Monthly Archives: February 2012

Boca De Valeria, Brazil

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BOCA DE VALERIA, BRAZIL

When we were in South America last year we visited Boca de Valeria, a small Indian village upriver from Santarem that’s so small we never managed to find it in any guide books on Brazil.  Nina didn’t like the place last year (she calls it “Boca de Chaleria”, so this year only I got off the ship for a return visit to Boca (not THAT Boca, THIS Boca….). And since nothing much has changed in Boca de Valeria in the past year, I’m going to use some photos from last year on this blog page.

Although a certain amount of modernity has come to Boca de Valeria, this Amazon River community of perhaps 75 houses attempts to preserve its ancient traditions in spite of the onslaughts of modernity.  Rumor has it that once a Costa Cruises captain had some extra time on the cruise itinerary between Santarem and Manaus and found this name on a map but no additional information.  So he sent an “expedition” from his ship to find out what was there and if there was anything worth seeing.  And, as they say, the rest is history…… Today numerous ships drop anchor offshore from the village and, depending on whether the tide is high or low, tender the passengers to either a primitive port in the middle of the village (as we did this year – Amazon River is very high right now) or to an even MORE primitive port if the tide is low (namely, step out of the tender and onto some plank boards planted in red clay mud, and walk about 25 steps to a less muddy dirt path that leads into the village.  

When ships drop anchor here the kids are let out of school and dress in what are supposed to be traditional Amazonian Indian costumes in order to show themselves off to fawning tourists in the hope of being beneficiaries of some tourist largesse. The kids “greet” the guests where they disembark, and whether you meet the kids on the mud path or on the dock, in both cases it feels something like running the gauntlet as the kids grab your hand, supposedly to show you around in a language you can’t understand, and at the end of the tour the “protocol” is to give each kid a dollar.  Other “dollar moments” are the opportunities to photograph the kids with their pets, some of which are quite exotic to the rest of us. There are also handicrafts for sale, some of which were undoubtedly made by the residents themselves, and many of which are simply brought in from larger cities and offered to tourists for sale.  And finally, one additional opportunity is to take a ride along several of the canals and tributaries of the Amazon in a river canoe, piloted by some of the young men of the Boca de Valeria village and others nearby as well (“one friend brings another” seems to be the operative business model here), and on this river ride one can get close up to the river and some of its wonders.  It was specifically for the opportunity to take a canoe river ride that I returned to Boca de Valeria this year.

One of the things most people don’t realize is that there aren’t any beaches along the Amazon. That’s because the river rises and falls several times each year.  Plant life grows right up to the banks of the river, and the river flow does not allow any sand to accumulate, so the shore is always either dirt or rock. Here are some examples from today.  The photos were taken from the tender as we were approaching the dock.

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This year as we docked we were met by the kids and “walked the gauntlet”:

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Last year the kids just ran up to the visitors,grabbed their hands and led them around the “village”. 

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Some of the older women found themselves with as many as 6-8 “instant grandchildren”, and they ate it up…..

Because this is a river community, meaning that the entire village is located on or close to the banks of the Amazon, all the houses are built on stilts to protect them from the rising river.  Here the family canoe is “parked” in the “garage” under the house……

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Some of the houses are painted and actually have a primitive kind of “pretty” to them.

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Below was the most highly decorated house we saw in Boca de Valeria.

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But painted or not, why give up the creature comforts? Anyone for CNN en Espanol?

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Meet some of the kids’ exotic pets.

The sloth:

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The capybara, the world’s largest rodent (looks like a giant guinea pig):  P1000561 (768x1024)

The lizard:

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The Amazon catfish (a daddy is showing it off)::

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The parrot:

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The kids (and even some adults) in their “typical” Amazon River Indian dress:

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 The natives sell some of their hand-made wares as a means of supporting themselves.

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One of the sellers offering “original works of art” for sale (and T-shirts):

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Now look carefully at the picture for sale at the far left:

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A painting (highly desired, I’m sure) of our own cruise ship, the Prinsendam, on the same day that very ship happened to drop anchor and bring tourists. What a coinkydink! Ya think?  The funniest thing I saw today was one of the ship’s passengers, a typical “old lady” who had “acquired about 6 “dollar grandchildren” at the dock, showing her “grandkids” which cabin on the ship was hers……as if they understood or even cared…..pathetic……

But I was there for the canoe trip, so……

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Less than a minute after leaving the dock area we came to a field of lilies….lily pads, that is, some with blooming flowers, and many of these pads were over 4 feet in diameter.

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These bad boys had some really intimidating protective spikes on their backsides.

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We passed a lizard hanging on to a log

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Birds of all kinds, including this yellow-billed egret, commonly found in the Amazon.

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While the Amazon River itself can rage, the canals off the River are very tranquil, as you can see from the reflections:

 

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There were wooded sections of the rain forest that where the ground was flooded

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but the growth was so thick that it was actually dark inside the growth:

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We had an extra “traveler” in our canoe, the younger sister of the young man piloting the canoe. She had just received a gift of a pencil holder and some note pads from some of the visitors and was using her “ride time” to open and inspect it.  Here she is with one of the note pads shaped like a Valentine’s Day heart:

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Here she is riding the canoe’s bow

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And, at the bottom of the canoe, her footwear – typical of so many Amazonia dwellers:

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On the way back we passed a number of houses on stilts (to keep the ground floor always above the river water line) of members of the Boca de Valeria river community.  Isolated …. isolated….but see the satellite  dish?  

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If they have satellite, it’s obvious they have electricity:

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We passed some other canoe trippers on the way,

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and then back to the  dock to go back to the Prinsendam

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and LUNCH !

Tomorrow we’re going to be in Manaus, a city of 2 million-plus people located about a thousand miles up the Amazon.  This will be the farthest we will travel up the Amazon, and we will be here for two days.  We’re hoping to be able to post all our accumulated–but-not-yet-posted blogs from Manaus ! !

