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Living the Dream

Adventures in Brazils Atlantic Rainforest

The Serra Verde Project

Project Overview

Serra Verde Project is an ambitious scheme to create a rural eco-lodge and education centre in the foothills of the Picos do Marumbi in Brazil. We aim to become self sufficient in energy production and organic food, as well as playing an active part in the local community. Only 6km from colonial Morretes and in the foothills of the impressive Picos do Marumbi, Serra Verde is situated in a great location. It currently has a small house, pupunha plantation, bananas, coffee and a fantastic river frontage, not to mention its own Atlantic rainforest reserve!

We intend to make this reserve accessible to local children and those with disabilities. Through our Friends of Serra Verde Rainforest Scheme we aim to be able to both extend the reserve & to make it accessible to those in wheelchairs.

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Our education centre will promote the importance of preserving the Atlantic Rainforest as well as offering English lessons to locals. We aim to further develop this sustainable site to be a fabulous base for rock climbing, mountaineering, biking, hiking, soaking up the local culture or just kicking back and enjoying a caipirinha by the river!

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2020: What next…

COVID-19 has hit tourism hard across the world. But whilst thankfully, many countries are seeing a slow return of travellers, here in Brasil we are still in tourism lockdown. The tourism industry closed down here in March and is set to continue to be this way for several more months. Morretes is finding life particularly difficult as over 40% of  the population rely on tourism for an income.

On top of this 2020 has seen the worst drought in 80 years. Many peoples wells were dry for the first time in living memory and those with mains supply experienced rolling stoppages.

The Rio Marumbi was almost dry.

The drought had barely finished when Cyclone Bomba devastated the area. It sat over Morretes for 20 hours causing widespread destruction.

It was my first experience of a cyclone and sitting in a wooden house in the middle of the rainforest is not a comfortable place to be!

We lost around 100 trees but were very lucky that none of these fell directly on the house or a chalet leaving us with only minor structural damage and no power for 10 days. (On the plus side the cyclone dispersed the swarm of locusts that was heading this way!)

Being part of the community has always been important to us and in the aftermath of the cyclone it was wonderful to see how everyone pulled together and helped each other out. We had drinking water so could distribute that, others shared building materials, helped us clear trees and those with power welcomed us into their homes to shower!

I’m proud of how we have risen to the challenges that 2020 has presented thus far and though undoubtedly difficult and even scary at times we have the confidence that we will meet whatever else 2020 has throw at us – bring it on!

Challenging Times

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Tourism has been virtually wiped out by COVID-19. UNTWO predicts that in 2020 the industry: – will lose 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists. – will see revenue fall 58-78% – have 100 to 120 million jobs at risk. Unfortunately it looks like this is a medium to long term issue and the tourism industry has to adjust if it is to survive. I recently participated in an International meeting on ‘Pandemic Adaption Strategies for Global Ecotourism which highlighted the issues facing tourism across the world. It was also clear that tourism will have to evolve to survive. At a local level Pousada Serra Verde  is part of the working party in Morretes trying to chart a course through this storm to calmer waters. Apart from the obvious increased sanitary and social distancing measures the post COVID-19 market will be almost entirely domestic. Despite the current hardships, it is important that those of us in the tourism industry remain positive, focused and use this time to evolve our offers to embrace the new reality. For us this will include: – focus on local tourism – community involvement – experience packages – new relationships.

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These are challenging and uncertain times but, in the words of C.S.Lewis: ‘Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.’

A Green Roof

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Since opening Pousada Serra Verde we’ve been keen to embrace ‘green’ technologies and principles wherever possible. Other than fitting in with our forest setting a green roof also helps with cooling and extends the life of the roof whilst helping bio-diversity.

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We have just built an external breakfast area to replace the ageing ‘tent’ (which has now found a home on the Fairy Trail). We were keen to have a go at putting a ‘green roof’ on it but didn’t know where to start. Several YouTube videos later we were on our way – still pretty much making it up as we went along. We needed a solid structure to take the weight so used substantially sized cambara beams to form the structure. On top of this we placed a layer of white pvc strips, both for cosmetic appearance and to help keep moisture out of the maderite layer. The maderite layer (we used 1cm thick boards) was then fixed into place.

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We covered this with our waterproof layer – we used an old tarpaulin and a redundant swimming pool cover. Once these were stapled into place it was time to start hauling material up to the roof. A 30cm wide gravel strip was put around the edge of the roof to help drainage and drainage channels cut into the wood at the low end of the structure. For substrata we used crushed bricks mixed with sand and gravel and covered the roof with a 5cm deep layer of this.

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Coleus

On top of this we sprinkled a thin layer of soil before planting coleus across the roof. A month later the plants have taken and the roof hasn’t leaked despite some heavy rainfall so we’re happy to have our green roof and will definitely repeat the process when we build at Pousada Serra Verde again.

