Bright Lights & Big City – Sao Paulo, Brazil

It has been too long since I last wrote and it’s not for the lack of exciting material in Brazil and Argentina. However, my time in Sao Paulo was lacklustre in comparison to much of what I do and it discouraged me. It has made me realize that travel blogging while travelling isn’t just about a day by day account but more about the experiences that make my trips exciting; every city/destination/experience not need be included. So with that said, here’s the post that put me in a rut followed by the pieces which got me out.

Sao Paulo is the city for you if you have money and appreciate fantastic food, expensive shopping and have the means to get around – perhaps with a rental car, a private driver or a helicopter (as many do). To be more specific, Sao Paulo is one of the more expensive cities I’ve seen and with import taxes at 120% shopping is perhaps not the best idea – even if you can afford it. Sao Paulo may also have more millionaires/billionaires than anywhere else in South America but for most, the cost of living is just too high.

Sao Paulo is beautiful but it is very spread out and is in fact the largest city in Brazil, the largest in South America and the 6th largest in the world with a population of approximately 20 million people. I didn’t have any intention of visiting Sao Paulo as recommended by Brazilians I know but I have some friends whom I met in Mexico, were living in Minneapolis and had since moved back to Sao Paulo. Plus, my good friend Laura in Toronto had a friend named Allyson who kindly offered to host me. Sao Paulo became my vacation within my work trip and so I have to admit I didn’t do much of anything other than visit with friends, oh, and I spent some time in the hospital my first night.

Food has not been my friend on this trip. Adding on a few pounds was enough but then I had an epic food allergy reaction my first night in Sao Paulo. It landed me in a private hospital with a $700 CAD medical bill (thank you RBC medical insurance). And currently I am dealing with a small bout of food poisoning. My allergy reaction has made me think about how to better handle severe allergies when travelling and wondering what others do to avoid landing in the hospital? It is definitely an experience when you don’t speak the language doctors surround you while you struggle for air and your body is covered in hives. I discovered two years ago that I had suddenly developed an allergy to almonds, literally overnight. The analogy the doctor used was filling a cup with water and the cup finally spilling over. Both experiences have been very scary but this one in Brazil was particularly scary because when ordering we asked whether there were almonds in any of the dishes we ordered. There were not.

Would I advise a traveller to visit Sao Paulo? Not really. A backpacker? Definitely not. I had a nice time but it was in thanks to the people I went there to visit and for that I have fond memories of Sao Paulo and would visit again. A huge thanks to Allyson for his hospitality and to Cristiane, it was so nice to see you, Daniella and Carolina. It was very thoughtful that you read in my blog that I loved coconut water and had two bottles waiting for me. Tell Carolina I’ll get her stickers to her just in time for her half birthday 😉 and please send me your address! Xo

A few particularities I noticed when in Sao Paulo and other places in Brazil.

  • Often one pays first for food at quick service food establishments before receiving it. Which can be difficult when you don’t know the name of it in Portuguese. And when the cashier is not the same person getting you the food item and doesn’t get off of her chair so you can point it out to her.
  • I have never seen so many women with tattoos as I have in Brazil. And large ones, especially on their backs.
  • An entire lane is closed and set aside for bikers in Sao Paulo’s downtown core on Sundays.
  • Walkie talkies are used to communicate between friends as it is much cheaper. But, yes, the constant beeping gets annoying.
  • Many people in Sao Paulo have armoured cars. And the day before I arrived a friend of a friend had been shot, left for dead in the street when someone stole his car.
  • Allyson lives in a residential area, like many, where the entire area (the size of a subdivision at home) is behind walls and the entry to the area looks like the immigration checkpoint at the Canada/US border. Fingerprint scanning is also necessary.
  • I thought it was an interesting idea, as mentioned in my Rio post, to pay for all your drinks at the end of the night at a club. Let me revise and put it into context. It is the worst thing possible when you have 1000+ people in a club, it’s 45-50C with humidity, people are literally melting and then you ask them to line up when they’re ready to leave, waiting upwards of 45 minutes to pay. I’m still unsure how mass violence does not ensue.
  • Don’t even think of the calories you’ll pack on when you order “street meat” outside of a club. It’s not your simple hot dog with condiments and maybe a little garnish like we have at home. It is served with the following: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, vinaigrette (tomatoes, onions, garlic), corn niblets, cheese, chopped up Ruffles chips and yes, mashed potatoes.
  • “The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil in 1908 and Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. According to the IBGE, as of 2000 there were between 1.4 and 1.5 million people of Japanese descent in Brazil.” Because of this, Sao Paulo, in particular, has some of the best Japanese food/sushi I have ever had.
  • Sao Paulo also has incredible pizza, again, some of the best I have ever tasted.
  • Visit the Terraço Italia, Sao Paulo’s sky bar for excellent views of the city.
  • The only ATMS that worked for me in Brazil were HSBC and Citibank. I especially liked it when it asked me to “Dip my card into it’s slot.” “Umm, ok.” I also noticed that when it says you have a daily limit it’s actually a withdrawal limit, you can make several withdrawals.
  • Be sure not miss Feijoada ( –  a native stew like dish made originally by slaves and delicious! As well, Moqueca ( I am learning to make it when I get home. Reminds me of a Thai curry with different flavours. Delish!

3 Responses to Bright Lights & Big City – Sao Paulo, Brazil

  1. Glad you were in good care after your allergic reaction. So scary, especially while travelling. I’m sure Allyson took good care of you…. looking forward to more adventures from your trip.

    Laura March 23, 2012 at 5:59 PM Reply
  2. Getting sick can happen, even to travellors with cast iron stomachs. You had the insurance, otherwise you might have been cleaning bedpans. I have gotten sick from eating in top notch restaurants, so it is not just the sidewalk eateries that can do you in. People I know who backpacked in India stuck to a vegetarian diet. They did not get sick. Definitely, I would say no to sea food in a sauce. Ideally, no sauces on anything as they can mask bad food. In summary, have health insurance, travel with medication, and really scrutinize what you eat. I am interested in hearing what others have to say.

    Joanne March 24, 2012 at 7:54 AM Reply
    • Well put Joanne. And next time I’m going to renew my prescription for Cipro and have it on me. Thank God for my friend studying to be a doctor who carries a medicine cabinet with her.

      juliemunsch March 24, 2012 at 9:12 AM Reply

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