Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sao Paulo or Bust - Part 2

Wow -- what a difference a nice bed and cooler temperatures make.  I get plenty of r.e.m. sleep and after a quick breakfast we are ready to head to Sao Paulo. The drive this morning takes a little over an hour and we are on the outskirts of the city and soon find ourselves driving down one of its many traffic filled streets.  My first impression of the mega-city  is that it is huge, there is a lot of traffic, the architecture is interesting which often incorporates  a helicopter pad on top and besides this detail,  it is very similar to a lot of cities back in the United States.   Sao Paulo has more helicopters per person then any other city in the world.  Many business executives choose this form of transportation to avoid the congested roads below.   I was not able to convince my touring companions to take a helicopter ride so we will just have to travel using the paved roads
below. On our drive we pass numerous favelas (shanty towns), many beautiful flowering trees and plenty of city sprawl.   For a stretch of our drive we are parallel to the Tiete River and its tributary the Pinheiros river.  As we drive along an odor begins to infiltrate the car and although the weather is quite fresh we close the windows and turn on the air.   This terrible stink is from all the pollution in the river system.  The   Tiete River is often referred to as the most polluted river in Brazil.  They have spent over fifteen years working on cleaning it up with  promising progress and yet today it is obvious to us there is much left to do.    Along our drive we pass by the Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge with two lanes of traffic that cross each other like an X  in the middle.   This crossing sends vehicles in two directions when they reach the opposite side of the Pinheiros river. The bridge is famous for its holiday decorations around Christmas time and the uniqueness of its design.
Our first destination is Ibirapuera Park filled with museums,  gardens,  sculptures, and lots of walking paths.
It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon and a place to park the two vehicles is our first hurdle,  but after a short while we succeed and are soon walking down the traffic free roads which wind through the park.  Ibirapuera Park is often referred to as Central Park of Sao Paulo and today it is easy to see why.  The park is filled with people as it seems everyone in the city has the same idea regarding how to enjoying the afternoon here.  It is quite crowded and after a short walk to see the famous dancing fountains and a couple of other attractions,  we decide it is a place we should come back to during the week when there are less crowds.  There is no way to get many photos of the things we want without having a ton of other people posing with us.  It is an enjoyable day and after a few days in the car a walk in the park is simply wonderful.
Our second destination today is on the banks of the Ipiranga brook where Padro I of the Portuguese Empire stood and declared independence for Brazil on September 7, 1822.  A granite and bronze monument known as The Monument to the Independence of Brazil or Alter of the Fatherland was designed and built to celebrate this occasion.   It is a massive memorial with sculptures of a small group of men on the one end commemorating a 1789 uprising in the city of Ouro Preto.  This uprising is called the Inconfidência Mineira and is considered a starting point to Brazil's independence and began the process that led to Pedro's action.  The monument also plays tribute with sculptures of other individuals like Hipólito José da Costa and Joaquim Gonçalves Ledo who played important rolls in convincing Pedro to make his declaration of independence.  On the front of the monument there is an eternal flame that overlooks the Ipiranga brook and symbolizes strength of Brazil's future.
Behind the flame is a large crypt where the remains of Emperor Pedro I and his two wives are housed and on top of the crypt there are statues of revolutionary men with their canons and horses.  As the second place we visit, I am truly impressed and begin to look forward to more of our touring of this great city. Our visit to the monument is enhanced by the piano playing of Arthur Moreira Lima.  A famous classical pianist from Rio de Janiero who is currently traveling around Brazil to places where classical music is rarely heard.  It is just by chance that we are here to enjoy a portion of the free concert as we admire the Monument to the Independence of Brazil.   I had not heard of him prior to today,  but after I listen for a while,  I appreciate his talent and will make sure to add a pandora station to my Ipad.
My anticipation of what is next cannot be halted as in distance, up a great incline, is a wonderful yellow mansion of a building.   This building is part of our journey today so after a few minutes of musical enjoyment we begin to dodge the skateboarders speeding down the steep incline. It seems so dangerous and we are surprised this is allowed in such a tourist spot.  However, later a security guard tells us skateboarding is only permitted from one to three on Sunday afternoons.  I guess you
can say the skateboarding made a lasting impression on me or maybe it was the fear of getting plowed into.  Well, back to our journey, after we make it a forth of the way we veer left to a little frontier home which has been preserved.  It is said that this is the exact location where Pedro I exclaimed "independence or death" and with this declared Brazil's independence.  We peak around the little home which is filled with artifacts from colonial Brazil.  They have been preserved wonderfully and after a quick look we are ready to continue up the hill.  More zigging and zagging to avoid being pummeled, we finally arrive at the beautiful gardens and fountains which welcome usto the Paulista Museum, the Museum of Brazilian History.  We wander around the gardens admiring the perfectly manicured foliage and find plenty of photo opportunities.   Soon we are ready to explore the insides of the majestic mustard colored building standing boldly at the summit of the hillside.  Our pocket books are surprised as there is no charge on Sundays but that will also mean it is a little more crowded I guess.  Immediately upon entering one is thrown back into days gone by as portraits of the first presidents
of each Brazilian State line the rotunda.  We continue down the long halls in each direction peaking in rooms filled with artifacts from Brazil's Imperial and Colonial periods.  It is a wonderful collection with old trains,  dresses,  kitchenware, and much more.  There are many stories told of Brazil's history and its humble beginnings.  I would love to share these marvels with you but photography is not allowed so you will just have to visit the museum yourself someday.  After a couple of hours of time looking around, we decide it is time to head to the hotel.  On our descent from the museum we walk through a small street fair filled with  wares hand crafted by local merchants and different kinds of street foods.   It is a quick trip through the fair as we are hungry and have some things to do before we eat.

