Saturday, March 29, 2008

Perhaps not so dangerous: Sao Paulo Part III.

Every guidebook and article on Sao Paulo is filled with warnings: more dangerous than Rio, don't get into a taxi, don't take public transit, and, no matter what you do, you seem almost guaranteed to be mugged, let alone kidnapped or killed. Normally I'm a pretty intrepid traveler, but the number of warnings I received had me at least slightly wary. After three uneventful days of wandering the streets and taking public transit in my searches for museums and markets, I think these fears were blown a little out of proportion.

Everywhere I've been in Sao Paulo (admittedly, mostly slightly touristy, upscale or at least well populated) has felt safe: every park I've walked through has had numerous police officers wandering around, and even the Mercadao Municipale had security guards at all the entrances. The metro is clean and well-lit, and while I obviously keep a hand on my bag at all times, I have found people to be very respectful of personal space. On the multiple occasions I've been 'disoriented' (okay, lost), I've had no problems getting directions from police officers or random people.

Perhaps I've just been lucky - or maybe it's the type of places I frequent (art galleries and sculpture gardens aren't normal haunts for bandits) - but Sao Paulo has been both safe and friendly. The most dangerous thing I've encountered here is the cachaca. There is golden cachaca as smooth as a good whiskey, that goes down as quickly and dangerously as guava juice. There is raw white cachaca that my friends have infused with the roots in an Afro-Brazilian tradition from Espirito Santos - you drink it on Good Friday to give you luck and strength in the coming years (that is, if my Portuguese was good enough to understand the drunken discussion!). It has a harsh bitter taste, the taste being at least indicative of its alcohol content. And then there are caipirinhias. Very dangerous things. Especially when there's an early morning flight the next day...

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