To connect with nature, a young couple moved to a national park on the Brazilian coast

Serra de Bocaína, Brazil – Caio and Marcella’s remote home is found deep inside a national park on the Brazilian coast. Making use of an abandoned piece of land that used to belong to Caio’s grandfather, the young couple from Sao Paulo have been steadily building a self-sufficient existence that is in harmony with the natural environment that surrounds them. While their current set up lacks Internet and a phone connection, they are still required to spend some time in the city, tending to the brands they have each created. But full of ideas and energy for new projects, they hope to make their house in the jungle a permanent base very soon. 

How did you discover this place?
CAIO ANTUNES: My grandfather bought this land in 1960. He built a small trout farm in the river that runs by the house, and he also planted fruit trees. My mother and uncle came to visit frequently when they were young, then, after my grandfather died when I was 3 years old, my mum kept coming here with me. Getting here from the city was like coming to another planet. I loved it.
When I was 19 I started coming to this area again to surf. I discovered many beautiful beaches and spots along the coast. I would spend a few days here and then go back to Sao Paulo. It was a base to sleep while I surfed and explored the area. To me this is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved parts of the Brazilian coast. 

When did you move here?
CA: I met Marcella about 6 years ago. She loved the idea of coming here more frequently, and staying for longer periods. After a while we decided that we wanted to live here, so we began renovating the house. We had to make it more habitable. We still don’t live here all the time, but we hope to make that happen as soon as possible.

What changes did you have to make in order to live here?
CA: First, we had to clean everything out. We enlarged the rooms and built two new bathrooms. We brought some furniture with us, which was rather challenging – crossing the river with anything big is a complicated process – so we had a big group of people helping us. Some friends came to work on the land for us, helping us plant an agroforestry system. The place has changed quite dramatically over the last couple of years.
MARCELLA ZAMBARDINO: Initially, it looked like an abandoned home. Once we started work, the environment became much more alive as well. We have several fruit trees that haven’t carried any fruit since Caio’s grandfather lived here about 30 years ago, but now they are producing again.

Did you have any previous experience with plants or agroforestry?
MZ: We learned by necessity. We had little knowledge about plants while living in the city. I did internships at organic farms and studied agroforestry. It was important to us to not only improve the house, but to take care of the environment in a coherent way. We are based inside a national park, so are striving for a balance between human impact and environmental preservation. Nature is an organism that lives in communion with all its elements, all the time. The way we design planting beds should be good for the forest, and for us.

It was challenging to explain my life plan to my family, as it is very different to theirs. They think I’m a crazy hippie

What was your main motivation to move?
CA: To live a simpler life. We love being closer to nature and being able to do what we enjoy, at our own pace. Connecting with the natural cycles enables you to live in a more symbiotic relationship with your environment. We are lucky to have both the mountains and the sea nearby. We also want to have children. Marcella and I both had a very urban upbringing, and we believe raising a child in this environment would be amazing.
MZ: What motivates us is the improved quality of life. Here things are simpler but better. We are still learning to let go of all the comforts we are used to in the city, learning to depend on less material things. But we often find it makes for a richer and more rewarding experience. Our environment provides us with everything we need. You just need to think a bit harder about how to make something, how to build it, what materials to use. We don’t have a refrigerator here which helps us to feed ourselves in a much more nourishing way – we plan our meals more carefully, and almost everything is fresh, picked just before we eat it. No fast food whatsoever.

How self-sufficient is your home?
MZ: We are in the process of acquiring clean energy. This is a key requirement if we want this to become our permanent home. We do not intend to live with candles only [laughs]. Currently we are focusing on producing electricity with a water wheel system that Caio’s grandfather installed and we are now improving. At the moment it doesn’t cover all our needs, but we are looking to find some specialists to help us. We also have no Internet here at the moment. Once we have that it will be easier to work from here, further reducing our need to be in the city. 

