Bohemian Sao Paolo
Trip Start Feb 27, 2009
73Trip End Sep 13, 2009
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As with most times I sign off from one place of an early evening, I seem to go and have one of the better evenings on the trip. In this case before saying one last goodbye to Cusco, I hit the town.
As a result this morning I arise with my everlasting memory of Cusco being a raging hangover. I always intend to begin some magical period of holiday makiung detox but why try and resist good times I suppose. Laid back Ian and his girlfriend Alex were out on the town with me, Stacey and Peter from Alaska. Stacey headed off early to one of those discoteca things - the idea of which is completely foreign to me. As you all know nite clubs result in much shape throwing and I throw very weird shapes - and only when ridiculously drunk enough to muster the courage to step out on the dance floor.
This left Alaskan Peter sitting drinking Jamesons with me - it was so rare to find them - we simply had to indulge. In doubles - the whole night. The last thing I remember is a conversation with Alex about her surname being Hogan and how much I wished for one night in my favourites Dublin pub Hogans. Ian was all argumentative about the destructive impact of Michael Jackson on the state of pop music and Peter was giving Sarah Palin a good old rollicking - it was all good times in a little corner bar in Cusco which had nookas and the whole lot. As I said - twas the last I remember - I somehow got home and somehow had Alex and Ian´s contact details in my wallet along with 10 soles. How on earth did I get home? Ian, Alex - can you fill me in?
Anyway - fuzzy tongued and clearly of the opinion that the last day of spanish school would be a bad idea given there was only 10 minutes or so of it left, I manage to fumble for the phone which was at arms length and make the receptionist understand that I do not want but need another 2 hours in bed and will not be checking out early or even on time for that matter. I have drugs but no water and so have to swallow them dry - thankfully be 2pm they´ve started to kick in and I can manage to get myself to the airport for my flight to Sao Paolo - a long day ahead. 1 hour flight to Lima, 7 hour stopover and a midnight 5 hour flight to Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Thankfully Lima has one of those travel lounges for executives. They cost next to nothing to enter and so western travellers share buffets, free booze, tvs, massage seats, internet access etc with South American business men - surely not the scene the owners had intended.
Worryingly as I check in for my flight to Sao Paolo I´m asked for my emergency contact number. This is most unusual - and gives room for all sorts of negative thoughts. 4 hours after boarding the flight I touch down in Sao Paolo, South America´s largest city and most populous city in the southern hemisphere (11 million, 23 million in the wider metropolitan area), after wrestling a couple of knife and machete wielding terrorists looking for a United Ireland - I think I knew them - but frankly the uninterrupted continuation of my travels is more important than our noble cause so I took them out. Alas, the flight was, of course, unremarkable in its incidents of a terrorist nature - indeed there was hardly even any significant turbulence thrown our way crossing the magnificent Andes.
Brazil, at last..18 July 2009
I've always harbored a secret desire to head to Brazil ever since being a kid. Something to do with those magnificent pictures of Christ the Redeemer overlooking what surely must be one of the most idyllically located cities in the world - Rio. My approach to Sao Paolo was, therefore, somewhat disappointing. I could only really see sprawling masses of high rise buildings. Immigration is a breeze - no need to present the evidence of my yellow fever immunisation or anything really except my passport - which is as it should be. However, it does beg the question - are my childhood fantasies all askew - is this all because nobody in their right mind would want to remain more than necessary in Brazil. As well as those iconic pictures of Rio, I also harbour all the common preconceptions of Brazilian cities - notoriously dangerous, everybody holding a degree in pickpocketing which is best carried out with a side helping of murder etc etc.
Immediately upon leaving the arrivals lounge, Sao Paolo starts to surprise me. I´m not attacked by any vendors selling taxi rides or massages or touristy gimmicks - in fact there is barely a sign being held up to transfer tourists. It is busy - but in the same way any major airport is busy. I join an orderly queue for a taxi which costs an expected amount of money - about 30 yos. There is no haggling over price, no rip offs - it just is. This is most unlike the South America I´ve seen in Peru. The taxi driver bears an uncanny resemblance to Philippe Scholari and traffic is a nightmare. It turns out there has been a serious road accident just outside the airport which I´ve avoided by all of 10 minutes - the accident requires the attention of various police vehicles, 2 fire brigades, 2 ambulances and a helicopter. We sit around for half an hour waiting for circulation to resume. Once passed the site of the accident, I learn Scholari has clearly learned nothing from the tragic accident as he speeds along the massive sprawling motorways at 90. One of them appears to be called Ayrton Senna highway - so maybe its customary to remember the great F1 driver by trying to emulate him on the roads.
