Belém, Brazil

February 23, 2017

Our ship was anchored, which required taking a tender boat into port. Larry and I went ashore with our friends, Julianne and Brian (from Tasmania), to explore. Looking north, we could see what appeared to be a small village, which was what we expected along the Amazon River. To the south was the big city . . . and I do mean big! The eleventh largest city in Brazil has a population of more than two million in it’s metro area.

The city lies approximately sixty-two miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, on the Pará River, and is considered the gateway to the Amazon River.

Belém is the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. Founded in 1616, but Portuguese Captain-General Francisco Caldeira Castelo Branco, the economy depended up the sugar trade until the end of the seventeenth century. Cattle ranching supplanted sugar until the eighteenth century, when cultivation of rice, cotton, and coffee became profitable. The discovery of rubber and its importance in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries triggered an economic boom in Belém. The city became known as “the tropical Paris.” a cultural legacy still evident today in the in the splendid colonial buildings that remain. Today the economy is dependent on transporting immense quantities of fish, shrimp, and timber through the port.

Many of the buildings in this port, and others, were in need of a good power wash and paint job. It’s a bit sad to see them in such bad shape. The photo showing the power lines was common throughout many of the countries in South America and other parts of the world. Seeing the dangerous looking tangle of wires increased our appreciation for underground utilities in our city.

We opted to stroll through part of the market area, where many eateries were patronized by locals. Freshwater crab, a traditional local delicacy, is popular. Found only in swamps, its well-tempered meat can be served in different forms: as a shell, the so-called unha (the claws) or toc-toc. “Maniçoba” is another highlight of local cuisine. Its preparation is time-consuming, and its final appearance is quite surprising for those who have never tried it, due to the dark look of the cooked maniva (ground manioc leaves). But this first impression ends quickly, after you taste the dish with its seemingly awkward ingredients. Maniçoba is often served in ceramic dishes and can be eaten with rice or with manioc flour and capsicum.

Quite a few stands were piled with Brazil nuts, in and out of the shell, for sale. I haven’t been able to find out what they do with all the leftover shells though. There were also the usual trinkets available as well as an abundance of produce.

After covering about half of the market, and not finding anything we couldn’t live without, we encountered another couple from the ship. They had just been pickpocketed, so we decided it was time to head back. We stopped to enjoy a local brew before catching the tender back to the ship.

Julianne and Brian joined us for dinner in the Lido, and we all went to the movie in the Wajang Theater. I had already seen Inferno, starring Tom Hanks, but the others hadn’t and I enjoyed seeing it again.

Soon it was time to drift off to sleep with visions of brazil nuts . . . ZZZZZZZZ




Almost to Rio

Enjoying dinner

Jacquie and the staff

More yummmm

Proscuitto Wrapped Veal

Roasted Salmon with Pesto Mashed Potatoes

Yuimmm

Larry wasn’t crazy about going to Brazil. Just getting the tourist visa was such a huge hassle and expense it added fodder to his resistance. However, it was part of the itinerary, so we were obligated to be prepared. In fact, we couldn’t get on the ship without our Brazil tourist visa. I figured since we were going, we might as well see the Christ the Redeemer statue, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, in Rio de Janeiro.

Thanks to Mary Anne, on the Cruise Critic roll call group, we learned of a tour that sounded good. It included a city tour, lunch at a Brazilian BBQ, the trip to Corcovado (where Christ the Redeemer is located), and a visit to Cococabana Beach. So, we booked it.

Rio is one of those dual personality kind of cities. On one hand you hear about the excitement and debauchery of carnaval, which is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This annual celebration, in the Roman Catholic tradition, allows merry-making and red meat consumption before the more sober forty days of Lent which culminates with Holy Week and Easter. The tradition of carnaval parades was probably influenced by the French or German courts and the custom was brought by the Portuguese or Brazilian Imperial families who had Bourbon and Austrian ancestors. Up until the time of the marchinhas, the revelry was more of a high class and Caucasian-led event. This changed with the influence of the African-Brazilian drums and music.

Frankly, I’m glad we WEREN’T here during Carnaval. I know some people find it fascinating and entertaining. I fail to understand how people can parade around in public, nearly naked, behaving in an immoral manner, and consider it acceptable.   We saw enough of that in Key West on Halloween. Consider me a prude, if you want. There are just some things you can’t “unsee.”

On the other hand, thousands of pious people make a sort of pilgrimage to Corcovado Mountain to show respect for and take selfies with the Christ the Redeemer Statue. That was much more to my liking.

