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World Travels 2023 - 2024 First Leg 10 Dec 23 - 11 Feb 2024

Updated: Jan 7




02 Jan 2024 Day at Sea


This is a great day to rest and relax. Today I had a shave and Thai Massage. A great day to relax and recharge. In a couple days I will be seeing another wonder of the world, "Iguazu Falls".



My Thai Massage Specialist. An expert in her professional.




New Years Eve Party on Serenade of the Seas overlooking Copacabana Beach.


Staying on the ship was a dream come true. I dressed up in white from head to toe. Drank champagne and watch the fireworks at midnight from the balcony of my stateroom. One of the best nights of my life.



A must-see event in one's



20 minutes of fireworks




Ballon Drop on the ship.



Dancing on the ship



New Years Eve Party 31 Dec 23



Random NYE photos and next day ship location




Rio de Janeiro - 31 Dec 2023

 

A very exciting day. This has just docked in Rio de Janeiro harbor, and I am looking forward to see the Christ the Redeemer statute and have a five-star luncheon in a Brazilian Steakhouse.



Ship entering Rio de Janeiro Harbor



Bus ride to Christ the Redeemer



Tram Station for Christ the Redeemer



Very busy day at Christ the Redeemer



Various views of the Statute


Now it is time to go to one of the best Brazilian Steak houses in the city for lunch.



Time to eat a lot meat and pork products.



The food and wine were excellent. The best was the view of Sugarloaf mountain from the restaurant.


History of Rio de Janeiro

 

My white outfit already for New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro?

 

Here we are in one of the most visited cities in South America and home to our second World Wonder.

 

We’ll be docking at Pier Maua on the western shore of Guanabara Bay, that beautiful area you see in the iconic pictures of Rio.

 

There were major renovations that took place at the port to prepare for the 2016 Summer Olympics but apparently, they did not include a passenger terminal at this cargo port.

 

We should however be close to downtown Rio for those not taking the tour to Christ the Redeemer and there are also multiple attractions that are near the exit to the pier, more on those a bit later.

 

There should be a tram system called VLT CARIOCA that connects the port to other parts of the city center, check it out if you plan to use it.

 

Buses and the metro are also supposed to be excellent but apparently can be tough to figure out so once again plan ahead.

 

There are also taxis available at the pier. Uber is an alternative here and if you plan to use it, I think I’d use their option to book your ride 30 days in advance.

 

One last thing to note here is that Rio can experience long periods of heavy rain between December and March so be sure to check the weather forecast.

 

The sights to visit next to the port include the beautiful Museum of Tomorrow or Museu do Amanhã, a piece of incredible architecture with a reflecting pool and gardens on the outside, plus five different exhibition areas inside.

 

Entry tickets for what their website termed the “elderly” (60+) are free, not sure how I feel about that designation.

 

You can also find the MAR, or Museum of Art of Rio, and the AQUARIO, Aquarium of Rio, in this same area. And lastly, it’s your first chance to ride on a port ferris wheel, the RioStar.

 

It’s supposed to be similar to the London Eye only it costs a lot less to enjoy its 88 m (289 ft) height. It is supposed to be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., which means you’d probably have time to try it out after our excursion.

 

I find it fitting that the Portuguese first landed here for the first time almost exactly 522 years ago on January 1, 1502.

 

For some reason they didn’t hang around, deciding to focus their early colonies up in the northeast harvesting pao brazil as I mentioned before, so in 1555 the French decided to move in. France Antarctique was the name of the colony they started on what is today known as Villegagnon Island not far south of where we dock, and the current site of the Brazilian naval academy.

 

The settlement was named for the man in charge of it who tended to be harsh and intolerant, so settlers began leaving to the detriment of the colony.

 

Five years later the Portuguese decided they didn’t appreciate this foothold in what they considered their lands so in 1560 they and their Indian allies destroyed the French outpost in two days and nights of intense fighting.

 

It was suggested by one source I read that if the French expedition had had more support from their king and a better leader than Villegagnon we might have been speaking French in Brazil rather than Portuguese.

 

We’ll never know!

 

Today, Rio de Janeiro, meaning River of January, also called “the marvelous city”, can be found in a picture-perfect setting between the forested mountains and sea with glorious white-sand beaches thrown into the mix.

 

It’s good to remember though that besides the glitz of the beaches the city is also known for its favelas or shanty towns.

 

Rio was the colonial capital of Brazil from 1763 until 1822, then the capital of the independent nation until 1960 when the capital shifted to Brasilia.

 

I’m only going to give you a few suggestions of places to visit here as I think the bulk of you that read my ramblings will be doing the Christ the Redeemer tour, and I honestly don’t think we’ll end up having much time to see anything else here in Rio since we have a relatively early departure to get Serenade situated out in the harbor the fireworks at midnight.

 

So for those who aren’t going atop Corcovado here are a few ideas.

 

One of the other major landmarks in the city, or all of Brazil for that matter, is Pão de Açúcar, or Sugar Loaf Mountain.

 

You take an aerial tramway to get to the top and the views are incredible, up, down, all around. Of course you also don’t think of Rio without thinking of beaches, especially Copacabana and Ipanema, both gorgeous white sand strands.

 

The former, originally a small fishing village, has transformed over the years into a paradise seashore with the ultimate Brazilian flair along its 4 km (1.3 mi). Ipanema is a bit south of Copacabana, and many consider it safer, prettier, and cleaner than its sister beach.

 

I can't help myself, cue the music for "Girl from Ipanema" here!

 

One of the world’s largest urban forests lies within the city, Tijuca National Park. It is actually a manmade forest that was a reclamation project for cleared lands in the 19th century, aren’t we glad they were so forward thinking.

 

The park contains hiking trails to various destinations, including to the top of Corcovado, and we will be driving through part of it on Royal’s World Wonder excursion.

 

Another nature site to visit is the Botanical Gardens, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that covers 350 acres (142 hectares), with thousands of types of trees and plants, over 130 bird species, plus a variety of snakes and lizards.

 

For all the football fans, soccer for us Yanks, Rio boasts one of the world’s most famous stadiums, Maracanã, should you like pay homage there.

 

If you’re looking for an artistic outdoor site to visit look for the Selaron Steps, 215 colorful and eclectic tiled stairs that features ceramics from 60 different countries, all while sporting the colors of the Brazilian flag.

