Monday, March 15, 2010

Circle South America: Barbados, Antigua, USVI

Dear Family and Friends,

These last five days have been lovely as we visited Bridgetown, Barbados, St. John’s on Antigua and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands before spending the past two days at sea. We disembark Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16th at 7:00 AM.

I will spare you the usual history lesson and commentary on these three ports of call. Many of you have no doubt been in the Caribbean at some point in time or you have heard and seen enough about them. Vicki and I went on catamaran snorkeling tours in Barbados and St. John’s as the water is some of the most spectacular for that activity in the world. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

In St. Thomas, Vicki and I shopped in the morning and visited Bobby’s Jewelers and got to meet Mike and Karishma for the first time. The last time we were actually at Bobby’s (he passed away eight years ago) was 14 years ago. We have been doing business with this company and these people for over 20 years; however, and they are the best.

In the afternoon Vicki kept shopping and I went snorkeling again out to Boon Island and had a great time diving on a ship wreck and playing with the reef fish of every color and hue. Like I have done so many times on Lake Travis and Possum Kingdom, I once again managed to go swimming with my wallet and dutifully made my deposit somewhere in the Boon Lagoon. It was just a few dollars but you know what a hassle it is to cancel your credit card (fortunately just one) and apply for a new driver’s license. You would think by now I might have learned my lesson but NO!
We have had a marvelous voyage and seen so many things, new and exciting places and had many adventures with memories to last us a lifetime. We met some really fantastic people onboard and count them now among our many friends.

We thank God for the opportunity to experience all this and for protecting us as we visited 13 different countries, two new continents (including Antarctica), traveled over 20,000 nautical miles, escaped three natural disasters (earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and floods in Peru) and survived a military evacuation by helicopter. Thousands of people lost their lives in each of these tragic circumstances and, of course, we were never in any real danger, so our prayers are still for those who suffered real loss and we encourage all of you to help in any way you can.

Now back to reality. Breakfast will not be served unless I make it, the towel we left on the bathroom floor the night before will still be there the next morning and there will be no chocolates on our pillow unless we put them there…..and why would you do that? Oh, and in the real world, the tax man cometh. Uggh!

Thank you for your attention and I hope you have enjoyed following along as we Circle South America. God bless you all.

Jud and Vicki

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Circle South America: Devil's Island French Guyana

Dear Family and Friends,

Devil’s Island. Just the name struck fear in the hearts of convicted felons in France in the 1800’s. Home of the infamous French penal colony and leper colony from 1852 to 1946, this island, along with the main island, Ile Royale, and the smaller Ile Saint-Joseph, lie 9 miles off the coast of French Guyana and have a very interesting history.

The French desperately wanted a presence in South America and were in negotiations with the indigenous populations of both the New Amsterdam (NY) area of New England and northern coast of South America. So it was down to an island at the mouth of the Hudson River or a huge chunk of land (which comprises modern day Suriname and French Guyana) to the south. Representatives visited both locations in January. The northern site was frozen, the southern site was a tropical paradise. So, let’s see….Manhattan or Paradise. The king of France, Louis XV, chose Paradise…or so he thought.

King Louis wanted to establish a colony quickly in his newly purchased land so he offered free transportation, religious freedom, no taxes, political autonomy, free food for three years and free land. Applicants had to agree to stay for at least one year. There were over 17,000 applicants. 13,000 were accepted and an armada of ships left for the new world in 1762. Arriving in this jungle “Paradise” the settlers went about establishing a colony. Within one year, 9000 of them died from malaria and Yellow Fever. Totally discouraged but having satisfied their one year obligation, ships were sent to bring them back to France. Unfortunately, only enough ships were sent to pick up 2,000 of the remaining 3,000 settlers.
Fearing the “evil vapors” on the mainland which killed their fellow countrymen, the 1,000 left behind moved to the offshore islands. With a separation from the mainland and an almost constant breeze, they survived; hence the island group being named the Salvation Islands.

Back then people thought that malaria (Mal Aria or “bad air) was caused by rotting vegetation in the jungle. They had no idea the dreaded diseases of the tropics were caused by infected mosquitoes, which could not travel over the ocean and were kept away by the winds. Still the constant heat and high humidity was enough to dampen their spirits and most all of them left eventually. So Nepoleon III decided to turn it into a penal colony, both to have a convenient place to store unwanted criminals and to maintain a stock of workers to develop the mainland colony into something more hospitable.

They are beautiful islands, as you can see, with an abundance of coconut palms, rubber trees, sandbox trees, breadfruit trees and Indian almond trees. The chirps and calls of the prolific jungle animals rang out everywhere we went, giving testament to the unseen wildlife in the bush.

