On May 1, 2008 after many, many hours of researching and planning; getting inoculations against yellow fever, hepatitis A, and tetanus; filling prescriptions for pills to combat malaria, travelers’ diarrhea, and some other horrible disease; the purchasing of special clothing that blocks out the sun, absorbs sweat and supposedly keeps you cool in serious heat; getting special visas to travel to Brazil; stopping the delivery of newspapers and mail; getting cash; packing for two different climates; taking our dog Thelma to Martha and Jim; watering all my plants; and preparing our house for departure, we took off for the JFK airport in New York City where we parked our car at the Ramada Inn and stayed for the night. In the morning, we took a shuttle to the airport and boarded a plane to Miami. We had a 4 hour layover in Miami. So we had a nice lunch at the airport hotel. Finally, feeling very excited, we boarded the plane headed for Manaus, Brazil.
We arrived at the airport in Manaus at 12:30am on May 3.
We could feel the heat immediately after getting off the plane. It was nice since it had been cool and cloudy in New York. After partially going through customs, we found out that our luggage had not arrived with us. We were told that it would be sent to our hotel very early Sunday morning, May 4 on the once daily plane from Miami. So we had no choice but to make the best of it. We entered the main arrival hall. I went to get cash from an ATM machine, and Tony was pounced upon by people offering cab rides. The cash machine wasn’t working. Fortunately, I had exchanged a few dollars into reales at the airport in New York. I went over to Tony, and we went to order a cab from a stand where you pay a set fee in advance. And we could pay by credit card too. I had been given that hint from the Roberto, the travel agent I dealt with by phone and e-mail.
So off we went to the Tropical Hotel. It was dark and misty, but we could see a lot of green, and we passed through the town where we heard a lot of music and noise. It was Friday night/early Saturday morning.
We arrived at our hotel which was very nice. For some unknown reason, the desk clerk upgraded us to a suite. In fact, it was the suite that was recommended by Frommer if you really wanted to treat yourself. And it was fabulous with mahogany woodwork, high ceilings, spacious halls, living room, bedroom, bathroom, closets. We had little kits given to us by the airline in flight which had a teeny tube of toothpaste and a mini toothbrush. So at least we could brush our teeth. And of course, the suite was supplied with other toiletries. So it wasn’t that bad. We were just hoping that our luggage would arrive when predicted because we had to board our ship on Sunday afternoon. So we just crossed all our fingers, and went to bed. It was already pretty late, and we were very tired.
We awoke later in the morning, and put on the same clothing we had been wearing for the last 2 days. Aside from feeling a little messy, we were dressed in clothing more suitable for the cooler weather in the Northeastern US than the tropics of Brazil. But c’est la vie!
We went down to our included buffet breakfast. It was a mad house. The hotel is actually a resort, and there were many, many people, mostly Brazilians, staying there for the weekend. The noise level was incredible. We found seats and ventured over to the stations trying to figure out what to eat. We, of course, managed to find great things to eat. The fruit, starting there and throughout our stay in Brazil, was just the best ever. And after adjusting to the scene and getting our food and drink, it was great fun to watch and listen to everybody.
After breakfast, it was time to figure out how to see Manaus. We had no pre-planned tour. We went to the travel office in the hotel. We missed the morning city tour, and it didn’t look like there was going to be an afternoon one. So after talking to a desk clerk, almost nobody spoke any English or surprisingly any Spanish which I had thought would be helpful, we decided to take a taxi into the town and walk around and then take a taxi back to the hotel. We went outside finally, and walked around the grounds of the hotel. Before we got the taxi, we went inside the newer addition to the hotel, a tall tower. Tony had to go to the bathroom, and I walked around the lobby. I walked into a travel office, and started talking to a man and woman who spoke English. Well, after Tony joined us, we made a deal with the man whose name was Isaac. We would pay for the cab rides to and from the hotel which had set fees. He would go along with us, and take us around the city for 2 hours or so for a nominal fee. And that’s what we did.
[Manaus is a city of 2 million people on the edge of the jungle. It is also the hub of the Brazilian State Of Amazonas, the largest Brazilian State. Manaus is on the Rio Negro which is a tributary of the Amazon. It’s there where most of the ships set off for tours as well as commerce and regular river travel to get from place to place along the Amazon. It was first settled in 1600’s. In the late 1800’s, Manaus was the sole supplier of rubber in the world. The boom lasted 30 years, and Manaus became very rich. Many of Manaus’ nicest buildings were built during that time including the famous opera house, the Teatro Amazonas. The boom ended some years after some Brit stole 7000 Amazon rubber seeds and planted them in plantations in Malaysia.
