wary of coming here and expected to see a few art galleries geared for tourists and tonnes of foreigners. It´s quite unlike what I expected. There aren´t too many tourists (local or foreign) and the town is teeming with small art galleries. Most of the galleries are old houses where the artists are either working inside or sitting on porch staring at the passersby. It was easy to walk into any one and just try chatting with the owners, who don´t seem too desperate for you to buy their stuff. They seemed happy just living here.
The whole town is built around a small hill and feels like a big art exhibition. A lot of art on the walls, brightly coloured houses next to each other, a spectacular view from the top of the hill and quite a few old, rundown but comfortable cafes. It´s not too expensive either, and it´s very common to see a lot of old and young people just hanging around. Late in the evening, one of the cafes had a small band playing and it looked like it was a regular feature. The food and beer were cheap, and most of the people seemed to know each other. The whole place has a very authentic feel of being an artist colony. I spent 3 days here, doing nothing apart from wandering aimlessly through the streets, stumbling into small ateleries and enjoying the views. Since it´s the low season, there aren´t many tourists around, so I´ve been lucky to enjoy Olinda without any crowds. Even the hostel I´m staying in is full of Brazilians, and going out with them at night has been fun.
I´d spent 3 months living in Montmartre just before heading out to South America, and Montmartre has a history of being an artist enclave. Unfortunately, it´s become very gentrified and expensive and it´s driven away a lot of creative people. In cities like New York, London and Paris it seems almost impossible for someone to survive now as an artist, unless you move off to a cheaper suburb. How much longer, I wonder, before Olinda gets taken over by developers and yuppies?