The Voyage Part 9 – Wild-life

The Voyage Part 9 – Wild-life

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On the crossing we were joined by large birds which seemed to hang or glide in the air around us. They were boobies. First there was a single brown booby and then a number began to appear. They swept along the side of the boat sometimes hanging in the air feet away from me seeming to be studying me with their astute beady eyes.

There were three types of boobies – the brown booby, the spectacled booby and the red legged booby. They were all magnificent but I was particularly fond of the red legged variety with its yellow tail feathers and blue beak.

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The boobies would soar over the waves seeking food. They feasted on the flying fish that scudded away in large numbers, escaping the huge predator that was our ship. As our boat cut through the water the bow-wave would eject flying fish and the boobies would swoop to pluck them out of the air or dive into the sea to grab them as they plopped back into the water. That is primarily what was attracting them to the ship.

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Here we were hundreds of miles from the nearest land and yet there were birds effortlessly gliding on the breeze.

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As we got closer to South America we were joined by huge frigate birds. They hung in the air above the ship without a single wing-beat, looking like kites. They roosted on the ship’s infrastructure. On one night, as I was walking the deck I noticed one of the giant birds had settled on one of the ship’s long flexible radio aerials. The aerial was whipping about under the weight of the bird and the movement of the ship and the frigate bird was gripping on for dear life. I watched for a while thinking that it would surely leave such a precarious roost. It would be getting dizzy with the violent motion. It was still there in the morning. Perhaps it enjoyed being whipped around?

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The frigate birds did not feed directly on the fish. They were rather evil and raggedy looking when perched with dishevelled feathers, like tattered black cloaks of a highwayman from the past, and their long beaks with its wicked point. There was none of the elegance they had when in flight. Their perched character was revealing of their true nature. They were robbers of the worst kind. They would watch the boobies doing the work and then swoop down to bully them into regurgitating the fish from their crops.

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There are always some characters who are lazy, arrogant and vicious, who believe that it is beneath them to do any work; they can let the others do it and then simply take the product of their exertions by force. History is littered with the stories of these callous brigands. They’d storm through raping and pillaging, burning and torturing for fun. These scraggy frigates were the avian equivalent. I felt sorry for the poor terrified boobies.

There was other sea-life too. Every now and then a leatherback turtle would drift past the side of the ship with its neck sticking out of the water as it craned its neck to watch us go by. Pods of dolphins would sometimes make a bee-line for us and play in our bow-wave or wake before heading back off into the ocean’s expanse.

There were whales sighted all around us. Blows would be spotted and the fins or tails of a pod seen sinking below the waves. Great fun was had deciding from the height and shape of the blow and the nature of the fin what sort of whales they might be. Occasionally they would be quite near to the ship.

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Isn’t it always the case that you never have your bloody camera when they pop up alongside you? That’s sod’s law.

From this account it sounds as if the sea was full of creatures. Sadly that was not the case. They were few and far between.

Back in the day of the old wooden sailing boats the seas did teem with life. The ships used to land on islands in order to restock with provisions and fresh water. Unfortunately the provisions included fresh meat and the sailors would bludgeon every creature that moved. They decimated the breeding grounds of seals, sea-lions, turtles and penguins, taking eggs, young and pregnant females indiscriminately. It wasn’t just the poor dodo that they pushed towards extinction. One of their favourite tricks was to stock up with live turtles that they would stack on deck upside down to kill when necessary. One can only imagine the agony of being left for days and weeks in the baking sun without food or water. It was cruel and callous.

The whalers also exacted a terrible toll. Not only did they decimate the whale populations but also took penguins, seals and even polar bears.

What we saw was the rump of what had once been. These creatures were hanging on as the human populations exploded. Their habitat was being destroyed, their food sources reduced, their breeding grounds taken over and they themselves hunted and killed. The tide of humanity was washing over the entire world.

In order to glimpse the majesty of what was left we spent hours scanning the oceans. But when we saw them they were wonderful.

Those creatures were testimony to the glory of natural selection. Evolution is amazing.

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Anecdote – Mexican Borders – a tale of drugs and bribes

Anecdote – Mexican Borders – a tale of drugs and bribes

Mexican borders.

We were heading for Mexico City by van. I’d sorted the route. It was left at the top of our road.

