Archive | South America RSS feed for this section

Lace Making and a Tour of Fortaleza, Brazil

South America Map

South America Map

Brazil is a huge country in terms of landmass, being the fifth largest in the world. The country borders every other South American country except Chile and Ecuador. The population today numbers about 200 million people and the majority of them live in the larger cities. The major exports of Brazil include orchids, coffee, bananas, citrus fruits, and sugar.

The Amazon River lies mostly within Brazil and extends some 4,000 miles in length. The clear cutting of the Amazon rain forests and unsuccessful farming operations have caused the light, unproductive soils to erode; thus, the river is highly polluted with chemicals and soils and the highly visible plume from the contaminated waterway extends over 200 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean from its mouth.

Fortaleza, which is a modern city and major seaport for Brazil, is located on the northeastern coastline of the country, whose chief exports are coffee, cotton carnauba wax, beans, rice, sugar, fruits, rubber, hides, skins and rum. Tourism plays an important role in Fortaleza’s economy as well.

Fortaleza 003
Copyright Leoz Photos

Mary Jane took the shuttle bus to the old Victorian-styled jail, which has been converted into a craft center, and did a bit of shopping. Here she saw a multitude of local crafts for sale, but most eye catching were the beautiful examples of lace garments as well as dining and bed linens trimmed in lace and embroidery.

Fortaleza 004
One of our fellow cruisers, Tina, models a handcrafted vest.

Fortaleza 005

Fortaleza 006

Fortaleza 007

Fortaleza 008

Fortaleza 009

Fortaleza 010

Fortaleza 011

Fortaleza 012

Fortaleza 013

In the May 18, 1993 edition of the New York Times, Elizabeth Heilman Brooke wrote an article that describes the development of this craft.

Portuguese colonists brought their native tradition of weaving renda, or lace, to Brazil in the early 17th century. Designs and stitches were influenced by the regular visits of Spanish and French merchants, who distributed models of new kinds of lace popular in Europe. The traditions, techniques and lore of lace making are passed informally from one generation of women to the next. Wives and daughters of fishermen or farmers create lace collars, doilies and tablecloths to sell to supplement their families’ income.

These bone lace makers sit on simple wooden stools before a cylindrical fabric pillow, which varies in size depending on the type of lace to be made. Filled with grass or banana leaves, the pillow rests on a wooden cradle that can be adjusted to suit the comfort of the rendeira, or lace maker.

Unlike the Portuguese bobbins of old, which were made of blackwood, bone or ivory, Brazilian bobbins are often fashioned from small sticks of fine white wood from the tuberose or the quince tree. The sphere that tops the spindle is often a seed from the Brazilian wine palm; the pins holding the linen thread in place may be thorns from native cactus. A sheet of cardboard pierced with a design — perhaps flowers, birds or geometric shapes — serves as model for the lace maker.

The names of Brazilian stitches, translated from the Portuguese, are richly evocative: eyebrow, shell of the beetle, donkey’s ear, crazy rooster, good night, remember me. Poor man’s happiness is a simple lace that can be quickly made and is thus affordable to the less than prosperous. A sinuous design in the center of a piece of lace is called pig’s intestines.

This article was written in 1993. Twenty years later it is sad to say that the art of weaving lace by hand is dying out. In the market that Mary Jane visited, she spoke with a woman who came most days to the market to demonstrate this dying tradition. It was amazing to watch her weave the lace using the methods established so many generations ago.

Fortaleza 014

Fortaleza 015

Fortaleza 016

Fortaleza 017

Fortaleza 018

Fortaleza 019

Fortaleza 020

Fortaleza 021

Fortaleza 022

Barb chose to take the City’s Highlights tour. She rode through several parts of the city-some very nice, and some not quite so nice. There was evidence of a great deal of urban re-development in progress and many buildings that looked to be habitable were destined for demolition. The residents of this area do not seem to have a sense of history and pride in older structures. The impetus for this development is the upcoming World’s Soccer Cup Championships and the Olympics both of which will be hosted by Brazil in the near future.

Fortaleza 023

Fortaleza 024

Fortaleza 025

Her guide mentioned that in general many people do not want to work, although unemployment is low. Drugs are a big problem here especially for those between the ages of 14 and 34. Education is not a priority in this area and wages for teachers are less than a bus driver can earn.