 

And for the dare devils I found the perfect idea for you, hang gliding from Pedra Bonita, great if you’re just dying to run off the edge of a mountain and fly.

 

Christ the Redeemer Statute

 

It sits 2,200 ft above sea level on the top of Corcovado Mountain, it should be visible as we come into port and from almost anywhere in the city.

 

If you’re planning to head up here but aren’t on the included excursion I would suggest buying your tickets to see it in advance, being a holiday weekend it is going to be crowded.

 

That fact reminds me than anyone who is going should plan to protect their valuables accordingly.

 

I was surprised to learn that creating Christ the Redeemer was a French/Brazilian collaboration and that it was actually a Romanian artist who created the Redeemer’s face.

 

The statue itself is 125 ft (38 m) in height, the arms stretch 92 ft (23 m) and it weighs in at 700 tons (635 metric tons).

 

It’s made of reinforced concrete covered with soapstone tiles to give it a more finished look. Begun in 1922 this Art Deco masterpiece took nine years to complete and is still the largest statue of its style in the world.

 

It’s also kind of a lightning rod and it gets struck three to five times a year, occasionally sustaining damage from these strikes that has to be repaired, like a bit of thumb, or spot on the head.

 

I’m hoping the escalators won’t be too crowded when we’re there or we’ll need to climb the 200 or so steps from the train station to the top, or maybe we should take them in anticipation of the churrascaria lunch we’ll be eating.

 

One of the most impressive things to me about Christ the Redeemer is that it was paid for completely by the people of Brazil, especially stirring when you consider it was completed during the Depression.

 

We have two days in Rio and yet I also recognize it’s going to be a once in a lifetime event to leave port in time to watch the massive New Year’s Eve fireworks from the deck of a ship.

 

The pyrotechnics will be shot off from barges anchored off of Copacabana, giving us several kilometers of viewing pleasure for around fifteen minutes or so.

 

And is anyone wondering why it is you’re supposed to wear white for New Year’s?

 

Well let me tell you, it’s to honor the Goddess of the Sea, Iemanjá, or Yemanjá, during this celebration that’s called Réveillon locally.

 

A few other things to know if you’re looking for some good luck in the new year based on what you wear New Year’s Eve.

 

The white color is for peace and spiritual protection, yellow, worn below your white, as are all other colors, is supposed to bring wealth and prosperity, pink for true and everlasting love, red is for passion, and green should bring you good health, just do not wear any black as it’s supposed to be unlucky.

 

If you want to nudge the luck meter even more you should be wearing new clothes, don’t shoot me on this one, I’m just the messenger.

 

Whatever you wear, however you celebrate, here’s looking towards an amazing new year full of incredible adventures.

 

Recife, Brazil

 

I had a very good time in Recife Brazil. First, I had a nice bus ride into the city center.



Recife, Brazill Bus Ride.


Recife Market Square.


First stop was the city center Market Square. This area has St. Joseph Catherall and the largest fish market in the city. The sights, sounds, and smells of this area was fantastic. t had a very exciting feeling.



St Joseph Cathedral Recife, Brazil


Recife store fronts


South View of Recife Market Square


Outdoor Restuarant, Recife, Brazil


City Map of Recife, Brazil



Recife, Fish Market (One of my favorite places).


We spent 30 minutes walking through the Recife Fish Market and the restaurant Chef pick two of the freshest fish to cook for our luncheon at his restaurant,



Today lunch fresh from the sea.


Yesterday's catch from the Atlantic Ocean


Fresh Shrimp from the sea. Yum Yum


Fresh shrimp being sold by the kilo.


After more bus traveling through the city and the past the beaches of the city we stopped at the five-star restaurant "Bargaco".



Five Star Restaurant. A must place to visit in Recife, Brazil



First start a rum cocktail to prepare us for the afternoon feast.



Fresh crab appetizer



Shrimp Paelia



Our Fresh Fish from the sea main course. We topped it down with White Wine



Chef Marco and I taking a selfie after the marvelous meal.


After this great morning and early afternoon, we all headed back to the ship for a well-deserved nap.


History of Recife, Brazil



Well my friends, we’ve arrived at the “Venice of Brazil”, so called due to the many canals, waterways and bridges throughout the city known as Recife.

 

The name itself actually means “reef”, although the nearby coral is struggling these days here in the state of Pernambuco, one of the oldest settled areas in the country.

 

When the Portuguese first established a colony here in 1537 they called this land Terra de Santa Cruz and the local settlement was a small fishing village, it was the nearby Olinda that was the larger town to begin with. In 1630 the Dutch invaded and named the town here Mauritsstad, they also made it their capital as they felt it was a more defensible location, until they were ousted in 1654.

 

Sugar cane production created the wealth that came to the town, as well as harvesting the coveted brazilwood, or pao brazil which grows only in the northeast of the country and where the nation’s name eventually came from.

 

An aside here as you may be wondering what they actually make with brazilwood, well, most bows for instruments in the violin family are made from it, as well as its being used to make a red dye.

 

Recife is now one of the largest cities in Brazil and also one of its most eastern.

 

Our port here is in a commercial harbor so we must be shuttled from the docking area as we’re not allowed to walk through the facilities.

 

There is no terminal and no services, just a small building for Customs.

 

The shuttle will take us to downtown Recife to a shopping mall, I couldn’t find out which one, but wherever it is there should be taxis available there.

 

The bus system is supposed to be good here and some of you will be happy to hear that Uber should be an option in the city. A couple of things to know, the beaches are beautiful here, especially Boa Viagem, but unfortunately Recife is one of the most shark-infested beach cities in the world.

 

Apparently bull sharks love it here and they are one of the most aggressive and unpredictable of their species. Sun bathing okay, swimming, I wouldn’t chance it! Also just be aware of your surroundings as sometimes pickpockets and bag snatchers can be a problem.

 

Back to Boa Viagem for a moment, it’s the most famous and traditional beach in the city, also the most touristic part of Recife.

 

A vibrant boardwalk runs along it, one source said it’s a beach that rivals Copacabana, we’ll be able to decide that for ourselves soon enough.

