Thank You

My time in Sao Paulo, Brazil has run its course. I have found myself telling people how these have been some of the best two months for me, professionally and personally. Over the last two months, I’ve written a lot about my work and personal, fun experiences in Sao Paulo but today, I simply want to share with you the PEOPLE that have made my stay a truly great experience:

Marriot Executive Stay Apartments Staff – Being away from home for an extended period of time is never easy, so thank you so much for all you did to make us feel at home. I honestly feel like none of my requests went unfulfilled. The service and the personal attention made me feel like I was staying at a Ritz or St. Regis. What the property may have lacked in amenities, the staff more than made up for in great service.

Aline – The first person I met at the welcome desk when I checked in late September.  Soft spoken and super kind.

Lucas – Always friendly. We talked about everything from restaurants, nightlife in Sao Paulo to U.S./Brazilian politics.

Alexandre – Always had a couple bottles of water waiting for me after my weekend morning runs and made sure I was able to cast my vote (he mailed my absentee ballot via fedex).

Carter – For some odd reason he was always the one who picked up the phone when I called the front desk. I felt like he always said either “yes” or “not a problem at all” even before I finished my random requests. Thank you!

Ana and Valmir – Ana and Valmir both work at Quench, the lobby restaurant. Ana went on vacation/leave about 1 month into our stay and Valmir picked up right where she left off. They were both very kind and warm. Most importantly, they had my favorite orders memorized.

Joselia and Andalisa –  Cleaned my room almost every day for seven weeks…Geez!!! I honestly would not wish that on anyone, but they did it with a smile, nonetheless.

Ernst & Young Brazil – Thank you for helping us deliver value to our Entrepreneurs. You all made sure we had the EY Brazil and SGM resources we needed during our entire stay, but even more than that, you were very gracious hosts.

SGM Team (Bea, Gui, Dri and Cari) – Thanks for hosting us at all the various events like the CEO Summit, Hotel Unique, the EY Office breakfast, and the Happy Hours. On a personal note, thank you for the city tours and connecting with our entrepreneurs.

Jorge Menegassi (CEO of EY South American Sub Area) – We kept him waiting for almost 30 minutes on our first day due to building security delays. He waited the entire time and spent every minute of that opening breakfast with us. As if that were not enough, he hosted us again during our final week to make sure our experience in Brazil was all we hoped it would be – this time we were 15 minutes early .  One of the more sincere and candid leaders I have met.

Pixel Labs – Thank you so much for accepting me as one of your own and allowing me the very rare opportunity to help you map out your bright and prosperous future. I wish the entire team the best of luck and I will be looking forward to seeing your products in a store near me.

  Daniel and Edgard (Co-founders of Pixel labs) – I really hope your dreams for Pixel/SkinBit come true

 Creso – My primary contact at Pixel, my Feijoada partner. Thank you so much for everything. 

Vivi and Guilherme – My partners is crime at Pixel. These two were responsible for helping me implement most of the work I did with Pixel. If I gained weight during my time here, it is Vivi’s fault. She was always bringing me all sorts of snacks, candies and acai after lunch. And once I start snacking, I usually cannot stop. I promise we will do Samba Rock next time I’m in SP :)

That's Vivi in the center

 Kalini – For two months, called me a cab to take me home from work.  Thank you my gringo friend.

Endeavor – It is amazing the impact you are having. PLEASE OPEN AN OFFICE IN NIGERIA.

Arthur Valado – My primary contact from Endeavor. He really helped me ring fence my project while I was out here to make sure my seven weeks counted. Great soccer player too. 

Ernst & Young LLP
Beth and Kristin – Thanks for everything and especially making sure we had access to everything we needed for both an incredible professional and personal experience. Super grateful.

My TAS and DAS colleagues – Thanks for giving as much of a clean break as one could have had so that I could really devote my attention to serving my entrepreneur here. I feel like I really lucked out.

Uma Datla – Simply put, you are/were the BEST CO-FELLOW EVER.