Santarem, Brazil

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 SANTAREM, BRAZIL

Santarem seems to be the first place actually located on the Amazon River where you get a sense of the Amazon as the great River Highway of South America.  Belem isn’t actually on the Amazon River but rather on a tributary, and it’s also on the Atlantic Ocean, so it has overland connections to other parts of Brazil.  There are a few smaller communities on the Amazon between Belem and Santarem (Macapa, which we visited last year, comes to mind), but these are relatively small places, and in their river ports you don’t see as much hustle and bustle as you sense when you arrive at the river docks in Santarem, a city of over 300,000 people.

It is here,too, in Santarem, that we saw for the first time the large numbers of Amazon River ferry boats that are the aquatic equivalents of Amtrak and Greyhound in this part of the world. These ferries ply the Amazon, carrying passengers hundreds if not thousands of miles up and down river, at a speed of about 10 knots an hour.  A ferry boat ride from Belem to Manaus, a distance of about 1,000 miles, that stops only to pick up and discharge passengers, takes about 4 days.  By plane it’s about a 2-hour flight.

Last year we docked in Santarem several miles outside of town, near a factory owned by Cargill, the international food giant. Cargill’s plant in Santarem processes and exports soy beans from the Amazon jungle. 

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Apparently the company purchased large tracts of Amazon land, slashed and burned it, and now uses it to grow soy beans for export. When the people in Santarem found out what Cargill was doing in connection with their plant, they were so upset and mad that the company, whose name is painted on the factory roof, had to remove its name from the other side of the roof (the side facing the city of Santarem) so the people in the city would not be reminded of Cargill’s activities. In the photo below you can see the conveyor belt leading from the Cargill factory to their loading docks where the soy beans are “bulk loaded” onto freighters.

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There are millions of Brazilians who are what we might call “rain forest activists” who fight to preserve the Amazon jungles from deforestation (which has slowed down considerably over the last decade). The Amazon jungles are “the lungs of the world” as this area converts more carbon dioxide to oxygen via photosynthesis than any other land mass on earth, accounting for some 20%. To the extent that the jungle is deforested, the less photosynthesis can occur.

Below are a few close-ups of the Amazon River ferries.  If you look closely you can see hammocks that have been hung up and even occupied already by passengers.  This is your bed for the duration of the trip if you decide to go on this boat ride….

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The color of the Amazon River is like coffee with cream in it – muddy brown, with lots of debris being washed downstream.  Santarem is the first place on the river where it was possible for us to see a large tributary flow into the Amazon and to be able to recognize the difference between the two rivers.  The Rio Negro (Black River), which has very dark water, as its name implies, flows into the Amazon near Santarem at a place called “The Meeting of the Waters”, a “must see” by boat on any visit to Santarem.  Last year we didn’t get a chance to see it from the river itself but only to view it from afar from a large observation tower about 40 feet in the air that is built on the highest point in Santarem.  This is what it looks like from the observation tower:

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The Rio Negro is the dark water, while the thin strip of muddy water is the Amazon River.  The two rivers flow next to one another, their waters unmixed, for several miles, until finally the dark Rio Negro waters are absorbed into the Amazon.  Because of the photo’s perspective, it looks like the Amazon is the smaller of the two rivers here; however, that’s not the case and only an optical illusion of the photo.  If you follow the Amazon back in the upper left of the photo, you will be able to see the what look like the two banks of the Amazon at this point in Santarem; the Rio Negro is actually going to conjoin with the Amazon several miles down river.  What looks like the green right bank of the Amazon is actually an island in the middle of the Amazon, while the true right bank of the Amazon is the thin, dark line on the horizon in the right of the photos (with more muddy water separating between the island and the right bank….).  There are literally thousands of these islands throughout the Amazon River, and the largest of them is bigger than all of Switzerland.  It’s as if the Amazon has its own archipelago inside it…

This year, the  two of us went our separate ways in Santarem.  While Kal was escorting a tour down one of the Amazon tributaries to a lake called Maica Lake, where he went piranha fishing, Nina had booked a private excursion with a few friends with a local guide to take them exploring in the Amazon jungle.  Unfortunately in another one of the schedule screw-ups that happened on this voyage, instead of arriving in Santarem at our scheduled time of 10 AM, it was nearly 1:30 PM before the ship docked in Santarem, which then required a subsequent tender to shore and a bus ride into town for most passengers  

Kal’s tour boat picked up passengers right from the ship after it docked, and soon we were off to our first stop, to see “The Meeting of the Waters” from water level.  We all thought the boat would stop right where the waters met, so we could get good photos, but instead the boat just plowed through the point where the two waters touched one another.  Nina may have a better photo than this one, and if so, perhaps she will post it here on the blog page.

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One of Nina’s pix of the Rio Negro mixing with the Amazon.

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Here is a photo from the river with Santarem in the background

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And here is another photo, a close-up, with the colors saturated bring out the different colors of the river water.  The light blue-green  building at the right is the Santarem Cathedral, which we will talk about shortly.

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No color saturation needed for this pix…

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Although you can’t tell it from these photos, at Santarem the black and the muddy waters flow together, unmingled, for several miles, until they finally join together and all the water is muddy.

The Meeting of the Waters is interesting for another reason.  It is one of the places where the fresh-water dolphins of the Amazon hang out and play. There are two kinds of Amazon fresh-water dolphins, the grey dolphin and the pink dolphin. We saw them both, but they are very hard to photograph because they just barely break water when they play. Nina was the lucky one this time, as the guide kept teasing the dolphins to the surface by attaching whole fish to fishing lines and trolling the lines in the water….

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Moving up some of the Amazon tributaries we found a number of very small river communities and even single houses, all erected on the river and all on stilts because of the fluctuations in the Amazon’s water level during the year.  Some of these houses are used only when the river is low; when the river rises the occupants evacuate to someplace else during the high water season.  I could not learn where they move to, and this seemed rather strange since it is an annual phenomenon, but it is what it is…..

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There is real life going on on the River:

a kid walking on water with the help of a board….

