Sao Tome and Angola

Covering these two ports will be quick and easy.  We were supposed to take a ship’s excursion to a coffee plantation, but were notified the tour was canceled due to “operating problems”.  It turns out the problem was the plantation is no longer operating, and has not for several years.  The country (actually Sao Tome & Principe, two islands near each other off the west coast of Africa) is suffering intensely since the coffee exports have failed; they’re hoping for offshore oil to be found.

There was no place to dock, so we took the tender in to shore.

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Then, we took the provided shuttle bus from the ship to the center of town (an old school bus that I think had square wheels).

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Betsy had been looking for African fabric, and we learned there was a fabric shop only a block from the bus stop.  On the way, we saw a formal, ritualized dance in the town square.  One group of five or so was dressed in black formal clothing, and the other was in colorful native dress.  Each group had a leader.  The groups advanced to one another, then backed away, while the leaders danced and whirled around them.  Individual members of a group would advance alone, and bow.  FInally, the groups advanced to each other and bowed.  We later found out it’s called Tchilili and is a dance depicting the coming together of the Africans and Europeans.  This group is one of about a dozen who perform the dance, and is probably one of the best.  I was fascinated by many of the individuals, particularly the old gentleman in the top hat, so dignified, and the graceful old lady in the flowing silver dress.

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We made our way to the fabric shop, where Betsy bought two lengths of fabric, about 6 yards each, for $12 each.  Then we made our way back to the tender and rejoined the ship.  Later, Betsy showed off her fabric.

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The next day found us in Luanda, Angola.  There isn’t a whole lot to see in Angola, and we didn’t want to wander far on our own, so we signed up for a city highlights tour with the ship’s destination department.  There were four small buses, each with a driver and a guide.  Our guide was not very good.  At our first stop, he said, “You can get out and take some photos.”  Since we were stopped on a city street, we could take our photos out of the window.  Then, we sat.  And sat.  And waited.  Finally, after more  than 20 minutes, we asked why we were waiting.  The guide said, “We wait until the people return from the church.”  “What church?” we all chorused.  “The one over there, across the boulevard and around the corner.”  “Why didn’t you tell us?”  “I said you could get out…”  The tour went a bit downhill from there.

We did get to see the beach (a 5 mile ride along a narrow strip of land, then around the end and back, with the guide stating, “There’s the beach.”  Next was a fort which featured gorgeous blue tiles in the interior, which we knew about from reading the port description, and finally the mausoleum of the country’s first President, where we weren’t permitted to take photos.

Our "church" stop

Our “church” stop

The beach

The beach

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Not one of the highlights of the cruise.

Next — Namibia, including Walvis Bay and Luderitz — which were highlights.

 

 

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Benin, West Africa

Cotonou, Benin is next door to Togo, both on the Gulf of Guinea.  The difference, however, is like night and day.  Compared to Benin, which had clean streets and some organization, Togo was a disorganized mess.

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Greeted by dancers

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Street scene

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Typical traffic

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Road side sales

Our first stop was at the Temple of Pythons in Ouidah.  In 1717 there was a war between the kingdom of Dahomey and the kingdom of Ouidah.  Ouidah was defeated and King Kpasse ran into the forest to hide.  He was protected by pythons.  Ever since, royal pythons have been worshipped.

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In the Temple of Pythons, members of the gaurdian family care for the snakes.  They are identified by their facial scars, which are created at birth.  The pythons are not dangerous, as they are well fed.  At night, the doors of the temple are opened, the snakes visit local homes and are fed, then return to the temple of their own accord.

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Next, we visited a local school.  The kids were thrilled to see us and thronged to have their pictures taken, oohing and aahing when shown their image on screen.

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Following the school visit it was a short walk to the sacred forest.  It’s the burial locati0n of King Kpasse.  The statues represent various figures in Ouidah history including fertility, warriors, and a spy — notice the statue with two faces.

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The current king was in the park and gave us a blessing, but no photos were allowed.  Bats flew out of the trees overhead.

 

 

 

 

 

We proceeded to a national museum located in a restored fort from colonial days.  At one time there were five forts including Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese, but only the latter survives.  The forts were the center of the slave trade and the museum contains photos and artifacts from those days, along with other African artifacts.