She went to the Central Market – Mercado Central and had a good time exploring the wrought iron building with four floors of little shops featuring lots of local handicrafts, food, clothing, table linens, native hammocks, shoes, and other things as well, connected by ramps, staircases and elevators.

Fortaleza 026

Fortaleza 027

Fortaleza 028

Her next stop was the relatively modern, neo-classical cathedral that was completed in 1980 with beautiful stained glass windows. The reigning Pope was in attendance when the church was dedicated, and there are several stained glass windows recognizing various Popes along one sidewall.

Fortaleza 029

Fortaleza 030

Fortaleza 031

Fortaleza 032

Fortaleza 001

Next she visited the Art Nouveau style Jose’ de Alencar Theater, which was built-in 1910 as a memorial to the famous Fortalezan poet and is still used for theatrical performances. The ornate ironwork throughout this facility came from Scotland. It was an interesting place to visit with lovely interior decorations.

Fortaleza 033

Fortaleza 034

Fortaleza 035

Fortaleza 036

Fortaleza 037

Fortaleza 038

All Desert Surrounded by Water ~ General San Martin, Peru

Desert in Paracas National Preserve

The city of General San Martin is south of Callao (Lima) and close to Chile.  Both seaport cities have coastal desert-like characteristics and are cool and arid receiving less than 2 inches of rain a year. The weather patterns are influenced by the strong Humboldt Current that sweeps northward in this area from the south bringing plankton, which supplies rich and plentiful food for the marine life in the area. Anchovies and tuna are abundant in these waters adjacent to Peru.

We chose to visit the Paracas National Reserve, which is reputed to be a masterful reserve of ecology in the coastal desert. The new, modern interpretative center featured pictures, information and models of the different species that are protected in the area. On the way to the Reserve our guide told us about the 400+ mummified bodies that had been found dating from thousands of years ago. The fully clothed bodies were in fetal positions and wrapped in cotton.

It is believed that the people were buried in this position so that they could be reborn in the afterlife.

Many of them died from tuberculosis and the skulls of some of the individuals, especially babies and young children, were misshapen by tightly wrapping boards at the sides and front of the skull to force it to elongate upward from the eyes as the child grows.

Some of these prehistoric people were also headhunters and removed the eyes, and brains of their victims and then suspending the skulls from around their waists.

Next we visited the Red Reach, a unique beach because of its red sand, which derives it color from iron in the soil.

Gen San Martin 2

Marine sediments formed all of the soil in this reserve and we saw several prehistoric fossils.  Our guide explained that the land on which we were standing had at one time been the bottom of the sea and showed us fossils that dated back 30,000 years.  A shift in the Tectonic plates and many earthquakes in the area have radically changed the topography in this part of the world over thousands of years.

Turritelas Snail Fossils

Turritelas Snail FOSSILS


  Unusual rock formations that were shaped by wind erosion were interesting and were named “Moon Surface” and “The Cathedral.”  An earthquake destroyed the top of the Cathedral in 2007.

Gen San Martin 4

Gen San Martin 5

 Paracas Bay is reputed to have the highest concentration of marine birds in the world, but we did not see that many during our visit.  We had expected to see Pelicans, Humboldt Penguins and Pink Flamingos, but all seemed to be elsewhere.  We did see gulls and terns in numbers.

Gen San Martin 6

Gen San Martin 7

Wind and water erosion continues to shape and reshape this part of the landscape with frequent sandstorms, sometimes dropping great quantities of sand and burying roads and landmarks.

Gen San Martin 8

Gen San Martin 9

Paracas Reserve

We left the Paracas Reserve area and traveled a short distance on the Pan American Highway, which is said to extend from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. We saw several agricultural fields along the way that are utilizing drip irrigation to grow avocadoes, seedless oranges, and asparagus in this arid, desert region of Peru.

Our last stop was at Sumaqkay, which is a Quechua word that means “quality and beauty.”

Gen San Martin 11

Sumaqkay is surrounded by citrus groves, grape vineyards, and asparagus fields, but they are also engaged in weaving textiles that are incorporated into a number of products: wall hangings, garments, throws, handbags, and rugs.

Gen San Martin 12

Gen San Martin 13

Gen San Martin 14

Gen San Martin 15

The men and women employed there work part time raising and picking produce for market and part time learning and perfecting their artistic skills in the production of fabrics and handicrafts for resale.  It is hoped that by providing these people with support and training it will help preserve the ancient textile industry and reinforce their identity.

