Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is probably one of the least frequented places by overlanders for many reasons. It is not a touristy city as Rio de Janiero is. Rather than tourism, Sao Paulo serves as the economic backbone for the entire country. The city is massive in area and population. Its population clocks in somewhere around 12.5 million people but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. A better indicator of the size of a city is using the population of the metropolitan area, which includes the population of many other cities that are technically different cities, but are essentially all one in the same. Considering the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo, the population is closer to 30 million people and is the third largest in the world behind Tokyo and Beijing. Yikes! Needless to say, we were a little nervous as we began entering the city.

The first thing we noticed as the city appeared before us was the countless number of skyscrapers in the distance. Interestingly, these skyscrapers weren’t in one dense cluster in the city center. Rather, they were evenly spaced out. Eventually we found our way into the city and there was no turning back. Surprisingly, the mid afternoon traffic was relatively easy to navigate and we arrived at our destination.

Right now, you may be wondering why we would visit a non touristy megacity with a rough reputation. Were we lost? No. Were we stupid? Probably. All kidding aside, we did have a reason to be in the heart of the city and that was to visit some friends who invited us to their home for a few days so we decided to stay for a week!

Nearly a year ago when we left our home in Casper to begin this trip, we received a message from Helena asking if we would be visiting Brazil. At the time, we had no idea if we would actually be able to visit Brazil so we left it open ended. When the decision was finally made that we would visit Brazil, we contacted Helena to find a time they would be available for a visit.

So, how do we know Helena and Marcelo? As I was growing up, my family hosted exchange students many times and Helena was one of our favorites. This was over twenty years ago when I was nine and I didn’t remember a whole lot about her stay with my family. Now, she is married to Marcelo and they have two young boys to keep them busy.


Our first day in Sao Paulo was spent visiting the MASP art museum in the heart of the city. We jumped on the subway and made our way through the heavy Saturday crowds. The building is suspended in the air, supported by only four large columns on each corner making for an interesting appearance. Once inside, the first gallery we visited was by French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The next gallery contained a great deal of variety but included works by Picasso, van Gogh, Monet and one painting we instantly recognized from our visit to Mexico by Diego Rivera. Although we are not art buffs by any means, we appreciated the museum greatly.


On Sunday, the weather cooperated with us allowing for a barbecue with Helena’s parents, Paulo and Sonja, and brother and sister in law, Paulo and Gaby, and baby Alice. Barbecue plays a big role in family get togethers. As the meat was grilling, the beer began flowing, allowing for plenty of time for conversation. The boys ran around like wild men for a couple of hours and fun was had by all! The meal turned out excellent as can be expected and our first Brazilian barbecue experience was a success.

Over the next few days, we settled into life with Marcelo and Helena. For every offer they made us, we said yes. For example, they asked if we would like to use their washing machine. With more than a month’s worth of laundry on hand, we said yes! They asked if we would like to watch the newest season of Game of Thrones and we said yes, finishing the entire season in only a few days. We took advantage of their incredibly fast internet and uploaded a month’s worth of photos in just a few hours. We truly enjoyed the luxury of not living in a car during our visit to Sao Paulo!

One of the things we enjoyed the most being with Marcelo and Helena was spending time with their two boys Joao and Davi. No doubt, these two kids are the epitome of what would come to mind when thinking of boys. Every time they would play, they would become super heroes battling each other throughout the apartment. Often times, they would rough house with each other as can be expected from brothers. Swimming lessons are on Mondays so we accompanied Helena and watched the boys as they received instruction. We haven’t had much of a chance to interact with kids during our travels, so playing with these guys was a great deal of fun.


Over the course of the week, we realized that paying a visit to Helena and Marcelo’s house as a first stop in Brazil would have been helpful as they gave us a lot of instruction for speaking Portuguese. The first lesson we learned is that an “R” actually sound like an “H.” For example, the Brazilian currency is spelled Reais. It is pronounced liked “hey-ice”. Next, when you see word with ao you make it sound nasally. Grab your nose and say Sao Paulo. Another example is “atencao” or attention in English. Also the “C” with the squiggle under it makes it have a “S” sound rather than a traditional hard “C” sound. Helena and Marcelo told us that Portuguese is a hard language because pronunciations are much different than in English. There are lots of rules and exceptions in the language which we will have to cover on our next trip to Brazil!

Normal people have to work on a daily basis and Marcelo and Helena are not exempt. We set out to find touristy things to do in this non touristy city. We met up with another Strawberry Tour for a tour of the historical center of Sao Paulo. The tour took us by many churches and other historical buildings while giving a brief history of the city of Sao Paulo and Brazil.


Our favorite activity was drinking beer mid-day and sending photos to Marcelo! He always had a witty response for us!


One day we tagged along with Helena and discovered this very curious clock that she remembers from when she was a kid. Pretty cool:


And this Rolex was for sale in the same mall for 322,000 Reals which is equivalent to $107,000 USD!


Marcelo told us we had to visit the Municipal Market and try one of their famous Mortadella sandwiches. Before trying the sandwich, we walked through the market and tried many varieties of fruit from all over South America. We wandered for a short while before sitting down to try the sandwich. Marcelo warned us that one sandwich was probably too much for one sitting so we split one and were happy we did as each sandwich is loaded with nearly a pound of mortadella meat, similar to bologna, and cheese then grilled to perfection. The cod pastels are also a traditional food here but they were a little fishy for our liking.


Close to the municipal market was a cool science museum we explored along with tons of school kids. Ah to return to being a kid again!


Near the end of our week in Sao Paulo, Paulo and Sonja invited us to their home for dinner while Helena’s brother, Paulo, made home made pizza. Once again the beer flowed quickly and fun was had by all.


We began preparing for our Amazon cruise as the week came close to an end and we needed to figure out what to do with our truck while we were gone. Paulo offered us a place to park for the week at his bus maintenance facility. We jumped on the offer right away happy to know our truck would be safe while we were gone. The drive across the city took nearly an hour but we made it with only a few wrong turns. Helena’s brother, Paulo took us on a tour of the massive facility before leaving. The facility maintains a huge amount of buses for the city and also takes on the human resources part of hiring, training, etc. to keep the buses on the road. We enjoyed the glimpse into the business that most tourists would never have the chance to see.


And covered parking for the Blanco Caballo!


Finally, the time had come for us to catch a flight to Manaus to begin our cruise in the Amazon. We said goodbye to Marcelo, Helena and the boys as we headed towards the airport. It was only a short goodbye as we planned to stay for one more night when we returned a week later.

As we border the bus to the airport in Campinas, we reflected on our week in Sao Paulo. Although the city isn’t overly touristy, we found plenty to keep us busy. Marcelo and Helena’s hospitality was unbelievable and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. We appreciated their company for the week as well as the company of Helena’s parents and brother and sister in law. It was a heartwarming experience to reconnect after so many years and have such a wonderful experience. We truly hope we can host them in our home in the future when we finally return to the US.


  1. Couldn’t wait to read your post on Sau Paulo. Helena was the best when she visited us at age 18 as a Rotary International exchange student. Our two sons, Chad and Ryan enjoyed her so much. What a wonderful husband she has along with her two sons. Thanks for taking care of our son and daughter-in-law. The circle is close to complete?

    1. Wait another 10 to 12 years and we’ll make sure that circle is complete when we send the boys over to stay with Ryan and Laughlin for a summer, a year or how long ever they’ll have them.
      It was a true pleasure having them over!

  2. I love that you were able to see a former exchange student!! I always thought it was wonderful how many students your family hosted over the years.

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