Another boom came in 1966 when Manaus was declared a free trade zone. Many electronic companies set up businesses there. That mini-boom lasted until the 1990’s. Now, the city’s biggest employer is the Brazilian army which has training schools and other facilities there. And tourism has also expanded.
So off we went into the Centro. It looked pretty shabby on the way in and even in the city. We left the cab, and Isaac took us on a walking tour of the downtown. It was very crowded since it was a Saturday. People were everywhere, and it was pretty hot. I had been told that we had to be careful of thieves, etc. And since, I’m the one who holds the passports, tickets, and most of the money, I was holding my purse, (a very nice small one but with many compartments lent to me by my friend Sally), very close to my body. I felt somewhat safer being with Isaac, especially since Tony was only sort of nearby taking pictures as usual. We walked pretty fast stopping here and there to have buildings pointed out to us by Isaac. We stopped at the harbour and sat for a while in the shade and had something to drink. We then walked to the opera house and went inside for a tour. Isaac took us because the tour ready to go at the time was in Portuguese. It is truly a magnificent building and especially considering where it is. He gave us a very detailed and informative tour. There’s a model of the building displayed which happens to be made of lego pieces which I thought was pretty neat. After the tour, we found a taxi, and went back to the hotel dropping Isaac off at a mall where he could catch a bus home. We rested a while and then freshened up as best as we could and had dinner in the hotel. Another buffet. It was a very big room and also busy and noisy like the breakfast dining rooms.
After dinner, we went outside and sat on the patio where a group was playing music and people were dancing. It was a nice, warm night and very pleasant sitting there.
Off to bed to try and sleep with the anticipation of being awakened by phone with the notice of the arrival of our much wanted and needed stuff. We were told it would arrive between 2 and 3 am. Of course, we woke up near that time, and heard nothing. Tony went down to the desk, and bugged them. The same woman from the night before was somewhat reassuring. At about 5am, the phone finally rang. Tony had stayed in the living room awaiting the call. He went downstairs, and happily retrieved our luggage. Yeah!
We slept a little more before showering and finally putting on some clean clothing before going down to another buffet breakfast. We were already pros at getting a good table and getting all the right stuff.
To be continued.
Brazil, Part 2
So it’s Sunday morning, May 4, and we’re very happy that we have our stuff. I was feeling really good in fresh and clean clothing. I forgot to mention that the day before with the help of a hotel employee we finally were able to work one of the ATM machines and get money. That never happened before. I’m usually able to work them. It may have been my card. They used Tony’s which doesn’t get used as much. Who knows? But all was cool. We had money!
After breakfast, we walked around the grounds of the hotel. They have a small zoo which is made up of birds and animals that live in the rain forest. It was pretty muddy, but I guess it was an initiation into what was in store for us.
Afterwards, we packed up and went downstairs to the lobby where we were going to sit and wait for a little until it was time to go to the ship. I walked outside and went into the stores that were lined up around the front of the hotel like a mall. I bought a postcard. It was pretty hot outside, and so I went back inside the hotel and sat with Tony. We struck up a conversation with an Australian couple who had just come back from a boat trip on the Amazon. It was fun trading travel stories. Soon enough it was time to go. One funny thing about the cabs in Manaus,it seemed that wherever you were going, the fare was always the same, 49 reales which would be rounded off to 50.
So we got a cab and off we were to the harbor. As soon as we got out of the cab, we were immediately greeted by a couple of men. At first we thought we were being hustled. But we soon realized they were from the Iberostar Grand Amazon, our ship. One man took our luggage and put it in a cart which he proceeded to push. The other man, Andre took our names and told us to follow. And so we did. Before we knew it, we came upon the ship. We boarded and were greeted by the tour director Augusto and a drink, and pushed to the reception desk where we checked in. It was all kind of dizzying at first. Augusto then informed us that we were all going to be like a family on the ship. I thought that’s nice, but soon learned what he actually meant. The ship has 75 cabins, but only 6 were going to be inhabited. Translated that means that in a ship that can hold 150 passengers, there were only going to be 12 of us for this tour.
We were flabbergasted as you can imagine. He said that for the next trip there would be 130 passengers. We were just lucky! I had read in Frommer’s that this would be a once in a lifetime experience. We hoped so.
We were then taken to our cabin. On the way, we admired the beauty of the ship and all of its appointments. This ship was made in Manaus and designed especially for the Amazon River. It had its maiden voyage in 2005. It has 5 decks, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th are for the cabins and the upper deck has a swimming pool and hot tub, lounge chairs, and a large covered sitting area with a bar and any kind of drink or food available for the asking. An enclosed restaurant where the main meals are served is on the first deck, and a meeting room/disco with bar is on the 2nd deck. There are a fitness center, library, gift shop and medical room. A beautiful wood staircase was in the center of the ship.
