These first two weeks of couchsurfing our days were split between (and in order of priority, if you ask Kiernan 😉 watching football games at the FIFA fan fest or in bars, applying for work, finding a place to stay more permanently and even seeing some tourist sites in the city. Finding teaching jobs for both of us happened rather quickly, though it would take months for us to actually build a full schedule of students; we would teach 1- or 2-hour classes at the student’s workplace or home. As you can imagine, that involves a lot of travel throughout the city… which made us realize quickly that finding or retaining students in more or less the same area/neighbourhood is so much better than losing hours of our schedules travelling from one side of Sao Paulo to the other; even more so because we left “independent transport” behind when we sold the Honda, back in the US. Now we are totally dependent on public transportation; however, we are in one of the best cities for that to be the case: the metro and train lines run to most popular areas of the city and usually buses can take you the rest of the way, though they’re much less reliable and consistent than the metro/trains.
With work more or less sorted, we had to figure where to live and how to get a foot in the door (excuse the pun) with our non-existent Portuguese. Despite kiernan’s 300 word vocabulary and mixing spanish when in doubt to make what they call “Portenhol” there’s no adequate to prepare for a language without really speaking to the natives. This was a challenge – when we tried emailing or calling some landlords, we were often met with silence. I’m pretty sure there are enough people looking for the kind of housing that is in our price range, that they don’t have to go through the hassle of talking to foreigners. Thanks again to our host, Fabricio, we started looking at a housing website Easyquarto where people often find rooms to rent, flat sharing and republicas, where we didn’t need to sign a 30-month contract. We live in a republica now, and while it’s mostly used by students, apparently foreigners find it an easy option too, seeing as we now live with almost an equal number of Brazilians as people from other countries. So, a republica is basically a house, where people share common areas like the kitchen, bathroom and living room, and rooms are rented out to individuals. The first republica we stayed in temporarily was quite small, with 6 rooms and 1 bathroom (yikes); now we stay in a much larger and generally spacious republica with 10 rooms, three shared bathrooms (a couple of rooms, including ours, have private bathrooms), a nice kitchen and a little braai/BBQ/churrasco space out front. Besides us out-of-towners, there is a Spanish guy, a couple of sisters from somewhere in South America, a Chilean guy and a bunch of locals in the house. Most of the Brazilian guys we almost never lay eyes on – they stay here during the week for work and over the weekend they disappear to wherever their “countryside” or family house is. This seems to be a popular way of life for upper-middle class and wealthy people – don’t deal with the bs of the city, the traffic, water problems and crowds, just withdraw to a safe distance and enjoy peace and quiet with friends and family somewhere else. I don’t envy their desire to get out: whenever we leave the city on one day trip or another, the air smells sweeter and cleaner immediately after leaving the skyscrapers behind, and suddenly the greenery of life welcomes your eyes and ears, until you realize how much you’ve missed nature without actually being cognizant of its absence.
Anywho… with a base of operations it was much easier to start exploring the city. We checked out Liberdade, a touristy but fun neighborhood with a Japanese and Asian background, and an awesome weekend feira with lots of snacks. Everyone touts these snacks as typically Japanese, but the deep-fried cabbage bowls and cream cheese & strawberry maki rolls are as comparable to Japanese food as a chihuahua is to a wolf. They’re good, just really not the same thing. We went to the famous Mercado Municipal to check out the fruit vendors and grab 2 Paulistana favorites: Mortadella was basically a big bologna sandwich, (not sure what the hype is, maybe the half kilo of lunch meat they get you to eat); the Bacalhau Pastel (codfish) which was tasty and new. Imagine flaky, hot white fish meat, lightly spiced and put in a pocket of golden fried dough. We also walked down Avenida Paulista, basically their new downtown 3km strip which used to be the banking centre of the city and is now more or less the focal point of SP night life; and of course Ibirapuera Park. It’s huge (think Hyde Park huge), central to the city, has its own museum and rollerblading area, lake, pagoda, and paths you can stroll around for hours.
My favorite part of our first few weeks in SP was being here for the world cup. Thiago took us to see Brazil’s second game near Agua Branca park, we caught a few games in bars around the city, and my favorite venue was the Fifa Fan Fest near Republica. They set up a huge viewing screen where thousands of people gathered in the old downtown center of the city to watch the game together, cheer like maniacs and just have a hoppy good time. We met people from all over there, even a south african, saw hundreds of Argentinians parading through the streets after winning a match, and of course dozens of Americans there to support their colors. The Fan Fest area was a fantastic little plaza and had a real good vibe to it, not many drunken brawls, bottle tossing, or tiny tv’s. Exploring a huge city with dozens of games to watch and friendly people all over definitely made our first month in Brasil extremely comfortable and a warm experience that propelled us after all the fun and madness ended with the World Cup. From there on out we started working double time to sternly get back on our feet, on top of our game, and work towards being self-sufficient for our next 2 years in Brasil.