destination, usually for travel professionals and the media, sponsored by an airline, with other expenses picked up by local hotels and restaurants
to “familiarize” them with the area. I know this now, after going on my first “Fam”. In a word, it’s a blast.
Brazil, as far as I am aware, despite being the largest and most advanced country in South America, is still a third world country. With
unemployment rates as high as 40% in some areas, poverty is an overriding force for much of its people. In the big cities, visible numbers of the
population live in sub-standard slums, called favellas. Despite this fact, Brazil is home to the world’s largest remaining rain forest, and with it a vast
amount of natural resources, many of which are yet to be realized. Brazil does not import oil; it is self-sufficient for its energy needs. Brazil is the
world’s biggest user of ethanol for cars. The US would do well to follow their lead.
Everyone has seen the pictures of wild revelry and ornate costumes for Mardi Gras celebrations. Rio is famous for the multi-day parades and
parties, not to mention the bikini filled beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. But I knew very little of the rest of the country. And what I did know
was not exactly Chamber of Commerce approved. News stories of armed motorcycle gangs raiding tour buses, pick pockets stripping tourists
of cash and passports or prison-led assaults on government facilities in Sao Paulo have trickled into the American media. Rarely is there video
footage, and these stories are limited to a sentence or two, but it’s not the kind of press that makes one want to fly across the world to be in Brazil,
beaches and Mardi Gras notwithstanding.
In fact, as an American who reads multiple newspapers each day, I had very little direct information on which to base an opinion about Brazil.
The New York Times doesn’t even list Sao Paulo in its world weather reports. The last I checked it was the 3rd largest city in the world behind
Mumbai, India and Shanghai, China. Reports vary, and the parameters may cause find it 5th, for instance if you compare surrounding areas.
Nevertheless, Sao Paulo, Brazil is a city of some 15 million, with a metropolitan area of approximately 23 million, yet I knew next to nothing about it.
To put it mildly, I was trepedatious (substitute afraid, nervous, worried, anxious, doubtful, and very excited).
I began my trip at the TAM Airlines check-in counter in Miami, where two beautiful young women in front of me were struggling with 16 full-size
and fully loaded suitcases for transport to Sao Paulo. By comparison, for a change, I was traveling light, with just 1 bag to check. At the gate I met
the first M in this story, MARCIA, a TAM Airlines executive who would accompany us on the trip. Now how fun is that! MARCIA, originally
from Rio, was by far the most photogenic of the group, and she always managed to pull a smart, wrinkle-free outfit out of that suitcase of hers.
The flight from Miami is 7-8 hours, and along the way TAM attendants serve several meals, hawk duty-free goods, and otherwise make for a
pleasant trip. Each seat on the flight I was on had a personal video system with several movie and television choices. I was in Sao Paulo in no time.
After a simple pass through customs we were in a comfortable van to the NH DELLA VOLPE Hotel, a block off Avenida Paulista in the heart