Coffee Culture: The History of Fazenda Tozan

High above the fields at Fazenda Tozan

Novelas and coffee: two things that make up the fabric of many Brazilian evenings. So in 2008, when a novela aired to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Brazil, it was another case of “art imitates life”. The novela, Haru e Natsu, told the story of a Japanese family that came to Brazil in the early 1900s to work on the coffee plantations that were in need of labor to replace the work force since slavery ended just a few years earlier.

Former slave quarters, or “senzalas” in Portuguese, at Fazenda Tozan

Much of that novela was filmed at Fazenda Tozan, where I toured the farm, heard a bit of Brazilian history, and had one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Fazenda Tozan was founded in 1798 by a Portuguese family headed by Floriano de Camargo Peneado, and at that time, only produced sugar cane with the help of African slaves. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when coffee made its way to the region of São Paulo state, “with an ideal climate and soil conditions” as my guide pointed out, that Fazenda Tozan jumped in on the coffee craze weaving its way through Brazil.

Fazenda Tozan wasn’t always known by this name. Its original Portuguese owners called it “Ponte Alta”, meaning high bridge, but after being in the family for a few generations, it was eventually sold to a Japanese family in 1927. The Iwasaki family, also the founders of Mitsubishi, renamed the coffee plantation Tozan, meaning “east mountain” in Japanese. A bit of a misnomer, as there are no mountains nearby Fazenda Tozan, the name survived the discrimination and detention of Japanese immigrants during World War II. After being abandoned during this tumultuous time in Brazil’s history, the Iwasaki reinvigorated the farm with new life in its later years.

Family house at Fazenda Tozan

Listening to my guide talk about this tragic time in Brazil’s history, it reminded me of the similar situation suffered by Japanese in the United States. Walking through the fields, I thought of the contributions of immigrants here in Brazil, and around the world. With the upcoming harvest, the labor of generations past were planted firmly in this soil as my guide told me about the manual harvesting process. “We still use a manual process here at Tozan which begins by placing a cloth beneath the coffee trees to avoid the coffee cherries coming into contact with the ground. It can be damaging to the quality of the coffee.”

Yellow coffee cherries ready for picking!

Back at the main house, my guide walked me through the process of making coffee, explaining the different colors and what they meant, as well as the cleaning process in the reception tank. But the highlight was watching one of their longtime farmers, Raimundo, do a live demo of the coffee harvesting process. His enthusiasm invigorated me the way this popular morning elixir jolts people out of bed every morning!

Truly the only way to drink coffee!

Nothing prepared me for finally sipping on this delicious coffee at Fazenda Tozan. I had a new appreciation for the world’s most popular drink! Each sip delivered rich notes and a depth unmatched by most coffee I’ve had in my lifetime. Savoring the house special, I had a flashback of my visit to Ceja Vineyards in Sonoma, California where my tastebuds had a similar epiphany. Learning all about chardonnay and pinot noir from the inspiring Ceja women was a true gastronomic adventure!

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As I sat in the window looking out at the farm, I laughed as I thought of the droves of Americans lined up at Starbucks to guzzle down their diluted coffee drinks. What a treat to be able to enjoy something right at the source that had been harvested with such pride! Driving back to São Paulo, I thought of the many lives that helped keep this farm alive – African slaves, Japanese immigrants, and Brazilian farmers. Learning about the history of this drink made me even more grateful to have had this experience at Fazenda Tozan.

A chapel at the edge of Fazenda Tozan

Start planning your trip to Brazil today!


Top 5 Insights at the Travel & Adventure Show

I recently went behind the scenes at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure show, which is just one stop along the travel show’s ambitious tour throughout the United States. With my press pass, I was able to go behind the scenes and speak to some of the tour operators and country representatives about what makes their travel experience unique, and why travelers should spend their precious vacation time heading to their destinations. Here’s what I learned:

Never judge a book by its cover. Just like the old saying goes, think twice before passing judgement. Especially on a country you’ve never been to! When I spoke with Elsie from Bella Guatemala, I was surprised to learn that this Central American country could be an adventurous “girl’s trip” hot spot. How so? Well, Elsie shared with me that not only can your fellow girlfriends hike inside a volcano, but they can also follow that daring adventure with a spa trip near one of Guatemala’s picturesque lakes – awesome! And since Guatemala is one of the world’s largest producers of jade and silver, your girlfriends can participate in a jewelry making course with local artisans. Sounds fun to me!

Guatemala spa
Relaxing at the edge of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Wellness is not a trend. Spa retreats and detox destinations made their foray into the travel landscape years ago as “alternative” travel. But if recent trends are any indication, like the $500 billion spent on wellness vacations in past years, wellness travel is here to stay. I had the lucky fortune of interviewing the cofounder and president of Wellness Tourism Association, Anne Dimon, who has been in the wellness travel sector since 2004.

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Wellness at Carillon Miami

“Wellness truly means something different to each of us, but generally it is simply the overall health of the mind, body, and spirit. When a wellness vacation is planned with intention or with a specific objective in mind AND it is the right fit, it can truly be a gift to oneself that keeps on giving,” Anne shared. I was even more thrilled to learn that Anne had helped plan the Wellness Sessions at Virtuoso Travel Week 2016 where I learned about Miami’s Carillon Wellness Resort. I excitedly told her that I had a trip to Carillon planned for April, and she smiled ear to ear when I told her about my very first wellness vacation in Spain many years ago. Stay tuned for more on Carillon…

Explore your own backyard. I’m lucky enough to live in California where there are plenty of escapes within a two hour drive, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken advantage of all that my home state has to offer. And I’m sure that can be said for most of us. A couple of my favorite discoveries at the Travel & Adventure show are right here in my own backyard! After speaking with the team from Visit 29, the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, I added this stunning natural oasis to my bucket list. Besides being an art colony to artists like Noah Purifoy, Twentynine Palms hosts the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival – a must see for all of you stargazers out there!

Noah Purifoy
Noah Purifoy outdoor museum

Another find was Yosemite’s Tenaya Lodge. This luxury resort in the California High Sierra is perfect for family reunions, girls’ getaways, and year round fun – no matter what the season is! At the Travel & Adventure Show, the team shared with me some of their favorite amenities, including a private tour in their shuttle that has no roof so you can see all of the beautiful nature around you. I have to do this soon!

Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite

Explore the “other” landmarks. Each country or travel destination has its proverbial bucket list landmark. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Peru has Macchu Picchu, New York has the Statue of Liberty, and so on. But if you want to avoid crowds and have an experience that’s just as authentic and meaningful, sometimes it’s ok to head off the beaten path.

When talking with the team from India Tourism, I was enthralled to learn about all of the other places to see besides the Taj Mahal. On the west coast of India is Maharashtra state, which is home to the historic Ajanta and Ellora caves. These exquisite specimens of architecture are also a glimpse into the country’s faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. And in central India, there’s the magnificent Khajuraho temples, a UNESCO heritage site that dates back to the powerful Chandela rulers. Definitely lots of exploring to do here!

Khajuraho Temples

Africa is not a country. Well, I knew this already. But I often hear travelers say, “I want to go to Africa”. That’s like someone saying, “I want to visit North America”, and I think we can all agree that a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island is going to be quite different from a weekend in Cabo San Lucas.

