Archive for March, 2012

On board Prinsendam

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM or thereabouts we will be leaving the Prinsendam for the last time (at least on this cruise).  We haven’t seen any additional ports in the two days since leaving St. Maarten but Mary thought it would be a good idea to have one last posting about life on board Prinsendam.  This isn’t everything there is to know but it is everything of which we have pictures.  The idea is that this will be something for us to look back on even if there is nothing here of interest for you.

We can start with our stateroom, number 266 on the Lower Promenade Deck (deck 7).  This deck is the only one that is surrounded by a full walking deck; it is a quarter of a mile all the way around & many people use it for exercise (starting very early in the morning).  We liked being only a few steps from an outer deck, from which you can see everything around the ship.  We have no balcony but we do have a nice large window.  People walk by our window a lot (and crew often work out there) but it has a reflective coating so they can’t see in during the day.  Nighttime would be a little more interesting but we generally keep our curtains closed then.

Our stateroom is not, to say the least, large, but we don’t spend a lot of time there when we are not dressing or in bed.  There is a large walk-in closet so we had no trouble stowing both our winter & summer clothes for a 2 month cruise.  Of course on a 68 day cruise our clothes had to be laundered, which we did in one of the ship’s two self-serve laundries.  They are free except for the time spent, which sometimes was considerable because the driers often were less than adequate.  There is a laundry service on the ship as well but it is expensive (unless you are a 4 star Mariner, which means you have spent at least 200 days on Holland America ships, for whom it is free).

40 Mary in our stateroom 38 Our closet

36a Our bathroom37 Our bathroom 41 Mary in our stateroom 23 Mary in self-serve laundry

Our door is distinguished by a 3D paper balloon that our travel agent, Cruise Specialists, attached to the doors of the 85 or so passengers whose cruises they booked.  Cruise Specialists also have two “hosts” on board, Henk & Lucia, to help resolve any issues we might have.  They also lead shore excursions set up by Cruise Specialists & host cocktail parties & chat sessions on sea days.

36 Our stateroom door 35 Our hallway

44 Rick Lucia Mary & Henk

Next we can talk about food which is, of course, a central feature of life at sea on a cruise ship.  Holland America does a very good job on restaurant meals, almost always quite good & a good variety as well (always about 6 entrees to choose from at dinner).   Their best product on this cruise was their soups, but there are always rich entrees (rack of lamb, steaks, all kinds of fish, ethnic specialties) and desserts (ice cream & sundaes, pies & cakes, chocolate & grand marnier soufle).  There are two assigned seatings on Grand Voyages like this one: 5:30 & 8:00.  We are on the late shift, which gives more time in port.  We sit at a table for 8 (you can choose fewer if you want), & we have sat at this table and made some good friends from our tablemates, who we see almost every night on this lengthy cruise.  We feel very fortunate that our tablemates & our wait staff have been people we like; not everyone has been that lucky and two months is a long time to spend with people you don’t like very much.  For the first half of the cruise there were only six of us at the table (Bing & Barb; Steve & Kathy; Rick & Mary), but halfway through another couple (Malcolm & Jean) transferred to our table.  Malcolm & Jean used to live in the Panama Canal Zone where Malcolm worked as a Canal Pilot.

50 Barb & Bing 48 Steve & Kathy Beasley

02 Malcolm & Jean Stone 02 La Fontaine Restaurant 

Our excellent wait staff included our head waiter Dewa, assistant waiter Eddy & wine steward Ben.  All three were excellent at their work & fun to be around for two months.  Dewa & Eddie are from Indonesia & Ben is from the Philippines.

47 Diwa & Eddie 49 Ben (our wine steward) with Barb Guyott & Bing Bingenheim

A few days ago we took a tour of the ship’s galley which appears to be an extremely efficient operation; it would have to be, since they serve about 4000 meals every day.  The galley runs 24 hours a day producing bread & pastries as well as meat & vegetables.  Food that is more than 4 hours old has to be discarded.  Wretched excess, and I imagine quite a lot of food goes to waste.

01 Chef in Prinsendam Galley 02 Soup pots in Galley

04 Bread bakers 03 Making hors d'eurves

05 butcher 07 Banannas in vegetable storage room

06 Vegetable storage room 09 Beverage storage room

There were nine “formal” nights at dinner throughout the cruise where suits & ties were expected, although many folks really wore formal attire such as tuxedoes & cocktail dresses (you won’t be surprised that I wore a sports jacket & tie instead).  Throughout the voyage there have been special days at dinner, which usually meant that there were special decorations in the restaurant & the waiters were dressed in special costumes.  I have below a picture of Dewa, our waiter, in his costume for “Escape from Devil’s Island” night.  We had a number of barbecues on deck & special ethnic buffets in the dining room at lunchtime throughout the cruise, and recently there were two “extravaganzas”: a “gala” at lunch one day, with ice sculptures, and a “chocolate extravaganza” one night after dinner.  While we took pictures of both to share with you we didn’t eat at them (or at least didn’t eat much).  The ship was striving for decadence & achieved it.  Then on the next-to-last night the dinner was followed by a waiters’ Baked Alaska Parade (a tradition on cruise ships), in which they carried Baked Alaskas with lights around a darkened dining room to great applause & waving of napkins, before serving them for dessert.

