20 Million and counting

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Thursday, February 5, 2009

With more than 11 million residents living the city itself and a further 10 million living in the greater metropolitan area, makes São Paulo the forth largest city in the world. With a population of this size there a bound to be loads to see and do and of course a few social problems as the rich and poor rub shoulders. After twelve months of travel we’d stopped reading too much into the ‘warnings and dangers’ of which São Paulo has quite a few, and rather just relied on good old common sense together with a little preparation was all we needed.
A few days before we were set to depart to São Paulo we happened to be watching a live news feed from the slums or favella’s in São Paulo where full scale riots were taking place. We weren’t sure what the exact cause was for all the rioting was as all the reports were in Portuguese but cars were being set a light, missiles thrown at police and armoured vehicles bulldozing through the burning wreckages. From what we could gather the police regularly raided the flavella’s trying to crackdown on the drug trafficking and that these stings operations often turned into violent street battles. 
Watching this type of story unfold live on TV is enough to scare most people off. But one thing we had also learnt while travelling around the world is that many of these sensationalist news stories often unfold in isolated area and not the entire city or country. This was often the same in Africa where international news channels would focus on the crime, human tragedy and conflict in specific areas but rarely touch the rest of the country that might remain largely unaffected by these events. Sadly what people not living in these countries remember is that it is dangerous and unsafe and therefore typically avoid these places.
A little isolated street fighting wasn’t enough to deter us so it was back on the bus for almost the last time in our 14 month trip. Travelling at night has its advantages in you save money on a nights accommodation but often leaves you exhausted the next day as you very seldom get a good nights rest. The other downside of travelling overnight  is most hostels or hotels wont let you check-in before lunch which means you need to find somewhere to store your bags and keep yourself busy till check-in. Needless to say we were delighted that this would be our last overnighter for a long time to come, in fact the next overnighter would be on a much larger bus, an airbus!
We arrived at the main bus terminal early the following morning and it felt more as if we had arrived at a big international airport with hundreds of people rushing in all directions. Fortunately the metro (train) station was situated right below the bus station and we were able to catch a train to the neighbourhood where we would be staying for the next few days. The trains were jam packed with morning commuters which made squeezing onto the trains quite a challenge with all out luggage. We got a few odd stares but were relieved to finally make it to our stop near the ‘hip neighbourhood’ of Pinheiros.
Pinheiros is a quite neighbourhood with many hospitals, medical schools and modern residential high-rises. Since we didn’t have much time in this enormous city we though the time would be best spent exploring the origins of the city through a self guided walking tour of the city centre. To ensure we weren’t spotted as gringos or easy targets the minute we stepped off the metro, we left behind all jewellery, ditched the heavy camera bag, left the wallets and only took enough cash for the day, prepared or paranoid? Now we had almost nothing to lose.
The walk took us past various historical sites, some beautiful old buildings and very impressive churches. I wouldn’t say it was the most memorable city tour we had ever been on but was still fascinating in its own right. The highlight of the walk was a visit to one of the tallest building in the city, the art deco Edificio Altino Arantes. Built in 1947 and at the time was considered the biggest concrete structure in the world. Now days its open to the public who are allowed to visit to the observation deck (161 m) for spectacular urban views of the sprawling city.
If you don’t mind the two hour wait to get to the top the visit is well worth it. You only begin to understand how enormous the city is when for as far as the eye can see tall buildings dominate the landscape. You are only allowed a short five minutes on the small 360 degree observation deck as the next group waits to come up so we didn’t have much time absorb the extraordinary view but it was well worth the wait. (Remember to take your passport or rather copy thereof.)
During our downtown walk we noticed many police officers which in one sense was reassuring but at the same time a little unsettling. The one thing we noticed was how they always seemed to be very weary of their surroundings, almost nervous. They were always in groups of at least two, were heavily armed and when they stopped walking to cross an intersection never stood facing each other but rather with their backs to each other keeping a constant look out. There were many homeless and dubious looking characters lurking around, especially around the parks and public areas and clearly the police knew a little more than we did about what happens here on a daily basis.
To wrap up our city walking tour we ended the day with a walk through the up market shopping area of Pinheiros. It was strange to have gone from poverty stricken streets to the Louis Vitton lined avenues in only a few minutes, it was as if we had arrived in a whole another city, not unlike some cities in South Africa. We strolled past the exclusive stores and boutiques including the flagship Haviana’s store and did the only thing we could afford, a little window shopping. Surprisingly we even came across a Southern African themed store selling trendy plastic shoes.
Like Johannesburg we felt that São Paulo deserved a lot more time to explore but that this was best done with the aid of some locals. Next time we visited we’d first need to make some paulistanos friends (São Paulo residents) and get them to show us around this intriguing city.
Next stop would be our last and even though we were sad that the trip was ending we were excited to get home and back to family and friends.
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orlandobraga on

I liked waht you´ve said about my amazing city! I'm a proud paulistano that is starting to know better the downtown, so when you come back here I'll help you!!! There are a lot to see and explore. =D

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