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The next stop was the “Door of No Return”, a monument commemorating the last spot in Africa the slaves would see.  Interestingly, nearby was the “Door of Return”, a monument with an opening in the shape of the nation of Benin, constructed to welcome the descendants of slaves who manage to return.  On the way, we made a brief stop in the plaza where the slave auctions were held.  Today, it looks just like any other small plaza in the city, crowded with vendors and cars, I didn’t bother to photograph it.

The salves were taken to the respective forts of the buyers, then marched in shackles and chains to the port, now marked by the Door of No Return.  Along the way, a giant pit, no longer available for viewing because it’s too emotional, was used to dump elderly, weak and sick slaves.

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The Door of No Return

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The Door of Return

Our final adventure was to the village of Ganvie, a village of 20,000 to 30,000 people built on stilts several miles away from land on Lake Nokoué.  This town was begun in the 16th or 17th century by Tofinu people avoiding Fon warriors capturing slaves for market.  The religion of the Fon prohibited any assault on water-bound people.

Today, the community is thriving.  Almost all their needs are provided within the community — stores, a hotel, schools, hospital, entertainment, etc.  Everyone gets around by small boats.  There are some tiny pockets of land used for grazing and a bit of farming.  The economy is primarily fishing; the men catch the fish and sell them to their wives, who then take the fish to market to be sold for profit.

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A water taxi

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Our tour boat

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The “main street”

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Fresh water

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Dinner!

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After what may be one of the best excursions we’ve taken, we returned to the ship.

Next – Sao Tome and Angola.

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Togo, West Africa

Togo is a small nation on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa.  Lome’ is the capital city.  While we enjoyed one privately arranged excursion in Grenada, this was the first of several highly anticipated tours in our first African adventure.  Arranged by fellow CruiseCritic.com participant Sukey, 30 of us on two buses were off on an all day excursion.  As we got off the ship we greeted with African dancers.

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Our excursion into Togo was organized by fellow passenger “Sukey”, who had visited Togo and Benin 5 years ago and had experience with the best guides.

A brief word about privately arranged excursions — they are made possible by participation on the web site “CruiseCritic.com”.  One of the menu choices on that site is “Boards”, which will lead you to individual forums that act much like digital bulletin boards.  There is a forum for most cruise lines, river cruises, many ports and most important, roll calls for every ship.  On the roll call, one searches for the date of one’s specific cruise and “signs on” by posting a message.  As the roll call group grows, there will invariably be experienced cruisers who will arranged private excursions and offer the opportunity for others to join them.  Private excursions are usually limited in size, often to 6 to 12 people (occasionally more, Sukey’s tours included 30 people on two buses), are much less expensive than ship tours and usually more expansive

Our excursion started with a drive towards Togoville, one of the original villages in the area and the one for which the nation is named.  Togoville is located on an island, and can only be reached by small boats holding 10 passengers each, and poled across the river.

Boarding the boats to Togoville

Boarding the boats to Togoville

Ready to cross

Ready to cross

Being poled across the river. Notice the fishing nets in the background.

Being poled across the river. Notice the fishing nets in the background.

At the other side, the water was too shallow to beach the boats, so local fellows carried us from the boats to shore (for a dollar).  Some of us required 2 carriers, so cost me 2 dollars.

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We walked up Togoville’s main street, turned through one of their squares and ended at the church of the Virgin Mary.  The story has it that an image of the Virgin Mary was seen in the river, and the church, altars and an outdoor amphitheater was constructed to honor her.  It’s the target of an annual pilgrimage of folks from all over Togo and further.

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Togoville’s Main Street

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Virgin Mary altar

Virgin Mary altar

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So long, Togoville!

Of course, we had to get back to the boats to get back to the mainland.  I declined to be carried again, rolled up my trousers and waded back to the boat, along with several other men.

Our next stop was the Museum of African Art.

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From there, we stopped a Fetish market.  VooDoo is a significant and serious religion for many in this region of Africa, and the items for sale in this market are supposed to be representative.  However, the first thing I noticed was a sign, in French, stating the bureau of touristics was the sponsor of the market.  We took one photo, got a whiff of the odor and saw some of the dead animals, and got back on the bus.

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Our final stop was the central market, spanning several square blocks, where literally everything was available for purchase.  Sadly, when we left the buses, they moved to a different location, and we had to follow our guide or get hopelessly lost in the labyrinth.  He moved too quickly to allow any stops in the interesting shops and stalls, so it became a waste of time as far as any shopping was concerned.

