Getting wild after an incredible afternoon in the Chaco. Guns, beer, and nature.

Off the Beaten Path in Paraguay

Paraguay is a country of contrasts. On the one hand, it is a rich country with the fastest growing economy in the Americas, yet there’s also a gaping divide between the rich and the poor, corruption runs rampant, and political stability remains rare. For a visitor, Paraguay may not have much in terms of sights, but this hardly matters when you are received so warmly by the Paraguayan people. Complete strangers will take you in, feed you, house you, and introduce you to their family (or maybe even a member of Congress). In most countries in South America, the relationship between locals and foreigners usually involves money. In Paraguay, that relationship doesn’t exist, it’s not about money, it’s about long conversations over ice cold beer and a nice steak.
Paraguay is somewhat of an oddity in South America.  Due to a strong Jesuit influence it is the only country in the New World where European culture adapted to Native American culture, instead of the opposite. This means that Paraguay is the only country in Americas where over 90% of the population speaks an indigenous language (Guarani). Unlike in Bolivia, Peru or Guatemala, the indigenous language Guarani is spoken by non-ingenous people, the middle class, politicians, and even used in the media. While many people skip Paraguay for the ruins of Peru or the beaches of Brazil, Paraguay offers a different type of South America, a South America that is well of the beaten path and refreshingly real.

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The Other Brazil: German Colonies in the South

Gisele Bündchen, the famous Brazilian supermodel, may be the most famous result of German immigration to Brazil. In reality, over 12 million people claim to be of German ancestry in Brazil, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Although German is one of the most spoken languages in Brazil after Portuguese, the distribution of German people throughout the country is highly uneven. The vast majority of Germans settled in Southern Brazil, specially the states of Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina, where the standard of living today is drastically higher than that of the rest of the country. Illiteracy in Santa Catarina remains at 3.8%, while in some places in Brazils northeast, that rate is above 22%.


A combination of historical events caused such a great number of Germans to settle in Southern Brazil. After Brazil gained independence from Portugal in 1822, the new Brazilian government was interested in populating remote regions of the south in order to create a buffer between the newly independent former Spanish colonies of Argentina and Paraguay. A second wave of Germans settled in southern Brazil in search of peace, land and religious freedom after a series of failed revolutions in Europe in 1848. Continued instability in Germany during the end of the 19th century and during both World Wars fueled further immigration.

Although the German language is making a comeback in recent decades, it was heavily suppressed during both World Wars in an attempt to integrate the isolated German colonies into the rest of of the county. Today German is still spoken in some communities in the south, but during our time spent in the south, we found that the German communities are becoming increasingly Brazilian in culture and less German. Some Brazilians that we spoke to have complained that the Germans have a racist mentality towards Brazilians, and think of themselves as a superior race. This has led to some resentment amongst the Brazilians living in cities and towns with large German populations. Given that German immigration to Brazil has nearly come to a stop, time will tell weather German-Brazilians will be able to continue to hold on to their language and culture.

Rush hour at Estação da Luz, one of the busiest subway stations in Latin America.

Portrait of São Paulo

São Paulo was incredible city to photograph.  For six weeks straight I found myself waking up, grabbing my camera, and hitting the streets of this fascinating, monster of a city.  In this series of photographs I attempt to capture the beautiful, grittiness of São Paulo.

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The Dalma Bums, Paraguay

We heard rumors of a treacherous three day ferry up the Rio Paraguay.  It was mentioned briefly on a obscure travel websites by a few very determined travelers, but concrete information was scarce. We arrived in Concepcion in the evening, only to find out that ferry was broken and no longer operating.  So we inquired about the Dalma, a small boat that was in the process of being loaded up with everything from stacks of beer and soda to huge wooden beds and closets. It is a supply ship that drops off various goods and necessities to remote Guarani Indian communities located in the swampland along the river where no roads can penetrate.  We were told it was only traveling one day up the river to the small town of Vallemi.  Craving adventure, and keen on experiencing an antiquated way of travel that is quickly disappearing, we decided to take it.

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We squeezed into the main deck to avoid the sun.

DAY 1

Early the next morning we boarded the fully loaded boat.  It appeared that the cargo had multiplied over night.  Every inch of space was filled with people and supplies. We situated ourselves in the only available space next to the engine room on a couple water barrels.  The main deck was filled with women and children crammed onto hammocks like sardines.  There was one small bedroom with a bunk bed that looked like it was straight out of a WWII era submarine, but that too was filled with supplies.