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Some others not doing much in particular, although the canoe is attached and at the ready….

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laundry day on the River….

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Here was a real Amazon surprise:  a small herd of water buffalo – not more than 10 or 15 total –  being “cowboyed” by a guy in a canoe !

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Many dwellings along the Amazon have thatched roofs.

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The thatching is made, not from palm fronds, but from the leaves of a related tree that is all curled up when it is cut.  The leaves are then opened and allowed to dry flat for a week or so, then attached to the roofs of the dwellings.  These thatched roofs must be replaced every 3 to 5 years in order to keep out the rains effectively.

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Livestock is kept by the river dwellers for their own consumption, as well as horses to help round up some of the livestock, particularly sheep. Pigs, goats, sheep and cattle, in addition to water buffalo, are to be found.

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To prevent loss of animals during rising waters, the river dwellers built elevated platforms with ramps for the animals to “escape to” if the water level should suddenly rise and cover the grassy land.The rise to the platform is on the right side of the photo

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Cruising through the jungle we saw a lot of wildlife in their natural habitats (isn’t that the whole point of venturing out into the jungle to view wildlife?).  Noteworthy of mention were many birds, which this egret is but one example

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Some exotic birds

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an Amazon lizard (iguana)

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and a sloth, which Nina successfully photographed. Do you see the claws on this baby??

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Nina had a canoe ride into the deepest parts of the jungle..

Our canoe driver leaving home to join our boat.

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But of course a big part of this adventure was supposed to be piranha fishing. So the captain gave everyone throw lines with hooks and pieces of either cut fish or pork to use as bait, and into the waters flew the lines.

Piranhas, as you know are considered to be man-eaters.  They have small but razor-sharp teeth and are attracted to blood.  We are told that people can swim in the rivers with piranha in them but only if there are no wounds or sores on the body that could bleed and attract the fish (although the AAA doesn’t recommending swimming with them as a :Get to Know Brazil” activity).  There are several species of piranha in the Amazon, and their sizes range from the size of a small flounder, at the largest, to the size of a small perch, on the other side of the scale. 

Piranha are readily available in Brazil as living room mantle decorations and as you can see from the photos below, its just gotta hurt like hell if one of these little buggers took a bite outa you.

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Perhaps we had arrived at Maica Lake after piranha feeding time, because of the 35 or so people on board the boat who went piranha fishing, only two fish were caught, and one of these was by the boat captain and the other by his assistant.  So by the end of the fishing expedition the score was was crew 2, passengers 0.

This is what one of the little buggers looked like:

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And is so often the case in life, things often turn out better if you just keep your mouth shut. But this fish was lucky because we had a “catch and release” piranha program that day, so the captain just unhooked him and after everyone took photos, tossed the little guy back into the river.  If I ever meet any of his relatives in water, do ya think it’ll do any good to remind them of the kindness we extended to that little guy on that day?  Didn’t think so…….

After the piranha fishing it was time to head back, so we essentially retraced our steps and headed back to Santarem.

The sail back to Santarem was a good lesson in how everything – EVERYTHING – in the Amazon is dependent upon the River.  Here’s a Texaco gasoline station right in the middle of the river.  Need gas?  Pull your boat along side and fill ‘er up!

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Need to build houses, dig holes, clear land?  It all starts with getting the heavy equipment to a location close to where it’s needed – by river barge.

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Need to kick back for an ice cold one, but you’re in the jungle in the middle of nowhere?  Would a beer barge help?

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Entering Santarem from upriver on our way back to the docks, we sail by The Boardwalk and pass the Santarem Cathedral,

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to which we plan to return after the escorted tour is over.

We pass a now-famous landmark in Santarem, a store whose name was originally something else but whose owners changed it several years ago to Fim do Mundo, meaning The End of the World.

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When the banks of the Amazon overflowed into Santarem several years ago, the waters reached the height of the bottom of the sign…..

We again passed the commercial ferry docks, a very small section of which can be seen here,

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and made our way back to our tendering docks, where the tour ended.  The ms Aida Vita, a German ship, had arrived before us and taken what had been our berth in port last year.  This ship has been traveling almost in parallel with us since at least Buzios.  Being a German ship, all the beer on it is free.  And don’t you just love her exterior décor? If you were to look at her head-on, she would be kissing you……

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So now that the tour is over, I want to high-tail it back to town for a quick visit to the Santarem Cathedral to see something unique inside.  On the way I am reminded  that Santarem is a jumping off point for Amazon River travel, and hammocks are an indispensible item for ferry boaters.  There were many, many stalls along the Boardwalk selling nothing but hammocks in an almost endless variety of colors, patterns and weaves – from the most utilitarian to the fancy. I thought about buying a couple to bring home, then decided NAH – what are we going to do?  Rock outside in our hammocks in 115 degree Arizona summer heat?  Or slowly sweat to death in So. Florida humidity as we swing in the wind between two palm trees?  I don’t think so….

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As I understand it, the story of the Santarem Cathedral is as follows:  The Cathedral was built in the latter half of the 18th century and was therefore functioning for many, many years when, some time toward the end of the 19th century, a German businessman came to Santarem and was faced with some serious misfortune or illness.  He is said to have prayed to God and said that if God would help him, he would make a worthy donation to the Cathedral in Santarem.  The guy is helped or saved or whatever, and to fulfill his promise he has a great crucifix made, which he gives to the Cathedral and which becomes the Cathedral’s centerpiece. 

We were told that this is the only altar crucifix in the world in which Christ, instead of looking down, is looking over his left shoulder with his eyes directed toward heaven.

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Except for the altar crucifix, I don’t think the Cathedral is otherwise remarkable as it is otherwise pretty plain and unadorned.

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For anyone interested in the background of this Cathedral, known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Conceicao (and I have no idea who that is), AND who can understand Portuguese, the following is available:

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After visiting the Cathedral it was time to catch the shuttle bus from the square in Santarem back to the ship.  As I made my way back to the bus I passed a shop that gave me pause to stop and ask, “Don’t people think about the names they give things that are important to them?”

