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Dogtanian20

Queen Victoria South America trip blog

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Hi,

I posted this on the Queen Victoria forum as I’m keeping a little diary of the 78-night cruise around South America and was asked to share it here. I hadn’t intended to make this public (it’s really just my own record), so please excuse any typos. I’ve been taking loads of photos, but the internet time is really expensive so I’m not going to post them here as I can’t afford to wait for the upload to finish.

 

Day 1 – Southampton

“And so, following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.”

Christopher Columbus’ words echo in my thoughts as I watch the fireworks illuminate Southampton, crackles of red and gold as the sailaway begins and we gather for the voyage of a lifetime. There are regular travellers and first-timers such as myself, though only few of my own age. I have no idea what to expect, but I feel pensive as we sail east around the Isle of Wight and the glow of Portsmouth fades before we turn west – a heading we shall continue for a week.

 

I am reminded that this voyage would be familiar to all who braved the New World until the advent of air travel: that the great and good, the wicked and ill, the artist and the scientist, the rich aristocrat and the indentured servant all made this trip hoping for a better life. I am fortunate to make my own crossing in comfort they would never have been afforded, safe in the luxury of a spacious cabin with a floating palace of entertainment at my call. Tonight’s dinner is in opulent surrounds with excellent company; we are at the beginning of a great adventure.

 

Day 5 – Mid-Atlantic

We have turned south to the Azores in a desperate attempt to outrun the January storms of the Atlantic. Sadly, we have failed to tame Poseidon; gales have battered the Queen Victoria since we left the English Channel, sending the ship rocking in violent distemper around the clock. For the first three days I was sick, often retreating to my cabin in a hope that my cheeks would lose their pallor and my stomach would settle. During the first black tie dinner of the cruise, the Captain asked how I was faring on my first sea voyage. I admitted I was having ups and downs, and was assured my sea legs would arrive. Fortunately, they have: today the waves crash as high as the Golden Lion Pub’s window on deck 2, full 6–8 metre rolling waves capped with hissing white spume, and yet finally I can eat and sleep, oblivious to the storm’s aggression.

 

The entertainment so far has been a delight; the Royal Court Theatre – a full proscenium arch at sea – has played host to its own company and their musical medleys; a comedian with quick one-liners and a style suited to the ages of the cruise; an operatic duo; a jazz trumpeter; and a finalist from The Voice. Elsewhere the entertainment hosts keep us busy, each with their own character, a perfect mix that complement each other neatly. Even so, we all wish for land.

 

Day 8 Off Bermuda

The weather has worsened still, forcing us to twist in loops south of Bermuda, the swell too great to risk putting into harbour. Last night there were violent crashes and rumours among the ship’s passengers we struck a reef; regardless of whether it’s true, today a window is smashed in the Lido restaurant. I woke with a start at 3am, twisted a full 90 degrees inside my king-sized bed. Then a moment of drama in the afternoon, as the ship began to list and passengers were instructed to remain seated until the ship was turned (or ballast corrected?).

 

Tomorrow we are promised land if the wind dies. Few are confident, as we have been repeatedly promised calmer weather only to see gales turn to storms. The Atlantic has been relentless, a vista of cruel blue tones, but I do not regret my choice of travel: it is important to understand the true size of our world, and it is not possible to appreciate the majesty of an ocean with a tape measure and globe, or staring out of a plane’s aluminium can at 40,000 feet. I am convinced you can only understand the ocean by ship, staring out at the golden haloes on water as the clouds break and the Sun warms this lonely world.

 

Day 9 – Bermuda

Imagine a model village, built on a thin snake of land in the middle of the ocean. Add to it a very British character – a forgotten flash of imperialism that only remains today in remote reaches, such as the Falklands or Gibraltar – and paint the rooftops a brilliant, dazzling white. You have Bermuda, a strange gated community with no gates, guarded instead by waters of the most astonishing azure.

 

Bermuda proclaims itself an island paradise since 1609, famed for its long shorts and unique location a few hundred miles off the coast of the Southern US. In truth, this thin strip may have wonderful pink sand beaches, but it has become almost too pristine. To walk down the street is to be reminded of the Stepford Wives: there is no sign of litter even in the early morning, and not one building has a paint fleck out of place. Prices are exorbitant – to be expected given the location – but local greetings are warm. Despite this friendliness, Hamilton feels like a façade, as white-washed as the lime roofs used to gather clean water for the islanders. The seas are the most brilliant aquamarine I have ever seen, but the perfection of the place has pushed it into an uncanny valley, an imitation of life, for my tastes. Time to move on.

