The trip to Floripa is a long one, surprisingly long actually. While I have traveled to points south of North America before, one trip of which was almost actually via the slow boat to China when our sailboat broke down at sea, I kind of always got the sense, in a most American way, that Brazil was just….down there. But no. Brazil is down there, like WAY. And the over a little. I flew hours longer from Texas to Sao Paulo than I did East Coast United States to Spain; southern North America and central Brazil are more than an Atlantic Ocean apart.
The trip was made longer when my wallet was rudely lightened - to the tune of a 400% increase in my bike fee - by Continental Airlines, in cahoots with its new evil twin, United Airlines, whose nefarious luggage dealings are long known to bike-carrying airline passengers. I learned long ago to do my bike fee research and bring print-outs of websites to prove my case. Normally I avoid United like the plague; $175 bike fee is absurd. But I learned that United to Brazil is a totally swallow-able $50. Continental does the opposite: $100 domestic, $200 international. So I buy my ticket with United, and when I get to the airport…”well we can’t accommodate your itinerary, but our new partnership with Continental allows us to put you on their conveniently available flights.” They forgot to add "with exorbitant bike fees." And so, despite actually doing my research and selecting against the over-priced option, my bike was $200 instead of $50.
Well played, United-Continental-Airline-Capitalist Complex. Well played.
Sao Paulo is like a metropolitan carpet. The jetliner descends out of the clouds over mist-covered forests – I thought “It looks like West Virginia”….so sue me – and trees quickly turn to densely-packed buildings, spreading without interruption in every direction. At 15 million people, making it one of the world's largest cities, I see the need to expand. The only other city to which I can compare it, visually at least, is New Delhi, a city so dense and teeming that gives its visitors the impressions it is a living, breathing thing. Sadly I will never get the opportunity to stretch this comparison to its limits, at least not on this trip.
Brazilians, person to person, are friendly, helpful, and intrigued by the shorthaired, English-speaking gringa. Brazilians, en masse, convey a culture that does not seem to prize consideration of other people when not directly interacting with them. There are no lines; people assume that the space you have left behind the person in front of you so as not to be all in that person's business – passport stamping, ATM password entering, bill paying, and question asking - is ripe for the taking and filling with their own body. There is no moving when someone needs to get by or was already moving forward with some momentum; people just abruptly stop directly in front of you.
The Beautiful Game is alive and well. From the time I joined my first traveling soccer team to when I graduated from college, I played with skilled teammates and opponents. After graduation I started playing rec soccer in DC and only then did I realize how dangerous it is to play with unskilled players. Little injuries become commonplace – broken toes, lost toenails, sprained ankles – and freak accidents tend to be more brutal. As I drove from the airport to my guest house, I saw a pick-up game of young boys where not everyone was wearing shoes. I know this game continued for two reasons: 1) because the shoeless boys wanted to play, no matter how much they could not afford shoes, and 2) because the shoeless boys felt safe laying with shod opponents. Because everyone was skilled. Very skilled.
I was wrong about Floripa. I was expecting something along the lines of a small-ish, beach-minded resort island covered in hotels, akin to Paradise Island, Clearwater, or even Cozumel. But the island is much bigger than I anticipated, and while the edges are dotted with notable beaches, the interior is a lush and hilly-to-mountainous green. And unlike I initially thought, the whole island is the city of Floripa. The beaches, and what I thought were individual towns and villages centered on them, are simply neighborhoods of Floripa. And unlike Cozumel, where if locals live on the island they are in the business of catering to tourists, Floripa has university, cinemas, a thriving interior design industry (to go with the booming vacation home industry), malls, and just normal Brazilians. However, I am told that Floripa, not without its slums, is the Beverly Hills of Brazil, and Jurere Beach, the beach where IM Brazil is located, is the Beverly Hills of Floripa.
|The Slums of Beverly Hills|
Stands to reason: a beach-front home on Jurere Beach runs around $3 million US.
|Brazilian Beach Beverly Hills|
The major highway which rings the island reminds me of driving on the Pan-American Highway fifteen years ago, before they "widened it": OUT.OF.FREAKING.CONTROL. At least Floripa's has a median so drivers in the left-hand-most lane going one way can't overtake by moving over into the right-hand-most lane of on-coming traffic, while going 75 kph. Instead they just drive up onto the bumper of the car in front of them and flash their lights. So much more civil.