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Bridgetown, Barbados (2019)

We spent March 18 on Barbados, the most easterly of the Caribbean islands.  First settled by the British in 1628, Bridgetown today has some 110,000 inhabitants, more than a third of the total population of Barbados.  Barbados achieved independence from the UK in 1966 but remains in the British Commonwealth.  Unlike the other Caribbean islands Barbados is mostly coral rather than of volcanic origin.  The last time we visited here we walked from the port into Bridgetown and spent our time exploring the city.

This time we signed up for an excursion with our travel agents to see some of the rest of the island.  So in the morning we headed north from the port in the gray and drizzly weather.  This is a very wealthy area of sandy beaches, calm waters and expensive resorts known as the Gold Coast (or more recently, the Platinum Coast).  It is said that a number of foreign billionaires have beach houses here.  Not only was it poor weather to view these resorts as the bus rolled by but we were on the other side of the bus, so no pictures of the Gold Coast.  As we drove over the island interior to the much wilder east coast facing the Atlantic we passed a number of what seem to be typical Barbadian houses, mostly one story and painted a variety of colors.

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Near the east coast we happened on some monkeys.  Barbadian green monkeys are descended from some that were brought here some 350 years ago from Senegal and the Gambia by slave traders.  Some of these pets escaped and today they are all over the island.  Through some 75 generations they have evolved differently from their cousins in Africa and it is said that this particular species can only be found in the wild here.

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We stopped in Bathsheba, a town of about 5,000 on the east coast.  We have read that this is the most painted landscape in Barbados and it was easy to see why, even with the clouds & rain.  The beach is highlighted by very large boulders that have been eroded at the bottom by the heavy surf.  The waves in this area  known to surfers as the “Soup Bowl,” and it regularly hosts international surfing competitions.  Eleven time world champion surfer Kelly Slater has called this one of the “top 3 waves in the world.”  Up the hill from the park where we stopped were some houses similar to what we had seen and some a little more substantial.

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We were stopped in a park that sloped steeply down to the water.  Next door to the park was a restaurant with a veranda in back that had a spectacular view of the Soup Bowl.  In the park we encountered some local birds.

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Back in the bus, we drove to the St Johns Parish Church, situated atop a hill 800 feet above the sea.  The first church was built here in 1645.  It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1676 but hurricanes destroyed that and its successors.  After the 1831 hurricane the present church was built of sturdy stone and rededicated in 1836.  Gothic in style, it would look right at home in the English countryside.  The outstanding features inside the church are a large pipe organ over the entrance and an elaborately hand carved pulpit.

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In back of the church is a cemetery.  The most eye catching tombstone is from 1678, the grave of Ferdinando Paleologus who was a member of the family of the last emperors of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople.  The cemetery had a breadfruit tree and a number of colorful flowers and it backed up to a cliff overlooking the ocean and a town below.  Breadfruit is native to the South Pacific, not the Caribbean.  It was first brought to the Caribbean by Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty  fame because it was thought this would be an inexpensive food for the tens of thousands of slaves that were kept here.  An artist was at work there too.  After exploring the cemetery we left the church.

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Originally built in the 1660’s, Sunbury Plantation house was restored after a devastating fire in 1995.  Its 30 inch thick walls are made of coral and ballast stones, probably from slave trading ships.  This was the great house of a large sugar cane plantation.  Sugar cane was by far the leading export from Barbados in earlier centuries and even today it is one of the island’s leading crops.  The plantations were worked by slaves imported from Africa; at one point there were more than 15 slaves for every free person in Barbados.  We toured the house, which has been furnished with antiques, many made from Barbadian mahogany.  It was pretty sumptuous, but really an old house is an old house and we have seen a lot of them.

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The house has lush gardens with many different flowers and trees, notably some large ficus trees.

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In back of the plantation house was a pavilion containing a buffet restaurant.  We had a very nice lunch there, including some delicious local fish and rum punch.  Barbados has been producing rum since 1703, the first to do so in the Caribbean, which is made from the sugarcane grown throughout the island (including on this plantation).  Our guide told us that the last census counted 1200 churches in Barbados . . . and 1200 rum shops.

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As we drove back to Bridgetown we passed several fields of sugarcane.and some more local style houses.  In one traffic circle we drove past the Emancipation Statue, erected in 1985.  Many people here call it the Bussa Statue, after a slave who led a revolt in 1816, although that was not the intent of the sculptor.  We drove through the center of Bridgetown, past the Parliament Building that has been the seat of government since the 1870’s, then down a commercial street and back to the port.

