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Offshore oil and on-land yoga go hand-in-hand in Brazil boomtown

The 2007 'presalt' offshore oil discoveries have turned Brazil's town of Macaé into a booming port where more than 4,000 companies, and at least one yoga studio, have established a presence.

By Staff writer / April 30, 2010

The Petrobras P-51 oil rig off the coast of Brazil. The largest offshore oil discovery in the Americas since 1976 turned the nearby port town into a bustling city that has grown 600 percent in three years.

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Macaé, Brazil

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

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What do the practice of yoga and the pursuit of oil have in common? In Brazil’s premier oil town of Macaé, they signal the latest arrival of change.

Sanjaya Yogi, an American married to a Brazilian, set up his oceanfront Ashtanga studio in this bustling town simply because it has grown by more than 600 percent in the last 10 years – thanks to a booming offshore oil industry. “I asked an economist where the best place would be to go and grow up, and he said Macaé,” he explains.

This port was once an insignificant fishing town. Now, as an economic hub, yoga has found a niche, American and European accents are often heard on the streets, and new ethnic foods fill trendy restaurants. In the wake of “presalt” oil discoveries in 2007, the largest in the Americas since 1976, Macaé’s transformation hints at what is yet to come for other sleepy towns across the country.

According to Macaé’s municipality, the city is one of the fastest-growing in the world. More than 4,000 companies have established a presence here, and in 30 years, the city population has tripled to almost 200,000 residents. Most come for some of the highest-paid jobs in the country.

Ten percent of the population is foreign, but the city has drawn Brazilians from all over, such as João and Marina Martinez. They both work in the oil industry, he as an oceanographer and she in human resources.

“We saw there were big opportunities in Macaé,” says Mr. Martinez of his move here five years ago. “Everyone works in oil here.”

Change has not been welcomed by all. Increased traffic has rattled nerves. Doors are now locked at night. Locals say crime is up and services are strained.

“It used to be marvelous,” says Therezinha Gaschi de Miranda, who relocated here with her husband in 1976 because he liked to fish and they wanted to live a peaceful existence. “Now everyone in the world is coming to Macaé.”

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