Thursday, March 29, 2007

Logbook: Brazil

Brazil1Those of you who have been along on The Voyage for a while may recall my “Brazil Visa Gambit” back in December wherein I spent three days -- not to mention the $100 fee! -- in Costa Rica getting my Brazil Visa in anticipation of landing there yesterday. Well, I can now report the net result of that effort as follows: I woke up early yesterday morning and did my usual routine. With coffee in hand I went to the bridge, looked off the port beam and was a bit shocked to see miles and miles of coastal beaches backed up by miles and miles of high-rise condo/apartment buildings. After being at sea for ten days, the sight of land alone would have been novel enough. This was just astonishing. Recife, Brazil looks like the coast of Florida somewhere around Miami or Ft. Lauderdale! Anyway, I recovered enough to have breakfast and be ready to hit the streets as soon as we cleared customs -- yes, my visa passed muster -- at about 9 o’clock. Although our expedition included a morning tour of Recife, I was so desperate to get online and try to finish/fix my website update that I told Gary I was going to bail on the tour -- which involved visiting a lot of old churches -- and find an internet connection. I think he was a little nervous about me being on my own, but he just said, “Make sure you’re back at the ship by 12:45... We sail at 1:00 and don’t want to leave without you.” I promised I would, got their tour guide to tell a cab driver the location of a nearby internet cafe and we went our separate ways.

My cab driver spoke no English -- nor, apparently, any of my dialect of Spanish -- so we used single words and hand signals to communicate. A five minute drive took us to the location he’d been told about, but we couldn’t find the cafe. We laughed when he asked a bunch of guys standing on a corner about internet connection and got nothing but shrugs. With the clock ticking -- the “time available for internet” clock that is -- I tried a Plan B and said, “Holiday Inn?” in the assumption that my old stand-by would have internet. He perked up, nodded his head, said something like “Yes” and off we roared... to just about the other end of the city of Recife! After a wild ride we pulled up at the Holiday Inn where I paid him $10 US for the fare and went inside. “Yes, we have internet. No, you can’t use it unless you have a room with us.” Okay, Plan C. “Yes, there is an internet cafe down the street.” Great! Walked down the street. Nope, that cafe wasn’t open yet. Walked around the corner... Yes! An open internet place! Went in, mimed “wi-fi?” and got a connection. By then it was about 10 o’clock and I really had to hustle. One by one I posted the videos that I couldn’t upload in Ushuaia, then had barely enough time to reply to a few priority emails and make just a couple of quick Skypes. At exactly noon I paid for my time -- $5 US -- and ran outside to hail a cab. I found one around the corner at a convenience store, and after several rounds of pretty comical communication got a $10 US white knuckle ride back to the port.

At 12:30 I ran up to the security gate with my passport copy in hand, flashed it to a guard who shrugged like he couldn’t care less then continued on my way the length of the dock and bounded up the gangway at exactly 12:40. Whew! Rita saw me and said -- as always in here lovely Hungarian accent -- “You are the first one back!” I stood on deck for a few minutes then pointed at my watch when Gary and the gang returned at 12:50 which gave us all one more good laugh. A few minutes later, a van arrived with about 15 new passengers -- almost all American -- and embarkation commenced. I had gotten so happily accustomed to the peace and quiet of an almost empty ship that the subsequent ado prompted me to go hide out in the ship’s library. Shortly after one o’clock we set sail, had a welcome briefing and a lifeboat drill, then dinner, etc. Betty and I sat together throughout and alternately bemoaned the loss of our “private yacht!”

We sailed overnight and all this morning to Fernando de Noronha -- a lush, green island that I had never heard of -- a few hundred miles off the Brazilian coast. Our itinerary was to include a full-day tour of the island, but sea currents -- and perhaps a little bit of error in calculating distance when the expedition was planned -- prevented our beloved but not very swift Polar Star from reaching the island until about noon. We took Zodiacs ashore, boarded a typical island tour boat and set off for an hour long cruise down the coast to a beach where we were to swim with dolphins. Of course, the time for dolphins is early in the morning so we only saw a few of them along the way -- and none at the beach -- but we got to swim for about 20 minutes before we made the hour long cruise back to the town dock. There, we boarded some funky little buggy vehicles and drove to a place for sandwiches, a lecture on local wildlife conservation projects and, of course, some shopping!

Brazil2From there it was a short drive to a viewpoint overlooking a turtle-spawning beach, then another short drive to another such beach. What happened next was troubling to me. We were met by a naturalist who explained that a turtle nest had “erupted” the night before, with most of the baby turtles making their way to the sea. Now, they were going to dig up the nest and “release” whatever baby turtles might still be there. So, while we looked on, they dug up the nest, found about 100 baby turtles, measured them, put them in a box and then released them en masse for our amusement. I will admit that it was fun to see the little guys make their mad dash to the sea, but I’ve got a funny feeling about it. I wonder if it is such a good idea to dig up and release -- let alone measure for scientific purposes -- the turtles that don’t, can’t or won’t dig their own way out. Doesn’t that amount to interfering with the natural selection process? It is the same kind of concern I had back in the Galapagos: Is this “helping” the species? Or, is this “preservation science” for the sake of tourist dollars. I don’t know, but I’m troubled.

Anyway, by the time the turtle show was over the sun was setting so we all returned to the ship for dinner and a prompt departure from the island. My time in Brazil has amounted to a hectic morning on-line in Recife and a troubling afternoon in Noronha. Upon reflection, I’m not sure the time, effort and expense of my “Brazil Visa Gambit” was worth it. I might have been better off staying on board, hiding from the customs man and taking a swim off the back of the ship. That’s what the crew did, and all evidence indicates they had a lot of fun. As in most other ways of life, sometimes “less can be more” on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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