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Overall, the excursion was interesting in Togoville and the museum, but was a bit tarnished by the markets.

 

 

 

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Brazil

We visited a total of 4 ports in Brazil.  When I was doing my initial research into these ports, I had a difficult time finding interesting things to do.  As it turned out, 3 of the 4 ports were fascinating!

BELEM — we took a ship’s excursion, the “Guama River Excursion”.  It turns out that Belem is called the “Gateway to the Amazon”, and we were actually up about 100 kilometers into one branch of the Amazon Delta.  The river was too shallow to get near the pier, so the ship anchored out about two miles from shore and we tendered in to town.  The water was amazingly rough considering how far we were up the river!  Local river boats were added to the ship’s tenders for the trip.

The local riverboat used to tender ahore. Taken from our rain-streaked cabin window.

The local riverboat used to tender ahore. Taken from our rain-streaked cabin window.

Once ashore, we transferred to a similar riverboat to head up river.

A riverboat similar to the one we took up river.

A riverboat similar to the one we took up river.

The city is huge; almost 2 million people.

The city is huge; almost 2 million people.

Boats at the waterfront.

Boats at the waterfront.

We took a fork from the Amazon to the Guama River, and began passing small homes along the riverbank.

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When we reached an island village, our enthusiastic guide began to show us local flora and fauna.  One young fellow was chopping nuts; Betsy thought he was cute!  A 74 year old man wrapped his feet with leaves to aid in climbing, shinned quickly up a palm tree then dropped down freestyle, halting his drop about a foot from the ground by tightening the grip of the leaves!  The leaves the guide is showing are used to heal wounds.  He then demonstrated a local nut used for war paint, dabbing us all with red.

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On our return trip, we enjoyed an impromptu “race” with a second boat of folks from the ship on a similar excursion.

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It was a great excursion, one of the best we’re taken sponsored by the ship!  It was only marred a little at the end when the river water became so rough it was difficult to operate the tenders.  The crew did their best, but the tenders had to run very slowly in the chop, thus there were long waits.  At one point, two guests suffered injuries, one gash in an ankle and one head injury when something fell, all ashore at the pier.  We didn’t see either, as we were fortunate to get on a tender before it got even more rough.  Even so, we were bobbing around like a cork.  This was one of those times when the problems were beyond the cruise line’s control.

Fortaleza, Brazil We had nothing planned for Fortaleza and ended up not doing much.  The ship’s shuttle took us to the Mercado (mall) and the cathedral next door.  The cathedral was large but nothing special, and the mall was overwhelming.  No one took American dollars, and none of the ATM machines we found were working properly, so we purchased nothing.

It also rained slightly, the first rain we saw on the cruise.  The cathedral photo was shot through the wet window of the bus.

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NATAL, Brazil In Natal, we were fortunate that one of our fellow passengers discovered an academy of Capoeira, a national dance of Brazil.  The academy was normally closed on that date, but agreed to round up a group of students and put on a show at their studio.

Capoeira is combination of choreography and martial arts.  In the days of slavery, slaves were permitted to dance, but not to fight.  They developed a ritualized manner of fighting that appeared to be choreographed.  It has developed into a form of dance centered around whirling kicks, somersaults, cartwheels and flips, all with near misses.  It is fabulously athletic and exciting to watch.  We took taxis to the studio and thrilled to an hour long presentation; one of the best performances we’ve seen, anywhere.

The director of the academy, with a traditional Brazilion Berimbau. We later bought a smaller version of this stringed instrument.

The director of the academy, with a traditional Brazilion Berimbau. We later bought a smaller version of this stringed instrument.

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Younger students at the academy, in the learning process.

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The students attend free of charge, learning to read and write in exchange for the CApoeira lessons.

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Older, more experienced boys. The have traveled internationally to perform.

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RECIFE, Brazil  This was our second visit to Recife, having toured the city on our first Oceania cruise in 2006.  This time, we decided to visit the old town of Olinda, on a hill just north of Recife.  Along with Cynthia and David Bradley, we took a taxi to the top of the hill, then a self-guided walking tour to the bottom, where we cabbed back to the ship.  Thanks to Cynthia and her incredible research, we had maps and descriptions.

