Simply São PauloNovember 11, 2017 in Brazil
São Paulo is probably one of the most underrated cities. Before arriving, we were warned about the dangers of the metropolis. Even the Brazilians in Rio didn't have a high opinion of São Paulo. It's just a big, dirty city was the usual response. Perhaps it was the area that we were staying in but we found the city to be vibrant with plenty of culture and great food. As the hotel receptionist proudly claimed: “we don't have the beaches of Rio, but we have culture and food. If you look really hard, you will find the beauty”. True, it is a big city with more than 20 million people in the greater metropolitan area, and parts of the city are dirty, particularly in the downtown area, yet there is still something about the city. All across Brazil there are warnings about the dangers of being robbed or assaulted but in Jardins, a more upmarket suburb of São Paulo, we felt safe. Perhaps we were just naïve.
We almost didn't make it to São Paulo from Rio. As we were in the line to board the plane, we realised that our flight had changed gates and we were boarding a flight for a completely different city in Brazil. We had to hot-foot it to the correct gate and made it on-board just before take-off. There had been no announcement about the change and a minute or two later we would have been stranded in Rio.
Once we arrived in São Paulo, we went in search of food and our latest addiction, Caiprinihas. In Rio, we had also acquired a taste for salgados, a salty, deep-fried Portuguese snack, and fortunately for us, they could be found everywhere in São Paulo. At one of the local snack bars, we indulged in a salgado as a pre-lunch appetizer. When paying for our meal, the waiter rattled off something in Portuguese. Still unable to speak much Portuguese, Jason decided that he would respond in Spanish. The waiter assumed that we were Spanish so he replied “Gracias, Señor”. We quickly realised that few Paulistanos could speak Spanish. Later, we finally found our Caipriniha but it was unlike the ones we tasted in Rio. It was straight alcohol on the rocks. And didn't they hit us hard! We rolled out of the restaurant and stumbled back to our hotel. Luckily it was only a hop, skip and a jump away. We swear we aren't alcoholics (but we might need to attend a few AA meetings before returning home).
Immediately, we noticed that the cosmopolitan city was a melting pot, full of diversity and seemingly tolerant of all kinds of people. In the middle of Jardins, along Avenida Paulista, we stumbled upon a park, which we named “Homo Park” (we never did bother to find out its real name). We named it based upon the large number of same-sex couples inhabiting the area, cuddling and kissing each other. A gaggle of gays in the park, so to speak, and no-one batted an eyelid. It was if we were attracted to the same-sex attracted couples like a magnet. Of course we can sniff out our people anywhere in the world! Maybe it's the inbuilt gaydar. Even with Australia voting “yes” in the postal vote for same-sex marriage, these kinds of public displays of affection are not something that you regularly see around Brisbane. But here, we felt that it was completely acceptable and people felt safe to do so without persecution.
Like any big city, there are many homeless people on the streets of São Paulo. It's almost as if they live in an alternative reality, invisible to the rest of society, as people go about their lives simply stepping over them on the footpaths, and maybe handing them some change every now and then. Standing on a platform at the top of a building looking down onto the streets, Ricky spotted what appeared to be someone's arse in the air. Then a second later, it was confirmed. Yes, we had just witnessed someone shit in the middle of the street. Pretty certain that wasn't on the bucket list.
On our second day, Paulista Avenue was closed-off to traffic and the streets turned into a party. There were more gays than a pride fair or a mardi gras. And more eccentric people than a Lady Gaga outfit at the Grammys. It made for a great afternoon of entertainment. As we watched an indigenous group from Ecuador play pan-pipes to music that was a fusion of modern and traditional music, the crowd included a guy doing a two-step shuffle. He stood there with a blank look in his eye, as if he was stuck in a k-hole, whilst wearing a jumper in 35 degree weather. Staring at the band, he swayed back and forth or attempted to imitate them, spinning around to the music. Every now and then, he would return to the sideline and rest. But sure enough, he would be up and ready to go again as soon as a new song commenced. He returned a few days later when it was Republica Day, a national holiday to celebrate the overthrow of the Empire of Brazil. This time, he came with his bag of crackers that he munched on like a mouse all day. He was almost as entertaining as the band.
Another guy danced like a crazed peacock, throwing his hands in the air. At one point, he hijacked an elderly woman in a wheelchair, took her for a dance and spun around the streets. She lapped it up as if she was the star of the show, waiving like the Queen from her wheelchair. His erratic dance moves were punctuated with a flicking of his head and feathered earring to the beat of the music. He too was almost as entertaining as the band.
The eye-candy on the streets was to die for, as hot, shirtless men filled the streets. What better way to spend the day than staring at the abs of an Adonis, along with a cold beverage! But by the end of our stay, Jason's retinas were damaged and he needed an ophthalmologist. He couldn't handle anymore Brazilian beauties. And if Ricky had a dollar for everytime Jason said "hottest men in the world" Ricky could retire. Jason was also struggling with his new look, which made him now look like Ellen DeGeneres with a beard.
Apart from ogling the men and enjoying the people-watching along Avenida Paulista, we found time to visit some of the museums in the city, such as the Museum of Art São Paulo (MASP), which had an exhibition on the history of sexuality in art. On our last day, we visited the Modern Art Museum. It was hardly worth the $2.50 entry fee. It was literally one large room with questionable “art” and another smaller room with a video installation of a knitting circle, involving a crying nana – we think she may have dropped a stitch. We also visited the Afro Brazil Museum. We were expecting a museum displaying Afro-Brazilian culture, but we were hard-pressed to find many artefacts and instead it seemed to be more dedicated to Catholicism in Brazil. At least it passed the time before we needed to head to the airport (and it was free).
São Paulo is notorious for its traffic jams, with over six million vehicles on the roads at peak hour. With this in mind, we left for the airport a little earlier, but this did not settle Jason’s nerves as he stressed about missing our flight. Throughout the journey Jason was constantly calculating the estimated time of arrival, in between conversations with the taxi driver using Google Translate. At one point, the ETA was midnight. Fortunately, the predictions did not eventuate and we made our flight, albeit with little time to spare.
Next stop: Foz do Iguaçu / Puerto Iguazú
For video footage, see: