São Paulo, Brazil
29.01.2010 - 31.01.2010 28 °C
Arriving at São Paulo Guarulhos airport, we were greeted by very warm and humid air already at 7 in the morning. Quite a shock to the freezing temperatures all over Europe. We hadn't booked any acommodation because we were hoping until the last moment to find a CouchSurfing host to start our trip staying with Brazilian people to directly plunge into the Brazilian culture. We had actually found someone who would have hosted us, but in the end had to tell them that we can't come because they have cats and Ivan has an animal hair allergy. So we asked for hostel recommendations at the airport and headed towards Sampa Hostel (Sampa is also the short name for São Paulo) which was located in Vila Madalena, an Area that they told us was safe and has a lot of nightlife. We had to take a bus and then 3 different metro lines to get there.
After checking in to the hostel, we went to check out the area. After eating something, we walked randomly, stopped to get a Brazilian SIM card (if you ask for a SIM card, they don't understand you here - ask for a Chip instead!), and then looked for a bus to the center. As we didn't know how the bus and ticket system worked, we asked some people where to buy tickets. They sent us in some direction, so we went there, but couldn't find a shop which sold tickets. So we asked again, and were sent further and further each time we asked. The journey took over an hour, but in the end we got our shiny new "Bilhete Único" cards - an electronic pre-pay ticket that works for all metros, trains and buses in São Paulo. Of course once on the bus, we noticed that we could have just paid cash to the ticket vending person on every bus But when we showed it later to our hostel staff, they were surprised and asked how we managed to get that. Seems to be quite an achievement to have found the proper "local" ticket!
Downtown São Paulo
Downtown is mainly the financial center of São Paulo, with lots of high buildings (mostly offices), some of them new and some quite run down. In between, a bunch of museums, some small parks, and depending on the exact location many people or no people at all. There were some weird corners with dodgy figures hanging around, but in general it seemed ok. After a walk around the center (and going into a random crappy food place to get out of some rain), we walked to Luz station, which (apart that I wanted to go there for its name is known for a historic train station and a nice park. The area felt quite dodgy though, and it was almost getting dark, so we didn't stay long and took the metro back to the hostel. In the evening we went to a club (Matrix) with some people from the hostel, which was relatively boring because in they played exactly the same selection of music that you would hear in your random average European or American pub/bar/club.
Next day, we met up downtown with our Couchsurfing Hosts (who couldn't host us) and some other couchsurfers they know, mostly Brazilians. They were all extremely friendly people who immediately made us feel part of the group of locals. They took us to the Mercado municipal (central market), a large market hall with many stands selling tons of exotic (=Brazilian) fruit, some of which we've never seen before. Often they would let you try some to convince you to buy more, but we only went from one to the next to try different fruit. In the market, there are also lots of other stands selling cheese, meat, or other food or general stuff. Along them, there's a number of cafés and food places, selling some local specialities - a huge Mortadella sandwich with about 100 layers of Mortadella (not that spectacluar but you have to try it when you're in São Paulo because everybody will ask you if you did and be very disappointed if you didn't...), as well as the Pastel de Bacalhau, a pastry containing cod fish.
Fruits at central market
From there, the Brazilians took us by car to another place, a small market/fair which was actually not far from our hostel. There was a live band playing in the market but they just finished when we arrived. We had a Fresh Coconut Water directly from a coconut, and then spent some time with the Brazilians in a nearby bar. There was also our first small Brazilian Carnival group (called bloco), with some drums and Samba dancers. They played next to the market, then disappeared in some direction and then reappeared from another direction some time later.
In the evening, Ivan and I decided not to join the Gringo group going to some random pop/rock/hits place again and asked around for a place with live Samba. We found one not fare away, a small and very crowded place called PauBrasil. It was so packed that nobody managed to dance, but the music was great and the atmosphere fantastic. There were almost only locals, not like in the gringo club the night before. Our Caipirinhas were so strong that we had enough after one...
Third day, we went to the Bus terminal first as we had decided to leave to somewhere on the beach as soon as possible, so we bought our tickets for an overnight bus to Florianópolis in the south. Then we took a bus to a small town just outside São Paulo called Embu das Arts, where we were going to meet our Couchsurfing friends again. The one hour bus ride was mind-thrilling with the driver seeming to be in a race for his life and not paying attention to the condition of his bus or the road below it. But we survived and the place was quite interesting with a lot of market stands of local people selling all kind of mostly hand crafted things. We headed directly into a restaurant where the others were already eating - an all you can eat buffet with a lot of great food for just 22 Reais (the Brazilian currency is Real/Reais, that's around 7-8 Euro). We ment to go around the market after eating, but there was a big thunderstorm coming up and just as we left the restaurant, it was starting to rain. Within minutes it was pouring down, market stand owners were closing their stands to protect their goods, and everybody was running to protect from the rain. We ran to the car with our couchsurfing friends and left immediately because they feared the heavy rain could flood the road (there had been quite a lot of floodings around São Paulo in the prior month). But we got back to the center without trouble, we didn't actually see anything of the floodings (São Paulo is quite hilly and flood would only affect certain areas).
They dropped us off at the bus station, and we just had time for a quick stop in the center, grab our bags at the hostel, and head to the Rodoviària (bus terminal) to catch our bus to Florianópolis.
PS: As you notice on the pictures, my camera unfortunately has a problem - from the first picture since we arrived in Brazil, every picture has a black spot in the middle. I'm trying to get around with it but will probably have to get a new one eventually...