Last Friday, we made a last-minute decision to take advantage of Saturday’s forecasted sun with a hike up Corcovado, a 1,165 meter peak above Ubatuba in the state of São Paulo. Jeff, Manu, Esben and I joined João (our guide) and 5 other Brazilians for the 18 kilometer trek into the Serra do Mar – Santa Virginia (a state park). It was spectacular – mostly through the rainforest, with a steep climb towards the end into the sunshine with stunning 360 degree views.

The end of the hike was not fit for those afraid of heights – though it’s hard to see this from the pictures, at the top of the mountain we were standing only centimeters aways from sheer 300+ meter drop-offs.

Enjoy the pictures of our hike and we’ll be sure to tell you some stories about our time with my sister soon!

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Today I am guest-appearing on a friend’s blog. Kate started What Up Wanderers this year in an effort to provide advice to youth travelers as she’ll soon be launching a “gap year” company. She appreciates any advice, links, articles and stories from travelers, so get involved!

What Up Wanderers

And my guest post,

Exploring a New Business Culture.

After a very busy and fully focused work effort for over two weeks now, we declared a break for 24 hours. Last Saturday afternoon we finally returned to our “home” in Picinguaba after 11 days away. We promptly had some coffee and then Jeff made us delicious caipirinhas (it was 5:00 by then if you’re wondering). Sunday we took a trip about 20 km up the coast to Trindade – a small, fun little village with a spectacular beach. We enjoyed our peaceful time in the sun as the pictures below show . . .

I also managed to get a little cooking in on our day off – homemade crackers! (I call these Lone’s crackers as we first had them at Fazenda Alfheim.) We tested them with guava jam, homemade pineapple jam (my first attempt was good, but I need a little practice to get the consistency down), and salami; all were delicious accoutrements and I’m thrilled to have a simple recipe for what is surely a healthier option than the store-bought choices.

The past few weeks have been busy and hectic, but fun and interesting nonetheless. Since Manu, the on-the-ground lead at the Fazenda, has been in Europe for a few weeks, we’ve been stepping in to manage the construction of the hotel rooms and renovations on the 1850s main house. Walls are being torn down, steps built, bathrooms added, new kitchen space created, and more! It’s quite comical as we’re doing our best to speak and understand Portuguese while incorporating a lot of hand gestures to instruct the construction guys. We’re getting by and the team does their best to work with us. The work on the hotel rooms is another story – it’s going slow, slow, slow – this is Brazil after all, but we’re getting nervous for the anticipated January opening. My biggest concern over the delays in finishing the construction is the inability to fully dive into landscaping until they’re finished with their machines and heavy materials surrounding the houses. We need trees and grass – SOON!

In the midst of all that is happening at the Fazenda we also spent a few heavy work days in São Paulo to forge ahead on some financial and marketing work. We’re hoping to have a high profile architect step in to design the future villas at the Fazenda, so my big effort for the week was to put together an inspiring, seductive presentation for Emmanuel to use as the basis of his talk with this architect. We’re hoping to engage the architect primarily on a profit sharing basis. So, for those in the professional services industry, you know how tricky this can be – but with a big upside it works. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Jeff continues his work to keep the businesses afloat with good looks, good sense and incredible excel skills.

This week we were back at the Fazenda, holding down the fort. It was another busy week and we look forward to getting back to Picinguaba for a more stable existence with Manu’s return from Spain on Friday. General life goals such as painting and exercise have been somewhat on hold lately, so I’m hoping to fix that soon. I have, however, been enjoying life on the farm – the vegetable gardens are in full swing with fresh cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, peppers, herbs, zucchini, squash and beautiful beets all coming in by the baskets. These vegetables are gorgeous and taste spectacular. I’m especially appreciative since I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have now started Nina Planck’s Real Food (fresh milk, cheese, meet and lots of veggies does a body good). With the lack of kitchen in the main house due to construction, we’ve started taking advantage of the “churrasco” (bbq), which you can imagine has made Jeff quite happy as well.

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Today, our initial Brazil exploration trip officially comes to an end.  We head home to Washington, DC on the red-eye from São Paulo this evening.  I’m happy to say that it’s not a day of mixed emotions.  We feel great about the experiences we’ve had here, we’re excited to return home and spend some time with our families, and we’re very optimistic about the months ahead.  Things have been incredibly busy lately, so there really hasn’t been much time to reflect – we hope our time at home will give us ample opportunities for that.  In the meantime, here’s a quick recap of the last few weeks, our plans for while we’re home and our return to Brazil.

Recent Happenings

The last few weeks have been very busy as we have pushed to wrap up various ongoing projects (while also determining next steps).  Of course, this has meant a lot of time at both the Fazenda and Picinguaba, so no complaints there.  A quick recap:

  • Villas – continuing work in the hills at the Fazenda determining villa site locations.  This has involved lots of time on horseback as well as the construction and placement of bright red flags as visual markers, which has been fun.

