Are We There Yet?

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

Washington, D.C. to Miami: two-and-a-half hours by plane. Miami to São Paulo, Brazil: eight hours, one overnight trip, and approximately zero hours of sleep. But finally seeing those sugarcane fields really is priceless.

Our ragtag group of five slightly bedraggled ACS staffers arrived today in São Paulo, Brazil, and we’re well on our way to our first stop, the city of São Carlos. There, we’ll set up home base for day trips to biofuels research labs and production facilities.

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HOW SWEET IT IS! In the land of sugarcane, aspartame finds a home in the São Paulo airport.

São Paulo is a sprawling city of perhaps 17 million people, depending how you count it. The U.S. State Department puts the city proper at 10.8 million, making São Paulo one of the ten largest cities in the world. The city skyline stretches as far as the eye can see, and we pass signs for luxury cars and cell phones on our way out of town, reminding us that this is a cosmopolitan city with a huge demand for energy. Almost all the vehicles here are now flex-fuel vehicles, able to run on either ethanol or gasoline, and the smallish snub-nosed cars compete quite effectively with us for space on the highway.

[As I write, our van is pulled over by the military police of São Paulo. After a little discussion amongst ourselves about whether or not a small “donation” to the officers might be in order, we keep quiet and let our Brazilian driver handle the situation. He does so with grace and some quick words in Portuguese, and we’re back on our way.]

As we whiz northwest through the countryside, we pass mile after mile of sugarcane, interrupted briefly by pastures filled with cattle. For me, it’s a strange blend combining my Louisiana home, where sugarcane merited its own festivals, with the stark Colorado pastures I left last year. There’s even a sign for the “Americana Rodeio [Rodeo] show” coming in June, adding to the feeling of home away from home.

Tonight, we’ll tour the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. (EMBRAPA) and then partake of the local cuisine (beef is sure to be on the menu). Our adventure begins!

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