Gen San Martin 16

Gen San Martin 17

Gen San Martin 18

Gen San Martin 19

Gen San Martin 20

Epicurean Lima

On our second day in Peru, rather than going into Lima to visit churches and museums or to gain some knowledge of the archaeology of the area, we decided to learn how to cook Peruvian style and signed up for Market to Table: A Taste of Peruvian Cuisine.

Peru mixes native culinary traditions with the cuisines of Europe, Arabia, China, Africa and Japan.  The result is a collection of unique flavors that make Peruvian cuisine exciting and varied.  People of all races call themselves Peruvians and impact the local culture and cuisine with their own unique accents and flavors. The land has taught Peruvians generosity by placing endless delicacies within easy reach.

Our first stop on the tour was to the Minka Market, which Mary Jane decided was a super-duper, giant Costco grocery store.  This huge establishment, housed in multiple buildings, is located in Callao not far from the ship. We visited the fish terminal early in the morning to see fish and seafood, including octopus, scallops, sea bass, kingfish and marlin fresh from the briny waters. People can buy a whole fish and have it filleted or cut up finely for ceviche or whatever dish they are planning to make, or they can buy a portion of a large fish, such as a marlin or tuna, by the pound.  The variety of fresh fish and shellfish was amazing. Nothing goes to waste in Peru from the fish or meat market.  They eat things that we don’t eat back home and use bones and parts of the fish and animals for all sorts of things.










Over 3,000 varieties of potatoes are raised in this country in addition to many varieties of corn with which we were not familiar at all. We saw black corn that looked like our U.S. field corn and white corn that had huge round kernels. The corn kernels were the size of a cherry, tasted like corn but were slightly sweet – but not as sweet as Michigan sweet corn.


They had on display numerous varieties of garlic and onions, two of the staple items that seem to be in every Peruvian meal.  We saw cauliflowers that were soccer ball sized.  And we never knew there were so many different types of peppers and limes.








At the meat market you can buy just about everything – from chicken feet to pigs tails to cow stomachs and chicken innards.  Unbelievable.  They do not let anything go to waste.

This is Tripe (cow's stomach)

This is Tripe (cow’s stomach)




They eat all parts of the chicken including the feet.


The innards of the chicken that are included in their purchase.


Beautiful quail eggs

Beautiful quail eggs

The displays were outstanding throughout all of the buildings. Several of us commented on how clean everything appeared. Only a small amount of ready-to-eat items were offered for sale.

Our next stop was the Senorio de Sulco, an elegant restaurant that takes a thoughtful approach to traditional Peruvian cooking, that is located in Miraflores, an upscale part of greater Lima.


Here the Head Chef gave us a cooking demonstration in the restaurant’s wine bar area.  He prepared each of the items we were going to eat at lunch:  Ceviche, Causa Limena, and Lomo Saltafo.  After he prepared a dish, we each got a taste, so by the time he had completed the lesson; we all had started to fill our tummies.

Then we went upstairs to the main dining room where our table for 17 was arranged.  We were served a welcome drink, a Pisco Sour.  Pisco is about 40-50% alcohol so it packs a punch.  Mary Jane managed about 3 sips but Barbara drank the entire glass.  They also gave us another Peruvian drink, this one is nonalcoholic and pomegranate in color, but made from the skins and pulp of a number of native fruits and heavily laced with cinnamon.  It was delicious. These two drinks were followed by the four-course luncheon that included the dishes we had been instructed on making.






Our bus then took us to the Queirolo Tavern, a traditional old tavern, for a Peruvian style ham sandwich snack.  Needless to say, Barbara and Mary Jane skipped the ham sandwich and just had water, enjoying our historical surroundings.


Palomino Islands in Peru

Callao is the seaport for Lima, Peru and one of the main fishing and commercial ports in the country.  For our first day in Callao (Lima) we chose to take the Wildlife-Lover’s Paradise trip. We were delayed leaving the ship for our excursion because the fog was too dense, but finally the port authorities gave us permission to head toward the marina where we transferred to a speedboat that took us out to the Palomino Islands.


On our boat ride out of the harbor to the rocky islands, we saw numerous birds and local fishermen plying the waters near the islands. The islands exhibit a variety of scenery, sandy slopes, and irregular dark-colored rocks that rise out of the ocean in many shapes and forms.





