I’ve been in Sao Paulo for one week.
Today is my last day before I fly to Rio. I’m still suffering jet-lag… But, I thought I’d better get in a quick blog post before I leave. I’ve been struck down with the most diabolical jet lag for the entire week. The timing of South American flights from Sydney couldn’t possibly be any worse. You leave at midday. Then you travel for about 18 hours and arrive at 4.30 pm on the same day, having slept and completely reversed the day and night.
The flight over from Sydney to Sao Paulo was fine. I flew Air New Zealand to Buenos Aires and then Qatar Airways to Sao Paulo. Sydney to Auckland was great. The flight attendants were super happy and friendly. I’m sure it’s because they’re all thinking “We’ve only got two and a half hours of this shit and then we’re out of here, at home, jet lag free!” … On the Buenos Aires leg however, you could see that the flight attendants were struggling to maintain a smile. Stepping onto Qatar Airways at Buenos Aires was a very noticeable step up in standards from Air New Zealand. The aeroplane is polished and in mint condition and the flight attendants look like they’ve all just come back from their modelling jobs. Quite a pleasant relief after the fuglies of Air NZ. There is also a noticeable attention to detail. Qatar Airways is the only airline that I’ve experienced that actually serve the special meals at the same time as the regular meals. Every other airline serves the special meal about three hours before everyone else. I mean, how difficult is it?
After arriving in Buenos Aires, the week got off to a bit of a bumpy start. I blame it all on my cost cutting measures. After all, you get what you pay for. I first thought I would save time and more importantly money, by not going into BA “Federal Capital” for my stopover, but instead staying close to Ezeiza airport, in a town called El Jaguel. El Jaguel is closer than Buenos Aires, but still, it isn’t THAT close. By the time you exit the airport and go through slip roads, loop roads, spaghetti junctions, motorways and side streets, it took about half an hour. Another 20 minutes in a taxi, and I would have been in the Federal Capital. I also could have found an equally cheap room and I would have been in civilisation. But hey, you live and learn all the time. At least I thought I could spend the day, strolling in the fresh air and quiet provincial streets. I didn’t factor in of course that I was directly under the flight path. El Jaguel is to Ezeiza what Marrickville is to Mascot. And at times like this, Murphy’s law invariably kicks in. From the moment I stepped off the plane until 27 hours later when I stepped back on, it rained literally non-stop and extremely heavily. In El Jaguel, there is literally nothing… Not a thing… You have to walk to the next ‘burb called Monte Grande to find anything. Did I have an umbrella? No. Could I call an Uber? No. All I could find in the house to eat for 27 hours was 2 dulce de leche biscuits and a carton of expired sugary processed milk. Yep, fun times.
The choice of flight to Sao Paulo was also driven price. It was the cheapest. The flight actually goes from Buenos Aires to Doha, via Sao Paulo. I guess that most people travel from Sao Paulo so they sell the BA to SP leg very cheaply. Sao Paulo being a stopover also meant that we arrived in the middle of the night. Arriving in any foreign airport, unless it’s a major transit hub, is pretty creepy. Guarulhos is no exception. I think my flight was the only one that came in at that time. Everything was closed including the casa de cambio. The airport was pretty empty. Two ATMs that I tried had no money. Luckily the third ATM I tried had cash. I inserted my card and pressed on the button that said I wanted to withdraw 2200 reals. You know, just before it’s about to dispense the money, the ATM tells you the transaction fee and then asks if you want to continue? It tells me that the transaction fee is going to be 240 reals!!!!! I quickly clicked onto my XE currency converter app and it tells me that 240 reals converts to AUD 90!!!!! WTF!!! Desperation of course forced me to click the “yes” button. I had no choice but I felt like they should change the “yes” button to “who cares” and the “no” button to “fuck you, I’m desperate”.
The next challenge was getting from Guarulhos to Vila Buarque, where I’ve been staying. There didn’t appear to be a whole lot of taxis floating around and I hadn’t been able to reactivate my Uber account. In order to reactivate it, they need to send a security code, and they send it to my Australian number which I was unable to access. As luck would have it though, some kind of renegade Uber driver approached me mumbling quietly “Uber, Uber” and offered to take me for the same price as a real Uber. I broke the number one rule of travelling in security challenged countries: Never get into an unregistered taxi. It was 3 am… What was I to do? Fortunately though, he was a decent guy and didn’t kidnap me. We get to Vila Buarque safely. The one bonus of arriving in the middle of the night is that there is no traffic. We got to my place in 20 minutes.
I had another minor Airbnb fail here in Sao Paulo. Again, I rented the cheapest room. The apartment itself is fine and the location is OK, but the room itself is a stuffy, windowless inside room with the most uncomfortable bed imaginable. That would be fine, because the owner is quite friendly, sociable and chatty and I felt comfortable coming about of my cell. That would have been fine, but the very next day he went on holiday and rented his room out someone else. I wasn’t introduced to this person and I’ve been getting very strange vibes all week. Not that I need to socialise with him or anything, but I’ve never been in a share living situation where people completely pretend like the other person is invisible. I did the usual, “Oi, tudo bem?” one night and he just grunted “boa noite” and got up, marched into his room and closed the door. Brazilian people in my experience are usually very open and friendly. Trust my luck that out of a population of 200 odd million, I’m living with the one freak in the country.
Brazilian people are extremely warm and friendly. I’m really surprised how friendly, kind and laid back people are here in Sao Paulo considering what a mother of a city it is. People have been extremely nice to me and have gone out of their way to help.
People aside though, Sao Paulo really is a mother of a city. Even though I’ve been here before, for the first few days I felt very overwhelmed. Slowly I’ve been getting my bearings though and relaxing into it. Sao Paulo is like Tokyo in so much as every inch of space is filled up. There are no empty lots or spaces between buildings. The streets run very organically, not in any kind of grid pattern and with the exception of the downtown area which has a few more identifiable buildings and landmarks, everywhere looks essentially the same. All the buildings are in varying shades of beige or creamy yellow. The shops, houses, walls and fences all line up to the same point on the side walk. So as you walk along the sidewalk, you are just walking through this endless wall of creamy yellowy beige. Thank God I got a local SIM card and have been able to use Google maps to guide me as I walk. Otherwise I’d be house bound in my cell.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve been suffering the most diabolical jetlag with no signs that it’s going to improve. I eventually reached the point of “If you can’t beat it, just go with it”. So, I’ve been sleeping all through the day, waking up in the evening and going to bars and clubs at night. That’s something I haven’t done since my twenties.. I guess I had very high expectations of Sao Paulo nightlife. And while the bars and clubs are certainly very good, they’re pretty standard, like what you would find anywhere else in the world (with the exception of Sydney of course). The only thing that separates Sao Paulo nightclubs from others that I’ve been to, is the aggressiveness of the security check. The “pat down” is quite something else. Entering a club, I got the full “Banged Up Abroad” experience. The guy who did me, shouted at me and patted me down so hard that I was virtually bruised by the end of it. He patted down literally EVERY part of my body, punched my shoes several times, made me take them off and then inspected them closely. I was not required however to empty out my bulging pockets and neither was anyone else. Interesting.
Bye for now. it’s time to pack.