24 Hours in São Paulo

Yes, I know what you are thinking: “São Paulo is huge! How much can you really see in 24 hours?”

Indeed, São Paulo is an endless jungle made of concrete, asphalt and human beings, but with a good planning you can carve your way through it and discover the beauties hidden in the tangle.

I spent 3 days in Sampa (as locals call it), but I was there for a fair, so the time I could dedicate to exploring was rather limited. But I was lucky enough to have my “personal guide” for the first two days: a local friend and ex-university colleague, whom I was really happy to hang out with!

So if you happen to visit this beautiful city but you are in a rush, here is an itinerary that can help you make the most of your time.

ITINERARY

1Start from Beco do Batman. If you visit it in the morning, chances are there won’t be many people around and you will be able to get a nice view and nice shots of the main graffitis. This place gets lively at night, since there are many bars and pubs around but, from what I heard, it can get rather crowded. Spend 1 – 1.5 hours here.

2Ibirapuera Park. A beautiful green oasis in the middle of a huge metropolis! This is an amazing place to go for a walk, relax and enjoy both nature and the urban skyline. It’s not far from Beco do Batman and you can either take a bus or Uber (which is pretty affordable in Brazil) to get there. I’d suggest you spent 2-3 hours here. The Afro Brazil Museum is located inside the park. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit it so if you get a chance to go there I’d be happy to know what you think about it.

3Praça da Sé and Downtown São Paulo. Visit the cathedral and the beautiful plaza in front of it. From there you can walk to the main attractions the downtown area has to offer: São Francisco and São Bento Monasteries, Pátio do Colégio, República, Liberdade (the Japanese district). Be aware of your surroundings, especially when you take your phone or camera out to take pictures and try not to go there at night. But don’t get paranoid about safety! Three hours should be enough to visit the downtown area.

4AVENIDA PAULISTA. You can’t miss this one. Enjoy a stroll along one of the most iconic boulevards in South America. If you want to get a really nice view of the avenue and the surrounding area go to SESC Building’s last floor (for free!). I suggest going there late afternoon so you can get both a daytime and nighttime view of São Paulo. Your Instagram followers will thank you!

There is much more to São Paulo than just the places listed above, no doubt about it! Yet you don’t need that much time to visit the main attractions.

If you want to know more about my impressions on São Paulo click here. In my next post I will address a very important topic when it comes to visiting Sampa: safety!

Five Things I Loved About São Paulo

I got to spend 3 days in São Paulo earlier this month (April 2019). I love Brazil, so this was a real treat for me!

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from it since most of the reviews I read were rather negative. Yet I was pleasantly surprised!

I know 3 days are not enough to really get to know the city and the local culture, so my impressions might be a bit superficial, yet if I liked it, there might be other people that would find it interesting too.

So here we go…

1HUGE CITY – While this might be a turndown for some people, it is something that intrigues me a lot! São Paulo, Shanghai, London, Paris… bring them on! I love getting lost in a big city! Skyscrapers everywhere, amazing skyline (especially at night), lots of people and fast-paced everything (except traffic at rush hour)… I’m sold!

2INCREDIBLY DIVERSE PEOPLEPaulistanos are very racially mixed and diverse, so wherever you come from and whatever your ethnic background is, you will not stand out! You can be black, white, yellow, red or green with purple polka dots – you will look paulistano!

3GREAT SUSHI – “Wait, what!?” Ok, sushi might not be a national dish in Brazil, but São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese diaspora, which has been present there for 2-3 or more generations now. Therefore, sushi is not just very common, it also tastes amazing.

4NATURE AND TROPICAL FEEL – As soon as I got outside of Guarulhos Airport I was welcomed by trees and a very green view, which combined perfectly with the hot and humid weather. Yes, São Paulo is a concrete jungle, yet there are pockets of nature around that make you forget about the city’s hustle and bustle.

