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my gaucha boots

I don’t have the words to try to explain any of this.

My gaucha boots.

Horse paddock.



Kitchen garden.









Dog. (Luci.)

Amorous toads.

The forest.


Horse. (Poema.)


Poema. Atalibu. The horse with no name.

The stables. Enio, with maté.

The farrier. (With Appaloosa.)


Atalibu. (With Dilan.)

Dilan, with Pretinho sedated for treatment of a leg injury.


Enio's horse. (Pokatoa.)

Dogs. (Mon and Café.)

Enio. Dogs. The big house.

The windmill.

Muddy horse.


Poema. (Photo: Enio.)

Dilon. (With baby hares.)

Baby hares.

Baby hare.

Baby hare (or jackrabbit or lebre). (Photo: Enio)

The horses. (Poema and Atalibu.)

Poema. (Meu amado.)




Evening light.

Morning light.


Views from the Big House.

Views from the Big House.

Inside the Big House. Enio with abandoned telescope.


A room of my own.



River. (Photo: Enio)

Evening light.

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revisiting são paulo

While the bulk of my Brazilian past resides in Eldorado I do have a reasonably extensive history with São Paulo proper, too. During my three and a half year stint as a volunteer at ACER I made regular forays into the city.

This trip between the periphery and the centre is so expensive and logistically complicated that many people who live in communities such as Eldorado never venture into São Paulo.* The one and half to two hour journey goes something like this: catch a rickety crowded bus from Eldorado to the terminal in Diadema, from there change to the trolley bus which will take you to Jabaquara, São Paulo’s southernmost Metro station. Once on the Metro system you can move faster and with a change or two of Metro lines, or perhaps an additional bus, you can get to pretty much anywhere in the city but it’s going to set you back at least R$6 each way. To put this in perspective, the minimum monthly wage in Brazil is under R$800 reais and many people are earning far far less.

Like most people who do make the trip regularly my motivation was primarily financial – the city is where the money is. Teaching English to the São Paulo’s wealthy business elite in the city’s endless sea of skyscrapers bankrolled my more heartfelt work in Eldorado. The city centre is also where you are going to find all those trappings of middle-class life – you know, bookshops, cinemas, swimming-pools, art galleries, parks, restaurants, that kind of thing – that are so easy to take for granted if you have the good fortune to be born into them.

As with revisiting Eldorado, I find that returning to São Paulo is a little uncanny. It’s as though I had just slipped away for a matter of minutes.

(*The reverse trip from the centre to the periphery is unthinkable. Few people living in central São Paulo would dream of an outing to the outlying communities. Fear is a common denominator but the reasoning is quite different.)

Of the three and a half years that I worked at ACER in Eldorado, I spent most of the time living on site but on two occasions I shared flats in the city. On my visit to the centre of São Paulo, I stay with Marie Ange, my old flatmate, in the same flat we shared ten years ago. She is still there and still hard at work on collaborative creative projects with some of the world’s most dispossessed and marginalised people.

The crazy fabric eating cat is a new addition to the household, however. Do not leave your clothes unattended around this feline. He eats them.

PTs red flags are waving on the streets in the lead up to the deciding vote of the 2014 election. I was in Brazil for PT’s historic win, headed by Lula, in 2002. The jubilant optimism of 2002 has been replaced in 2014 by more divisive and bitter politics. Dilma’s PT government is plagued by accusations of corruption – a condition endemic in all Brazilian politics – in a relentlessly hostile media.  And while absolute poverty has been reduced in many parts of Brazil the wide sweeping social changes that will meaningfully reconcile the uneasy parallel universes of Brazil’s rich and poor and thus reduce the deadly chaos and violence in which all Brazilians live seem as far out of reach as ever.  I wear a PT sticker but only because the alternative seems far worse.

São Paulo skyline and traffic remain unchanged. This is one of the greenest areas of São Paulo.

