June 2010

Brazil is a wonderful place to be for the World Cup. We’ve had a ton of fun partying and cheering along with the diehard Brazilian fans! One game we watched overlooking the ocean at Picinguaba, which was awesome – beautiful view in front with yellow and green dressed fans behind.

Even though the below pictures don’t show it, we’ve also enjoyed watching the US make it to the next round. I love hearing that people in the states are more enthusiastic this year than any other past World Cup. One friend told us that bars in New York were full at 9:30am for the game against Algeria! So, for now, we’ll continue to cheer for both Brazil and USA!!!

My search for online sources for restaurants, stores, bars, art and culture, and daily resources in Brazil continues.

Yelp, where are you??? For that matter, Daily Candy, Grubb Street (among many others in the U.S.), where are you???

In São Paulo I’ve come across a few, but nothing as useful as Yelp in major cities in the US: Veja São Paulo, Guia da Semana, Qype and the blog, Inside São Paulo. Qype is kind of similar to Yelp, but no one uses it here in Brazil so with very few reviews it’s not incredibly informative. Veja SP and Guia da Semana have both proven to be more useful with information about restaurants, shops and cultural things, yet they still offer limited reviews. The blog Inside São Paulo is high on my list. Every post is about a place in SP, often focused on the restaurant and bar scene but also some shops, museums, music and current happenings, which is great for our knowledge of what’s out there! I’ve also come across a few other blogs, such as Greg and Caths Adventures and Soul Sampa recently, so I’ll keep exploring these for more SP tips. Though the blogs are good firsthand information, it’s still not as useful as say, Daily Candy, where you’re exposed to consistent information with a trustable review.

A fun design on a building in São Paulo.

In finishing up this post I came across a few more sites as well, but will have to spend more time before passing judgment: SP Sem Segredos and Guia Mais. As far as I can tell they are without reviews. I also came across this site – City of São Paulo, which seems to be set up as a travel resource, but I’ll have to explore it further. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for as a current Sampa resident, but it could be a good resource for anyone traveling to São Paulo (it’s in English).

Do you know of any other useful, on-line resources for São Paulo? If so, please pass them along!

Also, in general, I’m curious to know what your favorite sites are, whatever country you’re in. What online resources do you find most useful and enjoyable to read?

Please comment!!!

In an effort to keep the ongoing story of our lives well-rounded, it seemed about time to fill in some additional details about our work here in Brazil.  Our posts so far have generally highlighted our social life and the beautiful environment in which we’ve managed to immerse ourselves.  But our decision to come to Brazil was, after all, primarily based on a desire to advance our careers in one form or another.  Though we certainly must admit that the scenery and sense of adventure helped to push us over the edge.

In an earlier post Suzanna mentioned that we met with Emmanuel our first week in São Paulo to discuss goals and objectives for our time here. Well, during that conversation we stressed that we were ready to work and hoped to be well-integrated into the team. Emmanuel sensed we were slightly concerned that there might not be enough to keep us fully engaged. From day-one this was never an issue.   We were immediately immersed into the daily decisions required to keep the Fazenda project moving forward.  Before getting into the specifics of what we’ve been doing, I’ll step back for a moment to give a brief project overview. Fazenda is Portuguese for farm.  Over a year ago, Emmanuel purchased the 455-hectare (1,125 acre) Fazenda Santa Helena property with a small group of investors.  The property is located about 2½ hours from São Paulo in a mountainous, rural region about 30km (18 miles) from the ocean and 1½ hours from Picinguaba.  The primary development plans for the property include a 10-room boutique hotel, with the same spirit as Picinguaba, and 20 villas to be sold as second homes with the option of renting them through the hotel.

Our first trip to the Fazenda, after just 5 days in SP and 3 days in the office, included an all-hands meeting with the architect and construction manager, determining the exact locations for the 3 small hotel buildings (which are in reality one-story farm houses), re-evaluating the locations and room layout design numerous times (Suzanna created a new layout that is now the basis for one of the buildings), a long and detailed property tour which included a rough sketch in plan of the current site infrastructure (water, sewer, drainage and electricity), and oversight of the grading process in the hillside to create the building pads.  It was great to get down into the trenches at the beginning to fully understand the state of affairs, current happenings and the general plan moving forward.