The word “Modas means “fashions.  The rest speaks for itself…..

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Back on the square where the shuttle bus was, were two phone booths.  The first was this one:

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In Brazil when someone answers the phone the first thing he says is “Oi” – I guess it’s kind of like “Hi” or “Hey”.  But the first few times we heard this, before we figured it out, I’m thinking to myself, “Are these people like New  York Jews – the first word out of their mouth is OY – a complaint ?”  Then I saw the spelling on the phone booth somewhere and asked what it meant…..

The second phone booth is one that seems to fit in so well with the milieu.  It needs no help or explanation (although a fresh coat of paint couldn’t hurt…..)

 

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So taking leave of our favorite Santarem parrot, we hopped onto the shuttle bus and made our way back to the ship.

Tomorrow we are sailing to Boca………………..that is, to the Amazon Indian river village of Boca de Valeria, Brazil.

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Where We’ve Been…Where We’re Going….From Belem to a Thousand Miles Up the Amazon and Back……

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WHERE WE’VE BEEN….WHERE WE’RE GOING…..

FROM BELEM, BRAZIL TO A THOUSAND MILES UP THE AMAZON AND BACK……….. THEN HEADING HOME !

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We leave the Amazon and Brazil and head for France’s last outpost in South America, French Guiana and it’s most famous off-shore attraction, Devil’s Island.

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From Devil’s Island we’ll be heading into the Caribbean and to Castries, the capital of the island of St. Lucia.

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From St. Lucia the plan is to sail to Phillipsburg on the island of St. Martin.  St. Martin is actually a divided island, part of which belongs to the Dutch (with Phillipsburg as its capital) and part belonging to the French, with Marigot as its capital. There is no border crossing on the island in order to go back and forth – you just go.  The border appears to be more a line on a map than anything else.  If you didn’t know the island was divided, the only way you might know is that French is spoken on one side, Dutch on another, English on both.

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And following St. Martin, we plan to dock in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA on March 12th, God willing ! We’ll probably be in Flada for a week or so before heading back out West.

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It’ll be great to be back in the US of A and plan the trip home back to Arizona !

Belem, Brazil

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BELEM, BRAZIL

“Belem” means “Bethlehem” in Portuguese (in Spanish I think it’s “Belen”). Having been to both the biblical Bethlehem and its Brazilian namesake, believe me that about all they share is a name.

Belem is located just below the mouth of the Amazon where the Amazon runs into the Atlantic Ocean.  We had visited last year on a weekday, when the rain was pouring, streets were flooded (we actually saw some people using canoes to navigate around) and where our shuttle bus dropped us off last year, we felt that every native was looking at us, trying to figure out how to mug us and get away with it. In fact, the totality of the situation was so uncomfortable last year that we got off the shuttle, walked around in the general area for about 15 minutes, and got right back on the shuttle and back to the ship.

So we had a little trepidation this time going back to Belem. 

But this time we visited on a Sunday, when many fewer people were out and about in the downtown area, and our shuttle bus dropped us off at a much more convenient – and I believe, safe –spot.  So this visit began – and remained – with a much different and far more positive vibe.

Here’s the drill when you visit Belem:  ships must anchor outside the small harbor about 20 miles from the center of the city, because the waters around the dock, being close to the mouth of the Amazon and  therefore subject to the rising and falling river tides, are too shallow for all but small vessels of the kind that ply the River.  So the ship hired two 200-passenger ferries to serve as our tender vessels into the port area.  These are the same kinds of ferries that are the mainstay of Amazon River transportation – going up and down the river, stopping at cities, villages and small river communities; where passengers may be on a vessel for one day or as many as 5 days; where you bring your own sleeping accommodations on board and hang it up yourself – your hammock; where if you travel alone overnight on these ferries you have a good chance of getting robbed; where you bring your own food in a cooler or buy chicken, rice and beans + beer or a soft drink – morning noon and night; where there is nothing to do all day but lie in your hammock and watch the river go by; where there are no showers; where…….and so on……

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Once we get to the tender port, we are in the small town of Iquarace, which has a main street inhabited mainly by fish, food and fruit vendors, a public library and not too much else.

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The area around the small fishing vessels was brimming with vultures looking for a free meal

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From here we board a shuttle bus that takes us about 20 miles into the center of the city of Belem.  Last year there was weekday traffic and rain, so the trip seemed to go on for ever; this year, it being a Sunday, it seemed like the bus driver was flying low…..Here’s Nina trying to “khop a dremel” (literally, “grab a dream” i.e., take a quick nap) on the ride into town:

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We passed many of the places this year that I had remembered from last year, particularly some places that had been flooded or at least really water-soaked.  This year they looked a lot better.

Last year the water at this place was overflowing this canal and running into the streets

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Last year people were canoeing down these streets.

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When we finally arrived in the city center we were dropped off at a development that I think had just opened in the intervening year since our last visit – a kind of shopping area built along the old docks of Belem’s old port, now cleaned up, modernized and repurposed for an area of shops and restaurants that run along one of the Amazon tributaries that goes through Belem and empties into the Atlantic.

This dock area was filled with numerous fabulous Brazilian sit-down buffets for families enjoying Sunday lunch together

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and even an Amazon microbrewery, Amazon Beer of Belem:

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We picked up a couple of beer mugs here and continued through the docks and out into the open air market, known as Vero Peso, which was clearly not operating to capacity on this Sunday. The name Vero  Peso comes from an earlier period in the city’s history when everything was weighed and verified before payment was tendered, because nobody trusted anybody……it doesn’t seem that much has changed…..

Under huge rain-protective tents

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we found a nearly endless number of more popular Brazilian buffets, most of which were closed on Sunday but where many were still operating.

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Fried fish is a big item at these simple “people’s market buffets”

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and everything is fresh fresh fresh….

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From the restaurant area of the open-air market we went into the market itself.  There we saw some items we had never seen elsewhere or, if we had seen similar things elsewhere, these were significantly and sufficiently different so as to warrant our attention.

