South America Backpacking Diaries

Touchdown – Rio and Sao Paulo

Rio. Probably one of the most iconic cities in the world, probably the most mesmerising place I’ve been to. Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copa Cabana Beach, The Maracana. Of course the latter is enough to make any sad football geek such as myself giddy, perhaps even sadder feeling equal from the site of little run down pitches down back alleys where real street football is played. Pele, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Lucas Leiva. This country’s rich football heritage lies deep within the football played on the streets. This isn’t a football blog, so perhaps the point is it’s not the iconic attractions Rio has to offer that make this place special, in going up to see the Christ the Redeemer statue your awe quickly turns into a wrestle for the best selfie spot. It’s the finer detail that makes this place special.

From the quite mental taxi man at the airport who gave me a new year’s hug, to the homeless man who ran 30 yards to shout ‘gringo’ at me but beg for food, I’ve encountered people from vastly different walks of life in such a short space of time. In my first hostel about 95% of the guests were South American. I’ve spoken a combination of English and Spanish to a number of people who only speak Portuguese. I’ve never felt further away from home. What am I doing?

I really don’t know, is the truth. This feeling of uncertainty is perhaps best summed up by my first wander around the centre of Rio. I’ll often side with caution, but here I strayed into some fairly dodgy looking areas, certainly enough to raise the eyebrows of the coolest under pressure. The poverty I witnessed became more apparent the further I went, the piss smell more intense. I’ve since decided to live by the rule here that if the piss smell becomes too strong it’s probably time to turn around. Indeed, this time I was right, I was already lost, solid start to life on the road.

I encountered much Olympic related talk in Rio. Of course it hosts the Olympics in the summer. Yet for all its glamour it’s evident the people of Rio don’t feel the same about it as the rest of us. Lucas, who took me up to see Christ the Redeemer, believes the venues won’t be ready, and perhaps more embarrassingly even after local residents have been driven out of their homes as favelas have been bulldozed, as has much protected rainforest. A ‘real-estate scam,’ Lucas says is what millions around the city think of the greatest sporting show on Earth. There have been protests while the preparations have been taking place, and the likelihood is they will continue when the games commence. Of course, shades of the football World Cup in 2014, when the ITV studio was infamously pelted with rocks by protesters. As much as I want to believe those rocks were aimed at Adrian Chiles, I believe what Lucas described to me involves the same principle.

I’ve since left Rio – all going well I’ll finish up here at the end of my adventure. Following a seven-hour bus journey fuelled with rage at the bastard in front of me making full use of his reclining seat, I made it to Sao Paulo. With David Bowie playing outside on the streets this place felt instantly more settling compared to the madness of Rio. Cooler in temperature, cooler in taste. I didn’t hear a single Bowie reference in the wake of his death while I was there. Perhaps the calmer vibe given off from my first reaction of Sao Paulo could be down to Paulista, the modern, and so-called stylish area of the city that I so happen to be staying in.

Paulista blends both the old and the new appearances of Sao Paulo. I’m surrounded by glass skyscrapers but reminded ever so often of where I really am by the historical architecture in between. This is an area that I don’t think represents the real Sao Paulo, instead one that feels like it is how the city wants to be. And I’ve immersed myself in it. I’ve somehow found time for Sao Paulo’s Museum of Art while here, which anyone who knows me may regard a shocking revelation – I will at least omit the pretentious bullshit that clogged my brain during this experience.

I’ll look back fondly at my time in these two wonderful cities – two great juggernauts of the Atlantic coast. It’s been a whirlwind start to my journey that I’d be happy to now tame, and I’m leaving behind the hectic major city grind tomorrow in the direction of Iguazu Falls. Forwards.

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