“I’ve decided that I’m going to do it,” I announced to my roommates in Peru. “Do what?” Ben asked. “The boat trip down the Amazon. Definitely, definitely going to do it.” “Twelve hours ago you told me you were definitely, definitely going to fly,” Ben responded. “Well in twelve hours you can have another update, and we’ll see how I’m feeling,” I said grumpily.

Few decisions in my life have been more heavily debated than when I was trying to decide how I wanted to travel to Brazil. On one side of the argument, there was the fact that a month-long boat trip down the Amazon River would be undeniably cool. Adventure, a little bit of danger, beautiful scenery, seeing parts of the world that very few people ever see. When else would I have an opportunity like this?

On the other side of the argument, there was the danger, the facts that I would be traveling by myself (a blonde female). I didn’t speak the language; there was very little information available about this travel route because it was so far off the beaten path; it would likely be uncomfortable; I didn’t have any malaria prophylaxis medications; it wasn’t any cheaper than flying when I accounted for all the expenses; it involved travel through incredibly remote areas with no healthcare should anything go wrong and was generally regarded as a very bad idea for a solo traveler (especially a woman).

When it came right down to it, the argument could be summarized as “cool experience vs. common sense.” The weeks leading up to my departure, though, were filled with advice from everyone I knew. “Definitely do it,” my friend Amelia said. In her last year of medical school in New Zealand, Amelia was my hero and role model; her advice had some weight. “Don’t forget that Amelia’s crazy,” Rob said. “And I mean that in a good way, but she’s crazy.” That advice had some weight, too.

“This sounds like a disaster,” Ben said.
“I met some Brazilian guys when I was traveling in Argentina, and they told that they would never travel in the jungle by themselves,” Holly added.
“Well… what’s the worst that could happen?” I asked. “All my stuff gets stolen; that’s replaceable.”
“No,” Ben corrected me, the voice of reason. “You could be murdered or raped or kidnapped.”

When I talked to my host family, they thought it was a ridiculous idea.

“Katy, those boats are very dangerous,” the grandmother told me anxiously. “They rape women on those boats!”
“Oh, great,” I said. This is a perfect example of why I should not try to use sarcasm in foreign languages, because it simply does not translate well.
“No,” my host mother said, now thoroughly alarmed. “Rape is not good. Rape is bad.” I spent the next fifteen minutes listening to the two of them try to convince me that rape was not, in fact, a good thing, as I tried and failed to explain the concept of sarcasm.
“Well,” my host mother finally said, as we sipped our tea in the kitchen, “How long would this boat ride be? Two, three days?”
“Um…. total, with all the time for stops, it would be more like three or four weeks.”
“Four weeks?” she said, shaking her head. “Que viajera loca.” Crazy traveler.

I consulted one of my best friends from home, Ryan, via email. “I need you to help me make a bad decision,” I told him. “Talk me into this.” His email response was: “How many people have a life experience like that in their pocket… not many… no swimming or drowning allowed… its gonna be awesome. Have fun.”

The directors of the clinic where I worked were more encouraging. Sandy, one of my favorite people in the world and one of the people I respect most in life, thought it sounded like a fantastic idea. “You have to do it,” she said. “Think how wonderful that would be.”

When I relayed my safety concerns, she faltered a bit. “Well,” she said, clearly beginning to sense potential liability, “maybe you could get to the start of the river, and if it looks too dangerous, you can always come back and take a plane. You might meet some great people to travel with there.”

To me, it sounded like the perfect compromise: I didn’t have to feel like I was giving up a dream, and if the situation got sketchy, I had an out. Perfect. I bought a plane ticket to Lima and from there to Iquitos, the mouth of the Peruvian Amazon. I spent one night visiting my friend Geoff in Lima, who invited me to go out to dinner with a friend of his who had done the same journey. “They can probably reassure you,” Geoff said, apparently sensing my anxiety, and introducing me to his friend Dave. “It’s a fantastic trip,” Dave told me over Chinese food. “Really fantastic.”

“Don’t you have a good story about the border?” Geoff prompted him.
“Oh, yeah, that,” Dave said. “Make sure you lock your stuff up.”
“I have locks,” I said. “And I always keep my passport and some money on me, anyways.”
“No, to keep people from putting stuff in your bags,” Dave said. “It’s a drug route; they target tourists to stuff cocaine in your bags.”
“What?” I croaked, nearly choking on an eggroll.
“It’s fine, though,” Dave said. “We only had to talk to the police for a while. They knew we hadn’t done it, they let us go pretty quickly.”
“This probably isn’t making you feel any better, is it?” Dave’s girlfriend whispered to me.
Another obstacle was simply the lack of information about this trip. I knew the basics: fly to Iquitos, catch a one-day fast boat to the three-country border of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. From there, it was a longer boat ride (no one seemed sure if it was three days, or seven) to Manaus, smack in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon. From there, I would take another long boat ride (again, the timeline was vague; I heard anything from two days to eight) to Belem, a town on the Atlantic coast. Then, a thirty-six hour bus ride to Salvador de Bahia, my final destination. No one seemed to be able to tell me which days the boats left the port cities or how long the journey was or how much any of it would cost. Everything I found on travel forums on the internet implied that it was safe. When I posted a thread asking if it was easy to make all the connections and find the right boats, the general response seemed to be, “Is it worth it if it’s easy?” Or, in true backpacker style, one person responded by saying, “If it were easy, everyone would do it, and then it would suck.”
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Armed with padlocks and mosquito repellent, I left for Iquitos. The omens did not seem good: I had hurt my ankle only a week before and was sporting an ankle brace and a rather spectacular limp. From that point, I thought things could only improve. I ended up stranded in Iquitos for several days because there were no fast boats leaving for the border on the days I was trying to leave (“Oh yeah, that’ll happen,” Dave told me via email). I spent the days bumming around Iquitos, wishing I could walk a little better and wondering where all the tourists were because I had yet to meet any potential travelling companions.

The fast boat to the border, however, was full of traveling companions. There were two who were heading the same direction as me, a pair of Swedish guys named Johan and Viktor. Within five minutes of meeting them, I had decided that I would travel the length of the Amazon with them. In an effort to seem less desperate and /or creepy, I waited until we had arrived at the border twelve hours later and simply asked if they wanted to try to find a good hostel together, silently congratulating myself on my smoothness in finding travel buddies without coming off as a stalker.

The tri-country border was one of my favorite places. A little shady, yes. Hot, absolutely. But you could not beat it for interesting. On one side of the river was the Peruvian town of Santa Rosa, on the other side, the Brazilian town of Tabatinga, which blended smoothly into the Colombian town of Leticia. What a crazy world we make with our imaginary borders – in one half of a city, Colombian Pesos and on the other side, Brazilian Reals. It all seemed so tropical compared to the cold mountains of Peru – shacks with roofs made from palm leaves, exotic fruits sold on every corner, Spanish and Portuguese blended together as music blared from the speakers at the outdoor restaurant where we guzzled down pineapple juice. I paid for my dinner in Brazilian Reals and ended up with a handful of Colombian currency as change.