5NICE PEOPLE – Brazilians are probably the nicest people on planet Earth. Every person I met in São Paulo was really down to earth, friendly and easy going! Kudos Brazilians!

In my next posts I’ll share with you a 24-hour itinerary and some tips on staying safe, so stay tuned!

Have you ever visited Sao Paulo or any other Brazilian city? What were your impressions?

Lesser Known Places: The Land of the Teeny-Weeny (Part 2)

In the first part of this article I introduced you to Chiquitania, a fascinating region in Eastern Bolivia, that is still rather unknown and underrated.

But being underrated might be a good thing: it is unspoiled by mass tourism and it preserves much of its authenticity. So hurry up and visit it before it gets too popular!

This post is meant to give you a few practical tips for visiting Chiquitania and doing the Missional Tour (the tour of the Jesuit reductions).

Three-day Itinerary

If you want to discover the depth of the local culture, unveil the mystery of the Jesuit Reductions and immerse in the beauty of the landscape, I’d suggest you spent 3 days traveling the Chiquitania.

Day 1: San Javier and Concepción

Day 2: San Ignacio and San Miguel

Day 3: San Rafael and San José de Chiquitos

Though I highly recommend the 3-day itinerary, if you don’t have much time you can do a day-trip to Concepcion, or San Javier and Concepcion.

The main attraction in each village is the church. Yes, they are all very similar to one another (except the one in San José), yet they are all unique when it comes to details. Each village tells the same story, but each one in a different way. You can see this in the patterns featured on churches and houses and in the harmonious mix of European, criollo and indigenous styles.


SAN JAVIER

San Javier is the “gateway” to the Chiquitania and it was the first reduction built in what now is known as Bolivia.

Transportation: there are busses that leave every 2 hours from Terminal Bimodal in Santa Cruz (salidas provinciales), starting from 7:30am – look for the ticket office of TransGuarayos. There are also trufis (collective vans) that leave all day long as soon as they fill up. Trufis are generally faster but more expensive and more uncomfortable than busses.

Cost: 30 Bs for the bus, 35+Bs for the trufi

Time: 4 hours

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours

Tourist attractions: the church, the museum annexed to it, the house of General Busch (a Bolivian statesman) and the mirador (a small park featuring some rock formations).


CONCEPCION

This is my favorite Chiquitano village and the one I got to visit the most times. Take some time to stroll on the streets around the plaza and soak in the uniqueness of the village.

Transportation: the same busses and trufis that go from Santa Cruz to San Javier go all the way to Concepción. You can wait for them at the small bus terminal on the main street in San Javier.

Cost: 10 Bs for the bus, 10+ Bs for the trufi

Time: 1 hour

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours

Accommodation: there are many hotels around with prices usually ranging from 30 to 100 Bs per person, per night. During national holidays, however, the village fills with tourists from Santa Cruz and prices double.

Tourist attractions: the church, the museum and the represa, a water dam where you can chill and enjoy the blue water and the green surroundings. Beware of piranhas if you decide to take a dip!

SAN IGNACIO

I didn’t expect much from San Ignacio, yet it was a very pleasant surprise! The village was bigger than I thought, clean and very pretty. It’s central plaza is probably the most beautiful among all the Chiquitano villages and the church did not let me down either.

Transportation: there are only trufis that go between Concepcion and San Ignacio. Make sure you ask what time the trufi leaves the following day, as soon as get to Concepcion, since there are only a few rides a day. They leave from the “surtidor” (the local gas station).

Cost: 50Bs

Time: 2.5 hours

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours

Tourist attractions: the church, the plaza, the water dam and Cueva de Yeso (Gypsum Cave) on the other side of the dam. This is a nice place where you can relax and enjoy a little bit of fresh air during hot days. Also, check out the ice cream shop on the left side of the church. They serve really good açaí.

SAN MIGUEL

The road between San Ignacio and San Miguel is not paved yet and San Miguel is much more rural than the previous 3 villages. It is here where you will start to feel that you are actually in a really remote place.

