Southern Exposure: Brazil

The cruise out of Buenos Aires began on  Saturday, November 14  at 6:00 p.m.  In  early morning, Sunday, November 17, we  arrived at the port city of Santos, Brazil. The two days at sea were stressful as always—having to choose between  so many breakfast and lunch options, which events and activities to attend, the terrible choice between whether to order a cappuccino or latte, or a donut or muffin, Cutty on the rocks or a martini before dinner, and what to say to someone at dinner whom you have never met and will never see again, without mentioning Trump or Brexit. I mean it is tough, but we are slogging through it.

Brazil is the Big Kahuna of the South American Continent. It is slightly larger in land area than the U.S. and has a population of over 200 million and is larger than all the other countries in South America combined. It is also the home of the engine that pumps oxygen into the air we breathe. No nation will be more important than Brazil in determining the future of life on this planet.

Coming into Santos at sunrise was quite a treat with the bright sun casting long shadows and creating a dreamy atmosphere as the Zaandam glided along a narrowing channel leading into one of the largest ports in South America. Santos is only about 70 miles from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city with over 12 million, and is its closest port. The city of Santos has a  population of only around a half million but seems a lot larger. It wraps around the base of several tall, green mountains that experience rain forest conditions during the rainy season, which is happening now. Luxury, high rise apartments and expensive hotels line the longest urban beach in Brazil (considerably longer than Rio’s Copa Cabana or Ipanema). Behind those impressive buildings there are some fancy single family neighborhoods and then on the mountainsides, informal settlements and make-shift neighborhoods decorated by colorful graffiti with streets lined with trash and houses made of decaying wood and tin roofs, stacked on top of one another. 

The excursion for the day was a bit disappointing, I suppose largely because there are few typical tourists attractions and few tourists go there. We saw  an aquarium, a coffee exchange, and the soccer stadium/museum of the Santos futbol team, which Pele played for and is considered one of the consistently best teams in the world. On the way back in the bus, our guide apologized for taking us to the soccer stadium since apparently several in the group had complained but went on to add that while you might not like futbol, you can’t appreciate Brazil or South America without understanding how much futbol means to the culture in this part of the world. She added that times are especially hard right now in Brazil; and while she did not want to get into politics, the politics in her country  now, she feels, are very scary. She was referring to Jair Bolsonaro, the Trump-like president who was elected in 2018 on a populist platform and among other things has encouraged massive development in the rain forest. Like Trump, Bolsonaro is a climate change denier. You could say that Bolsonaro  holds the whole cards on the climate front. So goes the rain forest goes the planet Earth.

Since Brazil became a republic in 1889 due to a military coup against Emperor Pedro II, it has had three dictatorships and three democratic periods. Some are afraid that Brazil is moving toward another dictatorship.

The  Zaandam cast off late afternoon just as the sun was setting and we were treated to the most stunning sunset of the entire cruise. We arose at 4:30 a.m. the next day on Monday, November 18– Embry’s birthday– so we could witness arriving at Rio de Janeiro, considered by Kevin, the tour director on the ship, to be the most dramatic and most beautiful city in the world. As we got our first glimpse at dawn, the silhouette of the city appeared below the towering peaks—Sugar Loaf, the Christ Redeemer statue, Copa Cobana and Ipanema beaches—there it all was in front of us like a dream.

November 18 was important for another reason: This was the last day of the cruise. At 7:30 the Zaandam was tied up, and we passengers departed to go our separate ways. We were told that Brits accounted for almost 35 percent of the passengers, Canadians 30 percent, Americans 25 percent, and the rest from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries but mainly Germans. We found the 30 or 40 people we dined or conversed with to be interesting, engaged and polite. Most had cruised a lot more than we had, and most seemed older than us though it is hard to tell about age. Also there were a whole bunch who appeared to me by the size of their girth  to have eaten their way through too many cruises, but, hey, what do I know?

The odds of seeing any of them again are low.

We said good bye to the two Indonesian young men who had taken such good care of our room. It felt almost like the end of a summer camp experience.

So did it feel good for the cruise to end or were we anxious for more? 

The former, thank you, but I will have to say that I do not think it could have been much better. The downside of a trip like this is that during the days at sea, cabin fever can set in—which if truth be told, is probably the main motivation behind my blog posts. Also the exposure to the different countries is too short and impressionistic. The best you can hope for is a taste and perhaps an insight here and there. But what are the alternatives? At our ages, trying to see this extraordinary continent by car is out of the question. So a small taste is better than no taste. And I seem to have developed an interest in this continent far exceeding anything I anticipated. It has been sitting here right under our noses and has a history so different from ours. How did this happen? Why did this happen? What is going to happen next? These are the questions that I am asking after 35  days at sea, eight countries, and  covering  over eight thousand nautical miles. 

But the adventure is not over. Four days on our own in Rio, two  at Iguazu Falls and then three more in Buenos Aires still to come.

Next post: Rio.

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