Sao Paulo, Brazil. The first time to leave Europe for me… August 2011.
A two week business trip, but luckily I had the weekends for myself to explore the city a little bit. I was working for a Brazilian E-Commerce company and Berlin HQ decided I had to go there exactly three days after I started my job. The actual journey was delayed three months but my travel orders came in over night anyways… weeee!
So the flight was booked from Berlin TXL over Paris CDG and then to SaoPaulo GRU. I had one hour of stopover in CDG which I thought back then, was plenty of time to probably even see the Eiffel tower. Boy was I off, I barely made my connecting flight because CDG is a hellhole of an airport! It is stretched widely and you can probably spend 30min going from one terminal to the other, just the walk.
My first transatlantic flight was calm and comfortable. Although it was booked in economy, I had two seats to myself and an iPad to watch my favourite movies. That was the last time I ever had that comfort, except for one other flight.
When I arrived in Brazil, I had been advised to take a taxi to the apartment, which was about 100$ US from the airport to downtown Sao Paulo. I shared a small apartment with two other colleagues from the company that I worked for.
They told me to pack warm clothing, as it was winter over there, so I did. Mistake. Winter in Brazil is probably warmer than summer in Germany, so 70% of my suitcase’s contents were useless to me. Locals were strolling the streets in fur coats at 15°C though. Tough shit!
One of the first things that I noticed in SaoPaulo was the smog. I had never experienced smog before and although I have seen worse nowadays, it was horrible to me back then. Coming into the city, you cross several huge factories and oil refineries along the highway, that give you an idea of the industrial upswing that this country is going through right now. That is the ongoing theme everywhere, at least that was my impression: Upswing! Everybody is working hard, skyscrapers shooting into the sky, electronics stores and luxury clothing everywhere. The city is filled with young and ambitious people that want to be rich by 35. The sooner the better.
Everything is very expensive in Brazil, especially consumer electronics and entertainment. Blu rays were sold for 2-3 times the price compared to the U.S. and it is beyond me how anybody in this country could afford it. Another thing that is wildly expensive, is chocolate. Especially Swiss and German chocolate has gold-like prices and so I brought two kilograms of Kinderschokolade for my colleagues: I placed it in the middle of the room and left for a 10min greeting with the CEO. When I came back, all of it was gone and the wrapping lay around like the leftovers of a shark attack. I was kind of glad, that the massacre had taken place without me.
Exploring my hood
The first days were filled with work, so there was no time to explore. Not even the neighbourhood. We had lunch at St. Etienne’s almost everyday. It is a very nice little diner in the Jardins region in Sao Paulo. Jardins means ‚Gardens‘ and is one of the nicer neighbourhoods in the city. The name is misleading though, it is more of a concrete jungle. I discovered one park, near the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, the Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos.
A few hundred meters from the company office, the Avenida Paulista crosses the city. This street is one of the main streets of the city and it stretches for about 3km. These are filled with few historic buildings, like the Residência Joaquim Franco de Mello. There are several large buildings, skyscrapers and some shopping malls. While you can find surprisingly few U.S. style companies, like McDonalds, Burger King and Starbucks in the side streets and small neighbourhoods. The main roads are filled with them as you know it from other cities in the world.
Saturday #1: How to waste a day
After a few days, the weekend was there and my colleague had plans to show me the city throughout the weekend. So what happened was, that we ended up on the couch, in front of the TV and watching the Bundesliga game of Bayern Munich. My blood pressure leaps through the roof thinking of it, even today.
He had a friend coming over with beer and sausages and since I didn’t want to go out by myself – also because I was a little bit afraid to be honest – I just stayed in. When the game was over, it was already late in the evening and the motivation to go out was about zero for everyone of us.
I love to waste time, I really do! If it’s cheap time. You know, when there’s nothing else to do, when you’re somewhere you’ve been before and when you’re not missing out on anything that excites you. But, especially today, wasting 12 hours of daylight in a country that I’ve never seen before and that I’ll probably never see again, seems like complete madness to me! Totally unacceptable! I rarely say ’never‘ and I am not an advocate of ‚Carpe diem!‘ or such stuff, but something like that never happened to me again and I am very, very sure that it never will!
Sundays are Zoo days
So the next day, I jumped out the comfort zone that was our couch and headed into the city on my own. I was so badly prepared, I didn’t even have a map of the city let alone mobile internet or something like that. Just a few bucks and the desire to see more of the city.
I ended up buying a metro ticket, probably the wrong one but it got me into the train and I just rode around for a bit. The tunnels were kind of… like… tunnels and so I got out of the tube after some five or six stops and looked at the map in the entry. The zoo was not far from here and since sundays are good days to do zoo’ing, that’s were I went.
I had to cross a few side streets, wander through some quite sleazy neighbourhoods and then I ended up at a 8-lane highway. But since the Zoo was visible on the other side and there was mild traffic, I just ran for it.
The Zoo is quite big and there were many different species, but the lack of respect towards those animals is, until today, something that irritates me. Same thing in most other Zoos that I have been to, all over the world by the way. There were ostriches that were electro-shocked to move around the vehicles, apes on leashes, and deer that were chased inbetween the safari jeeps for ‚action‘. Other than that, the Zoo was fine and a nice sunday experience.