Home > life > My time in Sao Paulo, Brazil

My time in Sao Paulo, Brazil

This is a personal account of my time spent in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I’d been saving it for a Brazil travelogue that I of course want to write and publish for a small amount of money; but then I realized that my writing skills are subpar, my work takes up a lot of time and in general I’m too ADD-riddled to write anything long form. So here you are:

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We almost didn’t make it. Sitting in Los Angeles airport at the American Airlines “rebooking” counter at 1am on December 22nd, I wondered aloud how our magical trip had gotten fucked so quickly out of the gate. We’d missed our connection from LA to San Juan (yes, I’m well aware that that’s actually in Puerto Rico but it was a leg of our trip on the way to Brazil) and were trying to make sense of our impending nightmare.

As a longshot, we asked the nice feisty black lady with the extra-long pink fingernails and ginormous Starbucks cup if we could simply skip our San Juan leg and fly straight to Sao Paulo. Coz, you know, when you pay 2000 dollars for a ticket, you want to visit *fewer* places than originally intended. She agreed, but this is what our flights looked like:

San Francisco –> Los Angeles (overnight layover) + Los Angeles –> San Diego + San Diego –> Dallas + Dallas –> Sao Paulo.

Foto Noturna Edificio Tim - São Paulo - Brasil
Image by Julio Mejías via Flickr

Without going into the particulars, let’s just suffice it to say that 35+ hours spent in airports, airplanes and motels is a royal pain in the ass. So we get off in Sao Paulo on December 23rd at 1pm and walked into an industrial-looking, busy airport. The first thing that strikes you when you walk around normal Brazilians is their (by alternate turns) funny and sexy Portuguese – just ask a Brazilian woman to pronounce “Rio de Janeiro” and you’ll find it incredibly sexy. Then ask her to go off on a random rant and you’ll want to jump off a bridge.

We walk out of the airport into the sweltering heat – its summer, bitches! I notice that even a concrete second world jungle like Sao Paulo is incredibly green; if you’ve ever stepped into the shithole environs around Bombay International airport, you’ll find Sao Paulo a welcome relief. After a few minutes of trying to find the airport shuttle, we’re approached by a cabbie who senses dumb fuck Americans ambling about and wants to close in before the other vultures get a fair crack. Since the cab cost is 90 reais and the same we’d pay for the airport shuttle, we relent and pile our shit into the Peugeot. I ride shotgun with my cheapo Exilim pointed out the window.

It’s only been about two minutes in the car until Edouardo Souza yells out “Pirikeeeeta”, a Portuguese word that we’re unfamiliar with. When we display our stupidity, he lets go of the steering wheel for five terrifying seconds and gesticulates that he’s referring to, ahem, female anatomical parts. A nervous laugh issues from the back of the car as P and V grasp the particulars of the situation. I mean, we’ve all been to Vegas and what not but we’re just getting used to the idea of lewd behavior from a cabbie we don’t quite understand.

Edouardo takes the laugh as a sign of approval and explains to us in broken English that “pirikeeeeta” is faaar more important to him than water and air. My nerdy Stanford friend in the back isn’t horrified but mildly asks the motorista if he is married, what with the cheesy wedding band prominently displayed on a meaty digit. “Sim, Sim”, he asserts (yes, yes). He then stares at the woman in the next car over and compliments her “melancia” (melons). I’m not uncomfortable yet but am slowly getting there.

Sensing that this vein of jokes while delightful has played itself out, Edouardo asks us where we’re from. I proffer “San Francisco” and he tries to assess whether I’m straight or gay (a frequent occurrence in Brazil) simply because I live 2 miles from the Castro district. His pea-sized brain suddenly tired of this line of inquiry, he brightly exclaims:

“MADONNA!”

Madonna on the festival in Coachella in 2006
Image via Wikipedia

And now in a quasi-Italian singsong manner: “Madonna the best! The best!”

Not wanting to burst the man’s bubble by discussing the finer nuances of shitty American pop, we murmur a gentle assent. He then quizzically throws out the words “New Jersey” to see what reaction we have. Since I don’t know how to say “Armpit of America” in Portuguese, I simply repeat after him, “Yes, yes, New Jersey!”.

Greatly encouraged by my unalloyed willingness to just roll over, Edourdo now loudly yells “Bon Jovi! Bon Jovi the best!”

This may have been the point when I simply tuned out and rode in silence until we got to Avenida Paulista and our hotel – Maksoud Plaza. As we pulled up, Edouardo Souza’s inner Italian proclaimed – “Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Bon Jovi, Maksoud Plaza, the best!”

I should have known better than to take his word for it.

I wasn’t alive during the seventies, but in 1979 Maksoud Plaza was possibly an interesting hotel to spend a night. Now its just a way to remind yourself how depressing the 70s must have been. The inside of the hotel is a garish, screaming collision of every color known to mankind. There’s a buffet/cafe/bakery that sits off to one side in the lobby. It is buffeted by a small pool which for some reason sits in front of a giant LCD screen playing Brazilian soaps. For good measure, the hotel staff threw in a horrendously colorful Christmas tree with creepy ornaments on one side.

