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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
We also found the Philipsburg Jubilee Library, a nice open building full of students whose bookmobiles had a Caribbean flair.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
We visited the local market, which mostly sold clothes, and came upon an unusual statue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
We also saw several kinds of palm trees, including coconut palms aplenty and some with red fruit that we were told were Christmas Palms.
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.
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.
There was interesting flora as well, including the water lilies in the reservoir and some red and blue flowers near the hotel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
There were also some interesting mosaic sidewalks, but utterly unlike the others we have seen.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Later, as the ship passed this spot, we saw it from a larger perspective.
Then the ship took us down the Amazon toward our last Brazilian stop in Parintins.
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.
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).
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.
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.
A lego model of the Teatro was on prominent display in the front corridor.
Next to the Teatro is the Palacio da Justica. The woman with the umbrella in the first picture is the orchestra’s concertmistress.
We went to see the Cathedral, officially the Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral, which was nice & not overly elaborate.
There were some nice mosaic sidewalks near the Teatro, reminiscent of Copacabana in Rio, and we passed the clock tower & many vendors’ stands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The village consists of a small church & a few small rickety looking houses built on stilts to accommodate the rise & fall of the river.
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.
This is a river village, so of course there were lots of boats on the shore.
We also saw some interesting rocks & funghi.
We were there too and not to forget, these folks live in the rainforest (lots of it).
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.
We left Boca de Valeria in early afternoon and there was a nice & calm sunset on the way to Manaus.
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).