24 Diwa on Escape  from Devil's Island day in the restaurant 12 Ice sculpture of mermaid  14 Ice sculpture of swan17 Ice sculpture of seahorse

10 Carved Watermelon 11 Chocolate Extravaganza

07 Chocolate Extravaganza 09 Chocolate Extravaganza

 05 Chocolate Extravaganza 03 Chocolate Extravaganza

In addition to the La Fontaine restaurant where we ate dinners there is the Lido, which is a buffet style restaurant where we ate lunches & most breakfasts (breakfast & lunch could also be had in the La Fontaine, but the times were more restricted).  For lunches the Lido always has several entrees plus three Asian selections.  They always have something that is freshly carved as you wait (beef loin, leg of lamb, pork loin, turkey, etc.), which I usually used to make a sandwich with their fresh baked bread.  There was also a sandwich bar, made to order, pizzas by the slice, a hamburger grill out on the deck, and an ice cream station, which is open all day.  The Lido also had for most of this trip the slowest coffee machine in creation (making coffee that really wasn’t worth the wait, unless you were after some caffeine), but they fixed it a few days before the end so that now at least it pours its poor excuse for coffee quickly.  We liked sitting in the outdoor section on the aft of the ship where you could usually overlook the city if in port or watch the birds & the waves if at sea.  Unfortunately in bad weather (such as in Antarctica or when there were storms) this area was closed making the Lido very crowded, so in November Holland America plans to enclose this lovely area.  It will still have sliding glass doors on the sides, so it will be semi-open, but I don’t think it will be the same.

12 Lido inside 66 Aft of Lido

Among the public rooms where we spent the most time were the Explorations Lounge (see the pictures in the first post about Prinsendam back in January) where we went almost every day for a pre-dinner concert by the Rosario Strings.  The Rosarios are a trio consisting of violin, piano & bass, who play a wide-ranging repertoire from classical to musicals to rock to country (they do a dynamite version of Orange Blossom Special).  They are quite good, particularly the eclectic pianist who seems to know all of the world’s music by heart & plays it all with superb technique & panache.  We will miss the concerts before dinner when we get home.

In addition, we spent a great deal of time in the Showroom At Sea, the largest room in the ship where all the entertainment, lectures & sundry other events occurred.  This is also where you often wait for your turn on the tenders into ports . . . sometimes for what seems an unreasonably long time.  This room will be getting a much needed makeover when the ship is in drydock in November.

A third room where we spent some time, at cocktail parties plus a whole afternoon in the Antarctic taking pictures of animals on icebergs, is the Crow’s Nest.  This is basically a large cocktail lounge and dancing venue located at the top of the ship in the front, with a panoramic view of everything in front and on the sides of the ship.  It was completely redone in one day, the day we left Ft. Lauderdale.

05 Waiting for tender in the Showroom at Sea 30 Showroom at sea

 19 Crow's Nest 20 Crow's Nest

Then a few more random things.  Not very interesting, perhaps, but important to us was our assigned lifeboat (No. 4 of 8).  The central atrium, while small in comparison with most more modern ships (Prinsendam, built in 1988, is one of the older cruise ships around), has a beautiful two story etched glass tube sculpture.  And across from that, on the floor above ours, is the main desk, staffed by personnel who will answer any question you may have, whether they know the real answer or not.  And our two lovely librarians, Jessica and . . . Jessika.  Not a bad gig for a librarian!

34 Our lifeboat 24 Atrium

31 Front office 60 Ship's librarians,Jessica and Jessica

Finally, here is a glimpse of some of the artwork that you can see all over the ship.  It is quite varied & much of it is quite beautiful, often even whimsical, as well as valuable.  It certainly adds a lot to the ship’s elegant ambiance.

22 Kimono on 10th floor 13 Ship model on 9th floor

16 African art outside crow's nest 17 African art outside crow's nest

18 African art outside crow's nest 14 Oriental ship model

And finally, here is a look at our Captain, Tim Roberts.  He’s an Englishman who dropped out of school at age 16 to go to sea & has worked his way up to this position over the years.  He has a droll sense of humor and a fascination with all things nautical, both of which he shares with us at least once a day during his ship-wide announcements (which also tell us our position & course & speed & the weather, etc.).  Here is also a look at our Travel Guide, Frank Buckingham, a 77 year old Englishman (big cricket fan), whose encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything on our route & entertaining delivery of voluminous information about each port greatly enhanced the experience.  He is retiring after this cruise (the scuttlebutt says it is not entirely his idea, which would be a stupid move by Holland America), so we are glad to have had him along.