Did you know that Rio de Janeiro means January river? I’d never thought of translating it before, so I was a bit surprised to learn that it was discovered on January 1, 1502, by Gaspar de Lemos, a Portuguese explorer. Reportedly, Amerigo Vespucci was on the same expedition.

What they’d really found, though, was the Bay of Guanabara, and mistook it for a river. Subsequent settlers discovered gold and diamonds, in addition to sugar, and the port became important for shipping.

After Napoleon invaded Portugal, the royal family and other nobles relocated to Rio. They even transferred the kingdom’s capital, making it the only European capital outside of Europe. Many local residents were evicted to make way for hundreds of noblemen who arrived suddenly. Rio has the largest Portuguese population outside Lisbon.

A large influx of Africa slaves arrived in the early eighteen-hundreds. By eighteen-forty, there were two-hundred-twenty-thousand slaves. Here, the samba was born of the black community with Angolan influence.

The South Zone is divided into several districts and is the wealthiest part of the city. Two of the zones, Leblon and São Conrado, have the most expensive real estate in all of South America. The daily rate at the five star hotels is second only to New York City. It is in this area the renowned Copacabana Beach is located. And of course, Ipanema, which was chosen as the number one beach in the world by CNN in 2012.

The North Zone contains many of the one-thousand favelas (slums) where ninety-five percent of the population are poor. Government initiatives are trying to improve conditions and bring them up to par with the rest of the city.

Sugarloaf Mountain (‘Pão de Açúcar’), (whose name describes the famous mountain rising out of the sea) stands sentinel marking the entrance to the bay. The summit can be reached via a two-stage cable car trip from Praia Vermelha, with the intermediate stop on Morro da Urca. The view it offers is second only to Corcovado mountain.

There are now more than twelve million people living in the metro area, six million of which live in the city. Portuguese is the official language. Spanish and English are also taught in high school.

Brazil is a country that seems to be at a crossroads. Effort is being made to improve transportation and housing. We’ve all read the stories about the corrupt government.

The edition we receive of the Times Digest had an article about the crumbling legacy of the Olympics that were hosted in Brazil this past summer. In preparation for hosting the games, the city promised plans to turn facilities used for the Olympics into public sporting areas and schools. Six months later it hasn’t happened. Though the mayor’s office says plans are in the works, there is no timetable. In fact, on January 1st, the mayor told city council members, “The nation is in crisis, Rio de Janeiro is in crisis—it’s time to be cautious.” Doesn’t sound too promising, does it?

Fun with the staff

We celebrated Valentine’s Day early with a special meal in the Canelleto. Rifki, the manager gave me a long stemmed red rose. Dinner was fantastic and we had fun taking photos with the staff.

At sea . . .

Brazilian Seafood Soup with Coconut, Lime, and Coriander

Chef Laurent with Hannah

One of my favorite events to attend on board is the culinary programs. On other “dam” ships, I’ve been able to take several classes, where we cook with the guest chef. The Culinary Arts Center on the Prinsendam is so small participant classes aren’t possible. So, the next best thing is watching the chef prepare recipes.

Our guest chef for now is Hervé Laurent. Though he was educated in France, and still has a strong French accent, he now has the School of Culinary Arts Central America, located in Argentina. He was very pleasant and it would have been fun to actually cook with him.

Today he demonstrated Brazilian Seafood Soup with Coconut, Lime and Coriander. This one did sound yummy and is somewhat like a soup I make at home using coconut milk and shrimp or chicken. Keep in mind that what is called coriander in this part of the world, is what we call cilantro.

He also demonstrated making Argentinian Alfarores, a cookie filled with Dulce de Leche. I will try this one at home . . . especially since Larry was gifted a jar of the filling!  Hannah, the Culinary Arts Hostess, keeps things running smoothly while the chef cooks.

It was time to pick up the next book for Book Club, The Gods of Tango, by Carolina De Robertis. This one came with a disclaimer, “As the reviews suggest, this book is very sexual and has LGBT themes. It is also by an award winning author with many positive reviews and has been chosen for it’s merits and setting. The story transports the reader into the life and culture of a Buenos Aires immigrant, and takes you to the dark nightlife that birthed the Tango. While some of the themes and language might be uncomfortable for some readers, those who do chose to read the book will have much to discuss from this prime example of South American Literature.”

