Moon handbooks: Brazil

May 4, 2009 | By More

The mailman just delivered a fresh copy of the Moon guide to Brazil. Before you begin wondering, I don’t do paid reviews; this is rather an acknowledgement of receipt. Although the content of the book is the entire responsibility of Salvador-based and knowledgeable author Michael Sommers, I made a small contribution to the guide with a dozen photographs that illustrate different pages of the book.

I really need to bring myself to writing a review of the main guides on the field. For that, I would need to get hold of them in the first place, though. In the meantime, keep in mind the fresh content of the Moon guide, a true joy to read. Couldn’t resist quoting Michael’s take on São Paulo traffic:

Althought São Paulo is definitely a city in which cars rule, you’ll have to possess vast amounts of patience (and a certain degree of insanity) to consider renting a car here. Traffic is a nightmare, parking is a nightmare, and rainstorms (when streets are instantly inundated due to poor drainage) create nightmarish flooding. Add carjackings, the exhaust fumes of thousands of idling buses, and the hundreds of daredevil “motoboys” who weave in and out of traffic on scooters, and you’ll really appreciate sidewalks.

You can purchase the book from Amazon, following the link below. As Amazon makes the Look Inside! option available for this title, you can browse through some pages of the guide and get a feel for it before making any purchase. Click on the link; on the following page click on the title of the book to reach the page where you’ll be able to click inside the cover and browse through the contents of the guide.

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Category: General

Comments (4)

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  1. Paul says:

    Not really a matter of poor drainage, it really is just too much rain falling to fast over Sao Paulo in the rainy season only.
    Michael’s paragraph gives one the impression that it rains all the time, everyday, which is not the case.
    Even during the rainy season you might have only about 3 or 4 really bad days with localized flodding which don’t deserve the exagerated generalization.
    The heavy traffic is a more constant characteristic.
    However one can avoid heavy traffic in Sao Paulo if the visit to the city is planned during the School vacations which are December, January, February and July, then driving a car will be a pleasure.


  2. Tony says:

    Paul, thanks for your comment. I would definitely say poor drainage is one of the main causes of flooding in São Paulo. So much so that there is ongoing (and neverending) work in several parts of the city trying to put an end to the problem of the sewage system unable to cope with heavy rainfall.
    Of course it doesn’t rain all the time, in the same way the sun doesn’t shine the whole time in Bahia. It’s just a paragraph where general comments are made. You are right, it only rains heavily during half of the year.
    My experience of localized flooding is quite different from yours. Every single time it rains during the rainy season there can be between 10 and 40 points of localized flooding in São Paulo (that would happen between 30 and 60 times every year). Just check at the São Paulo’s local authority CGE and you’ll see. Next to where I live there are two points that flood *every* single time it rains.
    As for your advice on when to drive in São Paulo, I strongly disagree on December, it a notorius month where the largest traffic jams are regularly recorded. As for January, it used to be quite a pleasant month, but unfortunately that is no longer the case. So much so that traffic restrictions are no longer lifted during that month the way they were in the past.
    For someone who’s been driving in São Paulo on a daily basis for 9 years Michael’s comments get the feel of what is like to take to the wheel in this city.

