50 Today!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, 17 February 2011 – my 50th birthday!  I can now go on Saga holidays, ha ha (as if!!)  😀 

We were woken at 7:10am by the sound of cruise director Ricky’s voice bellowing over the tannoy, announcing that the Braemar was alongside in Bridgetown, Barbados.  We got up and went out on the balcony to have a look; we could see RCI’s Serenade of the Seas which had been in dock when we arrived here.  It looked massive compared to our little ship, but to be honest I don’t think I’d ever want to go on a RCI cruise; their ships are far too big and one of them holds over 6,000 passengers and 3,000 crew – far too crowded and impersonal.  I prefer smaller ships like the Braemar.

Looked in the mirror to see if I could see any more grey hairs or wrinkles, but all I could see was the few extra pounds I’d put on this last fortnight with all the fine food, champagne and goodness knows how many caipirinhas!  🙂

We went to the Palms Café for our breakfast, and we said hello to Paul and Lyn, who were also breakfasting outside in the Caribbean sunshine.  We didn’t actually have to disembark the ship and leave for the airport until 1.30pm, so we had the whole morning to spend in Bridgetown.

After breakfast we went back to 7054, picked up our hand-luggage, and took a last look round to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything.  Then it was “bye bye” 7054 and we went along to the Neptune Lounge where we could deposit our bags for safekeeping until later.

We disembarked the Braemar and walked into Bridgetown proper, as it is only about a mile away.  It is a pleasant walk; the sun was already quite hot but we enjoyed a lovely sea breeze.  We wandered along the sea front and then had a look in the different shops on the way.  Hey, it was my fiftieth birthday, and we had a long, boring flight later on, so I was going to make the most of the time we had left in Barbados.  🙂

Once we were in the town centre, we decided to find a bar and have a “Banks” beer.  This is their local lager and it goes down very well!  We thought we’d look out for a place where the locals drink and have one or two there, as they would charge the local prices and not the inflated tourist prices!

We found a little ramshackle bar and snackbar consisting of a few rickety kiosks and mis-matched tables and chairs that looked just perfect.  The beer was $2.00 a bottle… Barbados dollars that is, so in other words 1 US dollar, or only 67p in English money!!  We ordered a Banks each and sat down to enjoy them.  Loud reggae and soca music was blasting out of massive speakers; yeah man, I could think of worse places to be on my birthday!  😀

The lager was ice-cold… and I mean ICE.  It was actually frozen and you had to wait for it to melt a little before any of it would come out of the bottle.  It was like a beer-flavoured ice pop!  However, it didn’t take long to melt in the tropical sunshine, and we enjoyed it so much we had a second bottle!  We then decided to take a slow amble back to the ship (after first visiting the loos in the bus station).

When we arrived back at the harbour about half an hour later we noticed that the bar there was doing a roaring trade from the cruise ship passengers.  We thought “what the hell” and decided to have one more drink, as it would be our last until we got to the airport.  I had a Caribbean rum punch (yummy) and Trevor ordered a Banks.  His beer was three US dollars, in other words three times the price of the ones we’d had in town!

We then boarded the Braemar one more time to collect our bags and go for a last lunch.  We were called to disembark at 1.30pm, and off we went on the bus for the 45 minute ride to Grantley Adams Airport.  Once again, the disembarkation and airport checking in was extremely efficient; we were off the bus, into the airport and through security in no time, as we already had our boarding passes and our cases were already checked through.

After browsing round the duty free shops I bought a bottle of Barbados Mount Gay rum, then off we went to the Airlines executive lounge.  They had a good selection of drinks and nibbles (although it was too soon after lunch to eat) so we’d thought we’d enjoy the free booze while we were waiting for our flight to be called.  We hadn’t been there very long when in walked Colin and Liz!  They came over to join us, so it was just like extending our holiday a little bit. 🙂

We enjoyed the conversation along with a few beers and vodkas, and then all too soon we heard the announcement for our flight.  We said goodbye to Colin and Liz and off we went to board our Thomas Cook A330 Airbus, for the 8-hour flight back to Manchester.  😦

There’s not much more to write after that.  Same old, same old.  Pre-dinner drinks.  Food. In-flight entertainment.  Cabin lights dimmed.  Boring.  Unable to sleep.  Watch the sky-map to see where we were, what altitude we were flying at, how long we had to go. Boring.  Lights back on.  Breakfast. Coffee.  Queue for the toilets.  Then I perked up a bit when the captain put on the seatbelt sign and announced we were on our final approach.

