Sao Paulo

After saying goodbye to everyone at the farm we headed back down the dirt road to civilisation.  We were a bit nervous to predict what it was going to be like arriving in Sao Paulo in just 29hrs time.  From a small group of 7- 15 people for 1.5 months to 20 million people in a hectic city would prove, we thought, to be a massive shock to the system.  We arrived back in Ubaitaba 3 hours early for our bus to buy some supplies for the journey. This is essential in Brazil as all the rest stops, like the UK are a complete rip off.  We bought sandwich material and the usual dry, biscuit type snacks, along with some fruit to keep us going throughout the journey.  I invested in cheap Bahian cigerettes as Sao Paulo ws supposed to be the most expensive city in Brazil, which is the most expensive country in South America.

After a coffee and our last fresh Bahian juices we were back at the station and getting on the bus. 7 kids joined us, 3 babies, one of which sat directly in front of us.  Great.  For the next 29 hours plus 3 hours of delay we hear screaming for most and a disgusting smell of shit circulating through the air conditioning.  This was the most testing journey we have experienced yet. This was not helped by the fact that the parents fed their baby coca cola and sweets every 2 hours when we stopped.  A sugar high of banging screaming with dizzy delight, followed by hysterical crying and head butting the window. Scandal.

We cruised through blackening skies and it started to rain before we reached Sao Paulo. It turns out the area we passed had had massive rains where over 500 people had died. Looking at the river I commented how the trees were half submerged.  3 hours late there was no way our friend Erika was there, but looking around for a taxi we saw an extatic wave and big smile.  She was there and had waited for us for 3.5 hours!  What a star.  We met Tex who gave us a lift back to Erikas house and met her family.  Everyone was so welcoming it was really such a home from home.  Everyone was so lovely and we truly appreciated this after 2 months of hardship and a literally crap bus journey.

Arriving at Erika´s house, we were welcomed warmly by Niki (younger Brother) and her mum. Erika kindly lets us use her room for the whole 10 days we are there. The generosity of Erika, Ronaldo and their families was incredible thoughout our stay. We were so touched to have met these great guys in Bolivia and for them to really go out of there way at making us welcome and giving us a great Sao Paulo experience. For the whole time we were there Erika and Ronaldo took it in shifts to hang out with us and show us the city whilst the other was at work. Erika is a nurse, so had day shifts whilst we were there and Ronaldo works at OutBack (or as Brazillians call it, OutiBacki). Also during our stay, Erika´s mum was constantly cooking up a feast for breakfast, lunch and dinner and as soon as we arrived she insisted on doing our laundery. She was a real mum, and would take no for an answer. Within the first hour of our arrival we were sat at the kitchen table (which became the usual over the 10 day period), drinking coffee and we met Erika´s friend, Leno, and soon behind him came, Ronaldo. It was great to see Ronaldo, this time with some colour in his cheeks. Last time we saw him he was sick from drinking water directly from a stream near Machu Pichu. It was really nice to get along with Erika and Ronaldo just the same as when we first met them in Bolivia.

Our first day in the big city, Erika was at work, so we were in the hands of Ronaldo, Niki and Tex. After a breakfast spread, laid out ready with fresh coffee for us, we headed out. It was Sunday and the Chinese area, Liberdade, had a big market on. So we decided to check this place out. Al and I felt so strange and a bit dizzy from the hoards of people.

It was so intense after being of the farm with maximum 20 people at any one time. I had to get used to people traffic again, and of course car traffic, which there is a lot of in Sao Paulo! We try some Brazillian fruit juices, which we have been told is a must in Sao Paulo as they have every tropical fruit juice you can want here. Pineapple and mint was a favourite. We strolled around the old centre and escaped the crowds for a little while.

Being Sunday this part of town was earily quiet and felt similar to the financial district in London at the weekends.

In one part of the old town there was a display for how many taxis had been used since 1st January 2011, and it was increasing infront of our eyes. Bearing in mind it was only the 11th Januray, the gross number really brought it home to us that Sao Paolo is huge!

