Customers Want to Spread the Good News

Is Customer Service the new Public Relations?

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At the recent CRM Evolution conference, several of the speakers developed the concept that “Customer Service is the new Public Relations” (several others have written about it as well). Broadcasting your messages before and then listening only after the sale is no longer an appropriate segmentation. Companies need to provide a seamless customer experience, integrate the PR and CS efforts, and engage with customers from the beginning of the relationship.

I like that concept and have been pondering on it. It seems to be obviously the right thing to do. What are the obstacles for that to be implemented in real life?

Business People still afraid customers only complain

I asked a friend who owns a company reselling IT equipment (B2B) about her thoughts on tearing down the silos and segmentation in the customer interface. She tells me that there is too much risk customers and prospects would share sensitive information (such as price discount levels) and gain leverage against her or negatively influence other prospects (for example, by sharing limitations or deployment challenges for a specific solution).

“But wouldn’t the upside offset those risks?” I asked. She said  “when things work, customers go back to their business. They are too busy to share the good news. Customers only talk when there are problems.”

Whether we agree or not, I don’t think she is alone in that thinking. Companies are aware of the power of customer advocacy and want to capture Case Studies in paper, but they hesitate in promoting and amplifying peer-to-peer interaction among the customer and prospect bases for fear they will share bad news.

Customers are positive and like to spread good news

Then a few days ago, my friend Munish Gandhi (@munishgandhi) shared a link to a recent Customer Service survey by American Express Barometer.

Importantly, customers are spreading the word willingly and widely when they experience good service. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, customers are more inclined to talk about a positive experience than complain about a negative one. Three-quarters (75%) are very likely to speak positively about a company after a good service experience in contrast with 59% who are very likely to speak negatively about a company after poor service.

So customers are more likely to talk about positive experiences than to complain about negative ones. Those results are in line with several other studies and surveys that conclude that people naturally tend to be positive/optimistic in average.

Breaking the silos

Why the disconnect between perceptions and reality? I believe the source of the bias is that the negative experiences in customer service tend to escalate up the management chain and gain visibility within organizations. When customers are happy, the classical company ignores them (and lose the opportunity to leverage customer advocacy – a fundamental aspect of Social Business). That is a problem in company attention focus, not in customer behavior.

Before we can accept the elimination of customer interaction silos so that Customer Service can be the new Public Relations and vice-versa, companies must acknowledge that the new social customer shares information with their peers whether we promote that conversation or not.

We also need to join the optimistic majority and believe that there is more upside than downside in promoting peer-to-peer customer interaction and amplifying the resulting conversation.

Customers want to spread the good news. We need to let them do it freely.

So, Companies, tear down that wall.

The Twitterfeed is Dead

Twitter is transport more than interaction tool

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When Wired Magazine recently declared on its cover “The web is dead“, it really meant that the Internet is becoming primarily a transport infrastructure and that applications (be it an iPhone app or a web 2.0 widget) running on the client will use it to communicate with servers in the cloud.  The model of a central server serving static user interface pages and action buttons to a browser that does not leverage local computing power is dying.

That is not new. In the 1980’s we shifted from mainframes computers to client-server architectures. Same evolution, same pattern. Can that be the case for micro blogging as well?

There is no question that the emergence of Twitter is  an incredible development. While the majority of the Internet users are still not there, those who are tend to become intense users quickly.

Twitter users are getting tired

People have debated the 140-character limitation endlessly. That feature made it primarily a transport infrastructure. Most of the posts in my timeline are a headline and a link to content stored outside Twitter.

As users connect to more than 75 other users or so, they can no longer keep up with their Twitter timeline. As marketers hijack popular hashtags, it becomes difficult to see the big picture of a discussion without spending unjustifiable amount of time separating signal from noise.

It is true that the Social Media communication protocol is recipient-discretion and nobody should feel pressured to read everything that passes the screen, but I see (and feel) signs of tiredness.

But Twitter still can be incredibly useful as a social transport

Change is coming. As we discover that transport infrastructures such as the Internet and Twitter are generally useful for different applications, creative people find ways to use it. Most intense users of Twitter are now using tools such as HootSuite or TweetDeck to help visualize posts of interest. A single-threaded timeline is no longer viable.

A new generation of applications are now using Twitter transport to add new features to specialized applications (be it Social CRM, Customer Service, Movie Reviews…). Filtering technology (social or algorithmic) can be applied. Timelines can be brought into the context where work is being done so it becomes a tool, not a distraction.

