Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our 115 day World Cruise day 109, at sea!

Today is our first day back in as usual!

Instead of going to Starbucks we had coffee at Paradise Bakery.  Sally and George were there also.  Sandi is having problems with her allergies and is not feeling well but she was there.  She feels worse this afternoon and will not be at coffee for the next 2 days!   Vicki and I shared a bagel and had our drink.

Next we went to Curves and reluctantly did out workout.  It not take long and I guess we felt better!  lol!  Next stop QT where we were able to get our Peach Tea that we have been missing for the last week!

Then it was off to Costco to pick up our sandwich rolls, cheese, snap peas, carrots and eggs that are already hard boiled.

 The pollen count is very high as everything is starting to bloom!
They are beautiful trees but they do make you sneeze!
We are home mama mia!  How are you doing?

Time to go and see what the chef has in mind  for dinner and turn on the TV and see what has happened in the world!

Where we did not go today....but the Amsterdam did!

 At Sea

Today was pretty busy….  Went poolside this morning for a couple of hours before going in to get ready for the Mariner Luncheon.  We sat with the Captain and had a wonderful time.  Then it was back to the pool for a while.  I decided to go in fairly early to get some packing done…..  one more bag done!  Yeah!!!!  Tonight was a formal night with a pre-dinner Mariner Cocktail Reception where awards were given out.  It was a lovely day.


Postcards from Paradise!
 Belem, Brazil

Belem was founded in 1616, becoming the main reference of the Portuguese presence in the Amazon. The colonial buildings reflect the heritage of the Portuguese people. The building fronts are covered in mosaic tiles, high ceilings, attics, and lobbies. Belem was born with the exploration of Brazilian wood, then flourished with the rubber economy. It is the most modern of river cities with the forest closeby. Many rivers, streams, and canals flow into the Guajara Bay and ultimately into the Amazon. Belem (Bethlehem) is the capital of Para State, and one very busy area of the Amazon Basin.

Since we have visited here twice in the past, as recent as last year, we left our decision to make our way ashore on the weather. If it was raining, we would stay on the ship. However, upon waking up, we noticed blue sky and scattered clouds. Looking like it was going to be OK, we went to the dining room for a quick breakfast, then gathered our stuff to spend a few hours in Belem. And if we took two umbrellas with us, that would guarantee that no rain would fall. So what if the bag felt like it weighed 20 pounds? Guess the bottles of water helped with the extra weight, but from experience, we knew not to leave home without it.

We had the perk of the separate tender ride from the aft exit of the ship. The booked tour people went on another crowded shoreside ferry boat. We heard later that the tour folks got priority debarking at Icoaracy, making the priviledged ferry wait until the paid passengers were off their boat. Sure made for some grumpy people, we heard later. That is why we are never in that big of a hurry to be first, because sometimes first is last.

Once we landed at the floating dock in this smaller town, our complimentary buses were lined up and waiting for the one hour or so transfer to Belem. Much to our delight, these double-decker buses were the best coaches we have had so far on this entire trip. It was a steep climb to the top level, but once up there, we found first class seats with leglifts and plenty of knee room. And the air-conditioning worked well.

The last time we were here, we did not pay too much attention to our surroundings. This time we noticed that Icoaracy was more than a fishing village, but a full-blown city with hotels and restaurants a few blocks up from the boat landing. Instead of the riverside veggie and fruit stalls we have always seen, there were regular department stores and cafes where the locals were busily shopping. This would probably be an OK place to explore, if you were in a group.

The comfortable coach ride brought us to the riverside section of Belem, where we began our walk along the riverbanks. We discovered a whole new area that we never saw before this year. A re-modeled series of old transport buildings have been converted into a two story restaurant and shopping complex. Well-guarded would be an understatement, since there were armed military guys at each entrance and exit. Since we had come here at 10am, there were no venues opened yet. In fact, even at noon, there was little sign of places opening for lunch. Brazil is one of those places in the world that favors late hours for everything. They sleep late, work late, and dine even later. Too bad we would not have the time to leisurely dine here today, because we were concerned about getting back to the ship on time.

Once out of the terminal building, with the mandatory pit stop at an extremely well maintained restroom, we found our way into the beginning of the craft market. The first person we ran into was Mike, who was sitting in the shade, while waiting for his wife and their other buddies, who were shopping nearby. Mike is not a long distance walker, so he was happy as a clam sitting there in the company of the armed guards. No doubt he will feel safe this morning.