The cabin was incredible. Very spacious. King-sized bed. Lots of closet and drawer space. Large bathroom. Beautiful wood and tile. A mini-bar filled with complimentary drinks and snacks. All food and drinks, alcoholic as well as non, were included in the cost of the trip. Each cabin has a safe. So since there was no charge for anything, we kept all of our money and important stuff in the safe. The only thing we ever took with us the whole trip was our room key. Every cabin has a balcony with chairs and a small table.
So I quickly unpacked. And off we went up to the upper deck where we immediately ordered champagne. We looked around and admired the view. Since we were so near the equator, the sun always sets about the same time, around 6pm.
We started to see a few stragglers appear. Before we knew it, all of the other passengers arrived. So there was a married couple Tutti and Alberto in their early seventies who are from Sao Paulo, Brazil. There was a young engaged couple Matthew and Diaish (?) in their early thirties. He is British and she is Brazilian, and they live in Rio. She writes for a travel magazine and was invited on the trip gratis. He had to pay. Then there were two British couples from the Midlands of England. They were a brother and sister (John and Jane), and their respective spouses (Fiona and Clive). In fact we celebrated Clive’s 50th birthday on the trip. And there was a German couple in their 50’s, I guess. Verena and Otto were from Stuttgar. At dinner that first night, Tony asked them how they found out about the Iberostar. Verena is the Tour Director Augusto’s sister. And then there were Tony and I. For the most part, English was the main language spoken since everyone there knew it.
We soon met in the disco and met the captain and the staff. We were given all kinds of information. We were supposed to sign up for the next days expeditions. Since there were only 12 of us, we could all fit on one small boat. We all decided to go trekking through the rain forest the next morning.
At 8pm, we all met in the restaurant. We occupied 2 round tables, 6 of us at each table. A fabulous buffet was served. We also could order dinner from a menu. So needless to say, food was in abundance.
We eventually went to bed to rest up for the next day’s early morning excursion.
Brazil, Part 3
I woke up very early on Monday, May 5. Since I had had enough to eat and drink the night before, I decided to go up to the upper deck and just have coffee. I put on my trekking gear, long sun blocking pants, long-sleeved sun blocking shirt and hat. And off I went. Tony was going to come up in a little while. I was the only one up there along with the bartender/waiter. I took a cup of coffee and sat down to look at the scenery. We had arrived at the Jaraqui stream region. Soon Tony joined me attired like me. Then John, of the British group joined us, and we had a nice conversation. He and his brother-in-law Clive looked a little scary, think Clockwork Orange, short haircut, tattoos all over. Rugby players as we found out. But in spite of their looks, they were very nice and fun men. We went back to our room for last minute preparations before joining the others at 8am.
All gathered together, we put on our life jackets and boarded a small tender boat. Marco was our nature guide, and Amerigo was our driver. Amerigo was our driver for all of our small boat rides through the tributaries. Every time I saw him, he would smile and give me the thumbs up sign. He was a very pleasant guy and amazingly capable at navigating and finding his way through very narrow passages, even in the dark. But that’s later. Marco was also amazing. He’s from Peru and speaks several languages. He spoke mostly in English but sometimes clarifying in Portuguese for the Brazilian passengers when necessary. He is extremely knowledgeable about the Amazon. Along the way, we picked up Antonio, an indigenous native of the rain forest. His family has lived there for ages, and he acts as a ranger for this particular area. And since he “owns” all the land in that area, he often joins the expeditions sometimes demonstrating various ways to survive in the jungle.
The Amazon has 2 seasons, rainy and dry. Hot and hot. May is the end of the rainy season, and so the water was very high. Antonio’s house was on stilts. A very pretty flowering tree that was in front of his house was partially submerged in the water. So after picking up Antonio, we sailed off to another part of the jungle. We anchored and got off the boat. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to trek through the Amazon rain forest. As my childhood friend Shelly said, from Strawberry Mansion, a used-to-be Jewish ghetto, to Liddonfield, a city project, to the Amazon Rain Forest. Wow!
We walked single file along a not very distinct path stopping and looking and listening. We were warned to look where we were putting our hands and where we were stepping. Some trees have thorns that can not only hurt but are poisonous. And the so-called path was covered with who knows what. We saw some impressive insects, most notably perhaps, the cacicus or Goliath Beetle.
The jungle consists of shorter trees and secondary vegetation while the rain forest has taller trees and primary vegetation. It is so crowded in the jungle/rain forest that there is no room for really large animals. Animals like giraffes or elephants would get hurt in the crowded rain forest. They only survive in savannahs. Most of the animals are nocturnal. So we didn’t really see a whole lot of animals during our trek.