In the past days, we saw a deluge of posts announcing that “the xxx daily is out at”. Aggregating micro blogging posts using a newspaper metaphor sounds like a step backwards or a bridge: if you are old-style and cannot keep up with Twitter, we will package them in old-style newspaper format for you. Reading glasses not provided.

But, as I look at my page (which aggregates posts from people I follow), I realize it is a darn good way of getting the big picture without having to watch a time line all day. Sure, it is using Twitter as transport and leveraging the effects of social media, but it is delivering a different user experience.

All I am saying is that it is becoming obvious that the Twitter is just a transport. The killer app for interacting with that transport is still to emerge. Things like HootSuite and are just the beginning.

The Twitterfeed is already dead and I had not noticed.

Long life Twitter Transport.

Where are the Early Adopters of Social CRM?

It is time to shift from Ideas to Execution – where does the path start?

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Even if you haven’t heard much about Social CRM, you know customers are empowered by the use of digital technology and changing the way they engage with vendors. Social CRM is the answer to that change.

If you are in the SCRM community, you have heard the call for analysts, vendors and other experts to move from discussion of terminology and ideas to execution.

The shift to Social CRM (“Social” being a temporary terminology differentiator until CRM is social) has started several years ago and will continue to unfold for several years ahead. Turning customer relationships upside-down is a revolutionary idea, but business execution, processes and tools take longer to evolve. We are just starting that journey.

If you are still with me, I think a good question to ask is “Where is Social CRM first going to get traction?” If the transition is going to happen over a long period of time, it is reasonable to expect the adoption of Social Technologies will happen based on the path of least resistance and larger return. What specific business verticals are the low-hanging fruit ripen for early adoption?

I don’t have the answers, but I here are some ideas (which are admittedly not complete) :

The Medium is the Message

Of course the first companies affected by the emergence of Social Computing and the availability of the Digital Medium were the Media company themselves. Music, Press, Publications, Software industries are quickly being transformed by the use of Social Media. Incumbents did not it coming and are now struggling to adapt or becoming casualties of the the change.

Consumers are Faster than Businesses

Similarly to e-mail adoption in the early 90’s, the consumer has embraced social media earlier and faster than most businesses, so companies in the B2C space have already embraced Social Computing and are aggressively leveraging Social Media to listen and reach the market.

If B2C is past early adoption, what about B2B Social CRM?

Because business have not yet fully embraced Social Media for external communication and Social Computing tools in their internal operation, it is natural to expect the adoption of Social CRM to be gradual and selective.

Business selling B2B products or services for which early adopters of Social Media within the customer organization are also the buy decision makers should be able to implement Social CRM effectively earlier.

If it is true that Social CRM reflects a shift of control towards the customer and that Social Channels is the best way to scale the new customer engagement, then for Social CRM to work in practice, customers need to be able and willing to engage in those social media channels.

As an example, in most companies, marketers are the first to be exposed to social media and are likely to be early adopters of it both as a channel for marketing as well as a tool for everyday work. So, businesses selling to marketers like Marketing Agencies, Media Companies, Consulting Firms are natural early adopters of Social CRM in their practices.

Business selling B2B solutions that already have segmented Social CRM Practices can consolidate customer engagement and leverage newer Social Media channels.

Many companies selling complex solutions already have Social CRM practices partially implemented in certain areas. For example, it is not uncommon for Enterprise Software vendors to handle their post-sales customer service through online forums, communities and Knowledge Base systems (though still primarily using traditional broadcast methods to engage with customers pre-sales).

Because they already have some in-house experience listening to customers, their Social CRM adoption can focus on unifying their pre- and post-sales practices and shifting their technology infrastructure to better leverage open public social media channels.

Business selling B2B products or services for which focused, cross-vendor online customer communities have already developed naturally

Most IT vendors already maintain some type of branded customer community. But most of the interaction among IT System Administrators happen in cross-vendor open communities without control by a particular vendor.

There are many other instances of the example above and business selling those types of products or services should be able to benefit from and justify the adoption of Social CRM practices and tools.

Businesses selling B2B products or services for which opportunity or action triggers are often directly present in Social Channels.

Business travelers are circumstantially inclined to express frustration online, so any company providing relates services (hospitality, transportation, etc) are likely to benefit from adopting technologies that allows them to react in real-time.