We were going to travel from Los Angeles to San Diego and then straight along the main pan Mexican highway to Mexico City. We had three kids in tow and a tent but that van was going to be our home for a couple of weeks. It was a thousand five hundred miles.

The Mexican border was the first spot of interest. We went in on a six lane highway and out on a dirt road.

At the customs hut we were pulled over by three surly guards. The first guard told us that he might have to search the van for drugs. I protested. I was hardly likely to be smuggling drugs into Mexico, was I? The guard was unmoved. He pointed to a bunch of cars and vans that had been previously subjected to a similar procedure. They had been ripped to shreds. All the seats, upholstery, roof, panels had been ripped out and slashed to pieces. They had even had their engines removed. It did not bode well. I was imagining what I was going to say to the American teacher we had borrowed the van off.

But then the guard suggested that for a small fee he could make us exempt. I slipped him twenty dollars. He told me that there were three of them. I passed the others notes across.

Petrol in Mexico was half the price of the US so we’d come across with an empty tank. When we’d exchanged our dollars the miserable Mexican exchanger had refused to give us any small notes. We had been given large denomination notes worth fifty pounds. I thought that we would get some change from the garage. We filled up with petrol and I handed one of the notes over. A full tank had only set us back about ten dollars. He gave me around five dollars’ worth of change in a bunch of small currency notes. I protested vehemently. I couldn’t speak Spanish and he pretended not to understand English. I pointed to the price on the pump and demanded the rest of the change. Unrepentant and without a hint of embarrassment he handed me a few more notes. It took another three protests and a lot of angry exchanges before he finally coughed up the right money. He was totally unfazed by the whole scam.

The road, the main arterial road through Mexico to Central America, was a two lane job. It was the major highway for all commerce. There were big trucks roaring up and down it. But it was lousy. You would be driving along at full pelt, round a bend and it would disappear into a dirt track. We would bump and career along for a while before the tarmac would reappear. Obviously some municipal council had not paid their taxes. It was no wonder the whole road was punctuated with shrines to dead motorists. The drivers using that death-trap of a thoroughfare were crazy.

In way of illustration, one day we’d stopped at the side of the road to grab some lunch. A car travelling at high speed, swerved off the road, careered through the undergrowth right to the side of us without slowing and then scuttled back on to the road in a screech of wheel-spin, enveloping us in a cloud of dust. We were in shock.

But hey, much to the amazement of our neighbours, who were sure we would be killed by bandits or smashed to pulp on the road, we made it to Mexico City and back in one piece.

The Voyage Part 9 – Buenos Aires Argentina

The Voyage Part 9 – Buenos Aires Argentina

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After two days more at sea in the sunshine, basking in the Jacuzzi, reading, eating and writing, it was on to Buenos Aires. There was a little trepidation regarding our welcome in Argentina. After the Falklands war there was a possibility that we might not be so popular.

Our on-board lecture was very good. It painted the political and social scene very. We could expect a city that would seem very orderly and European after the colourful muddle of Brazil. There were not the same slums and poverty. Neither was there the ethnic diversity. This was explained by the facts that the Argentinians had not been involved with the slave trade and had wiped out their indigenous Indian population in the early years. One of those seemed a good thing and the other reprehensible. I’m not a big fan of genocide.

 

We walked through the city of Buenos Aires and felt safe and at home. All the Argentinian people we met were friendly and there was none of the shabby dilapidation of Brazil. Argentina was less colourful and vibrant but there did not seem to be the poverty and its resultant religious frenzy. It was not as vibrant but it felt safe and homely – like the section of Europe transported to the tropics we had been promised.

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We walked through the green parks with their parakeets and exotic trees in flower. The roads were broad and the parks were plentiful. It had an open feel to it. The sun shone. We stopped for a coffee and a beer. It felt relaxed and friendly.

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The thing I noticed about Argentina was its love of bronze statues. Everyone who had ever done anything was rewarded with a statue. The parks and squares were littered with them.

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First port of call was Eva Peron’s balcony where she’d made her famous address to the masses from the pink palace. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Peron’s. I applauded the stance they’d taken for the workers and women’s rights. It seemed to be right in line with the whole principle of fairness, justice and equality that I espoused. Evita was standing up for the ordinary man and woman against the establishment and their controlling elite. I could agree with that whole-heartedly. I wasn’t so sure when it came to their support of Hitler, Mussolini and the whole fascist principles. It seemed confusing. Anyway they were overthrown by one of those inevitable military coups that re-established tyrannical rule and ensconced the elite in luxury while torturing the population into submission – the recurring theme of South America.

