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

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