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The crew fixing the engine in the middle of the night.

Then there was the engine room, which billowed out smoke and heat, constantly broke down and resembled the scene of mechanical open heart surgery gone wrong.  Most of the food supplies were stored underneath the main deck in the hold. The bathroom was barely large enough to fit a grown man, and the toilet seat lay on the floor, submerged in an inch of filthy brown water.  The walls were caked in grease and bugs of all shapes and sizes.

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After the cook was dropped off, the crew members cooked for themselves.

The kitchen was just as small as the bathroom.  The first night a lovely woman cooked huge servings of beef with rice, eggs, onions, tomatoes and a hint of garlic.  Rickety stairs towards the back of the boat led to the upper deck, where the furniture, captain’s quarters and all of the men sat baking in the sun.  A heated exhaust pipe greeted all those ventured upstairs with a healthy dose of exhaust, soot, and ringing ears.

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A extra boat was attached to the side, carrying all of the excess supplies.

The river was wide, but the ferry hugged the shore to avoid the strong currents. This time of year the water was high, breaching the low banks and half submerging  the vegetation along the river bank.

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As night fell we passed by fires set by the Guarani burning bright in the jungle. The flames jumped up and lit the forest and the night sky for miles around.  Around two in the morning we approached an abandoned building on shore. The white facade shown brighter in the starlight as we approached. Two figures stood on the shore dressed in white, starring at us as the metal hull scraped along the river bank. Three Indians jumped in the water with their bags held over their heads, climbed on shore, joined the two mysterious figures and disappeared into the night. Maybe it was a dream, maybe it was reality, we’ll never know.

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Guaraní men awaiting the arrival of friends and food.

DAY 2

We were awoken around 6 am by a light rain and quickly packed our camera and sleeping bags. To keep from falling right back to sleep we began drinking terere with the locals who appeared to have been up all night. Terere is Paraguay’s national drink. It is consumed in a gourd filled with mate tea leaves, a little lemon and mint, and mixed with ice cold water. It is sucked up through metal straw and quickly refilled.  Paraguayans of all ages and classes drink it from sunrise to sunset to counter the unrelenting heat.

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Sipping ice cold terere in the afternoon heat.

Day two was hotter than the day before, it must have been over a 100 degrees, but the the humidity and lack of shade was the worst part.  Our first stop was Puerto Itapucu-mi, a blasted out town of shacks and dirt roads. A crowd of locals anxiously huddled in the shade awaiting their weekly supplies of beer, soda, large bags of grain, salt and suger, vegetables and fruit of all types and occasionally a new motorcycle.

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Unloading supplies at Puerto Itapucu-mi.

We tried to speak with some of the children in Spanish, but all we got were responses in Guarani. Back on deck, as the afternoon approached, so did dark clouds on the horizon. Heavy winds began to rock the boat as the sun set.  To our dismay the cook had already been dropped off at her village, so there would be no dinner.  A slice of bread and a chunk of salami had to suffice.

IMG_5819The captain of the ship told us to take refuge down stairs, “because this ones coming fast and strong.” The boat made a sharp turn to the closest point of land and the men on deck tied us to trees so we wouldn’t be blown back down river. We secured hammocks and waited; dosing off to the soothing sound of rain as it started to pour down onto the metal roof and watching as lightning flashed in every direction.

Day 3

We had been forced to sleep down below on the second night due to the rain, so we hardly slept because the boat was constantly stopping and dropping off the last of the supplies.

IMG_5476We ‘awoke’  to a far emptier, lighter and faster ship and by late morning we arrived at our final destination of Vallemi.  After 51 hours on board we said our goodbyes to the crew and stumbled onto shore, relieved to have finally made it and in desperate need of a shower. The owner of the hotel we stayed in asked us where we were coming from and how we got here. We told her we took the Dalma three days up the river. She turned around and looked at our greasy, exhaust covered faces and laughed.