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On our first visit here we walked into town from the port along a beautiful park like path along the sea wall.  After returning to the port, we decided to walk up that path a little way to visit a collection of shops we believe was called the Pelican Crafts Center.  Many of the shops were closed but those that were open included some very interesting textile and crafts shops as well as some more mundane souvenir stores.  It also had a large statue that looked at first like a skeleton playing baseball, but probably was intended to beholding a sword or a club.  After that we returned to the ship, ending our visit to Barbados.

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Devil’s Island, French Guiana (2019)

The morning of March 16 found Prinsendam anchored near Ile du Royale, the largest of the three Salvation Islands.  This is the one island that can be visited from a cruise ship; the other two are called Ile St-Joseph and Ile du Diable (which means Devil’s Island).

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For just over 100 years this archipelago was part of a French penal colony.  It was opened in 1853 by Napoleon III after his coup, and eventually more than 200 republican opponents of his regime were stashed there.  After a lot of bad publicity the French stopped sending prisoners here in 1938 with the intent of closing the penal colony, which they did in 1953 after a delay caused by the German occupation of France during World War II.  Today it welcomes visitors from cruise ships, private yachts and people ferried here for a look on local boats from the mainland some 8 or 9 miles away.

We tendered in as early as we could after finishing breakfast.  The island is lush and beautiful, and studded with the ruins of interesting penal colony buildings.  The tiny port has a small but sturdy tender dock.

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This is a beautiful tropical island, lush with palm trees and surrounded by surf.  Add in the extra interest of the ruins of the prison camp and some nice weather and you have the makings of a very nice port stop.  But there is little to do here other than explore the island on foot: no excursions, no busses, no beaches, no zip lines.  So that is what we did, just as we did on our first visit, although our routes differed a bit.

We walked down the path to the left in the picture above.  Upon entering the forest we encountered some Capuchin monkeys and then some steep stairs to get up to the level that was the center of the prison.

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On the way up the hill we spent some time in a small museum, filled mostly with explanatory displays about the history of the prison colony and the prisoners who served time here.  At the top we came upon the prison chapel, in good shape (probably restored) and perhaps currently in use.  Inside were some interesting paintings on the walls by a prisoner named LaGrange who was a counterfeiter.  Across from the church was the hospital, looking well restored at least on the outside, and nearby were some real ruins not restored at all.

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We visited the ruins of the main prison, where prisoners were chained to a long bar stretching the length of the room so they couldn’t even walk around their cells.

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We visited buildings with cells for prisoners in solitary confinement.  Pretty depressing looking cells, tiny and dark.  These two buildings were still pretty much intact, in much better shape than the prison walls above.

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We visited the much nicer area where the guards and other prison personnel lived.  We think the personnel who manage the island and the space port tracking station may live there today.  The French Space Agency (CNES) operates its launching facility in Kourou, on the mainland near these islands, and there is a tracking station on Ile Royale.  In fact, the French Space Agency is in charge of managing the islands, which are evacuated before launches.  Near these guard houses we passed the French launch tracking station.

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We walked over to the hotel, which we have read started life as the guards’ mess when the prison was active.  Yes, you can book a room and spend your vacation on this island, but why would you want to spend your vacation at an infamous old prison?  The hotel has a restaurant and it sits on a hill with a nice vista of the sea and Devil’s island across the water.  It also has a souvenir shop, but it was pretty expensive (no competition, we guess).  There is a peacock living on the grounds, although we didn’t see it during our visit.

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We descended some steep steps behind the hotel toward the coast nearest to Devil’s Island.  Devil’s Island is only about 600 feet away from Isle Royale, but the water is very rough and infested with sharks.  This is why it was almost impossible to escape. The book & movie Papillon were presented as the memoirs of Henri Charriere, a prisoner who escaped Devil’s Island on pontoons & had many adventures.  But it turns out he actually was imprisoned on the mainland and never set foot on the islands (it is nevertheless worth reading).  Very few of the 80,000 prisoners sent here over the century of operation ever made it back to France.  A majority died on the islands and French law required prisoners to stay in French Guiana after leaving the prison for a number of years equal to their prison terms; if the term was 8 years or more they had to stay for life. And even those who were no longer prohibited from returning to France could not do so unless they could pay their own way.  To keep the sharks around prisoners who died (as most of them did eventually) were rowed out from the shore and dumped in the water.  This happened often, so the sharks stayed around.  Because taking a boat to Devil’s Island was so treacherous there was a cable car built between the islands to transport supplies.