Our first day in Sao Paulo had bright blue skies, and no one could believe it. Apparently for the past couple of weeks it was been torrential rain non stop. Erika even phoned Niki on her lunch break just to exclaim that it was a miracle that we had arrived and the sun was out. We joked that we had brought some from Bahia with us. With all this good weather and walking, it was time to have a beer with the guys and relax for a little while. Our crash course in Portugese began. It is amazing how little we had picked up on the farm (being surrounded by French and English speakers), but we had plenty of willing teachers in Sao Paulo!

Ronaldo had a shift at outibacki that evening and we invited us to go for dinner there. So after a relax at Erika´s house, we all piled in the car to OutiBacki. This restaurant was situated in a shopping mall that felt so American, it was hard to believe that Bahia was even in the same county. We hung out for a couple of hours drinking our refillable soft drinks and free bread and dips (courtesy of Ronaldo) whilst we waited for Erika to arrive from work. Ronaldo, being Ronaldo was wearing some black trainers with his uniform that were litterally falling off of his feet. His boss was unimpressed as he had already warned him not to turn up to work with these shoes again. Ronaldo made his excuse, Í couldn´t find any other shoes!´ Of course, being in a shopping mall his boss did not believe this and marched him out of the restaurant. Oh dear….but 15mins later, they returned, Ronaldo with a sheepish grin carrying a shopping bag. It transpired that Ronaldo´s boss had bought him the shoes! We were all in stitches and could believe he had managed to be this jammy.

When Erika finally arrived, we got stuck into some baby back ribs, and cheesy chip and fried squid. My stomach didnt know what to do. After a month and a half of healthy eating and predominantly vegetarian diet, all this ´bad´ food was proving a little difficult for me. But not for everyone else, who could help gorging on the tasty meat and fried food! We eventually rolled out and left Ronaldo to finish his shift.

Our first day with Erika didn´t quite go to her plan. We had a late lunch and Al needed to speak to his Dad regarding bank stuff. We both thought it would be a quick call but unfortunately the information had not been received. Then the internet went down in the only internet cafe around. So with a change of plan we went to Erika´s friend´s (Thiago) flat where he was more than happy to let Al use his internet and skype. It was nice to feel like a local and hang out rather than rush around they city like a tourist. Erika and her friends always just pop over to chill and everyone shares everything. So no one has qualms about helping themselves to their mates fridge. I first discovered this when Erika helped herself and me to Thiagos Coca Cola, we drank and chatted whilst waiting for Al to do his stuff. Everyone that Erika knew was so accomodating and friendly. On leaving the flat we agreed that we would see Thiago for a beer over the next few days. For what remained of the afternoon, we hung out at Erika´s house. She told us about this evening that only happens on Mondays that she wanted to take us to, weather permitting.

The area is called Villa Bella, which was a dead end street with amazing graffitti lining in. When it is light, people practicing to juggle fill this area. As it was dark when we arrived, the juggling fanatics had congregated in the basketball court where it was lit up and 70´s music was blaring out of a huge speaker. Beatle´s predominently. Guys were selling beer cans and there were groups of trendy 20´-somethings hanging out watching the jugglers. Really amazing to watch, not just normal juggling with balls. But many people were experimenting with all sorts of different ideas. Ever seen juggling with a dustpan? One guy was juggling with black boxes that appeared to have magnets inside of them, another guy was balancing a huge bong on his chin and juggling with footballs which he would try and balance ontop of the bong in turn. Nutty and highly entertaining. The place had a really cool underground vibe. Not a tourist in sight either. The creative young crowd really reminded Al and I of the Brick Lane, East London scene. Half way into the night Tex and Leno arrived, however not long after this the rains came. It had been promising it for a while, with flashing in the distance, but it had arrived. Really arrived.

The rain was heavy and there to stay. The jugglers and their audience, were also there to stay. Only, everyone relocated to the petrol station at the end of the road. A party in the petrol station, who would have thought..? Even police cars came and went, only refilling petrol, as if it was normal sight to see at least 50 people juggling and drinking the station shop dry. Al couldnt believe his eyes when he saw two guys smoking, leaning against the pump. PORQUE NAO?