“We would be incredibly easy to rip off,” I whispered to Johan and Viktor as I accepted a handful of bills, with no idea what they were worth. “Anyone know what the exchange rate is for whatever the hell I’ve got in my hand?” We purchased our passages to Manaus in Reals, a currency that I had at least some familiarity. We followed the owner of our hostel to the docks, where he helped us purchase our fares. I was secretly delighted every time I heard someone speak in Portuguese: I was shocked to find that it sounded exactly the same as my language Podcasts that I had downloaded. I was tickled to death when I could occasionally understand something (although this usually consisted of “good night” or its simplistic equivalent).
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We bought used hammocks and strung them on the barge the night before the boat’s departure. The boat had three levels: the lowest, where the motors were located, was the cheapest. It was packed with cargo (boxes and boxes of bananas), as well as people. The middle level, where we had staked out our place, was for people only – it was small, but relatively clean, and the breeze from the river kept the mosquitoes and heat at bay. Four days, three nights, on a barge full of cargo and a couple hundred people. I was becoming more and more excited – the possibility of spending days on a hammock floating down the Amazon river looked like it was actually about to happen.

When we returned to the boat the following day, it had been transformed. It was no longer a spacious barge with beautiful views of the Amazon; rather, it looked like some kind of county fair, with animals and people crowded in every corner. Our hammocks had been pushed together so that they were only inches apart, and there were people crowded in every available space. There had to be over two hundred hammocks hanging on our level of the boat. The smell was overwhelming – and this was at the start of the journey. “Okay,” I said, stunned and bewildered by the sheer number of people who had packed themselves into such a small area, “There has to be a way to make this work.”

This was how we met our next traveling companion, a Chilean girl named Carla-Paz who became the fourth member of our quartet. “It helps if you hang the hammocks higher up,” she said by way of introduction. She showed us how to hang our hammocks in levels – mine next to hers, closest to the floor. We tied the guys’ hammocks tighter, so that they hung directly above ours. I used my injured ankle as an excuse to sleep on the lower level, but in all honesty, I was certain I would break a bone if I tried to climb down from the upper level hammocks in the middle of the night. I could just picture being stuck on a boat for four days with a broken wrist after falling out of a hammock.

The crowded boat aside, the Amazon was spectacular. We passed huts on stilts, kids in tattered clothes who ran out and waved at us, fishermen in small dugout canoes who eyed us suspiciously. The Amazon passed by, our boat moving slowly but never pausing, only an expanse of muddy water separating us from the darkest of jungles. Carla-Paz, Johan, Viktor and I played cards on the upper deck, Portuguese music blasting, and watched the sunset every night. At times, I would forget that I was on a boat – until it shifted, or I happened to look out at the shore. At night, the lights from our boat seemed to be the only illumination as far as we could see; looking out the boat into the darkness was a degree of blackness that I had never seen before. We were surrounded by one of the largest expanses of wilderness left in the world. On the first night, there was a beautiful thunderstorm – the lightning lit up all the trees along the shore and the river. Our enthusiasm was only slightly tempered by the pouring rain that blew into the boat and soaked our bags.

There is always a less romantic description of any story, though. Sleeping with two hundred other people, none of whom can shower or have any privacy, is nothing short of disgusting. There is a significant difference between going a week without showering in the cold mountains of Peru and going a week without showering in the steamy Amazon. For starters, I could get away with it and still be reasonably hygienic in Peru. Not so in the Amazon. At the end of the journey, when I tried to exchange the disgusting twenty dollar bills that I had tucked in my bra for the duration of the boat ride, the man at the bank gave me a look that clearly said, `Are you kidding me?’ I had to find an iron and actually iron them out before anyone would accept them, and even then they smelled so horrible that I wasn’t sure the bank would want them.

The close proximity of the sleeping arrangements meant, for the next several days, that if I had to get up in the middle of the night to pee, I woke up a total of eight people: Carla-Paz to my left, a sweet Brazilian woman named Muna to my right, the Swedes directly above me, and four unknown Brazilians who had the misfortune to sleep within a two-person proximity to my weak bladder. Talk about a ripple effect. I tried to treat it as a sort of Travel Challenge – how long can I lay awake in the middle of the night trying to convince myself that I don’t actually have to pee? “You don’t have to pee,” I would tell myself. “You. Do. Not. Have. To. Pee.”

If the first day was spectacularly beautiful, the boredom set in on Day 2 – a sinking sensation of `this is pretty, but how many more days?’ This would be about the time that we discovered that there was a bar onboard, which helped for a couple hours. I was afraid to drink too much because it would seriously worsen the nocturnal pep talks I kept giving my bladder. What with bar time and sleeping, we only had about fourteen hours a day of idle time.

A couple hours a day, it turned out, could be filled with time spent being searched by police. We were stopped at least once a day by the Brazilian police, presumably looking for the cocaine smugglers I had been warned about. Carla-Paz and I seemed especially subject to scrutiny, because it was hard for the police to believe that two girls would be travelling alone without some kind of ulterior motive. (Our motives of wanderlust and stupidity did not seem to be a reasonable explanation for Brazil’s finest.) The second of these stops took place in the middle of the night. I was woken up from a dead sleep (an especially deep slumber, considering that it was being helped along with Tylenol PM for my throbbing ankle) by an angry Brazilian official speaking to me in Portuguese. I stared at him blankly and sleepily, trying to figure out what the hell he was saying. I vaguely managed to distinguish the word `passaporte,’ fortuitously similar to its Spanish equivalent.

I fumbled with my passport pouch and handed it over to the official. A single tablet of Pepto-Bismol, inexplicably tucked inside my passport, fell to the floor. The official picked it up and shouted something to his companion. “Oh, shit,” I muttered, getting up from the hammock. The officer began yelling at me, presumably asking about whatever drug he had just found.

“Um, medicina,” I said, trying the Spanish word. “Para diarrhea…yuck.” Carla-Paz came to my rescue, explaining in Portanyol, a hodgepodge of Spanish and Portuguese that generally leaves members of both parties confused. I escaped from the misunderstanding fairly easily: the officers searched my bag, found the true bottle of Pepto-Bismol in its appropriate packaging, and moved on to harass their next victim.

