"" Writer's Wanderings: April 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

World Cruise - Rio de Janiero

Mention Rio and most people respond with “Carnival!” I have to admit I anticipated Rio with a show-me attitude. Just what makes this city so special to so many? The three things that were must sees were the Sugarloaf Mountain, The Corcovado or the large iconic Jesus statue, and the beaches. And of course the sail in was said to be spectacular.

Gathering my camera and my Kindle, I sat out on the Promenade Deck (what we on Deck 7 call our balcony) for sail in time. Around 10:15 I could see the first of the two famous beaches, Ipanema and almost make out what I thought might be the Christ statue since there was only one object atop that hill and the other hill had several (later I realized they were communication towers).

Then a second beach came into view more prominently. Copacabana, I presumed. The beaches certainly were huge. I think Copacabana alone was said to be 4 kilometers (about 3 miles). The sun was not at the best angle for taking pictures but I soldiered on thinking that I may not get any more chances at shots from the water.

A few photos of the single figure on the hill and with a little help from zooming in on the camera’s view screen I could tell that indeed that was the iconic statue. When I saw the cable cars heading up to another mountain, I realized it had to be Sugarloaf. So, I thought to myself facetiously, I’ve seen the statue, Sugarloaf, and the beaches. Do we have to stop?

The city just seemed to go on forever. Lots of towering white buildings along the shore I assumed were probably hotels, apartments, condos and an airport with a short runway that made landing look precarious. 

I soon saw the cruise terminal distinguished by the lineup of buses waiting to take passengers on excursions. We had nothing planned for the afternoon but went for an early lunch anyway and exited the ship as soon as we were done.

We had been warned that the neighborhood around the pier was not desirable but that the shuttle would take us to the Copacabana Palace (hotel) and would run until 5:30 PM even though we were overnighting in Rio. On the shuttle we struck up a conversation with another couple and agreed to share a cab to Sugarloaf Mountain. We’d missed the cable car ride in Cape Town because we’d waited. We didn’t want to miss another.

The taxi driver spoke no English but Michael pointed to the spot on the map and he nodded his head. We squeezed in and were off with the meter ticking. At the terminal we had exchanged some USD for BRL (for a hefty 20% fee) because we knew the taxis would not take USD or credit cards. Our ride cost about 17 BRL (about $6 USD).

As we walked toward the ticket office, Jeanne remarked that the last time they’d done this the lines were so long that they almost ran out of their allotted tour time. We breezed through and soon were boarding the first of two cable cars. It took us to a smaller hill in front of Sugarloaf. Then we got on the second and found ourselves high above the city with a spectacular view of buildings and beaches.

Sugarloaf Mountain is named for its shape which is said to be like a loaf of bread (baguette maybe?) and in earlier days when there were more birds there, it was covered in guano (bird do). Interesting origin.

Jean and Michael we knew wanted to spend a bit more time than they’d had before so we wandered around and sat and people watched for a while. When they were ready to leave, we all went down and found a cab to take us to the Copacabana Beach. The other couple wanted to walk out to an area where there was a fort but we knew the walk to the pickup area for the shuttle was going to be long enough for us so we parted ways.

It was a good hour walking back with a stop for something to drink and some papas (fries). It was fun trying to give our order to the waitress. Thank goodness for pictures and a little Spanish even though they speak Portuguese. We boarded our shuttle bus around 4:30 and got back to the ship about 5:40. Yup. A 25 minute ride turned into an hour and ten minutes in unbelievable traffic. The last shuttle didn’t get back until almost 7. Thank goodness the ship wasn’t sailing that night!

Our show for the evening was a local Samba show. I need to learn more about what Samba really is because they did more drum playing than anything and of course paraded some lovely ladies in, well, almost nothing. It was called Carnival and the costumes of several in the show were from Rio’s Carnival. They were amazing!

The next morning we were scheduled to see the third of the must-sees, Corcovado. It was a Saturday and our guide said traffic should not be as bad—not by his standards it wasn’t. We made it to the mountain and thankfully another from the tour company had purchased our tickets. The line for tickets was huge.

We boarded the train that takes you to the top. There is also a road for cars and buses to travel but this was a lot more fun. Once to the top, we had to take an elevator and two escalators to reach the base of the statue. It was either than or walk up over 200 stairs.

We were given an hour to explore. Bob and I were done in fifteen minutes. There’s not that much to see and the crowds were jostling for position to take pictures of each other with their arms outstretched. Oh, by the way, this is Jesus before the crucifixion. His arms are outstretched in greeting to all in Rio or as an embrace of Rio. The story Bob liked best though was that when Rio stops sinning the statue will bring its hands together and clap.

