Chris Hutchinson discovers Amazonia, feasts with an indiginous tribe, and marvels at the festival of Boi Bumba:
I watched a TV documentary on the mighty Amazon and was smitten, however my wife fancied a Caribbean cruise. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines solved the domestic, as their good ship Braemar was visiting the Amazon region along with four Caribbean islands.
We sought advice from Fred. Olsen’s Destination staff, who put together an exciting range of excursions to meet our desires.
We joined Braemar, a smaller scaled ship which reaches places larger vessels can’t, berthed in Manaus, a city on the Amazon and 900 miles from the Atlantic coast. With the staffs’ enthusiastic welcome onboard, we immediately felt at home.
We set about exploring the city, where street entertainers mingled with locals creating a lively atmosphere. Main attractions include Teatro Amazonas, an elegant theatre, also the Municipal Market built in 1883, here you can buy at bargain prices.
I was excited for our first excursion in a motorised canoe; skipper Cosmo and Joseph our guide took us to the famous ‘Meeting of the Waters’ where the dark waters of the Rio Negro meets the yellow of Rio Solimoes, but never mix!
They told us this natural phenomenon arises from the rivers having different origins, depths, currents and temperatures. I put my hand in to feel the temperature and speed of both currents - an uncanny experience. We sailed on small canals, passing floating communities; I admired skills of local fishermen in canoes battling against fast currents, whilst paddling with one hand and casting nets with the other. We left the canoe and trekked into the jungle, a long wooden bridge brought us to a lake where we saw the giant Lily pads. These magnificent plants can span up to three metres wide, a white flower blooms in the centre, then changes to purple. Legend has it, a beautiful girl fell into the lake and Mother Nature turned her into a Lily!
Next stop, a local man persuaded me to let him place a large Giboia snake around my neck, a nervous experience; I was more comfortable holding a baby sloth!
Our canoe entered tiny tributaries further into the jungle where floating reeds are home to exotic birds, fish leaping out of the water and an anaconda swimming just below the surface within touching distance, not recommended! The tranquillity of the jungle is only broken by sweet bird song; a gift from nature to treasure. This was an exhilarating adventure.
Next day my excitement was high with thoughts of visiting the indigenous Tucan tribe, located at a small clearing on golden sands on the edge of the jungle.
Welcomed by the Chief in full regalia, he took us to his ceremonial hut where tribal members performed dancing and singing accompanied by pipes and drums. We were enthralled with routines that are carried out in times of celebration. We feasted on succulent fish cooked on a low burning fire along with tapioca and baked bread, delicious - I had a second helping! A memorable experience.
Braemar sailed down the Amazon to our next port of call Parintins - again we witnessed the ‘Meeting of the Waters’ - this time the Rio Negro joined the mighty Amazon, you are amazed by this visual phenomenon.
We were excited as we set off to watch one of the most sought after cultural Festivals in Brazil, the Boi Bumba, performed by the Satere’ Mawe’ tribe. Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines arranged a private show for its’ guests. We were welcomed with local rum cocktails, delightful but with a kick!
The stage backdrop featured animals of Amazonia, the story is a legend about a bull. The show began; from the out-set you are totally captivated by a large troupe of dancers in costumes of red and gold, performing dance routines which grip your attention. Throughout the show there were numerous changes of dazzling colourful costumes, with giant effigies, opening up revealing dancers whose movements to the music were mesmerising. The music featured a vibrant rhythm section with emphasis on the drum beat, creating a pulsating sound, with repetitive melodies which had the audience animated. More dancers appeared with complementing routines adding to an already exhilarating performance. The show ended with a crescendo of sound, and rhythmatic movements - the audience were on their feet, what a spectacle!!
I spoke to Chief Devaldo M De Souza who told me all the 45 performers were amateurs, I was astounded. He said to me “satisfaction comes from seeing enjoyment from his guests,” The Chief also told me “It would be a dream to visit the UK”- I hope his dream comes true.
We were enjoying life on board Braemar; there are amenities to suit all- including guest lectures, friendly competitions and interactive deck games, or relax under a blue sky, with only the flying fish for company. Evenings were a major highlight with imaginative mouth-watering menus, followed by shows in the lounges and theatre, ending perfect days.
Our last port of call was Santarem, and you can’t visit Brazil without going to a beach. We journeyed to the picturesque village of Alter do Chao on the banks of Lake Altar. In the middle of the lake is a small picture perfect island; a canoe ferried us over, where we stepped off on to white soft sand. We sat at the edge having a cold beer listening to the aquamarine water softly lapping around our feet - paradise!
Sadly it was time to say a fond farewell to the Amazon, and the thrills of Brazil. We had four days relaxing at sea before visiting four Caribbean Islands. Crossing the equator was another fun time on Braemar with King Neptune and entourage commandeering the ship.
Our shore excursion schedule was planned to see as much of each Caribbean island as possible. Each one has its own highlights including Grenada’s Grand Anse beach, rated one of the top ten beaches in the world. St. Lucia is dominated by two Pitons rising 2,500 ft., a striking sight. One of Dominica’s highlights is the Emerald Pool in a lush green setting. All three islands are characterised by rolling hills, dense rain forests, mountains, deep valleys with narrow winding roads ablaze with tropical plants and shrubs giving off intoxicating fragrances.
Our final stop Barbados; its capital Georgetown is a mixture of modern architecture that intermingles with Colonial buildings built by the British. Harrisons Cave is unique where you marvel at its underground treasure including stalactites, stalagmites, waterfalls and bubbling streams.
This Fred.Olsen cruise was perfectly balanced and the innovative itinerary enhanced by excellent tours, ensured you captured an amazing Amazon adventure and Caribbean delights, leaving us with indelible memories of the best of both worlds.
Braemar’s classic ‘Caribbean’ cruises are always a favourite, and Fred. Olsen’s fly-cruise programme includes more varied itineraries, reaching more islands across the Caribbean region.
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the websites at www.fredolsencruises.com, or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 (Monday - Friday, 8am - 8pm; Saturday, 9am -5pm; Sunday, 10am - 4pm).