Up In The Air

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our second entry for Sunday, 1/22 comes from Joe Melican.

Sunday was supposed to be our day off.  We could have slept in and spent the whole day relaxing on the beach. But NOT SO FAST!  A few of us decided to try out the local hang gliding and paragliding .  We were going to jump from a local mountain and then land on the beach.  It sounded like a good idea on Saturday when we talked about it, it still sounded like a good idea when I woke up on Sunday morning, and it continued to sound like a good idea when I arrived at the 
paragliding office on the beach.   As we drove up the hill it started to creep into my head that sleeping in would not have been such a bad idea.

The Ramp

We reached the top of the mountain.  The group consisted of Mindie, Chris, James, Jess, Nick, Kim and myself.   Jess and I were going to Paraglide and the rest were going to Hang Glide.  I watched as several Hang Gliders suited up and proceeded to run of the deck and soar away….simple enough.  Jess and I were doing the paragliding.  Our set up was like those toy army men attached to parachutes that you throw up in the air and ideally the chute opens and they float back to earth.  The problem is I remember often times the chute didn’t open and the army men crash to the ground.    Jess went before me.  He suited up, received some tips from his trainer and ran off the side of the cliff no problem!!  I watched him float around and eventually land on the beach far off in the distant.      The rest of the class had all taken off with no hitches.  It was now my turn to run off the side of this mountain and hope the chute inflated.  My trainer seemed very knowledgeable and did make me feel more at ease.  This was after all my first jump.

paraglide launch site

We suited up, went through some training and then ran off the side of the mountain!!!  We dipped down a little, my feet hit the top of the trees and then we took off!!  It was quite a rush.  We proceeded to maneuver up close to mountains and then over the ocean before gently dropping down softly on the grass.  It was an amazing ride that I would do again in a second.

In retrospect it was a great idea!!  The only thing missing was having my wife with me…..that would have made it a perfect day…maybe next year.

– Joe


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A Brazilian Sunday

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our first entry for Sunday, 1/22 comes from Rob Ruiz.

Sunday in Rio

Sunday = leisure. Sunday, in Rio de Janeiro, in the Summer, on a 90 degree day … now that’s a whole different kind of leisure.

For the first time on our trip I was able to sleep in a bit – until about 10 am – much needed after enjoying the incredible Rio Scenarium bar until about 4 am the night before!  Since a handful of my other classmates started their days bright and early paragliding / hang gliding, I had the opportunity to spend a portion of the day on my own to try and immerse myself in to Rio and it’s beach culture. With that in mind, I figured I had to make sure to do a few “local” things.

1. Walk – Everyone here walks.
2. Start the day off right with a fresh coconut juice – This happens to be a really effective way to cure “dehydration.”
3. Check out some local beach sports – Volleyball, Foot Volleyball, Sand Futbol, etc.

So, with that in mind, I headed towards the part of the beach that our tour guide, Pablo, had mentioned was where the best foot volleyball is played. On Sundays, the city closes the main street near the beach for pedestrians, cyclists and others to use. So there I was, leisurely strolling along the beach, in the middle lane of the street, with a coconut in hand watching some crazy foot volleyball at 11 am. Awesome.

Along the Beach

My feet then led me further down the beach and ultimately a bit inland to the “Hippie Market” where I was able to find some souvenirs for folks back home and engage in some healthy bartering with the vendors.  Between my Spanish and some key Brazilian hand gestures that I’ve picked up the last week, I was able to score a couple of deals.

Eventually, I ran into a classmate of mine and we headed back to our hotel, walking some more and taking our time to stop and try some more local food and drinks. It was great, and I really enjoyed seeing the people of Rio enjoy a summer day as only they can.

– Rob

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Tamara’s Take

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our second entry for Friday, 1/20 comes from Tamara Stone.


Today was an early start for us as it was our transfer day from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.  On our way we had a corporate visit at BASF – The Chemical Company in Guaratingueta. Our presenter was Willi Nass, who is the Vice President at this site.  BASF was founded in 1865 and is headquartered in Germany; their market segments include chemicals, plastics, functional solutions, performance products, agricultural and oil & gas.  One of their products is the blue jean pigment that is used by many jean companies.  Their customers include Natura, who we visited yesterday and they also work with UNICA another previous visit.  In their presentation, BASF talked a lot about sustainability, such as collection of used fertilizer packages so that they could dispose of them properly.  BASF owns 382 hectares of land that the plant sits upon, but BASF has turned 188 of those hectares into a reforestation and preservation project.

Mr. Nass also talked about the new strategy for 2012 and beyond:  “We create chemistry”.  The macroeconomics that they see as driving their strategy are the growing & aging population, urbanization, climate protection and globalization & emerging markets.  All in all the presentation was very informative.  Afterwards we took a tour in our bus of the facility and we saw the holding pools, chemical plants and other areas.  The chemist who gave us the tour told us that they meet with the community once a month to talk about and assure them of the safety of the plant, which reminded me of the movie Erin Brockovich.

