After leaving Belem we sailed north around the Ilha de Marajo to reach the primary mouth of the Amazon river. The Amazon, of course, is the largest river system in the world by far. It emits more water into the ocean (46,000,000 gallons per second) than the next 7 largest rivers combined. Of its 15,000 tributaries, no fewer than 14 are at least 1000 miles long. At its widest point the Amazon is almost 35 miles wide, and its mouth is 250 miles wide. The Ilha de Marajo at its mouth is larger than Switzerland. So, through the next few days, the big thing to see (in size as well as importance and interest) is the river itself.
We entered the river early in the morning of Monday, February 27, and we crossed the equator going south in mid-afternoon. So pretty much all we saw that day was lots of river & rainforest.
The Amazon basin contains well over half of the Earth’s remaining rainforest, and it is shrinking (at the hands of human exploiters) at an average rate of more than 9,000 square miles per year. Between 2001 and 2010 an area of rainforest estimated to be about twice the size of Portugal was lost. The loss of this rainforest, which cannot grow back for hundreds of years once it is cut down, would have a large scale impact on the world’s climate (as if global warming weren’t scary enough).
On Tuesday, February 28, we came to Santarem, our first stop on the Amazon. It is a small city of a couple hundred thousand, and there really isn’t much to see there. Some people went on river excursions to fish for Piranha (they caught very few) or to a river resort nearby, but we decided just to walk through the town & see the river culture. The big thing to see here is called the “meeting of the waters.” This is where the blue Tapajos river & the muddy Amazon intersect & flow together for a number of miles before blending. You could see this from the ship but in Santarem they have built a small tower on top of a hill that gives a better view.
One of the publications on the ship invited us to see this “unique natural phenomenon.” However, since we will see another (supposedly more dramatic) meeting of the waters two days later in Manaus it is obviously not unique, just rare. But rare is still pretty good.
Santarem has the obligatory cathedral on a hill, a rather unusual blue one with a similarly painted gazebo across the street. But other than some brightly painted streets (which we have seen a lot in Brazil) there isn’t too much else. We did see an unusual statue of a parrot and we passed a statue of a turtle in the bus (but I couldn’t get a picture of it). So we got on the bus & went back to the ship.
On Sunday, February 26 we came to Belem (Bethlehem), a city of a couple of million located on the Rio Para, southernmost branch of the mouth of the Amazon. Founded in 1616, Belem was the financial clearinghouse for the rubber industry that dominated the Amazon region in the late 19th & early 20th centuries.
Our ship was anchored a few miles down river, and the tenders dropped us at the village of Icoaraci. Village it may be but it had a (rather tumbledown) public library!
We were driven into Belem by a shuttle bus & dropped off at an old warehouse complex on the water that has been converted into shops & restaurants. It was a rainy day but there were nice views of the flowing river from behind the complex.
From there we walked to the Mercado Ver-o-Peso (“verify the weight market”). Begun in 1688, the name reflects the strict Portuguese taxes on everything entering or leaving Amazonia. In the market were live chickens, ducks & goats, as well as colorful fruits we had never seen before.
Not far away was the old port, which was crowded with the ubiquitous Amazon river boats, on which people live, sleeping in hammocks. Vultures & egrets patrol the port. The fourth picture below is a painting near the port, not a street.
Of course Belem has an elaborate cathedral, built in 1755, and there was a clock tower that does not look like Big Ben (but this time there was no claim that it does).
We visited the Forte de Presepio, erected in 1616 as the first building in Belem, but did not tour it since the signs are all in Portuguese. Here, and at many other places in Brazil, there were vendors selling coconuts, which are very popular.
Finally, there were several interesting mosaic sidewalks, quite different from what we saw in Rio.
It was Sunday in Belem so a lot was closed & there weren’t a lot of people out & about. We started to walk to the theater, about a third of a mile away, but we found ourselves on empty streets which made Mary uncomfortable, so we went back to the shuttle bus. We found out there that a woman from our ship had been attacked not far from the warehouse restaurants by a woman with a knife (who, we were told, had been sniffing glue, a problem in this city apparently). A couple of other passengers have been mugged in other cities (one right outside the dock in Recife). So maybe turning back from the empty streets was the correct move.
We arrived in Fortaleza (Fortress) on Friday, February 24. It is another big city (about 3 million) with skyscrapers lining its beachfront like Miami Beach.
I could think of only two reasons for stopping here: (1) its on the way, and (2) its our last docking port until we leave the Amazon, so we needed to fill up on water. A shuttle bus took us to the older part of town, but really it wasn’t much fun to walk around. Narrow, crowded sidewalks, lots of traffic, people set up all over the sidewalk selling stuff (and not interesting stuff) – altogether it was not a very pleasant city.
We saw two buildings of note. First was the Metropolitan Cathedral, a 20th century building that is the 3rd largest cathedral in Brazil. It is in a European style, with flying buttresses no less, and we were told it was inspired by the cathedral of Cologne (I have seen the cathedral of Cologne, & it is much more elaborate & beautiful than this one).
The other building was the Teatro Jose de Alencar (named after a 19th century Fortalezan writer). Approaching it on the street you see an ornate but fairly conventional Italianate (we were told) building.
But when you walk through to the inner courtyard you come upon the actual theater, which is made largely of iron in an Art Nouveau style.
It was a whimsical combination, which we enjoyed.
On our way back to the shuttle bus we walked through the Praca Jose de Alencar, where so-called comedians pass the hat and if you don’t put something in it you become the butt of some nasty jokes. Since we don’t speak Portuguese we decided to skip this entertainment, and we walked on through the Praca dos Martires (park of the martyrs) where there was statuary, fountains and a cooling canopy of trees (have I mentioned that in this part of the world it is HOT?).
UPDATE on Vitoria: You may recall (you can look back if you don’t) that we showed you a church in Vitoria dedicated to Our Lady Of The Good Death & speculated that there might be an interesting story behind that title. Since then, our friend Rita Reimer found the story & sent it to us to share with you:
The Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death (Irmandade da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte) is a small but renowned Afro-Catholic religious group in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Founded in the early 19th century as a Church-sponsored beneficent Sisterhood for female African slaves and former slaves, it became one of the oldest and most respected worship groups for Candomblé, the major African-based religion in Brazil. Presently reduced to about thirty members (from 200 or so at its height), most of them over fifty, it still attracts worshipers every year, especially at its August festival.
On Wednesday, February 22, we came to the port of Cabedelo, whose main claim to fame is that it is the starting point of the Amazon highway (several decades in the making but still far from complete). A fort was established here in 1589 to keep out the Dutch (not entirely successful). This is, as I understand it, the easternmost city in the Americas; it is closer to Africa than to southern Brazil, which we found a little mind-boggling.
Only two cruise ships a year stop at Cabedelo, which explains why we were greeted by a band at the dock as we left the ship. Cabedelo has some decent beaches.
Up the river, about a 40 minute bus ride, is the city of Joao Pessoa (John Person), another Brazilian city of a couple million people, established in 1585.
Fortunately, the old part of the city, which we visited, is not among these skyscrapers. It is a small area, but I don’t think I have ever seen so many churches per square yard. They were not needed to serve multiple denominations,since just about everyone here was Catholic, so it is puzzling that such a small town needed to be divided among so many churches. Some of them are very pretty, although with the damp climate there was a lot of mold. We were told that fighting the mold is a never ending battle. The one that seems predominant is the Convento Sao Francisco de Assis (not actually a church), which has a large courtyard and is supposed to have a beautiful ceiling inside, but we didn’t go in to see it (churches are not exactly novelties on this trip).
There were some colorful streets in the old town, but everything was closed up since it was still the morning after Carnaval. Of course it was also Ash Wednesday so we thought it odd that the churches weren’t open, but apparently religion isn’t really the central object of Carnaval any more.
We did find the Biblioteca (after much searching) but like everything else it was closed.
There were some mosaic sidewalks, but the design was much smaller than in Rio & it was done the easy way, with square tiles embossed with the wavy pattern. There was also some nice tile work on a number of the buildings.