Over the past few weeks, I’d summarize our main focuses as follows:

Suzanna – architecture and planning input, landscape and drainage design, early stage villa planning, Picinguaba activities map, Picinguaba marketing and website update design input.

Jeff – project coordination and management, Fazenda financial model rebuild, potential investor discussions, early stage villa planning, Picinguaba document rework and sales strategy input

During all of this, there hasn’t been a dull moment.  Perhaps one of the more interesting learning experiences, albeit very stressful for the team as a whole, was working through a difficult stretch with the project architect and builder.  Without going into too much detail, the reality was that there was a general lack of organization from the outset, communication was poor, and neither consultant was willing to take the lead.  This led to mistrust and a lack of responsibility. Couple this with a few specific problems, and you’ve got an unsustainable situation.  Just two weeks into construction the team was restructured. Now, our on-site, multi-lingual, champion Frenchman Manu is doing more than his initial job of developing the organic farming production. He’s putting his 10 years of construction experience from Spain to use and managing the team on site.  Thanks to him, this shift only cost the project around two days of construction time.  Ultimately, with this change of the guard, the construction process will be both cheaper and easier to manage.  And everything has been taken as lessons learned providing many insights into the Brazilian business environment.

Our primary focus moving forward will be the creation of a master plan for the villas.  One of the greatest parts of this will be spending a significant amount of time on horseback up in the hills to pick each of the individual villa locations.  We spent a bit of time doing this with Emmanuel this past weekend and one thing is sure – these villas will be spectacular when it’s all said and done.  The villas will each be situated on around 5 hectares (12 acres).  With this amount of land and the terrain as it is, the villas will offer true privacy and amazing views.  The pictures below highlight a couple of the initial villa locations we staked out.  Once the preliminary locations have been determined (taking into account such factors as visual impact, access, slope, etc), Suzanna will overlay the sites on the aerial and topographic map of the property.  This will then eventually become a working document used for both construction planning and marketing purposes.  And concurrently, we’ll be working on the sales and marketing materials as well.  While this is the main mission over the next couple of months, it is sure to be mixed in with plenty of items regarding the hotel construction.  We’re certainly excited to see how things unfold…we’ll keep you updated!

Last Sunday we had a wonderful day. We woke up without an alarm in our twin-bed room in the “casarão” (main house) at the fazenda. I went for a run up past the little chapel on the property, along the road past the lake and through the hillside. Besides the intense hills, it is some of the most enjoyable running I can imagine – dirt roads, peaceful sounds, cool yet sunny weather, and nobody in sight (except for the occasional cow staring at you).

After breakfast six of us (Emmanuel, Philipa, Felix – their 2 ½ year old son, Manu, Jeff and I) hopped in the car to go to Itamambuca for the afternoon. It was a great beach day and very relaxing. I also got my fix of açai na tigela, which reminded me that I want to be eating it more often! The ride to the beach from the Fazenda is spectacular. After passing through Catuçaba, we cut off on a dirt road that winds through many “sitios” (little farms) and the Serra do Mar (Mountain of the Sea) state park. The landscape is beautiful and varied – it mostly looks like the local Brazilian countryside with little white and blue houses scattered throughout with the occasional cow blocking the road. Sometimes the scenery feels more like wine country than rainforest. After about 10km you enter the park to see a sign that warns the equivalent of “Caution, jaguars crossing” – no joke. We’ve never seen any animals crossing, but you indeed feel the change of scenery with the surrounding rainforest fauna and lack of human habitation. The dirt road ends at a paved main road (one that goes from Ubatuba to Taubate). We pass through Ubatuba to get to Itamambuca, which is a little second home surf community. There seems to be a mix of nice, though not luxurious, homes with surf camps scattered throughout – definitely a place we’d like to spend more time! Picinguaba is only 20km further down the road, but we didn’t go there this day.

When we arrived back at the Fazenda after a lovely, warm and sunny day on the beach, Emmanuel made us crepes! Que delicioso! He says that it’s incredibly easy, but I’m convinced it’s only easy if you’re French. Here’s a little video to share in the fun:

Today we met two friends of Emmanuel’s who are incredibly inspiring people, Rance and Lone. In short, they are a couple, Rance from Canada (raised in California though) and Lone from Denmark, with three sons, two studying at university in England and one teaching, who have bought property and started an organic farm in Brazil. Their property, called Fazenda Alfheim, is relatively near to Fazenda Santa Helena distance wise, but the trip takes about 1½ to 2 hours given the condition of the dirt road.

