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Archive for February, 2011

Ecopark Excitement (part 2)

At 3.00pm we all gathered in reception, where Prakash, our guide, was waiting to take us to the boat.  We walked along the dirt track, the duckboards and the planks of wood until we were once more at the landing dock.  This time it was a much bigger boat, with a lower and upper deck.  We went upstairs where we had a seat near the front, affording us unimpeded views of the river and riverbanks.

This afternoon we were due to visit a native Amazon Indian village.  I don’t know why they’re called ‘Indians’; personally I would prefer to think of them as indigenous people.  The boat journey would be around 45 minutes, and on the way there was plenty to see.  We passed small villages and, at one stage, a jungle ‘resort’ which the well-off Brazilians tend to go to.  There were many gleaming boats moored up, and sunloungers, and you could hear the distant sound of the infectious beat of Brazilian music.  Some people were swimming or fishing.  You would wonder why they were swimming when the Amazon is reputed to be full of vicious piranhas, but in actual fact piranhas have a bad reputation fuelled by Hollywood.  Whilst it is true that they are voracious meat-eaters, they certainly don’t strip a human body down to the bone in minutes as portrayed in the movies!  🙂  In fact, they’re more likely to avoid humans rather than attack them.  🙂

We saw more monkeys in the trees, as well as vultures flying around.  Every now and again you’d see catfish jumping.  As it was now well after 3.00pm, the fiercest heat of the sun had diminished somewhat, and there was a cooling breeze as the boat glided through the waters.  It really was an idyllic ride.

Once we got to the shores of the river that would take us to the native village, the boat was moored and the gangplank put in place.  When I say “plank”, that’s exactly what it was – a plank of wood stretching from the lower deck of the boat to the sandy shore.  It was quite precarious walking down it, but luckily there were plenty of hands holding onto me to ensure I didn’t fall.  Goodness knows how the older people managed.

Eventually we were all ashore.  Some half-naked, brown-skinned children came running down to meet us.  We were led by Prakash to a large square area with benches around the outside, and a large thatched roof overhead.  Prakash explained to us that the natives did not speak the usual Brazilian Portuguese, but used their own dialect instead.  They made their living from fishing, growing manioc, handicrafts and tourists coming to visit. 

Quite a few native men and women were around, and lots of children.  Prakash joked that there were a lot of kids because the natives didn’t have a television! 😉  One of the men came in who had a loin-cloth, a sort of ‘skirt’ made of leaves, a shell anklet and a large, feathered head-dress.  His face and chest were coloured in a sort of ‘war paint’.  Prakash explained he was the chief, or elder, of the tribe.  The elder addressed us all in his native tongue, the gist of which was that he was welcoming us to their village, and they were going to play some traditional musical instruments, sing and dance for us.

They started off by playing a flute-like instrument, then they used what looked like pan-pipes.  They also had a percussion instrument which consisted of a long, hollow tube which they banged on the ground, creating a sort of echoing banging sound.  When all the instruments were played together, it sounded quite good.  They then started singing and dancing, going up to each side of the ‘room’ in turn.

The next dance was a type of ritual ‘mating’ dance and the women joined in.  The men and women danced arm-in-arm, with some of the women carrying small children on their ‘free’ arm!  It was fascinating to watch.  When the men were dancing, the shells on their anklets created some extra percussion.

Once the singing and dancing was finished, each member of the tribe (including the children) came around the room and shook hands with each of the visitors.  They welcomed you in their own language and you had to reply with “Bacomá” (or something that sounded like that).