Lochinvar National Park, Zambia

Did you know that Africa is a continent made up of 55 nations. Wow! I admit I didn’t really understand its size and scope as a travel destination until the Travel & Adventure show when I had the chance to talk to representatives from Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and specialty tour operators highlighting a diverse range of experiences. Did you know that Rwanda is the safest country in Africa, and the 9th in the world? And that you can see gorillas, chimps, and other primates in their rainforest habitat?rwanda-chimpanzee-volcanoes

Or maybe birdwatching is more your thing…and if it is, then head south to Zambia where you can visit Lochinvar National Park and see over 400 species of birds. Amazing! There’s always the African country of Tanzania for those travelers who want that unforgettable wildlife safari or an enviable beach vacation on some of the best beaches in the world along the Zanzibar coast. My bucket list is growing…

If after reading this, you’ve added a few new places to your travel bucket list, email me to help you plan your next trip. You won’t be disappointed! I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Let me help you plan your next trip!



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Seaside Splendor: Rio’s Copacabana Palace

belmond-copacabana-palaceOh Rio! The pulsating city that wraps you with sultry beaches and jutting mountains from behind. Where to rest when you want the finest in this glistening city? The crown jewel of this iconic skyline – Copacabana Palace. belmond-copacabana-palacebelmond-copacabana-palacePalatial surroundings usher you into this timeless hideaway that has been Rio’s superstar hotel since 1923. I stepped out of my taxi and was greeted by the friendliest staff, who were surprised at my Portuguese! One of the many things that I love about the Belmond hotel staff is that they instantly make you feel like you’ve known them forever, almost like old friends. It’s a comfortable luxury, not a stuffy or pretentious air, that they’ve somehow all mastered!

Settling into my suite was a dream! Sounds of bossa nova lured me towards a balcony that looked out over Brazil’s most famous beach. Peeking at my welcome gift, I was distracted by the spa menu when I saw “Jet Lag Treatment”. This sounded like exactly what I needed! I pulled myself away from my beautiful beachside room, only to be greeted at the spa – another place I might find hard to leave! My therapist magically massaged every flight delay, emotional support peacock, and security line right out of my tired body. Every hotel needs this spa service!


Fully soothed and relaxed, I made my way to the aquamarine pool below. I loved every detail at Copacabana Palace – the wooden sculptures, a private dining nook under a tree, and of course, the warm service from the Belmond staff. Enjoying the most delicious ceviche ever, I talked with a nearby guest about my dining options for later, thrilled to learn about the Michelin-starred Mee right across the pool. Or maybe Cipriani, which fuses Northern Italian cuisine with local ingredients. Decisions, decisions! Mulling over my next meal, I gazed at birds drifting overhead and fell into a deep sleep.

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Why would I want to leave? Well with an invite to Veste Rio, a semiannual fashion conference that highlights the biggest names in Rio de Janeiro, the decision was almost made for me. Brands like Lenny Niemeyer and Osklen lure conference goers with the latest from their collections. Fashion is not normally the first thing you think of when you hear Rio de Janeiro, but trust me. This is the place to get your swimwear and everything for your summer fête. These people know how to create designs that will have you looking stunning in even the most sweltering heat – it’s what they do.where-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeirowhere-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeiro

One step closer to Cristo in Gaoli’s silks

My invite to Veste Rio, a gift from my friends at Gaoli Rio, was just a tease of the latest in Brazilian fashion. Gaoli is my favorite boutique that houses many of my beloved brands from all over Brazil. I always make a stop here when shopping for my personal stylist clients. One visit and you’re set with everything you need for your seaside adventures! Flowing gowns and featherweight caftans are their specialty, with accompanying bikinis to match, of course.where-to-shop-in-rio-de-janeiro

Glittering like the stars in Gaoli Beach Couture

A lucky discovery at Veste Rio was Mundo Isla, a local jewelry company that had the most eye-catching display. Each piece looked like a fisherman’s treasure as they dangled from driftwood tangled in nets. Besides this seaside-inspired show of their jewels, I was entranced by the calming blues and pearly whites that reminded me of the waves of Rio’s nearby beaches.

The next day, I paid a visit to their showroom and met the two founders of Mundo Isla, Ana Jacob and Luiza Bellizzi. I felt an instant connection with these two creative ladies who shared their story over an afternoon of coffee and confections. “When I met Ana, I instantly fell in love with her style; her home was a mixture of ethnic elements that made the place so unique, and we connected because of this shared vibe. After talking to Ana about Mundo Isla, I quit my job and took a course in jewelry making so that I could learn her craft and join her unique brand,” Luiza divulged with a smile.

IslacolarIt’s definitely unique. Walking through their gallery, I felt as though the little girl inside me who used to gather seashells on the shore was eager and excited by each piece. “Our ideal muse is someone who isn’t worried about being trendy, but quite the opposite. A woman who is unique, and looking for a non-traditional style that encourages a casual elegance,” Ana shared as she showed me some of their recent collection.

As Ana continued to tell their story, it sounded like Mundo Isla had been birthed long before these two women met. “I had been designing jewelry since I was in college, drawing on my architecture degree as many designers do, like Antonio Bernardo and Lenny Niemeyer, and sold my jewelry at fairs here and abroad. Luiza had more experience in marketing and so we complemented each other. But coincidentally, I had planned a vacation to Greece for May 2015, the same year we launched Mundo Isla, so I did some research once I was there and later used the Greek jewelry as a source of inspiration, since they heavily use silver for their jewelry. Their style is exactly the same that both Luiza and I like – a stripped down style. I even got to know an atelier of an artist who also uses Brazilian stones. That trip was fundamental to our success!”

Seaside splendor at Copacabana Palace

Ah, yes! The magic inspiration of travel! I left their boutique rejuvenated and inspired. On the drive back to Copacabana Palace, I was reminded of their seaside muse as I looked out to Rio’s picturesque shoreline. That’s one of the best things about this hotel – you’re steps from the beautiful beach, but are instantly transported to another world once you step foot inside Belmond’s seaside splendor.

“Meet me at Copacabana Palace…”

Nightfall crept over the shore, and I stepped onto my balcony and watched a glorious sunset as I waited for my friends to arrive for a drink at the most famed meeting place in Rio – Copacabana Palace.

Gaoli’s summer gowns – always perfect for a dinner at Copacabana Palace!

Are you ready to go to Rio? Let me plan your trip!

Article credits

Wardrobe: Gaoli Beach Couture

Makeup: Chanel

Photographer: J.J. Soto

Interview translation: Thamara Valença and Jazon Santos


Curating LA: There’s An App For That!

Aleph and the Rock exhibition at HILDE Gallery

One thing I love about what I do is uncovering hidden gems and unique experiences around the globe, whether it’s Rio de Janeiro or London. But my favorite resource for discovering the latest happenings in the art world is right here in my hometown of Los Angeles. Started over 3 years ago by Shelley Holcomb, Curate LA is one of my favorite apps – I use it weekly! Thrilled to meet the genius behind this handy tool, I had the lucky chance to sit down with Shelley at Hauser & Wirth, one of my favorite art spaces in the city and hear about the evolution of Curate LA, Shelley’s top picks on where to see art in L.A., and why this city is experiencing its artistic rebirth.

Talking all things art with Shelley Holcomb, co-founder of Curate LA

Tell me how you got the idea for Curate LA?