Our third stop is the hotel so we can check in and secure our bags but upon arrival the room is not ready - go figure.  They do have a garage for our vehicles and allow Thais' mom Jakelline to park there with us so we decide to leave the cars and continue our Sao Paulo adventure.  A quick stop at a little mall for some food and we are off for the subway station.  As we walk to the station, the streets are filled with vehicles and people scurrying to their destinations.  We descend in to the subway station and find a map on the wall to route our trip.  First impression is that it is clean and well maintained.  There are quite a few people entering so it is obviously a reliable way to get around the city.  We purchase our tickets and are off to our next
destination Park da Luz and the oldest museum in Sao Paulo "Pinacoteca".  We exit the train and head above ground into Luz Station.  Constructed in the early 1900's when coffee was being transported to the city by train and renovated in the 1990's,  it is a beautiful piece of architectural history and a great place to look around for a bit.  Very similar to train stations in the United States with a large open area for arriving and departing trains,  lots of glass to let sunlight in and of course a few homeless people loitering around.
Across the street is a beautiful park with many statues and sculptures along the main paths.  We briefly walk through some of the grounds but as the afternoon is fading and our real destination is the Pinacoteca, we head towards the two story brick building at the corner of the park.
The Pinacoteca was founded in 1911 and has a large collection of Brazilian art.   It hosts a transient international circuit of exhibits which continues to bring in artists from around the world.  I am impressed by the beautiful paintings and sculptures and even recognize an artist or two.   We spend a few hours wandering around the halls of the magnificent brick building exploring each of the three levels.  It is a great way to spend the afternoon but as the day begins to wind down  we have a couple more places to see in the area so we must leave the Pinacoteca.
We want to make sure we are on the train before it gets too dark as the Luz neighborhood of the city has recently been in the news for the drug dens and number of homeless drug addicts who have congregated here.  We are encouraged to stay together as a group,  keep our cameras close, and pay attention to our surroundings as we begin our walk to the next "must see".   A little while later with no incidences we arrive at the Julio Prestes Train Station another grand building constructed during the reign of coffee plantations in the interior regions of Brazil.  In the early 21st century the building was renovated into a concert hall where the Sao Paulo Symphony performs today.  This renovation from train station to symphony hall took many years as the engineers struggled to reconcile modern technology with historic conservation. In the end
81 of the original doors were restored and after reviewing many photographs much of the intricate details were reproduced to hold on to the historic attributes.   We step up to the front doors only to find out the hall is currently under renovations and closed for three months.  Disappointed as this is one destination I really wanted to visit after seeing pictures of the majestic hall which houses the symphony.  It will get added to the list of places to see on my next visit to Sao Paulo for sure.

