Captain Gennaro Arma on the Sea Princess

Our fearless leader of the Sea Princess, Captain Gennaro Arma, gives us a noon day announcement with the ship’s position, a bit of weather, and usually a bit of nautical trivia or sometimes a joke.  He’s probably the most informative and interesting captain I have ever sailed with.

Unfortunately, we all knew we were losing him in Rio… however, a couple of days before Rio, he came over the public address system and told us that his replacement, Captain Paolo Ravera, was detained and we were going to have to put up with him a bit longer.  You should have heard the cheers in the dining room!  I’ve never seen anything like it – everyone was pleased to be keeping him, even for just a little while longer.

We have all come to love his noon announcements, and his easy and open style of telling us about any issues that are coming up that may affect our itinerary… he talks more than any Captain, ever.  Click ‘play’ to hear one of his noon announcements, no trivia this time, but a run down of the ships stores usage.


We have since learned we will get to keep him until Barbados, and while I am sure he is keen to get home to see his family, we’d love to keep him until we get back to Sydney!  He’s absolutely the best… and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a very handsome man with a fabulous accent.  😉

UPDATE:
We had a ‘Meet the Captain’ interview with Captain Gennaro Arma this afternoon.  It was something organised by Jen, the Cruise Director in the Vista Lounge, and they were overwhelmed at the turn out – I have only ever seen the Vista Lounge that packed when they have a muster drill!  He was met with a rousing round of applause and the interview was good fun – people had written in questions for the Captain, ‘where was he from, how long has he been in command, what is his background, how did he train to become a captain, what do you miss about home, what’s your favourite/least favourite ports?’ etc. And he answered all the questions candidly and in good cheer.  His favourite part of his job is navigating the ship into new ports – he enjoys the challenge.  He claims the most nerve wracking part of his job is the one part of the role that all his naval studies didn’t prepare him for – public speaking.  Though I must say he is very, very good at it; very charming and he has a great sense of humour.

There have been so many people sending their regards, thanks and well wishes through to the Captain via the Wake Show that something very unusual and potentially unprecedented (in my cruise experiences anyway) has occurred – the passengers have been writing their words of admiration and gratitude into a journal that is going to be given to the Captain as a keepsake of this cruise when he disembarks in Barbados.  When he was told about it, he was completely blown away.  This is only his second command and he has been overwhelmed by the warm reception he has had from the guests… so, I guess he’s onto something with his laid back and candid style of making sure the passengers feel informed.

After eighteen cruises, I think Captain Arma is the best Captain I have sailed with, and I look forward to sailing with him again.  In fact, if I was doing another lap around NZ or the Sth Pacific Islands, I would seriously consider choosing the itinerary and sale date based on his being at the helm.  He’s just that good.

Sao Salvador de Bahia de Todos os Santos

Sao Salvador de Bahia de Todos os Santos… (or just, Salvador), is the sprawling capital city of the Brazilian state of Bahia. (Did you know that Rio de Janeiro is the capital city of Rio de Janeiro state? I didn’t.  It’s just like New York, New York thing.  Ship trivia is good for something, I guess.)   Salvador is one of the oldest in the Americas and was one of the first properly planned cities, as in… they actually thought about it before they started significant building.  The city is constructed over fairly rugged, defensible terrain  and it is built on two levels – forming the Cidade Alta (Upper City), which consists of the old Historical District, and the Cidade Baixa (Lower City), which is comprised of long avenues that border the coastline of the Baia de Todos os Santos – Bay of All Saints. 

Our ship was arriving late (due to one diesel generator being out and a struggle against strong currents), and we thought we were going to miss our tour group.  It turns out I have no idea what I am doing because I had booked a private tour apparently, and I completely hadn’t noticed.  So our guide, Ronaldo, was waiting for us when the ship did finally come in.  