The rain was not stopping, the street was now a fast river with rubbish getting swept off. We made a dash for it across the street to a little bar. They had hiked their prices, I don´t think they could believe their luck that so many young party goers were taking refuge in their tiny bar. At one point the road was overflowing down the stairs into the entrance of the bar, so they had to pull the shutters down. We were stuck! Not for long though, and after some cheap sweet disgusting wine we flagged down a taxi and managed to get back to Erika´s place. The drive home was a bit mental though. Many cars had been abandoned with the flash flooding, water had come up to the windows on the other side of the road. It was an incredible sight and we felt lucky to make it all the way back without any mishaps. The next day we heard that people had died from the rains in Sao Paulo, and the tradegy of the landslide in Rio that had killed much more.

Erika went to work the following morning, Ronaldo, who had come over after his night shift ended had slept of the couch. With a sleepy start to the day, we bumble out after another great lunch thanks to Erikas Mum. We head for Avenida Paulista, the main avenue in Sao Paulo. Appart from the 6 lanes of traffic, there is a vague comparison to be made to Oxford Sreet. We disembark our public bus at MASP, a national art museum. The building itself is interesting architecture. A very raw urban monolithic building that overhangs the huge side walk and a fantastic view of Sao Paulo behind it.

The first floor is a temporary exhibition, very apt. Photography by Wim Wendy, who tries to capture the unnoticed places in his travels around the worlds. The first photograph happened to be of some graffiti that I recognise from Salvador. Really inspirational photography, seeing as we are travelling too and love to find the unknown and unnoticed places too.The second floor was the permanent collection and we are really impressed with what a rich collection of European masters they have. With a nice injection of culture and art, we cross Avenida Paulista to where Sao Paulo has some original Matta Atlantica forest …bearing in mind this is on the main road of the city, we have to check it out. With tiled walkways, lamp posts and sculptures amongst the trees, it is a really weird place. No animals, not even and spiders it seems. A cool place to hang out on a lunch break for the city workers however.

Ronaldo takes us to Avenida Augusta for a beer while we wait an hour for Erika to finish work. Some funny conversations, and language misunderstandings later…the rain started once more. We headed to the subway for shelter and found Erika. Hungry after a long shift, we decide to go to their favourite all you can eat chinese in Liberdade. The Chinese was different to what we were used to in the UK and I expect, it was a Brazillian twist on the food, just as the English is adjusted to English tastes. This one consisted of a lot of meet and fish that we could cook on a hot plate on our table…was on the verge of a bbq in my eyes. Either way it was interesting to see how international food can be perceived differently in different countries. After a nice meal we met Erika´s friends and brothers.

We started in one pool and kareoke place that was very expensive, and soon relocated to a more local place that was much cheaper. With a big crowd of us, we took up 2 pool tables and played a lot and drank a fair bit too. We learned Brazillians pool rules, which are pretty different to what we are used to. We also learn that the rules differ massively from person….but fun all the same.

A late night and another lazy start. Erika and Niki take us to Ibirapuera, a large city park where it is possible to rent bike out.

First Erika treated us to a buffet lunch at a nice cafe in the park, then we went to meet their good friend Patricia who has probably the best office in Sao Paulo, in the park. She works with city park planning. We went and said hello, she is a lovely bubbly character.

Renting bikes for an hour was a nice way to enjoy the cool green space of the city. A hour was sufficient as we were all pretty tired. After work, and renting bikes Patricia came back to Erikas house with us for a fantastic typical Brazillian dinner by Erika´s Mum. Then came some caiprinhas in preparation for a night out at a favourite club of Erika and her friends. Soul jazz live music at a place called Sarejevo. Only 20 Reis to get in and cheap drinks. Great music and fun to have a dance to.

We only arrived at the club at 12pm…Brazillians are nocturnal I swear, which meant we only left at 6am. This whole evening, going out on a Wednesday was very reminiscent of uni days for Al and I.

The following day didn´t really happen. Erika went to work at 1pm, we slept all day to recover. I did manage to drag myself out of bed after only a few hours of sleep to run to the local market, that only happens on Thusdays. I picked up Guacamole ingerdients and Gyoza ingredients. Why? Well Brazillians only eat avacados sweet, never savory, so it was my mission to convince them guacamole is the way forward. Gyoza ingredients, because Al had promised Niki that he would teach him how to cook his favourite food. After the market, more sleep and a late lunch with Ronaldo before he headed out to work.