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We stood in the 25th May square and marvelled at the way South American countries had a habit of naming things after significant historical dates of historical events. There were a series of bridges and squares known just by a date. The May Square celebrated the 25th May 1810 revolution that gained the country its independence from Spain.

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It was still a seat of demonstration and we walked among the huge protest camp with its posters, signs and silhouettes of dead soldiers protesting about the treatment of veterans from the Falklands/Malvinas war.

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We walked along through the city with its classical architecture, green parks, obelisks and statues and sampled the beers.

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After that there was nothing for it but to head for the cemetery. This was renowned for its lavish tombs with Eva Peron (Evita) having pride of place.

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In the park there was an enterprising couple who were busking by doing a Tango for the tourists. It was an appetiser. That evening Liz, being a dancer, wanted to sample the delights of the most erotic dance on the planet – straight out of the Argentinian brothels into the ballrooms of the world.

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Then it was back to the ship for another prolonged sunset as we flowed out of Buenos Aires harbour leaving the city encased in an orange glow. It seemed appropriate.

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The Voyage – Part 20 – In the doldrums

The Voyage – Part 20 – In the doldrums

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For some reason the journey back across the Atlantic only took three days this time. Perhaps the captain was in a hurry to get home?

We were heading for Cape Verde – that volcanic archipelago off the coast of Africa. This time it was Santiago and its capital Praia. But that was three days away.

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The captain thought that we might get bored so they put on quizzes and organised a chocolate event. I slunk away for the quizzes and read or wrote elsewhere but I was intrigued by the chocolate. I am a nascent diabetic and alcoholic. I show no signs of being either but I think it is something you have to work on. Chocolate was, as the Incas well knew, the food of the gods. Wine is the drink of the gods.

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I was expecting big things. What I got was chocolate cakes in every shape and size. That was OK but I found that there is only so much chocolate that even I could consume.

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What I was more taken with were the amazing sculptures the cook put together using fruit and vegetables. He was quite an artist. He also did these remarkable ice sculptures. It was quite incredible, in the heat of the tropical sun, to see a guy attack a block of ice with a knife – ice shards spraying in all directions, and end up with a couple of intertwined birds or fish. He did it so quickly.

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There were great sunsets but the journey was choppier than it had been on the way across when the sea had been silken. It seemed troubled. We soon lost the boobies and there were few sightings of whales, turtles or dolphins. But the sun still shone and we were in the tropics. Life was good.

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We went up to the bridge and had a go at steering the ship. It was easy. I’d quite like being the captain. You just told people what to do, sat in your seat with your cap on, and everyone did it. From what I could see the boat was being commanded by a young guy with a pair of binoculars.

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The radar was good. You could see all around for tens of miles. It could even pick up whales. It confirmed my suspicions. We were all alone in the middle of the Atlantic. There wasn’t even another vessel over the horizon and even the whales had buggered off.

The Voyage – Part 19 – Natal Brazil – the biggest nut of all

The Voyage – Part 19 – Natal Brazil – the biggest nut of all

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I was suffering from a feeling of despondency. At the beginning of the trip those fifty five days had stretched out before me like an infinite universe. I had not been sure if I would enjoy the motion of the boat, the relentless drone of the engines or being confined to a small ship and the company of an assortment of humanity. I thought I might find the tiny cabin claustrophobic and the endless days boring. But there were the delights of those destinations to look forward to. Well there were lots of things about this trip that I had grown used to and thoroughly enjoyed. I felt as if the cabin was home. The motion of the sea and constant drone was soothing. I had greatly relished having time to read, write and think without the constant distraction of chores or people to contact. In the middle of the ocean you could not communicate with people and if something went wrong at home there was nothing you could do about it. That was a weight lifted. There was a freedom to cruising and being pampered – meals and drinks on demand. I was enjoying it. But we were running out of destinations and soon would be running out of sun.

News back home was of cold, rain and snow.

I sat on the deck with my book, visited the Jacuzzi, wrote a few pages and contemplated our last visit to Brazil – probably the last time we would ever come back.

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As we approached Natal the sun was rising, filling the sky with pink, orange and mauve. By the time we were passing under the famous suspension bridge it was already up and the light was bright. The tub brought us in to dock and I peered over the rail. On one side was the sky-scrapers of Natal with its traffic and hordes. On the other was the verdant mangrove swamp. I knew which side I preferred.