After living in L.A. for a while, I found that it was hard to find one central resource for art spaces. I met my co-founder, tech developer Alex Benzer who had this handy map of tech events all over L.A. and I thought, “We need something like this for the art world!” And so it happened. Los Angeles is such a sprawling city – it was nice to see all of the data aggregated in one place.

The iOS app came from people using the site and giving their feedback, expressing a need for it. Ultimately though, one of the main reasons I wanted to develop Curate LA was I found that the artists and spaces I frequented weren’t being represented in any art publications or resource for the public. I wanted to create a platform to promote artist-run spaces and marginalized artists who aren’t typically represented at the larger institutions – level the playing the field in a way. It’s been a long journey, but the success of the app has shown that other people are interested in diversity in the art world as well.

PAM Residencies featuring Amanda Horowitz and Bully Fae with “Installation of the Plumbing Tree”

A native of L.A., I pretty much grew up at LACMA and love art! What was your introduction to the art world?

The women in my family are artists, so I’ve always been encouraged to be an artist. Growing up in Mississippi though, I wasn’t exposed to it in a way that you are in a city; the nearest museum was 2 hours away. My defining moment for becoming an artist was in high school. I had a mentor that taught me how to paint like Rembrandt, I won awards, traveled all over the U.S. and eventually got a full scholarship to art school. Art school was my way out of Mississippi. I think I’ve been trying to play catch up ever since and expose myself to as much art as possible, hence starting Curate LA.

The Underground Museum

So you mentioned earlier that you’ve been here 9 1/2 years, and after all this hard work with Curate LA, what are some of your top picks on where to see art in Los Angeles?

1. Underground Museum: “This is the one place I always send people. The story behind the museum is inspiring, they are really doing the best job at community outreach, and their shows are always well curated.” Founded by the late Noah Davis, a painter and installation artist, the Underground Museum is now run by Davis’ wife, Karon, also an artist, with the focus of bringing art into a community where there typically were no high-end galleries or art institutions.


2. PAM: “This is a small space in Highland Park run by Brian Getnick, who is a talented performance artist, choreographer, and sculptor. Brian invites artists to use his space for a month, doing workshops and then at the end they do the weekend performance with interactive art. He has very active programming and there really isn’t any other space in L.A. doing anything like it.”

On the set of “Slow Jams and Afghan Hounds” at PAM Residencies featuring Tim Reid and Meg Whiteford

3. Abode Gallery: “Katie Bode, who is also a writer, runs the gallery out of her home in East LA. It’s always beautifully curated and I love that her programming features women artists, and a very personal curation with the intent to foster community & conversation.”


4. Arturo Bandini: “Artists Michael Dopp & Isaac Resnikoff have created a gallery out of a shed they built in the parking lot of their studio; it’s such a unique design. They text their invites and don’t advertise their shows, and if they do, it’s occasionally through Curate LA. For the openings, Nick Fisher, another artist, makes his own drinks, mixers, and beer. It’s always a good time.”

“Gates of Hell” at Arturo Bandini

5. Night Gallery: “They started in a small space in a strip mall in Lincoln Heights next to a taco joint. Their walls were black and just like it sounds, they were only open at night from 10pm-2am. Their current show High Hell featuring Mira Dancy is awesome – go see it. It’s been amazing to watch their evolution as a gallery!”

Hilde’s latest story of our last days on Earth

6. HILDE: “Run by Hilde Helphenstein, who is such a smart, thoughtful curator, HILDE is almost a year old and she just opened another space up in Oakland. She’s always thinking about the conversation between the artists and the art. She weaves something together with another piece across the room that you would have never thought of. It’s magic.”


7. 24 Hour Charlie’s: “It’s not even really a space. It’s more of a project by artists Andrea Marie-Breiling and Charlie Michenberg and their concept is a roving exhibit that’s open for a full 24 hours and that’s it. Once it was at a house in Malibu, and then their own house, and it’s more of a party environment with an artist community vibe. What I love is that they invite guest curators who are typically artists themselves.”

“ANGSTZEITEN” by Liv Aanrud, Jamie Felton, Alice Lang & Dustin Metz curated by Don Edler at ELEVATOR MONDAYS

8. Elevator Mondays: “Don Edler definitely takes risks with his programming. The space is an old elevator shaft in his studio. It’s an interesting format because it’s very constrained. It’s a specific type space and although it is very small, he does a lot of performance type shows and installation. This unique space is a jumping-off point for connections, relationships and dialogues that continue outside of the gallery.”

“NAKED EARTH”, Matt Taber & Scott Nadeau, ELEVATOR MONDAYS

You mentioned the importance of curation with many of your top picks. What makes a good curator?

Diversity is important. Having and thinking about what story you’re trying to tell your viewer, design, layout, and the conversation that the artists are having with each other and with you. Thinking about the exhibition as a whole and also how the artists will work together. It’s so important.

As an LA native, it’s nice to see a resource like this in my city. Do you consider LA an art destination?

Absolutely! L.A. is an artist driven city. Now more than ever artists are taking agency over the current here, the art market, and the art landscape. A lot of artists that are being picked up by larger galleries are because they’re seeing them at smaller artist-run spaces. Artists are pushing each other right now in L.A. – it’s amazing to see! The city is hard to navigate because it’s so spread out, but what’s special about L.A. – there’s so much space! And the app is a great way to discover all of the art in this sprawling metropolis.

“Big Sky(Lovers)” by Theodore Boyer at HILDE Gallery

What’s next for Curate LA?

We’re growing it here, and my vision is to grow it outside of L.A., but we’re working on getting funding. For L.A. specifically, we are expanding the team and looking to produce more content about L.A. with video content. It’s all about artists in L.A. and how the city influences them and their practice. Honestly, I had no idea it would come to be what it is now, so we’ll see what happens!

“Why isn’t there a Curate LA in every city?”

Do you love art? Want to visit LA?



Birds of Paradise: Brazil’s Iguaçu Falls

The old real estate adage, “location, location, location” couldn’t have been truer for my picture perfect vacation to Brazil’s Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. The only resort with an enviable address inside Iguaçu Falls National Park, the Belmond is the ideal place to absorb the essence of this natural wonder.

The Belmond from a helicopter – don’t look down!

In this breathtaking oasis, no filters are needed. The bluest sky greets you from above, while your body takes in the freshest air that carries healing ions pouring over from the falls. Standing on the steps of the Belmond lobby, I couldn’t believe how close I was to this marvelous display of nature! Did I even need to check-in to my room, or could I just stay here and stare at this wondrous sight?

Private dining nook at Belmond Iguaçu – wow!

Eager to relax from my urban adventures in São Paulo, I made my way up to my suite, which I was thrilled to discover had a view of Iguaçu Falls! Enveloped in the most soothing shade of salmon, I sank back into my bed and enjoyed a rejuvenating nap.

Waking from a restful slumber, I was delighted to find my welcome gift from the Belmond staff – a pair of Havaianas in their signature vintage blue. It was like a cue to relax – and I loved the idea of ditching my heels, makeup, and hair curlers for a few days! I slipped on my new sandals and walked over to the pool, loving that everyone at the resort had on the same Havaianas! Wrapping my body in the soothing water set at the perfect temperature, I floated around to the soundtrack of beautiful birds serenading me from afar.

Belmond, take me away!

I’m not normally a morning person, but there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to enjoy a private visit up close with the falls. This is one of the best things about the Belmond; you have access to the falls before and after the park has opened to the public, allowing you to avoid the throngs of crowds that flood the scene.