Thank you everyone for sharing my adventure with me.

Onuwa Uzor

P.S. Big thanks also to JWebb & Brandi – You know what you did .

Iguazu Falls - A tale of two Iguazu’s

It could have been a tale of three since Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil all have access to the Iguazu River where the three borders actually meet - a popular tourist attraction. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see this part; I did not even get the chance to make it to Paraguay. Paraguay, it seems, gets the short-end of the stick as even the cab drivers shun Paraguay. We were trying to find a reason to go and they actually discouraged us against it. My buddy David visited Iguazu Falls the previous weekend and he has way better photos and, I think, did better job telling the story about the falls on his blog, but here’s my version.

Brazil – Foz do Iguazu
Day 1
We arrived in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil, the city where the national park is located, at around 9am. After checking into the newly renovated Recanto Park Hotel and a hot breakfast, we made our way to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. From the wiki link, I learned that the Iguazu waterfalls are arranged like a reversed letter “J”. The Brazilian side holds about 20% of the falls (mostly the final curve of the “J”) while the Argentinean side holds the rest. To me, the amazing thing about the Brazilian side was the panoramic view and the fact that at almost every point during the walkway from the first view point of the falls to the crescendo, the Devil’s throat (the highest and deepest part of all the waterfalls) you have most of the waterfalls on the Argentinean side in plain view. During the entire walk you are flanked by this panoramic view of all the waterfalls while you take in the amazing flora and fauna of the rainforest. We spotted a blue humming bird, monkeys, coatis and a wide array of butterflies. Below are some highlights.
Butterflies we spotted on the trek

The Calm and The Storm of Iguazu Falls
Views of the Falls and Devil's Throat from the Brazil side

Quenching our thirst at the falls!

Day 2 – Parque de Aves (Bird Park)
I had previously mentioned that Ms. Webb and Mrs. Daniel’s students were kind enough to write me farewell letters prior to my departure. Although most of their letters were focused on giving me valuable advice for my travels, some of them asked for some favors. One such favor was to make sure I spot a Toucan and get some photos. Can I be honest and say that I had no clue what a Toucan was until I read those letters? Luckily for Mary Kate and the rest of Ms. Webb and Mrs. Daniel’s 3rd grade class, there happened to be a bird park next to the entrance of Iguazu Falls. Here are some of our sightings – Enjoy!!

A toucan,  parrots, a parakeet, two hyacinth macaws, and my other favorite: the hummingbird

The various sleeping postures of the flamingo.

Argentina – Puerto Iguazu
In Argentina and Brazil at the same time!

From the Brazilian side of the falls, Argentina is literally a stone throw away. After my bird park visit, I decided to catch a cab to Argentina to get a different point of view of the Iguazu falls. There were definitely more waterfalls on the Argentinean side and something can be said about the ease of getting pretty close to the falls, which was not possible on the Brazil side. On the Argentinean side, it is pretty cool that you could take a lower trail (a bottoms-up view of a number of the falls) and an upper trail (a top-down view of certain falls). 
images from the upper trail (above) and the lower trail (below).
 Also, there is a Rainforest Ecological Train that brings you to the entrance of the Devil’s throat. My one complaint, however, is that there was a lot more walking and climbing of stairs than I anticipated. I guess I did not notice it as much on the Brazilian side because the panoramic view kept me engaged and in awe at all times, but on the Argentinean side, I found myself wondering how long I would have to walk before I encountered my next waterfall. For example, there is 0.6 mile or 10-minute walk through the Rainforest and over the river that brings you over the falls of the Devil’s Throat, which on the Argentinean side was UNBELIEVABLE! I guess it was worth the wait…and the walk.

Much of the trail on the Argentina side has a view like this one.

It's impossible to see the middle of Devil's Throat.  But you might see a rainbow!

The falls from the Argentina side.

