Travel: Planning Sao Paulo

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I had never particularly wanted to go to Sao Paulo. I’ve been to Rio de Janeiro three times and have been lucky enough to take side trips to Buzios and Angra dos Reis, and there are plenty of other places in Brazil I do want to see: Salvador de Bahia, the Amazon, the Pantanal, Florianopolis. But Sao Paulo is always portrayed as a concrete jungle, a huge city with crazy traffic and too much hustle and bustle, so it never caught my eye.

Once I started looking at trips I could take to keep my American Airlines gold status, however, Sao Paulo kept coming up as a great option. Not too far or expensive for a three-day weekend yet far enough to get me halfway to my goal. And so, keeping in me the fact that I actually quite like cities and that even if I hated it, I’d only be there for a few days, I booked a trip.
Concrete jungle yes, but also plenty of real jungle
This wasn’t just any trip: it was my first true solo trip. I’d never traveled completely alone before. Growing up, trips were taken with family and when I studied abroad, I always traveled with friends. Although some of my classmates took trips by themselves, I didn’t really see the appeal of being lonely and having to shoulder all the stress of bus schedules and hostel bookings when instead I could spend time with people I liked and get the occasional break from trip planning. Once Rodolfo and I started living together, we always traveled as a unit.

In fact, my only semi-solo trips have been thanks to handball. My third Rio trip was in 2007 to see Chile compete in the Pan American Games. I took the flight alone, slept alone and made my way to the games alone every day – with varying degrees of success – but I also saw Rodolfo every day, and there was a certain comfort in knowing that if I had died in the Brazilian night, someone would have noticed within 12 hours. In December of last year, we had planned a trip to Montevideo, Uruguay with Kyle and her husband Seba, but after it turned out that handball had a tournament and Kyle and Seba had an emergency that prevented them from coming, I again had plenty of time to myself. Although this time I traveled alone on the way to Uruguay and slept alone for two of the three nights, my hotel was only two blocks from where the team stayed, and they had enough downtime that Rodolfo and I got to do plenty of sightseeing together.

But this time, it was just me. Rodolfo had handball, and since he’s never expressed a burning desire to see Sao Paulo, I didn’t feel too bad about leaving him behind. I will admit that I was nervous though. Not so much about the language, since although I would have felt a bit more comfortable traveling in a Spanish- or English-speaking country, I’ve gotten around just fine in Brazil with English and slowly spoken Portuñol (the Portuguese/Spanish equivalent of Spanglish). Mostly I was worried that I would be lonely, that I’d feel like a loser walking around alone and therefore stay in my room and that I would feel too self-conscious eating alone to ever brave a restaurant and instead subsist purely on street food for three days. So I decided to be strategic.
There was still street food. It was delicious. We’ll get there.
I booked a hostel because I figured it would give me the option of meeting fellow travelers and touristing around with them. I researched the heck out of Sao Paulo and made myself a long list of possible sights to see in order to avoid arriving and saying “so now what?” and never really figuring out what I should be doing. And I decided that at dinner time, I would pretend I was a business traveler for whom it was totally normal to eat alone and bring a book to keep myself entertained. Silly? Perhaps. But let me tell you: it worked. I had an absolute blast over the course of my few days in Brazil’s biggest city.
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