While we waited for our time to gather for the trip down, we walked down the 200 steps and wandered a bit through a couple of souvenir shops, talked to other shipmates who were done as well, and then when we were all together, rode the train down.

Look closely. Little mosaic tiles.
The rest of our tour through areas of interest included the beach and a lagoon that they were picking dead fish out of trying to get it fixed somehow for the Olympics. One more interesting point: We had seen what looked like grandstands for a football stadium but there was no stadium. Turns out there are grandstands on a half mile long stretch of road where the Carnival parades each year.

I might be tempted to return for Carnival—once, but I think I’ve seen Rio and I’m not a beach person who would come for the sunshine and sand. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

World Cruise - Buenos Aires, Day Two

Our second morning in Buenos Aires began with a highlights tour of the city. It was the only way to be sure we could safely get to La Recoleta, the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. I suppose we could have taken a taxi or used the HOHO bus that had a stop nearby but when we were planning our trip, we’d decided to use the ship’s excursion.

The four hour tour took us to the pink palace, Casa Rosada, and the government buildings where so many of the demonstrations take place. They are so spontaneous that the local authorities have barriers and movable fences handy at all times to at least offer some sort of order and containment. The pink palace is the place where Eva Peron is said to have given her famous speech and where Madonna sang the song for the movie.

Across the square is also the cathedral of Buenos Aires where Pope Francis served as Archbishop before becoming Pope. We took a peek inside. It was a lot fancier inside than the outside would lead you to believe.

About three blocks away is an old coffee shop, CafĂ© Tortoni, and tango school. The shop inside dates back to 1858 and was rich with dark wood paneling and Tiffany glass ceiling. Lots of Tiffany lamps line the shelf over the bar area and sculptured busts of famous artists, writers, and poets who frequented the shop over the years are display all around. 

Churros and hot chocolate were a big hit with everyone although the churros needed to be dipped in the chocolate to make them edible.

La Boca was to be our next stop and as we drove there we passed a large sit in demonstration that looked more like a live in demonstration with a huge tent pitched. I think the guide said it was a tribe that was fighting for some type of union rights.

Arriving at the most colorful section of town, La Boca, we were given our instructions of how far we could wander safely and when to be back at the bus and then we were left to explore.

While our guide didn’t explain in detail about the area, I remembered from our last trip that this is where a lot of the immigrants first landed in Buenos Aires and since they were so poor, they would build their homes out of anything they could find including scrap metal and then use leftover paints that they were given to paint their residence. 

From La Boca we crossed town again to go to La Recoleta. This is the place where only the very rich and famous can get buried. The tombs and mausoleums are owned by families and it costs a fortune to buy space in any of them. Eva Peron’s body, after being stolen and traveling around, finally came to rest in the tomb of the Duarte Family. While she has left quite a mark on Buenos Aires, there are still those who either love her or hate her.

Our tour bus dropped us once again at the terminal where we boarded the shuttle to the ship which wandered among the containers before we made it to our own gangplank and back on board. It would have been nice to have time for one more steak meal but we were setting sail soon. Next up: Rio! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

World Cruise - Buenos Aires

Memories of Buenos Aires that stuck with us from a previous visit were the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried and the wonderful steak dinner we had. Those were our top priorities for this visit. With that in mind, we set out after breakfast to find the shuttle to the Calle Florida, the pedestrian shopping area and the shuttle stop.

The trip actually required two shuttles since we were not allowed to walk in the working port area. And it was a working port for sure. All day and into the night they loaded and unloaded and moved containers. We had to take a shuttle from our ship to the cruise terminal and then walk through the terminal to the other shuttle to Calle Florida.

Traffic in Buenos Aires is unbelievable and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city with so many buses. Our shuttle bus crossed Avenida de Mayo and rounded San Martin Park to deposit us in front of H Stern, an upscale jewelry store that I suspect may have contributed somehow to our free shuttle since we were each given a sticker with H Stern on it to identify us for the ride back.

We started down Calle Florida to the sounds of people shouting, “Gambia!” or “Gambio!” At least that’s what it sounded like. They were in the business of changing USD into ARS. It’s big business there. I think they buy the USD in the hopes that they can make some money if the rates change significantly enough. It was irritating though and there were the warnings of scammers and counterfeiters.

One of our goals was to find my hair coloring product so that I could touch up my roots. Shocked? Ha! I had thought that I might treat myself to coloring on board the ship but after spending $100 to get my haircut I decided against it. I have never paid $100 for a haircut—ever! And $15 was for the conditioner she put on after shampooing that she didn’t tell me had an extra charge. So we kept eyes peeled for a pharmacy or chemist which is where you usually find that sort of thing.