We looked out of the window as the lights of Manchester on the ground grew closer.  We heard the thud and the hydraulic whine as the wheels of the plane came down.  We saw the ailerons move on the wings, as the lights of the runway approached.  Then… the plane’s engines roared, and suddenly the runway lights began to recede into the distance.  Another whine and thud as the wheels were retracted.  What the hell…?

As the aircraft climbed again we were left wondering what on earth was going on.  Why was our landing aborted?  All the captain told us was that we were unable to land and we had to circle round in a holding pattern a couple of times.  Then we started coming down again and this time we landed.  Hooray!  🙂

Then back in the car for the three-hour drive back to Durham.  At 9.00am we were home again.

Here’s to the next time…  😀

Last Night on the Braemar :-(

Well, we woke up this morning feeling quite sad, as our fantastic holiday is nearly over.  😦

What annoys me about these cruises is that about a week before you are due to disembark the ship, you get delivered to your cabin such bumf as “buy your take-home duty free”, “disembarkation notice”, “immigration form for Barbados”, return luggage tags, etc. etc. etc.  For goodness sake, it’s not time to go home yet – we have a week to go!

But like it or not, today was our last full day and night on the Braemar and tomorrow we’d be disembarking in Bridgetown.  We decided to pack the stuff we wouldn’t be using again this cruise; packing is such a chore so it’s best to get some of it over and done with.  We had received notification asking us to put our cases outside our door no earlier than 10.00pm and no later than 2.00am so as not to block the corridors.  But at 9.45am a large suitcase appeared outside the door of the cabin opposite ours.  What is it with some people?  They want to get a life!

Once we’d filled one of the cases, we spent the day relaxing and wandering around the ship for the last time.  As ever, we had to partake of some of the delicious cocktails up at the pool bar.  🙂  Apart from that we didn’t really do much else, just pottered around.  At lunchtime we went up to the Grampian Restaurant to order a bottle of Lanson’s champagne for the evening, to share with everyone on our table, seeing as it was the last night.  Tomorrow is my birthday, and as we’re due to leave the ship, I’ll probably miss out on any celebration.

So we got showered and ready, and went up to the Grampian for our “last supper” as it were.  The champagne was waiting for us on ice; once Colin and Liz and Paul and Lyn arrived, our waiter popped the cork with a bang and we all enjoyed a glass.  Then came my first surprise of the evening – they’d got me birthday cards and a small gift!  🙂  It was a Braemar keyring and pen set!  It was very kind of them and I was really quite touched; whenever I use that pen or keyring in years to come I will remember the Braemar and the lovely couples we shared our table with.  😀

After dinner came the second surprise of the evening; the waiters arrived at our table with a birthday cake (complete with candle) for me, and sang “Happy Birthday”.  As my birthday isn’t actually until tomorrow, I asked Trevor if he’d arranged this with Fred Olsen, and he didn’t know anything about it.  So that was really good; they must know people’s dates of birth from their passport details and decided that those whose birthday was tomorrow (when we were leaving) could have their celebration tonight instead.  A nice, thoughtful touch on the part of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.

The cabaret that night was a stint from each of the entertainers we’d seen earlier in the cruise; the comedian, the magician, the singer, the orchestra and the Braemar Show Company – a proper variety performance.  Then we went along to the Skylark Club for the final quiz.  Paul and Lyn came along as well, but this time the combined brain power didn’t work, because we didn’t win anything!  😦

I had a few caipirinhas and we relaxed and chatted and had a really nice time.  We had intended going back to our cabin fairly early to finish packing, but it was well after midnight before we went back.  We filled our cases, put them out, then went to bed in 7054 for the last time, after propping open the balcony door to hear the lovely sounds of the sea.

The Drinks are on Fred

Went up to the Grampian restaurant this morning to find there was another “champagne” breakfast.  Whoo-hoo!  🙂  Enjoyed a breakfast of kipper fillets washed down with coffee and a couple of glasses of the free bubbly.  A nice way to set you up for the day – good old Fred.  🙂

The weather was hot and sunny so we decided to go up and spend some time by the pool with our books.  A couple of hours is usually the most we can tolerate, as the sun is so hot.  We read, people-watched, sunbathed and swam in the pool before a crew member brought a massive block of ice out to the deck.  It was the ice-carving demonstration.  One of the chefs used a hammer and chisel to create a fantastic sculpture of an Indian chief’s head, complete with feathered head-dress.  It would be the centre-piece later on in the Thistle Restaurant for tonight’s Grand Gala Buffet.