For example, does this look like a pea pod  or a bean pod to you?

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How about THIS ?

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At first we thought that maybe these fruit clusters might be a variety of date,

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but a closer examination proved this to be incorrect.  The orange ones looked for a distance like loquats, but up close they were the wrong shape……We think they are called Pupunha, but we were never able to identify what they really were….

The packaged red fruit in this photo looked from a distance like cherry tomatoes, but up close they turned out to be berries – berries of the type that are very bitter uncooked.  Apparently these need to be cooked before they are eaten. They are called Acerola in Portuguese – but what are they ????

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These mangoes are ugly as sin, but mmmmm….are they sweet………..

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These hairy, spikey fruits, labeled as Ranbutan, are actually fresh leechee nuts – just peel and eat.

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See these round, brown “things”?  They are Brazil nuts.  Actually, they are Brazil nut pods which you open and then remove from inside the pods, the individual nuts in their shells (see bottom of photo).  Of course then the edible nut seed needs to be removed from the shell, which with Brazil nuts can be a project……

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And bless their little yellow skins – aren’t these “finger bananas” just the cutest stubby li’l critters you’ve ever seen? And  are they ever sweet…..

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There are all kinds of ways of selling dried meats, including sausages and pig’s feet (UGH!)

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or, if you’d prefer vegetable soup, how about all the fresh makings in a bag?

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Or if you want to turn it into chicken soup…

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Still, a lot of the stalls were closed today, it being Sunday

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Did I mention that this open-air market is on the river?  Here are the tents to protect against the rains, which come every day (this is the start of the Amazon Rain Forest, folks)

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In a small part of the market there are tourist tschochkes for sale

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By late afternoon things in the Vero Peso market started to slow down

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and a number of the vendors who were open earlier in the day have locked shop and take a snooze on the spot.

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With things winding down in the Vero Peso Market, and a light drizzle, it was time for us to take our leave, walk past the plastic flamingo decorations dressing up the parking lot,

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go back to the shuttle bus and head back to the ship.

Fortaleza, Brazil

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FORTALEZA, BRAZIL

Fortaleza, a large city on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, is being marketed today as “the next Riviera” to people in the USA and elsewhere interested in international living and seeking to live abroad or to invest in a foreign 2nd home. Supposedly it has many wonderful beaches which serve as a primary attraction, although as we learned, almost all of these beaches are far from the city.  Fortaleza was a stop on our itinerary last year, but Kal missed it because of a bad attack of sciatica that kept him in bed while we were there. 

Fortaleza is known for its lace, especially its hand-made lace, much of which is sold in a huge multii-story crafts market located in downtown Fortaleza. Think of a Guggenheim Museum-type market where you can take an elevator to the top and then walk down 4 or 5 stories in a circular path until you reach the bottom floor and street level. In that respect it also resembles the large shopping facility in Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv.

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Hundreds of merchants, each with his or her own booth/store, sell wares that range from clothing to lace products of many grades, typical tourist-type souvenirs, gourmet food, nut and liquor products, and on the lowest floor, incredible Brazilian buffets – all there for the trying.

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Kal’s problem is that he’s not a shopper, and he hates places like this and feels overwhelmed by these kinds of places. So he spent about 45 minutes here, walking from top to bottom on “the trail”, had a beer at the bottom – and walked out and into the rest of Fortaleza.

Nina, in the meantime, was escorting a tour that included a visit to this market, and she used this time to buy a hand-made lace tablecloth for our wonderful daughter-in-law.

Kal left the art market and walked over to the main cathedral of Fortaleza, supposedly the third-largest cathedral in Brazil.  He found it so conventional, plain and uninteresting that he didn’t even bother to take a single photograph.

Because Nina was escorting a tour today, Kal had been tasked by her to locate a pharmacy in Fortaleza and buy some Brazilian keratin treatments.  Well, as it happens these products are not sold in pharmacias or drugerias (still don’t know the difference between them) but rather in stores that sell cosmetics, diapers, hair products, etc. – not exactly the kinds of places Kal hangs out… He spent a lot of time trying to find the right stuff, and I’m glad to report he bought enough product to last about 5 years…….(not really, but can you hear Kal “kevetching” as he writes????)

From the cosmetics store Kal took a stroll down one of the side streets that specialized in hardware and found all kinds of kooky devices on offer, all of them useless to us, such as a potato peeler you hold between your knees, mate cups made from horses’ hooves, large hooks for attaching hammocks to the sides of Brazilian ferry boats, the hammocks themselves, HUGE bungee cords large enough to wrap around tree trunks, and numerous other gadgets of doubtful utility for us.  Unfortunately, he also did not photograph any of these things.  But along with the hardware shops were street vendors selling what appeared to be “natural” herbs, roots, medicines and bottled elixirs of all kinds, and those he did photograph.  Some of the more interesting offerings are below:

Some eucalyptus leaves and raw cinnamon bark, among other things

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See the raw loofas in the sack at the bottom of the photo?

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We had no idea what most of the items were, and no way to ask and find out…..

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Bottled stuff is always fun, but it could be anything from honey to hot sauce…..

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….. to hair products to hemorrhoid crème ….. who knew ?

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From here Kal went on a long walk to locate an art museum and outdoor park with street artists, but the maps he was given were very unclear, and in spite of his generally excellent navigation skills, he was unable to find either, and in frustration, having despaired of finding more good photo subjects on his walk through some of the  grimier parts of Fortaleza, decided to return to crafts market, grab a shuttle bus and return to the ship.  This was not one of Kal’s favorite cities, to be kind……

Oh well …. tomorrow is another day…..

I (Nina) on the other hand was escorting an excursion and we went to the cathedral (completed in 1974) and the theater, which was interesting, but because last year Fortaleza was scary as can be, Kal took the small camera and I left the good one aboard the ship, so no pix. Sorry.