As you saw earlier, however, most of the city was high-rise buildings. The highrise apartment buildings in this area are different from what you normally see in North America, in that they often have patterns of bright color & many of the windows are much smaller, presumably to help keep out the heat.
To end this post here is the last towel animal we have gotten (one of the best, though). We were told there would be water issues for the trip through the Amazon so they are trying to cut down on laundry and the first thing to go is the towel animals. You may recall this happened in Antarctica as well.
Tuesday, February 21, was the final day of Carnaval 2012. It was also the one day we were originally scheduled to be in Recife, and we had signed up for an excursion to Olinda, which is right next to Recife. While Recife is a large city of several million people Olinda is a small city with brightly painted buildings only a few stories high. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage sight.
We spent several hours walking around Olinda and although it was still late morning, already there were crowds in the street and the city was filled with costumed revelers. We saw several buildings of interest, but mostly we took in the city scenery & the people. Remember you can call up a label for a picture by moving your mouse over it; some labels are descriptive & some aren’t. Of course, there were churches.
There were colorful streets & marching bands.
A variety of people were dressed in costume, some of whom did performances (like the weird boxing pastiche in pictures 4 & 5).
We were told that in a neighboring town inland all the men wear costumes like the ones below so that the women of the town can’t tell who is who. It sounded pretty strange to us – obviously an opportunity for hanky panky – but then most of this stuff is at least a little strange to us.
Houses were decorated in a variety of colorful ways & people watched the passing show from their windows.
We saw some nice views of Olinda & Recife from the top of the hill near the Cathedral.
The Olinda Carnaval is known for its giant puppets, some of which are worn by people & some of which are used as decorations. I’m not sure what the story is behind them, but they are different. The first picture shows a person putting on the puppet costume of a popular Brazilian singer, and there is another puppet sitting in the window.
Now some miscellaneous pictures of Olinda for which I am too tired to think of categories. But the first one is here because Mary & I happened to be in it (just a little bit, on the lower right), & the second one is of an Olinda street the night before taken from the hill (we weren’t there, but its a nice picture).
Around noon we left Olinda & drove to Itamaraca Island where we were to have lunch near a beach. It took forever to get there because of snarled Carnaval traffic and it turned out that neither the lunch nor the visit was worth the lengthy bus ride. Anyway, here we are eating lunch (we are the last ones at the table, so look closely) & a view of the beach.
On the way back we passed through the fateful town where my camera was stolen. Here are a few pictures of the parade there, which I could have done without.
When we got back from the ill-fated trip we decided to walk over to the Recife Carnaval before dinner so that we would at least have a few pictures of Recife (we didn’t know yet that generous friends Patrice & Jeff would supply many more pictures). So the rest of the pictures here were taken by us; most are a little blurry because they were taken at night but it gives you an idea of what Carnaval in Recife was like. First we wanted to be sure to replace our pictures of the synagogue in the first blog posting and the Biblioteca in Recife (which were, of course, a little different because they are taken at night with a swirling Carnaval crowd):
Here is the main Carnaval stage, with a show going on.
Here is the secondary stage at the Recife Carnaval & the square in front of it.
There was a marching band & crowds, often in costume, everywhere.
One of the giant street decorations that we particularly liked was called Belle de Jour, and there was also one of the anonymous men like we saw in Olinda.
That evening there was a Carnaval celebration in the ship’s restaurant, in which all the waiters and other ship personnel dressed in special costumes (they do this often, for a variety of special & not-so-special occasions), as did some of the passengers. Then there was a show about Frevo, the local dance tradition (you may have seen the multicolored parasols used in this dance in several of the pictures). It wasn’t as good as the Samba shows (not even close), but it was interesting nonetheless. While I don’t have a picture of the waiters, there is a picture here of the cruise director in the Carnaval costume acting as host for the show.
And so ended a memorable visit to Recife & Olinda – it was the best of times and the worst of times. But we have gotten over the bad part by now and are just relieved that we still have all the pre-Recife pictures & movies and still have a camera with which to finish out the trip.
We arrived in Recife on Monday, February 20, a day earlier than originally planned. This was because the Prinsendam folks decided to skip our scheduled stop in Salvador de Bahia, which I had anticipated to be one of the highlights because it is a special city in a number of ways, particularly in music. However, there was (as I understand it) a police strike, which had resulted in 50 or more murders & the city was occupied by troops (although I’m not sure any of that was still true by February 19, when we were supposed to arrive). So, with a lot of older people aboard they decided to skip Salvador, with the result that we spent two days, Monday and Tuesday, in Recife. The positive side of this was that Monday & Tuesday were the last two days of Carnaval (this is the Portuguese spelling, which is used down here), & Recife is reputed to have one of the best Carnavals outside of Rio. Rio’s Carnaval is, they say, a spectator event, highlighted by a parade put on by the Samba schools in which everyone else stands by & watches (I saw a little bit on a TV near Recife), while Recife’s Carnaval is more participatory, with large crowds joining in. This is consistent with our experience.
On Monday we walked through Recife & took pictures of the important buildings, the Carnaval decorations & the people out & about. That night we took a canal tour (Recife is called the “Venice of South America” because it is built on 3 islands and has a number of bridges over a few rivers & canals, but I have been to Venice & Recife is no Venice; its only advantage over Venice in my opinion is its dearth of mosquitoes, which are more than plentiful in Venice). We took many pictures during the canal tour of the bridges and Carnaval decorations lighted after dark. On Tuesday we went on a trip to Olinda, a beautiful picturesque town with its own unique Carnaval atmosphere, & took a number of interesting pictures there as well.
However, you will not see any of those pictures here because on our way back from the tour of Olinda (& an island called Itamaraca) my camera was stolen. We were in a tour bus that was slowed to a crawl in a small town near Itamaraca because the locals were having a Carnaval parade, consisting of a band on a truck & a large crowd of locals, many of whom were dressed up for the occasion. We were on the wrong side of the bus to see the crowd but another passenger offered me her seat to take a picture. As I slid the camera slightly out the window to take a picture, three young men apparently ran over, leaped in the air, & grabbed my camera (I say apparently because I never saw them). Before I even knew what was happening the camera was gone & all that was left was the strap around my wrist (the strap didn’t break; the metal bar on the camera to which it was attached broke off). They were gone & there was nothing to be done. It was an empty feeling, to say the least.
Fortunately, I had already downloaded all the pictures prior to Recife, but I lost all the pictures I had taken there & in Olinda. And we do have our old camera with us so we will be able to continue providing pictures of our trip (although they won’t be as good, since the old camera’s capabilities are far less). So, you will see pictures of Recife & Olinda here, but most of them were not taken by us (we did go out that evening to the Recife Carnaval, which was centered about a 10 minute walk from our ship, so some of these pictures are ours). A couple of the people on the Olinda tour with us graciously offered to share their pictures with us, so we have quite a few pictures, many of which are of the same things we had photographed (although not with us in them, and our pictures of the Olinda library couldn’t be replaced). So, with the understanding that unless otherwise indicated these pictures were not taken by us, we can proceed to a tour of Recife & Olinda.
As I said before, Recife is built on 3 islands and our ship was docked a short walk from the old part of the city, which dates back to the 16th century. Recife is a city of several million people, and its high-rise buildings stretch out seemingly forever, as in so many of these cities on the east coast of South America.
On Monday, February 20, we spent the late morning & early afternoon walking around the old part of the city, across the bridges & around the government square. Everything was closed for Carnaval so we didn’t get to go into any buildings; in fact most buildings were boarded up & had temporary plywood fences (sometimes brightly painted) erected around them, presumably to protect them from revelers. But everything in the city was also dressed up for Carnaval, including buildings, streets & bridges. Early in the day, when we were out, there were not very many people around (I guess they were still sleeping off the night before) & the lights were off, but it was interesting to see.