Anyway, Salvador was established in 1549 as a Portuguese colony by King Dom Joao III, and the area owes much of its early prosperity to extensive sugar cane plantations.  The first governor, Tome de Sousa landed on the beach of Porto da Parra with a fleet of over 1000 people, including labourers, six hundred military, a doctor and Jesuit priests.  While the fleet contained a strong military presence to subdue the indigenous Tupinambas indian people, they brought very few women with them, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this eventually resulted in a demand to the King of Portugal to send brides! Which in due course they did… When the second governor arrived in 1553, he brought more Jesuits and dozens of orphans to be wives for the settlers.  O.o 

Over five millions slaves were transported from Africa (mostly Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Ghana), to Brazil through up until the 19thC to provide labor for the sugar cane plantations, (Brazil was the last country to outlaw slavery in 1888), and the Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage here is a unique blend of African, Portuguese and Spanish. Over 80% of the population consider themselves African/black, and Salvador has the largest number of African descendants in the world (followed by New York).  This influence is particularly evident in the art, music, food and religion… The religion thing is interesting – there are 365 churches in Salvador, most of them are Jesuit/Catholic, but the people are also ‘Candomble’, which means that they are predominantly Christian, but they have animistic traditions that blend to form rituals that involve direct communication with the spirit world. They have gods of water, fire, health, medicine, agriculture, all sorts, and I am not sure how that gels with the God (capital G) of mainstream Christianity, but they are a very spiritual people.

Salvador is mostly known for its colonial architecture (which feels predominantly 16th – 19th C European), its food, and its music, (which is a hedonic blend of Spanish, Portuguese and African), and its Carnivale! Salvador’s Carnivale is, according the the Guiness Book of Records, the ‘world’s largest street party’ and rivals Rio de Janeiro for numbers every year – this year they expect 2 million attendees, in a city of 3 million people. According to Ronaldo, Rio is where tourists go for Carnivale, Salvador is where Brazilians go for Carnivale.  And wouldn’t you know it – we are here right at the beginning of Carnivale, shame we won’t be here overnight!

We started our sojourn taking a drive around the Lower City along the coastline, towards the Fort; where on one side of the bay we could see the neglected, but once highly affluent areas of the Lower City, juxtaposed quite sharply with the favela neighbourhoods just across the harbour.  Salvador has one of the highest concentrations of favelas in Brazil as a result of social inequality, unemployment, violence, lack of street lighting, and disorderly urban growth. While we were walking along the marina, beside us were very beautiful, but dilapidated, colonial architecture homes which are in stark contrast to the sprawling favelas we could see climbing the hills just across the bay.

As we were walking past, the most unusual scene unfolded in front of us… a domestic squabble the likes of which I haven’t heard since DYC and FFH lived next door. An older woman was rounding on a younger woman like a person possessed: screaming, yelling, pushing her about.  I said to Ronaldo, ‘Oh no. I think one of them slept with the other one’s husband.’  He said to me very surprised, ‘You speak Portuguese?’.  To which I replied, ‘No, but what else would set women to screaming at each other like that in the street?’  He said that I was right, the younger woman had slept with the older woman’s husband.  *shrug*  People are people the world over. 

Then we head off to see the famous Igreja do Senhor do Bonfim – the Church of our Lord of Bonfim, which is a Catholic church located on the Sacred Hill on the Itapagipe peninsula. The church is considered a Catholic temple, and for the people of Bahia it is the greatest centre of the Catholic faith, right up there with St Peter’s in Rome.  The church was built in the 1750s in a typical neoclassical style with a rococo facade; having usual two colonial bell towers on either side of the frontage.  The church stands prominently on the hill and it is easy to see why it became one of Salvador’s most famous churches, just by its dramatic location alone.  

