A day around Sao Paulo, after we’d recovered from our huge night out. It was a lovely sunny day again at first, which seemed to give the city a fresh and bright lick of paint much needed, and later became overcast, which for some reason seemed to suit the city better. Alex had decided, as he had a week’s longer holiday than I, to spend that week in South Africa, so first, after leaving the Formula 1 hotel on Avenida Paulista, we went to the upmarket Jardins area by taxi to the South African airlines office to buy his ticket. I was jealous of his extra week, to say the least! The area was lovely, full of greenery and upmarket condominiums – this is the area the well-to-do students we’d met the night before lived, the houses gated and secured, well away from the downtrodden centre.
From here, we walked a fair distance, and were now in the business district – high rise office buildings, gleaming and new, were everywhere, and business people were going about their busy days. We stopped in the city park to get a breath of fresh air and to escape the chaos, then we took the subway to Praca da Liberdade, which is the main square of this Asian neighbourhood. There is a huge Japanese community in Sao Paulo, and, with the red lanterns lining the streets here, we could have been in Japan or China.
From here, we eventually found ourselves in Praca da Se (Cathedral Sqaure), and this was where Sao Paulo became more interesting. The cathedral was very impressive, and walking through it we came to the top of a huge flight of concrete stairs leading to the square, full of tourists, touts, shoe-shiners, homeless people, and a strange woman sitting down dressed in a white robe with a crown of thorns on her head. Weird. The area was buzzing, and well worth the walk. We tried to get to the top of Banespa, a huge imposing builidng that looks just like the Empire State Building. They don’t build buildings like that anymore. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to the observation deck, as it was 5pm, and the last admission was 4:30pm. Instead, we strolled around the area, in awe of how huge it was, the buildings standing like giants towering over everybody madly rushing about everywhere. We saw the lovely old Theatro Municipal, and walked down to the commanding 46 storey Edificio Italia. This is the tallest skyscraper in the city centre, and at the top is a pricey restaurant and bar. Alex and I got in the lift to go up. The lifts in these grand buildings in Sao Paulo are staffed, and the little woman in this one seemed very cheerful in her ‘office’, pressing the floor buttons with relish, smiling and chatting with everyone who came in. She even had a little chair in the lift so she could have a sit down as she cruised up and down all day. I hadn’t seen a ‘lift attendant’ since my time in Liverpool, where an old man is in charge of one of the oldest lifts in town. I think it’s a great little job – pretty stress-free, and you get to meet all kinds of people.
The vista of Sao Paulo at the top here was astonishing, and only now did I truly appreciate the vastness of this great city. It stretched as far as the eye could see. A proper city, full of the ups and downs of modern life – a place that wore its heart on its sleeve. We strolled back down Avenida Paulista towards our hotel. It was time to finish packing and go to the airport. Like with the other great cities I’d visited on this trip – Buenos Aires, Santiago, Asuncion and Rio, and like the colonial highlights of Colonia del Sacramento, Valparaiso and Paraty, I’d only had the smallest taste of Sao Paulo – but it had left a big impression on me. Having visited Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and now Brazil, I was certain of one thing – South America, with all it’s infectious charm and energy, the warmth of its people, the richness of its culture and the beauty of its nature – is a place I would love to call home one day. Time to go then, but I’ll be back, very soon.