Tales of Travel: Sao Paulo

Our plans for travelling in Brazil had initially centred around the Amazonian Basin; being pregnant put paid to that idea as I wasn’t able to have any vaccinations or take any malaria tablets. Before we arrived, we were only certain that we’d be starting in Rio de Janeiro…whatever happened from there was anyone’s guess.

After our relaxing couple of days in Paraty, we decided to head to Sao Paulo, and fly to Argentina from there instead of heading back to Rio.

Of Sao Paulo, Tall said, “It’s been okay, it’s just another big city”, and I don’t think I could have put it any better than that, really. It’s certainly big, and it was okay, but nothing spectacular.

There’s a lot of amazing graffiti and street art about, and we wandered through an art market which was very impressive (ruing the fact that we still had six weeks to go and not enough room in the pack)…but there was nothing about this city that would make me tell people they have to visit. However, the Japanese quarter, Liberdade, is vibrant and full of restaurants and markets, and has a wonderful bakery – the choice of savoury and sweet pastries, pies and cakes was mindblowing (and delicious).

One thing that struck me about Sao Paulo is the sheer number of homeless people. They are all over the city, in the poshest neighbourhoods, on the main streets, and simply seem to be part of the city. The number of them makes London pale into insignificance, and I thought that was horrible enough. It’s sad, and made me feel quite hopeless because there was nothing we could do…being a traveller means you notice people like this more than you do if you live in a city; you become almost immune to it then.

Perhaps our experience of Sao Paulo was an unusual one, and perhaps there are many more positives to the city if you dig a little deeper or spend a little more time. It was an interesting, eye-opening city to wander around, but I’m glad we were only passing through.

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Tales of Travel: Paraty

From Rio de Janeiro, we took a bus to the coastal town of Paraty. As we were travelling before the high season started, we were lucky enough to be able to make last-minute decisions and accommodation bookings based on where our moods took us. After the hustle-and-bustle of Rio, we were in the mood for heading somewhere relaxed and quiet, and our guide book seemed to indicate that Paraty could be that spot.

Paraty (pronounced ‘pah-rah-chee’) is a UNESCO world heritage site, a four-hour bus ride down the coast from Rio. It was the first colonised settlement in Brazil, and has a definite Portuguese feel to its cobbled streets and white-washed buildings. Ironically, it also appears to be sponsored by Mastercard and Visa – all the street signs have the Mastercard symbol on them, and there are signs for both cards everywhere.

I imagine that during high season, Paraty is overrun by tourists. However, we saw hardly any other tourists during our visit, which made for a peaceful couple of days. As we watched the sun set over the local beach on our first evening, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was locals, not gringos, enjoying the water. There were also lots of stray dogs, lazing about on the sand. One decided to make himself at home under our table, until there was some sort of dog excitement that caught his attention.

On our second day in Paraty, we took a boat trip – the local “port” is filled with boats, and for R$25, you choose a boat and get a five-hour trip to some beautiful beaches and bays. The water was a beautiful turquoise and lovely to swim in; we snorkelled and swam and had a delicious fresh fish lunch on board. The crew were very friendly and our boat had a guy singing and playing guitar which added to the experience. The fact that we couldn’t understand a word he was saying didn’t matter a bit; he liked Tall’s Arsenal t-shirt – funny how football is a universal language…

We ate on the cobbled streets – a Cuban meal one night, Italian the next – and chatted to the locals; the atmosphere of Paraty is one of fun and friendship, and two days there wasn’t long enough.

Tales of Travel: Rio de Janeiro

When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 1 November 2009, it was close to midnight and unbearably hot, but the city showed no signs of slowing down for the night. Cafes and bars and stores were still open, and people spilled out onto the street.

It was colourful and loud in the central areas, and it wasn’t until the light of day that the distinction between those who have everything and those who have nothing is apparent. Many taxi drivers and buses will take a longer route to avoid showing tourists a glimpse of the slums, but we were lucky to strike a cabbie with excellent English, who took us past the real Rio. It was intensely sobering, shocking and heartbreaking to be driven past neighbourhoods where multiple families live in ramshackle tin huts that look as though they’ll collapse in the merest breeze.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot to see in the city itself; most tourists come for the beaches and for carnaval. There are some absolutely gorgeous parts of town, but there’s not a lot to do other than laze on the littered white sands and watch the multitudes go by.

For the first two nights, we stayed in a small hostel that I’m sure was the loudest and hottest place in the whole city. Despite using earplugs and the ceiling fan that spun in lazy circles above our bed, we got hardly any sleep, and decided to move on fairly quickly.

We decided to spend a few days in a hotel in Copacabana (go on, sing it with me…), mainly to satisfy my beach-loving husband. I spent my time reading and shade-chasing, while Tall was thrown about by some very impressive waves. Anything goes on the beaches in Rio; it was so refreshing to see people of all shapes, sizes and colours relaxing and not giving two hoots about what they look like, how their bellies hang over their speedos, or how their impressive Brazilian bums seem ready to escape from their teeny g-string bikinis. It certainly made this pasty white kiwi with the expanding belly feel very un-self-conscious!

When sitting on the beach got too much, we took a cable car up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, which has amazing views across the city and up towards Christi Rei, ready to launch himself from the top of Corcovado. We sat and watched the sun set behind the famous landmark, before taking the twilight cable car back down into the city.

We wandered out of the main city area for dinner one night, and came across a restaurant that looked okay. However, we were disappointed again by the lack of fresh seafood on offer, and the fact that the rest was overcooked. The only redeeming feature was that on the translated menu, the desserts fell under the title, “Hail to the Chubby”! Tee hee!

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Rio, to be completely honest. I was still experiencing a bit of morning sickness which was compounded by the heat and some terrible food, and we were approached countless times by beggars and young children asking for money and food. And later, when we returned home to New Zealand, we discovered Tall’s credit card had been skimmed at the airport when we first arrived, and someone had been having a great time spending over £1000 in various places around the city. Luckily we were able to prove we weren’t in Rio when the transactions took place, and all of the money was returned to our account.