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Royal Adventure Into the Amazon and Beyond
Real Travel Adventures
Happy New Year!
JANUARY 2005 New Features
SPAS & RETREATS
© 2005 Bonita Productions Inc.
International Travel Adventures Magazine
Embarking On a Royal Adventure Into the Amazon and Beyond
By Linda Fasteson
Flag of Brazil
As mature travelers, we want a certain level of comfort and convenience. As frequent travelers, we also look for good value. We have become comfortable with booking our own air, hotels and activities, and were in the midst of deciding from among destinations in Australia, New Zealand, Africa and South America. The Internet has put this whole process at our fingertips. But, even for experienced travelers, putting together a lengthy point to point trip can be tedious, and that is the value of a qualified travel agency for most vacationers.
We opened an email one morning this winter that contained an offer that would enable us to combine a prepackaged vacation with our own desires for adventure and some self-styled outings, as well. This seemed like the ideal compromise, so we investigated in depth.
It was a cruise that would take us to three continents - South America, Africa, and Europe, all in 23 days. We would fly from Fort Lauderdale to the Amazon and make several stops in Brazil. Next, we would traverse the Atlantic to Africa, stopping in Senegal and Morocco. We would cross the equator twice. The journey would also take us through the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain, France, and Italy. We didn't want an If This is Tuesday It Must be Belgium experience, but this trip exuded the sort of excitement and variety we were seeking at a lower cost and with greater ease than any of our self-plan alternatives.
Travel to more exotic destinations requires more homework. We finally left many health-related decisions in the hands of an experienced physician who ran a nearby travel clinic. After a few inoculations and the acquisition of emergency medications, super-strength insect repellents, and sunscreens, a Brazilian visa, and some good guidebooks, we felt we were prepared for the trip of a lifetime.
And what an odyssey awaited us! We would embark on a cruise aboard the 1200-passenger Royal Princess. Cruises may conjure up images of dance lines, Bbingo, and noisy announcements from the cruise director, the stereotype of the better-known Caribbean voyages. However, this was a trip for people who are destination-oriented. The Royal Princess is a classic ship, built in the 1980s as the flagship of its fleet, before such things as video arcades and rock climbing walls were added, and had recently been refurbished. Some areas could have benefited from a bit of redecorating, but all the comforts, services, and amenities we sought were certainly found aboard.
We unpacked once we had arrived in the Amazon, and didn't need to think about packing up or changing accommodations until we approached Rome. This is the delight and convenience of the cruise experience. We floated from destination to destination as we slept, dined on gourmet meals, and enjoyed the varied entertainment onboard. Once in a port, we were well-fed, well-rested, and prepared to spend the day however we pleased in a new and exciting port.
Purists might ask “Is cruising a superficial way to see a country and its culture?” It can be. We've had deeper cultural experiences by renting a flat for a few weeks and living like a local. However, there isn't time to see the whole world this way, and it is fun to sample what there is to see and do before investing a great deal of time and money in one place. It's astounding how much of a culture can be appreciated in just a day when all your logistical needs are cared for.
The excitement began with our arrival in Florida in preparation for our charter flight to the Amazon. Everyone had to be in Fort Lauderdale a day ahead in order to be on the early-morning flight to Manaus. Manaus is the capital of Amazonas, the largest state of Brazil, and was, around the turn of the century, the only source of the world's rubber supply. It is a lively city in an area filled with superlatives. I would like to share some experiences from our journey along the river that contains more water than any other in the world, the Amazon, and our visit to a small portion of the largest tropical rainforest on earth...
We were assigned to the first of two charter flights and arrived in Manaus in the early afternoon. There was plenty of time to settle in and relax in anticipation of the pleasures that were in store for us. Approaching the bustling port, we could see the Royal Princess, which was surrounded by all sorts of exotic-looking local boats. We were immediately captivated by the sights, sounds, and pulse of the Amazon lifestyle.
Just watching the cultural potpourri on the river was absorbing. Many local people arrive early in the morning for an evening riverboat departure in order to ensure a good spot for their hammocks. Some also bring family members, food, animals, and packages for the journey along the river, which can last up to a week or more. We could envision the experience as these boats bob and the hammocks sway! Meanwhile, we headed into our comfortable and luxurious ship to relax in our cabin before being served lunch onboard.
No tours were scheduled for this day of arrival, but most of us found time to explore a bit on our own. Some arrived early enough to take a walk in the city and see the Opera House, built of materials imported from Europe during the booming economic times of the rubber barons. Others strolled to the nearby market area where produce is brought in from all over the Amazon. The Customs House there was built around the turn of the century of Spanish bricks, and the Municipal Market was also built from European materials, including wrought iron said to be designed by Gustave Eiffel.
