“Never stop walking.
You must make the cars respect you or you will never get anywhere.”
Ricardo, my local friend and travel companion, tells me this on my first day in Sao Paulo, while pulling me across a downtown intersection between four lanes of constant traffic.
I can hear a loud thumping sound above. I look up to find a helicopter taxi preparing to land on top of a skyscraper.
Looking around me I notice there are people everywhere. Thousands are walking along bustling foothpaths next to tall buildings, while endless cars, buses and trucks battle their way forward along huge highways.
A street vendor working hard to sell sunglasses knocks me out of my trance. I let out a soft “nao obrigada” (no thank you) and decide to follow Ricardo’s instructions to keep walking.
Sao Paulo is a monster. As the largest city in Brazil and the southern hemisphere, it’s massive, intimidating, and on my first impression, not very attractive.
But what Sao Paulo lacks in natural beauty, it makes up for with creativity and dynamic nightlife. Its underground bars and relentless 24/7 clubbing scene are among the best in South America.
My first experience of tasting Brazilian beer is at Bar Leo – an old rustic place in the city centre, decorated with German relics and famous for serving chopp, pronounced “shop”.
I was a little shocked as the waiter handed me the small glass of beer, served ice cold and almost entirely full of creamy foam. I couldn’t help but wonder “where is the beer?”
The smooth, light beverage is the most popular way to order beer on tap in Brazil and it quickly becomes my favourite way to drink it too. However, you must keep an eye on overly attentive waiters. They roam the bar ready to place a new glass in front of you just before you finish your current one, without asking if you want it.
After a few chopps, we head off in search of a good party. Wanting to avoid the chaos of clubs dotted along Rua Augusta, my Brazilian friends take me to Trackers, on the third floor of a former office. From the outside, it looks as anonymous as any other corporate building in the city centre.
Once inside, I walk a full loop of the space and am swept into three pulsing dance floors. I discover various grimy graffiti ridden alcoves and a balcony for fresh air. I know immediately this will be my favourite club in Sao Paulo.
The location and energy make it feel like a little sister of the Berlin scene. Paulistanos are bringing abandoned and alternative spaces to life by pumping them full of electronic music.
While you have to be careful to follow the right DJ to the right venue, going to Trackers is a safe bet for a good underground party. I was pleased to find the drinks, which you purchase with pre-paid tokens, are cheaper here too.
Another afternoon I make a brief stop at a boteco – a small low-key bar selling cheap food and drink. It’s not a classy establishment. It looks more like a neighbourhood grocery store, where a mix of retirees and hipsters are enjoying the relaxed atmosphere with a cold beverage.
My friends and I order a “garrafa” of beer, which comes in a 600ml bottle, and divide it among us. It’s custom for everyone to share the same beer in Brazil. They do this because they’re very friendly but also because they’re crazy about keeping drinks cold in the tropical climate.
The boteco is simple yet enjoyable but we don’t stay long. It’s time to go to a party inside a highway tunnel.
We approach Franklin Roosevelt Square and cautiously peer inside the tunnel beneath, scanning our eyes across the crowd and absorbing the vibe of this unusual venue.
Walking in, there are people dressed in full costumes while others are wearing the minimum you can get away with in the hot and congested conditions. Everybody is dancing.
The party feels edgy and improvised. Portable sound systems are blasting music above the rumble of generators needed to power the DJ’s equipment. A group sells cheap drinks in coolers to help cover the cost of electricity.
It would be easy to think this event is illegal but the mayor has authorised the use of the tunnel for parties. Cars travel through it most days, but on Sundays it’s closed to traffic. When transformed into a club, partygoers know it as the “worm hole”.
My friends and I spend a couple hours dancing and people watching, as punks, hippies and unconventional characters jump and spin around us. The tunnel lights are bright and hypnotic.
This unique venue is unlocking a new form of DIY nightlife in Sao Paulo. It shows the willingness of Paulistanos to create their own fun and make use of every square inch of their city.
“The tunnel party is one the most important events to happen in Sao Paulo in years,” Ricardo says while on the dance floor.
“Because it represents a new spirit of co-operation between the mayor and partygoers, that allows people to occupy public spaces.”
There is a fierce counter culture in Sao Paulo giving the city a reawakening. Young people are pushing their innovative ideas and desire for excellent entertainment into abandoned buildings and the public domain.
For all of its brazenness and traffic jams, Sao Paulo does take a while to grow on you. But allow it to show you its charisma through hidden parties and small bars.
You will find within the haze of drizzle and hot concrete, that this enormous metropolis is a sexy capital of nightlife, electronic music and alternative culture.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Qantas flies to Sao Paulo via Santiago (qantas广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,); Aerolineas Argentinas to Sao Paulo via Buenos Aires (aerolineas广西桑拿,.ar).
STAYING THERE: Vila Madalena Hostel is a clean stylish hostel located in a safe bohemian neighbourhood (vilamadalenahostel广西桑拿,.br).
PLAYING THERE: If you don’t know a local, Viator has a four-hour English tour to discover Sao Paulo’s nightlife (viator广西桑拿,)
For more on Sao Paulo, visit: timeout广西桑拿,.br/sao-paulo/en.
* The writer travelled at her own expense.