We walk back through the Luz neighborhood surrounded by poverty and wealth intermixed.  There seems to be a few more street people wandering around so I am not as disappointed that the hall is closed.  Exploring would have pushed the return to the station back a while but soon we are at the ticket booth purchasing our return trip.   Our destination now is a district known for its great restaurants.  After we leave the subway station and a short debate on getting a cab, the decision is made that we have enough energy for a short walk.  Little did we know it would be a walk up a long auto less street with
wonderful graffiti to distract us from our journey.  Once we reach the summit we find ourselves in an upscale residential area with no restaurant district around.  This short walk is becoming longer then we expected so when we find a corner with a few places to eat we choose one for our evening meal.  It is a nice meal and soon it is time to grab a cab (well actually 2) and head back to the subway which will bring us to the hotel.   It has been a long but wonderful day in Sao Paulo.  After a shower, some unpacking, a little computer time,  my head hits the pillow and eyes shut immediately - dreams of the days adventure dancing through my restful mind.

(Read Sao Paulo or Bust - Part 1)

(Read Sao Paulo or Bust - Part 3)

Fountain in Luz Park 
Crowds at Ibirapuera Park 

Subway Station

Luz Train Station



Arthur Moreira Lima

Dancing Waters at Ibirapuera Park 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sao Paulo or Bust - Part 1