Our librarian, Megan, handed out the disclaimer with the book, and, said that one woman responded, “I don’t think it will change me.”

This evening’s entertainment was Richard Gauntlett. “Direct from London’s West End, bringing you a variety of vaudeville entertainment not usually seen in this price range.” He really was very funny and worth watching.

Alas, we lost another hour of sleep. That makes us six hours different than the west coast of the U.S. It also put us in the same time zone as Greenland.

Tonight’s quote: “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”~~Hilaire Belloc

 

Punta del Este, Uruguay—39 Years of Wedded Bliss

Our ship arrived at ten a.m. We had our tender tickets and were off on the second boat. Our tour guide, Jaime, had been waiting since 8 a.m. for which we felt terrible. He assured us it was no problem . . . he had time for breakfast and a leisurely start to his day. It was a short walk to his car, and we were ready to set off.  Jaime wished us a happy anniversary, which was also very sweet.

We’d arranged this wine tour through (super travel agent!) Jelena. Jaime was kind enough to postpone his own vacation one day to accommodate us. We felt very special. When I learned that Uruguay has a sauvignon blanc wine I hoped to try it. I’d fallen in love with the sauvignon blanc’s in New Zealand a couple of years ago and enjoy comparing them in different countries.

The famous hand sculpture

Jaime narrated as we drove through town. The famous sculpture of a hand emerging from the sand memorializes those who have drowned in local waters. The lighthouse was actually built in France in 1858, and reassembled here according to one account. The other story is the lens was brought from France. This leads me to believe it has a Fresnel lens, like the one in Heceta Head Lighthouse just up the coast from us in Oregon. Unfortunately it isn’t open to the public.

High-rise condo’s framed the beach. Occasionally a luxurious home appeared. Jaime said the area is called “Beverly Hills.” Apartment rent during high season is three thousand dollars a month. A lot of ex-pat’s live in an area north of here called Floriadopolis.

 

 

Another view of the hand

 

 

 

Punta del Este Lighthouse

Unemployment is seven percent, inflation, nine and half percent, and a twenty-two percent tax on everything, doesn’t seem ideal, but it’s better than Argentina. I can see why those who can afford to want to live here. The tax is factored into the price, so what you see is what you pay.

Soon we were in the countryside, passing large expanses of beautiful grazing areas dotted with sheep and cattle. Estancias (stations/ranches) were spread out and the few homes we saw were very nice. People here name their homes, like in England.  Imagine estates with names like, “Laguna del Sauce, La Barra Manantiales, Pan de Azúcar, and Pueblo Edén.”

Beautiful home in Punta del Este

It was about forty miles to the winery and we enjoyed getting to know Jaime along the way. He lived in the United States for five years and has an excellent command of the language.

Once we turned off the highway, we eventually reached a dirt road that continued about a mile up the hill. With this kind of approach, we were pretty surprised to find such and upscale building!

In front of the winery

Most of the wineries are owned by Italians. That was the case for Bodega Garzon. The owners have two wineries in Italy, one in France, one in California and this one. They know their wine!

We’re accustomed to wine tastings where glasses are lined up for several customers and are poured in order from driest to sweetest. Imagine our surprise to have our own sommelier! He described each wine and let us choose what we wanted to taste. If we liked it we had a bit more. I enjoyed the Albariño, a white wine I’d never heard of before. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any back with us unless we wanted to pay an eighteen dollar corkage fee since this was a private tour.

With our tour guide, Jaime

We did taste several other wines, all of which were very nice. But, then aren’t they all after the first glass?

 

View from the winery 1

On the way back to town we continued chatting about the area. I told Jaime I would love to get a calabash gourd for  maté to bring home, and he thought they might be available at the supermarket.   The hollowed out calabash gourd is the customary container from which to sip maté using a straw called a bombilla.  The straw is traditionally made of silver.  For the rest of us it’s made from nickel silver, stainless steel or hollow-stemmed cane.  I’m always happy to visit a supermarket in other countries.

Maté is a high caffeine tea brewed from the leaves of the yerba mate, a shrub that grows into a large tree.  In Uruguay it is defined by law as the “national infusion.”

I just wish we’d had more time to spend inside the Tienda Inglesia. It was like a Fred Meyer store at home. There was a bit of everything . . . groceries, sundries, housewares, furniture, clothing, etc.   They seemed to have everything BUT a maté. We happened to be at a shopping mall, so off we trekked to the Uruguay store. (Imagine a Made In Oregon store here.) They had several types of maté, complete with the special “straw.” I found postcards, and Jaime generously bought me refrigerator magnets and a jar of Dulce de Leche for Larry.  Dulce de Leche is a confection prepared by slowly heating sweetened condensed milk until it transforms to become similar to caramel in appearance and flavor.  It’s used to flavor cookies, cakes, waffles, ice cream, and as a spread on pancakes or toast.

