7pm on a Sunday night, and we’re going clubbing. Not just any club either. This congregation of Sao Paulo’s hipster night dwellers is being held in a dated brick industrial factory, complete with towering chimneys and an underground labyrinth of tunnels. Our local friend Juliana meets us at the entrance and leads us four Kiwi’s into a dancefloor completely lit up from above, not like the dark grindfest you’d usually expect. To one side are several clothes racks just in case you showed up in the same outfit as your friend, or more likely, just wanted to buy clothes at a nightclub because well, that’s what hipsters do. In the case where none of the attire on show takes your fancy, you simply walk downstairs, through a dark underground dungeon serving as another dancefloor, into another room where you can purchase art, and even vinyl records. In the claustrophobic tunnels which run below the factory you can gaze up into the huge brick chimneys and get a sight identical to being stuck down the well in the film ‘The Ring’. This is all topped off with another area outside that pumps Brazilian electronic to the revelers bopping up and down on their acid trips in what probably used to be a lovely garden for the factory workers. The place was hipster as fuck, but we loved it.
A little over 20 million people live in this quirky metropolis, so it’s no wonder the nightlife caters to a variety of tastes. One night we walked into a nightclub where people were getting tattoos on the floor – $13 for as many as you want, and if that incredible deal doesn’t sway you, tattoos on the face, arse or genitals are free. Unfortunately we opted to save our money; we’d been told about D-Edge, an electronic nightclub that rated as one of the best in the world, which in a city that is already one of the most expensive in Brazil, wasn’t going to be cheap. At 11pm one night we sought it out, hitting a congregation of people where we expected the club to be. It was the back of a line which stretched a good 50 metres. Making the decision to wait was partly due to not knowing where else we could go, and made easier by the fact the line was supplemented by beers and spirits from several entrepreneurial street vendors. Drinking in public is legal in Brazil, so eventually to pass the time, we began playing drinking games. Some locals joined in, and before we knew it, it was 3am, the line to get into the club serving as the host for our spontaneous party.
We called it quits that night without getting in, but fortunately, being world cup time, we were never short of fiesta opportunities. Watching Holland beat Mexico right at the death in their knockout game was special; the Mexican fans were going ballistic earlier in the match when they scored, throwing full cups of alcohol into the air and embracing with a primitive enthusiasm. However two late goals from Holland sent us and the other Dutch supporters into a frenzy; the cheering echoing off the dull skyscrapers which caged the fan fest in. That evening Juliana showed us the neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, where a huge street party was going on. “It’s like this every night in the world cup” she told us as we pushed through throngs of people extending in every direction while vendors carrying polystyrene bins full of beer kept their thirsty gobs satisfied, “but on the days Brazil play, it’s even bigger”. A moment later a dark haired guy walks up to Juliana and starts saying something to her, but she waves him away promptly, telling me that he, like countless other Brazilians, are taking advantage of the world cup, faking a broken Portuguese accent to seem like a tourist. Brazilian girls are attracted to gringos I’m told. How unfortunate.
Sao Paulo, although it does it very well, isn’t just about the partying, it’s cultural scene is what people more sophisticated than I might be inclined to call: ‘happening’. In our time here we visited a contemporary art museum on the border of scenic Ibirapuera park. It had elephants made of foam, magazine collage posters, and random words printed on the floor like fridge magnets. I knew at that point Sao Paulo was a city of the world, because it had wanky artists making wanky art, just like the rest of us. A trip to the famous football museum also proved a worthwhile excursion; even though the exhibitions were mostly in Portuguese, it was huge and ultra modern, with many different areas designed in funky styles, interactive sections and exhibitions covering the history, rules, players, goals, basically everything related to the world of football.
Not necessarily a tourist attraction but just as exciting, riding Sao Paulo’s extensive metro system in rush hour was an experience not forgotten easily. You’d think in a city with five times as many people as there are in the whole of New Zealand that four gringos would be able to fit in, yet squashed in a metro carriage tighter than an elevator with Kim Dotcom is where we stood out the most. At the metro station only about three people would be able to detach from the waiting mob and squeeze them self onto the arriving carriage and even then they were compressed, palms up against the glass like a gecko. A fully vacant train eventually arrived but despite successfully boarding, there wasn’t enough room to even pick your nose. As we approached our station we realised the door we needed to exit from was on the other side of the carriage. Mike unfortunately was closest so got the full force of the rest of us urging him forward, yelling like midwives at him to push as we tried to nuzzle our bodies through the pack. It became clear we were fighting a losing battle and ended up having to retreat, exiting at the next stop with the eyes and giggles of an entire carriage on us.
Our last night in Sao Paulo was a Saturday and we had a bus out at 10am the next morning, yet we were still bitter about our failed attempt to enter D-Edge. We decide to return, giddy in our confidence that because we were arriving at 9pm this time, we’d go right to the front of the line. Well we did, but only because there was no line. In fact, there was no people at all, no bouncers, no music from inside. The doors were closed, the nightclub, comprehensively, explicitly, shut. Turns out, as Juliana told us over message upon asking for other recommended clubs, D-Edge opens at 11pm on Saturday’s, and stays open until no less than midday Sunday. After killing a couple of hours we returned, entering in what can only be described as ‘Tron: The Nightclub’. Strobe lights burst sporadically from the ceiling and floor beneath us, while colourful equalizer bars bounced on the walls in sync with a godly deep bass. The dancefloor was packed, the drinks were horrendously expensive, but we stayed there, in a trance of deep robotic tunes intersected with gasps of fresh air from the roof top terrace, until 8am, when we emerged, wincing like vampires into the blistering white of the morning sun. Staggering half blind onto and off the metro, time marched on as a sobering reminder that we needed to pack our bags and get to the bus terminal, with now less than an hour to do so. We careened around our hostel room like groggy toddlers shoving anything that appeared in our tunnel vision into our backpacks, before rushing back to the metro, the extra baggage threatening to topple our wobbly legs at any moment. The climax came as we exited the metro and sprinted through the crowds as fast as our drunk feet could go, bags bouncing everywhere, dazed eyes screening the signs for our gate. If we looked like gringos before, at this point we may as well had flashing lights and a giant arrow above our heads. We did, predictably, miss our bus, but our whirlwind tour of this incredible city meant our attempted exit from it was wildly appropriate. Thankfully we were able to book another bus free of charge for that night, but the city had floored us, literally. At 7pm that Sunday night, we were in as close as a healthy person can get to a coma, but Sao Paulo, often termed South America’s ‘city that never sleeps’, was still wide, wide awake.