Crossing the EquatorIn the morning of January 21, we crossed the equator and entered the Southern Hemisphere. We never knew such excitement as all spaces were crammed with the passengers watching how a few of our fellow-travelers submit to Neptune’s attention. His ministration is something you would not want to miss but would rather not get. Never mind if it is part of the baptism showing that you really have crossed the equator.

Crossing the Line Ceremony dated back to the 13th century. The Portuguese and Spanish explorers upon knowing the earth was not flat but round, ventured further south for by then had no fear they would fall off the edge of the earth.

It was exciting to go so far south that they marked the event with a ceremony involving King Neptune and his Court who were crossing the line for the first time. There were initiations that were dangerous like coating the Pollywogs with nasty liquids, suspended by the ankles and then thrown into the sea.

The ceremony has changed little except this time Neptune, who really is an entertainment staff member but disguised in paper-mache golden coloured crown and artificial whiskers, his Queen marched in with her Seaweed Court. Those who agreed to accept Neptune’s ministration were interviewed and anointed with much fanfare and then poured on with some yucky stuff like mustard probably and such.

Then the poor souls had to kiss a fish before being thrown into the pool. This was witnessed by a cheering crowd who thronged all the railing space rather than submit to Neptune’s care and be smeared with heaven-knows-what during the crossing of the equator ceremony. And then Neptune had to deliver a speech that was originally made in 1393.

We were excited though because after crossing the equator, we are officially called shellbacks while the ones who have not done so yet are called pollywogs. Great, this is something we can tease our friends about. We then went line dancing with Gun, the social hostess, but she was late because she forgot to advance her clock one hour. When she came rushing in, the sound man wasn’t there either having forgotten the time change too but we did fine.

Then it was fox trot time; didn’t know there were so many techniques to it but found it to be the king of the ballroom dances, can you imagine that? Basically, it was slow, quick, quick tempo but what complicates the matter was there was turning left and right and having the foot inside or outside the partner’s foot.

During the early morning of January 22, we started to round the most easterly tip of South America. We had an early breakfast at Britannia today as we had quite a few activities to attend to. Right after breakfast, we went to Illumination for the mass with Father McGuire. We felt better when he announced the mass for tomorrow would be at 5 pm.

Then we went line dancing with Gun. We did Trashy Woman, the Cowboy Slide and the social line dance for the Burns Night tonight. We got ready our clothes for tonight before going upstairs for lunch at La Piazza. Then we tried to finish our preparation for tonight before going to the Salsa Dance Lesson.

SalvadorWe woke up earlier than usual on January 23 because of the tour’s meeting at the Royal Court Theatre. We approached Salvador and saw the mountains while we were having breakfast at the Britannia Restaurant. We toured Salvador knowing we were two hours ahead from home. We could see colonial architectures, hear the African rhythms and smell the salty breezes but poverty was evident.

The beautiful tropical natural setting with its lush tropical vegetation showing the allure of an old-style fishing village was captivating. It was summer and we enjoyed the climate for Salvador de Bahia is a tropical city close to the equator.

The miles of stunning beaches with pristine sand and turquoise clear water were beckoning us to go dive in. But there was life beyond the beach so although the climate was warm and dreamy making it difficult to resist, there were things to do and Brazilian crafts to shop for. And of course, there was the tour that we just had to take.

At the terminal we were met by a girl in costume who handed us a flyer that explains the Mystic Leaf from Bahia, Brazil. Apparently the handmade mystic leaf is the result of an elaborate process in which a natural leaf is carefully skeletonised and bathed in yellow or white gold.

After undergoing a chemical procedure by which the chlorophyll (the green part) is removed, the remaining leaf ribs are intertwined. Metal layers are then electrolytically added thereby producing exquisite semi jewels such as pendants, rings and earrings. After learning all this at 29 degrees C, we went ahead to meet our tour.

