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Day/Night 41 - Time to Go Home - April 8, 2013

The next morning came all too soon.  We started to gather our things from around the apartment and decide what to pack, what to toss in the trash, and what to leave for the next resident.  I exchanged a few emails with Tarley, our landlord, who had come in that morning from Rio de Janiero.  He arranged a taxi to pick us up at 5PM for our 9PM flight.  The airport is only 35 minutes away, without traffic, but 5PM borders on the infamous Sáo Paulo rush hour.  Tarley also invited us to join him for lunch.  He met us at 1PM and we grabbed a taxi to go to his favorite restaurant.  "They have the BEST caipirinhas!" he told us.  Sadly, they were closed, but a few minutes more driving brought us to another place that specialized in the cuisine of his home state, Minas Gerais, to the north.  The food was bountiful and excellent, as were the caiprinhas.  We leaned that Tarley lived and worked in the fashion industry in Sáo Paulo, but had recently married and moved to Rio.  He is now working there 3 weeks per month and 1 week in Sáo Paulo.  He found Rio to be quite a bit hotter and more uncomfortable, but was determined to eventually live there full time.  He kindly picked up the tab and bade us farewell to go to the dentist.

We returned to the apartment to finish packing.  I decided to trash a pair of shoes and a shirt that had disappointed me (details in a later post), and we left some dulce de leche for Tarley to finish.  The taxi arrived early, at 4:40pm, and we sadly left our keys with the front desk and walked out of the place for the last time.  The driver encountered traffic jams right away, but employed some creative routing and got us to the airport in less than an hour.  Excellent work!  At the airport there was a huge line to check in, and no automated kiosks for United.  A helpful group of United employees told us we could use the electronic boarding passes on our iPhones and go straight through passport control and into the gate area.  We need only to verify our documents with any United employee inside.  We elected to do this rather than stand in the long line, and soon found comfortable seating.  A United security guy asked us the routine questions and put stickers on the outside of our passports.  I spent the next two hours buying water and trying to figure out how to dial a US number from a Brazilian cell phone.  The wifi coverage was too poor to use the VOIP phone.  I eventually figured it out, and two quick calls (one to my parents and one to our neighbor, Bob, who was picking us up) used up most of my prepaid credits.  We passed through the boarding line and agent checks to board the plane, only to find another set of independent security people inside the jetway, armed with electronic snoopers and asking the same security questions again.  They had a huge problem with our electronic boarding passes, so we stood for 10 minutes while someone ran out to print us paper ones.  Too bad, as I really did not want to leave!

Our flight departed on time, and we had a pretty uncomfortable ride in the very last row of the 767, which did not smooth out until we had crossed Venezuela and were over the Caribbean.  10 hours later, with very little sleep, we arrive in Houston on time at 5:15AM.  A couple of expensive airport burritos later, along with coffee for K and iced tea for me, we were good to go.  The Salt Lake flight left on time at 9:45, and we were soon back in Utah and 40 degree (5C) weather.  Surprisingly, it felt good, after being so warm for the last 6 weeks.  Bob greeted us and took us home to crash, with a quick stop along the way for minimal groceries.  The house had been set to 50 degrees (10C) and it was cold, so we unpacked and checked on things while the place warmed up.  An hour later we were ready to collapse into bed, only to learn that the sheets, insulated by the bedspread, were still 50 degrees!  Despite the cold, we were asleep within seconds.  

We arose around 6PM for more unpacking and a meal, then back to bed by 9PM for more blissful sleep.  It is nice to be back in our own house and our own bed, but we miss South America a lot.

Future posts will cover travel gear - what worked, what failed, and what was useful or not.  Stay tuned!


Night 40 - Last Night in South America - April 7, 2013

We decided to take the Metro for one stop past our apartment and walk down Av. Paulista to backtrack.  This allowed us to see a few more new sights along the way, but nothing of particular note.  We prowled around the restaurants and bars a block from the apartment.  I had one more thing on the "must do" list for today.  After turning down several deals for buffet meals, we finally found it - Acai!  This was so good we devoured half of it before rembembering to take a photo.

