Liz and John's South American Grand Cruise 2014 travel blog

Statues of fishermen at Armacao

Lighthouse at Salvador

Our wedding anniversary

View from the fort at Recife

Sunday 16 February

Day 45 - Armacao Dos Buzios, Brazil

John went ashore on his own because it's a tender port. The town is located on a small peninsula jutting out from the main Brazilian Mainland and had been discovered by pirates first who smuggled Brazilwood to Europe but they were banished by the Portuguese who set up the colony in 1575. It has a long continuous history of 500 years and the buildings reflect that. It is reputed to be one of the ten most beautiful tourist destinations in the world. When John got back he said he'd thoroughly enjoyed the little port and said the streets were very attractive with lots of good quality shops, cafés and restaurants and cobbled streets, which would have caused difficulties with the scooter or the walker. John had a good look around, had a coffee and cake in a nice cafe and then made his way back on the tender boat to the ship. I was sorry that I couldn't go with him but his descriptions and photos always make it seem as though I was there.

We continue to play Trivia twice a day. The earlier session is popular culture - mostly American and we do really badly at that. The later session is completely different with 'educational stuff' and we have a great team. We've all become good friends and it's a lot of fun. Sometimes we win and sometimes we don't. The prizes are Cruise dollars and we can purchase HAL stuff at the end of the cruise which will load up our suitcases. We have no idea how were going to get everything home!

We always enjoy our evening meal more for the company than the food which although is always very good, there is just too much of it. We have both cut right back as we didn't want to come home looking like blimps! We enjoy the company of the couple we eat with. Mike (a retired dentist) and Carol are so very British. They have done world cruises on many of the great ships in the world so have a few stories. They have a great sense of humour when you can crack the British upper crust!

We had a great show tonight with the music of the flautist, Clare Langham and singer Paul Frederick. They each had half the show but came together at the end with Danny Boy, which was beautiful. The entertainment has been wonderful. We were late to bed again but it didn't seem too bad because our clocks went back an hour again.

Monday 17 February

Day 46 - Sea Day towards Salvador Da Bahia

Another sea day much like our others but it at least enables us to recharge our batteries before the next sea port. We do our usual things with John's walking and deck sport competitions with golf, shuffle board and quoits. I swim daily and enjoy our choral get togethers. Robyn, the Music Director, is amazing and we've all learned so much. I don't know how she juggles everything playing music, singing, organising all the music for the shows and dealing with passengers trying to sing! And of course there's the daily brain training of Trivia which is fun because it's never very serious.

Tuesday 18 February

Day 47 - Salvador Da Bahia, Brazil

We had a bus tour leaving at nine to see the highlights of Salvador. Unfortunately it started with a 500 m walk from the cruise ship to the terminal building across cobble stones and rail tracks. That wasn't the greatest start!

Salvador is the capital of Bahia State and is referred to as the Cultural Capital. It was once the Capital of Brazil. It was founded in 1549 by the Portuguese and quickly became the second most important City in the Portuguese Empire after Lisbon in the 17th and 18th Century. It traded mainly in sugar, gold and diamonds and it's former status is reflected today in the old town with its well restored colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, colourful mansions and multiple baroque churches. Thousands of slaves were brought to Brazil from Africa 400 years ago to work in the Sugar cane plantations and it makes Salvador the country's most Africanised City. The African-derived religious traditions are still deeply rooted as is the music, which is different from anywhere else in Brazil.

We were first shown one of the most important churches in the city with significant African influence called Igreja do Bonfim. The bus stopped for half a hour so that we could have a look around this interesting building with African murals both outside and in.

Then we drove to a Lighthouse (built in 1870 on an old fort built in 1540 - the Portuguese certainly built things to last!) and we looked at some of the beautiful beaches. It was very attractive scenery and we stopped for 40 minutes to walk to the lighthouse where we could see another headland beyond. It was really hot so were glad to get back to the air conditioning of the bus. The bay was called Baia de Todos os Santos.

The final drive was back to a tourist market near the port, the Mercado Modelo. That was the original Customs House built in 1867 but is now a busy tourist market. It was worth looking around but we resisted buying souvenirs because it did look a bit of a tourist trap. Unfortunately we weren't able to explore the old city because there were hundreds of steps up to it despite there being a funicular rail system for some of it. That is where we would have seen some of the best Portuguese architecture. We then went back to the ship and even negotiating the 30 steps up the gangway is hard for me.

