The Megalopolis of São Paulo

Trip Start Feb 18, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Ricardo and Ronaldo´s house.

Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Thursday, March 24, 2011

I had my beachside break and it was now time to get back into some excitement so off to São Paulo it was.

São Paulo is the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere and fair dinkum this place is bloody huge. In the wider São Paulo area there is a population of almost 20 million people. Almost the entire population of Australia in one city.

I stayed with some great Brazilian friends of mine Ricardo and Ronaldo Arroio. I met the guys when I was living in Melbourne and we worked at the same restaurant in St Kilda. During our extended knock off drinks sessions back in St Kilda (which often ended as dawn was breaking) we would always talk about me coming to visit in Brazil and after 5 years I was finally here.

It was so refreshing to not be staying in a hostel for a change and I was completely spoilt by the Arroio´s, especially by Ricardo and Ronaldo´s mums home cooking which was fantastic. It´s impossible to pick a favourite but the Palmito (Palm Tree Hearts) Pie was divine. Lunch was ready and waiting every day. During my time in Saõ Paulo I lived like a king.

São Paulo seems like a completely different country to Bahia (the state that Salvador, Itacare and Arrial d´Adjuda are in). Bahia has a population with a much greater African background and tourists really stand out. I had to stop off in a city called Ilheus in Bahia to pick up some more emergency cash (yes my dramas with Westpac bank are continuing) and people would stop dead in the street and stare at me. In São Paulo people think I´m Brazilian and a few times in the train station people have come up and asked me for directions in Portuguese.

The accent in Bahia is also really different. Bahianos (someone from Bahia) speak much slower and relaxed. It almost sounds like they are always a bit sleepy. Paulistas (people from São Paulo) have a saying that by the time a Bahiano has finished explaining what they are going to do a Paulista has already done it.

Andy and Emma my Aussie friends that I first met in Chile (twice), then caught up with in Salvador for carnival had left their passports in Itacaré. Luckily I was still in Itacaré to pick them up and we arranged to meet in São Paulo to exchange the passports and to have another catch up and add another story to the ever expanding travel diary.

That night Andy, Emma and I went out with Ronaldo to a fantastic place called Sesc. There are a number is Sesc´s around São Paulo, it is a great initiative by the Sao Paulo city council to promote cultural acitivity in the community. This particular Sesc had free dance classes (Samba of course), a library and exhibition area that was showing young up and coming artists, a swimming pool with really cheap entry and a venue for live bands which usually play for free. Another Brazilian friend of mine from Australia - Sonia - came out with us as well and brought a friend Josy. I met Sonia on the Gold Coast and she was horrified to read about the dramas I had in Salvador and keen to prove to me that Brazil has a lot more to offer. There were also a number of Ronaldo´s mates there as well some of them I´d met in Salvador at carnival so we had quite a crew.

We were at Sesc to see a band, Ronaldo had not heard of the band before but the bands that play at Sesc are usually great. This band wasn´t our cup of tea. It was a Brazillian Country band and none of us really liked it. Country bands in Brazil wear exactly the same clothes as Country bands in Australia and America - cowboy hats, flannelette shirts, big boots and tight jeans with an oversized belt buckle.

After Sesc we went to the most fantastic little bar in the bairro (suburb) Vila Madalena called "Ô do Borogodo". There was nothing fancy about the bar. It was had shabby cement walls with a bit of white paint slapped on and it looked like the original roof had either collapsed or been torn off and replaced with a makeshift roof, with exposed insulation and no ceiling.

We were not there for the decor, we were there for the Samba and the Samba was grand! The band was sitting at some rickety old chairs behind a table. There were two guitarists in their late 50s or 60s playing nylon string acoustic guitars (7 strings), one guitar was deeper and played more of the baselines and rhythm and the other higher pitched played more lead. The drums came simply from a guy with a tambourine and there was a ukulele player who provided a higher pitched rhythm. There were a number of vocalists who took turns with the microphone throughout the night. 

The guitarists were truly incredible. Two of the best musicians I have ever seen. The speed of their fingers absolutely mesmerising. If you just allowed the music to flow through you it was effortlessly elegant and exhilarating at the same time. I´m a try-hard guitarist myself and made the mistake of trying to understand exactly what these musicians were doing. The nimble dexterity of their their lightning fast fingers was beyond belief. I spent a good amount of time standing in front of the band staring in bewilderment at their amazing skills. The lead guitarist especially was a genius and would play the lead melody with a couple of fingers while playing rhythm chords with the rest. These musicians belonged on a stage at the Sydney opera house backed by an orchestra.

The Ô do Borogodo bar was absolutely packed (on a Tuesday night) and pumping, the entire place was a dancefloor. People don´t sit back and watch in Brazil, without exception every single person in the bar was dancing. When dancing to samba Brazilian´s toes twinkle with super fast short steps and a rhythmic shimmy of the hips. If there is a girl dancing alone it does not take long for a guy to pop up and whisk her away for a dance. At one stage Andy turned to talk with me for a second and the next moment we turned back Emma was embraced with a local doing the samba. Guys don´t really ask for a dance and girls don´t decline it just happens.

