Saturday, February 25, 2017

Quarantined in Ilheus

Salvador da Bahia - but sent from Ilhabela on 25 Feb.

22 February 2017

We pulled into port at Salvador da Bahia on Monday, 20 Feb.  There was a gorgeous mural on the building right outside our stateroom, sort of a Brazilian Mother Nature – or maybe Mother Brazil, with all kinds of animals and flowers as part of her hair, the ocean in her face, and a couple of trout and hummingbirds as a headdress.  I loved the colors and, well, at least my interpretation of the mural. 

All of us were greeted by several women in beautiful costumes, handing us ribbons that, we guess, welcome us to Bahia.  Richard was told by one of the women that we’re supposed to wrap the ribbon around our wrist, tie the ends in three knots, make three wishes, and wear the ribbon until it falls off.  Neither of us have put the ribbons on, but the ladies were colorful and I’m holding on to my ribbons. 

We spent our morning in the port terminal, cleaning out our email inboxes (I had over 1000 new emails!), and I managed to post four blogs.  By afternoon, I was starting to not feel well, so we went back to the ship.  And, unfortunately, later in the evening I was feeling downright sick, with a fever.  So we finally called the ship’s medical center, while at sea, and ended up with a medical consultation about 1 AM. 

I was pretty sure my cold had turned into bronchitis.  The doctor was pretty sure I had the flu.  He insisted on testing me for it, and ugh that was not a fun test.  (Sorry, but I have a major problem with people poking things into me that don’t belong there.)  Of course, the test was negative, but I was pressured into taking the meds to treat influenza.  On the other hand, I also was given a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which will treat the nasty bacteria that show up with the bronchitis, which is why I had a fever. 

And then I was essentially put in quarantine.  Yup, told I was to be isolated in our stateroom for 24 hours, with twice-daily room sanitizations (complete with our friendly room steward wearing a mask and rubber gloves), plus twice-daily visits by the medical staff to take my temp.  Once I went 24 hours without a fever, the quarantine would be lifted. 

So I stayed in the room for a day, and we called room service for our meals.  (They were delivered by someone wearing a mask as well.)  I had a good book, there were some movies on tv, and with not feeling great, it was okay.  Of course, once I was on antibiotics my fever disappeared, so today I was released from isolation.  And I found out that had I left my room prior to the official lifting of quarantine, and tried to use my card anywhere on the ship (entrance to the dining room, any purchases, even in the casino), I’d have been escorted by security back to my room!  Good thing I was feeling yuck enough to stay in bed! 

Anyway, so I totally missed Ilheus, which turns out to be on the Cacao Coast and is the chocolate capital of Brazil!!!!!  SO SAD!!!!!  How can I possibly continue living without visiting the chocolate capital of Brazil???  CHOCOLATE!!!!  I can’t believe I had to get sick and miss such a wonderful place!  Some people we’ve met onboard visited, and said it was a cute little town with pretty buildings.  But they never found the chocolate market.  So we might have missed it as well.  Sigh. 

We’re having a day at sea today, and I’ve been keeping a low profile.  Tomorrow we were supposed to stop in Vittoria – but the police have been on strike there, and, well, things have been rather crazy apparently.  The cruise company, of course, keeps on top of the security at all ports, and they’ve been advised to NOT go to this stop.

That announcement was a reminder as to why we’re visiting Brazil in this fashion, on a cruise ship rather than our usual hit-or-miss free-spirit manner.  Brazil is going through political and social unrest, with a recently impeached president and corrupt politicians, rampant poverty, diseases like the zika virus, and continuing discrimination and divisiveness based on color and economic status.  We saw the teachers on strike in Belem, and I can’t even imagine a city with all of the police on strike for weeks.  Government workers aren’t always paid (hence the strikes), and every politician is suspected of financial fraud. 

So we’ve opted for a safer way of travel at the moment, with a large organization keeping on top of the political situation.  Plus the company knows what bad publicity it would be if any of their passengers’ safety or security was threatened.  This definitely is a less adventurous way of travelling, but we both felt that given the current state of the country, this was the more circumspect way to go.  Discretion being the better part of valor, and all that. 

At any rate, we’re stopping at Armacao dos Buzios rather than at Vittoria, Buzios being a beach resort town.  It’s supposed to be a beautiful place, with sandy beaches and aqua water and quaint shopping.  (Shopping seems to be a primary directive for some of our passengers.)

We’ll give it a go, and report back when we can.


Monday, February 20, 2017

The Beach Town of Maceio

19 February 2017 

This is the fourth blog I'm posting today, so please go back four posts to see all of our updates.  We’re having major wifi problems – the wifi on the ship is super expensive, as well as slow and sometimes it just disappears.  Some ports have free wifi, but we haven’t reached one yet in Brazil.  So I’m just writing the blog, and will post everything at once.