We woke up early this morning and headed to Vargem Grande with Manu in the old truck. After 13 kilometers of bumpy dirty road we met Rance and his three interns, Mark, Sandra and Anella, in front of the Igreja (church). After another 2½ km of dirt road we arrived at the entrance to the Serra do Mar park station where a ranger met us. We went on an easy, but beautiful 6+ km hike through the rainforest. We passed three cachoeiras (waterfalls) and enjoyed the peacefulness of the forest. We also enjoyed getting to hear a little bit about Rance, Mark and the two girls along the way in addition to the abundance of plant/tree information from Manu, which is always so interesting. My favorite tree today was the árvore de canela (cinnamon tree), which isn’t the exact tree that cinnamon as we know it comes from, but after scratching off some of the bark you can smell where the name comes from!

On our way back to Fazenda Alfheim we stopped by Vargem Grande where Rance had a few errands to run and a few people to talk to. The town (population 500) is smaller than Catuçaba and lacks the charm and spirit of our little village, but is intriguing nevertheless. Rance and Lone’s fazenda is about 8 km further in from the main road, past Vargem Grande. We continued on to the Fazenda where Lone was with her artist friend Bia, from São Paulo. Bia was joining us for lunch to show her pottery, which could be wonderful for the new hotel. Before sitting down for lunch, we followed Rance around while he fed the pigs and explained a little about their farm, current happenings and plans for the future. Their main products now are the organic piglets, for which they currently supply to three restaurants in São Paulo – including one of the most highly regarded restaurants in town, D.O.M. We’re looking forward to going to Dois in Vila Madelena to try the pork – we hear from Emmanuel that it is unbelievable!  Rance and Lone give so much love to these pigs and piglets and take a lot of pride in their organic nature. The piglets are very, very cute! Check out this video:

On the farm they are regenerating some of the pastureland to enable higher cattle capacity.  They recently acquired 4 jersey cows that they are learning to milk. I milked a cow for the first time in my life today! The amazing thing about all the workings of the farm is that Rance and Lone have learned everything by doing. Rance moved to the fazenda in July of 2008 with two of his sons where they essentially camped until they had refurbished the houses well enough to live in. Then Lone moved in October and since then they have worked and learned everyday to get to where they are. And they’ll continue to do that as they have plans to continue the piglet production, expand their cattle capacity (and make cheese!), breed chickens and produce honey. Wow! Keep up with them and their journey on their blog: Fazenda Alfheim.

Lone prepared us a big, delicious lunch. We had homemade bread and vegetables with WONDERFUL hummus (oh, I could’ve eaten all of it – I miss good hummus!), onion tart, palmita (hearts of palm) and linguiça (sausage) cooked on the outdoor stove. We truly enjoyed spending the day with them. What courage it took to move to an isolated farm in the middle of Brazil (and I mean isolated – the 8 km road to the nearest “town”, Vargem Grande is a lot farther than it seems). They went from living the life of business partly in Denmark, São Paulo and England, to being with each other 24 hours a day, under challenging circumstances to get a farm up and running from scratch. It’s incredible. On top of that, they are a joy to be around. Lone is so sweet – the way she talks, her personality and her mannerisms. They both are so welcoming and great educators, which I’m sure will continue to benefit their employees and the community in which they live.

Jeff and I hope to spend more time with them during our stay in Brazil. I think this day will prove to be more than just a lovely day of hiking and enjoying an afternoon with new friends. It will be inspiring for us as we create and narrow down our “what will rooted journey’s be?” list.

On a side note, I wanted to let you all know that Jeff and I survived the Brazilian bus system for the first time this weekend. We left from Rodoviaria Tietê in São Paulo on Friday and travelled in traffic for 2 ½ hours to Taubate, which is a fairly large city about 75 minutes from Fazenda Santa Helena. When we arrived in Taubate we knew we had about 2 minutes to catch the next bus to São Luiz da Paratinga. We sprinted around following the “bilhetes” signs to finally find out that we could pay directly on the bus. So Jeff hopped the fence, jumped down the meter-high concrete wall and knocked on the bus door as it was about to pull away. Luckily we made it, because Manu was waiting for us on the other end in São Luiz to take us to the fazenda. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience and I don’t think we lost too many years of our lives doing it!


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