The other hours of the day could be filled with reading or napping or simply staring out at the scenery (which never changed, but that didn’t make it any less entrancing). The top deck had several white plastic chairs that were perfect for this activity. Brazilians, I quickly learned, are friendly people. They would sit down next to me and talk for hours, completely unconcerned by the fact that I didn’t understand a damn word of what they were saying. I appreciated the companionship, even if I had no idea what was going on. When I didn’t have company, I would let my daydreams take over as miles and miles of muddy water and green foliage passed in front of my eyes.
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Unfortunately, it looked like my plans to go all the way to the end of the river had been derailed. Because I had spent so much time stranded in Iquitos, I had to choose between a jungle tour outside of Manaus and a subsequent flight to my final destination. I had to chose between spending another week on the boat and taking the jungle tour that would give me an up-close look at the wilderness and, hopefully, some wildlife. Besides the lack of time, I was beginning to worry that the days of bus travel at the end of the journey would be too much for my injured foot. It looked like I would only be able to take the boat halfway and fly the other half.

“This is beautiful,” Viktor said on our last evening, as the four of us were hanging out at the prow of the boat. “I can’t wait until we get to the actual Amazon.” I nearly fell over. “What?”
“This isn’t the Amazon,” Viktor said, looking at me strangely. “This is the Rio Salimoes.”
“What do you mean, this isn’t the Amazon? I thought we were on the Amazon.”
“Well, this river joins up with the Amazon. But it doesn’t become the Amazon until about ten kilometers after Manaus; for now we’re just on a regular river. It’s considered the source of the Amazon, though, they’re almost the same.”
“Are you telling me,” I said slowly, “that I have spent weeks of my life on … on a tributary? On a river that is not the Amazon River? And that I’m stopping exactly ten kilometers short of seeing the Amazon?”
“Does it really matter?” he asked me philosophically. “The experience is the same. It’s beautiful. You’ve seen so much.”

I saw his point. I understood that. The experience is, indeed, exactly the same. But I still felt exceptionally deceived. It doesn’t matter that everyone refers to this river as part of the Amazon or that they join up eventually. I felt like the Amazon River is a bad boyfriend that cheated on me. I didn’t decide to take a crazy and dangerous journey to drift along an unknown river! I could have done that in my own backyard on the Mississippi, for crying out loud. I wanted to float down the Amazon.
“But, I’ll have been travelling on this river for three weeks,” I protested, “and I won’t have spent any time on the actual Amazon River.”
He shrugged. “You could always just lie.” That stopped me in my tracks. “True,” I said. “So no worries?” I grinned. “No worries.” And we settled down to enjoy my last night on what I will, for the rest of my life, refer to as the Amazon River.

It’s been said a destination photo is worth a thousand words, so you can image a film is just like being there. The exciting Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival 2010 (LABRFF) stirred up recollections of my fabulous trip to Brazil and memories of Rio de Janeiro, known as the “Marvelous City,” right here in the “City of the Angeles. LABRFF,now in its third year has caught on with the Brazilian community, celebrities from Brazil and foreign film lovers. Brazilian films mirror many lifestyles and locales with insights into high life, low life and slums of its many cities.
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My visit to Brazil was a real travel adventure and a treasured memento. Rio is like no other city in the world; its harbor is a breathtaking phenomenon and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This city combines a pulsating metropolis with distinctive resorts. Just watching a Brazilian film causes your heart to beat faster. LABRIFF was a five-day whirlwind of over 6 films combining drama, comedy, short films and artistic documentaries, plus informative seminars and colorful parties with the purpose of showcasing the art and talents of Brazilian filmmakers. Two comedy movies, filmed in Rio, were audience favorites: Elvis and Madona and In Therapy.

My own visit to Brazil was quite a whirlwind, and it was set up by my travel agent cousin in Mexico. Since it was a Girlfriend’s Getaway, he booked us at the best in Rio: the exclusive and legendary Copacabana Palace, Avenida Atlantica 1702, Rio www.copacabanapalace.com.br, a beautiful old world hotel; its designer was renowned for the Negresco in Nice and the Carlton in Cannes. All were fabulous palace hotels, and I enjoyed residing at all three. My friend, Myrna, was a cousin of the Brazilian icon and actress Carmen Miranda, and we often caught her films, and this really peaked a longing to visit Rio.
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Our first night escapade was linked to Myrna’s accident in Argentina, toppling in the street in Buenos Aires, garnered her a cast from foot to knee. While sipping caipirnhas (Brazilian liquor with lime, sugar & ice cubes) in the Copa Bar, two Cariocas-Brazilian guys, Claudio and Jose Carlos, residents of Rio, caught our attention, since one had a broken arm and was also in a cast. Before we knew it, they joined us, and we were attempting to speak Portuguese intermingled with Spanish. We answered, “Yes, Of Course,” when they asked if we wanted to go to samba and hear some music.
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The next evening a car picked us up and delivered us to an exclusive residence in Leblon, where the wealthy reside in Rio. This turned out to be the family home. An orchestra was tuning up to play in the spacious living room. Claudio’s mother was a violinist with the Rio Symphony Orchestra; it was here we enjoyed a concert and lavish party and later that night a samba club. In the days to follow, we had a private car take us to visit the sights of Rio. My experiences included going to samba schools where we watched groups prepare for the famous Carnival, shopping, dining, watching kite flyers and volleyball on the Copacabana Beach, and enjoying hanging out at Ipanema Beach. My highlight was visiting the factory of the famed jeweler and gem cutter, H. Stern. It was amazing to watch gem stones cut and faceted into gorgeous jewelry. Just like Enterprise, they pick you up and bring interested tourists to their factory. I couldn’t resist a purchase of an amethyst pendant and learned that the deep purple are the most valuable. I continued marveling over H. Stern’s jewels that I have seen throughout the world. Our new friends kept us busy, and we enjoyed an insider’s view of Rio.

 
Must See in Rio:
Corcovado – An amazing train whisks you up to the Stature of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks the harbor of Rio.
Sugar Loaf Mountains – One of Brazil’s top landmarks can be visited by aerial tramway;
it was breathtaking to look down and just be there.
Maracana Stadium- It’s the largest Stadium for football/soccer in South America.
The Botanical Garden- Fabulous plants from all over the world

 

Must Do in Rio:
Museum hopping to historical buildings.
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Take a samba class and check out the nightlife in Zona Sul.
Check out the Carmen Miranda Museum- especially her fabulous costumes and hats
Play volleyball on Copacabana Beach.

 

Must try in Rio:
Bargain shopping in the streets.
Shopping at the Sunday Hippie fair in Ipanema.
Fresh fish at Sobrenatural (samba music on M-W-F)
Nightlife in LAPA

Brazilian films are often surreal and thrilling, winner of Best Film of LABRFF was Cabeca a Premio, the story of a wealthy woman and pilot and their impossible love. Another moving film was Time of Fear, filmed in Sao Paulo and its prison system: a young man is imprisoned for killing a stranger with his car; his mother (Andrea Beltrao Winner of Best Actress)) fights to free him with the help of a lady boss (Denise Weinberg Winner Best Supporting Actress). Eye of the Storm garnered Best Screenplay based on revenge. Beginning with murder the story flashes back to how it all happened. Festival Jury President Fernando Meirelles introduced his Academy Award nominated City of God, for which he received critical acclaim as director in 2003, dealing with the violent gangs of the suburbs near Rio; it was a part of the Rivival Brazilian Cinema.