Wednesday 19 February

Day 48 - Sea day on way to Recife, Brazil

We had a similar day to our usual sea days. John had some back ache so he used the hot tub for the first time on this trip after his walk. He hasn't been in the pool yet but he's not much of a water baby. I had my usual swim and the pool is beginning to feel a bit like bath water but it's always good to do some exercise and get rid of any stiffness.

I'm continuing with the choir and am enjoying the challenge of singing with other people again instead of just in the shower! We have some performances coming up so it'll be interesting to see what we can pull out of the box when we have to. I took my ukelele on the cruise and have practised a bit in our room but I don't think I'm improving much! That has stayed in the bedroom. We also had a chance to learn to play Brazilian drums with the Brazilan Dance and Music group on board so I've joined the classes a few times. Some of the samba rhythms are really complex and I found it really enjoyable. John even joined me a couple of times. We gave the samba dance lessons a miss though. John is doing a lot of reading which he loves so I always know that I can find him in the library after doing our own things!

We continue enjoying Pub Trivia with our usual team in the evenings and we've got very friendly with a Canadian couple, Tommie Sue and David. Tommie Sue was employed as a guest lecturer on South America and is doing location information now that her lectures on South America have finished. She was a University lecturer in South American studies. David is a former chopper pilot in Northern Canada - a really interesting guy. She and David are great fun and they are somewhat left wing in their ideals. The other couple, Larry and Susan, are American and are right wing Republicans. He worked as a CEO in the Aero-space industry so it makes for some interesting conversations to say the least!

We now have enough cruise days with HAL to be upgraded to 4* which means we get more discounts and free laundry so it's worth a bit. The shows continue to be great and tonight was Luke Burrage, the juggler which we really enjoyed last time and Mitch Perrins, the percussionist.

Thursday 20 February

Day 49 - Recife, Brazil

Recife was also founded in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese (1534) and is one of the largest tourist centres in Brazil with 1.5m people. It's history is unique with many of its origins going back to the early production of sugar cane. It is a unique mixture of native Indian, black slave and Portuguese settlers with the layer Dutch legacy. It is a mix of modern Metropolis, colonial settlement and tropical beach resort. With its diverse history, culture and geography it has charming colonial buildings alongside modern skyscrapers, historically significant churches and synagogues, emerald green waters edging palm lined beaches, museums for both ancient and modern, it's own Afro-Bahian cuisine and is criss-crossed by rivers, canals and bridges. We wanted to see as much of it we could.

On some advice we received from Tommie Sue (our Trivia partner) we hired a taxi for five hours with an English speaking (well sort if) to show us around Recife and Olinda a nearby town. We negotiated a price with Ramon, a taxi driver, who was very entertaining. He talked about Recife and what he was going to show us. He asked about Australia and tried to teach us Portuguese! We managed a bit because some of the words weren't unlike some of the Spanish we learned before we came out but the accent was entirely different.

We looked at the city first after driving over one of the many bridges connecting the island where the port was situated and the main city. There were some beautiful old colonial buildings including numerous churches. Many were sadly in need of repair but there is no doubt they are working hard on restoring many of them. There were a lot of new buildings as well with massive skyscrapers which dwarfed the old buildings. We visited the Casa da Cultural, which is an arts and crafts centre located in a former prison. There were some beautiful well-made crafts there but things were expensive so we didn't buy anything.

We then drove along one of the many beautiful beaches and stopped for walk along the promenade. The beaches weren't that busy but it was the middle of the day with a temperature in excess of 35 degrees and high humidity. There were thousands of chairs and beach umbrellas to rent on the sand and every 100 m or so there were kiosks to buy drinks and food. Every 400 m or so there were life guard stations but we didn't see any life guards as such. They appeared to be manned by 'tourist police' in uniform. We were told that there are regular shark sightings with occasional attacks but no shark netting of the beaches. Some of it reminded us of the beaches on the Gold Coast. We then stopped off for a drink and next drove to a small town called Olinda which was also founded in the 16th Century by the Portuguese and considered one of Brazil's best preserved Colonial cities. It was given UNESCO World Heritage in 1982. It was a delightful place to explore and we had a fish meal in a cafe along the sea front. I'm not sure what we were eating but we has some sort of fish cakes with a salad with lots of interesting things in it! We then got the scooter out and although it couldn't be driven along any of the roads which were cobble stoned, the pavements were concrete and there were some crossovers. We looked around the markets and through some of the little streets but had to avoid the cobbled roads which was difficult at times. Then we went to the top of an old fort (luckily there was a modern lift there) and saw a magnificent view across the whole of Olinda and Recife.