The tour guide Carlito regaled us of the beauty of the surrounding but what we saw belied what he was saying so he just reminded us of the King of Siam. First we saw was Mercado Modelo, then the financial heart of the city. They have an England Square and the streets around there were named after the different countries like Ireland Street, Greek Street and so on.

He said Sao Paulo has 22 million people while Salvador has only 3 million. We passed by a beautiful bay where there is a portrait or statue of Marcelle in the 17th century. In 1645, the Dutch came so Carlito said and pointed to a theatre to the right while at the left was where Castro, their best poet, lived but died young when he was only 24 years old.

Then we came to the historical part of the city. There was a square at the right side where there was also a cathedral. Behind on the right is the city hall, while on the left is a 450-years old building. Then we came to Bahia where there’s a fortress. The downtown area has stores but are closed on Sundays.

We saw where Carlos Gomez the composer lived 100 years ago. Their carnival is best he said but he was joking because he said Rio has the best and Salvador is only second best. We passed by the Italian Embassy. There was a beautiful palace on the right and on the left is a square called 2nd of July because that was when they declared independence.

We then arrived at the Victoria Neighbourhood where the richest people live. There’s even a cable car to take them to the beaches. At the left is a public school and a museum. Behind is an art museum inside a beautiful house. There’s a Carlo Castro museum where 200 years ago a rich family who controlled the sugar cane industry lived.

We arrived at the Bahia neighbourhood where’s there’s a nice view of the All Saints Bay. There are 38 islands and at Barra, the tour guide pointed to the yacht club. There’s a Greek cemetery but had an English colony 120 years ago.

There was a fortress at Bal Vivah. There are 11 fortresses altogether in 17th and 18th century, really 20 but only 11 were restored. It‘s a middle class neighbourhood. There’s a lighthouse to the right built in 1534. The biggest island is 37 km. There’s another city where 55,000 people lived on fishing and handicraft. They have everything there, restaurants where they love seafood and nice shops.

Bahia’s beaches on Sundays have lots of people. There are 65 km of beaches. Christ on the right was a marble gift from Italy in 1932. Ojeria is another neighbourhood which means little waves. There were lots of farmers before and is now a middle class neighbourhood.

Bahia, Salvador is different with lots of artists especially singers and painters. Every February 2, half a million of people come here to celebrate. About 400 boats of fishermen make up a colony here. About 77% of black people live here so some call it a piece of Africa.

Brazil is the biggest country in South America with 195 million people. Winter is June, July, and August with temperature of 22-24 while the summer temperature is 34-35. There’s snow in the south of the country about 3000 kilometres away.

We arrive at another neighbourhood where the tour guide showed us a square. It is a high middle class neighbourhood. Then there’s the Blue Coast with theatres and restaurants and the Lost Garden 150 years ago. There are shows every weekend.

Bahia is a big state with Salvador as capital. Oil is the first industry while the second one is cacao, the second largest in the world. It is second only to Africa. They also have silver, petroleum, gemstones, blue topaz, and aquamarine. Apartments here cost one million US dollars each.

Here’s more information from the Daily Programme. “To shake your rump is to be environmentally aware.” David Byrne Musician on his sleeve notes on his Samba Music compilation, O Samba: Brazil Classics 2 (1989); Amerigo Vespucci who arrived in Brazil on November 1, 1501 named Bahia de Todos Los Santos, (Bay of all Saints) when he sailed into it on All Saints Day.

It is easy to forget how remote the South America was for it took over 50 years before a Portuguese official was sent here. By this time, the French, Dutch and Spanish settlers hoped to gain a foothold in northeastern Brazil. The discovery of mineral riches and the rise of piracy made it necessary to protect the land.

Tome de Sousa became the first governor in 1549 to 1553 and fortified the city that would become Salvador. It became the first capital of Brazil. Soon 15 forts were built and Salvador became the most important port in Brazil for the next 300 years and recognized as the second Portuguese city, second only to Lisbon.