DZI Croquettes, a tie for Best Documentary, traced the history of 13 male performers who portrayed ultimate women in dance, comedy, costumes and entertainment. Liza Minelli tells in the film how she introduced them in Paris, and the co-winner The Man Who Bottled Clouds chronicled the music and life of Humberto Teixeira, who paved the rhythms of Brazil with music he wrote for singer Luiz Gonzaga, while he was a lawyer, composer and politician.

Journalist Nazareno Paulo and producer Meire Fernandez created this exciting film festival. Bravo to the cinematographers who captured the likeness of Brazil in film and enhance the stories through the camera. Lights, cameras and glamour added to the momentum, which took place at the Los Angeles Landmark Theaters.
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Other places worth a visit are Bahia, Brasilia (capital city), the busy metropolis of Sao Paulo and the dramatic Iguassu Falls. If you don’t have a chance to visit Brazil, then come to LABRFF 2011. Muita obrigada (thank you very much) LABRFF for a great film festival with lots of great films, good company, spirited parties and memories of Brazil.

The ocean was calm all around the ship-as if we were on a lake. We hadn’t really known what to expect, but certainly not this. After all, we were sailing around the tip of South America-around Cape Horn-through what can be the most hazardous waters in the world. Since the 17th Century, the Horn has been a challenge to sailors around the world. Here we were on a cruise liner drifting in the sunshine.

This was the 10th day of our 16-day Holland America cruise on the Rotterdam from Rio de Janeiro to Valparaiso. Here at Cape Horn we would leave the Atlantic and sail into the Pacific for the final phase of the trip, going up Chile’s scenic southern coast.

We had arrived early March in Rio, the day after Mardi Gras, and festive decorations still fluttered in the breeze. The weather was hot and humid; after all, this was late summer in the Southern Hemisphere. My wife and I had given ourselves three days to explore this colorful destination before our ship sailed.

The city was still crowded from the celebration, but we had no trouble taking taxis to the famous sites. (Note of caution: Only take official cabs with meters, or you could end up paying twice as much.)
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First stop was Corcovado where a little train takes you up a steep track through lush forested area. (Be on the lookout for monkeys on the way.) At the top of the rock outcrop is the grand Christ the Redeemer statue, standing over 90 feet, arms outstretched embracing the city 2,300 feet below. Visitors crowded the base for spectacular views. From here you can see Rio’s other most famous site, Sugar Loaf, which we would visit next day.

After coming back down, next stop was the Museo de Arte Naif, a short block away. This folk art museum, containing more than 8,000 pieces, is reputedly the world’s largest and most complete collection of primitive art from the 15th Century on.

Upon entering, you are struck by the wonderful 22 by13-foot canvas that depicts the city of Rio, a piece that took five years to complete. As we browsed the rest of the collection, we particularly enjoyed the many whimsical paintings of sunbathers in all shapes and sizes on the city’s many beaches.

The following morning we took the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf, which rises 390 feet, in two stages to the top of the giant granite rock. Not as high as Corcovado but we got closeup views of the beaches and harbor.**

Later we strolled through the old central city, entering under the imposing Aqueducto de Carioca, built in 1774 to carry water from the Carioca River. We were immediately impressed by Catedral de Soa Sebastiao, constructed in 1960, a strange-looking building resembling an enormous beehive. Once inside, though, the beautiful stained glass windows transform the concrete edifice into a warm, serious space which accommodates some 20,000 people. The cold-looking cathedral contrasts greatly with the baroque beauty of the opulent Teatro Municipal. Built in 1909, it’s a scaled-down version of the Paris Opera House.

We’re big jazz fans and since Brazil is the birthplace of bossa nova we had to get out and hear some music. Vinicius, in the Ipanema area, is the fabled place that honors bossa nova. Its nightly shows pay homage to the great bossa nova composers, led by Antonio Carlos Jobim who reportedly wrote “Girl From Ipanema” in the bar across the street. After a great dinner of Brazilian dishes, we heard tasty music from local musicians and were swaying out to the street at evening’s end.

After three days it was time to go, and there is always a feeling of anticipation when boarding a cruise ship. This was particularly true for us with the Rotterdam. In 1997, we had been on the maiden voyage of the new M.S. Rotterdam VI on a Baltic cruise. As it turned out, this South American trip we were embarking on what was to be one of the most varied and interesting of all our many cruises.

Our first day was at sea, giving us a chance to settle and acclimate ourselves to the easy ship-board life. The morning of day two, we docked in Montevideo, Uruguay, for a day’s stay in this small country of just over three million. In every port, there was a selection of shore excursions offered by Holland America. Among possibilities for Montevideo, for example, was a full day’s exploration of the gaucho’s life in the Uruguayan countryside. However, with map in hand, we decided to explore Montevideo on our own.
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Close by the dock was the Mercado del Puerto, the bustling port market, housed in an old train station with vaulted iron beams. As we entered, we were tantalized by the savory aroma of meat cooking. Uruguay, along with neighboring Argentina, is famous for beef. Here dozens of stalls had their barbecue grills fired up, cuts of meat on display, being prepared for the lunch crowd.
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Resisting temptation to eat, we walked on. We went through the lovely Plaza de Independencia to the highly recommended Museo del Gaucho where we studied the exhibit of articles used in daily life by the gaucho, the “cowboys” of the pampas of Uruguay and Argentina. On display, was a fascinating collection of antique equipment and weapons. We came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to be brought down by a bola, the gaucho’s version of a lasso.

Leaving in the evening, we arrived in Buenos Aires the next morning and left first thing for what would be one of the highlights of the trip-a visit to Iguazu Falls, truly one of the world’s wonders. We had decided to splurge on this pricey excursion which entailed a short flight into the Argentinian interior. After landing, a bus picked us up, taking us to a tram-train which made stops at various paths which led us to see the spectacular spectacle from various angles.
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Taller than the Niagara Falls and twice as wide, there are 275 cascades spread in a horseshoe shape over nearly two miles of the Iguazu River. The falls are the result of a volcanic eruption centuries ago which left a vast crack in the earth over which the river plunges down 260 feet below.
The falls appear to be divided by various islands into what are separate waterfalls, straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina. It was late summer and very hot and humid in the jungle ecosystem. Thus it was refreshing to feel the cooling clouds of mist created by the falls. In fact, we had to wait at several points for the mist to clear in order to appreciate the view.
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Once at the rim, a series of catwalks took us to the various levels and sections of the falls. Below on the river we could see tour boats gingerly approaching the mighty torrents, and on a small beach not far from the base of the falls, people were swimming. Wiping our brows, we wished we could join. After far too little time there, we returned to the ship for a late dinner, tired but certainly rewarded.