The vegetation is overwhelming. We were told that scientists have categorized 480 shades of green. There is a lot of humus which is formed by the flooding and receding of the waters. All in all, we saw snakes, many birds like the kingfisher, eagle, black vulture, woodpecker, white heron, macaw, toucan, parrot. We saw squirrels, squirrel monkeys, bats, termite nests on trees, ant nests on trees,(and termite mounds). Marco banged a tree that had an ant nest and zillions of ants started crawling up and down the tree. Antonio showed us how to make a shelter out of palm leaves. He showed us how to get milk from the roots of a tree that can be drunk. Native women can feed their babies with this milk if their breast milk dries up. Different juices from berries are used for medicinal purposes. We saw some flowers like the birds of paradise growing in the wild. Most of the flowers are brightly colored so as to attract birds. The tambaqui fish and others eat fruits and nuts from trees when the forest is flooded. The seeds are eventually excreted, and about 50% are germinated. The fish eat enough to store during the dry season when they can’t eat the fruit and nuts from the trees.
We walked for almost 2 hours through the forest coming out finally at a different point from where we started, and there was smiling Amerigo and ship waiting for us. We were hot, muddy and thirsty. There was a cache of bottled water waiting for us.
When we got back to our boat, we had to have our shoes sprayed to get rid of all the mud. We then went to a lecture, an introduction to the Amazon. After the lecture, we visited the Bridge and met the captain again. He spoke no English, and so Andre translated for us. After the visit, Tony and I put on our bathing suits and went to the pool to do hidrogymnastics. I like that term. I guess its like water aerobics. Matthew, Daiash, Alberto, Tony and I were the only participants. Andre was the instructor, and it was a lot of fun.
Afterwards, Alberto introduced us to the Brazilian drink called caiparinhia, yummy and potent. It’s made with a liqueur called cachaca, limes squashed with sugar, all mixed in with lots of ice. We got somewhat addicted to them throughout our stay in Brazil. (We were able to purchase some cachaca at a local state store, and I made some for Tony and me the other night. They were pretty good, if I say so myself.)
Since we had not eaten anything since the night before, we were pretty hungry. So we quickly changed from our wet bathing suits and off we were to lunch, another wonderful buffet. There was always a fish dish, a meat dish, some kind of potato, pasta, veggies, salads, nuts, fruits, soups, beautiful daily made breads and rolls, desserts, nuts, cheeses, and more. And of course, whatever drink desired was available and served to us. Alberto always liked an after lunch or dinner drink like amaretto, and I of course joined him.
We had a little time to rest up, and then we were off on another boat trip through the region of the Tres Bocas. It was raining, but we still went. After all, we were in the rain forest. Marco was our guide again. So it was a pretty exciting trip. We didn’t see much, but it was fun. And we were soaked. The humidity in the rain forest is almost 100%. So even with air conditioning in the cabin, it takes a long time for anything to dry. We had stuff spread out all over the room and bathroom and later out on the veranda when it wasn’t raining.
After dinner that night, we had another ship excursion to go caiman, small alligator, spotting. It was Marco again. It was very dark and sometimes raining a little. They had a light which he put on shining into the jungle where the caimans lurk. We would see eyes shining in the light, and then quietly go right to where they were. Marco would lean out of the boat and try to grab one. We were out for a long time, and Marco had no luck. He didn’t want to give up and would try and try. We saw lots of them, but they all got away. He finally gave up, and we headed back to the ship.
I must mention that the starlit skies were spectacular. It is truly so dark at night that it’s better than the planetarium. Not that night, but the next we saw the Southern Cross and the Milky Way aside from so much else. The only sky comparable that we ever saw was in Africa, in Kenya just below the equator.
Also, I haven’t mentioned why the Rio Negro has that name. It means black river, and the water is very dark and murky. The river is very slow moving, causing the collection of sediment on the bottom of the river, hence the color. There aren’t many mosquitoes in this river because of the ph factor. Unlike the rest of the Amazon, this part is very acidic which is not friendly to the breeding of mosquitoes. We found this out when there. We still felt safer taking our anti-malaria pills. And we learned later when we visited a local village that malaria was still a problem.
Brazil, Part 4
The next morning, Tuesday May 6, we went to breakfast. Since the excursions start at 8am, it was necessary to get up pretty early.
This morning was bright and sunny, and off we were for a trek through the rainforest at the Trincheira stream region. Jefferson was our guide for this outing. He is also well-informed and entertaining too. He speaks many languages.