Transportation: there are trufis, at the terminal in San Ignacio, that leave for San Miguel as soon as they fill up.

Cost: 12 Bs

Time: 1 hour

Time needed to visit the village: 1 hour

Accomodation: there are not many hotels around. Half block from the plaza you can find one that has rooms starting from 40Bs per person. They also offer a very delicious and complete local breakfast for an extra 20 Bs.

Tourist attractions: the church is the only attraction in San Miguel. It stood out to me for it’s intense colors and the beautifully ornamented interior. The village is very pretty but I think it is worth spending more time in San Ignacio, as there is a wider range of restaurants and tourist attractions, and only briefly visit San Miguel.

SAN RAFAEL

Just like San Miguel, San Rafael feels very rural and remote, yet I do recommend stopping here, on you way to San José.

Transportation: there are trufis leaving twice a day from the main plaza in San Miguel and going to San Rafael. Make sure you find out what time it leaves and you buy your ticket as soon as you get in San Miguel. When I visited, the first trufi left at 11:20am, and then there was a second one at around 2pm. But timetables are subject to changes.

Cost: 12 Bs.

Time: 1 hour

Time needed to visit the village: 1 hour

Tourist attractions: the only thing you can visit here is the church which, by the way, closes at lunch time – and that’s exactly when I went to visit. One thing I noticed is that there are not many many eating options around.

SAN JOSE DE CHIQUITOS

Out of all the Chiquitano villages, San José is definitely the biggest. It is almost urban I’d say. Also, the church was one of the last ones to be built and it is the biggest and most unique one among all the Chiquitano churches. It doesn’t resemble any of them.

Transportation: there are trufis from San Rafael to San José. Make sure you buy your ticket as soon as you get in San Rafael.

Cost: 50 Bs

Time: 2.5-3 hours (mostly on dirt road)

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours.

Tourist attractions: the church, the museum – which I highly recommend – and Santa Cruz la Vieja (some ruins in the place where Santa Cruz was first located), just outside San José, which I didn’t get to visit. Around the plaza there are many eating options.

At the bus terminal in San José there are trufis leaving all day long for Santa Cruz. Depending on the season, they costs from 40 to 80 Bs.

Mototaxis

In every village there are mototaxis that can take you around for 3 Bs. They might ask for more if you need to go a longer distance (like from the plaza to the water dam in Concepcion or from the plaza to the terminal in San Ignacio).

Beware that timetables and prices might change over time. I did the tour in March 2019, and at that time 1 Bs was around 0.14 USD.

So…

If these posts and my pictures did not convince you, then just trust my word: Chiquitania is amazing! Hurry up and go visit!

Three days, 1000 km, ten thousand emotions and countless stories to tell.

Reverse Culture Shock

I’m dealing with reverse culture shock (RCS) right now.

Reverse culture shock: the distress you experience when you go back home, after spending some time away.

Nothing new, nothing unexpected, nothing extreme. But it’s there and I can’t ignore it. Gotta face it!

Stuff I Feel and Think

I knew this transition was not going to be easy but I’m a very positive-minded person and that is helping me deal with RCS a lot.

One thing I like to do these days is to sit back and analyze my thoughts, feelings and reactions to the environment I find myself in right now and to the situations I’m experiencing (very deep person here!). So here are a few things I have thought and/or experienced:

  1. Day One: “Ok, this is not that bad. I think I can deal with it.”
  2. Day Two: “Nothing has changed, yet everything feels so different”.
  3. Day Three: “I’m not sure I can still speak Italian…”
  4. Day Four: “I don’t like these people. I don’t like how they talk, what they talk, how they think and what they think. I don’t belong here!”
  5. Day Five: “Can someone please give me a job and send me abroad. Like ASAP!”
  6. Day Six: “Like seriously, get me out of here!”
  7. Day Seven: Act awkwardly at the barber shop because the last thing you want is to interact with your hairdresser, who is trying to start a conversation with you about local topics you don’t care. “This is a good day to ignore me!”