Maceio is a moderately-sized city best known for its beaches – gorgeous pale golden sand beaches that line the shores of this coastal town.  There are several points which jut out into the ocean, so there’s even more beach. 

We’re still close to the equator, so the shallow water is that beautiful aqua blue found only in tropical seas and oceans.  Crystal clear, and just such a brilliant color. 

There was a school band playing as we left the ship, kids roughly 13 to 16 years old.  A large tent was set up, with sort of a little market – this region is known for the lace and crochet work, so there were items for sale, along with other things.  But we shop very little, so we glanced at the items and walked to the buses which took us over to the handicrafts market.  More of the same, though colorful and pretty en masse.

We were hoping to find free wifi, but nothing was available.  The one restaurant with wifi wasn’t opening until 11:30 AM, and it was only 9:30 AM.  Plus we had to leave by 12:30 noon in order to get back to the ship.  So we gave up on that, and headed back to the pier. 

The kids in the band were hanging around while someone else played guitar, so Richard went over to chat with the clarinetist, having played clarinet when he was in school.  Another student seemed to be translating for the clarinet kid, and at one point the teacher came over.  I didn’t catch the entire conversation, but it included Richard asking them if they knew Dixieland music.  Complete with Richard doing a little version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  What can I say, it was really funny to be on the outskirts of this conversation!

We had a relaxing afternoon on board as we head south, toward tomorrow’s port. 

I still have laryngitis from this cold, so rather than go to the dining room and barely be able to have a conversation, I’ve been having my meals delivered to our stateroom.  Not that it’s a large stateroom, but we have a two-seater couch, a chair, and a tiny table.  So I get my dinner delivered, and it’s quite lovely, actually!  Richard likes the casual dining upstairs, but there’s so much mango that I end up avoiding a large amount of the food options. 

The dining room has a whole process for those of us with food allergies, or other food requirements.  I find their whole system to be really interesting.

First, there was a request that I fill out a form regarding my food allergy, and email it to the main office of the cruise line.  Then, we printed a copy, and I gave it to the head dining room manager.  The first night I had dinner, I let the waiter know about my allergies, and he made sure nothing had the evil mango in it.

But then, to avoid any possible mistake or cross-contamination, at the end of the meal I was presented with the next day’s menu.  It was explained that I should select what I’d like for dinner, and my food would be prepared away from any of the other food, to avoid getting even a smidgeon of mango in my meal.  So I’ve been doing that every day, and the staff seem to all know that I (and a number of other people onboard) have a “special order.”

We also appreciate the joys of in-room breakfast.  Yeah, this is absolutely a luxurious way to travel.  Leaps and bounds different from our usual style, and we both feel we’re barely getting a glimpse of the cities we’re visiting.

But it’s kind of nice to be pampered, however briefly!

Recife Color

18 February 2017

Before I write about our day, I need to explain a problem our ship encountered.  The ship was a bit late leaving Belem, because one of the tours got stuck in traffic and the passengers were late getting back to the ship.  Since we waited maybe a half hour, the current in the river had shifted just a bit, and when the anchor was hauled up, it was facing the wrong way.  So the prongs (called “flukes” on an anchor) wouldn’t fit back into the anchor slot properly.  The pilot ship tried to assist, but it wasn’t working.  We motored toward the mouth of the river, where either the current was less or the river was deeper, the captain’s explanation was a bit confusing.  Anyway, we had to let the anchor down again, all the way out, and then haul it in again.  Luckily the anchor turned around in this process and was able to fit into its storage slot correctly, so we could continue on our way. 

However, with all of that, we got a bit off schedule, losing nearly two hours.  Everything is pretty tightly scheduled, so the captain ordered all engines at full speed (but not quite warp speed).  But we’ve been sailing (or motoring) against the current for several days, heading east-southeast along the northern coast of Brazil, and then around that little corner that sticks out into the ocean.

So we arrived in Recife two hours late, and will leave about an hour or two late tonight.  Our next few days’ destinations are nearby, so we won’t have any days “at sea” until the end of next week.  I guess this way the captain is able to make up the lost time, and get back on schedule.

Today we’re in Recife, Brazil.  This is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, founded in 1534 by the Portuguese, and houses THE oldest synagogue in all of the Americas.  So that was our destination for our day here.  The city is crisscrossed by rivers and canals, and some people refer to it as the “Venice of Brazil.”  Both the pier and the old city are located on an island at the mouth of several rivers, which form a natural harbor.