As if making a silent excuse for its obvious lack of good taste, a scale model of the Maksoud Plaza sits towards the center of the expansive lobby. The slowly yellowing label reads “Maksoud Plaza, 1979” so we can be assured that this particular eyesore was built by another generation of Brazilians.

My friend V asks the concierge about a good “churrascaria“. With the knowing look of someone about to score a commission, she busts out a flyer for “Vente Harregano”, which we are informed is “the best!”. I am really getting sick of Brazilians’ callous use of superlatives at this point, but I relent when she mentions that the restaurant sends a van to the hotel to pick up guests.

Nice! I’m thinking of a classy evening spent in style as the restaurant sends over a masculine town car. We can smoke cigars after dinner and go to The Skye Bar for a beautiful rooftop view of town, I think to myself.

Count me dismayed, then, when at 830pm I step outside to see a large airport shuttle-like van, painted in a particularly nasty gold color with a giant “Vente Harregano” logo on the sides. The meat van has arrived to pick up the fat Americans. I’m just glad I didn’t have a big fucking camera slung around my neck – I’d be forever destined to tourist hell.

So we pile in like the good sports we are and arrive at Vente Harregano.

A churrascaria – if you’ve never been to one – is explicitly designed to make vegetarians throw up out of disgust and serious carnivores salivate out of visceral anticipation. You make a great pretense of munching on the salad bar’s offerings and then graduate onto the meat, which is brought around on skewers by waiters who are more persuasive than insurance agents. Hell, the table you sit on usually has a diagram of a cow with all the different parts marked on it – rumpsteak being the one that inspires the most jokes. Personally, I had a quiet Crayola moment and wished I could paint the cow’s ass in brown and its shoulders bright purple.

Two hours and several caipirinhas later, we’re stuffed to the gills and completely hammered. I start making noises about Skye Bar in the posh Unique hotel and how we’re really too drunk to hail a cab. Praz quips like the hustler he thinks he is, “Why not just take the van?”

And so it came to pass that at 1130pm, as fashionable Paulistas stand in line outside the elevator that took them to the Skye Bar at the Unique Hotel, three drunk gringos pull up in a giant Vente Harregano meat van. The moment is soured further by the fact that the driver of the van puts out a two step red staircase to allow the gringos to get out of the van. Simply hopping out would be slightly masculine, so we pass in favor of stepping out daintily like a bunch of parlor ladies.

Praz, in his drunken exuberance yells, “Well, this looks badass!!”, drawing looks of extreme disgust from the Paulistas ahead of us in line.

A few minutes later, we we’re ushered into the Skye Bar.

Alisson at Skye Bar
Image by heather via Flickr

The Skye is a beautiful space packed with gorgeous Brazilians. The open air roof is filled with cool, dark corners exclusively reserved for makeout action and manly umbrellas with stylish red lighting. Since it’s our first night out, we’re a bit shy about approaching strangers and are content to make the following observations about Brazilian nightlife:

  • Brazen making out is highly encouraged and nothing to bat eyebrows about. Americans look prudish in comparison.
  • Brazilians smoke a hell of a lot more than their American counterparts and nobody gives a rat’s ass about secondhand smoke in bars.
  • As is well known about Latin America, the men can be aggressive and the women can be strangely receptive to aggression.

As the reader can tell by this neat bulleted list, the gringos are not the life of the party that night. But the vino does flow freely until 330am and we stumble into the hotel room at 4am. Part of me wants to bum rush the ugly Christmas tree and watch it totter and fall with a deafening crash.

We now recollect that we have a flight to catch at 6am and juvenile Praz insists on ordering room service while playing “I See Your Dirty Face” at the loudest possible decibel level.

Sigh.

The trip has only just begun and I’m already tired. On to Foz de Iguacu! That, however, will be the topic of a different post.

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  1. January 12, 2009 at 6:46 am

    Saumil, keep these posts coming! I’m leaving for Rio in t-minus 5 weeks exactly so hopefully you can finish them all by then!

    So far so good, beautiful Brazilians, raucous making out, and caipirinhas. Game on.

  2. January 12, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Ha! Awesome, dude. We’ll have to meet up in person before you bounce so I can personally bless your trip 🙂

    I’ll have a lot more content for you before then!

  3. January 31, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I was recently wondering if there are any more pool players here on this forum.And I do not mean the swimming kind. I think about the game.I like shoot pool with my friends and I would like to gather a few folks on the Internet that have the same excitement.Hope to find out from you shortly. Thanks.

  4. Nahil
    February 22, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    you write as if u hate brasil…brasilians are wonderful people I have been all over the world…and Brasil has been the best experience ever I go there once or twice every year..i think u should have read more and known someone there before u headed there..bjs

  5. June 26, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    I’ll immediately snatch your rss as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please allow me realize so that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

  6. Mike
    October 31, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Excellente! I know the damn thing is five years old…But, I just want to say that it is not everyday that I come across a blog written by a world-class writer. I see you haven’t done much since 2010, but I’ll bookmark you just in case you get it going again. Do you have a new blog? Or a current one? Thank you.

  1. January 13, 2009 at 2:49 am
  2. March 1, 2009 at 4:27 am

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