It’s a classic…


…landscape but the clean architectural lines don’t bear much close scrutiny. The disarray that lurks around São Paulo’s periphery also encroaches on more privileged parts of the city. A lengthy drought coupled with chronic mismanagement of the water resources* has resulted in water and power cuts across the city. While the poorer areas are the hardest hit by interruptions to services, wealthy suburbs are also being affected. (*Yup, the water service is privatised. Watch the free market work its magic, yet again.)

Dissatisfaction is far more prevalent than easy solutions. The Banksy style stencils are indications of a significant but unheeded voice that opposed the World Cup in Brazil. The feeling among a section of Brazil’s population is that the resources spent on celebrating sport would have been better spent elsewhere.

Government by bread and circuses: football outweighs housing, health, public transport.

But for all its troubles São Paulo is a one of the world’s great cities, a universe unto itself, with a diversity and vibrancy to rival places like London and New York. São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, not to mention large populations of Italians, Syrians, Lebanese, Koreans and all the post-World War II European migrants. And then there are Brazil’s contemporary and historical African connections – represented by groups of Angolan and Nigerian migrants as well as the huge population of native Afro-Brazilians.

São Paulo is a place where you can easily dine on any cuisine in the world that you wish and indulge in any kind of culture that interests you.

The 34th Sao Paulo Bienal is showing during my visit. The first exhibit that confronts you on entering the Bienal Pavilion is a work that attempts to map culture in its entirety…

… including a detailed cartography of tourism which I find quite entertaining. Overall, however, I don’t find most of the work in the show very inspiring.

But I venture across the road to visit some other art installations including a giant audibly purring cat that made me smile…

… and a labyrinthine work …

…that you can enter…

…and explore. The twisted branches gradually transform into urban style constructions. All in all, it’s a somewhat intriguing meditation…

…on natural and built space.

Over the other side of São Paulo in a less salubrious inner city neighbourhood I visit a few more galleries, including one housed in the building formally used by the Department of Social and Political Order of São Paulo State, one of the most brutal political police forces active in Brazil during the military regime. These rooms, where people were detained, tortured and killed, are now home to the Memorial da Resistência de São Paulo where permanent and temporary exhibitions focusing on human rights abuses and encouraging social resistance to them are shown.

The exhibition on show when I visit is a moving memorial to members of Chile’s disappeared. Over a hundred images represent the individuals in a group of young people – mostly students – who were arrested on a single day of Pinochet’s reign of terror and never seen again. The collages and text provide fragmentary clues to the largely unknown fate of these people.

One of the most haunting parts of this exhibition is participatory performance piece. A man sitting in the centre of the room is silently working on something. Wordlessly he draws me into his labour and together we fold and glue…

… until we have constructed a blank white mask. The process is disturbing. I am overwhelmed by the futility of trying to reconstruct what has been lost here. When the task is completed he holds out a box…

… containing names. I must choose one – either red, for the dead, or blue, for the disappeared. Once I have made my selection the anonymous mask is labelled …

… and beside the man’s work table the ghosts gather, blank and faceless, disembodied, negated. But named and remembered.

And just in case I hadn’t already managed to ingest enough culture the 38th São Paulo International film festival is on, too, so I can hang out at stylish cinemas cafes sipping expensive coffees in between screenings.

But for all the undeniable style and sophistication to be unearthed in São Paulo, it is this image that somehow sums it all up for me.

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ten years

Between the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2005 I lived and worked in São Paulo and so coming back to Brazil is a homecoming of sorts for me. I have a real history here – there are people and places that I know and that know me.

São Paulo is one of the world’s biggest cities and it can be hard not to reach out for a string of cliched generalities to describe it. But when you’re talking about a city of over twenty million inhabitants in a country which has one of the biggest inequalities of income distribution in the world it is probably best just to stick to talking about what you know and the part of Brazil I know best is Eldorado.

Eldorado is a community on the southern outskirts of the city, on the very edge of the D of São Paulo’s ABCD peripheries. While the official city of São Paulo ends with the Metro lines and is home to a mere 10 million people or so the crazily dense urban sprawl doesn’t stop there. There is A is for Santo André, B for São Bernardo, C for São Caetano and D for Diadema. Diadema means crown and Eldorado, the fabled golden city of myth, is its hinterland, a double irony that is probably not lost on the community’s inhabitants.


