Written January 8, 2023, at 39.26° N, 106.03° W. Also known as Alma, Colorado, USA.

Hello Everyone. I’m not one normally prone to procrastination, however this final post from an epic journey which began for me in late September, and for Christine in late October, is written more than a month after we returned to the United States. 8 weeks spent hiking Portugal, Spain, and sailing crossing the Atlantic Ocean… I just needed a break. Still, there are no real excuses, just my apology for the delay.

We departed Rio de Janeiro and headed back out to sea the afternoon of November 27th. November 28th and 29th were our final “at sea days”. We were given instructions for our final disembarkation which would occur on December 1st at port in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Reality was setting in and took the form of assembling, organizing, and packing our belongings, saying goodbyes to shipboard friends and also to the accommodating staff that had seen to our every need. Many acquaintances were made, but with the unspoken understanding that it was unlikely our paths would cross again. There were a few goodbyes which carried with them the hope, if not the promise, that we would meet again someday.

Included among the latter were Bob and Ann along with Paul and Shirley whose staterooms were immediately down the hall from ours.

There was Vicki and her husband Dell. Vicki, one of the fastest walkers I have ever encountered, slowed down in order that I might join her for conversation as we put in daily miles walking the ship’s promenade deck.

Finally, there was Saba and her husband Wes who celebrated his birthday aboard ship.

We shared dinners, drinks, and our personal stories with each of these good people and we truly hold hope to see them again someday.

In 21 days on the ocean a level of familiarity built between us and certain of the ship’s crew. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the courtesy extended to us by these gracious workers was flawless. Our stateroom was attended to three times daily by Alex and his partner Agus.

Evenings usually included pre-dinner drinks forward in the Explorers Lounge.

We developed a special fondness for Alexandra and Arturo who each served us. When time allowed, they also exchanged pleasant conversation with us. My only regret is the lack of an opportunity to just sit and visit with each of them at length.

What is the shipboard experience like for them, what have they seen, and what does the future hold, are just a few of the things I would have liked to explore with each of them.

Even on the last day at sea there was still time for some riotous fun. Over the course of the sailing various groups of passengers had assembled with the task of creating “ships” from discarded items. They would be judged for artistic merit, seaworthiness (in the swimming pool), and the ability to transport “cargo’ consisting of cans of soda. Many floundered and sank, but a few were more than equal to the task.

Early morning on November 30th we entered the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This ultra-modern city houses a metro population of nearly 16 million.

It also houses social and economic problems that I will touch upon.

We were booked on a boat excursion to parts of the Parana Delta. A one-hour drive from the port and city center delivered us to the dock. One would have thought that 21 days at sea would have satisfied any urge for more boat rides, but this was different and unique.

The Parana Delta is one of the largest in the world. It is also the only river delta that opens to another river (the Rio de la Plata River which at 140 miles from shore to shore is the widest river in the world) rather than the sea. Measuring 5,400 square miles, this labyrinth of small islands houses both permanent and vacation homes which are accessible only by boat. Some of these residences are decidedly upscale, and others are not.

Schools, resorts, and recreational activities are evident as is commerce in the form of riverboat “stores” that deliver groceries, supplies, mail, fuel, and most importantly, drinking water.

The rivers and streams flowing through the delta are fished but the brackish waters are not considered potable.

A modern Coast Guard facility stands juxtaposed to derelict vessels that have been abandoned to time and the elements.

It was an excellent excursion with our guide providing a wealth of practical information not included in most tourist pamphlets. She gave us guidance on navigating the generally safe city proper. She also educated us to the challenges of surviving in an economy wracked by nearly 100% annual inflation. The largest Argentine denomination is the 1,000-peso bill. When we were in Argentina in 2019 one dollar bought 50 pesos. During this visit the conversion had deteriorated to 175 pesos to the dollar. More confusing was that these rates were “official bank rates”… what one would receive in exchange at a bank, ATM, or for a credit card transaction. However, there was a thriving “blue market” where scores of ordinary citizens stand throughout the tourist areas calling out, “Cambio, Cambio, Cambio…” in hopes that they can exchange their declining value pesos for stable currency (dollars and euros), offering 250 pesos to the dollar while we were there. Our tour guide carried her own hefty bundle of 1,000-peso notes which she offered to exchange at the “blue market” rate. She had takers in the group and we were among them. A 1,000-peso note barely buys a Big Mac and French fries!

After the tour concluded Christine and I had time and the opportunity to wander solo in the heart of the city. We headed to July 9th Avenue, an expansive thoroughfare that runs for three kilometers in the city center.

It is named in honor of Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. It features beautiful green spaces, upscale shopping, four-star hotels, and the iconic 221-foot obelisk in Plaza de la Republic which was erected in 1936.

Overlooking all of this is the image of still venerated Evita Peron who died in 1952.

Tomorrow we would be staying in a hotel along this boulevard for our final night in Buenos Aires.

On the afternoon of the 30th the entire community was holding its breath, seeking every opportunity to view television screens. Police assembled around store windows where televisions were mounted facing out to the street. Taxis cabs stopped, as did pedestrians to join law enforcement as spectators while bars and restaurants thronged with patrons glued to the television sets in those establishments.

The entire city could be heard to alternately cheer with glee and gasp in horror. Argentina was playing Poland in a lead up match to the 2022 World Cup Final. Argentina was down at the half but ultimately came back to win not only that match but later the coveted World Cup itself. Lionel Messi is a God in Argentina. His jersey, emblazoned with the number 10, could be seen on men, women, and children everywhere. To put world soccer or “Football” as it is more commonly known outside of the United States into perspective, America’s Super Bowl commonly attracts around 100 million television viewers. The World Cup final, held every four years, is a magnet for over 10 times that number, well over a billion viewers worldwide.

