Sao Paulo

Trip Start Apr 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
Higienopolis Hotel

Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Monday, July 18, 2011

We definitely underestimated the sheer size of Brazil. Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world, with over 7,500km of coastline. We are actually a little embarrassed to have believed that in 3 weeks we could make our way all the up the east coast to Guiana with a couple extra days just to perfect our bronzed tans! Having re-looked at what one can get up to in Brazil, we are going to be hard pressed just to get from Sao Paolo to Rio - a mere 500km!

We had always planned to use Sao Paolo as a brief stopping point to re-group before launching ourselves into conquering Brazil. We should have realised that Sao Paolo was going to be different to any other place we had stayed by a couple tell-tale signs. Firstly, we really battled to narrow down potential places to stay because there were literally thousands of options. Secondly, if we had listened to what other travellers had said about the place, we would have realised that Sao Paolo is a giant bustling metropolis. We can be a pretty stubborn couple, so we chose not to listen to what others had to say and find out first hand instead. In hindsight, we should have collected a rand from every person who warned us not to go to Sao Paolo, and then perhaps we would have saved up enough money to actually stay there longer! Not only is Sao Paolo absolutely enormous (with a population of 20 million), it is also insanely expensive.

Having spent a fair amount of time travelling around places like Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, we quickly realised that we had arrived in South America's economic powerhouse. Sao Paolo sprawls out for miles and miles and there are things happening everywhere. We were rather intimidated at first because we were dropped off in a neighbourhood called Higienopolis which in one respect was close to everything you could hope to do and in other respects far away from everything else. We felt like we had been dropped off in the middle of Sandton and now had to figure out what we wanted to do. There was no quaint little town square, no museums within walking distance, no little market to haggle local sellers at or touristic attractions to go to. Sao Paolo is enormous and you could never really walk around the streets and feel that you are getting to know the place. Whatever we had heard about Sao Paolo leading up to our visit was also nonsense. We had been told that it was an ugly city with no real charms, it is riddled with crime, get in and get out as fast as possible, etc., etc. After all the things we had heard about the city, we couldn't wait to leave before we had even arrived. We actually enjoyed Sao Paolo from the first minute we arrived and we could actually relate to Sao Paolo's image with tourists. It reminded us a great deal about foreigner's perceptions of Joburg. Forget about what the world cup managed to do for SA's image worldwide, the British press did a fantastic job in making sure that every potential tourist is scared to death about SA! Let’s hope that this little phone-hacking scandal shakes them up a bit!!

We landed in Sao Paolo pretty early on Saturday morning but by the time we got our luggage, cleared customs and got a taxi it was past lunchtime. It must have been the clean Bolivian air which sharped Georgie's senses because within an instant she had sniffed out the local neighbourhood shopping complex. We had been told that this was a pretty average shopping centre but most of the shops inside would give Hong Kong a good run for their money. Midge was really happy about doing the 4 day Inca Trail because it prepared him for the high-intensity power walk around every shop in the complex! It was around this stage that we realised how different Portuguese is in comparison to Brazilian Portuguese. Brazilians are super friendly and are never shy to strike up a conversation. The problem was that we could not understand a single word of the local language and the accents used on even the simplest words make understanding impossible. "Noa entendo Portuguese" is a signal for any person to have a huge one-way conversation with us. We just smile, nod our heads and say 'si' to everything. It seemed to work OK for us! Our next rude awakening was at the place we bought our first lunch. Two plain Hamburgers, a plate of chips and 2 cokes set us back a cool R380. After damn near choking on our food, we wrote it off to the price you pay for eating in a fancy shopping centre, but that was just the beginning of the bleeding! Lonely Planet, of all things, suggested a quaint little restaurant in the neighbouring suburb of Jardins. We arrived at the place around 8pm to find an old looking barn all bolted up. The only giveaway that the place actually existed was a queue of people waiting outside. Midge managed to consult our trusted little phase book to construct a simple Portuguese sentence. We are still trying to figure out what was so funny, because the guy Midge spoke to laughed so hard and long that he almost looked as if he was choking! Anyway, the restaurant opened fairly shortly after that incident which definitely saved Midge further embarrassment. Besides the meal being one of the best we have had in South America to date, we got cleaned up at the place. It broke every price record we have ever paid for any meal anywhere! If our Portuguese wasn't so rotten, we would have asked when we could take occupation of the restaurant! Despite our full bellies, we left the place with our wallets A LOT lighter and our tails between our legs.

We had definitely experienced first-hand the price of living in Sao Paolo and took the first opportunity to look at affordable options of getting out of the place. We spent a lot of time walking the city and catching the metro from one place to another. Most of what we saw was tall buildings, huge apartment blocks, really fancy shops and tons of people everywhere. We couldn't wait to exchange the concrete jungle for some postcard beaches. With that, the coastal town of Paraty was immediately placed on our radars. We have figured out that this is not the right kind of trip to experience Sao Paolo fully, so we have undertaken an oath to return in 2014 better prepared (and hopefully richer!!). With the bus ticket purchased, it was an early start to start soaking up some rays....
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Don on

I guess with Brasilia becoming an economic powerhouse in the southern hemisphere the cost of living rockets up. When I visited in 1963 the country had been bankrupted by corruption and was virtually a military state. How times have changed and good old RSA is following systems that have been proved to fail by others about 50 years ago!! Anyway you will definitely enjoy the sights when you get to Rio but save up! It's amazing to see what influence Portugal had on such a vast country - even if they can't remember how to speak Porra properly. Look forward to the next episode love M and D

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