Street savvy in Sao Paulo

Trip Start Oct 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 05, 2010

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Sunday, September 19, 2010

V: We decided to use the same bus company that brought us to Iguazu to get to Sao Paulo in Brazil. The ‘Cama Suite’ style of bus was not available for this journey so we had to settle for a simple Cama instead. The bus was 3 hours late and we were a little disappointed that it was nowhere near as nice as our previous bus. Our first taste of Brazil was this hilarious Brazilian lady boarding the bus. She was loud and brash and wearing a horrendous tight fitted all-in-one body suit which looked like a swim suit that went down to her ankles. Not the best for her rather large figure. Her outfit had a bright green and yellow print and she was wearing high platform sandals. This woman had an unbelievable amount of luggage with her, around 10 cases altogether! To top it all off she was sitting right behind us on the bus.

It took some time to clear all the border formalities but we were soon on our way on the 17 hour journey to Sao Paulo. Buses in Brazil are not allowed to serve food so the bus made a few stops in the evening for food. We stopped at a roadside restaurant and realized that our limited Spanish was not really going to help us in Brazil as Portuguese was very different. We couldn’t really figure out what the various food behind the counter was but luckily an American girl had an English Portuguese dictionary with her.

It was a fairly uncomfortable drive to Sao Paulo with our Brazilian neighbour frequently chatting loudly on the phone to her friends. Luckily the bus made up for the 3 hour delay and we arrived in Sao Paulo only half an hour after the scheduled arrival time. The first thing we noticed was how culturally diverse the population of the city was. The result of the flood of immigrants is clear, every colour of face was represented here.

We were on our guard as we arrived at the bus terminal, Sao Paulo is one of the most dangerous cities in Brazil after all. We had not booked any accommodation but had an idea of where to stay, but we headed to the tourist information desk to find out a bit more. The lady behind the desk was very helpful giving us recommendations on where was safest to stay within the city. We took a prepaid taxi to the area around Paulista Avenue to check into a hotel she had suggested. The hotel was on a very quiet street, it was only 8am on a Sunday morning. There were a fair few dodgy looking types lurking around as we waited for the hotel owner to let us in. Ash went for a quick look around the local area as we waited for the owner to prepare the room for us. When he returned he went to take a look at the room and the look on his face said it all - we would not be staying here. The room was filthy and there was graffiti on the walls, the bathroom was horrid with the shower hanging over the toilet. At 40 GBP this is not what we had imagined. We were a bit hesitant about walking on the street with all of our luggage trying to find an alternative place to stay but we didn’t really have a choice. We were outside the hotel for all of 5 minutes when we saw two really shifty looking guys eye-balling us - all of a sudden we both felt incredibly uncomfortable - we were an easy target with our bags in a deserted street. Ash said if they stop, turn around to look at us and change direction to walk the same way we were heading we would be in trouble. A few moments, as Ash predicted, they did exactly that so we hot footed it back to the hotel and were frantically ringing the bell to be let in. I asked the man if I could wait inside with the bags while Ash went in search of another hotel and luckily he understood and agreed as he knew it was too dodgy to walk around so early in the morning with all our stuff on us. This wasn’t Buenos Aires!

Ash found an place to stay a few blocks up the road. We had to walk a few blocks with our bags along a main road to get there. After our narrow miss, I was pretty nervous the whole way. Our room was not ready until midday so we decided to drop our bags in left luggage and head out to explore Sao Paulo.

Sao Paulo was a huge metropolis, one of the biggest in the world. The skyline was dominated by high rises. We took the metro to the centre of town and walked around the atmospheric old centre filled with some grand buildings. We had a browse around the street market at Praca da Republica admiring the artwork on display at the multitude of stalls in the square. We then headed to the Praca del Se visiting the Teatro Municipal and enormous neo-gothic Metropolitan cathedral. A short walk from here was the Liberdade area, home to Sao Paulo’s large Asian community. As it was Sunday the Liberdade area was bustling with people visiting the weekly Asian street market. The streets were overflowing with stalls selling all manner of nick nacks, souvenirs and delicious food. We stopped for lunch and sampled some amazingly fresh and tasty Japanese and Chinese dishes - a welcome break from South American staples we had been eating for the last 4 months. One thing we noticed walking around, there seemed to be a lot of tramps, drug addicts or alcoholics on the streets and they had a menacing presence. It only felt safer because there were armed police on every corner.

By mid afternoon we were ready to head back to the hotel to shower and have a siesta. We went out in the Paulista area that evening and went to a fantastic neighborhood deli/diner style restaurant. There was a queue going out of the door but something told me it was going to be worth the wait. We were not disappointed, the extensive menu had so many delicious things to choose from.

We were keen to sample some of Sao Paulos famed nightlife but after our long bus journey and lack of sleep we were exhausted so decided to call it an early night, it was Sunday after all so things would have been pretty quiet on the nightlife front anyway. Whilst Sao Paulo lacks in natural beauty it is the cultural capital of Brazil with many museums and galleries. We were keen to hit the Brazilian coastline so the following morning we decided to move onto our next destination, Paraty.
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