You can see these huge images all over town. They are flat & painted, and about 8 inches thick between the painted panels. There was an amazing variety of them everywhere. We walked by the main Carnaval stage on the water’s edge in Recife old town, & a secondary stage that was set up in a square a few blocks away. There is a huge open square in front of the main stage that fills with people at night (you will see later what these stages looked like at night).
One of the more interesting buildings in the old town is the first synagogue built in the Western Hemisphere. It was established during the period the Dutch held Recife (1580 – 1640). The Dutch were very tolerant of Jews at that time but when the Portuguese took back Recife they were no longer welcome. The Recife Jews left, settling in other Dutch territories such as the island of St. Maarten (which we will visit later in this trip) & New Amsterdam, where they founded the first Jewish community in what is now New York. The building is no longer a synagogue (although Recife does currently have a relatively small Jewish community). I think its now some kind of cultural center, but it does still have the synagogue name on it and the street sign still indicates that it was called Rua Dos Judeus from 1630 to 1654 (these are my pictures, taken at night during Carnaval on Feb. 21).
We walked across one of the bridges into the middle island where the center of government is located. We saw the Palacio do Campo das Princesas (Governor’s Palace), the Palacio de Justica & the Praca de Republica, a lovely park between these buildings, which was locked & boarded up for Carnaval; notice the egret walking by the pond.
We crossed another bridge, the highlight of which was a giant rooster, the symbol of Recife’s Carnaval, and there were some interesting old Dutch houses along the river in this area. On the way back we saw a building with unusual images painted on its shutters.
After sunset on Monday evening we went on a boat tour of the canals & bridges. By this time Carnaval had begun for the night & there were quite a few revelers out & about, many in costumes of a bewildering variety (although this was quite early yet, & the crowds become much bigger & more boisterous by 2:00 or 3:00 AM). The nighttime perspective is quite different from daytime, so here are nighttime views of some of the same sights set out above.
The bridges were lit up, including the rooster.
There were a number of buildings on which were projected animations. The best one we saw was a frog, which eventually stuck out its tongue to grab a morsel shaped like one of the windows on the building.
This was very early in the evening, around 7:00 PM, but there were already quite a few revelers about on the bridges & along the riverside.
So, having had a full day of festivities & sightseeing in Recife, we returned to the ship to rest up for Tuesday’s trip to Olinda (while 10 minutes from the ship, Carnaval continued well into the night).
Friday, February 17 we spent in Vitoria, another sizeable South American city we had never heard of before. There are 2 or 3 million people in Vitoria & the 3 other cities that are virtually contiguous to it (estimates vary). Founded in the 16th century, Vitoria is the capital of the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo. The ship had to go up a river and under a bridge, so I think few cruise ships visit here. Oh, yes: we are now nearing the Equator, where days and nights are of equal length all year long & it is very HOT! Its hard to believe we were freezing in Antarctica less than two weeks ago.
Vitoria is a mixture of modern & historic, mostly modern. The upper city is above the port area,and you reach it by climbing, mostly stairs.
We toured the Palacio de Anchieta, which started out as a church in the 16th century but has been substantially rebuilt into what is today the Governor’s Mansion. Padre Anchieta, who is buried inside, was one of the founders of Sao Paulo, which originally grew around a chapel he built there. However, he was driven out of Sao Paulo because he was a staunch defender of Indian rights, and ended up in Vitoria where he died in 1597. In fact, the whole Jesuit order was notable for its defense of Indian rights and opposition to slavery, for which it was driven from the Portuguese empire. Inside the Palacio we saw, among other things, an original 16th century wall & an interesting painting showing the Iberians’ idealistic notion of colonization: an Indian bowing deferentially before a priest who is converting him to Christianity. Of course, the reality was that the typical Indian of that period was either dead or enslaved.
We visited a church called Igreja Sao Goncalo, built in 1766, that is dedicated to “Our Lady Of The Good Death.” I don’t know the story behind that one, but it must be an interesting one. Of note, the color of the church was actually more purple than blue, but this is what my camera saw. And then we walked by the Catedral Metropolitano, which was a good bit more imposing.
Finally, we saw the Teatro Carlos Gomes, an old Italianate theater, and the Praca (Park) Costa Pereira in front of it, which had some interesting trees in it.
Vitoria also had some mosaic sidewalks, similar to Rio but with different designs. Note that in the first picture the sidewalk actually is completely flat, contrary to appearances.
In the afternoon we had a performance on board by a local Samba school. This was really a school, not just a club, for kids age 8 through 16. It was similar to the Samba show we saw in Rio; all percussion music, played by boys, and all the dancing by girls. They told us that the purpose of this school was to keep the kids off the street & teach them the traditional dance & music & have fun. And they were very good. But I must admit it was a little disconcerting to see young girls like this participating in this sexually suggestive kind of dancing. The adults went out of their way to assure us this was all in fun, presumably because they were aware of how Americans were likely to react. Anyway, here are some pictures of this colorful performance.
Our next stop after Vitoria was Recife, where we spent 2 days during Carnaval. We were supposed to stop in Salvador de Bahia, but they decided to skip that port because of “civil unrest” resulting from a police strike. This was a big disappointment for me, because Salvador is a very unusual city, populated mostly be the descendants of slaves and a center for the development of Brazilian music. The Washington Post travel section ran a full page article about it 6 or 7 months ago. But it was most interesting to have two days in Recife (and its neighbor Olinda) during their spectacular carnaval. However, owing to some extenuating circumstances I will tell you about later, it will be a few days before I can post a Recife entry. Meanwhile, I will leave you with the beautiful sunset as we sailed away from Vitoria.
Thursday, February 16 found us in Armacao dos Buzios, playground of the rich and famous (or at least the rich).
Buzios was an obscure fishing village until 1964. That year Brigitte Bardot visited her Brazilian boyfriend in Rio, but they could not leave his apartment without being hounded by paparazzi. So they secretly left Rio and came to Buzios to escape attention. They stayed only two days, but when word got out Buzios became the new hot beach destination & quickly grew into a small resort town. As a result of her two whole days in Buzios there is a lifesize bronze statue of Bardot, called the Orla Bardot (she’s the bronze colored one in the picture).
This is a beautiful little beach town but there really aren’t any other landmarks to see so we walked around for a few hours. There is, of course, a beautiful beach.
There is a picturesque harbor next to the beach.
There is a restaurant for the vegetarians in the audience and it appears this town must be the home of some people’s favorite cartoon character.
There is a wonderful sand castle. We were told that the same guy rebuilds it every day after the tide washes it away! There were some spectacular sandcastles on Copacabana beach but our bus was moving too fast to get a photo, so we were glad we could get one here.
We haven’t seen graffiti in a while on this blog but there were some interesting ones in Buzios.
We did come across some interesting sculpture, beyond Bardot. The three fishermen with their nets in the bay are really sculpture, as you can see by the second picture where there are birds sitting on their heads. There was another fisherman sitting in town mending his nets.
There was also a wild collection of very colorful & whimsical sculpture, many more than you see here.
The fauna here included sea birds and these unusual frogs.
And, of course, there were a lot of beautiful flowers, on trees and in the ground.
So, that’s pretty much it for Buzios. A nice, picturesque little beach resort community where we spent a pleasant day.
Rio is, of course, known for its elaborate Carnaval. This year, Carnaval is next week so there were signs around for the parade & much buzz. Carnaval, by the way, is the last day of eating meat before Lent; hence the name derives from meat (carne in Spanish).
On our tours we saw the stadium where the parade will pass the viewing stands as well as the building where it is staged. In the first picture, which is one end of the stadium area, there is a huge symbol that looks a little like McDonald’s arches. This is the symbol of Rio’s Carnaval, and we were told it was actually modeled on the bottom part of a string bikini. The parade is staged by the “Samba schools,” the first of which was established in 1928, which are really clubs rather than schools. There are two levels, poetically titled A and B, and I think they said there are six schools in each level. Each school’s performance is judged each year, and the lowest scoring one in level A is demoted to level B while the highest scorer in level B is promoted to A. So there is fierce competition since there is much prestige involved in being in level A, as well as in winning a prize.