Guano covers the rocky slopes on the Islands making them appear as though they are snow covered in this tropical desert area. Every seven to eight years the national government hires workers from the Andes to come to the Islands to scrape and collect the accumulated guano.   Ultimately it is mixed with fishmeal and used as organic fertilizer for the crops up in the highlands and other areas.  The last time it was collected, the Peruvian government made over $80,000,000 on the process.



On a couple of the islands we saw Humboldt penguins. The penguins had several chicks about to fledge but we did not see any in the water.IMG_6154


The other major inhabitants of the Islands are sea lions (thousands of them).  The penguins and the sea lions live in complete safety, as there are no predators in the area.  We enjoyed seeing the sea lions play, swim, jump and dive around us.  One of the young sea lions took a starfish up onto the rocks and several of them played with it tossing it in the air and snatching it from each other.



Three of the people on the trip went into the water and swam and photographed the sea lions.  The sea lions showed no fear of the swimmers or the boat in fact quite a large group followed our boat as we left the area and headed back to port.  They were various curious animals and would also approach the divers very closely and occasionally touch or nibble on them. The videographer from the ship, who was one who swam with them, was warned not to get too close to the cliffs as a seal lion might land on her if it jumped into the water.  A jellyfish that was swimming in the area did sting her on the foot however.




We had lots of fun seeing the penguins and sea lions cavorting, but had to get back to the ship as the fog was beginning to roll back in towards the harbor.



Why Do Panama Hats Come From Ecuador?

Manta, Ecuador

Manta is Ecuador’s largest seaport and the first destination we visited on the Pacific Ocean.  The Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica and Chile has made this a profitable fishing area with a large tuna cannery that forms an important part of the economy.  Petroleum, textiles (wool from llama, alpaca, and vicuna), flowers (roses and gladiolas) and lumber are also important sources of revenue. The U.S. dollar is used as the medium of exchange and many tourists visit the city to enjoy the beautiful beaches and numerous water sports.

We chose to take the side trip named “Pacoche Forest and Bird Lovers” located about 30 minutes from the port.  When we arrived we were offered water or soft drinks and a plantain fritter to eat. Then we took a short walk to a demonstration area where they gave us a quick cooking lesson on the preparation of a hearts of palm ceviche, which was served with our lunch later in the day.

Stripping the palm fronds

Stripping the palm fronds

Next we were shown how the palm leaves were prepared for hat weaving and how the split, softened fibers are woven into a Panama hat.  In case you did not know, Panama hats are made in Ecuador, not Panama.  But because Theodore Roosevelt bought his “panama” hat in Panama, the name stuck and these Ecuadorean creations are to this day called Panama hats, even in Ecuador.  The price of a Panama hat varies greatly ($10 to $1,000), depending on the number of woven fibers per inch, but are said to last forever if proper care is taken.

Boiling the palm pieces to soften them

Boiling the palm pieces to soften them

Manta blog pix  034

Batches of dried palm pieces ready for weaving

Manta blog pix  035

Block used to weave the palm sections

Weaving process

Weaving process

Tedious work

Tedious work

Panama hat ready to send to the finisher for blocking and the band

Panama hat ready to send to the finisher for blocking and the band

We then moved to a different section of the Reserve for an open-air demonstration of how they grind sugar cane to extract the liquid and then boil it down to make hard brown sugar. A donkey powered the cane-crushing mill; and some of the crushed cane, after being dried, was used to fuel the open fire. (The rest was used as livestock food.) We were given a taste of the freshly squeezed sugar cane juice as well as the hard sugar.  Both were tasty and good but not quite what we expected. (The juice was pleasantly sweet, and the hard sugar was not as sweet as we anticipated.)

The mule provides the power to grind the sugar cane

The donkey  provides the power to grind the sugar cane

Device used to extract the juice from the sugar cane

Device used to extract the juice from the sugar cane

Raw sugar cane ready for the grinder

Raw sugar cane ready for the grinder

The sugar cane as it come out from the grinder

The sugar cane as it come out from the grinder

The sweet sugar cane syrup that was extracted from the stalks

The sweet sugar cane syrup that was extracted from the stalks

We took a strenuous hike through the Reserve, up and down many steep paths, but were unsuccessful at seeing any birds or monkeys.  This area of Ecuador is nearing the end of its dry season, so water is scarce, but the area should come “alive” again when the rains come next month.