After everyone had been round, the Chief gave his head-dress and some maracas to Prakash, who promptly came over to us and placed the head-dress on Trevor’s head, the maracas in his hand, and motioned for him to get up to join the natives!  Other visitors were given the percussion instruments and had to get up and join in with the dancing!  It was great fun to watch, and I took plenty of photos.  Trevor should be honoured that he was allowed to wear the Chief’s head-dress.  He also danced with one of the women.  😀

Afterwards we were invited to look at some of the handicrafts the natives had made.  There were necklaces and bracelets made out of seeds, shells, wooden beads and alligator teeth, as well as bikini tops made of coconut shells (no good if you’re more than an A cup!), hollowed out gourds used as containers, and blow-pipes.  The blow pipes had arrows included and you could have a go at shooting them; they were surprisingly accurate.  Just as well there was no curare around, lol 🙂

I wanted to buy one of the necklaces for 15 Reïs but we only had a 50-Real note and they didn’t have any change.  The Brazilian currency, by the way, is the Real, and the plural is Reïs, not “reals”.  No-one seemed able to change the banknote so, reluctantly, I had to do without my alligator-tooth necklace.  Hopefully I’d get a chance at a later date.

Then if was back on the boat for another ride along the river; this time we were going to moor up at a small restaurant/bar that had a pier, and fish for piranhas from the pier-side.  😀

On arrival at the pier, we were each given a bamboo pole with fishing line and a hook on the end, baited with raw meat.  Then we had to stand at the water’s edge and see what we could catch.  Prakash made it sound easy; “When you feel a little nibble, pull your line in,” he said.  But the piranhas (and other fish) were sly; you’d feel a nibble and pull in your line, to find no fish, but the raw meat gone!  Every now and again a catfish would jump out of the water and land on the pier, flopping about until someone was kind enough to throw it back.

The sun was fast dipping below the horizon as night swiftly fell in the jungle.  Dusk doesn’t seem to last long, once the sun disappears the hot and heavy darkness sinks down.  With the darkness the sounds of the jungle came alive.  You could hear crickets and bullfrogs singing loudly, and every now and again the cry of a bird or monkey.  It was now time to head back to the lodge.  No-one had caught any fish this time.  😦

We arrived back at the Ecopark, dumped our stuff back in our hut and had a quick wash.  Dinner was at 7.30pm so we had time for a nice cold caipirinha before then.  🙂  Dinner was much the same as lunch had been; fish, pork, beef, manioc, lots of vegetables, salad and fruits.

At 8.30pm we all gathered once again in reception to await Prakash for the next exciting adventure – this time caiman spotting.  When Prakash arrived he bestowed upon us the group name “Jaguar” and said that is how he would address us from now on, as in “this way please, Jaguar Group.”  I liked the sound of that!  🙂

We got back into one of the little rustic river-boats and journeyed along the darkness of the river.  We didn’t have Prakash in our boat this time (he was in the other boat), we had a young guy who I believe was called Julio.  He sat at the front of the boat and shone a very powerful flashlight into the bushes and undergrowth along the riverbanks.  When you are looking for caiman alligators, the light will be reflected off their retinas, making their eyes glow red. 

The helmsman turned off the outboard motor so we were left with the night-time sounds of the rainforest, while Julio slowly flashed his torch around.  Then there was a splash as he jumped overboard, surfacing seconds later with a caiman!  He brought the caiman onto the boat and we returned to the landing stage at the lodge, in order for everyone to get a chance to examine it more closely.

Shortly afterwards, Prakash’s boat arrived back, he too with a caiman.

Julio passed the caiman to me to hold; I had to put one hand round its neck and the other round its tail.  It felt smooth and warm-blooded, and it stayed perfectly still apart from its sides going in and out as it was breathing.  Its eyes were like a cat’s, that is, the pupil was a slit rather than being rounded.

I actually felt quite sorry for the caimans.  They had had bright lights shone in their eyes to hypnotise them, been snatched from the river where they were feeding and brought, in a noisy vibrating motor-boat, to land, where they were passed around, poked and prodded, and every inch of them examined and photographed.  We’d all seen one now; I felt it was time to take them back and release them.  We were told that this is what happens, that none of the animals are harmed in any way, but we didn’t actually see them being released.

The evening time now at the Ecopark was our own.  We had packed a lot into today and were now pleasantly tired.  We had a couple of caipirinhas in the pleasant, dimly lit bar area and chatted to the other guests and to Prakash, who said he had been working for the Ecolodge over 10 years.

