Monday, February 20, 2017

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!!!!

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