At the airport, we stood by the same carousel that never delivered our backpacks three years ago. This time, they showed up almost right away and we breathed a sigh of relief.
It was hot in the airport arrival hall and even hotter outside—35⁰C according to the many digital boards displaying the temperature and local time. I was surprised because São Paulo tends to be cooler than many other Brazilian cities and very unpredictable weather-wise.
The first thing you’ll notice during the 40-minute taxi ride from the airport is that you won’t get to explore all of São Paulo. It’s huge—it’s the home of 21.5 million people—yet, it doesn’t feel oppressively crowded like Hong Kong because it’s very, very spread out. There are tall buildings, freeways, viaducts, businesses and residential areas everywhere, dozens of cities within the city. I can’t even tell you which building is the tallest one—they are all 30 or 40 storeys, none of them stand out. One of the most important avenues is Avenida Paulista but it’s not as wide as 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires or as posh as the Champs-Élysées in Paris—it’s a big and long avenue but there are many others.
The hotel was in a very steep street a couple of blocks off Paulista. I loaded my mental map of São Paulo and we reviewed our goals for the beginning of this trip.
“I want a fucking haircut.”
“Yeah, Mark should get one too. Oh, and we have to buy him sandals.”
Okay, maybe we have weird priorities.
So we got haircuts because I trust Canada on many things but not haircuts and I get much better result explaining what I want in Portuguese (or Spanish, or Mandarin, or French) than in English. I find stylists in Ottawa give every woman the same haircut and the “oh well, it will grow back” comes with a $100 price tag ($30 in a posh mall on Paulista).
We explored Centro—no, really, it’s fine during the day!—, Barrio Libertade (home to the large Japanese community), Rua Augusta and its nightlife, the busy malls on Paulista where everyone was shopping before Christmas and many other places between.
I was shocked to see how nice people were. In a city the size of São Paulo, you’d expect residents to be somewhat stressed out, wary even. But I kept on noticing little acts of kindness—people giving sleeping homeless guys a panettone (the classic Italian Christmas bread seems very popular here), people helping each other, waiting for their turn, helping an older lady… When I asked for directions—I can never remember on which side of Paulista I am!—Paulistas were patient and helpful. Amazing for a city this big.
And then, on the third day, we started wondering where we should go next, for Christmas…