Bloco e Futebol

Trip Start Dec 14, 2012
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Trip End Feb 20, 2013


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Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Friday, February 8, 2013

Our bus journey from Iguazu Falls to Sao Paulo was definitely one we'd prefer to forget. With the scent of the toilet wafting through the bus and the main air conditioning being in the form of humid air blasting in through all the wide open windows, conditions were less than ideal for a good night's sleep. Add in the long stops every couple of hours for no apparent reason all through the night and the armed police search at 3am (racial profiling seemed to be in evidence judging by the number of local men (all) vs tourists (none) being asked to pull up their tops to show if they had any weapons), and we were really looking forward to getting off the bus. Being woken up for a tip added insult to injury!

We were both a little nervous about Sao Paulo (and Rio) after being mugged in Montevideo. Their reputations preceded them and facts such as the law being changed so that cars don't have to stop at red lights after 10pm to reduce the chance of them being car-jacked did little to make us feel at ease. Our guide book was full of areas not to go and times not to go there, and we made a conscious effort to plan exactly where we were going to go and how we were going to get there so we didn't end up lost or straying slightly from the 'safe' areas.

Sao Paulo is an absolute giant of a city with a diverse population of over 19 million people - including the largest number of Japanese people outside of Japan. Apparently the Brazilian passport is one of the top ones for forgery as their cultural makeup is such that there is no such thing as a typical Brazilian. After a delightful introduction to the city from the tourist information at the bus station we headed on the metro to find our hostel. The first clue to living in a city this size was the massive ticket queue that greeted us! Set just off Paulista Avenue, one of the main streets in the city, Michael had in no way been swayed into choosing our hostel by the fact it ran its own micro-brewery... and it was just a bonus that we discovered they were having a launch party for one of their beers that evening!

It was now Carnaval time in Brazil, but Sao Paulo is not a place known for celebrating it. We'd heard, however, that there was a street party in a different area of town that evening so we decided to try that for a bit then come back for the launch party. Much to Amy's delight, even if to every Brazilian's disappointment, Sao Paulo is not really known for it's sunshine but rather for it's grey covering of cloud as it is set in a natural basin - perfect weather for Amy - warm, but no chance of burning! Unfortunately it was also the rainy season and there were frequent, huge, deluge's of rain which the city's mass of concrete is unable to deal with, cue much instant flash flooding with some roads easily up to knee height after only 20 minutes of rain. No wonder the Paulistanos (Sao Paulo residents) are irate at the government not doing much with all their taxes. Unaware of this penchant for rain, we headed off for the street party only to find it non-existent in the downpour. We headed back to our hostel party and ordered some food and drink there. The food turned out to be a lot slower than the drinks and by the time Amy had finished several of the local cocktails (Caipirinha's - delicious - try them!) and Michael had sampled several beers, it was a good job that we only had to walk up 10 steps to get into our beds.

We had wanted to look round the historical old town, but had been advised not to go there on our own on the weekends which was a shame as that was the only days we had to go there. By pure good luck we discovered a walking tour of the city that only happened on Saturday morning's, so decided to give that a try. We weren't the only ones and a huge group of around 25 people set off, picking up lost looking foreigners en route.

One of the first things we realised was that interesting as the city was, the buildings that it comprised weren't exactly our definition of 'pretty.' One of its tallest buildings was a startlingly ugly and plain looking office building, with bricks filling various windows evident from the ground and air conditioning units attached all over the fašade. Although the neighbouring Edificio Copan building designed by Oscar Niemeyer (famous architect who also designed much of the country's capital's buildings in Brasilia) was striking to look at, and so big it had it's own postcode, we can't say we'd have wanted to live there. Graffiti covered many of the more beautiful buildings - and it was literally all over them, even on the highest floors. The taggers/squatters had obviously discovered a way of leaning out of the windows and spraying everything with slogans, making the buildings look very unloved. We were extremely glad we hadn't come to the old town on our own, with literally tens of homeless people in almost every square we visited, most absolutely harmless, but nonetheless intimidating when you don't speak their language. Our tour guide reassured us that all they wanted were homes, and as we had none of these in our pockets we were safe, but still advised us not to come back on our own.

That evening, after another deluge and a melt in your mouth pizza, we headed out to a street party near to the one we'd headed to the night before with some people we'd met on the bus to Sao Paulo, some Paulistanos they'd met, and some more people from the walking tour. Despite it being a large city, we'd still managed to bump into the same people! The street part wasn't quite what we'd expected carnaval to be like (no parades and music), but nonetheless lots of great people having a good time is clearly what the event it all about.

The next day we headed to the Museo de Futebol, housed in a beautiful art deco stadium that is also home to the Corinthians team. It's always nice to visit a museum that's passionate about its subject, and the Museo de Futebol was certainly that; although we knew Brazilians loved football, the museum made it clear that they LOVED football, with the stadium described as a cathedral and the players as 'our own angels,' and pundits lovingly reminiscing about their favourite goals of all time, describing them with pinpoint precision often more than 50 years after they'd been scored! We both had a brilliant few hours taking in the quality displays - highly recommended if you're in Sao Paulo, even if you don't like football that much, purely for some insight into the Brazilians' love for the game. Sticking around to watch a game in the stadium was, however, pushing Amy's love of football a little bit too far - and we'd definitely made the right decision as it lashed it down with rain again about 20 minutes after we'd left the ground, then on and off for the rest of the afternoon. We sheltered under some shop fronts for a while, then had an amazing meal, before making our way home via some very nice shops. It was a shame the bags were nearly full and the bank account nearly empty!

The verdict on Sao Paulo? Although it has a bad reputation, we grew to really like Sao Paulo - the people from there are passionate about their city and really love it, warts and all. Brazil as a country is trying to address the staggering gaps between its rich and poor, and although it has a way to go, it definitely feels like it's heading in the right direction.
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