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We knew what we wanted to do – we were off to see the biggest cashew tree on the planet.

On the way through the city we saw the familiar tall buildings of concrete and glass, the new concrete evangelical churches, and ubiquitous graffiti. Natal looked a bit more prosperous than most places in Brazil. There did not appear to be either shanty towns or favelas – but then perhaps they were in another part that we weren’t driving through.

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We headed out of the city on a highway and into green fields and countryside. We stopped briefly to see the Brazilian contribution to the space race. There was a launch site for satellites complete with a very slender missile, which looked little more than one of the ten penny rockets I used to buy as a kid, and a device that looked as if it sent out death rays.

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Eventually we reached our tree. It was not quite how I had imagined it but was very impressive none-the-less. The tree was a low sprawling affair – about twenty feet high but covering the area of a football pitch.

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We made our way through the myriad of stalls selling everything from snacks, coconut drinks and coffee to cashew nuts and trinkets. There was no time to shop; we had branches to peer at.

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There was a path laid out so that you could walk in a circular fashion under the whole tree. Above my head the branches interlaced and dived back to the ground. The tree went on and on, dipping and rising. It was very impressive – like being in the middle of a giant rhododendron bush!

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At the end we climbed up on to a platform that enabled us to look out over the whole huge expanse of the tree. It was a great green mass of bright leaves. I bet it produced a pound or two of cashews. There were brown lizards charging around fighting with each other and defending territory. I guess we had come in the mating season!

We sampled a cashew juice drink supposedly high in antioxidants and bought enough cashew nuts to sink the ship. Then we headed for the beach and a welcome cooling coconut or two.

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The beach was a long expanse of yellow sand with bright beach umbrellas but of more interest to me was the black volcanic rock that formed reefs at intervals along it.

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Back in Natal we went along the beach to the fort that stood at the entrance to the port. There was a shelf of volcanic rock alive with sea birds.

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The Atlantic pounded in with crashing rollers that sent spray up into the air. I noticed they had one of those goddesses of the beach here as well.

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Perhaps they had them everywhere in Brazil. It was a superstitious country. Those beaches were very beautiful. I wasn’t sure about the way they built their high-rise apartment blocks on the edge of the beaches – but that was Brazil. The temperature was hot – the breeze pleasant – the people friendly. I would have like to have stayed longer and chilled out; to have bathed and soaked it up. I would have liked to have gone inland and checked out the jungle and wild-life. Brazil was a violent place but it was also the place for lovers.

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And that was it. Our South American adventure was at an end.

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We had three more stops on the way home but they felt to be like fillers. We were leaving Brazil and South America.

Once again the timing was immaculate. There was a party on deck and the samba beat belted out as we glided under that huge suspension bridge. Two little boys were in the middle of that bridge as we passed under and they waved us away. I waved back.

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The sun was setting. It was setting on us, on South America and on our voyage.

As we passed I looked back along reef along the beach and the fort where we had walked. I looked back at the bridge as it receded with the sun setting behind it. It seemed appropriate.

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I could see that bridge in the orange light for a long, long time.

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Goodbye Brazil.

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There were eleven days still to go and three more destinations, that was as much as most people had as a whole vacation, but it felt as if the adventure was already over. we were on the return leg.

The Voyage Part 18 – Salvador de Bahia – Brazil – A Unesco heritage site of contrasts and danger

The Voyage Part 18 – Salvador de Bahia – Brazil – A Unesco heritage site of contrasts and danger.

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We sailed north for two more days as the temperature remains steady between 25 and 30 degrees. There are few things better than a cool beer on a hot day, particularly if you are lying back in a bubbling Jacuzzi with the sun beating down on you, or sitting on the deck, with your feet up on a rail, reading a good book and glancing out over a smooth sea to check out an interesting bird or sign of marine life. Your mind settles into a different rhythm.

We were heading for Salvador de Bahia. It was a city with a UNESCO seal of approval; this was the old colonial capital of Brazil. It was supposed to be particularly beautiful. I had high hopes.

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We arrived in the early morning. It was just beginning to lighten as we slid into the port. I stood at the rail and looked up at the city. It was on two levels. Up on the high I saw the silhouettes of a number of cathedrals and other historically interesting buildings. It looked intriguing.