This is a major port on the northeast corner of Brazil, and the pier is busy during the week.  Being Saturday, things are quiet, but the pier has a no pedestrians rule.  So there are buses that take us from the ship to the passenger terminal, weaving around silos and cranes and other equipment.

In the passenger terminal, there was an info center complete with maps and helpful staff – so we got vague directions for the synagogue.  Downstairs, there was a band and two Carnival dancers in costume, complete with mini umbrellas – or Carnaval, in the Brazilian Portuguese spelling.  Carnaval is next weekend, when we arrive in Rio, and it seems to be the same dates up here as well.  (Carnaval is what New Orleans calls Mardi Gras, the festive time before Lent.  In Catholic countries, Carnival or Carnaval tend to be on the same dates.  However, in the Caribbean, the islands celebrate Carnival for non-religious reasons, so the dates have nothing to do with a festival prior to Lent – Carnival is Carnival for its own sake there, and the dates relate to local events, not religious.) 

Anyway, we were walking along the main street that runs parallel to the shore, heading south I think.  Along the cross streets, we could see colorful streamers being put up overhead, with lights being added by road crews.  There was even a huge tent, maybe a viewing stand, being installed on that main boulevard.  Lovely colorful fluttering banners overhead, waving people in to the Carnaval festivities! 

We checked our directions with a few policemen – and no, we don’t speak Portuguese.  But I spoke in my Spanish, they answered in sort of an Argentinian Spanish, with some Portuguese thrown in, so we could communicate.  We got better directions, and I also got some information for two people who were following us, thinking we knew where we were going.  (Hah!)

So we turned up at the right block, and there was a blocked off but uncovered old (antique?) building.  Richard thought it looked like the remains of the drainage system, but I think it looks more like the corner of some old fortress, or maybe defensive walls around the old city.  There wasn’t anyone around to ask, so it will remain a mystery to us.  But it was pretty interesting, if oddly placed.

We walked on and found Rua do Bom Jesus, also known as Rua dos Judeus – Street of the Jews.  Not the most flattering name, but accurate.  We walked a block too far, going right past the synagogue – but a taxi driver and two men on the street sent us back half a block, and we found it.
Sinagoga Kahal Zur Israel, or the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, is nestled in what seems to be a residential neighborhood of beautiful and colorful colonial homes.  It looks like another one of the painted homes, with large windows and shuttered arched doors.  (We have no idea what the Hebrew name means.)  The sign says “It’s from the 17th century and the first formal synagogue in all of the Americas.  It’s the main landmark of the Judaic presence in Brazil.  In 2001 it was reformed, and holds the Judaic Cultural Center of Pernambuco.”

We had hoped to arrive in time for Shabbat services, today being Saturday.  But the place was closed.  A tour group came by, and while they were speaking Spanish, we were able to piece together some information – the synagogue was built during the Dutch occupation of the city, from 1637 to 1644.  They have three Torah scrolls that date back to the 1600s.  It was once the center of Jewish activity in the city, and many of the old buildings surrounding it still stand.  The building next door was once the Hebrew school, and part of the synagogue.  This synagogue itself is no longer a house of worship, but is now more of a Jewish cultural center.  So it’s closed on Saturdays.  The congregation meets elsewhere. 

We’d have liked to see the interior, and especially those 400 year old Torahs, but, well, that wasn’t going to happen.  So, we wandered on.

There were the same black and white stone mosaic sidewalks that we saw in Belem, although with different designs.  Some are abstracts in sort of an Art Nouveau style, but others relate to the industry of the shops or neighborhood – or at least that’s my guest from the anchor designs in the sidewalk!

I also found someone who was decorating mini umbrellas – these seem to be part of the Carnaval costumes, or maybe are a popular souvenir.  They were wonderful little rainbow-colored umbrellas, and he was adding designs, images, and words in glitter paint, as well as adding streamers in the corners or around the top, and maybe some sequins or stickers glued on.  Just so cheerful and colorful, I had to take photos! 

About this point of the day, those dark grey threatening skies decided to sprinkle a bit of rain.  Tiny compared to what we thought might happen, but enough to send us hurrying back to the passenger terminal.  Walking around in the rain while having laryngitis just wasn’t on our program for the day. 

Richard went on to the market in the afternoon, on the free shuttle provided by the cruise line.  I stayed in, warm and dry, drinking tea and babying this cold.  (Nothing worse than not feeling up to par while travelling, especially when the weather turns rainy.) 

So that was it for Recife: Carnaval preparation, a closed synagogue, and a nice walk.  We’re okay with that.  We don’t want to race around and see everything for a brief moment, we like to absorb each town a bit more slowly.  We both feel a little bit rushed by the ship’s schedule, with barely a day in each port – but that’s part of life on a cruise, and we were prepared for a different way of travelling.