 

Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa, Brazil

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CABEDELO and JOAO PESSOA, BRAZIL

Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa (pronounced ZHWOW) are places on a tour itinerary that makes you wonder, “Why are we here? What in the hell possessed anyone to include THIS as a stop on the trip?”

In fact, Cabedelo is so small I couldn’t find its name in the index of any guidebook on Brazil.  Turns out that Cabedelo, located in the Brazilian state of Paraiba, is the port of Joao Pessoa, and it consists of the port itself and a small town immediately adjacent to the port, but that’s all.

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Joao Pessoa (which in Portuguese means “John Person”) is named after the founder and first governor of the town, although beyond this I can’t tell you why he was important in Brazil’s history.  What I do know is that Joao Pessoa has a number of noted beaches, but none of these are within reasonable distance of the town itself, so swimming today is out of the question.   Joao Pessoa seems like a fairly typical (by Brazilian standards) medium sized town whose main buildings appear to be built in the Portuguese Baroque colonial style so typical throughout Brazil, but it did have several interesting things worth mentioning.

The main Cathedral of the town is heralded by a huge cross in the plaza that opens up in front of the church.

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The Church is designed in what appears to be the Portuguese Colonial Baroque style, one of which characteristics seems to have been that instead of having two symmetrical spires, many of these churches seem to have only one.

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On the walls of the Plaza are Portuguese tiles depicting various scenes in the life of Jesus, perhaps scenes from some of the Stations of the Cross.

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But what I found interesting is that on these tiles, the faces of “bad guys” have been scraped out so that their faces are not identifiable. Clearly the defacements are intentional.

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We saw a similar phenomenon in the Iglesia San Francisco in Lima, Peru.  I can only speculate that the defacements were done by the monks themselves (who else might have the courage to deface Church property?) as a means of dissuading parishioners from living something less than an “exemplary” life for fear of being “wiped out” and losing their piece of real estate in heaven……..

(Art buffs, take note of Jesus’ attenuated left hand coming out of his sleeve in the tile painting above. This attenuation style, which emerged during the Renaissance, was a characteristic of 17th century art.  It should also be noted that one of the most remarkable things about tile paintings like these is the clarity of the images and the way in which the perspective is preserved.  Remember that these are art works painted on tiles, and these tiles need to be fired after the paint is applied.  How the artist prevented the paints from running, and how he managed to keep the light, dark and shadowed areas separated during the firing process in order to  preserve the perspective in these works, is in my humble opinion, nothing short of amazing!)

Here is a sample of one of the tiles where the “good guys” were not defaced….

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Following is historical information as it appears in the alcove just inside the church itself:

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The church entry doors inside the alcove are set into beautiful plaster molding

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and are intricately carved out of jacaranda wood, an extremely hard and insect-resistant Brazilian wood

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while the alcove ceiling is decorated by a cherubic scene with what appear to be the robed hand of God and the pierced hand of Christ in the center, painted onto wood planks.

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The corners of the alcove had typical decorative 17th century Portuguese tiles that we saw in a number of churches throughout South America.  Apparently even Spanish missionaries who constructed churches used tiles of Portuguese origin.

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One of the most interesting and perplexing elements of the architecture of this particular plaza were the lions that “stood guard” atop the plaza walls at either entrance.

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If these don’t look like Imperial Chinese dragons, I don’t know what does.  One of the friends we made on this voyage is a Chinese doctor.  As it happened we walked around this church and these lions with him and his wife.  He told us there is some scholarly research that seems to indicate that Chinese explorers visited the Western hemisphere centuries before the Europeans.  I don’t think this fits at all into the architectural style of this particular church, but there it is…….

Another example of a typical Portuguese Colonial Baroque church from the same city of Joao Pessoa (actually less than 2 blocks away from the above church) is the following.  It should be noted that the yellow building to the left of the church is the Archdiocese of  Paraiba, the name of the Brazilian state in which Joao Pessoa is located.  That probably makes Joao Pessoa the largest city in the state of Paraiba.

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Many of the colonial-style buildings in the older section of Joao Pessoa are colorfully painted

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or at least they once were….

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Signs of Carnaval are still around…..

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but like most other Brazilian cities and towns we saw, Joao Pessoa seems to lack the resources for continued proper maintenance of public roads, streets and buildings.  Here is a typical example of sidewalk repair, using broken pieces of roof tile as filler material:

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A lot of work is still done by pushcart

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and we leave Joao Pessoa by showing an enterprising street vendor, not of shoes but of flip-flops:

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Where will these feet carry us tomorrow?

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Bye until then……

Recife, Brazil – Day 1 Evening and Day 2 – Carnaval

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RECIFE, BRAZIL –DAY 1 EVENING AND DAY 2 – CARNAVAL ! !  –

 

ADVANCE WARNING – THIS IS AN EXCEPTIONALLY LONG POST ! !

Having spent the morning and afternoon at the Carnaval in the neighboring town of Olinda, about 10 miles away, we returned to the ship to freshen up and get ready for the Carnaval of Recife. We had been in Recife in the morning, before traveling to Olinda, to locate the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Kahal Zur Israel  (Rock of Israel Congregation) in that part of the city known as  Old Recife. We tried knocking on the doors of the synagogue but as we had been forewarned, the synagogue was closed for Carnaval.  To be honest, It was strange to see a synagogue decked out and decorated for Carnaval, something that not only has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism but even more so, celebrates in a manner that is so antithetical to Jewish belief and practice. Carnaval is not Purim…. 

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The small sign in front of the synagogue tells passers-by the “short story”:

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Between two of the main entry doors to the synagogue is a tile street plaque indicating the current name of the street (Rua Do Bom Jesus – Good Jesus Street) and the former name of the street (Rua Dos Judeus – Jew Street), dating from the Dutch control of Recife between 1636 and 1654.

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The story of the Dutch in Brazil is short but significant, particularly for Jews. For historical reasons that are too long to go into here and which were the result of explorations in South America by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, Spain ended up controlling virtually all of South America except for Brazil, which was owned by the Portuguese Crown. The Dutch originally came to Brazil, therefore, not as explorers or conquerors, but as merchant suppliers and chandlers, whose function was to supply goods to this Portuguese colony.

