Sao Paulo, Brazil
4/06/2012 – 8/06/2012 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sao Paulo was a logical stop on our way to the Foz / Puerto Iguazu border crossing; and who wouldn’t want to see the capital city of Brazil? We boarded the Reunista executive bus for the 6 hour journey to the mega city. Sao Paulo or ‘Sampa’ as the locals called it, a monster of a city with a population of 22 million housed in a concrete jungle that lacked any sort of natural beauty to which Rio had a tonne of. We had read that although the city was a heck of a lot larger than Rio, it was also much safer due to the fevelas being further from ‘se’ or point zero of the cities centre.
The bus ride was forgettable until we were 15 minutes from the main bus terminal Tiete which held 15,000 buses and 1333 lines. As we approached the outskirts of the city, surrounded by favelas, the bus slowed to a snail pace. Lights up ahead, there had been an accident. Looking down from the bus window at the wrong time, a family surrounded their mini red car thats front window was smashed in, they had hit a motorcyclist, his limp body on the ground face down and a further 2 meters from the car, no movement, no helmet and blood. It didn’t look good and their wasn’t anything we could do about it except drive right by. A further 10 minutes down the road the ambulance went screaming past us with lights flashing – hopefully that meant he was will alive an on his way to hospital? We hoped the next four nights we had planned in Sao Paulo was a little more pleasant than our entry.
Hoping off the bus, we navigated our way through the terminal and onto the metro line to take us the additional 8 kms into Jardin Paulista, one of what was suppose to be an upscale French district of the city and what sounded like a good place to base ourselves in the Pousada Dos Franceses. It was dark at that point and we were staving so the friendly staff mentioned that there was an Italian quarter round the corner to which they made great pizza and massas (pasta).
Walking down and around the hilly tree-lined streets we stumbled on a happening local corner bar. It was well past happy hour and time for a cerveza! The place was buzzing, the soccer was screaming, kids were running around and smoke filled the air as the bar owners threw indiscernible remnants of meat on a home made BBQ. Murray was in heaven. The deal was that as long as you kept on drinking, you received free meat on a plate. 1, 2, 3, 4 long necks later our eyes were blood shot but the problem was when we singled for the check after cerveza two, another beer was brought, and then another again! We had no idea what the word for ‘cheque please’ in Portuguese was and no matter how hard we tried to act out the paying of a bill, it just seemed to be translated as ‘more beer please’. So finally after pulling aside the13 year old kid that was serving it, we managed to sort out the communication break down, paid the bill and left.
Passing a few brothels and bums on the street we came across a pasta house. I was starving, Murray was full from BBQ’d chicken hearts. Walking into the restaurant I asked for ‘the menu please’ and was rudely imitated by one of the six gum chewing waitresses. They all looked incredibly bored, standing around with hands on hips waiting for more customers as we were the only ones in the restaurant. Obviously not a local favorite. The food was as bad as the service and after a few mouthfuls, we took the rest as take away and dropped it off to a local bum on our way back to our hostel.
The following days consisted of walking miles around the city streets to get a sense of all of it. The atmospheric old center of Sao Paulo or ‘downtown’ was filled with baroque/ art nouveau buildings, many of which were banks. It was clear that this was the financial hub of Brazil. The highlight was the Cathedral Metropolis, a gigantic Roman Catholic church with stunning blue con caved ceilings and adorned with lead-lighting. As we walked further out of the city centre, the vibe became a little more unsettling. It didn’t feel safe. Under every underpass and near every train or bus station their were dodgy looking characters and homeless people. As you sat in a park to take a load off, you started noticing that the scantily-clad women were not trying to get a sun tan but out for business and business they got. There are those mega cities that even due to the size you feel relatively safe – Tokyo, London, Bangkok and then there are those that you just don’t – Manila, Athens, Delhi and add Sao Paulo.
Another area of town the LP mentioned was worth a visit was Liberdade. A Japanese neighborhood that immigrants had built-up over time. Kinda like our version of a Chinatown, Liberdade was supposed to be filled with restaurants, markets, little boutique shops and we were looking forward to downing some udon soup to warm us up as it was 12C and raining. But yet again, another disappointment. The area was one street long, restaurants were shut and there really wasn’t much to occupy our time – Tokyo it was not. But after finding a a small restaurant in the wall to order some udon, and paying twice as much as we would for it at home, it was time to move on to Villa Madalena, again an area that the LP recommended – the bohemian quarter of town filled with good markets and groovy cafes – we couldn’t find any of it!
Our favorite area of Sao Paulo other than in our hostel watching Anthony Bourdain on pay TV or at the Starbucks around the corner (and that’s pretty sad) was the Municipal Market. Right in the heart of a really dodgy area that looked like it was surrounded by crack houses, the markets were in a beautiful old building and filled with all types of exotic fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses and meat. And the coffee was hot and strong.
So four nights later, lots of rain and a fairly dreary experience, we were both glad to be trudging back to Paulista Avenue, boarding the metro and riding back out the Tiete bus hub for the 6 hour journey to Curitiba – the half way stop between Sao Paulo and the Foz de Igazu. Hopefully Curituba would bring us a little more joy…