The tobacco and sugar industries were run by slave labour as colonial churches filled with gold. Beautiful mansions also grew and by then the city was known for general sensuality, wild festivals and decadence. The official name of the Bahia’s capital is Salvador da Bahia.

It is a fascinating city with lovely old buildings and magnificent beaches that spread across 30 miles. One can escape to any of the 30 small islands in the bay. African influence can be seen in the city more than anywhere else in the country.

African influence is in local cuisine that uses dende oil (bright orange palm oil, a staple in Brazilian cooking but high in saturated transfat), coconut milk and seafood to create dishes like moqueca. Moqueca is a Brazilian fish stew rich with fish, peppers, onion and garlic in tomato-coconut broth.

Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion practised chiefly in Brazil, is based in the anima (soil) Nature, and is also known as Animism. It was developed in Brazil with the knowledge of African priests who were enslaved and brought. Foreigners call it voodoo.

Cidade Alta (upper city) is the best preserved colonial architecture in Brazil. Known also as the centro, the district has been renovated as both a UNESCO World Heritage site and national monument. Palacio do Rio Branco is now the tourist office but it was once the Governor’s Palace.

Memorial des Governadores, a small museum dedicated to past leaders is also inside. Nearby, Camara Municipal was built on the 17th century. Both face the Praca Municipal. After two blocks on Rua da Misericordia is Terreiro de Jesus to see 17th century Jesuit Basilica Cathedral, one of the city’s most impressive colonial buildings. Decorated in gold and hand-painted azure tiles, it is the largest seminary outside Rome.

Behind the church is the Museu Afro-Brazileiro (formerly a medical school) marks the development of the Afro-Brazilian culture in Brazil when African slaves arrived. Most work is religious but there are secular wood carvings and paintings.

On the main floor are four sections that focus on the Carnaval which is a popular celebration and the most famous Brazil holiday. It has become huge when the country totally stops for about a week with capoeira (a unique music-dance sports play created by African slaves) and candomble (a hybrid religion blending Catholic and African beliefs). Museu da Cidade has a collection of local art and photographs from past Carnaval celebrations.

Museu Abelardo Rodrigues in Solar do Ferrao shows religious art. The set is the largest private sacred art collection including 800 works of cultured and popular art from the 16th to 19th century. You can tell Salvador is proud of its 30 museums many of which are in restored historic buildings.

On religious art at Praca Anchieta’s far end, Igreja de Sao Francisco and the nearby Igreja da Ordem Terceira de Sao Francisco are the finest treasure in Salvador. The ceiling of Sao Francisco. credited to a local 18th century artist, is beautiful and its hand carved interior is coated in gold but church fathers were displeased with the Mason symbol of an eagle on the façade that they covered it in the 18th century.

The exterior of its sister chapel is even more elaborate. An orgy of angels and saints now dance in front. It is pure art deco and the cloister shows a Portuguese wall of azure tiles. Colonial Rua Alfredo Brito leads to the 18th century cobbled Largo da Pelourinho (Official name is Praca Jose de Alencar but known as Pelourinho (whipping post) for its dubious past where slaves were flogged (legal in Brazil until 1835) and auctioned off to the highest bidder.)

Casa Jorge Amado observes the renowned author’s life. Convento do Carmo is also a fine example of colonial style but it has been transformed into the most elegant place to stay in Salvador. The showpiece is a cedar carving of Christ inlaid with 2000 rubies to signify droplets of blood by Francisco Xavier das Chagas, a slave with no formal training.

It took more than a hundred years to build Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks) for they were not allowed to enter any other church in the city. But they persisted in building this church! Now you can see the few black saints at the side altar and African rhythms spread through the services.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Brazilian real Shop: Monday to Friday 9 am to 7 pm (closed noon to 3 pm) Info: Palacio do Rio Branco or www.bahia.com.br PO: Avenida Brito Browse: Iguatemi Shopping Centre, Praca Cairu Buy: Bahian Art, resort wear Transport: Taxis are at the pier on arrival. Lacerda Elevador (funicular) links to the upper city or walk a ladeira (steep staircase) Beach: Porto da Barra (has everything from swimming to sailing, underwater fishing and sports) Taste: Acaraje (Bahian Snack)

The Brazilian Real currency comes in both coins and bills. The images on the bills mirror Brazil’s natural diversity like the 1 real has the picture of a humming bird while the 5 real has the Great Egret on it. They have different pictures on the other denominations.