On the second of our two-day stay, we went on our own. One thing that struck us-Buenos Aires has the appearance of a Western-world city with its many European-styled buildings and wide boulevards. Indeed, it has the reputation as being the Paris of the Southern hemisphere.

One of the ship excursions was-“In Evita’s Footsteps”-tracing places associated with Eva Peron, the wife of dictator Juan Peron. She was much revered by the common people from which she emerged. Following guidebook suggestions, we began by taking a taxi ride to the Recoleta Cemetery where she was buried in 1952. This graveyard is ostensibly for rich only, full of opulent tombs-Greek columns and baroque sculptures abound. It’s a fact that some citizens still complain that someone like her from such humble roots doesn’t belong here. Evita’s tomb was simpler than most, but we had no trouble finding it because of the tourist crowd surrounding the site.

After paying our respects, we headed for another “must-see,” world famous Colon Opera house. Inaugurated in 1908, its lavish Italianate design and French interiors feature lovely marble from Europe and, particularly, a spectacular central chandelier with 700 light bulbs (possibly the model for the one in “Phantom of the Opera”).

After a Colon tour, we headed on foot toward the landmark Obelisco, the 230-foot tall obelisk, a monument built in 1936 to celebrate Buenos Aires 40th anniversary. Located in Plaza de la Republica, it was midway on our way to the Plaza de Mayo in the city’s heart.

Once there, the big attraction is the Casa Rosada, the block-long Presidential Palace, with its appealing rose-colored facade. From a balcony facing the square, the dying Evita made her famous speech to the people, basis for the musical “Evita’s” hit “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Tango and Argentina go together. Thus, our final night here, we decided to stay out late to take in the tango scene. Rather than sign up for the big tango show excursion offered, we decided to go where the locals go.

Wife, Gail, even danced herself at the small homey La Cumparsita Club where a quartet played, featuring the essential bandoneon accordion. It accompanied singers, who passionately expressed their love to the rhythmic tango melodies. (We couldn’t understand a word but their emotional feelings were perfectly communicated.) The show included an attractive couple going through the precise stylized motions of the sexy dance. Between sets, locals danced. A good way to end our Argentina stay.

That night we embarked, sailing south for two days at sea, each becoming colder. We were headed for the Falkland Islands.

The two days at sea gave us a welcome chance to relax. We started each morning walking laps around the promenade deck. Relaxing around the pool was an option for later in the day. The weather generally was sunny, and the deck was encloseable which kept the pool area warm.
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We also enjoyed the expert speakers on board who informed us about the geography, natural environment and social history of South America, also instructing us on the customs of the people. Plus, for entertainment, there were any number of activities from bingo to bridge. At night shows were presented in Queen’s Lounge, starring musical revues by a company of young performers, as well as guest entertainers ranging from magicians to comedians. Satisfying all tastes, we had two classical musicians performing, a pianist and oboe player.

All together, we were very happy to be on the Rotterdam again and loved the atmosphere of elegant ocean travel that Holland America is famous for. Each HAL ship features a collection of art, and this ship has some our favorites-replicas of the Xian soldiers uncovered in China a century ago and paintings of Holland’s countryside. Cruising also offered an opportunity to catch up on our reading, perhaps because the ship contains so many comfortable spots in which to relax.

The line was founded in 1872, with the SS Rotterdam launched as its first ship. Powered by both sail and steam, her maiden voyage was from the Netherlands to New York City at a speed of just over 10 knots.

As cruise passengers well know, there is the temptation to overeat with all the wonderful food served in the Lido Restaurant’s buffets and the La Fontaine Dining Room. We chose to dine at a large table with several couples. Like us, they had all cruised extensively and agreed that the food on board was as good as it gets at a fine dining establishment, both in quality and selection.

We came to know our table mates quite well, and in the evenings it was fun to share stories about that day’s activities. Everyone was especially enthusiastic about the diversity of the itinerary of this cruise. In fact, Holland American sources say that South American cruises have become more popular each year.
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One of the subjects of table talk was penguins. Everyone had seen the recent movie “March of the Penguins.” Getting up close to the little fellows in their “tuxes” was high on people’s list of things to do. When we reached the Falklands on day nine, we would have our first penguin experience.

The Falkland Islands, a British colony, lie 300 miles east of Argentine Patagonia, near the tip of South America. They contain two major islands and many smaller ones, altogether equivalent to the size of Connecticut. Port Stanley, the capital, was founded in 1845 and contains two-thirds of the Falklalnds population of 2,500.

Argentina has disputed British control over the years, and, in 1982 invaded the islands, occupying them for 10 weeks before Britain took them back in a war. One of the excursions scheduled takes in the Falkland battlefields.

Almost treeless because of harsh winds, the islands are green and lush, with sheep grazing on the hilly terrain and birds flocking on the rocky shoreline. Here, we signed up for the trip to the penguin rookery at Bluff Cove.

After a rugged Jeep ride over boggy fields, we arrived to see hundreds of penguins gathered above a sandy beach. These were Gentoo penguins, about two-thirds the size of the monarch penguins seen in Antarctica. The group consisted mostly of late adolescents. This was molting season and the youngsters were shedding their baby feathers, growing new for protection against the harsh winter due in a couple months. Most of their parents were off fishing.

The group was gathered looking like tuxedoed symphony orchestra players at intermission. Most were standing, some sitting, others on their side taking a nap among those down on the ground. A few looked to be in a playful mood, poking each other. Photographers jockeyed for position behind boundary lines. A whimsical scene, but with all those critters compacted, the smell got a little much after awhile.

We returned to explore Port Stanley. The spick and span town with its English pubs, brightly colored houses and charming gardens, projected a more innocent era in the past. Soon it was time to go, and we set out for, what turned out to be, our placid sail next day around Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America.

At the Horn, the ship lingered while passengers took photos and listened over loudspeakers to the fabled history of the area, before heading north through Beagle Channel to our next stop Ushaia, the gateway to Tierra del Fuego.
Now a national park, Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago, surrounded by the Atlantic, the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean. “Fuego” means fire, and early explorers named it “land of fire” because of smoke from almost constant fires set by natives to keep warm.

Often compared to Alaska, the scenery in this area consists of beautiful forests and mountains flanked by glaciers. We docked at Ushuaia, claimed to be the world’s southernmost city. The town itself has a rustic natural look, with houses painted in pastels to brighten things up in the cold weather. We went on an excursion into the park to beautiful Lake Escondido, climaxed by a spectacular drive through a pass affording a sweeping view of the lake.
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After leaving Ushaia, we left Argentina, taking the circuitous route through many small islands and among fjords to Punta Arenas, Chile, for the highlight of the second part of the trip-we would splurge again to fly to the Torres del Paine National Park. Rated on many traveler books’ lists as one of the world’s top destinations, we would certainly concur after having been there.