On the night of February 14 we had a Samba show on the ship. The name “Samba” has always sounded to me like a cool, relaxed, sophisticated kind of dance. We have been told that there are many genres of Samba, much as there are of American Jazz, but the version we saw (which we understand is like what is in Rio’s Carnaval parade) is nothing like that. The music is all drums & percussion, very loud with insistent rhythms. The dancers are scantily clad and/or elaborately outfitted, and the dancing is very hot and provocative. All the music was made by men, and almost all the dancers were women. It struck me as being very African. Mary found it rather tedious, because the music was all rhythm and continued incessantly for about an hour without any breaks, but I found it pretty compelling. I was told later that some of our passengers walked out early because they found the dancing offensive but there were others who got up and danced and were totally involved. I took some video, which of course I can’t post here, but here are some photos that might give you an idea.
We were told that more than 2.5 million dollars worth of Ostrich feathers are used every year at Carnaval, and you can see why in these pictures. Most of them are thrown in the garbage afterwards; only about 20% can be recycled the next year. In the fourth from the last picture, you can see that the dancer is holding the hands of the man behind her in line; apparently, he had been putting them where he shouldn’t since all the other dancers had hands on their hips. So, I guess he’s not too old to boogie!
On February 15 we were on an excursion to Corcovado, a mountain that is substantially higher than Sugarloaf. You go most of the way up on a train with tracks steep enough that we kept slipping off our seats. Then near the top there is an elevator the rest of the way. The train has been running for more than a hundred years but the statue of Cristo Redentor wasn’t built until 1931. As I mentioned yesterday, it is considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, although I’m not sure why; it was refurbished last year & they added a chapel in its base. Lots of people had the same clever idea to pose in front of the statue with their arms held out horizontally (so original), so we didn’t.
And of course the vistas from the top of Corcovado were outstanding.
In the last picture above you can see a canal running from the bottom center up across the beach. This is the dividing line: on the left is Ipanema & on the right is Leblond.
I have discussed earlier the Favelas and Rio is famous for them. If you have ever seen the old movie “Black Orpheus,” it is about life in the Favelas & also about Carnaval. It’s an interesting movie and includes some marvelous Brazilian music. Anyway, here are pictures of a handful of the hundreds of Favelas. The first one is one of the most famous, La Recinha (I think that’s right), one of the first to be cleaned up of drug dealers. It sits on a beautiful hillside near Leblond beach overlooking the ocean. Our guide tried to tell us how great life is in the Favelas - low taxes, beautiful views from the mountainsides, free schools – to the point where I wanted to ask her why she hadn’t moved into one (but my mother raised me to be more polite than that).
In the last picture you can see that each story of each building is a different color like a stack of colored blocks. As it was explained to us, the way many of these Favelas grow is that one person builds a one story boxy house, then sells the roof space to another person who builds a house on top of it, who then sells their roof space to a third person who builds another house on top of that. Sometimes these stack up to 5 stories. I have no idea how they access the third story (stairs?), or connect illicit electric lines (pretty haphazard, as I understand it). In many of them there is no running water so they buy water in bottles. It doesn’t sound to us like a nice way to live regardless of the view.
There was also some flora and fauna for those of you who like that sort of thing. There were some interesting birds with swallow-like tails, many of which fly around the city in strict formation, although we don’t know their names. There were also buzzards (some said black buzzards, but we don’t really know), and also some small lizards on Sugarloaf.
We saw some trees we had never heard of, including the Jackfruit & the Cannonball tree (with a fruit on the left of the tree & flowers on the right). And there were some flowers & plants whose names we don’t know.
Almost time to leave Rio, but how can I end this without some towel animals? So, for you towel animal fans, here is your daily fix:
So now we say goodbye to Rio, sailing out shortly before sunset, and I will leave you for now with one final view of Sugarloaf & one of Corcovado, just because I can’t get enough of them.
We sailed into Guanabera Bay at Rio de Janeiro at sunrise on Tuesday, February 14. This is a huge but really beautiful city, with mountains, rainforests & beaches everywhere. There doesn’t seem to be an accurate account of its population because there are almost a thousand Favelas in Rio (Favela is the name for the squatter communities like we saw in Lima) and the government has no way to accurately count their occupants, particularly since officially most of them don’t exist. Because Rio is to host the World Cup in 2014 & the Olympics in 2016 they are working hard right now to clean up the Favelas. They have successfully driven the drug dealers (who dominate many of the Favelas) from a few of them & somewhat regularize their use of services like water gas & electricity. But even for those few that have been cleaned up the head count is doubtful. We were told about one in which the govt. says about 75,000 people live but the electric company has 140,000 meters there, so the government clearly hasn’t yet gotten a handle on the population. The best guess we heard for the total population of greater Rio was 14 to 16 million. The people here call themselves Cariocas (I don’t know why, but I’m sure there is a reason).
Anyway, this is a city of breathtaking vistas so you will see a lot of them here. The landscape is dominated by two mountains, Sugarloaf & Corcovado (which means “hunchback”), the latter of which is topped by the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), the huge statue of Christ that has been named one of the 7 wonders of the modern world (we have wondered who is authorized to make such a designation, and we don’t know what the other six are, although the Taj Mahal is probably on the list). We passed both of these on the sunrise sail into the harbor; and the Cristo Redentor was lit up. In the first picture Sugarloaf is on the right & Corcovado is just to the left of center in the background, with the lighted statue atop it. The second picture is Sugarloaf & the third is Corcovado.
Rio has an airport right on the water that is used just for shuttle trips to Sao Paulo every 15 minutes. The planes fly in low & look like they will land in the water. Nearby is the old customs house on an island in the bay, and there was a Favela on a hill behind the dock. Note in the upper right corner of the Favela picture a formation of birds flying by. We saw birds flying in formation over the bay & the city all the time here.
On February 14 we went on an excursion to the top of Sugarloaf mountain. To get to the top you have to ride two cable cars – not the kind you see in San Francisco but cars hanging from a cable way high in the air. First you ride up to an intermediate level mountain, then switch to another car for the trip to the top.
They have been running cable cars here for about 100 years without incident so it’s really safe. Inside it’s like being in a subway car (only with a better view). However, the car does sway a bit when you step off. The views even from the middle level of Sugarloaf are pretty spectacular; as you can imagine, pictures do not really convey the full effect of a 360 degree vista.
From the top of the mountain, the views were even better.
From Sugarloaf we could see the most famous beaches of Rio: Flamingo, Copacabana & Ipanema.
We drove along the beaches on both days. They are very long (Copacabana 1 mile, Ipanema 2 miles) with beautiful blue water & white sand. In addition to Copacabana (pictures 1 & 2) & Ipanema (pictures 3 & 4), we drove past Leblond beach (which is contiguous to Ipanema – named for a blond Frenchman who once frequented this beach) (pictures 5 & 6) & stopped at Sao Conrado beach, where hang gliders landed from the top of a mountain overlooking the beach, for a taste of Coconut. We were told that coconut water will keep you healthy & cure everything from arthritis to alzheimer’s. But I only had one, so it will probably only stave off alzheimer’s for a couple of weeks.
Brazil has no private beaches so access to these is open to all. However there are sections recognized as areas where particular groups congregate: Copacabana is primarily for families we were told & there are sections of Ipanema for gays & lesbians, for young people, for children, for topless bathing. We passed the Copacabana Palace, the best known hotel on the beaches. Sound like a nice place to retire? Forget it; we were told that the condos in the high-rises on the street bordering Ipanema start at $20 million. And to shatter yet another illusion, contrary to popular understanding not everyone on these beaches is “tall and tan and young and lovely,” although that doesn’t stop them from wearing bikinis.
One thing we found interesting is the sidewalk mosaics in Rio, and really throughout Brazil so far (we have seen them in two other cities visited since). In addition to the famous undulating sidewalk design at Copacabana beach, there was a different pattern at Ipanema & Leblond, and several others around town. All of them are made from white & black (& sometimes red) stones about 2 to 3 inches in diameter; it must have been a lot of work. Below are a clos-up showing how the individual tiles fit together & then the sidewalks of Copacabana, then Ipanema, then a few others with mouse-over labels (you can also see these in the beach pictures above).
