The final stretch (Brazil)


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South America » Brazil » São Paulo » São Paulo
July 27th 2023
Published: August 20th 2023
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(Day 392 on the road)Not to get robbed. Not on the last stretch of my yearlong journey across South America. That was one of the objectives for my final ~3 weeks in Brazil.

I had been considering how to spend the final weeks. With Brazil being such a huge country, options were certainly plentiful. After some contemplating, I figured that spending two full weeks in Rio de Janeiro - one of the most exiting cities in this world – seemed very attractive. So I decided to take it slow, spend two weeks in Rio, a few days in the small coastal town of Paraty (halfway between Rio and Sao Paulo), and then my final few days in Sao Paulo. And it turned out to be just right.

Before I arrived in Rio de Janeiro from Foz do Iguazo, all I associated with the city was basically Copacabana beach, Sugarloaf mountain and of course the famous Christ the Redeemer statute on top of Corcovado hill. I soon realized that the city had so much more to offer; I could have easily spent more than my two weeks.

Apart from the amazing bays and beaches (with famous Copacabana and Ipanema merging into one another), Rio is a surprisingly green city, with tons of hiking options right within the city limits. Many of those mountains you see on pictures of Rio – well, you can hike up a fair number of them. Which is what I did. Three hikes I especially enjoyed were the trek up Corcovado (to see the Christ statue upclose), halfway up Sugarloaf mountain (for the final stretch you have to take the cable car), and Dois Irmaos (for beautiful ways of Ipanema beach and the entire city far below).

Rio also boasted some great museums. The one I enjoyed most was the fabulous Museu do Amanha, the Museum of Tomorrow. Housed in a spectacular, spaceship-like building right by the coast in northern Rio, the exhibition itself was also world-class. Together with some other museums I visited on purpose or stumbled across in the city centre, this was pretty unexpected. Like I said, Rio was mostly beaches in my imagination.

Interestingly, safety was – contrary to what I had read and heard – not much of an issue. For the most parts - and except for certain parts of downtown - I felt fairly safe, even after dark. Maybe the intense police presence in the popular areas helped, especially along the beachfront.

Speaking of beach: I found Copacabana and Ipanema to be just as spectacular as they had been in my imagination. They were like a magnet for beautiful and active people, with tons of people running, biking, or playing all kinds of sports. I did a few nice runs along the beach myself, plus countless bike-rides, using the omni-present bike-sharing service of the city.

Maybe the only downside was the six-lane through road right on the beach – how even nicer Copacabana could be without the heavy traffic day and night. At least on Sundays they closed three of the six lanes for pedestrians, and the people really took over the area then. Nice.

After two weeks (and two nice rental flats) in Rio de Janeiro – and with my flight to Europe only a week away – the day came when it was time to move west towards Sao Paulo.

My final stop before Sao Paulo was wonderfully relaxed Paraty, a small town located right on the coast, with lots of boats of all sizes offering excursions. I spent a wonderful day on one of the smaller boats – sailing, kayaking, standup-paddling and swimming the day away. It was wonderful and sad at the same time, as it knew it was my last day on the beach on this trip.

Paraty itself was also beautiful - especially the cobblestoned historic centre – with its countless cosy cafes, restaurants and art galleries that would feature well in any travellers Instagram feed. Unusually, the town was – a long time ago - purposely built right into the tidal zone, to let the water carry away the excrements and rubbish before canalisation existed. Thus, with every high tide, the water would flood the town’s major streets (this happens even today, although much less due to constructional counter-measures), and when it receded at low tide, the ocean would take away whatever people would throw into the water. Effective at the time, unthinkable today.

And then, after a final long bus journey, I arrived in Sao Paulo, my final step on this year-long tour across South America. At 20 million inhabitants, the city is simply massive. Actually, it is the biggest city in the southern hemisphere.

Random fact: Sao Paulo also boasts one of the largest residential buildings of the world, the Edificio Copan. It is home to over 5.000 people, was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, stands smack in the city centre, and even has its own postcode. I grew up in a town of 10.000 people, so thinking that half my town’s population lives in a single building in downtown Sao Paulo is pretty strange.

In Sao Paulo, I spent most of my time in the city centre and close-by neighbourhoods. While there were certainly a number of great - some even world-class - museums, the city had nothing that made it instantly likeable. It felt dense, rough and dangerous, with almost no green spaces.