Serenity at dawn in front of Iguaçu Falls

I woke up well before sunrise because I wanted to get a few shots of the landscape uncluttered and bathed in that perfect light. But what I experienced was much more transformative than a solo photo excursion. Alone and undisturbed for a couple of hours, I cried, laughed, and allowed my soul to heal in the powerful embrace of the falls. This natural hug squeezed every ounce of gratitude that I had inside me as I shouted “thank you” to the sky. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for everyone who made the trip possible, and thank you for a moment of peace.

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My healing didn’t end at the falls. In fact, this was just the beginning. My hosts from the Iguaçu Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged for me to participate in a tribal ceremony with the Tupi-Guarani Indians, a local indigenous tribe that welcomes visitors to take part in their intimate rituals. Walking through the dark rainforest with my guide, I was met by the warmth of a fire and the soft pulse of a drum, flashing back to when I had last seen a bonfire at my father’s funeral weekend just a few months before.

A powerful healing energy came over me as we all circled around the fire for what seemed like hours. Eventually sitting down to enjoy a traditional meal, the leader and shaman spoke about some of their guiding principles, with words that felt like they were crafted just for me. Grateful that I was able to understand his Portuguese without the assistance of my guide, I focused on every word, not wanting to forget a moment of this incredible experience. Back at my hotel, I journaled about all that had happened in an effort to process this unique encounter. Since no photography was allowed, I depended on the vibrant images in my mind to help me make sense of this once in a lifetime experience.

One of the guards at Iguaçu’s Bird Park

If you must leave this tropical oasis that is the Belmond, then plan a trip to the Parque das Aves, a bird park that sits right outside the Iguaçu National Park. Parque das Aves is a pioneer of animal conservation, partnering with other organizations that support biodiversity conservation both in Brazil and throughout the world. This family-friendly attraction, which is also the largest bird park in Latin America, offers a behind the scenes tour where you can feed the birds and get up close with nature. I was getting excited as I heard the birds calling from inside!

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Luckily my guide Alex, who was the key to understanding every aspect of Iguaçu, joined me at Parque das Aves. You absolutely cannot go to Iguaçu without him! He is a walking encyclopedia of every biological, botanical, and spiritual aspect of the falls. At every turn, Alex provided insight to each species, the flora and fauna around me, and a sincere awareness of these endangered and vulnerable animals and birds.

Are you my mommy?

The highlight of that morning was feeding the baby rescues. I giggled as they splashed milk all over me and nipped at my hands, eager to connect with their new visitor. After my private backstage tour was over, I begged to go through the park again – I didn’t want to leave!

On this next round, I spent quite a bit of time at the butterfly aviary witnessing one just coming out of its cocoon. Such a magical moment! With over 800 species of butterflies in this Atlantic Forest, I was mesmerized at the rainbow of colors and patterns. As I watched the Caligo brasiliensis butterflies munch on bananas, Alex shared with me how these butterflies use their owl-like appearance to avoid predators.


I think he thought I was his twin with my bright yellow shirt!

Walking through the rest of the park, Alex highlighted the conservation efforts at Parque das Aves, specifically the toucans. “They’re not technically endangered, but do get injured a lot because of hunting accidents. The natural breeding that happens here ensures a safety population of this magnificent bird.” He also told me that their eyes can change direction, noting them as a “portal of positive energy”.

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PicadinhoBack at the Belmond, I enjoyed a late lunch of the most artfully prepared picadinho de filé, a dish that my tummy had fond memories of from São Paulo. I pored over videos of my new bird buddies from the morning – truly an unforgettable experience! Walking through the grounds at the resort, I noticed a tree that had a pink lichen – a botanical sign of high air quality based on Alex’s lesson of lichen, fungus, algae, and some of the 2,000 plant species that are here in Iguaçu. I excitedly took in another breath of this healing space. As I collapsed into a hammock, I drifted off to sleep with the lull of sweet birds chirping what sounded like, “Sarah, don’t leave…”


Do you want to visit this natural oasis? Then fill out the form below!


Uniquely Urban: A Weekend in São Paulo

Having lived, worked, and vacationed in Brazil for many years, it’s kind of shocking that I hadn’t really explored its largest city. São Paulo was always just a layover on the way to the gorgeous beaches of the northeast or the sexy city of Rio. But with an itinerary carefully crafted by my colleagues at the São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was in for a surprise. Hotel Unique_Lobby

Walking into my hotel, I was immediately struck by the unique design of the lobby and quickly understood how it earned its name. Hotel Unique is the architectural gem by Ruy Ohtake, one of Brazil’s architect legends. Drawing inspiration from Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and of course, his mother, famed Brazilian artist, Tomie Ohtake, Ruy’s lunar shaped luxury hotel is a sight to behold. Unique_Skye_Pool

Sitting down to check-in, I noticed the Conde Nast 2016 awards for “Best South American Hotel” and Hotel Unique’s enviable position at #8 on the list of “Top 50 Hotels in the World”. Sipping on a glass of welcome champagne, I was curious to learn how this hotel had earned its accolades.


Eager to rest, I drew a bath in my suite, all the while intrigued by the edgy design. The contrast of curves and corners set against a backdrop of soothing white decor had me entranced.

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But why the awards? There are many hotels that boast cutting-edge design and invest in their interiors, but what makes Hotel Unique stand out is their service. Every one of my requests, odd as they were, was met with a warm smile that made me feel like I was at an old friend’s home. Read any of the TripAdvisor reviews, and it’s no wonder Hotel Unique is ranked as their top São Paulo recommendation. And it’s also worth mentioning that I was greeted with a glass of champagne wherever I went – it was as if they had a secret champagne nymph following me around the hotel!


In a city as large as São Paulo, it’s sometimes hard to uncover hidden gems. But with the help of my expert guide, Flazia Liz Di Paolo, every corner beckons with glittering finds. Two of her unique fashion recs: Japonique Boutique and Léia Sgro Jewelry.

My favorite COMAS dress made from men’s shirts!

Japonique is trendy, but tastefully curated. I picked up a pair of Melissa shoes for a client, browsed through chic room decor, but my favorite discovery was the COMAS clothing line. Lucky enough to meet with the director of COMAS, she shared some of their eco-friendly design philosophy with me. “It’s upcycling. We take men’s shirts and rework them into wearable designs for women.” Emphasis on wearable. Luckily I bought my sustainable, yet stylish items early in my trip and wore them all over Brazil(see below!), since they hardly wrinkle, and looked great with wedges, tennis shoes, and the ubiquitous Havaianas.

Flavia Liz’s other hidden gem? The handmade jewelry of Léia Sgro. Walking into Léia’s studio, there’s a definite shift in your energy. Calming and centering, her delicate pieces float on branches hung throughout her gallery, coaxing you to take a second look. My favorites – a pendant and earring set made from the skeleton leaves in her garden.


Léia’s talents don’t end with jewelry making. She is also one of only three people outside of Japan trained and skilled at the art of Chabako. Léia explained that a chabako is a box once used to store kimonos, as well as tea implements, made popular in the Sen no Rikyu era for use in outdoor tea ceremonies. With her special touch, they make the perfect addition to any room.

