Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I slept late this morning and soundly. I did not hear the bridge announcement that we were docked and the tours were departing. When I went on deck, just making the buffet line as the food stations were being closed, I had never seen the ship with so few passengers in the public rooms. I am sure that there were many, like me, who did not go ashore, but were sick abed in their cabins. At the concert last night the ship’s doctor announced that a mild stomach virus was going around but he felt that all was needed was a day of bed rest and lots of fluids. So far it has not caught up with me, but I expect it will eventually.

I was pleased with my decision to turn in my City Tour Ticket for today. It was oppressively hot, with not a breath of air, and the buses were not air conditioned. I also was sure that my upper thigh muscles were not up to climbing those fifty steep stairs down from deck five or back up. It took me almost two days to recover from the Manaus excursion.

I brought along my book to read in the only shady and relatively cool spot I could find on the pool deck (the pool was still empty because of the mosquito problem) and planned to settle in for a quiet morning. Suddenly, John, the lapidary man, showed up with “There’s Jackie.” When he left me the last time he said he would be on the lookout for me, as he was interested in getting the address of a WEB site I had recommended to him on gemology. As we chatted I learned more about his future plans. He had retired from his position as a traveling salesman for a photography studio and was currently enrolled in a geology course at a University in New Jersey. After completing two year of study he planned to go into thermal geology or open his own mining company. I knew little about thermal geology or its purpose, and was surprised to learn that it was a way of finding and capturing thermal heat as an alternative energy source. As he described it, it was like creating a nuclear power plant without the use of uranium. Greenland is one of the best areas for this type of exploration, but there were many other areas around the world as well.

Before he left we got into a lengthy discussion about the Cargill Corp. which had come into the Santarem area and cut down the forest to establish large soy bean farms. Right off the bow of our ship, adjacent to the dock was a huge Cargill soybean processing and shipping plant. Until two days ago I had never heard of Cargill and the controversial harvesting and exporting of soybean. During a recent lecture on Santorem, an ecologist described how Greenpeace has been actively protesting and campaigning against Cargill for destroying the rainforest. Greenpeace is devoted to saving the environment, the ecologist was unhappy with the project for additional reasons—Cargill had promised to improve the economy by developing job opportunities, but this did not turn out to be the case, as so much of the harvesting and processing was automated. What is had done is displaced the native population, destroying their homes and way of life by destroying the food supply in their forests.

Cargill is taking a lot of money out of \Brazil, but like the robber barons of the past, may not be contributing enough to the economic welfare of the country. This is a serious problem and I would like to learn more about what is happening in Brazil because of deforestation. I am sure in the next several days there will be more lectures on this topic.

After he left, I headed inside to find a cooler reading area, and stopped to say hello to Ann, my fellow airline passenger, who was talking with the husband of the Utah genealogist I had met the other evening. The man, a Southern Baptist, who joined the Mormon church when he married, was an encyclopedia on the Mormon Missionary project in Brazil. He had gone through a Missionary training program on the history and culture of Central America (he knew all the dates and events in Mexican Indian history to almost prehistoric times and offered a brief course in the Aztec religion as viewed by the Mormon Church.) I am fairly knowledgeable about the history and culture of Mexico’s indigenous people—and I could see that his facts were accurate, but the conclusions he drew from them of course were colored by the thinking of the church and somewhat different than what I had been taught—but I listened to him patiently and offered no comment. He also talked a great deal about the Mormon proselytizing in the rainforests of the Amazon and his opinion regarding the future of the native population and the treatment it was receiving from the Brazilian government. Ann, who is from Minnesota added her comments on the history of our Indian tribes in local reservations, how poorly they had been treated in the past, and their return to prosperity because of their gambling casinos in Minnesota.