 

I still didn’t feel entirely at ease aboard, despite the wonderful companionship of all I have met, crew and passenger alike, until tonight. And then, as you find in moments such as this, fate intervened. Walking the deck, lost and a little uncertain of myself, I found a friendly face and good company, who told me to stop worrying about the tie I wear and relax. And so I do; tonight’s entertainment is a vocal doo-wop group called the Four D’s. Falling into their company, we sit in the bar and share some laughs, talking football for hours. I am refreshed after the seemingly endless Atlantic waves.

 

Day 11 Canaveral

You see the Kennedy Space Center before anything else – the launchpad’s giant scaffold coming into focus on the horizon as Queen Victoria cuts toward land. It is a fitting to arrive in the Americas at the heart of our attempts to voyage out to the stars.

 

Queen Victoria is late to arrive, having blown one of its engines in the night. Then come the joys of US customs, forcing all passengers off the ship for processing whether or not they intend to depart, keeping some in the hall for more than two hours while the ship’s crew are exercised by the Coast Guard. I avoid the crowds and catch a lift from a friend, who takes me to a nearby bar for shrimp coated in tempura; then on to Cocoa Beach, a curious strip of Americana where the local shopkeepers have a pet alligator roaming to the delight of tourists.

 

My time ashore is short; during the storms in Bermuda my laptop’s power cable broke from the violent shaking of the cabin, and I was on a mission to buy a replacement cable. Now back with power, I can continue this record of my travels.

 

Day 15 – San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan’s old town swelters in glorious tropical sun, its rich Spanish colonial history an open treasure chest to explore. Set on stiff hills, the old town’s streets are full of slopes and staircases, the houses a kaleidoscope of pastel shades, no dwelling painted the same colour as any other. Last night protesters brought a guillotine to the city hall, and the walls of shops and churches are daubed in political slogans. The locals do not care: they shrug, pull up their sleeves, and paint their bright colours over the graffiti. Life continues with its easy, relaxed beat.

 

This is our final stop in US territory; two days ago we ventured to Port Everglades to pick up passengers from Fort Lauderdale (generously described as a beach, a shopping mall and a retirement community). Today we see that, on the fringes of Pax Americana, the influence dwindles. While the magnificent forts that once guarded San Juan are run by the US National Park Service, most locals don’t speak English (or, at least, pretend they don’t) and the culture feels more Latinx than anywhere I have encountered in the continental US.

 

A three-hour trip ashore brings me first through the old town, then the forts – an open space in front of the largest, once the site of a battle between the Dutch and Spanish, now littered with debris from kite flying – and finally along a cliff face where I can see the mountains of Puerto Rico roll off like wrinkled fingers into the distance. I’m more interested in the local art, of benches painted like crabs or of superheroes hiding behind local symbols. This is a land that loves life, and treats the world with a sense of humour. It is a lesson I could do well to remember.

 

Day 17 – Barbados

Yesterday I woke to find the ship anchored off St Eustatius to refuel; the attempt failed, but even so we had an unexpected, easy cruise through the lesser Antilles. Our day’s passage took us within swimming distance of St Kitts and Nevis; the volcanic Montserrat, fires still burning from within the caldera; Guadeloupe; Dominica; Martinique, and, as midnight approached, St Lucia. Though I have seen these islands on maps, I had never appreciated how close the windward isles were to each other, nor the beauty of their volcanic slopes. These are the pirate waters of yore, where merchants were prayed on by the likes of Bart Roberts, whose flag even showed him standing on the dead skulls of local islanders. Those days are long gone; and today, these paradise islands ask what their places are in the world.

 

For Barbados, this future is uncertain. It is stranger than the other islands. Its Caribbean west side promises easy days fishing in pristine waters or watching time drift on white beaches; its rugged Atlantic side breath-taking cliffs and astonishing wildlife; and between old sugar plantations that gave the world the tot of rum. And yet the true Barbados is not found on beaches or in the mansions built on slave labour and now owned by the likes of Rihanna and Simon Cowell.