 

Cathedral at the top of the hill

Cathedral at the top of the hill

 

View of Recife and our ship from the top of Olinda

View of Recife and our ship from the top of Olinda

Wood carver at work

Wood carver at work

Showing the carving Betsy purchased

Showing the carving Betsy purchased

As we started down the hill, we spotted what appeared to be a church at the end of a cul de sac used for parking.  We walked over for a closer look.  There was no name, no handles on any of the doors, and we were about to give up, when a young man opened one of thje doors, unaware that we were nearby.  When he spotted us, he opened an iron gate and motioned us to come in.

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We discovered it was a convent for nuns of the Paula Francine order, who normally eschew contact with the outside world.  It is sometimes open by appointment, but we just lucked into it.  The young man spoke no English and we no Portuguese, but he motioned us onward and led us through the public rooms, each with a different tile pattern.

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Leaving the convent, we started down the hill.  Along the way, we passed girls dressed for Carnival, which by the time you read this will be underway (starts Feb 5).

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We stopped in a shopping area, and purchased a small Berimbau, which looks like a bow with a gourd attached.  It’s played by tapping the wire string with a stick and produces two notes with two variations.

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Some sights as we descended the steep hill…

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At the bottom of the hill, still in Olinda, was one of the first buildings…

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…another cathedral…

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and drummers practicing for Carnival.

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After a very pleasing and successful day in Olinda, we taxied back to the ship.  After Brazil are the five days at sea crossing the Atlantic that I mentioned in an earlier post (using the time to try to catch up on the journal — unsucceesfully).

Next, Togo and Benin in West Africa and the island nation of Sao Tome & Principe off the African Coast.  A brief mention of Luanda, Angola, then Walvis Bay and Luderitz in Namibia.  As I write this, we’re are on our way to Cape Town followed by four other South African ports, Port Elizabeth, Durban, East London and Richards Bay, with only one sea day.  I’ll be hopelessly behind!

Thanks for bearing with me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island deserves a post of its own.  When we first visited in 2006, we didn’t expect much…and were completely moved by the emotions permeating the place.  Just off the coast of French Guiana, it was a French prison island from the 19th century until 1950.  Once on the island, prisoners were seldom released, rarely escaped and generally died there.  It is the site of a famous movie, Papillon, starring Steve McQueen.

From the small pier, one has four choices in reaching the top of the hill where the prison was situated.  Two involve steep slopes and many steps; one is a long, gradual slope of gravel around half of the island and one is a shorter, more steep cobblestone road up one side of the island.  This last was our choice, as all of the stones were carried and put in place, one at a time, by prisoners.

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At the top is a small village for the officials, soldiers and their families, including a church, dormitory, and family housing.  Today, there is also a small hotel, snack bar and gift shop in what was a former administration building. IMG_20160117_100519424_HDR

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The prisoners were held in general buildings and isolation cells (which have largely deteriorated).

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Life on the island today is gentle.  There are some Gendarmerie, maintenance workers and a few others.  The coast of French Guinea is visible in the distance, and locals come to the island to work, fish and enjoy the day.  Peacocks and the occasional chicken run loose, and on e Macaw obediently posed for a photo.  But, on a hot afternoon, one can imagine the suffering and inhumane treatment of the prisoners.  Escapes were exceedingly rare as the currents tend to push swimmers back to the islands, and sharks abound in the surrounding water.  When prisoners aged to a point where they were not a threat, or quietly went insane, they were placed on a tiny adjacent island with no guards and allowed to be self-sufficient to a point.  Critical supplies were sent over by cable and pulley.

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When it was time to return to the ship, we elected to take the longer, more gentle slope.  Along the way we passed Agouti (large South American rodents), monkeys, the children’s cemetery (children of the guards and soldiers — adults were buried at sea) and a glimpse of our ship anchored offshore.

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We were as moved this time as we were 9 years previous.  It’s a place where you can feel history.

Next — Belem, Fortaleza, Natal and Recife, Brazil.

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Almost to Africa

Just a little time left to quickly cover St. Lucia, Martinique, Barbados and Tobago, before reporting on Brazil.

We have been to ST. LUCIA before and had an awesome tour of most of the island, including the Pitons, volcano crater, botanical gardens and a great place for lunch.  So, this time we decided to see something of Castries, the port city.  We walked off the ship into instant squalor.  Sidewalk vendors crowded the streets, buildings were shabby and run down, a vast difference from Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

Things looked up a little when we found Derek Walcott Square and the cathedral next door.