We are headed out for a day at sea before arriving in Barbados on Thursday. We will be snorkeling in Barbados and St. Johns the next two days and snorkeling and shopping in St. Thomas, USVI, before spending two days at sea and arriving back at Ft. Lauderdale next Tuesday. I will make one final post to the blog after a few days of rest from PK. Until then, God Bless you all.

Jud and Vicki

Monday, March 8, 2010

Circle South America: More Photos of Santarem Brazil

Here are the photos of Santarem. All the photos in the last blog were from Parintins. We are at 1 degree 9 minutes north latitude, heading NE out of the mouth of the Amazon as we speak. Will clear the muddy waters of the Amazon pushing out of the mouth of the river in about another 100 nautical miles.

Jud and Vicki

Circle South America: Parintins & Santarem Brazil

Dear Family and Friends,
We just left Santarem, Brazil at latitude 2° 49’15” S and longitude 54° 16’ 20” W for our final leg back down the Amazon River and back to the Atlantic Ocean. Our final two stops on this easterly course, Parintins and Santarem gave us an up close and personal look at the rainforest and jungle that comprise 98 % of the Amazon Basin.

Parintins, Brazil is a small town of 80,000 on the island of Tupinambarana, which we were told was roughly the size of Belgium, in the middle of the Amazon River. The town survives on fishing, logging and cattle most of the year, but between June 28th and 30th each year, half of the town’s annual income is derived from the annual Boi Bumba (Ox Music) Festival competition. The Boi Bumba presentation is an experience similar to Brazil’s Carnival and virtually the entire town is involved, men, women and children, putting together the elaborate, multi-feathered costumes, floats and participating in the show itself.

Regent put together a special presentation of Boi Bumba which was moved indoors to the only air conditioned building in town large enough to hold 500 of our fellow passengers and the elegant regalia of the show and its 200 or so participants. It was quite spectacular with all the colorful dancers and sensual Brazilian drums and flute music. We estimated Regent probably spent $ 10,000.00 having the town put on this special 45 minute presentation for us. It was hard to get pictures but you will get the gist of it I think. Because it was 92° and 90 % humidity, a cold local beer and the show was about all we could handle of the town of Parintins, but it was worth soaking through our clothes to see it.

A quick overnight sail and we arrived at Santarem, Brazil this morning. This city, with a population of 300,000, lies at the confluence of the clear Rio Tapajos and the muddy Amazon in the driest region of the river’s length. With half the annual rainfall of the Amazon delta, the weather is fair most of the time. It was only 88° today but the humidity was high, so we soaked through our clothes once again as we took a river tour out into the jungle to observe the river dwellers, both human and animal alike.

Santarem was founded in 1661 and has seen several bursts of economic growth. First, there was wood. Then came rubber (Henry Ford once tried, and failed, to create a series of rubber plantations in the region) and, finally, minerals. Today, Santarem has a new boom on the horizon…..soybeans. The creation of BR 163, the main highway that connects the soybean fields with the river, brings the produce to where they are stored in a recently constructed (2002), enormous grain terminal before they are loaded onto barges. Things are picking up.

Our river tour took us out to the “meeting of the waters” which I described and showed you in my Manaus blog….looks quite similar…and on to Maica Lake which is the home to some of the 2000 species of fish which populate the Amazon and hundreds of birds and other flora and fauna. We spied dolphin, Macaws, egrets, vultures, and “White Naked Heros”….well, that’s what our heavily accented guide said….but I think he was identifying the elegant “white necked herons”. Although, I did notice the ladies craning their necks for a peek. Dirty old women!

We stopped at the mouth of the lake and anchored for about 30 minutes. The crew distributed baited fishing gear to each passenger and we all fished for the voracious and fearsome Piranha. My bait got nibbled to death but one guy caught two and a lady caught one and everyone had a lot of fun. The crew cooked them up in the galley on our way back to the ship and we each got to sample a bite of this surprisingly tasty fish which the locals eat with crunchy, fried flour crumbles.

By the time we hit the mouth of the Amazon we will have crossed back over to the north side of the Equator and will arrive, after a day at sea, at Devil’s Island in French Guyana. That final stop will complete our tour of South American countries where we visited Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and French Guyana. The only countries we missed were the two interior countries (with no coastlines) Bolivia and Paraguay, Columbia and Venezuela (which we will visit when their politics change) and Guyana and Suriname (which 95 % of you could not have identified as being South American countries anyway until today). Not bad for a 65 day jaunt which included four days getting to and from Antarctica.

Until then, God Bless you all,

Jud and Vicki