A year ago, in October 2012, I went for a month to Brazil. The main purpose of the trip was a research stay at the University of São Paulo (USP) in the town of São Carlos.
My parents and friends were excited to hear that I was going to Brazil. Much more than myself :) Because while I was concerned with upcoming research activities, absence of any knowledge of the town, the culture or Portuguese language (and did not have much desire to learn any of these), they were fascinated with the trip itself, with going to such a remote location, to the country which is worldwide famous for its carnival, and whose image is tightly associated with great beaches and abundance of sun and fun.
Well, lucky they were :) For me, it was more like a command “go and stay there”: I did not choose the trip myself. However, it was a big opportunity, and it did not feel reasonable to reject it, so I accepted the turn of events. But I did not feel excited to follow through and make the most out of it. I just agreed to go.
The outward journey took much more time than expected. The cross-Atlantic flight started from Amsterdam to São Paulo, flew over the Netherlands, Belgium and France, but just before going off the French coast the pilot announced that they had noticed “a funny smell”. The plane turned back and landed in Paris for several hours. At first we were kept in the plane for an hour or so, but then taken out to the terminal. Without any estimation of the waiting time.
Paris… it felt like this side-trip was made for me :) I had been there just two months before that. It felt amazing to see the city from above when the plane was descending to the airport, and then to be surrounded with a language that I could understand – at least to some degree – at the terminal. Paris comforted me before going to an unknown and somewhat terrifying place. This landing added an item to my list of “impossible” things I had done: to visit Paris (even if only the airport) spontaneously, while being on an itinerary not including it :)
The month in São Carlos went faster than I could imagine :) During the day, I was spending a lot of time in the lab, having discussions and conducting experiments. In the evening, I often went running, inspired by a fitness park I had discovered nearby my hotel (see a couple of photos below). Other times, I was reading or playing a computer game on my laptop (OpenTTD, if anybody wonders). However, the main thing that had been keeping my interest those days was the “Effortless Success” course with Jack Canfield, which was helping me to reconnect with my dreams and start discovering my life’s purpose…
The weather was hot and sunny most of the time. Not exactly the type of weather I like a lot, but for that month I had surrendered to it, I allowed the heat to warm me thoroughly and the sun to bring joy and smiles to my face. Surprisingly, during all the time I was in São Carlos my skin did not get burned – and it is normally very sensitive to the sun (however, it did get burned after just two days in Rio)
It was the beginning of the Spring there in Brazil, so it had been raining sometimes too. The rains were pretty heavy, and a couple of times I got caught in them. However, overall they were as amazing and enjoyable as the sunny weather. There is no such thing as bad weather ;) Looking at the clouds, I did worry about getting wet, especially when having electronics with me, but it went OK :) Plus, I actually love the rain – watching it, listening to it, and breathing the after-rain air.
Things were not always sunny. It was good to be there when going for a lunch with colleagues, or having a common gathering in the evening, when there was someone to talk to, somebody to ask for advice and help (e.g. with ordering the food). But when I was left alone for the evening, finding food was turning into a kind of survival. I took on the belief that most people outside the lab did not speak English, and I was avoiding the awkward situation of asking questions in a language that people would not understand, thus I found myself into awkward situations of other type, when I was walking around, sometimes pointing and nodding but without saying a word.
The food, by the way, was amazing. Very tasty and quite cheap (compared to European standards). And the system of “pay-per-kilo”, practiced in many places, enabled me to try a variety of things and have an overall impressive meal most of the time.
However, a much more exciting thing regarding food was called rodizio. Traditionally, one pays a fixed amount of money for unlimited access to the buffet (drinks are not included), plus waiters circulate around the restaurant serving a variety of grilled meat. Should I mention that it is delicious? :) BUT! On another evening, we also visited “rodizio de pizzas”, where instead of a buffet and meat a huge variety of pizzas was served at the table. AND usual “salty” pizzas were then followed by many sweet ones! Nobody had told me about the latter, so I was already very much full when I discovered it :( But all the pizzas were amazing, fresh and super-tasty. So, if you ever find yourself in Brazil, rodizio is definitely worth a try, some may say even that is a “must” ;)
I would like to share some photos I took during that month.
The first days after arrival were spent mostly in memorizing the way to the lab, meeting people there and setting myself up. I was very confused and overwhelmed to ask right questions or make proper requests, so I did not receive much of orientation in the city. When Sunday came and I got no invitations or suggestions from my colleagues, I was left without a single idea what I could do. After some contemplation, I decided that as I anyway happened to be in the town, I could as well take a look around. So I grabbed my camera and set off for a walking “tour” into the city. For ideas to construct my route, I turned to the satellite map of the city in Google Maps in conjunction with a tourist map on the wall at the reception of my hotel. On the latter map I noticed a symbol of a locomotive. It was very attractive to me, and served as the main destination to aim for. I expected to find a railroad station or museum or a monument there. Another area of interest found on the tourist map was the city center and the town hall.
Something did not work out with my main intention for the tour :) Using the GPS on the iPad for checking my position, I reached the area where the locomotive icon had been on the map, but did not notice anything related to the railroad around. I continued my walk in the direction the city center and then back to the hotel. Some interesting sites from that walk:
The town has several concrete channel-like structures with shallow water streams flowing through them, jokingly referred to as the “river”. When these streams unite together to the south-west of the city center, it actually starts to look like a small river:
Some places were purely beautiful, no comments :)
The logo of the University of São Paulo could be seen all around campus, as stencil-paints on the fence, as a composition of flowers and even as a tile mosaic on the pavement:
Some nice lively stairs I was climbing on my way to the lab in the morning:
One of the surprises of the town for me was the abundance of the classic Volkswagen Beetle (aka Käfer), in various colors and technical conditions, from relatively poor (as seems rather natural for an old-model car) to very nice:
The strongest memory of São Carlos for me is the park near the hotel where I stayed. As I could understand from a sign there, it was originally built as a karting track and then transformed to an open-air fitness park. The park has an impressive amount of exercise equipment, and the lines are used for walking and running. I was drawn into the energy of the place and came here to run on many evenings (and on a couple of early afternoons too, challenging myself in the heat of the day).
One Sunday, our hosts took us for a lunch to the restaurant at a golf club. The scenery on the way and around the restaurant was very impressive (as was the meal itself ;) )
After that lunch we visited the TAM aircraft museum, situated in a huge hangar and hosting a lot of airplanes. My attention was drawn to a display of dispatcher’s workplaces in past and present.
Partially fueled by my desire to be “different”, in a space with dozens of airplanes, I asked to hame my picture taken with the only helicopter (Sikorsky):
Then we drove back to the town. This is how being on the road in Brazil can look like:
Overall, I liked the experience, and I would probably be glad to go there again if I were given such a chance. Never mind the struggles I had. It is a question of attitude, and the next time I would choose a different attitude. Hopefully, I would also have somebody to ask-ask-ask that time :)
Have you ever traveled to a remote place you knew nothing about, to stay there for several days or weeks? What was your strategy of survival? :) Share your experience in the comments below!