Saturday, 23 January 2010


Trivia question - Which city has more canals than Venice (Answer at end of blog) 

SATURDAY 16 JANUARY – Sergio, Lisete, Gabriel and Beatriz all pile into the car to take us to the bus station.  We have a bit of trouble finding a bank that will accept our visa debit card, (Bradesco does), so arrive at the bus station as they are boarding for our 9.20am departure with the 1001 bus company.  Our expensive tickets include a packed lunch and newspaper but the seats themselves are no better than the ones in the other South American countries and in fact have less leg room.  It takes about 1-hour to clear the suburbs of Rio but soon we are travelling in areas of jungle with flooded muddy rivers.  This is the region that was hit by heavy rain over the new year with a couple of coastal cities getting bad mudslides.  The lunch box is so good that we spread the 4 snacks out over the journey, 2 packets with 2 crackers in each, 1 packet with 2 sweet biscuits and 1 other filled sweet biscuit – it is a bit harder to make the small drinks carton last though!  The bus stops for about 15 minutes part way through the journey.  Our driver is a bit of a mad man travelling very fast and overtaking many other coaches. 
At least we arrive in Sao Paulo on schedule at 3.20pm.  The bus station is directly above the metro station so it is easy to make the transfer and buy the tickets, R$2.65 (95p).  With good advance information we make the metro connection then walk a couple of blocks from Paulista Street to where our new host lives.  We are the first guests for Sergio and Paulina.  Sergio is Brazilian but speaks excellent English whilst Paulina is Chilean and speaks less English but more than our Spanish.  They have a spacious apartment and have offered us a spare room with double bed and bathroom.  Tonight they are holding a party for some other Couchsurfers and asked us to join them all.  Before the others arrive Sergio escorts us on a walk up Paulista Ave to get our bearings.  He is very knowledgeable and explains the history of the area.  Once we return guests Karina from Brazil and her Italian boyfriends Paolo have already arrived.  They both speak English and we chat to them as we help with the food preparation.  Next to arrive are Sergio’s cousin Juliana and her flat mate Claudia from Chile who both speak a little English.  Finally Priscilla and her Chilean boyfriend Jair appear and they both speak English well.  The conversation around the room fluctuates between English, Spanish and Portuguese with maybe a little Italian thrown in but we all want to understand each other so things work out really well.  Claudia has brought the stuff to make sushi and watching her prepare the rolls I great entertainment especially when she enrols others to give it a try.  The group all met at the Sao Paulo weekly Tuesday meeting and decided they would like to see each other more often so suggested this kind of get together with everyone bringing a little food.  Thus we have a delicious meal with many different foods and great conversation.  Claudia’s boyfriend Silvio and Juliana’s boyfriend Zig (pronounced Ziggy) arrive making 12 in all.  They like to play games afterwards and ask us to teach them “Arsehole” so we split into 2 groups with Steve and I each leading one.  A raucous time follows with everyone enjoying the game and making a lot of noise when promoted to President.  It is 1am by the time everyone leaves.

