Touch down in South America

Trip Start Feb 07, 2006
Trip End Aug 07, 2006

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

"Even the locals don't go there"

For the past 6 months, we'd heard time and time again about Sao Paulo (SP) being a dangerous city. First, we stumbled onto Sao Paulo in my "The World's Most Dangerous Places" guide book which provides tourist-style info for courageous/crazy tourists. Sao Paulo was listed amongst several other nasty places like Kosovo, East Timor ( pre-war ) and Colombia. Statistics like the 10,000 car thefts per day and 25'ish homicides per day ( during carnival ) started ringing alarm bells.

Even though our stop over was for only 23 hours en-route to Paraguay, needless to say, Andrea was worried. Having been bestowed the duty of protecting Andrea, my soon to be wife, I was starting to worry a little myself.

Many of the other countries I've visited in the past have always come with security warnings from the Canadian Government or perhaps even other tourists, but never had I heard from so many sources just how bad it was.

To be safe, I figured we would avoid the bus and metro by just sticking to taxis. It was our first day ( and only day ) in SP and I figured that we just didn't need the added risk and complexity of figuring out a new cities transportation system, especially considering that the jammed packed busses were a popular place for pickpockets.

Oddly, while still suckled in the safety of our Air Canada flight, Andrea seemed to be favoring taking the local bus & metro on our first day in town but after a few minutes chatting with our new friend who sat next to us on the flight, a Sao Paulo local named Wu, she quickly changed her mind and I could sense that a new plan which involved spending the day by the hotel's pool would have been just fine by her.

"I'm from Sao Paulo, and I don't even go there" Wu said while laughing in an "Are you mad?" kind of way and looking at a spot on the map where I'd told him we were visiting after landing.

I saw Andrea's face drop. The suggestion was in the Lonely Planet guide book, so I found it odd that it would be that dodgy.

Wu continued, "I never go there, it's the old city. I have to go get my drivers license there tomorrow and I'm actually a little worried myself".

Andrea crept over my shoulder to ask, "Have you ever been mugged?".

Wu laughed again. "Ohh man... of course! When I was younger, I was mugged just about every day. You know, they take your watch, or your bag, your shoes."

Wu went on to echo the fact that SP was the most dangerous place in Brazil, specifically the area we were headed.

I could tell Andrea was worried now. Not that she was trying to hide it with her eyebrows curled up in a worried puppy stare.

Well, I didn't think that either of us would feel satisfied with our brief stop over in SP if we just stayed in the hotel and waited for the night to pass so we agreed to leave our stuff in a locker, take a taxi downtown, and promptly jump back on the taxi back to the hotel if it didn't feel right.

At the very least, we wanted to get a view of the worlds 3rd largest metropolis from the top of a building we'd heard of.

What's the worse that could happen? ... right?

Language barriers

It was hot, humid and very Portugese. English wasn't going to get us too far off the beaten path here. I have to admit thinking that Portugese sounded like a very funny language, I couldn't put my finger on it but I wasn't sure that my tongue twisted in the ways it needed to to speak it.

We spent 30 minutes struggling with a simple "thank you", which still gets a blank stare from some locals.

New York on Steriods

Thanks to a not-so-cheap but well worth it hired taxi and a flurry funny sounding Portugese directions from our friendly hotel desk clerk we spent the day being chauffeured around SP by Vincente, our taxi driver.

In hind sight it was a good move getting Vincente to take us downtown because the 2 buildings we had targeted as our look-out where we would get a view of the city were both closed due to rain.

The drive through graffiti soaked SP was safe but Vicente did occasionally make an odd gesture with his hand which seemed to look like a finger pulling a pistol trigger anytime Andrea would opened her tinted back seat window to get some air.

We didn't ask what exactly that meant but figured the universal symbol couldn't be good and closed the window to keep Vincente's payload of tourists ( ie: us ) well out of sight from the masses of people buzzing around us.

Even though Sao Paulo is amazingly multi-cultural, I have to admit that my glowing blonde hair probably didn't help us blend in.

Vicente managed to finally get us to the Italiano building, the tallest building in town where we finally saw SP from high, high above. What a sight! With 17 MILLION inhabitants, all living within spitting distance of each other the city looked like a giant jungle of concrete as far as the eye could see ( see the attached photos ). Very much like New York on steroids.

With all of our running around to find that great view, we'd used up most of the day so we decided to head back through 1 hour of bumper to bumper traffic to our hotel were we could try to get some desperately needed sleep before our flight the next day to Paraguay.

That night the chaos and busy streets of SP seemed miles away as we laid in bed where Andrea was happy to find out that Brazilian TV carried Oprah, ( in English too! ) and we fell asleep.

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