23 Captain Tim Roberts 25 Frank Buckingham (Travel Guide)

So, that’s it for this cruise.  We will disembark tomorrow morning & be home day after tomorrow, & hope to see many of you soon.  As our Cruise Director Linda always says, “Toodle-loo for now.”

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

This morning, Friday March 9, we docked in Philipsburg, the capital of Sint Maarten.  Saint Martin is a small island that is divided into two jurisdictions.  The northern part (a little over half) is French while the southern part is Dutch.  Since October of 2010 Sint Maarten (the Dutch side, where we are docked) has been a “country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands,” which generally means they have control over most internal affairs while the Netherlands is responsible for defense and foreign relations.  Philipsburg is a beautiful spot with great beaches, a nice harbor & lots of duty free shopping.  As a result, it attracts cruise ships in great numbers: there were only two today, but there are often 5 or 6 ships each day.  This is our third time in Philipsburg.

02 Philipsburg

Philipsburg is crowded with stores selling everything from diamonds and watches to cheap keepsakes.  Two of the more unusual stores are “The Yoda Guy,” operated by a fellow involved in the animation of Yoda in the Star Wars movies, and the Guavaberry Emporium.  Guavaberry is a local product that we are led to believe grows only on this island and they make it into a liqueur.  The Guavaberry Emporium was once the Philipsburg synagogue. The statue of the old man in the top hat represents their logo.

08 Mary on Philipsburg shopping street 32 Yoda Guy

34 Guavaberry EmporiumOld Man statue 33 Guavaberry Emporium

We also found the Philipsburg Jubilee Library, a nice open building full of students whose bookmobiles had a Caribbean flair.

18 Mary by Philipsburg Jubilee Library 17 Mary by Philipsburg Jubilee Library

16 Main desk of Philipsburg Jubilee Library 31 Bookmobile

Philipsburg has a beautiful wide white sand beach along the town’s entire length, with clear blue-green water.  There are restaurants all along the edge of the beach & they rent out chairs & umbrellas (sometimes with a couple of beers included in the price).  There are also vendors walking along the beach, who will offer their wares (usually hats or shirts) while you sit in the outside cafe drinking your beer & eating your lunch.  We even found a restaurant on the beach apparently run by Ohio State expatriates.  This part of town really fulfills the stereotype of an idyllic Caribbean paradise.

20 Mary on beach road 28 Beach umbrellas 21 Beach

23 Mary on beach 24 Hat lady on beach

25 Barefoot restaurant 26 OSU Buckeyes Ave

St. Martin was a pirate haven in the 16th century & there is a lot of pirate stuff around (particularly tee shirts), including the guy below who sits in front of one tourist shop.  Philipsburg’s courthouse was originally built in 1793 but has been restored several times & used for other governmental units since, before being restored to courthouse status.  Lucy’s guesthouse is mostly of family interest, and we were taken with the Pelican engaged in its toilette on a local boat.

09 Lucy's guest house   19 Statue of pirate29 courthouse36 Pelican on boat

In the last couple of years Philipsburg has built a very nice new dock facility (with, of course, a large shopping area).  It is only about a 15 minute walk into town and there is a very nice curving stone bridge at the end of the walk where these pictures were taken.

04 Mary on bridge into town 39 Rick on bridge

40 Rick & Mary on bridge

Thus ends our final stop on this lengthy voyage and it was an enjoyable port and a beautiful day.  As you can see, we have put on a little weight (it’s a cruise, after all) but we can still fit into all of our clothes.  And to top it off we had a glorious sunset over the Caribbean (to me, the second one looks like a western painting, perhaps northern Arizona, but in fact its only clouds).

42 Sunset over the Caribbean

51 Sunset over the Caribbean

53 Sunset over the Caribbean

Castries, St. Lucia

On Thursday, March 8, we pulled into Castries, the main city on the island of St. Lucia.  St. Lucia once had a history of rapid changes of European owners but today it is a member of the British Commonwealth.  So of course they drive on the wrong side of the street (dangerous for Americans used to looking left before crossing the street).

02 Castries, St. Lucia 

We don’t know how many people live here but it is a pretty small town.  There were three other cruise ships in this small harbor and they were big ones, so the population here today was probably only about 75% local citizens.

After breakfast we walked into town, a pleasant stroll around the bay that took about half an hour.  Among other things there was a fellow selling these bird bowl carvings (many of which we saw later all around Castries), which were hanging from a tree.

04 Coconut carvings hanging from tree 41 Coconut carvings hanging from tree

03 Bay & hills

We visited the local market, which mostly sold clothes, and came upon an unusual statue.

 06 Mary in market 09 statue08 market

The best things we saw were around Derek Walcott Square.  Derek Walcott is a poet born on St. Lucia (though he has lived mostly on Trinidad) who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.  Actually St. Lucia has had two Nobel Laureates; Sir William Arthur Lewis won for Economics in 1979.  That’s quite a lot for such a small island & they are quite proud of that; busts of both Nobel Laureates are displayed in the center of Derek Walcott Square.

