As the plane flew over the outskirts of São Paulo, I believed we were at the city’s center, ready to land at any second. Instead, we kept flying over the megalopolis, the view from the tiny airplane window alternating between clusters of small shantytowns, little patches of greenery and then clumps of massive towers. The sheer size of the city’s expanse as seen from the air was pure insanity. It truly looked like a forest of cement buildings, defining the term “concrete jungle” and it continued on forever in every direction.
Once landed and amidst a chaotic mess of gridlocked freeway, surrounded by a sea of cars and tall buildings I felt lost. It felt so unnatural to be so deep in this man-made construct. Lately, I have enjoyed big cities less, they are no longer new and exciting, and instead feel void, superficial, and redundant.
Of course there are always pros and cons. We made the most of our two days in São Paulo, visiting the mercadão where we found the most exotic, and over-priced fruits ever encountered, explored Carnaval costume shops laden with feathers and beads in an endless array of colors and materials, saw some live Jazz at a local bar, and enjoyed our time with the local family we stayed with.
Although the size of the city felt a little overwhelming, the style of many of the buildings was gorgeous. The Jardins neighborhood was a pleasure to walk around and look at the art deco architecture, the street side cafes, and stylish shops.
The highlights of our time spent in the city occurred doing the simplest of activities, such as drinking at a small street side counter on a busy, smog-infested street, and getting our hair and nails done at an un-assuming salon run by a friendly, extravagant gay man. We chatted for hours with the friendly locals in a mix of Spanish, English, and Portuguese, laughing and sharing cultural customs; our group made up an exotic melting pot of white, black, brown and transvestite women.
These moments prove that regardless of where you are in the world, the beauty in life comes from the company you keep and the relationships you build along the way.