Back in our air-conditioned bus we relaxed a bit as we traveled to a nearby small fishing village where the boats were returning with their day’s catch of Dorado.  These 17 to 20 pound fish were hauled across the beach in tubs to an open shelter where the fish were gutted and offered for sale.  One woman (wholesale buyer) was buying all of the fishermen’s catch that day. The men and their extended families were all on the beach and helped get the fish to market and removed the boats from the water to a safe location above the high tide mark.

Carrying the catch from the boat to gutting table

Carrying the catch from the boat to gutting table

Dorado fish

Dorado fish

Dorado fish which weighs about 17 pounds

Dorado fish which weighs about 17 pounds

Gutting the fish

Gutting the fish

Boats the local fishermen used to make their catch

Boats the local fishermen used to make their catch

Local teens down on the beach to help bring in the catch

Local teens down on the beach to help bring in the catch

Local Ecuadorean girl we saw on the beach with her family

Local Ecuadorean girl we saw on the beach with her family

Our final stop, before returning to the dock, was to visit a ship building area.  Most the boats under construction were tuna boats and were in various stages of construction and/or repair. All of the boats had solid wood frames and the new ones had frames that were covered with plywood and then with wood siding and finally fiberglass.  Some of the older boats being repaired were in for keel and siding replacement.

Manta blog pix  051

The tuna fleet that operates out of Manta is huge and both Starkist and Bumblebee have processing plants in the area. The boats go out for four to five months at a time and are resupplied with fresh crews, food, and petroleum by area supply ships and only return to port periodically for repairs.  One of the tuna boats gave our ship’s captain some tuna for us to eat while on our voyage.

One of the boats from the huge tuna fishing fleet that is based in Manta Ecuador

One of the boats from the huge tuna fishing fleet that is based in Manta Ecuador

Young blue footed booby we found on the beach.  Not far from the Galapagos

Young blue footed booby we found on the beach. Not far from the Galapagos

Where are the Mules in Panama?

When you are writing a travel blog, you cannot do it all yourself (or at least I can’t), so I am quick to muster all the help I can get.  Since sister Barbara is the early bird in the family, her assignment was the 6 AM wake up call to begin the process of photographing our transit through the Panama Canal.  I asked her to please make sure she got pictures of the mules.  When she arrived on deck, she looked around for the animals (mules) but could not find any of them.  She then realized that metal, mechanical mules that moved the ships via steel cables and cogs up and through the locks had replaced the real mules.  Our ship (ms Amsterdam) required the use of six “mules” as did the container ship in the adjacent channel.

It Begins with 2 Men in a Row Boat who attach lines between the mules  and the ship

It Begins with 2 Men in a Row Boat who attach lines between the mules and the ship

The Panama Cana is a masterpiece of engineering and is considered to be one of the Eight Wonders of the Modern World and has shortened the trip around the continent of South America by 7,000 miles.

One of the mules begins the trek up the ramp

One of the mules begins the trek up the ramp

The history of a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans dates back to the earliest explorers, who came to the Americas. King Charles V of Spain in 1523, prompted by Balboa and Cortez, had a survey of the canal area completed, but the enormity of the task dampened Spain’s construction ideas.

Panama 003

After the French successfully completed the Suez Canal in Egypt in1867, they were inspired to tackle this new venture in Central America. Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was not an engineer, was chosen to head up the project and he raised almost $400 million to build a sea level canal, but did not take into consideration the sudden flooding (in the canal zone) of the Chagres River after torrential rains and the rocky mountainous spine connecting the two hemispheres.

Panama 004

Excavations in Egypt had been through desert sand and in Central America construction challenges included varying elevations, an untamable river subject to rapid flooding and wetlands inhabited by mosquito carrying malaria and Yellow Fever.

Panama 005

Construction began in January 1882. Disease claimed the lives of about 22,000 men in 8 years. The sea level canal design was changed to a lock system in 1887 and the project went bankrupt in 1889. Even though the French were not successful in completing the canal, they made substantial contributions to its construction.

Panama 006

In 1894 the Gold Rush brought about the completion of both the Panama Railroad across the Isthmus of Panama and the development of the West Coast of the United States.

Panama 007

After Panama’s independence from Columbia in 1903, Panama and the United States signed a treaty authorizing the construction of the Panama Canal.  President Theodore Roosevelt realized that the completion of the Panama Canal was of strategic importance to America for military reasons and commerce. And as a result, the United States guaranteed Panama’s independence; and, for the sum of $10,000,000, Panama granted the United States power and authority within the then ‘Canal Zone.’ In addition, the United States agreed to pay an annual annuity to Panama, which increased over time.  In 1904 the U. S. purchased the rights and properties of the Canal construction from the French Canal Company for $40,000,000 and took over the partially completed project.

