Bem Vindo a Sao Paulo

Friday, July 09, 2010

It was a long bus ride from Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina into Sao Paulo, a city of 11 million and the heart of Brazil’s economic power. I sat in the back of the bus so that my reclining seat could serve as a cabinet of sorts against the back of the bus for my backpack while I dozed. Unfortunately, there was a rather odd guy who kept moving around and for some time sat across from me in the opposite row and I didn’t trust this cabinet idea as a safety precaution so I kept the bag at my feet, looped around my legs. It didn’t help that I’d really entered Brazil, couldn’t communicate or understand the locals, and had dialled up my paranoia levels according to the amount of crime in Rio particularly. Not that Sao Paulo is exempt from this: in fact, red light robberies are apparently so common (according to fear-mongering Lonely Planet) that it is legal to only slow down at a red and proceed if the way is clear. That should be a law everywhere regardless of robberies but I digress. The bus was about 15 hours and on it I met – briefly – a fellow Canadian named Cheymus. When we arrived he was even more lost than I was as his Cuban companion was going to stay at a friend’s and he had nowhere to go. So he followed me to Vila Madalena hostel. Their website mentioned taking a bus and looking at the metro lines it seemed we’d be doing a lot of backtracking but our attempts at finding a bus to board failed miserably in Portugese-Spanish and we ended up taking the metro there.

The hostel was 12 blocks or so from the metro but thankfully most of that was downhill. The price I had gotten – a pretty fair 18 reals/night or $9 – had been a web promotion and Cheymus had to pay 35 which appears to be a standard price here in Brazil. Ouch! On the plus side, the hostel was located in a pretty safe area and aside from the trek to the metro which could be avoided with a 3 real bus was close to a number of cool sights that might not ordinarily be on the tourist trail. The breakfast was definitely worth waking up for with toast, cheese, fruits, pineapple juice not to mention tea and hot chocolate. But the best part was its quirky but very helpful owner, who was an encyclopaedia of information on things to see. Sao Paulo isn’t somewhere that a lot of tourists linger because there aren’t many ‘sights’ per se but it is a very cultured city and art galleries are everywhere not to mention a $150,000 public art display of graffiti. I had further help from Priscilla, the Brazilian girl I had watched the Argentina-Mexico game with in Buenos Aires, and it turned out that Cheymus had also made some Sao Paulo friends in Buenos Aires so after we arrived we made some calls and plans to meet up with them that evening.

Of course there was still the issue of hunger. We hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day which was about 24 hours ago and in an effort to cut down on prices a bit we took a trip to the market and bought enough pasta, sauce, and sausage to last us for a couple lunches. I don’t cook much backpacking because I tend to visit cheap countries, travel alone (it can be just as pricey to cook for one as to go to restaurants), and mostly enjoy trying local foods and flavours. Well now there were two of us in an expensive country so we did cook. I have to say the first day was decent, but the second day I made the pasta I tinkered with the sauce by throwing in some garlic, Tabasco, and actually a bit of soy as well and it made a huge difference. We also watched the Uruguay-Holland game and I was disappointed to say the least. Uruguay fought hard to the end but just didn’t make it, which would also be the verdict for their third place battle against Germany. Then we met up with Cheymus’ friends, Christina and Bruna and the three of us waited for Priscilla to come by. The five of us headed out to one of Priscilla’s friends’ birthdays and had a great night visiting with my new friends and catching up with Priscilla.

