We landed in Sao Paolo after our relatively uncomfortable, but otherwise uneventful overnight flight from Newark. We quickly oriented ourselves and at the information desk, and asked “which way to the bus?” Obviously, with us being American, and not speaking a lick of Portuguese, the attendant at the info desk directed us straight to the very cushy, while not too expensive luxury coach bus ticket desk. At $17 dollars each for a 40 minute ride, we were ok to pay the high price for a direct, no hassle line. I chalk it up as the ‘uninformed American Tax’.
The bus took us straight to the Parque de Republico in the heart of Sao Paolo. We had prebooked a hostel for the night and it was only a few minutes walk from the bus stop. We were quite early for our check in, so we dropped our bags and set out to wander the city. In total, we had less than 30 hours to see the city- we plan to spend more time here on the back end of the trip, when we come back through in April.
SO why the heck did we fly to Brazil in the first place then, if we only intended to spend 30 hours here? Short answer- Money. We booked our Round The World (RTW) flight with Star Alliance. While I was doing a bit of research a couple of months back about Star Alliance, I found out that starting at RTW ticket outside of the US or Europe is significantly cheaper- on the lines of over $3000 savings per ticket (versus starting and ending in the States). So we used frequent flyer miles to get to Brazil, and technically are starting our Round The World trip here.
Not wanting to loose out on a chance to see a bit of a city that we have never been to, we asked the very helpful hotel staff what they recommended for us to see. The top two recommendations: the Bank Tower and Municipal Market. After about an hour and half or so of walking/wandering/pretending to know where I was (not lost per se, just not where we wanted to be), we spotted the tower in the sky and found our way to the base. Unfortunately, it was Monday and the bank does not allow tourist to climb to the top of the tower on Mondays. So, this will have to go on the list of sights to see on our return trip.
Next stop, the Mercado Municipal. Another bout of pretending to have an internal GPS device found us scratching our head wondering once again how in the world we got so turned around. Back at the hotel, I had simply taken a reference photo of the map they had taped to the counter, instead of taking one of the paper maps. Nothing calls out a tourist like someone staring at a map in the middle of a downtown district right? Well, staring at a camera screen, while walking from street sign to sign really isn’t much better. Note to self- Travel Lesson Number One: Take the dang map.
Sooner or later, we found ourselves in the right place (just good luck more than anything). We finally sat down for a late lunch of Mortadelis. This local favorite that the hostel staff recommended is not much more than a fried bologna sandwich. It was filling, and that was the important part.
After wandering through aisle after aisle of one of the most incredible markets I have ever seen (think Pikes Market in Seattle times 20), we found ourselves beginning to yawn with the jet lag finally setting in. An early night it turned out to be, as we caught up on our lost sleep.
We woke up more rested than when we went to sleep, and spent the morning wandering some more, changing money and buying snacks for the long haul flight we had ahead. We decided that it would e best to get to the airport earlier than really necessary, just in case there were any problems picking up our first segment of our RTW tickets. Smarter, better travelled, we decided that on our return journey to the airport that we would take public transport and save some Reas (Brazillian dollars).
The hotel staff told us to take the subway to a specific stop, and once there, ask someone where the bus for the airport was located. From the bus stop, it’s a direct shot to the international airport. Sounded easy enough. And it was. We had no problem sorting out the subway. When we exited the train, we found ourselves at a junction- turn left to the North Terminal or right to the South. We decided on left. At the top of the staircase, we could see a bus with a big line next to it, and on the back of the bus the words “Airport Service” were painted. We assumed this was our bus. Down the next stairs, we found ourselves in line, with 40 more people quickly lining up behind us. The driver began to load the bus, and soon we found ourselves standing in the middle of the aisle (all the seats were already filled), with 40 people smashed in front of us. I leaned over to Barbara and whispered
“For a bus going to the airport, shouldn’t there be more luggage?”
After a quick scan of the bus, I had only spotted 8 suitcases.
“And you know, we never asked the bus driver where this bus is headed, and we never checked the front of the bus.”
A sinking feeling began to hit my stomach.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine” Barbara tried to reassure me.
This is odd- usually she is the one who is, how do you say, a bit more worrisome. Not this time. Worst case we decided, we would take a taxi from where we ended up to the airport. This is the reason we leave early. All my worry was for not. Sure enough this bus, containing at least 30 people over its occupancy rating, delivered us to the airport in fine time. Disaster averted this time. From here on out we decided- at the very least, we need to check the sign on the front of the bus- even if we don’t really know what it says.
Once into the airport, we checked in at the South African Airways counter. The very nice attendant, also named Barbara, got a kick out of pulling up our itinerary. She couldn’t believe how long, and how far we were going. She was super excited for us, and we couldn’t have been more excited either. This was the real start to our trip- Tanzania, Here We Come!
Here’s the rest of the shots for Brazil (we will take many more on our return):