On our way to the coast we encountered another monkey and an agouti (a rodent related to the guinea pig).

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At this point Mary & Bill decided to return to the tender pier while Rick & Robert continued the walk around the edge of the island.  There were good views of Devil’s Island and a sign warning you to be careful as this is a dangerous area (no kidding!).

Probably the most famous person imprisoned on Devil’s Island was Captain Alfred Dreyfus, framed by the French Army because he was Jewish for an act of espionage committed by another soldier in order to preserve the public image of the army.  Sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in 1894 after conviction for treason, he was freed and his army rank restored after about five years because of a campaign of public protest led by Emile Zola, among others, and the discovery of the suppressed evidence that he was innocent.  There is a restored stone hut near the water on Devil’s Island that we think was where he was kept, but if not, this was like the one where he lived under close supervision, with no hope of liberation because he was not told of the campaign in France to free him.  We do not recall seeing this hut when we were here in 2012, so it may have been restored since then.

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On the walk around the rest of the island to the tender dock Rick & Robert encountered a sea turtle in the water and an iguana sunning itself on a rock.  When we reached the tender pier Bill & Mary were nowhere to be found.  Rick thought we were to meet them here but Robert thought they were going straight back to the ship.  Fortunately, Robert had it right.

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On the ship that evening the wait staff were dressed in striped prisoner attire and one of the penguins was standing guard over some prisoners outside the dining room.  We had some fruit carvings in the Lido during the afternoon.  The next day was a sea day and we were invited (along with a number of other passengers) to dinner in the Pinnacle restaurant with the Captain.  Everyone who took the full voyage was invited to one of these soirees but as the trip was coming to an end we had not received an invitation.  Feeling a little slighted, we asked our travel agent hosts, Henk & Lucia, if they knew why.  Before long we received an invitation for March 17.  It turned out we were on the list for an earlier Captain’s dinner but the invitation was never delivered to our cabin.  This was a good example of why it is good to have a travel agent host aboard, especially one as effective as Henk & Lucia are.  Prior to the Pinnacle dinner there was a cocktail reception in the Captain’s quarters.  For reasons we won’t go into here, the Prinsendam Captain’s quarters are reputed to be the largest and most lavish in the fleet, and we won’t argue with that since the reception was held in a large room next to his living space equipped with a bar.  After this we headed into the Caribbean to visit four islands on the final leg of our journey.

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Three Days at Sea (2019)

It took a couple of days to sail from Alter do Chao to our next stop, Devil’s Island.  These were “sea days” in that we spent the whole time on the ship, but most of the time we were still in the Amazon, so we guess these were really river days, rather than sea days.  On March 14 we sailed toward the mouth of the Amazon on the north side of the Ihla de Marajo, the largest river island in the world:  it is a little larger than Switzerland.  We had sailed into the Amazon along the Para river near Belem, which runs along the south of Marajo.  Marajo has a population of more than 450,000 and almost as many water buffalo as people (the police ride them on patrol).  Here is a picture of the riverbank taken that morning, but we aren’t sure any more whether it is Marajo or the opposite river bank.

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On this day we crossed the equator for the fourth and last time on this voyage.  We crossed the line as we sailed past the city of Macapa on the north bank of the Amazon, across from the island.  This city of about 500,000 calls itself “the capital of the middle of the world” because the equator runs through it and they have built a monument on the spot where the equator passes through called “Marco Zero.”  We didn’t see the monument from the ship, but we passed the equator there anyway.

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There is a navy tradition dating back at least 300 years of initiating sailors making their first crossing of the equator.  It’s pretty silly, but still fun.  The novices, called pollywogs, are brought before King Neptune and his spouse (Queen Neptune?), where they are charged with heinous but hilarious “crimes,” then judged by the ship’s senior officers with a thumbs up or thumbs down.  They are forced to kiss a fish then lie on a table while they are slimed with brightly colored yuck.  If the judgment is thumbs down, they are forced to jump into the pool; if the judgment is thumbs up they go and side on the side of the pool (those who get thumbs down have the advantage of having the slime rinsed off).  After surviving the ceremony the “pollywogs” become “shellbacks,” and aren’t supposed to have to do this again.  This is supposed to be done on the first crossing of the equator, but our Captain saved it until the last crossing, apparently unafraid of reprisals from an easily offended Neptune.  The passengers got to watch, rather than participate, even if this was their first crossing, and a large crowd turned out to watch the fun under a hot sun.