Inside Tienda Inglesia

I would love to have stayed longer, but we had to be back at the ship in time. So, Jaime finished our tour with a quick drive through an area with more upscale homes and returned us to the port.

As he walked with us to the tender dock, we ran into friends who were asking a street vendor about the product they were selling. Jaime explained that it was a sweet sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and bought us each a bag. I think he was happy with the tip we gave him! We hugged goodbye and as is the custom, kissed on the cheek.

 

Punta del Este skyline

Back on board, we were ready to relax. Larry isn’t quite one hundred percent better yet, so we look forward to a chance to sleep in.

Tonight’s quote: “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”~~Anaïs Nin

 

Buenos Aires, Day Two

City of the Pope

Giant tulip

The Pink Palace (like our White House)

One of many dog walkers

Old building sandwiched between new

Choripan, chimichurri, salsa

Eileen with penguin wine pitcher

Empanada

Queso baked in brick oven

Skirt steak and pappas fritas

Wine divas

Sirloin, pappas con huevo, grilled veggies, rice

Sweet indulgence

Colorful dwellings

The next day, Julianne and I, had what was described as a “walking culinary tour.” We boarded a bus and were happy to have a narrated tour of parts of the city I hadn’t seen the day before. We finally disembarked in an area that was not bustling with traffic, and set off on foot for our first stop, Parilla La Cañita. Here we enjoyed Choripan with Chimichurri and another type of condiment. The Choripan was chorizo sausage on a fresh roll. It was delicious all by itself! I do believe it’s the best chorizo I’ve ever tasted.

Chimichurri is a condiment made with parsley, onion, red wine vinegar or red wine, olive oil, garlic, oregano, pinch of sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to your taste. It’s considered an indispensable accompaniment to grilled meats in Argentina, and goes well with poultry or fish. It can easily be tailored to your taste.

Since we were on a ship’s tour, we could bring a bottle of wine back with us. The Malbec we tasted was good, so that was my choice. And, it was reasonably priced at $10 U.S. We’ve learned that most of the towns we’ve been to or are going to, are happy to have U.S. dollars. We found that to be the case on most of our cruise last year, except in Europe. The sense behind it is that the U.S. dollar is more stable that other countries currency. Yay for us!

Another surprising note about the U.S. dollar, is that people have to buy real estate with dollars, not pesos! With forty-two percent inflation, and the instability of the peso, this seems smart on the sellers’ part.

Our next stop was at Las Cholas. There we started with a tasty empanada (meat pie). If you haven’t ever had one they’re worth a try! We’ve enjoyed them in Mexico many times, and found the filling in this one very tasty. Not to spicy!

Following our empanada, we were served a melted cheese in a cute little cast iron pan. It was a semi-hard cheese, like Dutch Edam, so it was only slightly melted in the brick oven. But, very tasty! While we savored this, Eileen explained the cute penguin pitcher. She said that when Argentina began to make wine it wasn’t very good, so they served it in these cute pitchers. It didn’t taste better, but it was fun to serve. We had a chenin blanc with the empanada and cheese.

Next came the beef. Remember the commercial from years ago, where the (ahem) older woman, sat in the fast food restaurant and yelled out, “Where’s the beef?” That could never have aired in Argentina! They know where the beef is and eat it regularly. Eileen said they eat so much beef, they consider chicken a vegetable.

Our next family-style serving was skirt steak, expertly grilled and served with fat French fries and rice. Seriously! As if anyone would eat rice and fries with it!

Besides Malbec wine, next came sirloin steak, with more fries (this time with a friend egg on top,) more rice, and grilled veggies. We also had a spinach salad on the side. There were a lot of left-overs!

We managed to make our way to the next stop for ice cream. Though I rarely indulge in dessert, I figured when in Buenos Aires . . . and had the dulce de leche ice cream. It was melting fast, so of course I had to eat it!

We arrived back at the cruise terminal in time for Julianne to get a few postcards and for me to get stamps to mail the ones I got the day before.

After such a full day . . . in more ways than one . . . we met up with our guys. After a salad for dinner, we were ready to turn in early!