We sailed away from the rather sad town of Puerto Madryn – the drizzle in Patagonia and the majestic sea-lions and cormorants. While the town was a sorry place I would have liked to have gone off into the interior to penetrate Patagonia and see more of those rolling deserts with their unique habitats. I would have liked finding more of the wild-life – the rheas, armadillos and pumas. I would liked to go as far as the ice covered Andes and see something of that beauty.
For now we were heading off into the ocean for two days of sailing. The giant petrels and albatrosses gave way to the boobies as the temperature rose. The shirt and jeans gave way to shorts, T-shirts, shades and sandals.
Up on the top deck the Jacuzzis were bubbling madly and the sun blazed once more. There were books to read, books to write, lectures to attend and meals to eat. The sunsets were great.
Out in the middle of the ocean once again we were travelling north towards Brazil once again. There was nothing to see apart from ocean. It was endless. There were no other vessels in sight. At night I stood alone on the deck as the boat surged forward, parting the waves in a fluorescent bow-wave. It felt as if I was alone, apart from the rest of humanity. The breeze created by the ship’s progress was warm and satisfying.
In the day I sat reading on the deck. Squalls appeared off to the side. I could see discrete areas of ocean where the rain was teeming down and the wind blew. Sometimes there was thunder and lightning. On a couple of occasions we passed through a squall and the winds dashed rain over the decks causing everyone to run for cover. For half an hour the loungers and chairs were empty.
We nosed along the long causeway – a long line of rocks piled up separating the port from the beaches. We were back in Brazil – back to the heat, the vitality and inequality, the samba beat and steamy jungles. It felt good. We were full of expectation.
It was carnival time. We had been told that everything would be shut. Carnival!! That sounded exciting. I started to imagine myself in a huge crowd, drinking, partying and enjoying themselves as the floats, music and costumes swamped the senses. It was a pointless reverie. Unfortunately we were due to head out in the early evening. There was no carnival for us. It was a delicacy offered but not given.
As we docked at the jetty in Rio Grande I was full of excitement. Rio Grande! I had thoughts of Gary Cooper and a stand-off in Main Street. It wasn’t like that at all.
On one side of the river was the town of Rio Grande, on the other was a green swathe of natural swamp and mangrove. I could make out birds that looked like white egrets on the shore. The twitchers set up their telescopes and were enthusing about the sightings of egrets, herons and a spoonbill. They proudly showed me this magnificent bird wading in the shallows – much too far away to photograph but still exciting to see.
We were taken through the dock area on a shuttle bus and dropped off in the main square. I peered through the window at the decaying buildings. Brazil was decomposing before our eyes.
The park in the centre of the square was full of great trees covered with epiphytes, the usual statues and tropical flowers. We wandered through. There was not a soul to be seen. Around the square there were the pleasant gaudy coloured buildings.
We headed off through the town.
They were right. Everywhere was shut. The only places open were the pharmacies. One street had a whole string of competing pharmacies. Not only that but it was all completely deserted. We wandered through those empty streets taking in the brightly coloured houses and the old churches. At least there was no problem about having crowds blocking your shots. I was able to photograph without annoying intrusions.
We later heard of some of the fellow voyagers being robbed in the square we walked through and others in those deserted streets. I found that incredible. We did not see anyone who could have robbed us.
We assumed that everyone was sleeping off the excesses of the previous night’s carnival. We imagined them sleeping off their hang-overs and recuperating for another night’s revelling. We hoped to at least discover some evidence of the carnival. There was nothing to be found.
This place was so strangely empty that it felt as if the place had been evacuated.
We found the cathedral and walked around the two sides on offer. It was firmly locked up. Then we headed back to the dock. There was a fishing port to discover. Reaching it we toyed with the idea of catching a ferry to the other side. I was tempted. Perhaps we might be able to get close to those birds? But I doubted it.
There was a little activity in the market. Some people were gutting a small number of freshly caught fish. On top of the roof a number of white egrets and a big heron were patiently waiting. The fish entrails were thrown out for the birds who swooped down from the roof, strutted, enlarged their plumage and fought over the scraps.
There were a few boats and nothing much else to see. Carnival time was certainly a slow time.
We negotiated with a taxi driver to take us out to the beach. It was famous. Praia do Cassino was the longest beach in the world being 250 kilometres long. We were extremely thirsty and dehydrated. Nowhere was open to even get us a glass of water. The beach was the only place open.
We hadn’t counted on it being so far away. It was a 30 minute drive. When we arrived we found exactly where everyone was. The beach was packed. There were lines of cars. Everyone in Rio Grande was on that beach. At the head of the beach there was a goddess on a pedestal – the goddess of the beach. Lots of offerings had been placed at her feet. Once again there was the strange mixture of voodoo, Catholicism and superstition.
We arranged with our taxi driver to pick us back up. He chose to sit in his car with his head back and feet up on the steering wheel and catch some zzzzs.
We found a beach café and ordered litre glasses of liquidised fruit juice. They were delicious. The locals tried to get us to try the delicious lemon alcoholic Caipirinha cocktail. We were too dehydrated and took another litre of delicious fruit juice instead. Then we wandered along the beach. We caught up with caipirinhas later!
It turned out that there was no carnival that night. The time of carnival was a holiday. That’s why they had all been at the beach. I suspect that the cruise was avoiding real carnival. They last thing they wanted was for all their passengers being exposed to a proper Carnival. There was too much risk of robbery and violence! A missed opportunity.
Back on board we headed back up along that causeway and gazed longingly at that beach that lay beyond. It would have been great to have spent a few days swimming in that warm sea and test out a few more of those Brazilian cocktails.
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