It’s massive. It claims to be the second biggest city in the world. Then again, it depends upon which ‘biggest city’ list you consult and who’s written it. All the lists agree that Tokyo is number one, but the coveted silver medal spot is the subject of some fierce debate. If it’s an American list, then New York sneaks in there. If it’s an Asian list, then Bombay gets the vote. They both have valid claims, but it comes down to how you define a city in terms of its boundaries. Although the list compiled by the Norwich Tourist Board takes some believing.

Sao Paulo is so big that it even has a chain of chemists specifically for those that suffer from flatulence (see picture).

It is Brazil’s biggest city and claims to have seventeen million inhabitants . When you fly into Sao Paulo, which takes the best part of an hour, this is quite easy to believe. It is similar to flying into Los Angeles, but LA is spread out like a giant patchwork quilt with only one head of population per patch. With Sao Paulo each patch would have a thousand people, and then another thousand standing on their shoulders.

I stayed in the Sao Paulo Hilton, on the 27th floor. This is on the executive level and requires you to have a special key for the elevator. This ‘special key’ encapsulates life in Sao Paulo, because the richer you are the higher up you live. The poorest people live on the ground, on the pavement to be precise. As you accumulate wealth you move up in the world, floor by floor. When you live at the very top of the tallest building you either move to New York, and keep going higher, or you move to one of the exclusive gated communities in the suburbs to live back on the ground again.

sao paulo from the hilton

Living on the ground is not that bad in the posh-lands. They’ve got electrified fences and sentry boxes at the end of every tree-lined avenue. That way they can sleep safely at night, secure in the knowledge that the poorer people will be kept where they belong.

The people in Sao Paulo are very friendly, rich and poor. I was on a trade mission and The British Foreign Office had advised me against meeting any poor people because they might bite me. However, advice from the BFO tends to be a bit over protective so I went to all the places I shouldn’t have, and I didn’t suffer a single bout of rabies. Although I did get sniffed at by a suspicious looking dog. I wasn’t sure how wealthy it was.

I thought one of the best ways to see real people was to go take a look at Brazil’s most famous export. This is not nuts, but football.

So I went to see The Corinthians team play at the Pacembau Stadium. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected. There weren’t many flares, drums or bikini-clad breasts bobbling around to a samba rhythm. Apparently everything fun has been banned as they are trying to gentrify the game like they’ve done in England. The Brazilian fan’s flares and drum-sticks had a tendency to end up in the rectums of opposing supporters, so they’d been banned on safety grounds. The bobbling breasts haven’t been officially banned, but it was a bit of a cold day.

Brazil is very American, which came as a bit of a surprise as I expected it to be more European, given the Portuguese influence on its history. I suppose if the bonds of tyranny have been released, the slave trade abolished and it’s safe to get the gold out from under the mattress, who are you going to feel closer to? The former oppressors or Mickey Mouse? Although in the reign of King Trump I would imagine Mickey is about to stick two fingers up to anybody from South America.

Prior to my trip I was indeed dealt plenty of warnings by the British Foreign Office, especially about going out at night. They claim it’s a dangerous place after dark and I’d be better off staying safely ensconced in my triple-locked room on the 27th floor of The Hilton.

I went out, lots, and I didn’t have many problems. I think their dire warnings are more about making sure that our BFO chaps over there don’t have their weekends disturbed by bailing out British tourists that have taken full advantage of the very cheap beer.

That’s the impression I got from the rather irate BFO official when he had to get me out of the cells in the early hours of Sunday morning.

To see my other posts about Brazil click here.