SEEING GREEN: fiber, forests, futures
Culture shock?

A discovery of many sorts

It’s humbling to realize every presumption you have about a place is wrong.

Before I ever stepped foot in Brazil, I assumed it was a stereotypical Third World country. Workers would be exploited. The environment would be irrelevant. Technology — if discernible at all — would be in its infancy.

So meeting Marina Freitas, a bubbly 20-something chemical engineer at International Paper’s Mogi Guaçu mill was unsettling. Five years of college under her belt, she loves her job and apartment. She chatted easily in English, required for all managers.

Hmmm, this isn’t what I expected.

Having lunch at the mill cafeteria was another eye-opener. Employees take only what they are sure they will eat. In Brazil’s bus stations and malls, recycling bins are everywhere. Hotels shut off power whenever guests leave their rooms to save energy. A free-standing exhibit in the middle of a city market touts the importance of preserving the Atlantic forests ... and shoppers pause to read it. OK, so Brazilians get green.

And technology? At the McDonald’s in Mogi Guaçu you get 15 minutes of free Internet access with the purchase of a meal. Amber got more consistent cell phone reception in Brazil than she does in Maine. And the tree cloning project at the mill is world-renowned.

Of course there’s poverty. Ringing the cities of São Paulo and Curítiba are favelas — shantytowns that are home to thousands. The poorest of the poor pitch a tent on the median strips of city highways. Naked kids running around these little tent neighborhoods were the most sobering of Brazil’s images.

But in 10 days of traveling through Brazil, we were never once approached by a beggar. Three hours after landing back at Logan, a panhandler at Boston’s Public Garden asked me for change.

I went to see the paper industry in Brazil; little did I know the final destination would be self-awareness.

Friendly, flavorful, fine

Friendly, flavorful, fine I had no expectations when traveling to Brazil except that it would be spectacular, and it was.

The people, the food and the culture did not let me down.

One of my first impressions: People were so friendly. Carol and I had a waiter at our first hotel in São Paulo who was the sweetest human being I have ever met. He spoke almost no English, and I speak almost no Portuguese. That did not stop the communication between us and Fernando. His smile would light up when he saw us and he always made sure I tried local foods.

And OH MY GOD, the food. Pao de Queijo is this amazing little nugget of crusty bread with cheese baked in it. I haven’t had a better breakfast food in my life. Also, their breakfasts were full of fresh fruits and coconut breads. I was in heaven.

Second to the coffee, which was served in tiny cups and STRONG, the dessert was incredible. Crème de papaya with cassis liqueur drizzled over the top is like melted papaya ice cream. It is creamy and cold and delicious, with a fruity bite from the cassis. Immediately after returning, I looked up the recipe. I have yet to try it, but I will.

Not enough to make you want to go? Well, did I mention the men? Brazilian men are drop-dead gorgeous. Our driver on the last day in Brazil was an exact copy of Antonio Banderas. Don’t get me started ...

I’d have to say the most disappointing thing about Brazil was finding McDonald’s restaurants all over the place. Yes, it means the U.S. will never war with Brazil, but still, the Brazilians have such great food, why would they need a McDonald’s?

Also, I was surprised to hear a lot of American music. Rarely did we hear anything truly Brazilian. More often, we’d hear James Blunt or Jack Johnson.

Despite the McDonald’s, going to Brazil has singularly been the most amazing experience of my life and I can’t wait to go back.