This Acai came with banana on top and a cup of granola to sprinkle as you work your way down

Delicious stuff!  We walked slowly back to the apartment to take a rest and think about gathering our things to pack tomorrow.  A few hours later we went back to the same restaurant for a dinner of steak and beer, and it was good and reasonably priced.  The reason we always have beer in Brazil instead of wine is that all decent wine is imported with high tariffs, so the cost/value ratio is not favorable.  But Brazilian beer is good and plentiful.  We collapsed, exhausted, into bed for our last night's sleep in Brazil and South America.  

Day 40 - Symphony & Pastels in Sáo Paulo - April 7, 2013

The same building that on one end houses the downtown train station has the symphony hall on the other end.  We had noted the night before that the symphony was playing, only 400 Reais (US$200) per ticket.  But the same performance would be repeated on Sunday (today) at 11AM for free.  We agreed to meet Nina there at 11.  After a couple of transfers in the metro and a complicated walk over to the train, we ended up waiting about 25 minutes, watching one train pass by without stopping - maintenance or something.  So we were pretty late.  They symphony started about 11:15, and they would only allow Nina (who made it on time) to get one ticket.  She called us to let us know she was going in, but we could call when we arrived.  No problem.  Except that when we arrived, there were no tickets left at all.  With our near-total lack of Portuguese skills, there was not much we could do.  A quick call to Nina and she appeared.  Some discussion with the ticket agent and waving of hands in our direction ensued.  A couple of guys walked up to go inside, and they had one extra ticket.  The security guard, who had been watching all the drama in amusement, chimed in that he had a ticket as well, so problem solved!  We got box seats just in front of stage right, very nice!  Though we missed half of the performance, the remaining half was excellent.  The conductor and four string players (mandolin, 2 guitars, and a ukelele) were seasoned professionals, backed up by a full orchestra of youth players (college age).  The conductor (Regente Monica Giardini) had selected a medley of traditional Brazilian music and arranged it for the full symphony.  The mandolin took the lead for most of the songs, pausing on occasion for the full orchestra to repeat a refrain.  It was very beautiful and relaxing!  The audience was fully appreciative, and the group came back for an encore, but they told the crowd they must sing along.  Everyone did with enthusiasm.  A great spectacle for us.

We could not take pictures during the performance, so half the orchestra had departed the stage before this photo.

The performances are free every Sunday of the year!


Rick had to work today, so we were back to our agenda of parks and museums.  Right next door we found the Estacáo Pinacoteca, an annex to the Pinacoteca Museum, housed in another (former) train station next door, with displays of art on paper, some permanent fixtures, and Memorial da Resisténcia - a fascinating exhibit of protest art from the era of the military government persecution, which was very severe and happened only 40 years ago.

Pinacoteca Museum Annex - a former train station

Our very modest admission fee also included the original Pinacoteca Museum, a few blocks away across from the Estacáo Luz (Station of Light) train station.  This area has a reputation for being very sketchy, and everyone from our fellow symphony patrons to the museum annex workers warned us to be careful.  As it was Sunday, most of the troublemakers were asleep or otherwise absent, and we had no hassles or worries.   The station itself is quite beautiful, as is the park across from it.

Estacáo de Luz

We were a bit hungry, so Nina bought us huge pastels and soda from a street vendor outside the park.  Delicious!

Gentrification is slowly improving the Luz neighborhood.

At about 3PM, Nina had to return home to take care of her normal life.  We traveled together until we had to change trains, and said our goodbyes.  We made our way back to the apartment to take a rest before our final night in South America.