It would be almost impossible for a tourist to stumble across Ô do Borogodo, I am so thankful that Ronaldo took us there and Andy and Emma felt the same. This was the real Brazil. Samba of this quality in a setting like Ô do Borogodo is like the bone marrow of Brazilian culture. I loved it.

Beer of course was plentiful as we took in turns buying garaffas (longnecks) of the local brew "Original" plus every now and then (more regularly as the night went on) one of the group would come back with a glass of straight cachaca which would be handed around the gang for a sip. This was really good quality cachaca and didn´t needed to be shot down with a grimace on your face like we would a tequila shot in Australia. You could actually savour the taste. The end result was very similar to a tequila shot though and when the bar closed at about 4.30am we stumbled out onto the street with Samba still reverberating through our bones but a drunken stumble that was sure to result in a sore head in the morning.

The following day Ricardo took me to the city centre and we went to a sky tower. Up there I could really see the size of this incredible city. We had a 360 degree view of the city and for as far as you can see in every single direction is a dense metropolis of high rises. No surburbia in sight it is all highrises, like the centre of Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane for as far as you can see. I felt dizzy trying to comprehend just how big this city is or perhaps that sensation was due to last night´s cachaca…

That night we went to a football (soccer) match to watch Corinthians play. I am now a proud Corinthians supporter. Corinthians are one of the biggest teams in Brazil and apparently have 30 million supporters, so the team´s supporter polpulation is almost 1.5 times that of all of Australia. Corinthians were the first team to win the FIFA club world cup. All of the Arroio family are Corinthians supporters, their home is close to Estádio do Pacaembu – Corinthians´ home ground. I was politely told that it´s fine if I choose to support another team in Brazil but I would have to take all of my things and find another place to stay in São Paulo if I did so. All of the family are passionate supporters, especially Ricardo´s dad and he very kindly gave me a Corinthian´s jersey as as gift.

It´s early in the season and the game that we went to was not against a big team so the crowd was not as big as usual - about 10,000. There are usually two games played per week. One on Wednesday (the night we were going) and one on Sunday. The Wednesday night games start at 10.00pm. Despite a relatively small crowd the atmosphere was electric. While footy crowds in Australia sit back, drink beer, yell abuse at the umpire and cheer for goals Brazilian football fans are so so different. The supporters have serious stamina, i would not be surprised if they actually have supporters training such is their cheering fitness. There was a team of about 15 drummers who were drumming a rhythm non-stop from before we arrived to after we left. Then there was the fanatic section - the gaviões. A group of about 3000-4000 fans that were dancing, chanting, singing and cheering continuously from start to finish they didn´t even stop during the half time break. There are a number of different songs and chants that rumble throughout the stadium the more popular songs are not just sung by the fanatics section but by the whole stadium.

The team that Corinthian´s were playing did not have a single supporter at the match. When Corinthians scored the crowd erupted into celebrations, we hugged whistled, wooted, jumped up and down and the songs and chants were at their loudest. At one stage during the game when nothing extraordinary was happening on the field a similar roar went up in the crowd. I had no idea what was happening but everyone around me was cheering as if a goal had been scored but the ball was in the centre of the field and the game was continuing as normal. The reason that everyone was cheering was because on the scoreboard there was an update on another game that was being played and one of Corinthians biggest rivals (Saõ Paulo) were losing. Ricardo explained to me that Corinthians supporters are even happier if their rivals lose than if their own team wins.

By the end of the game Corinthians won 3-0 so it was a great night all round and apparently on nights when Corinthians win there is less crime in the city - kind of similar to Collingwood games in Australia I guess.

In my two nights in São Paulo I´d danced to amazing Samba and experienced a football game, it could not have been a more perfect couple of days of Brazilian culture.

The next day I visited Parque Ibirapuera a beautiful park which has a number of muesums, art galleries and a music hall (more than just a hall it´s an amazing building). Plus, it´s where the beautiful people of São Paulo come to exercise. There were guys with sculpted bodies that would make Adonis look like a scrawny pimpled schoolkid and women so beautful it looked as if they were airbrushed in real life. I visited the Afro Brazilian Museum which celebrates the African influence on Brazilian culture and a very interesting exhibition on water which had some very innovative multi-media displays using state of the art technology including interactive projection - images projected onto a screen that you can interact with via touch. Plus an amazing multi-projector show on the ceiling.

São Paulo is such a booming city. It is regularly reported in world news about the emergence of Brazil as a world superpower and there is no doubt that São Paulo is fuelling that growth. It´s a city of immense wealth, vibrant diverse culture and a thriving arts scene. Many travelers I have spoken to have described São Paulo as dangerous and boring but that is so unbelievably far from the truth. I am so grateful for all that my wonderful hosts for showing me the culture of such a beautiful city. More São Paulo posts to come…
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