Brazilian Diary - Sunday 30th May 2010

The flight was long, hot, airless and crowded - not bad for modern-day economy travel. Luckily I managed to sleep, doze or just lie there with my eyes closed for most of it and after what didn't seem like too much of an ordeal I arose to join the hubub of immanent arrival. I accepted the complimentary breakfast (a mistake, as with most airline food, but it had been a long time since I'd eaten and my stomach was bored and in rebellion) tidied my bits and pieces together and with a bump we were in South America.

After (what felt like) walking for miles and queuing for an age at immigration we made it to the baggage claim. After rescuing our luggage we wrestled our mule-like trolley to the end of the line for Nothing To Declare, an enormous queue of similarly laden travellers that snaked back and forth around the hall. But salvation came quickly - a young airport official came up to us and pointed out that the Something To Declare line could also be used by pregnant women, handicaqpped people... and the elderly. An unexpected benefit of greying hair! We checked that this wasn't a Cruel Joke but she was adamant that it was OK, so in we went.

It didn't run quite to plan. A few yards after passing the 'Nothing To Declare this way ->' sign we were assailed in fearsome Portuguese and told in no uncertain terms that we needed to take the other path or face dire consequences. Meekly we obeyed. Once it had been established that we were idiot foreigners and would dutifully obey orders things relaxed somewhat and after all of our belongings had been X-rayed (again) we were released from the clutches of authority and passed through the arrival gates into the arms of our Brazilian greeting party.

At least that was the theory. We scanned the waiting crowd with their enigmatic hand-written placards but found no familiar faces, so we circled the trolleys, sank onto the uncaring 'meeting area' seats and waited. And waited. Bill, the only one of us with Brazilian reais went off to buy some water, the rest of us sat around and started making Plan B's for getting to our hotel should we have to do it under our own steam.

Time passed, tempers frayed. After waiting for an hour we decided to give the organisers another half hour to turn up and then find our own way to the hotel, armed with the name & address and a loaded credit card.

Ten minutes later they arrived. Joy was unconstrained, fulsome greetings were exchanged and the fantastical schemes of revenge dreamed up by minds half-crazed with sleep deprivation and stress were released and forgotten. We were led outside, piled into a minibus and were soon off, heading for the city.

As we drove along the scale of the city began to make itself apparent. Forests of highrises sprung up on all sides and could be seen sprouting from the surrounding buildings far into the distance on all sides. As the multi-lane highway started to divide as we got further into São Paulo we discovered another aspect of the city - road repair doesn't seem to have been given a high priority in municipal spending. Shaken and only slightly stirred we drew up at the hotel.

After dealing with the check-in paperwork we hit another snag. Our flight was through the night and had landed at 5:30 in the morning. Despite all the delays it was still only 9 and check-in time for the rooms was 11, no exceptions. Renata, the prime organiser and our guide & mentor, was unfazed by this and led us a short way down the street to a fantastic café with an enormous selection of breakfasty goodies. Well fed and feeling a little more human we returned to the hotel, settled into our rooms and showered away the grime of the journey.

Bill and Rory decided that they needed some siesta time to continue the process of post-flight recovery so I joined Jacqui and Lucy to go exploring in the city, possibly with lunch featuring at some point. We made our way up to the main drag and strolled along in the welcome warmth (25 to 28 degrees according to various public temperature readings), vaguely checking on potential eateries but mostly just soaking up the local colour and the glorious sunshine. As an exotic experience it wasn't that impressive - a large, modern street in a big, modern city - but after the trials of our journey it was wonderfully revitalising to just wander along in the heat and sunshine, taking in the sights as incidentals along the way.

After returning to the hotel the girls (as a band member I'm allowed to call them that) decided to stop in for some rest but I was up for more of the city, so with tourist map in hand I set off - destination parkland. The first green space turned out to be an imposing and extensive police compound, fenced and razor-wired, but I kept going and, lured onwards in the latter stages by f(i)estive drumming, found a huge statue (the Monumento às Bandeiras) bedecked with enthusiastic clambering children and beyond that the gates of an enormous park.

Ibirapuera Park was just what I was looking for and much more besides. Acres of greenery, lakes, trees & palms and the whole thing thronging with Brasilieros of all ages enjoying their Sunday. Walking, jogging, cycling, rollerblading and picnicking they filled the park with a sense of casual vitality that was like a tonic to my battered soul and left me with a smile on my face and a bit more of a skip in my step.

Returning to the hotel I met up with the rest of the group and we set off for an (early) evening meal. After wandering around our part of the city for a while we gave up on finding something ethnic and funky and ended up in the food court of a monstro-mall. A Middle-Eastern dinner rounded the day off nicely and from there it was back to the hotel and so to bed.

Next day