In the afternoon we walked down the Rio Branco, the main street of the central section of Rio. Much of it consisted of boxy modern office buildings but the sidewalks were mosaic and there were some interesting older buildings. This was a very modern, busy thoroughfare with heavy traffic on foot & in cars. Yet on the afternoon of the second day, our tablemate Bing was attacked there in broad daylight by a couple of guys who tried to tear a gold chain from his neck & run off. Bing is an older guy (early 70’s), but fortunately our other tablemate Steve, a retired fireman, was with him. He chased off one of the attackers & got the other in a headlock; Bing had grabbed his chain & managed to hold on. The second attacker then ran off & Bing still has his gold chain, though it is broken. The lesson here is that in foreign cities (really any big city) you should never wear jewelry or carry a camera or purse that looks worth stealing. We have been warned about this several times; Mary & I (of course) always look like we don’t have anything worth stealing & my camera fits in my pocket (a surprising number of the passengers on this cruise carry big cameras with very long lenses that look like they must weigh about 30 pounds).
Anyway, we didn’t run into any trouble on Rio Branco. We saw a nice old church, built a few hundred years ago by a fellow who survived a shipwreck, with a nautical theme. I only got a partial picture of the outside while driving by in a bus and it is not one of the important churches in Rio, but looking at the interior would make you think it was a major cathedral.
Further down the street is a square with several of the main buildings in Rio. With the World Cup & the Olympics coming up, it seemed like every building in town was surrounded by fences and scaffolding as they work to restore & beautify the city for the world stage. But we saw their beautiful opera house with its eye catching gold roof decorations.
And of course we saw (or rather sought out) the Biblioteca Nacional, which is a little less spectacular.
OK, I was planning to do all of Rio in one posting but this is already quite long and there is quite a bit yet to go. So I am going to stop now, even though we aren’t really through day 1, and finish up in a second posting.
On Saturday, February 11, we arrived at Montevideo, Uruguay. It is much smaller than Buenos Aires, but still a big city at about 1.8 million people (including suburbs). It had a much more relaxed and friendly ambiance than Buenos Aires (of course, it was a weekend, but still . . .), and we liked it very much.
We were supposed to arrive at 8:00 AM. Since Montevideo is just about 150 miles down the Rio Plata from Buenos Aires you would think we would have no trouble arriving on time. But you would be wrong. Because of the problems with the river traffic I explained yesterday we didn’t arrive until noon. But we still had plenty of time to explore this city on foot before the ship left that evening.
Montevideo is a very walkable city (at least the old town & the main part of the new town, where we went). Leaving the ship, we passed the anchor from the Graf Spee, a German warship sunk in the harbor here in 1939 in an incident that was famous at the time. It seems the ship was chased into this harbor by several British ships. Uruguay was neutral, and the rules were that ships of belligerents could only stay 3 days, so the British ships just waited outside the harbor for the Graf Spee to come out. Instead the captain scuttled the ship in the harbor, where it still resides (they say you can see the top if its conning tower above the water if you go close enough), and the captain committed suicide rather than being sent back to face Hitler’s wrath. It’s still a big deal around here. Just outside the harbor area is the Mercado de Puerto, an open air craft & souvenir market next to a very large warehouse type building housing a plethora of open restaurants. Even on Saturday it was bustling.
We walked through several streets & plazas up the hill from the harbor (Montevideo means something like Mountain View, although you would hardly call this gentle hill a mountain). The streets of Montevideo are interesting, with old & new buildings interspersed. The streets were pretty quiet on Saturday, presumably they are more crowded on business days but nothing like Buenos Aires I am sure.
At Plaza Constitucion there was a Saturday flea market being held. It is a very pleasant tree covered square, with an elaborate marble fountain in the middle (commemorating the establishment of the city’s water system) and a number of interesting buildings and the Catedral Matriz around the perimeter. At the flea market they were selling everything from antique cameras & cameos to old victrolas & glassware.
We walked on to the much larger & more impressive Plaza Independencia, which is essentially the center of the city. To get there we walked along a pedestrian-only street with vendor stalls and through a gate which is a restoration of one of the original gates to the city.
Plaza Independencia was surrounded by interesting buildings. The Palacio Salvo, with its bizarre tower section, is the tallest building in Uruguay and was the tallest in South America when it was built in the 1920’s (you can see it on the right in the city skyline at the top of this blog entry). The Palacio Estavez was the center of government until 1985. And the lovely Teatro Solis, the opera house, is on a corner of the Plaza called (at least on our map; we couldn’t find any sign at the site) “Plaza Golda Meir.” I’m not sure what Golda Meir might have had to do with Uruguay, but there it is.
One of the biggest pleasures of exploring Montevideo is the beautiful old architecture you find all over, often mixed in with more modern or even pedestrian buildings. Below is a selection of some of the architectural details on the buildings, which includes a variety of sculpture, balconies, mosaic decorations and old ornate buildings reflected in a modern glass building (a photographic cliche, I know, but still pretty).
And so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell to beautiful Montevideo. Last night was the Valentine’s Day Ball aboard Prinsendam (even though it was February 12, which ought to have involved Lincoln’s birthday instead). I have no pictures of the Ball (Cinderella didn’t make it this time) but below I have included the latest towel animals. As I write this, we will be arriving in Rio de Janeiro early (6:30 AM) tomorrow morning for a two day stay, then two days in small resort towns with little to do but look at the sand & sky & sun (assuming the sun is actually out) so it may be a few more days before there is another posting. And happy birthday to Linda, if you are still following this.
Buenos Aires is a huge, crowded, loud city, which reminded us in many ways of New York. There are about 3.5 million living in the city & about 14 million (!) if you include the suburbs. It is sometimes called the “Paris of South America” & many seasoned travelers say it is their favorite city, but we couldn’t see why. Of course, we didn’t eat in its restaurants, which are supposed to be outstanding if you like steak (and lots of it), and we didn’t stay in any of its hotels, some of which looked pretty fancy. But still: big, loud, crowded; not our cup of tea.
We arrived on Thursday, February 9 for an overnight stay. We were supposed to be able to go ashore about 8:30 AM, which would have given 2 full days (& 1 night) there, but we actually didn’t arrive until after 2:00 in the afternoon. Buenos Aires is not on the ocean, but a 9 hour cruise up the La Plata river. It seems that the La Plata river is pretty shallow so you have to take ocean going ships through a channel, and to make matters worse there was a disabled ship halfway up the channel. As a result, river navigation was only one way at a time so they were scheduling ships for convoys each way, kind of like when one direction on a two-way road is under construction so that one line of cars travels in one direction while the other direction is stopped. Well we were two hours late leaving the Falkland Islands so we missed our place in a convoy going up the river, resulting in our arriving about 6 or 7 hours late.
We had booked a private tour that would have taken all day and involved walking around in a number of areas of the city & lunch in a restaurant. However, that tour was cancelled because of our late arrival so we scrambled to get on a “Buenos Aires Highlights” bus tour (it was too late to do any worthwhile exploring on our own since it took about half an hour to get downtown from the port, involving two shuttle bus rides). This was a 4 hour trip around town by bus with a guide, including two stops, at the Recoleta cemetery (where Evita Peron is buried) & at the La Boca neighborhood.
The Recoleta neighborhood is an old, wealthy part of town. The cemetery there is old & is for the wealthy aristocracy of Buenos Aires. Apparently Buenos Aires has historically had a very haughty aristocracy. Anyway, this cemetery is a creepy city of above-ground mausoleums, many with grand statues & architecture (and thus very expensive). Seventy of the mausoleums are national monuments!
