We took a 5:30am taxi from Fremont, Seattle to the Link Light Rail, and on to the airport for a total of 30 hours’ travel to land in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the 15th of May! We got into the city tired and smelling of airports, stale and quite possibly sickly airplane air, but safe and happy to be in South America after planning the trip for so long! 🙂
Actually the airport isn’t in Sao Paulo, it’s in Guarulhos, which is a smaller, neighboring city about an hour away, but it’s easy enough to get to town.
Outside the airport terminal there are many taxi companies and even different bus companies to take travelers to the city, to metro stations or even to your hotel, but since we would be traveling for a while it behooved us to take the budget option…
The most frequent and most popular buses take you to Sao Paulo’s bus terminal (and the city’s main transportation hub), and they were BRL 46 (about USD21 at the time), but we waited a little longer and got bus 257 from terminal 4 which goes to the closest metro station (Tutuapé station) and was only BRL 4. The metro lines have lots of stops and seem like they reach most parts of the city; we paid BRL 3 per person each trip. So unless you’re really rushed, this seemed like the best option. The bus was super super packed as to be expected in such a large city, but the passengers were friendly, helped us not fall down with our heavy bags when the driver repeatedly slammed on the brakes, and told us when the metro was coming up. Unlike some bus lines, the metro is super easy to navigate.
We stayed with a couchsurfer in Sao Paulo the first night, but we weren’t in the city long enough to know in which general area we were; we just had the Google maps directions to get to her place, complete with bus lines, numbers and schedules. It looked pretty safe (safer than we had been warned to expect), and a very friendly, helpful Bolivian woman named Gloria adopted us as we got off the bus and walked with us all the way from the bus station to an internet cafe. A surprising amount of people spoke Spanish, which we were also warned wouldn’t happen. Early on it became clear that Brasil is a surprising country, with much more going on under the surface than can be expressed in one idea or one impression… especially the people who live there. Another tip we’ve been told by multiple brasileiros is that Brazilians can understand Spanish fairly well because of some similarities between the languages, but because many Portuguese sounds aren’t necessarily found in Spanish, Spanish speakers can rarely understand Brazilian Portuguese. Basically, speaking some Spanish really helps to get around the city.
The Brazilian people we met are some of the most outgoing, welcoming and sincerely friendly people we met on our entire trip. Our first host in Sao Paulo was no different – Luciana the architect- she greeted us at the door with kisses on either cheek and a big smile. Her apartment wasn’t big, which is absolutely to be expected in such a huge, urbanized and overcrowded city, and it seemed like she stays in a bustling area; she still made us feel super welcome as soon as we got there. We slept in the study/spare room, where the fold-out couch took up all the available space. Luciana had already started making dinner for all three of us, with a glass of really tasty red wine :). I think it was wild rice and chicken mix, bitter salad, almond and mushroom infusion from a jar. With a brazilian pop queen wailing in the background on the tv. She doesn’t speak English and I’ve just started working on my Spanish, so Kiernan was my translator, and despite the language barrier we had a great dinner with good, if slow, conversation.
We lay our heads down for our first night in Sao Paulo, ready to get some much-needed rest and since Luciana works from home, she assured us (convinced us even) that we could sleep in. Wonderful, restful, peaceful. 🙂
The next morning Luciana treated us to a small breakfast of packaged bread rolls, and queso branco as we talked about placed we’ve both been to, and where she has traveled to in South America. We cooked some pasta lunch and took off for a Brazilian bank nearby. From there we walked to the Portuguese-Tiête metro and bus station and bought tickets to Paraguay Asunción for the following day (around BR200 each). It seems like there is only one bus from/to Asunción & São Paulo each day, which meant we had one more night to kill. Enter, stage left: Couchsurfing! 🙂
We hopped on bus 271 to the Gruahlous area centro, Paulo Facinni street, and waited at the McDonald’s to meet up with our next couchsurfing host, Bruna who was finishing night class. I believe she works at the airport as she finishes school but is dying to quit and travel more after she university. She showed up with her friend Marco, both very cool, he asked “do you like beer” which is an invitation in almost any situation to drink so we bonded fairly quickly .
It was a short ride to Whatsapp Café and Bar where they were having a reggae night – we met cool-looking Brazilians from 15-30 years old: skaters, punks, lots of dreads and a good crowd overall. We chatted with some of Bruna’s and Marco’s friends and the night ended nicely around 2am, just as their friends were teaching us some bad words and phrases in Portuguese. We headed to Bruna’s and met her mom, who seemed excited that it was Bruna’s first time hosting C-surfers. She was kind enough to force some leftovers on us tipsy gringoes and we promptly settled down into their guest room. The next morning before Bruna had work we headed to a local farmers market with her, her sister, brother-in-law, and niece. It was charming, but we couldn’t stay long before we had to catch a bus to Tiete metro station for our bus to Paraguay. Once again the passengers on the bus were super helpful and friendly. It’s very hard to communicate barely knowing any Portuguese, but I like that we’re managing. We were aware that we had only seen a drop of Sao Paulo but I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing it again and adventure awaits in Paraguay!