Posted by: Josey | March 27, 2009

A São Paulo Travel Idea: Rent a Bicycle in Parque do Ibirapuera, Part Two

Read part one here.

It wasn’t long before I was hungry—and craving a fresh coconut water of my own. So I walked my bike up to a stool at one of several luncheonettes that lined Parque do Ibirapuera’s paths, and I engaged the kickstand. When the young man behind the counter approached, I whispered, “Coco” and pointed at the tuna sandwich in the refrigerated display case.

When I’m traveling alone in a country where I don’t speak the language, I subtly try to play the pointing game whenever possible. That way, although the waitstaff may assume I’m a tourist, other passersby won’t hear me speaking English, or a poor, jumbled attempt at the local language, and see me as a target. (Check back soon for more of my safety tips for traveling alone.) But I also don’t like to miss opportunities to interact with the locals. The man smiled and asked me a question in Portuguese.

“Español?” I asked him quietly.

“Si!” he responded. I’d been squinting at the staticky soccer game on the TV that hung in the corner of the luncheonette over the espresso machine, bunny-ear antenna dangling below. In Spanish he explained that he wanted to know if I’m a fan of one of those teams.

“No,” I told him. “I prefer basketball. But I was studying abroad in Barcelona when Barça became campeones. So, even though I never even attended a game there, if I’m a fan of any soccer team, it’s that one.”

“You’ve never been to a fútbol game? Fútbol is like a religion here in Brasil. It keeps our kids out of trouble.”

“Well, I’m actually going to my first game tomorrow! I’m going to see Fluminense play in Maracanã Stadium in Rio. I hear it’s one of largest stadiums in the world. Who is your favorite juguete?” I asked.

He tried to mask a smile as he told me about the top players on his favorite team, Santos. He cleared his throat as he asked me about my favorite basketball juguetes, and I told him about growing up in Chicago during the early ’90s when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin made it look so easy to win year after year.

I finished my sandwich and he removed the remaining crumbs and crinkling plastic on the ceramic plate. I thanked him and wished him well, and I biked off into the haze. And about twenty minutes later, I realized why the polite man at the luncheonette seemed so amused: Jugadores, not juguetes, UGH! Instead of asking him about his favorite players, I’d been asking him about his favorite toys.

So much for blending in.



  1. juguetes vs jugadores-very funny, I could have made the same mistake-park looks like fun

  2. Hello, I’m brazilian and live at Sao Paulo city. It’s nice to read your post, because it’s a different point of view of the same place I live every day.
    To rent a bike at Ibirapuera’s park during the day is a really nice thing to do.
    Nowadays, on sundays, you can even extend your tour taking the ciclovia (cycle way), which are reserved portions of the road exclusively for bikes, until 16h.
    Have you found dificulties to find people speaking english? I think you probably had, mainly with the attendants of small food places.
    Last week I was having my lunch at a bakery when I saw four foreigners having some trouble with the woman in cashier. She was trying to ask them if it’s correctly that one of their cards is empty or it was a mistake, but the foreign guy thought she was asking him to pay something he didn’t have.
    The sad thing is that some jobs here are occupied by people with less study, and the probability to find someone speaking english at this jobs are very low.
    But of course, it’s easy to find people speaking english at hotels, good restaurants, and even in the streets, in neighborhoods like Moema, Jardins, Pinheiros etc.
    The good thing is that most part of brazilians are very kind to foreign people, and try to help wheneverit can (I got myself helping those guys at the bakery).
    Just for instance: the correct portuguese word for “players” is “jogadores”.

  3. I loved your comment, David–thank you so much! If only I’d run into you while in Sao Paulo, we would’ve had a wonderful conversation in English (and perhaps you could even have taught me more Portuguese!)…

  4. Thanks. And if you stay here again someday, you are welcome to send an email invitation for a bike ride with us.

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