This was truly a day of exploring the thoughts of fellow travelers. This evening, at dinner, I was seated with a husband and wife who were both ophthalmologists. He came from Toronto, she from Mexico, and living in the Washington, DC area. He has three grow children, also in the profession. This was his second marriage and he had met his wife when she was a student in one of his classes in a University in Washington where he still teaches. They both share a private practice. This evening I not only learned a lot about ophthalmology, I found out more about the Canadian medical system, which is not working well, and what could be done to salvage our own failing system. I had planned to eat early to make the 7PM national geographic movie “Amazon. The land of the flooded forest” , but he was such a delightful conversational that we did not leave the dinner table until long after the movie had started.

This has been entirely like no other cruise I have been on. In the past I made sure to select trips which offered landfall almost daily. The thought of spending long, uninteresting days with nothing to see but the vast ocean and nothing to hold my interest (ice carving exhibits, art auctions, napkin folding, food decoration, an occasional movie, the casino, the Vegas style entertainment) bothered me. These days I look forward to our days at sea because they have been so stimulating. Tomorrow is another full day of lectures and good conversation.



I am not sure what day it is, but I really don’t know what time it is. Years ago there was a movie entitled, as I remember it, “If It is Tuesday this must be Belgium.” For the past few days I have been saying if it is Manaus, it must be two o’clock (even though my computer says it is closer to one o’clock.) Almost every other day we have received a notice from the bridge to advance or turn back our clocks one hour. As we were traveling east towards St. Bart and Barbados we moved up and hour—then after Barbados, still traveling east, we changed the clocks forward another hour, but once we entered the mouth of the Amazon and began traveling west, we turned the clocks back an hour at Manaus. Half way between Manaus and Santorem the clocks went forward. We have been in three time zones in seven days—so you tell me—what time is it ?—your time 1 PM, Santorem time 3 PM, or my watch time which can’t keep up and loses time on its own. I have three watches with me, but this is the only one without a tight waterproof crown which can easily be set—unfortunately it is most uncooperative and stops and starts.

So, enough about time. As we cruised the Amazon River yesterday, I read, blogged, did some photo work, and spoke to my fellow passengers. I have now finished the two books I bought with me, “Atonement”, “Snowflower and the Secret Fan”, and a third “Three Cups of Tea,” which was recommended to me by the resident librarian. I highly recommend reading this book. Despite its title it is not a ladies book. It is the fascinating story of a mountain climber, who after failing an ascent to K2, returned to Pakistan to build schools for young girls. It speaks to the very complicated relationships between Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan and offers a great deal of insight into the Taliban terrorists and more peaceful Muslims.

I am now working on “Hiroshima—Fifty Years Later” a diary recorded by a Japanese doctor who survived the blast and recorded the aftermath in the two weeks following. It details how he kept his hospital running against all odds. The dropping of the first bomb, on August 6 has always been of great significance to me, as Lionel and I were married on August 9, the day the second bomb hit Nagasaki. It was not until many years later than any of us came to realize the horrors and residual effects that resulted from the nuclear bombing of Japan.

Last evening I was invited to join one of the lecturers (David, the librarian’s husband) for dinner, when we met in the buffet line with out trays. I had spent some time talking to him and his wife several days ago. He is a full professor at the University of Virginia—and in 2007 was the Director for the University a Sea Program which is under the auspices of UV. This program, which is now close to fifty years old, has been designed and managed by several universities—Pittsburg ran the program for almost 40 years before turning it over to UV in 2007.

David is a linguist, his specialty at UV is Spanish literature, and he also holds classes in Spanish film. He is fascinating to listen to. Tomorrow he will give a lecture on Picasso and Dali. Articulate, he has an enormous command of the English language and he is an omnivorous reader. He asked me what was the singly most interesting book I had read this year and when I answered “A Team of Rivals” he was off and running on a fantastic discussion of Lincoln and Obama. He then segued into a discussion of how so many of us (using our fellow passengers for an example) had common interest and ties, if we went one step further beyond trivial conversations, to find our shared similarities—somewhat along the line of “Six Degrees of Separation”. I told him about the amateur gem stone cutter (lapidary) I had met on board ship and he related the story of his father in law who attended a conference and was assigned a room mate who turned out to be the father of the woman his daughter (the librarian) had roomed with 50 years ago. His premise is that if we all go to the next level of conversation we find a common bond.