 

You can find Boa Viagem south of the port. Not as far in that same direction is Recife Antigo or Old Town, where most of the colonial buildings and landmarks lie. Marco Zero Square is the historical center of the city and the point from which all the distances in town are measured, it’s on the same small island as the port itself.

 

One of the most beautiful streets in Old Town is do Bom Jesus which is near several sights there. The Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue was established here in 1636 as part of the Jewish diaspora.

 

It still has some of the original walls and a small museum to visit. I haven’t given you a truly weird place to visit for a while so when I ran across this next one I figured I might as well share it. Embaixada dos Bonecos Gigantes or Embassy of the Giant Dolls can be found near the synagogue.

 

These giant “dolls” are used at Carnaval in the parades and celebrations, they’re images of famous people of Brazil and throughout the world, current or historical, and they may even be imaginary.

 

The list includes The Beatles, Neymar, the Pope, and Darth Vader, just to name a few. When they appear at Carnaval their height is about 3.9 m (12.75 ft) so you know these “dolls" are only the top half of the partygoer. It’s a small “embassy” with a small fee to enter, I’ll want to see photos if anyone goes.

 

For more serious sights there are several museums that can help you understand the history and culture of the area better.

 

The Museum of Pernambuco takes you on a journey through local history including colonial Brazil and the Dutch invasion period. Its collection is housed in a 19th century mansion.

 

The Museum do Homen do Nordeste is supposed to be one of the city’s best with art and objects that tell the history and share the culture and anthropology of the peoples of this region.

 

There are two forts still visible in Recife, Forte do Brum and Forte das Cinco Pontas, both built around 1630 by the Dutch. The latter houses the city museum and is also the place where the Dutch surrendered in 1654.

 

Also, near Old Town you’ll find the Convent and Church of Santo Antōnio and its incredible Cappella Dourada.

 

Every part of the interior of this chapel that doesn’t have a painting on it is covered in gold, which shows the wealth that was in the city during the late 17th century.

 

Further away is the Instituto Ricardo Brennand, a museum, library, and art gallery housed in what looks like a European medieval castle. It opened in 2002 and contains the collection of the Brazilian businessman it is named after. Don’t confuse it with the Francisco Brennand Sculptures Park, which is on its own small island, they are two separate places.

 

A few suggestions of things to try eating in Recife, maybe some moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew, or some acaralé, deep-fried dumplings filled with shrimp and spices.

 

There is supposed to be fresh coconut everywhere and many types of dishes come with coconut sauce. Oh, and it’s suggested you should try some tapioca here.

 

Enjoy your day, avoid the sharks, maybe visit a museum and some giant dolls, then we can all compare notes over the next couple of days as we head towards our New Year’s Eve date with Rio.

 

 

Fortaleza

 

Well, I was very excited to pull into my first Latin America port.  This city reminded me of the Cities of Detroit or Cleveland.  Both industrial towns with working class citizens.

 

My first stop was the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Fortaleza. 

 

It took to complete the work forty years beginning in 1938 and was inaugurated in 1978. It can accommodate five thousand people and its towers reach 75 meters high. French architect George Maunier signed the draft eclectic style with a predominance of neo-Gothic, with references to the Cologne Cathedral in Germany and very similar to the Chartres Cathedral in France. São José is the Saint linked to the cathedral which is also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza.

 

That said, it was closed for the day, and I just took pictures and walked around the beautiful structure.

 

Mercado Central de Fortaleza

 

The next stop was the bustling Mercado Central de Fortaleza.  It has several floors of hundreds of vendors selling all types of homemade crafts and goods.  I found the people, colors, and the smells of the market to be very stimulating.  A true bargain hunter paradise.

 

Dragão do Mar Center of Art and Culture

 

The center contains facilities for exhibitions, a theatre, a library, a cinema and a planetarium. It was nice to look at the local art of indigenous culture, former African slaves, and Portuguese peoples. 

 

Soon, I was back on the bus heading back to the cruise ship.  It was a very busy morning, but highly satisfying and a great cultural experience.

 

Fortaleza

 

Well, I was very excited to pull into my first Latin America port.  This city reminded me of the Cities of Detroit or Cleveland.  Both industrial towns with working class citizens.



Entrance into the City of Fortaleza, Bazil



Bus ride into Fortaleza, Brazil

 

My first stop was the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Fortaleza. 

 

It took to complete the work forty years beginning in 1938 and was inaugurated in 1978. It can accommodate five thousand people and its towers reach 75 meters high. French architect George Maunier signed the draft eclectic style with a predominance of neo-Gothic, with references to the Cologne Cathedral in Germany and very similar to the Chartres Cathedral in France. São José is the Saint linked to the cathedral which is also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza.

 

That said, it was closed for the day, and I just took pictures and walked around the beautiful structure. 



Walk around St Joseph Cathedral Fortaleza, Brazil



St. Joseph Cathedral


Front door of St. Joseph


Total view of St. Joseph Cathedral




St Joseph Cathedral, Fortaleza, Brazil



Mercado Central de Fortaleza

 

The next stop was the bustling Mercado Central de Fortaleza.  It has several floors of hundreds of vendors selling all types of homemade crafts and goods.  I found the people, colors, and the smells of the market to be very stimulating.  A true bargain hunter paradise



Fortaleza number one shopping center


Dragão do Mar Center of Art and Culture

 

The center contains facilities for exhibitions, a theatre, a library, a cinema and a planetarium. It was nice to look at the local art of indigenous culture, former African slaves, and Portuguese peoples. 

 

Soon, I was back on the bus heading back to the cruise ship.  It was a very busy morning, but highly satisfying and a great cultural experience.



White Horse Mosaic




White Horse Mosaic 2


Fortaleza Street View


Fortaleza Street view 2


Red Bridge Fortaleza Art Center



Festive Palm Tree



 

History of Fortaleza.

 


Fortaleza, Brazil


 

Bem vindo ao Brasil!

 

This is a part of the world that I’ve heard stories about all of my life, and I’ve always wanted to visit.

 

My first glance it may not be much to look at since we dock in what is basically a commercial port and there is nothing to see within walking distance.

 

Currency here and for our next two ports will be the Brazilian Real.

 

A word of caution, while the beach areas should be safe it’s not safe to go into the neighborhoods inland from the beach other than the nearby hotels.

