As well traveled as one may be, there is always that moment of insecurity, that moment of “oh man, what I am I doing here?” That’s pretty much how I felt as I stepped off the plane and into my new life. My life in Brazil. It wasn’t long before I was overcome with worries about whether or not my luggage had made it, where I was going to withdraw money, which bus was I supposed to get on and where. Soon those things wouldn’t matter, and the only thing I could think about was why in the world had I worn my winter jacket and where was the nearest place I could strip down to my swim suit.
After hours in line and meaningless conversations with strangers I received my stamp. I was really in Brazil.
Unexpectedly, my bus ride turned out to be quite pleasant. I sat next to another ETA who had also flown in from Atlanta. We divulged stories of ex-lovers and our travels while enjoying the air conditioned bus and mini tour of São Paulo. It was quite bittersweet knowing that even though I was already becoming great friends with Karen—as I would with many other ETA’s—our time together would be short and swept up in the whirlwind known as Fulbright orientation.
On our first day we were graciously greeted by Patricia and Luana—some of the most amazing women I have ever come in contact with. We were then loaded up like school children on a guided bus tour of the city. Our first stop was Catedral Metropolitana de São Paulo. After living in and traveling through almost every Mexican state, I have seen my fair share of cathedrals, and didn’t really expect much when I heard we were heading to a cathedral. I was wrong. The Catedral Metropolitana de São Paulo towers over downtown São Paulo and is surrounded by water features and enormous palm trees. The whole area is rather picturesque—as long as you ignore the large groups of seemingly homeless men gawking at every woman that walks by.
Our next stop was the Mercado Municipal. Again, assuming that this market would be like any other market I had previously seen in Mexico, Guatemala or Ecuador, I wasn’t prepared for anything special.The Mercado Municipal of São Paulo is the cleanest, classiest market I have ever stepped foot in. All the stalls are perfectly grouped by the products they sell and all the goods are lined up nice a tidy, waiting to be purchased by the next passerby.
We were instructed to either try the pastel de bacalhau (ginormous cod empanada) or the mortadela sandwich (described as a bologna sandwich). Because of the horrible description of the Mortadela, I decided to go with the pastel de bacalhau—a decision both my stomach I would later regret. I later found out that Anthony Bourdain (my old man crush) ate that same mortadela sandwich at that same exact stall in that same market……ugh.
Then came the fruit. Anyone that knows me knows that I am obsessed with fruit. I was in heaven in this market! There were so many different types of fruit, fruits that I never seen or heard of before. The sellers were not shy about handing out free sample and I took advantage of that. When it was time for that awkaward “they expect you to buy something but I just wanted free fruit” moment I simply snuck away to the next stall while my fellow ETAs dealt with the pushy salesman.
We ended our tour with a stop at Museu da lingua portuguesa. I was impressed with their creative manner of “displaying” the history of the Portuguese language and slightly creeped out by the interactive language show at the end—one of those you had to be there kind of things. The museum itself is actually attached to the estação da luz which sits directly in front of the art museum and parque da luz. I would highly recommend this area to anyone wanting to enjoy São Paulo for an afternoon.
Overall, I was surprisingly impressed the city of São Paulo. Before arriving, I had heard so many negative things about the city and expected nothing more than a giant industrialized, filthy and rundown metropolitan area. But São Paulo won me over.
The day ended with me falling face first into my hotel room bed around 8 PM. Who knew being a tourist could be so exhausting?