Dealing with jet-lag in Sao Paulo

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.

Getting mugged in São Paulo

I’m generally quite a negative person, but when it comes to going on some little adventure somewhere, I’m the eternal optimist! It’s always a case of, “It can’t possibly be as bad as they say… They must be exaggerating” and “I’ll be fine… I can do it. Nothing will happen to me”. It’s this attitude combined with a little naivety that makes me think having a holiday in Caracas is a good idea; I can walk around downtown São Paulo at 1.30 am completely drunk while using my mobile phone and nothing will happen… But perhaps the craziest and most naive idea I had was that I would come to Brazil and do Bikram Yoga. In the biggest city in the Americas??? Home of the caipirinha??? I never stood a chance.
The reality of travelling to Venezuela is slowly starting to sink in: hyperinflation, a currency devaluing by the second, high crime rates, no food and NO CASH! I’m not worried about the food so much. If I lose a few kilos, I’ll be happy. The cash situation has me more concerned. The latest news is that Liza seems to think some banks have a special debit card kinda thing that they give out to tourists… That would be good so fingers crossed. If I can do it all above board, it’ll save me a couple of golden handshakes. Anyway, all will be revealed tomorrow so stay tuned.

The part about me not doing Bikram yoga and walking around downtown São Paulo at 1.30 am kind of go hand in hand so let me start at the beginning. I will say first though, in my defence, that initially the problem was simply jet lag. After that, however, other factors may have played a part.

During my time here in São Paulo, I’m renting a room from a guy called Marcio. After the disaster in Hong Kong renting a room from that Italian psychopath, I swore I would never share again… But since I don’t speak any Portuguese and this is a big city, I thought it might be a good idea to have an English speaking local. And basically, it has been a good idea. My radar for ferreting out freaks and weirdos has improved dramatically since Hong Kong. Marcio has been incredibly nice…. The perfect host! When I arrived on the first night, he opened the door with eyes half closed and the apartment smelling of incense … I had that one worked out in a second! Yes, that’s right… It seems that there has been a resurgence of potheads in my life. I will say though that living with a pothead is far easier than working with one. He’s very laid back, which is what you want a flatmate to be.

The next night, we went out to a little bar called Igrejinha (little church) complete with a neon crucifix hung over the counter. You just know that a bar that takes it’s imagery from the Catholic church is going to be nothing but a hotbed of sins… And I was right! I started off the night at 10 pm with a mojito, and made it back to the apartment around 7 am…. And well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks. But no, pedophilia was not involved. The great thing about travelling in non-Australian countries is that drinks are the real deal: highball glass filled mostly with alcohol and just a little splash of mixer to give it colour.  

Predictably, Friday was a complete write off.

Saturday was a good day. I started off the day with a little smidge of sightseeing in the morning. São Paulo is not exactly the kind of place for leisurely sightseeing strolls. Nonetheless, I power strolled down to Liberdade, São Paulo’s Japanese neighbourhood. You know the kind… The one with Korean sushi shops and Korean grocery stores! I didn’t hang around too long. It looks just like the rest of São Paulo, except with a few lantern-style street lights hanging over the roads. On the way back, I stopped for a while in Praça da Se, considered to be the central point of São Paulo. It’s an attractive and leafy place. While I was there, there was a little “tribe” of dancers out the front of the cathedral who were “dancing for Jesus”. At the end of the performance, one of the dancers came and handed me a post-it note and invited me to write down my sins and hang it on the cross. I admired his optimism, that all my sins could be written on one post-it note. A whole pad of post-it notes would have been optimistic… But one??

Next on the agenda was lunch with the lovely Gabriela Rocha. It’s always an amazing thing to be in another part of the world and see a familiar face. For lunch it was a truly delicious family sized mouceca and family sized caipirinhas. I’m blaming the jet lag here because usually I’m stronger than this but I had one caipirinha and I was wiped out. Mind you, one drink here is equivalent to about 17 Australian drinks.

I was in no shape to go clubbing on that night (jet lag and caipirinhas) but the good thing in São Paulo is that you can go to bed on a Saturday night, wake up on Sunday morning at 5 am, have a caipirinha for breakfast and still go out! Something I had never done before, but it was good!

Let’s cut this long story short… I was mugged. Not satisfied with spending 14 hours in this club, once it closed I thought I’d move on to the “after-the-after-party” party. I knew the next club was near my place, somewhere on the other side of the Praça da Republica but I didn’t know exactly where. So at 1.30 am, while completely drunk, I thought it would be a REALLY good idea to ask the taxi driver to drop me off in a dark plaza in downtown São Paulo, alone, connect to the Wi-Fi and take out my mobile phone and check Google maps. The muggers must have been rolling on the floor laughing when they saw me. The most stupid thing is that once I did that, I decided I didn’t want to go the club after all and I would just go home. I live very close to the praça but the problem with São Paulo is that absolutely every corner and every block of road looks exactly the same, especially in the dark when you’re drunk. So, it was a little difficult to orientate myself and work out on which side of the praça was my street. Suddenly out of the darkness a guy appears and offers to help with directions. And guess what?? I told him the street I was looking for!! I walked right into that one, didn’t I?!! I knew it was trouble straight away though, so I started walking really fast… He kept saying “why are you walking so fast?” But the faster I walked, he just kept up with me. Anyway, wham, bam, thank you ma’am, next thing I’m down a dark street and another guy shows up… Guy number 1 puts his arm around me and hugs me really hard. I straight away gave him my cash and the other guy asked for my phone. I handed it over no questions asked and thank God they ran away after that. I had a credit card and passport as well.