Night 39 - The Real City of Såo Paulo - April 6, 2013

After several hours in the park, we found the car and headed over to an enormous mall.  The idea was to park there and take the train down to the historic city center to see the colonial architecture there.  We found parking easily and restrooms as well, but then learned that the trains were shut down for maintenance.  Time for Plan B, to explore the mall.  Nina led the way to the big bookstore where she browsed books and Rick checked out the latest video games.  After wandering around the mall for a while in fruitless pursuit of an Itaipava t-shirt, we found ourselves at a loss for things to do.  The ever-patient Rick started to get annoyed.  He said Brazil is not about museums and art and parks and bookstores.  It is about football and video games and the beach.  (Nina interpreting for him).  He decided to take us over the footbridge to the train, to see if it was back in operation.  Success!  He then led us into the heart of the old city.  From Monday through Friday this area is teeming with more than 2 million people, all peddling various merchandise, most of it copies of the real thing, and little if any of it taxed.  It folds up on Saturday at 2PM and is completely quiet on Sunday.  This being late on Saturday afternoon, the streets were pretty much deserted and only a few shops (and McDonald's) were open.  But we did find a store with knockoff watches to replace my Wal-Mart special that was trashed in Santiago.  For only US$12.50 I now have a very stylish modern watch, bigger and nicer than the old one, at about the same price.  It even says "Tommy Hilfiger" and not "Tommy Hilgifer."  Now I can tell the time without digging the mobile out of my pocket.  Success!  The streets were far from clean, and the buildings all sported some informal decoration in graffiti.  But still the place had a gritty charm.  Rick really came to life here in the old city, narrating the history and some entrepreneurial things he does there on occasion, buying low and selling for a profit to his friends uptown.  We trudged for a couple of miles, stopping briefly at a chaotic street party - streets closed and mobbed with people.  Against Rick's judgement we walked quickly in and out again, just to have the local experience.  No problems for us, although we did not linger there.  We finally arrived at the historic train station.  I took a few twilight photos, and we grabbed a train back to the mall.  


K really liked the architecture and contrasting colors on this street.

Rick, buying our train tickets at the old station.  He was the perfect host and refused to let us pay for ANYTHING!


It took a while and a couple of trains to get back to the mall and the car, then Rick drove us all the way back to our apartment, a good distance in the wrong direction for him.  What a great guy he is!

We found a bar near the apartment and had a nightcap of pastels and beer before collapsing in exhaustion into our bed!

Day 39 - Såo Paulo Explorations - April 6, 2013

Today is Saturday, Rick's only day off this week, and Nina had enlisted him to drive us all around the city.  Fortunately the traffic was less crazy than weekdays, but still crazy.  They drove to the apartment and picked us up, then we continued downtown to a big central park called Parque do Ibirapuera.  K and I explored the enormous, covered skating center and had some fresh coconut water, which was inexpensive and readily available, while Rick and Nina found parking.  Next we went to a museum with a Vatican display, only to learn that yesterday was the final day.  We took a long walk around the park, seeing the lake and feeding some ducks and swans, taking lots of photos, and watching all the people.  Rick also found a stand serving açai, a wonderful thing, and bought us a couple of bowls of this delicious and healthy concoction.  Feeling refreshed and energized, we headed back across the park to another museum with an expo of local art by local artists.

There were mist machines along the jogging trails.  Press a button for cool refreshing mist!

Paulistas were out in force, enjoying the park and perfect weather.

Even a couple of foreigners fit right in given the diversity of the city!

I found the coconut juice business to be incredibly well organized.  There was an independent stand every 100 feet or so selling juice.  You could buy a coconut with a straw in it, or they had cored and poured the juice into giant steel containers with ice, so you could buy it by the cup or by the bottle, from sizes ranging from 250ml to a full liter.  The supply system and free market were working their magic and keeping each stand fully stocked.

Typical vendor and stand

Entrepeneurs pulled these carts from stand to stand, asking vendors if they need fresh supply.

The guy in the pickup was stocking the VW van, and he supplied coconuts to the metal cart guys.

The art expo was very large and diverse, and each one of us was able to find things that were appealing to our tastes.  All of it was for sale, but we all refrained from buying.  There is also a very good restaurant inside the museum, and Rick treated us all to a buffet where we were able to try feijoada, a famous stew from Brazil.  It was delicious and very filling, so we found some salad and fruit to add balance to our meals.   Here are a few arty pictures to wrap up the post...

This is a famous cartoon character in Brazi, made from Havaianas and Carnival headdresses.