We returned to Viking Jupiter and the less than pleasant task of final packing in preparation for the morning debarkation. Fortunately, Viking has that task reduced to a science. Passenger bags which clogged the ship’s hallways that night had disappeared by the morning of December 1st.

Ship’s crew had removed them to a huge dockside facility where they were organized in such a way as to make retrieval a snap of the fingers. By 10:00 AM that morning we were through customs, bags in hand, and shortly thereafter riding in a cab which transported us to our upscale hotel.

Check in time at the Hotel Grand Brizo is normally 3:00 PM. However, at the hotel desk we were informed that our room was ready and we were welcome to occupy it immediately. This was a stroke of real luck, as was our 6th floor room which commanded a stunning panoramic view of July 9th Avenue. Our first look took in a political rally that was taking place on the street below.

That evening Christine and I enjoyed a leisurely walk with views of the “Times Square-esq” surroundings.

An exceptional steak dinner at a nearby restaurant put the finishing touches on a perfect day.

We had originally planned to spend five nights in Buenos Aires after departing the ship. However, we had each been gone from home long enough that the urge to return to family and friends in Kansas City overrode those earlier plans. We had canceled the earlier reservation in favor of the single night and a departing flight the evening of December 2nd.

Though we were at the Hotel Grand Brizo for only one night we were treated like royalty. Staff delivered to our room a surprise morning treat with wishes for a safe journey.

At checkout the hotel placed our bags in storage. We sat down to brunch where an immediate friendship was made with the hotel’s delightful and incredibly charming hostess, Normi.

She had greeted and spoken to us in the hotel lounge the prior evening. We learned that she was the genesis of the morning treats which she arranged to be delivered to our room. We would like nothing better than to have her as a guest in our home should she ever venture our way.

With the hotel holding our bags secure, and our flight not set to depart until late that evening, we had a full day on our hands to further wander the environs of Buenos Aires. We were not disappointed. Less than 100 yards from the hotel a huge protest was brewing.

Throwing caution to the wind we wandered in and among the protesters who asked for nothing more than fair treatment and fair wages for a fair day’s labor.

The remainder of December 2nd was spent taking in a coffee here, window shopping there, and reflecting upon the extraordinary experiences we had each enjoyed over the past weeks.

Not so long ago we had given serious consideration to booking an around the world cruise as an early celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary. It would entail 139 days aboard ship with over 90 ports of call. We have not entirely abandoned the idea, but having experienced ocean sailings of 15, 22, and 21 days over the past four years we are mindful that cruise fatigue can set in. The continuing risk of COVID and a challenged economy are additional factors which may militate against such an excursion.

In the meantime, 2023 presents us with more exciting frontiers. This coming spring, after spending some time in Colorado, we are departing for six weeks in the United Kingdom, three of which include hiking from the west coast to the east coast of England, following the 2000-year-old Roman ruins known as Hadrian’s Wall. Midway we will celebrate my birthday by lodging 2 nights in the royal chambers of a 14th Century castle.

Picture from the Langley Castle website.
The Sir Radcliffe chambers (photograph from the Langley Castle website). Sir Edward Radcliffe bought the Langley Barony from the Earl of Annandale in 1631.

Here is a link to the Langley Castle website: The Langley Castle Hotel

We will sightsee in Carlisle, Newcastle, and Liverpool, after which I will take command of a 62-foot-long narrow boat for 3 weeks on the canals of central England and Wales.

Our dear Kansas City neighbors, Charlie and Mary Murphy, will be joining us for one of those weeks, taking their own turns at the tiller and managing the locks and drawbridges that date back to the late 18th century.

This link will provide an overview of our first canal experience from 2019:  Canals of the UK, Our Journey

Mid-year I will be undergoing brain surgery to address a lifelong inherited condition, Essential Tremors, which has grown increasingly bothersome in my later years. The Decision

In the fall Christine and I will ship out on another Viking cruise. Departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we will proceed into the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, up the west coast of Central America, and conclude 18 days later in Los Angeles California. Panama Canal and the Pacific Coast.

 A world cruise in the future? Only time will tell.
Peace Everyone. Pete

 

Dear Friends and Family. We wish you a Very Happy, Safe, and Healthy New Year. In these pictures with Christine and me are our daughter Alexis and Pax “the Wonder Dog”.


Alexis is with her three children (left to right), Kane, and twins Paisley and Phoenix.


We celebrated an early afternoon New Years Eve dinner at the nearby South Park Saloon in Alma Colorado, the highest in North America (10,580ft/3,225m).


Peace Everyone, Pete

PS. I know that I still owe at least one final post from our recent trip to South America. I will get to it. Life has been quite busy since we returned to Kansas City. I have initiated the process of undergoing DBS surgery for my lifelong essential tremors. I arrived at the decision to pursue this course of treatment during my hike in Portugal and Spain. The following link has the details.

https://mediationkc.com/2022/10/28/the-decision/

I have now met with the chief neurologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center, the neurosurgeon, and I have no less than nine future appointments which include two scheduled surgeries. The third surgery has not yet been scheduled. Much of this will occur beginning in late May after we have returned from our three week hike from the west coast of England to its east coast along Hadrian’s Wall, followed by three weeks of us piloting a 62 foot narrow boat on England’s canals. Please keep me in your thoughts. Pete

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”.