People flock to the Church of Bonfim to tie printed coloured ribbons the fences and gates of the Church and you tie the ribbon, you make three wishes… traditionally for health and/or prosperity etc,. They believe when the ribbon falls off the fence, your wishes will come true.  It is also not unusual to see people wearing Bonfim ribbons, carrying their wishes around with them, waiting for them to fall off. 17thC Portuguese ceramic tiles…
The sacristy, Water font used as part of cleansing and washing rituals… My ‘wishes’ – the yellow one in the middle.

After this we made our way to the Bahia’s oldest fort, the Santo Antonio Fort built in 1598, right along the Barra waterfront with amazing views down to Bon Voyage Beach. Nearby was a coconut vendor and we were able to stop and have a refreshing drink… did I mention it was in the high 30s and about 85% humidity today?  You’d think, being from Brisbane, that we wouldn’t be too bothered by heat and humidity, but when you’e out and about, and trying to see everything in a short period of time, it’s just draining.

Bon Voyage Beach…

Markets on the drive through the Lower City:

Following our stop at the Fort, we made our way back through the Lower City to the Elevator Lacerda, which is one of the world’s first urban elevators.  It was opened in 1873 and when it opened it was the highest elevator in the world at 63m (272 feet).  It connects the Prace Cairu in the Lower City with the Praca Tome de Sousa in the Upper City and carries approximately 900 thousand people every month!  The trip in the elevator usually costs 15c of Real (about 5c USD), but for the Carnivale, the elevator is free.

At the top of the Elevador Lacerda, is the iconic Pelourinho district which is the heart of the historical centre of Salvador, with its beautifully preserved colonial architecture and winding cobblestone streets.  The Largo Pelourinho is where much of the city’s slave trading occurred and the steep cobbled square is also where public floggings are reported to have been played out: the word ‘pelouinho’ apparently means, ‘whipping post’ (which is both fascinating and disturbing).  Much of the Pelourinho district has been declared as World Heritage by UNESCO.  Actually, a great deal of South America seems to be heritage listed; makes me wonder is there a single man made thing in Australia that has made the UNESCO World Heritage list? Probably not.

Rio Branco Palace in the Tome de Sousa Square is at the top of the Elevator Lacerda and was the first government building started by the first governor general, Tome de Sousa, in the mid 1500s. It was originally built in a Renaissance style, but has been rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries to be more neoclassical/French style.  The building served as the City Hall and seat of government, but also as a barracks and prison. In 1912 the palace was bombed by the republican reformists, so it has been totally rebuilt anyway.  Today, you can’t get a decent photo of the building, as the Tome de Sousa Square is covered in bright coloured ribbons for Carnivale.  

Terreiro de Jesus is the main square beside the largest cathedral in the Upper City.  The square is currently all decked out for Carnivale and that means, the Cathedral is boarded up for its own protection.  We were unable to enter the Cathedral, but it was interesting to see all the locals making their preparations for Carnivale – food and drink stalls all in the streets, decorations everywhere and a party atmosphere.

From here we wandered into the winding, cobblestoned streets looking at the shops, the decorations, the beautiful colonial buildings and indulging in some people watching. It was fun to just listen to people chatter excitedly (even though I couldn’t understand a word!), and hear/feel the music emanating from every building and all the speakers on the street.  There was a strong police presence everywhere from about four different branches – the army, the police, the civic police, and the volunteer police!  So security felt tight, but I’m not so sure this place was very safe.  With Salvador attracting tens of thousands of visitors every day, there was no doubt pickpockets and muggers not far behind them. 

Notice about sexual harassment that was given to tourists on a handy fan. Locals getting ready for the influx of people for Carnivale.  Winding cobblestone streets.

The Ghandi group selling souvenirs (no idea what Ghandi has to do with a street Carnivale in Brazil, only from what I can ascertain, any group of people can get together over a common interest and create a troupe to dance and parade together – and these guys like Ghandi’s message of peace and love).

