The past couple of weeks we did the well-known tour Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande and Paraty. It felt like a vacation from start to finish. We did wonder if we should follow the coast a bit more to Ubatuba and Ilha Bela but in the end we chose not to do this. Ubatuba is a surf town and if that is your think go there! About Ilha Bela we already spoke a little in our previous report of Ilha Grande.
We decided to pay the biggest city of South America, Sao Paulo a visit. We heard different stories about it. It supposed to be grey, filled with traffic all day long and it is dangerous. From experience we know we normally like these raw cities. So we booked 4 nights in the sweet little house of Guilherme and his wife, sweet daughter and 2 cats through AirBnB. We were in need of a private room again so why not do this with AirBnB.
So once we were settled all we wanted to do was nothing. And that was exactly what we did that Tuesday. Just watch a couple of movies, write a few blogs, work on some pictures and next to that a whole lot of nothing. We noticed we were in need of this after the high travel we had the last two weeks. Time to process everything we saw and experienced.
But on Wednesday June 22 it was time to see Sao Paulo from up and close. And why not do this with a free walking tour again. We found a company real quick online. You have the choice of three different walking routes. The first goes to the old city center, the second to Vila Madalena (focusses on streetart and graffiti) and third goes to Paulista Avenue. First we took the old city tour on Wednesday and on Thursday we took the tour in Vila Madalena.
There is a lot of unemployment in Sao Paulo and because of this there is a lot of poverty. You will notice this right away on the street. There are a lot of wanderers on the streets and here you also see a lot of police. With 21 million people who live in the greater metropolitan area of Sao Paolo the numbers of poor people add up real quick. But do not let this stop you to come. The tour shows you some great old buildings in the old center which you won’t find that quickly on your own. And the guides really look after you. Our tour was guided by two people. In our case Rocco (originally from Italy)) and Rafa from Sao Paulo. Rafa always kept to the back of the group and kept a good look on any photographers who stray behind (read Sander).
The old city center
The tour starts at the Republica Square near the exit of the subway and the information booth. You will immediately see the number two building of the city which is called Edificio Italia. When it got finished in 1965 it was the highest building of Brazil only to loose this title again a year later to the Mirente do Vale which is 170 meters high. And the way how was not really pretty. The owner of the Mirente do Vale just added a couple of stories to his building and this way he stole the record of Edificio Italia. When you look at the building you we see the difference and it made the building real ugly.
The tour continued to the public library of Sao Paolo. Around it on the pavement they have written the word Library in different languages. Other highlights of the tour are the S’e Cathedral (with great flora and fauna ornaments made from stone), the Patio de Colegio (a replica of the colonial native school which once stood here) and the Banespa building. We could not enter this building because of renovations but in the future you can stand on top of it again. And keep a eye out to all the traffic lights for pedestrians. During the World Cup 2014 they placed the sights in it so you can know that you are near a touristic building.
We found our view over Sao Paulo on the top of the Martinelli building. This is free of charge and you can enter every half an hour during office hours (the entrance is at number 35). The building was before the second world war from the Italians but was annexed by brazil after the war. And the building has some more interested facts. It was a favela in the seventies and the designer started to live on the top floor to show people it was safe to live in skyscrapers. The Martinelli building was in 1922 the first skyscraper build in Latin America so the people were scared of living that high.
Like we said before there is a lot of poverty. There are a lot of wanderers and you will have to keep a good eye on your personal belongings. But during the day it is safe to walk around, especially with the tour. You will also see a lot of graffiti tags on the buildings. The higher the tag and the more dangerous the place the more respect that person gets. And they are really everywhere and it adds to the overall urban decay of the city center.
On Thursday we entered the better districts of Sao Paulo, Vila Madalena and Pinheiros. The tour mainly focusses on the best streetart and graffiti of Sao Paulo. Once again, Rocco was our guide and walked around on a relaxing pass. Both districts are the hipper neighborhoods of town and you can walk around with no worries. In these districts live the upper middle class of Sao Paolo and there are a lot of bars if you want to go out in town.
But what the tour mainly makes so interested is the graffiti that you will see. Graffiti started in France in the Sixties and became big in the States in the Seventies. It is first of all an expression of feelings. There are three types; the first are tags (which we saw a lot in the old city center), the second is graffiti where the artist wants to show its feelings through images and the third is streetart. Streetart happens a lot for buildings and governments. Furthermore the first two are (mostly) illegal. And there is a difference in the technics they use to make the art. Furthermore they use graffiti to set certain values.
Rocco showed us two alleys. The first we saw was called ‘Apprentice Alley’ and here we saw the work of two artists. They are Nimguem Dorme and Boletabike Daniel and they both have there own style which we quickly recognize in more walls. The second alley is called ‘Batman Alley’ (Beco de Batman). And while we walked around we learned that once a piece of wall is claimed by an artist with a graffiti, other graffiti artists can’t paint over it. This is a rule between the different Grafiteiros. This is what they are called in Brazil. It was quite impressive.
During the tour we also passed the stairs of Sao Paulo. Huh, there are in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro? Well, Sao Paulo now also has its stairs and they are called the ‘Escadaria de Patapio’. They are right behind the Batman Alley and were fun to see. But they were not that impressive. Of course we needed to pose the same like we did in Rio.
During our walks we also found the time to meet with Victor. It was 5 years ago since I last saw him. But it was like yesterday when we met again. His stories helped us understand the city more and we will surely come back to Sao Paolo before we head back to Rio. We do need to test if the churrasco (BBQ) is as good as they say it is.
So if we need to answer the question I have asked us in the beginning, What do we need to think of Sao Paolo? We would now say, there are great differences between poor and rich and you see these all through town. You cannot go to Sao Paulo and not see it, from downtown with her dark alleys and wanderers to the modern Paulista Avenue with her business men. You will need to look for the hidden gems like we did int its graffiti, the Martinelli building and Vila Madalena.