But today this cemetery is famous, and a mandatory stop on all tours, because Evita Peron is buried there. Our guide told us that before the musical Evita! came out (and it has never been performed in Argentina), none of the tourists were interested in Evita & most had never heard of her. But now, she says, she would be killed by the tourists if she skipped this spot. Evita was an illegitimate child in a poor family but her mother claimed (I don’t know if its true) that a wealthy aristocrat named Duarte was actually her father. When Evita died of cancer in 1952 she was buried in the Duarte family mausoleum in Recoleta, over their objections (since they didn’t recognize her as part of their family) because her husband was President (and she was really the power behind the throne because of her extraordinary popularity). But when Juan Peron died in the 1990’s, no longer holding that power, he was buried elsewhere (for a while outside the country) because the aristocrats wouldn’t have him in their cemetery. At least this is the story we were told. Anyway, here is the Duarte mausoleum (it’s one of the less conspicuous ones, on a small side street in the cemetery) with one of several plaques outside honoring Evita. We were told that there are fresh flowers placed on the door every day.
There is also a statue of Evita in the Recolleta district, erected (we think) in 2002 on the 50th anniversary of her death.
La Boca is the Italian neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It was also the location of the original port (the new one is much bigger). It has a mixture of bohemian, poor and tourist ambiance, but I think the last one probably predominates. But it is colorful and enjoyable and some of its features look like they would be at home in Disney World.
Buenos Aires is, of course, famous for the Tango. There are tango shows all over town & people even dance it on street corners in La Boca (although we missed one that was going on near where we were). It is an interesting & a sexy dance, but the cult is really a bit overblown. Still, here are a few tango paintings that were for sale in La Boca that I thought were interesting.
That night there was an Argentine folk dancing show on the ship. We thought it was quite good (except for the lame narrator, who kept injecting himself into the middle of the music). Notable was a tango (of course), performed by a couple who we were told were the tango champions of Argentina 5 years in a row. The pictures aren’t very good, since the light was low & they were moving fairly fast, but you get the idea.
Also there were some interesting gaucho dances, with guys in balloon pants & gaucho hats acting very macho. Particularly good was one in which a guy (the same one who did the tango) danced with bolas swinging in intersecting circles in each hand, and finally with him holding them between his teeth. I’m guessing there were some some nasty bumps raised on his head while he was learning how to do that!
On our second day in Buenos Aires, Friday, February 10, we walked around town by ourselves. As I said, it’s a loud & crowded city & we walked quite a way. There are many beautiful old buildings in the city, many with lovely wrought iron balconies, often right next to boring modern ones.
We walked by the Teatro Colon, a huge & ostentatious opera house, which appears to be made of marble. Nearby is the Obelisco (which looks like the Washington monument) in the Plaza de la Republica, erected in 1936 on the city’s 400th anniversary.
The Avenida 9 de Julio is one of the widest boulevards in the world. Not far from it we saw the impressive Ministry of Justice (we think), for you lawyers out there.
We walked up to see the Congresso Israel, which we think is the oldest synagogue in the city. Buenos Aires has a large Jewish community, the second largest religious community in the city (far behind Catholics, of course). There is a Jewish museum nearby.
Then we walked all the way back to the Recoleta area to find the Biblioteca National (national library) so that the librarians in the viewing audience won’t feel left out. It was quite a long walk and we had a lot of trouble finding it. In the end, it was impressive, but I sure wouldn’t say beautiful (particularly in a city full of beautiful public buildings). The sign in the second picture, which is probably too small for you to read, says that this is the library’s 200th anniversary.
Finally, we didn’t see any notable fauna here, but there were some interesting trees. In the first picture the slim attractive tree in the foreground with the pink blossoms is the male & the ones with the white blossoms and fat tummies are the females (this seems to be how nature works in all species but humans). I didn’t catch the names of these trees. Also in a park we saw these trees with massive root systems above ground that looked interesting. And last (and probably least) is another clock tower reputed to resemble Big Ben in London that really doesn’t. Maybe no Latin Americans have actually seen Big Ben.
So ends what was supposed to be 2 days in Buenos Aires but turned out to be only one day plus 2 hours. The full 2 days would have been plenty to see this city, huge as it is, but we thought we did pretty well given the time limit. Amazingly, this is not the biggest city we will have seen by the end of our trip.
On Monday, February 6 we reached the Falkland Islands. This is a very windy area with lots of choppy water & we understand that less than half the cruise ships that come here are able to land. Two or three years ago the Prinsendam was able to tender its passengers ashore, but then the weather turned nasty & they couldn’t bring them back to the ship, so everyone had to stay overnight in Stanley. The townspeople (its a small town, around 4,000) turned out & took the passengers into their homes & put them up in churches & schools, then the next day the weather moderated enough to get them back to the ship. Fortunately for us the weather was nice and, although quite windy, we were able to tender into town & back (although tender service was suspended several times because of weather). The waves were pretty high for the small tender boats & water did get into the tenders & make a lot of people wet (including yours truly). But we were quite glad (& surprised, given our experience the last week or so) that we did actually get to shore here.
As I said, Stanley is a small town with a substantial whaling history. And, of course, there is the 1982 Falklands War between Britain & Argentina which has left its mark here in the form of war memorials, not to mention Thatcher Drive.
Stanley is a very colorful town. Houses are made mostly of wood & corrugated metal (which we were told is either salvaged from wrecked ships or shipped from England) & are painted bright colors. Its a very British town, with British style telephone booths (where else do you see telephone booths in the age of cell phones?), pubs specializing in fish & chips (& a saxophone shaped beer tap), & all the souvenirs are actually made in Great Britain.
The most famous landmark is the Whalebone Arch, which is next to Christ Church Cathedral. The Whalebone Arch was erected in 1933 & is made from the jawbones of two blue whales. The Cathedral was built in 1892 & is the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world.
Inside the cathedral was a pipe organ, which looks vintage, & some very nice stained glass windows, protected on the outside from flying debris during storms by a system of screens loosely enough constructed to let in light through the windows. Note that their picture of St Nicholas looks nothing like Santa Claus (another illusion shattered).
They also have a collection of kneeling stools needlepointed by the ladies of the church, beginning in 1992 when they had the centennial of the building.
Other landmarks in town include Government House, where the British Governor lives, Jubilee Villas, a housing unit built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, the Penguin News (presumably the local newspaper), and a memorial to the Battle of the Falklands in 1914.
There are many old shipwrecks in the area of Stanley’s inner & outer harbor (lots of bad weather hereabouts). I was able to get pictures of two: the Jhelum & the Lady Elizabeth.
The only wildlife we saw were birds: some kind of duck & I think a goose of some kind. Not much in the way of wildflowers but we did see some sea kelp (eaten, as you might imagine, by the Kelp Gull).
Finally, a couple of random things we liked. The SS Great Britain was, we were told, the first ship with a screw to push it through the water. This remnant is erected in Victory Park, commemorating the 1982 war. Then there were the streetlights, mounted on bases with boats through them.
So that’s Stanley, or at least what we saw of it. We left at 4:30 and the seas were extremely rocky again that evening, but it calmed down after midnight to moderately bumpy. We have two sea days, then Buenos Aires on Thursday & Friday. So, toodle-loo for now (this is the signature sign-off of our cruise director, who makes announcements a couple of times a day).
We were woken early on Saturday, February 4 ,by an announcement that we had reached King George’s Island (at least that is what most people call it; the Argentines call it Isla 25 de Mayo, which I think commemorates some battle). The weather was pretty bad again: foggy, cold & very windy. But up I got to go outside & see the sights (Mary wasn’t feeling well, so I let her sleep a little later).
There was a Polish station on the island; I know it was Polish because the name of the station (Arctowski) is printed on the side of one of the buildings.
At the end of King George’s Island was Penguin Island. It is a former volcano & you can see the crater in the middle where the top of the mountain blew off.
