Last year I was fortunate enough to visit Brazil with my university as part of the degree I studied. While students could choose between countries such as the US, China, Japan and India, I knew right away I wanted to visit Brazil. Brazil is said to be quite similar to South Africa in terms of its geography, climate and eco-political landscape. This similarity, along with the lure of the Copacabana beach and Brazilian men, provided the draw card for me. Our trip took place over 10 days, 4 of them in São Paulo and the remaining 6 in Rio de Janeiro.
I always enjoy the journey from airport to hotel when I arrive in a new country, especially when the journey is by road as I can get a feel for the lay of the land. Upon arrival in São Paulo I had to admit that I felt like I had not left Johannesburg. The highways and byways, billboard advertising, rolling hills and grey skies that greeted us where typical of an overcast day at home. Once we got into the city I found once more that it resembled different parts of Johannesburg. Some roads looked like they had been pulled right out of trendy Rosebank while others looked just like parts of Hillbrow – run down, dirty and dodgy.
On our first evening we had drinks on top of the Unique Hotel, so named because of its unique arc shape. We got there in time for sunset and were able to enjoy spectacular views of the city as well as delicious pizza and Brazil’s signature drink, the Caipirinha!
Although the weather wasn’t great, the drinks warmed us up and we soon learnt that in Brazil they are not cheap on the cachaca.
The next day we had to suffer through two hours of group presentations but had the afternoon at the Mercado Municipal (Food Market).
The place looks like an old train station that has been converted and is filled with little bars and restaurants, thousands of food items and a boisterous atmosphere.
We were told we had to try the cane sugar juice, beer and the famous lanche de mortadella sandwich which is basically a kilo of sliced meat between two pieces of bread.
We ate and drank until merry and our slightly inebriated group of 40 loved the experience so much we treated the passers-by to a bad rendition of Shosholoza.
We ended our day at a local flea market, charming in every way. There was a transvestite busking on the street-side singing samba songs, bearded men selling leather bags and little old ladies with hand-made magnets of Brazilian birds carved in wood. I bought a floaty yellow dress and a tribal dagger.
That night we decided to try the Bohemian area of Vila Madalena recommended to us by our local presenter.
Wow! This place is a real gem. The vibe was incredible; streets of pubs, clubs and restaurants, people spilling out onto the streets and live music filtering out into the night.We chose a cozy pub for dinner. The drinks flowed and when a plate of flaming steak was set before me I felt like I could die right then and there a happy camper.
The next day was back to business and we visited ABB where we were treated to a talk by Director Roger Agnelli, a renowned and charismatic businessman who sang Africa’s praises and made me feel rather patriotic.
The afternoon was supposed to be dedicated to seeing the São Paulo Stock Exchange but the sun had finally decided to show its face and all we really wanted to do was be outside. Instead we roamed the streets of the charming Praca da Se area along Avenida Paulista and the square in front of the gothically beautiful São Paulo Metropolitan Cathedral.
I really enjoyed this area of São Paulo. The streets were bustling with people going about their day, cart vendors selling fresh juice, cozy pubs and restaurants and of course, the mandatory Michael Jackson street performer.
At last the evening was upon us and the meal we had all been waiting for arrived. If its meat you are after, nothing beats Fogo de Chao, the best churrascaria in town. A churrascaria is a place where meat is cooked barbecue style (churrasco in Portuguese). Apparently these are quite common in Brazil and it would be a shame not to visit one while travelling here. For a tidy sum you get access to an amazing buffet of salads while the waiters continually circle the tables with knives and a skewer on which are speared various cuts of meat including lamb, sausage, beef, filet mignon and duck.I have to say my favourite was the chicken hearts. When you arrive you get a little card with green on one side and red on the other. The waiters will keep dropping meat onto your plate while the green side is up, turning it to red gives you a breather and some time to wash it all down with those crazy strong caipirinhas. As you can see, some in our group grew quite attached to these little bombs of firewater…
At the time I was not amazed by São Paulo, maybe because it felt too much like home. But looking back I see I had a blast and in fact most of what I did I could not do back in Johannesburg. At the very least, Jo’burgers need to learn how to make a stronger cocktail!