Personally, we never bother with the midnight buffet and we can’t understand the people who do.  Don’t they get enough to eat on the cruise?!  Would they normally tuck in to a plateful at that time at home?  Just seems like unnecessary calories to me!  🙂

At midday we sought refuge from the sun in the shelter of the Marquee Bar.  We had a light lunch and I enjoyed a great big rum punch, full of ice and fruit and dark rum.  Yummy!  😀

The afternoon passed by in its usual pleasant, lazy way and then we had to get ready for the Captain’s Farewell Party (boo-hoo).  😦  Couldn’t believe our holiday was nearly over after we’d looked forward to it for so long.  Tempus fugit.

So it was formal attire once again as we made our way, in good time, to the doors of the Neptune Lounge.  When we got there, we saw three old dears already standing in the queue (!!) reading their books to pass the time.  As the time approached 5.45pm, more people arrived to join the lengthening queue, then someone from the entertainment team arrived to open the doors.  “We just need to squirt your hands with hygiene gel before you go in…” she said, but to no avail.  As soon as the doors were open, there was a mass stampede to get the seats at the front.  Queue-jumping prevailed on a grand scale, as all the old farts rushed in as fast as their walking sticks could take them.  In a way it was funny, but in another way it was just sheer bad manners; pushing to the front when it was obvious people had been waiting longer.

We chose a seat near the front and near the end of the row, so as to be more readily within reach of the passing waiters with their trays of champagne glasses.  😉  More drinks on Fred!  Then Captain Rodberg did another amusing speech and we managed a couple of refills before dinner time.

Dinner that night was lobster thermidor, yum yum.  Absolutely delicious, and beautifully presented and served as usual.  Afterwards it was off to the show lounge, as tonight it was the Braemar Crew Show. 🙂

The men and ladies of the crew did some traditional Philippino dancing and singing, in colourful costumes they’d made themselves.  There was also a comedy element to it when some of them came out in sailor suits and did Village People’s “In the Navy”, also “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred.  So there was quite a variety in the show and it was all very entertaining.

When we went along to the Skylark Club later on to join Colin and Liz for the quiz, a surprise awaited us – Paul and Lyn were there too!  They are “morning people” so they usually go to bed fairly early on, so the fact that the quiz didn’t even start until 10.00pm was a late one for them!  Maybe they decided to see if another two brains would help us break our winning drought; tonight’s quiz was based on The Body.  All the questions were cryptic, and the answer was a part, or parts, of the human body.  You had to use a bit of lateral thinking in some cases.

Anyway, it worked – because our team won with 19/20.  Yay!  So yet another free bottle of vino on Fred.  🙂

Heading North

Woke up this morning feeling slightly worse for wear – I wonder why?!  😀  Decided that today was going to be a booze-free day.  While Trevor went to the Palms Café for breakfast, I decided I would give it a miss, and instead make use of the tea and coffee facilities in the cabin.  Trevor said he would fetch me back an orange juice and muffin, as the malaria tablets we were taking needed to be taken with food.  🙂

When he came back from the restaurant he had his GPS with him, and it showed that we were actually crossing the Equator at that moment, heading north again.  We were due back in the open sea tonight, where we would spend another three days at sea before arriving back in Barbados.

We didn’t really do much today apart from pass the time pleasantly on our balcony, or wander around the decks.  At 11.30am the Braemar put on a “Crossing the Line” ceremony.  We went up to the pool deck in good time to bag a decent view.  “King Neptune” and his entourage “boarded the vessel” where there were a couple of thrones laid out for the king and his queen.  Some of them were dressed as mermaids, as well as a mad doctor, a sullen deck cleaner, and other characters, a lot of them men in drag!  Cruise Director Ricky was the clerk of the court, reading out the charges.

