Azamara Cruise - February 2013

Tuesday 12th February 2013

We survived the 11 hour flight to Sao Paulo relatively easily, mainly by dozing for long periods. We arrived at our hotel in mid-morning on Monday Gill was determined to explore the area, but I just needed some sleep, so she went on her own. The afternoon city tour didn't come off, but from what we hear there's not a lot to see anyway.

In the evening we were taken to a Barbecue Restaurant, the like of which we've never seen before - the nearest comparison would be with the restaurant that we went to in Monterrey that serves only goat. Waiters come around with huge hunks of the various cuts and, if you'd like to try that cut they slice some off for you until you stop them. The only problem is that they keep on coming! There was a lovely selection of fresh salad to choose from before taking your seat. Each diner had a little card with 'Yes Please' on one side and 'No Thanks' on the other for as long as the Yes side is face up the meat (mainly beef) just keeps coming! Luckily, there was fish for Gill, including what was called 'Amazon Fish' very meaty and with huge bones.

It was close to 11pm local time (two hours behind the UK) before we were back at the hotel and ready to turn out the light, Unfortunately, we had to be up again at 3am ready to leave the hotel at 4.30am and go back to the airport. Our flight from Sao Paulo to Rio left at 9.30am and was pretty much a short hop.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Stateroom 6046
Freshly painted 'Quest'
Carnival crowds
We boarded the Quest at around midday. Gill was really very keen to see something of Carnival as soon as possible, so after lunch we left the ship and hired a taxi for two hours. The driver was briefed to take us to see parades we didn't need a city tour because we'd done that last year.

The huge parades that we see on TV take place in a purpose-built show area with spectator stands either side of a roadway along which the various groups process. The rest of the city has smaller, more localised, more informal events. It seems as if the whole place turns out on the streets in some sort of fancy dress. The atmosphere was fantastic and the weather made a huge difference blue skies, hot sunshine, 38 degrees centigrade but with a gentle breeze.
Carnical Gay parade
Carnival crowds
Carnival drag
The gay community had a big presence and seemed to be accepted as absolutely unremarkable. I was accosted by a bloke in a dress, heavy stubble and lots of poorly-applied red lipstick. 'Darling', he purred, 'do you remember us last night?' 'Yes, you were fantastic', I replied, laughing fit to burst. I took loads of photos, and quite a few people actually came up to me and posed whether I wanted them to or not.

You sometimes hear Jeremiahs going on about Rio being dangerous, especially during Carneval, but we saw nothing of that. Maybe it's different late at night, but in hot sunshine everybody seems determined to enjoy it as much as they can, so we did too!

Gill's booked us on a tour of Rio's rain forest tomorrow, unfortunately starting at 7.30am - that'll mean a much earlier start than we'd like. We were both exhausted by recent events even before leaving the UK and it's got worse since, so we're planning a VERY early night tonight. The ship sails tomorrow at 1pm for Salvador, and the following day is a sea day, thank goodness! That'll be our first chance to put our feet up and properly relax!
Carnival panda
Carnival crowds
Carnival for kids
Wednesday 13th February 2013
Rio's Rain Forest

It was up at 6.30am for an early breakfast before boarding a coach at 8am. There were only fourteen of us on the Rain Forest tour, probably because nearly everyone else was new to Rio and wanted the city tour and the cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. To be honest, I'd have loved to do that again if Gill had fancied it, since the views from the top down over Rio and its beaches are utterly breathtaking. Sensibly, it proved, she had decided that we needed to do 'something different'.

We were driven by air-conditioned coach high above Rio to where the rain forest begins, where we transferred to two open Land Rovers and carried on up into the trees.

Our first stop was by a waterfall. The excellent guide, who actually was German, apologised that what we'd be seeing wasn't as impressive as the Iguazu Falls on the border with Argentina, but that is one of the world's greatest sights, from what we hear. The falls were impressive enough, though, with a fair amount of water cascading 200 feet or more down rocks into a shallow pool at its foot. It's a popular place for locals to come to splash around, and there were a couple of dozen people there, some sitting on collapsible chairs in the water itself.
Rainforest waterfall
Rainforest waterfall
The rain forest is an incredible asset for the city. When the temperature hits 40 degrees C it's ten degrees cooler up in the trees, which by comparison is like air conditioning. The trees also capture rain water for the city.

