17 Feb – 21 Feb
Thanks to the overnight buses which I love (sarcasm is not easily conveyed in writing) taking, I arrived in São Paulo early in the morning and made my way to my CouchSurfing host, Andre’s house. One thing that immediately struck me was how cool São Paulo is – they have vending machines for books! Such a dream
Andre was out, but his very nice flatmate let me in and gave me some tips about the city before leaving me to my own devices. I decided to take a nap (yes, despite spending the entire bus ride in a state of half-asleep-ness, I was still exhausted, well because bus rides are tiring) and went to the downtown area after my nap. As usual, I headed to the information point to get myself a map, and was lucky enough to be told by the girl at the desk that if I hurried, I could go up to the top of Edificio Italia, one of the tallest buildings in São Paulo. I just about made it (10minutes before closing time!) and the view was indeed amazing, but it also showed me how much of a city São Paulo is, pretty much like Singapore.
Anyway, after that, I walked around the Republica area, taking care to leave before nightfall. Republica, a hive of activity in the day thanks to all the businesses that have their offices there, turns into a ghost town (read: hangout for the dodgy folk) once the work day ends.
Still, it was a nice walk, and despite what people say, São Paulo isn’t thaaaaat ugly a city.
Day two in São Paulo: Andre didn’t have to go to the university that day, so he offered to show me around town. Yay for guided tours! Heh. Anyway. We headed to Avenida Paulista, named for the city and running through the heart of the city and walked along most of its length,
stopping to visit one of the most famous museums there
and for my first pastel, a yummy deep fried (I later found out that there are baked pastels as well, but not as easily found) pastry, stuffed with your choice of filling (sweet and savory). Nomz.
After we were done with Av. Paulista, we set off to Parque do Ibirapuera for a leisurely stroll.
It was a nice park,
with a really cool amphitheater, courtesy of Oscar Niemeyer, in the middle.
Awesome stuff. Next on the agenda: Vila Madalena, a pseudo-hippy, artsy part of town, home to lots of gorgeous graffiti
and a lovely ice-cream place with lots of exotic fruit flavours. I later found out that all the graffiti was planned by the government, and wasn’t actually the work of random artists.
But the ice-cream was delicious anyway – after sampling almost every flavour I had never heard of, I finally chose two flavours that tasted amazing but had really difficult names to remember.
Andre headed home after that, while I decided to go to the weekly CouchSurfers meeting. Really cool meeting where I met lots of interesting people (like duh, all CouchSurfers are interesting people). It was quite funny seeing that many (I think there were over a hundred people) squeezed into a relatively small space – on the upside, it was really easy to jump between conversation groups – all you had to do was turn around. Fun evening!
São Paulo is one of the few Brazilian cities with a free walking tour (probably because becoming a tour guide in Brazil is a long and somewhat torturous process), so I decided to make use of the opportunity to see the rest of São Paulo that I hadn’t already seen. It was an interesting enough tour, but with a huge group, which was…not that nice.
Still, I got to see some of the more important sights in São Paulo.
After the tour, I went with some people I met during the tour to Mercado Municipal, where I got to sample some interesting fruits – I found out, belatedly, that almost all of the interesting fruit in Brazil is from the north, so the market trip wasn’t that interesting, probably because we get most of the fruits they had there in Singapore too.
After that, I met up with another CouchSurfer, Renato, and had a nice chat before heading back to to Andre’s place to go to a party at the University with Andre and his flatmates. It was a good party with lots of interesting conversations, and the bands (university students) that played were really good as well. Evening well spent!
The next day, I had to deal with something rather mundane – visa issues. So. Singaporeans get a one month tourist visa upon arrival, and my visa was supposed to expire on 2 March. I had initially planned to go to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, which was supposed to end on 2 March, and I had the vague idea of taking a bus to Bolivia to escape the country on the same day. Unfortunately, I’d conveniently forgotten about the fact that Brazil is enormous, and apparently, getting from Rio to Bolivia is a journey that takes three days. Or six. I can’t remember, but either way, that was not happening, so on to plan B – get my visa extended for another three months. As with most things in Brazil, it was far more difficult and complicated than it had to be, but after spending a good portion of my day running here and there and waiting patiently, I finally got my visa extended! Yayness! To celebrate, I headed to the weekly CS English meeting to meet and chat with other English speakers, a welcome change from hearing the utterly strange (okay not really – it bears some resemblance to Spanish) Portuguese all the time. It was a nice evening, and I also got some tips on where to head to in Brazil with my extended visa! Score!
One of the more interesting (non-city related) things to do in São Paulo is to go to Parque Estadual do Cantareira. Henrique, one of the CouchSurfers, had offered to accompany me there the next day. Unfortunately, what neither of us realized was that the park was only open on weekends and public holidays -_- horribly annoying, but Henrique managed to ask around and find another park that we could go to, Horto Florestal, which thankfully was open on weekdays as well. We headed over there and spent a nice day walking around the park, but sadly there weren’t any interesting trails.
The sighting of capivaras in the park almost made up for it though, and it was a generally pleasant day.
We parted ways in the evening and I went to meet up with Andre and his friends for a pre-Carnival parade. It was absolutely crazy, with a few thousand people following the parade vehicle, all dressed in colourful costumes, and singing and dancing and making merry. (I have yet to figure out why most of the men were dressed as women though.) Great fun, and a good glimpse of what Carnival in Rio was going to be like.
To be honest, I was somewhat intimidated by the prospect of Carnival in Rio, just looking at the sheer number of people who had turned up for the pre-Carnival parade. Anyways. The next day, I packed my stuff and was on the road again. Destination: Paraty, my pit-stop before Rio for Carnival! (Things didn’t quite work out how I’d planned, but that’s for the next post.)