November 29, 2022. In the South Atlantic, 34.22° S, 53.11° W. Off the coast of Brazil, bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina.

First of all, a Very Happy Birthday to our daughter Alexis. She is our youngest child and has turned 40. We are now officially “old“!

As explained in my previous post, a medical emergency required that Viking Jupiter detour in order to obtain care on shore for a passenger. This significantly altered the cruise calendar. Unfortunately, it was necessary to cancel our port of call in Montevideo, Uruguay. The “silver lining“ is that this gave us an extra day and an overnight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Christine and I have been to Montevideo, and enthusiastically embraced the idea of two days in Rio,

We have never before visited Rio de Janeiro. We had long considered this to be the crown jewel of this voyage. It did not disappoint. Anticipation called me to the top deck of the ship where I eagerly awaited first sight of Christ the Redeemer perched high above the city.

“Sugarloaf“, an extinct volcanic cone, stands as sentinel over the narrow entrance to the busy bay. It is second only to the Christ statue in defining the iconic skyline of Rio.

This is an extremely busy port shared by huge oceangoing vessels and recreational day-sailors. We had to wait our turn, much as aircraft do in circling to land at a busy airport. The port also hosts a significant Brazilian naval station.

The first impression of this city of nearly 7 million, located in a metropolitan area of over 12 million, is that it is vibrant, teaming with life, and prosperous.

However, as we approached our berth poorer quarters of the city came into view. Perched precariously on a hillside were row upon row of shanty shacks seemingly created from refuse castoff by the well-to-do. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

At port was also a huge mural, declared by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the largest in the world. The faces each represent 1 of 5 continents.

The popular Copacabana beach was a half hour drive from the pier. The ship had arranged for shuttle service that would run from 2:30 PM until 6 PM. For those who wished to forgo the drive there was an excellent museum a short walk from the ship. Christine and I opted to venture into the city.

The shuttle bus dropped us off in front of the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel.

Most passengers crossed the road to walk along the beach. We were the exceptions. We set off into a more “blue collar“ district in search of an ATM. We found one at a subway station and after having secured local currency looked for a “locals only“ restaurant/bar.

We soon came upon the Mr. Copeo Bar/Restaurant where patrons were enthusiastically cheering for either Mexico or Argentina in the World Cup match displayed overhead on an outside television screen. Not a word of English was heard among patrons or staff. However, the waitresses found my efforts to communicate to be quite amusing.

A picture menu (no English) was helpful. We were rewarded with two exceptional steak dinners, two king size bottles of beer, and a bill of less than R$120. Converted from the Brazilian Real to dollars it was approximately $23.

Those three hours spent in town were a highlight of this voyage. In sharing our experience with passengers back onboard we were surprised that some of them considered our conduct imprudent, perhaps even dangerous.

On short notice the Cruise Director was able to secure shipboard entertainment courtesy of a local Samba dance troupe. They were exceptionally talented, engaging, and beautiful!

The original itinerary had been for a single day in Rio de Janeiro with no overnight. Christine and I had signed up for one of the more demanding optional tours, a lengthy overview of the city that would include a visit to the Christ Redeemer Statue and a panoramic view of the city from atop Sugarloaf. Fortunately, the tour was still a “go”, but since the cruise ship was scheduled to depart port in the early afternoon the tour would be compressed to seven hours with a departure from ship at 7 AM. That will be the subject of my next post.

Peace Everyone. Pete

November 28, 2022. In the South Atlantic, 27.65° S, 47.13° W. Off the coast of Brazil, south of Rio de Janeiro.

Today we are experiencing challenging weather conditions. Winds are 30 knots, gusting to 40. Waves are 6-8 feet, striking the port side of the ship. The ship stabilizers help, but the captain has determined it is necessary to close down the promenade deck. The swimming pools have also been closed and partially drained as the water was merely sloshing onto the decks. Swimming would be dangerous, if not impossible. Afternoon conditions are predicted to deteriorate. The ship is more than adequate to the task, even though some passengers are not.