Along the boat ride, we saw birds and other interesting sights. We finally got off the boat, and with apprehension I saw that we were going to be climbing for a while, not my forte. All I could think of was how was I going to get down. But I forced myself not to worry and put it out of my mind. If need be, they would all help me. By this time, I was feeling pretty comfortable with everyone. After a while we were no longer climbing, just walking through a crowded jungle filled with who knows what. I forget the name of the bird, but whenever a sound was made, it would echo the same sound. Pretty neat. It was just one interesting thing after another, but in a very subtle way except for the vegetation. There isn’t an overwhelming array of animals. We saw a giant beetle. We saw a dead snake. Many ants again. Termite nests. Wild looking trees and root systems. Vines galore. As it turned out, we came out at a different spot. And the descent was not too scary. Clive was in front of me and took my hand. And of course, there was Amerigo waiting for us. Needless to say, it was hot, and we were sweaty, dirty and thirsty. We continued on to Novo Airao where we were going to see pink dolphins.
We arrived at the spot where these unique fresh water pink dolphins congregate, mostly because they get fed there by tourists. This started a while ago when some people riding by on the river noticed the dolphins. The people who lived there soon started a little business. They have a little snack bar and souvenir stand. They provide small fish that you feed to the dolphins. I guess they get paid by whoever organizes the tours. Individually, we gave them nothing. This is a very, very low key operation. We were the only ones there at the time. The people, as we noticed everywhere, are pleasant and very welcoming.
The dolphins are definitely pink. They are also blind. They are smaller than most other dolphins. Nobody knows why they are pink or blind. At some point in time, they made it to the fresh water from the sea and managed to adapt.
A lot of our group had swim suits on underneath their clothing and jumped into the river. Not me. Tony did. He didn’t have a swim suit on, but that didn’t stop him. He just unzipped the bottoms of his pants and jumped in. I took pictures. I have to say it was pretty neat. But I wasn’t sorry I didn’t go in.
After that diversion, we headed back to the ship. We had another lecture. This time it was on the fish of the Amazon. More hidrogymnastics. More caiparinhias. Then another wonderful lunch. I was really getting into the eating by this time. We rested a little. I fell asleep and slept so soundly I could hardly wake myself. But I did, and we quickly got ourselves together for another boat ride.
We gathered at the usual spot for our 4pm trip. Marco was taking us out, and he talked to each of us asking if we would agree to stay out longer than the 2 hours until dark so that he could try again to find caimans. He really wanted to grab one for us to see up close and hold if we so desired. Of course, we all agreed. He also had a package of clothing that he wanted to deliver to a family living somewhere in the jungle. We brought along our rain gear as told just in case.
We went through some amazingly beautiful scenery. We kept going into more and more narrow passages. It did rain a little from time to time but not enough to really put on a poncho. We were just looking around while sitting in the ship and not moving in some very remote area when all of a sudden we saw a canoe with a young family in it. The man was rowing in the front, and the woman was sitting in the back holding their baby and holding an umbrella over them. We waved to each other as they floated by. Where did they come from and where were they going? It was such a remarkably dreamlike and peaceful sight.
Marco asked which passage we should take to get to the main part of the river. Nobody, of course, guessed right. We were on our way again, and we went to drop off the clothing for the family who lived all alone in the jungle. That was also an interesting experience. We saw a three generation family living very primitively. We just watched while Marco and the family communicated.
It was getting dark, and we headed to where we could find caimans. It was dark when we got there. It took a pretty long time, but he finally did catch one and brought it on the boat. We were sitting in the front of the boat, so Tony was the first to hold it. I took the pictures again. Other people also held the poor thing. It was small, about 2 years old according to Marco. He then threw it back into the water. Since it was so small, he wanted to try and find a bigger one. He tried and tried but was not successful. We got back to the ship eventually. On the way, we again admired the beautiful sky.
We were late for dinner, but since we were the only guests it didn’t matter much. So we cleaned ourselves up and changed into nicer clothing. And off to another great dinner. Augusto, the tour director sat with us that night.
After dinner, we went up to the meeting room/disco. We were having an Amazon quiz between the men and the women. It became very involved. We had to pick names for our teams and a cheer. Andre was the leader while Marco played any music that was needed. We laughed a lot and didn’t know very much. We also kept drinking caiparinhias. We were trying to guess musical themes to movies. Forget it. We knew nothing. And then the 2 British couples came to join us and to our rescue. They seemed to know everything. The men unfortunately won by one point, prizes were given to all of us. It was very silly, but a lot of fun.
As I mentioned before, Clive was having his 50th birthday. So after the game, we all gathered around and drank to his health, etc. We stayed up very late talking, laughing, and drinking even though we were going to have to get up really early the next morning for a 6am ship excursion.
It was too late to ask for a wake up call. So it was up to me to get up at about 5am.
To be continued.