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Polliwogs kneel before King Neptune while the charges are read, then must kiss the fish (while everyone chants “kiss the fish!”).

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In the early days the KIng Neptune ceremony was much rougher than today.  On Captain Cook’s 1768 voyage to the South Pacific crew members who had not crossed the equator before had to give up their wine allotment for four days or else be ducked three times into the ocean.  Joseph Banks, the ship naturalist, recorded that some came out of the ocean “grinning and exulting in their hardiness” while others “were almost suffocated”.  On the second voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1832 young Charles Darwin was one of the novices (called griffins at that time)..  The griffins were assembled on a dark and hot lower deck, then led by “four of Neptune’s constables” one at a time, blindfolded, up on deck while “buckets of water were thundered all around.”  Darwin, the first victim, was “placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of water – They then lathered my face & mouth with pitch and paint, & scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop. – a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me & ducked me . . most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put in their mouths & rubbed on their faces” . As late as World War II US Navy ship ceremonies included beatings with wet fire hoses and poking with an electrified piece of metal.

Compared with all that today’s ceremony was pretty tame, with no injuries and a  lot of fun.  After kissing the fish the pollywogs were led to long metal tables where they had to lie down and be slimed by attendants wearing surgical attire.  On one side of the pool the slime was mostly pink and on the other blue.  The slimers were very enthusiastic in their work.

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After being slimed, those receiving thumbs down from the officers were mercifully “helped” into the pool, while those who received thumbs up had to sit on the side & bake in the sun fully slimed.

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As we neared the end they were running out of pollywogs faster than slime, so some people received entire tubfulls.

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King Neptune read a final proclamation and he and his consort walked out, signaling the end of the ceremony.  As you can imagine, the pool was closed for hours for cleaning and restoration.  Everybody received a certificate signed by the Captain and “Neptune Rex” that we had crossed the equator (the certificate inexplicably left out our first crossing in Ecuador).

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March 15 was Mary’s birthday.   When you have a birthday on a HAL ship a small birthday cake is provided after dinner and the waiters and other dining room staff gather around your table and sing the Indonesian birthday song.  This is done with great enthusiasm, including beating on the bottom of pots with wooden spoons.  With only 365 days in a year and almost three times that many passengers, this can be heard just about every night and often twice.  Mary’s birthday was no exception, although an added touch was that this was a gala night so everyone was dressed up.  We had the cake sliced nine ways so there would be some for our waiters too.

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Before dinner we listened to some lovely chamber music by George & Agnes (Adagio) in the Explorers’ Lounge and we ended that night with a difficult to identify towel animal.  During the afternoon in the Lido the food artist was active.

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We are going to cheat a little here in the name of efficiency.  The Indonesian Crew Show was presented on March 20, five days later and after several interim stops, but we are going to include it here because it was a sea day and because presenting it out of order will save posting an additional episode.  We had seen the Filipino Crew Show much earlier in the voyage,, while we were in Chile.  The Indonesian crew had a band and a singer who, if we remember correctly, doubled as Master of Ceremonies.

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There was a performance we have seen before in which the participants wear white gloves and kneel down in a row on some cushions.  Then they do synchronized movements to the music.  First every other one does a movement with hands up while the other half do one with hands on the floor, then they reverse.  Perhaps the pictures will explain it better.

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The solo singer who opened the show came back for a number or two with the band.  He was quite a showman.

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The last performance involved most of the Indonesians on stage along with several people from the audience.  Each had a wooden contraption that emitted one note when shaken.  Some kind of musical notation was on a plaque that was mounted on a stand in front of them, which indicated when each note was to be played.  Songs were played by people shaking their instruments in turn.  The passengers then left the stage and the Indonesian performers all took their final bows.