Certain members of staff had to kneel before King Neptune to answer why they were daring to venture into his realm by crossing the Equator.  It was a “trial” and invariably each person was found guilty.  For punishment, they had to be soaked in ice and “seaweed” (in reality, green crepe paper which stained the water a lovely emerald colour) then thrown into the swimming pool in all their clothes!  It was very funny, especially when they all grabbed Ricky himself and threw him in!  All good fun.  😀

Later that night we found we’d received a Crossing the Line certificate.  We’ve also got them for crossing the Arctic Circle (in 1999 and 2008) and the International Date Line (2009) so this was another one to add to our collection.

After dinner that evening we went along to the Neptune Lounge for the show.  As it was Valentine’s Day, they put on a rendition of “Mr & Mrs” and asked for three couples.  We didn’t volunteer this time, as we’d already won it on our previous cruise, so we thought we’d let someone else have a go.  🙂

The cabaret this time featured Andrew Green the magician for the first half, then Jamie Michael Stewart the singer for the second half.  Not the best show you’ll ever see, but decent enough.

The quiz tonight was Valentine themed.  Once again we didn’t win!  🙂

As we were now in the open sea and no longer at the mouth of the Amazon (and therefore bug-free), we were able to prop open our balcony door overnight once more.  🙂

Caipirinha Capers at Alter do Chão

This morning, the Braemar was due to drop anchor at another tiny village, this time Alter do Chão. Having looked at some photos of this place, it seemed as though there was a lovely sandy beach, so it had one redeeming feature at least. 🙂

We were due to set sail early afternoon, so we decided to go ashore fairly early so we would be back by lunchtime.  We put our swimsuits on underneath our clothes to save having to change; we could do that later once we’d returned to the ship.  We got the liberty boat across to the small landing stage and took a look around.

For a start, Alter do Chão, although small, looked a lot more civilised than Boca da Valéria.  There was a small sandy beach with a few trees, from which hammocks hung.  The Brazilians like to come here on a Sunday themselves, and quite a few people were swimming, or walking along the shoreline.  We stripped down to our swimming things and went into the warm waters of the Amazon.  It was lovely!  I swam out until I couldn’t reach the bottom any more.  You didn’t get the waves that you do in the sea, but I noticed that the current was pulling me downstream a little, so I had to be careful.  Trevor also went in for a swim, and we both spent a few minutes enjoying the scenery and the refreshing feeling of being in the water.

Afterwards we towelled off and laid down on our towels to allow the sun to finish drying us off.  In the 30 degree heat it didn’t take long.  Then we put our clothes back on over the top of our cossies and decided to explore further.  We could now go home and say we’d swam in the Amazon!  😀

We passed some wooden buildings selling postcards, stamps and souvenirs, as well as hand-made local jewellery.  There were also primitive shops selling holiday “tat” such as t-shirts with “Alter do Chão” on them, or pictures of toucans or piranhas.  There were also wooden masks, blowpipes and maracas, and other such stuff.  We bought a couple of postcards and stamps, and I bought a bracelet made out of seeds, wood and alligator teeth – certainly something different!

We then arrived at a sort of square which had stalls around its edges, and benches to sit on.  There were a couple of refreshment stalls, one of them selling the inevitable caipirinhas.  At one end of the square, a Brazilian music duet had set themselves up; one playing panpipes and one beating out a catchy rhythm on his bongo drums.  It sounded really good and added to the pleasant atmosphere.

I sat on one of the benches to write out the postcards, while Trevor went to get a couple of drinks.  He came back with a Brahma beer for himself and a caipirinha for me.  He said “you wouldn’t believe the amount of cachaça that’s in there – it’s a strong one”.  I said “what do you mean?”.  Trevor replied “there must be six units of alcohol in that one drink alone.”  Blimey!  😀

It certainly was very strong, but also fruity and refreshing.  One thing about the caipirinhas is that it is difficult to stop just at one.  And you can totally underestimate their potency, as I was about to find out, ha ha.  😀

I wrote out the postcards, then listened to the infectious beat of the music as I finished off my drink.  As this was the last port of call in Brazil before heading back north of the Equator, I said to Trevor that we may as well spend the rest of our Brazilian currency, so he went and got us another caipirinha each!  Mine was strong, but not as strong as the first one I had.