Yeah,  it is time to travel again and the destination for this trip is the state of Sao Paulo.  First stop...the 7th largest municipality in the world, 8th largest urban area seen from outer space,  24th largest city by area known to man, 6th most populated city on the planet and 2nd most populated metropolitan area in the the Americas...
Sao Paulo
 Oh yeah,  it is the largest city in the southern hemisphere, the Americas, and in the country of Brazil as well.  It is often referred to as the economic heart of the country.  Let's start this journey with a little history and then share the trip details as we explore to see what this city on steroids has to offer.
In 1532,  the port city of Sao Vicente was founded along the Brazilian coast in an effort to guarantee the Portuguese possession of the region.  This was actually the first permanent European settlement in the country of Brazil and in 1554 a small group of Jesuit missionaries walked up the hills just inland from the
settlement in search of the perfect location to start a new college.   Their mission was to convert the Tupi-Guarani Indigenous Brazilians to the Catholic faith as well as increase the Portuguese crowns ability to rule over them.  The Jesuits chose a location near the Tiete River just beyond the Serra do Mar cliffs for their new college which would later become the location for the current day city of Sao Paulo.
Being the natural entrance to the fertile high plateau to the west,  Sao Paulo became the natural entrance from the East coast and a stopping point just beyond the coastal city and port of Santos (only 42 miles away).  The city's development was influenced by the Jesuit missionaries as well as Bandeirantes.   The Jesuits with their mission to convert the natives and the Bandeirants who were interested in catching them and turning them into slaves often created conflicts between the two groups.   Today the Bandeirants are credited with the exploration of much of Brazils interior and played a huge role in the countries history.  These Bandeirants were privately funded groups of men called bandeiras who's initial purpose was to capture and enslave the indigenous people but soon changed focus as minerals were discovered in the interior of Brazil.   Due to treaties the Portuguese Empire
had entered into with Spain, they were not able to send expeditions into these regions.   Because the bandeirants were not state funded they didn't have to obey the treaties and went freely into the vast unmapped regions spreading the Portuguese influence.  Many of these groups were based in cities along the coast but the most famous Bandeirants were based in Sao Paulo.  They would set out to scout for gold and slaves in the mid region of current day Brazil.  Yes, like a lot of the push west in North America,  Gold was the catalyst that brought many people seeking fortune and adventure.  Sao Paulo soon became known as the gateway to Minas Gerais where much of the gold and other mineral wealth was discovered.   Many of the profits from these finds were invested in sugar cane plantations around the city.  These plantations would later be converted to coffee and are currently still producing the caffiene filled bean.   At the time of the industrial revolution in Europe, many European immigrants flocked to the
Antique Record Player at Truck Stop 
city and state of Sao Paulo bringing with them the technology and engineering to bring about the industrial changes here as well.  It soon became the most prosperous state in the country with many companies choosing it for their headquarters and railroads being built between it and almost every other Brazilian city.  Over the years,  these same immigrants from Europe, Asia, and of course other parts of Brazil have added their flavor to the city and make it quite a melting pot of its own.
Let's not forget that Sao Paulo also holds an important spot in Brazil's independence from Portugal.  In 1807, the Portuguese Royal Family fled Portugal to escape from Napoleon's armies and established a royal court to rule the Portuguese empire from Brazil.  After the defeat of Napoleon the royal family moved back to Portugal in 1821 and left their eldest son Pedro in charge.   Brazilians were not happy with their return to colony status and in 1822 in Sao Paulo,  Pedro declared Brazil independent and himself Emperor.
Today, Sao Paulo is culturally and artistically diverse being on the cutting edge of art and literature for the country of Brazil.  Paulistanos (people from Sao Paulo) are proud of their multicultural roots and continue to lead the present day Brazil in economics and politics. (thanks again wikipedia)
Now on to our present day journey. 
We leave Goiania with Luiz, his brother Junior and sister Beatrice along for the journey.  The skies are blue with a few clouds once again.  The first leg, a long drive through the countryside is only broken up by small communities, an occasional river, and of course the ever so often toll plaza.  Fortunately the weather is good and the only "stops" we make are for a quick bite to eat or a cup of java.  One of the quick stops is a quaint little cafe / truck stop (yes truck stops can be quaint) filled with wood carved animals and antique record players.  It is a nice distraction from the kilometers of travel we find ourselves on.  The cheese bread and coffee is good too.
We drive all day and towards evening we turn off to the little town of  Uberaba (population just under 300,000) and make our way to the heart of the city.  A beautiful square with a majestic cathedral standing guard over it on the far is what we find.  There is a small corner hotel and we inquire about lodging only to be disappointed there is no internet. OK, the rate is incredibly cheap so one can
only conclude it is a little scary as well.  We decide to investigate a second option the front desk attendant gives and continue around the downtown area.  There are lots of people loitering in the square on this warm night and we are not sure how safe this area of town is.  It is hard to tell as the loiterers are a mix of  different groups - young kids, street people - well dressed individuals, all sharing the same place but not interacting with one another.  We pull up in front of hotel number two which is definitely a more upscale establishment but when the room rate triples and still no internet,  option one begins to sound better so we drive back to at least look at a room. By this time we are tired and don't want to spend a lot of time searching for a place to sleep.     No internet for one night is not the worst thing to live without. By the time we return all rooms at hotel number one are booked and the front desk clerk tells us there are several hotels by the bus station in another part of town.  He gives us directions and we say good bye to the cathedral and central square to adventure through the city towards the bus station.  The dimly lit streets are filled with the usual small shops,  cathedrals, and residences
surrounded by walls of protection.   It is a short drive and soon we stopping to check out rates at hotel number three but there is no vacancy here.  Around the block to the back side of  the bus station where there is a row of hotels.   Surely there has got to be something here.  Our first stop is Hotel Uniao and although no internet is available it is late, the rate is cheap, and we are tired from traveling all day.  The little room with four single beds and limited floor space in between will have to do.  Did I mention it is a warm evening and there is no air conditioning and limited windows for any kind of breeze?  However, the room comes complete with a huge single speed fan that sounds like an airplane taking off.  Although I like sleeping with a fan,  this one may be a little more then my r.e.m. sleep will tolerate.   As I lie in bed waiting for my brain to shut down,  I take a
memory little trip back to college when it was not unusual for some friends and me to road trip and stay at some incredibly  inexpensive hotels.  Money was tight and we always seemed to find the least expensive places to stay.  They had limited amenities and sometimes they were not very clean.  At least this hotel is clean and the owner/front desk clerk is very accommodating as he seems enthused to have an "American" staying there.
Like I had imagined,  it is a long night and between the warmth and the single propeller fan, I tossed and turned all night. Not the most restful nights sleep.  (read more about Uberaba) Good thing the travel planned for today is short and we are staying at our friend Thais' house this evening.   After our showers, breakfast and coffee  we load the trunk of the little car and our journey continues down the divided highway past more fields, palm trees, rivers, and small towns all gracing the roadside.
 As we drive along kilometer after kilometer,  being from Iowa,  I begin to notice a difference about the crop land here verses the United States.   When you drive through the midsection of the U.S. there is a sense of uniformity and predictability.  All the crops are at the same stage of development.  They are all planted around the same time, grow at the same rate and are then harvested around the same time.  The crops here in Brazil are at all different levels of development. Some of the corn is just sprouting, some is knee high, and other fields are ready to harvest.    Because the weather really never gets cold,  farmers are able to grow crops all year long.