 

Fortaleza is located in the equatorial tropics, only three degrees below the equator so definitely expect warm weather in this capital of the northeastern state of Cearà.

 

One source I read said the city, one of Brazil’s largest, is also one of the most beautiful and underrated places in the country.

 

Claimed by the Portuguese in 1500, settlement of northern Brazil began around 1603 but only in the coastal areas due to battles with the natives when they tried to go inland.

 

It was actually the Dutch who built the first fortress here in 1649, a place they called Fort de Schoonenbrorch.

 

Just five years later it was captured by the Portuguese who ousted the Dutch and renamed it Fortaleza Noosa Senhora de Assuncao, then shortened it to just Fortaleza as the city began to grow up around the fort.

 

Later on, during Brazil’s fight for independence Cearà was a rebel stronghold and eventually became the first state to abolish slavery.

 

Today it’s known for its 34 km (21 mi) of sunny beaches, delicious food, and friendly people.

 

Here is the largest water park in Latin America, Beach Park, that is located about 26 km (16 mi) south of Fortaleza.

 

The Insano waterslide there was formerly the tallest in the world at 135 ft (41 m), the height of a fourteen-story building.

 

It’s so steep it will have you reaching speeds approaching 105 km/hr (65 mph) in the five seconds it takes to drop to the bottom.

 

For more relaxing activities at Beach Park there are lazy rivers, pools, and even a sauna available.

 

Beira-Mar Boardwalk is a beachfront promenade between the hotels and sand where you can find vendors of all kinds, restaurant and bars galore, plus people putting on various mini performances.

 

There is always something to see or do here. Another place that’s great for nature lovers is the Parque Ecológico do Cocó, a large local area that includes a massive mangrove swamp, created to raise ecological awareness and preserve biodiversity within the urban setting.

 

Not only are there trails here but boat tours as well that can take you on a trip up the Rio Cocó through the mangroves, just make sure to wear some mosquito repellent.

 

One of sights within the city to check out is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza, a Neo-gothic style church that took 40 years to build. Completed in 1978 it is the 3rd largest church in the country and can fit 5000 people inside its beautiful interior.

 

Named for a famous Brazilian writer, the Theatro Jose de Alencar is a unique wrought iron theater with colorful stained-glass windows that was opened in 1910.

 

I couldn’t get a definitive answer as to whether tours are available that enable you to see inside and if they are available, they may only be in Portuguese.

 

For a varied venue you can visit Dragão do Mar (Dragon of the Sea) found near Iracema Beach, a cultural center with a planetarium and two museums, the Museu de Arte Contemporãnea and the Museu da Cultura Cearense.

 

The former has contemporary art, and the latter can give you a good idea about the cultural heritage of the area.

 

Also, in the complex you’ll find a movie theater to relax in, if you don’t mind dialogue in Portuguese.

 

Also, along Iracema Beach you’ll find the landmark Ingleses Bridge (English Bridge) which was constructed in 1921 that will take you out into the Atlantic to get panoramic views.

 

The Mercado Central is the main gigantic shopping mall that has four stories and can be fun to wander in.

 

Fortaleza is an area known for its lace products so if you don’t find something you like at the Mercado Central you can try the Centro de Turismo do Ceará that has stalls that sell crafts and souvenirs, along with having a museum with a great collection of Ceará state artifacts.

 

Bonus at this site, although it’s not close to port, there is supposed to be a TI here.

 

I’ve got several suggestions for you for local seafood specialties.

 

Peixada is a local seafood stew, or you could try some freshly caught shrimp drizzled with garlic oil.

 

This surprised me a bit, but Fortaleza is a lobster export center so look for local dishes based on that crustacean, skewered lobster is supposed to be outstanding.

 

Many of the best restaurants are at the beaches.

 

And for those looking for something to cool you down on a warm day look for 50 Sabores (50 Flavors), an ice cream shop with many more than just fifty flavors in each of their ten branches around town.

 

Servings here are supposed to be huge so one scoop may be enough to satisfy. Move over Baskin Robbins and your mere 31 flavors!

 

There you have what I’ve found for our first stop in Brazil, the largest country in South America. We spent the next day at sea before arriving at our next stop in Recife.







Christmas Day cross the equator into Southern Hemisphere



Map of the 10 Dec 2023 Miami to 11 Feb 2024 Los Angeles, USA



Officially crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere 09:00 (Brazil Time), 25 Dec 2023



Christmas Eve – 24 Dec 2023 – At Sea

 

Well, we will be at sea for three days before we arrive at Fortaleza, Brazil.  This was a good time for me to rest and spend some quality time in the Vitality Spa.

 

I also had time to put on my holiday suit and take pictures with the spa attendants.  Miss Pen, the spa manager, was in her holiday red dress, and it was very nice to take a picture with her in her holiday finest. Also, all of the other Spa Attendants who help me stay healthy on this World Cruise.




Joseph Thompson and Spa Therapist Kristan



Joseph Thompson And Spa Manager Miss Pen



Joseph Thompson and Spa Barber Ian from the Phillipines



Joseph Thompson and Chetan, Spa Barber, India


French Guiana – 23 Dec 2023

 

I was truly excited to walk and see Devils Island.  Very few tourists get a chance to visit this remote island.  That said, the weather was cloudy, and the sea was rough.  The ship’s captain decided at the last minute not to tender into the island, and I had a brief moment to take a short video and pictures of Devils Island. 

 

Life has disappointments and on this world cruise and I was very sad not to explore Devils Island.  I must expect to have many disappointments.

 

Such is life.

 

History

 

Welcome to Hell, at least that’s what Devil’s Island was for a hundred years.

 

This will be a different kind of post, just trying to give you an understanding of this small archipelago, the Îles du Salut, or Salvation Islands, that we are going to be visiting.

 

I had very little knowledge of this place other than that it was a prison that less than a handful of prisoners escaped from, but I’ve got a much better grasp now, so I’ll share what I’ve learned with you.

 

First thing to know is that there are three islands here, not just one, and all three were part of the French penal colony called “Bagne de Cayenne”

 

in French Guiana, as well as a town on the mainland called St. Laurent-du-Maroni, Maroni is the river it was located on. St. Laurent is important to note as it was the first place that the ships that carried prisoners from France would stop to offload and process the inmates.

