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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Heeding prior warnings, we left the ship stripped of all our jewelry, watches, and big cameras, and headed out to discover Salvador on our own.  We wore our blue jeans and hiking boots and tried to keep a low profile, in search of a funicular to get us up the huge hill into Old Town.  MJ, in all her wisdom, decided that we should walk the roadway that the buses were taking up the hill, reasoning that the funicular had to be near by.

We stopped a trio of policemen on the way.  Even with all our articulate sign language, they did not understand what we were trying to ask them. They only spoke Portuguese.  They had vaguely pointed in a direction that we ended up taking. The street was deserted except for the crumbling buildings, but we trudged onward.

All of a sudden a man appeared and whistled at us to get our attention.  He kept gesturing to us to follow him down the street, so we did.  We followed him for about 4 blocks, even though each of us was imagining we might be walking a dangerous path.  In the end, the roadway opened into a large plaza and there was the ELVADOR. We thanked the man, bought a ticket for the elvador and  were whisked up 6 flights to the Old Town Plaza.

The Plaza did not hold much interest for us (just shops, statues, and government buildings), so armed with our new found confidence about our safety, we wandered down a side street, and there we found marvelous examples of graffiti.  Mary Jane has a thing for cool graffiti.  And cool it was!

Every time we met someone on the road, they kept gesturing the way back to the Plaza, but we kept looking for more graffiti.  We finally got the message when an older man stopped us and kept trying different words to communicate with us.  He finally hit on a word we definitely understood, “MAFFIOSO.” We finally got the message, and made our way back to the Plaza.

Sunday morning sleep over

Sunday morning sleep over (male section)

What one dollar buys in Salvador (not the men, just a photo)

When we returned to the ship we learned that 3 people had not been as fortunate as we were.  One woman had multiple necklaces ripped from her neck.  A husband and wife we accosted by a group of 10 to 12 year olds who stole the husband’s camera.  And a second man, who was threatened with a knife at his throat, also lost his camera.