We are down to our last three nights sleeping aboard Viking Jupiter. The morning of December 1st marks the last day for my journey, one which began on September 28. I am already feeling a profound sense of loss. In the course of our lives there are those occasions when we have found ourselves a member of a community only to find that we must leave that community. Examples include the community of high school, which ended upon graduation, and the same with college. Relocations of home are significant transfers of community.

The community that develops as one walks the Camino is another example, as is being in the community of passengers aboard this vessel. These “communities”, though short-lived, remain significant in my thoughts and the pantheon of my experiences.

We have made friendships during this passage and on prior voyages. As I prepare to disembark I know that I will not see most of these people again. As with the prior voyages there are a few people who have become dear to us. We will strive to remain in contact.

We have been in Rio de Janeiro the last two days. That port of call was a wonderful experience, however I will reserve the telling and pictures for my next post.

On November 23rd we spent the day in the port of Recife, Brazil.

Recife is located just below the equator and near the easternmost extreme of Brazil and South America. Previously unknown to us, this is a huge city of 1.6 million in a metropolitan area exceeding 4 million.

Recife was founded by the Portuguese in 1537. The city is located at the confluence of two large rivers which empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Built upon many small islands and featuring over 50 bridges which links it’s various districts, Recife has been called Brazil’s “Venice“.

Unfortunately, this was the least satisfying of the ports of call on this journey.

The cruise ship pier is located in what is known as “the old city”. It is the oldest part of Recife, and as of today the most rundown.

A natural reef gave birth to this location as an ideal landing for mariners. It is a bookend to Cape Verde as the crossing between the two presents one of the shortest routes across the Atlantic.

The city is proud that in the 1930s it was the first stop for German Zeppelins crossing the Atlantic to South America.

Here our walking tour of the Harbor district took about three hours. It is an area begging to be rediscovered and restored.

There were some highlights: Here is found the oldest Jewish Synagogue in North and South America,

“Jesus Street“ (once “Jewish Street”) was once considered by a major architectural publication to be the third most beautiful street in the world.

There was some interesting and excellent street art,

and the reference center of the Brazilian State of Pernambuco is located here. All other points within the State are determined relative to this marker. Recife is the state capital.

On Thursday, November 24, (Thanksgiving Day in the United States) one of the passengers aboard Viking Jupiter suffered a heart attack. The ship detoured toward land in order to secure emergency medical help for the stricken gentleman. For the passenger and his wife it was either a very bad day because of his illness or a very good day because of the care he is receiving. All onboard hope/pray that it is the latter.

The detour took much of the day and thus required a significant modification to the cruise calendar. Our planned arrival in Montevideo, Uruguay, has been canceled. Instead, we enjoyed two days and one overnight in Rio de Janeiro. What will follow are two at-sea days prior to our arrival in Buenos Aires, our final port of call.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. A “teaser” for the next post:

November 22, 2022. In the South Atlantic, 6.15° S, 32.50° W.

Although Viking Jupiter can accommodate 930 passengers, we are slightly under capacity with about 890. There are a number of ship sponsored small groups, such as the Mah Jong group, Bridge Players, The Friends of Bill W, and the Solo Travelers group.

Christine saw the Solo Travelers one evening and it appeared that they numbed fewer than 20. Except for them virtually all of the other passengers are traveling as companions, and the vast majority of them “romantic”.

We are in continuous close proximity with all the passengers which has provided me with the opportunity to “couples watch”.

They come in all flavors. We find that demographically Christine and I are at the younger side of average, perhaps the longer side of years together, well placed for our experience as travelers, and probably at the more extreme end for “adventures” shared.

Most passengers are from the United States, but Canada is very well represented. It should come as no surprise that given the age of most onboard, Florida as a state of current residence is well represented.

This brings me to some other characteristics of the affection-bonded companions. There are a few interracial couples and quite a few same sex couples. If the demographics were younger I imagine the interracial proportion would be higher. Looking back 20 or 30 years ago I believe that the percentage of obvious same sex couples would have been much smaller as so many back then would have still been “closeted”. I am thankful for the enlightened social evolution that favors a broader acceptance of colorblind and gender-blind love. I hope that it continues to evolve in favor of broad acceptance.

