After Iguazu I took a 17 hour $60 bus (ugh) to São Paulo. There wasn’t much I wanted to do there (most tourists say skip it) but it broke up the trip towards Paraty, a place I’d heard good things about.
São Paulo is one of the biggest cities in the world in terms of population, and the Brazilians compare it to New York (but with much, much less charm). If a tourist stops there it’s usually for a flight out, because they really love museums, or because they have a friend who lives there. I was originally going to spend just one night but my hostel was super clean, air conditioned, and had an outlet next to the bed. I spent three nights just to revel in that glory.
My first day in São Paulo I did a free walking tour of Paulista Avenue, the city’s ritziest neighbourhood. Hate to say it but I was unimpressed. It was a lot of ugly concrete buildings and the few historical mansions left in the area were crumbling and covered in graffiti. We did visit a park that was nice and we had some good food. Those were the only highlights.
São Paulo is known for its nightlife, though, so when a Stranger Friend I’d met on the tour suggested we hit up a nightclub I’d actually heard of (supposedly Brazil’s best) I was all for it. Sadly our hostels were in completely different parts of the city so a meet up would involve a metro ride alone to a neighbourhood I didn’t know in the middle of the night.
Lonely Planet’s “Dangers and Annoyances” section warned of such risky ideas and I was barely a week into my trip (aka still extra risk-adverse) so ultimately I decided to bail. I would not be getting shanked tonight. Instead I decided to join in on my hostel’s advertised outing: a “Greek Party.” It turned out to be quite the event.
I met up with my fellow hostel-stayers in the lobby for caipirinhas beforehand. The group was pretty low key, aside from a large and in charge drag queen that would be accompanying us. Apparently he worked the hostel reception by day. He hit up the clubs in drag by night.
Being a “Greek Party” a few of us dressed in togas made of bed sheets but I decided to opt out on that one, sporting my lone backpacking bar outfit (also used as a sightseeing outfit…and dinner outfit…and just another Friday outfit).
I asked about the bar we were going to and a few people said they’d been there once and that it was fun, though they had never been for a theme night such as tonight. I assumed this would be a run-of-the-mill night out.
We grabbed a cab and headed to the party. Upon arrival the bar seemed fairly average, though with some questionable decorations. Mannequin body parts adorned the walls and the heavy use of strobe lights made me nauseous. I headed to the bar for a caipirinha.
The night started out pretty slow, just a few of us dancing to your typical Brazilian music (with our accompanying drag queen keeping things entertaining), but as the night wore on things got increasingly weird.
It started when a below average-looking local arrived in jean shorts and a crochet vest (and only a crochet vest). Tits-a-hanging, she made her way to the dance floor. A bit odd, yes, but everyone else seemed fairly normal so I didn’t think much of it. I headed to wait in line for the bathroom (which included a full shower housing the bottom half of a mannequin).
The bathroom line was lengthy (there was one toilet…for an entire bar full of people) and by the time I made my way back to the dance floor the scene in the place had changed.
A large number of hippie folk had arrived in togas, though their togas weren’t entirely work appropriate. For the women the fabric dipped low, covering only one boob, with the other hanging wild and free, smeared in paint and glitter. They moved through the bar dramatically slow, taking long steps, and greeting each other with lengthy kisses and looks of adoration.
The male togas were standard (think: college frat party), but they carried bowls of fruit, prancing around doing back bends, hand feeding the patrons grapes with a flourish. I am not exaggerating here. They would literally walk up to you, hold a bunch of grapes in their hand as they bent over backwards, grasping your chin all lovingly trying to get you to open your mouth. One guy carried a jug of wine, attempting to do the same, but the place was now cramped with hippies so more of the wine ended up on the floor than in the bar-goers’ mouths.
Their dancing was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think a written explanation can do it justice. Picture Britney Spears’ Slave For You music video, where her back-up dancers are all writhing against each other in some sort of strange sweaty dance orgy behind her. I’d say that’s the closest comparison. At one point someone brought out 20 feet of tulle so they included that in their dancing, holding it above their heads, draping it over each other, twisting and turning about.
This was getting to be a bit much for my sober self so I headed to the bar for a second caipirinha. Sadly this would be my last drink of the evening as I greatly underestimated the bar drink prices. I was distraught. This party was not a place one should be sober.
Heading back to the dance floor I noticed the DJ for the first time. He stood behind the turntables, completely naked (this was not someone you would want to see naked) except for a headband full of vertical strips of fabric hanging over his face. As he danced to the beat of the music the fabric swayed back and forth. Other things swayed back and forth, as well…
I really did try to have a good time, pretending to enjoy the weird hippie music and excessive club lighting as I danced with the token hostel drag queen, but in reality this was just too weird for me. The people, the outfits, the dancing…it was too much. I headed back to the bathroom just to escape from the crazy.
Except it was impossible to escape the crazy. Next to the bathroom was a small door-less bedroom and me being apparently too curious for my own good decided to glance around the corner.
They were having a seance. The room was filled with candles, someone was playing the tambourine, and a group of about 10 were in the middle of the room, hugging one another in a circle, swaying and singing. The perimeter of the room was filled with couples making out on the floor…like…erotically.
It was time for me to go home.
If for some reason half naked hippies are your thang and my story makes you want to visit São Paulo, I’m sad to say you may be out of luck. Apparently this evening was not what the hostel expected and the locals confirmed it was a really weird party.
The next night I drank on the street with some British Stranger Friends and approx. 50 Brazilians followed by a samba club with live music and I’d say it was much more São Paulo-esque. That and graffiti. São Paulo (in particular Vila Madalena) loves its graffiti.
A weird night out in São Paulo.