Arrival Information: The ship docked at Porto de Salvador - Estacao de Passageiros em Cidade Baixa (lower city). Upper city is near but it was quite a climb.

Rio de Janeiro We got ready for the next day’s port of call by studying the article on the Daily Programme as follows: Brazilian novelist and lyricist, Paulo Coelho said, “Never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s quite another to allow yourself to believe yours is the only path.”

With that frame of mind, we learned that Portuguese navigators thinking that Guanabara Bay (an oceanic bay in the southeastern Brazil) as the mouth of the river saw Rio de Janeiro on January 1, 1502. The French traders came looking for brazil wood and raided the Portuguese crown city of Sao Sebastiao de Rio de Janeiro (so named for St. Sebastian, the namesake and patron of the Portuguese monarch at the time. It took two years of battles before the French left.

The Portuguese colonists cultivated fertile fields around the port. When gold and gems were discovered in Minas Gerais at the start of the 18th century, Rio assumed a central role in exporting riches to Europe and ultimately became the colonial capital in 1763.

Modern Rio is a place of shiny oiled bodies in meagre bikinis moving to the samba beat of beach band. The magnificent harbor is the most beautiful in the world with Sugar Loaf as a backdrop and Christ the Redeemer looking on from atop the Mt. Corcovado.

Fans of Carmen Miranda will have a field day when they visit the museum in her honour. As for the old churches, one can easily spend a month exploring them. They also have a tropical forest and a planetarium and on top of all of these, no one can beat Rio’s night life. Like in New York, no one seems to go to sleep here.

There is theatre, lavish samba shows, opera house and the carnaval atmosphere remains all year. You get used to a routine of waking up late for morning coffee, beach time until early afternoon, nap until the evening cocktails and dinner at 10 or 11 after which the night clubs await where sometime there are cover charges and drinks pricy so ask before ordering.

The city’s highest point is Mt. Corcovado (hunchback) which is 2350 ft. and every visitor should make the pilgrimage to the top at least once. An old cog train goes up from Rua Cosme Velho base station but a tour bus is the faster alternative.

Visit the small Museu International de Arte Naif do Brazil (one of the world’s most diverse, beautiful and richest) in the lower train station if you have time. Upon reaching the top, you can either take the 200 steps to the 125-foot Christ the Redeemer or take the escalator. It is crowded but the magnificent view is worth the climb.

Another recognizable landmark is the Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf). The view from the 1300-foot summit is as spectacular as the mountain. From Praia Vermeil (Red Beach), you can board the first cable car to the 700-foot Urca Mountain where there is a restaurant as well as a souvenir shop. Then you can take the next cable car to the top of the Sugar Loaf, reminding us of the ski hill of the same name in Campbellton where our kids skied a lot.

The Museu Nacional has a collection of scientific artifacts housed in the palace donated by colonial merchant Elias Antonio to Prince Regent Joao VI in 1808 who left Portugal to flee from Napoleon‘s armies when he completed the conquest of Portugal. The palace was later converted into a storehouse which is now the National Museum.

As for the Museu da Chacara Do CEU in the historic Santa Teresa barrio that clings to a steep hill, it has the impressive modern art collection amassed by businessman and avid art collector Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya which is displayed at his villa.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Brazilian real Shop: Monday to Friday 9 am to 7 pm (closed noon to 3 pm) Info: www.rio.rj.gov.br/riotur PO: Rua Visconde da Piraja (Ipanema) and other locations ATMs are closed at night (10 pm to 9 am). Santos Dumont Airport ATMs are open late. Visitor Centre (Terminal) or: www.rioconventionbureau.com.br Browse: Barra Shopping Centre or Rua Visconde da Piraja (Ipanema), or weekend market at Copacabana Buy: Garoto chocolates, resort wear, jewellery

Arrival Information: The ship docked on the city’s commercial side at Cais do Porto do Rio de Janeiro near Praca Maua.