There are incentives and psychological rewards for works to quickly announce job changes and promotions (by updating their LinkedIn profile, for example). The same apply to business announcements of changes in management, M&A activity and opening of new branches or locations. Business for which those events represent a significant trigger for action or opportunity can probably get disproportionate return on investments in Social CRM. Recruiting firms, IT equipment vendors are examples that come to mind.

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Making Caipirinha

Some of my friends will engage in long discussions on what is “the” recipe and process to make a “real” Caipirinha, but the traditional Brazilian cocktail is really really simple.

The word caipirinha translates to “country girl”, but that doesn’t carry much meaning. Caipirinha is really the name of the drink. It is a refreshing cocktail that can be found anywhere in Brazil and in bars around the world.

It is made from Cachaça (a.k.a. “Pinga”), a clear or slightly golden distilled from fermented sugar cane typical from Brazil. It is similar, but different, from rum (which is distilled from molasses). Popular and readily available brands include “51”, “Pitú”and “Ypioca”. In the US market “Sagatiba”, and “Leblon” are the most common.

Most cachaça is produced in high volume and intended to be mixed or to be taken as a shot. There is higher-quality cachaça meant to be sipped straight,  but you need to have a Brazilian friend to find one.

Here is my Caipirinha recipe (for two):

  • 2 small-to-medium limes
  • 4 teaspoons of sugar
  • 4 ounces of Cachaça
  • ice

Look for limes with smooth and thin skin. Wash, trim the top and bottom off, cut them in wedges or 1/8s. Add the sugar and mash with a muddler. Add the Cachaça. Shake the mixture and serve in a old-fashioned heavy glass with crushed ice.

Variations include the use of Vodka instead of Cachaça or the addition of other fruit juices (in which case, Brazilians call it “Batida”).

Here are a few examples of cachaça you will find in my pantry.

So, what is “Meritage”?

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So we have another of our wine tasting dinners this weekend. Our theme this month is “Unusual Blend.”

In the Old World, most wines are classic blends of different grapes. There are baseline proportions, but the wine maker will adjust the exact amount of each grape based on the characteristics of the harvest each year (with the purpose of maintaining balance and expressing the character of the local weather and soil conditions – the terroir). Wines are labeled based on the region where it is produced, following the classic local blend.

For example, Bordeaux is a region in the Southwest of France producing both white and red wines. Red wines are produced as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes (sometimes with the addition of a small proportion of Malbec and Carmenere).

Rioja is a region in Northern Spain. The Red Riojas are made mostly of Tempranillo (60%) and Granacha (20%), with smaller proportions of Graciano and Mazuelo grapes.

The better climate conditions in the wine producing regions of the New World allow wine makers to produce wines from a single grape varietal (searching to maximize the potential and express the character of the grape and the region). Accordingly, wines are labelled based on the varietal and region (Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River Pinot Noir, etc).

So, California is generally known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. The Santa Cruz Mountains leverages the local micro-climate to product great Pinot Noirs. Australia wine regions produce lots of Shiraz.

Some grapes that were originally used in Europe only as a minor component of classic blends have been expressed in single-varietals in the New World. Argentina produces world class Malbecs and Chile produces Carmenere, for example.

When blends are produced outside the traditional regions in Europe, they cannot carry the original region name, which are protected by a international regulatory system.

In the US, wines must contain at least 75% of a grape to be labeled as that varietal, so Bordeaux-like blends do not qualify as a varietal and there was growing frustration among wine makers with a generic “red wine” label.

So in 1988, the Meritage association was created to manage a newly created trademark to designate those blends made from grapes traditional from Bordeaux in California (membership has since grown to include some other international wines).

Engaging with the Social Customer

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Everyone Represents the Company

Social Business Series (V)

The articles in this Social Business Series are being written for real-life SMB Leaders, who are busy running their business and have not had the time to read everything  in the emerging Social-anything space.

We have explored the scope of Social Business Software, the Use Cases for Social CRMSocial Lead Generation and Marketing Funnel, and Leadership in Social Business.

Let’s now focus on the specifics of Customer Engagement. If you would like to know more about the ideas behind the new “Social Customer”, you can check our The Click Company booklet or Engage, a book by Brian Solis.

Customer Service is the new Public Relations and vice-versa

We have segmented companies in departments dedicated to broadcast to or “influence” customers before the sale and others to listen to or “handle” customer problems after the sale. That segmentation optimizes organizations for efficiency, but does not provide for a seamless and satisfactory experience throughout the customer life-cycle: prospect, buyer, satisfied and loyal customer, brand advocate.