12 gate to Derek Walcott Square 17 Derek Walcott Square from upper window of Library

24 busts of Nobel laureates in D. Walcott parfk 24 busts of Nobel laureates in D. Walcott parfk

In the park was a painted fountain & a huge tree said to be 400 years old.  Most of the gates to the park are topped by cherubim, who have green grass strategically painted over their private parts.

22 Fountain in D.Walcott park & 400 year old tree 23 400 year old tree 

18 Gate to Derek Walcott Square,with cherubim  18 Gate to Derek Walcott Square,with cherubim

On one side of the square is the cathedral.  It looks like drab grey stone on the outside but the inside is full of color and rich in character.  It was prefabricated in France and shipped here & assembled in the 1890’s; the interior ceiling buttresses & the background construction on the stage are made of cast iron, in the fashion (and perhaps by) Gustave Eiffel.  Altogether one of the more delightful churches we have seen, though far from the most elaborate.

20 Cathedral 34 Inside cathedral 

 29 Inside cathedral

30 Cast Iron buttresses in cathedral 33 cast iron door on stage at cathedral

31 stained glass window32 Ceiling of cathedral 

 25 Inside cathedral35 Stained glass window

On the other side of the square is the nicest looking building in the city (from the outside), the Carnegie Central Library.  We were surprised to find a Carnegie library this far from the United States.  And in the children’s room was the ubiquitous cartoon character that some of you know & love.

 15 Carnegie Central Library13 Mary by Carnegie Central Library16 S;pongebob in Carnegie Central Library


And on a third side of the square was a block of nice older wood and lattice buildings, one of which is the Ministry of Justice.

 37 Block of buildings19 Ministry of Justice

That’s pretty much all there was of interest.  I don’t have a picture, but on our walk we came across a group of kids about 10 years old playing cricket with plastic bats, ball & wickets in a small school yard.  Great enthusiasm but very little skill.  Cricket is pretty much a mystery to us but we’re pretty sure you aren’t supposed to pitch the ball two feet behind the batter and you aren’t supposed to throw your bat 10 feet when you swing.  The rest of the island is quite lush rainforest, with a volcanic mountain in the interior and lots of nice beaches, but we didn’t see any of that (except from the ship as we pulled out).  We ended the day with a nice but muted sunset.

44 Sunset

Devil’s Island, French Guyana

On Tuesday, March 6 we anchored at this three island archipelago about 8 miles off the coast of French Guyana.  French Guiana (“Guyane Francaise”) is not a colony, but actually a department of France with representation in the French legislature.

The three islands are popularly referred to as Devil’s Island, although their proper name is Iles de Salut (“Salvation Islands”).  One of the island is actually Devil’s Island (Ile du Diable) and the other two are Ile Ste-Joseph & Ile Royale.  All three islands in this group were part of the infamous French penal colony of Devil’s Island, but the only one that can be visited by ships is Ile Royale, the biggest of the three and the location of the prison administration.

64 Ile Royale

We had to wait some time to go ashore because there was a sudden squall that made boat traffic treacherous, and then after the squall it took some time to get the ship repositioned and the tenders running smoothly again.  But we did finally come ashore and from the dock area you could see that Ile Ste-Joseph was quite close (only 650 feet separates Ile Royale from the other two islands).

63 Mary looking out cabin window at Ile Royale 06 Mary on dock at Ile Royale 

07 Ile Royale (left) & Ile Ste-Joseph

Walking along the path around the island, it was quite a lush tropical rainforest particularly thick with palm trees.  We were told, however, that when it was a prison the French kept the forest cleared so they would have a clear shot at anyone trying to escape.

09 Purple azaleas near Commandant's house 23 Rainforest20 Palms 19 Mary on path

In the forest we saw spider monkeys & agoutis, which look like giant guinea pigs with longer legs.  The agoutis eat coconuts, which are abundant here, among other things.

15 Spider monkey16 Spider monkey 

14 Agouti 48 Agouti

We also saw several kinds of palm trees, including coconut palms aplenty and some with red fruit that we were told were Christmas Palms.

18 Coconut palm 08 Christmas palm

The remains, mostly ruins, of the penal colony cover a good bit of the island. It looked pretty depressing, with tiny cells, a reservoir now full of water lilies (reportedly with an alligator in residence), a hotel (converted from the old warders’ mess hall) and a cemetery for children of the warders (not a healthy place to raise children). The prisoners who died were buried unceremoniously at sea, which helped keep the sharks around to deter escape attempts.  About 50,000 of the 80,000 prisoners sent here during its 85+ years of operation died here.  Those surviving prisoners sentenced to less than 8 years had to spend another 8 years in French Guiana before they could return to France (and then only if they could pay their own fare back), while those sentenced to 8 years or more had to spend the rest of their lives in Guiana.  The French government did not stop transporting prisoners here until sometime between 1938 and 1946 (accounts we have heard differ) and did not close the facility until 1953.   The movie Papillon is set on Devil’s Island and reportedly gives a decent portrait of life there, although its author, Henri Charriere, was never actually there, even though he framed his book as an autobiography.