SUNDAY 17 JANAURY – Sergio and I are the first up so I start on the dishes whilst he goes out to buy some stuff for breakfast.  After breakfast we set off in the car to visit the city centre.  Sergio is training to be a tourist guide so when we begin in the city centre he knows just where to go.  We look at many important buildings for which he has really interesting information.  Visiting the Mosteiro Sao Bento is named after “Fray Bento” and this reminds us of the brand of corned beef we have in England.  Inside the church the Benedictine monks are doing the Gregorian chant and in an adjoining room there is a queue to buy the bread and honey made by them.  The Martinelli building was the cities first skyscraper and kept rising higher to keep up with the title of highest building against another in Buenos Aires.   The only university building in the centre of city (for lawyers) has a board saying that provided no one puts graffiti on the building they will make a monthly donation to the local community and this excellent idea is obviously working as the building is clean.  Sergio explains that in Brazil one person out of a gang will put theirgraffiti signature (usually a kind of symbol with entwined initials) in the strangest, highest or most bizarre place possible then the rest of the gang have to follow suit.  On the outskirts of the centre we stop to admire the magnificent “Sao Paulo Monument as Bandeiras” sculpture celebrating the expedition into Brazil.  We stop for a bite to eat at an open air Sunday market.  There is a stall selling “pastel”, a large deep fried pastry with a variety of fillings on offer for R$2.50 (90p).  The girl on the stall welcomes us to Brazil in English and tells us it is her dream to visit England.  Nearby is a stall selling sugar cane juice to which they add either pineapple or lemon juice, R3 (£1.05) for a large glass.  Again the sellers on the stall are extremely friendly.  On Paulina’s suggestion we take it with lemon and it is delicious.  We return for a nap.  Tonight Sergio & Paulina are out playing football so we are going out with our next hosts Luiz & Luzia to a Samba rehearsal.  They are a similar age to us and also have their current guest Ron with them.  It is a long way to “Casa Verde” where the event is being held so time to chat en route.  They are also new to Couchsurfing and very enthusiastic.  After asking directions numerous times we arrive at the hall, R15 (£5.50) admission.  This event is being held by the group that won last year, “GRCES Mocidade Alegre”.  Teams enter by performing a song and dance routine whilst walking in the parade.  Anyone can hire a costume and pay money to follow the parade but cannot do the samba en route as this is restricted to the main team.  The costumes are on display and we have fun trying on a few headdresses, very heavy and uncomfortable.  The Sao Paulo Couchsurfing group have arranged for some members to gather here so we meet other hosts and their guests.  The event begins with a long build up of the music, the minute the beat changes to samba the crowd starts to gyrate.  We are given a sheet with the words to this year’s song and shown the basic dance moves and actions that go with it.  A parade comes through with the 3 main characters giving a demonstration and then it is our turn.  The music is so loud you can feel your empty beer cans vibrate.  There is no choice but to follow the 4 a breast line as we begin the song and dance routine.  The circuit goes around the hall then outside into the entry street before returning.  We think it is one circuit but are completely wrong, by about the 50th lap we almost know the words and the routine.  Had the words been in English we would surely be word perfect and this is the objective.  In the middle of the hall the main samba troop practice their more complicated routine along with another group of very young children.  It begins to rain and for the first couple of laps it is very pleasant to cool down as everyone is sweating buckets.  Unfortunately the rain gets very heavy so we move into the costume room to watch.  Others continue and begin having water fights but eventually things have to wind down and the band stops playing.  We’ve had a fantastic night and really enjoyed it all.    It is 11.30pm when we get dropped off, arriving back just before Sergio and Paulina.


MONDAY 18 JANUARY – In the morning we watch a movie that Sergio’s brother made.  It won the section in the film festival and with the prize money Daniel is making another one.  He joins us for lunch so we have lots of questions for him.  Take an afternoon walk back along Ave Paulista to photograph some statues.  In the evening we are joined for pizza by Paulo & Katrina.  After they leave Sergio teaches us a Brazilian card game, truco.  Easy to learn to play but with many twist and bluffs that would make it very intriguing.
TUESDAY 19 JANUARY – Paulina invites me to join her for a trip to the “25 March” street market.  Leaving the metro we meet up with Claudia then begin to shop.  This area is full of stores selling fashion jewellery, extreme bling in many cases.  The girls know which store is the cheapest and even I can’t resist a couple of items although trying to deliberately buy items that look cheap and fake is no easy task!  Other stores in the area are selling things for the carnival, all you may need to make your own jewellery, soft toys and underwear, quite a combination.  In the underwear stores the girls are looking for an outfit to give as a give of their friends hen night.  It is like an Anne Summers store, the front part regular underwear but upstairs the more erotic stuff and behind a further door a sex shop.  The all female staff is very friendly and down to earth and talk about everything as if they were describing any everyday item with no embarrassment at all.  The Brazilian girls are clamouring to buy sexy dressing up outfits and “accessories”.  Steve & Sergio are amazed how long we have been out, (almost 5-hours) but there is still time in the afternoon to walk to the nearby “SESC” building.  This is a kind of community centre where they offer many things free, yoga classes, exhibitions etc.  This week the exhibition is about travelling.  Another feature of the building is the viewing area from the roof top café.  A second exhibition is an audio thing with lots of different size and shaped clay pots scattered around a room, each one has a sort of speaker inside and the sound emerges from all of them and is supposed to be an amazing experience – none of us get it.  After being dropped off at the metro we make our way south to where Luiza is waiting for us.  Luiz picks us all up and takes us to their nearby office.  They deal in lasers and he tells us some of the more unusual uses such as getting a level for a paddy field so that all the irrigation channels hold the water.  After work we settle in at their apartment and meet their street dog.  We are chatting so much that before we know it 8pm has come round and we can go out.  Luiz’s car number plates mean that on Tuesday he cannot enter the city centre until that time.  The Couchsurfing meeting is in a room above a bar.  On arrival we are given name tags, green ones show someone from outside Brazil along with their country, red is for first time visitors and the others have black.  We soon begin to mingle and many people stop to introduce themselves with about half of them speaking good English.  One called Fernando speaks English as if he were an American and we have just complimented him on his skills when he asks if we are both “retarded” now.  We nearly fall over laughing, whilst Fernando quickly realises his mistake and keeps saying no I mean retired.  We tell him we are both!   Everyone is so friendly and we get lots of invitations to visit people or to meet up, it seems that Brazilians really like to be with foreigners so who are we to complain.  Last week there were around 150 people at the meeting but there are less tonight which means it is a little easier to hear and talk to people, we notice that in Brazil everyone talks very loudly wherever they are.  There are many really interesting people of all ages and from all walks of life, full time travellers, professionals and students all chatting together.  On the way back we finally get chance to talk to Luiz & Luiza and compare notes on who we have spoken to.    Back at their home they insist we have a light meal, bread, ham, cheese and tomatoes before going to bed.  They cannot sleep on an empty stomach whilst we prefer to do just that but eat a little.