While we were looking at the view we could see a squall of rain coming across from the sea. We managed to get back into a market square just as the squall hit and we got absolutely drenched. We were nearly at the end of our great tour anyway so said that we should be getting back to the ship. The heat dried us off a bit but I must admit John and I felt quite uncomfortable in our wet clothes! We eventually got back after a six hour entertaining and informative tour, far better I think than any of the tours arranged by the ship for that particular place.

We were exhausted when we got back but got out of our wet clothes and just had time to get ready in colourful gear for the Brazilian party on the pool deck where there was to be a Brazilian BBQ then dancing and singing. It was pretty good but it was very crowded with most of the 600 or so passengers all crowding onto the pool deck. It was also very hot and humid so I'm afraid we chickened out at the end and had an early night.

Friday 21 February

Our 21st Wedding Anniversary

Day 50 - Sea day on the way to Fortaleza

Our wedding Anniversary - 21 years. John has been a wonderful husband and I hope we can manage another 21 years. It was another sea day today but I won't bore you all with the details except to say that we had a special dinner in the ship's special Pinnacle Restaurant to celebrate. We dressed up to the nines and had a lovely evening. We were given a bottle of sparkling wine and an anniversary cake by the ship which was a nice touch.

The choir also performed a song at the Mariner's lunch (for previous cruisers) where we said goodbye to the English Captain, Tim Roberts, who has been at the helm from Fort Lauderdale. He'd been a popular captain with passengers and crew alike because he's been really friendly and gives an amusing chat to everyone at 1pm every day. He's replaced tomorrow by a new Dutch Captain who is said to be a lot more formal.

After our lovely anniversary dinner and we went to the show to listen to a singer cum comedienne, an English girl Siobhan Phillips. She was brilliant and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. It topped off a great evening.

Saturday 22 February

Day 51 - Fortaleza, Brazil

We were pretty undecided as to whether we would go ashore today. We've been told that it is less safe than other cities in Brazil and there was not much to see. It was also over 30 degrees C with 70% humidity by seven but it's not really surprising when you consider we are only 3 degrees below the equator! We did our usual exercise and then John caught the shuttle into the city centre.

Fortaleza is named after it's multiple fortresses and is it's only visible legacy over its rich and diverse past spanning over 400 years. The Portuguese and Dutch fought numerous wars for dominance of this region and built much of the original infrastructure that allowed traders and settlers to prosper from the wealth of the natural resources further inland. The forts were built for protection. Today it is the fourth largest city in Brazil, home to nearly 3 million people. It has recently become an important tourist centre because of its 34 km of beautiful beaches. The Centro District is in the old part of the City and that is where the shuttle dropped John. He looked at some of the buildings one of which had been a prison but was now a centre for handicrafts and artefacts. We've seen a lot of the handicraft centres developed in former prisons in Brazil. They certainly had a lot of prisons and forts going back hundreds of years!

John had been warned however to stay in the tourist areas with other people because of the risk of being robbed. Fortaleza, as with many other cities in South America, has a reputation for being dangerous if you venture into some of the poorer areas. John said a lot of the city was in really poor repair but with a massive number of high rise going up in the middle of the slums. Graffiti has been bad in many places we've been to and much of it is real art but the vandalism of tagging everything was the worst he had ever seen.

John came back after an hour because of the high heat and humidity as well as the feeling of not being entirely safe on his own. Also he felt that the city had less character than some of the others but he was glad he went and took some photos for us to look at together.

In the evening when we went to dinner in the usual La Fontaine Restaurant (it was the first time for three days) the waiters said they had a surprise for us. So at the end of the meal we had a Happy Anniversary song sung to us by the Indonesian waiters and wine staff and presented with a special cake - as if we needed more sugar!!! It was a lovely thought. They knew it was a day late but delayed it until we came back to the usual restaurant. After dinner, The show was another great show by the Prinsendam singers and dancers which featured the greatest American and UK bands. They really are a very talented troupe.

We had another late night but at least I've done my diary at last! Tomorrow we are on our way to the Amazon, another adventure!

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