International Vegetarian Union (IVU)

8 - 14th November 2004
Costão do Santinho Resort & Spa
Santinho Beach - Florianópolis - Brazil

From The Vegetarian (VSUK) Spring 2005:

Tina Fox reports on the International Vegetarian Congress held recently in Brazil

Sun, Sand and C
. . . for Congress!

The long journey to Brazil made me really wonder if it would all be worth while - a total of around 28 hours travel time, a missed connection due to the airline and our arrival just in time to get the remains of lunch if we were lucky, did not put me in the right spirit at all. But the venue looked wonderful and the first meal also seemed impressive considering we were on the tail end, but as there were no English labels, we had no idea what we were eating! Added to this, it took us about 20 minutes to find the lunch venue as we kept getting conflicting instructions! An hour or so's sleep soon put the world to rights and confirmed my first view that the venue was amazing -everything was conveniently walkable, not only the talks and meal venues but also the sea and wonderful eco walks in the forest or the sand dunes. The apartment which I shared with two others was very comfortable with great views of the hillside, gardens and the sea, and I was thrilled by the abundance of wildlife in view, especially the little 'coruja' or burrowing owl who lived just below our apartment with her two gorgeous chicks.

The young are the world's future and it was nice to see so many enthusiastic volunteers and activists from all over the world

Falcons and lots of other birds were also plentiful and although the weather was rather dull, it was considerably warmer than back home in the UK.

The meeting facilities were excellent with one large room with simultaneous translation (English and Portuguese), five smaller rooms for talks and two areas for cookery demonstrations. The first day we did not utilise these much as we were all too jet lagged to take much in! The evening meal was astounding in its range and colour: every fruit you could think of and more besides, great salads, around nine different main courses and lots of nice puddings (including a mango and coconut pudding to die for) and even helpfully labelled now in English. I had been a little apprehensive as I don't like spicy food and thought everything would has chilli pepper in it, but in fact there was a large range of very savoury food with lots of rice and couscous and it would have been impossible not to have been pleased with the selection. This choice was consistent all week and I heard a great deal of well deserved praise for the food offered, both quality and quantity.

The first full day of congress offered no fewer than 19 talks on a wide variety of topics, plus a plenary session on health and four cookery demonstrations. Topics covered included health, ethics at a veterinary school, Anna Kingsford, why animal protectors eat animals, food and mood etc. My own talk was on the running of the Society's trademark scheme, and this was very well received. I was particularly enthused by a talk given by Paul Turner of Food for Life on feeding the hungry in the world; I was so impressed that I plan to divert the funds I give to another charity to them as I feel their approach is so positive and helpful. The second day followed a similar format and we had the IVU general meeting to elect the new council. It was wonderful to see that the Brazil Congress was not only attended by more people than previous congresses (around 600 from 33 countries) but also had substantially more young people. The young are the world's future and it is nice to see so many enthusiastic volunteers and activists in fact a new organisation was born at the Congress, the Union of Vegetariana Latina, with around seven or eight countries represented already. In the evening a great Afro Brazilian dance performance included a fire dance and lots of audience participation finished of the day in style.

Thursday was the designated day off for excursions, to a spa or on a schooner to look for dolphins. I went on the latter and we visited several fortresses, including one on a whole island of frigate birds, very dramatic. As the weather was not kind we did not expect to see the dolphins but they must have heard the veggies had come to see them as they came out in force, around 30 on both sides of the boat, it really made my trip and was worth all the flight for those few minutes of heaven.

On Friday we had a wonderful surprise, the day dawned very sunny with clear blue skies so we headed off for the beach after breakfast. The waves were very high and exhilarating and set me up well for my busy afternoon giving a talk on positive campaigning, immediately followed by an IVU council meeting and then chairing the plenary on the environment. The evening's entertainment was a cruelty-free fashion show, which got plenty of press coverage.

All too soon it was the final day of the conference, which started with 'hunt the breakfast' as it should have been in a tent by the pool but had moved without anyone knowing! Well, it was very sunny and the unexpected walk led to us seeing a lovely little hummingbird so I didn't mind too much. After another short trip to the beach, where the lively waves caught us by surprise as we paddled, we had a joint IVU/EVU meeting in the afternoon to discuss ways of working together. I also ensured I was ready for Gerry Coffey's dream cream demo making a form of vegan ice cream from bananas - and very nice too. After the plenary I went for a short forest walk before dinner and saw lots of nice hutterflies and birds, a large iguana and . . . a tarantula! I was a little seared of the latter but it didn't even notice me and it is certainly an experience I won't forget. The Gala Dinner in the evening was special, as it was the last time we would all be together, but like all such events the food was disappointing and not as good as we were used to by now.

The next day a group of 16 of us set out on a tour of Santa Catarina and South Brazil. It took us over nine hours to arrive at our hotel in Imbituba with only a short stop at the lighthouse en route to look for whales. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the whales and they had left weeks ago. One of our group did see a dolphin, though, so that was some consolation. The first hotel was rather small but the owner made up for it with a magnificent buffet. The food was surprisingly tasty and almost as varied as that of the Congress. The next day we were off to Gramado in the Rio Grande area - again a very long trek of nine hours with a stop for sugar cane juice, which was interesting, and, of course, wonderful scenery. We were very surprised at our next stop, Gramado: we thought we had moved to Germany or Switzerland! The buildings were all very Bavarian due to the influence of many German settlers in the area and it was all very Christmassy as that is the tradition in that area. The hotel, our home for the next two nights, was very comfortable though the food, as in many big hotels, was limited and not as good as the first one. On the Tuesday we went off in Land Rovers to the spectacular canyon - very dramatic and you definitely couldn't get too near to the edge. The day was rounded off by a trip into Gramado to the shops for souvenirs; we were starting to get shopping withdrawal symptoms by then as the Brazilians are refreshingly non-commercial.

On Wednesday we started back to Florianopolis and stopped at Caracal Park where we went up above the tree tops in an elevator and admired the Bride's Veil waterfall in all its glory. It was a wonderful place with lots of wildlife, but sadly our visit was short as we had a large distance to cover. We also stopped at a wonderful vegan shoe factory - not something I had expected to find in Brazil as it is famous for leather as well as meat. When we finally arrived at the hotel we were tired, it was dark and the uphill path was not lit. I was apprehensive at staying alone in a chalet but it was all worth it when we awoke in the morning. Our home for two nights was an ecological paradise. Comfortable wooden chalets set into the hillside and looking down over the sea, with so many birds and butterflies it was just wonderful; I think we all would have liked to stay there longer. On Thursday we did a guided walk down to the beach and saw the most astounding trees, butterflies and birds on the way. The sun shone, the beach was clean and empty and the waves exhilarating - what more could we want from life? We were even supphed with a vegan picnic lunch by our hosts. Sadly on Friday our group of 16 was breaking up to go our separate ways and it was time to say goodbye for now to our new veggie family. Back in the cold of our British winter, how unreal and magical it all seems now, but this certainly was a Congress and an experience with a difference and one I will never forget.

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