So I went back to Brazil, leaveing May 28 and returning June 5 – just one week. I had three options for arrival:
1) Fly down early and spend a day in Sao Paulo with Continental (think 12000 airline miles)
2) Fly down on Saturday with a different airline and spend 12 hours in the airport (no airline miles)
3) Fly with Continental on Saturday (tickets cost $800 more), and spend 12 hours in the airport
Granted, with option #3, I wasn’t paying for the plane ticket, the company did, but I still try to do my best and keep an eye on my costs for them. So that left 12,000 airline miles or no airline miles. Of course, I chose the airline miles. I landed in Sao Paulo the morning of 5/29 and took a bus and the metro to get to my hostel. They were going to charge me 100 reais ($67) to go in a taxi and the bus/metro system only cost $5 or so – was there really an option here? It did take almost 2 hours to get to the hostel, but traffic is anything but fast in that city, so I’m not sure how much faster a car would have been. The one girl who is working with us called me brave for travelling this way, but really there wasn’t a question in my mind. I also found that the subway was in no way more complicated that the one in DC, it was cleaner and possibly safer. Also, it only cost 2.55 reais ($1.53) to go anywhere – no matter the distance. If this were true in DC, I would save well over $100/month for transportation to and from work!
After resting a bit, I decided to head out and see some sites. Nearby the hostel, there was a marketplace, so of course I went to check that out. I was slightly disappointed by the wares – mostly antiques, some paintings, and old records and sunglasses – but I did get a pastel de bacalao (codd with some different seasonings that was then breaded and fried) which was delicious.
From there, I hopped on the metro to go to the Metropolitan Art Museum (MASP), but decided not to go in (it cost something like $8 and there was a huge line that wrapped around the block). Right across from MASP, however, was a really cool park. Called Trianon Park, it is a block of original Mata Atlantica rainforest that wasn’t cut down when they built the rest of the city. It felt about 10* cooler inside of the park, and it was a great respite from the noise of the street. There was also a cool drum band playing outside of the entrance which was pretty neat. I walked up and down Avenida Paulista – the business center of Brazil, eventually found a place to eat (though I was forced to eat in a food court in a mall – something I refused to do in Philadelphia – but there wasn’t any other choice here! At least it was Brazilian food, complete with farrofa). From there, I headed back to the hostel (I was exhausted after travelling, though I must say I had an empty seat next to me on the flight from Houston to Sao Paulo so I was able to lie down and get a good night’s rest!).
On the way, however, I stopped at a cemetery which was a different experience. Unlike the US where most people are buried underground, in Latin America it seems to be the opposite – most people are buried above ground and all family members will be in the same area – I guess this helps with space issues, too, since people can’t really be buried underground on top of each other, but they can be if they’re above ground. Anyway, some of the tombs were quite elaborate with carvings and statues. Others had a space that had a door, inside of which was almost always a small table filled with candles, crosses, and pictures. Sometimes there was a chair that someone could go in and sit on while they prayed or what have you. It was an interesting experience, though.
I slept pretty well that night and headed back out early the next morning.
After breakfast at the hostel, I got back on the metro and went downtown. I had a list of places that I wanted to visit after doing some research on the internet, so I started at one metro station (called Luz – the name of the neighborhood where I lived in Ecuador!) and started walking. My first real stop was the Mercado Central. This was possibly the cleanest and most well-organized market I have ever been in in Latin America. It was all food – prepared and unprepared – (and maybe some cooking supplies), but it was really neat. There are two foods the market is famous for – pastel de bacalao and its sanduiche de mortadella (some sort of pork product – like bologna with more fat and cut thinner, maybe). Since I had the pastel de bacalao the day before, I decided to try the sandwich. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw it! It was huge! Two small pieces of bread enveloped a stack of meat that was at least 4″ high! I felt slightly embarrassed, but not too much because there were Brazilians there who, also having ordered the sandwich, had the same reaction I did! I couldn’t even eat half of the sandwich, it was so huge! It tasted okay, but once was enough. Even thinking about it now makes me kind of queasy!
I also saw the place were Sao Paulo was founded, some cool churches, walked up some massive hills (Sao Paulo might be able to rival Bellefonte for average incline per square mile!), and took my time exploring the city. In front of the main church (next to the Supreme Court of Justice) there was a huge plaza (at least one block of solid concrete) with a really huge fountain that goes through the center of the plaza. The most shocking part of it, though, was the sheer number of homeless people who were laying in the plaza. Mostly men, they were sleeping on and under every available bench, stretched out in the corners and sitting on the edges of the fountain. They were washing their clothes and faces in the fountain. It was shocking. Living in DC, I pass people begging for money every day, but never so many in one place! Also, during my last visit to Brazil, we didn’t see many homeless people at all, so I was taken aback.
From there, I headed back to the hostel, prepared my things and headed off to the airport and Rio Branco, which I’ll have to tell you more about at another time because it’s time for me to go home and celebrate the weekend!