For the second half of my travelling adventure, I decided to include a transatlantic cruise that would also include crossing the equator.
Sao Paulo: I started the adventure in Sao Paulo. Nothing prepared me for the number of people, the traffic, or the language barriers! But, that is what makes travelling n adventure — learning to face new challenges and opportunities. In Sao Paulo, I stayed at the LimeTime Hostel, which was very close to the Metro and Ave. Paulista. Of course, my first day out, I turned the wrong way and got lost looking for the Metro and Ave. Paulista, but I finally started learning my way around — and using the Metro was a great help! Want to do something different? If you are up early on a Sunday — which can be difficult because there are so many cool bars in Sao Paulo — head to the Benedictine Monastery for 10 AM mass. It is crowded, so unless you get there a little early, you may have to stand, but the singing is beautiful!
Santos: There is a bus that takes you from Sao Paulo to the beaches of Santos. It takes about 90 minutes and will stop right on the beach. I took the bus to the cruise terminal to join my ship, RCI’s Vision of the Seas. There were a few of us on the bus — and we all got a little nervous, not knowing the exact route the driver was taking through Santos. But we made it safely and got a mini-tour of Santos in the bargain. The beaches are beautiful!
Rio: It was really nice sailing into Rio — I sat ion my balcony and took pictures from a view many people in the city would never see! I was also very fortunate to hook up with a small group of people to “see the sites” and had an amazing lunch at a Brazilian BBQ place. I also had a moment of panic when I thought my group had left without me. I would love to spend more time here — preferably with someone and not on my own.
Crossing the Atlantic: I can say that I have not only sailed across the Atlantic, but I also sailed across the equator! This was 6 days of pure relaxation (when I wasn’t sick form a nasty cold).
Tenerife, Spain: Our first port after 6 days — and I needed to get back into nature. What a great place to experience the beauty of a volcano and this unique landscape. I want to go back and see more!
Funchal, Portugal: I had such a lovely day in Madeira — this is another place I want to return to and spend more time (and one of the reasons I cruise — get a “taste” of different places to decide where to return to!).
Lisbon, Portugal: I love Lisbon — great food,wine, entertainment and beautiful architecture — so much to take pictures of! I stayed at the Living Lounge Hostel — a wonderful spot in the heart of the city. I never seem to have enough time in Portugal!
Sometime during the night, the electricity went off at the hostel. Not sure what happened, but since it was night, there was no real need for light, but the ceiling fan the kept my room so nice and cool was now not working. Finally, I woke up and decided to push the button for my ceiling fan. As soon as I did, all the electricity came on! Trust me, I did NOTHING before that – my timing was obviously right on!
In the morning, I packed and got ready for my next adventure – the bus ride to Santos. This meant getting to Jabaquiro Bus Termino with all my luggage. Okay, I am not a backpacker, especially with all the extra bits I need on a cruise, but I do love my Heys luggage – it is compact and has 4 wheels and long handles. Pedro was back on the desk; he helped me catch a cab and helped ensure I made it to the right bus terminal. Traffic was bad – then again this is Sao Paulo, so I should expect it. They listed that a cab ride to the bus terminal would run about 35 Real, and it ran me just under that amount – and the driver would not take a tip – something to remember for the next time I come to Sao Paulo.
Meeting me at the bus terminal was a nice man who helped me with my luggage and showed me where to get my bus ticket to Santos. When I got to the desk and asked for a ticket to Santos, the ticket agent started speaking to me in the fastest version of Portuguese I’d heard yet – all my confidence in understanding her was gone. Fortunately, she wrote me a note with four items on it: Santos, 19, 30 R, 9:30, #10. Translation: a ticket to Santos cost 19,3 Real, and it was leaving at 9:30 from platform #10. With ticket in hand, my luggage guardian angel assisted me to the bus, where I had to show my passport and add information to the ticket. Then, I was on the bus.
At ~9:40, the bus left for Santos. It seemed that we were outside of the city limits pretty quickly – then we would go over a little rise and the city was back – It goes on and on and on! I started to notice low-hanging clouds and next thing we were turning off the highway and heading for a two lane road that went through the hills. It reminded me a bit of the road between Calistoga and Harbin – with different vegetation, of course! More palms trees and no tall pines. We also had to deal with a lot of heavily laden semis, which reminded me of a very long trip that Gareth and I took (remember Hamburg?).
As we left the mountains, and returned to a highway, people on the bus started to request stops. A woman went up to the driver and said something in Portuguese that included the phrase “Vision of the Seas” and the driver said something like, “Nao Rodoviaria.” The couple sitting next to me were speaking French, but asked her in Portuguese about what he said. I decided that my best bet was to get off the bus when they did since my understanding of French was much better than my understanding of Portuguese. So, ignoring the guidebooks, I did not get off the bus at the Estacao Rodoviaria bus terminal (with the directions on how to walk to the port – what they did not mention that the neighborhood was not the friendliest place because, like most bus stations, it was in a poor area). So, for the next hour, we sat on the bus together and got a tour of Santos – and its traffic. There are some lovely beaches and, at one point, the driver stopped for a “10 minute break.”
I finally asked the French-speaking couple if they spoke English and they said, “But of course!” So, we talked about trying to get to the ship and hoping we had the right information – even talking about getting a cab if necessary. I also pulled out my map of Santos and we figured out where we were waiting and how we might get back to the docks. About 20 minutes later, the bus driver returned and we were back on our unofficial tour of Santos. In addition to seeing more beaches, there were these lovely storks that congregated at little food stands.