Group Photo BASF
From there we continued our journey to Rio.  About an hour later we stopped at a truck stop to have a buffet lunch that included many different Brazilian items.  After another three hours or so we were driving by Christ the Redeemer and pulling up to our hotel on the beach in Leblon.  After a quick clean up we headed out in groups to explore the area and find food on the surrounding streets.  My group ended up at Casa Clipper a local hang out with cheap local food.  All in all a good first night in Rio.

– Tamara

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Adeus San Paolo, Olá Rio

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our entry for Friday, 1/20 comes from Kim Bowman.

On our last morning in San Paulo, we woke before sunrise to board a bus for our drive to Rio de Janeiro and a corporate visit at BASF.  After a 3-hour drive, we arrived at the BASF facility in Guaratingueta, which was approximately half way between Sao Paulo and Rio.  BASF, a chemical company headquartered in Germany, produces chemicals used in 8,000 different products ranging from bio-diesel, paints, textiles, paper, plastics, and agricultural products.  Willi Ness, Vice President of BASF, spoke to us about the company and its operations in South America.  The presentation emphasized the company’s focus on innovation driven by sustainability. The future strategy for BASF identified “megatrends” in the macro-environment, and how chemistry could be used as an enabler for materials and solutions.

View from the drive
After the presentation, we hopped back in the bus for a tour of the expansive facility.  It is the largest of its kind in South America.  Once our visit was over, we were back on our journey to Rio, driving through beautiful green land with rolling hills in the background. When we finally reached Rio after another 4 to 5 hours of driving, the scenery suddenly changed.

We can see the beach
Rio was different than Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil. Seeing the beach for the first time was very exciting, and when we stopped at our hotel right in front of Leblon Beach, we all knew Rio was going to be a memorable part of our trip.


– Kim

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Kimberly’s Take

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our second entry for Thursday, 1/19 comes from Kimberly Taing.

The day started off with a visit to UNICA, a representative for sugarcane mills. Before the presentation by Luana, I was not too informed about ethanol and sugarcane energy production. The most amazing fact was that of the 800 hectares of fertile land, only 2.5% is used towards sugarcane production. They can expand to about 67 hectares to use towards sugarcane production, but they do not have the capacity to do so. The reason why this is so fascinating is because there is so much potential, yet Brazil still has to import during harvest shortages. They had a shortage this past year, and they had to import from the United States. Another interesting fact is that currently about 9 out of 10 new cars sold at flex fuel cars. These cars are able to consume both gasoline and ethanol. The gas stations in Brazil serve both types of fuels, and based on the price of each, the flex fuel cars can choose what they want to pump.

rodizio pizza

Lunch was delicious.  We had rodizio style pizza, which is all you can at thin crust pizza with toppings that are unique to the Brazilian tastes. My favorite was the Cuban, which was topped with ham with very little sauce. They didn’t seem to use the traditional marinara on all pizzas. And the cheese they use is phenomenal – very different from what we are used to in the States.

After lunch we visited Natura, a cosmetic company located in Campaje, Sao Paolo. What stands out the most here is the employee benefits and perks. The tour we had made working there seem fun and made it seem as if the company really takes care of the employees. They have popcorn time, stretch time, massages for each other, day care for the little ones, and a recreation center with a spa and pool. I was very amazed at how large the daycare center was. They had many sections for different age levels and the ratio of adults to kids was at more than 1:1. The tour emphasized how efficient the company was in terms of being green. They produce the containers for the cosmetics with sugarcane energy.

Before dinner, a few of us took a little walk around the hotel. It’s amazing how different of a perspective you get walking compared to being on a bus to see the city. We saw people just sitting around drinking beers and hanging out at local restaurants. It was a relaxing environment. For dinner, a few of us went to a traditional upscale Brazilian restaurant that serves all sorts of dishes including, meats, fish, veggies, and seafood. At first, I was disappointed that it was a not a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I like to go to. But the food really lived up to its cost! I ordered the Fijhaldo (not sure of the spelling on this), which is a chunk of beef with a side of a mixture of rice, beans, and cheese. The combination was amazing! It cost about 60 reals, and it was worth every real! The beef was very tender and the side was just delicious!

All in all, it was a good ending to Sao Paolo. Although, I do wish we had more time here.  There’s still so much more to see!

– Kimberly

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Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Brazil

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our first entry for Thursday, 1/19 comes from Elaine Ho Chen.

