Publisher’s note: Mimi is on her way around the world and tells us she is “having the trip of a lifetime.” We are limited on space and had to cut down her submission, but you can go to her blog, www.mimiod.wordpress.com, for more details and to experience the world with her.
All cruises begin with a hefty dose of “hurry up and wait.” This Grand World Voyage was no exception. By the time I got to the front of the line, there were four travelers behind me and 955 in front.
Once checked in, you begin with a mandatory safety presentation and lifeboat assignment. Then comes the first dinner and all the apprehension of wondering if you will end up at a table with compatible tablemates. It appears I am fortunate: My tablemates seem very nice and include three Canadians, two couples, two single ladies, a widower and me. It is a good blend of people and perspectives.
It turns out that about 35% of the passengers are Canadian; 55% are U.S. citizens and the remainder are Brits, Dutch, German and the obvious “other” nationalities. About 75% are traveling the entire world, while 25% are stopping along the way.
First Stop, a Volcano Island
The first stop was Roseau, Dominica (pronounced “row sew dom me knee ka”). This dormant volcano island is a lush paradise of tropical rain forest, wild impatiens, orchids, tree-covered mountains, winding roads and picturesque waterfalls with bubbling pools.
To counterbalance this natural beauty, there is unimaginable poverty, ramshackle housing, rusting fences, old cars and buses, and potholes in the roads that could swallow a small bus. Citrus grows all over the place and is picked off the ground by the poor. Bananas (which grow upward) and sugar cane are cultivated for export to England.
Our second stop was Barbados, a more typical Caribbean island with beautiful sand beaches and a thriving tourist industry; the casual visitor could land at the airport, go to a resort and never encounter the depth of poverty inherent here.
After two more days at sea, we crossed the equator and lost another hour. I never realized that Brazil extends so far east that by the time we got to Rio de Janeiro, we were three hours ahead of Eastern Standard time.
Next Stop, Brazil
We arrived at the southern channel of the mouth of the Amazon, just to the north of Belem (the 11th largest city in Brazil). We anchored off Icoaracy Village and tendered into the port with shuttles for the 45-minute trip into Belem.
To learn about the culture in this bustling city, I chose the excursion called The Taste of the Amazon. We proceeded to walk from the waterfront to the Mercaedo ve o Peso, an expansive open-air market. Exotic fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices from Amazonia were for sale or bargaining, and the sights and smells were intoxicating.
For many of my fellow travelers the heat and humidity (82 degrees, with 85% humidity) were miserable, but to a Marylander, it was just a warm day in July. The fish market was larger than what’s offered in Jessup, but the sanitation was woefully deficient by U.S. standards. People were everywhere haggling and sampling. Our knowledgeable guide explained how the foods were harvested, as well as the medicinal uses for the Amazonian specialties.
As we entered the restaurant for lunch, we found a bowl of water scented with local herbs to cleanse and sanitize our hands after a morning of handling raw foods in the market. And the local beer was delicious.
We then took a short walk through the jungle to see the “tree of life,” an enormous tree that sometimes grows for 300 to 400 years. The tour at our next stop in Refice and Olinda, Brazil, was another story. Our guide was enthusiastic, but hard to understand; after four hours of mind-numbing dialogue, I know nothing about Recife and Olinda, but this will be one of the most memorable tours ever.
On to Rio
After a couple of days at sea spent walking around the deck, eating, reading, playing trivia, listening to lectures, painting and listening to wonderful live performances of music or comedy every night, it was on to Rio. The harbor was shrouded in clouds, but thrilling as we slowly crept into the city.
Rio is known for the statue of Christ the Redeemer with outstretched arms perched at the top of the Corcovado mountain. Standing 130 feet tall and weighing 700 tons, Cristo is a world-wide recognized icon and symbol of Rio, and was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
We had a Brazilian lunch where you could load your plate with all kinds of salads and then the waiters would stop by your table with huge skewers of meat and carve beef, lamb and pork or offer pieces of chicken, sausage, baked cheese and ribs. Local beer, wine, rum drinks and soft drinks complemented the lunch.
First Overland Excursion
From Rio, I joined my first overland excursion to Iguazu Falls and Salta/Humahuaca. The falls took by breath away and that is pretty hard to do after seeing Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist from below. Iguazu Falls separate Brazil and Argentina. We entered the Iguazu Falls National Park in Brazil to begin the adventure.
We spent Friday evening walking a 1.5-mile path out to the observation point and back again — after three miles in a Brazilian jungle with 95% humidity and 90 degrees of heat, the mist produced by the thundering falls was welcomed relief. The prize at the end was a Greenbrier-type hotel called the Hotel Catarates. You could stand on its front porch and see and hear the falls nearby. Glorious.
The next morning, we entered the national park in Argentina — the views were absolutely awe-inspiring.
Sunday began in Salta in the northeastern corner of Argentina. We drove in a modern coach from the lush subtropical forest at 1,200 feet above sea level to Humahuaca (“who ma wha ka”), some 8,000 feet higher, where we were surrounded by the painted mountains named for the diversified mineral deposits.
For lunch, our entrée choices were llama meat loaf, llama in wine sauce, llama in blue cheese sauce or lamb stew. Most of us chose llama in wine sauce and it was delicious. A group of musicians played the drum, guitar and pan flute. Humahauca was not only a geographically different place, it was a cultural throwback to the mid-19th century.
After some shopping, the bells in the church began to knell. We were witnessing a funeral. A pick-up truck carrying a casket with flowers all around led a parade of mourners walking behind. The pallbearers carried the casket into the church where the priest was waiting. It was a moving sight.
We learned how the Argentines in the north drink tea. They use a cup called a ‘mate’ (“mah tay”). You put dry tea into this urn-shaped cup and add hot water. You stir the water with a spoon/straw. The spoon has no bowl at the bottom of the handle; rather it has a filtering apparatus of some sort. The handle is also a straw so that as you draw through the straw (handle of the spoon), you are filtering the tea in your cup. Apparently, you don’t clean the inside of the mate very well to allow the tannins to build up so that you use less tea over time. Many of the mates are wood or earthenware surrounded by leather so they are self-insulated.
More next month. I am enjoying each moment of this adventure — more than anyone will ever know. I hope you are getting some flavor through my columns and my blog.