As Léia showed me some of her upcoming pieces, which will be shown in Rome in 2018, she talked about how her designs are inspired by her travels and nature, “especially the forms I see in nature”, she smiled. With her degree from Tokyo’s Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry and international stints in London, Vienna, Boston, Madrid, and Rome, Léia has plenty of inspiration to infuse her modern designs.

One of Leia’s custom crafted chabakos

As we drove to our next stop, Flavia Liz shared some of the history of Japanese culture here in São Paulo. “With a large influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900’s, São Paulo is now home to over 1.5 million people of Japanese descent. And its influence is seen in the art, gastronomy, design, and culture throughout this huge metropolis.”

Tomie Ohtake Institute’s striking façade

A near perfect example of this influence is the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. Mother to famed architects, Ruy and Ricardo, Tomie Ohtake was part of that Japanese immigration wave and reinvented herself as an artist at age 40. The embodiment of the phrase, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been”, Tomie went on to hold over 120 solo exhibitions in Brazil, and around the world in Milan, Miami, Tokyo, New York, and Havana.

Her institute hosts debates, research, and of course exhibitions that promote an understanding of national and international contemporary art, architecture, and design. Luckily, I was able to see the shocking and socially engaging exhibit of Yoko Ono, The Sky Is Still Blue, You Know. Known for her provocative and political art, Yoko’s works held true to her artistic signature of engaging with the spectators and seducing us to participate in the exhibit. museums-in-sao-paulo

As I walked through the exhibit, some of it was joyful and fun, like writing my wishes on the large tree in foyer, while others like the video of Yoko’s infamous and iconic 1964 Carnegie Hall performance, which allowed spectators to snip strips of her clothing, had me puzzled and pondering present-day power struggles.

But that is what great art is supposed to do, and it’s no wonder that Instituto Tomie Ohtake has staged shows of Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Josef Albers, all previously unheard of in Brazil. Tomie’s eponymous design landmark is definitely a must-see while in São Paulo.


Next stop? A dining adventure at Ícone GastroRock in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. Two tips for a visit to Ícone GastroRock: make reservations and come open-minded. With a tasting menu that changes weekly, you’ll want to book your seat at the table well in advance where you can watch the mastery of Chefs Roberto Satoru and Alexandre Ortigoso up close.


The brainchild of Chef Roberto and Chef Alexandre, Ícone GastroRock’s menu fuses the ever-present Japanese influence into artfully prepared plates – all ready for that perfect Instagram shot! Roberto was a gastronomy pioneer here in São Paulo, opening one of the first temakerias and launching a food trend across the city, while Alexandre brings his own gastronomy chops with a strong background in all things ale and spirits.

I’m glad that I came hungry! My first dish was a colorful array of vegetables placed atop a hummus made with red lentils, but it soon disappeared and was promptly followed by the most sumptuous seared scallop set atop a bed of seaweed salad – OMG! Next on the list – a beautiful arranged tuna tartare with Asian pear, quail egg, and a delicate ponzu sauce. My favorite(and not pictured because I gobbled it down!) was a braised lamb paired with the most divine burrata I have ever tasted. I forgot how strong the Italian influence was in Brazilian cuisine until I tasted this dish – perfection!

Back in the comforts of Hotel Unique, I marveled at the contemporary design by João Armentano and sunk into one of the chairs off the lobby’s extensive library, adjacent to their secret indoor pool. Intrigued by the vast collection, I was debating whether to stay here and get lost in a book, or head up to the rooftop marvel that is Skye Restaurant & Bar.

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“I can read on the plane”, I thought, and with that I headed up to the panoramic views of São Paulo that awaited at the top of Hotel Unique. After my bartender tested my Portuguese, he crafted a cocktail that was the perfect accompaniment to this sweeping view. Quickly perusing the menu, I decided to have lunch here the following day so that I could enjoy the creations of award-winning Chef Emmanuel Bassoleil, consistently ranked among the world’s best. Sipping on my drink, I was already looking forward to my next stay at one of the world’s best hotels, right here in São Paulo.


Contact me to visit São Paulo’s top luxury hotel!




Healthy Habits Go Global

My first solo trip was to a yoga retreat in Spain, back in the summer of 2006. I think I was prompted by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, with an emphasis on the “pray” part. Seriously!

But what was most pivotal about this trip was learning how to honor my body, from the inside out. I walked away from the Kaliyoga retreat with a fresh focus on my mental, physical, and spiritual health. Since then, I always travel with these things in mind and do what I can to foster that sense of calm, wellness, and peace wherever I go.

Yoga at W
Poolside yoga at W Beverly Hills, California

Whether or not you practice yoga, one thing that you should always try to integrate into your routine while you travel is some exercise. It’s a great way to both deter and recover from jet lag, as well as give you that natural high! Some tools that I always bring with me, and luckily don’t take up too much space in my carry-on, are my yoga socks and gloves, an exercise band, and a jump rope.

MBGSTaylor Workout Gear

Yoga socks are helpful when you can’t travel with your mat and want to squeeze in some yoga wherever you are. While they’re not critical to performing a meaningful yoga practice, they definitely help grip your palms and feet to slippery floors. If you’re staying in an Airbnb and there’s no fitness center or studio nearby, these are good to have on hand. Luckily, many hotels will deliver mats to your room, but better to travel prepared.

No studio? Don’t let that be an excuse! If I’ve forgotten a yoga sequence, or just want some new inspiration for my routine, I turn to one of my favorite Instagram accounts by Dr. Shauna Harrison, whose videos and photos take you step-by-step through all kinds of moves with some funky beats as background music. Read my interview with this fitness powerhouse here!

That time I worked out with Dr. Shauna Harrison!!!

I love exercise bands, although I sometimes hate doing the exercises that go with them! They are multi-purpose and you can look online for different routines to get the most out of yours. They’re perfect for resistance moves, and take your leg lifts up a notch! An exercise band can also double as a make-shift strap for those yoga poses that require some serious stretching. Paschimottanasana, anyone?

I’ve traveled solo to many places, and some destinations are more dangerous that others. But don’t let this deter you from getting in some quality cardio! A jump rope is a good thing to carry along if you’re staying in a place where you feel unsafe running at night, but want to squeeze in a good workout. Or if your hotel doesn’t have a fitness center, this is a good way to get your heart rate up at a nearby park or plaza during daylight hours.

MBGSTaylor Nutrition Pack
My nutrition arsenal

Whether you’re traveling for work or heading out on that well-deserved vacation, one thing is for certain – your eating habits will change. There’s usually an increase in alcohol, whether at a client dinner or the trendy nightclub down the way, which ends up taxing your liver. This is one of the worst ways to derail your usually healthy diet and send your system into overload.

Before you even get to your destination, plan ahead and call your airline to change your inflight meal to something healthier. I always opt for the “Low Sodium” meal after learning the hard way that some airlines interpret “Vegetarian” as rice smothered in fattening, sodium-laden sauce.

MBGSTaylor Airport Snacks
Healthy fruit packed in a recycled container – easy!

Another thing to consider is what you’re going to eat while you wait endless hours at the airport if your flight is delayed(highly probable!). While airports are increasingly adding health-conscious options for travelers, plan ahead and eat something either before you leave home or on the way to the airport. One of my favorite pre-flight meals is my green smoothie recipe from Kimberly Snyder that I drink on the way to the airport. I also carry some cut up fruit in an old yogurt container that I can quickly eat and then toss while I’m in that long security line. Apples, bananas, and oranges all make good choices too, and have eco-friendly “wrappers” that can easily be tossed into the trash.