In the Social Business era,  the Social Customer will demand a better experience. The person representing the company in any customer interaction must be empowered to answer a question, solve a problem, collect feedback and satisfy a need on the spot.

Being able to communicate across multiple channels is no longer enough, you must be capable to switch between channels without losing context or dropping the ball.

This change will stress current business models and require changes in how we engage with prospects and customers.

8 points to consider when evaluating Customer Engagement in SMB

Only you know what applies to and works for your business, but here are a few points to consider when re-evaluating the way your company engage with customers.

  • Speak like a Person! Customers can see through the marketing messages and detect the intentions behind them.  Communicate as openly and directly as possible.
  • Recognize the true value of relationships. How much is a relationship worth? It is the sum of the transactions, plus the co-creation value (product and marketing insights), plus all the other transaction influenced by the person over the life of the relationship. Don’t think about the size of the deal, but how much value the person brings to the company.
  • You must go where customers are. For business customers, it can be online forums ( if you are lucky, your own online community) but they are starting to use social media sites for business as well. Employ Social tools embedded in your CRM or Customer Service platforms to scale human relationships. Automation is good for back-end processes, not for customer relationship.
  • Own the Engagement. Outsourcing Customer Service? Considering an “indirect channel strategy”? Thinking of your resellers as the real customers because they are the ones buying from you? Having other entities interact on your behalf is fine, but you need to own the engagement with customers, or your competitor will.
  • Open your Knowledge Base. Your KB must be open to external contributions and accessible so that customers can self- and peer-help, saving your resources to deal with the instances where specific action is required. The social customer often knows more about the product than the vendor itself.
  • Open your product design process to include customers. I don’t mean just having a product manager collecting use cases from anecdotal customer interactions. I mean truly open the process using social computing technology if necessary so that customer can help to co-create the solution, offer suggestions, prioritize features in a continuous and iterative engagement.
  • Operate in Real-time. If a customer is unhappy, you want to know immediately, before she influences 10 other prospects. A happy customer becomes a brand advocate.
  • Turn Marketing into a Resonance Chamber. We already know that the best way to convince a prospect is to have the endorsement of a happy customer. Connect your happy customers with your prospects, be in the conversation and resonate/amplify it. That is the new role of marketing.

If you find this article useful, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and leave comments suggesting other topics.

Also in the Social Business Series:

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Business Lessons from the Free Software Community

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Engineers have something to teach Business People

My involvement with Free and Open Source Software movement in the early 90’s is the root of the interest for Social Computing that brought me to Social Business/Social CRM. That was the first time a large group of people leveraged the pervasiveness of the Internet to collaborate in large-scale across traditional borders.

Several of the thought leaders in Social Computing were also involved in the Open Source movement (e.g. Doc Searls, proponent of VRM, was – still is –  an editor at the Linux Journal when he wrote some of the essays in the Cluetrain Manifesto more than ten years ago).

Developers all over the world voluntarily contributed time and content to community projects in exchange for peer-recognition, reputation and plain intellectual curiosity. Without any traditional organizational structure, Linux developers successfully tackled a very large structured problem (building an Operating System Kernel).

Linus Torvalds, the project leader, had no formal power or control over the developers.Marcelo Tosatti, the maintainer of the official Linux kernel distribution,  was 18 years old and worked from his bedroom in the South of Brazil, producing the software builds used to power the data centers of virtually all Wall Street financial firms.

The GNU/Linux Operating System runs most data center servers, including the ones at Google, Amazon, and JP Morgan. Databases like MySQL, Cassandra and Postgres are used to store data, including your bank transactions, Tweets and Status Updates. Development Tools such as Java and PHP powers almost all websites. If your browser is not Internet Explorer, it is built primarily on Open Source Software.

All this software was developed by communities of professional and non-professionals volunteers, working without direct financial interests or the control of a hierarchical structure. Some of the projects involved tens of thousands of people distributed all over the world.

Can big problems outside software development be solved the same way? That is up to debate, but here are some lessons engineers can offer to business people.

  • Hierarchy, structure and process may be useful, but they are not the only way to coordinate a large number of people in tackling a complex problem. Communities of volunteers with minimal coordination can achieve comparable results.
  • Financial reward is powerful, but it is not the only way to motivate smart people to contribute to a joint effort. Peer recognition, intellectual pride and curiosity and community reputation can be as or more powerful.
  • Collaboration may not be efficient, but it can be very effective in tackling problems that are broad in nature.
  • Community leadership emerges naturally and does not need to be associated to power and control mechanisms or a robust management system assigned by formal organizations.
  • Businesses can get involved with collaborative efforts without necessarily giving up their commercial interests or corrupting the community.

