The Lonely Planet sums it up perfectly: “São Paulo is a monster. Enormous, intimidating and, at first glance at least, no great beauty.” People I know in Boston, who are originally from Brazil, warned me that I need to watch myself there at all times because I will clearly look like a foreigner and be an easy target for mugging. It is embarrassing to admit but… I initially wondered why I decided to stop here, on my way to Bahia province. I am staying with friends and am, as it turns out, glad I made this stop-over before heading east. They have graciously given me a small taste of this immense, sprawling, but likeable place.
There are over twenty million people who live in the greater metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. The divide between the haves and the have-nots of this city is great; the inequality is blatant. Many people live on the street and the barbed wire industry clearly thrives. The government and private citizens do not invest in long-term programmes that will get people off the street and re-integrated into society; the payback probably seems to distant.
Graffiti is everywhere (as it turns out, Sao Paulo is known for its graffiti artists). I have learned that, as the city developed there was little planning, zoning, and vision. It appears to be a hodgepodge of a metropolis. Vehicular traffic is nothing but one giant snarl. Despite all the concrete, however, lush green is everywhere and the songs of birds surround you all day long, giving a clear sense that rain forest cannot be far away. Trees line the streets and there are a number of large parks here. I have also discovered that Sao Paulo is a superb place for a “foodie” like me. There are hundreds of cafes, bistros, and good, cheap food joints. Since my time here is short I have barely scratched the surface and, uncharacteristically, I have hardly explored this city on foot. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that this is a sophisticated city full of culture, life, and history.
In just a few days, I warmed up to this city that, at first sight, appeared to be a grey, concrete jungle that I thought would hold no interest. Already I can say that Sao Paulo is a region that, had I more time, I might learn to appreciate.