 

A walk into Bridgetown on a Sunday found a world of broken, shut shops and run-down shacks, of the lost and impoverished on the streets while the rest of the island went to church for two-hour services filled with laughter and joy. In these poorer quarters, mad prophets scream for all to hear over the screech of brakes as traffic hurtles around corners. This is a world desperate to deny it there are haves and have-nots, and unsure how to address the truth of its economic disparity. An easy Caribbean life is a marketeer myth; life here is hard. Yet it is a testament to the people here that they take joy even in life’s quieter moments, and the Barbadian rhythms still chime a love of life.

Now we turn south. The Atlantic, the Florida coast; the Caribbean islands. All have been a prelude. Tomorrow, we head into South America and the adventure begins in earnest.

 

Day 19 – Off French Guyana

We have entered stranger tides. A thick, steamy fog has engulfed our passage, creating ghosts in the darkness as sea and air reach similar temperatures, blending one into the other in serene silence. The waters have turned from their perfect blue to a dark green. Today we passed Devil’s Island, the prison made infamous by Papillon. Still we press toward the equator, into a land barely charted yet rich in culture and the vibrant sparks of life.

 

For the past four days, we have seen birds – frigates and guillemots – coast alongside us, swooping down to snatch a fish from the crystal waters. Now they are gone. Yesterday a rainstorm hit us without warning, the deck bursting with droplets as if some deity had turned on a shower, before vanishing in the snap of a finger.

 

Ship’s life has fallen into a rhythm of fun quizzes and scavenger hunts, afternoons with puzzles and books, and evening conversation with pleasant dining companions (food: outstanding fine dining, with the option for relaxed buffets or pub grub to dodge the stuffier evenings). My dining table has formed itself into ‘The Gang’ (Eileen, Sue, Isobel, Ann and Bernie, with friends from other tables too) and adopted me as a mascot. We all get on and share our lives’ experiences, laughing and joking; the other gentlemen on the table, Richard and Dirk, are content to live the quieter life. The shows continue, accounting for a variety of tastes, with an emphasis on instrumentalists. Since Bermuda we have had a juggler; duelling violinists; pianists; a flutist; a comedy pianist; an immensely impressive acrobatic duo; and a guitar foursome. A few songs have attracted laughs as singers repeat the same tunes heard a few nights earlier – tonight is a west end star’s tribute to Les Misérables, and bets are going around if we’ll receive yet another take on Javert’s ‘Stars’.

 

Overall the service has been outstanding, with the sole exception of the unpleasant crewmember running the ship’s IT room: she knows little, shares even less, and treats everyone as if they have just murdered her puppy. So many passengers are now avoiding her that I’ve taken to giving IT lessons to anyone who needs a hand, turning on and off airplane mode, composing and sending texts, and demonstrating how to use the iPhone’s camera to its full extent.

 

Tomorrow we make our turn into the Amazon. I have no idea what to expect.

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Thank you so much for this: it is very interesting. And I had no idea the weather had been so awful.

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The Atlantic doesn't sound very forgiving. Thanks for the report. I shall follow with interest.

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image.png.cc49fb96b6a4563200e8364828d09ab2.pngimage.png.9e5c8dec8546a0dd0781b8985c8f93d9.png

 

I noticed the webcam at the time that the sea looked rough.

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Thank you for this excellent voyage report.

Now I am looking forward to join the Queen Victoria next month and to meet you there even more.

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A few photographs while I have 4G. The ship is in the Amazon off Macapa; the water a muddy beige, the banks teeming with flora. Occasionally small motorised canoes pass us, taking photos. The ship is the curio in this channel.

 

photos: two of old town San Juan, St Eustatius, and the centre of Bridgetown, Barbados.

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So happy to follow along with you.  We join in Ft. Lauderdale for the transatlantic segment back to Southampton. 

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17 hours ago, Dogtanian20 said:

 

 

Day 19 – Off French Guyana

We have entered stranger tides. A thick, steamy fog has engulfed our passage, creating ghosts in the darkness as sea and air reach similar temperatures, blending one into the other in serene silence. The waters have turned from their perfect blue to a dark green. Today we passed Devil’s Island, the prison made infamous by Papillon. Still we press toward the equator, into a land barely charted yet rich in culture and the vibrant sparks of life.