The Amazon basin was hot, but not unbearably so. We went out after lunch to use the inexpensive and convenient Internet Café, an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family. That night, there was a folkloric show on the dock. It was a spectacle filled with exotic sounds, colorful costumes, fire breathers, and masked and feathered performers. The level of energy was so great that most of the photos taken in the dark of night were too blurred to fully capture the experience.
We awakened to a beautiful sunny day. However, we were headed to the rainforest, and showers seemed inevitable. We took a local riverboat along the Rio Negro, then a motorized canoe along the igarapes, or tributaries, passing the huts of the ribeirinhos (river people) along the banks. Many of these local people paddled up to our canoe to show us local creatures. They must have been encouraged by the tour company, because they were stationed at convenient intervals with a wide variety of animals. Sometimes it seemed like a Disney production! It was an entertaining way to insure wildlife sightings, and we were captivated.
No showers so far, but the prospect loomed. We were in the tropics. This, too, was a day of sensory delight to the eyes, and ears. We were indeed on an adventure! Insects proved not much of a problem, but we were well armed, just in case! We were told that the waters in this area are too acidic to support insect life.
Soon we were back on our local riverboat for a stop at Lake Janauary Ecological Park. We climbed to a walkway that took us through the tree tops to view the lake's giant Amazon water lilies. Within moments, a cayman, the local alligator, appeared atop one of the lily pads. Nature flourished everywhere in the Amazon!
We relaxed and enjoyed the view from a local restaurant and souvenir stand. Opting to be cautious and not eat the local cuisine on the first day of our trip, we stuck with a snack and beverage we'd brought along.
Back on the riverboat, we headed to an area beyond the confluence of the clear dark Rio Negro and the murky Rio Solimoes. In this region, called “The Meeting of the Waters”, the rivers run side-by-side for over 12 miles before mixing together. There is a striking visible contrast between the two, which vary in density, temperature, acidity, suspended sediments, and velocity. Some say it looks like coffee with and without cream. Both grey and pink dolphins are found in this area, and we spotted a few grey ones -- too fast for the camera.
Later, we stopped at a settlement on Terranova Island. The rain had traveled to the area we just left. Beautiful sunny skies still! We visited a family with seven children that lived in a typical hut. The children each had a local animal or flower to show us, and donations were welcomed. We watched as the men processed manioc, a locally grown plant used to produce tapioca, and marveled at the variety of plants and trees that surrounded us.
We were ready by this time to return to the ship for a leisurely dinner after the first full day of our journey aboard the Royal Princess. En route, we passed major industrialized regions, multinational factories, and modern middle-class apartments. Such diversity! This was just the first full day of our trip. What adventures must await!
The next day was a leisurely one, stopping at a typical village in the area where the Amazon River meets the Rio da Valeria. Boca da Valeria, with about 75 permanent residents, proved to be a fascinating place to spend a few hours, and no tours were planned. We simply wandered about, looking at local crafts, some passengers giving little gifts to the children, and nearly everyone snapping pictures.
The natives know that tourists are looking for photo opportunities, and many entrepreneurial parents dressed their children in Indian costumes, knowing that tips would be given. We knew that this was not the normal attire, but couldn't resist taking a few photos of these obliging youngsters. We brought along small toys and school supplies for the children, some of whom had jungle pets to show us, and these were well-received.
Some villagers invited us into their homes. The houses, with modest exteriors, were simple yet quite comfortable inside, like a rustic beach house in the US.
The setting was remote but idyllic. We couldn't resist buying a local woodcarving, despite warnings about termites. We checked it carefully and headed back to our ship. Dinner time was fast approaching, but we'd forgotten all about eating lunch and wanted a snack. No problem. We were on a cruise ship. We opted for the formal afternoon tea.
In the evening we sailed along, enjoying a beautiful sunset during dinner. Yes, the sun was still shining for us! We would have three leisurely days at sea, sailing along the Amazon and rounding the coast of Brazil en route to Recife. Known as “The Venice of Brazil”, Recife is home to 1.5 million people. Quite a contrast to our last port! We would later sail from this, the easternmost point of South America, to Dakar, Senegal, the westernmost point of Africa, the second of the three continents we would be visiting. This was surely becoming the trip of a lifetime!
If you go:
For general information about Brazil,
including information on vaccinations and visas:
For cruise line information:
Princess Cruises www.princess.com
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