Well, we were supposed to continue cruising Antarctica the rest of the day, including sailing by Elephant Island where Shackleton’s crew spent half a year on the beach waiting for his return. But the Captain concluded that bad weather was headed our way so he decided to cut it off and head directly north toward the Falklands. We were, obviously, quite disappointed by that. But when the weather gets bad down here you can’t see much anyway. We passed within 35 miles of Elephant Island on our way north so I thought it shouldn’t have been that much of a problem to go by & see it, but what do I know about sailing? (answer: not much.) So this is all we saw this day. The irritating thing is that for the last 2 or 3 years at least the Antarctic portion of this cruise has been sunny & beautiful throughout. The Antarctic experts on board (there were several, & they were quite knowledgeable & impressive) told us that we had been able to experience the REAL Antarctica because this is what it is like most of the time, but I don’t think anybody was buying that line. Oh well, what we did see of Antarctica was pretty fabulous. Maybe we will get back here again one day.
The sail north to the Falklands was very rocky. Take everything I told you earlier about being on a ship in rough seas, then double it. We had to hold on to something pretty much all the time to avoid falling down (fun to take an adventure shower, holding on with one hand at all times) & waves hitting the ship were splashing well over our room window, which is the equivalent of about a 5 story building above the water level. Everything was tied down and no one was allowed to go out on deck.
On Sunday there was a Super Bowl party & it only cost $50 per person to attend (we passed). But the good news is that the towel animals were back. Several were repeats of things we have already seen but there have been a couple of new ones. You may not agree with my interpretations in the captions, but they don’t tell us what kind of animal they are supposed to be.
The whole Antarctic region is protected by aninternational treaty providing that it is neutral territory, that it will not be militarized & that any country that wants to set up a study station anywhere in Antarctica is free to do so. More than 15 countries have scientific stations in Antarctica (including such unlikely ones as Poland and South Korea) and the United states has several, including a base at the South Pole. You may recall that in the early days of the 20th century many men (including Scott & Shackleton) died trying to make it to the South Pole but today members of Congress fly there to have their pictures taken in a few hours.
Anyway, one of the US science stations is called Palmer Station and it is on Anvers Island near the Antarctic Peninsula where, by no coincidence, we were on Friday, February 3. We got up early that day because a group of the staff at Palmer Station was due to arrive at the Prinsendam by Zodiac boat at 6:00 AM, which they did. They have an arrangement with Holland America, which brings them supplies (including fresh fruit) & transports staff (we brought a scientist named Donna who left us at Palmer Station to study penguins) in return for the Palmer Station crew coming aboard to give a presentation on their work (& get a hot shower & meal while they are on board).
We enjoyed their presentation and have learned quite a bit about the science that is being done in Antarctica and the experience of living there (take our word for it, you wouldn’t like it). We cruised around the Anvers Island area until it was time for them to leave. You will note the weather was much better; the sun was even out for much of the time.
You can see in the last picture that the coastal face of the glacier has large cracks in it; those pieces will eventually break off and become icebergs. The bright blue in the cracks, we are told, is from the great pressure on the interior ice, which causes it to form crystals with that deep blue color. Interestingly, as you will see in pictures below, the portion of an iceberg that is under water (80 to 90 percent of an iceberg is under water) also displays a bright blue color, though not as deep as this.
In early afternoon the Palmer Station crew left, returning to the station in a zodiac.
We spent the afternoon cruising northeast toward Deception Island. It was a beautiful afternoon & we had front seats in the Crow’s Nest, which is basically a bar and dancing venue at the very top front of the ship, with panoramic windows all the way across from Port to Starboard. There was a lot of dramatic scenery and interesting icebergs, but first let’s talk about the incredible wildlife viewing.
Several times we saw penguins “porpoising” along the side of the ship. A group of penguins swims along together, leaping into & out of the water like porpoises do (hence the name). I got a short movie of this, which is more evocative, but of course I can’t post it here.
We also saw a couple of seals resting on bergey bits (this is the technical term for floating pieces of ice that aren’t big enough to be icebergs).
We saw Orcas (killer whales, which aren’t really whales) & a bunch of Humpback whales. They are very hard to photograph, because you never know where they are going to surface next & they re-submerge very fast. Also, my camera battery died before most of the Humpback surfacing, which even included one whale that breached high into the air then splashed back down on top of the water (very dramatic!). The first picture is a pair of Orcas; the second is the tail of a diving Humpback whale. Both were lucky blind shots.
There were some birds too. Not too sure about the identifications, but I think the first is a Sooty Albatross, then a Skua sitting on an iceberg.
But best of all, of course, were the penguins. We saw quite a few penguins hanging out on icebergs and bergey bits, so I will put several of them here. If you look very closely in the third picture, there is a line of penguins trooping up the slanting surface to the right. We were told that so many penguins were out of the water because Orcas were in the vicinity.
And of course there was dramatic scenery, with mountains & icebergs, out in the sun for a change. We were struck by how different things look as you move to a different location; a good example is the first two pictues, which are of the same mountain (left in 1st picture & right in 2d).
In the evening we reached Deception Island, which is what Ernest Shackleford & his men were trying to reach after spending most of a year marooned on pack ice. But they couldn’t make it because of the wind & ended up instead on remote Elephant Island, where the crew spent another half year on the beach living under overturned lifeboats while Shackleford made his epic 800 mile trip in a lifeboat to South Georgia Island for help. If you haven’t read a book about this amazing journey you really should. If it had been written as a novel you would dismiss it as an impossible fantasy, but it really did happen.
Anyway, Deception Island is the remains of a volcano. It is a circular piece of land with a large harbor in the middle and only a narrow opening that has too many submerged rocks for a ship our size to get inside. The harbor is the caldera from the volcano. It was quite beautiful, especially since the sun was setting when we were there. The first island/rock we passed looked to me like a whale, & even had a hole on the lower left where they eye of a whale would be, though you probably can’t see it in the photo. The second photo is the entry to the caldera/harbor; the snowy mountains in the center are the opposite wall of the island.
We saw a lot of Pintado Petrels at Deception Island; they flew all over the port side of the ship & landed together in the water in a big group. There was another bird that may be some kind of Albatross, perhaps a Wandering Albatross since upon close inspection it has dark wings & a white head.
Finally, a note. I looked at the blog yesterday, and was disappointed to see that the photos are not lining up the way they do in my drafts, with the small pictures two abreast rather than each on a separate line. Take my word for it, the layout looks better on the drafts than what you are seeing. I also was disappointed to see that in the “In Patagonia” post several of the pictures were badly distorted. I would fix that if I could, but won’t be able to figure out how until I get home (if then). That entry took a particularly long time to post (almost an hour) so I am thinking maybe the distortion was caused by transmission glitches. I hope that hasn’t happened on any of the other blog entries, but internet time is too expensive to review them all. On the chance it was a transmission glitch, I will try to avoid that in future by posting entries only when we are in a port, where internet reception seems to be a little better. I hope you are all enjoying this anyway, despite the technical difficulties. [Note: these issues were finally fixed, long after the voyage ended].
Thursday, February 2 was our first day in Antarctica. It was a pretty ugly day, full of fog, snowstorms & 40 mph gales. Nonetheless, your intrepid tourists spent much of the day on deck, freezing our you-know-whats off. We told you that Patagonia & the Magellan Strait were impressive, but they can’t hold a candle to Antarctica. Unfortunately, because of the weather conditions many of the pictures really don’t convey adequately what it looked like in person. But here are a few to start out with, of coastline & icebergs & mountains wrapped in mist, all during a snowstorm.
Stay with me, ‘cause the pictures got better as the sun came out in the afternoon. We saw some impressive mountains, I think on Wiencke Island (we are not entirely sure of the location of many of these pictures).
There was also wildlife, particularly birds on the first day. They move incredibly fast and it is very difficult to catch a decent picture of a bird in flight. There were a dozen or more wasted pictures for every good one below. But I did manage shots of a Kelp Gull (cheating a little, since this was actually shot in Ushuaia), a Giant Petrel, a Wandering Albatross (the largest seabird in the world, with an 11 foot wingspan) & the beautiful Pintendo, or Cape Petrel. As always, you can see the captions by moving your cursor over the picture.
