Part 1 of a 4-part series on my year-end jaunt through the Promised Land, aka Brazil.
It all started with a 6 AM (Colombian time) flight out of Bogotá, two days before Christmas. Armed with distastefully warm chicken sandwiches and virtually no sleep, Roberto and I coasted down the spine of the Andes to Lima, then crossed over altiplano and forest toward the beckoning, green crests of the Brazilian Highlands. After being attacked by air pockets during a treacherous descent through a thick mass of afternoon storm clouds, we landed a little after 6 PM (Brazilian time) at Guarulhos, one-hundred-thousand miles outside of the city it serves, São Paulo. A slight, unseasonal chill accompanied the Venusian gloom of the sky, which looked ready to burst into a monsoon at any moment. We hit the ground running, thanks to the overly-air-conditioned Airport Bus Service, Roberto and I cracking jokes and snapping pictures of road signs and billboards and the federal prison and favelas (shantytowns, for the unlettered) that greet the visitor to Brazil’s largest city. Soon, though, Roberto quieted in awe as rows and rows of skyscrapers sprouted behind one another with every highway curve, a shark’s mouthful of concrete blocks housing over 20 million people in a metro area not even half the square mileage of Atlanta’s. I’d seen it all twice before, but the sheer amount of human development in one physical location is incessantly impressive. Cars, trains, trucks, helicopters, motorcycles, airplanes, rats all whiz by over and around each other in a city whose only constant is flux – in the last fifty years, the city proper grew from 2.2 to 11 million people…and counting.
Based out of our centrally-located, US$22/night cubby hole-in-the-sky, Roberto and I recharged as we met with some of my old friends on Avenida Paulista, the ultra-post-modern financial heart of the country which was set ablaze by innumerable Christmas lights and displays. Near the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP), delighted kids watched a cartoon Santa’s Workshop projected against a high-rise, while a rag-tag circle of street percussionists got some of the ancestral spirits moving underneath the elevated edifice of the museum. We spent Christmas Eve roaming aimlessly past shuttered storefronts in an attempt to soak up as much of the varied neighborhood vibes as we could right before the world’s biggest holiday and ended up at one of São Paulo’s gargantuan all-night mega-house clubs, tripping the light fantastic to tribal beats while practicing our Brazilian Hellos (full-frontal French kisses first, names afterward) with numerous and assorted Brazilian hotties. Needless to say, I can hardly remember Christmas Day; I think we slept for most of it.
The next couple of days included walks through Old Downtown (São Paulo has four downtowns, y’all) with its curvy, concrete, Jetsonian constructions of iconic architect Oscar Neimeyer, navigating the sightssoundsandsmells of the subway, whisking through the stately Pinacoteca art museum (see…we cultured!), meeting up with new friends (some club DJs, club groupies, expat bloggers, other random geeks and whores), and mixing it up again with the locals, this time at a samba/funk/hip-hop-n-r-n-b spot on the South Side called Kamaroty. I swear, I’ve never been to a place where the girls have been nicer about having their drinks accidentally spilled on them. Again, my bad, ladies; thanks for being so understanding. And all too soon, our first week in Brazil came to a close and we jetted off to Rio de Janeiro for US$49 each way for some hot New Years beach action. My only regret was that the Museu Afro-Brasil was closed until January; otherwise, despite being tempered for the holidays, Sampa did exactly what she was supposed to do: engulf, overwhelm, impact, incite, impress.
I’d be back.