Did I ever take traveling for granted? May I never do that!

Traveling is a privilege and a blessing and I am forever grateful for all the amazing opportunities I’ve had so far! RCS is the downside of it but if that’s the price I need to pay, bring it on!

P.S.: If anyone wanted to make a poor travel blogger happy and offer him a trip to anywhere, I would not say no. Just saying…

Lesser-Known Places: The Land of the Teeny-Weeny (part 1)

I have recently reached a goal I did not set for myself: travel to at least 30 countries before turning 30. And, man, I am so grateful!

Yet after visiting so many places, there is one thing I have started to grow weary about: mass tourism!

People’s sincere desire to discover the world and to immerse into its rich diversity of cultures and ecosystems is slowly (or perhaps rapidly) killing it. I’m part of the horde, so I take the blame!

Good News!

But hey, there are good news!

There are still many hidden gems around the world, places where few tourists have ever set foot in. They are rich of color, culture and authenticity and they’re ready to teach you about beauty, history and sustainability.

Chiquitania is one of them!

Chiqui-what?!

Chiquitania! Eastern Bolivia.

Yes, there’s more to Bolivia than just the Andes, cities at breathtaking high altitudes and Quechua and Aymara culture.

Spanish speakers will find the name a bit funny, I know, as it is a derivative of “chiquito”, which means “tiny”, or “teeny-weeny”.

Though it is hard to render it in English, Chiquitania would roughly translate to “The Place of the Teeny-Weeny”.

“What the heck…?!”

Me.

But the name tells the story of this mystical place!

The Name

When the first Spanish colonizers arrived to what today is known as “Chiquitania”, one of the things they noticed was the low entrances people had to their homes. They were supposed to protect them from mosquitoes and tigers and people had to crawl in order to get in.

Hence the name!

The Story

Chiquitania’s story talks about conquest, colonialism, subjugation, redemption and reinvention.

The arrival of the Spanish colonizers had a devastating effect on native tribes. Epidemics and fights decimated the local population and many survivors were forced into slavery.

But there was one alternative: Jesuite reductions. These were self-sustaining political and religious communities governed by Jesuits (a Catholic order), who were helped by caciques (native leaders), to which the Spanish monarchy granted special status.

A sort of a State within the State.

Yes, reductions were a way of imposing European culture and religion, but at the same time they offered protection against slave traders and a sustainable political and economic organization.

Chiquitania Today

The Jesuits were expelled from South America in 1767, which meant the end of the Reduction system and the ruin of many of the churches built there.

Yet in the past decades Chiquitano churches were restored and in 1990 they were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The main tourist attraction Chiquitano villages offer today are their beautiful churches, which mix European baroque and indigenous styles, and the Baroque music festivals.

The churches are a perfect representation of what Chiquitania is today: a place where European and indigenous cultures meet, fuse and coexist in harmony.

Despite its beauty and rich culture, not many foreign tourists venture into the Chiquitania, which makes it a perfect place to visit if you want authenticity and peace.

In my next post I’ll give you some tips on the itinerary, cost and other details!

P.S.: What are some unique places you guys have visited that haven’t been spoiled by mass tourism yet? Comment below!

Traveling Made Me Racist

No, this is not a click bait. It is a brutal, honest truth I am ashamed of and struggled with.

I have thought a lot about whether or not I should write and publish this article and the reason why I decided to do it, is because I believe it can help other people overcome racism too. We don’t have to hide it, we have to talk about it!

First of all, let me tell you that I come from a working-class, immigrant background and I experienced racism myself – though it was not because of my skin tone but rather because of my nationality. Also, I have spent the last two years working with indigenous students in Bolivia and trying to promote integration. So, realizing that deep inside I harbored racist thoughts shook me and made me ask myself a couple of questions.

But let me tell you how these feelings came to the surface.

