I skipped São Paulo (SP) on arrival, but in travelling south there was no way to avoid it. With c.19m inhabitants, SP is the largest city in Latin America and 7th biggest in the world; quite simply it is huge. Having heard good things from others, I stopped in for a few days (not enough to even scratch the surface) before an 18hr bus trip to Iguaçu to meet Jono.
I did a free walking tour around Avenida Paulista, the main road in SP which runs through its modern city centre. Previously the government mandated that a ‘skyscrapers’ needed a cultural centre, which today provide free entry to a wide range of exhibitions, concerts and talks. I can recommend the Itaú Cultural which hosts a permanent exhibition of art and artefacts telling Brazil’s history from indigenous tribes through to Portuguese settlement and their use of African slaves, to independence and modern day times.
The military dictatorship banished this cultural centre rule which saw the mushrooming of skyscrapers in the 80s that now dominate the city. Only a handful of the old mansions still exist, as many families were prevented by the government from selling these to construction firms to protect the cultural heritage. To overcome this hurdle, many set fire to them or stealthily demolished with a wreaking ball during the night.
To prepare for my overnight bus trip, I decided to explore Vila Madelena on foot and tire myself for the ride, searching out street art and great food. The renowned Beco do Batman (Batman Alley) is a good starting place which is covered by pieces from Brazilian and international artists, from there I wandered through the leafy streets of the bohemian-cum-hipster neighbourhood.
Despite being told that the SP mayor recently outlawed street art, it can be found everywhere: adding splashes of colour to the prevailing grey concrete and towering buildings, bringing light along the shady overpasses.
I braved a small luncheonette, which looked like it catered to local blue collar workers and managed to order in Portuguese with some ‘hands’ added. My steak was amazing accompanied -as most mains in BR- with rice, salad and black beans for real Brazilian prices – a steal at R13 (£3) washed down by a coke (R4 /£1 – go figure!). I also found a fabulous seafood place which I was really gutted that I didn’t understand the menu at Peixaria Bar as the fish looked amazing!
And finished it with a visit to Coffee Lab, a hip cafe with waiters in overalls who perform one of nine coffee rituals on the menu, like why coffee and cheese go well together, and a comparison of Italian v Brazilian cappuccino. I’m now on the hunt for a recipe to make my own version of their coffee sago pudding – divine 😋
Bonus – Top tips for surviving an 18hr bus trip
1. Charge your devices and external battery
– I started with less than 30% on my phone, tablet AND external battery 😩
– Good news is that the cafeteria stops all have plugs which you can charge at during comfort breaks.
2. Don’t smile or make eye contact too long or too early w the guy across the aisle.
– Eik he passed me a note with his name and phone number to chat on whatsapp – (no) thanks Gilberto..
3. Think of the Never Ending Story and pack supplies
– Try and find fruit that travels well (apples, coconut pieces, carrots) – you’ll be glad to be eating something other than pure sugar
– lots of water
4. Rug up warm
– Goodness they pump that aircon like they were protected by the last icebergs
– Being your jacket(s), beanie and scarf, plus ear plugs and eye mask to guarantee some sleep
On to Iguaçu / Iguazu and a week travelling with Jono – hurrah!
Ô de Casa – SP hostel >> http://odecasahostel.com/en/
Coffee Lab >> http://coffeelab.com.br/
Peixaria Bar e Venda >> https://m.facebook.com/peixariabarevenda/