Then it was off to bed for the night in our little hut.  🙂

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Ecopark Excitement (part 1)

It was with anticipation and excitement that we woke up this morning, knowing that we were going to disembark the Braemar and foray into the Amazon jungle, where we would be staying overnight in the Amazon Ecopark Lodge.

The ship had already docked in Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, and she was not due to sail again until 6.00pm tomorrow night.  Manaus comes as a big surprise to first-time visitors; despite being in the depths of the rainforest on the banks of the Amazon river where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões converge to form the “Meeting of the Waters”, Manaus is a major city consisting of high-rise buildings, main roads and is a world-wide business trader.  As well as being a major shipping port, it also has its own international airport.  Strange to think that you just needed to go about five miles away and you’d be in the thick of the jungle.

We disembarked the ship and walked over the road, where we were greeted by our guide, Prakash, who would be looking after us for the next two days.  We got on the bus (a much more modern and comfortable one than those in Santarém and Barbados!) for the 45 minute ride to the quayside; the rest of the journey to the Ecopark would be by boat.

Once we got to the quayside, we walked across a floating landing stage to board the motor-boat.  The only access to the Ecopark is by boat, as there are no roads, only dirt tracks.  The journey took about 30 minutes, then we arrived at a primitive landing dock.  One by one we were manoeuvred off the boat and we paused to take in our surroundings.

There was a small sandy beach with a few rustic sunshades (thatched with palm leaves) and sunloungers, right on the water’s edge.  We could just catch a glimpse of the lodge through the dense trees.  We had to walk along some duckboards and planks laid out especially to avoid going in the mud (or the river if the water level was high).  A hundred and fifty or so yards later we walked up some steps and into the Ecopark reception, where a welcome drink of some sort of tropical juice awaited us.  We discovered that this was the exact same lodge that Trevor and I had stayed in (for three days) on our last visit to the Amazon 10 years before, so we were happy to be back, as we’d had such a fantastic time.  😀

We had a lot to pack into our short stay here, so we’d no sooner dumped our bags (check-in could wait until later) before it was time to go to Monkey Island.  This was a natural area where monkeys which had been rescued from the illegal animal trade were brought to be rehabilitated, before eventually being released into the wild.

We had to board small boats to get there; they had half a dozen or so bench-like seats (imagine a big rowing boat) with a shade over them, and an outboard motor.  The first person on the boat had to climb over all the benches until they got to the one at the back; they then pulled up the back rest of the bench in front so the next person could sit down, and so on.  So if you boarded the boat last, not only did you not have to climb over all the other benches, but you got the best seat at the front!

It only took a few minutes to get to the monkey place.  There were lots of wild monkeys around and the rescued monkeys were in large caged areas, so they could watch the behaviour of the wild monkeys, and hopefully learn from them.  A few of the females had tiny babies clinging to them; they were so cute.  It was fascinating watching the monkeys swinging themselves through the branches of the trees; they use their long tails as fifth limbs and are so agile.  There were brown monkeys and these other reddish (ginger) ones with red faces.  They were feeding on bananas and mangoes and making a racket in the trees.  🙂

We spent about an hour with the monkeys, then it was time to go back to the lodge.  In the boat on the return journey, the helmsman switched off the outboard motor so there was utter silence. It allowed us to hear the natural noises of the rainforest, and was so tranquil and peaceful.  We could hear monkeys and toucans and other birds, as well as crickets.  Sometimes you could hear the drumming of a woodpecker.

Once back at the lodge we could check into our cabana, before lunchtime at 12.30pm.  We were allocated number 9A.  We had to walk along a winding path among the trees to find it; it was basically a wooden hut with a corrugated tin roof.  However, it was blessedly cool inside as the shutters were closed and the air-conditioning was on.

The hut was simply furnished, but clean and comfortable.  It consisted of twin beds, small bedside cabinets, a small table and a ‘wardrobe’ (basically a hanging rail with curtains across the front).  There was a white-tiled ensuite bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink.  There was no glass in the windows, just a fine-mesh screen to keep out the bugs, and in any case it was better to have the shutters closed for privacy.  Each hut had a small porch with a rustic wooden bench on it.