Jews had been expelled from Spain (in 1492) under an Edict of Expulsion that was a result of the Spanish Inquisition and a few years later from Portugal (in 1498). Many of those expelled sought new homelands in Muslim Turkey, which welcomed the Jews, and in far more tolerant Holland. Jews in Holland soon found a place in the prosperous trading business, for which the Dutch were well known. When Dutch traders came to do business in Brazil, Dutch Jews were among them.

Although Brazil was a Portuguese colony, the Inquisition had not yet crossed the Atlantic into Brazil.  So in 1524, by which time there was an active Dutch trade with Brazil that included Dutch Jews, a group of Dutch Jews were able to establish in Recife, the easternmost part of Brazil,  the first Jewish community and synagogue in the Western hemisphere. Jews were not only tolerated in Recife but got on well with their Christian neighbors, and some Jews even took up residency in the nearest town, Olinda, although the community’s center remained in Recife.

Portuguese slave traders imported slaves from Africa to work in Brazil’s sugar cane plantations, and as the plantations grew, so did the prosperity of those regions around the plantations. Recife was one of those areas, and Jewish merchants prospered along with their Dutch countrymen. As the Dutch traders saw Recife’s prosperity increase, their appetites grew, and they wanted a larger slice of the “prosperity pie.”  In fact, the sugar cane industry was so important and prosperous that of the 120 sugar mills in Recife, 6 of them were owned by Jews. Reports back to Amsterdam about the prosperity of Recife prompted Dutch military excursions to the area to try to seize portions of Brazil, including Recife, where Dutch traders were active and could be relied upon for support by the Dutch Crown. Military confrontations between the Dutch and the Portuguese eventually resulted in the Dutch gaining control of Recife in 1536.

The Portuguese, as could be expected, were not prepared to take this situation lying down, and over the next two decades launched numerous attempts to regain control of Recife and other areas in Brazil from the Dutch. During this time, the Jews, loyal citizens of Holland, offered support to their government’s efforts to maintain control of Recife. Finally, however, in 1654 the Portuguese succeeded in defeating the Dutch and regained control of Recife. Under the Protocol of Surrender, which now made reference to the Edict of Expulsion, all Jews had three months to liquidate their assets and leave Recife.

At its zenith the Jewish population of Recife was estimated to be around 1,800 souls. Many of those Dutch Jews in Recife returned to Amsterdam, but a contingent decided to relocate to a small Dutch settlement in North America called New Amsterdam.  Arriving in New Amsterdam in 1654, they established a new religious community and built the first synagogue in North America, known as the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue (so named because the ancestors of those Dutch Jews had originally come from Spain and Portugal and followed the religious rite of the Jews of the Iberian peninsula). The Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, which has been in continuous daily use since its establishment nearly 360 years ago, is located in mid-town Manhattan.

So it appears that the Dutch Jews from Recife were responsible for founding what would become, several centuries later, American Jewry, the largest Jewish community in the world.

But enough of history…..let’s get back to Carnaval !

As you can see from the pictures below, a large part of the Carnaval celebrations happened along the street on which the synagogue is located, and many of the samba school parades went along this street because it is located in Old Recife and is just a couple of blocks from the water, near something called Marco Zero,  which marks the town square of Old Recife.

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Looking directly up and down the street where the synagogue is located,  the Carnival crowds looked like this around 7:30 pm.

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It only got more crowded (it you can imagine it possible) as the evening went on…..

Many people participate in Carnaval not as private participants but as members of samba schools. Samba schools might be thought of a large social clubs set up specifically to enable its members to participate as part of a group in the Carnaval festivities. During Carnaval the samba schools set up special sites in the Carnaval area for its members to take a rest from partying, so they can gather the strength to go back out on the street and parade in the samba school costume and party some more. We accidentally bumped into one of these samba school rest sites, and here’s what a typical one looks like.  From the size of the rest site you can imagine that this samba school has hundreds of members.

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By the way, the miniature, multicolored umbrellas are a “trademark” of Olinda’s Carnaval, so this must be the rest site of an Olinda-based samba school that is also taking part in the Recife Carnaval.

Every year each samba school chooses a theme for Carnaval and designs its costumes around that theme. Although most of the people in samba schools are just working folks, the costumes play such a prominent role that the people will save their money to be able to spend several hundred (and sometimes over a thousand) dollars each year on their costumes. Here are just a few of the dozens of samba schools we bumped into during Carnaval. 

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As we expected, some of the costumes of the private partiers were outlandish….

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Others, especially those from the samba schools, were just plain drop-dead gorgeous !

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At Carnaval, young and old alike are equal-opportunity partiers….

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…and one of the neat things about Carnaval is that here, people who you have never seen before – and will never meet again – couldn’t care less if you take your picture with them.  It’s all good……

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One of the kinds of items conspicuously absent from Carnaval  is T-shirts for sale to the public that say on them CARNAVAL 2012 or something similar. (Note to entrepreneurs: there is a HUGE opportunity being missed here!)  The only T-shirts available at Carnaval are part of the dress or costumes of the samba schools, and they are not for sale to the general public.  Believe me, we tried to beg, borrow and steal such a T-shirt, but there were none to be had.  The closest thing we could come up with was a PHOTO of a T-shirt for Carnaval that reflected the general costume design of its samba school.  The T-shirt is on the left, the costume of the samba school is on the right and below (front and back views).

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The back of the head dress, by the way, is HAND-MADE lace.

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And more costumes:

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Family style:

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Faeries or flutter-bys?

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Tinsel, Technicolor wookies?

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The Smurfs were in Recife this season……

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…and so was contra-ceptive but pro-phylactic Willy Wanker, freely distributing condoms to the crowd…..

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No stores or restaurants were open during Carnaval, but not to worry….street food booths and vendors abounded, and all of the food offerings looked dee-lish…..