On Vida da Praia, the Rio lifestyle centres on the beach where it is typically packed. Copacabana is lined with hotels and boutiques. The boardwalk is a tiled promenade. Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana is the main street and it is only a block away from the beach.

The Ipanema Beach, adjacent to Copacabana Beach, is the centre of Chic Rio and the first one in Brazil to have a pregnant woman proudly wearing a bikini. Also the famous girl in the bossa nova song of Tom (Antonio Carlos) Jobim is mythical but there are plenty of living cousins. There are bikinis and moda sunglasses everywhere in the narrow beach. There are fewer hotels but some of the most exclusive boutiques are here.

Many visitors do not get to see Sao Conrado Beach and the Rio Sheraton Hotel and the Rio Intercontinental. There are apartments, restaurants and shop but the place is not as overdeveloped as Ipanema and Copacabana. If you have time, visit Ilhabela (the largest Brazilian marine island), colonial Parati (sometimes spelled Paraty) or Cabo Frio resort area which is four hours north of the city.

Rio de JaneiroAfter cruising the South Atlantic Ocean on the 24rth, we found Rio on January 25 to be the most popular destination in Brazil and what an introduction it was to this fun and passion-filled country. Only few cities can compare with the beauty of Rio as it is just a dazzling city.

That said, or written that is, Queen Mary 2 prepared us for safety in Rio so we can enhance our awareness while ashore. To accomplish this, we were given the following pointers among which is to minimize outward signs of wealth by reducing the wearing of watches and jewellery.

Armed with the information Queen Mary 2 provided us, we were ready to explore Rio. We were welcomed to Rio, a narrow strip of land between the South Atlantic and granite peaks. You can tell it lives up to the name the residents (called cariocas) gave to it which is cidade maravilhosa or marvellous city. Everyday, 6.5 million people come here via all kinds of transports.

The carioca lifestyle is a mixture of irreverence and hedonism. They seem to respect nothing and are on the lookout for something that will give them pleasure. They are aware of their national identity but their loyalty is to their city. They see themselves as immensely resourceful, witty and perpetually optimistic. We like that in them because we feel the same although in a mellow sort of way, always striving to do better.

Some might think their self absorption and confidence as being egotist but nevertheless most cannot resist their charm. There are about 6.4 million residents in the city but five million live in the suburbs. By European or American standards, 70% of Rio’s residents are poor and so the difference between the rich and the poor has led to conflict.

They are able to cope though with the situation because there’s more to it than fun in the sun. They have the beach (their playground) and the sunshine are always there. So are the samba (their music), the stunning beauty of their surroundings and the carnaval (their party) where the poor parade as though they were rich and both the haves and the have-nots mingle together.

With that thought in mind, we met Sonya our guide and Stefan our driver. Sonya said she is used to facing people because she was a stewardess for sometime and she could remain standing until the police comes along. She has to sit down then because she does not want Stefan to be fined.

We came down to the old part of the city (in 33 degrees C) which was discovered in 1800 when Portuguese sailors on their way to discover the orient were caught in a tempest and arrived in Bahia. After two years, the French came but they were really pirates, so they thought.

They thought the place was an island so they called it Island of the Holy Cross. The pope didn’t like it so they called it Land of the Holy Cross but then the king of Spain was not happy about it. When they found wood in the Atlantic Rain Forest called brazil, the rest is history.

The Royal families capitalized on this and made a lot of money exporting the wood and they called it amber. They changed the name of the country to Brazil which is the only country named after a tree. They exported it for 350 years until it became extinct and then they used dye.