We had a quick wash then went along to have a pre-lunch caipirinha.  🙂  The whole reception and bar were very open-air, that is, they had a roof supported by pillars but no actual walls.  This allowed you to get the full benefit of the open air and nature; the sights, the smells and the sounds.  Sitting relaxing with our caipirinhas and enjoying a (rare) breeze was sheer bliss.  We glimpsed a flash of colour and saw that we had a visitor – a scarlet macaw which flew in and perched on the rafters.  🙂

Lunch consisted of a hot and cold buffet meal in the circular restaurant.  Again, the restaurant had a roof and pillars, but no actual walls.  There was fresh salad and fruits and bean soup, as well as a choice of fish, beef or pork and lots of vegetables and the ubiquitous manioc.  The food was very hot and tasty, and you could go back for more.  Dessert was fresh fruit or some particularly gooey-looking cake.  There was also strong Brazilian coffee, as well as bottles of cold mineral water.

After lunch we decided to go and have a siesta.  The equatorial rainforest weather was hot, around 29°C, but it wasn’t the heat that was so draining, it was the humidity.  As we were walking along the path back to our hut, we could smell the heady aromas of damp earth, wet leaves and the warm, slightly foetid smell of the jungle air.  Small green and brown lizards darted across the path and into the shrubbery.  As we weren’t due to meet in the reception until 3.00pm, it gave us a good hour to have a nap.  The air-conditioning in the room was lovely.  🙂

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Parintins and Boi-Bumbá

This morning we woke up at anchor in the town of Parintins, where once again the day was grey and raining.  Not to worry though; this morning we were going to visit the Convention Centre to see a scaled-down version of the Parintins Folk Festival, otherwise known as the Festival do Boi-Bumbá.  Usually this takes place in June and runs for three days, but today we were going to be treated to an hour-long excerpt of it.

We decided to go up to the Grampian Restaurant for breakfast for a change, and a nice surprise awaiting us when we got there – another ‘champagne’ breakfast.  Good old Fred.  😀  Then off we went to the Neptune Lounge to get our tender tickets.

We boarded the liberty boat for the short ride across to the shoreside.  We needed our cagoules to make sure we didn’t get a soaking under an equatorial rain storm.  Once we got ashore we had time to look around the shops before the show.  There were a lot of shoe shops and I soon spotted a pair I just had to have.  They had 5″ heels in the shape of the Playboy bunny, and a big platform and diamante decorated upper.  The type of shoes my cousin Alan calls ‘hooker shoes’, lol. 😀   We decided to wait until afterwards to buy them so I didn’t have to cart them around with me.

We went into the convention centre (and out of the rain, thank goodness) and were welcomed with a free glass of caipirinha!  🙂  Then we made our way to our seats, which unfortunately were quite far back, but at least they weren’t right at the back.  Usually when we go to the theatre we try to get seats near the front because I am only 5′ tall and I invariably end up with someone 6′ 6″ in front of me.

The show opened with loud, rhythmic music and singing as the dancers, dressed in elaborate colourful costumes, took to the stage.  The festival celebrates a local legend about a resurrected ox.  It is also a competition where two teams, Garantido and Caprichoso, compete in extended retellings of the story, each team attempting to out-do the other with flamboyant dances, singing, and parade floats.  Some of the floats were really decorative; for example there was a giant turtle which opened up to reveal a beautiful maiden inside, and there were also giant dragons and fish.  It certainly was a very colourful, cheerful show, even if we couldn’t understand all the songs and the narrative.  🙂

All too soon the show was over, and we left the convention centre to find that the rain had stopped and the sun was attempting to get through.  Just as well; wearing our cagoules in the heat meant you were often just as wet inside, with sweat, is if you’d just let the rain wet you.  We went back to the shoe shop and I bought my ‘hooker’ shoes.  Then it was off to find a bar/café for the inevitable caipirinha.

We couldn’t immediately find a bar selling caipirinhas (what?!) so we decided to settle for an ice cold beer.  We found a place selling “Antarctica” beer; we remembered this incongruously-named beer from 10 years ago.  It comes in 600ml bottles and goes down a treat.