The market was already crowded with the HAL folks on a tour, as well as the hundreds of us who chose the free ride here. The expected treasures were sold here such as t-shirts, caps, leather sandals, handbags, watches, and some jewelry. A pair of string butterfly earrings caught our eye, and had to have them for $5. Continuing on, we walked through the food market, where the vendors were just setting up their bowls of rice, salads, salsas, chicken and a peculiar-looking elixir of acai juice. It is a purple fruit that the locals add to every dish they eat. And it is supposed to have miraculous ingredients that cure everything. Not sure how that would set with our "gringo" stomaches, we passed on any tasting. We'll simply take their word for the miracles of healing. At least this place was not trashed yet, because the feeding frenzy had not begun. Once the people hit, it looks like a hurricane had gone through.

We walked towards the Ver-O-Peso Market created in 1688, where food items have always been sold by the weight, and still are. It was a way for the Portuguese to collect tax on everything entering and leaving Amazonia. The vendors had tables full of veggies, fruits, rice, flour, and nuts. Brazil nuts. It was mesmerizing watching the people cleaning these nuts, one at a time, with either a machete or knife. They take off the majority of the husks, then sell the nuts by the gram or whatever. These nuts are supposedly the best, however, once you become accustomed to roasted, salted nuts, these tend to taste bland. So we did not buy any of them.

At the far end of the food stalls are the wooden, ceramic, and straw souveniers. We quickly found a wooden-constructed purse, although the quest for a wooden mask turned up nothing. The ceramic ones were interesting, but too heavy and fragile to pack for shipping home. Next to the souveniers were the cages full of live poultry, guinea pigs, and small pet rats. We have heard that snakes are sold here, although we did not look for them.

Across from the animals, was the building that housed the fish market by the name of Mercado de Ferro, or the Iron Market. Here we saw a variety of small to very large fresh fish for sale. Some of the fish were unrecognizable as most were from the river, and not all the fish have even been identified yet. Outside the building, was a street market where more fishermen were selling the catches right on the sidewalk. Fins and tails were laying everywhere, so we had to walk carefully so as not to slip in the muck. This drew the vultures and cranes to pick up the mess.

Finally, we made our way to the old fort with cannons, and the church across from the small park. At least there was a nice spot facing the river with benches in the shade. We stayed for a few minutes, until we noticed that some folks were filming a movie there. With a long walk back, we decided to backtrack to the bus stop. We got there around 1pm, a bit disappointed that the cafes had not opened up fully yet. Ice cold beers would have been perfect. But the last shuttle was at 3pm, and we know from experience that traffic can make a one hour ride into a three hour one. As it turned out, the ride was one hour, and so comfortable, that one of us may have snoozed on the way back for a couple of minutes.

We boarded a different type of ferry on the ride back. We could climb up a steep, narrow ladder to gain access to the top level, partially opened in the back with plastic chairs for seating. We had the whole area to ourselves, since no one chose to sit in the sun. Actually, a breeze had picked up, and it was nice. Then we remembered that we had packed those umbrellas, and were glad we never had to use them. Apparently, it had rained hard last night, judging from the puddles we saw all the way to Belem.

The boat ride was fairly quick, taking about 20 minutes. The nice part was that we were where we needed to be to gain entrance to the ship. Everyone, whether or not they could climb that ladder, had to come to the top deck to get off. We heard that one fellow got stuck, due to his size. How embarrassing is that? Anyway, with much pushing, they popped him out so the others could get out.

It was nice to be back on the cooler ship, although at the sailaway party, some threatening showers nearby cooled things off. We think that not too many folks made it out of their rooms after a day in Belem. The heat and humidity turned their afternoon naps into a much longer one than usual. We were treated to occassional thunder, followed by some lightening and a brief sprinkle. Double rainbows appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared as fast as they came. We stayed outside with friends until almost 7pm before we headed down to get ready for dinner.

At dinnertime, we had champagne gifted, cheers from the crew. The card on the tables had a quirky poem that wished all well. Now we asked if the champagne could be wine, beer, or a soft drink. The answer was yes to any of those, however, the wine steward would only pour the champagne. The rest was up to our waiter, who finally explained a new process they have implemented on the world cruise. If we choose a different beverage, our waiter has to key in that info on a computer. At that point, a runner gets the message, goes to the nearest bar, and brings those drinks to our waiters. If these beverages are not free, like tonight's, our waiter gets an 8% service charge or tip. The wine stewards only deal with the bottles of wine from the special packages people purchase. Confusing, but something to remember for future cruises. Bill was offered a beer tonight, but forgot to follow up with the request with our waiter. He would have brought it after dinner, but he said no. He'll get two next time, maybe.

Not expecting presents this evening, we were surprised to find two little suitcases sitting on our bed after dinner. They were a pair of Steiff teddy bears, much larger than the keyfobs, but very cute and cuddly. They are made of the same fabric that the blankets were made from. We calculated that there will be one more gift on the final formal evening next week. That should be a commemmorative plate of some sort of the 2013 world cruise.

Looking forward to a day at sea tomorrow, although it will be Mariner Day and a busy one.

Mary Ann & Bill

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