We docked and as the light improved I could see the architecture of the buildings around the dock from the deck of the boat. There were the characteristic blue tilework along with the bright colours. But even at this distance I could make out the shabbiness. However, it was the city at the top of the hill overlooking the port that had UNESCO status. I still had hope of something special.P1070487

We disembarked and were greeted in the foyer of the immigration hall by a large jolly lady with huge colourful skirts and turban. She was a candomblee priestess – a weird voodoo queen – a hark-back to African roots. She was exceedingly friendly and gave us a ribbon each which had some coded message on it. This was a candomblee blessing. We were a bit bemused but very polite.

Close up the old colonial buildings were majestic but in even greater disrepair than they had looked from afar. They were the epitome of shabbiness.

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We walked along to Saint Anthony’s fort. It was prettily situated on the headland and one of many such forts. It reminded you that the city had been built at a time of war, pirates and privateers. It was very heavily defended.

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The fact that it now looked picturesque was unimportant to the men who built it. It was there, as was the Sao Marcello fort in the middle of the bay, to repel warships. We walked past people swimming and fishing in the enticing sea. Standing at the fort we looked out over a packed sandy beach. But we did not have time for bathing. There was a lot to see here.

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We boarded a bus to head off for the incredible Bonfin Church at the far extent of the city. We passed by a lake in which there were huge statues of Candomblee gods and goddesses arrayed with weapons and colourful garb. There were favelas on the hill, old people sitting around playing cards and talking, markets and lots of poor housing. The impression I was getting was of a lot of extreme poverty.

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The Bonfin church was very impressive on its hill. In the square in front of the church there were lots of tourists and pilgrims. There were also a number of male and female Candomblee priests with bunches of herbs and ribbons of blessing willing to give you a blessing for a small fee. They seemed to live in harmony with the Catholic Church. Many of the denizens emerging from the church were hedging their bets by buying a voodoo blessing. Superstition was alive and well in Brazil. It demonstrated how the Catholic Church was willing to accommodate all the local religions and beliefs.

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All around the church was a fence that was festooned with a colourful sea of brightly coloured ribbon blessings. It was a unique sight. We could not resist adding our ribbons to the mass.

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Inside the church a priest was reciting scripture to a massed audience. Religion is still big in Brazil. They’re still a bit behind Europe. One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve travelled around the world is that the greater the poverty the greater the piety. People living in hopelessness are willing to put their faith in anything. Superstition rules the poor and oppressed.

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I noted the ornate gilded interior and went out to allow myself to be impressed with the ancient blue Portuguese tilework.

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There was a room at the back, aptly named ‘The Miracle Room’, full of false arms, and various other prosthetic devices, dangling from the ceiling and walls. It was extraordinary. I presumed I was supposed to believe that god had cured all these people. I felt like marching in to the priest and demanding some verification of these miracles. I found it amusing on one level and disturbing on another.

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Heading back to the dock we made our way to the café in the market building. It was full of various tourist tat, cadomblee instruments, coffee, Cachaça, Caipirinha, cashew nuts and candomblee dolls. The café was nice. It overlooked the bay and the fort. We had a snack and a beer served by a delightful waitress with a big grin.

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We took the lift up to the top of the hill and peered out over the bay.

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All around us were the fading splendour of the town with its tiles, colours and a number of cathedrals. It was a beautiful colonial town and I could imagine it in all its splendour in those days when the old sailing boats would have been moored in the harbour loading and unloading their goods. It must have been majestic.

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The dark side was there with the armed police. They stood in pairs on every corner with submachine guns at the ready. It turned out they were especially shipped in to protect the tourists. The Brazilian government was short of cash. They wanted to make sure we were safe. However, it indicated just how dangerous the place would be without them. A later lecture on board ship picked up on that. It was pointed out that if we had left something at one of the cafes and had to go back for it after all the police had withdrawn – how safe would we have felt? The answer was – not very! We wandered through the backstreets and soon reached a point where we were beginning to feel decidedly edgy. You could feel it.

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We went back and walked around looking at the magnificent buildings, had a coconut juice in a café, a beer in another, looked at the churches and topped it off with a wonderful ice-cream. There were candomblee queens all over the place. It was a strange mixture of cultures and races in Brazil.

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Back down in the lower town we walked around but it was getting dark and felt a bit threatening so we headed back.