We stopped for some lunch at a restaurant called Uaua restaurant (pronounced ‘oo-wah oo-wah’) for a simple bite to eat.  We had some cheese balls with mango, and a beef or chicken dish with carrots and chokko.  I haven’t had chokko for about 20 years, my grandparents had a chokko vine at their house in Toowoomba and I don’t remember liking it very much, but this was quite pleasant.  We also decided to try the un-pronouncable, ‘caipirinha’ ( [kajpiˈɾĩj̃ɐ]), which is a national cocktail made of cachaca, lime, and sugar syrup, served on ice.  Even though it was quite strong, it was very refreshing.


After lunch, we wandered the streets a little more enjoying the atmosphere, back up the cobbled streets past more Carnivale preparations towards the Sao Francisco Church.

On the way we stopped and tried some fresh coconut milk with lime juice – it’s delicious, and thanks to this sign, I had ‘put the lime in the coconut and mix it all up’ going through my head for the rest of the afternoon!
A shop owner dressed as a rich Bahia woman for the Carnivale… white was for wealthy people, and colours for working class people.

On the way to the Sao Francisco Church, we encountered some locals kicking off the Carnivale for the evening.  They were brightly dressed in orange tops and rainbow coloured skirts, dancing in the street with the sound of African drums reverberating through the buildings.  Their faces painted in bright coloured make up with lots of glitter, the people were all ready for tonight’s party.  

I also saw these gorgeous little girls dressed up to participate, but they were drawing so much attention that they were too shy to dance.  🙂  I was very gratified to see them wearing hearing protection if they were going to be surrounded by these drums for hours.

The Sao Francisco Church was built by affluent sugar traders in 1723, it is known as one of Brazil’s most impressive churches due to its majestic sandstone facade, and lavish gold baroque decorative interior.  Lavish being one of the understatements of the year at this point.  We entered the foyer and were immediately greeted with some very fine frescoes and paintings in enormous timber frames.  Through from there, was a large cloistered courtyard surrounded by more of the beautiful 18th century painted Portuguese tiles that we saw at Bonfim.  It was odd to see such a familiar style of architecture that you can see in monasteries all over Europe, that has been appropriated and given over to a Portuguese style of decorative art. It was unusual and very interesting.

Then, we stepped inside the church itself… it is hard to look at these lavish and obviously very rich churches and stop yourself from wondering how much did all this cost, and how any people were starving at the time it was built? It is most certainly a stunningly beautiful spectacle, and an amazing combination of artistic skill and expression, but at the moment, it is falling into disrepair.

The frescoes in the lobby are in need of restoration, they are showing signs of extended exposure to light and humidity; the tiles in the courtyard are showing signs of deterioration and in bad need of renovation before they fall from the walls and become unrecoverable; all the ornate gilt timberwork in the church is covered in a layer of dust, which attracts moisture and then causes the gold work to tarnish.  

 This place is a treasure and is a hugely important part of the region’s history, but it needs an enormous injection of cash and a lot of work to keep it for future generations. But at the same time, how can modern Brazil justify that sort of expense, when right outside this historic district are areas of abject poverty?  It’s a conundrum; the modest entry fee and the occasional fundraiser are not going to be sufficient to save this place from the damage caused by time.  It is beautiful but also somewhat sad.

Back out on the streets and preparations for Carnivale were still ongoing.  More street hawkers were appearing, and more tourists/participants were showing up with their party shoes on and dressed in costumes.


I don’t know what this guy is supposed to be – but I bet he had a ball being it!
It was already about 4pm by this time, and we wanted to head back to the ship by 5pm, so we made our way back to the elevator to go back to the Lower City to have a look around the Mercado Modelo; a large undercover handicraft market.  It is always very interesting to see the different crafts that people make in different parts of the world – here there are lots of typical souvenirs (magnets, mugs, shot glasses, t-shirts), but also lots of handmade crocheted table runners, ceramic dolls, beaded necklaces made from coconut shell, brightly coloured clothing, musical instruments and local pickled chilis.  Markets like these are always a feast for the eyes and potentially an assault on the nose… but this market was so hot and stuffy, I thought Aunty Mary was going to faint on me, so we weren’t there very long.