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São Paulo’s Top 5 Neighborhoods

With 31.5 million people in the combined metropolitan area, São Paulo is an impossible city to describe in only a few short words. To call it the New York of Latin America wouldn’t do this megalopolis justice.  Three times the size of Paris, this city would take several lifetimes to get to know.  São Paulo is expensive and crowded, but any city this large will naturally have its negative aspects, but if one is prepared to look beyond these, the positives far outweigh the negatives. São Paulo is a city of distinct neighborhoods and diverse lifestyles intermingling everyday on the subway and in the crowded streets, at the numerous bookstores, bars, nightclubs and restaurants.  Economically, Brazil is one the most unequal countries in the world, yet it is this exact inequality that makes São Paulo so complicated, yet so intriguing. The poorest and the richest of Brazil interact in close quarters, creating a complicated fabric from which emerges Brazil at its most creative and most intellectual. On par with New York and Paris, this is truly one of the world’s greatest and most captivating cities.  Many people overlook São Paulo for the beaches of Rio, or the jungles of the Amazon, but they are missing out on a city that has the ability to humble even the most seasoned traveler.

#5 Barra Funda

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Os Gemeos Exhibit at Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

Barra Funda is an up and coming industrialized area northwest of downtown, characterized by art galleries and music venues of all types. The slightly rundown streets exude a type of Williamsburg-before-it-was-cool vibe. In 5 minutes, you can walk from D-Edge, one of São Paulo’s trendiest night clubs to Boteco Pratododia, where an alternative crowd dances to Caribbean salsa and other Latin beats late into the night . Not only is Barra Funda filled with an insane array of nightlife options, it is also a center for up and coming artists. Many of the industrialized warehouses are becoming independent studios such as Galeria Fortes Vilaça, which recently hosted an exhibition on the world famous São Paulo graffiti duo, Os Gemeos. Make sure to see what’s on display and check it out.

#4 Liberdade

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Aska Ramen Restaurant in Liberdade.

São Paulo is a city of immigrants and that diversity can best be seen in Liberdade, a densely packed neighborhood of Japanese restaurants, Chinese markets, and narrow, hilly streets that light up beautifully at night. Brazil has the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan, and the majority live in this neighborhood. The best way to discover Liberdade is to attend the wonderful Sunday street market, where you can buy the Japanese delicacy, takoyaki, a ball of octopus, shrimp, tempura flakes, green onion and ginger fried in fresh cream.  No one should leave São Paulo without having a meal at Aska, a cozy, Japanese ramen joint, that has super cheap prices (extremely unusual in this city), delicious food, as well as a long wait. A São Paulo must!

#3 Centro

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Centro is the historic heart of the city.  Most Paulistas dismiss the the neighborhood as dirty and crime ridden, but if you are able to see beyond its decay, it is a fascinating area full of pedestrianized streets, 400 year old churches, steep hills with narrow, bustling streets, open-air markets, neoclassical and art deco architecture, and enough energy to impress even a hardened New Yorker. One of the most interesting aspects of Centro is its alternative edge. Most downtowns in North America are strictly about business, yet here in São Paulo, there are numerous alternative art galleries, and underground bars where skateboarders, weed smokers and anarchists rub shoulders with businessmen getting off of work. Be sure to check out Galeria do Rock, a five story mini mall dedicated to punk and skater shops, tattoo parlors and musky record stores.

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Praça Roosevelt.

The area around 25 de Março is considered the largest commercial center in all of Latin America, and is one of the best places in the city to see São Paulo’s diversity. Chinese and Korean merchants sell electronic goods to Bolivians and Paraguayans, while Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese folks sell clothes and produce to every other race under the sun. One location that perfectly encapsulates the alternative-meets-business feel of Centro is a bar called Papo, Pinga e Petisco, a bohemian joint that wouldn’t be out of place in the most intellectual corner of Greenwich Village. Take a seat in the back behind the pool table, where the smell of African incense and marijuana mix with the aroma of dusty vinyls, books and dark Paulistânia beer.

#2 Vila Madalena/Pinheiros

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Local artists in Beco do Batman

Vila Madalena and Pinheiros are two trendy, residential neighborhoods adjacent to each other, located southwest of Avenida Paulista. While there aren’t many specific sights to see, its the best place in all of São Paulo to eat and drink. The coolness factor in these two hoods is unmatched anywhere in Brazil, and is on par with the the most hip neighborhoods of New York, Paris and London. Take a stroll down Beco do Batman, an old alleyway that has been converted into a space highlighting local graffiti artists. You won’t go wrong pulling up a chair at any bar in Vila Madalena/Pinheiros, but be sure to start with Mercearia São Pedro, which is part bar, part restaurant, part bookstore and part video store; definitely one of the coolest places in this city. Another great bar is Empório Sagarana, a perfect place to sample every type of cachaça imaginable.

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Empório Sagarana.