Designated a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, the park is one of the most beautiful unspoiled and remote places on the globe. To get there we took a three-quarter hour plane ride and boarded a bus for the trip into the park.

The Torres del Paine are three sheer granite towers surround by glaciers and a collection of jagged peaks covered with snow-a wondrous sight, and the signature of Chile as portrayed in photographs. As we drove through the park we were awed by glacial lakes, rivers and waterfalls. We stopped at a resort for lunch. If for no other reason, you’d get drunk in the lounge here just looking at the view through the picture window.

Along the way we saw herds of guanacos (llamas), nandus (Andean ostriches) and foxes, looking for handouts as we drove through the park entrance. The four hours we had available were certainly not enough. Passing by the many inviting trail heads, we vowed to return and spend several days. Even though this was at the end of the earth.

The next two days the ship wove its way through a maze of channels through the fjords. Each afternoon we went to the Observation Deck to view one glacier after another, some “calving” to create small icebergs. Especially impressive was the Darwin channel, a narrow passageway, some 900 feet wide, with cliffs rising to 4,000 feet above it. Another spectacle was the massive Amalia Glacier, like a wide river of snow flowing into the sea. It had been raining the day we saw it, but, as we passed by, the sun peeped through and gave us a full rainbow to photograph.

After leaving the fjords, our final port stop was Puerto Montt, known as the gateway to Chile’s lake country. We took the Petrohue Falls trip, which included a boat ride on the lovely deep blue Lake Todos Santos that took us to the place for an inspirational view of majestic Osorno Volcano, ringed with snow. Then on to the falls. We hiked the short trail which gave us gorgeous views of the rapids, waterfall and natural wilderness.

Unfortunately our last port of call was Valparaiso where we disembarked ship. We were met onshore by representatives of Southern Explorations who took us for a tour of Valparaiso on the way to the Santiago airport for our departure that night. Valparaiso is a delightful city that keeps its charm despite being a little frayed at the edges. Up to the 20th Century, it had been Chile’s primary port. It prospered mightily until the Panama Canal opened, which meant that cargo ships would no longer have to go around the cape and unload here.

Colorful and lively, Valparaiso is built on two levels with 145 hills overlooking the sea. Among the pathways going up from the central city are many wooden ascensors, or funiculars, to take people to their homes. On the lower level, we walked around the Plaza Sotomayor, dominated by its monument commemorating those who died in the 1879 war against Peru and Bolivia. We then boarded the picturesque old Ascensor Planco up a hill to enjoy excellent vistas of the city and the harbor. We waved goodbye to the Rotterdam below as it sat majestically among all the small boats.

After lunch we left for the two-hour drive to the capital, Santiago. Surrounded by the Andes, the city sits in a valley. The Rio Mapocha flows through town with green parks on its banks. This creates a pastoral swath mediating the grey city look. After noting the contrast between the city’s old buildings sitting next to new, we were taken to the top of the 2,800-foot Cerro San Cristobal to where the statue of the Immaculate Virgin looks over Santiago, much like Christ the Redeemer over Rio. It seemed an appropriate end to the trip.

“Pantanal” in Portuguese means “the huge swamp,” and huge it is, at half the size of California, the largest wetland in the world. In the rainy season, from December to May, the terrain is mostly under water. But if you plan your visit for the second half of the year, you’ll find that the area, while still quite wet in places, is largely navigable and absolutely beautiful. Edith and I felt as though we were one of the early explorers blazing a new trail into unknown territory.

Our Pantanal adventure began in Cuiaba, where we met our trip guide and close friend, Dr. Charles Munn. Charlie is the head of Tropical Nature, a non-profit ecotourism NGO operating lodges throughout Peru and Brazil. From the airport, we drove to his lodge in the heart of the Northern Pantanal, traversing the Transpantaneira highway, a dirt road stretching 90 miles South to Porto Jofre.
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Along the way we saw more than 5,000 large birds of at least 50 different species, including five-foot-tall jabiru storks, savannah hawks, snowy egrets, and roseate spoonbills. The Pantanal is home to 80 species of large birds (those weighing more than a pound)-the greatest variety of large birds of any place in the world! The journey also afforded views of hundreds of black caimans, the South American relative of the alligator, and capybaras, the largest rodent in the world and a relative of the guinea pig.

When we arrived at Santa Terazza Lodge we stowed our bags and boarded a small boat for a trip down the Pixaim River to see the giant river otter. These creatures are related to our American otters but grow to seven feet long and weigh up to 80 pounds! On the way to an otter den we observed hawks diving and catching piranhas in their talons, performing their aerial feats in split seconds-making capturing them with our cameras equally challenging. Around a bend in the river, a family of 12 otters bobbed their heads in and out of the water, waiting for us to throw them pieces of piranha. They didn’t hesitate to come right up to the boat so they could eat the fish off an oar blade! Finally, the sun began to set, and as the otters retreated home to their den, we did the same.
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On our third day we headed south to Porto Jofre at the confluence of the Cuiabá and Piquiri Rivers. We had come to catch a glimpse of the most elusive Pantanal animal…the jaguar. For two chilly days out on the water, we searched for the iconic cat, but it wasn’t until we were about to head back and give up on our quest that Charlie turned down one last bend of the Piquiri, and we finally spotted him. There, on a beach at the edge of the jungle, the jaguar was lazily sunning himself. As our boat drifted closer to the beach, the cat let us get within 25 yards before he disappeared into the brush, having decided we had seen enough. We returned to camp triumphantly, with many stories to share of this enchanting land and its exceptional wildlife.
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WCS in the Pantanal

Ecotourism is a major economic benefit for the Pantanal, creating an alternative, sustainable source of income to the region’s predominant activity, cattle ranching. While the land is largely pristine and intact, over past decades, a number of factors have contributed to its economic decline and increased conflicts between humans and wildlife. Jaguar predation on livestock remains a major source of tension in the region. WCS is working to engage, train, and empower local stakeholders, especially ranchers, to adopt better management practices. Our aim is to integrate socioeconomic development and wildlife conservation in the Pantanal using site-based, applied research. This is part of a regional strategy for wildlife conservation in rangeland habitats.
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Often photographed, the Copacabana in Rio has become the most instantly recognizable beach in the world. For many, this city within a city of shops, nightclubs, restaurants, theaters, and beach, is Rio. Although a little aged and somewhat tawdry from a few years of hard times, the Copacabana still has the look.

