Pirates, cachaça, and coffee. Following a surprisingly big presentation, we finally hit the road to explore the Costa Verde’s Mata Atlantica.
Sexta Basics (“Friday Basics”) at INEA
As part of our work in improving the state of Rio de Janeiro’s environmental impact assessment process, my team meets weekly with a half-dozen representatives from the state’s environmental regulation agency, INEA. Following our second meeting, I was honored with an invitation to give a presentation on the California Environmental Quality Act, which I worked with extensively prior to attending Duke. Sure, I figured, a handful of INEA impact assessment specialists in a meeting room, a quick run-down of California’s system compared to the Rio de Janeiro system, and I’m good to go.
It was a bit bigger than I thought. The first clue was the 50 Certificates of Attendance for “Sexta Basics” (Friday Basics) that my hosts had me sign for each attendee. The room was far bigger, seating about 100, and was open to the public. The sound tech presented me with my microphone, and one for our translator (who also happened to be my boss and Duke Law LLM ’09 Daniel Ribeiro). As the imaginary voice of (Visual Presentation) Prof. Hugh Crumley chided me for not making a better powerpoint, I signed the stack of certificates and hoped I could live up to the hype. How was I going to make something as boring as environmental impact reporting exciting enough for the attendees, which included members of the public and assorted INEA technicians?
Once we started, everything fell into place. The audience was interested and engaged. Excellent questions were asked often. Even the head of INEA asked a few questions. Of course, I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to my boss/translator for making the presentation work across cultures and institutions. Even after 2 hours of Q&A, I still fielded a half-dozen questions afterwards, but best of all, I got to learn a lot about their system while sharing ours.
Enough of the office – let’s get out of town.
The city of Parati lies about 4 hours south of Rio along the Costa Verde. Founded in 1500, the city was first a military installation, then, following the 1600’s discovery of gold along the Pariba do Sul River, Parati was a major port for the gold trade. When Pirates made impossible the oversea transport of gold to the more secure Rio de Janeiro, Parati fell out of popularity. In the 1800’s, the coffee trade revived Parati, but died following the laying of a rail line that bypassed the city. In the early 1900’s, the city once again became known for its production of Cachaça, the sugar-cane based alcohol that makes the Brazilian Caipirinha. To this day, Parati maintains its colonial roots quite well, but still knows how to enjoy its trademark drink.
Caipirinhas? Pirates? Coffee? History? Who could say no! Stephanie and I set out on an early Friday morning (taking a day off from the MPRJ) and hopped a bus down the coast. Immediately, we knew we were somewhere special. The historic, colonial part of town is an architectural gem, with its simple white walls, bold colored doors and windows, and rather large cobblestone streets. The city was designed with a nifty feature – during high tide and a full moon, the bay flows into the city streets through perfectly-placed openings, flooding to about 1’ and washing everything down. An impressive bit of ingenuity!
The only drawback to Parati is that, like most colonial cities, it isn’t on the beach. For that, we took a city bus 30 minutes south to Trindade, which is composed of one street of small pousadas (guesthouses), and two beaches lined with fish shacks and caipirinha bars. It was like finding a little piece of heaven for the day. Both the fish and the drinks got four thumbs up. Once we had our fill of sun, we headed for a short hike into the biodiversity hotspot that is the Mata Atlantica, the dense forest that runs the Atlantic coast, right through Trindade. The lush and semi-tropical environment made for a fantastic hike with a plethora of fascinating flora and fauna.
After 2 months of city living, getting out into nature was like taking a first breath. It was the perfect cap to an excellent weekend away that reminded me of the natural beauty in this country, and the importance of having access to nature. One thing is for sure, having a weekend in the Mata Atlantica makes it much easier to go back to work when your job is protecting environment we love so much.