Those of us who are involved in genealogy know how true this is when we discover our next door neighbor is a long lost cousin. Sitting at the table with us was a young woman who taught the morning Yoga classes. He noted that she and I were both originally from the Boston area and if we compared notes we would certainly find that common bond. We left to go listen to a piano player in the concert hall so there was no time to explore. But I did learn that her parents still lived in Melrose, a city right next to my home town of Malden.

On a more personal note, he asked me some questions on how successful I was in handling the death of my husband, as he had gone through a similar experience when he lost his first wife at the early age of 42. He noted the difficult times he went through and wanted to know if I had gone through a similar experience learning how to cope.

That afternoon, while I was out on deck reading, a young couple joined me at lunch. They are from Oregon. He is an IT specialist for a marketing company (probably real estate) and she is a health counselor at a private school for young girls at risk—I am not sure exactly what that encompasses—but it sounded to me like a very expensive rehab center for children of the wealthy-since the fee was over $5000 per month and the average stay was six to eight weeks

The young woman was absolutely fascinated with the fact that she and I were wearing the same Jackie O sunglasses, which of course I have worn for years. I only recently learned that they were now again in high fashion. She insisted that we be photographed together with the both of us wearing our glasses.

They had just returned from a shopping trip in town and had purchased a topaz ring at one of the better jewelry stores. When they learned of my gemology background, they were more interested in learning more about gemstones from me than talking about themselves.

This trip has been an intellectual and invigorating experience. While I have learned much from the lectures and the tours, I am learning far more from my fellow passengers. Any fears I may have had of traveling alone have long since been dispelled.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


December 27 Manaus Day Two
The morning started inauspiciously. This is the rainy season in Brazil—but I never gave it a thought two months ago when I signed up for the early morning river tour. As I scurried in the early dawn to make the 7:45 am Meeting of the Waters Tour, I watched the steady rain drops hitting my room window. How would I ever get down those 45 steep, slippery gang plank steps safely? I dug out my light weight nylon windbreaker and fretted that it wouldn’t be enough to protect me from a heavy and constant deluge. This did not seem like the best of days to be on a small boat in open river waters, but I was determined to see it through.

As we queued on deck five, the rain slowly abated and turned to a fine mist by the time I reached the stairwell. But the rungs were wet and dangerous. I handed my equipment—walking cane and small travel bag-- to an attendant and with great care, gingerly, one step at a time, holding on to the slippery side rails, worked my way slowly down. To my surprise, despite the unfavorable conditions, I was a lot more confident today that I was yesterday. It has been reassuring to know that, for those of us who need assistance, there is always an attendant close by to offer a hand. It was impossible to avoid puddles in the road bed on the short trip, and I arrived at the tour boat in wet Tivas and wet feet. The next challenge was to safely enter the swaying two story boat and climb the narrow open stairwell to the top deck which was still shrouded in view-blocking blue tarp to keep the rain out. As we got underway the rain stopped and the tarps were drawn, so that we had a good view of the harbor as we moved out into the river.

We left the pier in the local riverboat, passing native houses on stilts, local boats, wharfs, floating gas stations –great picture ops. Our guides, Renaldo and Massimo, spoke articulately and in great length, in remarkably understandable English, on the history, ecology, and life on the river.

Manaus, as I mentioned yesterday, is located not on the Amazon, but on a parallel river, known as the black river (Rio Negro). The waters of the Amazon are uninviting silt- filled, mocha brown color. Sometime during the night as we traveled upstream we entered the waters of the River Negro (Black River) whose color is a dark blue-black. We learned that Manaus is mosquito free because of the high acidic contents of the river water, which is not only inhospitable to mosquitos but not as welcome to some fish life and is less palatable for drinking than the waters of the Amazon. At the point where the rivers join there is a stong, visible difference in the colors. It is as if a line has been drawn through the water and one side is the chocolate brown of the Amazon and on the other the inky blue black of the Negro.