Such a shame the larger ships just pass by Devil's Island.

 

I consider myself most fortunate to have visited back in 2003...

 

647972110_DevilsIsland.thumb.jpg.3ab56002fb8cdbac0fb3f569a8802358.jpg

 

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Excellent reporting Dogtanian - please keep going!

A question please - in your report - you say there a few passengers of your age

- are you very senior - or very junior?

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Just now, Mickb said:

Excellent reporting Dogtanian - please keep going!

A question please - in your report - you say there a few passengers of your age

- are you very senior - or very junior?

 

I’m in my mid-30s. I don’t think it’s unfair to say I am at least 30 years younger than the vast majority of passengers.

 

We’re in Manaus; I just visited an Indian village. Will be writing a full report probably in Santarém (two days).

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2 hours ago, Oahucruiser said:

This is exceptionally well-written and enjoyable.  Looking forward to lots more.

heeeeeey Patti!....how are you? when are you coming cruising with us again? There is still space onto South American trip. Biggest hugs r

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Roscoe - -when do you board the QV so I can start reading about your adventures.?  Wish I  could be there!!

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Great reporting thank you. I've been following the ship on Marine tracker so can see all going to plan. I'll be joining you in Rio, flying out on Thursday for a few days in the city beforehand.

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Day 21 – The Amazon

The steamy surrounds continue, but land is visible on each side – thick and verdant jungle, trees creating a jagged edge on the horizon. We are in the Amazon river basin, cruising low through muddy waters rich in beige tones. Every so often vegetation pokes itself free from the water, accompanied by the tell-tale bubbles of aquatic animals in the shallows. The ship has reached the Equator, the very rim of the Earth, a land with no spring or autumn. We move along at a steady, easy pace. I am reminded of Heart of Darkness, Aguirre: Wrath of God and Apocalypse Now or, perhaps more kindly and fairly, The African Queen and Fitzcarraldo. Some claim monkeys have been spotted dancing in the treetops, though my eyes aren’t keen enough to pick out anything beyond the foliage. The deck is too sweltering and clammy for my tastes, so I make only brief forays to see if I can spot the wildlife. I also slip into the pool and do a few lengths; the chill is a refreshing tonic, and now I can claim (with only a minor stretching of the truth) that I’ve swum in the Amazon.

Yesterday the customs officials boarded with local pilots, and I chose to join a lecture on musical comedy and laugh along to clips of Tom Lehrer, Victoria Wood and the infamous Andre Previn sketch. This morning, I woke early under the promise from a friend that, pre-dawn, the deck would be littered with insects, butterflies and jungle creatures curious about this exceptionally large white log flowing the wrong way. Trusting them implicitly, I rose at 5.30, donned my shoes, doused myself in DEET and crept up to deck 10, anticipating a wonder of nature…

 

It turns out they were misremembering the Jennifer Lopez movie Anaconda – not a bug or flying timorous wee beastie was in sight. I chose to reward my sense of adventure (or gullibility) with breakfast in bed and a lie-in. The Amazon is not going anywhere – we have 800 miles to traverse as we push along this artery of the jungle. Later, on deck, I saw just how much this landscape can change. We find ourselves in a confluence, the Amazon stretching beyond the horizon, thick channels of surging light brown water separated by thin slivers of low-lying land. River traffic continues, tankers turning to two-man motorised canoes, and every so often a small stilt-raised shack or fisherman’s pier juts out of the wetland. We could be in an estuary, were we not 500 miles inland. Then, suddenly, we turn and find the passage narrowing once more. We let all of this go by is as if watching an endless movie reel, the astonishing waters and banks exploding into colour as we pass small settlements, trade stations with tall antenna or mining jetties, and old ferryboats converted into floating houses safe from jaguar attack. It astonishes me that people can play shuffleboard with all of this natural wonder around them.

 

At midday we find our passage narrowing to a mere (mere!) half-mile or so across, the narrowest stretch of the river. We pass a small town, its church gleaming white amid the colours of beached boats and little houses along a cliff-face, apparently settled in the 17th century by Portuguese missionaries and today heart of the world’s bauxite mines – the industry that feeds our demand for aluminium. Further along the river, ruddy-brown wisps billow in the sky, tails that lead to the latest logging camps and deforestation. In this land we plunder the Earth for our own comfort. Tomorrow we arrive in Manaus, once a boom town for rubber and now a remote outpost in the heart of Amazonas. It is as far as we go, while the river continues onward, deep into Peru. The wildlife has at last appeared, though; large, buzzing wasp-like creatures a full two inches in length, along with technicolour butterflies and, on the banks, herds of cows so lean I mistook them at first for goats.