For food, be sure to eat at Meats, an American style diner serving incredible burgers such as the Big Apple, a juicy patty topped with crisp green apples and a honey-wasabi glaze. Wash down your meal with a Guinness and Jack Daniels milkshake. For a slightly lighter meal, check out Kebab Paris, one of the best kebab places this side of the Atlantic. You also won’t go wrong at Feed Food, a stylish organic restaurant serving all types of world food in a greenhouse setting. For coffee, check out Coffee Lab, where baristas in lab coats serve aeropressed coffee for maximum flavor and kick.

#1 Bela Vista/Paulista

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A Dupla da Paulista performing on Avenida Paulista.

Avenida Paulista is the beating heart of São Paulo. While some might disregard the area because of its endless sea of skyscrapers, you only need to pause for a moment to observe the chaotic energy unmatched anywhere else in Brazil. As the sun sets and rush hour begins, artists line the street to sell their work, while musicians of all ages play for the teeming masses of businessmen. In one minute I witnessed a band play Creedence Clearwater while a separate group of Anarchists and Feminists blocked traffic while marching down the middle of the street.  Along Avenida Paulista, relax in a bean bag at Livraria Cultura, the largest bookstore in Brazil.

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Avenida Augusta.

Adjacent to Avenida Paulista is Bela Vista, whose main thoroughfare, Avenida Augusta, is full of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, comedy clubs and music venues. The neighborhood was once inhabited by punks, skinheads, lesbians, gays and hippies, but today vestiges of the old neighborhood are mingling with business folks who trickle off Ave Paulista in search of drinks, dinner, and more. The contrast between the alternative original nature of Augusta and the recent wave of gentrification is a fascinating.  When in Bela Vista/Augusta, be sure to check out Chicano Taqueria, a new California style taqueria serving up mean burritos, tacos, quesadillas and San Francisco’s finest, Anchor Steam beer. Afterwards, hit up Caos Bar, an eclectic biker bar sporting Americana kitsch and serving up great drinks while you lounge on antique couches.

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Goiás and Brasília; the Land of Red Earth and Cowboys

Gallery of photos from our week long expedition to Goiás, a rural, arid land of cattle, cowboys, Sertanejo (Brazilian country music) and the most hospitable people in all of Brazil.

Our journey to Goiás actually begins in Rio.  We were happily taking in the beautiful scenery, sunshine and surf, until Moreno got crushed by a wave.  He was helped up by a friendly Brazilian named Bruna who spoke excellent English.  We ended up spending the rest of the day with her and her dad, chowing down on Picanha, a popular brazilian cut of beef and sipping Caipirinhas in Lapa, late into the night.  Before parting ways we promised to go visit her in Goiás.

One of best parts of traveling is meeting new people, travelers and locals alike.  Only while traveling can you get crushed by a wave, hangout with someone you just met for an entire night and then spend a week living with her family. We had never planned on going to Goiás, but because of this chance meeting we were able to experience brazil far off the beaten path with a multitude of friendly and interesting people.

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Portrait of Rio de Janeiro

Everyone has an idea of what Rio de Janeiro is like during the World Cup, with the massive parties on Copacabana, the violent protests, and the hordes of tourists. While living in Rio for a month I took my camera around everywhere, attempting to shed light on the other side of Rio, the real Rio, the one not seen on TV or in the newspapers. Here is my portrait of Rio de Janeiro.

 

Photos by Walker Dawson

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The Road to Zion, Brazil

Camping on Ilha Grande, Brazil

Ilha Grande is a tropical island near Rio de Janeiro.

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Upon arriving in by ferry in Vila Abrão – the largest settlement on the island packed with cool hostels and backpackers – we decided to hike 2.5 hours to Lopes Mendes.  It has been voted one of the best beaches in the world and it certainly did not disappoint, even though the hike was brutal with our packs.  

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Our plan was to camp on Lopes Mendes, but a life guard warned us that it was illegal and not safe because of the corrupt guards. The southern part of the island is patrolled by the military because it is national park territory.

IMG_9715We took the lifeguards advice, walked to the closest beach, which was just outside the national park, waited for all the boats to leave and the sun to set before setting up camp.  The setting was simply spectacular.

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There were no lights, so we could see the milky way by 7.30 pm.  We ate our remaining bananas, oranges and cookies while kicking it on a beach.  The sound of the ocean was quickly drowned out by the jungle.  A night of natural solitude was exactly what we needed after a month in Rio.  Walker was the only one with a sleeping bag and a mat, so the rest of us barely slept because of the cold, damp conditions.