24 Prison cells 32 Condemned cell

34 Solitary cell block 35 Solitary cell

46 Hotel 22 Mary at children's cemetery 37 Reservoir 27 Hospital from door of cell block 25 Lighthouse

We found the idea of a hotel here a little strange, especially since there are no beaches.  If your fiancee proposes spending your honeymoon at Devil’s Island it’s probably not a great omen for your marriage.  Near the hotel we saw parrots & peacocks and we also saw a number of colorful roosters.

41 Red parrot 42 Peacock

45 Blue parrot 38 Red Parrot

40 Blue parrot  44 Peacock 

10 Rooster near Commandant's house 11 Rooster near Commandant's house

There was interesting flora as well, including the water lilies in the reservoir and some red and blue flowers near the hotel.

47 Flowers near hotel 49 Red flowers by hotel

29 Water lillies in the reservoir

Finally we walked down around the back of Ile Royale, where we encountered a telephone booth in the rainforest (!) & some beautiful views of the surf through the palm trees.

52 Telephone booth in rainforest 54 View of surf

53 View of surf

From this side of the island you can also see the actual Ile du Diable, which is where political prisoners were kept.  Captain Alfred Dreyfuss lived in a hut on this side of Devil’s Island for 5 years before the French finally admitted he was innocent of the espionage charges against him.  For those who may not know, this was one of the most notorious cases of anti-semitism in the 19th century, since it is now accepted that Dreyfuss (who went on to serve with distinction in World War I) was picked by the French military to be a scapegoat in the case because he was Jewish.  Today, Devil’s Island is inaccessible because of the strong currents & crashing surf.

56 Devil's Island (Ile du Diable) from Ile Royale  58 Devil's Island (Ile du Diable) from Ile Royale

 55 Rick & Devil's Island (Ile du Diable) from Ile Royale

Another interesting thing here (but I don’t have a picture) is a rocket tracking station.  The French have their version of Cape Canaveral on the coast of French Guiana, not far from Ile Royale, and they have built a small station here to track the ascending rockets.  We were told that the islands are evacuated when a rocket is launched because of its closeness to the launch site (except for the monkeys, who are allowed to stay).

So, that’s it from Devil’s Island.  As I write this, we are on our way into the Caribbean Sea toward St. Lucia, and the seas have been quite rough.  The barf bags are out in their little dispenser boxes near the elevators but we haven’t seen anyone who needed them (they are probably ensconced in their cabins). But there are only two islands & 4 days left before we reach Florida and the cruise is over.  It has been a really great trip, but we are looking forward to getting home.

Parintins, Brazil

On Saturday, March 3 we arrived at Parintins, a city of about 100,000 situated some 500 miles up the Amazon, about halfway between Manaus to the ocean.

42 Parintins from ship

The reason we stopped here was to see the Boi Bumba  (“beat the bull”) show that is unique to this town (more on that later), but we went ashore a couple of hours before showtime to look around the town.  We were told that there wasn’t much here and that was correct.  We saw the usual fruit & vegetable stands and a few interesting houses (not many).  It seems that the primary means of transportation here is by motorcycle or bicycle, and there were a number of bicycle powered rickshaw type vehicles, which seemed to be especially for tourists (we walked).

08 Fruit & vegetable stand 14 Tile house

18 Mary on Parintins street 11 Motorcycles & rickshaws

There were some unusual statues of animals (made of concrete, I think) and some phone booths shaped like the bulls that are at the center of the story of the Boi Bumba show (“oi” is what Brazilians say when they answer the phone; my grandmother would have been right at home).

06 Turtle statue 01 Panther statue

07 Heron statue 03 Armadillo statue

05 Alligator statue 17 Boi Bumba bull telephone booths

There were also some interesting mosaic sidewalks, but utterly unlike the others we have seen.

10 Mosaic sidewalk 16 Mosaic sidewalk

Then there was the Boi Bumba show.  Every June (at the end of rainy season) Parintins puts on a Boi Bumba Festival.  It lasts for a week or 10 days and culminates in 3 days of performances of the Boi Bumba show.  People come from all over Brazil for this festival and the population of the town about triples, with many people sleeping on hammocks in river boats crowded around the harbor.

Boi Bumba apparently grew out of a Portuguese settlers’ tradition of annually giving thanks for their new homeland, and the story (involving the killing & resurrection of a prize bull, and other stuff too complicated to follow) is based upon an old legend revived for this celebration in the 19th century.  At some point prior to World War I the local Montagues & Capulets (actually named the Monteverds & the Cids) developed a rivalry in putting on this celebration and to this day the town is divided into two Boi Bumba teams, the red team and the blue team, who present competing versions of the story.