Tea service at Belmond Iguaçu Falls

Snacks are another key part of staying healthy while you travel. I always have a small arsenal of teabags, nut bars, seaweed chips, granola, and a piece of dark chocolate in case I need to ease any hunger pangs. And don’t forget to pack your vitamins and supplements! Those can be hard to find in some out of the way locales. My mini-medicine cabinet includes magnesium, powdered greens, milk thistle, and elderberry supplements.

Break open in case of an emergency!

Finally – relax! This means different things to each of us, but do spend some time offline. One of the best things about my aforementioned yoga retreat was that it was before the smartphone era, and so it was easy to “disconnect”. While I’m as guilty as the next person of scrolling through Instagram or reading work emails, it’s critical to your mental health and wellness to take a break every once in a while.

MBGSTaylor Decompress

One of my favorite ways to get in touch with my inner spirit is to write in my journal. Whether it’s reminiscing about my latest adventure or making a list of things that I’m grateful for(flight being on time, a room upgrade, or simply the opportunity to travel), spending time writing down my thoughts is a great way to relax.

Candle: model’s own, Champagne & Bubbles: courtesy of hotel

Speaking of relaxing – create a mini-spa in your hotel room! I always bring along a eucalyptus-scented candle to freshen up my hotel room, in addition to some bath salts to soothe tired muscles from long overnight flights. And one of my favorite ways to treat myself is to do a calming moisture mask to revive my tired skin. Leave it on while sitting in the bath, or while you’re plotting out your itinerary, and emerge renewed!

MBGSTaylor Travel Spa
Travel-size spa-aaaahhhhh!

If you absolutely MUST look at your phone, at least put on Insight Timer. It’s one of my favorite apps that has endless guided meditations, soothing sounds, and positive affirmations to help you tune in while tuning out.

All of these items won’t take up much space in that precious carry-on luggage real estate. Choose your favorites and enjoy your next travel adventure with a healthy heart, powerful body, and revived soul!

Start and end the day with an attitude of gratitude!

Contact me to book your next relaxing & rejuvenating getaway!


L.A. Woman: A Weekend at SLS Beverly Hills


LA-womanWelcome to Los Angeles – where there’s never a “low season”. Gorgeous weather year-round attracts travelers from tough climates, while the entertainment capital of the world draws in jet-setting stars and adoring fans from all over the world for a steady rotation of awards shows, premieres, and film festivals. The perfect location for this flurry of star-studded activity? SLS Beverly Hills.

The list of accolades is long: Condé Nast Traveller “Hot List Hotel”, Travel & Leisure “It List”,  Fodor’s “Best Design Hotel. And I haven’t even started on the long list of awards held by Chef José Andrés. But more on him later…


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Entering SLS Beverly Hills is unique to say the least. A red carpet welcoming you to the whimsical world of Philippe Starck is one small detail that lets you know you’ve arrived to a destination that is one of the gems of a glittering collection of Starwood Luxury Properties around the globe. True to the hotel brand’s mission, SLS Beverly Hills is an “expression of its location; a portal to the destination’s indigenous charms and treasures” that befit each Luxury Property.


Glittering beneath some of SLS Beverly Hills’ collection of over 77 bespoke chandeliers, Tres lounge is the genius antidote to the hotel lobby experience. Leather lounges, captivating bookshelves, and cozy fireplaces make you feel as if you’ve stepped into your own living room. At either end of this unique design space are two private rooms; The Black Room and the White Room. Each flanks the opposite end of Tres to provide VIP guests an even more luxurious way to dine and entertain.


What to wear in this town? The edgy, yet sophisticated looks from Thomas Wylde. Founded in 2006, this global ready-to-wear and accessories luxury brand is perfect for the L.A. woman out on the town. While its headquarters are here in Los Angeles, Thomas Wylde has developed a loyal international following through brand awareness in Vogue, L’Officiel, and WWD, in addition to runway shows in New York and Milan.


When I went to the showroom to pick up my pieces, I had the great fortune of sitting with Creative Director Jene Park. “The Thomas Wylde brand is strong yet elegant. And a rock ‘n’ roll influence is in our DNA”. Walking among enviable pieces of silk, leather, and other sumptuous fabrics, I learned more about the Thomas Wylde aesthetic. “Our fashions are wearable; it’s not just for the runway.”


I have to agree. While waltzing through the SLS in these varied looks, I felt like I was ready for a night on the town. Comfortable, classy, sexy, quality – all elements that I look for when shopping for myself and my clients are here at Thomas Wylde. And it’s why they have such a large and diverse fan base that includes Madonna, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Heidi Klum, Carrie Underwood, Selena Gomez, Dita Von Teese, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Paradis, and Li Bingbing.

LA Woman

Learning a bit more about Jene’s illustrious background, I was even more impressed to hear that she’d won the sought-after scholarship from Maison Lesage and had spent the early days in her career at the fashion houses of Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Chanel. As she chose my pieces, Jene imparted with a wink, “there’s romantic movement in our pieces. But it’s still edgy.”


The obvious complement to Thomas Wylde’s edgy and glamorous styles? Jewelry from Ara Vartanian. I discovered Ara’s signature style on a press trip to Brazil earlier this spring when my luxury guide, Flavia Liz Di Paolo took me on a private tour of his São Paulo atelier where I witnessed his artistry firsthand. Sitting with Luna and Val, the motivated women behind the brand, I learned the story of his signature hook earring. “It was his wife who inspired him to make this style. He had observed her wearing larger pieces, and found a way to make it comfortable, yet just as striking.”


When your wife and exquisite gemstones are your muses, it has to be a success! Another one of Ara’s muses is Kate Moss. She recently helped launch his London showroom, bringing the Brazilian designer’s jewels to a new audience. Luckily, I can find Ara’s designs closer to home here in Los Angeles at Broken English Jewelry. A wide array of his two and three finger rings, hook earrings, cuffs, and chokers, all featuring the unique inverted diamond setting are waiting at their Westside boutique to adorn the L.A. woman.


“No two stones are the same so each piece of jewelry I design becomes unique by this mere fact. These characteristics may be the key to understanding a sentence I often repeat when I finish creating a piece of jewelry: ‘The stone always chooses the right person’,” Ara states. And it is this mantra that has made each of his pieces a work of art.


Speaking of art, those of you who have been reading my articles for a while know that I always seek out art on my travels. And it’s something I enjoy while here at home in L.A., too! One of my favorite local artists is Clara Berta, whom I had the serendipitous fortune of meeting at an art event last year. We instantly clicked while acknowledging each others’ funky style: Clara was donning a teal dress from Thomas Wylde and I had on some provocative tights from Wolford.

Clara is an artist at heart, not just by trade. Her energy is infectious and she speaks with passion about everything she does, whether it’s her favorite L.A. restaurant Bestia or the latest speakeasy she’s discovered. Clara did her first art show in 2000, while working as an actress at the same time and along her journey, met a costume designer who introduced her to printmaking. “I spent two years studying with her and getting a more formal eduction. I needed to learn structure. I think it’s important for every artist to have a foundation”.


Next in Clara’s evolution was her one-woman show, Sex Is My Specialty, a performance that she found both healing and cathartic. “I found my voice, and saw how healing and moving the show was for other women.” It’s as if this emotional show prepared her for the sudden death of her husband, when she turned to painting. “I remember my first sale because my love and grief were mixed together in that piece.”