The map points out the places we’ve visited on the cruise thus far – no names, just numbers showing the sequence of ports and our general route.

Across The Blue Equator

16 February 2017

We crossed the equator last night, somewhere between 11 PM and 1 AM – and this morning we received certificates that we sailed across the equator.  There was an event at noon, where people swam in the pool so they could say they swam across the equator.  We skipped that, but it’s fun to have an official certificate.

We’re in Brazil!  Belem is located on the Guama River, and was founded in 1616.  This city is about 100 km (60 miles) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, and almost but not quite on the southern edge of the Amazon Delta.  The rubber industry fueled the rapid growth of this city, and the original Portuguese fort can be visited.  The city rapidly expanded, and some of the gorgeous old colonial buildings still stand.

Our focus was to visit the old synagogue which dates back to the early 1800s.  Many Jews settled in this part of the world, escaping not only the Spanish (and Portuguese) Inquisition, but general prejudice and laws prohibiting owning land.  So they arrived, and built synagogues.

This turned into a typical Phebe and Richard adventure.  First, we took the tender to the town of Icoaraci, which seems to be a rather poor and sad sort of fishing town.  People weren’t starving, but the town and buildings and businesses seemed minimal, worn, and depressed.  We were shown the buses that were provided for us, and we rode to Belem. 

The ride should have been about half an hour, but it took nearly an hour.  Turned out there was a protest march or demonstration in the middle of one of the main roads in Belem, so the road was closed and traffic was detoured onto the side streets.

The bus parked, we got down, and I asked the dispatcher/coordinator lady for directions to the synagogue.  (I had with me the partial city map and page from the cruise book, with the synagogue’s address and name written down.)  She told us to follow the main detour street, go straight several blocks, and ask at a hotel, they could explain it better. 

So we walked, maybe eight or ten blocks, and asked at a tourist office.  The lady didn’t speak English or Spanish, but she called a co-worker who took us outside to show us which way to go.  Straight on the same road, a road by another name behind the school, turn right, go 100 meters, there it is, the synagogue is blue.  Uh, okay.

We walked some more, maybe another five or six blocks, and the main road ended.  But we couldn’t find the street with the name we needed.  Uh oh!

Richard looked around, and there was a young man, or maybe a kid, age 17 or something, we don’t know.  He’s selling cold water.  And wearing a Yankee cap.  Richard yells “good hat!” to him, points at his own Yankee hat, points at the kid’s hat, they grin at each other and give each other a thumbs up.

I figure okay, we’ve made personal contact, let’s ask for directions.  He doesn’t speak English, but Mr Yankee Hat understands my slow and minimal Spanish.  Turns out he knows where the synagogue is – take this side street to the right, go one block, turn left, go up that street, there it is.  I say, “And it’s blue!” (in Spanish).  He grins, nods, we say thank you in Spanish and Portuguese, he says “Shalom!”  Wow!

We start walking, and he decides to walk with us.  He escorts us all the way to the synagogue, and tells me in sort of a Spanish/Portuguese mix that he also is Jewish.  His name is Joshua, pronounced “YO-shoo-ah” in Portuguese.  And he adds that his name in Hebrew is “yo-HO-shoo-ah.”  We introduce ourselves, we all shake hands, and he’s good with taking a photo with Richard, with their Yankee hats.

Classic Phebe and Richard story!  Not exactly making best friends, but definitely meeting new people along the way as we travel around!

Of course, then the synagogue turns out to be closed, which our friend may have told us.  We don’t understand much Portuguese.  Richard talked to a man up the street, who said no one opens the building, no one goes there, they don’t have worship services.  It’s just there.  It’s beautiful, built in the mid-1800s, and is a bright and blinding cerulean blue, with white trim.  There’s a central dome, and small towers that look vaguely like minarets – plus the central rose window in the front façade has a star of David in the center.  Definitely a mix of architectural traditions.  And probably wonderful inside.  The outer view is somewhat impaired by the heavy electrical lines along the street.  But we were glad to have visited even the outside, and having met Mr Yankee Hat guy.

We turned around and walked back to the place to meet the shuttle bus.  Looked at some food items, but it was about 95 F and humid (31 C) – we just wanted to cool off, and didn’t know what we wanted for lunch.  It was easier to catch the shuttle, get a tender back to the ship, and grab a late lunch on board.

We couldn’t find wifi in either place.  We’re hoping we can get online in Recife, and maybe post this blog.  Otherwise, I’ll just keep a running blog file and post it when we can.

We have two days at sea as we travel from Belem to Recife.  Complete with lessons in capoeira and samba dancing!  I want to SAMBA!!!!