… is one of the densest urban populations in the world and lacks most basic services.

My work in Eldorado between 2001 and 2005 was with children and teenagers and so coming back ten years later I am pretty sure that at least some things will have changed considerably. I am particularly keen to catch up with a group of twelve young people who took part in a photographic project I ran in 2004 called Searching for Eldorado. I manage to contact about half of the participants of this project and meet with three of them but in the course of my search I run into quite a few other familiar faces.

Dayana was one of the participants of Searching for Eldorado and she accompanied me to Porto Alegre to show photos from the project at the 2005 World Social Forum. I am super happy to discover that, in 2014, Dayana has graduated from university with a teaching degree and is working for a development NGO in central São Paulo. She also has two years of project work for UNICEF on her CV.

In 2004, Dayana told parts of her story here.

Welder was another participant of Searching for Eldorado. He meets me for afternoon tea with his four year old daughter.

Welder, with his sister, in 2004, taking photos for the project.

Tamires, another Searching for Eldorado participant, is now a professional dancer for a São Paulo contemporary dance company and has toured internationally. She is also a committed black rights activist.

Tamires, with her mother, in 2004.

Nicole wasn’t part of Searching for Eldorado but she spent a lot of time at ACER and I knew her well. She is now a mother of two young boys. Nicole works in central São Paulo but she manages to invest a day or two of her time helping me to track down some of the young people that I used to work with at ACER.

Nicole, in 2004, on a trip to the beach with a group of girls.

Emmelyn didn’t take part in the photo project either but she is very dear to my heart. She and Nicole spend a day escorting me around the community to visit people.

Emmelyn, in 2003, trying to ward off photos with a pair of scissors during a sewing workshop I ran.

Cris, with her four month old son.

Visiting the girls. Left to right: Emmelyn, Nicole, me, Cris and baby.

Sandra is another young woman whose welfare is very important to me. Sandra’s family has grown since I last visited.

Patrick, Sandra’s oldest at eleven years old, with the latest addition to the family.

Sandra, with Patrick, in 2003.

Tutu and Poca in 2014…

… and Tutu, playing gangster, in 2003. I’m pleased to see this boy still alive.

Some things change and some things stay the same. ACER (that would be CARF, Children at Risk Foundation, in English), the NGO where I used to work, has changed premises but the new building is only half a block from the old one.

Familiar faces. Left to right: Bettinho, Chulapa and Jonathan. Bettinho teaches African drumming and Afro-Brazilian culture, Chulapa is a capoeira master and youth worker, Jonathan is one of ACER’s founders and the current director. All have been working with ACER since before I first arrived in Brazil in 2001.

Chulapa and Jonathan in 2004.

Ordalina is my Brazilian mother – actually, Ordalina is probably everyone’s mother. She works in Eldorado at another NGO with historical links to ACER.

I thought my appearance would be a surprise to Ordanlina but when I arrive to visit her it is no coincidence that she is sporting an Australia t-shirt.

Ordalina is autodidactic artist and at around 70 years old still a tireless educator of the community’s young. She shows me the work of some of her students.

ACER’s mission is to promote community well-being by attending to the well-being of its children. Its programmes break entrenched inter-generational cycles of violence using a range of creative methods to model and teach new more positive ways of interacting.

In a community riven by entrenched violence and facing myriad social problems, fun and games…

…are a serious business…

…and their…


… is to model and teach more positive ways of relating.

Capoeira is traditional Brazilian combination of dance, acrobatics and martial art with roots in Brazil’s African slave communities. At ACER it is another way of encouraging positive social interactions.

Eldorado lacks basic facilities such as a public pool. ACER’s family support programme offers regular events that give people access to resources would be otherwise inaccessible to them – in this case a day out at a country house that is usually hired out for weddings and similar events.

When I see this girl with her sad-eyed baby for some reason I couldn’t help wondering if the young mother…

…is this girl that I photographed in 2003, sporting her incidental halo.