 

From morning to night, stunning bodies, scantily dressed, lie in the sun, play, swim, and prowl on miles of beach, which curves irresistibly in front of five-star hotels and luxury condominiums. Trendy nightclubs and restaurants in the Copacabana and its neighboring areas offer visitors the hedonistic pleasures they so relentlessly seek. If they have doubts, the friendly cariocas (locals), hawking everything from bird kites to themselves, will be happy to prove it to them.

 

The flipside to all this pleasure and luxury is the favela (shanty town). Known as Rocinha, the infamous slum climbs the mountain behind the Copacabana. Like the Copacabana, it too is a city within a city, but unlike the Copacabana, Rocinha is an overcrowded anthill of narrow streets and alleys with no sewers and deplorable health conditions. Inhabited by drug dealers and laborers, and threatened during the rainy season by landslides, it is hardly a picture postcard site. But gazing up at it from the Copacabana, it looks like an attractive and colorful mosaic amidst grey rock and green trees.

 

Observing Rio with outstretched arms, on a two-thousand-foot high summit, is the Cristo Redentor. The imposing, eye-catching statue of Christ reminds cariocas and visitors of Brazil’s deeply religious soul. Visible day or night from almost anywhere within Rio, the one-hundred-foot-high statue sits on its lofty pedestal (Corcovado) and, from its pinnacle, offers sightseers a breath-taking view of the Sugar Loaf and the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

 

For those visiting Rio during carnival, the party begins promptly when the mayor gives the city keys to Rei Momo, the king of carnival and Lord of Misrule. From that moment on, until the start of Lent, it is one wild, supersonic, five-day, 24-hour blast off of sound and movement, a happy, devil-may-care kaleidoscope of colorfully costumed and painted party-goers – drinking and sinning non-stop.

 

Amidst all this partying is the music – a fusion of race and culture – from hip-to-hip forró to samba-rock. During Mardi gras, and throughout the year, the rhythmic sounds fill the air. But it is during carnival that the music reaches its crescendo, and the hottest musical fashions explode everywhere accompanied by floats and motion and song.

 

No matter when you visit, Rio is the place to be – for sun, fun, and, especially, food. Finding good food (and drink, from tropical fruit juices, suco, to Brazil’s personality-altering alcohol cachaça) isn’t difficult. Food is another Brazilian passion.

 

A large and ethnically diverse country, each region of Brazil provides food lovers with a special selection of food that is tastily seasoned without being too fiery. In parts of the south, for example, there is the German influence; in São Paulo, the Italian and Japanese influence; and in Bahia, the African influence. The most traditional foods, though, are adaptations of Portuguese and African recipes.

 

Most Brazilian cooking is home-style, done in a single pot, and served at room temperature, which makes it perfect for entertaining. For those who enjoy fire, molho apimentado (a table sauce) can be added. To truly enjoy the food and the spirit of the eating experience, the food should be shared with lots of people and with Brazilian music (preferably a samba) in the background.

 

Foods favored among visitors are: salgadinhos (small Brazilian pastries stuffed with cheese and meets), churrasco (barbecued meats and sausages prepared at an open fire), feijoada (a meat, beans and sausage stew), and cozido (meats and vegetables -usually squash, cabbage and kale – boiled together).
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Many of the ethnic dishes popular in other parts of Brazil can be enjoyed in Rio. For a memorable dining experience in Rio, the following six restaurants are recommended. They are currently popular, but like all great cities this can change suddenly. Restaurants open and close, great chefs come and go, and what was isn’t and what wasn’t is popular. It is, therefore, recommended to ask the hotel concierge for the latest update before making your reservation. When planning your evening out, remember that cariocas like to eat late (after 9 p.m.), and food servings are usually huge, oftentimes sufficient for two. The restaurants listed below can be dressy, and for Americans, not unreasonably expensive.

 

Antiquarius (Portuguese), Rua Aristides Espinola 19, Leblon. Telephone: 2294 1496. Antiquarius is an elegant restaurant with mirror-lined walls and expensive furnishings. Reputed to be one of Rio’s best restaurants, the Antiquarius has won several awards for its versatile classic Portuguese menu, which includes such dishes as perna de carneiro (leg of lamb) and Cascais-style seafood with rice. On Sundays, it offers its jazzed-up version of cozido.
Cipriani (Italian), Copacabana Palace Hotel, Avenida Atlântica 1702, Copacabana. Telephone: 2545-8747. This superb restaurant in this legendary hotel is considered one of the best in Rio. In addition to Italian cuisine, the Cipriani, which overlooks the swimming pool, serves excellent vegetarian options. The food suits royalty.

 

Hotel Inter-Continental Rio, Avenida Prefeito Mendes de Morais 222, São Conrado. Telephone: 3323 2200. The Inter-Continental along with the Caesar Park Hotel (Avenida Vieiro Souto 460, Ipanema; telephone: 2525 2525) are popular on Saturday afternoons for feijoada, a Brazilian national dish. Made with black beans, feijoada is filled with a variety of dried, salted and smoked meats – and served with many extras, including slices of orange to reduce the consequences of eating beans.

 

Le Saint Honoré (French), Le Méridien Hotel, Avenida Atlântica, 1020, Copacabana Leme. Telephone: 3873 8880. Le Saint Honoré offers visitors French gourmet food (such as Amazonian pintado, mackerel) and a breathtaking panoramic view of the beach from the 37th floor. Some consider Le Saint Honoré the top restaurant in Rio, if not South America.

 

Porcão (Brazilian), Rua Barão da Torre 218, Ipanema. Telephone: 3202-9150. Porcão is popular with Rio’s rich and famous for churrascaria, a Brazilian barbecue. Diners choose as much as they think they can eat from the salad buffet, and from waiters who move around the restaurant carrying platters of beef, chicken, and lamb. You should begin your dinner with Brazil’s national drink caipirinha, a wicked mixture of sugar cane rum, brown sugar, and lime. Porcão has seven locations.

 

 

The Academy of Cooking and Other Pleasures

Those eager to learn the art of Brazilian cooking should head to the Academy of Cooking and Other Pleasures either by the ocean in Paraty or in the Minas Gerais mountains in Ouro Preto. Both schools are run by Yara Castro Roberts, a native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. A graduate in culinary arts from Boston University, art history from the Ecole du Louvre with a bachelor degree in education from the Sorbonne, Yara has the education to be the extraordinary gourmet cook/teacher that she has become. The daughter of a famous Brazilian chef and caterer, Yara has distinguished herself on her own in the Americas. She was featured in a video Brazilian Cuisine with Yara Roberts and was the hostess of a PBS series on important Brazilian cuisine and its cultural tradition. A lecturer at leading American universities, she has been written up in magazines and newspapers many times.
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Dubbed an inexhaustible ambassador for food and other things Brazilians by The New York Times, she brings to each class she teaches the best of three worlds – French savoir-faire, Latin warmth, and American sensibility. Her cooking school program at both locations provides an introduction to gastronomy and some background information about the foods’ ethnic and regional connection to the traditions and history of Brazil.