Brazil, Part 5
It was very early Wednesday, May 7, and of course, I didn’t get much sleep, if any. When I woke up, I looked out the window and saw that it was raining. We still got dressed and went down to the meeting place at 6am. It was decided that we wouldn’t go because of all the rain. We were supposed to be seeing birds, and the rain which had gotten heavy would have kept them somewhere out of viewing. So we went back to our rooms. We eventually went to breakfast, and the rain had slowed down. Our trip to visit the indigenous community at the Cuierias River was delayed a little. At about 9am, the rain had finally stopped, and off we went.
When we arrived at the village, there was a boat docked there that was a floating grocery store. Pretty neat. When we got off our boat, we were greeted by some of the villagers including the head guy. It was some sort of holiday, and the pavillion where we gathered was decorated. They are Catholic, believe it or not, but it’s mixed up with whatever their original religion was. The chief spoke to us through Marcos who interpreted. They speak Portuguese, but also their own language which is now a written one. The chief’s son is the village teacher. While the lecture was going on, different little children came around and watched us. A young woman freely breast fed her toddler child who was crying. After learning about the tribe, the children and some adults danced for us. It was a delight to watch. Everybody was friendly and seemed really happy. For the most part, they were also a very good looking group of people.
After the ceremony, we took a tour of the village which was very, very small. They had a little church, schoolhouse, and other buildings where the inhabitants lived. There was also a clinic. Malaria is a problem as well as other diseases. Doctors and nurses visit the clinic on a regular basis. This clinic is a hub for indigenous peoples in other nearby villages as well. I found the inside of the clinic to be very hot and had to go outside. I sat on the porch and several children gathered around me smiling. I spoke to them in Spanish asking them their names and ages, and they were able to answer me. Tony took pictures of them which they liked and enjoyed looking at so instantaneously. After a while, the others came out and we went over the center of the village where little stands were set up with handicrafts that they had made and were for sale. So we all walked around and bought some of their crafts. After one of my purchases from one of the women, she put a crown made of palm leaves on my head. All in all, it was a very pleasant visit.
When we got back to our ship, we had a lecture on birds of the Amazon. Then hidrogymnastics (we practiced for dancing later in the night), more caiparinhias and eventually lunch.
A little rest. And then a boat trip. Everybody had agreed to go piranha fishing, but Tutti didn’t want to go and then I too decided against it. Another boat trip had been offered originally, and so Augusto said why not. So Marco and Amerigo got another boat ready. Tony decided to go with us too. So off we went while the others went fishing. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the boat ride was great. We slowly sailed through all kinds of beautiful places. Marco pointed out different birds and animals to us. We saw sloths at the tops of very tall trees. We finally saw toucans, so beautiful. And more. So I was very happy.
We got back to the ship before the others. Tony and I went up to the upper deck and sat and watched a beautiful sunset. We also saw the arrival of the troupe for the Folklorico Show. They were going to perform for us later that night. As Tony and I were heading back to our cabin, we saw the others arrive from their fishing expedition. They didn’t catch anything; the piranhas were too small. But they had fun anyway.
Tonight was our gala dinner with the Captain. Everybody got dressed up, sort of anyway. The captain sat with us for a while, and then at the other table. We had a special fish dish as well as the buffet. The chef made a special birthday cake for Clive, and we all had a champagne toast for him. It was very, very nice.
After dinner, we went to the show. The group, consisting mostly of very young men and women, participates in the annual Bumba-Meu-Boi festival which takes place every June in Brazil, and especially in the Amazon region. It’s a folk festival that centers around the killing of a bull who gets resurrected. Through music, elaborate costumes, and wild dancing the festival tells the story of the life and death and rebirth of a magical bull. It has evolved into a competition for the best performance. So we saw one of the winning groups. They were fantastic. Towards the end of the performance, they brought all of us in the audience up to the stage and we joined in the dancing. The music was powerful, and we all somehow danced wildly along with the group. It was great. Afterwards, we all sat around for a while. We had to get up very early again to see the Meeting of the Waters the next morning.
Brazil, Part 6
So we got up very early and were on the upper deck at 6am to see the Meeting of the Waters on our way back to Manaus. Jefferson was up there to explain to us what we were seeing. It is truly a sight to see. The dark slow waters of the Rio Negro meet the faster and muddy waters of the Rio Solimoes, both major tributaries of the Amazon. Because of differences of the velocity, temperature, and salinity of the rivers, they travel side-by-side for miles never to mix. There is vegetation in the Rio Solimoes that only stays there and never ventures into the Rio Negro. It was amazing to watch. There are day trips that are offered just to see this phenomenon when visiting Manaus. Coincidentally, a night or so before we were there, a local ferry went down late at night right about where the waters meet. Many lives were lost. The locals disdain the wearing of life jackets and the non-swimmers had no chance. Others were probably asleep. After watching and taking pictures, we went down to our last breakfast on the boat. Only 4 people were staying for the extension cruise along the Rio Solimoes.
