Life in Sao Paulo

I tend to get so caught-up in my day to day life that I often forget that I’m living in Brazil. This didn’t happen in the beginning, I remember waking up during the first few weeks here and thinking; wow! I’m in Brazil. Now after four years in this wonderful place I have to remind myself not to become complacent, or let my guard down.

The bad stuff like crime, violence and poverty do exist in this country and certainly everyday there’s news stories about unfortunate travelers caught in some messy incident in Rio or stories about one nasty crime or another in my city of Sao Paulo but I prefer not to write about these things. However, I don’t let myself forget about the fact that I’m a potential target, so I try to be careful.
This country is just plain cool, filled with mystery and exciting things to see and do. The people are nice but I’d say they’re similar to most other people, although the poor are interesting to me and I find the working class to be friendly and cheerful for the most part. It’s the combination that fascinates me so much, the people and this massive city in this cool country. You could never really know this entire city, only imagine and wonder where the all the people live, or when you look at the dwellings to wonder what it might be like to live there?
When you drive around the city you’ll see something different every time, even if you go the same way you went the day before. It’s in constant flux, with people moving in and out, here and there, and parts are constantly under construction. Then add to that the environment that the city is built within, being on the plateau of an escarpment, rising 4,000 feet above the sea, completely covered in rain forest. Dense wet and sticky vegetation but with nothing living there that could cause you harm. The city itself sprawls out over a vast area, 60 miles in either direction, of rolling hills covered in forest. It must have been absolutely amazing to it’s founders, perfect in every way, until they started building and made it into something else.
Nowadays I’m guessing that Sao Paulo has more construction taking place than any other city in the world because much of it is without official permit and then the amount of skyscraper construction is hard to fathom. From any high-spot in the city you can see new buildings growing up in every direction you look. These people have mastered the concept of hi-rise development, in some areas they have clusters of a half-dozen of these monoliths, in other areas they’re constructing commercial office towers of glass and steel that would be the envy of any modern metropolis. On the top of which are the brand names of multinational corporations such as Microsoft, HP or CitiBank.
click on the image to enlarge

Amazingly enough on the ground the city has retained it’s charm, despite what you’ll see when you first enter from the International airport or even by car from Rio de Janeiro. I often tell my friends and family that they should land in Rio first, just to get a dose of urban beauty before the culture shock of Sao Paulo. The two city’s really have only one thing in common; they’re both in Brazil. The first arrival in Sampa (as they call Sao Paulo) can be quite an experience but the truth is that there’s a really wonderful place underneath the tough exterior. The streets of the neighborhoods are tree lined, often curvy with lots of gentle rolling hills and valley’s. The architecture is so varied as to not really earn a single description but gorgeous houses and buildings can be seen all over, often nestled into lush spots or perched on the tops of hills.
The most wonderful homes, mansions actually, we call Casa Grande’s, are behind high walls or down private gated cul de sac’s they call Villa’s. Everywhere there are giant trees with thick undergrowth and lot’s of flowering bushes and shrubs. Then of course there’s tons and tons of concrete and steel, mixed in with all this intrinsic beauty, often separated by ugly highways sometimes alongside filthy rivers, or graffiti-covered bridges, on-ramps and over-passes, haphazardly interrupted by favelas (or ghettos), shacks built one on top of another with salvaged plywood, bricks and sticks stuck together with a little mortar. A marvel how it all meshes together into a city, it’s a constant source of wonderment for me.
As much as I enjoy living in this monstrous city, perhaps one of the greatest things about it, is it’s proximity to the best beaches in the world but that’s another story.
Next week I’m planning to join a guided walking tour in the oldest part of the downtown area, to learn about the History of Sao Paulo, so I hope to have more information to share.

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