Day 23 -- Touring Sao Paulo
20 Jul 2007
|Day 23 -- Friday, July 20 -- Touring Sao Paulo
Well, here in Brazil, I no longer have to worry about being eaten by a lion or trampled by a hippo or elephant. But, the last week of my trip has, perhaps, even greater dangers. In the cities in Brazil, the crime rates are very high. Most are petty non-violent crimes, like pickpockets. But, in some areas in the big cities, the drug lords are so powerful that the police are afraid to enter their territories.
And, the language here is Portuguese. I only know a few Portuguese words to be even a little polite (like "sim" means "yes" but is pronounced more like "sing")
So, simple things like buying a bus ticket or knowing what food to order are major efforts.
I was pleasantly surprised this morning to discover that I didn't have to pay for the excellent buffet breakfast. Apparently, it was already included in my room rate. When traveling in an unfamiliar country, getting at least one square meal is a good way to start the day.
I packed up and checked out of my hotel with three hours to spare before my next flight (to Iguassu Falls). That was too long to just hang around. So, I thought it would be good to explore Sao Paulo before leaving.
A random walk might be a little bit too interesting. If I got too lost, I might miss my flight. If I accidentally wandered into a bad neighborhood, there's a high probability of getting mugged.
So, instead, I paid someone to get lost for me. More precisely, I asked the bellhops at the hotel (who speak perfect English), to instruct my taxi driver to give me a tour of Sao Paulo, anywhere he wanted to go, but to get me to the domestic airport no later then 12:30 for my 1:48pm flight. After negotiating a fixed price, we headed out.
To get a quick impression of Sao Paulo, think of it as New York City with much more crime and poverty. It has about the same size and population as NYC (11 million). When you add in the surrounding cities, it is the third largest metropolis on the planet. The streets and buildings are very similar to NYC. The big difference is that whereas NYC has beggars and people living on the streets here and there, in Sao Paulo, they're everywhere. In NYC, there are still a few slums; in Sao Paulo, there are many "favelas", which rival Delhi in their extreme poverty levels.
There seem to be almost as many motorcycles as cars. The motorcyclists all wear helmets and they really need them. They seem to think that the dotted white lanes are special lanes just for them. They treat a three-lane road like a five-lane highway, weaving from lane to lane like they're immortal. My taxi driver calls them "loco". I agree.
My taxi driver, acting as my tour guide, showed me the huge "futbol" stadium. (Soccer is the top national sport in Brazil.) He also showed me some of the stadiums used for Carnival, which is almost as big here as it is in Rio.
We then toured many districts in the city, including (assuming I understood his valiant efforts at speaking English): the old town, the fashion district, the financial district and the government district. He couldn't figure out the how to describe in English one of the buildings that's the governor's palace, so to explain it to me he said "Arnold Schwarzenegger". I quickly acknowledged that I understood and we laughed about it.
Like in NYC, the "high rent district has security camera and guards. Here there's lots more guards plus rings of tall barb-wire fences and security cameras. I'm guessing that it's dangerous to live in luxury here.
As it got closer to noon, I reminded my driver about the airport. He answered "no problem" and kept showing me parts of the city. When it got be noon, I insisted that we head for the airport. He said "no problem" and we headed directly for it. He pointed out the low flying planes overhead indicating that we were very close. "No problem". But, then the traffic came to a dead stop. He said, "No problem, is traffic accident". Well, it turned out to be an accident but not a traffic accident. He had decided to drive to the airport right through the area where the plane had crashed two days ago. The entire area had been cordoned off by the police and traffic was moving much slower than a walking pace. My driver conferred with other taxi drivers caught in the traffic jam. They had no clue either.
As 12:30 came and went, I grew increasingly anxious. No driver's response? "No problem".
We finally reached the area where the highway was closed and started trying to reach the airport on city roads. The clock ticked past 1pm. Sigh.
We finally reached the airport terminal at 1:30. My chance of getting on the 1:48 flight was pretty low but, I figured I'd better at least try in the hope that my ticket could be used on another flight.
I got in line and waited and waited. At 1:47 (one minute before my flight was scheduled to depart), I reached the front of the line. She checked in my luggage and handed me a boarding pass. Huh? Apparently, the flight was delayed. "When will it be boarding", I asked. "We don't know", she answered, "We aren't sure yet what plane will be available".
So, I kept checking the departures display. It kept saying "Delayed" with no gate number. The departure time still showed, 1:48.
I checked every 10 to 15 minutes, no change.
Two hours later, it finally showed, "Now boarding". The "estimated departure time" was still 1:48. I boarded the plane. The remainder of the day was uneventful.
My conclusion? When in a country with a more relaxed concept of time: NO PROBLEM!