At the start of 20th century, the place was named Copacabana because of the mountains around. There’s a lot of traffic because people were going to their offices to work. The area would be renovated with soccer world cup in two years and the Olympics after. The Brazilians are friendly people and talk with their hands. When you find yourself standing in line you will have someone talk to you and pretty soon he’ll talk of his marriage and his life story.

In 1500, the colony started and in 1808 when Queen Mary escaped to Brazil to get away from Napoleon, escorted by the British Navy, Brazil became part of Portuguese Empire. She went back to Portugal in 1821 and the son came and it became the capital of Portugal.

In 1822, Pedro I became emperor of Brazil. When he had to go back to Portugal when his father died, his son, Pedro II stayed. Then in 1889, Brazil became a republic. The daughter signed the law when they became a republic and people started movement against the royal family who wanted slaves.

The avenue de Vargas was built during World War II. The building on right is the Central Bank of Brazil. Rio was capital until 1960 but moved to Brasilia because it’s in the center and didn’t have enough people but now only politicians live there.

There’s a coffee institute of Brazil as there’s lots of coffee here but due to high consumption, they don’t export it like Columbia does. As she said this, she pointed to the cathedral that was built in the 17th century by a Spanish couple from Lisbon when they had a shipwreck and promised to build a cathedral if saved. It is the largest in Brazil and a favourite of high society.

The Tijuca Peak, 1021 meters high, is Rio’s highest summit and is named after the lake floating into the sea. The building to the right is the Ministry of Defense. She also brought our attention to the Favela Slum. She said there are 1000 slums with 2 million people which is 1/3 of the population of Brazil of six million people. You will find Favela in every hill.

A Favela is used to indicate a shanty town in Brazil. These were called barrios africanos in the late 18th century where former slaves who had no land and job lived. Freed slaves moved in over the years. Then the poor citizens were pushed away from downtown. Then the modern favelas appeared in the 1970s when many left the rural areas.

The carnival is a big celebration where people save money to buy costumes that could cost up to $3000 with lots of feather but bought by people with money. Then our guide pointed to the rail tracks and subway stations and the trees that are resistant to pollution.

The Christ Redeemer statue was built to commemorate Brazil’s independence. It is 30 meters wide, 11055 tall and 635 tonnes in weight. They used reinforced concrete and soapstone. Its building started in 1926 and finished in 1931 and has now become an icon of both Rio and Brazil and a symbol of Christianity.

Then we went through the longest tunnel that is 2 km long connecting the two parts of Rio. This side has 28 beaches, 8 are inside bays while 20 are ocean beaches. Then we arrived in Lagoa which means lagoon and is an affluent residential neighbourhood. There used to be a plantation there. To the left are the Two Brothers Mountain.

On the right is a favela with 100,000 people. You can see the roads have a lane for bicycles. The tour guide pointed to Pedra da Gavea the granite flat-topped mountain. The trail going up there is inside the Atlantic Rain Forest which is worth going through because its summit is Rio’s most stunning viewpoint. It is really a scenic one with lovely coastal views around every corner.

Then we came to the Botanical Garden. The garden was created for the plants from Asia. It used to be only a Royal Garden but was opened to the public when Brazil became a republic. It is the best botanical garden which is 132 acres in size including the research facilities.

The Jardin Botanico park house of farmers is now a house for an opera singer given to her by her boyfriend. It is connected to the Atlantic Rain Forest. There was a palm tree brought in as a present to King John who planted it himself. It is a status symbol to have this in front of your house. It is a quiet neighbourhood with no high buildings.

The Public Hospital is at the left. Health care is not so good. Those who can afford have to have private health care. To the left is the Jockey Club. Gambling is not allowed except for the horse race and the Pedro lottery. There were casinos before but were closed since then. This area is forbidden due to closeness to the ship.

Then we arrived in Leblon, an affluent neighbourhood and a beach in Rio de Janeiro where upper class people live. It’s difficult to build the city because of the beaches and mountains. The new part of the city has a planetarium and top of the tunnel called the big worm by the way it is built is being developed but the roads are like that of the old.

