We finally got away from the city of Sao Paulo. Tom, Scott and I spent the weekend in Maresias, along the Littoral Norte, the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Two and a half hours from the city, and a whole different world.

We’d left the pups with a couple and their daughter, who were recommended to us by an acquaintance in the International Newcomers Club, who said that the dogs would love playing in the dogsitter’s garden and yard; sounded good to me, so we called. The sitter and her husband and daughter picked up the pups on Friday night, and said they’d deliver them back on Sunday. Such a funny sight to see them drive off in their black 4Runner, with Cricket’s face peering over the open window. Off to camp!

Saturday morning, we slept in and then hit the road. The edges of the city are where the working folks live: favelas and other neighborhoods roll up and down the hillsides, typically blazing with the colors of clothes hanging on clotheslines. We drove out of the city, and knew exactly when we’d hit the edge when the billboards appeared.

I was surprised to hit countryside and water as soon as we did. It actually reminded me of the coast line up around Annapolis, Maryland.

We drove through green hills for a distance and then went through three very long (3,000 meters-plus) tunnels, descending from the 2,500 ft. altitude of Sao Paulo to the coastline. And suddenly, we were in the tropics!

I forget that we’re in the tropics, but the banana trees and lush verdancy of the lowlands quickly reminded us. And the air felt heavier, though that could have just been the fog that socked in as soon as we began to descend.

Bananas were for sale alongside the road, and we were amazed at the number of people either walking or riding bikes next to the highway.

We passed several beach towns along the way, before one last climb and then a descent into the bay of Maresias. What a sight: white sands and hillsides descending right to the water’s edge.

Drove through the windy roads of the village and found our home for the night: the Katmandu Pousada, which Scott had found for us online: a funky hotel with lots of character, and very reasonable, about $75/night for three of us. We had a two-story “chalet” that could sleep seven, though there wasn’t a lot of room to sit. (This place also had the requirement that you can’t flush toilet paper, but dispose of it in a can. Fairly common in Brazil, though tough to get used to. Some of the U.S. State Dept. apts. are still that way; thank God, ours is not.)

After checking in, we walked in search of lunch, dining at a new outdoor restaurant that had opened only two months before. We were the only customers on this dark, damp, cool day at the beach. Post-lunch, we sought out the beach and the fresh, clean air. Sat on the drizzly beach for about an hour and then decided to seek out the Olympics at the hotel TV.

Found the common room upstairs in sort of a tree house, furnished with couches and chairs, a hammock, and old antiques that just seemed to have found their way into the loft room. Two fellows were already watching the Games, so we joined them, and later shared a beer with them: Giovanni and Tiago. They had both lived in the U.S. and spoke English, so we had a fun couple of hours talking sports with them while we watched judo, Women’s Handball (I had never seen the sport before), and Women’s Basketball (not interested in the least). The nice change from the U.S. is that several channels were showing the Games, and there were few, if any, commercials. True, everything we watched featured Brazilian athletes, but that was wonderful. It didn’t even matter that we couldn’t understand most of the commentary. Such a nice change from U.S. network coverage.

After they left, the three of us spent the rest of the evening up there, eating pizza we’d had delivered, and in turn being eaten by either fleas or no-see-um mosquitos, who dined on American flesh all night.

About midnight, we returned to our room, next door to Giovanni and Tiago’s room, which rocked with music and laughter until the wee hours of the morning. Our lovely room smelled of mold (it is the tropics, after all), but the worst part was the smell of urine that emanated from our mattress, reminding me why we usually spend the big bucks to stay in nice hotels (though, this was honestly one of the nicest in the area). Gag. I had to turn off both my ears and my nose in order to get through the night.

But morning brought sunshine, breakfast by the pool, and then the beach! And with the sun came umbrellas and beachgoers. The beach was packed as we found chairs and an umbrella three rows back from the water’s edge. The water was hop-in warm, though most Brazilians would say it was too cold to swim in. You couldn’t really swim, since the beach was super-steep and the undertow was fierce. We basically stood and battled the waves, rejoicing in the feel of the water and the fresh air. Fortunately, it’s a winter sun, so we didn’t burn, as we would have in the summer.

Budweiser. I has.

Several beers and caiperinas and a light lunch later, it was time to head home. We checked out and hit the road. The GPS estimated our drive time to be 2.5 hours, but traffic got a bit backed up (the “humps” in the road at every village slow traffic significantly) and we finally got to Sao Paulo just before 8, and went in search of the pups, calling ahead to say we’d pick them up, since they were on our way. (I also wanted to see where they had stayed, of course.)

We followed the GPS off the main road and then began winding our way through the streets of a major neighborhood (favela?) with narrow streets crowded with cars, motorcycles, and hundreds of people sitting on steps right against the roadway. Unable to see beyond the next turn, I sat gripping the GPS and guiding Tom through the hairpin turns on the cobblestone roads that threatened to bounce us off the street and into the gutters.

We were aware that we didn’t belong there, in our Toyota Highlander with diplomatic plates. Scott said he’d never felt so unsafe in his life. We all felt the same. No tangible reason, just the impression that we didn’t belong and everyone knew it.

When we arrived at the address, there was no sign of what building we needed in the ramshackle honeycomb of buildings, the dogsitter wasn’t answering her phone, and there was no way we were getting out of the car and walking (or leaving the car). So, we tucked tail and got the hell out of Dodge, calling and leaving a message that we couldn’t find their place and asking if they would please deliver the dogs after all. As Tom said later, two worlds collided at that moment, and we were the first to blink.

I had visions of never seeing the pups again, but they were delivered to us an hour later, seeming no worse for wear. If only they could talk! I’m loathe to send them there again. It was likely fine for them, but I think that was their only sojourn in that neighborhood. (Want an idea of where they were: GoogleMap 135 Deputado Gilberto Chaves, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Then, go to street level. It doesn’t look nearly as scary in the daylight photos as it looked at night!)

Next weekend, we’re off to Rio for four days! (But, gotta find someone else to watch the pups….)