The Soul of Brazil – Forest, Favela and Food in Rio

Three years ago, Caroline Neutzling started a blog about the favelas in Brazil. She was studying in Rio, and couldn’t find a good source of information for what was really happening in the poor communities, so she started finding out her self: “I really needed to know what was going on, from the people living there, so I started to find out and write about it. I thought other people might be interested too”. They were.

Enquiries started coming in through the blog, and for one and a half years, Caroline, or Caca as she prefers to be called, has been running a new, better kind of favela tour.

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Education is the key to Conservation – Parque Das Aves

Part of the success of Parque Das Aves is down to the amazing the staff they employ.  The Environmental Education Coordinator for the park, Juliana Ebling, is also the President of the Brazilian Environmental Educators Association, and affiliated with the Government policy makers.

Along with Park Director, Carmel Croukamp, I found out more about how education is key to conservation and sustainability.  Continue reading

Eco Bonito – Ecotourism entrepreneurs

Bonito – it’s not just about the water.

There is at least one attraction that involves none of the wet stuff.

Ecotourism entrepreneur, Senor Modesto Sampaio used to be a farmer. In 1986 he acquired an unusual piece of land.  Part of the land included a giant sink hole, a natural sandstone crater with it’s own unique ecosystem. The largest sink hole in South America, and second largest in the world.  Of course, engineers advised him to cover or fill it somehow, so that he could use all the land for farming, but Modesto, now in his 70s, realised its unique potential.

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Eco Bonito – The most fun you can have in a wet suit

Bonito is the centre of responsible travel and ecotourism in Brazil.

It’s a small, fast growing town in the central region of Brazil, and it was my home for 3 days.

Thanks to the recommendation of Fabio Pellegrini, I was able to connect with one of the leading tour operators of Responsible Tourism in Bonito – Ygarape.

Ygarape’s founder, Juca Ygarape, really seems to be the father of eco-tourism in Bonito.  He discovered many of the attractions of Bonito over the last 20 years. Juca is the man that the Discovery Channel or National Geographic call when they need a local expert.  (Juca showed me his videos, where he tracked a huge wild anaconda in the water, and introduced it to scientists and professional photo-journalists).

Over the years Juca and his friends have also been responsible for designing many of the guiding principles to keep the tourist trade here sustainable.

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What is Agro EcoTourism? Finding out in San Francisco

San Francisco. The home of Agro EcoTourism?

Not the San Francisco with the Goldengate Bridge or all those tech start-ups. This is the San Fransico Lodge in the Pantanal region.

What does Agro EcoTourism mean?  I asked owner Robert Coelho the same question.

“Agro because we teach people about farming, and Eco because we introduce people to our unique wildlife and nature.

Fighting Crocodiles for Piranha in The Pantanal

Arriving in the Wet Lands

We arrive at Santa Clara Guest House, and are checked in by a friendly Macaw. All around us are giant Hyacinth Macaws. This part of the Pantanal is one of the only regions in Brazil where you can see the this large Macaw species in the wild.

It’s not just the Hyacinth Macaw around here. Hundreds of birds and dozens of species fly all around the farm grounds.  Another macaw welcomes us at the check-in desk.  Hawks patrol the garden.  Parakeets fly by in pairs. A toucan in the distance. But it wasn’t the birds that really surprised me.

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Staying Eco in the City – Belem, Brazil

I arrived in Belem, the northern port city of the Amazon region. I was not sure what to expect.  I had been deliberating whether to go to Manuas, in the heart of the Amazon, or this less well known city on the Amazon Delta, where the river meets the sea.

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In the end, I chose Belem. Why? There were 3 excellent reasons.  Fernanda from 100% Amazonia, Sergio from Preserva Mundi, and Leonilda from Bio EcoBrazil.  I talk more about them in following posts.

In Belem, I chose to stay at the EcoPousada Miriti.  A tranquil, peaceful guesthouse, designed with sustainable values in the heart of the city. I decided it would perfect base from which to explore the city, and meet local social entrepreneurs.

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I wanted to learn more about why it was an “Eco” guesthouse, so I spoke with the owners, Geraldo and Priscila Barata, to learn more.

Pricila was a tourism student, who wrote her final dissertation on sustainable guesthouses.  With advice from her at that time boyfriend Geraldo, they wrote what would become the future business plan for EcoPousada Miriti. After graduation,  Priscila’s mother bought a property in need of renovation, and Geraldo and Priscila set about the task of converting it into a eco-friendly guesthouse.

Geraldo talked me through the reasons they chose to renovate the existing building, instead of demolishing the old one and starting again.  Demolishing and rebuilding is easier, cheaper and faster.  So why not do that?

If you demolish, the waste must go somewhere, and that means landfill. Rebuilding after complete destruction means using and buying more new materials.  Renovation means you spend less on materials, but more on human labour.  For Miriti, it was better choice to reinvest the money in the local workforce, than in new materials.  The materials they did use, were sourced locally.

Apart from this example, Gerald gave me many more.  The water filtration system cleans 70% of the chemicals out of the water, before it is returned to the water table, where natural processes can filter the remaining 30%.  Most guesthouses don’t filter at all. Solar power is installed to heat the water, and the system will have paid for itself in 6 years.

Miriti also supports native artisans, who create toys from the leaves of the plant from which the guesthouse gets it’s name. These toys have a long tradition, but without a place like EcoPousada to sell them, the toys don’t get bought, and the skills used to make them get lost.

