To the north of Salvador da Bahia the beaches stretch out along the coast below the toll road up on the ridge known as the BA099 or the Estrada do Coco. Growing coconut palms is still a major agricultural activity here. The beaches are famous too – Porto da Barra and our destination, Itapoã or Itapuã, have been immortalised in song.

The coast suffers from classic characterless ‘ribbon’ development, but it does boast historic landmarks like the lighthouse fort at Barra, built on a rocky spur which catches the breezes.

The Farol da Barra or Farol de Santo Antônio 

Since 1686, the lighthouse warns of a sandbar (barra) where a galleon was wrecked.

Entrance to the Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra

These days the message is a warning of another kind. Here’s the mascot for the FIFA 2014 World Cup, an endangered three-banded armadillo from the North-East which rolls itself into a ball when threatened.

Living statue and ‘Brazuca’

Organisers plan to use one of three names for him, to be announced in November, but an Adidas-sponsored FIFA survey suggests that he will be known as Brazuca, an informal word for Brazilian national pride.

The Atlantic coast or orla signals a discernible change in climate, cooler and windier than in the lee of the Bahia de Todos os Santos.

Along the orla

At Itapoã there are other attractions besides the beach. The Lagoa de Abaeté is a freshwater lake set in sand dunes not far from the coast. For followers of candomble, it’s an important place for the goddess Iemanja who rules the sea and bodies of water.

Lagoa do Abaeté with white horse – abaeté meaning ‘real man’ in indigenous Tupi 

More prosaically, it’s also been a spot for washerwomen to carry out their work since the days when it was a small fishing village. In the late 1970s regulated and unregulated development grew, and people took sand for building work or actually lived in the dunes. The lagoon and dunes, and a washerwomen’s association, were made a metropolitan park in 1993.

At the Abaeté gazebo, with keyboard player and roving singer left

The park includes a gazebo which overlooks the lake. It’s open on all sides, with canopies over tables and chairs, and a good number of cafes and purveyors of food and drink. Every cafe has its own musical entertainment – food, drink and especially live music are essential for an enjoyable time in Brasil. As always, the audience of regulars knew the words and sang along.

Shady side of the gazebo, with seafood-sponsored musicians

Judging from a glimpse of the favelas in the back blocks of Itapoã, this was a clearly more pleasant place to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.

The usual vendor of refrigerantes or cold drinks – taped styrofoam box full of ice and cans – with message on kiosk: “Jesus leads to truth and life”

The Bahian speciality acarajé made with ground black-eyed peas deep-fried in palm oil is cooked and sold around the gazebo. A staple of Bahian cuisine said to be the Yoruba inspiration for Arabic falafel, it’s offered to the gods in candomble ceremonies.

Legend in her own lunchtime, vendedora de acarajé Ana

We had driven very slowly up to Abaeté past a school which was serving as a polling station, since the state elections were being held that day. The school was thronged with people who had been bussed in by the political parties to vote, and the footpaths were a blizzard of voting cards.

Drifts of election cards along the footpaths, thrown out of trucks in handfuls

Officially alcohol can’t be sold on election days until the voting has closed, but in Bahia the restriction is not taken seriously. In the balmy air, warm with the occasional breeze, scented with the blossoms of the park, sitting in the shade with a drink and live music to enjoy, the travails of politics seemed to retreat to their proper perspective.

Flowers vivid against Bahian sky