I am glad I gave Sao Paolo a second chance. I signed up for USD150 city tour with one awesome guide and three hour of immersion on life as Paulitanos. Fair enough, if you have money, Sao Paulo is not a bad place to live (with money everywhere is good I suppose!). I dined in a fancy, amazing and to die-for Japanese Peruvian fusion restaurant called Osaka and a white table linen so-so Italian, Tre Bicchieri. I also swiped my credit card a few times along Oscar Freire for some great buys of leather boots, Melissa shoes, and some havaianas from a nearby store. The airport transfer through the hotel sets me backs USD120 each way (including tips) – to ensure of my safety in case I fell asleep on the way to Guarulhos airport. Who am I to judge anyways? I was born and grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia – a country as problematic and resource-rich-but-cursed – disorganized and overpopulated, like Sao Paulo. We have our own problems for sure.
Sao Paolo is the most cosmopolitan city in the South American continent. It is also the most expensive. Traffic wise it is not no worse than Jakarta, my hometown. How the people lives (those who have enough resources) are similar to those in Indonesia. The income gap in the country is tremendous, similar to Indonesia. Sao Paulo is actually quite safe so long one exercises common sense, of not walking alone at night through park and quiet places. One does not use camera and mobile phones on the streets. One does not wear expensive jewelries outside walking. Taxis are pretty comfortable and safe and affordable (same cannot be said about Indonesia, except for Silver Bird and Blue Bird companies). Sao Paulo interestingly has the largest communities of Japanese outside Japan, Spanish outside Spain, and Portuguese outside Portugal. It also has a large community of Lebanese people. It is a melting pot. It is a melting pot of five main cultures. Sao Paulo is not the place to go for tourism in my point of view, but it is definitely visitable when one is on a short business trip. I was giving many safety warnings prior to my arrival, and exercising some of them kept me safe.
There are just areas to be avoided, such as the old downtown, where there are many homeless people – most drug addicts or alcoholics. The new mayor of Sao Paulo (he has been in office for two years) apparently now “upholds” the human rights of these people, and thus the Police cannot even touch them and round them up to the shelters or force them into public rehab (even if the families agree to it, but if the person does not agree to it, there is nothing anyone can do). The Mayor is ignorant in my point of view. But then, he probably comes to his office in the helicopter, so what does he see anyways? All is good in his castle in the sky. The situation has gotten so bad that my tour guide cuts short the walking tour route in downtown to avoid the Cathedral areas, where we can actually get harassed for money or food. And these people do not take no for an answer. No Paulistanos (people from the city of Sao Paulo) come to the Downtown on weekends. On weekdays, it is still bustling with lawyers and other professionals. (Note: Paulisto/a refers to those from the states of Sao Paulo).
Mercado Municipal (the market) can also be skipped, unless you have a big stomach or people to share food with. Mortadella Sandwich and Bacalao pastel come highly recommended (I chose the busiest place there in the market – full of locals). Remember not to walk outside of the market building. There are a lot of drug dealers in that area. Take a cab there and back (there’s a taxi point outside one of the doors) if you really have to go see it. I do not think the market is special. There were a couple interesting fruits from Brazil and Colombia, but most fruits are common in Asia. You would probably be overcharged buying fruits in the Mercado Municipal. Go there, taste as much as you want for free, but do not buy anything! A lot of the products are from Portugal and Spain (ham/sausage/olive oils/cheese). I see very few Brazil products in these categories. I suppose since I was just spending ten days in Spain, I found the market not too interesting.
I managed to hit Sao Paulo Art Museum (MASP) on Paulista Avenue. It was alright. I love Renoir’s paintings with all the curvy women. I also took a brief walk in Trianon Park (atlantic rainforest virgin park on Paulista Avenue. On weekends, Paulista Ave is full of stalls of artesanias (at park entrance) and antiques (below MASP).
To be honest, I am not into Brazilian music (samba, bossa nova, etc), I did not research the places that play great music, except Bar Samba in Vila Madalena. I lasted less than one hour with a friend in that bar. Luckily the music that night was just too loud to have a conversation. Thus I had an excuse to ask to move to a café where there is no music. The samba music that night was different. Slower. The band was apparently from Bahia. It was great to see the local women dancing – so sexy and effortless.
What impressed me about Brazil is the beef! I went to a beef shop/barbeque shop in Itaim Bibi, and the selection was amazing. I love beef (it is very un-Buddhist of me), but that is my only vice in this context. I strive to be a nice person. Does that count???? The two cuts that I love are picanhas (rump steak) and melt-in-your-mouth cupi.
The domestic flights on TAM also were great. The whole experience was quite smooth sailing. One hiccup was that I was allowed to select emergency exit seat, when the Brazilian law clearly requires passengers on emergency exit rows to be able to speak and understand Portuguese. Fair enough. Quick tip: buy your ticket online and choose a country outside of Brazil as your online store. Apparently tickets are cheaper outside Brazil. If you do not travel light like me, TAM does not make a big deal that my luggage is 24.7kg instead of the maximum 23kg. However, you might as well choose Flex or Top fare in the beginning. Furthermore, Top fare allows better seats and priority check in and boarding. Though I traveled on the cheapest fare and the wait and check-in process was fast and tolerable. The ground staff is not very knowledgeable on all intricacies though. Case in point: the lady did not realize I had emergency seat at Sao Paulo airport and let me through (the change had to be done on flight by asking people to change seats with me). Anyhow, these are small matters that do not need to ruin anyone’s trip. All dealt with quickly and smoothly.
To be honest, for tourism purposes, Sao Paulo does not have much to offer, but I definitely do not mind stopping by every now and then to have more gastronomic experience and shopping!!!