The phenomenon of two rivers moving separately,side by side, but at different speeds is rare. It happens twice in the Amazon Basin, where the Negro and Amazon meet at Manaus , and at Santarem (our next stop) where the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers join.

We turned into Lake January, an ecological park, situated between the two rivers, and boarded smaller boats with outboard motors, to travel through the small tributaries and flooded creek to view the flora and fauna of the Amazonian rain forest. It is difficult to understand the size of the Amazon basin—still a mostly primitive, lowly populated area with few cities, some villages, and the forest yet undisturbed—unlike the lower areas of Brazil where heavy deforestation is destroying the land. The Amazon forest area is equal in size to all of the lower 48 United States!

The water level of the forest varies from year to year, depending on the rainfall. During the rainy season the rivers and lakes rises above the tall grass levels, and spread along the forest floors—as the water level rises, it can reach even the second stories of houses on stilts and the natives living along the shore need to move deeper in to the forest until the dry season starts and the water recedes. As we moved along, we were surrounded by an amazing abundance of greenery and wild life --pythons, sloths, monkeys, colorful birds, pink fresh water dolphins, water lilies, other exotics. While much more primitive this area is, in many ways, reminiscent of the still undeveloped sub tropical areas of South Florida Everglades. Since Florida is subtropical, we share much of the plant life and bird population.

We returned to the floating dock and restaurant for a buffet lunch featuring interesting local Brazilian specialties—hot dishes, salads and an abundance of native fruits. And of course—the prerequisite stop at the adjacent gift shop filled with T shirts and some native crafts. I succumbed and bought two fantastic hand carved masks created from local wood, bird feathers, straw, fish bones, and seeds. They were more expensive that most of the other items and as soon as I showed and interest the owner kept trailing me. I knew what I wanted to spend for the masks—others on board has made a similar purchase at the local museum the day before—so I had a pretty good idea of what the price should be. In the past, Lionel had always been my stalwart negotiator, but today I was on my own. I probably could have done as well by myself, but I asked one of the male Semester at Sea guides to help me. He enlisted two of the Portugese speaking boat guides and between the four of us, we got to a fair and reasonable price-where the shop owner made a reasonable profit and I paid a fair price for the items. It was more fun that I thought it would be—maybe the next time I will be able to handle it on my own. But I am still fully aware that a man will command more respect than a woman in this type of situation.

We returned to the port on our original riverboat, with our guides filling us in with more history and local color. Thankfully the sun had stayed hidden most of the day, under grey laden clouds, but by mid afternoon, the temperature and humidity had risen to an uncomfortable degree as I struggled to get back up those miserable 45 steel steps.

Tomorrow, thank goodness, is a full day on the river—I will need it to recuperate—and to download and work my photos and try to figure out how to make a slide show about all the exciting things I have done so far.

Friday, December 26, 2008

MANAUS December 26

December 26--the day after Christmas--I have heard from many of you and am pleased to learn that you have been able to open and read my blog.

Organize, organize, organize. Within the hour we will arrive at the floating dock of Manaus. Charge the camera batteries, apply the sunscreen, secure my identity pass, Visa card, and a small amount of cash.

Outside my window I can see the colorful pilot boats guiding us in. Since breakfast the ship's programs have been preparing us for our land tour of a major Brazilian city with a long list of don'ts. Do not wear your camera around your neck,make sure to carry a water bottle--and, as in all major cities, as we have been warned over and over "Be careful" and especially be alert incrossing streets. The biggest hazard for moving around in this city is traffic--walkers do not have the right of way and cars will not stop for pedestrians.Do not dresss like a tourist, Leave your baseball caps, Hawaiian shirts and logod T shirts and jewelry in the cabin and avoid discussions of politics and religion. Be a good guest.