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Spanish Wines

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We get together for wine tasting once a month or so. There is usually a theme and we each bring a bottle and a dish to share.

Late last year we had a Spanish wine evening and, because I was in a brief period between jobs, I had the time to research and select all the bottles for the evening. Since them, I have continued to taste the Spanish wines I can find in California. I think they are under appreciated here and decided to put together this post.

At its worst, I think wines made of Tempranillo have a similar character as cheap Chianti wines you pick up from the bottom shelf in supermarkets. At its best, Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines made of Tempranillo are considered some of the best wines in the world.

Photo Credits: Margaret N

The line up for that night sampled the main wine regions and styles of Spanish wine: we had a Jerez Sherry, an Albariño, a pair of Riojas (wanted to compare a Crianza with a Reserve), a couple of Ribeira del Duero. I had a bottle of Cava and a couple of Priorats, which we saved for a later day. For food we had Marcona Almonds, Manchego cheese, Jamón Serrano, and several other dishes. I also tried to cook a Paella (my Spanish friends said Scallops would be a very unusual ingredient).

Spain is one the most traditional producers of wine in the world, with the largest planted area and third largest production of wine worldwide (behind Italy and France).

Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Cariñena are some of the most common grapes. Rioja is the premier wine producing region, with Ribera del Duero and Priorat also producing great wines. The region of Jerez produce Sherry (fortified wine) and Catalonia produces Cava (sparkling). Rias Baixas produces white Albariños.

Besides the use of the Tempranillo grape, Spanish wines are thought to be more “rustic” and employ more traditional wine making methods. Modernization of the industry happened later compared to other wine producing countries.

Spanish wines are often labeled by age. Crianza are young wines (aged 2 years, with at least 6 months in oak), Reserva (at least 3 years with one year in oak), Gran Reservas are produced only in above average vintages and require 5 years, with 3 years in oak. Not unusual for Spanish wines to be released only after 10+ years of aging.

Rioja reds usually are made mostly with Tempranillo, with some blending of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. Rioja was influenced by Boardeaux producers in the 17th century and uses oak barrels to age wine.

Ribera del Duero is the second wine producing region, also using mostly Tempranillo grapes. Tinto Pesquera produces wines that are often among the top rated by wine experts.

Priorat is less traditional (and sometimes more innovative) and uses Garnacha and Carineña grapes.

Rias Baixas Produces the best whites from the Albariño grapes.

Climbing Half Dome

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From Half Dome, one can see the entire Yosemite Valley

I have been to Yosemite some 30 times and climbed Half Dome a dozen times since 1994. I have mountaineering experience and the information in this post is correct to my knowledge, but it is for you to use at your own risk. If you are planning to go there and have questions, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below.

While in Yosemite, please:

  • Do not feed animals (including cute ones)
  • Be respectful to nature and others (don’t walk in loud large groups)
  • Stay on marked trails unless you know what you are doing
  • Leave it cleaner than you found it

Climbing Half Dome in one day is a very challenging and rewarding experience. There are amazing waterfalls along the way, the thrill of climbing the Half Dome boulder, and magnificent view of the entire Yosemite Valley from the top. For most people, it is the biggest hiking/climbing accomplishment to experience and there is some pain and suffering involved.

It is not technical at all and doesn’t require previous experience or specialized equipment. Don’t “just decide” to climb Half Dome after arriving to Yosemite. Without basic preparation and good physical conditioning, a climb of Half Dome is more painful than rewarding.

When to go?

For most people, a Half Dome climb will happen from late Spring to early Fall. You want to check if the route is snow free and that the cables are up (they are usually installed after snow melts in May and removed in early in Oct). In the 2010 season, the park service implemented a requirement for an advance climbing permit.

The gateway for information about park closures, permits, and official information can be found at the National Park Service website.

Planning the climb

Unless you are in reasonable physical condition, don’t plan to climb Half Dome all the way to the top. If you have never been to Yosemite before, I also do not recommend it (you will have to rush through some of the most amazing places in the planet). It is a long and strenuous hike and there are several more reasonable goals along the way (Top of Nevada or Vernal Falls, for example).

