Canada is a big country too. When people ask if I know their cousin in Calgary, I smile and shake my head. So, I realize going to Brazil for a couple of weeks only gives a tiny glimpse of this amazing country. However, here goes on a few impressions of where we went in March of 2017.
The immigration agent gave me a puzzled glance when I told him I was entering his country as a tourist and going to Sao Paulo. I quickly added that we would be visiting Paraty, the gateway town to some spectacular shoreline. Sao Paulo is not known as a tourist destination and I was soon to find out why. Its traffic and chaotic scene soon imposed itself as the car driving us from the airport to the home of our kind hosts broke down, overheated in the jammed traffic. Listening to my hostess speak Portuguese to the taxi driver it gave me the impression of Spanish spoken underwater with a sing-song swing to the whole conversation. I was surprised to be taken to a gated community of several high-rise apartment buildings. The complex where we were staying consisted of five buildings, built about twenty years ago and set in a manicured grounds of lawns, tropical trees adorned with the most beautiful orchids, three swimming pools of various sizes and temperatures, and a complex containing a library, gym and restaurant. Basically, residents never had to leave the place and face the concrete chaos outside their enclave. It was pleasant to go for our walk around the grounds, nodding to the security guards posted here and there. This was my first taste of the social dichotomy that is modern Brazil. I looked up a few statistics. Just in the city of Sao Paulo the homicide rate per 100,000 residents varied from 30.8 in the poor neighborhood of Santa Efigenia to 3.2 in rich neighborhoods of Jardim Paulista or even none at all in Vila Formosa. These are figures from 2015. Of course, robberies, car thefts and pickpocketing also vary depending where one is strolling around. The climate helps homeless people be more visible. Unlike Canada where our long and hard winters force the homeless into shelters, in Sao Paulo it was quite common to see informal living rooms or bedrooms set up under bridges or along main streets. Even more disturbing to me were the juxtaposition of luxury high rises next to very poor neighborhoods where families live. Wake up Canadian woman!
When we left the city it was a joy to drive through countryside that looked so different. The vegetation in this tropical region cannot be denied. Rain, warm temperatures and various soil conditions mean that green is the dominant color at this time of year. Of course there is a dry season but for me the lush, somehow irrepressible vegetation made a big impression.
On the coast, the little colonial town of Paraty was charming. The astonishing feature was that at high tide, the streets become flooded with sea water. Paddling around was fun until we remembered that our car was parked quite close to the sea wall. We packed up the boat that was to be our floating home for several days and set off out of the port into the shore, dotted with beautiful islands. More about this dreamy part of our trip next time.