 

A message from home this morning that an earthquake and tsunami have struck the Caribbean. It’s very sad news, and I consider myself fortunate to have missed the event by a few days. I hope the damage is slight, and will endeavour to do what I am able when we return back via the Panama Canal in 45 days. A little blue, I venture downstairs and find myself in a karaoke night. I’m virtually atonal, but at least I can say I’ve belted out Is This The Way to Amarillo? in the middle of the jungle with a bemused, shock-and-awed Claire Balding in the front row.

 

Day 22 – Manaus, Brazil

At dawn the Captain announces we are passing the Meeting of the Waters – where the clear black Rio Negro and clouded beige Amazon meet but, as if separated like oil and water, refuse to mingle. For several miles the two rivers race together, the edges gradually losing their sharpness until, like milk in coffee, they blend and swirl.

 

The phenomenon starts subtly as we approach Manaus, before becoming a clear division, as if someone had drawn a line, as the two diverge. It is an amazing sight, made even more incredible as a school of three pink dolphins decide to say hello, leaping out of the water and scooting down the port side. To starboard, the welcome is just as warm, as the riverboats sail out to shoot their fire hoses in celebration of the Queen Victoria’s arrival.

 

Stepping ashore to greetings from a samba band, we make our way out of the terminal and into a world alive with colours, music, market smells, flowing fabrics and the taste of orange zest. A bustling square awaits, and beyond an open park in front of a church, where young women strut for sailors seeking companionship and old men, skin like burned mahogany, offer “Água! Água! Água!” Away and into five blocks of market stalls and hawkers camped on cloth rugs, of cheap plastic toys next to knock-off fashions or native beads. Then beyond, further into this jungle metropolis, to the pink fondant fancy of the opera house, its beautiful colonial trappings playing host to concert-goers in the evening. The heat is sapping, and clothes quickly become drenched in sweat. I return to the ship parched and perspiring but energised by the bustle of this isolated metropolis.

 

The afternoon is spent in true explorer style, flying down the Rio Negro in a speedboat, passing beyond modern Manaus, under its bridge and into the past. First to a rain-soaked plantation, where slave labour hacked at the trees while a rubber baron rested on the veranda, playing with toys gained from the backs of others. Or at least this is how it appeared; it soon emerged this was actually a movie set that had been donated to the local government as a museum! Then deeper and further, arriving at a small wooden jetty with a white flag fluttering a peaceful welcome. Here we stepped ashore and into a tribal longhouse, where the indigenous people greeted us in headdress, face paint, beads and nuts in bracelets on their ankles, and as few clothes as they could get away with. (Apparently the local government has told them not to perform naked and banned them from bringing monkeys and sloth to pose with). Seeing another culture is always a privilege, and finding myself dancing with a rather attractive semi-naked Brazilian woman isn’t a chore.

 

Afterward we have ants to eat if we dare, and share laughs and photos with people who choose a way of life that has not changed in millennia; the tribes do live here, and adults share their little while younger members rush off to put on ‘normal’ clothes and play with their pet dogs. We live half the world apart, do not speak the same language and have no common culture except football. But people are the same everywhere, and laughter is the shortest distance between us all.

 

Day 24 – Santarem, Brazil

The final leg of our Amazon expedition is the sleepy town of Santarem, its buildings largely closed on Sunday, its cathedral more like an Anglican church – devoid of the usual golden altars and gutted candles of Latin mass. Locals feed dolphins at the fisherman’s wharf (although I do not see any), and others tempt tourists with blow darts and rows of stuffed piranhas and eels. Accompanied by some fellow Cruise Critic members, I hike up the optimistically titled ‘mountain’, in truth barely a hill, and looked out across the waters. I will miss this strange adventure up the river.

Tomorrow we pass Macapa again, the end of the Amazon, and round the bulging coast of Brazil to Salvador, a town with supposedly a church for every day of the year… and a sky-high murder rate. We are advised a shuttle bus might be a good idea when heading ashore.

