Sao Paulo was, to be honest, a bit overwhelming. It’s the commercial center of Brazil with 11 million people and an absolutely insane amount of traffic. I was introduced, however, to to some unbelievably passionate and intelligent people in my short time there. I still have many friends from Sao Paulo from my short trip. I was introduced to cachaça (key ingredient in my favorite drink caipirinha – it’s sort of a Brazilian mohito), the concept of Brazilian BBQ (more on this in a bit), found out that two motorcycles can actually travel down the highway balancing a bookcase between them and fell in love with the country. My favorite day was when we got down to the beach and everybody relaxed. I had never even heard of foot volley which is volleyball with all of the ball handling rules of soccer. After watching that, it all came clear as to why Brazil has always been so dominate in soccer at the world wide level. Every little opening, whether it be a yard, a park or an alley, had kids playing soccer. It was amazing. On the way back from the beach I talked my hosts into visiting the Pele Museum attached to the Santos Futebol Clube in Vila Belmiro where he played during his formative years. It was magical.
Therefore, it’s not shocking that I jumped on the chance to got to Porto Alegre when it was offered. The city itself is a lot more manageable than Sao Paulo. It’s “only” a million people and the traffic, while the drivers are insane, is not that bad. Every trip in a car was an adventure. Lanes, stop signs and even red lights seemed to be more of a suggestion than hard and fast rule but even among that seeming anarchy, I only saw one wreck in the 5 days that I got to spend there.
There were two downsides. One, I couldn’t spare an extra week and two, it’s their winter so the weather wasn’t ideal. On the other hand, it wasn’t blazing hot either.
Despite the fact that it’s their winter, I managed to leave the house without shoes (yes, I had my sandals) or anything long sleeved. I had plans on bringing both but left the jacket in the car and the shoes just inside the front door. I was worried about this because my Brazilian friends warned me that it was going to be freezing cold this time of year but when I got off the plane it was 19c (about 70f). I did buy a pair of shoes because I planned on walking about a lot and the the sandals, while comfy to stand it, don’t hold up well if I’m walking any distance at all. I almost bought a jacket while I was there as well but I could hear my wife’s voice in my head talking about the plethora of light jackets that already overwhelm my closet from my stay in Ireland. There was one night when it was raining and got down to about 9c (50f) where I really would have liked a jacket but my time in Ireland had prepared me well for just such an occasion.
My first real Churrascaria
On the first day I met a group product manager from Adobe named Thibault. He and I connected for dinner that night at a local churrascaria (Brazilian BBQ) called Churrascaria Rodade Carreta. It turns out that Brazilian BBQ is actually from the southern region of Brazil so this is the authentic thing and what I had been to in Sao Paulo, while great, was a copy. I ordered a caipirinha for each of us to get started and then the food started. They kept on and kept on bringing us different types of meat until we were beyond stuffed. Some of the best pork ribs, lamb shank, beef steak, chicken, sausage and chicken hearts. Don’t knock the chicken hearts until you’ve tried them. The way that they prepare them is outstanding. I don’t even really know how to describe it. For full disclosure, I like the occasional piece of liver and this reminded me of the best liver that I had ever tasted. Oh yeah, there’s also a salad bar. On the salad bar was rice, feijoada (which is black beans and pork which really takes me back to my childhood) and my favorite dessert(ish) type fruity thing – deep fried bananas! The meat and the caipirinha kept flowing.
And then the entertainment started. There were a number of local dancers who were dancing in the regional styles of Southern Brazil. It was beautiful. There were dances that involved three different couples that ranged from an almost ballet style dance to a square dance type of thing. Then there was a dance off. The girls brought out spears and did a little dance with them and then laid them on the floor. The guys then had to dance all around the spear but not actually touch it. It was like a cross between that knife game where you stick it between your fingers as fast as you can and a flamboyant Irish dance. They were wearing these hard boots and were keeping time with the music which kept getting faster and faster until the boots were just blurring over the spears. It was amazing but I hadn’t seen anything yet.
Next came the star of the show. This middle aged man came out and stomped around the floor. I wasn’t impressed at first until all of the sudden he start swinging these boleadeira (south Brazil hunting tool) around. They are little steel balls on the end of a rope that’s about 4 foot long. He swung these around in time with the music and was knocking the floor with them as he danced. He spun them standing, dancing, kneeling, jumping and every which way. Then at some point he stopped and went into the audience and convinced this girl with beautiful long hair to come on stage with him. He told her to stand very still and hold her head up and then started his dance again. As he danced around her, he started swinging the boleadeira closer and closer. So close that he started playing with her hair. First from the side where he just touched it and it flew up a little. Then he went from back and knocked her hair forward. Then from the front and pushed it all back out of her face. It was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. After that, he brought a guy up on stage and had the guy put a cigarette in his mouth. I’m assuming that when it was legal to do so, the victim would have actually been smoking. He proceeded to knock the cigarette out of the guys mouth. And for the finally, he grabbed a different pair of boleadeiras that were lights on the end rather than steel balls and they turned off the lights. The blur of lights and rapid music and his boots on the stage had for a fantastic conclusion to the night’s festivities.
The next day, Wednesday, I had two things to do. First was to finish going over my slides and make sure that my demos were bullet proof. Second was to see more of this great little city. I worked all morning and then took a taxi downtown. It was fascinating to see all of the little shops and restaurants. At some point I needed lunch and so found a little corner restaurant where I could see a big picture menu. I went in and sat down. The waiter came over and started speaking Portuguese to me until I said “Sorry, no Portuguese, English?”. He stood there like a deer in headlights until I got up and went over to the menu board and pointed at what I wanted. He looked relieved and said the name of it to which I nodded and said “Ci”. Then he was even more relieved when I said guarana, which is my favorite local soft drink. It’s made from a local fruit and tastes way too good to be good for you. The rest of the meal was easy going.
After lunch I realized I was just a block away from the Our Lady das Dores church that’s in the trip advisor top ten things to see in Porto Alegre. It’s beautiful inside and out. Outside there is this magnificent staircase that looks like a red carpet. Inside was even more magnificent but my pictures are not as good. 🙂 The stained glass was beautiful but my favorite feature is that they had 8 live sized statues portraying different stages of Christ’s life. It was beautiful.
After church, I went down to the Lake Guaíba which was massive and beautiful. There’s a great park that goes all the way down the river. There were people sitting all along the river just watching the water and the boats go by in an endless stream. It was a fantastic walk.
One of the things that struck me was the amazing amount of vegetation that lived on the trees. On most of the trees I saw there was at least one type of vine growing but most had multiple types of ferns, flowers and vines growing all at the same time. According to Wikipedia about Porto Alegre, there are 9,288 different species…
All in all, Porto Alegre is a beautiful city that I’ll have to visit during their summer sometime and spend a lot more time. Here’s some of my other favorite pictures from the trip…