 

Most of the men, and all of the few women sent to French Guiana, would stay at this location to work at a logging camp.

 

The incorrigibles and political prisoners were the ones sent out to the islands.

 

As France was trying to populate this colony the policy was that once the prisoners had served their sentence they were then required to stay in French Guiana for the same number of years as their sentence before they could return to their native land.

 

For example, if a man were sentenced to serve a nine-year sentence doing hard labor, once he had served that time he then had to stay another nine years in country before he could go home.

 

The transport of what would eventually be close to 80,000 prisoners to French Guiana over the years began in 1852 when Napoleon III wanted to get rid of political enemies who had opposed his coup d’état the previous year.

 

Along with political prisoners there were murderers, anarchists, thugs, rapists, the occasional innocent man, and thieves, whose crimes could range from stealing money or jewels to a loaf of bread.

 

Sending prisoners here became a way France rid itself of an undesirable slice of society.

 

The Atlantic crossing was horrific for these inmates in the bowels of a transport ship, but only a taste of things to come, especially for those who were sent to the Îles du Salut.

 

Today they are collectively better known by the name Devil’s Island, although besides that small island, we should be able to see Saint Joseph Island and Île Royal, the latter is the one where we tender to and where most of the ruins of the prison can be found.

 

Sea currents can be strong here and the waters are shark infested so there was little chance of escape.

 

The ironic thing is that the first colonists who came to the islands were escaping the mainland and the tropical diseases, like yellow fever and malaria, which were decimating their numbers, this outpost became their “salvation” until they could be picked up and taken back to France.

 

It was certainly not that for the men who were subjected to prisoner-on-prisoner violence, being shackled in the heat and humidity, starvation, cruel treatment from the guards, disease, or being forced to stand and keep moving all day without being allowed to sit down.

 

Devil’s Island itself was often the place political prisoners were sent, the most famous being Alfred Dreyfus, who was accused of being a spy for Germany, found guilty of treason and sentenced to serve his time in French Guiana beginning in 1895.

 

After several years of appeals and pressure on the French government, he was pardoned, then later acquitted after he returned to France.

 

He owed his release mostly to his wife who never gave up her efforts to prove his innocence.

 

If you plan to tender in, you’ll see the graveyard here which was only for the families of the guards, dead prisoners were just taken by boat out into the straits between the islands and dumped into the sea to become shark food.

 

Of the 80,000 that I mentioned earlier almost three quarters of them died while incarcerated, a huge indicator of the type of treatment they received or didn’t receive as the case may be.

 

Also on the island is a restored chapel that was originally built by the prisoners.

 

There are abandoned prison buildings, preserved prison cells, the old administrative buildings, lots of tropical vegetation and a small museum here as well.

 

By 1947 most of the prisoners had been sent back home and everything was closed up in 1953.

 

The islands and their decaying structures were off limits to anyone and everyone until the 1990s when Devil’s Island became a tourist destination.

 

And here we are, a ship full of tourists here to learn about the sad stories of those who lived and mostly died here in what was once one of the most horrific places on earth.

 

What tales these cells could tell!

 



Devil's Island, French Guiana 23 Dec 2023



Ship's Captain deciding to Leave Devil's Island because of bad weather.



Grenada – 21 Dec 2023

 

If feels like we have reached a tropical island here in Grenada, where the interior rainforest hides a former volcanic caldera and we’ve left the desert isles behind.

 

I had an interesting time on this island.  I was put on a small tour bus, and it slowly climbed the steep hills up to Fort Fredick.  When we arrived at the fort, I climbed the “thousand Steps” to the top of the fort.  I thought the tour guide had put us through “Senior citizen” abuse, but I just need to get back into better shape.  The view was excellent, and our guide told us about the history of Grenade (see below).

 

Next, we went to a small, secluded beach on the island.  We had a small lunch and watched people swimming and just walking the beach. See attached video.

 

On our bus ride back to the ship it broke down and we had to wait for a replacement.  Many cars passed our broken-down bus on the tight Grenadian streets, and they gave us the “Universal One Finger” Salute.  Such is life.

 

All in all a very exciting day in Grenada.

 

History

 

Today we visited the “Island of Spice” where nutmeg is so important that it’s part of the national flag. As we dock in the capital and main port of St. George’s, we’re near the hilly, horseshoe-shaped harbor called the Carenage.

 

The Melville Street Cruise Terminal will open into the Esplanade Shopping Mall and downtown St. George’s.

 

The TI at the terminal will have maps and guides as well an options from local sightseeing companies.

 

Taxis are available as are car rentals, you may find that a charge for a temporary driving permit may be added to your rental rate.

 

Water taxis can take you to the nearby Grand Anse Beach or Mount Rouge Beach.

 

For a narrated ride from the terminal around the city you can take a journey on the Grenada Discovery Train, current cost should be around $15 and the tour lasts about 45 minutes.

 

Along with the jungle-covered mountains in the lush interior of Grenada there are 45 beaches to choose from if a beach day is in your future.

 

Columbus actually sailed here in 1498 and named the island Concepcion, then a year later another group of explorers renamed it Mayo.

 

When the French arrived, they changed it to “Le Grenade” then it became Grenada under the British, Interesting legend here, to me at least, in 1651 a group of indigenous Carib people who had “sold” the island to the French went to battle against them.

 

Their last stand was in northern Grenada near what is now the village of Sauteurs. Knowing they were going to lose, around 40 Carib survivors decided to leap from a cliff to their deaths rather than be enslaved to the French.

 

Unsurprisingly the name Sauteurs means “leapers” in French and you can find a plaque there at Leaper’s Hill commemorating this sad event.

 

The British ended up with control of the island in 1763 after it was ceded to them in the Treaty of Paris, so this picturesque city has a blend of English, French and West Indian history with a good bit of colonial architecture.

 

This spice island is a major exporter of nutmeg, 40% of the world’s annual crop is grown here, along with cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, mace (which I learned is actually part of the nutmeg fruit) and cocoa.

 

The latter has become a bigger crop since 2004 when Hurricane Ivan decimated the island, destroying many of the slow-growing nutmeg trees.