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Alter do Chão, Brazil (2019)

We were on the second tender to Alter do Chao on the morning of March 13.  Founded by the Portuguese in 1626, Alter do Chao is on the Tapajos river about 10 miles from Santarem.  It is a beach community with what is reputed to be one of the world’s best freshwater beaches, although when the Amazon is at high water those beaches disappear.  We were joining another Gil Serique excursion, and it was a pretty long one, so we wanted to be sure we weren’t the last ones there.  It turned out there was hardly anyone else on our tender and we had to wait quite a while in a nearly deserted town square at the end of the tender dock before the tour was ready to depart.  The town square was surrounded by vendor kiosks that were starting to open when we arrived.

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When everyone finally arrived we left in two small buses for the Tapajos National Forest.  Unfortunately Gil had another group stopping in Santarem today so he didn’t accompany us, but his compatriots did a fine job organizing the tour and explaining everything.  After a fairly long drive to the forest we stopped in what looked like a picnic area then began a lengthy walk in the forest.  We saw many pretty flowers and a lot of very tall trees on this walk.  We were given explanations about a number of these trees, but sadly we can’t remember most of them any more.

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We walked through the woods, stopping at a giant ant or termite nest hanging from a tree.  We passed what we think is a mahogany tree and some other trees we can’t identify.

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Large, thick vines were climbing up trees and sometimes wrapping around themselves to get through open spaces.  Some of them climb all the way to the canopy where they can get more light.  As they spread out to other trees they also help tie the treetops together, helping to keep them from falling.  We passed one big tree that had fallen.  Other trees had what looked like long vines hanging from the tree tops all the way to the ground, but we think these were generated by older vines that had climbed up their trunks.  These latter vines are quite strong; they held the weight of one of our guides swinging on them.

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We returned to the picnic site, where the guides cracked and roasted some Brazil nuts over an open fire.  We had some snacks at the picnic table, and someone found a turtle (tortoise?) who walked along the table.

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After we ate & the rain stopped we went for another walk.  This time we saw rubber trees, with the characteristic striped scars caused by tapping.  They grow tall . . . if you have one (ficus) in your living room, keep an eye on it. We also visited a huge Kapoc tree, whose root structure spreading at the base of the tree was much larger than a person.

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We left the woods in our bus and on the way we encountered a porcupine in the middle of the road.  He didn’t seem to be going anywhere so we all got out of the bus to take a better look.  He was a handsome fellow.

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Even with all these people milling around looking at him the porcupine didn’t leave.  This seemed odd until we got a look at his other side.  There was a large wound just above his hip, which was probably making him weak and lethargic.  Eventually he walked slowly away toward the woods, but with no chance of medical care he probably didn’t live much longer.

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At the entry station for the national park we had to stop for some paperwork.  While we were stopped one of the guides found a really large beetle (it looked a little like one of the aliens in the movie Men In Black).  We have seen some large bugs on the ship while in the river, mostly moths, although on our first visit here in 2012 there were some much bigger ones.  But this guy gets the award for Best in Show.

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If you have been following this blog you know that rubber trees are native to the Amazon area and to nowhere else in the world.  Europeans made great fortunes here from rubber, tapped from trees isolated throughout the forest by indigenous people who were effectively enslaved.  But in 1876 Henry Wickham gathered and exported some 70,000 seeds to England under false pretenses (Gil Serique’s grandfather assisted him).  The seeds were planted in Kew Gardens in London and about 2700 sprouted into trees, which the British sent mostly to Asia to establish their own rubber tree plantations.  They far out-produced the Amazon, which still relied upon tapping isolated trees in the woods, and by the 1920’s the British had a virtual monopoly on the world’s rubber supply.

Henry Ford did not like paying the monopoly prices for the rubber he needed for car valves and gaskets so he decided to start his own rubber plantation in the Amazon.  He obtained a very large tract of land on the Tapajos River about 190 miles from Santarem and proceeded to erect a plantation town there in 1928.  The enterprise was a failure from the start, since Ford wanted a town modeled on the American midwest and required the workers there to eat the kind of food he favored and forgo everything he though was a vice.  But the workers were Brazilians rather than Americans, who refused to conform to Ford’s vision.  Moreover the rubber trees planted in tight rows like an American orchard fell victim to native blight and pests that did not exist in Asia; the trees isolated from each other in the forest did not have this problem.  The town was closed down in 1934 without ever having sent a drop of rubber to America.   An excellent book about this enterprise was published a few years ago called Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin (Gil was his guide to the area).