So after breakfast, we finished packing, said our good-byes, and were on our way to the airport in Manaus.
We were at the airport early and had plenty of time for me to look around and Tony to sit and read or whatever. Tutti and Alberto were also at the airport. So Tutti and I spent some time walking around together. We were going on the same airplane. They were going home to Sao Paulo, and we were continuing on to Rio de Janiero.
It was a fairly long flight, and by the time we got to Rio, it was dark. Fortunately without incident, we arrived at the airport, got our luggage, and entered the arrival room where we went right up to a desk where we paid for a cab to take us to our hotel. We were veterans by then. We arrived at our hotel which was right on the beach in Ipanema. How cool does that sound. Who knows why, but again we were upgraded to a better room. I think they just say that automatically. But it was a nice room with a spectacular view even in the dark. We went out on the balcony and saw the ocean and some mountain that we thought was Sugarloaf. It wasn’t, but it still was pretty neat to look at. We were hungry, or at least thought we should be, and decided to eat in the hotel because it was pretty late by the time we had settled in our room.
We, especially Tony, were feeling euphoric and ordered champagne with our dinner. Dinner was delicious, and we were happy to be in Rio and ready for a new and different adventure.
Brazil, Part 7
We got up very early on Friday, May 9. We decided to go directly across the street to the beach. Tony went into the water and swam. I put only my feet in to test the temperature, and say I did. We stayed for a while, and then went back for breakfast. It was a nice buffet as usual, and included in the price of the room as usual.
After breakfast, we took a cab to the train station where we took a narrow gauge train which climbed up to the mountain top of Corcovado, 2,329 feet high where a 98 foot statue of Christ stands. The train was packed, mostly with younger people. It was a very lively ride. Along the way, I saw a blue butterfly. We saw butterflies in the Amazon but no blue ones. So here climbing up this very steep mountain, one flew by me. When we got to the top, we went on an elevator and then an escalator and even climbed steps to get to the view which was spectacular. Rio is a beautiful city. We walked around looking and taking pictures from each vantage point. It was a beautiful sunny day. It was a little cool and windy at the top. We saw it all and then went down.
We sat and talked with a young couple on the train going down. They were also staying in Ipanema, and so we shared a cab back. We got off at their hotel which gave us a nice walk back to our hotel. We decided to eat lunch at our hotel at the rooftop restaurant. Good with lots of food and very pretty views.
We then decided to walk and explore the neighborhood. Our hotel was located almost on the border of Leblon, a relatively new, upscale beach area and neighborhood. We walked on the strand along the beach for a while. Then went to shopping areas to look around. We went into an upscale mall just to see what it was like. By the time we were walking back to our hotel, it was dark. We weren’t very hungry for dinner but thought we’d eventually like to eat. We were also tired and decided not to go out to a restaurant. Instead, we stopped and got some sandwiches and champagne to bring back to our room. After all, we had that great view. Along the beach, there were a series of stands where you can purchase snacks and drinks. Tony went down to the one we could see from our room and got water and snacks just in case. The sandwiches were delicious and cheap too. Our least expensive meal.
Since we really didn’t see Rio close up, we would venture out and do that the next day.
Brazil, Part 8
It was Saturday, May 10, our last full day in Rio. We walked before breakfast. I was looking for an ATM machine. After our walk, we went back to the hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, we discussed our sightseeing options with the desk clerk at the hotel. We didn’t want to go on an organized tour because they all included what we already saw. So they found a driver who could speak some English and would take us around for a few hours to all the sights we wanted to see for a reasonable price. So that’s what we did. Our driver was very nice and competent. It seemed to me that he was probably the driver, not the guide, for a city tour group. We told him what we wanted to see, and he also added some interesting sights that we would not have thought to visit. So we got to see just about the whole beautiful city. He also took us to a soccer museum, (which is extremely popular in Brazil). They had a large mural with all the important players, in front of which people had their pictures taken, and foot prints of famous players like Pele that you can put your feet in. For any crossword puzzle fans, his name is sometimes in them. We also went to the starting point for the Carnaval. There was a shop there that had some fabulous costumes, like the ones worn for the Carnaval parades, that you can put on. I chose a Carmen Miranda outfit, and Tony put on some weird costume too. Our guide took pictures of us. It was silly, but fun. He also took us to a gigantic Catholic Church, the Catedral Metropolitana. It has standing room for 20,000 people. It was a strange shape, almost like a trapezoid and very tall.