Up above the oldest Favela called hot simba, is a Catholic university which is the best private university. It is called the Pontifical Catholic University Of Rio De Janeiro. The Brazilian Ministry of Education has rated it best in the country. This university stands out in the transmission and production of knowledge based on Christian ethics and respect for human values all for the good of the society.

Right side is the Atlantic Rain Forest which started to be 17% of the area but with the logging, what is left is less than 7% and is not even continuous but patches replaced by the Amazon but lost 690,000 sq. km which is equals to the size of Belgium, France and another country combined.

To the left is a most wealthy neighbourhood with a golf course. You can see the hand glider that will land on the beach. All the islands in Brazil belong to the natives. Ballina Beach is the largest in the city with 12.1 km . The beach is an extension of people’s life and house. Some said the Ballina Beach Resort was lovely while others said not to stay at Ballina Beach Village.

You can play cards in the beach where beach chairs can be rented for 4 reals. The beaches beside the bay are polluted but the beach oceans are clean. Whales are used to make corsets and umbrellas. White almond trees on the side are not native but brought in from Asia mostly India.

First is Bahia while Rio is the 2nd largest in population 2nd only to New York City. The White House at the top of the hill belongs to Pele. Since $1 is equals to 1.6 real so the 18 million Rinaldo’s condo costs is about 10 million dollars. It’s on Prefeito Mendes de Mora. Best time to visit is from May to September.

To the left is the Hand Gliders Club and the beach where they land is called the St. Conrad Beach across from which is the Rinaldo’s (a famous soccer player) penthouse. Moving along, to the left is a golf course and opposite it is another golf course. Then to the left is the first hotel that was closed for 25 years but is now sold for the owner died and the heirs are squabbling over it. It will be renovated and will be ready for the soccer world cup.

The street is called Avenida New Meyer because the owner at St. Conrad Beach is of the same name. Grand Pre was cancelled because there were many accidents. To the right is the Two Brothers Mountain. They were supposed to build a railway but decided to build a road. We’re finding boats to the right and then the Sheraton Rio Hotel which is a nice place to go. M-F from 6:30 till the early morning hours.

Then it was Ipanema District, where the beach is not a private beach for they belong to the natives. Sheraton built a wall to make a private beach but they had to knock it down. At Ipanema Beach, you can see Corcovado, so called because it looks like hunchback.

The flag’s symbolism was that the green represents the forest, yellow for the gold and the blue for the color of the sky. There are beach stations where one can workout and on public and holiday, this road is only open to pedestrians. On the sidewalk, there are three colors; white for the whites, black for the Africans and the red for the Indians.

The Copacobana Hotel was built for the centennial in 1922. On the beach from the sidewalk the hose goes to the beach so the feet will not be burned. When we turned left and reached Isabella Avenue, we saw the statue of the lady, Princess Isabel, who abolished slavery.

Pata Bucci is the area where there used to be a fire cracker factory with a shopping mall on the right. Then there’s the building which is the Psychiatric Hospital but is now a part of the University of Brazil. All these buildings are from the same period.

To the left is the yacht club created at the start of the 20th century for a different country. To the right is the Institute for the Blind and over there is the Mineral Resort Institute. On the right is the Military College. We can see the Sugar Loaf mountain where at the base is the statue of Chopin (donated by the Polish living there) looking toward the sunrise over the Red Beach.

The first recorded climb was by an English lady who planted the flag there in 1917. The cable cars were first used by the Germans in 1912. And now it’s Italian. We came to a beach which the tour guide said is an inside bay beach so it is considered polluted.

All the parts up to the middle sidewalk are reclaimed land. The tree at the corner comes from Amazon called cannonball tree. They use the balls as kitchen utensils. At the left side is a small chapel and house of princess Isabel a present from her husband, a prince count. It’s now the governor’s palace. Underneath are orange trees, lots of them. Arch in the left side is where the carnival stops. There are samba schools where the people stand so they do not have to pay.