Finally, it appeared we were not only headed toward the port, but directly to the Estacio Cruizieros (terminal for passenger cruises). What a bonus! Except, that our way was blocked by an accident, a semi had run into a barricade and was blocking 1 ½ lanes of the road. We were able to squeeze by and the bus then pulled into the terminal. Our tour of Santos was officially over.
There were 2 ships in port – and no signs on where to go with luggage. I finally found the check-in for RCI Vision of the Seas, and, as a Gold Member, I was checked in quickly – towing my luggage with me. The next step was the security check – and that is where the long line was forming. I and my luggage snaked our way through and finally headed onto the ship. I did get some help – once on board, I was taken to a back way to an elevator. Bad news, rooms were not ready, so I and my luggage headed to the buffet for lunch.
The rest of the afternoon was just getting settled – finding my room, unpacking, checking out the spa, and the pool. While listening to the house band, two Brazilian ladies decided to take me under their wings and insist I join them for a bit. It was sweet, even though I had no idea what they were saying and they seemed convinced that I could pick it up if I listened long enough. I smiled and nodded a lot.
I also met a couple from Perth. They spoke English, so it was refreshing. The sail away included watching vultures flying off the top of the buildings. Vultures and storks – what an interesting mix of birds!
As we started to sail away from Santos, I went in search of a nice bar and met Paulo. I signed up for the second seating for dinner – which meant 9:30 PM. Plenty of time to enjoy the show of Brazilian music before meeting my dinner mates.
I am seated at a large table. At my table, there was a Brazilian couple who spoke little or no English and two friends sailing together. Wilson is from Malta and Dmitri is from Russia. My new Maltese friend of course has relatives in Toronto (his auntie used to live near Dundas and now lives in Woodbridge, of course). The three of us have a great time – so I have people to talk to at dinner. Our waiter is Alejandro from Mexico.
Things I learned along the way in Brazil … or a list of my misadventures! As one of my travelling partners will attest (aka Sue) I do a lot of pre-planning in the name of research. I’ve learned in this trip that I either could have done more planning, or the information was either lacking or just wrong! Nothing prepared me for a few of these highlights (and a few lowlights) I call my misadventures!
1. Taxis In Sao Paulo It is not cheap to take a taxi around the central downtown area, unlike what the guidebooks say. Take the Metro, it is clean, efficient and had the best signage in Sao Paulo – the arrows and street names actually point the right ways! Taxis get caught up in the never-ending traffic. Sao Paulo is a city of between 11 and 19 million people (depending on who you talk to). Just take a minute on that number. There are 34 million on all of Canada – Sao Paulo is a city. So, the information on taxis is this: as soon as you get in, it costs 4,10 Real. The good news is that the price only goes up when the taxi move – not when it is merely stuck in traffic. The bad news, there is no “straight” way to get anywhere. The other good news, none of the taxis drivers I met would accept a tip.
2. Speaking of signs The signage in Sao Paulo is also interesting. The further away from a place you are, the better and more frequent the signs. As you get closer, the signs seem to disappear. Street signs are also placed at angles, so you almost have to guess which one matched the street. After a while, you do start to see how the signs match the streets, but if you are lost, good luck!
3. Getting from one place to another Tour guidebooks provide all sorts of information about how to catch a bus to go from point A to Point B, however most rarely tell you what the trip will be like. Such was the case for the bus ride from Sao Paulo to Santos. All I knew was a) there was a bus, b) it would take about 1 hour and 20 minutes c) it would cost 19,30 Real and d) the main bus terminal was an easy walking distance to the port. I did not know that the drive would go through a mountain pass that was incredibly beautiful. This lovely, winding road was also filled with transport trucks heading to the port. The aforementioned bus terminal was on the outskirts of town – and nowhere near the port (nor would I have wanted to walk through this neighborhood with my luggage and lack of Portuguese). The bus became a “local request a stop” bus through the city of Santos. The good news? Its last stop, which was exactly 2 1/2hours after we left Sao Paulo, is the Cruise Port! I need to let the Cruise Critic website know that for future cruise planners. It would have saved me a lot of worries and I might have enjoyed the impromptu tour of Santos a little more!
4. Portuguese Yes, I knew that Spanish would not suffice completely, however I truly know how it feels to only speak one language and expect people to understand you. I’ve never told so many people that I do not understand, and they continue to talk to me, thinking that it is just a passing phase and I will soon figure out what they are saying! Funny thing is, I have started to understand a little – at least enough to smile and laugh at jokes. I’ve even had people insist they do not speak English, only to hear them speak it to someone else! It has been an adventure in languages, and will continue as we cross the Atlantic, as 85% of the passengers and over 50% of the crew are Brazilian. (NOTE: I met a waiter last night who is from Bulgaria – and he was so excited to speak English to me that I have a friend for the cruise!)
5. “Cruise passengers never experience the real essence of a place” I’ve heard that said a lot. It is one of the reasons I try to make my own way as often as I can. I was going to go it alone in Salvador because I really wanted to spend some time in the Nosso do Senhor Bonfim church, which is at the heart of Condomble. After some harrowing experiences in other areas of Brazil, I thought I should get some assistance in arranging a tour. I was able to join a tour of Historical Salvador and was able to experience Salvador in a way that included meeting people and participating in various rituals – including a blessing by two Santos, and a performance of children who are going through a program to try to keep them off the streets and give them a way to earn money. I also met some amazing and beautiful people.
Final notes: Caipirinhas rule! Trust people to be willing to help you along the way and smile!