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MARTINIQUE was beautiful but the excursion we took turned out to be the Hike from H–L for me.  It was listed in the ship’s catalog as a “Hike in the Rainforest” and was captioned, “Not for guests with mobility concerns.”  Now, I have reduced heart function compared to most, but I regularly walk 3 to 5 miles and have hiked in moderately rugged terrain, including rainforests in Brazil and Belize.  I am a bit slower than others, but I don’t consider myself to have “mobility concerns”.  However, nothing in the description prepared me for the reality.

This was a strenuous and occasionally dangerous hike, all uphill, sometimes so steep one had to grab handholds above.  The path was narrow and very muddy, and a rusty, slippery 12″ pipe ran along and occasionally across the trail.  When there were steps (which occurred frequently), they were so high I couldn’t lift my knee high enough.  I became so exhausted a fellow guest, the ship crew member accompanying us and the Martinique guide (a husky young man) had to variously support me and help me keep my balance.  I could not possibly have made it on my own.  The pictures don’t do justice to the difficulty.

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My hero helpers!

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After that hike, we walked into town (yep; I’d recovered that quickly), bought some Euros for future use on the cruise and saw some of the sights.

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We had also been to Barbados previously, so we walked into town along a beautiful waterfront drive.barb2barb1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our son is named Adam; we didn't recognize the significance of this shot until we reviewed it!

Our son is named Adam; we didn’t recognize the significance of this shot until we reviewed it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tobago was also somewhere we had visited previously, so once again we walked into town, visited a supermarket for local beer, bought a postcard, and took some photos — then back on to the ship.

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We ran into the Captain's wife, pretty as a picture!

We ran into the Captain’s wife, pretty as a picture!

I wanted to buy this dress for Betsy, but she said, "Maybe 50 years ago!"  Problem is, 50 years ago she was too shy to wear it!

I wanted to buy this dress for Betsy, but she said, “Maybe 50 years ago!” Problem is, 50 years ago she was too shy to wear it!

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We were fascinated by the wiring -- it takes a genius or a mad man to figure it out

We were fascinated by the wiring — it takes a genius or a mad man to figure it out

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Next — Devil’s Island and Brazil.

 

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Five Days at Sea

Finally!  A chance to catch up, after nearly two weeks of activities that resemble a treadmill!  We just left Brazil and are on our way to Africa.  Next stop: Lome, Togo.  I’ll try to cover the highlights of the past 19 days.  First was two days at sea, which I covered in the last post, “Life on Board”.

The first stop was Aruba.  We had nothing planned and were content with a walk into and through town.  The highlight was a stop in a small shop with the intriguing name of “Mopa Mopa”.  The window was filled with beautifully colored carvings.  Inside, we learned the carvings were mahogany, then covered with layers of a colored resin made from the buds of the Mopa Mopa tree.  The buds are boiled, then stretched into thin layers, traditionally by two people using both hands and teeth to stretch the material.

We found a unique, carved Nativity, representing Joseph (taller figure at left), Mary and the Baby Jesus in the cradle between them.  We could not resist it, and it became part of Betsy’s growing collection of Nativities.

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We concluded our day in Aruba with a stroll down the pedestrian street favored by locals,

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where we found a small liquor store holding a “blowout sale”, and purchased a couple of bottles of Rum Cream.

Next day, we were in Curacoa, where the highlights were the multicolored buildings and the swinging pontoon bridge.

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Whenever ship traffic comes into the channel the bridge is opened by swinging the bridge to one side on boat-shaped floating pontoons.  We actually managed to get ourselves “trapped” on the bridge and rode it as  it opened and closed.

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We walked around town, admiring the markets and crafts then returned to the ship.

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The following day we visited Bonaire.  This included our first formal excursion, “Sail, Beach and Snorkel” on the vessel Samur.  Since we were going snorkeling, we didn’t bring a camera so I had to samur_brown[1]find a stock image of Samur.

There is an incredible reef just off the deserted island of Klein Bonaire, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  I did, however, vow to purchase an underwater camera before our next snorkeling venture.

When we returned to the main island we strolled a bit through the market streets, and found a supermarket selling local beer.  Betsy likes to buy one or two local beers in every port, when we have the opportunity.