Years ago my dear mother, may she rest in peace, might have scowled in disapproval at couples from both of these groups. As she entered her later years she became more tolerant. There is one group that may have yet received her unspoken ire.

Early in the cruise I observed a couple, clearly dear to each other, but separated by generation. Father and daughter?… niece?… No, husband and wife. Within my thoughts I could feel the specter of my mother’s disapproval. I turned my focus onto my own thoughts and feelings, asking myself “Why?”, not about them, but about myself.

Mindfulness is a wonderful skill to acquire. So many of us never stop to become aware of their thoughts and ask that question of themselves, “Why?”. In examining my thoughts and seeking an answer to the question I concluded that I and perhaps society still have work to do.

When Christine and I married we presumed that we had decades ahead of us together.

Fortunately, that has been the case. Life is a lottery and comes with no guarantees. Most couples bond with the hope of sharing life and love. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it does not. The ages of the lovers is not the most relevant factor of success.

Back to my mother: I am confident in my assessment of her righteous indignation. Yet she and I lived in the shadow of “uncommon companions” who were very dear to us.

My mother was a first generation American, born to Lebanese immigrants. Her parents’ marriage was arranged by the families. Grandfather fought as an American “Doughboy” in the First World War, returning to Lebanon after the war to meet and marry my grandmother.

Grandfather’s Passport photograph
Grandmother’s passport photograph

That marriage occurred around 1920 or 1921. Their first of 6 children was born in 1923.

My grandparents prospered and became icons in their West Virginia community. They were leaders in commerce and as parishioners in their Catholic Church. All of their children were college educated, my mother receiving her Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin where she met my father shortly after the Second World War.

My parents, 1949.

I can scarcely imagine a more successful and loving marriage than the one shared by my grandparents.

Their life together ended with grandfather’s death in 1958. Grandmother continued on as the family matriarch until her passing in 1979.

By the way, my grandfather, Joseph Francis, was born in 1884. My grandmother, Labibi Raad Francis, was born in 1905. I will leave it to you to do the math.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. The above photo, taken around 1957, features my grandparents who are the couple on the right. The little boy on the far right would eventually grow up to be the author of these “Thoughts”.

November 21, 2022. In the Atlantic, 0° N, 31.22° W. (at the equator)

At 4:31 PM today we crossed the Equator.

What’s the big deal? From this point forward the sun will be at our back as we look to the south. The North Star (Polaris) will slowly sink to the horizon and disappear while constellations in the south, previously unseen, will rise to greet us each night. In the northern hemisphere one can determine the location of a low pressure area by turning your back to the wind and extending your left arm. Where your hand points is the center of the storm. South of the equator it will be the right hand that makes that determination.

Oh yes, water drains with an rotation, and Yin is now Yang.

There was no line in the water, no speed-bump, and no caution signs. There was just the captain’s announcement and the building anticipation among the passengers and crew. There was also the Shellback Ceremony.

Earlier in the day hundreds of the passengers and most of the crew assembled on the pool deck to celebrate the age old nautical tradition of being inducted into the “Order of the Shellback“.

Each of us paid homage to the fish by drinking a salty beverage, plunging into the sea (swimming pool), and then downing a shot of strong liquor (or Ginger Ale). The reward was a certificate and a memory that will last a lifetime.

Those who took the plunge included young and old (which on this cruise are relative terms), officers, and crew, all to the beat of ABBA hits expertly played by the Viking Jupiter Band. It was great fun!

We are still two days from making port in Brazil. There is nothing but ocean and 360 degrees of endless horizon. One might ask, “Why bother with your camera? There is nothing to take any pictures of”. Let these images answer the question:

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Yesterday we met with Viking’s onboard cruise consultant. The result was that she made an offer that we did not refuse. On October 24, 2023, we will board a Viking ocean ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and proceed through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, visit the northwest coast of South America, and 18 days later disembark in Los Angeles, California. Another “next thing“ has found us.