We got the liberty boat back to the Braemar and went along to the Palms Café for some lunch, taking our plates outside to sit at the stern next to the Lido Bar.  Whilst there, we noticed that the cocktail of the day was – yippee! – caipirinha.  🙂  So we each asked for a glass.  I’m not so sure that the Philippino barman had ever made one before, as he was going to use lemon instead of lime, so I had to keep him right, ha ha.  😀

There was a young waiter who made a small caipirinha and then ducked down behind the bar to taste it so he couldn’t be seen if any of the senior staff happened to be passing.  When Trevor asked him what he was doing, he replied “quality control”, lol 🙂

We spent the afternoon pottering around the ship and reading on our balcony, before getting changed for dinner. Tonight was a formal night again, and I decided not to go up to dinner but to join them later on for the coffee stage.  You can eat yourself silly on a cruise, and it really is uncomfortable when you feel stuffed and bloated, so it does no harm to miss a meal occasionally.

The show tonight was the Braemar Show Company performing “West End to Broadway”, so it was full of cheesy songs from musicals.  It was OK though.

Then it was off to the Skylark for a 70’s night.  We took part in the quiz with Colin and Liz and were doing great; we really thought we were in with a chance tonight.  The worst thing you can do in a quiz however is change your mind about an answer; this is what we did and it cost us the quiz.  Never mind – we consoled ourselves with some more caipirinha and Liz tried some as well.  We had meant to go to bed fairly early tonight, as tomorrow we would be leaving the Braemar to spend two days and one night in an eco-lodge in the Amazon rainforest, and we needed to pack our overnight things.  However, it was close to 1.00am when we left the Skylark.

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Santarém, Brazil

This morning we were due to set foot on terra firma; this time in the town of Santarém.  We were excited to be in Brazil again; we had first toured around this country 10 years ago and it is so vibrant, colourful and interesting we were glad to be back.  The sky was overcast, but it was (obviously!) still very warm.

We decided to eat our breakfast al fresco again, so we went to the Palms Café and sat outside at the Lido Bar.  The decks appeared to be mostly clear of the flying bugs of the night before, but Trevor spotted something black next to a coffee cup on a nearby table and we went over to investigate.  It was the most enormous armoured beetle imaginable!  A guy moved the coffee cup and put a cigarette lighter on the table next to the beetle for perspective, and it was absolutely HUGE!  Including its legs and feelers, it must have been about four inches long and over an inch and a half wide!  A monster.  I took a photo of it with my phone, as no-one would believe this back home.

We had booked to spend the morning on the “Santarém Highlights” tour so we disembarked the Braemar at around 9.00am and got on a fairly primitive ex-service bus for our journey into the town.  We passed through the docks where there were a great many small boats being loaded with bananas, melons and people!  The boats had the supplies loaded onto the lower decks and the passengers, who were taking the six-day boat-trip to Manaus, were hanging up their hammocks and loading their bags onto the upper deck.  The hammocks hung there, very close together, and if there was any space in between it was taken up with bags and bodies.  It certainly didn’t look a comfortable way to spend six days on the river, but our guide told us that they get three meals a day and some of them don’t sleep, preferring to spend the time partying!  Still, you’d have to get on very well with your ‘neighbour’ considering the hammocks were so close together.  Give me a ship like the Braemar any time!  🙂

We passed through the town and looked at the ramshackle shops and buildings.  Every other shop seemed to be an auto repair shop or tyre place, and there were a lot of marine and boating shops.  Occasionally we saw restaurants or bars, and we passed a Post Office.  Good – that means we would be able to buy and send some postcards home.  🙂

The rattly bus pulled up and we all got off to visit the Cathedral.  The vast majority of Brazilians are Catholic and this church was no exception.  It was quite sparsely furnished although there were one or two fairly ornate statues of Our Lady.  We didn’t really spend all that long in the church before heading off to the museum.

Like the church, in the museum there wasn’t really all that much to see.  There was a skeleton of a whale that had once washed up on the shore; apparently this was a rare event as you don’t see many humpback whales in the Amazon!  There was also a skeleton of a manatee, as well as various others bones, bits of pottery, ancient arrow-heads and other archaeolgical finds.  It wasn’t much help that the explanatory cards were all in Portuguese and our guide’s English was lacking somewhat.