All up we had a fabulous, but exhausting day, in Salvador.  Like most places you visit from the ship, you barely have time to get a taste of the city, and it leaves you with a desire to come back and explore more of the place.  While the Carnivale atmosphere is fun, I think I would like to come back when it wasn’t full of chaotic energy and you could poke around the back streets more easily.

I jumped off a cliff in Rio de Janeiro

As many people who have read this blog for long or who have had the (mis)fortune to read my back catalogue – you will already know that I have a chronic neuropathic pain problem that stems from four nasty motor vehicle accidents.  As such, when faced with an opportunity to do something cool – like go white water rafting in Austria, or go jet boating in Queenstown, or go paddle boating in Alaska, or go parasailing in Oludeniz – I have always found myself saying, err ‘no, I better not’.  🙁  Not because I don’t want to go, but rather because when travelling by land, I just can’t afford to send my pain levels through the roof when I have things I need to do the following day – like flying for 8 hours, or a bus trip across the country or a museum visit planned.  Well, guess what?  Tomorrow is a sea day, and unusually I have what chronic pain people tend to refer to as, ‘recovery time’… which has led to me throwing caution to the wind – literally!  Which never, ever happens.

Remember this picture from yesterday?  Can you see that little white dot up towards the top of the mountain on the right hand side of the valley?  Well, today, we decided to go up there… and jump!
When we were at Pepino Pahia yesterday, we saw a handful of hang gliders and paragliders flying around in the air, and were thinking, ‘What a fantastic view they must have from up there.’  So, we decided to book and go ourselves.
This picture is Aunty Mary flying off towards Leblon in a hang glider!

The guys getting the paragliding ready…
Optimistic I hope… Okay.  The trepidation bit sets in!  Eek! And then we were running off a cliff and into the air!  The pilot said he was going towards the mountain to try and ride the thermals up from the heat rising off the rocks, and jeebus – we must have gone up about 100m higher than the launch point, which was already 540m above the beach.   It was just beautiful.  I loved it!  The views were unparalleled, and I loved it when the pilot spun the ‘chute around; it is like a rollercoaster without all the jerkiness and with a way better view. We went so close to the mountain, you could see our shadow and it looked nearly life size.  Oi!  I swear we were barely 20m away from the rock at some points…
Then it was smooth sailing down to the beach for a soft landing in a grass park nearby.
I had such a great time, I have every intention of going white water rafting, sky diving, bungee jumping, jet boating and all good things.  All the things that I have always said ‘no’ to.  🙂

I’ve been grinning all day.  This is the full video from the shoulder cam:

I heart Rio de Janeiro!

Got to Rio de Janeiro bright and early this morning and sailed in through the most beautiful harbour.  out my cabin window was the famous Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches, and behind the pristine white buildings rose the famous Corcovado Mountain and its Christ the Redeemer statue.

Talk about spectacular.  Easily as impressive as sailing into Manhattan or Sydney Harbour with their familiar skylines and recognisable landmarks.  We met out guide, Letitia, (Lettie) at the port and like half the tourists in the city I think, we hightailed it straight to the Corcovado Mountain to try and beat the crowds.  I was in the front seat of our vehicle, seated beside the guide, and was equal parts impressed and alarmed at her ability to navigate Rio’s chaotic traffic at speed!  It was quite a ride – being a known trafficphobe, (and somewhat of a control freak), I surrendered the front seat for the rest of the day so I didn’t have to watch!  🙂 

Corcovado Mountain is Rio’s highest peak at 700m (2,300 ft), and is nestled in the Tijuca Forest National Park, overlooking the city.  Built between 1922 and 1931, the Christ the Redeemer status is probably Rio’s most famous landmark – it stands 30m tall (not including the 8m pedestal), and its arms stretch 28m wide.  It is made of 650 tonnes of concrete and soapstone, and is now listed as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ (along with Chichen Itza, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Petra, the Taj Mahal and the Colosseum).

