The Seduction of São Paulo

By the time I had finished my chores and prepared to settle in for the evening the phone rang. Amazingly, it was Beto Sempa, a Brazil Rider from São Paulo. How did he find me? And that fast. I simply sent out a brief e-mail to the Brazil Riders contacts provided me by Salvador and Alex from Belem. In less than a couple hours Beto had tracked me down. We agreed to meet the next morning and he could set me up in the house of one of the other Brazil Riders or a more economical hotel in a more interesting part of town.

For the next three or four nights I stayed at the Gavea Palace Hotel, a extremely simple, yet comfy and economical hotel smack in the middle of São Paulo’s motorcycle commerce district. Beto walked me around the 4 or 5 square block indubitable city of motorcycles within the 2nd biggest city of the world. There was every conceivable accessory, part or motorcycle to be had. Classic vintage motorcycles impeccably restored, helmets, leathers, tires and more for blocks and blocks. Some buildings were motorcycle malls including 4 or 5 floors of nothing but motorcycle oriented parts, garb and accessories. The district services every conceivable motorcycle rider. But at first glance most of the customers appear to be Moto Boys. These are the ubiquitous motorcycle delivery drivers that zoom through the thick traffic and deliver everything and anything. While I was entering the city the other night these riders would swerve by my at blazing speeds. They’d split traffic so tight that I cringed. And they ride shoulders, over medians and for the most part appear to be lawless. You would hope that the auto and truck drivers would be used to these guys. But sadly São Paulo has perhaps the highest percentage of motorcycle fatalaties in the world:

Five motorcyclists are killed on the streets of São Paulo every day.

But beyond moto boys, deep into the motorcycle culture of Såo Paulo I found classic bikes, restored and lost models. There’s a passion here. And I could smell it. However, at night the area turned a tad on the scary side with frightening-looking prostitutes and other shady characters. But this was no problem as during my nights I spent with my new friends including André Tadeu, the owner of a hair salon and who had spent a couple days riding with Salvador, Marcio Mello, who jokingly told me his name sounded like marshmallow, and who for the rest of my time I simply called Marsh Mellow.

These guys took time out of their lives to spend each night with me taking me to meet other friends, motorcyclists and going to events, bars and restaurants that I or a typical foreign visitor to São Paulo would never go. I also had a chance to spend some time with Leandra and her friends who I met while staying at the Hotel Costa Rica in Buenos Aires.

The city is huge. I spent a day walking around and another riding the mass transit subway system. Marcio took me underground and showed me the ropes on how to truly travel the city – to avoid the traffic. I noticed a lot of work on the buildings around the city. I learned that the billboards will all coming down. A new city ordinance now prohibits outdoor advertising. This is a good thing because the character of the city and its architecture were obscured by the blatant promotional messages. The next time I visit, I’m sure SP will have an even different feel when all the “noise” is cleaned up.

It was easy to get seduced into the culture and absorb the the warm hearts and new friends that surrounded me, but as life goes on the road, I had to move on. Eager to get out of the city and breathe fresh air and gaze onto the limitless horizon I set my sights for Ihlabela, the largest island on the Brazilian coast with mountains and dormant volcanoes, dense jungle and more than 300 waterfalls. Beto was kind enough to ease the pain of finding my way out of the big city and escorted me about an hour outside of the city where we bid farewell after one final cafezinho.

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Beto at one of the dozens of motorcycle accessory shops that comprise this four or five square block area of São Paulo City.

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On the left is Sergio of Winner Motorcycles, one of my first stops in the city within a city of motorcycles, who before I left helped me clean, lubricate and tension my chain, tweak my Jesse brackets and spot check everything on the bike in his shop.

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Of course while in his shop I decided that I would try to offer my hand at helping him put the final pieces back together on a late model Honda 400 street bike he just completely restored.

It’s amazing at the variety and what you can find in classic motorcycles in this moto city, I liked this old Triumph

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But maybe a Royal Enfield would make a better bike for world riding?
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Business can be slow with all the competition, too. Some shops were bare, bones, rugged and eclectic.

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Others neatly polished and complete with cafés and lanchonettes.

But you need to be careful because some shops may not be reputable, such as this one who was caught selling stolen motorcycles. The police closed up shop and hauled away all the bikes while I and nearly everyone on the street watched.
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The owner of the Gavea Palace Hotel (GPH) with Marcio, me and Beto. Note the caricature in the background of the owner. This is actually a full life size
 cutout of him on a Harley-Davidson. The place is decorated with moto paraphernalia and there are photographs of bikers from all over dotting the walls.
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One of the things I was extremely uneasy about was writing two-up with Beto through the streets of São Paulo at night. Called “garupa” for two people riding one bike, it’s a little disconcerting when riding with someone you just met, during the evening and on two wheels in a massive city. But he hauled me around to a barbecue and through the major sites of the city. I grabbed some video footage while on the back—check it out!

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Marcio Mello and proof of his name. On the right in the back ground is Andrés
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Portuguese and Spanish lessons and discoveries were part of one evenings
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Andre showing perhaps the best beer made in Brazil – Original Antarctica.
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While my Portuguese is getting better, I’m such a novice. But somethings don’t need translating. Jokes and good beer with friends.
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Beto offering a comparison between Original and Itaipava – two Nactional
 Beers of Brazil.

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Leandra (left on the top photo) and her friends whose name escapes me at a local pub

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This machine in a bathroom at a local restaurant is a first for me. While toothpick dispensers are common tables, this is the first time I saw self-service dental floss available in a bathroom.

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Andre and his wife display the device that is used to prevent the decapitation of motorcyclists from glass covered string that sometimes finds its way across a road where motorcycles may be traveling.

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One night I enjoyed a barbecue with members of Beto’s motorcycle club. Above next to me is the president of his club. Below is the master chef cooking the tastiest asado in São Paulo.

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The bikes line the street outside the pub where the asado was held.

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Marcio and his bike before I left São Paulo

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Beto at the Petrobras station an hour outside of São Paulo, where he escorted me safely out of the maze of the city streets and infamous traffic.

1 reply
  1. Angie
    Angie says:

    What a blessing to have Beto escorting you out of San Paulo!! I can’t believe 5 people die a day in San Paulo on their motorcycles! I’m sure they drive crazy though thru the city streets. The night at the restaurant experiencing the asado looked like SOOOO much fun and seeing the workings of the big city with the help of friends sounds like a wonderful experience! So many memories you will have in years to come :-)!!!


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