After the museum we spent a brief stop at the fish market.  We could walk onto a small boardwalk and look into the river; we saw some bright yellow birds flying about, as well as some fish jumping.  The sun was out by now and it was extremely hot.

Our next stop was to see a manioc flour processing place.  We walked across some rough ground and entered into the relative coolness of the forest.  Our guide pointed out some rubber trees to us and the local rubber tapper showed how it was done.  It reminded me very much of Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960’s – the rows of rubber trees with the diagonal cuts on them, and the latex dripping down into a cup attached with wire to the trees.

We arrived at a primitive flour-processing setup.  The guide explained how manioc (also known as cassava) is harvested from the tuberous roots of the plant.  It is first peeled and then grated to remove as much of the juice as possible, which is poisonous at this stage (as it contains a fairly high dose of cyanide).  The grated flesh is strained and then heated over a wood-burning stove in large trays.  It is then further ground to produce a ‘flour’ which is high in starchy carbohydrate.

Manioc flour can then be used to make both sweet and savoury food items such as bread, cakes, pancakes or eaten as it is with meat and fish.  We probably know it best as tapioca pudding.  It provides the staple diet in Amazonia.    We had the opportunity to try various items; I had a taste of some bread, some sweet treats and a bit of pancake.  To be honest, it doesn’t really taste of much and I can’t see it adding a lot to your meal, except perhaps to pad it out a bit.  Each to their own, however.

The manioc flour place was our last stop before heading back to the ship.  Before going back on board, we bought some postcards to write out whilst eating lunch.  We sat outside at the stern and I wrote out the cards while enjoying an ice-cold beer.  We’d already bought the stamps with them, so all we needed to do was find a post-box.

After disembarking the Braemar once more, we got the free shuttle bus into town, passing the Post Office en route.  The bus stopped a fair way past it, so we would have quite a bit to walk in the hot sun unless we found a post box.  We had plenty of time though; our first stop was to find a bar and indulge in a caipirinha.

Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil, and we first discovered it 10 years ago on our previous visit to the country.  It is made with locally-produced sugar cane rum (as opposed to rum made with sugar molasses) called cachaça.  They are very refreshing and easy to drink, but they pack a hell of a punch!  😉  The recipe for caipirinha is as follows:

CAIPIRINHA
1 large lime, washed and cut into 8 pieces
2 heaped teaspoons of sugar (or sweeten to taste)
2 x 35ml measures of cachaça
Crushed ice

Put the sugar and the lime into a glass and use a pestle to crush the lime and extract as much juice as possible.  Leave the lime pieces in the glass.  Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour over the cachaça.  Stir well, and drink through a straw.  ENJOY!  🙂

Realistically, a lot of the bars will give you a much larger measure of cachaça than that given in the recipe above, so don’t underestimate its potency.  😉

We found a bar/café and each ordered a caipirinha, and, as expected, it was very refreshing and very strong.  We then walked around looking for a post-box, but we had to go right back to the post office before we found one, and deposited the postcards.  By this time, we had to make sure we got the last shuttle bus back to the ship.

The show later that night was a magician called Andrew Green.  I thought he was a bit drippy at first but he actually grew on me as the show went on, and he did do some pretty good tricks/illusions.

Then it was up to the Skylark Club to join Colin and Liz for this evening’s quiz.  It was all about rock ‘n’ roll and that’s not really our era (in fact I don’t even like rock ‘n’ roll) so we didn’t think we’d win.  However, we still did better than we thought we would, scoring 15/20.  Not good enough for a free bottle of wine this time, however.

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Crossing the Line

When we got up this morning, we noticed that the Braemar was barely moving and that the water was definitely a light ‘muddy’ colour – we were at the mouth of the Amazon!

After breakfast Trevor got his handheld GPS and we went up on deck.  Sure enough, the GPS reading showed that we were 00° 03′ South – so we were now in the southern hemisphere! 🙂  This now makes us “Sons of Neptune”, or Trusty Shellbacks, the old Naval nickname they have given to sailors who have crossed the Equator.