What the city did have were homeless people. Thousands and thousands of them. I asked our guide on a walking tour I did one of the days - she said the official number is 32.000 homeless, but she believes it is at least triple that, and increased massively during and after the Covid pandemic.

I have certainly seen my fair share of poverty, but I have never seen homelessness of such massive proportions. Homeless people were simply everywhere; on most plazas in the city, there were not just a few, but maybe twenty of more people camping and begging. Most were quiet, some were very aggressive and in your face. It was heart-breaking to see.

Different to Rio de Janeiro, safety was also a big issue in Sao Paulo. Whenever I took my phone out (say to check the map), almost immediately a friendly local would tell me to better put the phone away immediately. And I am not talking about a deserted street after dark, this happened numerous times during the day, on popular shopping streets in the city centre. Police presence was nothing shorts of intense, with heavily armed police almost everywhere, mostly police cars parked permanently on streets corners all across the city.

The safety warnings turned almost comical during a walking tour I did (which also featured a bodyguard in addition to the tour guide). On the three-hour tour with its numerous stops, at literally every stop our guide told us a variation of the following: “Not to worry, it is normally perfectly safe here, but better to put your phones away now”, or “Now we are walking into a more deserted street, so now would be a good time to put your phones in your pockets”. While the tour started out cheery on a sunny and warm day, by the end our guide had succeeded in freaking everybody out.

However, I think the constant warnings of the locals and the tour guide were warranted: During my stay in Sao Paulo, I met up with Amanda and Hugo, whom I had met in the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia a few months earlier. They have lived in Sao Paulo all their live, and the day before we met, Hugo was mugged and robbed right on Avenida Paulista, which is the major street of Sao Paulo, lined with lots of great museums, shops and cafes.

In the end, as I was sitting in a pretty expensive taxi to the airport (I really wanted to take the bus somehow, but I didn’t want to tempt fate on literally the last few kilometres), I was really happy to have been robbed only once during my year. And actually not even once in South America, as that was in The Dominican Republic before arriving in Colombia. After so many bad stories I had heard from other travellers throughout the year, I think I was simply very lucky.

And with that, my sabbatical comes to an end. From Sao Paulo, I will fly directly to Paris for a two-night stopover, before returning home to Berlin.

As I set out 12 months ago in northern Columbia, I was briefly asking myself where I would go once I had visited all of South America. But boy, the continent is huge. Since I am a pretty slow traveller, I did not come even close to exploring the whole of the continent, leaving almost all of Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname and Guyana for a subsequent trip. Kind of nice.

Moneywise, my 13 months on the road were cheaper than I had imagined. In total, I spent 19.000€ (this also includes flights to and from South America and health insurance), or ~1.450€ per month, or just under 50€ per day. I did all the tours and excursions I wanted (i.e. Galapagos, Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, flight over the Nazca Lines etc etc), almost never slept in dorms, and almost always went out for nice food. Surely, the year could have been done even cheaper, but for the level of comfort I have had, all in all I think this was a pretty affordable year.

Looking back, I am acutely aware that I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity for this journey, and many of the memories I made will stay with me for a long time.

Writing a meaningful summary to list the countless highlights (and some lowlights) of almost 400 days of travelling from Colombia to Brazil, via Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile Argentina, and Paraguay, is a hopeless undertaking. So I won’t even try.

There are tons of things that I will certainly miss dearly about this fascinating continent - and at the same time there are some things which I will certainly not miss (especially safety issues, constant noise pollution, the aggressive stray dogs). For the time being, I am happy to return home, back to my old life and job. Let’s see how long this feeling will last, and when I will get itchy feet again.

Because one thing is for sure: The grass is always greener on the other side.



My route in Brazil: Iguazu – Rio de Janeiro – Paraty – Sao Paulo.

Next stop: Paris (France) for a two-night stopover, then home to Berlin (Germany).

To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com.

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20th August 2023

I have enjoyed following your journey...
around South America.
4th September 2023

400 Days at a bargain
It sounds like you designed this last leg of your trip perfectly. It is good you feel you could come back for more at some point. So many places and so little time... you can never see it all. Congratulations on not get robbed. Well done. We've enjoyed following your trip. Enjoy home and that first shower and sleep in your own place.

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