Sao Paolo proves itself to be very "Un-Peru". Indeed Brazil appears to be a thriving industrial, rich country. There are all sorts of major enterprises and shopping plazas strewn along the route to the hostel - the road itself being 6 lane motorways. Brazil is a rich country alright - its just that all the wealth is held by so few. Sao Paolo could be a suburban US highway crammed with businesses on each side or any major European city industrial sprawl for that matter.
Thankfully, after passing a carnival stadium (a long road flanked by grandstands which is set up just to watch a parade) the taxi drops me in the southern borders of an area called Vila Madalena which is said to be somewhat eclectic and bohemian and I´m glad to say it is. Immediately at the hostel, Tulio, the owner, greets me with a massive HUG!!! It appears his signing off of an e-mail confirming my reservation with "hugs" wasn´t just a misuse of the Queen´s fine english. He is a true eccentric and this treatment is reserved for everyone. Though I did wonder last night if his "I´ll be staying here tonight in Room #2 - if you need anything knock on my door" comment was just reserved for me. It was said with a very weird glancing look. Still - sure its only flattering to be fancied no? The hostel is superb - one of the best rated on Hostel World on account of it being a resting place for many artists - you are invited to exhibit your art on the walls of the hostel which are repainted when full. The furniture in the common areas is all period furniture - 30s, 40s and even 80s. And the staff are helpful - I´ll be most happy here for 3 days - even in my top bunk. I´ll be waking up with a sore head one way or another - either through hangover or knocking of head on the ceiling - if not sick from the man smell of a couple of my american room mates who appear to think arty means lack of washing and sleeping and living in the same clothes. These same americans are "teaching art to under privileged kids in a school in Sao Paolo" during their summer break. Art meaning graffiti. Now I´m sure it is an art form of sorts - but hardly the type of thing you can teach - I mean you either have the gift or not, no? Greater idiots I´ve barely met on my trip.
I decide to follow a walking trip recommended by Tulio. I head along a nearby street with a wonderful saturday market which sells all sorts of amazing stuff - old coca cola paraphernalia, vinyl records, bohemian fashion, old furniture and telephones, antiques - you name it - brilliant to walk around. The street I follow from there is crammed with music stores - alas not the Tottenham Court Rd style stereo equipments shops or indeed second had LP/CD stores which I love but ones with actual musical instruments and amps etc. These are less interesting as I´m as musically talented as Britney Spears. But great to walk passed and hear the various rehearsals going and testing going on. Then I swing right and pass by Rua Oscar Freire - an amazingly hip section of wealth. It is phenomenal - packed with designer stores all vying for customer by each trying to me more appealing to the eye than others - some of the facades are truly works of art. I´m clearly now in Jardins - Sao Paolo´s richest area. I follow an avenue which takes me to the massive, modern and, frankly, ugly, Avenue Paulista which is the lower end of downtown proper. It has nothing of interest other than high rise banks and institutions which have been built at the expense of old colonial buildings , few of which remain.
Í´m starting to feel the effects of little sleep by the time I get to an upmarket shopping mall at the end of Avenue Paulista where I take in the most recent Harry Potter (I liked it - muchly - they were all getting a bit crap I thought - but this was good).
On my way home, I am crossing the street after the market and a topless drunk guy spots that I´m clearly foreign. He´s in his early 40s - not homeless - but drunk and he takes me for a german or dutch person. I try to ignore him but spotting his aggressiveness rising, I tell him I´m Irish and he becomes all friendly and I shakes my hand. This isn´t good as he won´t let go. Unaware of how dangerous this bloke is - I humour him briefly and try to take my leave - but he continues to hastle me and won´t let go of my hand trying to pull me towards him and becoming ever more aggressive saying I´m rude not to talk and blah blah blah. This is where not speaking the language is a severe hindrance - you can´t beckon someone to help and you can´t tell him to fuck off. Eventually an old tramp lady on the side of the street tells him to catch himself on. He lets go - but hurls abuse. He was just drunk in the end but it showed me the importance of not standing out in Brazil - a country where it could equally have been a mugger or worse. I get back home a bit stressed from the encounter and take it hit the bed early with exhaustion.
