If I had taken the time to look at a map more carefully, we would not have made Sao Paulo our first stop in
By the time we checked in at the airport, Sally's cold was so bad she was questioning whether we should fly. She was so sick she even refused champagne in the lounge. (That should give her friends Evelyn and Teresa some indication of how bad she was!) But we had our boarding cards, our hotel in
We really didn't know what to expect in
Consequently, when we arrived, we had a friend to help orient us to the city, and more importantly, arrange for Sally to see a doctor! Over the next few days, Andre and his family took us around, entertained us, and gave us an insight into what life is like for a middle class family in this very large and oftentimes dangerous city.
Sao Paulo is a city of contrasts. In addition to some grand old buildings, and landmark designs by Oscar Niemeyer, one of
But there are some impressive squares and public art. The streets are alive with people. There are shoe shine stands, street performers, fortune tellers, street vendors, and religious leaders with microphones.
You can buy all sorts of food, and enough sunglasses to equip the entire city population. There are also plenty of police around, although many of the police look far more dangerous than the potential criminals.
Over the next few days, while constantly vigilant about pickpockets and potential muggers, I traveled around by foot and the very clean and efficient metro. I was advised to avoid buses, and I did. When we wanted to go out for a Brazilian barbq dinner, the restaurant sent a van to pick us up at the hotel. Although many parts of the city were overrun by crime and poverty, in many, many others, life seemed as normal as in
In the hope that I might better understand the country, Andre gave me a copy of an April 2007 Economist Special Report on
Andre and his family showed us a great time. We saw many beautiful neighbourhoods, and parks. But in the distance were the favelas or slums, climbing up the hillsides and looking deceptively like quaint Italian hillside towns. Most of the dwellings were built by squatters, initially with cardboard boxes and plastic sheeting. Over time, corrugated metal sheeting and bricks were added. The neighbourhoods are controlled by drug lords. However, according to the Economist, governments are attempting to improve the lives of these residents and some progress is being made in closing the gap between the rich and poor. But there is a long way to go.
We avoided that side of life. Instead we had a wonderful Friday night dinner at Andre and Eliane’s home in a very nice part of the city. The next day we spent an afternoon at a nearby seaside resort, in an apartment owned by Eliane's parents. Unfortunately, the weather changed and it was quite cool and starting to rain. But the building staff still set up chairs and an umbrella for us on the beach.
As we drove around nearby
On Sunday afternoon, we were given a tour of their club. To get in, we were not only signed in, we had to show proper identification and have our photos taken. Once inside, we understood why. The Hebraic Club is like an entire village, covering twenty acres. It has 5 swimming pools, various gymnasiums, tennis courts, a concert hall, library, synagogue, and a variety of cafes and restaurants spread out amongst the tropical grounds.
After four very interesting days, it was time to move on. We were advised to go to