Niki, Al and I jumped on a bus in the evening to meet Erika and Patricia for some dinner. Erika, being totally dedicated to making our stay perfect, had found a promotion deal. Two beers, bread and semolina fries…plus some chicken wings. This was just enough to hit the spot. After we hung out at Patricia´s for a couple of hours. We were all so tired that we had a sleepy bus ride home and hit the sack for a well needed sleep.

Erikas has a day off and she is determined to show us Sao Paulo from the sky. A bank tower that provides a panorama of the city. As soon as we finally left the house though, the skies opened up. A day of raining and raining. Instead we get cosy inside and while Al begins to teach Niki how to make Gyozas, Erika teaches me a 4 person card game. She was such a star, learning english, I can olnly appreciate teaching a card game (a complicated one at that) is a bit of a hallenge. She spent an hour passionately telling me all about Truco. Down to the tactics and the little things that she and apparently the rest of Brazil love about this game. Al and Niki thought it was hilarious that us girls were taking quite so long to get to grips with the explaining of a card game. When they had finished preparing gyoza ingredients for later, I quickly whipped up some guacamole and we all sat down to a game. Niki ´quickly´ ran through the rules. In this game, there are 2 teans, so Erika and I were one and Al and Niki the other. Despite all the boys teasing about Erikas long explanation, us girls won and we made a blinding team. Over the next few days of playing, we always won together.

The afternoon evolved into Friday night with many of Erika´s coming around and playing truco as well as a lot of Caiprinha making. When card games beame to much,  Al taught a dice game, ´Ten Thousand´,

which we were taught by Sandy in Pura Vida. Everyone loved it and got hooked on it. When games in general got too much, the universal game commenced, show eachother you tube videas. Caiprinhas made and drunk till 6am again.

Finally we all wake up about 2pm and go to Ronaldos home about an hour away for dinner. His mum wanted to meet us, and see who had been keeping her son away from home all week. Ronaldos house was full of family members relaxing and coming and going. Beatiful little nieces running around, people drinking cerveza smoking and eating a great spread that had been laid out. It was great to be welcomed into another family, and to experience what Brazillians do, not what is recommended ofr tourists to do in Sao Paulo on a Saturday night. Tex, who half lives there was there to hang out too. Now hooked we play more truco, miss the last bus so sleep over in Ronaldo´s living room. Al discovers that they are all Age of Empire geeks, so another late night commences as Ronaldo and Al both see who kicks ass. Along with the Age of Empires noises, Mario noises and other such computer game based noises, Roanaldo and Al continue to drive Erika and I insane with inserting these sounds into every day life.

Sunday morning we are woken to the house full of people, a great breakfast spread on.

Erika drags the boys out of the house, to my delight (cue toe sppedy Mario noise), and we go to a local public building that houses a museum, library, swimming pool, music rehearsal rooms, a foyer were you can play games. A really great place, which used to be a textile factory and refurbished by the same architect that is responsible for the MASP building. We enjoy some chillout time and have fun playing around with our cameras and see a cool puppet exhibition called Grumildos.

On the way back to Ronaldos place we have a beer, it is so hot with the concrete reflecting the intense sun…that´s our excuse anyway, and Erika buys me caiprinha with sake. An impromotu Sunday BBQ is going on at Ronaldos house, so to Als delight, chicken wings galore and some sausages before we leave with Ronaldo as he has to go work. His mum gives us all a lift, which is appreciated, it is great not to have to endure another hour bus journey.

Every Thursday and Sunday evening, G.R.C.S.E.S Vai Vai have a rehearsal for carnival in the centre of Sao Paulo. This is just one group many samba groups that participate for carnival. With Niki, Patricia and a few mor friends we agree to go to the Sunday one. Running a little late, Erika, Al and I catch a cab to find the others. The rehearsal happens in the street, it used to a sprawling event, but is now contained to a large road that has barriers and you have to pay a small about (10reis). This is understandable as it feels like a festival, there are so many people, it must be hard to manage the rehearsals.