I know you all just read that and are thinking “You f***ing idiot”. And I am, because I’m smarter than that. I don’t care about the phone or cash, I’m just angry with myself that I was so stupid and walked into that easily avoidable trap. You just don’t do that in Latin American cities. It makes me realise I really need to lift my game if I’m to survive Venezuela.

Dusting off the blog again

Good morning São Paulo!!
The view from my room…

And here I go again, off on another adventure!!!!

So far everything has gone very smoothly… It was my first time flying on LATAM and first time flying on a Dreamliner. Somehow every time I think of Dreamliner, I get that Mariah Carey song “Dream Lover” stuck in my head. But other than that, it’s been a smooth ride and a surprisingly nice experience starting from check-in through to arrival. I did think for a moment though at the check-in counter in Sydney that there needs to be a mandatory IQ test or some kind of travel quiz for anyone buying a ticket on a plane and one of the questions needs to be:

Which of these is NOT an acceptable form of container for your checked luggage?

A. Hard suitcase

B. Soft suitcase

C. Duffel Bag

D. GLAD garbage bag.

Yes, that’s right…Abuelita rocked up to the counter and had decided that putting all her belongings in a garbage bag was a far better idea than putting them in a suitcase. It slowed things down considerably… If it was all Aussies, they would’ve just told her to “Get f***ed” and pushed her aside but since most of the passengers were Latinos, the other passengers at the other two check-in counters had to stop and help her repack her stuff.

My travel arrangements had all been moving along nicely in the weeks preceding my departure but then hit a couple of speed bumps just recently. The first speed bump was trying to book internal flights in Venezuela. At first glance it seemed that it would be the same as booking flights on any other airline. However, even though the various web pages are in different languages, they’re set up in such a way that they only accept Venezuelan credit cards, ID numbers and phone numbers. So now the challenge was trying to find someone to buy me a ticket.

I’m renting an apartment in Caracas from a lady named Liza Lopez and she put me on to her travel agent Francoise to help me book the ticket. Of course, Francoise just had to be French didn’t she. As well as being French, Francoise writes all her e-mails in capital letters. What sort of normal adult person does that? I mean, it’s like the net equivalent of shouting. Anyway, the short story is that she agreed to book me a return ticket from Caracas to Porlamar and asked me to transfer her US$28 to the company bank account. After I transferred the money at a cost of $30, she tells me she can’t accept US dollars after all and the bank is sending me the money back, again at another cost to me of $30. Now, could I please just pay her in person when I arrive in Caracas. Of course I not-so-delicately pointed out that it was her mistake and would not be paying her again since I had lost all the money. Eventually though I relented because I thought I may need her help again in the future. It seems though that the damage has already been done because when I asked her to book me another ticket she flat out said, “NO”!! She’s probably gone and cancelled the ticket to Porlamar just to spite me.

The second speed bump is the money situation. I’ve basically been banking on having a “black market” holiday for the five weeks in Venezuela. Hence my underpants are stuffed to the brim with greenbacks. Again, this part of the plan had been going OK until recently. One US dollar on the black market was fetching a thousand Bolivars. The biggest banknote in circulation is only 100 bolivars. Even still, I wasn’t going to let that be a deterrent. I’d just be like a “trummerfrau” I thought, risen from the ashes of the Weimar Republic, wheeling my barrow of cash round the streets of Caracas. Then suddenly about two weeks ago the bottom fell out of the Bolivar and is currently at 2400 to the dollar. Because the country has run out of cash, the government has placed a cap on cash withdrawals and the daily limit is now 10 000 bolivars. This basically means, I’m screwed.

There is always the government and the “official” exchange rate, but that will easily quadruple my travel costs. So now, I’ve been fishing around madly looking for options. I have one contact who works in customs at the Simon Bolivar airport and whose name is Libya Gomez… I wonder what inspired her parents to name her “Libya”. Anyway, she claims to have enough banknotes to do the exchange in cash. Another guy I’ve tracked down by the name of “Charly” claims he can open up a Venezuelan bank account for me and do the exchange via transfer and I’ll be able to pay for everything by card (no need to channel my inner trummerfrau and get a wheelbarrow). Another two people have offered to lend me their bank accounts and IDs for the time I’m in Venezuela. Apparently not having a picture that looks like you on your ID in Venezuela would only be a very minor problem. Hmmmmm… I know what you’re all thinking!

Anyway, I’ll cross all of those bridges next week when I come to them. Hopefully everything will work out fine. And now off to explore São Paulo… I’m still determined to Bikram tonight! Fingers crossed!