What we saw was a one hour fragment of the full show presented by the red team.  It involves music and dance, a single one-hour performance with no breaks.  A single singer sang for the entire hour without letup, accompanied by a percussion heavy band.  The dancers were mostly young people, many appearing to be about high school age, and the show was filled with extremely colorful costumes, with lots of feathers, & floats & props.  The dancing was very energetic, with lots of high stepping and arm waving.  We thought the dancing had a bit of a hip-hop feel to it, but it was all highly coordinated like a Broadway musical.  The whole effect was quite awesome, particularly when you remember that this is being done by the young people of a town of only 100,000.  (Many beautiful young girls in this small town, which made me think of Lake Wobegon, since it appears that all the girls are prettier than average).  There are a few pictures below which give you only a rough idea, since my camera didn’t do very well indoors with the lights out & the dancers moving, and it ran out of memory card about half way through.  But I will start with a couple of pictures I took before the show of some costumes waiting to be worn.

12 Boi Bumba costumes 13 Boi Bumba shield

19 Boi Bumba show 20 Boi Bumba show

21 Boi Bumba show 25 Boi Bumba show

28 Boi Bumba show

30 Boi Bumba show 32 Boi Bumba show

After the show we returned to the ship, VERY hot & sweaty (from the dismal climate, not the show) and partook in a Brazilian Barbecue held out on deck.  The town set off fireworks then, either as a farewell or as a celebration of our departure, I don’t know which.  And we headed for the sea.

Before I close this off, however, on Sunday afternoon, March 4, we crossed the Equator heading out of the Amazon.  This was our fourth crossing and the ship staged a pretty silly ceremony, in which crewmembers who had not crossed the Equator before this cruise were initiated before King Neptune (played by our travel guide, a proper Englishman), who required that they be covered with garbage (literally, old food) & dunked in the pool.  This apparently is descended from a British naval tradition in which sailors were thrown overboard to initiate them the first time they crossed the Equator.  Since I had to watch this, you do too.

01 King Neptune ceremony for crossing equator 03 King Neptune ceremony for crossing equator

02 King Neptune ceremony for crossing equator 05 King Neptune ceremony for crossing equator

Manaus, Brazil (day 2)

We got up early on Friday, March 2, because we were scheduled to take a boat trip and we had to be back before the ship left in mid afternoon. The river itself is very interesting. There is quite a bit of boat traffic (there are 70,000 boats registered in Manaus) & a lot of logs and other natural debris. In Manaus they actually have floating gas stations, and we have seen a lot of what appear to be floating lawns, large clumps of grass floating down the river to the ocean.

04 floating gas station 01 floating lawn

We were very lucky because the weather was quite beautiful that morning, while the people who took this trip the day before saw nothing but rain. The first part of our trip was in a two level Amazon river boat. We saw neighborhoods of Manaus with houses near the water on stilts, and some with river boats ashore (perhaps to be floated when the river rises, or else pushed into the water when needed).

02 Manaus stilted houses 06 River boats ashore in Manaus

65 River boats at Manaus

We saw some villages on tributary streams built largely on stilts and others in which the houses actually float on the river. The children in these villages are picked up each morning by the school boat, which takes them to school.

10 Rural stilted houses

13 Floating houses

14 Floating houses

At a fairly remote stop we transferred into 10 person canoes (which are actually boats with motors) for the trip to Lake January & through some of the flooded marshlands & streams.

22 River canoe 15 Rick & Mary in river canoe (with Steve)

17 river tour 18 Mary on river canoe

We saw a number of unusual birds on this trip, some pretty butterflies,  a sloth (hanging upside down with his head away from you), a caiman and others I wasn’t able to photograph.  For example, this area is home to anacondas and the guide told us that the movie of that name was actually filmed here.  Another form of wildlife that lives only in the interior of the Amazon is the pink freshwater dolphin.  We didn’t see any of these and although some other folks on the ship said they did we have concluded that they are like pink elephants, which can only be seen when you are inebriated. I guess that sounds like sour grapes.

34 White heron at lake January 38 Sloth (upper left corner)

35 Alligator (Caiman) at Lake January

On Lake January we also saw giant water lilies. The leaves of these things are about five feet in diameter and there are about a dozen leaves to each flower (although the leaves float they are connected to the bottom of the lake by stems). The flowers only open at night and only for 3 days each, changing from white the first day to purple the third. We found them very interesting.

33 Mary at Lake January, with giant water lillies25 Lake January, giant water lillies 31 Lake January, giant water lillies 23 Lake January, giant water lillies

They took our boat off the lake & river & into the already flooded rainforest (the flooding will get much deeper by June but a few months ago this entire area would have been dry land). Our guide spotted a tiny wasp’s nest on a hanging tree branch & carefully maneuvered around it.  But then the second boat came barreling past us & smacked right into the nest.  Needless to say, this made the wasps very angry & they swarmed out (very tiny looking wasps), but the other boat had gone so fast that we were the only ones they could see.  So we hightailed it out of there.  As you can see, there are a lot of trees here deep in water and there were also a lot of yucky looking termite nests.