Two lanes of traffic

Two lanes of traffic

The greatest challenges were to construct a way through the 360-foot continental divide, keep men and machines working to complete the project, and to finance it. The project spanned the terms of four U. S. Presidents: William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Taft and Woodrow Wilson, with Taft making several trips to the construction site, but with Roosevelt getting most of the credit. The canal was completed in October 1913 after the building of four dams, creating two lakes, and constructing a two-tier lock system.  The outbreak of WWI subdued the dedication ceremony until 1914.

Panama 009

The cost of the whole project was substantial:  $632 million ($375 million paid by U.S.) and 27,609 lives (lost mainly from Malaria and Yellow Fever) for a 51-mile canal, which has considerably assisted the U.S in getting troops, supplies, and equipment into the Pacific Ocean for voyages to the Far East and has reduced shipping time and costs for many nations. More than 75,000 people worked to construct the canal and at the height of construction 40,000 people were on the job.

First there was the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama

First there was the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama

The train still runs today next to the Canal.

The train still runs today next to the Canal.

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed a treaty with Panama turning the ownership of the canal over to Panama in 1999.

Centennial Bridge

Centennial Bridge

For more information on the Panama Canal, please visit  Dan Ostler provided for us a series of three lectures plus on deck commentary during the transit for the Panama segment of the cruise. Dan did a wonderful job of bringing this topic to life for us. His website is a treasure-trove of information about the Canal.

Cartagena Columbia on Our 2013 World Cruise Aboard ms Amsterdam

Cartagena blog pix  016

Cartagena, Columbia is on the Atlantic Ocean and was once an important Spanish stronghold in the New World.  This fortified city boasts colonial architecture, pristine offshore islands, and the finest emeralds in the world. This city was one of the most important ports in colonial times for transporting gold, emeralds and other precious cargo to Spain.  Frequently, Cartagena was under attack by pirates.

Columbia is famous for its emerald gem stones

Columbia is famous for its emerald gem stones

On the Inner Bay scenic cruise, Barb enjoyed an excellent view of the 11-mile wall that surrounds the older part of the city and some of the defenses. Part of the city is very old and part of it is very new with giant hotels and high-rise buildings

Mixture of the old and the new

Mixture of the old and the new

Cartagena blog pix  019

Cartagena blog pix  020

Old galleon ship

Old galleon ship

Cartagena blog pix  022

During the 17th century, the Spanish crown hired prominent European military engineers to carry out the construction of the city and harbor defenses.  African slaves were brought to the city to construct the forts and walls, which were made of stone, bricks, tile, and coral. This massive undertaking took more than 200 years to complete, making Cartagena the most impenetrable city of the Spanish Main.  Many of the Africans who provided the labor were released from their enslavement or escaped from their owners and took refuge in the surrounding forests, where some of their descendants still live. The original Spanish explorers found Caribe Indians living in the area, but killed most of them, after being presented gold as gifts.

Cartagena blog pix  023

Cartagena blog pix  024

The port of Cartagena is a large container ship port.

The port of Cartagena is also a large container ship port.

We leave Cartagena, Columbia on our way to Panama to transit the Panama Canal.

Barbara Dempsey’s Iguassu Falls Adventure

Barbara Dempsey



We were on the bus in Buenos Aires when I had occasion to sit next to the tour guide who joined us at the Buenos Aires airport on our arrival from Iguassu Falls. (this was no accident…I always try and sit near the front because I’m one of those people who believe if you are able to shoot lots of photos out the front window of the bus, that one or two of them will turn out ok.) The guide was Lucas, 25 years old, a native of the city, and he was trying to do the impossible—show us everything in the short ride to and from the restaurant where we would only have an hour or more to eat. The airlines in Argentina are impossibly late. We spent much of our day trying to get to Buenos Aires. As it turned out, we did see quite a few sites on the way to the restaurant, which turned out to have quite good food, even though you would have thought they were serving an Army.

I wondered aloud if Lucas ever had been to the United  States?  He had tried, he said, a few years earlier, but he was unable to get a visa approved by the Argentine government. Was the government afraid of a ‘brain drain?’ His response: few young people are able to get a visa because they stay in the United States instead of returning home so they are not granted permission to travel there. He was hopeful, though, that someday he would be able to visit.