The ship dropped anchor as we had to wait for the pilot from Macapá to board the vessel, and for the ship to be cleared. This meant we spent a good couple of hours at anchor, which allowed us to take in our surroundings.

Macapá is a town at the mouth of the Amazon that lies exactly on the Equator.  It boasts the only football stadium in the world to be on the Equator, where the two halves of the field are in two different hemispheres.

The weather was hot and sunny and we decided to do some sunbathing, so we returned to our cabin for our swimming things and books.  Then we sat up on Deck 8 by the pool in the Equatorial sunshine.  We could see the lush, dense greenery on either side of the river.  Small boats and barges were going to and fro, and Macapá looked as though it were quite a busy place.

I decided to have a long, cool mojito and (briefly!) thought about what I would have been doing if I’d not been on holiday.  Sitting at my desk in front of my computer, no doubt, looking out at the cold, grey English weather.  Instead I was sipping cocktails on the Equator – unreal or what?!  🙂

At lunchtime we decided to go and get out of the sun; “mad dogs and Englishmen” and all that, so we headed back to 7054 to change.  On the way back, we spotted something black moving in the water, and stopped for a closer look.  It was a dolphin!  Every now and again its dorsal fin would break the surface of the water before it went deeper, no doubt looking for fish.  We watched it for a while before going for lunch.

Mid-afternoon the Braemar gave a single blast of her foghorn and started moving again.  It was very pleasant watching the jungle scenery at the riverbanks, interspersed every now and again by small villages consisting of mainly wooden buildings, some on stilts.  Also, because we were no longer in the open sea, the ship’s movement was barely discernible.

The dress code for this evening was “tropical”.  This gave the men the chance to wear their most garish Hawaiian shirt, and the ladies to dress up with bright colours and wear flowers in their hair.  We noticed that the sunrise and sunset in the equatorial regions gave approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, so it was around 6.30pm when the sun went down.

With the darkness came the creepy-crawlies!  As the darkness fell in the rainforest, every manner of flying bug was attracted by the bright lights of the ship as she glided through the muddy waters.  We could see the lights on deck through the windows, and they were black with moths, flies and other insects.  The decks were covered in them!  When someone opened the door to come in, a cloud of mozzies followed them.  We would certainly not be leaving our balcony door open tonight!  🙂

The show in the Neptune Lounge that night was entitled “The Heat Is On” and featured the Braemar Show Company, singing sunny, summery, tropical songs and dancing.  It was certainly cheerful.  Well, it was the tropical themed night, after all.

Then, in the Skylark Club, the quiz was based on tropical subjects, so asked a lot of questions about the Caribbean, such as which group of islands does Tortola belong to?  Answer:  British Virgin Islands.  We did quite well in the quiz as we’ve been to lots of places in the Caribbean, but we were narrowly pipped at the post by another team, so no bottle of wine tonight.  😦

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Another Sea Day

Woke up this morning to grey skies and rain, although it was, of course, still hot and sultry.  Went for breakfast in the Palms Café but didn’t sit outside this time.

At 10.00am we went along to the Neptune Lounge to listen to a lecture about the Amazon and Manaus, as that was one of the places we would be visiting.

Then we sat on our sheltered balcony and read our books for a while, before going to lunch.

Last night we bought some tickets for £10.00 each to attend the so-called “International Wine Fayre” and taste 16 wines from different countries. Obviously the idea is to tempt you to buy them, and they said that if you purchased six bottles, you got your ten quid refunded. Whoopee! When I say wine “tasting” however, that’s all you do get. They only put the tiniest mouthful in the bottom of your glass. So we did about three circuits of the room, having a taste of everything, until we felt that we’d got our money’s worth. 🙂

After a wine-induced afternoon nap, it was time to get ready for dinner. I decided I didn’t want to go up to the Grampian Restaurant and feed my face, so I told Trevor I’d join our table at the coffee-and-liqueurs stage of the meal. So I took my time getting ready and wandered along to the boutique, where I bought myself a red tankini.  My existing cossy is a bit tatty now, and not the most flattering style, but this new tankini is more comfortable and covers a multitude of sins, ha ha.  🙂  Must be getting old, lol.  🙂

Then I went to the Morning Light pub for a nice chilled glass of champagne.  Their prices are not at all bad; it was £4.50 for a 150ml glass of Lanson’s Black Label, or £5.00 for the Lanson’s Rosé.   Much more realistic than Cunard’s extortionate $20.00 + 15% service charge for a glass of champers!