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We were ‘woken up’ at dawn by a troop of howler monkeys, hiked back to Lopes Mendes and passed out on the beach for hours.  We had amazing time, but the next day we were filthy and starving so we took a boat back and spend the following night in hostel.

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Filmed and edited by: Nick Neumann
Music: Damian Marley – Road to Zion (EFIX & XKAEM Cover)
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World Cup Protest Turns Violent (Video)

Instead of watching the Argentina-Germany final, we were trapped in a square by 1000’s of military police. They began firing tear gas, stun grenades, and pepper spray, injuring dozens of people in the process.
Here is a short recap.

Followed by an extended version with all of the craziest footage.

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Rio’s Top 5 Neighborhoods

There is not other way of putting it, Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s best cities. It’s equal parts first world and third world, part European, part Latin, and part African. It flows to the beat of Samba and Funky, and enjoys hands down the greatest setting of any city in the world. It is far from perfect, the crime rate is high, the poor are mistreated by the military and police, and the economic disparities are some of the most extreme on the planet, but it is those exact tensions and contrasts that make Rio endlessly fascinating.  At the end of the day, Cariocas (a resident of Rio) seem to put these differences aside in favor of white sand beaches, the warm Atlantic water and the vibrant nightlife.

#5 Urca

The upper middle class neighborhood of Urca is an unexpected delight. It has beautiful treelined streets with local neighborhood restaurants and bars (make sure to check out Bar Urca where you can sit on the sea wall overlooking of Rio and the Christ the Redeemer statue). But what makes this neighborhood great is its setting. It is situated on the end of a narrow peninsula between the iconic Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf mountain and the bay.

Things to see:
  • Pista Cláudio Coutinho
  • Praia Vermelha
  • Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf mountain
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Praia Vermelha and Pão de Açúcar, Urca.

#4 Copacabana

This is the most typical of neighborhoods on this list, but it must be mentioned. This is what Rio de Janeiro is famous for; if you’ve seen this city in a movie or on a postcard, it was probably from Copacabana. Here lies one of the greatest stretches of urban beach anywhere in the world. One minute you are underground, packed like a sardine at rush hour on a crowded subway car, and the next minute you are riding waves in clear, warm water with white sands, palm trees and blue skies. An added bonus is that the people are beautiful, the juices are plentiful and otherworldly and the setting is spectacular. This is why people come to Rio, and I can understand why.

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Copacabana Beach.

#3 Centro

For a city of 12.5 million, the downtown of Rio may seem disappointing at first (the skyline could be compared to a mid sized American city such as Cincinnati or Denver), but what it lacks in soulless skyscrapers, it makes up for with history and old world charm. This is the historical heart of Rio de Janeiro, and some might argue all of Brazil, but this isn’t like the tacky tourist joints of the North End in Boston, or Midtown Manhattan where teeshirt shops outnumber locals, these streets are rough, with homeless men smoking crack, people shuffling through garbage and the walls are covered in graffiti. But pause for a second and you will find over 400 years of Portuguese and Brazilian history all around you.

Things to see:
    • Mosteiro de São Bento
    • Centro Cultural Banco Do Brasil
    • Travessa do Comércio
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Igreja de São Francisco de Paula, Centro.

#2 Lapa

If there is a crazier party strip in Latin America I’d like to see it. Lapa is where Cariocas of all walks of life come to party and be merry. The sounds of Samba flood into the street, strangers meet and begin dancing, people sip caipirinhas while chewing on grilled meat from migrants from Brazil’s Northeast, transsexuals sell themselves on street corners in skimpy dresses, and in the shadows crack dealers sell their goods. It’s a crazy mix that must be experienced, preferably with a sweet caipirinha in your hand.

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Street Vendor, Lapa.

#1 Santa Teresa

This bohemian hood of narrow, 100 year old cobble stone streets is Rio’s crowned jewel. This is a neighborhood of poets, writers, artists, and those who inhabit crumbling, turn of the century mansions. This neighborhood would certainly take the cake as one of the worlds great neighborhoods. Make sure to check out Largo do Guimarães and Largo das Neves, two old squares with bohemian bars (Bar do Gomez) and restaurants (Bar do Mineiro). Our personal favorite is Largo das Letras, a wonderful place where music dances through a library like setting and caipirinhas flow freely.

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Bar do Gomez, Santa Teresa.

Stay tuned for our neighborhood review of Sao Paulo.