The design, construction and restoration of the statue would take me an hour to relay here, but one of the things I found very interesting about it, was the fact that it is covered in lighting rods.  Most people think the statue was of course built to recognise Brazil’s Christian culture, but it serves the dual purpose of also protecting the city from the regular tropical thunderstorms experienced in the area.

The views over the city from the top of Corcovado are simply stunning – in one direction the beach of Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon and Pepino; in the other the Downtown area, Lapa, and Santa Teresa districts with wide sprawling favelas hanging onto the mountains in between. 

By the time we headed back down from visiting the Christ statue, the shuttles were packed, the lines to get in were as far as you could see and the tourists were cheek to jowl.  Any frequent traveller knows that particular felicity that comes with ‘good timing’ and we had just managed to make our stop before things really got crowded up there. 

After this we went for a drive through Tijuca National Park, which is a mountainous HAND PLANTED rainforest that almost surrounds the city of Rio.  It is one of the worlds most extensive urban forests and covers approximately 8,000 acres.  We noticed the vast quantities of jackfruit trees – apparently they are an introduced species but are now considered protected, so they are everywhere.

We made a stop at the Chinese House lookout – which couldn’t be more out of place if it tried!  Just a bizarre little Asian style pagoda thing on the edge of a cliff.  Very unusual, but again, more fantastic views over the beaches and the city.  

From here, we made out way down to Pepino Pahia (Cucumber Beach?!) and finally saw the beautiful white sands of Rio’s beaches.  Absolutely gorgeous.  On our way down from the rainforest we saw a handful of hangliders and paraglider floating on the wind and were envious of what must have been their amazing view.  You could see up on mountain where they had come from some 540m up!

From Pepino Pahia, we made our way around the winding coastline to the world renown, Ipanema Beach!  Just beautiful.  Generally I am about as white as they come and don’t really do the beach-thing much as it tends to come with connotations of sun cancer, tonnes of sticky sunscreen and sand in uncomfortable places – but these beaches looked so inviting.  

A little further down the road and we came to Rio’s most famous beach – Copacabana.  Thank Peter Allen.  You’ve been in my head all day long!  ‘Today I Learned’… involuntary word association is a particularly difficult thing to overcome!  

There were many curiosities to be seen here that evidenced how differently people here use their beaches compared to back home.  For a start, I noticed that there was no one laying on a beach towel on the sand.  They either had brought their own chairs to sit on, or had rented one from the myriad of cheap and cheerful kiosks that dotted the sand.  There were quite a few semi-permanent sand sculptures along the Avenue, that people apparently lovingly maintain every day. 

One feature of these Rio beaches that i thought was a brilliant idea, were the wet sand paths that went down to the water.  They have porous hoses running down the beaches that sprinkle water on the hot sand – this creates a path that you can walk down without burning your feet!  Every Aussie can appreciate the ingenuity of this idea… who hasn’t done that ‘OMG I left my thongs behind!’, dance across hot sand? The water appears to be subterranean and the paths are very effective and well used.  Very cunning.

Our next stop was a beach called, Red Beach – because the sand here is not as white as the other beaches… mind you it would happily pass for a standard ‘white sand beach’ in any other country in the world.  In the background you can see Sugar Loaf Mountain, which has a series of cable cars on it so you can go up and see the view.  Originally it was a place that only serious rock climbers could access, but the government turned it into a tourist attraction to good effect.

We found a restaurant here and stopped for lunch of local cheese and shrimp empanadas, and a shrimp stew (saffron and coconut curry flavour).  Washed down with a favourite local drink made of refreshing pineapple juice and mint; nothing else, no sugar, just pineapple and lots of mint.  It was a lovely lunch with an amazing view!