This turning point allowed her to grow as an artist and be truly happy doing what she loves. “I’m inspired by people, nature, and the small miracles that happen in daily life. Sometimes I’m even stimulated by a good meal and the energy of my food!”

Like her art, Clara is exciting, vibrant and filled with energy and you’ll experience that at her studio events with guest speakers including neuroscientists, interior designers, and other artists. Next up for Clara? She has her sights set on Biennale, a possible show in Luxembourg, and hosting a retreat for aspiring women artists here in Los Angeles.


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Ok, so back to the Bazaar at SLS! This masterpiece dining concept is the brainchild of internationally recognized culinary innovator José Andrés. His accolades require their own article, but a few are Time’s “100 Most Influential People”, James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef”, and President Obama’s “National Humanities Medal”. Wow!

The Bazaar at SLS Beverly Hills

Which is exactly what you’ll say when you step into The Bazaar, where every seductive corner lures you in with a design as diverse as Andrés’ menu. Chef Andrés has created a fanciful array of traditional and pioneering tapas, while the Patisserie features delicate sweets and roaming carts which showcase edible delights that weave their way through glass cases full of art, jewelry, and provocative books.


Sink back into one of the 277 chairs, all selected by Philippe Starck, and sip one of the inventive cocktails that integrate contemporary techniques and tools such as liquid nitrogen, olive and cherry spherifications, herbs, and organic emulsifiers. My waitress recommended their signature caipirinha cart; a welcome suggestion on a hot Los Angeles evening, and the perfect pairing for Andrés’ croquetas de pollo. Ummm! I sat there wondering what gastronomic wonders Chef Andrés will feature at the upcoming opening of Somni…


Hard as it is to break away from the enchanting yet exotic Bazaar, you definitely need to seek out some nightlife when visiting L.A. The best choice? A performance by L.A. native, Anabel Englund. Her vocals infused the international chart-topper “Reverse Skydiving” with a sensual and sultry call to get out on the dance floor, energizing crowds as far away as Brazil and the UK. “Music has always been a part of my life. I was shy, but my whole life has been about challenging myself. If I’m afraid or uncomfortable, that’s a sign for me to go do it. If it’s healthy for me and my spirit, I go for it”.


Hearing Anabel describe what she calls her “moral code”, I can already sense that she is destined for stardom at this early phase in her career. In an industry that is competitive and cutthroat, she’s definitely got her head on straight! “We need to embrace each others’ differences, but we’re all the same. We share the same spirit.” Her spirituality is something that keeps her anchored in a frenzied environment. Anabel’s pre-performance ritual? Prayer. “Even if I don’t have time to be alone, I just say a quick prayer behind the DJ booth and ask God to help inspire me and ignite a fire in someone else.”


And her career is definitely on fire. With an EP due out later this year, Anabel has drawn on her previous collaborative works to produce her recent party series “Gari Safari”, a curated tour of live dance music, an innovative concept that crowds are loving. This L.A. woman is ready for her close-up.



Photography: Mike Fox Photo

Wardrobe: Thomas Wylde

Jewelry: Ara Vartanian

Makeup: Chanel

Hair: On Demand Salon





Stanford on the Moon: An Interview with Mike Massimino

Earlier this year, I attended Collision Conference where I had the opportunity to interview Mike Massimino, the first astronaut to send a tweet from outer space. When I found out Mike was going to speak at the conference, I just knew that I had to get some face time with him, since I handle all things social media for Stanford on the Moon.

Mike served as a NASA Astronaut from 1996-2014, flying in space twice and walking in space four times for the final two Hubble Telescope servicing missions. His New York Times bestselling book, Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe, was published in the fall of 2016 to rave reviews. Mike received his Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University, and two Master of Science degrees and a Ph.D. from MIT.Massimino-Credit Jeffrey Schifman for Columbia Engineering

You can read more about Mike’s journey in his book, and here’s a bit from our chat at Collision:

So you’re kind of a pioneer in more ways than one! And you talked about earning cool points with your kids after sending that first tweet. Tell us about your social media ventures from space.

Well I enjoyed doing it and I was sharing the experience of space travel, my training, and I thought ‘how do I get the word out?’. I started a blog, but it felt like an assignment with all of the writing! So tweeting gave me a great way with 140 characters. About a month before flight in April 2009, I was tweeting everything – what we did, my workouts, checking out the spaceship. Then I kind of stopped and went through this phase of post-trip “does anyone care what I’m doing now?” but I found out people did want to see my life afterwards.

How has life afterwards for you changed? Seeing the earth from a different perspective, did it change your recycling habits, ideas about climate change?

Definitely! As astronauts, we did a lot of training, but for me the most rewarding thing was just getting a chance to look at the planet, particularly from the spacewalk. You see the curve of the planet. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen – there are no words to describe this beauty. I thought, this must be the view from heaven, not from a religious standpoint, but if you could be up in heaven this is what you would see. I cried at that moment.

And then as I looked at the earth more, I thought, no this is what heaven must look like. We live in a paradise. I think that there are opportunities for love and happiness, however you got here, whatever your beliefs are. Our atmosphere keeps us alive – we lose that and we’re dead! It is really important that we have to take care of it. Once it goes, we can’t put it back together. We have to protect the earth, our home.

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I completely agree! In your presentation, you talked about the intense training for the space mission and that primal fear that overcame you when you walked on the plank. Since we’re at a tech conference, I have to ask, do you think that Virtual Reality can simulate emotions like primal fear, happiness, and love?

I think it can. I think our brains can be trained. You know, I mentioned my fear of heights in the presentation so when it came time for that part of the training – you bet I was a bit scared! So we had to go through this water survival training, where we started jumping off of a platform just 6 inches high, then a foot, etc. then eventually it’s a high platform. So you work up to it and get over the fear.

I do believe that Virtual Reality can help you manage the fear. Part of it is fear of the unknown – you panic or get nervous and your mind interprets it like a threat. If your brain can become comfortable with it, then you feel safe. Sometimes there’s a real threat and other times it’s just your mind.Mike astro

Speaking of mind over matter, you closed your presentation by saying, “the difference between unlikely and impossible is when you give up – then it becomes 0%”. What was the turning point for you to help you pursue your dream of becoming an astronaut later in life?

I was a senior in college and went to see the movie The Right Stuff, and it rekindled my interest. Seeing the view outside of John Glenn’s capsule – it changed my life! I started learning more about it and reading everything I could about space travel. At this point, I had my job in Manhattan, but then I realized it was my passion and I could either ignore it and become miserable my whole life, or do something about it and try to be happy. I had to try, even though I had so many reasons not be an astronaut, – fear of heights, no swimming skills, near-sightedness! So I went back to MIT and did all the “right stuff” and here I am!

What an inspiration, Mike! So do you think there’s a chance that Stanford could have a study abroad program on the moon someday?

That would be great! You just have to get there. It’s going to happen – it’s just a matter of when. Sometimes we overestimate our capabilities, like 2001, the movie, where people thought that we were going to be living like that. But we’re still far behind. It takes a couple of generations, but yes, it’s possible!

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Brazil’s Gold Mine: A Visit to Minas Gerais



Long before Google had every inch of the globe mapped and scaled online, I was assigned to an exchange program in a small Brazilian town called “Ouro Branco”.

