CouchSurfing Adventures in Sao Paulo

One of the world’s biggest metropolises, São Paulo looms large over South America. While the city lacks the natural beauty of Rio, Sampa – as it’s affectionately called by locals – has much going for it. This is, after all, the cultural capital of Brazil, with a dizzying array of attractions including first-rate museums, nightly concerts, experimental theater and dance.

-- The Lonely Planet

After spending 33 hours in the air, flying over 18,000 miles/29,000 kilometers in two days, I was set to arrive to Sao Paulo thoroughly exhausted. And I did. Thankfully, I was not left to figure out this huge city on my own - instead, Levy  messaged me a few days earlier through Couchsurfing website offering to pick me up from the airport and show me around the city. He spent some time in the US recently on a language exchange program and wanted to practice his English.

Football Museum

Levy was already waiting for me when I exited the arrivals hall and we headed out to our first stop - Museo do Futbol - a football museum at Pacaembu stadium. Instead of just being a stadium tour with a small exhibit or two, it turned out to be a legitimate museum. Three floors of cool, creative, and original exhibits telling the story of Brazilian football. Unfortunately, a lot of things were in Portuguese only, making things like TV footage and, especially, recordings of old radio broadcasts of famous moments hard to understand.

The only let down was the fact that we could not go wonder around the stadium for a bit. There was only one place with the view of the stadium to take pictures, however with the free price tag, I could not really complain. Funny enough, at the museum store, among the things you would expect to see there, there was a ball to be used for Euro 2012 in Ukraine/Poland this year as well as a mannequin wearing the Russian national team uniform.

Feijoada and Brazilian Sim Card Saga

For lunch, I got to try the traditional Feijoada dish, which is essentially a thick bean soup with sausage and other meat(ier) parts in it. It was also the showdown between Brahma and Skol beers and Skol won hands down for me.

Next on the agenda was getting a cheap cell phone that would work in South America, followed by a sim card. It was not as cheap as I hoped, but with the two in hand, it was time to activate it. Simple, right?

Wrong! It turned out that Brazilian law requires that the person activating a sim card provides their personal identification number (similar to social security number in the US). Furthermore, foreigners cannot get this number and a passport is not considered an acceptable alternative. So after a few hours of running up and down Paulista avenue between different cell phone stores, I still did not have a working cell phone... Unfreaking believable!

More Couchsurfing Connections

As the evening drew to a close, Levy took me to meet Janilo, another couchsurfer whom I was going to stay with in Jardim area of Sao Paulo. The next evening Janilo and I met up with yet another CS'er - Philipe, whom I couchsurfed with while visiting Torino a few years ago. We ended up grabbing some sushi and catching up. Who would of thought three years ago that we will meet up again, especially in Brazil?!

Once again, couchsurfing rocks!

Exploring Sao Paulo

Since Janilo had to work while I was there, I was left alone to discover the city. Feeling adventurous, I walked to Paulista avenue (the main business street) from his place and, feeling more adventurous, walked back in the evening as it was starting to get dark. Guess what? I was fine!

Yes, I know it is not the worst part of Sao Paulo, but still it seemed that the horror stories about the dangers of the city may just be a tad exaggerated (later, I found the same to be the case with Rio and Buenos Aires).

Besides stopping by a couple Regus business lounges to plan a few things beyond Sao Paulo, my main draw back to Paulista Ave was to visit Sao Paulo Museum of Art there that was supposed to be pretty good. While the galleries were quite small, I found quite an impressive variety there including Sezanne, Monet, Van Gough, Renoir, Degas, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, and even early Dali! In contrast to that collection, the basement hosted an exposition of Roman artifacts. Cool stuff!

Away from Paulista Ave, I made my way up to Se cathedral and walked around the old part of the city trying to find the old rail station nearby, but was not very successful (even though we drove past it the day before with Levy).

The Night At The Museum

As I was taking an overnight bus to Florianopolis, Janilo offered to take me to a party at the local museum before dropping me off. Apparently, it is a regular even where they bring in DJs from around the world to have the party going during early evening hours, finishing up in time for the crowds to hip the rest of the clubs of Sao Paulo. I thought it was a pretty neat concept and a great way to round up my visit to the city.