Dear Moms, Dads, Boyfriends, Girlfriends, Fiancees, Husbands, Wives, we MADE it. Well…most of us did. I felt like I was having a bad start to my trip because I first went to the wrong airport in DC but turns out I wasn’t the worst off. While most of us arrived safe and sound in Sao Paulo, Mohib and Markus are unfortunately stranded in Bolivia and Rio respectively. Mohib’s airline went bankrupt before he had time to fly from Bolivia to Sao Paulo and Markus lost his passport in Rio and is waiting to get a new one. Hopefully we should have a complete team before we leave for Santarem!
But the rest of us here have been enjoying our first two days in Sao Paulo. On day 1 our trip coordinator organized a tour of the city. Sao Paulo is very big and spread out. It is the biggest business center of Brazil. We first went to an articraft market in Japantown for lunch. That was an experience of itself fresh of the plane. Not only were all the food kiosk incredibly crowded, we also had no idea what kind of food they were selling. I had to resort to “questioning” people on the street by pointing at the food they had in their hands and asking in broken Spanish “Donde, Donde es la Comida?”. Brazilian, fortunately, are very friendly and always willing to help. We ended up in a bakery, where Salma and I had our first taste of Pao de Queijo (cheese bread), a specialty of Brazil. I personally didn’t like the doughy, cheesy inside of the bread, but Salma is a BIG fan and has had at least 2 cheese breads a day ever since. Next, we visited a beautiful cathedral, Cathedral Se, build in the 1950’s built from material imported from Italy and France.
As we are coming out of the cathedral and walking to a center of Sao Paulo, Allan points at the sky very worried.
“Hum….I think someone is trying to kill themselves on top of that building!!?”
We all look up and yes, it appears there is the silhouette of a man on the ledge of a high rise building. Josepha, our tour guide reassures us, the man in trouble is actually a scuplture part of the “Still Being” interactive exhibition by Antony Gormley taking place all over the city. The artist molded exact copy of his body and placed them on top of random buildings throughout Sao Paulo. Maybe I’m not too artistically inclined because the first thing that came to my mind was an image of either Batman watching over the city or a game of where is Waldo to see who could find the most. The main exhibition is in the lobby of a bank and it features sculptures of the same man in different positions hanging from the ceiling by their feet and at the bottom a “Critical Mass” of bodies in many different positions.
The main highlight of day 2, was our visit to the aluminum company Alcoa. BUT FIRST, word of advice in Sao Paulo, KNOW where you are going. Our bus driver had the misfortune of getting lost and because of the constant traffic in the city arrived 40 minutes late to the meeting! At the meeting, we met with a team of Alcoa’s finest, including the CEO, Franklin Feder. He introduced us to his company and was remarkably candid about their successes and failures in their new project, the opening of an aluminum mine in the Amazon region of Juriti (We will be visiting the mine later during the trip). To my surprise, one of their big concern and priority is to make sure that they build their mines and hydraulic source of energy in the most sustainable way possible. Since they are the largest single user of electrical energy in the country it is reassuring to see that they have an environmental license from the government and are operating responsibly.
To finish our day, we had the pleasure to meet with Monica again. We had first met her via skype in DC. She is a close partner of PSA and has helped us in the past, answering any questions we had about the operations. We sat down with her for an hour at the end of the day and had another extremely helpful Q&A session. We are so grateful for her help, in the midst of uncertainty about the communities of the amazon, she offers a great deal of clarity on the customer side of the business.