Category Archives: Traveling and transit

They say you can’t go home again

Brazilian Santa wears havaianas of course! I didn’t learn until my last few weeks that Oscar Freire (and not Avenida Paulista) is Latin America’s true 5th avenue analogue. I think that’s probably for the better…

I wanted to write something upbeat on January 1 to usher in the new year and contemplate the many things I learned over the course of a challenging 2014. Instead, I woke up, made a feeble attempt to bid farewell to my last party-goers and spent the rest of the day musing at the irony that after a year of feeling like I had no voice, I would ring in the next in its literal absence. It was in this way that I also discovered that I had unknowingly made a tacit promise to myself to never blog when I was upset. On the other hand, it’s also possible that when I was in Sao Paulo, I viewed everything as an exciting and “novel” experience that I could blog about, allowing me to view even the most frustrating of encounters in a positive light.

I’ll admit, not having to aliquot drinking water from this monster has been nice!

Here in NC, that’s a little more difficult. Of course, it was easy to come back and re-adjust to the luxury of having my water glass constantly refilled at every bar and restaurant. It also wasn’t that exciting to once again have access to my full wardrobe—it turns out I only wear about three different outfits anyway. And I immediately took it for granted that I had a car to take out at 11pm and buy as many groceries as I wanted at the 24/7 Harris Teeter. These were the simple things, and they seamlessly integrated themselves back into my life.

Other things have been harder. I bump into someone on the street and instinctively, murmur, “ah! desculpa!” Similarly, sometimes when mentally formulating an e-mail, I get several lines in before realizing that I am writing an American and can (well, probably should) write in English. Before, I never understood it when my Brazilian friends would tell me that they missed speaking English. “How can you miss having even the simplest tasks being made more difficult?!” I would marvel. When I came home from studying abroad in Sevilla many years ago, I remember feeling as if a shroud was being removed and the sites and sounds around me were finally coming back into focus. There were certainly no feelings of saudades that time when I ordered my first meal back in English.

Continue reading They say you can’t go home again

Homeward bound!

It’s time to go home

I woke up yesterday morning, ready to accomplish my last round of errands: pick up a paycheck at the Callan school, cash it at the bank, make one last souvenir-run at Shopping Vila Olimpia, and finally, rush to the luggage store to buy a vessel capable of transporting it all. However, my to-the minute itinerary was thwarted when I realized upon arriving at the Vila Madalena metro that I had forgotten my passport, which I needed both for entry into the Callan school building as well as cashing my paychecks at the bank. Wearily, I slogged back uphill to the apartment, slowly perceiving that I had an even bigger problem; it was suddenly becoming very difficult to stand upright, never mind walk without feeling like my stomach was seizing up.

When I finally arrived back at the apartment I collapsed onto my bed, unable to move. I tried to sleep it off, but every few minutes, I felt a deep, slashing pang, like my kidneys were trying to eject my stomach through my ribcage. All I could think as I lay there was, why, after managing to stay healthy over three months of inconsistent eating and sleeping habits, did I have to get food poisoning the day of my flight (not to mention, what the heck did I eat?)?! Clearly I wasn’t meant to leave the country. I focused on revising and prioritizing my previous plan. Maybe I should just forget about the money. The most important thing was to be well enough to make my flight later that night.

Still, miser that I am, I really wanted to leave the country with all the money I had earned running around town in circles at the cost of my own health. I will spare you the gory details of the interim period, but feeling a bit better and knowing the banks close at 4, I finally forced myself out of bed around 2:30 when Samantha very kindly brought me a carry-on to use and some medicine. I also took a shower, and, for the first time, the water cut out at the end. Maybe it was time to go home after all?

Note from 2020: São Paulo is no longer in a drought (just a pandemic like the rest of the world), so the linked site allowing Paulistanos to check how much water is available in the water supply system or cantareira no longer exists, but I’m leaving it in the link above because it was very much a popular site at the time.

Continue reading Homeward bound!

Physicists and Popsicles


The city is running out of water just as temperatures are reaching the high 90s so free blueberry Red Bulls was a welcome surprise on the bus!
The city is running out of water just as temperatures are hitting the high 90’s so a free blueberry Red Bull was a welcome surprise on the bus!

As I may have mentioned in a recent, somewhat grumpy post, I spend a lot of time on public transit. In fact, I think I have now taken every form of public transportation available here. My first, and in my opinion by far the best, is the metro. It is pretty cheap (R$3), easy to use, relatively clean, and it reliably arrives every 2-3 of minutes. The huge downside, as anyone will tell you, is that it is far from extensive. In fact it’s kind of a nice surprise when I can get where I want to go using the metro. There is an upside to this too though. Once when I was in a particularly large hurry, I was pleased to see that I’d somehow caught the yellow line express, which apparently skipped about 3 stops I didn’t need. Curious to know for future reference how I would know which trains were express, I asked a friend. She laughed, telling me that there are no express trains in Sao Paulo; those three stations simply had yet to be built! Apparently the supposed completion of the metro is a big joke to Paulistanos, as is the construction of a monorail, which was to be completed prior to the World Cup.

