Living like a Paulistano
Sao Paulo & Ilhabela
The beach of colourful Ipanema is the tropical face of Rio, like the green Amazon is of the jungle town Manaus. Sao Paulo does not wear a colourful mask. It makes the metropolitan an ocean of concrete, a grey jungle as far as the eye can see. The beauty of Sao Paulo is not in its landmarks, but in the rhythm of its inhabitants, the Paulistanos.
At first sight, Sao Paulo seems a tad intimidating. Even though the inhabitants affectionally call their city ‘Sampa’, it might take a while before the city finds its way into your heart. With the city lacking billboards, neon lights and advertising panels – all forbidden since 2007 – you look right into the soul of Sao Paulo. No advertisements of soda brands or phone companies, but social protest signs, colourful murals and pichação; cryptic messages to rivalling gangs. Welcome to the most vertical city of the western hemisphere.
The walls of Madelena
Every square meter of concrete in Vila Madelena has been altered by street artists. They knew what to do with all the monotonous grey. The streets of this former student district are bursting with colour. For that reason, everyone is either taking photographs or posing, for example in front of the life-sized drawing of a tiger in the rain forest, or next to a Spider-Man climbing a building, painted in a kaleidoscopic style similar to that of Jan van Haasteren.
But there are other things with great appeal to this city, like the food trucks, art galleries and shops with furniture from the sixties. Thanks to Brazil cultivating more coffee beans than any other country, this is the go-to district for hipster cafes experimenting with coffee. At Coffee Lab you get to know the flavours of the black gold in a playful manner, by ordering one of the coffee rituals. Instead of ordering yet another flat white, you can order number 3 for example: a tasting of coffee with cheese. Or ritual 8: a duel between a Brazilian and an Italian cappuccino. Spoiler: even though Brazil thanks its wealth to coffee, nobody can beat the Italians when it comes down to coffee.
Shirtless, toned bodies and, slightly winning in numbers, yet-to-be toned bodies with shirts on, run on the car free paths
The Ibirapuera Park also gives the city colour. The green island surrounded by tower blocks is as iconic as Central Park in New York. Shirtless, toned bodies and, slightly winning in numbers, yet-to-be toned bodies with shirts on, run on the car free paths. You can hear drum music. Street vendors decorate their stalls with bunches of coconuts, tempting the runners and skaters to take a break. In the shade of the trees, capoeiras practice the Afro-Brazilian martial art. The originally religious dance from Angola was forbidden in Brazil until 1940, but after that, capoeira has grown out to a complex combination of dance, acrobatics, defence and speed. An art celebrated in this park and far beyond.
There is no going around the life-sized faces staring at you around the MoMa, the Museum for Modern Arts, located just a little further in the park. The portraits of world-famous people, on which Paulistano Eduardo Kobra consequently paints a pattern of kaleidoscopic triangles and rectangles, are lifelike and intriguing. It is as if they watch the Paulistanos run, teach their children to skate, or practice yoga. For the portrait of the legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, you have to exit the park. In 2013, he got a spot around 8 floors high on the Avenida Paulista – and indeed, you have to look up quite a bit to see it.
The creativity of the Paulistanos can be witnessed in the many art museums. Visit the MoMa for example, located in the Ibirapuerapark, or the museum of the arts (MASP), with mainly historical canvasses, housed in the concrete shoe box on Avenida Paulista. The Pinacoteca do Estado is the oldest art museum of the city, showing around 9000 works from the 19th century onwards.
Around the wide Avenida Paulista it is a feast for your eyes. The boulevard marks the heart of the district Les Jardins, The Gardens, where streets form a grid pattern against the slope. It is as if you walk around in the American San Francisco. Besides the well-maintained buildings and murals, the distinct variety in origin of the inhabitants gives the city even more colour. Around 20 million Paulistanos call the concrete ocean of Sao Paulo their home, the people themselves originating from all corners of the world. Millions of Italians, Japanese and Angolans moved to Sampa. And so the streets are filled with a colourful mix of people, coming from Latin America, Africa, Southern-Europe, East-Asia and anywhere in between.