After one sea day (packed with activities), we traveled to Grenada.  Here, we had our first private excursion.  Prior to the cruise, we had been participating in a Roll Call forum for this cruise on CruiseCritic.com.  There, we made virtual friends with others who would be joining us, many of whom arranged intimate excursions in several of the ports.  We took advantage of these at every opportunity, as they involve smaller groups, more time at sites and a lower cost than ship sponsored excursions.  This one, arranged by Pamela Tom, involved a guided excursion around the island of Grenada, visiting a spice shop, a nutmeg factory, a rum distillery, a local lunch and a chocolate factory, in a 10 passenger van operated by A. J. Meddy tours and guided by Allen Meddy himself.

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Guide Allan Meddy demonstrating spices

Guide Allan Meddy demonstrating spices

Waterfall behind the spice shop; the fellow at the bottom has just jumped from the top.

Waterfall behind the spice shop; the fellow at the bottom has just jumped from the top.

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Old aqueduct at the chocolate factory

Old aqueduct at the chocolate factory

chocolate making machinery

chocolate making machinery

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Stop for lunch…

On to the Nutmeg factory…

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Shipped all over the world

Shipped all over the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fisherman string a long net around the bay, and pull it in.  One fellow in the water jumps and thrashes and creates a commotion that drive fish into the net.

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After passing an abandoned airfield, we arrived at the rum distillery.

This local distillery practices all the old ways of making rum.

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Milling the sugar cane

Milling the sugar cane

Pushing the cane car out to be dumped

Pushing the cane car out to be dumped

Firing the boilers

Firing the boilers

boiling and settling

boiling and settling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distilling the rum

Distilling the rum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw this vessel sailing in to the bay, then saw it again, all lit up, as we sailed away from Grenada.

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Next up: St. Lucie, Martinique, Barbados and Tobago.

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Life on Board

It’s difficult to write a journal when there is so much to do on board — so many friends, so much food, so many activities, so many good shows!

Friends: we had a get together at the pre-cruise hotel, where we met Barb & steve, Joyce & Craig, Wayne & Freda, Sukey, Cathi & Bruce (we had sailed with them before), Chic & Robin and Ken & Sara (who we had met at a get together in Florida), Sukey’s roommate Pat, Cynthia and David and about 2o others who will now be angry with me for missing their names.  On board, one of the first persons we ran into was Denise Flokos, wife of Captain Flokos.  We met Pam & Henry the first evening in the showroom.  We’ve had dinner or lunch with  Heather & Nick and Gloria & Betty, John & Diane, Joyce and Craig and Captain Flokos and Denise, plus a few more Betsy has written in her diary.  Bottom line — there are lots of nice people on board, one of the main reasons we sail Oceania.

Food:  We dine primarily in the Grand Dining Room, where the menu varies each evening, we are elegantly served, and we can easily share a table to meet new folks.  We have had two breakfasts at the Terrace buffet, one because we were too early for the GDR, and the other because we were too late.  We have dined once in Toscana, the Italian specialty, and once in Polo, the steak and chop specialty.  However, those menus have changed very little since 2006.  One new addition to my liking is lobster mac&cheese II have simple tastes).  Lunch has been split between Waves pool grill, the GDR and lunch on shore as part of an excursion.  The food is fabulous, as almost anyone who has sailed Oceania knows (there are always a few dissenters), and the service has been over the top.

We did dine one evening with the Captain and Denise, who we have known since 2006,.  It was a fun evening with lots of laughter!

Activities: So many things to do,  so many choices, we can’t possibly do it all.  The highlight so far has been painting and art classes with Pat Grillo.  There is space for 24 in the small artist’s loft set up in a corner of Horizons Lounge, and the sessions are so popular one must arrive at hour early to get a seat.  So far there has been colored pencils, water color pencils, water soluble acrylics, tracing, free hand, old masters, dragon flies, fish and more.

Another  popular activity on almost all Oceania cruises is trivia.  So far, our team has come in first once, second once, third once and no points, once.  There are sporting events like golf putting, shuffleboard, ping pong, etc., lectures, seminars, tastings and many more.  We are kept busy on sea days!

Shows:  So far, we’ve had AbbaFab, a quartet of singers performing songs from Abba, Elton Jon and Billy Joel, a hilarious comedian name Jeff Harms, a fantastic classical pianist and coming up, a comedy magician.  They also showed the movie “A Walk in the Woods” one night.  The performers usually do two shows each.  Some folks “pan” the entertainment on Oceania; we’ve always found it fun and entertaining, rarely missing a show, except on evenings when our dinner conversations last for hours, as it did with the Captain and Denise.