The ideal group size for hiking/climbing is 3-6 people. Unless you know what you are doing, don’t do this alone. If you have a larger group, consider breaking it in smaller groups. Once you start, stay always in contact with your group.

Half Dome is usually done in one long day. The total round-trip distance is 14-16 miles (depending on whether you take Mist or John Muir trail). The top of Half Dome sits at 8,842 ft with total elevation gain of 4,800 ft from the Yosemite Valley floor.

To get to the trail head, you need to walk from the Curry Village day parking lot or take the shuttle. I recommend staying at Camp Curry and either walking or taking the very first shuttle of the day. You want to start from the trail head (Happy Isles) preferably before 7AM and never after 8:30AM or so.

For an average well prepared small group doing it for the first time, it will be a 12-hour journey (my personal range has been 8-12 hours). You will be sore, tired and your knees will hurt at the end of the day.

Dress up and load the Backpack

This is not a casual hike. So do not ignore the recommendation in this section.

– Start with good hiking shoes. Make sure they are sturdy enough, have been broken in. . It is possible to do it with good cross-training shoes, but tennis shoes or sandals are just not appropriate.

– You will need at the very least a full gallon of water and there is no potable water available for most of the way. My recommendation is to bring 4 1-litter bottles and reload them at the bottom of Vernal Falls both ways. I carry 6 liters.

– It is usually very hot during the day. Dress in layers and bring lightweight fleece or wind breaker tops and bottoms in your pack. Wear a hat and plenty of sunblock. The sun will be on your back most of the time.

– Bring food for the day. Don’t carry more weight than necessary. Nuts, bars, fruits, cheese, jerky are common choices.

– Carry a flashlight, you might be hiking in the dark at the end of the day. If you don’t like to get wet, make sure your wind breaker has a hood and is water-resistant (for Misty Trail).

– Bring a pair of gloves for the cables. Gardening gloves will work.

– If you are in a group with me, I will be carrying extra water, a trail map, a first-aid kit, space blanket, emergency water purification tablets.

The Climb – Happy Isles to Top of Nevada

Start from the Happy Isles trail head as early as reasonable (preferably before 7AM). Take group pictures in front of the sign with the distances to several destinations. We will be starting on the John Muir trail, which extends over Sierra Nevada all the way to Mt. Whitney.

As you start the long hike, make sure your boots are comfortable. The right time to make adjustments is before, not after, you develop blisters.

After about half hour, you will arrive at a footbridge. It is your first glimpse of Vernal Falls. Drink some water from the fountain and reload your bottles. This is also the last full-service bathroom.

Vernal Falls from footbridge

Continue on the trail and you will hit a fork. John Muir Trail continues to the right and Misty trail breaks to the left. You could reach Half Dome either way, but we will turn left and take Misty Trail (it is faster, shorter, more scenic). You will be climbing rocky steps next to the falls (if it is early summer, you will get wet).

Vernal Falls (early summer)

About 1 hour from start, you will be arriving at the top of Vernal Falls (the little dots on the photo above). Take a short break and appreciate the view. There is a composting bathroom at the Top of Vernal.

Leaving Top of Vernal Falls, cross the foot bridge and take the trail towards Nevada Falls. 15 minutes later, you get a good view of Nevada Falls to the right of the trail.

About 2 hours from start, you will be arriving at the top of Nevada Falls. Take a break. There is a composting bathroom (there are no other easy bathrooms above this one). We will save a visit to the waterfalls (quarter-mile to the right) for the way back.

If it took much more than 2 hours or you feel tired, make the Top of Nevada Falls your destination for the day. This is about 2/5 of the total climb. Turn left towards Half Dome.

The Climb – Top of Nevada to the Treeline

Shortly above Nevada Falls, you will be walking in mostly flat terrain for a while. That is Little Yosemite Valley (there is a campground, which allows for a two-day climb of Half Dome).

The trail starts to climb again through the forest. Enjoy the shade, as most of the last part of the climb will be exposed to the sun. This section of the climb is less visually dramatic, there are no waterfalls and big boulders.

About 4 hours after the start, you will reach the treeline and have the first dramatic view of Half Dome. Notice the dark line going up the boulder, you will be shortly climbing that line.

If it took much more than 4 hours to get here, it is already mid-afternoon, or you feel extremely tired, consider making this you return point.

The Climb – Final stretch: Quarter Dome and the Cables

Shortly after crossing the tree line, you will reach what some call the “quarter dome”. It is a long section of steep rock steps. It might be useful to wear gloves so you can use your hands for balance.