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Every Sunday, the beauty is shown at its best. That day, the Paulista, the lane crossing the financial heart of Brazil, is closed for traffic. Thousands of traffic pawns are placed to mark long stretches of bicycle lanes. The tarmac that remains, is open to pedestrians, people who make huge bubbles, guitarists and João Gilberto-wannabes. Some shops are open on Sundays, and on the Paulista and the surrounding streets of Les Jardins you can find the best fashion stores. Want to buy a souvenir? Pay with your Mastercard. The free purchase protection covers your purchases against loss and theft.
a person who is born or lives in the city of São Paulo, Brazil
Sao Paulo is the busiest city of the western hemisphere. Indeed, New York and LA have fewer inhabitants. That is why Paulistanos leave the city behind as soon as the weekend starts, driving three hours to Ilhabela, the isla bonita and also largest island of Brazil. You can easily do this yourself by the way, with a rental car. The rent and deductible can be paid with your Mastercard. Some Mastercards even offer a free insurance that covers the deductible. That makes for a nice and relaxed ride.
Paulistanos spend their weekend in Ilhabela, the isla bonita and largest island of Brazil
Amidst the sandy beaches you can find one of the last parts of Atlantic Jungle, a forest of unparalleled biodiversity, fed by salty sea air. Treetops stick out above the green like bushes of broccoli, and plants in all thinkable shades of green fill the space between ground and canopy. At some point in history, the whole coast line of Brazil was littered with forest like this, but now 93% of it has been felled. That is not going to happen on Ilhabela: except for the coastline, the island is a national park. Even though the Brazilians have a natural affection for the beach and the sound of runners and Havaianas can be heard from the boulevard, in the end it is the silence of the national park that beckons.
A winding mud road brings you, via dozens of waterfalls and with any luck some snakes or monkeys, to the east coast. Jeeps love the mud and your chauffeur might stop along the way to pick some wild lime or citronella leaves to fight off the blood sucking mosquitos. The further you go into the jungle, the more the tropical heat gives room to a tropical breeze. Once you reach the highest point, you are treated to a beautiful view of the bright green forest and a deep blue ocean on the horizon.
Compared to the city, the peace and quiet is heavenly
Back on lower grounds, on the border of mountain and sea, we find a nice, sandy beach: Praia de Castelhanos. A guitar player is playing some tunes in the shade of a palm tree, two boys play soccer on the beach and some girls sit in their beach chairs, watching the island located about one hundred meters further in the bay. The sea breeze moves the banana bunches, that dangle in the sunlight. Especially compared to the city, the peace and quiet here is heavenly. Back in the days, it was a different story. After the Spaniards settled here around 1660, it became the favourite dock of many pirates. Portuguese, Brits and maybe even the Dutch came and went, but the Spanish pirates stayed.
Laurinda is the fifth generation with a little house on the edge of the jungle. She descends directly from those first Spaniards, and she cooks, on request, a lunch of fresh fish and vegetables from the jungle, like tayer-leaves. Her mother, with her blond-grey hair and piercing blue eyes, is more fluent in Spanish than Portuguese. “When was the last time I saw a pirate here? Not that long ago,” she says, jokingly.
Now he sails with the pace of the wind with his Travessura, a 28-year-old sailing boat
On the other side of Ilhabela, in the port of the colonial village Centro, and with a view of the church, former prison and court, lies Phillipe’s sailing boat. The Brazilian native worked in shipping and sailed along the Greek islands. Now, he sails with the pace of the wind with his Travessura, a 28-year-old sailing boat with room for 6. At sunset, a sensual bossanova plays from the speakers on deck, there is beer in the fridge and the barbecue with little fish, shrimps and linquiça (spicy sausages) is set up behind the rudder. With hoisted sail, we course towards adventure. No need to be a Paulistano to enjoy that.