Can you tell me about your brand ‘Positiva’?
MZ: Being here, I began to observe and understand the water cycle, forcing me to think more about biodegradability. Our system is cyclical, so I know I'm going to drink the water that I'm contaminating, requiring much more care with the kind of waste you put into it. This led me to create my brand of biodegradable cleaning products. It’s called ‘Positiva’ and its differentiator is not only the biodegradability, but also the idea that we need far fewer products. One product can be used to clean the whole house, and lasts way longer than conventional cleaning products.

Caio, you also have your own brand. How did that come to life?
CA: I was working as a freelance video editor, and I used the money I earned to travel and surf. I went to Asia, South America, and Oceania. When I settled back in Brazil again, and started renovating the house, I became more interested in food. One thing led to another and my brand of natural snacks was born. As a result I wanted to understand more about how things were produced. I thought that ideally I would plant and produce the ingredients as well. The place here turned out to be a fantastic testing lab to deepen my knowledge and experiment with different crops. Once I got more involved in the growing of plants myself, it was a path of no return. I discovered new fruit varieties, and learned about the forces that influence the cycles of nature. 

What else have you been up to?
MZ: I also started to make natural soap and developed a deep yoga practice. All the courses and hobbies I pursue are tools to help me pursue my path to greater self-sufficiency. I studied fashion design and have worked in the fashion industry for a long time. I still design clothes for a handful of clients, but with the idea to produce ‘slow fashion’ – clothes that are made of organic cotton and designed to be really comfortable. I also make my own clothes, it's been a long time since I bought any. Next I would like to learn to work with wood and bamboo, to build simple structures with the materials that are abundant here.
CA: I want to learn more about energy. Being here stimulates you and tells you what you need to learn. 

How easy did you find it to connect to the local community?
MZ: In Brazil, the farther from the city you go, the more hospitable people are. Our neighbours were very attentive, warm and caring. One of them used to work with Caio’s grandfather, so he has a special connection to us. We also love to hang out in Cunha, a small town nearby. It is full of like-minded people, working in everything from ceramics to alternative therapies. They have a similar outlook on life to ours, and we have a very enriching exchange of knowledge. And seeds [laughs].

What have been your biggest challenges?
CA: We have neither Internet connection nor phone reception here, so we are quite isolated. In the city you have access to everything all the time. Being here requires you to plan more in advance, thinking about what resources we might need. Here there are always things to do. Work never ends.
MZ: We learned quickly that no one is going to come here and solve our problems. When something breaks we need to be able to solve it alone. We can only know how to evaluate or ask for help if we know how to do it ourselves.

In Brazil, the farther from the city you go, the more hospitable people are

For me it was also challenging explaining my life plan to my family, as it is very different to theirs. I want to live with less material things and be more in touch with nature. They think I’m a crazy hippie [laughs]. However, they support us. My dad told me recently that I never liked staying in one place for too long. I’ve always been on the road and travelling for a long time. He believes I have finally found a place to settle. Another challenge is not knowing if something bad has happened to someone dear. That's why we want to have Internet here soon. Still, the increased quality of life is infinite. We feel our bodies are thanking us for being here. I feel I am doing the right thing.

In which ways is your life different to your life in the city?
MZ: The perception of time is different. In the city time flies and we dedicate ourselves to activities that are not always healthy or essential to life.

Having lived in the city before, do you feel you can bring something new to the rural environment?
MZ: I believe in the power of exchange. An outside look always sees more beauty in the local culture or everyday life. The city has provided us with a lot of knowledge and tools that we take with us. Wherever we go, we want to have a positive impact. 

What are your plans for the future?
MZ: We want to produce enough energy to fulfill our needs, and to have some free animals to help produce our own food. I also want to give yoga classes, be a mother, and many more things. I love to create and I cannot stand still.
CA: She really can’t [laughs].

This is an edited version of the piece originally featured in City Quitters. You can purchase a copy here.

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