 

One Step at a Time…

So far we’ve been frustrated at just how difficult it has been to make Pousada Serra Verdeas ecologically friendly and self sustaining as we wanted.

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The pace of life and attitudes here are very different to those in Europe which I grew up with and you have to learn to accept this if you don’t want to become crazy! With this in mind we decided to focus on what we have achieved rather than what we haven’t!

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So far we have:

  1. Started our library which will be built from tyres and bottles.
  2. Started an outdoor seating area with a green roof.
  3. Used pet bottles as roof tiles for a tool shed.
  4. Have extensive composting areas.
  5. Our waste water and ‘products’ are all internally managed and feed out clean water at the end of the process & our water comes from our own well.
  6. We support the books for all charity – Freguesia Do Livro and have a dedicated reading space for them.
  7. Several buildings and our house have been made from left over or discarded building materials.
  8. Pallets and bamboo have been used for fencing and furniture.
  9. We have the ‘Reserva Serra Verde’ – our own Primary Rainforest Reserve.
  10. We have started providing scholarship and assisted English Classes through our school – SPELL, Morretes.

So we’re not where we originally planned to be – but as always our plans are made of string….when they break we just tie a knot and carry on!

As Cobras Fumantes

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It is still a very strange experience living in a country that does not mark Remembrance Day. I was surprised to find that not only did 25,000 Brazilians fight in Italy but that their Navy and Air Force fought in the Battle of the Atlantic from the middle of 1942 until the end of the war. However this contribution is rarely acknowledged outside Brazil and is largely forgotten internally.

Brazil was the only independent South American country to send ground troops to fight overseas, losing 948 men killed in action across all three services during the Second World War. The Brazilian Navy and Air Force fought in the Battle of the Atlantic.  German and Italian submarines sank 36 Brazilian merchant ships, causing over 2,700 casualties.Capturar4

The Força Expedicionária Brasileira was made up of about 25,000 men who fought in Italy. They took 20,573 Axis prisoners, including two generals.

Due to the Brazilian regime’s initial reluctance to get more deeply involved in the Allied war effort, by early 1943 a popular saying was: “It’s more likely for a snake to smoke a pipe than for the FEB to go the front and fight.” (“Mais fácil uma cobra fumar um cachimbo, do que a FEB embarcar para o combate.”). As a result, the soldiers of the FEB called themselves Cobras Fumantes (literally, Smoking Snakes) and wore a divisional shoulder patch that showed a snake smoking a pipe. It was also common for Brazilian soldiers to write on their mortars, “The Snake is smoking …”Capturar

The FEB achieved battlefield successes at Massarosa, Camaiore, Mount Prano, Monte Acuto, San Quirico, Gallicano, Barga, Monte Castello, La Serra, Castelnuovo di Vergato, Soprassasso, Montese, Paravento, Zocca, Marano sul Panaro, Collecchio and Fornovo di Taro.

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Why carrying your own fork and spoon helps solve the plastic crisis

Plastic Forks

We throw away billions of single use plastic utensils every year, and many of them end up in the sea and wider environment.

Plastic cutlery is everywhere, and most of it can be used only once. Billions of forks, knives, and spoons are thrown away each year and can take centuries to break down naturally, giving the plastic waste ample time to work its way into the environment.

The Ocean Conservancy lists cutlery as among the items “most deadly” to sea turtles, birds, and mammals, and alternatives have proven particularly difficult to come by, though not impossible.

Sea of Plastic

 

At first, plastic cutlery was considered reusable but as the post-war economy boomed, the frugal habits gave way to a ‘throw away culture.’

That marriage of culture and convenience led to companies such as Sodexo, a French firm that’s one of the world’s largest food-service providers, to turn to plastic. Today, the company buys a staggering 44 million disposable utensils per month in the U.S. alone. Globally, plastic cutlery is a $2.6 billion business.

But convenience has come at a cost. Like many plastic items, utensils often find their way into the environment.

 In 2016, France was the first country to ban plastic dinnerware. People around the world are experimenting with alternatives to plastic that range from potato starch and areca leaves to grain based edible cutlery.

Sales of such plastic substitutes remain relatively low, often hindered by higher costs and sometimes questionable environmental benefits.

A logical solution is to carry your own, but you’ll likely draw a few stares. For centuries, though, it would have been a faux pas to not travel with a set.

At Pousada Serra Verde we don’t use single use cutlery and dinnerware and have installed clay water filters in all our chalets to remove the need for single use plastic bottled water.

Plastic Utensils

PLANET OR PLASTIC?

Three things you can do to be part of the solution:

1. Carry reusable cutlery.

2. If you use disposable cutlery, make sure it’s made of a biodegradable or compostable material.

3. Choose to eat at establishments that don’t use plastic utensils.

Source: National Geographic

 

Why My Plans Are Made of String!