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on silence

It’s been a long pause and I offer no excuses. By way of explanation, I can only say that my life has taken a turn that I don’t particularly wish, for the moment, to hold up to public scrutiny. I’m not being secretive it just doesn’t seem to be of broad or absorbing interest to anyone but me.

UPDATE: In view of a few comments expressing concern in response to the statement above I’m publishing a few reassuring photos. I’m fine. Really.

See! All is good. Green grass, grazing horses, crazy upside down pine trees.

Nice horses. Trust me, these guys are super models.

A good friend of mine, and a talented writer, has this to say about horses:- "I once was a one who knew about horseflesh,…bicycles are simpler; they are mute and their personalities are subdued but a horse…well, that is a relationship that will get you close to heaven and then break your heart worse than it has ever been hurt before."

Let’s see.

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imagined communities*


Looks like an ordinary road, the main street of any smallish town. But it's not. It is an international border, the official territorial demarcation between Uruguay and Brazil. On the southern side of the avenue the town is known as Chuy and is Uruguayan. On the northern side of the avenue the town is know as Chuí and is Brazilan. Brazilian and Uruguayan currencies are accepted just about anywhere, but the language demarcation is marked.


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a room with a view


The room.

The view.


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Flat terrain with mini-mountains.

Uruguay's sparse sprinkling of palm trees over the pampas strike me as somehow incongrous, but I don't know why.


an interlude, with horses…


I’ve mentioned, already, dreams of horses. In Uruguay, I happen across a little slice of heaven, with horses, an organic vegetable garden and some lovely folk.

I'm tempted to translate Caballos de Luz loosely - very loosely - as Lucie's Light Brigade. Lucie, who hails originally from Austro-Czech Central Europe is the energetic force behind Caballos de Luz, along with Santi, her Uruguayan partner. The business can be summarised as horse based eco-tourism, providing accommodation, short horse rides, longer tours on horseback, courses on horse management and training, vegetarian food and lots of love.

I am officially a wwoof style volunteer and I do spend a lot more time in the huerta than this one photo of the rosemary bush would suggest...

...but my duties also allow me plenty of time hanging with the horses...

... and on horse back.

Me and my horse.


The property is a communally owned piece of land which people from all over the world are involved in, one way or another, and although my knowledge of Uruguay is still somewhat limited I'm willing to believe the contention that it is situated in one of the most beautiful areas in the country.




Native palms dot the landscape...

... where it is not covered by spiny brush.

The communal land is strictly vegetarian but the neighours are raising all kinds of animals and produce some of the best eggs I have ever eaten. This litter of chanchitos (baby pigs)...

... is currently under the very watchful eye of mama chancha (big pig!).

Lucie shines brightly and Caballos de Luz forms something of an energetic centre of the communal land with various activities such as...

... horse riding classes for the community's children.


And just before I leave* I have the opportunity to take part in a weekend course in training horses the 'rational' way: that is, developing a relationship with the horse based on some sort of mutual understanding and collaboration.

This is me in guachita** mode. (Photo by Santi)

... (Photo by Santi)

It is Santi, Lucie's husband, who tells us...

... how to understand exactly what it is that a horse is saying.

*I can’t think quite why I did leave.

** gaucha = cowgirl

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no unaccompanied women

Bomberos, that unexpected haven of hospitality which holds out to a travelling cyclist the tantalising hope of a hot shower and a dry place to sleep after a long day on the road is barred – at least in some cases – to that most dangerous of creatures, the unaccompanied woman.

Men? Sure. A woman under the supervision and care of a man? Of course. Why ever not? But a woman alone? Well, no. That’s a different matter.

It’s kind of churlish to complain, since the fact that the bomberos of Latin America offer hospitality to travelling cyclists at all is something of a miracle and a gratuitous kindness. Still, it irks. I have previously suspected that the high rate of refusals I get at bomberos is due to my perilous nature as a loose (as in unattached) woman but it is in Rocha that my suspicions are unequivocally confirmed.

The bomberos of Rocha, Uruguay, proudly relate to me how they regularly provide hospitality to travelling cyclists. Just not if you happen to be a woman, alone.


camp site visitor

Six inches long and perfect!


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