While I have not felt unsafe on this trip, things like this remind me of how lucky I am to live in America.

–Barbara Dempsey

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Barb Cook’s Iguassu Falls Adventure


There were 52 individuals of many nationalities and walks of life on our adventure into the Iguassu Falls National Parks in Brazil and Argentina.  It was a very memorable journey off the ship into the interior to see one of the outstanding wonders of the world – the widest water falls, but actually, it is a series of 275 different falls.

The views we saw, the experiences we shared, the knowledge we acquired, the friends we made, and the physical challenges from heat and humidity (over 100 degrees F. with 95% humidity) are all memories worth keeping and sharing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The meals were all excellent and lots of us ate more than we probably should have, but we just had “to taste” the delicious dishes and specialty items that were offered even if we did not know what they were.







Rio de Jainero


Rio de Jainero

The cities we visited (Rio de Janerio, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Montevideo, Uruguay) ranged in population from one to eight million people, had tall skyscrapers and sandy beaches, with evidence of both prosperity and poverty perched on the edge of mountains and/or hugging the sea. Renovation was evident, but so were homeless people sleeping on the streets.


Rio de Jainero

The icing on the cake for me was a visit to a working ranch in the countryside outside Montevideo. When the bus arrived at Estancia Renacimiento, a mounted senorita and gauchos met us. Wagon, carriage and horseback rides were offered and lots of pictures were taken as we toured the ranch. A rain-filled irrigation pond was their only source of water.  They live in a 10 year-old home, originally build by a couple as a honeymoon getaway. For the last 35 years this couple has raised sheep, cattle, turkeys, geese, corn, soybeans, and alfalfa hay.  They have fifty horses, operate a small hotel and offer farm tours and facilities for weddings, reunions and other social events.

After four days, three airline flights, two hotel stays, several bus rides, and too many customs checks, we were glad to return to the ship to get some rest.  But one last surprise awaited us. As our bus pulled up to the gangway, there stood a line of uniformed, white-gloved waiters, complete with glasses of champagne, to welcome us back on board.  A perfect ending to a wonderful adventure.

Welcome Home the Cunard Way



A Visit to the SOS Children’s Village

It was a last minute decision for our day in Montevideo, Uruguay.  The ship distributed a flyer offering an opportunity to go to the SOS Children’s Village and interact with the kids living there.  So MJ and Carolyn signed up. (The 2 Barbaras were off seeing Iguassu Falls, and they will write their story on our next blog.)

As we traveled to the Village, the Sponsorship Director showed us the area from which the children came.  Carolyn’s reaction was that the word “hovel” was too kind of a word to use in describing these “dwellings.”  By contrast, the SOS Children’s Village brick homes were situated in a park like environment with lots of flowers, specimen trees, and plenty of space for play ground equipment.

As soon as we reached our destination, a few kids greeted us.  More joined us as we walked from house to house, and then it seemed like all the kids came out to meet us.  The word had spread that there was chocolate to be had.  The ship’s larder seemingly had been emptied of night time chocolate squares.

Normally the Village has 85 children residing in 14 different houses, but since it is summer here, a number of children (or families) were on holiday away from the Village.

These displaced children are not available for adoption but have been withdrawn from their birth families for a wide range of reasons, including physical abuse, alcoholism, drugs, or terminal illness of a parent.  In some cases the birth mother brings the child or children to the Village because she cannot take care of them. In the Village, siblings are always kept together within a housing unit.

The SOS concept seems to be a unique one that focuses on “building families” in each housing unit.  Each of the 14 houses has a woman who becomes the “Mother” of the 8 to 10 children in that unit.  Each unit is autonomous with the Mother shouldering all the daily responsibilities that would be normal in any family, i.e., shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and most importantly, raising the children.  She manages the budget, decides what items are purchased, and even the religion of the family.

All the kids seemed healthy, happy, active, and so very loving with each other and with us.  We communicated with the kids as best we could.  Some of them spoke a smattering of English, and we are getting better and better at sign language.

The concept of family and particularly their implementation of it was very engaging.  So obvious was the supportive atmosphere that we sensed in the Director, the Mothers, as well as between and among the children.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What a marvelous afternoon!  When we returned to the ship, MJ asked the following question of a group traveling up on the elevator: “How did everyone like the Children’s Village?”  One Brit responded with, “It certainly was better than going to see some lumpy ole mountain.”  We couldn’t have agreed more!!