Travel


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

July 18th marked the start our final month in Brazil – at least for this initial “exploratory trip”. So as a way to ease our anxiety about leaving so soon we have decided to make sure we do something awesome everyday. So far we’ve done pretty well.

Last week we spent a few days in Ilha Grande with Catherine and Tucker. While we were there we were in the middle of a tropical storm and spent the entire time totally soaked! But spending time with two of our closest friends was priceless. We caught up over caipirinhas, beers and many games of spades. Jeff and I will have to return one day to experience the purportedly incredible hiking and beaches of the island. After a few days on there, we made our way (in the rain) to Picinguaba. Eventually the rain stopped, but it didn’t matter as much since we had the sauna and an indoor living room with a fireplace to lounge.  When the precipitation finally relented, we took a long walk/run along Praia da Fazenda and the next day a kayak trip up Picinguaba River.  Luckily, the day we left, the sun finally came out in full force so Tucker and Catherine could truly experience the natural beauty of the place.

Rainy day fun – taking cover at a small beach bar near our hotel
Our view that could’ve been . . .
Catherine and Tucker kayaking Picinguaba River

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:

Last weekend we were at the Fazenda “working”. We made further progress on the organization of the construction of the three hotel buildings by dissembling the team and starting with a new builder and construction manager. With Manu on site it was determined that this was the most economical and efficient way to do things. We totally agree as the communication lines were horrible previously, and trust was lacking. Jeff is now taking over the construction schedule, and for those of you who know him, you might imagine that he’s very good at organizing this. I’ll continue to help on the site plan for the hotel areas including a much-needed drainage and erosion control plan and a landscaping plan for around the new buildings as well as improvements to the existing areas, patio and relocated pool.

We spent a good amount of time in São Luiz do Paraitinga this weekend where they were holding their big annual festival, Festa do Divino. Espírito Santo. The town itself is lovely despite the destruction that major floods brought in January. Many buildings around the main plaza, included the most famous old church, were destroyed in these floods. They city and country have jumped in to bring it back to its feet quite quickly though, and the restoration efforts are in the works. The festival was incredibly interesting. Saturday they held the Cavalhado, which is essentially a reenactment on horseback of a religious battle that the Fazenda’s very own Bentão participates in. Both days they feed the entire crowd (of around 5,000 perhaps) with the Afogado. We didn’t taste this, as the line was 2 ½ hours long! Everyone in line came prepared with their Tupperware containers (no limit to size apparently). On Sunday many mini performances happened around the plaza. I think the pictures and video will provide the best description, so enjoy!

Exactly one year after we spent 6 days at Pousada Picinguaba for our honeymoon, we found ourselves back in this stunning, peaceful setting. We even stayed in the same room. It was a surreal realization that in just one year we actually did it – we picked up our lives in San Francisco and moved to Brazil for an adventure and an opportunity to redirect our career paths.

We worked a full day on Saturday with a few key members of the Picinguaba team: Emmanuel (owner), Marina (marketing coordinator), Oseias (on-site manager), Cleménce (guest relations intern from France) and ourselves. Part of our meeting took place at a table at Bar do Ulisses on the beach in Ubatumirim. We continued the meeting on the deck of Casa Verde, part of Pousada Picinguaba.  The meeting included a review of marketing goals for Picinguaba and the Fazenda and an overhaul/review of current materials. Later that night we retired to the bar by the pool where we took some caipirinha-making lessons from Miro.

Sunday was meant to be a relaxing beach day, but the sun didn’t appear so we spent most of the day on the porch listening to the rain fall. I read and painted while Jeff worked away on the computer updating the Fazenda project financial model. Though we missed the opportunity to get a tan on the beach we thoroughly enjoyed the peacefulness of the rainforest. It gave us time to ponder how different a heavy rain sounds when you’re in the rainforest as opposed to in a city. The rain sounds healthy and natural as the trees and ground soak it up.

On Monday, after a half day of working, which included sustainability and native plant research for me, and financial modeling for Jeff, we took off to enjoy the sun. Along with Emmanuel, we kayaked to Praia da Fazenda, surfboards in tow, for the men to catch some waves and to give me an opportunity to sport my new Brazilian bikini!

As we headed back to our kayaks to return to the pousada we ran into Oseias, who was out for a surf after work. What a life!

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