Having gone as far as we dared considering we had to walk back, we turned and headed to a large indoor mall we’d seen on our way up the street. The Galleria was an upscale mall and had lots of shops where we recognized names like LaCoste, Adidas, and the usual handbag brands. The nice thing was that none of the money changers were in there, kept out by the guards at the doors.

We found a bench and sat for a few minutes while Bob checked for a nearby steakhouse. Since the shuttle back to the ship quit running early, we were going to have to find a place open for lunch. He found a highly rated (TripAdvisor) one, La Cabanas, which was not too far a walk. Most of the way was past a very nice business district that turned into a very nice area of apartments and office buildings that bordered a large marina area.

Puerto Madera is turned out was the old port area that has been turned into a beautiful area of apartments, office buildings, restaurants and shops. La Cabanas was in the middle of one of the four sections of marinas and we found a spot on their front porch to have our delicious ribeye steak and Caesar salad.

While we waited for our steak and salad, we mapped a route back to the cruise terminal. It looked to be about as far in that direction as we’d already come from Calle Florida plus we’d have to wait for the shuttle to leave and then there would be the ride back. We agreed. It would be quicker to just walk it. Besides, we had quite a meal to walk off.

At least twice there were people who approached us for directions, legitimately I think. I felt bad for the lady who looked lost near the port as we weaved our way through trucks with containers headed for the port. At least I remembered some Spanish, “No hablo Espanol. Lo sciento.”

It was a good walk albeit almost all in the sun. A quick ride from the cruise terminal to the ship, weaving in between stacks of containers and listening to the warning sounds of the big pickers as they went up and down the rows moving the big containers and stacking them or loading them on trucks or ships. I wondered if they ever dropped one. What an awful thought as we were moving between them.

That evening after dinner, we were treated to a local show of tango dancers. They presented a history of the tango through costume and dance. No oil and glitter here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

World Cruise - Montevideo, Uruguay

The invitation was tacked to the wall of our stateroom with a magnet right next to the pictures of our grandchildren and just below our calendar that seemed heavy with things to do each day. It was to be another World Cruise Event and it sounded exciting. 

The other exciting part of April 12 would be the end to our seven days at sea. I used to love sea days. Still do. But not seven in a row. I did get a lot of reading done but several rough days and lethargy (or just plain laziness) kept me from writing much.

So, as we headed into port that morning I was up early—before the sun! I watched a glorious sunrise and then the sail in to Montevideo. The city sits on the banks of the Rio de la Plata where it meets the ocean. The river is said to be the widest in the world, 100 miles at the widest point.

We had already heard the story of the famous battle fought there in WWII between the British ship Exeter and the German ship Graf Spee. The Exeter had inflicted quite a bit of damage on the Graf Spee that put into the port of Montevideo, Uruguay. Because Uruguay was a neutral country during the war, the Graf Spee was only allowed a short time in port. The captain of the Graf Spee, Captain Hans Langsdorff, was convinced that the British had greater force in the river than there really was and so he sailed out into the river, setting his crew off the ship and scuttled it. The crew and the captain ended up in Argentina where the captain committed suicide.

After breakfast, we gathered our things and met up with about 500 other world cruisers on the pier to board buses for our event. It was about a half hour ride to Estancia La Baguala, a large ranch that is now being turned into a very elegant hotel. Crystal Cruises had arranged for a huge party on the grounds to include dancers, musicians, and of course gauchos.

Our bus was met by a parade of gauchos and gauchas (females gauchos) on horses and as we filed by, we took pictures and admired the horses as well as the riders, young and old. The gauchos go back quite a way in history and were a part of the fight to win independence from Spain. They are the South American version of the American cowboy herding cattle on large ranches. Their colorful clothing is iconic.

As we entered the large courtyard of the ranch, we found all sorts of tables and bales of hay covered with cushions and cloths for us to sit and enjoy the surroundings and of course the tasty appetizers and drinks. Costumed dancers paraded around the guests and stopped to dance on platforms. They represented several eras in history including the ancient tribe of Cree that were once here.

Appetizers included empanadas, different kinds of breads and in one spot huge legs of BBQ beef that were being sliced thinly for small sandwiches. It was all very delicious and really too much to eat because to follow was a huge lunch.

We explored one end of the ranch house and peeked into the bedrooms that were opened so that guests could use the bathrooms. At the other end of the huge ranch house was a spa with several rooms for exercise, hot tubs, sauna and steam. Another section was a large living area and a dining room that we learned could hold about 300 guests for special events.