 

The school in Ouro Preto (one hour by air to Belo Horizonte and another hour by car from Belo Horizonte) is located in a 17th century colonial, university town. During the gold rush in the 1700s, Ouro Preto became the richest city in the New World and the capital of Minas Gerais. Today it is a popular tourist area, which offers some of the world’s best preserved examples of colonial baroque architecture. Throughout the year, festivals and historical celebrations are held in the city.
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The school in Paraty (three-and-a half hours by car from Rio) is situated in another colonial paradise. Founded in 1660, Paraty faces the sea, and is backed by mountains. During the rush for gold and diamonds in the 18th century, the city became famous and wealthy. Today it is a beautifully preserved seaside village with many mansions and estates, and narrow streets that contain hidden surprises: charming pousadas (inns), colonial houses, restaurants and art galleries. The village provides easy access to spectacular island beaches and mountain trails through rain forests that lead to waterfalls with natural pools.

 

Yara’s Minas Gerais program offers students seven days of classes filled with savory recipes and enriched with information on the history, art, music and literature as well as the local social customs. The classes include Minas Gerais cookery, Brazilian pastries, the Brazilian tradition of “high coffee,” and more. Some extras are a tour of Ouro Preto‚ the Baroque art museum and its architectural wonders, and the not-to-be-missed classical musicial performance of an outdoor Serenata.

 

The Paraty program includes boat trips and hill country visits to its core culinary experience. The three-day program offers students hands-on cooking, trips to a water-powered manioc flour mill, a hearts of palm plantation, and other pleasant distractions (candy making demonstrations and outdoor musical presentations, for example).

 

Price for the Ouro Preto program is now $2,295 per person single occupancy. This covers food and lodging for 6 days. Classes are held in May, September, and November.

 

The Paraty program costs $1,395 per person single occupancy. The price covers food and lodging for 3 days. Classes are held February through November.

 

Seminar participation is limited to 10 people. Sessions start on Sunday evenings in Ouro Preto and end on Friday afternoons, and in Paraty, they begin on Friday and end on Monday. Classes run three hours each day with fun-filled supportive activities afterwards. Program costs are exclusive of airfare and include transfers from airport to hotel, all sessions, events, field trips, print materials, hotel accommodations, breakfasts and gourmet meals.

 

 

Pork Roast Vila Rica Style

Pork Roast Vila Rica style is an elegant Minas Gerais dish, which is perfect for special occasions. It dates back to 1808 when gold was abundant and King Dom João VI of Portugal and his court relocated to Brazil (fleeing Napoleon). Elevated from a Portuguese colony to a commonwealth, Brazil was now able to obtain ingredients that were unavailable before like dried fruits, spices, and Porto and Madeira wines. The pork roast recipe is taught at Yara’s Ouro Preto school. It can be served with sautéed vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, and white rice.

 
Ingredients

 

4 lbs. pork roast, boned
4 limes
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons black pepper
7 ounces apricots
7 ounces ham
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/2 inch strip
4 ounces carrots, peeled, cut in 1/2 inch strip and cooked for 2 minutes
3 ounces olives, pitted
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups orange juice
2 onions, peeled and cut in 8 pieces

 

 

Preparation
Trim all visible fat and slivers of skin. Butterfly the meat to create a rectangular shape. Cover the meat with wax paper and pound the meat till it is 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and lime juice. Cover and reserve (while preparing the ingredients)

 

Split the apricots in half and flatten them. Dry the meat with a paper towel and spread mustard over the pork, then cover it with ham. On top of the meat, arrange parallel lines of apricots, bell pepper, raisins, olives, and carrots. Press into the meat with your hands. Carefully roll the meat pressing down firmly.

 

Tie with a string. Heat oil in a cast iron pan and brown the meat on all the sides. Pour orange juice on the bottom of the pan, and add the quartered onions. Bake in the oven at 375º for 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, remove the string and cut into slices. Heat the pan juices and strain. Place onions on a side dish and the juice in a bowl. Serve the slices of pork with the juice and the onions. (Serves 8)
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Amazon Style Fish

Amazon Style Fish is healthy, and it makes a fabulous presentation. No side dishes are needed, when serving this fish, since it made with tomato sauce, farofa, and bananas. Inspired by Amazon cooking, it came into vogue hundreds of years ago when the Portuguese colonized Brazil. The Indian women in charge of the cooking would wrap the food in banana leaves and grill it slowly on the moquém (similar to a barbecue, but made of a wood). The fish recipe is taught at Yara’s Paraty school.

 
Ingredients
3 lbs. whole yellow tile, or a grouper fish, boned and open into a butterfly (head and tail still attached) or six 8 ounce fish filets
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce or 1 Malagueta pepper crushed
1 lb. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered or a 16-ounce can of whole tomatoes
2 cups fish broth
4 bananas peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
3 cups manioc flour
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup Brazil nuts, coarsely chopped

One 8-by-8-inch square banana leaf, if filet (found in South Asian food stores), or 6 banana-leaf squares for a whole fish.

 

 

Preparation
Wash the fish thoroughly and pat dry. Spread salt, pepper, and lemon juice over the entire fish, then place it in reserve in the refrigerator.

 

In a medium-size saucepan, heat the vegetable oil and sauté the onions over medium-low heat until they wilt. Then add the garlic and the chopped cilantro, mixing all ingredients together well. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and their juices, and mix with the other ingredients. Add the fish broth and cook for 20 minutes over a low heat. Let it cool.

 

Heat oil and butter a in a skillet and fry the bananas 2 by 2 until light brown, then place on a plate.

 

In the same skillet heat the oil and butter over a low fire and sauté the garlic. Add the manioc flour by pouring it through your fingers into the skillet. Mix the flour and butter, while scraping the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Always mix ingredients gently. Cook until the flour becomes moist and lightly golden.

 

Place the fish on top of the banana leaves and open the fish. Using a spoon, cover the entire fish with the tomato sauce. Place over the fish lengthwise a mound of farofa (available in Latin American or Caribbean food markets). Sprinkle with Brazil nuts and press firmly into the fish with the hands. Place the fried bananas on top of the farofa and press gently. Carefully fold the fish toward the center. If using a whole fish, tie it with a string. Wrap the fish with the banana leaves. (If using the filet, close both sides with toothpicks.)

 

Place the wrapped fish in a baking dish, pour 1 cup of water on the bottom of the pan, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes in a 325 º preheated oven.

 

Open the banana leaves and serve with the remaining tomato sauce, farofa, and Malagueta sauce on the side. (Serves 6)

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…
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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.
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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.
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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!