While I was sitting at the bar chatting with some fellow passengers, I noticed out of the window that the colour of the sea had distinctly changed from its usual blue/grey shade to a sort of grey/yellow shade.  Obviously we were nearing the mouth of the Amazon!

Then I went up to the restaurant and joined the others for coffee and a glass of amaretto.  Afterwards we adjourned, as we do, to the Neptune Lounge to watch the cabaret; tonight we had a singer, Jamie Michael Stewart.  He was quite old-fashioned really, although I imagined he appealed to the 65+ age group.  He did a lot of Frank Sinatra and Matt Munro and that sort of stuff.  There was no denying he was a good singer, just not my taste in music.

After the show we went along to the Skylark Club for tonight’s quiz, and joined Colin and Liz.  We won again, with 20/20, and got another free bottle of wine, courtesy of Fred.  🙂

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Feeling hot, hot, hot

Another lazy day at sea today, en route to the mouth of the Amazon.  Got up at 6.40am as it was so pleasant to be up early yesterday.  We went along to the Palms Café for breakfast again. It was quite full; it’s amazing how many people get up very early even when on holiday. Maybe it’s something you do when you get older.

We went for a stroll along the deck and watched some birds flying around close to the ship.  Every now and again they would put their wings back and make a headlong dive into the ocean, before surfacing seconds later.  We soon realised why – they were after the flying fish.  We often see flying fish in the Caribbean; some of them are quite large and can skim the surface of the sea for quite a distance.

Later on Trevor went inside to listen to one of the talks about the Amazon, but today I thought it was too nice to be below decks so I took my book and sat up at the pool deck.  I am reading Dead Tomorrow by thriller writer Peter James.  Like all of his books, it’s a suspenseful page-turner.

After a couple of hours I’d had enough of the very hot equatorial sun so I sought shade in the Marquee Bar, enjoying a cold beer while listening to the cheerful reggae music being piped over the speakers.  It really does put you in the holiday mood.  🙂

We ate lunch al fresco again and just spent time pottering around the ship.  As usual, the afternoon flew by and soon it was time to get ready for dinner again. 

Afterwards we went along to the Neptune Lounge to watch tonight’s cabaret, which was called “Music Legends” and was performed by the Braemar Show Company.  It portrayed the music of legends such as Roy Orbison, Elvis, Shirley Bassey and Tina Turner.

Talking of the Neptune Lounge, it is not really a theatre so the seating is somewhat odd.  There was fixed seating arranged in a shallow horse-shoe shape around the lounge, along with moveable chairs and small fixed tables.  You could get a brilliant seat with an unimpeded view at the front or sides, but further back and your view will either be blocked by someone’s head or one of the pillars around the room.  So it was not without amusement that we watched the mad scramble for seats each night.  Queues at the door started pretty early and some of the old farts had queue-jumping down to a fine art.  You could see the looks of determination on their faces as they strode purposefully towards “their” usual seat, and as soon as a better seat was vacated (for example, by some of the dancing couples going to dinner) then they were up and into that seat!  I mean, is it really worth spending your holiday queueing just to see a little 45 minute cabaret?!

Once the show had finished, we went along to the Skylark Club.  Colin and Liz were already there, so we went and joined them for the quiz, hoping that four brains would prove better than two.  Indeed this was the case, as we won!  It was an “A-Z” quiz, in which each answer started with the relevant letter of the alphabet, so we got 26/26 and received a chilled bottle of Fred Olsen white wine.  Good old Fred!  🙂

Then back to cabin 7054 and bed for the night.

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