PART ONE: São Paulo
At the end of 2016, I found out I had been chosen to go to Brazil to make my own documentary about street art. I would spend two weeks in São Paulo and two weeks in Rio de Janeiro. It was so surreal that my dream of travelling and making films was actually happening! I have to admit, after years of listening to the many reasons why my arts degree was ‘useless’, I felt a tiny bit smug. You mustn’t let the opinions of others influence what makes your soul sparkle!
When I told people my plans, most would say things like, ‘isn’t it dangerous there?’, ‘what if you get zika?‘, ‘don’t get taken by a cartel lol.‘ One lady even told me I shouldn’t bother going at all. The ironic thing is, not one of these people had ever been to Brazil. I didn’t know what to expect, but I quietly ignored the negative reactions and continued trying (and failing) to learn Portuguese on my trusty Duolingo app.
We arrived in São Paulo in the middle of the night, and our hostel had sent a Kombi van with a massive peace sign on its front to pick us up from the airport. I had spent weeks telling anyone who would listen how much I wanted to travel in a Kombi, so despite my jet lag, I was buzzing. That first trip in the van sums up the essence of Brazil for me. We passed people sleeping on the streets, contrasted by a backdrop of beautiful street art covering what seemed like every inch of concrete. No building, lamppost or bus stop was immune to the colour. We stopped at a red light, to the left of us a football game was in full swing in a makeshift field under a bridge. To our right, a man had stopped in the middle of the street, swaying slightly as he cautiously watched a swarm of huge rats climb up a rubbish bin. It was overwhelming in the best way possible and I couldn’t decide where to look, I didn’t want to miss a thing.
The street art in São Paulo is unlike anything else I have ever seen. I’m not exaggerating when I say it covers every inch of concrete. A graffiti artist named Thiago Ritual took me to the Grajaú district, a couple hours south of the city. Grajaú is known as a ‘favela’, which are essentially the poorer neighbourhoods in Brazil, but that doesn’t mean they’re all alike. It was nothing like the depictions of favelas run by drug gangs in movies such as ‘City of God.’ That’s not to say that poverty or crime doesn’t affect the area, but there was a lot of happiness and life there. Families listened to music in the street, children were on rooftops kite fighting. We stood out like a sore thumb, yet I never felt unsafe. The graffiti there was on another level, and to be guided through the artwork by an artist local to the area was the highlight of my trip.
20 million people live in São Paulo, the buildings and skyscrapers seem to go on forever. I prefer places where I can see the ocean on the horizon but I have to say, I fell in love with this city. The metro was seamless. We had cake for breakfast. There was a cat named Mingau, which means porridge, at the hostel (he nursed me through my dark days of food poisoning, miss you my sweet cat). It rained most days, but that just added to the magic. I saw people doing the samba in the street despite the pouring rain. Did I mention the street art was so fucking rad?? The only negative thing I could possibly say about my time in São Paulo is sometimes it was difficult to find healthy vegetarian food when eating out. However, this was totally my own fault as I did zero research beforehand. I still had the best food, I survived on açai, a delicious fruit native to tropical South America, (pronounced a-sigh-ee for those of you ready to head to The Smoothie Bowl to buy an ‘akai’ bowl for the gram. Dw, I got you.), feijão (bean dish), and all of the cheesy, carby, deep fried goodness.
The misconceptions about Brazil, and South America, in general, are frustrating. If you are careful, use your common sense, and make sure you take your 40% DEET bug spray, you will be fine (I didn’t get bitten once, in case you were worried). Please don’t let the bad press put you off, I felt so safe in Brazil, and I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful this country is. The people, the food, the culture. It was life changing.
Brazil diaries to be continued… Stay tuned for PART TWO: Rio de Janiero!