Successfully made it through the bus turnstyle!
Successfully made it through the bus turnstyle!

All around the city, there are a number of train lines supplementing the metro. However, I’ve only used them once as they rarely go where I need to and they are slower than the metro. What all this amounts to is that I spend the vast majority of my time on buses, which is always something of an adventure. First, many parts of the city have bus stops delineated solely by a metal pole or stick in the ground. The other day, I asked a group of women standing around talking whether we were at a bus stop and, if so, how I could tell. They laughed and said, “Yes, of course it’s a bus stop. It’s obvious because two buses just stopped here!” The more established bus stops have shelters and occasionally even a posting with the numbers of the buses that pass by. And yet, even then, I have found that if you flag down a bus not included on the posting, the motorist will stop (for a millisecond) to snap you up. Usually you have just enough time to leap onto the bus before it jolts forward, flinging you toward the back. Luckily your flight is interrupted as your stomach jams into a turnstile, reminding you to hold up your “bilhete unico” bus pass or pay R$3 to the guy sitting next to it, who is calmly watching you flail. And somehow, now that you need to use all your strength to push through an inexplicably heavy turnstile while also employing enough finesse to lift your bag over the top, the momentum of the bus has changed to pull you back toward the front.

With a bilhete unico, the R$3 charge per ride reduces to R$1.65 when transferring between the metro and the bus and its free when transferring between buses
With a Bilhete Unico, the R$3 charge per ride reduces to R$1.65 when transferring between the metro and the bus, and its free when transferring between buses. Money can be added at most metro stations and stands on the street.

I think I remember a time, not so long ago, where I worried about how I appeared to strangers on public transportation, but that time has long past. Now I just want to stay upright. Just yesterday, I saw a woman fall headfirst down the stairs from her perch standing next to me. And even finding a seat is no great victory. The backs of the seats are plastic so your knees jam into them, bracing you from the curves and jolts resulting from a suspension system that easily rivals my childhood neighbor’s much-vaunted Gary Fisher’s Rockshox. Needless to say, I long since gave up trying to read or prepare for class on the bus. I also learned pretty quickly that buying the deliciously greasy mini Pão de queijo at the Vila Madalena bus station terminal, immediately prior to boarding, was a huge mistake. I think there is an expression here something like, “eat in the street, die at home.” I would just make a slight adjustment and replace home with bus.

Continue reading Physicists and Popsicles

A good day to fly


Every time I go to the airport I have a feeling of excitement. I have an idea that those planes sitting on the tarmac could take me anywhere in the world and that the adventure is out there, just waiting to be had. But then inevitably, no matter how wonderful my trip is, it ends too soon (and somewhere along the way I get stuck in PHL, probably just to quell some of my excitement), and it’s back to reality. This time feels different though. I don’t walk past gates saying “Chicago/O’Hare” or “London/Heathrow” with envy. This time the adventure is mine to define and pursue!

With the help of my friend Katherine, who drove me to the airport Friday morning, my travels got off to a great start, and the rest of the journey was almost too smooth for me to believe. I was switched to an aisle seat on both legs (I felt like I had somehow tricked the Brazilian couple when they asked if I would switch to the aisle seat so they could sit together in the middle for the 10 hour flight), everything was on time, my friend was waiting for me at Guarulhos, and the “city of drizzle” even came through with a beautiful day of sunshine. My greatest personal achievement however, came early on when the flight attendant came around with food. He first addressed the Brazilian man next to me asking, “pasta or chicken?” When he posed the question to me though, he offered, “massa ou frango?” Apparently my earlier request for uma agua was so convincing that he took me for a native. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I should probably just take the win and go home now.

Almost there!

Continue reading A good day to fly

Can you take it with you?


Prepared for anything: Type N (top) and Universal
Prepared for anything: Type N (top) and Universal

Moving somewhere—anywhere really, but especially a foreign country—forces you to think about what you really need, and I am not talking about my family and friends this time (although I need you too!). No. I’m talking about things. How can I maintain some level of comfort without trying to bring my whole country and way of life to Brazil? To start with, I’ve been trying to read about what adapters to buy and whether I need a converter. However, apparently every state in Brazil uses a different voltage and a different plug type. Supposedly, the country is trying to standardize to type N power sockets (which of course is only used in Brazil and South Africa, so universal adapters are of no use), but for now it’s a mixed bag. I think the voltage is the same as the US (127/220V), but if I’m wrong, I will find out immediately when I blow out my hair straightener…

The other main thing I’m worried about is water. I have heard it’s not the best idea to drink unfiltered Sao Paulo water, and I normally drink several liters of water a day when I have the time. I think a lot of places just have filters on the tap, but I can’t assume that that will be the case everywhere I stay, and I know I will be really unhappy if I can’t drink as much water as I want. Never having been there, I can’t decide if a Brita filter or water bottle would be worth it.

Continue reading Can you take it with you?