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.
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.