It was an incredible experience, and we were happy to enjoy a taste of the carnival, seeing as we won´t be in Brazil for the actual event. The dancing was vibrant, with women in revealing outfits, stillettos and generally large arses and big boobs. Shaking everything rapidly to the beat of the repetitive samba music. The lyrics that were sung over and over again with seeminly more passion each time, people never tiring, singing almost in a joyfull trance.

Feliz da vida, la vem o Bixiga
Exemplo de cominidade
A Musica Venceu
O dom e luz que vem de Dues
Da emocao VAi-Vai resplandeceu

was the chorus that even we joined in with. With such a release of energy and finding new energy each time it was repeated, the dancing and atmosphere got more and more electric. A really dark sky moved over us throughout the time there, but to our luck the rain didn´t break and the impending downburt somehow motivated even more craziness and dancing. As a grande finale we watched the drum procession lead away from their rehearsal.

With legs tired and bellies empty, our lovely group of friends went for a beer and a pizza before catching the bus home to bed. It was our first round of goodbyes as our timer in Sao Paulo was coming to an end. I felt almost more emotional than leaving Pura Vida, although I couldn´t put my finger on exactly why. All I can think is that we had enjoyed Erika´s friendship group so much, they has welcomed us warmly and were such kind and generous happy people.

Our last day in Sao Paulo with Erika and Ronaldo, we make it to the tower with a view of Sao Paulo. It was a fantastic view with city and high rises as far as the eye could see.

An apt thing to see on our departure of this fantastic city we decide. A day of lasts, I make sure I have my last Acai. It will be a while until I am able to experience this again. After the tower we stroll though town and find ourselves in the Mercado Municiple where we meet up with Luis (Erika´s older brother) and his girlfriend Mariana for some patilles, filled pasties.  As we are hading back to the bus stop to mozey on home, Luis offers me a ride on his motorbike. I jump at hte offer, it was a beautiful bike with a comfortable leather double seat. We have a 15min whizz through the city centre. It was great to have a different perspective of the city, bike level.

A little adrenalin pumped later, we meet the guys at the train station that looks uncannily like a british station. We soon discover that the steel was cast and shipped over from Britain about 100 years ago.

Our last evening we go to rodizio churrascaria(all you can eat bbq) around the corner from Erika´s place. There is quite a turnout for our send off. Again we are touched that people make so much effort to say goodbye, similarly to Pura Vida. Back at Erikas, I didn´t expect anyone had anymore energy left after the last week of antics. I clearly had underestimated these Brazillians. More caiprinhas were made and a drunken game of guess the name game was played. Poor Al was Woody Allen, and actuall looks a little like him with Patricia´s glasses on. Unfortunately for Al and his extremely poor film knowledge, he was left guessing for at least two hours.

More sad goodbyes followed, but a happy last night to remember all dearly.

The day of our flight we played a few games of Ten Thousand with Niki and Ronaldo who are definately hooked now, packed up and had one last homemade meal from Erika´s mum. A Brazillian version of chicken strogonoff with secret ingredients of condensed milk (this goes into most Brazillian cooking some way or another) and Bolivia Pisco. Delicious. We say our last goodbyes to Luis, Mariana and Erika´s mum. What a legend she is. On our departure she blessed us with catholic saints and gave Al and I seperate saint necklaces for future safe travels. It was truly sad to say goodbye to her. She had taken us in life her own children form the last 10 days and made us feel like we had a home in the midst of our constant travelling and upheaval that enduce upon ourselves.

Niki and Ronaldo accompanied us to the airport, about an hour of public transport. The weather was extremely hot and humid and felt like it would rain soon. On our last leg to the airport we had a short taxi ride, out of the back window we could see the storm arriving with flashes of lighting . A loud crash as we were pulling up to the airport, littlerally leaving with a bang. Niki begged us not to take the sun with us. We had been blessed with 10 days of pretty good weather, and on our departure it seemed that there was no sun left from Bahia.

An hour before we needed to go to our gates, we played one last game of Ten Thousand, Ronaldo had brought the dice to the airport with him. The fianlly our final sad goodbyes. We turned and went through security. We will truly miss these guys, we had many laughs and fu times together. Definately will be seeing them again in our lifetime we concluded.

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