Tag Archives: danger

Brazil: Don’t step outside or you might be robbed!

The other day I met a British visitor here in São Paulo. It was her third day in the city and she was travelling with a government-arranged party, visiting various cities over a two-week visit.

During those three days she had only seen the inside of the hotel, offices, or a chauffer-driven car between the two. She was not in back-to-back meetings, so there was spare time available, but her [UK-based British government] hosts had advised her to not go out alone.

Her hotel was on Alameda Santos. For anyone who knows São Paulo, that’s one block away from Avenida Paulista, one of the biggest, busiest streets in the city – a place always full of life and excitement.

I know that any new place can be intimidating. I remember my first ever visit to Mumbai and despite my initial terror at the incessant activity all around, I still managed to take a walk around the Gateway of India and a few other obligatory sights. When I spent a lot of time working in Singapore I would regularly hang out in Serangoon on Sunday afternoons watching Bollywood films on a makeshift screen in a car park – I was almost always the only white face there, but always felt welcome.

In São Paulo there is the language difficulty for visitors, there is also the sheer size of the place… the city is enormous with the greater area having a population three times the size of London. It’s also a place without the touristic features of Rio – the obvious destinations that appear on postcards home.

But some cursory research would have shown that this hotel was in one of the safest places in the city and just a block or two from the art museum – hardly the mean streets of gangland.

She was immensely grateful as I not only guided her around the city centre, but also took her on the public transport system, and to an edgier neighbourhood to try the local draft beer. It humanised the city for her.

I am going to contact the Consulate about this – maybe I can help them to produce some more up-to-date information for visiting business leaders. It’s a shame for visitors to have the ‘dangerous Brazil’ myth thrust at them even by official advisors. Sure, there has been a wave of murders here recently, but it’s gangs against cops – nothing the ordinary person sees.

I’ve never felt any sense of threat at all while living here, but maybe that’s just from following the same rules anyone should follow in a major city – especially when unfamiliar with the neighbourhood. Don’t stand out too much (Versace suit when everyone else is wearing Vans), don’t hold your iPad at arms length placing a video call as you walk down the street, and if you are out after dark then just make sure you have an idea of what the neighbourhoods are like if you are wandering around a new place.

But then, this might just as equally apply to a Brit arriving in New York for the first time, or a Brazilian arriving in London. Be sensible and you can enjoy a visit to São Paulo just like any other place!

Sao Paulo

Do you cycle in London?

I’m a London cyclist. I spent years cycling as a commuter from Muswell Hill to the City, then Mayfair when I changed job. Now I’m based in Ealing and I still use my bike to head into central London, though less often than I used to because I no longer have a job that needs me in the same place everyday. I still use my cycle to get around west London though.

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday and she thought it was funny – “you on a bike?” I’ve turned up to the House of Lords for a meeting in riding gear once, much to the displeasure of the suited peers, until someone mentioned how incredible it is that someone is cycling to a meeting, at which point everyone started talking about the environment… and in 2008 I jumped on my bike in Ealing one day and cycled to Manchester, just because it was summer and I had a couple of days to spare.

But I started cycling regularly for a number of reasons. It’s faster than public transport in London, it’s fun, it’s free (sure, you need to maintain your bike, but it’s relatively free), and it’s fitness that you can get without needing to block out gym time… it’s exercise on the way home from work or on the way to a meeting so it’s a lot easier to find the time.

The biggest fear people have of cycling in London is safety. Even those of us with a lot of city cycling experience can end up under the wheels of a lorry, just because the driver is not paying attention – three cyclists have died this way in London so far this year.
Police on bicycles at Waterloo bridge

The London Cycling Campaign is endlessly working to improve safety, and has had some recent practical success like ensuring that the 3,000 truck drivers working on the Crossrail project will all be safety-trained to be aware of cyclists. But’s it not enough. One visit to a city like Amsterdam shows that the general public can and will use cycles to get around a city for short journeys – if they feel safe. The LCC is calling for:

– Compulsory cyclist-awareness training for lorry-drivers
– Banning lorries from cycle routes or during rush hour
– Better-designed lorries for the urban environment, including mirrors
– Stricter enforcement of current speeding and road laws

Take a look at the LCC website to find out more, and have fun if you are on the Critical Mass ride this evening. It’s always a great spectacle, but with a real message too.
Critical Mass Los Angeles