Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sampa’s Second Chance

Finally. Time to relay the Sampa (São Paulo) Adventure! It’s gonna be a long one, people.

I must confess that the first time I visited the city, for five days in 2007, I basically hated it. This time around, with a better understanding of a vida brasileira as a whole, I figured I would enjoy the sojourn to Sampa as a needed-break from the routine, but still expected to come back and kiss the southern soil afterwards. I was armed with a list of must-see neighborhoods and an open mind.

I arrived weary from a 17-hour bus journey at about four in the afternoon on Sexta-feira Santa (Good Friday). I was issued a bunk-bed, sheets, and padlock for my cubby at the Casa Club Hostel, and advised that a Good Friday BBQ (ha!) was just beginning on the rooftop deck. Well, alright then! I showered and headed upstairs so fast my hair was still wet as I sipped my first beer.

I met loads of people that night—lots of Paulistas (São Paulo residents), as well as travelers. Among them were: French Jérémie, who mans the reception desk and reads a lot; Sávio, one of the hostel’s three, under-30, owners, who also owns a few companies in his other life as an environmental engineer; Corey, the classic Canadian party animal who (at times) works in the oil business in Nigeria; and the dynamic duo Irish Tony and Scottish Paul, on an extended break from their Dublin lives as ophthalmologists for some South American merrymaking. That first night, I also enjoyed a stimulating and lengthy chat on international politics with a handsome Brazilian with an electrifying kiss. (Smirk.) I don’t remember his name though, oops.

Nearly 12 hours later, I headed for some Z’s. As luck would have it, 4am would be the earliest I’d call it a night over the next 10 days.

On day two, I headed for José Paulino at the recommendation of a friend here in Porto Alegre. The mile-long street is cluttered with shops—clothes, shoes, jewelry—that offer sweet bargains. To any reader that needs a new look: put $300 in an empty suitcase and catch the next plane! Frankly, I am not much of a shopper and couldn’t really justify copious purchases. Still, I couldn’t resist the trendy zipper-front sweatshirt and some sassy, but modest, little black heels that I picked up for a steal. (My Brazilian girlfriends here in Porto Alegre are trying to spruce up my image What-Not-to-Wear-style. I’m going along with it—wearing more fitted clothing, accessories, and no scrunchies!—and am pleased to report that compliments on the updated-me have been flowing in.)

The other days, I rambled along side streets hunting for treasures in a handful of Sampa’s exquisitely diverse bairros. I enjoyed the Sunday street market, a delightful plate of frango agridoce (sweet and sour chicken), and a mini-massage in Sampa’s answer to Chinatown, Liberdade. I bought plums, mangos, and lima-de-pérsia (something in between a lime and an orange) at the giant fruit market in front of the hostel in Vila Madalena—a neighborhood I would liken to San Francisco for its artsy, bohemian feel. I indulged in a rich pasta dish and a nice Valpolicella in Bela Vista, which will fool you into believing you’re in a cute Italian village rather than a South American megalopolis. I discovered the St. Etienne Bagueteria in Cerqueira César. The latter is, incidentally, my first choice among neighborhoods, should I eventually decide to move to Sampa, although Pinheiros and Bela Vista ranked highly too.

The other nights, I partied like a rock star with the fantastic mix of personalities I found at Casa Club. We had an impromptu arm wrestling competition and a multinational sing-along. We learned new card games and shared travel memories. We visited Irish pubs and swinger’s clubs—wait…what’s that? Well, just one swinger’s club. My evening was tame—I just learned how to dance forro. But one traveler in our group (who shall remain unidentified) had an experience that was, to me, the funniest story of the trip. You see, Guy X (a rather good-humored fella, but with a severe case of homophobia) and about 10 other members of the exploratory committee, headed upstairs to scope out the, umm, encounter rooms. The rooms lined both sides of various corridors and had windows in them. With the lights out but shades open in the windows, you couldn’t see much but could hear…stuff. Guy X, not one to miss an opportunity to crack a joke, bellowed into the windows of an occupied room, “Hey! You need a third?” This was met with an unexpected reply from two men, “Hell yeah!”, at which point Guy X freaked out and, literally, cartoonishly, ran into the walls repeatedly while trying to high-tail-it outta there!

Believe it or not, that club wasn’t the strangest sighting in São Paulo. No, that trophy goes to Marathon Man. He was a middle-aged and incredibly toned runner with whom I shared a commute. I figured he was headed to the giant Ibirapuera park for his workout—but no. He was just running (in a rather attention-seeking way) on the Metro. Then, he jogged up and down the platform while awaiting another line, and subsequently, on the next ride. Very strange indeed.

The most pleasantly-surprising diversion was a trip to Mercado Municipal. I was escorting two more-intimidated Israeli girls to José Paulino, via Estação da Luz (the dodgiest place I went, but beautiful nevertheless). We stopped at the market along the way to have some lunch and meet up with GB (aka Grande Bundão, or Big Butt [which it wasn’t]), a Paulista sports marketer we met at Casa Club's bar the night before. I am, as you’ve noticed, a big fan of Porto Alegre’s Mercado Público, but the Paulista version blew it out of the water. Bigger, better, faster, more.

The most fascinating incident was the night a handful of the hostel guests were robbed (I was, thankfully, not among them). And the worst-tourist award goes to The Bavarian Guy. Essentially, heedless of my non-verbal cues inviting him to excuse himself, he tried desperately to convince me that all USAmericans are worthless idiots based on his vast knowledge (gained during his Spring Break partython in Cancun), while, without any notion of irony, relaying his pet peeve at being called German rather than Bavarian, because “Bavaraians are so different and so much better” than those pesky northerners. [“Really?!?! What did you say?!?!”] You’ll be pleased (or maybe not) to know that I resisted the overwhelming urge to pop him in the face. And he was joyfully outnumbered by the others—the inimitable Norwegian Stina, Colombian Felipe, Recifan Nelson, and Paulistas Leo and Jacob—with whom I forged bonds and laughed my head off.

Sofia, Marc, Leo, and Romi

me and Corey

Stina and Nelson

cool hostel guy and Nick



All in all, this time around, I adored São Paulo. I connected with it. It was pleasantly greener than I expected it to be...

trees as big as cars

...though not quite as lush as Porto Alegre. The air pollution might quickly get on one's nerves, but the lack of mental-noise pollution is refreshing: the city, in a rather forward-thinking move, banned almost all outdoor advertising a little over a year ago. Now walls are frequently covered in an interesting panorama of street art.

I am torn…completely on the fence…about which city reflects my personality better. Time will tell.

Thanks Casa Club! Beijos!

Loquinha Gauchinha Paulista

P.S. I added one more stadium visit to my list. Leo took a group of us to Estádio Palestra Itália to watch the Palmeiras x Santos game.


Anthony and Paul

There was some nutty red-card action featuring Diego Souza—watch it here. Back home, Internacional won the Gauchão (State Championship) the same night. Today is the kickoff of the Campeonato Brasileiro—yay!


"Really?!?! What did you say?!?!"