Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sampa III: playing with giants

From Insituto Butantã, I jumped on a bus that looked like it was heading in the direction of the hostel--figuring I'd hatch some sort of plan en route. After a few minutes on the bus, I asked the woman next to me if she knew where I could catch a bus to Itú.

As luck would have it, she said that the bus ended at Barra Funda, a massive intercity bus, metro, and local bus terminal. "Talvez," (my seatmate and new BFF) Rosangelina offered, seja um ônibus lá...

She was so helpful, so wonderful, sweet, and charitable... so best-of-"Brazilian." Roseangelina not only engaged me plenty of chatter to pass the commuting time, but also escorted me from our departure area to the intercity bus terminal, then on to an assortment of ticket counters of various bus operators, enquiring--with as much enthusiasm as if it were her own adventure--how and when I could get to my destination.

Com sorte, de novo (luckily, again), I found a trip and a ticket with just enough time to spare for a coffee. And just as buckets of rain began falling from the sky, I sat in dry comfort as the bus to
Itú pulled out. Why Itú, you ask?

Because I have a quirky affection for little things made big.

The rule of my affection is this: "it" (the regular object made big) has to be realistic. Allow me to provide some examples. This photo of some big fruits and veg (snapped at an art fair on Avenida Paulista, Sampa), are okay. 50% delightful. The realistic giant toothbrush outside your dentist's office--cool. 80%. The giant grill attached to the Weber Grill restaurant in Chicago--100 % delightful. The cartoonish butterflies and mushrooms on the façade of Rainforest Café, however--hate 'em.

Tangent: Here in Porto Alegre, I have several "locals"--which unlike their British counterparts (that is, pubs), are the coffee shops I frequent. A man at one of these locals told me about this little town that has some "giant" replications of everyday things. He said there was a giant orelhão. (You might recall the term.)

That was enough reason for me.

Two hours later I arrived in
Itú. I asked a taxi driver for directions to said scenic treat and hustled off, knowing I only had an hour and a half to find, delight, photograph, and get back to the bus station for my return trip at 7pm.

I came upon the main square of this charming colonial town easily enough. According to this sign, there were only 99 days to go until the 400th anniversary of
Itú. I have considered going back solely to learn how this quirky little town throws a party.

I found the giant traffic lights.

The cathedral reminded me of the one in Back to the Future...
except that the clock worked.

And the pièce de résistance, the great orelhão.

Just to provide perspective, here's the giant phone booth (left) and normal-sized cathedral (right, duh).

Incidentally, there was a pharmacy in Itú that had this logo of a boy getting a shot in the tush. The design was replicated in the sidewalk, over and over, along the entire block of the flagship store. Ha!

Feeling extremely satisfied, I returned to the bus terminal for my return to the megalopolis.

Unfortunately, this time, the 100km (62 mile) journey took 2.5 hours. We got stuck in an obscure traffic jam on the marginal (ring road) for an hour--at 10pm on a Monday--apparently that's normal. After arriving at Barra Funda I caught the wrong bus to the hostel, quickly realized the mistake, de-boarded in a shady area, and caught another bus in the right direction.

All I wanted, as I walked in the rain back toward Casa Club, was a stiff drink and a cheeseburger (they make the best I've had in my time here in South America, and I'd been saving the treat for my last night). Infelizmente, the kitchen was closed.
Fine. Give me a strong caipirinha then.

The 5-hour bus debacle foreshadowed the conclusion of my Sampa research: it's a wonderful city to visit, but I think the daily realities of living there would be unbearable for me. I felt very disappointed by this realization, while being thankful to have it on a reconnaissance mission as opposed to after an all-out move.

After a few days of disillusionment, I found a #2 city to visit on my next mission. More info on "City X" and my progress regarding Phase II of My Life In Havaianas in the coming months.


P.S. I found this little
orelhão (maybe orelhazinha?) near a metro station in Sampa, which gave me as much pleasure as the giant one. Pure happiness!