 

St. George’s seems an enjoyable place to wander or hit the beach but beyond that I couldn’t find a lot of sights to see in the city itself. Fort George is the oldest citadel on the island, established in 1705 by the French, and sits on a high point in the city.

 

Much of it is intact and open to visitors but much is also damaged and neglected.

 

There are stairs near the Sendal Tunnel that will take you up to it but honestly the best thing about it is the views which are lovely, both towards the city and also Great Anse Beach.

 

As for that glorious stretch of sand, it is the site of most of the major hotels on the island and best accessible via water taxi.

 

Sea grapes, almond trees and coconut palms fringe this 3 km (2 mi) beach that is Grenada’s most popular.

 

You can find water-skiing, parasailing, and kayaking here as well as snorkel and dive tours. The Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park is one of the stars of the island’s sightseeing. It is north of St. George’s and is ecological art within the sea where you’ll find a compilation of 65 human sculptures placed there in 2006.

 

It has attracted a variety of tropical fish and other marine life to the area, and you can see it not only via snorkel or dive trips but by glass-bottom boat tours as well.

 

One last random place you won’t be surprised I mention is the House of Chocolate in St. George’s where they have exhibits about the local cocoa industry plus supposedly lots of chocolate samples.

 

In the interior of the island is the Grand Etang National Park where there are multiple hiking trails of varied difficulty where you can see waterfalls and tropical birds, plus lush flowers, and greenery as you wander this rainforest area. Within the park is Grand Etang Lake which sits in an extinct volcano crater.

 

Supposedly the deepest point of the lake has never been found but stories of mermaids and the Loch Ness Monster swimming in it abound. Another beach to consider would be Morne Rouge Bay which is just one bay south of Great Anse but is a quieter alternative with jade seas, nice swimming, and rentals of sun loungers, paddle boards and snorkels.

 

If the Esplanade Mall near the cruise terminal doesn’t provide enough shopping, you can visit Young Street or walk along the Carenage where there are lots of shops.

 

The Great Anse Craft and Spice Market can be found about midway along that beach.

 

It won’t be a surprise that THE things to shop for here are spices or spiced items, basically nutmeg everything, spice scented soaps, etc. Note that with the spices if something is an “essence” it will be cheaper than an “extract”, the former having other ingredients besides just the pure spice.

 

I’d like to learn a little more about nutmeg cream that is supposed to be good for muscle pain, I’m thinking ahead to some of our long walking tours!

 

The national dish here in Grenada is something called “oildown” which is probably healthier than it sounds.

 

It’s breadfruit, dumplings, meat and vegetables simmered in spices and coconut milk until most of the moisture is absorbed.

 

Works for me. One other local dish I found is called lambi, but don’t get it confused with lamb dishes because it’s actually going to be a conch stew or curry, very chewy.

 

Back to chocolate for a moment, since so much cacao is grown here, look for varieties that are farm-to-bar chocolate for the freshest and best sweets.

 

And last but certainly not least, how about a little nutmeg ice cream, complete with freshly grated nutmeg inside?

 

Sounds delicious to me, especially if it’s a warm day.

 

Enjoy your explorations today and a sea day tomorrow.



Grenada Bus Ride



Top of Fort Fredrick, Thousand Step Climb



Fort Fredrick History


Our Fabolous Grenadian Tour Guide



Walk on a secluded beach in Grenada.



Map of the Parishes in Grenada

Bonaire - 18 Dec 2023


Thinking of the sizes of these islands reminded me a little of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we’re Goldie who was exploring Aruba that was the Baby Bear island, Curaçao that was the Papa Bear, and now we’ve arrived at the Bonaire.


I know, who can understand why my mind works the way it does at times! Anyway, welcome to Kralendijk which is pronounced either “craw-len-dake” or “craw-len-dike” depending on who you listen to, the locals just call it "Playa".


Whichever way you want to say it the name mean “coral dike”, so appropriate since the main attraction here is the reef surrounding Bonaire.


I suspect that the scenery underwater is much more colorful than most of the island itself which has an abundance of cactus and scrub brush.


You will however find quite a bit of pink on the island, not just among the colorful houses but in some sands, salt flats and birds, more on those later.


The temperature hovers around 85 F (29 C) most of the time with the constant gentle trade winds helping it not feel oppressive, let’s hope for a low humidity day.


Kralendijk is the largest town on Bonaire and it’s not terribly big.


We’ll dock at the South Pier, aka New Pier, where there may or may not be a small terminal, if you’ve been there feel free to help me out on that.


There is a waterfront promenade that you can easily walk along to get to the main street and what sights there are to see there.


At the nearby South Pier Mall there should be a TI with maps and info.


Taxis are available should you want to do some exploring around the island and there will be local tour operators close by to sell you their options as well.


Some of the beach resorts have day passes available for their facilities if that sounds good to you.

For independent explorers you can find car, scooter and bike rentals, or maybe like me you’re planning to rent a golf cart for the day to see some sights.


One thing to make you aware of was one of my sources suggested that there is a problem with petty theft on the island so don’t leave valuables in any type of vehicle and if you’re going in the water make sure to have a waterproof bag or wallet that you can take in with you so important items don’t get left onshore.


One of the places I’m hoping to see are the pink salt flats that get their color from tiny brine shrimp.

The pictures of these with the white mountains of salt behind them and blue sky above are quite stunning.


You’ll find them along the southeast coast. Salt has been an export on the island for centuries with the ponds first worked by plantation slaves, you can still see some of the small buildings where they were housed nearby.


Unlike the salt flats the pink beach located south of Kralendijk gets its color from ground up coral mixed in the sand, it would be interesting to see if you can tell the tiny grains apart.


Oh yes, those pink birds I mentioned, those would be flamingos.


The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary has a large colony of these colorful birds and is one of only four places in the world where Caribbean flamingos have breeding grounds.


Since diving and snorkeling are king here in Bonaire let’s get to a list of some beaches.


The Bonaire National Marine Park includes all the waters surrounding the island and there may a "nature fee” if you want to enter them, apparently that applies to swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, windsurfing, etc.

I got conflicting info on it, some sources say cruise passengers don’t pay a fee and other saying there is a $10 fee, so if anyone has been there this year and can share info it would be appreciated, rules changed last January.

The people of Bonaire take this natural resource very seriously and the money paid goes to help keeping the water pristine and the reef healthy.