Rio proper has a population of 7 million with 12 million in the metropolitan area. There are hillside shantytowns called favelas. It is estimated that there are about 2 million people living in them. I don’t know if they are included in the official population number. It’s supposedly a dangerous and complex world in those favelas. We never got very close to them. Our guide wouldn’t even go nearby. We could only see them from a distance. There are actually some organized tours through them. We chose not to do that. We saw the movie, City of God which supposedly is an accurate depiction of life in the favelas. I also thought in a way it would be like treating the neighborhood as a zoo.
After the tour, we wanted to be dropped off at Copacabana Beach so that we could see it up close. And we planned to walk back to our hotel from there. It was easily doable, but our guide didn’t think it would be safe, even in the daytime. We thought otherwise. He said if Tony put his camera away, maybe it would be okay. He reluctantly dropped us off near the Marriott Hotel where we used the facilities. We walked along the beach for a while and then saw a nice spot to have a caiparinhia. It was great. There we were in Copacabana having drinks and taking in the fantastic atmosphere. We watched people playing some wild volley ball. They not only use their hands but use their feet and heads too. We saw others playing only with feet, chests, heads, and anything but their hands, playing very well. There were also vendors trying to sell us hammocks and nuts. But they were easily turned away.
Unfortunately, it soon started to rain. So there went our opportunity to walk back which probably made Tony happy. So we hailed a taxi and went back to our hotel. It eventually stopped, and we went out again and took a walk. I had post cards for our grandchildren I wanted to mail but needed stamps. I waited too long to be able to buy them at a post office. And our hotel didn’t have any. So we walked for a while and found a bigger hotel where I was able to buy stamps. The desk clerk promised that he would send them out on Monday, the next mail pickup and delivery day. And I’m happy to report he was true to his word. They all got their post cards.
We walked some more, and then went back to our hotel for cocktails in our room. We dressed up, sort of, and walked to a restaurant recommended by the hotel where we ate outside. It was nice, and fun to watch all the people. It was apparently a popular place to eat, but the food wasn’t that much more enjoyable than the sandwiches in our room the night before.
Brazil, Part 9
So this was our last day in Brazil, Sunday May 11 and Mothers’ Day which happens to be a biggie in Brazil, believe it or not. We got approval for a late checkout since we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 4:30pm or so.
On Sundays, the beach street that we could see of course from our balcony is closed off to all motor traffic. So we saw a nonstop stream of people walking, running, bicycling, and whatever. After breakfast, we joined the parade and took a nice walk to a flea market called the Feira Hippie Ipanema. It’s open every Sunday rain or shine. It takes place on a square that was a hangout for hippies in Rio during the 60’s. It was full of all kinds of stuff and people. We spent a couple of hours, at least, walking and looking. Tony even ate an ear of corn. We bought a hammock from a nice older couple. Their price was a little higher than the man at Copacabana, but I bargained them down a little making it somewhat comparable. And I liked buying it from them anyway. Even though there was so much to buy, I found it overwhelming and didn’t buy much which I later regretted, a little. On the way out, a man spotted us and came over to tell us in English not to miss it. We told him we didn’t.
We went back to the hotel and finished packing. We eventually stored our luggage in the hotel and went outside to sit along the beach for a while to watch the parade. It had rained some in the morning, but it turned out to be a very pretty day. We still had time to have one last meal in Brazil. So we went walking and looking for a restaurant. We had passed many during our previous walks. As I said before, Mothers’ Day is celebrated there so a lot of the restaurants were pretty crowded. But we found one that we had spotted before and thought might be good. So that’s where we ate. And I even got a pretty rose from the owner as we left.
We returned to the hotel and picked up our luggage from storage. We stuffed our suitcases into a very small taxi. There’s a set fee for the ride to the airport. The driver asked if we minded listening to classical music on the radio. Since it was still light out, we could see what we had missed the night of our arrival into Rio. I gave the driver my rose for his wife or whomever. He acted delighted. And that was it!
A brief flight from Rio to Sao Paulo which was a madhouse. A short wait for our flight from Sao Paulo to NYC, and we were on our way. Tony had the misfortune of having a woman in front of him who kept her seat back all the time even when we were eating. So he complained to the stewardess, and he got another seat. It was a very long flight, 9 hours. So that was good.
When we got to JFK at 7am, we glided through the luggage retrieval and customs. Tony called for the hotel shuttle. The weather was shockingly cold and rainy. We were dressed for warm and sunny weather. We took out our rain coats and waited. The shuttle finally came, and our car was waiting for us at the hotel. After refreshing ourselves, we were heading for home. Midway, we stopped at the Starlight Diner and had lunch. I tried to resist but succumbed to another buffet.
When we got home, I thought I was again in a jungle. Apparently it had rained a lot, and everything looked so green and lush. We were very happy to be home, safe and sound.
Some pictures to follow.