Back from Brazil


After a whirlwind couple of months, I am now back in London after a busy, interesting, and ultimately very successful business trip to Brazil.  While I didn’t have much time to see things outside of the hotels (and the subway systems) in Sao Paulo and Rio, I did get at least a taste of Brazil.

For being the world’s fifth-largest country in both population (closing in on 200 million) and land area (just a bit smaller than both Canada and the US), I feel like Brazil is pretty unknown in much of the world.  This might be due to sheer geography (isolation), but also reinforced perhaps culturally, economically, etc.  I finally had a chance on the airplane back to read up on Brazil’s history and culture, and I find the colonial parallels fascinating (i.e. Britain is to USA as Portugal is to Brazil), but also how much Brazil has changed recently!

As always I endeavor to write more later, but I want to share a selection of images while they are relatively fresh…

From the window of the plane leaving Sao Paulo for Rio, you can see the endless expanse of Sao Paulo - no matter how you measure, it is in the top 10 largest cities in the world, and metropolitan Sao Paulo has almost exactly the same number of people as metropolitan New York.

This is what I was there for, in short - the amazing crowding and volume of passengers handled by the subway in Sao Paulo. This is Se Station, the massive interchange between lines 1 and 3, where something approaching a million people pass through each day! On the busiest platforms, there are "pens" to hold people waiting to board the next train, and they use up to two security guards per door of the train (and there are 24 of those!) to manage the boarding process.

The station is practically perfectly designed for high capacity, with separate platforms for boarding and alighting (meaning no conflicts between people getting off the train and those getting on), and very wide platforms with multiple fast escalators. Without this excellent design, the system simply would not function.

Besides the subway, the metropolitan trains serving outer areas are also popular - this is Luz Station, a 1901 station that was actually designed and built in Glasgow, then disassembled and shipped to Brazil. This platform is full, but what you don't know is that a train (that was empty when it arrived) has just left, leaving these people behind!

Look at this collage of people, several levels deep, climbing out of the deep tunnel with the brand-new, super-modern metro line 4 to connect with metropolitan trains. Most busy places have escalators in tandem, providing great capacity and redundancy.

Itaquera is the eastern terminal of Line 3, the busiest metro line. It opened in 1988 as a huge subway, bus, and metropolitan train interchange - can you see that late 70s/early 80s design shining through?

This is Paraiso station, which first opened in 1975 and now serves Lines 1 and 2. Note the massive use of concrete, which is typical of the time period and the original sections of the metro.

After the main meeting I had a little time to see part of the city, so a colleague and I ventured out on Saturday to the municipal market in the city center ("Centro" area). We were on guard, and saw some potential trouble, but had no problems. This market had lots of fresh foods, lots of people, and very nice stained glass panels as the outside windows.

On the Sunday I flew up to Rio; as the crow (and the airplane!) flies it is about 220 miles away, slightly north but mostly east.  That is roughly the same distance  as Washington to New York, or New York to Boston.  With that distance and a monster-sized city at each end, it would seem to be the perfect place for high-speed rail…alas, there is not even a conventional train service available, so it is either highway bus or airplane at the moment.  Brazil is planning high-speed rail, expected to be operational on this route by the 2016 Olympics, so we’ll see – the current plan calls for a trip time of less than 90 minutes for the 250-mile route with construction costs of only about US$18.5 billion (compare that with the California project!).

Anyway, I digress…to Rio!  Unfortunately, the weather was quite lousy the whole (brief) time I was there, which admittedly did make it easier to relax a bit and focus on work (seeing the metro and meeting with them).  There was a near-constant drizzle, but I was grateful for the cooler-than-normal temperatures.  I also managed to squeeze in dinner with a former colleague who worked with me for 6 months in London earlier in the year.

Unlike Sao Paulo, which was an endless but pretty flat and boring vast universe of urbanity, Rio is a bit smaller (~12 million total vs. ~19 million in SP) and punctuated by water and mountains, making for some spectacular scenery.  It is also dirtier and, for what I experienced of the two cities, felt more dangerous (as well as more “developing” and more in keeping with my own mental image of huge South American cities – for whatever that is worth!). My Brazilian colleagues have told me that Sao Paulo is a bit more formal and reserved (the financial capital), while Rio is wilder (perhaps the fun capital?), and I think I could follow that (although, of course, it is easy to see something when you are looking for it!).

Now on with a few pictures (none of which managed to really capture the great views)…

Ipanema beach, from a very quick pass through - no time to even stop for food or drink! You can see the classic beach scene, but also the rotten weather...

A classic beach volleyball setup, with no beachwear-clad Brazilians around. Rio is full of these somewhat crazy, craggy peaks popping up here and there.

This picture, more than any other, captures both Sao Paulo and Rio - despite the beautiful scenery and generally nice weather, virtually every single building (or at least any sort of residential buildings) is something of a fortress. This directly facing the beach in Ipanema, right near that nice sidewalk and biking/jogging path.

The streetscape in Ipanema of bustling and upscale shopping streets with one-way traffic and the general building scale and style actually reminded me of parts of Manhattan.

I managed to catch a picture of this hamburger chain, which I saw in several places - I have to share it here for my father. If I'm mentioning him, though, I have to note that I DID NOT see the girl from Ipanema there 🙂

I spent even less time at Copacabana Beach, as it started to rain harder - but I did see this sand sculpture mentioning the upcoming Olympics. For 2016 Rio has A LOT of work to do to get ready, and seem to be behind in starting construction. There's also the World Cup happening in Brazil, most prominently Rio, in 2014 - so Rio will be on the world stage a lot in the next few years.

I'll end with a Rio subway picture - Rio's subway is pretty small, especially for the size of the city! There are two lines which partially overlap, with 35 stations over about 29 miles of track - but still manage to carry more passengers weekdays than any US system except Washington or New York (about 660k). This is Central Station, which is the busiest because it is below the main bus terminal and the suburban train terminal (made famous in the movie Central do Brazil). The design of the original stations actually reminds me quite a bit of the Market Street subway stations in San Francisco (BART + MUNI).

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Posted on 11/11/2011, in Transit, travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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