She doesn’t belong here!

I was at a nice coffee shop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, enjoying coffee and getting some work done. I had been there before but something caught my attention this time: there was a lady sat at one of the tables that stood up to me. Unlike all the other clients, who were either white or mestizo, she had clear Andean indigenous traits, and my first thought was that she did not belong there.

I felt embarrassed and worried as I caught myself thinking that.

How and when did I start believing that certain people do not belong to certain places? How and when did I start to judge people based on their ethnic background? How and when did I start to feel superior because of a lighter complexion?

Structural racism

Bolivia is a racist country! It’s the truth and it’s hard to sugar-coat it.

Just like other countries coming out of a colonial past, racism is structural here and there is a clear ethnic hierarchy. And having an indigenous president did not wipe away 500 years of discrimination.

But let’s face it, this is a problem that concerns both ex-colonies and ex-colonizers. Europe is experiencing a dangerous increase in racist attitudes and so does the USA, Oceania and many other parts of the world.

How to deal with it

The environment we live in, the ideas circulating there and the general attitudes people have, affect us more than we realize or than we might want to admit.

But I believe there’s a way out!

We don’t have to act according to our feelings but according to what we know it’s right. Our feelings will catch up eventually.

I know we are all equal. I know every single person is valuable. I know everyone is worthy of love. Therefore, I choose to live by that.

Am I 100% racism-free? I don’t know. I hope I am. But I’m determined not to let it creep in and affect the way I treat and think about people.

“You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free!”

Jesus Christ

Disgusting Food I Love

Normal people traveling: “Where can we find a nice restaurant where we can try good local food?”

Italians traveling: “Where can we find pizza and pasta?” (sorry for stereotyping you, dear Italian readers, but you guys know this is not that far from the truth, after all)

Me traveling: “Where can I get the weirdest food people eat here?” ‘Cause YOLO, right?

So here’s a list of disgusting or weird things I have eaten around the world:

Worms

Can’t say no to some fried worms, can you?

I tried them in Johannesburg, South Africa. They tasted a bit like chicken liver, just drier. They came with something similar to smashed potatoes, but I can’t remember what it was.

Crocodile

Big bad crocodiles have tender, fishy meat. Who would have thought?!

I guess below that tough skin there is a soft heart! – I tried it in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Red Ants

Wanna add a little bit of spice to your white rice? Why not throw in some red ants? – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tarantula

First time I saw fried tarantulas on a stick I wanted to try them but did not have the guts. Second time I thought it might be my last chance so I went for it!

The legs taste a bit like French fries while the body reminded me of dry chicken liver.

I tried it in Siem Riep, Cambodia.

Armadillo

Well, armadillos are not disgusting, they’re actually cute and they taste like chicken with a bit of pork.

I tried armadillo in an Ayoreo indigenous community in Bolivia.

I love trying weird, disgusting foods but there is only one thing I could not eat: SNAKE.

What are some uncommon foods you guys have tried? Feel free to comment below.

“You’re Eating Snake!”

“Daniel, you’re eating snake!”

I panic, I freeze, I stop breathing and I go pale in less than a second.

But here’s a little bit of context.

Big mistake!

March 2012.

I’m a young, unexperienced solo traveler visiting Peru. A few friends I met in Lima invite me for lunch at a chifa restaurant (places selling Chinese-Peruvian dishes).

First time eating chifa, but I don’t really care what the ingredients are ’cause “I eat anything!“.

Previously I shared with my friends that I am herpetophobic. Big mistake! Never tell your friends what you fear if you want to live a tranquil life.

Chifa

Pranked!

So while I’m enjoying my arroz chaufa, my friends tell me I’m eating snake.

Heart attack in 3… 2…

It’s a joke!

Thank goodness! Now I can keep eating my freaking arroz chaufa. I just wish my hands didn’t shake like a leaf and I could get the fork to my mouth!

Bon appétit!