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This is how millions of people eat lunch and dinner out in Brazil during Carnaval..

And there were plenty of hard liquor drinks available openly to keep partiers in high “spirits” – high-octane alcohol content and high-level singing, dancing and merry- making.

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One interesting side-note: while we can’t confirm it didn’t happen at all, none of us saw anyone using drugs to get high, not even hash or marijuana. 

Many food areas of Brazil were represent at Carnaval.  The photos below show people from the Brazilian state of Bahia offering from their food traditions for sale.  Bahia is the most “Africanized” of all the Brazilian states.  It’s capital, Salvador de Bahia, was a center of the Portuguese slave trade in Brazil, when African slaves were brought to Salvador and sold to work in the cane sugar plantations.  Bahia culture and religious practice (even their brand of Catholicism) incorporates elements of animism and voodoo, practices originally brought from Africa 300 years ago and more, and which have been “repurposed” or “repositioned” but are still around today. 

[ NOTE:  Salvador de Bahia was the one stop on our voyage this year that was cancelled due to US State Department alerts of civil unrest there; we were supposed to spend one day of Carnaval in Salvador de Bahia and one day in Recife, bit since Salvador was cancelled, we ended up spending two Carnaval days in Recife (which allowed us to go  to the Carnaval at Olinda as well).  Still, we consider ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Salvador last year when there was no Carnaval, and we were able to visit beautiful sites and see some amazing things in that fascinating city.]

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The menus here are shrimp, okra, black beans and rice. Looks real good….

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….but not for us……

Nina and I decided to throw ourselves into the party atmosphere and to spring for a few masks and headgear. Nina decided to go for a glittery face mask and

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a Carmen Miranda head piece  (Carmen is deceased but still “lives on” in Brazil)….

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…while I got a punk rocker hair wig….

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(here I am with an anonymous young friend who had the same kind of doo that I did).  And therein lies a story…… 

I had actually seen this wig wear a few days earlier in Vitoria, and when I saw it there it gave me a big belly laugh because it reminded me of a joke. So when I saw the same wig wear in Recife, I decided  that was going to be my chapeau for Carnaval.

What was the joke I had remembered?

Well, it seems there was this drunk who was riding the New  York City subway late one night, and he was seated directly across from a young punk rocker with a multi-colored, spiked mohawk. And the drunk keeps staring at the young punk rocker and simply can’t take his eyes off the guy’s doo. 

Finally, the punk rocker can’t take the staring any more and shouts out to the drunk,  “Stop staring at me.  Why the hell do you keep staring at me?”

And the drunk replies, “Well it’s like this…..once, about 25 years ago, I went on a real bender, and because I was so drunk I ended up havin’ sex with a peacock.”

“So what?”, asks the punk rocker.

“And I was lookin’ at you,” replies the drunk, “and jus wonderin’ if you could be my son…..”

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We partied until about 10 PM, when we decided to call it a day, and returned to the ship for a good night’s sleep.  After all, tomorrow was Carnaval all over again, and we needed to regain our strength…..

The next morning we returned to the area of the Recife Carnaval to get some photos of the Carnaval decorations without all the people in the street.  Recife consists of three islands linked by a series of seven bridges and is known as “the Venice of Brazil”.  This is typical of the bridge decorations.  The “threads” hanging down from the top of the photo are tinsel strips strung across the bridge, blowing in the breeze…..

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SKOL is the name of a brand of Brazilian beer, but from the decorations here, it looks like the Chinese are taking over.  They are certainly trying to buy as much as they can of Brazil’s natural resources…..

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While we were out walking and photographing, it began to rain.  Here are Nina and friend Susan reprising Gene Kelley, “Singin’ in the Rain”.

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In a town square by one of the rivers running through Old Recife lies a marker planted in the ground.  The marker is called MARCO ZERO or the Zero Kilometer Marker.

Here is the marker on the grounds of the town square.  The sound stage has been set up for Carnaval, and the river is directly behind the stage.

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Marco Zero in Recife marks the beginning of the Trans-Amazon Highway.  The Trans-Amazon Highway is an ambitious project by the Government of Brazil to build an East-West Highway that would run from Recife, Brazil, on the Atlantic Ocean at Brazil’s most easterly point, all the way west through Brazil’s Amazon jungle and eventually  connecting with a road to be constructed by Peru that would run through the Peruvian Amazon and end up on Peru’s Pacific coast and connect to the Pan-American Highway.  This project has been “in progress” for over a decade and is nowhere near completion.  One of the problems yet to be overcome is that the Amazon River rises and falls every year, sometimes by as much as 100 feet or more, and the rising, raging waters of the Amazon continually wash away roads that have been built.  It seems like a never-ending story…..

By the way, from the marker you can see that Recife is located about 8 degrees south of the equator.  Most of  the Amazon River (the parts that are not on the equator) are within 2-3 degrees north or south of it, which is why the area is so hot and is also a tropical environment.

From MARCO ZERO we returned to the area of the synagogue, on the way back to the ship.  We found an open gift shop directly across from the synagogue and looked at some of the things inside.  Nina tried on some hats and masks

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we looked at some Carnaval costumes

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and some gifts, like this musical instrument that makes the music when the gourd is shaken,

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a Carnaval marching band

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and a proctologist conducting an exam and recording results in his computer ….(is this totally weird or what?)

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As we headed back to the ship it turned out that some water hyacinths were creating some problems with the ship’s propellers, so a diver turned up in a boat marked “RABI” (everyone that day said this was the Rabbi’s boat) and went underwater to fix the problem.

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Later that night I escorted a nighttime catamaran tour during Carnaval through the river canals of Old Recife (“the Venice of Brazil”, remember?)

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for another perspective….Of course the city was all lit up, especially along its bridges….

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including the world’s largest chicken, poised on one of Recife’s bridges.

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After the Catamaran tour it was back to the ship and time to say goodbye to Carnaval and to Recife. 

Tomorrow a new day and a new adventure await…..