If you are looking for an ecofriendly guesthouse in Belem, I recommend you check out Miriti.  And don’t forget to try their tapioca with banana and cinnamon for breakfast!

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Lagoa Do Cassange – Social, sustainable, and a beautiful place to stay.

Lagoa do Cassange – one of the most sustainable and socially beneficial guesthouses in the state of Bahia.

I was connected with this place by Alison Mcgowan  of HiddenPousadasBrazil, and if anyone knows guesthouses around Brazil, it’s her.  She’s spent the last 4 years documenting and recommending the best around Brazil on her website. I think HiddenPousadasBrazil is likely to see quite a lot of growth as the World Cup and Olympics get closer.

When Alison recommended Lagoa do Cassange, I knew I had to visit.  As I arrived after my 9 hour door to door journey from Salvador,  I could tell it was something very special.  Pallm trees lined a deserted beach. My bungalow overlooked the sea.

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After a delicious breakfast on my first full day there, I had the chance to spend some more time with one of the owners of the guesthouse, Flavio Hauser.  He explained to me in more detail why Lagoa Do Cassange had recently been awarded first place for an internationally recognised socia-cultural award.

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As well as their sustainability policies, including solar power and recycling, Flavio, and fellow co-owners Marcelo & Isney started a number of unique projects in the area.

I’ve written about these in detail for ResponsibleTravel.com, why they are so important, and the massive positive effect it is having on the local population. Here’s the link to my full article on ResponsibleTravel.com.

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In short, they ran a free adult education course for 5 years, and built a kindergarden school that now has 30 students.  They have run computer classes for over 100 local residents, and teach environmental awareness through beach clean up days, and a fascinating honey project.

Of course, you’d never necessarily know that these projects are going on.  It’s just a beautiful place to stay, and by choosing Lagoa do Cassange, you’re also helping to reinvest back into the local community.

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The Social Butterfly of the most Beautiful Beach

My adventure to the remote Marau Peninsula started from Salvador, in the North East of Brazil.  Up at 7am, I’d be there by 3pm.

The ferry left Salvador at 8.30am.  I’d just missed one when I turned up, but it’s kind of great that I did.  On my same ferry, were a couple of British expats.  Lewis, Chloe, and her daughter Anna.  It turned out we were going the same way.  When I got on the coach after the ferry, and found myself sitting next to Lewis.  Lewis spends most of his time in Ibiza, running a private concierge service, and is thinking about spending more time in the beach paradise that we are both headed towards.

Chole, who used to be nurse in Peckham, London, decided to switch her life for another destiny. She’s spent the last 5 years building a beautiful lodge called Butterfly House, just next door to the one I was planning to visit.

It turned out that it was Chloe’s Birthday, so of course there was a party at Butterfly House, to which I was kindly invited. What would you expect from the social butterfly of Butterfly House? Thanks Chloe!

After getting lost on a deserted beach, which is pretty hard to do, I arrived in time for Lewis’s signature cocktail, his Caiprioska.  As you probably know, it’s just like Caipirinha, but with vodka instead of Cachaca.  A couple of hours later and we were doing shots of tequila, and I was invited to stay the night in a gorgeous double room, complete with coconut light switches that I think look a bit like boobs with large nipples.

After the gourmet-amuse bouche, from super friendly head chef Ilious, there was a delicious home made chocolate cake, which we finished off for dessert at breakfast.  Luckily Ilious had lived in Portobello Road, London, and knew exactly how to make scrambled eggs and bacon for a wondering Englishman (well.. Manxman).

I had a wonderful time in the Butterfly House, and recommend it to anyone looking for a slice of bohemian luxury on the Marau Peninsula.

Parque Das Aves, Part II – Overcoming Adversity

We left the story just after learning how much entrepreneur and founder Dennis Croukamp had risked in setting up a bird park in Latin America, and then sadly, he died.  You can see Part I of this story here.

From Carmel Croukamp:

Overcoming adversity

Anna Croupkamp, who had been a housewife for sixteen years and had never run a business, moved to Brazil. She now says that if she had known about all the obstacles she would face, she would have been too terrified to do it.

The odds have always been stacked heavily against the bird park – everyone from shady businessmen to government authorities have tried to close the bird park down at some point. Nature conservation in Brazil is not easy.

Now, it’s the biggest bird park in Latin America, with over 500 000 visitors a year.

With our profits we’re able to support a number of social and conservation projects in various parts of Brazil (supporting education, scientific research, reintroduction programs, organic agriculture and so on).

Social Entrepreneurship

As for social entrepreneurship, however, the Bird Park project has been about building a business that by nature produces socially positive results.

There are the obvious benefits of giving Brazilians a positive experience of the natural environment by spending rare time in the Atlantic Rainforest and, in our walk-through, flee-fry aviaries that allow people closer contact with wild animals than you’ll find anywhere.

We also educate 35 000 schoolchildren a year in a rapidly expanding environmental education program vital to an area and a culture where deforestation, trafficking and poaching are rampant.

In addition, 47% of the birds in the park are animals rescued from traffickers and maltreatment. 43% have been bred here at the park, and we develop programs to reintroduce birds into the wild (many of these endangered species).

Many of our staff, by the way, are former poachers and loggers, some of whom have now become expert bird handlers. Our staff love what they do with a passion.

Flying High

As Anna goes into retirement, the running of the park is passing over to her daughter, Carmel and son-in-law. There’s still a long road ahead and the sky’s the limit.

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