WEDNESDAY 20 JANAURY – When we wake up Luiz & Luiza are at the office but the maid has arrived and our breakfast is on the table.  Luiz told us she has to travel over 2-hours each direction to come and work for them.  It seems this is common as this is distance between the areas where the business people and the less fortunate people live.  Luiza arrives to pick us up and drops us off, along with Luiz, at the metro.  In the centre of the city we take the free ride to the top of “Edificio Banespa” for fine views.  Well I say fine views as really all you see are thousands of high rise in every direction, testimony to Sao Paulo being the 3rd largest metropolis in the world.  Return to the office to pick up Luiza so we can go to lunch. It is one of those buffet places where you pay by weight (R$26.90, £10 kilo).  The meat choice is great with different cuts roasting on the BBQ and they carve whatever you want.  Luiza takes the afternoon off work and drives us to the centre.  Parking is interesting as they put a magnetic block with a number on the roof, give you the same number on a coupon and expect you to leave the keys so they can park it for you.  Steve is a bit weary so stays with the car whilst Luiza and I head to the market.  It is in a beautiful building with stained glass windows depicting how the products are grown.  The meat sandwiches they sell are huge with about 20 slices of meat in each one, shame we have already eaten.  In the evening we order take away pizza to round off the day.  The rest of the evening we looks at photos and they tempt is with pictures of the beaches up in Bahia but in reality it is too far north for us on this trip.

THURSDAY 21 JANUARY – A great start to the day when we hear that Claire has passed her next lot of exams to be a chartered accountant, this means she now has a diploma.  Luiz walks home at lunch time and tells us the city is in chaos, with cars at a standstill, due to all the flooding after it rained for most of the night.  Unfortunately Luiza does not arrive back in time to share the delicious fish and prawn stew that the maid has cooked but does makes it back in time to drive us to the subway to connect with our coach.  We are booked on the 2pm Valle de Tiete Vale do Tiete/ bus to Laranjal Paulista, R32.77 (£11.50).  Our journey takes us through very green countryside much like England other than a few fields having termite mounds.  There are many problems on the road and our journey takes almost 4-hours instead of 2 ¾.  We call Cassiano who soon arrives with his daughter Carol.  We are their first Couchsurfing guests and they are very excited.  Carol has offered her room whilst she is staying next door with her grandmother.  Cassiano’s wife Edilene speaks no English but we still manage to communicate well.  The name Laranjal is orange is Spanish and the city was named after the 4 orange trees found here.  It is therefore appropriate that our first drink is fresh orange juice.  The family have a dream to travel in a motorhome so we are happy to tell them how wonderful it is.  The pizza meal is of a variety called “Portuguese” with ham, peas and cheese.  Edilene heads out to work with the local scout group whilst Cassiano takes us on a walking tour of the town.  It is so nice to be in a small place without the high rise buildings.  Returning we call in to his brother Luciano’s house.  We meet his wife Roberta and children Rodrigo (12) and Cecilia (4) both are learning English and although shy they want to chat to us.  Settling down to bed we realise our proximity to the church, which chimes the time every half hour!

Trivia answer - Birmingham, England


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