By Marilyn Diggs
April 29, 2008

A shy knock on the door and a smiling face greets me with a tray holding a terracotta vase, herbs, grainy salt and a glass of thick juice. As I down the yummy antioxidant juice, I follow the instructions tied with a ribbon around the vase, to prepare for my herbal bath – an Afro-Brazilian cleansing ritual. So begins my back-to-nature activities to care for my body, mind and spirit in the Mantiqueira Mountains, just 3 hours from São Paulo.

A recommendation and a visit to the webpage convinced me to see the Ponto de Luz (Point of Light) hotel and spa for myself. Founded in 1994, it was the first holistic spa in Brazil and satisfied guests report it is the best. The owner, Ma Dhyan Bhayva, pioneered alternative therapies and today has professional therapists not only practicing millennium treatments like Oriental massages, but also employing recent technology such as the Beamer Light Pen (see photo below), a technique using colored light on meridians and chakras. Today, Ponto de Luz is associated with the ABCSpas – Brazilian Association of Naturist Clinics and Spas – and is known for its emphasis on relaxation and meditation.

At breakfast, while relishing homemade linseed bread and pumpkin cake, I meet the Brazilian owner, Bhavya, as she is known today. I learn that she is the daughter of a successful multi-national chewing gum distributer. She was supposed to take over the business after college, but her counter-cultural nature led her in another direction. Majoring in sociology and political science during Brazil’s dictatorship years, the idealist sought change as a student activist in the late 1960s. Later, after studies with an Indian master and some extensive soul-searching, Bhavya understood that change comes from the inside out.

At the reception I’m handed an agenda for hiking, holistic workout classes, meditation and therapeutic sessions. After a struggle to choose from the extensive therapy menu, I go with watsu (shiatsu in the heated swimming pool), an amazing back-to-the womb experience. Aromatherapy in the hot tub bath (ofur) is another favorite. With my spa day planned I relax and discover what lay outside the country lodge and beyond my terraced room. Trails take me to green carpeted vistas, waterfalls, an Indian temple, orchards and the organic vegetable garden that supplies the naturalist meals.

Unlike the horror stories of spa mini-portions, guests choose between the buffet and Prato Luz, a tasty balanced diet prepared by dieticians (you can ask for seconds). Three healthy meals plus an afternoon snack keep energy flowing.

After a refreshing and relaxing day, the sound of the waterfall lulls me to sleep. No TV, no phones, no radios, no traffic. It’s almost a mantra. I find harmony within myself and meditate until I doze off, dreaming of tomorrow’s herbal bath.

Hotel Ponto de Luz
Estrada do Sertãozinho
Joanópolis, São Paulo
Phones: 4539-9382/ 4539-3112
www.hotelpontodeluz.com.br

More information
A comfortable, air-conditioned van service takes guests to and from the spa.
“Overnight Spa” package is an ideal getaway for executives or agenda-filled people.

Marilyn Diggs is an American living in Brazil for over twenty years. She is a freelance writer, artist, lecturer and author of nine books – two about Brazilian art history. As an art reporter and travel writer she has two monthly columns in Sunday News, Brazil’s English language newspaper that circulates in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She has written for the Miami Herald and Museum International , a UNESCO publication. Marilyn has a degree in Latin American Studies and is often contracted by intercultural training services to give talks on expat challenges. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

By John Fitzpatrick
April 28, 2008

Oil has seldom been far from the headlines in Brazil since the state-owned petroleum giant, Petrobras, announced at the end of last year that it had discovered large new offshore reserves of oil and gas. Should these reserves be recoverable then Brazil is set to become not only an oil exporter but one of the world’s biggest producers. The news was hailed by investors and share prices in Petrobras rose sharply. However, a comment by the head of the National Petroleum Agency (ANP), Haroldo Lima, on April 14 suggesting that there were further deposits of oil which could be five times greater raised the stakes even higher and pushed up the share price of Petrobras and other associated companies not only in Brazil but all over the world. You might think this would be good news for Brazil but it was not, since Lima not only jumped the gun but may have given inaccurate information and, at the same time, he completely mishandled the way major news involving publicly-traded companies should be communicated.