Eager to learn more about my future destination, I entered this foreign city into the search box, only to discover the name translated to “white gold”, and that it was a few hours from Minas Gerais’ state capital, Belo Horizonte. As with all things destined, the mountainside town of Ouro Branco became my anchor for discovering more of Minas.

Brazil’s inland state is just that, a hidden gem. A quick plane ride from its more popular neighbors, Rio and São Paulo, Minas Gerais is a vast countryside full of historical towns, hidden waterfalls and hiking trails, and the best cuisine in all of Brazil – the general consensus among Brazilians.


The most expansive of Minas’ hidden gems is Museo Inhotim. To call it a museum is an understatement. This 5,000 acre masterpiece is a design lover’s dream, a nature lover’s paradise, and of course, an art lover’s epiphany. Sitting about an hour outside of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city, Inhotim is a full sensory experience. Lush, green trees envelop you from the moment you walk in, wrapping you in a cocoon of natural wonders.


My knowledgeable guide Marcelo Martins led the way, pointing out the natural furniture by famed Brazilian designer Hugo França. These striking pieces from repurposed wood sat amongst the 500 different botanical species at Inhotim. My favorite tree, paxiuba, is known as “the palm that walks”, moving 3 centimeters a year to follow the sun. Stopping at our first exhibit, he asked “What do you see here?” as I gazed up at a large set of chairs and tables surrounded by a manicured garden. Apprehensive about my answer, I wondered if Marcelo would allow me to advance to the next exhibit based on the quality of my response.


Chris Burden’s Beam Drop


Luckily, my answer was suffice and our next stop was the Sonic Pavilion. An ambitious and complex work by Doug Aitken, the pavilion holds a deep well over 600 feet, equipped with microphones that send the wailing frequencies of the earth’s cry up into the room. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt the pain and voice of Mother Earth crying out, reverberating through my body and soul.


Doug Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion


There’s not much to say when you leave an experience like that. I walked along in silence with Marcelo until we reached our next stop when he said, “The earth was extra loud today. She must have known you were coming.” This prompted our discussion of meditation, as I told Marcelo that I’m glad I had a daily practice which truly prepared me for Inhotim. The spiritual and physical work that I’d been doing allowed me to fully absorb every somatic stroke of this magnificent place.


Mathew Barney’s From Mud, A Blade


Speaking of preparation, nothing truly prepared me for the next exhibit by Mathew Barney. Weaving the conflict of Ogum, god of iron, war, and technology with Ossanha, the god of plants and nature, Barney’s massive work draws inspiration from Bahian Candomble to highlight the tension between our natural and man-made worlds. In a word, this was disturbing. Which is exactly what great art is supposed to do, right?

IMG_2483Less disturbing, but just as provocative was the gallery featuring work by famed Brazilian contemporary artist Cildo Meireles. Awash in varied hues of red, it was a playful, yet evolving exhibit as the strong color came to signify violence and blood as I moved from room to room.

Heading to lunch, Marcelo shared the history of Inhotim and its gardens, “Roberto Burle Marx visited this place, and being a close friend to Bernardo Paz, the museum’s founder, he advised Bernardo on what plant species to use, the colors, and even the layout.”


Over a delicious lunch of fresh fish and endless salads and local fruits, Marcelo reminisced on his early days at Inhotim. “When I first started working here, I thought 2 days was enough time for a visit, but now I recommend 4 days. You really want time to experience Inhotim. To really absorb it.”

During our decadent meal, Yara Castanheira, who heads the education department at Inhotim, joined us. “Here at Inhotim, we connect art and nature. We blur those boundaries.” And it’s evident at every turn. Exhibits are hidden behind towering trees, obscured by winding vines and orchids, and discovered at the end of trails overflowing with the flora and fauna that is unique to Brazil.


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“Our collections, all with a theme, provide a new perspective. But we’re mediating and guiding – not giving answers.” During my visit, Inhotim’s theme was gender and water, chosen in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainability. “We’re looking at contemporary challenges, and through researching this theme, we discovered that in places where there was enough water for the community, the women were also having that basic need of education met. Without water in the community, women and girls have to collect it and forgo the chance at an education. It’s a powerful discovery.”


Thinking about how grateful I was to have an education, we talked about Inhotim’s international partnerships with schools around the world. “In such an expansive place you can feel small. But yet each of us has a big impact. With the foreboding climate change and global warming, you think about the impact of your trash and plastic on our environment.” Yara’s words never rang truer as I thought about the political debates on global warming back home in the States.


Leaving lunch, Marcelo took me to an unexpected artwork – a pool. If you know me, or follow my Instagram, you know that I love a good pool party! In the balmy weather, I was tempted to dive right in, held back by the absence of a bikini. I’ll remember to pack it next time! Like every work at Inhotim, Jorge Macchi’s Piscina encourages the viewer to particpate with the art. Macchi’s work is a large scale recreation of his paper drawing, which fused an address book and a swimming pool, two items that are rarely seen together. Sitting there with my feet dangling above black granite letters, I wished that I could come back for another day at Inhotim. One day was definitely not enough!


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My tour through Inhotim unfortunately came to an end, but as Marcelo carefully orchestrated every turn, we ended at the symphonic “Forty Part Motet” – a surround-sound exhibit blasting a choral work that was written for Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday in 1575. Talk about a grand finale! I didn’t know what else to do besides stop and take it all in, letting my body harmonize with the chorus.


You know a place is good when you eat there twice in 24 hours. Because you want to. This is obviously the case at Pão de Queijaria, an ideally situated gastropub in Belo Horizonte where I ate the night before I left for Inhotim. And when I returned! Quickly gaining fame in a city full of foodies after its opening in January 2014, Pão de Queijaria won coveted “Best Of” awards from Veja Magazine, all hanging on their wall among funky artwork.


At first bite, you’ll think that “white gold” I mentioned earlier refers to the toasted puffs of bread, or maybe it’s the creamy canastra cheese that accompanies your pão de queijo. Either way, your tastebuds will be thanking you. Sitting down with Lucas, one of Pão de Queijaria’s founders, I learned a bit more about this precious canastra and its importance in their menu. “We source from local farms here in Minas, where we know the cows by name. And the aging process is very particular – producing only the best cheese – usually over the course of 20 to 30 days. We like to call it our ‘black label’,” he said with a wink.


And the quality is evident in every bite. Tearing me away from my sandwich, a perfectly marinated short rib garnished with fresh tomato, Lucas showed me a bit of their “behind the scenes” operations, and wow was it fragrant! Seeing what goes into this craft of making something seemingly simple as cheese bread made me appreciate it even more. This snack that I first learned of during my days in Ouro Branco had a new elevated status thanks to Lucas’ insight.


Drawing inspiration from star Chef Jaime Solares, who owns a nearby restaurant, Lucas and his partner Mario have asked Chef Jaime to give an unofficial nod of approval to their menu. “We just changed our menu, adding the short rib you just had, a fried chicken sandwich, and we made some changes to the hamburger, calling it Hamburger 2.0”. I’m just glad that they left the polenta bites and caprese sandwich on the menu – two of my faves. But now I have another reason to come back!

Sitting there with my friends, we were already deciding what to eat on our next visit. I told them that I would definitely be back – I had to follow Marcelo’s advice and do three more days at Inhotim!


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