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“Napoleon built his campaigns of iron and when one piece broke the whole structure collapsed. I made my campaigns using string, and if a piece broke I tied a knot and carried on.”

Arthur Wellesley Wellington

For those of you that don’t know Arthur went on to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo and effectively end the French control of Europe. Though it’s two hundred years old I find the Iron Dukes’ words more relevant than many of his more contemporary and fashionable counterparts.

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In business and increasingly at home we are forever told that we need to set ourselves targets, have goals and a plan to get there. Often these include spreadsheets and charts which are supposed to measure progress. However it is all too common that these charts take over and become more important than the objective itself. When this happens the target dates, costs and so on are often endlessly amended, rendering the whole process worthless. When things don’t go to plan then rather just fudge the spreadsheet surely it be better to review the objective. Is it still relevant? Do we need to change the plan? If we don’t re-evaluate our objectives regularly then we run the risk of making the process (who doesn’t like turning all those little excel boxes green!) more important than what the process is trying to achieve.

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Since moving to Brasil we have had to continuously review and change our plans – carefully constructed timelines went out of the window, money ran out, unforseen problems with power, sanitation and bureaucracy all played havoc with our meticulously detailed plans and spreadsheets.

When you’ve moved your family to the Brasilian rainforest; your plans aren’t working, you have invested everything you have and nothing is progressing as you thought it would be from comfort of your office in England you have a stark choice. You can give up – we followed the plan but it just wasn’t to be. Or you change the plan.

Students SPELL

We opted to change the plan!

We never intended to open an English School in the local town, but after several problems working with other schools and many broken promises we now have our own small school. Though not in the original plan it has become a vital source of income and has helped us integrate with the local community and we really enjoy teaching! Our small Pousada is also going well. I am proud that we have managed to evolve our goals and now have two small, fledgling businesses. For all the complicated spreadsheets and plans the most important objective we had in moving to Brasil was more family time and we have definitely achieved that. So nearly two years after leaving England and 10 months after realising that our plan wasn’t working we are still here….following the Iron Duke’s advice and making our plans from string so that when they break we just tie a knot and carry on!

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The Amazon – Trying to See the Wood for the Trees!

Amazon Fires 2019

Thousands of fires are ravaging the Amazon rainforest in Brazil – the most intense blazes for almost a decade. However, images purported to be of the fires – including some shared under the hashtag #PrayforAmazonas – have been shown to be decades old or not even in Brazil.

So what’s actually happening and how bad are the fires?

The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) says its satellite data shows an 85% increase on the same period in 2018. The US space agency, Nasa, has on the other hand said that overall fire activity in the Amazon basin is slightly below average this year.

Amazon fires

The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.The fires in the region are terrible and a tragedy for our planet but with so much misinformation and fake news it’s very difficult to get a true picture of just how much of an increase there has been.

What is clear is that deforestation is a huge problem which has depressingly broken new records of increase consistently for the last 30 years. Loggers and miners are long term offenders but the biggest culprits are undoubtedly the cattle farmers. A long established way of increasing grazing land has been to set illegal fires to clear the forest – once cleared it is no longer protected and can be used for cattle.

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Trying to get a clear balanced picture is very difficult; much of the world’s news comes from Brasilian NGO’s and the News Channel Globo – all of which are politically aligned against the current government which has cut the funding and subsidies granted to them by the previous regime. Bolsanaro is a self styled Trump prone to ill informed and populist rhetoric and remarks – such as the now infamous ‘poop ever other day’. His lack of diplomacy has alienated both the world’s press and many of the world’s leaders.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested that non-governmental organisations had started fires in the rainforest, but admitted he had no evidence for this claim and this morning he tweeted ‘So, if you are wondering who is going to save the Amazon, here’s a very straightforward answer for you: it’s not the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGO’s, but the sovereign action of Brazil.’

My personal hope is that whilst the focus of the world is on the Amazon that we can take hold and actually address this very real, but depressingly old problem. The world is watching and the time to act is now, before the focus of the world moves onto a topic of fashionable outrage. If this opportunity is wasted I fear that my children will live in a world where the Amazon is reduced to a couple of small National Parks. Lets not forget that Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest is now only 8% of the size it was 100 years ago.

Sources: BBC News, Rainforest Alliance, Washington Post

Freguesia do Livro

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We’re very happy to have received our first box of books from Freguesia do Livro and believe that our ‘reading station’ in the heart of the Atlantic Rainforest is the perfect setting to enjoy a good read!

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Freguesia do Livro is an organization based in Curitiba who’s goal is to ‘encourage reading through free literary circulation’. The initiative encourages reading for everyone everywhere. Since 2011 they have been collecting books and creating ‘reading stations, aswell as assisting in the creation and maintenance of community libraries.

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We’re also very excited that we are about to start work building our eco-library – the plan is to make the walls with tyres and bottle bricks and to cover it with a ‘green roof’.

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