  3. Paul says:


    Thanks for answering me.
    Let me explain why I believe “poor drainage” is not the main factor of flooding in Sao Paulo and also why the problem is VERY hard to be fixed.
    I have read books and watched documentaries on the subject.
    I understand as drainage, the city’s underground galleries of channels that serve as the city’s “big drainage” system.
    These galleries were very well built, they should be able to handle the amount of water expected from a typical Sao Paulo downpour and they usually do a very good job at it.
    In other words, the drainage system is great, it is reasonably large and proper for the typical rain expected in Sao Paulo.
    The city is very dilligent with the task to keep trash away from the drainage system, which is constantly cleaned and well maintained. so the water does drain properly.
    What has happened over years is that the city has grown too much and too much concrete has covered the Metropolitan area. Sao Paulo doesn’t have enough land “exposed” as raw dirt where water could just soak into the ground or sit on top of vegetation until it evaporates.
    Because of the city’s vast coverage of concrete, water doesn’t soak into the ground hardly “anywhere” in Sao Paulo, it all runs along the streets and into the drainage system, if you have trees, they hold a lot of water, buildings and tile roofs don’t.
    So, the only way to fix this problem would be to replace sidewalks with grass or gravel to allow water to run into the ground or to increase the city’s percentage of green areas.
    However these are very expensive and not practical solutions.
    The city doesn’t have enough parks or open green areas and no space to built new ones.
    So, the problem is not the drainage, the drainage system is great, the problem is TOO much water not soaking into the ground because of the concrete, the soil is sealed with concrete, so all the extra water that would stay on tree leafs or sink into the exposed “dirt” soil, runs into the drainage system, over saturating it and causing a lot of localized flooding, specially in lower areas.
    I lived and drove around Sao Paulo for most of the 90’s so I will take your word for the traffic situation in December.
    I also agree with you regarding the localized flooding, but localized flooding doesn’t stop the city completely.
    I was referring to the big floods that really stop the traffic and make it hard for people to move by car, those, as far as I remember where probably somewhat a rare occurrence happening between 2 or 4 times per year and some friends from Sao Paulo confirmed that it hasn’t changed much depending on the year.
    Not enough to scare off any visitor to the city from renting a car and driving around.
    Today I visit Sao Paulo at least once a month for work reasons. I always rent a car and never have any problems driving or parking, I might add that I always choose parking lots over city streets for safety reasons, but I also do that in New York City, Frankfurt and San Francisco.
    It is good to remember that an “automatic” car would be very good advice for the city’s stop and go traffic and an A/C if you are in Sao Paulo between January and March.
    However, the reason I think Mike’s paragraph is an exaggeration is because it makes one think Sao Paulo is impossible for a tourist to drive around, he took some extreme circumstances and made them sound like the norm, not fair and most of all, not accurate a tourist guide.
    I have many friends from New York who go to Sao Paulo for tourism, usually for long 3 or 4 day weekends.
    I give them advice, they usually rent cars at the Airport, request a “Hertz” never lost system ( GPS ), make sure they get an “automatic” and they are good to go.
    They drive all over the place, from the “Hospedaria dos Imigrantes” and everywhere in between the Mercado Municipal and Embu das artes, they go out at night to night clubs and Pizza places and love the experience, keep in mind these are New Yorkers.
    I would have to agree with you that someone from New Zealand, Greensburg, Kansas or Wasilla, Alaska would be intimidated by the big city and should probably hire a taxi to move around.
    They all have a great time, the GPS takes them everywhere they need to go, no one ever complained they had to change plans because of the rain, flooding, heavy traffic or lack of parking.
    So, if Mike is writing a guide for people visiting Sao Paulo, his guide is doing a disservice to Brazil, to Sao Paulo and to all the visitors that read his guide by scaring them off with inflated and exaggerated comments that mislead instead of inform them about the city and how to enjoy it best and more efficiently.
    I understand what you said about localized flooding, if you live near Vila Madalena or somewhere around Pinheiros, Aclimacao, Perdizes or similar hilly areas I can tell you, it isn’t an exaggeration.
    There is localized flash flooding frequently, these areas are TOO hilly and completely paved and heavily settled, water accumulates fast and runs down the hill at incredible forces.
    I was having a Pizza at “Santa Pizza” in Vila Madalena with some friends a couple years ago and when we came out of the restaurant there was a “pile” of cars, maybe four or five cars on top of each other.
    We had no idea how those cars got on top of each other when the valet guys started explaining that while we were in the Pizza place it rained and the rain got strong and a “river like” rush of water dragged a half a dozen cars down the street, the bottom of the street was flooded, so the cars floated around like they were in a big blender, while the rush of water drained down the drains…
    It all started and it was all over within 25 minutes, the water was gone ( thanks to the great drainage system ) and all we saw was a pile of cars left neatly on top of each other like toys.
    The scene was surreal, but locals told us certain street are avoided during heavy downpours because they know the phenomenon very well and deal with it just fine by avoiding it the low areas during heavy rains.
    But, as you well know, generalized flooding happens with much less frequency than localized flooding and it shouldn’t be a reason to stop anyone from avoid driving in Sao Paulo.
    I think people who form opinion as the someone who writes a “guide” should have the responsibility to avoid silly and unfair generalizations and exaggerations that would misguide instead of guide the visitor seeking tips from it’s book.
    My wife is born and raised in Sao Paulo, her entire family still lives there and she helped me to write this opinion with the perpective of a local.
    By the way, I think you do a terrific job in your blog. Keep up the great work!
    I learn a lot about Brazil with you and appreciate you sharing all the information here.

    Best regards


  4. Tony says:

    Hi Paul, thanks again for your lengthy message and appreciation of the work we do here. As time is of the essence, I am going to put and end to our discussion here. The blog entries are opened for any other input exclusively related to the topic of the Brazil Travel Blog, ie, travel tips for anyone coming to Brazil. The purpose of this entry was simply to acknowledge the publication of the Moon Guide. No room here for discussing the intricacies of São Paulo.

    Before finishing, let me quote from an specialist on the issue of flooding in São Paulo: “O problema é a drenagem. Quando chove muito forte, e com o solo impermeabilizado, os bueiros não dão conta.” (Hassan Barakat, engenheiro do CGE da Prefeitura de SP). And contrary to what you state, localized flooding on two or three places will bring the traffic to a halt, whether it is the Anhangabau tunnel or the space under a bridge along the Marginal Tietê (where there are no hills of any kind).

    Now, you are entitled to have your own opinions, but I think it is unfortunate you should state that Michael’s guide is doing a “disservice” to Brazil. Bear in mind the argument could be easily reversed and applied to you. Fortunately, Michael is aware of the responsibility someone who writes for the general public has. When handing out advice about Brazil, both him and I play the cautious card. I’d rather put an experienced New Yorker driver on the shuttle bus to town than an average driver behind the wheel at the Marginal Tietê. I know dozens and dozens of friends and relatives in São Paulo, born and bred here, that are just too afraid to drive in this city (even tough they’ve had a driving licence for years and will drive ok elsewhere). End of the discussion.