Over and above the steps, you will get a closer view of Half Dome and reach the beginning of the cables. Take a break. If it is late or you are afraid of heights, consider making this your point of return.

The last section of the climb is done walking on the granite boulder slope with the help of a pair of cables working as hand rails. Do not climb if there are storm clouds around you and there is risk of lightning strikes.

This may be psychologically challenging (specially on the way down), but it is not particularly difficult or dangerous. I enjoy the view, but if you are not comfortable with heights, just focus your attention to the cables and your steps.

The biggest problem you may find is traffic congestion. It is not uncommon for hikers to get stuck along the way. Be prepared to hang to the cables for up to 45 minutes waiting for the line of climbers to move.

Ok, you’ve made it. Now is time to descend back.

From the top of Half Dome you get amazing views of the Valley and dramatic vertical drops. Enjoy your accomplishment and rest for a while before starting the descend.

Most climbing injuries happen on the way down, so use caution. Adjust your boots (you want them to be snug to keep your toes from jamming). If it took you about 6 hours to reach the top, it will probably take about 4 hours down.

When you reach the bathrooms at the top of Nevada Falls, if you have time and energy, the waterfalls (1/4 mile) are well worth a visit.

From top of Nevada, there are two alternative routes. The first alternative is to return the same way up (down from the bathrooms to Vernal Falls and Misty Trail). This is my strong preference and recommendation.

The alternative is to cross the bridge at the top of Nevada Falls and go down through John Muir trail. This adds about one mile to the journey, but the descend is more gradual. The reason why some people will recommend that is that by them your knees will be hurting and the gradual slope would be gentler. I think it is just extending the pain and suffering.

Your choice.

Congratulations! You have climbed Half Dome. Hopefully, you made it to Happy Isles before sunset and before the last shuttle bus. If not, you have another mile to walk in the dark and restaurants will be closed by the time to get back to camp.

Visiting Brazil (for US Americans)

So I was born in Brazil and have lived in California for more than 20 years. I am often asked about travel in Brazil by my American friends. This post is meant to collect helpful information.

How many days I need to visit Brazil? Where to go?

Most people find surprising to learn that Brazil is larger than the continental US. So there is no way to “visit Brazil” in a few days of vacation. Because the flight from one of the US hubs (Dallas, Houston, Miami, …) to São Paulo or Rio is about 12hours, it is reasonable to plan at least a week to go anywhere in Brazil.

Most business visitors go to São Paulo. It is a cosmopolitan very large city. At its best, it feels like New York. At its worst, it can be feel like the worst in New York. Other than business, São Paulo has world-class gastronomy, culture and nightlife. Traffic is really bad.

Most tourists go to Rio. It is a large city with the problems of a large city (including crime and the shanty towns – “favelas”). But it is a beautiful place (world-famous beaches – Copacabana, Ipanema and landmarks – like the Corcovado and SugarLoaf). It is your choice to focus on the good or on the bad.

The capital cities along the Northeast coast combine beautiful beaches, a slower pace of life, historical landmarks, and a unique cultural experience.

The North of Brazil is dominated by the Amazon rainforest.

In the South, there are the majestic waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçú.

If you have less than a week, get a tour package and visit Rio or two Northeast capitals. If you have two weeks, combine Rio with either a Northeast capital or Foz do Iguaçú. If you have a lifetime…

Is it dangerous?

From a personal safety perspective, if you have traveled internationally before and/or have some common sense, not particularly. But if you wear Tevas and Flower shirts, have a camera around your neck and a Panama hat on your head and decide to walk around one of the large cities pointing at buildings, you will probably be mugged within the first 15 minutes.

From a health perspective, you will survive fine in any of the cities along the coast doing the same you do at home. If you plan to spend a week going down some remote Amazon river and visit a remote place deep in the jungle, you may want to ask your health care provider about recommended vaccinations.

So, relax. Your are on vacation.

Geography and History

Brazil is in South America. Being in the South Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed compared to the US (i.e. Christmas trees are set during summer and July is winter).

Most of the large cities in Brazil are 1 hour ahead of US EST during the US summer (i.e. noon in New York is 1PM in São Paulo) and 3 hours ahead during the US winter (daylight saving times are reversed as well).

There are no Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Snow, or any extremes in weather in Brazil. In the South and Southeast, winters are mild (temperatures don’t go below freezing). In the North/Northeast, it is always summer (but high temperatures rarely go above about 90F).