The next day I made that legenday aforementioned pasta by myself – Cheymus was meeting up with Christina who, truth be told, was the only reason he was in Brazil at all for a day in the park. I planned to do some exploring but I had too many things hanging over my head to be taken care of so I spent the day lounging and writing emails to organize my next few weeks back home as well as catch up on emails and things I hadn’t replied to for too long. I watched the Spain-Germany game and was pleased to see that at least SOME Spanish speaking country was still in contention. It was the first time I’d watched Spain since the first round against Switzerland and I think I had commented that they had some talented players that couldn’t play together but what a difference there was now. They were a well-oiled machine. As I write this on a bus to Rio they are playing in the world cup final with Holland and if I can make a prediction I think that Spain will make history today again. We went out that night again with Bruna and Christina – Priscilla would be busy for the rest of my stay with her work. The girls actually treated us (despite protests and almost entering a wrestling match over the bill) to dinner and then we took them out for drinks. We have now been in Sao Paulo two days and spent our evenings with great locals for both with not a tourisy thing to be seen. I get an impression that Brazil will be a different experience especially coming at the end of the trip and I may even venture into vacation land and spend a few days on a beach somewhere before I come home.

The girls were off to a small town called San Antonio do Pinhal for the weekend and we had talked the night prior about possibly meeting up with them there. But they left Friday and I still had some exploring to do of the city. I went and looked around the area where our hostel was with Cheymus and came to the street where three of the top graffiti artists in the world (two of which are Brazilian) were paid $150,000 US to paint the whole alley. You remember me saying that, right? The results were impressive to say the least. Speaking of which, our hostel has a wall where various travelers can paint remembrances. Cheymus has an artistic bent and painted a guy leaning against one of the pillars silhouetted in black with a maple leaf for a head and a cut-away of a beating red Brazil where his heart is (that idea was my contribution to the project). He also painted a cat which symbolised Christina (it’s her nickname) and a clover leaf which both of them have tattooed. I thought it was actually a pretty cool piece to leave behind for future visitors to see and was glad I could offer anything to it at all. Now I’m just waiting for Lonely Planet to add it to the “must see in Brazil” highlights. Aside from this, we cruised up a restaurant street and I later went to a place which I thought was art galleries but was instead boutique shopping and bought a replacement pair of flip-flops from Havaiana HQ where they also had a cool display of the World Cup showdown with every country’s team having its own sandals. Alas, I couldn’t find Greece sandals or even Argentina ones but I did pick up Brazil’s.

It is an interesting fact that many of these cities have districts for their wares. The street we walked along, Teodoro, to get to our hostel was lined with music equipment shops (yes, I did stop and play some piano) for example. There is a street of international restaurants owing to the fact that so many businesses headquarter their South American operations here. We strolled along that but I decided to try something local instead and got a very Central American rice, beans (they were palatable!), and breaded chicken plate. The price was right. We also visited the cemetery that is at the door of our hostel and while it didn’t compare to Recoleta there were some nice pieces amidst the cookie cutter bronze statues. We met up with his Cuban friend and I wound up cooking them a teriyaki stir fry that was actually decent considering that I really hadn’t done a stir-fry before. Carmelized onions, chopped peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, beef, and linguini noodles basically, nothing too fancy but it definitely got the job done. We also bought two bottles of wine one of which was smashed on opening and then went out to Bruna’s favourite bar in her absence for a few more drinks.

We had searched the night before for accommodation in San Antonio and had come up with nothing but we decided to go and take our chances anyway. After breakfast we checked out and headed to the bus station only to find the next bus was not until 4:30. So we made lemons into lemonade, locked up our bags, and headed downtown to explore. I had heard about the famous mortadella sandwiches at the market from our hostel owner and we were both ready for lunch so we headed there first. It was as excellent as you can imagine, freshly shaved, grilled, and topped with melted cheese. I doubt it is even legal in Canada to serve such a heart-stopping sandwich but man was it good. All it lacked was a pickle. We wandered the downtown area a bit, money in the soles of our shoes for safety as d been warned about security, and found it felt as safe as anywhere else we’d been. Some dodgy people to be sure but no threats real or even perceived anywhere. I called Bruna to see if they had spotted a “Vacancy” sign or heard rumour of space in the town to find that the Pousada (bed and breakfast) owner had managed to squeeze in a spot for Cheymus and I. Spirits buoyed by the knowledge that we wouldn’t be sleeping on the streets, we headed back to the bus station and towards a resort mountain town for what would be an excellent weekend.

São Paulo Photos

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