To date our ports have been Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Granada and St. Lucia.  Coming up is Martinique and Barbados, which is the turn-over day at the end of the first segment.  I’ll cover the ports in ano0ther post.

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We’re on board…

Sunday, we packed our car and drove to our son Adam’s house, about 75 miles south in Wellington, near West Palm Beach.  After a few moments for photos…

Don, Betsy, Trish, Adam

Don, Betsy, Trish, Adam (and Duke)

…we were driven by Adam and Trish another 60 miles to the Epic hotel in Miami, provided by the cruise line for the night before the cruise.  With the younger generation we went to Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory for an early dinner and to catch the last half of the Patriots (Adam’s team) versus Dolphins (Betsy’s team).  Dolphins won, a great start for Betsy!

Betsy and Trish at Bubba Gump

Betsy and Trish at Bubba Gump

At the hotel, we had a waterfront room on the 24th floor with a view of Biscayne Bay.  Oceania Riviera was in port that day, occupying the spot our ship, Insignia, would be in the following day.  You can just see the stern of Riviera at left center.

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We had an informal gathering of other Cruise Critic participants in a bar at the hotel; we had an opportunity to finally match faces to the names with whom we had been corresponding, some of us for 2-1/2 years!

Cruise Critic gang at the Epic Hotel

Cruise Critic gang at the Epic Hotel

The next morning, after a complimentary breakfast, out hand luggage was loaded for transport to the ship and we boarded busses for the 5 minute ride to the terminal.  We were checked in within a half hour and headed to the Terrace Cafe for lunch and began meeting more new friends.  Our cabin was prepared and ready by 3:00 pm (amazing, considering the ship had just returned from a previous 180 day cruise, and all our luggage was delivered by 5:00 pm.  In addition to the hand luggage, we had 4 large suitcases of 50 lbs. each that had been picked up at our home and held in Miami until the ship arrived.  We had completely unpacked by around midnight, after dinner and a welcome show, and placed our empty, large suitcases in the passageway.  During the night, the crew elves spirited the empty luggage away to storage somewhere in the ship; we’ll get it back in 6 months.

We’ve just complete 2 full sea days and will arrive in Aruba in the morning.  They have filled the days will activities; we can’t possibly do it all.  The artist instructor, Pat Grillo, in the artist loft created just for these epic voyages, is fabulous and we’ve already take several classes.  There is too much to do!  More about dinners, shows, friends and ports later!

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Almost time…

Credit cards updated – check.
Turbo Tax installed and financial data ready to do taxes over the internet – check.
All statements and invoices on autopay – check.
30 galllons of gasoline for lawn mower used by house sitter – check.
6 – 60 pound bags of softener salt on hand – check.
220 pounds of dog food on hand – check.
5 jugs of chlorine for the pool on hand – check.
Primary physician last visit – check.
Cardiologist last visit – check.
Orthopedist visit for latest knee injections – check.
New implanted defibrillator – check.
180 days of medications – check.
6 months cash in small bills – check.
Money in debit card account – check.
200 pounds of luggage, in 4 large suitcases, packed and sent off to Miami – check.
Final packing of carry-on luggage — in progress…
A couple of outfits each sprayed with permethrin to ward off bugs — pants, shirts, socks, neck scarves and hats – check.

Temporary permethrin spray area under pole barn

Temporary permethrin spray area under pole barn

That’s just part of the planning for a 6 months cruise. We’re fortunate we have a live-in handyman/house sitter, Tommy, who will take care of our Greyhound, keep up the pool, bring in the mail and mow the 6 acres of grass. We’ll leave our car with our son and Tommy will start the RV every once in awhile. Other cruisers have much more to prepare, closing up their houses, prepping their cars to sit 6 months, etc.

The planning is done, and the preparations are 99% complete. The day is at hand; on Sunday, Jan 3, we’ll drive to our son Adam’s house in Wellington, then he and Trish will drive us on to the hotel in Miami. Adam is a die-hard Patriots fan and his mother is a hard core Dolphins fan, and they’re playing each other that Sunday. We’ll stop at a sports bar on the way to Miami and get “lunner” (lunch and dinner) and watch at least part of the game, then go on to the Epic Hotel on the bay overlooking our ship’s terminal. After the night in the hotel we’ll be transported to the ship on Monday and sail at 5 pm.

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