Other people nearby were also drinking caipirinhas and cocktails, and it was funny, because some of them got up and started dancing in the square to the music!  It just looked so comical watching half a dozen or so middle-aged to elderly men and women strutting their stuff. Obviously the drink was taking effect with them too.  🙂

I finished my second caipirinha and decided, “oh, what the hell” and went for a third one!  😉  I could definitely feel the drinks starting to take effect.  In fact, the music got to me and I got up and danced as well.  A lady nearby asked where I’d learnt all the “moves” and I said it was because I’d done Zumba and belly-dancing in the past. 

Time was getting on by now and we had to be back on the ship by 1.15pm so I finished my drink and we went along to join the queue for the liberty boat, part of which was on the beach (the queue I mean, not the boat!).  There were another couple of guys there; one beating a rhythm on his drum and one rattling his maracas.  Well there was me, completely sackless, and I just couldn’t resist – breaking out of the queue I kicked off my shoes and started dancing on the beach, shaking my booty and shimmying my hips, much to the amusement of the other passengers in the queue.  The guy gave me his maracas so I could really get into the spirit of the thing!  🙂 🙂

I can’t really remember much about the liberty boat ride back to the Braemar.  We got back on board and went to our cabin, where I crashed out on the bed and slept for three straight hours!  Trevor woke me with a cup of coffee which I had before making an attempt to get ready for dinner.  I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it!

Anyway… I did manage to shower, do my hair, get my face on and get dressed in time for dinner at 6.15pm.  Tonight was a “Western Night” and Trevor wore jeans and a checked shirt, but as I didn’t have any suitable clothes I just wore a floral print dress.  For once we didn’t have any wine with our meal, or any liqueurs afterwards, lol 😀

We’re not really into country music/western stuff, so we chose to see the Braemar Crew Cabaret in the Coral Club, instead of the “Hoedown Showdown” the show company were putting on.  So we went along to the quieter and smaller Coral Club for the first time; there were six singers, all of them part of the crew, who we normally see in their ‘day jobs’ of  bar staff, croupier, shop assistant etc.  Some of them were really talented and it was a good show.

We then finished off the evening by going along to the Skylark Club, where Hubert Greaves on his steel drums was playing a few cheerful tunes before the quiz, which was a Western Theme tonight.  Not really our forté, so we didn’t win.

Then off to bed again.  We now had three days at sea to look forward to, so it was “bye bye” Brazil.  🙂

Boca da Valéria, Brazil

This morning we woke up to find the Braemar at anchor, and the skies overcast, but with the sun trying to peep through.  Across the river we could see a collection of a few wooden buildings and houses on stilts, along with a small landing stage.  This was the tiny Amazonian village of Boca da Valéria.  Boca da means ‘mouth of’ in Portuguese, and this village was situated at the mouth of the Valéria river, a tributary of the Amazon.

There were no organised tours today; you had to get the liberty boat across the water and do your own thing.  The village was so tiny it wouldn’t be worth doing any excursions and you could see everything within half an hour!

We decided to spend the morning on board and venture ashore after lunch.  We had a leisurely breakfast outside the Palms Café and wandered around the deck.  We could see the tender boats going to and fro; the villagers would come out in their small rowing boats and come right up to the tenders, trying to sell the passengers hand-made souvenirs or asking for money or gifts.

We spent the morning sitting out on deck reading our books, then went to the Marquee Bar for some lunch and a cold cocktail.  We then went along to collect a tender ticket and await our turn to disembark.

As we were boarding the liberty boat, the skies opened.  Once everyone was on board we set away; it only took about 10 minutes to cross.  At the other end, some people took one look at the weather (or, possibly, at the place itself) and decided not even to get off the boat.

We disembarked onto a small landing stage with a sort of ‘pier’ of wooden decking, and my feet had no sooner touched the ground when I was surrounded by a group of grubby local kids, two of which grabbed my hand, one either side.  They practically pulled me along, jabbering away in Portuguese.  I looked around for Trevor, who was quite a way back, so I slowed down to wait for him.  The kids were still chattering away, but I could recognise the words “reïs” and “dollar”, so it was obvious they were after money.

Trevor eventually caught up with me.  I kept trying to pull my hands away from the grabbing hands of the children, but they would keep getting hold of my arm or my hand.  I didn’t really like it all that much; their hands were unpleasantly sticky and one of them kept sticking his fingers up his nose – euyuk!  Also, if they’d been holding the hands of other passengers you could understand how germs and bacteria could be spread.