42 Mary in swamp 40 Swamp

41 Swamp 43 Termite nest

On the way back to the river boat we saw a 400 year old tree, which had an unusual root system and was tall enough that we couldn’t see the top through the rainforest cover.  We also saw a house in the rainforest with a platform by the river covered with grass.

48 400 year old tree 44 house & grass roofed platform

By the time we got back to the river boat it was pouring rain (did I mention that the weather around here is amazingly changeable?).  We got in the boat & they pulled down plastic sheeting all around so we couldn’t see much, then we left to go downriver to the Meeting of the Waters.  Manaus isn’t actually situated on the Amazon. It is about 3 miles up the Rio Negro river from the spot where the Rio Negro & the Rio Solimoes converge to form the Amazon proper. The water of the Rio Negro is very dark (hence the name) while the water of the Solimoes is light brown, like cafe au lait. Because one of these rivers flows faster than the other (I can’t remember which) & the chemical makeup of the water is different, the rivers don’t mix together immediately but flow for several miles side by side. You saw a version of this phenomenon in the episode for Santorem (which is pronounced with an accent on the first & especially on the last syllable, so it doesn’t sound like Rick Santorum, thank goodness).

Anyway, with the pouring rain we did not expect to be able to see much at the Meeting of the Waters.  However, as I mentioned before, the weather here is very changeable and we did get a very good look from close up on this relatively small river boat.

54 Rick at Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

57 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro) 61 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

Later, as the ship passed this spot, we saw it from a larger perspective.

68 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

71 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro) 78 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

Then the ship took us down the Amazon toward our last Brazilian stop in Parintins.

75 Mary, with Steve, at front of ship

81 Clouds over Amazon

Manaus, Brazil (day 1)

In the early morning of Thursday, March 1, we sailed into Manaus.  This is a city of almost 2 million people located almost 1000 miles up the Amazon River.

01 Manaus, Brazil

02 Manaus from ship, with cathedral 03 Customs House (Alfandega) from ship

I don’t know about you, but this is not what we would have expected in the interior of the Amazon.  Manaus was founded in 1669 but really hit its stride in the second half of the 19th century as the center of the rubber boom, when huge amounts of money flowed through.  Rubber trees are native only to the Amazon region, so this area had a monopoly on rubber (one of the essential ingredients of the industrial revolution) and there were strong laws to protect that monopoly.  Natives were ruthlessly exploited as laborers to go through the rainforest where the trees were scattered & tap out the latex.  However, in 1876 a fellow named Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds to England, where they were grown into trees in Kew Gardens in London & transferred to British possessions in Asia, the source of most rubber today.  Wickham was branded a criminal & traitor in Brazil, but was knighted in England.

During the height of the rubber boom local rubber barons built fabulous mansions & even an opera house.  The famous Teatro Amazonas (trust me, its famous even though you and we may never have heard of it before) is an elaborate pink & white structure, all of which was imported from Europe.  Even the wood floors & seats, made of Brazilian wood, were manufactured in Europe & then sent here.  It took 15 years to build, was opened in 1896, and has hosted many world-class performers (there are no highways here, so the only way for performers & the components of the building to get to Manaus was by boat, & now by plane).

89 Front facade of Teatro Amazonas 10 Mary near Teatro Amazonas

56 Dome of Teatro 49 Mary looking over railing at Teatro

We took a tour of the Teatro.  The orchestra was rehearsing on stage and the concert hall was quite elaborate (remember, every bit was imported from Europe & shipped up the river).  It was very rainy that morning (this is a rainforest, after all), so that is why Mary looks a little soggy in these pictures.

12 Orchestra rehearsing on stage of Teatro Amazonas 16 Gallery facade of Teatro

17 Verdi facade 26 Mary in Teatro upper gallery

19 Ceiling of Teatro 20 Mary in Teatro

Upstairs were several salons with inlaid wood floors, painted ceilings and a porch with statues on the corners.  We had to put slippers over our shoes to protect (and help polish) the floors.

 34 Ceiling of salon in Teatro 36 Ceiling of salon in Teatro

 35 Painting in salon of Teatro 45 pile of slippers upstairs at Teatro

37 slippered feet on floor of Teatro salon 30 Manaus from porch of Teatro

A lego model of the Teatro was on prominent display in the front corridor.

48 Lego model of Teatro Amazonas 48 Lego model of Teatro Amazonas

Next to the Teatro is the Palacio da Justica.  The woman with the umbrella in the first picture is the orchestra’s concertmistress.

51 Palacia da Justica 50 Rick at Teatro in front of Palacio da Justica

We went to see the Cathedral, officially the Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral, which was nice & not overly elaborate.