On the President Vargas Avenue we saw the Candelaria Church. The builders planned to turn the church 180 degrees so it will face the avenue but it was complicated so they gave up the idea for fear of damaging the structure. The church witnessed significant moments like the Candelaria Massacre of July 23, 1993 which made the world aware of police brutality toward Brazil’s street children.

She then pointed to the Fine Arts Museum on the left and the Opera House on the right. Public Library is on the left and then the Supreme Court. The new cultural center was built in honour of the soldiers killed in WW II. Then there’s the School of Music that belongs to the University of Brazil. There is the aqueduct built in the 17th century to bring the water to the center. It’s a Bohemian district.

Then we arrived at the San Sebastian Cathedral where we stopped. It was made sacred in 1976. It can hold 20,000 people sitting and standing. John Paul II said mass here. It is 96 meters high and 106 meters in diameter. The doors are 18 meters high and 65 meters wide.

There are lovely stained glass windows representing faith and four glass panels. Green represents the shepherds, red group is for the saints and some others we didn’t quite hear. Blue represents the four evangelists while the yellow is for Saint Peter, the pope and the bishop. Set of bells is on the outside. On the main altar there’s a cloud with Jesus and we see Madonna. To the left is San Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio.

The Opera House has figures representing comedy and drama. There’s the eagle at the top gold plated bronze. There are 3057 seats and they used carrera marble. They started to build this in 1904 and finished it in 1909. The yellow building up yonder has the oldest bar in the city. Then she pointed out the 14 km long bridge connecting Rio to the next city.

All in all Rio is impressive. For awhile, we thought of living there until we remember that we cannot speak their language. It was tempting, for Rio is a city who knows how to party. Not that we are party goers; we’re more like spectators but this delightful city of celebration and samba is just the place to be if you are in the mood to party.

There are picture-perfect beaches and the water is as turquoise as any we have seen, topped with a corona of clouds. This is one of the perks about going on a world cruise with Queen Mary 2 for on the port days when we were not sailing and instead snorkelling and swimming off the boat in clear beautiful waters, it is a delight beyond compare.

Then when you get hungry from all that swimming you can head down to a shack offering freshly caught fish. Ah, we could get used to this kind of life. The majestic mountains with the figure of Christ the Redeemer Statue at Corcovado Peak atop is eye-catching. It is a showpiece and a proud sign of a serene and ecological way of living. We want to visit again but what would stop us from going back is the lengthy application for the visa which at the last count was six months!

The tour guide was helpful in doling out information while we were transported so many metres above sea level. And what a surprise met us upon cresting the hill there! We were taken aback by how stunning the landscape was especially out there, docked our home away from home, our beloved Queen Mary 2. We spent as much time as we possibly could here, capturing the sights while breathing in the fresh air.

This peak revealed the captivating views of Rio’s beaches and mountains which are just breathtaking. The flora and fauna greeted us as if to say hello. We wish we could say the place was a well-kept secret but there were numerous tour buses that joined us there, a testimony to the popularity of this vibrant and bustling city.

We visited the Copacabana Beach, long known as the playground for the rich and famous. The few grand hotels around where modern luxury blends with old-fashioned charm caught our attention. We were intrigued with Copacabana for it is indeed a Rio landmark.

We are thankful for these gifts from Mother Nature. They are there for us to enjoy but we have a job to protect and preserve them so we have doubled our commitment to help save this earth. We are definitely coming back despite the hefty fee of around $400 we had to pay to obtain a visa. A resident informed us that the reason for the costly visa is political, so what else is new?

Tchau (means goodbye and pronounced like the Italian ciao) Brazil, we know Rio’s spectacular beauty will make us want to come back. We just wish they would not make it so hard to get a visa and just like in many places, the gulf between the rich and the poor is wide but you know what, they all meet at the beach!