Ford tried again at a spot only 25 miles from Santarem, where the river transport was easier, the land was more level and the soil was very rich.  He built another midwestern style town called Belterra, where he tried to accommodate local culture and customs more effectively.  This new plantation was able to defeat the blight using more varied cultivars of rubber trees, but doing so was labor intensive and expensive.  Although some small groves of rubber trees were established here, World War II diverted the Ford company’s attention to supplying the military and by the end of the war synthetic rubber was available, with which Belterra couldn’t compete.  The Ford company sold both locations to the Brazilian government in 1945 for a fraction of what they had cost.

Fordlandia is much too far up the river to visit on a day trip, but we did visit Belterra after leaving the Tapajos national forest.  The bus carried us over narrow unpaved roads to what is still a small midwestern style town filled with green and white painted bungalows surrounded by picket fences and gardens.  We got out of the bus and walked down one of the main streets.

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You can see that these buildings look nothing like the typical architecture of Brazil that we have seen before.  In fact, Henry Ford never visited Brazil and these houses were designed by an American to look like the architecture with which he grew up in small town America.  Each house is different, yet they are all of a single style and present a very homogenous appearance.  It’s actually a little eerie coming upon this neat midwestern town so out of place sitting in the Amazon rainforest, almost like something from a Ray Bradbury story or a Twilight Zone episode. Although Ford’s enterprise here failed this is still a living town with a population between 1,000 and 2,000.  Walking down the street we passed the town hall and a lot of rubber trees.

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Leaving Belterra we drove on very bumpy unpaved roads back to Alter do Chao.  Construction equipment was scattered along the road and we were told that they are in the process of paving it, which will be a big improvement.  Gil’s house is by the water about a 15 minute walk from the tender pier.  Unfortunately, since Gil was out guiding another group, he wasn’t there with us.

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A few things to eat were set out on a table in the patio nearest the water, and a number of attractive flowers were planted on the grounds.

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Most interesting, however, was the wildlife.  There was an iguana, a white butterfly and a colony of leaf cutter ants, hard at work.  Another interesting item was a bullet hole in a table on the covered patio.  According to Gil, this was a door in his uncle’s house and the bullet was fired when the police came to arrest him.

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After leaving Gil’s house we wandered through the town.  It has a pretty laid back beach town vibe, with mostly unpaved streets and few if any sidewalks.  We passed the local church, Our Lady of Good Health, on our way to find a shop we had been told about which has a fantastic array of Amazonian wares.  We walked back to the tender dock, where Mary phoned home before we tendered back to the ship.

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And so ended our last stop in the Amazon, altogether an excellent adventure to be sure.  We headed out into the Tapajos River on our way to the Amazon and then to the Atlantic.

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Parintins, Brazil

     We spent a relatively short day anchored in the Amazon outside Parintins, a small town of about 115,000 people located about halfway between Santarem and Manaus.  No roads lead here so most visitors and commerce arrive by water.  We had seen the town from across the river shortly after leaving Boca de Valeria on our way to Manaus.

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     Founded in 1852, Parintins sits on Tupinambarana island, which had earlier been inhabited by cabocios (indigenous or mixed race people escaped from Portuguese slave traders).  It is famous for the Boi Bumba festival that takes place over 3 days in late June.  The third largest festival in Brazil, after the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, the town is so packed with people that many sleep on hammocks on the boats that bring them here.  We weren’t there in June, but when cruise ships stop here they put on a much smaller version, lasting only an hour or so, in the town’s convention center near the docks.  Although the tickets are expensive (you can only buy them through HAL), this is pretty much the only reason to stop here, so we went.

     After breakfast we took a tender to the town dock for a walk around the town before the performance  It’s a pleasant town for a walk, if you disregard the oppressive heat.

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     The Boi Bumba is about a bull that is killed and later resurrected.  On the streets were decorations reflecting this story.

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     We are still in Brazil so there were mosaic sidewalks and we also saw nice flowers in bloom

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     The most prominent building in the central district is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Carmo atop the hill, which can be seen from the river.  It was built in the 1960’s and is pretty simple for a Catholic cathedral in South America.

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     The Boi Bumba show has open festival seating and you don’t want to arrive at the last minute.  So we headed back toward the auditorium with our tickets.  On the way we happened past a store with a number of colorful life size (or larger) animal sculptures, possibly papier mache, on the sidewalk.  Two of them, the bull and the jaguar, resembled ones we saw later as part of the show.  When we got to the auditorium we were surprised at the long line that had already formed down the street, which was lined with vendor stalls.  But it turned out that the doors opened shortly after we got in line.