19 July 2009
I´m up and fresh and less ratty after the final episode of the night before and determined not to let it hinder my opinion of Sao Paolo which up until then had been surprisingly high. I try to look less foreign today so put on a pair of shorts, a cap and a day pack - eh hello - lessons needed I fear; I couldn´t look more foreign if I was wearing a turban, kimono and snow shoes. The day before had been muggy and sweaty - today was overcast and fresh. Nevertheless, I head down Avenue Brasil to go and visit Parca Ibirupeira - the cities largest green space. Avenue Brasil throws even more wealth my way - its crammed full of private health clinics, palm trees, Ferrari show rooms (apparently Sao Paolo is one of the car manufacturer´s biggest markets), and large posh mansions - it is Beverly Hills in Latin America.
The park is massive and I walk around among the Sunday cyclists, rollerbladers, lovers and really interestingly, footballers. There is a public football being played where anyone can join in. Football being the national heritage it is here, I stop and watch for a while. Even these amateurs who simply turn up for a game and join in are displaying phenomenal skills. There are also arguments and shouting when someone makes the slightest of bad decisions. Amazing stuff. I eventually carry on to the artists corner of the park where there are various museums. One of which is the Museum of Modern Art - which is hardly worth the entrance fee - it was Free. Largely as it was just too small and had little to see. I spent a great afternoon in the park though.
Back up through the Jardins and I´m back at base early enough. There I run into Carlos, an italian guy working in advertising who has a really interesting background. He seems to speak every language under the sun including portuguese. He is going for dinner before catching a flight so I say I´ll join him. We eat in Vila Madalena in an old italian brasserie. He gives me tips on Brazil and Argentina. He´was working in Milan, then moved to London and then to Dublin where he did some campaigns for Jameson, then to New York, then travelled around South AMerican where he maet a girl who dumped him after 2 years and so then he went back to London where he was laid off and now he´s looking for work in New York and Brazil - his second home. Yeah right - second of about 15 it seems!!! But he´s great craic - equally disimpressed at our american room mates.
I also have a couple of caipirinhas with him. These are much like Margaritas in my opinion - though I´d likely be slammed for saying that. Carlos hit road and I was left with the silly americans and one not so silly american - called John - from Boston who had also escaped from the Big 4 - formerly with Deloittes and Price Waterhouse - what with me having done Andersen and KPMG - we´d basically been battered around by them all. He wisely changed rooms to get away from his fellow country men and their stench. Or was it me?
20 July 2009 - yo sushi!!!
I had a lie in today - to prove to the little scamps that they weren´t the only cool ones who didn´t get up at the crack of dawn to go sight seeing. I then decided to explore the surrounding Vila Madalena bohemian district. It was great. I found a sushi restaurant which served up the best sushi I had since Australia and possibly even Japan. Then walked along the streets exploring the great little stores - funky t shirts, book stores etc. I bought To Kill A Mocking Bird to see what all the fuss was about and further myself in the world of literature. A couple of chapters in and I know what all the fuss is about - it´s great. Why didn´t somebody tell me. I read for a bit over a banana and coconut slice with an italian coffee and withered away the afternoon before getting back to base. It was still early evening so decided to return to the posh district - partly to get another walk in and partly to try out an up market irish bar called the All Black Irish Bar - didn´t know if the reference was something to do with the Kiwi rugby team which would seem in appropriate, or something to do with the line from The Commitments - north dubliners being the blacks of Ireland - which would seem racist and inappropriate - I´ll never know to what it refers. It was a great little spot - the guiness was fair, you received a token which you used for drinks and food and squared up upon leaving when you were given a green token to prove your honesty to the burly brazilian guarding the door. It also had a board of names plaqued on the wall - all of whom had joined the Guinness Mile High Club - basically patrons who´d downed 100 Guinnesses in that bar - over whatever time period they liked. Somehow I didn´t think I´d manage it in one night. Only the 2. Then off home - my walk home being the same path I´d taken when the drunk guy was all over me - this one was uneventful.
21 July 2009
.....And so farewell to Sao Paolo - an altogether pleasant surprise - did not expect it to be anything more than a stopping point. I didn´t hit the Centro district - I didn´t feel the need - supposed to be dangerous at weekends anyway when there are few people around - but I was perfectly content in my little corner of Sao Paolo mingling with the rich and the arty. Onwards to Rio now.
On my iPod
Parklife - Blur