The sound of a rooster crowing like a deranged mental patient woke me up at 5, and sleep was fitful at best afterwards. Still, it meant I made it to breakfast a little earlier than usual. Alex and I packed our bags and left them at reception – we were on the 4pm bus to Sao Paulo. It was a gloriously sunny day, and there was a buzz and excitement about the town, for tonight was the first night of the cachaca festival – a famous festival in Brazil centred around the the nationwide addiction to the sugarcane spirit. Great time to leave then. Nevermind – I was sure I’d come back to this place one day.
Alex and I strolled by the river, little boats were moored to the colourful houses, flowers were blooming everywhere, jungled mountains in the distance….it was paradise. Just in case we were mistaken for being in another continent, a volkswagon beetle trundled past the white church and parked up, and a man wearing a cowboy hat stepped out. Mexico’s fascination with the portly little cars had clearly caught on here in Brazil too – there were a lot of herbies in Paraty. Herby goes to Monte Carlo is one of my all time favourite films. Herby goes bananas is good to.
Workmen dressed in either wife-beater vests or shirtless were hammering pieces of wood together to try and create a stage for the festival tonight. There were no gloves, no goggles, no safety helmets – this is Brazil after all – and the fact that the stage was only just being constructed, and the festival started in 6 hours didn’t seem to bother anyone. Nobody was in a hurry, nobody was shouting, nobody was stressed. Instead, they were smoking, laughing, joking with each other, and whistling the pretty ladies gliding past. I loved this place.
We walked by the beach and then up a mountain road, where we found a fort – Forte Defensor Perpetuo – built in 1703. Cannons lined up on the fort wall, and views over the bay and of the white houses with red tiled roofs were amazing. Here we lingered for a while, as it was a scorching day and the trek up the hill had been demanding. Then we headed back down and into the colonial centre of Paraty. Quaint little shops, restaurants and cafes line the cobbled streets here, and meandering around is a pleasure. There are a few old churches to explore too, and some date back to the eighteenth century. Horses and carts trotted past now and again, ferrying love-struck couples around. The place had that kind of magic that is difficult to describe – it just feels right, a place trapped in time, in a good way. Here I saw the opportunity to do some souvenir shopping – Paraty has a fantastic range of arts and crafts. Then , all too soon, it was time to go to the bus station to catch the bus to Sao Paulo.
After a few hours we were in the outskirts of the big bad city. We arrived just as it was getting dark.
Sao Paulo is massive, grey, gritty, real. A city with soul. Though modern with gleaming skyscrapers and office buildings, it still has loads of old architecture, and seemed to me like a cross between London and New York. 11 million people call Sao Paulo home. It’s an incredibly exciting place, with its fair share of problems, and is the economic powerhouse of Brazil. Not surprisingly, like in many countries, Sao Paolo and Rio, the 2 biggest cities, share a rivalry. People from Sao Paulo look down on those from Rio, regarding them as lazy. They love their city. Sao Paulo certainly seems more ‘authentic’ in a way – there’s glamour here in spades, but it hides itself well. It drizzles a lot, it’s smoggy, surrounded by mountains….I liked it immediately, for some reason. Like in Rio, cars here never stop at a red light. There’s an edge to Sao Paulo for sure – I felt it as soon as I got into the city. Alex and I got off the bus at what seemed like an airport terminal. They even had an official bus station taxi stand, where you paid in advance to get into the city. As we drove towards our hotel through the wide, crowded streets, I felt the hugeness of the city, and the buzz of adrenaline, knowing you have to be sharp, on your toes, and ready, or the place will just swallow you up and overwhelm you.
We checked into the Formula One Hotel, an efficient chain hotel popular with business travellers. The room was tiny, but everything you needed was in there. It was very much like a Japanese hotel – compact, clean and the basic – but that’s all you need. We’d done a bit of research before we got into Sao Paulo, and found out that one of the football teams, Palmeiras, were playing that night. Now managed by Luis Felipe Scolari – ex Chelsea manager and Brazil’s national coach, this was a good opportunity to watch another game. In Sao Paulo there are a few big teams – Palmeiras, Corinthians and Santos. In Rio, Botafogo, Flamenco (where Ronaldhino now plays), Fluminese and Vasco Da Gama are the main teams. Teams of legend. I couldn’t wait to get there.
It wasn’t as amazing as I’d imagined – disappointing even. Alex and I got dropped off 10 minutes walk before the stadium, and joined the hordes of fans wearing green and white rushing towards the game. Outside, touts were trying their best to sell tickets, and there was an inexplicable queue to get in, perhaps as there was only one ticket booth for each side of the stadium. We got in eventually – the match had already kicked off. I was expecting a huge crowd, banners waving, drums beating, horns blowing, people singing. But the stadium was tiny, and all-standing. Palmeiras have had to move stadiums as theirs is being done up for the world cup, and this new old ground wouldn’t be acceptable as a stadium in Division 3 in England. Alex and I stood at around the half-way line and watched the game, which was of a similar quality to the stadium. What must Scolari be thinking? From the dizzy heights of managing Portugal, Brazil and Chelsea, to managing a team that plays in front of 2000 people. Still, the assembled crowd, mainly families, were having a great time. It felt more like going to watch a baseball match – people selling popcorn, hot dogs and beer walked up and down and Alex and I had a can or 3 of Brahma and a hotdog, which was our dinner. It was a gentle football game experience – not like the manic chanting, swearing and shouting of the game we watched in Argentina. We left at the end of the game, which finished 1-1. Outside the stadium, we were lucky to grab a taxi, and we headed to Avenida Augusta for pizza in a posh restaurant. We saw a couple of fans from the Palmeiras game in there too, wearing their green and white shirts with utmost pride. Afterwards, we walked up and down the gritty, dark streets, and into a trashy chic little place that was playing good music. A few celebrities were in here too, including the judge for ‘Brazil’s next Top Model’. Not surprisingly, a number of wannabe models were hanging around him. We lingered outside for a while next to the star. Every few minutes, a homeless person would thrust a grubby hand in our direction – homeless people were everywhere. The contrast couldn’t be greater. You could see the filthy beggars, their clothes in tatters, doing the rounds up and down the streets, getting fobbed off by the young, well-heeled and fortunate of Sao Paulo We met some local students who had all studied abroad in the US and so spoke English really well with American accents. They were full of good advice about places to go and things to do – but you’d need a good week to do any of it justice. They came into the club with us, and we all drank caipirinhas while listening to the guest DJ from france spinning some funky latin house. Here we stayed until around 2am, then Alex and I bid farewell and headed to the most outrageous club I think I’ve been to – Love Story.
I thought a club like Love Story only existed in MTV rap videos, or maybe in Ibiza. We walked in, pushing our way through the big black bouncers, who were asking for ‘tips’ and through to the main room. The place was dripping with sweat, sex and decadence. People of every ethnicity and sexual persuasion were in here, gyrating from poles, lounging around on sofas wearing sunglasses and drinking cocktails, girls snogging girls, guys snogging guys, groups of guys and girls all over each other, dancing away like there was no tomorrow. Incredible scenes. I half-expected Snoop Dogg to walk in and start rapping. Alex and I enjoyed the people watching for a couple of hours, and headed back to the hotel as the sun was coming up. What a day we’d had.