We then drove further and higher until we reached a narrow trail. We left the Land Rovers and went off into the forest on only a very gentle incline it had been advertised as an excursion suitable for those up to 80 years of age, which we'd found surprising, but in the event that seemed accurate!

As we walked in single file the guide kept stopping to gather us together and point out aspects of the forest. I found the depth of his understanding of the forest eco-system completely compelling. The key points that come to mind are:

  • Even though the whole area has was designated a National Park back in the 1970s, it's constantly under threat from human activity. People keep trying to illegally build homes on its fringes, they hunt the wildlife, mainly for profit, they cut down palm trees for their growing tips, which apparently are something of a delicacy. They used to drive vehicles along the trails, churning up the shallow soil, until this was banned, so they moved to motorbikes until they too were banned, and nowadays they're still causing damage, this time with mountain bikes.
  • In the past large areas of the forest were chopped down so that coffee could be planted, but it became apparent that this causes huge damage to the eco-system. Wildlife depends on a heirarchy of vegetation. From large tall trees forming a canopy to intermediate height trees providing shade for more delicate vegetation. Removing all of this and replacing this with coffee planting drives away the wildlife and allows rain to wash away the shallow topsoil, exposing the rocky, stony layers beneath that don't support any form of vegetation.
  • The shallowness of the rich, fertile soil means that even the largest trees have roots that run horizontally rather than downwards. These can be really quite massive and spread quite some distance from the parent tree. We saw several quite tall trees that had fallen over naturally their roots were less than two feet deep.
  • People living in the rain forests elsewhere in Brazil have tended to clear an area for a home and some agricultural land without understanding the damage that they are doing. Once the rich soil is exhausted and/or washes away they abandon the site and do the same thing elsewhere. The abandoned land never recovers.
  • When we see the slums of Rio (favelas) we see them as just that but in reality they are a way of life for many people who are content to live like that. The problem is that what starts out as a small structure for a family gets extended outwards for a while and then, because of overcrowding, has to go upwards. Some buildings are five or six floors high, all built on an ad hoc basis with no planning and no thought for structural integrity. The original building had no foundations and cannot indefinitely support the weight above it, especially when the soil it stands on washes away down the hillside. Every now and then there is a disastrous collapse of buildings.

All of this, and probably more that has already escaped me, was explained by Ralf along the way. You really started to gain an understanding about why the rain forests have evolved the way they have and how each element supports and is supported by the rest of the eco-system pull one bit away and the whole is compromised.
Shallow rooted trees
Vista from statue to Sugarloaf
We left the cool of the forest and drove down a little way to the most amazing viewing point overlooking the whole of Rio. It looked rather like a chinese bandstand made of bamboo, but turned out to have been cast in concrete. It sat high on the side of a mountain, with unobstructed views. On the left was the Christ statue high on its own peak. You then scanned to the right and there was Sugar Loaf Mountain straight ahead, then further to the right was Copacobana Beach with its luxury hotels. To the right were Ipanema and Leblon beaches and their own hotels. In today's glorious 38 degree sunshine it all looked idyllic.

Back on the ship for lunch followed by a couple of hours on deck the sun was far too intense to stay there longer! The Quest sailed at 1.30pm, and the captain took a route out to sea that passed as close as possible to Copacobana Beach and Sugar Loaf Mountain wonderful photo opportunities!

Tomorrow is a sea day, so we can get up late and just laze about with our books. Gill's booked breakfast on our stateroom's balcony oh, the luxury!
Redeemer statue
Copacabana beach
Sailaway from Rio
Getting comfy
Sugarloaf to the statue

[Sea Day 1] [Salvador] [Sea Day 2] [Recife] [Sea Days 3 & 4] [Belem] [Sea Day 5]
[Devils Island] [Barbados] [Monserrat] [Virgin Gorda] [Miami]