Fans of towel animals may be wondering where they are. Well, they stopped coming for a couple of days, then we got reruns for a few days. We are told that the laundry can’t get sufficient water in the Antarctic region and the towel animals are the first thing sacrificed to reduced laundering. I hope we get them back when we reach Argentina. In the meantime here is an ice sculpture to satisfy your artistic needs; it is a pair of hands holding a red globe centered on Antarctica. I wish it had been made for purely artistic purposes, but in fact it was the background for a jewelry raffle & sale.
So we went to bed the first night, hoping for better weather the next day (preview: prayers answered).
On January 31 we sailed down the Beagle Channel (named for the ship on which Charles Darwin visited here) toward Ushuaia. Yet more fabulous scenery (ho-hum) with a healthy helping of swirling clouds.
We saw some more glaciers (or what’s left of them), but I can’t remember the name of each of them. There were about 6 and they were named after European countries. This area is nicknamed Glacier Alley.
We passed a rainbow unlike any we have ever seen. It was not in the sky, but on a hillside beside the channel & lasted until after we had passed beyond it.
About 12:30 we came to Ushuaia, Argentina, located on the island of Tierra del Fuego on the north bank of the Beagle Channel. It has a rather spectacular setting. It is also quite remote. It began as a penal colony which could not be escaped, since you would not survive an escape through this territory without quite a bit of gear & preparation. There is also a well-known lighthouse here called the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse (red & white stripes, below). It is (often said to be Jules Verne’s “Lighthouse At The End Of The World,” but it’s not (we think the tower with the black roof below, which is at the penitentiary in Ushuaia, may be the one).
Ushuaia is generally considered the world’s southernmost city, but there are two other claimants to that title. Punta Arenas, though north of Ushuaia (and undoubtedly the southernmost city on the South American continent, since Ushuaia is on Tierra Del Fuego island), claims that it is the southernmost city, and that Ushuaia is just a “village,” since it has only about 50 – 60,000 people. Puerto Williams, which lies south of Ushuaia along the Beagle Channel, is certainly the furthest south of the three, but since it only has about 2400 people, it does not qualify for the title of city to the folks here.
Well, we were supposed to pull up to the dock (next to last picture above) and then have from 1:30 to 7:30 to spend in Ushuaia. But the wind was very high & the water was very turbulent. The ship tried to dock but couldn’t, so the Captain announced we would have to go ashore in tender boats. A little while later he came back on the loudspeakers to announce that the Argentine authorities had informed him that their dock was closed to us, even in tenders, and he said it was just as well since we wouldn’t have been able to land in the tenders anyway because of the turbulence. So, the result was that what you see in the pictures above was pretty much all that we were able to see of Ushuaia.
This actually turned out to be a stroke of luck (unless, like us, you actually wanted to see Ushuaia). We ended up leaving several hours earlier than scheduled and the Captain hauled ass toward Antarctica. By doing so, he was able to outrun a nasty storm heading into the Drake Channel (which is the part of the Southern Ocean you cross to get from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula) from the West. We had an extremely rough night bouncing over the waves near Cape Horn (which we didn’t see because it was night when we passed it), but the Captain assured us the next morning that if we had left Ushuaia at the scheduled time it would have been very much worse. We heard later that one woman slept that night in her life jacket, so not everyone agreed with the Captain’s post hoc assessment that the crossing was “relatively calm.”
Anyway, I will leave you with some pictures of the Beagle Channel south of Ushuaia, including a couple of pictures of Puerto Williams as we sailed past. And our next missive will be from (or at least about) Antarctica.
The morning of January 30 found us docked a couple of miles north of Punta Arenas, Chile. Because another cruise ship was due in that day Prinsendam had to move out into the harbor to make way at the dock. So while we left by the dock for our excursion to see the Magellanic penguins at Seno Otway (Otway Sound), we had to return by tender boat from the center of town, which suited us perfectly. Punta Arenas means “Sandy Point,” which was the name of this place until the Spanish took it over. It has between 100,000 & 150,000 people.
The main thing here for us was penguins. You can’t come all this way and not see some penguins. We went on a shore excursion to Otway Sound, about an hour from Punta Arenas (on a bumpy unpaved road), where there is a rookery of Magellanic penguins (named, obviously, after the Magellan Strait where they breed). The place is on private farmland and you have to walk on a boardwalk for about half a mile across some pretty barren land to get to the penguins.
Magellanic penguins mate for life (which can last 30 years) so you usually see them in pairs.
Note that these are not all the same penguins; each pair is different, although they look remarkably alike. There was also a penguin chick (this was near the end of mating season and all the penguins will be gone in another month or so). He still has light gray feathers with a mostly white head and some fluffy chick feathers still on the back of his neck. It was funny to see his parents chasing him around, scolding him (“You get right back here, young man!”), although because he was bigger than they he mostly ignored them. The chicks have to grow up fast; in a few weeks all the penguins will leave & have to fend for themselves in finding food and swimming.
On the beach nearby a lot of penguins were gathered, presumably to look for food.
And here are a few more, just because I have them. They look like they have big smiles on their faces.
Near the penguin rookery we also saw some Rheas. They are relatives of the Ostrich and I am told that crossword puzzle fans will be familiar with them (or at least with their name).
While the Otway Sound area looked pretty bleak from afar, with no trees or bushes, if you looked closely there were some striking wildflowers close to the ground.
From Otway we went into Punta Arenas, passing on the way a forlorn looking antique car museum in the middle of nowhere (literally); I can’t imagine how it gets any visitors. In Punta Arenas there was, of course, the Plaza de Armas.
In the Plaza de Armas was a monument to Magellan (the city is, after all, on the Strait of Magellan). Across the street was the church & around the plaza were a number of interesting buildings with vintage architecture.
Two more statues: one of Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the leading generals of the South American independence struggle. You will recall statues at previous ports of tuna and penguins & seals; here there is a statue of the tail of a whale, which can be found in the Strait of Magellan (but not by us, alas). There was also a lovely rainbow over the harbor after we got back to the ship.
And finally for today, a look at some old pictures of the original inhabitants of this area, all of whom are long gone. The pictures are outfitted with reproductions of the masks they produced. You will note that they painted their bodies all over (I don’t actually know if that is paint or tatoos). More interesting, however, is that they lived in this area stark naked (if you look closely, you can confirm this for yourself), and believe me it gets cold here (its summer now, & still pretty chilly). Clearly, they were made of sterner stuff than we are.
January 29 was a ship day as we sailed through the Strait of Magellan toward Punta Arenas. The Strait cuts all the way through the continent several hundred miles north of Cape Horn and, as you might have guessed, Fernando Magellan was the first European to go through it.
In the morning we saw our first glacier, called the Amalia Glacier. Most of the glaciers down in this area have been shrinking for the last 200 years, but faster & faster over the last 30 years or so. The Amalia Glacier is the biggest one we have seen in South America (I expect we will see more in Antarctica).
The front wall of the glacier, which you can see above, is about 200 feet high. On the first small picture, after the one with Mary in it, you can see an island in front of the glacier. If you look very closely, there are fairly tall evergreen trees on top of the island, so that gives you an idea of how high the glacier wall is.
We continued through the Strait of Magellan after that. It is lined with impressive hills and mountains but it was pretty overcast & hazy, so the pictures really don’t show the mountains very much. We could see them in person, though, & the swirling clouds around them gave a mysterious air to the whole affair.
In the afternoon we came to a shipwreck from 1969. The story (perhaps apocryphal) is this: The convention at that time for instructing the helmsman was to say “all left” or “all stop” or “all right” or “all ahead.” It seems that a crew member made a proposal about something to the captain, who agreed, saying “Alright.” He said it a little too loudly and the helmsman immediately turned the ship to the right, directly into the big rock you can see in the first picture. It reminds me of the people who follow their GPS directions onto a railroad track or into a lake. I guess (hopefully) they now say “all starboard,” rather than “all right.” Anyway, no one was killed in the mishap, but apparently no one saw any reason to clear it away either.
We spent the rest of the day cruising toward Punta Arenas, with some small lighthouses spotted on top of hills by the water.