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     Once inside we found a seat, without much difficulty but about 6 rows back.  Our friend Al was smart enough to arrive earlier and was in the front row, taking pictures of the crowd.  The painted scenery and some large figures were in place awaiting the show.  Finally, our port guide Heather stepped up, dressed in Amazonian attire, to introduce the show.

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     There are two teams of performers who compete at the festival for the best rating from the judges, Garantido (Red) and Caprichoso (Blue).  The audience is divided in half as well, with one side supporting each team (and wearing red or blue team colors).  Over three days each team gives three performances of 2.5 hours of continuous music, dance & singing.  As we understand it, the story is always the same but each performance presents a different take on it.  During each performance that team’s supporters in the audience join in, dancing and singing and waving flags while the half of the audience supporting the other team sits silently (sounds like an American State of the Union speech).  In the end, the winning team and its supporters get to have a huge parade through the town and a huge party.  This all takes place in the Bumbadromo, a 35,000 seat stadium built in the 1980’s just for the festival.

     We got only a taste of all this, with fewer dancers (the festival performance involve some 80 performers each) performing in a much smaller indoor venue for a much shorter time.  Our show was presented by members of the Blue team, Caprichoso.  Nonetheless, even this truncated version was pretty spectacular.  The costumes, makeup and the lights were all very colorful, the music (played by about half a dozen musicians on a stage behind the dancers) was loud and rhythmic and the dancers were extremely energetic.  We understand that the dancers are all high school age or a year or two older.  It was dark during the performance and everyone was moving constantly, so the pictures aren’t very sharp.  But they still give an idea of what this was like.

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     There were several featured performers, mostly beautiful young girls.  How does a small town like this turn out so many beautiful girls in this age group year after year?  Most of the time they entered the stage over the top of one of the giant animals puppets; it was quite an effect.  You can see in the pictures below that the dancers have changed into different costumes, this time looking like farmers.  As we mentioned above, we were seated several rows back so you will see spectators’ heads at the bottom of many of these pictures.

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     While there apparently are a number of variations, the Boi Bumba story is about a poor ranch hand whose pregnant wife develops a craving for bull’s tongue.  To satisfy it he steals and slaughters an ox bull, but it turns out to be the prize bull of the ranch owner.  He flees into the forest to escape arrest, where he meets up with a shaman.  The shaman invokes all the forest spirits and together they resurrect the bull.  The ranch owner is overjoyed and stages a feast to celebrate the return of the bull and the ranch hand.  No explanation was provided us about how the parts of the show we saw were related to the elements of the story.  But we assume that the scenes with the dancers in straw hats have to do with the ranch and the giant animal puppets represent what happens in the forest.  The featured dancer with the white half-mask in the next set of pictures may be the shaman.

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     From what we have read, Boi Bumba may date back to the mid 18th century in northern Brazil when it was a sort of defused form of social protest in which the poorer classes mocked the wealthy.  It may have been brought to the Amazon area in the 1870’s by people escaping a drought to seek work as rubber tappers.  There are boi bumba festivals all over Brazil but the one in Parintins is the biggest and best known.  The Parintins festival began in 1965 and moved into the Bumbadromo two decades later.  The music of the festival is a fusion of European, African and Indigenous styles.

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     It was explained before that this story centers on a bull that is resurrected from the dead.  So in these next pictures you will see him, alive and dancing.  The bull enters the stage in a boat.

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You will notice that the women have donned fancy dresses, presumably for the final celebration of the return of the farm hand and the bull, and now another featured performer enters the stage underneath a giant butterfly puppet.  She kisses the bull and sings to him.

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     After some more dancing in what looked like indigenous costume, another featured performer entered under what appeared to be giant insect wings, but we didn’t see the insect (maybe she was supposed to be the butterfly).  A couple of the other featured performers returned to the stage and there was a loud standing ovation for the final bows.

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     When the show was over the dancers invited the spectators to come up and dance with them, which some of them did.  Apparently this is also how the festival performance ends, with everyone in town joining for a huge party.  Altogether, a great time was had by all.

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   Our departure was set for early afternoon, and there was really nothing to do after the performance that wouldn’t have been an anti-climax, so we headed out to the tenders and returned to the ship.  We waved goodbye to Parintins in early afternoon and sailed on down the river toward our last stop on the Amazon river.

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