Brazil is the Latin American exception colonized by the Portuguese (your Spanish vocabulary may help, but not much). The population is about 200 million.

Brazil is a direct democracy. The president is elected directly every 4 years (as of 2015, the president is Dilma Rouseff and Brazil is in the midst of a political crisis). The country is divided into 26 states.

Culture, Dress Code

Ethnically, Brazil is a mix of the Portuguese colonizers, African slaves, and mostly Italian, Japanese, German immigrants from the early 20th Century. The South has mostly European (Italian, German) influence. The biggest cities are in the Southeast: São Paulo (where you go for business, Italian, Japanese influence) and Rio de Janeiro (Portuguese, African). The Northeast has a slower pace and a beach lifestyle, with mostly African influence. The Midwest is dominated by the “Pantanal” wetlands and the North Amazon rain forest have relatively low population density.

Brazilians are generally perceived as friendly, welcoming and warm. They will go out of their way to make sure you’re happy in their country. But don’t expect people from a large city like São Paulo to be very different from New Yorkers.

Most Brazilians dress casual, but not sloppy.  They are fashion-aware. Don’t wear shorts and flower shirts in the city unless you want to stand up as a tourist.

The business culture is close enough to American. So, if you dress and behave like you do at home (unless you are from California, in which case step up a notch), you will be fine.

Most Brazilians are Roman Catholic.

Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport. Formula One racing is popular as well. Brazil usually does well in team sports (basketball, volleyball, etc).

Money, Driving and Passports

The Brazilian currency is the Real (R$). As of 2015, thinghs are shaky in the economy and US$1 = R$4. The country is on sale.

Generally, Brazil will feel inexpensive to an average American visitor. Imported articles will cost about the same as in the US (shopping mall, McDonald’s, fashionable clothing, etc). Basic necessities and services (food, taxi rides, local products, mid-range hotels, etc) will be about half of what you are used to.

Credit cards work in large cities, shopping malls and high-end restaurants, but you probably want to carry local currency. The best way to get local currency is to use your ATM card (not all ATM machines will take your US card, so you need to look for the network logos).

Nobody will complain if you tip above the nominal fee, but most restaurant checks already include a 10% service charge and it is not necessary to tip taxi drivers. For other tourist services (hotel, tour guides, etc), you can do as you would at home and you will make people happy.

Driving is similar to the US. Exception: No right turn on red. Generally, driving in Brazil is a lot more aggressive than in the US. It is easier and cheaper to get a taxi, don’t rent a car unless you know what you are doing.

US Americans need a Visa to visit Brazil. There is a reciprocity policy, so you will be treated similarly to how the US embassy treat Brazilians (expensive fees, slow service). It is a nuisance, but nothing out of the ordinary.


Food is not to be experienced as a comparison, but compared to the US, Brazilian food will be generally saltier and less spicy. It will change depending on where you are, but is is not exactly “exotic”.

You will probably try fruits that are fresher and more diverse than you have ever seen anywhere else.

The “typical” food will be “Feijoada” (black beans and pork stew, served with a variety of side dishes) and “Churrasco” (cuts of meat, mostly beef, served Gaucho-style).

The everyday home food for most of Brazilians is rice, beans, beef, green salad.

In the South, food will have strong European (Italian, German) influence. Beef is good and plentiful.

São Paulo is the food capital. Cosmopolitan, with word class Italian and Japanese.

In the Northeast, you will find spicier food, more seafood and cassava (yucca) or maize as the staple starch.

Table etiquette is not very different to what you are used to. People use fork and knife to eat pizza. Otherwise, behave as you do at home and you will be fine.

There is not a big wine tradition in Brazil. Most people drink beer (usually, not very memorable Pilsen). The national liquor is “Cachaça”, made of sugar cane, similar to rum. Order a “Caipirinha” (mix of Cachaça, lime and sugar).

Tourist Destinations

In approximate order of popularity:

  • Rio de Janeiro. Worldclass beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema) and landmarks (Corcovado, Sugar Loaf).
  • Northeast. Capitals along the Coast. Salvador and Recife are the most popular. Lots of colonial history, African influences, slow pace of life, beach life.
  • São Paulo. Large cosmopolitan city. Business, Gastronomy, Nightlife.
  • Foz do Iguaçú. Big waterfalls.
  • Amazon rainforest.
  • Pantanal. Wetlands in the mid-west, with a very large fauna variety.