I will be on a city tour which includes a trip to the the famous opera house. Since I first saw the movie Fitzcarraldo in 1982, the Amazon and this building has always been on my must see list. Last night I watched a part of the movie again,but found it difficult to follow on the small TV screen available in my room.I plan to either buy it or rent it when I return home.I strongly recommended it to all of you--it is a amazing story of one man's crazed obsession to satisfy a dream. Tonignt, if I can stay up long enough I hope to see the Robert DeNiro movie (i nthe auditorium) The Mission, which has been recommended as an accurate portrayal of the early missionary effort in the Amazon basin.

Manaus is actually located on the Rio Negro (Black River), a tributary of the Amazon, and the river is dark. But what is best about the location is the absence of mosquitos. there is something in the waters of the Rio Negro which is inhospitable to the insect menace.Or so they keep announcing on board ship. Manaus itself is typical of so many Central and South American Countries-- in the downtown area, close to the port,there are shabby buildings,narrow streets,teaming with street vendors, open shops and traffic grid. This is where the peasants and workers come to shop. Since it is a free port I am sure that somewhere not too far from the
port are the more elegant boutiques and jewelers. As we left the ship we were offered free transportation to two of the more well known cruise port emerald, diamond and gemstone shops It is a city with a large population and there must be many areas with beautiful homes and gardens--but our tour was of the downtown area only--and most port area in the world are shabby and depressing.

Today I learned to pick my battles--the heat and humidity is oppressive and I decided to save my energy by getting off the deliciously air conditioned city tour bus only for those sites which really were important to me. I also know I had to save my legs for the steep climb up the narrow metal stairs to get back on board. The river waters rise and fall during the year--depending on the dry or rainy season...that is the explanation for the floating dock that was imported from Europe. Today the lower deck which is normally used for debarkcation was below the water mark and we had to exit from deck five whick necessitated a precipitous long descent--not the greatest sensation if,like me, you suffer from heights.I made it down, but all afteroon I kept thinking of that horrendous climb back up.

First stop was the opera house--and that was the highlight of the trip, even though it required a long walk through a quaint plaza unfortunatley riddled with the detrius of the previous eve's Christmas celebration. Many of my fellow passengers (we are a really large group of seniors with walkers, canes and wheelchairs)and I opted to stay in the cool and comfortable oppulent concert hall area rather than climb two steep flights of stairs to view the reception room. I passed on the Royal mansion, pictures of which show it to be magnificently decorated--and a small museum of indigenous crafts. But just before we returned to the ship, a photo op turned up at a bridge and a park surrounded by colorfully painted buildings.

Tomorrow I take a river boat cruise to the Meeting of the Waters--where two large rivers join. Now it is off to the dining room for din din.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

December 18 2009--the beginning

The army has a saying--Hurry up and Wait--That must be true of Bahamasair service. Good passenger that I am, I made sure to be at the Ft. Lauderdale airport two hours before my international flight to Nassau to get through the paper work of customs, TSA and all the other rigmarole. I was scheduled to leave at 8:55 am and arrive around 10:10 am. A simple one hour plus flight. After three time changes we boarded at 1 PM and really did manage to set down an hour later, even though I had my doubts that I would ever see Nassau and board the ship, which was scheduled to sail at 5 PM.

Two sisters, whom I met on the plane, shared a taxi with me to the dock--on a long, circuitous and not particularly attractive ride. Looming to our right and overshadowing the horizon, looking like two ice cream cones between an enormous arch, was the pink monstrosity Atlantis--gambler's paradise on adjacent Paradise Island. The narrow streets are no cleaner than they have been in the past and the whole island seems to be in a state of unfinished constructions. At the dock, bustling as ever, is the Straw Market--dirty, noisy and displaying the usual touristy "bargains".

The ship is small but pleasantly appointed--and exceptionally clean. Lunch and a brief tour of the ship was all I could manage before we were underway at 5 PM. Any further investigation was cut short by the realization that the ship was not only moving forward but swaying side to side. A quick retreat to the cabin was in order and there I stayed, luggage unpacked for the next two days while fought mal de mer. While I never quite succumbed to a serious case of sea sickness, I did have my moments and also the fear of falling and doing more damage to my slowly repairing fracture. So I stayed in bed, watch movies on the TV, read two books and listened to the lectures.