This was a perfect example of the iniquity of the Brazilian political system which allows people to assume positions of great authority for which they are not remotely qualified. A glance at Lima’s biography on the ANP site shows that although he qualified as an electrical engineer, he has devoted most of his life to politics as a Communist. The site gives a glowing description of him as someone who spent 10 years hiding from the military organizing resistance to the regime.” He was captured when a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party was “brutally attacked by the repression” according to the site and three party members were shot dead and five arrested, including Lima who spent three years in prison. This is all good stuff if you are nostalgic leftist but hardly the type of corporate CV one expects of someone who is in charge of one of the most important agencies in the country. Some technical qualifications, experience as an executive and a MBA from a decent business school would be more appropriate albeit less exciting.

Lima became head of the ANP simply because the Communist Party, which has miniscule popular support, is a member of the alliance which supports President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government. He is just one example of incompetent politicians who have been given positions in which they can spend budgets worth billions of Reais not only in regulatory agencies but state-controlled companies like Petrobras itself, electrical energy utilities and others.

The pitiful way the air regulator, ANAC, handled the chaos which hit Brazil’s air travel last year was another example of an inefficient body led by political placemen with little hands-on experience of the sector. Who will ever forget the sight of the ANAC head, Denise Abreu, smoking a cigar at a wedding on the day of Brazil’s worst air disaster last year in which 199 people died? Her previous experience had included a spell as an adviser to the chief of staff’s office in Brasilia from 2003 to 2005 under Jose Dirceu who was later expelled from Congress on allegations that he had orchestrated the “bribes for votes” scandal known as the mensalão.

In the typically arrogant fashion of the Brazilian politician, Lima denied he had done anything wrong in making the comment in the middle of a seminar in Rio de Janeiro. He claimed that the information had been public knowledge and had appeared in an American oil magazine last year. He also disclaimed any responsibility for the sudden jump in the share price following his comments. “Im not subordinate to the CVM (the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission). Im a member of the government,” he said.

It is difficult to believe that anyone in such a position could say something as amateurish as this. First of all, Lima should know that any information of this nature should have been checked with Petrobras. If it was correct it should then have been announced openly and formally after trading on the stock exchange had ended so that all shareholders and investors would have equal access to it. By making his comments in so casual a manner, at a meeting attended by the media and during stock market trading hours, Lima broke all the rules. A lot of people must have made a lot of money when this news broke.

The Petrobras chairman, Sergio Gabrielli, and the exploration director, Guilherme Estrella, basically denied Lima’s comments in television interviews. The company also issued a “Clarification” on its site which contains a rebuke to Lima. “More conclusive data on the discovery’s potential will only be known after the other phases involved in the assessment process have been completed and they will be announced to the market in a timely way,” it said.

Those people who have bought shares at the higher price must now be wondering whether they did the right thing. Since Lima was leader of the Communist Party in the Senate before becoming head of the ANP he is unlikely to feel sympathy for shareholders even though the state is still the majority shareholder and the Petrobras workers pension fund is also a major shareholder.

Secondly, despite his boast, Lima is not in fact a member of the government. His position is a technical one and, even though he was nominated by Lula, his responsibility is not to the administration of the day but to the nation as a whole and to future generations.

Naturally there was no sign that Lima might behave honorably and apologize or even resign. Nor was there any pressure from his political pals of any hue to stand down. The energy minister, Edson Lobão, who incidentally admitted on taking office recently that he knew practically nothing about the sector, also ruled out taking any action against Lima.

This episode does not seem to have caused any immediate dent to Brazil’s image among domestic and foreign investors and the Petrobras share has continued to rise. The market may have shrugged it off for the moment but it could be a very different story in six months time if Lima’s comments are not substantiated.

John Fitzpatrick 2008

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:

Benefits of Brazil’s Growth Start to Spread
Let Brazilians Sort Out the Problems of the Amazon
Brazil’s Politicians Set to Cash in on Oil and Gas Discoveries
Brazil: Lula Learns the Lesson of Not Planning Ahead
Cops and Robbers Brazilian Style
Brazil: Oscar Freire – São Paulo’s Street of Dreams
Brazil: Lula Called to Account on Tax
Will Lula Leave Brazil in Safe or Unsafe Hands?
Senate Spits in the Face of the Brazilian People
The Lord Mayor Goes Zapping the NYSE in Brazil
Brazil: Economic Boom – Political Gloom
Around Brazil: Natal – Sun, Sand Dunes and Solitude or Hassle, Hustlers and Hookers
ACM – Brazil Will Never See His Like Again
Brazilians Let Politicians Treat Them as Doormats
Senate Chairman Upholds Tradition of Treating Brazil with Contempt
Brits Turn Their Backs on Brazil
Look Out for the New BBC – the Brazilian Broadcasting Corporation
Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?