Chris Hutchinson discovers thrills in Brazil, highs in Uruguay and tangos with Nina in Argentina…
An ambition was realised when I read the itinerary Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines was offering. Their ship Boudicca was visiting exciting places in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, and oh, yes via Cape Verde islands off West Africa. I was also enthused by the ship’s shore excursions, offering a wide choice in each port, the tour staff’s help and expertise proved invaluable; we booked a series.
Escorted by dolphins, Boudicca’s first port of call, Mindelo Cape Verde. Our tour included the lively fish market where exotic catches were displayed, with stall holders competing robustly for custom, then the African market where goods were sold at keen prices. On to Cat Fish and North Bay, where mountain meets white sand dunes which welcome the crashing of Atlantic surf.
Sailing the Atlantic Ocean we got to know our ship. Immediately apparent was the infectious friendliness, intimacy and benefits of a smaller ship. Crossing the equator was fun with King Neptune and his entourage performing the ceremony.
First stop in Brazil, Salvador, a sign says: “The place where you breathe the history, soul and essence of Brazil.” Our walking tour took in the combination of African and Portuguese history and colourful architecture reflecting back to the 1600s.
The main square Terreiro de Jesus is an atmospheric hub of cultural activity, women in traditional dress, musicians and dancers perform songs and routines. Here we enjoyed a lunch of queijo coalho (goats cheese barbequed then coated in local sauce) delicious at just 50 pence a skewer, I had four! In the streets off the main drag, parades of drummers sounded out the samba beat.
This city is vibrant, colourful and intoxicating, no surprise it’s called ‘the capital of joy’!
Down the coast is Ilheus, after visiting the highlights of this charming town we journeyed through lush forest to Tijuipe waterfall, cascading into a crystal clear pool before weaving its way through a rocky tributary. Tranquillity is created with only the sound of the waterfall and tropical birdsong, nature at its best. No visit to Ilheus is complete without sipping a cold beer in bar Versuvio, the most famous in Brazil.
Next the island of Ilha Grande, once home to pirates. Boarding a schooner we sailed to Blue lagoon, but aquamarine in colour. You swim or snorkel with tropical fish whilst gazing at amazing coral. Sailing on to a deserted beach we soaked up the sun.
Then to Ilha Grande village, situated below rolling hills, carpeted by rain forest, watered by clouds from the Amazon. A labyrinth of quaint streets adorned with tropical flowers invites you to explore. Here we feasted on Brazilian style chicken with local beer for just £8 per person.
We sailed into Rio de Janeiro full of expectation, first meandering along Copacabana’s black and white walk way, absorbing its vibrancy, then Ipenema beach enjoying its quieter sophistication. One of the best ways to see this great city is by a panoramic tour covering highlights, including a funicular ride through urban forest to the imposing statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the most iconic landmarks in the world; here you also gaze at breathtaking views of Rio. Out of the city, the botanical gardens boasts exotic species.
Rio has an efficient low- cost tram and metro system, making it easy to visit places of interest, none more than Ipenema market. Impressive is the merchandise, particularly leather goods and silver, and its kind to your pocket. Rio has a magic, it allures you.
Arriving at Ilhabela, known as the ‘beautiful island’, waiting in the harbour was our jeep. We travelled a few miles to Pedro do Sino, the indigenous people had a unique way to warn of pirate attacks by hitting the rocks creating the sound of bells. Due to a mineral within the rocks called Fonolito, these sounds would echo for miles; I couldn’t resist having a go. We continued on rugged mountain trails through the rain forest, a little bumpy, but exhilarating. Descending to Jabaquara beach, our schooner awaited us. First, we relaxed on this idyllic beach, then sailed back to enjoy this quiet small town with its welcoming ambience. We certainly experienced the thrills of Brazil.
We were thoroughly enjoying life on board Boudicca, including delicious cuisine, interesting guest speakers, amenities and activities, also evenings in the theatre- variety at its best.
Arriving in Montevideo, Uruguay, our guide walked us through the city’s impressive main squares where street entertainers and stall holders provide local flavour; we then visited the National Museum and Solis Theatre. This city offers a balance of old and new districts, the port indoor market is also an attraction, with barbequed food cooked Uruguayan way.
Boudicca sailed to the mouth of the River Plate, in contrast is Punte Del Este, an affluent resort, splendid villas and apartments face on to an impressive promenade and beaches. The harbour is filled with stunning yachts sitting on azure water. A unique attraction on the Brava Beach is the La Mano sculpture depicting a giant hand emerging from the sand. One of many highs in Uruguay.
Overnight sailing to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where we planned to see the city sights and rural areas. Our river boat took us on the Tigre Delta, characterised by rivers, canals and green islands all lined with an array of tropical trees and colourful shrubs. This area is home to century old mansions, English style cottages, villas and smaller houses, some on stilts painted in bright hues of blue and green. An environmental delight.
The city has many highlights, most memorable being Recoleta Cemetery, resting place of Eva Peron, the grandeur of Theatre Colon and the ornate Pink Palace where Evita waved to her adoring crowds. La Boca, famed for its colourful wooden houses, bars and restaurants is the cultural district for artists, musicians and the rhythm of the tango, its market is a haven for shoppers.
Enjoying a glass of wine watching the tango dancers, my worst nightmare was realised, the beautiful female dancer called Nina, invited me to dance with her, panicking I tried to tell her that I had 3 left feet, to no avail. Applause at the end, I believe was in sympathy for my partner. Well I can always say I tangoed with Nina in Argentina!
This cruise fulfilled an ambition, exceeding all expectations; Boudicca and its shore tours certainly discovered the difference, leaving us with indelible memories.
Balmoral’s L1803 cruise named “Rio Carnival & River Plate” calls into Rio during the annual carnival and involves 3 overnight stays, departs Southampton 23rd January 2018. details on fredolsencruises.com or call reservations on 0800 0355 242 or visit an ABTA travel agent.
In 2017/18 Fred.Olsen’s fleet of 4 smaller ships will be visiting no fewer than 220 destinations in 70 countries