What I’ll Miss About Bolivia and What I Won’t

After almost two years in Bolivia I’m preparing to leave in about 3 weeks.

I love transitions and I’m excited for the new season that’s about to start, yet I know I will miss this country a lot.

I usually try to see the good and the positive in everything, however I decided not to sugar-coat this post and be honest about what I like and what I dislike about Bolivia. At the end of the day there is no such a thing as a perfect country.

So here are a few things I’ll miss about Bolivia, and others I won’t.

What I will miss

The weather

This is one of those things that I struggled to adapt to at first but that I eventually learned to love.

I live in Santa Cruz, which is hot and humid almost all year round and I don’t have air conditioning in my apartment.

But I learned how to deal with the heat: drink lots of water and take cold showers! Also, I think of it as a sauna: a free, natural way to sweat the fat out!

Alexander’s Café

I’m a coffee lover and Alexander’s Café has almost become my office. I go there from time to time to relax, do work and enjoy coffee and air conditioning.

Açaí

Açaí is an Amazonian fruit that has become extremely popular recently. Lots of places selling it have sprung up like mushrooms.

It is usually served with other fruits and my favorite one is blended with Hershey’s chocolate and comes with banana and bits of coconut.

Highly addictive!

Music on public busses

Latino music is definitely my kind of music and many bus drivers like to play it out loud. Which I love!

Yes, some play bad music but I can deal with it!

Flexibility

There’s always a solution in Bolivia.

To anything.

Literally!

I’m not joking!

The church

This is one of the things I’ll miss the most.

It’s not easy to find a good contemporary, Holy Spirit-filled, introvert-friendly and not institutionalized church. Yet La Roca church is all of these things together.

I feel I have grown a lot as a person here, got into a much deeper personal relationship with God and learned to hear his voice better!

The people

When I lived in Europe my Latino friends used to say I’m too cold and insensitive.

I know I’m not particularly people oriented, but one thing I have learned here is to value relationships more. So I have made many friends here that I’ll be missing a lot!

What I won’t miss

People littering in public spaces

I think this is mainly a Santa Cruz thing, since other big cities, like La Paz and Cochabamba, are much cleaner.

I see people tossing wrappers away every single day and I find that extremely upsetting. I wish people had more respect towards the environment and public spaces.

Lack of punctuality

I knew as I moved here that people have a different perception of time, that they will be late at meetings and that I will have to be patient and wait.

I thought I would get used to it over time, but I didn’t. And as a matter of fact, this has massacred my neurons more than anything.

Often when I’m waiting for people to show up I wish I could take the first flight out and not come back ever again.

But then I calm down.

Bolivia is a wonderful place after all!

I Touched the Sky – Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats during rainy season feels a bit like touching the sky.

My heart beating, my soul breathing

I found my life when I laid it down

Upward falling, spirit soaring

I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground

Touch the Sky, Hillsong United

My heart beating, my soul breathing… better than my lungs. ‘Cause the altitude, you know!

Upward falling, spirit soaring – the water covering the salt surface creates an amazing mirror effect. Up and down becomes relative and sky and earth contiguous.

I’ll be leaving Bolivia in 3 weeks and I got a bit emotional about it today. I guess that explains why this post is so poetic. But here are a few raw facts about Uyuni (’cause I’m Eastern European after all… can’t get too emotional!)

Raw, unemotional, apathetic, coldhearted facts

  1. Location: south-western Bolivia, Potosi department
  2. Altitude: 3,656m / 11,995ft – which makes it the highest salt flat in the world
  3. Area: 10,582 sq km / 4,086 sq mi – the largest in the world
  4. Natural resources: salt (duh!) and lithium (more than 50% of the world’s reserves).
  5. The city of Uyuni is the gateway to the salt flats and tours usually include a visit to the train cemetery just outside the city.
  6. We had lunch in a restaurant made of salt.

And yes, “I touched the sky when my knees hit the ground”.