Within the Marine Park itself there are shipwrecks, fish, possible sea turtles and stunning corals, a real diver’s dream.


Along the shore there are multiple white sand beaches with turquoise waters to choose from, Sorobon Beach, 1000 Steps Beach, Playa Palu di Mangel, Te Amo Beach and on the tiny island of Klein Bonaire you can find No Name Beach.


That last one is supposed to be the best beach in Bonaire, especially for scuba or snorkeling, and you can get to this deserted island via a water taxi.


In Kalendjik the only museum I could find was the Terramar Museum where you can learn 7,000 years of Caribbean history.


Random historical fact here that may surprise you, during WW2 there were sites here on Bonaire, as well as on Curaçao, that had internment camps for people who were believed to be a “threat to peace and security”, housing local Germans, Austrians, Italians and Dutch with Nazi sympathies.


The original settlement on the island, Rincon, which was begun by the Spaniards in the 1500s, is the only other town on the island.


It was located inland to avoid the prying eyes of enemy ships and pirates.


The old Willemstoren Lighthouse can be found at the desolate southern tip of the island.


This structure, built in 1837, is still in service and while not open to the public is a famous landmark on Bonaire.

Just a bit on the Washington Slagbaai National Park which covers 1/5 of the island.


I know that sounds like a lot but just keep in mind that Bonaire is only 38 km (24 mi) long and between 5-8 km (3-5 mi) wide.


There is a small visitor’s center at the entrance with maps and brochures, and is where you can pay the entry fee to the park if required.


This is a bird lovers paradise with over 210 species of birds including those fancy flamingos, plus you’re treated to lizards and wandering donkeys.


Along the shore here is Boca Slagbaai which besides being a gorgeous clear aqua bay has tons of tropical fish and some sea turtles.


Shopping in Bonaire is again duty-free but there won’t be as many shops to choose from.

Kaya Grandi is supposed to be a street for bargains and word is that sea salt and flamingo-themed souvenirs should be at the top of your list here.


The Bonaire Arts and Crafts Cruise Market is a group of local vendors that set up outdoors when ships are in port so check them out.


Please be careful not to buy anything made with black coral, it’s a protected item and illegal to sell.

Your US dollars are welcome here.


Not many suggestions in the way of food, maybe some keshi yena, Edam cheese stuffed with meat, or pastechi, a meat or fish pie in a half-moon shape.


And with that we’ll conclude our visit to the Leeward Antilles, I’m thinking afterwards it would be fun to take a vote to see if A, B, or C was your favorite, the one that was “just right”!




Kralendijk, Bonaire


Bonaire,Town Square




Bonaire, Beach Art


Walking the Beach



Curaçao- 17 Dec 2023


Definitely a quick trip to get to this largest of the ABC’s, Willemstad, Cruaçao, much shorter than the voyage that brought the first cruise ship here in 1901, the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise with her 200 passengers from Germany.

We’ll be docking at the Mega Pier, located in West Willemstad or Otrobanda, a few minutes walk from downtown but just a few steps for those needing their Starbucks fix.


Should you want to venture further than this interesting city car rentals are available on the island, or you can negotiate an hourly rate with a taxi driver for some sightseeing.


There’s also a little pink trolley train that does tours through downtown for a fee.

Independent tour operators will be offering excursions at the dock.


One unique rental offering here at the pier should be electric wheelchairs for those with mobility issues.

There’s some pretty interesting history on Curaçao where inhabitants go back millennia with pre-Columbian peoples.


After being “discovered” and claimed by the Spanish in 1499, just fourteen years later in 1513 Diego Columbus, Christopher’s oldest son, declared Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao to be the “Islas Inutiles” or the “Useless Islands” because they had no precious metals.


At that point the entire local populations of all three islands were deported to Hispaniola to work in the copper mines, apparently that was a useful island.


Eventually some inhabitants were returned home where they got along just fine until 1634 when the Dutch West India Company decided to send an expedition to conquer the island.


Not long after that successful capture Curaçao became a hub of the African slave trade for the next 200 years.

Plantations here on the island grew sugar cane, aloe and indigo to work their own slaves, some of the mansion houses can still be seen and a few of them can be toured.


All of Willemstad’s downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to all the colorful Dutch architecture.

The city is separated by the Saint Anna Bay, one side is called Punda, where the original settlement began, and then Otrobanda - “the other side” - where we dock.


The economy is now based on tourism so people will probably be pretty “dushi” with you, that’s a Papiamento word that means sweet, nice, good, and one that you may see on signs around town.


Connecting the two sides of the bay is the Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the Swinging Old Lady.

She’s a pontoon bridge built in 1888, her 500 ft (152 m) of length is held up by sixteen pontoon boats and she swings laterally thanks to two motors that open and close her.


Definitely a sight you want to see operating and to walk across, it’s on my list anyway!


Those colorful colonial buildings on the Punda side are known as the Handelskade and are probably the most well known sight on the island.


You can see them along the bay and also all through town.


The story goes that they were not always so colorful, all of them used to be whitewashed until the governor ordered them painted pastel colors in 1817 to reduce the glare around town.


Fort Amsterdam, the original city citadel can also be found on that side of the water and is currently home of the government offices of Curaçao.


On a hilltop above Willemstad is the 18th century Fort Nassau, built as defense for the city and bay but now a place where you can get great view of town and eat at a popular restaurant.


One unique site to visit in the city is the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere.


The Jewish community here was founded in 1650 by Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and has been active and influential ever since.


This building was completed in 1730 and has a small museum next door with artifacts and photos to enable you to learn more.


Another spot to visit, one that may be more difficult to experience, is the Museum Kura Hulanda which tells of the culture of the island during the decades when the African slave trade drove the economy of this area until it was finally abolished in 1863.


Also housed in this former home of a slave-owning Dutch merchant are relics of the native Arawak people.

Not far from Willemstad are the Hato Caves, limestone caverns with 1,500-year-old cave painting left by those ancient Arawak people.


You’ll also see pools, waterfalls, stalagmites and stalactites in this cave complex that runaway slaves would use as a refuge.


Since we’re on an island you well may want to spend some time in the water so you’ll be happy to know you’ll have 38 beaches to choose from.