Eventually I turned my pockets inside out to show the kids I didn’t have any money on me, but this didn’t deter them – they then turned to Trevor, actually touching his pockets.  We wished we had brought some of the night-time chocolates or some sweets for the kids, just to bl***y get rid of them!  🙂

Anyway… Boca de Valéria consisted of a few wooden houses on stilts, a single church, one school, a bar, and a few stalls selling handicrafts.  If you wanted to take photos of any of the people or buildings, the villagers expected you to pay a couple of dollars.  Some of the children had been dressed in the traditional Amazonian Indians costumes, more for the benefit of the visitors than anything, because most of the kids just wore shorts, t-shirts and sometimes football shirts.

As well as the stalls selling handicrafts such as wooden masks, beaded jewellery etc. some of them had animals tied up, such as alligators (with their jaws wired shut), sloths, monkeys and even lizards, birds and insects.  The idea was to charge the tourists for photos, but I really hate to see animals exploited in this way.

One or two of the wooden houses had hastily-scribbled signs inviting visitors to see inside, and charging them for the privilege.  Apparently they depend on the tourism industry to make a living, as well as fishing and growing manioc. 

We wondered just how much all of this was put on for the tourists – were these people really as poor as they made out?  I may sound sceptical, but one of the houses had a satellite dish outside it (!!).  Also, we noticed that some of the locals were quite overweight; they obviously weren’t just living on fish and manioc, and doing manual work!

We walked along the muddy dirt track and decided to seek refuge from the showers (and the kids!) in the bar.  It was simply a wooden shelter with a few tables and chairs and it only sold Bramha beer or soft drinks.  It was packed with people from the ship.  We came across Colin and Liz and joined them for a beer; Liz had some wet wipes in her bag and gave me one to clean my hands.  🙂  The kids, who had followed us all the way, eventually gave up and found someone else to pester.

After our beers we decided to go back to the ship.  We had a look at the stalls but there was nothing that took our fancy.  We went back to the ‘dock’ and queued for the liberty boat; someone from the ship was giving out cold apple juice to the passengers waiting in the queue.

So that was our experience of Boca da Valéria.  A tiny village of less than 100 people, very primitive, very poor.  But how much of it was real?

Jaguar in the Jungle

We woke up in our jungle hut early this morning; in fact, we didn’t really sleep all that well.  Although the room was kept at a lovely cool temperature with the air-conditioning, the downside was that it was very noisy.  At some point during the night Trevor turned it off, and the silence was golden.  However, waking up a couple of hours later, the room was stiflingly hot.  So you couldn’t win either way.

So we were up at 7.30am, and this time we donned clothes suitable for trekking in the undergrowth.  Long trousers, socks and shoes (no shorts and sandals this time) to prevent anything crawling up your legs, as well as long sleeves.  The less flesh that was exposed, the less the mozzies could bite!  🙂

Outside, the morning air was clean and fresh with the scent of growing things and the sun was shining.  Birds were calling in the trees and dragonflies and other insects were buzzing about.  We went along to the restaurant for breakfast.  This time there was fresh fruit, cereals, different breads, cold meats, cheeses and eggs, as well as fruit juice and good Brazilian coffee.  We ate a good breakfast to set us up for the day, then sprayed on our insect repellent and went along to Reception to meet Prakash and the rest of the Jaguar Group for our 8.30am jungle trek.

As the lodge was set in the rainforest, there was no boat-ride this time – we just set off on foot.  Prakash looked the part in his khakis and with a big machete kept in a sheath hanging from his waist.  He led Jaguar Group into the forest, with Julio bringing up the rear.  We didn’t want to come across other guided parties, so we set off at staggered intervals.  The guides had an intriguing way of calling to each other, using bird and other animal calls.  🙂

We had to watch out for tree roots and vines underfoot which could trip us up; also there were palm trees that had vicious spikes on the trunk, so we had to be careful where we were putting our hands as well as our feet.  Prakash was very good at pointing out any potential hazards to us.  He showed us trees with unusual fruits, and also cut some bark from a tree and rubbed it on my wrist; it left a dark orange mark and he said it was used by the native tribes as skin decoration (war paint).