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Your journal  [no way can this narrative be called anything other than a travel journal]  flows beautifully, full of insights and vignettes and reminds me of diaries  pioneer journalists wrote when seeing far flung continents many decades ago.

 

Wonderful. I'm hooked.  

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Great travel journal, you are an excellent journalist. Its great you can take trips like this at your age. I am twice you age and now have time and money for a great adventure but am restricted by my fear of getting sick and being stranded in a remote place.

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On 2/2/2020 at 8:37 AM, Oahucruiser said:

Roscoe - -when do you board the QV so I can start reading about your adventures.?  Wish I  could be there!!

Hi Patti, Im on in San Antonio on the 29 of February.....Ive been very neglectful, ill email you ...

 

Great Read Dogtanian20, enjoying your observations greatly....keep them up its building the anticipation of boarding.....

Edited by roscoe39

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Fascinating report  - almost feels that we were all there with you.

thank you for taking the time to report

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Day 26 – Crossing the line

We have crossed into the Southern Hemisphere, and it is time for one of the oldest nautical traditions. At 3pm, King Neptune, trident in hand, arrives with his beautiful bride, calling forth all 'polliwogs' (those yet to cross the equator at sea) to come forth and be judged. Onlookers flock to the pavilion as the ship turns a little Royal Caribbean, a live band and DJ on hand as the trial is prepared. The atmosphere is jovial and light, everyone dancing and laughing in the sun as the festivities commence and the polliwogs are led out to the pool.

 

I am among them. Led by a pirate with magnificent abs, I join a procession as we parade ourselves in front of the onlookers and stoop down in turn to kiss a waiting fish, puckered lips planting on scales. Then we pass the surgeons, finding ourselves smeared in slime. It is just the prelude. In turn, we are ordered to approach the pool, and take a seat to hear our crimes: stealing extra chocolates and hogging sunloungers. Guilty! Scream the crowds, and the surgeons deploy their remedy. To the beats of Queen, we find ourselves showered in spaghetti, cold Bolognese sauce, gunk and goo, the mix splatooned or shampooed upon our heads. Suitably daubed in our corrective warpaint, we all jump into the pool, emerging fresh and clean as ‘shellbacks’ of Neptune.

 

Handed a towel to dry, it is now our turn to join in the festivities, dancing with the crowd as we watch the polliwogs among the crew suffer even worse fates, playing party games and receiving the full dregs of the surgeons’ goop.

I reek of Bolognese sauce for two days.

 

Day 29 – Salvador, Brazil

Salvador, or Bahia, is one of the oldest towns in Brazil, a mysterious expanse stretching along the coast and split in twain by a vertiginous cliff. We are advised this is a cityport of traps, renowned for dangers and its murders as well as its magnificent architecture. The first is obvious as soon as we step off: baroque palaces and houses of God dot the lower and upper towns, their fronts a maze of carvings and affirmations. Rustic ruins and urban decay give the town an air of romantic mystery, even as we queue with a dizzying stream of traffic to take the single road that climbs to the upper town.

 

Here, we enjoy the true beats of Brazil: samba bands, bright and vibrant colours and capoeira martial artists are here to entertain amid oil paintings, street art frescos and the rich smells of cafes in the sun. As the temperature climbs, I make my way with two companions down a street supposedly toward a famed convent. Instead, almost immediately, three old men leap up in panic from their game of chequers and begin waving at us furiously. PERIGOSO! PERIGOSO! PERIGOSO! – dangerous. We have stumbled into the wrong street, and our lives are in peril. Stopping in our tracks, we turn back and head a single block, where once again the carnival joys of Salvador are available. We have just witnessed both sides of Brazil, the dancing in the sun and the danger in the shade. It is a reminder this country is like dating a redhead: beautiful and fun, but always with a spit of poison at the ready.

But being confined to a tourist area is little hardship in a city of such beauty.

 

They say Salvador has 365 churches, and I can believe it, each filled with ornate carvings and effigies touched with gold. This is city of real treasure, sparked to life by Portuguese explorers and given life by the people who call it home. My trio departs the upper town via a 1930s escalator – a ridiculous flipped L sticking out from the cliffside – and walks back through a lower town filled with markets of beads, tapestries and cashew nuts. It has been a day that will live long in the memory.

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