Blauwbaai, or Blue Bay, is north of Willemstad and has perfect sand, scenery plus excellent spots to swim, scuba and snorkel.


Mambo Beach is southwest of town, a very developed area with a boardwalk that runs along it.

Northwest of Willemstad is Cas Abao Beach, a favorite of locals and tourists alike where there are loungers, food, snorkeling, kayak rentals, even full-body massages are available.


For a quirkier beach visit Playa Porto Mari where there is snorkeling, iguanas and friendly feral pigs.


For other wildlife encounters you can visit the Curaçao Sea Aquarium where they created natural habitats without using the latest in technical equipment, or you can go to the Dolphin Academy Curaçao for another chance to swim, snorkel or dive with dolphins…for a fee.


Further from town at the north end of the island are two national parks.


Christoffel Park National Curaçao has eight different trails available to hike or bike where you can commune with nature, deer, owls, blue iguanas and maybe see some rare wild orchids, along with Arawak cave paintings, ruins of old plantations and the highest point on the island, Mount Christoffel.


Within the park is the Savonet Museum, a restored plantation building where you’ll find stories of the history of Curaçao, plus the A and B islands.


Next to this park is the Shete Boka (Seven Inlets) National Park.


You can hike along the rugged coastline here, looking for Boka Tabla where the breaking waves look like a geyser erupting, Boka Pistol where the waves smashing into an underground cavern are so loud they sound like thunder, or find the natural bridge that been carved out by the ocean.


You may even see a sea turtle or two if you’re lucky.


Finally, if you’ve ever wanted to visit a deserted island here’s your chance, just take the hour and a half to two hour boat ride out to Klein Curaçao (Little Curaçao).


You’ll need an excursion to get there to visit the abandoned lighthouse on this little bit of sand that used to be the quarantine island for sick slaves.


Willemstad is a duty free port so there are tons of shopping venues to choose from, the major streets being Heerenstraat and Breedestraat.


Rif Fort Village has lots of shops and restaurants near the terminal. Currency here is the Netherlands Antilles Florin but again, US dollars and credit cards are widely accepted.


The water in Curaçao is supposed to taste pretty good, and well it should since the world’s first desalination plant was built here in 1928 so they’ve had a lot of practice.


A few unique foods you could try here are kabritu, a curried goat stew, ayaka which are meat-filled tamales that come wrapped in banana leaves, or maybe some African peanut soup with actual bananas.


If you want something really different look for stoba yoana which is an iguana stew, then let me know if it really does taste like chicken….


For your sweet tooth and mine look for some stroopwafels, those gooey sweets we’ll be tasting again in Amsterdam.


Hope you’ll have a dushi day here in Willemstad.


Salt mountains in Bonaire


Aruba - 16 Dec 2023



It was officially given its current name, after the first king of the Netherlands, William of Orange, in the 1820s.


Here on this isle of beautiful beaches the trade winds constantly blow from the Atlantic which helps the island sustain an almost constant temperature of 27 C (81 F).


Would it surprise you to learn that rather than a tropical island this riverless one is more of a desert, receiving only about 20” of rain each year, which is apparently plenty for the aloe vera plants that cover two-thirds of the landscape, Aruba happens to be the world’s largest aloe exporter.


Port here is adjacent to the city, a place best explored on foot.


If you’d rather ride there is a free- open-air HOHO trolley that loops around the shopping and dining areas in town.


It should start running around 10:00 a.m., check at the TI in the cruise terminal for the schedule. Taxis are available and have rates fixed by the government.


There is a bus system called “Arubus” that is an inexpensive way to go to the far end of the island, their main terminal is within walking distance of the pier.


Car rentals are also available here on Aruba. If you don’t have one planned there will be tours offered by local companies once we’re onshore.

US dollars are widely accepted here as are credit cards.


The oldest structure on Aruba is Fort Zoutman, built around 1796 to protect the island from pirates and invaders attacking from the sea.

It’s now the home of the Historical Museum of Aruba where you’ll find exhibits from the Dutch and Spanish colonial eras as well as native artifacts.


Next to the fort is the Willem III Tower, added in 1868 as a public clock tower and lighthouse, it's no longer used for that latter purpose.

A couple of other spots to visit in Oranjestad include the National Archaeological Museum for a dive into history and culture, or San Francisco di Asis Pro-Cathedral, the city landmark that was completed in 1813.


There should be some excellent places to walk along the seaside here in town. Wilhelmina Park, named to honor the Dutch queen of the same name whose resilience inspired her people during WW2, is a nice place to stroll or to sit and admire the lovely view of the bay.


You can also search out her statue and one of Anne Frank that stand in the park.


Riding the waves in Aruba



14 Dec 2023


CHICHEN ITZA

 

Everyone,

 

I am in Cozumel today and I will be traveling to the Mayan Pyramid, Chichén

 

Itźa

 

A bit about Chichén Itzá since many of us will be visiting there. It will take a little over two hours to get there via ferry and bus.

 

It was named after the cenotes located there, the chichén or “mouth of the wells” and for the Itzá, the Mayan tribe known as the “water witches” who lived in the region.

 

It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988 and voted a World Wonder in 2007.

 

The earliest buildings here date back to around the 5th or 6th century (I couldn’t get a definitive number!), while the larger, most familiar structure, El Castillo (The Castle) was built several hundred years later.

 

At its peak around 35,000 people lived at Chichén Itzá but by the 13th century the city had been abandoned.

 

Unfortunately you can no longer climb the steps of El Castillo but you should hopefully be able to see the carving of a plumed serpent at its top which is symbolic of Quetzalcóatal also known as Kukulcán, one of the major deities of the culture.

 

The pyramid stands 79’ (24 m) in height and was built with 91 steps on each of its four sides which when added to the one step at the top equals the 365 days of the solar year.

 

This religious, political and commercial center was re-discovered in 1841 and archaeologists have been excavating there ever since. Should be a fascinating day!

 



Maya Dancers


Mayan Dancer


Mayan Dancer



My quiet moment of Zen at Mayaland.

13 Dec 2023 - Spa Day


One of my greatest adventures on board the ship is going to the Vitality Spa and getting pampered. The staff here is very professional and they are there to make you feel your best.




Intorduction to the Vitality Spa