07 Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral 06 Inside of Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral

There were some nice mosaic sidewalks near the Teatro, reminiscent of Copacabana in Rio, and we passed the clock tower & many vendors’ stands.

64 Mary & sidewalk near Teatro

08 Clock Tower 05 Fruit & vegetable stand in area below cathedral

We visited a building called the Palacio Rio Negro, which was originally a rubber baron’s mansion but is now a cultural center.  Inside were some beautiful wooden stairs & rooms (presumably made in Europe too) & some unusual paintings, including one depicting Amazon women warriors attacking the Teatro with flights of angels descending.  Another showed the first flight of a Brazilian named Dumont who, they claim, invented the airplane before the Wright Brothers (a claim not accepted by anyone outside Brazil, as far as we can tell).  Just looking at that thing you can tell that it could never achieve controlled flight.

66 Palacio Rio Negro Cultural Center 69 Palacio Rio Negro

70 Staircase in Palacio Rio Negro 71 Immortality - painting in Palacio Rio Negro

73 First Flight of Dumont (1906) - painting in Palacio Rio Negro 75 Manaus from porch of Palacio Rio Negro

78 painting of parrots in Palacio Rio Negro 77 Rick by courtyard of Palacio Rio Negro

Of course, we found the Biblioteca Municipal (although it seemed too small to be the central library of such a large city) and we also walked by the old Customs House,  built in England and then disassembled and transported here piece by piece.

85 Mary in front of Biblioteca Municipal 87 Biblioteca Municipal

92 Alfandega (Customs House) 97 Customs House

The dock area of Manaus is particularly interesting.  The river’s height varies by some 40 feet from the dry season to the wet season (we are about halfway through the wet season now so there is still quite a bit of rising yet to come).  So they have built floating docks, which rise & fall with the river.  Also near the dock are the ruins of a block of old buildings, reduced now to their interesting facades with vines & trees growing through the openings.

04 Manaous floating dock 99 Floating Dock

93 Overgrown bldg facades near port 95 Overgrown bldg facades near port

We had a beautiful sunset, then that night we had a Folklorico show on board the ship depicting Amazonian dancing from the Indians through the Samba.  The pictures are pretty fuzzy but they give you an idea.  After that we went to bed, having had a very full day & needing to get up early the next day.

104 Sunset

115 Amazonia Folklorico show 117 Amazonia Folklorico show

120 Amazonia Folklorico show 128 Amazonia Folklorico show

124 Amazonia Folklorico show

Boca de Valeria, Brazil

On Wednesday, February 29, we stopped for a few hours in Boca de Valeria, a tiny Amazon village of about 75 people.  This was quite a change from all the cities with millions of folks.  While it gives an idea of the lifestyle of rural Amazonia, since cruise ships have started visiting here it has changed some.  We saw a couple of satellite TV dishes & we were told that some of the monetary influx from the ships has been used to improve the schools in the area, at least one of which now has a computer.

The locals have also adapted to the ship visits to earn a few dollars.  On ship days people come from all over the area & some dress themselves or their children in colorful feathered costumes.  Some of the children have exotic rainforest pets like sloths & monkeys.  They then put themselves on display & request a dollar from anyone who wants to take a picture (you won’t see any of those here).  So, it has become kind of commercial and Disney-fied, in a rudimentary way.  We discovered later that all of the children we saw were from out of the village, because the village children were all in school while we were there.

Anyway, it was high water when we were there, so much of the land was covered with water as we went into the town.

40 Entrance to Boca de Valeria

26 Boca de Valeria 27 trees in river

The village consists of a small church & a few small rickety looking houses built on stilts to accommodate the rise & fall of the river.

05 Church 12 Parrot house

  25 dock 28 house on stilts21 Village center

What you can’t see in the last picture is a dog that was sacked out lying on his side in the road in front of the church steps, while people were walking all around him, probably thinking “how boring, another tourist day.” The town was full of chickens, running loose on the muddy roads & under houses.

01 Chicken & chicks 18 Chickens under house

This is a river village, so of course there were lots of boats on the shore.

 17 Riverboat04 Boats from grass hut19 Houses on stilts 

We also saw some interesting rocks & funghi.

10 Rocks 14 Log with fungus

We were there too and not to forget, these folks live in the rainforest (lots of it).

07 Rick & Mary 15 Rainforest with red flowers

16 Rainforest 31 rain forest

32 Rain forest 33 rain forest

Several enterprising folks got into canoes & paddled (or motored) out to the ship, where they importuned passengers entering or returning from the tenders to take pictures & give money.  One young fellow had a pet sloth with him, which he would hold up to the tender entrance & sometimes the sloth would grab onto the ship.

34 boats by ship 36 kid with sloth by tender

 43 Kid with sloth in boat near ship 48 Kid with sloth in boat near ship

 38 Kid with sloth in boat near ship

We left Boca de Valeria in early afternoon and there was a nice & calm sunset on the way to Manaus.

53  Sunset on the Amazon