BRAZIL BLOG: Jane wakes up and smells the coffee in her latest dispatch from South America

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REPORTER Jane O’Neill has swapped reporting from Sunderland’s city centre to the depths of Latin America. Along with three other young professionals and a group leader, she is part of a Rotary-funded Group Study Exchange (GSE) trip to Ribeirão Preto in Brazil.

THERE’S an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, as I’m told the old song goes.

Every meal here ends with a tiny cup of eye-wateringly strong black coffee.

My new hosts in the city of Franca think it is hilarious that the English prefer ‘cha quente com leite frio’ - hot tea with cold milk.

But although I’ve totally embraced the delicious Brazilian food, I cannot enjoy the coffee.

The sights and smells at the 2,000 acre Cachoeira coffee farm are impressive, however.

We stroll through dense rows of leafy coffee plants, their heavy foliage offering some shelter from the punishing sun.

Hard work only for the Brits, as my hosts find it hilarious that back home temperatures of 28c are making headlines and driving us to the beaches in droves.

We learn how a huge machine with many-fingered prongs travels through the fields, shaking ripe beans into its belly.

The tiny red pods are laid out in the sunshine to dry, before being processed and appearing on supermarket shelves within a week.

Brazil’s economy is healthy and the Government is reaping the benefits like a farmer harvesting coffee.

Import taxes on goods run at a hefty 60 per cent and the price of everyday products is a shock.

Usually when travelling, I pack light and snap up bargains.

The exchange rate is slightly below three Brazilian Real (R$) to the pound and a bottle of shower gel is around R$9.

Popular fragrances are more than R$200 and a pair of jeans from the high street will set you back about the same.

Now I understand why the Brazilians who have made the trip to the UK adore our high street.

But one product is a bargain buy in my new city.

Franca is the Brazilian capital of shoes - gorgeous, low-priced shoes - especially brightly-coloured flip flops.

My host Cunha works at the Amazona factory, which produces its own range of flip flops to rival famous Brazilian brand Havaianas.

We are taken on a guided tour of the 65-year-old company, which also produces adhesives used in shoe manufacturing.

Even in the Brazilian winter, temperatures on the factory floor reach 40c and combined with the pungent fumes we are not surprised to learn the factory of 700 employees averages three accidents a month, as it turns out 100,000 soles in a day.

But despite the obvious economic progress, you can still see the stain of poverty dis-colouring Brazil.

All of the team are moved when we visit the Nelson Machado school near Ribeirão Preto.

Our guide Carlos tells us how the local Rotary Club helped launch the Sopra da Vida (Breath of Life) project, which brings music and dance into the lives of children who otherwise might fall victim to drug dealers and pimps.

Match-funding with international companies has enabled the lively youngsters to learn instruments and attend dance classes.

Their classmates cheer and scream throughout the short show they put on for us.

I have to fight back tears as a 13-year-old called Gabriele gracefully twirls through a ballet routine.

I remebering taking part in dance shows at her age, where my biggest worry was remembering my routine, not whether my life would slide away into drugs and exploration.

It is the team’s first taste of the shade that comes with the Brazilian sunshine and I don’t think any of us will forget it.

You can follow Jane’s trip on Twitter at @janethejourno #EchoinBrazil.