In my opinion it is hard and maybe unfair to compare both sides of the waterfalls as they are two very different perspectives and experiences. As one person put it, you see the beauty of the falls better on the Brazilian side, but you feel them more on the Argentinean side.
I will conclude by sharing an experience I found really amusing. I don’t know why; I am telling myself that I may have looked like a basketball player since I am 6’2”, but almost a dozen different people wanted to get pictures with me at the Devil’s Throat. It started with a group of kids and then the requests just kept coming. One lady actually gestured and then spoke in Spanish – I believe she was telling me that she does not know who I am, but since everyone else is getting a picture, she would like one as well. I was able to sneak my camera in for some photos…only in South America!
Me and my fans.. Only in South America.

This was posted at the falls.  I thought it was interesting.

Rio de Janeiro…continued

The Beaches
Rio is famous for its beaches. Apparently, three of the more famous ones are Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana. We went to Leblon and Ipanema on day two of our trip and Copacabana on our third and final day in Rio. Day two weather wasn’t great but we made the most of it.
Below are some highlights from the three beaches across the two days:
Taking in all the beach activities, our hotel, a beach side gym, and a detailed walkway.

Slacklining and surfing at the beach.  Even the kids get involved!

Beach acrobatics: he used his elbow (left) and his head (middle) as a springboard - Impressive!

 Enjoying a samba serenade to go along with our lunch.

Pão de Açúcar
Our evening stop on day two was Pão de Açúcar – literal translation is “Bread of Sugar” (aka Sugarloaf Mountain). Along with Cristo Redentor this is one of the major attractions in Rio. To reach the summit we took two cable cars. The first stops at the shorter/smaller Morro da Urca, which gives you a decent view of the city and the second cable car runs from Morro da Urca to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. The idea was to arrive right before sunset and take in the amazing view and then slowly watch the city come to life before our very eyes. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not cooperating. It was overcast pretty much all day; I cannot even remember seeing the sun, much rather talk about it setting. On top of all this, it began raining when we arrived. Patience pays off because we decided to wait it out. The rain stopped and the clouds rose just enough to watch the city light up before our eyes.

 Now, I can only imagine how beautiful the sunset would have been but I would definitely recommend doing Sugarloaf in the evening to anyone visiting Rio. I bet it would be breathtaking to see the sunset and then watch the city slowly light up from this peak, especially since Cristo Redentor is only open till 6pm.

This was a lot of fun and it happened so quickly. We showed up at the landing point, went to an office and saw all the fancy gadgets analyzing wind conditions – wind conditions were great, btw!

Perfect wind conditions

We signed the typical disclaimer, paid R$20 for our flight license (R$15 for the license and R$5 donation for the preservation of the Tijuca Forest National Park).

Don't try to pronounce the name..

On the drive through the National Park, we got a quick series of diving instructions. Here are a couple examples:
  • Your instinct is your best friend; it usually tells you not to play with fire or step on a shattered glass. Today, your instinct is your enemy.
  • Hang gliding is an extreme, just like marriage is an extreme.
  • Hang gliding is an extreme like Yes and No – there are no in-betweens (no maybe, might, or I don’t know)
  • When I say Run! You Run!
Most of it was a blur; I just remember laughing as he spoke. Seven minutes later, 1,700ft up in the mountains, we arrived at the launch pad. We put on our safety gear, did two practice “runs” (literal runs of 5 – 10 yards), got strapped in to the equipment and that was it. It was now time to walk to the edge of the mountain, run and jump. The rest, they say, is history.

My Mission Impossible Impersonation

On the runway getting ready to go!
Just after lift off!
In the clouds

"Welcome to my office!"

Uma and Me just after landing

My Favorite moment? 2,000ft in the air right when we descend from the clouds and my pilot, Brenno Chaves, turns to me and asks “Beautiful…no?” I forget exactly what I said – amazing, beautiful, yes, etc…honestly I cannot remember my exact words but he then smiled, took a deep breath and said really calmly “Welcome to my office” with a huge sense of pride.

Thank you Brenno and thank you Rio de Janiero!