  • Landscape plans – Suzanna finished up a conceptual landscape plan, then we made some decisions with the team about what to plant and where for maximum long-term impact and benefit.
  • Construction oversight and design decisions – with Emmanuel and Emmanuel, we’ve been actively engaged with the team as construction progresses on the hotel buildings.  This has been relatively simple, but has involved some decisions on the fly such as adding an exterior door to one of the rooms and extra windows to others, among other things.  We’ve also been involved in some of the decision-making on interior design (i.e., sink design and material, flooring, etc – this, of course, is more Suzanna’s department than mine).

  • Architectural Bid – we’ve spent a significant amount of time preparing and finalizing a bid package that will be given to a small, select group of architects who will compete to design the villas.  The bid package essentially consists of the project pitch, design parameters and interview guidelines.
  • Marketing materials – we’re working on developing a pitch book for the Fazenda.  It’s still a work in progress, but we hope it will be an effective marketing piece once finished.
  • FLIP party at Picinguaba – the annual Flip international literature festival in Paraty is a major cultural event in Brazil that attracts visitors from around the country and around the world.  Picinguaba held a great lunch with a well-rounded guest list to bring people together and celebrate.  The day was overcast, but the sun poked through just before sundown so the beauty of the place was not lost on anyone.  Article in Vogue on the pousada and/or party forthcoming.

Home Time

We’re incredibly excited for six weeks on American soil – time to catch up with family and friends, go to restaurants without wondering whether you’ll end up with what you thought you ordered, chow on some natural peanut butter and take advantage of good ice cream for less than $12 a pint.  As seems to be typical these days, our schedule is looking pretty packed while we’re home.  Here are a few highlights we’re looking forward to:

  • Maryland – time on the bay with the Fry family, crab feast, Kaboodle-ing (Bill’s boat)
  • North Carolina – time with the Jones family and Skip and Kit Fry, beach time, cruising on Dad’s new boat
  • New York – Will and Amanda’s wedding, friends in Manhattan
  • Boston – some quick QT with Kate and Aaron (this is special time for Suzanna and Kate in which they effectively divorce Aaron and I in favor each other) and Christine
  • San Francisco – our home-sweet-home…time with the Rogers’ family and friends, in addition to hitting up our favorite restaurants (especially craving some great Asian and Mexican food)
  • Maggie & Seth Engagement party – celebrating the nuptials to come

Return to Brazil

We’ll be returning to Brazil at the end of September, and we’ll spend the next six months living in the natural paradise that is Picinguaba.  We’ll have some involvement with the management of the hotel there while continuing our work on the development of the Fazenda.  More details to come on this next phase, but needless to say, we’re incredibly excited to be returning to Brazil to continue what we’ve started!

Last weekend we had the pleasure of spending 3 full days at Fazenda Alegre – the 500 hectare (1,250 acre) organic/biodynamic farm owned by Heinz and Elisabeth. We spent the weekend with Heinz, Elisabeth and Dorothea (Elisabeth’s niece visiting from Austria), their 9+ dogs, and 6+ cats. It was such a wonderful weekend that when I posed the “what was your favorite part” question to myself I couldn’t answer . . . bike riding, walking the dogs around the 20 hectare (50 acre) lake, learning about all the trees they’ve planted, horseback riding through the coffee trees that are currently blooming and beautiful, watering the plants in the garden, spending time with dogs and cats, or eating Elisabeth’s incredibly delicious farm-to-table organic meals.

Here’s a little series we took after biking to this gigantic rock near their property:

To sum it up, they were some of the healthiest few days we’ve had in Brazil. Fresh air, outdoor exercise, good conversations, delicious and fresh organic food, and soup for dinner. Dinner with Elisabeth is usually soup, typically served with excellent organic or homemade bread. The soups are homemade, fresh and delicious. I love the concept of having soup for dinner. It’s light, delicious and full of nutrition (when done right, of course). My favorite was Elisabeth’s roasted tomato soup.  In fact, it belongs on the list of my favorite soups of all time.

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Here are a few menus from the weekend:

Breakfast was a wonderful spread of:

-      Thin slices of organic bread
-      Homemade ricotta cheese
-      Blue cheese
-      Avocado
-      Radishes, cucumbers, and carrots from the garden
-      Papaya, pomelos (grapefruit) from the garden
-      Diced chives

Lunch (all products of the farm):

-      Veal w/ gravy
-      Black rice
-      Vegetable mix  from the garden
-      Salad
-      Sobremesa (dessert) – homemade strawberry yogurt with white strawberries from the garden

Dinner (soup, of course):

-      Roasted tomato soup made with mushrooms and served with a pile of diced up parsley in the bowl.
-      A display of Brazilian cheeses with apple slices, nuts and grapes

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