After lunch our plans took us to the Downtown area and the Lapa district.  One of the things I particularly wanted to see here were the Escadaria Selarón.  These are a set of world famous steps created by the Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón.  It started in 1990 that Selarón started renovating the dilapidated steps that were on the steep street out front of his house.  Many people mocked him for his bright choice in colours as he used lots of blue, green and yellow (Brazilian flag) coloured tiles.  He was primarily a painter, and this was just a side thing, but eventually it turned into a bit of an obsession.  

Given Selarón was a bit of a struggling artist, he eventually started to sell his paintings to fund the mosaic steps (oddly most of his paintings were of the same pregnant woman, said to be his wife who died in childbirth – and who can be seen painted into the tiles of the steps), and apparently he was constantly out of money.  Eventually he covered the many, many flights of stairs in ceramics and tiles.  

The steps go through the Lapa and Santa Teresa districts in Rio, and there are over 215 steps covering something like 130m in distance.  Now, there are thousands of tiles that have come from countries all over the world, as people interested in this unusual art project have bought tiles here to contribute to this piece of art that continues to evolve.  

It was seriously cool to pick out all the cool little details that gave away where tiles had come from.  Selarón was constantly seen working on the steps, day and night, and is said to have have continued the work until his death – which unfortunately occurred on the famous steps in January 2013.

After this we attempted to go visit the metropolitan cathedral, which is also known as: the Cathedral of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.  Lettie told us this cathedral was built in the 1970s in an attempt to reinvigorate people’s interest in the church by ‘being more contemporary’.  I have to say – it is the most butt ugly cathedral I have ever seen. Period.  I do not understand why it has been built to look like a cheap Las Vegas hotel. 

It is a weird conical shape, being about 106m in diameter and 75m in height, and according to Lettie, designed to accommodate up to 20,000 people.  It is apparently quite pretty inside with large modern stained glass windows, but unfortunately due to political protests that were going on in the Downtown/Centro area, it was completely closed and was not allowing visitors.  I think the stained glass would have to be pretty spectacular to overcome the general ‘meh’ feeling that the architecture evokes.  This city has so many amazing old buildings, I don’t know why you would choose to put something so jarring on the landscape (London’s Pickle anyone?). 

After our fly by The World’s Most Obscure Cathedral Ever, we went to see ‘a monastery’.  The modestly named ‘monastery’ belonged to the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat, but is more commonly known as the Monster de São Bento – the Monastery of St Benedict.  Obviously it is a Benedictine monastery, and it is not far from Rio’s downtown area.  The abbey was established in 1590, and the church itself is a great example of much of Brazil’s colonial architecture… you can see many buildings in this style in various states of repair or dilapidation throughout the city.  

The interior of the church is what I would call a lavish baroque or rococo style (17thC – 18thC).  It is covered, and I mean, every surface is covered, in lavishly curlicued timber carvings that have been gilded in what must be a tonne of gold leaf.  I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite this ornate, even in the many European churches and palaces that I have visited. It is really quite special, and I simply can not imagine what the upkeep on the church must be.  Personally, I don’t know if I think it is beautiful – this type of high baroque, over the top, ornamentation isn’t really my thing… but it certainly is quite the spectacle, and well worth adding to your list if you are visiting Rio.

Next we ventured into the Lapa area, where were planning on doing dinner, but didn’t – long boring story omitted – and instead ended up wandering around the local markets, hunting for quilt fabric – long and slightly quirky story omitted, that will likely be added at a later date!

I didn’t take any photos of the local markets – it was getting dark, and this was the sort of place where standing out as tourists was definitely not advisable!  But we found some fabulous quilting materials that will allow Aunty Mary to continue on with her little hand project that she has been working on during our long sea days.  