In the harbour there were two dug-out canoes – that’s a sight you do not often see – and a raft with a tent on it – I think it was a houseboat!

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Back on the ship we learned that a few people had been robbed – one at knife-point.

Salvador had lived up to expectations – a beautiful place full of danger.

I stood at the stern and watched it slide into history.

The Voyage – Part 17 – Santo Brazil – in photos and words

The Voyage – Part 17 – Santo Brazil – in photos and words

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There was another day sailing north further up the coast of Brazil towards its largest port – the fabled Santos. Santos was famous for two things – coffee and Pele.

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Unfortunately El Nino was exerting its power and unsettling the weather. We had been plagued with unseasonal rain on this trip and Santos was no exception. We headed up the inlet towards the port to find the hills around shrouded with low-lying clouds and the stilted shanty towns along the edges of the inlet all enveloped in mist.

In a coach with windows festooned with droplets we set off to the football ground that made Pele such an international star. On the way we passed by the picturesque bays with islands and sailing boats, long tree-lined promenades and parks. You could see that with the sun shining it would have been beautiful. Even today, in the rain, there was beauty.

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Personally I was not enamoured by the shopping centres with their promise of cheap merchandise due to the weakness of the Brazilian currency but I was taken with the leaning apartment blocks. Some architect had miscalculated the ground stability and need for deeper piles. The foundations were not sufficient. In a few decades they’d start falling over. It looked to me that there was a disaster waiting to happen.

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At the stadium we looked at the statues, plaques, art, cups and photographic homage to the great Pele. We went out to see the pitch and I marvelled at how small the stadium was. I had imagined a great stage for such a football genius to display his wares. This place was very modest.

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Then it was off to the famous coffee house. Back in the day Brazil had been the centre of the world’s coffee supply. In 1922 the Coffee Exchange was built to facilitate this market. The building looks much older with its unique architecture, brilliant stained glass roof and paintings depicting scenes from the very early days of Santos. These days it is a museum and well worth a visit. I thought the architecture was great. It looked brilliant.

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We walked back to the railway stage and boarded one of the newly renovated trams to take us round the old town nice and dry. My mistake was sitting on the outside so that I could take some photographs. Half of me was soaked through. But the ride was interesting. My tram was named Pele.

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The old town was old. It was a mass of decaying colonial buildings. It seemed to me that the Brazilians did not value their old buildings. Everything was rotting and falling down. Perhaps there was a psychological factor at work here? They secretly wanted rid of all the vestiges of colonial control.

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Back on the ship we headed off back out of the inlet passing the masses of wooden shanties housing the poor and looking far prettier, on their stilts, than they really were. Alongside them was a marina for millionaires’ yachts and huge expensive apartment blocks. That seemed to summarise Brazil – a land of extremes of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ which was responsible for the crime and violence.

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I was reminded of that Bob Dylan sentiment about when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

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The light was fading as we pulled out. I didn’t think I’d caught the best of Santos. But as we sailed out between the bays and hills and passed the ships moored outside the inlet I was taken with the brilliance of light as it brought everywhere to life. It was magical.

The Voyage – Part 16 – Rio Grande – Brazil – Photos and review

The Voyage – Part 16 – Rio Grande – Brazil – Photos and review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

These are a couple of other of my poetry books.

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If you enjoy my poems or anecdotes why not purchase a paperback of anecdotes for £7.25 or a kindle version for free.

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Or a book of poetry and comment:

Rhyme and Reason – just £3.98 for the paperback or free on Kindle

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Photography – Skuas in the Falkland

Photography – Skuas in the Falklands

P1040642 P1040636 P1040644 P1040735 Looking for easy pickings – eggs, fish or babies

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If you enjoy my poems or anecdotes why not purchase a paperback of anecdotes for £7.25 or a kindle version for free.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Anecdotes-Weird-Science-Writing-Ramblings/dp/1519675631/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457515636&sr=1-3&keywords=opher+goodwin

Or a book of poetry and comment:

Rhyme and Reason – just £3.98 for the paperback or free on Kindle

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rhymes-Reason-Opher-Goodwin/dp/1516991184/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457515636&sr=1-4&keywords=opher+goodwin

My other books are here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Opher-Goodwin/e/B00MSHUX6Y/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1457515636&sr=1-2-ent

Thank you and please leave a review.