I am still waiting for Sao Paulo to reveal itself to me.
After spending a further three days there I am none the wiser. This is supposedly the biggest city in South America, so you’d expect there to be a few things to excite a weary traveller, but I`m still waiting to find them.
On my last trip there I was trying to sort a few things out and decided to go for a bit of an amble near the centre. I didn’t realise this at the time, but Sao Paulo is not a city in which you can amble, that should be saved for the Yorkshire Dales it seems.
I was only three or four blocks from the centre when I noticed a restaurant offering meals for one Real. This is without doubt the cheapest meal deal I have ever seen. To get anything under seven Reais in Brazil is a miracle in itself, so to have a whole dish for just one is some kind of phenomenon (this equates to about 33p at the moment, normally it would be around 25p but the Pound is not my friend at the moment).
I took a closer look and realised that I had missed lunchtime.
There were around 5 or 6 ladies in pure white overalls cleaning down the room, itself pure white and rather large, with full pressure hoses. Whoever had been eating there wasn`t too bothered about the food going in their mouth it would seem.
I carried on walking and noticed two policemen pass me. Then a police car pulled up on the right, and a further couple of coppers passed me on the pavement. I suddenly realised that maybe this wasn’t a good area, but there was no way I was going back on myself.
I walked past a series of bars, heaving with drunk, one-toothed, silver-haired Brazilian men. It was only 1.30 in the afternoon. Then I came to my main challenge.
I could see the Estadio do Luz at the end of the street, a known bastion of safety. But first I would have to walk past a 200m stretch of road with delinquent, 100% toasted vagrants on one side and some of the most unlovable looking prostitutes on the other. I took a deep breath and went for it.
As I walked I couldn’t help but make a mental note of everything I had on me (100 Reais, 2 bank cards, camera, blue pants) and just hoped that I would get out of there with all of these still on my person.
I got through it, but not without feeling as perilous as I’ve only ever felt in one other place – the centre of Salvador. There is something about a strong Police presence in these situations that seems to encourage some of the edgiest environments possible, a real pressure cooker. Speaking to people later it became quite clear that – yes – this was the worst neighbourhood in Sao Paulo and – no – you should never walk through there on your own. I won’t make that mistake again.
On the other side of the spectrum, I stayed in Vila Madalena for two of my days in Sao Paulo, which has to be described as one of the loveliest parts of the cities.
Every street is dedicated to a different product, including a whole row of 60s antique furniture, ethical goods, unbelievably expensive bars and too many clothes shops by half. Plus, the area used to be frequented by a whole bunch of hippies in the fifties with the main reminder of their presence in the street signs. Harmony, Sunflower and Wizard are all roads in this area.
Which means you can say that bar you really like is on the corner of Harmony and Wizard which really can’t be a bad thing!