All up we had an amazing day, just falling in love with Rio.  I can’t wait to come back some day.  🙂 

Iguazu Falls

It’s now Monday, and I’ve finally resigned myself, that I am feeling as good as I am going to get regarding our tour to Iguazu Falls on Friday.  So I thought I had better write something and post some photos before we move onto Rio tomorrow.  Getting to the Fsalls involved being picked up from the port by a local driver (NB: not a tour guide) to take us to the airport, and flying from Buenos Aires to Iguazu.  Then being met by our actual guide, and going to the Iguazu Falls National Park in the Argentine province of Misiones which borders the Brazilian state of Parana.  As anyone who has read my previous post is already aware, this was (on this occasion) far easier said then done!

We ended up arriving at Iguazu about 4:30pm giving us limited time in the park itself.  The upside of this late afternoon visit, is that there were not many people there; the late afternoon sun also made for good photography conditions.  The downside of a late afternoon visit is that we did not have a lot of time to spend exploring the area, and were only able to walk around the lower falls circuit track. 

Diego, our guide, informed us that the name ‘Iguazu’ comes from the Guarani or Tupi (local indigenous peoples) words for ‘y’ meaning ‘water’, and ‘uasu’ meaning ‘big’.  So they are literally called ‘Big Water Falls’.  

According to local legend, a god planned to marry a beautiful woman (they’re always beautiful, yeah?), who jilted him for her human lover, and in a canoe they attempted to escape down the Iguazu River.  In a fit of rage, the god destroyed the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to falling in the water for all eternity… or something like that.

There are 275 separate waterfalls within the cataract area, with drops between 60 and 80 meters, with the highest drop being 82 metres (that’s 269 feet in the old money). The falls run right along the border between Brazil and Argentina, which crosses through the Devil’s Throat – the widest and most impressive section of the falls.  On the right bank is Brazilian territory and on the left side is Argentina.  Approximately 80% of the falls are on the Argentine side of the border.  

The falls were very impressive, but to me, walking through the rainforest overlooking this wonder of the natural world, just did not feel worth it at all. I felt as though I was forcing myself to smile and participate, and I couldn’t not stop thinking about the people in our group who were left behind. I just felt awful all afternoon.  I wished I had not come and that someone more able to shake off the incident had come in my place. Anyway, we are ‘trying not to talk about the war’, three days later, and so far; success = minimal.

On another note, we saw wild toucans in the rainforest and it was the first time this trip that I cursed leaving my heavy and cumbersome DSLR with its L series lenses, at home. Most of the tours we had done involved either vast sweeping Patagonia vistas or getting up close to the wildlife, so I hadn’t really missed it until that moment.


After we saw the falls, we went to check into our hotel, got cleaned up a bit and then went to a place called ‘The Landmark’.  The Landmark is a local hang out place where you could sit and drink mate, enjoy the company of neighbours and watch the sunset.  This beautiful look out point allows you to see the convergence of rivers that marked the boundaries between three different countries – Paraguay (on the left), Brazil (on the right) and Argentina, which was where we were standing.  It is a very unique spot.

Following our stop at The Landmark, we collectively opted to go to a very touristy local Argentinian Barbecue restaurant, called El Quincho del Toi querido, for dinner – complete with noisy folk music and later, a tango show.  The food was plentiful and quite nice (in spite of it being tourist prices, and there being lots of offal in the BBQ), but there was plenty of wine and thank god for that.
I eventually stopped feeling like I was going to be ill, at about 8pm… which is probably around the same time as we were polishing off our second bottle of wine.  I picked up a spare bottle of sauvignon blanc on the way out to have back at the hotel, which Aunty Mary and I knocked off sitting by the pool watching the stars. 

This tour should have been one of those memorable lifetime occasions, but it had turned into a just downright god awful day, and even the beautiful waterfalls did not recover it for me.  I doubt I will ever look back on today and be glad I came. I’m still trying to just shake it off, but it is proving particularly difficult with everyone on the ship still talk about it, and with total strangers asking me if I am okay.  :/

Diego giving me a supportive hug at the airport…

Landscape from the plane…