When lunchtime arrived, we all filed through the reception area to the back of the ranch house where a huge tent was set up for us with BBQ pits on either side full of all sorts of beef, chicken and vegetables. Our table mates and another couple who had been with us on safari all gathered around one table and began to get plates of food.

The food lines were so long that several of us decided to take another look at the gauchos and horses. One of our tablemates used to have a horse ranch and she had already been on one of the gaucho’s horses. We were offered rides and of course my friends decided I needed to go for one. What??

I don’t know what had gotten into me but I took up the challenge and was helped up by a female gaucho. I thought the saddle was going to come off before I got up there. There is no saddle horn to hold onto to get up there and my muscles aren’t what they used to be. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Those pictures are deleted. Once up though, I suddenly got a cramp in my leg so if I look a bit odd, I’m fighting the pain. A few minutes later the horse was relieved to have me back on the ground. But what a hoot!

I still wasn’t very hungry but I forced myself to get a plate of food just to be able to taste what smelled so delicious. Our main lunch was followed by a dish of flan and then. . .well, wow!

The dancing began and just continued on and on. It was amazing. The dancers were obviously younger than the crowd and full of energy but they energized those watching and eventually pulled them into the dance. When the Spanish dancing was done, drums announced the African influenced dancers. The African beat filled the tent and the energy level went even higher.

Then the grand finale. Very tall, and I mean VERY tall ladies (even without the platform heels) descended the stairs of the ranch house and danced into the tent much to the amazement of all and the delight especially of the men. They were scantily clad but their bodies were well oiled and covered in glitter. Lots of dancing with the crowd and of course picture taking. Everyone’s husband saying, “Honey, take a picture of me with her.” And of course Bob was no different.

Just look at that grin!
All too soon it was announced that the buses were waiting and we began to file out. What a day it had been! I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying themselves. Of course later we teased all the guys about the glitter on them. Bob had some on his nose!

While we didn’t get to explore the city of Montevideo, the countryside of Uruguay was certainly beautiful but of course a mix of poor and the very rich as it is in many countries. We’d love to return sometime and see more. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

World Cruise - Cape Town, Day Two

Up early this morning, we caught the first shuttle bus into the Wharf and talked the driver into letting us off at the aquarium so that we could catch the first HOHO bus to Table Top Mountain. When we got to the red line bus, we were told that the cable car to the top was not operating because of the strong winds at the top. I guess that explained the lack of a “tablecloth” of clouds there this morning. Wind conditions were subject to change and we still wanted to see the sights on the other route so we boarded anyway.

We covered some of the same territory that we’d seen in the city the day before and then went up to the cable car terminal on the side of Table Top Mountain. The cable car was still not running and it was reported that there were gale force winds on top. We were disappointed. Had we taken the red route the day before, we’d have been able to make the ride. The up side of the situation was that we still had one more half day here and the possibility of riding the cable car before we sailed.

Our route took us back along the sea shore and past all the beautiful beaches we’d seen the day before. I had a second chance at some scenic shots.

Once back at the HOHO station, we decided to do a little looking around at the shops and market area. There was one large warehouse type building that had been fixed up to house lots of small booths that sold all sorts of things from clothing to African art and jewelry. We happened upon a small booth that had lots of interesting beaded jewelry and one caught my eye. The lady who owned the business said that all the beading was done by the Zulu and she would order certain designs when she ran out of them. I bought my necklace of black, gray and white beads and planned to wear it at dinner.

Lion's Head and Signal HIll
It was lunch time and we opted to try walking back to the ship. Bob estimated it would take about as long to walk to the ship as to the shuttle bus and he was pretty sure he knew the route after having been by it several times on our bus trips. Sure enough it was an easy walk and an interesting one that took us past the dry dock area where there were several large boats being repaired and painted.

 After lunch Bob was off to play paddle tennis and me, I was off to do laundry and some reading. My necklace was a hit at dinner and so much so that I had to direct another friend to where I had bought it.

The next morning we heard that the cable car was still not running so we decided to walk into the Wharf area and just wander around. We were facing seven days at sea and didn’t want to spend our entire day on board the ship. We did some souvenir shopping. This was after all the first time we’d been to South Africa and who knew when we might return. By the end of the day though we knew we would return someday. There is lots more to see and do in this area and it is a beautiful place. And there’s that cable car ride we never got. . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

World Cruise - Cape Town, South Africa

Our one day at sea after our safari and return to the ship in Durban turned into two and a half sea days when the wind kicked up so badly we couldn’t get into Port Elizabeth. For me it had little effect. I spent most of those days in bed reading or watching TV. Getting over my cold was my number one priority. I was miserable with no safaris to distract me.

