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“Tudo Está Fechado”: Where São Paulo Takes New Year’s Day Very Seriously

“Can you imagine being a tall foreigner and landing in China without bags? That would be worse. There is no way you could find clothes that fit.”

“Or traveling to Australia. It’s so expensive over there that $100 gets you a pair of socks.”

This is how Feng and I cheered each other up when after checking our emails and asking the reception, we realized that our backpacks were still missing, stuck in Ottawa, Toronto or who knows where else. Air Canada sucks.

First day in São Paulo. New Year Eve. And no bags.

I had washed Mark’s clothes in the shower the night before, so at least he had clean stuff. I wore my brand new pair of shorts and t-shirt, as well as my Brazilian underwear even though I don’t have the famous “Brazilian butt”. But the catchphrase of the morning was “fuck, I forgot, I don’t have this, it’s in my backpack!”

We decided to take the subway and head to Paulista, São Paulo’s main avenue. We had only visited the city briefly once, in 2002, on our way to Rio. Back then, we had missed all the sights. We had spent a night in a dodgy hotel in Centro, in the red light district, surrounded by prostitutes and their customers. I didn’t think much of São Paulo. I remembered it as a sprawling metropolis without a centre, a city of skyscrapers, choppers and concrete. Your usual urban nightmare, basically.

We walked the avenue where a marathon had just ended, then headed to Praça Sé where Mark enjoyed the first church of the trip. We moved on to Bairro da Liberdade, the city’s Chinatown. When we got there, I paused. Part of my brain registered that it was Asian but something was funky. A few minutes later, I realized it was more Japantown than Chinatown: the gates were ” torii”, the traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, rather than the usual Chinese “paifang”. Apparently, São Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside Japan. This explained the Japanese cookies, the shrimp tempura and the ramen noodle restaurants.

When we came back to the hotel for a break before the New Year Eve party, we learned that our bags had been found and that they were being delivered to the hotel. I was super happy: I can’t imagine traveling for two months (yes, this is how long we are backpacking for this time) without my stuff. Good news, finally!

As Bono sang, “all is quiet on New Year’s Day”. We all woke up late after the party on Paulista and headed outside around noon. The goal of the day was to find food and something to do. Walking in the hotel’s district, it became clear that everything was closed. We moved on to Centro: closed as well. Paulista? Nothing open. Around 5 p.m., I found a single McDonald’s opened at the very top of a shopping mall on Paulista. The lineup was long but I scored a Happy Meal (or rather, a McLanche feliz) for Mark.

Then it started pouring. It stopped, we walked for five minutes, then it poured again. Feng and I were hungry and not exactly patient so we argued under the rain. It didn’t make it stop so we walked some more and argued at the same time. What? Don’t all couples do that?

We took the subway back to our district, starving and wet. There had to be something open. We walked Berrini Avenue, checking out all the small side streets. A city of 20 million… and every single business was closed, including gas stations. I have never seen that. Last year, Buenos Aires was quiet but you could still find a few restaurants open.

We ended up eating at the hotel’s restaurant, which is something I usually avoid since food can be pricey and bland. We were lucky though, this one was good and frankly, at this stage, it didn’t even matter, we were starving. Even Mark ate a pizza without complaining, although he kept on saying that he wanted to go to China (?!).

“Brazil, Mark”, I insisted. “We are in Brazil.”

“Oh, okay. I like Brazil.”

Thanks, Mark. Cause that’s where we are traveling!

Berrini station
Berrini station
Avenida Paulista
Avenida Paulista
Mark cooling off Feng
Mark cooling off Feng
Closed businesses close to Paulista
Closed businesses close to Paulista
Skyline of São Paulo
Skyline of São Paulo
Praça Sé
Praça Sé
"Chinatown" pedestrian lights
“Chinatown” pedestrian lights
Downtown
Downtown
Coconuts and juice
Coconuts and juice
Vending machine in the subway
Vending machine in the subway
Empty city
Empty city
Coffee break
Coffee break
Juice break
Juice break
Paulistas on Paulista
Paulistas on Paulista
Tiny Happy Meal
Tiny Happy Meal
Tiny Happy Meal
Tiny Happy Meal
Downpour on Paulista
Downpour on Paulista
In the subway
In the subway
Closed stores at the mall
Closed stores at the mall
Concrete jungle
Concrete jungle

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