As I didn’t carry a notebook and pen with me, it is impossible for me to remember every tree, plant and creature that Prakash pointed out.  Nevertheless, he showed us plants that could be used as food, plants from which you could drink the sap if water was scarce (he also showed us which leaves were best for collecting water) and plants that were used for medicinal purposes.  He would peel a little piece of bark, or take piece of leaf, and pass it around the group, asking us to smell (or, in some cases, taste) it to see if we could guess what it was.  I recognised eucalyptus and cloves (very distinctive) among them.

Some of the trees were massively tall, and had lianas wound around them.  A liana is actually a thick vine that grows in the ground, but needs to climb up the trees to the top of the canopy in order to reach sunlight.  So the lianas (or creepers) twist and wind their way around the trees, and sometimes neighbouring trees.  Then they let down arial roots which form the creepers we recognise of “Tarzan” fame.

At one stage, Prakash found an ants’ nest and used a big stick to stir them up.  They were HUGE, at least 2″ long and red.  He said that if you get bitten by one of these ants, you will have a fever and the bite will burn and sting for the next 24 hours.  Ouch!  😦    We also saw a tree with loads of termites on it.

Prakash was extremely knowledgeable about all the plants and trees and it was very interesting.  At one stage he found a big fronded palm leaf and he and Julio, while they were talking, made little “gifts” for us by plaiting the fronts into various shapes.  He said that, often at the lodge when all the guests have gone to bed and there isn’t much to do (there is no television or internet, after all!) he sits chatting to the other staff and plaits the palm leaves and thinks of new things to make, to pass the time.  🙂  They made headbands, fans, a brilliant grasshopper, a prawn and a fun pair of ‘glasses’, to name but a few.

Towards the end of the hike, Prakash asked if anyone knew which direction we would need to go in to find our way back to the lodge.  It was no good asking me; I get lost in Durham! 🙂  Everyone took a guess as to which way it was.  Prakash then gave his machete to a Norwegian bloke in our group and said he was the new leader, and everyone had to follow him.  At this point we weren’t really very far from the lodge, and in fact we started to recognise trees we had seen earlier on.

A few minutes later, we arrived back at the Ecopark.  The time was 11.30am – our jungle trek had lasted three hours, but it didn’t seem that long.  We were very hot and sticky; the tropical air was absolutely still and the high humidity meant that you were damp all the time.  My hair was hanging limply round my face, my makeup had slid off, and I had a big wet patch in the back of my t-shirt.  I must have looked a right sight!  🙂

We decided to have a nice cool shower to freshen up a bit before lunch at 12.30pm.  When we got back to our hut, however, we discovered there was no electricity!  Apparently they switch it off for a few hours a day to conserve energy.  Prakash said it should come on shortly, but in the meantime, we decided to go along to the bar and have a – yes, you’ve guessed – caipirinha or two!  They were ice cold, fruity and very refreshing.  We then went for lunch which was the usual selection of meats, fish, fruit and vegetables.  Simply cooked but plentiful and delicious.

We did not have to check out until 3.30pm, so the rest of the afternoon was our own.  We went back to our hut to find the electricity (and the air conditioning) was back on, so we decided to have a nap, as it is pretty draining in the humid heat.

After packing all our stuff up into our overnight holdalls, we went along to reception and handed the key back, then decided to have one more caipirinha.  We sat there enjoying our drink, and a bright green parrot flew in and landed on the bar, where the barman gave him a small bowl of water to drink.

Then Prakash came along and led Jaguar Group to the large boat, for the hour-long journey back to Manaus.  Boarding the bus at the other end took us back to the dock and to the Braemar.  We said our goodbyes and thanks to Prakash for being a brilliant guide, then boarded the ship once more.  We had an hour to shower and change for dinner.

Tonight was a British-themed night, where passengers were encouraged to wear red, white and blue.  This is a tradition on Fred Olsen ships and is usually good, patriotic fun.  Trevor looked very dapper in a Union Jack waistcoat and dicky-bow tie, and I wore a Union Jack t-shirt and white jeans.  I created a stir by wearing a plastic mask of the Queen and giving a “royal wave” every now and then.  🙂

After dinner we went into the Neptune Lounge where they had a British singalong and everyone joined in.  Then the show for the evening was “All You Need Is Love”, the Braemar Show Company’s tribute to the Beatles.  Then it was the usual – off to the Skylark Club, meet up with Colin and Liz, do the quiz, which was British-themed.  We got 18/20 and still didn’t win!!

Then off to bed in 7054 after a very eventful day.