The word was that the sail in to Cape Town, weather cooperating, would be spectacular so by the time we were heading around Cape of Good Hope, I was ready with my camera. Curious to see if Cape Town was as beautiful as everyone said it would be.

I could not recognize which prominent point was actually Cape of Good Hope where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic and no one was around to point it out. I could however tell exactly when we neared Cape Town. Along the coast was spread an enormous area of civilization and behind all the buildings and homes rose a huge mountain, the famous Table Top Mountain. It was breathtaking.
The Table Top Mountain was covered with a tablecloth of clouds that seemed to spill over and disappear just over the edge. I stood and watched and tried not to take too many pictures. I was still going through my safari pictures (over 500 of them). I didn’t need to add a bunch more.

Originally we had signed up for a scenic drive excursion when we discovered we would be in Cape Town a little longer than scheduled after missing our stop in Port Elizabeth. Then our tablemates told us about the price of the Hop On Hop Off and what it offered and we jumped at that opportunity and cancelled our excursion. For about $42 USD (for both of us) we could explore two different routes, one all along the peninsula and the other around the city and up to Table Top Mountain’s cable car station. In addition we could get a canal tour, a wine country tour, two historic walks, and an opportunity to watch the sunset on signal hill all within the space of two days—for one ticket! Bob got online and bought the tickets. Thankfully the internet was working well that day.

As soon as the ship was cleared and we were able to go ashore, we took the shuttle bus from our ship to the Victoria and Alfred Wharf area and walked to the Two Seas Aquarium where the beginning point was for the HOHO bus. We hopped on the first bus we saw that was doing the peninsula loop for a two and a half hour trip around the outskirts of Cape Town where several beautiful beaches and communities dot the landscape.

Once we arrived back at the start point, we decided we had time to do the canal tour. The canal is a very small waterway that was man made. It was an interesting trip that wound its way around several luxury hotels in the middle of the city. If they expand on it, it might be a good alternative to busy streets.

We found a spot along the wharf that was bustling with activity and had some refreshment and a little rest. Lots of families were enjoying the shops, the restaurants, the activities that were going on all around us. It was quite a large hub of entertainment. More importantly, with all the families around, it felt like a very safe place to relax and enjoy.

Earlier when we’d first boarded the blue tour bus for the peninsula, we had ordered a small box lunch for the sunset tour to Signal Hill. Signal Hill was once the place where there could be communication with ships at sea but now the only gun fired is at noon and is quite an attraction. We would not be there for noon but we would join others for the sunset.

Signal Hill sits next to the Lion’s Head, a rocky crag on top of another hill. I couldn’t decide why it would be named Lion’s Head until someone pointed out that Signal Hill was actually the back part of a reclining lion. Okay.

We met the bus at 5:30 PM and started out immediately for the top of Signal Hill. We and about a thousand or more other people. By the time our bus got to the top, there was little room for maneuvering because of all the cars parked there. Our dinner bag in hand, we searched for a spot on the hillside among a crowd that was obviously a lot younger than us. Ah, that’s what keeps us young—hopefully.

There was barely enough time to eat our tuna fish sandwich, chips, and juice before the sun started setting. We had been warned that the bus would leave just as soon as it set and we surely didn’t want to be left behind. We needn’t have worried. It was a traffic jam of huge proportion. Cars trying to turn in little space to head down the hill and no one there to direct traffic. No wonder the tour was said to be two to two and a half hours.

The start of the trip down was slow enough to get some good shots of the city below. The light show was spectacular. Then something strange happened about half way down. The bus behind stopped along with us and unloaded their passengers onto our bus. Then our driver said the bus was too heavy up front (it was a double decker) and all the front passengers needed to move downstairs or to the back of the bus. There were few seats left. We just watched in amazement. Our seats were in the middle and we figured we were good.

The bus must have done about 5 MPH all the way down to keep from bottoming out on the bumps. Our tour was now looking at three hours long. What time was the last shuttle back to the ship, I asked nervously? 10:30. We made it to the shuttle behind the mall at the wharf in plenty of time. The shuttles ran late that night but we warned others that if they planned the night tour they should count on taking a taxi back to the ship. The next night the shuttle quit running at 8:30.

Safely back on the ship we were sufficiently tired and ready for bed. It had been a great day. Cape Town was an exciting place to be. We looked forward to traveling up to Table Top Mountain in the morning.

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