They have two growing seasons verses the single season in the U.S. and so you find fields in all the stages of production.  You never know,  one field could be getting ready to harvest while the next was just planted and beginning to sprout.  I have not noticed this on previous travels but today it is truly apparent to me so I thought I must mention it.
Our journey takes us by the production factories of  "51" cachaca, the most famous Brazilian sugar cane rum in the country.  It only gets mentioned because the cachaca is used to make caipirinhas which is the national drink of Brazil and they are delicious!   We want to get to our destination so we only stop for a quick cup of coffee without any rum.
Another city we drive through is Americana.  I am intrigued by this city as it was founded in 1875 shortly after the end of the civil war in the United States.  Refugees from the then defeated confederate states settled here after fleeing the  devastated southern region of the U.S.  I always think of refugees fleeing to the United
States and not from United States.  This has truly sparked me to read and learn more about this region. The most famous refugee was the Senator from Alabama William Hutchinson Norris.  The Senator along with 30 other families fled the states for Brazil. They are recognized as the founders of Americana which at that time was called "Villa da Estação de Santa Bárbara" (Santa Bárbara Station Town) and more commonly known as "Villa dos Americanos" (Town of the Americans).  This area of Brazil was well suited for growing cotton and since slavery was still legal here,  it was the perfect place for these families to settle and prosper.  Today the refugee's ancestors are called Confederados and still hold an annual festival celebrating the history of the city and the influence of the Southern United States on it.  Someday I would like to return here during the festival and do a little exploring but today it is not part of our itinerary so a drive by on the good old toll road will have to suffice.  (thank wikipedia)

It is not long after we drive through Americana that we arrive at our destination city of Itatiba. A northern suburb of the city of Sao Paulo where President Bill Clinton is rumored to have a home.  The city is considered to have the 3rd highest oxygen levels of anyplace in the world and it used to be the furniture capital of Brazil.  Itatiba means "many rocks" in the Tupi Guarini language and has around 91,000 residents. ( again thanks wiki)
The Kreuz's (Thais' family) home is a short drive down a eucalypti lined road in a beautiful subdivision of the city.  As we pull through the front gate, we are greeted by her mom, her brother and Thais herself.  It is a beautiful home complete with pool, plenty of outdoor living space and of course several hammocks. We arrive a little before noon so shortly after our arrival lunch is served and we are treated to a wonderful meal.  The conversation revolves around catching up and our plans for the next few days. At least that is what I gather as my companions and host family are speaking in Portuguese and all I can do is listen intensely for words I recognize.  Thais, her mom, and Luiz's nephew Raphael (Thais boyfriend) will be joining us for the first few days of exploration Sao Paulo.  It will be great to have a Paulistanos as a tour guide.  Shortly
after lunch a rain shower comes roaring in and our plans for some pool time are busted, but the resonance of rain sure make a nap more relaxing.  We spend the afternoon lounging in the hammocks and catching up on the sleep we lost last night.  Before evening comes a few errands need to be run so we all load into the vehicles to explore a city of Itatiba.  Once again it is a beautiful little town with all the amenities needed for Brazilian life.  OK - no McDonald's, Walmart, Taco Bell, or really any big box stores but who needs those anyway.  There are plenty of places to find anything one would need for everyday life and some specialty stores as well.  We spend a few hours driving around stopping at a small bakery for bread,
An animal in the park in the neighborhood 
a butcher shop for meat, and a couple of their favorite stores to just look around.  It is a nice community and our site seeing ends with a quick drive through their neighborhood to see all the homes, parks, and recreational areas.
The close of the day is complete with a Brazilian barbecue, more talk about what we want to do in the city, and of course an early bed time in preparation for tomorrow.

Front Gate at Kreuz 

Table setting for lunch - beautiful 

Lamp at a store we visited 

Geese in their neighborhood
Yes, Coca Cola is branded all over Brazil

This ain't Iowa !! 


Chicken Hearts - a standard part of Brazilian BBQ