Unica Logo

Sustainability and social responsibility was the theme for Thursday’s corporate visits.  We visited UNICA, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association and also Natura, a cosmetic company whose products are made with organic natural ingredients.  There were several key words in each of the presentations that showed that Brazilians are focused on producing products that are sustainable and are socially and environmentally responsible.  Both organizations discussed the principles of reducing greenhouse gas emissions creating products, processes that are renewable, sustainable, and positively impacting the lives of their stakeholders, employees, and the global community.

At UNICA, their presentation explained the sugarcane industry processes, the benefits of sugarcane produced ethanol, how it can reduce the dependence on the global oil supply and how Brazil should be an example of how successfully it can be integrated into daily energy usage.  Sugarcane for sugar and ethanol is produced on only 2.2% of Brazil’s arable land without deforestation or adverse effects on food prices or supplies. It produces about 4-5 times more energy per unit more than other forms of ethanol such as corn, wheat and sugar beets and is a renewable, sustainable crop. Brazil has been able to successfully promote the usage of ethanol due to the integration of Flex Fuel vehicles that can use gasoline or ethanol and also with the government mandate that requires gasoline to have a minimum blend of at least 25% ethanol.  There is a wide selection of Flex Fuel vehicles from 12 different automakers. 50% of cars in Brazil are Flex Fuel and 90% of new cars sold are Flex Fuel.  They are also planning to integrate buses fueled by ethanol into the public transportation fleet and ethanol fueled planes. With the use of sugarcane ethanol instead of gasoline, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 90%. The challenges they are facing now is that the production can vary because of the variation of season and the dependence on the agricultural side of rising land costs and unpredictable climate changes. They also were able to negotiate the removal of tariffs on import and export of ethanol to the U.S. which are the largest consumers of fuel and are in negotiations with the E.U. and in Asia. There will be many more challenges they will face, but they are moving in a positive direction to get the world thinking about using fuels to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the environment in a sustainable way.

Natura Logo

At the factory tour of Natura, we were shown the various ways in which they are able to manage their production processes of their natural beauty product lines and makeup.  They are able to do this by using high tech factories designed with automated inventory management systems, assembly lines that use less power by using natural forces such as gravity.

They also reduce greenhouse emissions by setting up production facilities in the countries they export to and add water to their products at their destination countries rather than shipping the whole thing including the water from the factory in Brazil.  Natura products include ingredients that are native to Brazil and are selectively harvested in a way that does not damage or impact the natural environment and rainforest. Some of these ingredients include acai, brazil nuts, cacao, lemongrass, pitanga, caju and many other natural products only found in the rainforests of Brazil.  The entire harvesting and operations processes are managed and well supervised to ensure the protection of the environment and the sustainability.  The ingredients are harvested by local people in remote regions that would have otherwise have no other way of earning any financial means.  This boosts many communities in these regions by helping create schools, libraries, roads, bridges and anything else the community needs.  Besides nature, Natura’s other focus is on community. This is demonstrated in many places seen around the factory in which are complimentary to all employees and their families, such as the daycare, cafeteria and sports club.



Overall, the day was packed with a very active schedule, and it was full  of interesting ways of learning about the importance of people, community, family and environment to the culture of Brazil.   Brazilian enterprises aim to set an example of sustainability and social responsibility to the rest of the world.

– Elaine

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Day 2 – Churrascaria

Each day our students will blog about some of their experiences on the Brazil Travel Course.  Our entry for Wednesday, 1/18 comes from Mindie Te.

How could one come to Brazil without trying Brazilian BBQ – Churrascaria?  The adventurous bunch took up the tour guide’s recommendation and went to Vento Haragano.  Beware when you flip the round card to the “green” side, all the waiters with the gigantic skewer will rush your way to cut you a slice!  There are 22 different cuts on beef alone, plus chicken, fish, lamb, pork, and wild boar varieties.

Some tips for when you go to a Churrascaria:  there is no ordering required, so just grab a plate from the salad bar to start, and remember, since you are in multicultural Brazil, don’t be surprised when there is sushi at the salad bar.  Don’t overfill your plate though!  Once you have a plate in front of you, the waiters start coming and offering different meats, and before you know it, your plate is filled with 4-5 different kinds of meats.  My new experience was eating chicken heart.  I impressed myself with that one!

At the Churrascaria(photo courtesy of Joe Melican)

At some point I flipped the round card red side up, which meant “No, thank you”.  However, the waiters still kept coming.  I was told that I had “the look” on my face that said I wanted more – so when you are full, avoid eye contact!

After the dinner, we requested a tour of the kitchen, and the restaurant graciously accepted!  To our surprise, it was a “no chef” kitchen.  There was a huge open charcoal rack oven where the skewers are laid out in order, with the hot seared meats on the bottom rack and the slow roasted meats on top rack.  A simple, streamlined operation producing simple, natural, succulent meats – YUM!

Wish you were here!

– Mindie

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