November 20, 2022. In the Atlantic, 6.38° N, 6.22° W. (@ 400 miles north of the Equator)

Our original cruise itinerary had us arriving in Dakar, Senegal on November 18th. In the exercise of prudence, Viking determined that political and port issues warranted an alternative destination. Approximately 400 miles to the west is the archipelago of Cape Verde, a group of 10 volcanic islands, which are the western most point of Africa. Mindelo, the capital of its island of Sao Vicente, became our substitute destination.

Sunrise and first sighting of land, as seen from our balcony, were dramatic.

The harbor gave an immediate impression of being “3rd World“. A bit of Internet research confirmed the impression. The Cape Verde islands were uninhabited until discovered by Portugal in the 15th Century. The islands remained a Portuguese territory until they obtained their independence in 1975. This was a thriving economic region until the 19th century, largely due to its convenience as a cross oceanic stopover, and sadly also due to the slave trade. These islands were also popular hiding and hunting grounds for pirates and privateers.

The island has a total population of approximately 80,000, of which 70,000 live in Mindelo.

The suppression of slavery in the 19th century brought economic collapse. Cape Verde has since gradually recovered, again due to its importance as a commercial center and stopover point on major shipping routes. Nevertheless, the country and its population are relatively poor by European and North American standards. Per capita average annual income is less than $8,000.

Viking offered four different shore excursions. Christine and I opted for the one that was “included“, meaning there was no additional expense. It was advertised as a three hour bus tour through the island and was deemed “easy“.

Physically, that was probably true for most of the participants. In my book it’s still qualified as an “adventure“.

This was primarily due to the narrow, winding, and precipitous cliff roads that took our mini-bus to the island’s highest point, Monte Verde, 2,440 feet in elevation above the harbor.

At the top of Monte Verde we enjoyed panorama views of the 10 by 15 mile island and some sampling of the islands 80 proof rum-like beverages.

Adventure can come in many forms, including a visit to the bathroom.

Our tour guide held court and offered much local knowledge not otherwise available on Wikipedia or Google.

On the opposite side of the island from our ship we visited a “ghost town“. It is a village built by well-to-do Europeans and North Americans who visit only seasonally. The rest of the year their homes, deemed very upscale by local standards, remain locked up. This village also hosts an annual music festival. In the year preceding Covid the festival drew over 60,000 visitors.

The island of Sao Vicente has a desert climate. With the exception of the mountain top, it averages less than 5 inches of rain a year. With no lakes or rivers all water is either derived by rain storage or desalination. We drove by a small area where there were palm trees present. Our guide advised that this was the most fertile area on the island. It’s still looked like a desert.

Agriculture is only pursued at the subsistence level. However, we observed some young men herding goats.

Along the eastern shore of the island were large sand dunes. We were invited to take handfuls of the sand to feel its texture. It was more like dust than granular sand. The guide explained that these dunes resulted from high winds that occasionally blew across the Sahara desert, depositing dust from the Sahara onto the east shore of the island.

There was a initial concern among some passengers that this substitute venue would be disappointing. On the contrary, Christine and I found the experience to be enriching and adventurous. We departed Sao Vicente shortly before sunset. Ahead of us are four at-sea days. We are scheduled to make landfall in Brazil on the west side of the Atlantic on November 23rd. We also are excited for the crossing of the equator which should occur the evening of November 21st.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. While out and about on deck we encountered a couple enjoying their lunch. What immediately caught my eye was the woman’s cap. It bore symbols from the Camino de Santiago. We stopped to visit and I explained that I had just completed walking the Portuguese Coastal route before embarking on the Viking cruise. Barbara and Jim shared that they had twice walked the Camino from Leon, Spain to Santiago. The last time that they hiked the 150+ miles was five years ago. Jim added that Barbara is looking forward to walking next year when she turns 90! Buen Camino to Jim and Barbara who are from Savannah, Georgia.