I don’t think it would have been possible for me to live in Brazil without at least staying in it’s largest and most developed city. São Paulo has a population of close to 12 million people and it is the business capital of South America. In my mind, São Paulo is analogous in Brazil to how New York is to the USA. As I flew into the city I saw tower blocks after tower blocks all along the horizon; it was an impressive sight and I was really looking forward to my stay.
However, after being here for roughly a month, I can’t say that there is much that I truly liked about the city. There were a few really cool areas and really interesting people but it really felt that the city was lacking the same flare that I have come to love about Brazil. It’s pretty hard to explain and some people would disagree but I really can’t see myself living here again unless I needed to work professionally.
At the same time however, there were a few things which perhaps made my experience worse. For starters, it seemed to rain non-stop! – This is actually extremely good for the city as there was a huge drought before I came and the water supply was at dangerously low levels. After speaking to a lot of the locals, it seemed that this was a strong topic of discussion as many people felt passionately that the drought was linked it to the corruption/inefficiency of the city politicians and the city’s poor planning.
I also don’t think I was very lucky in the place where I stayed as they seemed to have had a different motivation as to why they were accepting volunteers. With time, it became apparent to me that they weren’t accepting volunteers out of choice but they had to resort to it due to the lack of finances to pay full-time employees; for this I think they also slightly resented the fact that they had to use volunteers. The lack of money in the hostel really showed by how the facilities kept deteriorating and wasn’t properly maintained. After I realised that I didn’t like it in São Paulo I spoke to the manager and asked to leave 5 days earlier (giving over two week’s notice). In response, he changed my work schedule so that I would work 7/7days, all through carnival, and working 8 hours shifts. I simply refused as I felt that the amount of work was extortionate and since that point I felt that the atmosphere of the place really changed. I wasn’t the only one that felt this way as well, 3 other people left early and the remaining staff are talking about leaving soon.
But despite this, there were lots of things I did like about the city and I did have a lot of good times. What I most liked most about São Paulo was it’s art galleries and, because of the rain, I went to quite a few of these. The first gallery that I went to was in the MASP (São Paulo’s Museum of Art). It was relatively quiet even though entrance for that day was free and there were pieces of art hanging on the walls from some of the art-world’s greatest mavericks (Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, Turner and Monet). It was really cool.
There was also a really interesting exhibition on in Ibirapuera Park around the theme of food.. just my cup of tea. There were heads made of sugar, popcorn rocks on the floor and there was even a painting made out of coffee beans to symbolise Brazil’s history and growth due to it’s coffee industry.
However, I think the best gallery I visited was in the Pinacoteca which had an exhibition on by the sculpture Ron Mueck. It was simply breathtaking. There were hyper-realistic sculptures in the museum of all sizes and the level of detail was extraordinary! There was even a video which demonstrated how the whole process was achieved which really added to the visit.
But above all of this, the other volunteers were just fun people to know and hang around with. They also taught me a lot. I really happy to learn that two of them were even professional cooks. Because of this, I spent nearly every day cooking and they kept on giving me tips on how to prepare and cook different dishes, they explained what type of meat is the best type to buy and the reasons why and what herbs and spices are best for each situation. It was like every day I had the opportunity to have a private cooking class, definitely useful for the rest of my journey.
Key things I’ve learnt: How to make the perfect dish with steaks 😀