Ali and Jeff Carithers

Joined November 2014
  • Day66

    San Juan, Puerto Rico

    March 10 in Puerto Rico

    I write this with a bit of melancholy because it is the last port on this incredible adventure around South America. I feel fortunate that we have a home we love going back to, but the 60+ days we have spent on this trip have become a very special home-away-from-home. Nancy and Jim have been great traveling compadres and I’m sure that I have been working my “core” with all the laughing. We have all developed close relationships with many of the staff, some of whom we met when they were working on the Silver Whisper when we did the World Cruise 3 years ago.
    But, after visiting San Juan 3 years ago, we were looking forward to our visit here. Old San Juan is a lovely, colorful town with beautiful blue pavers on the narrow streets and alleyways. The terrible tragedy this island suffered 6 months ago when Hurricane Maria struck has not broken the spirit here. We saw many indications of the damage that was was inflicted here. I know a good portion of the island is still without electricity, but the locals are working hard to regain their tourism business.
    Jeff and I stopped into a little restaurant called “Istanbul” when we were here 3 years ago. Their Turkish food was outstanding and I have craved it ever since. I thought it was a stretch to think it survived time and the hurricane, but there was our tiny restaurant! Jim and Nancy were curious since I had been talking about it for so long. It did not disappoint. Fabulous hummus with fresh-baked pita,
    Imam Bayildi, Greek salad, Kofte, and their signature dish, Ottoman casserole. Paired with sangria, it was an unbeatable meal. We fell on our lunch so fast, we forgot to even take a photo to share! A great top-off to our wonderful trip.
    Two days at sea lay ahead of us, which will include packing, working on some projects we brought along, reading and getting ready to live real life again.
    Signing off for this journey!
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  • Day64

    Bridgetown, Barbados

    March 8 in Barbados

    We have been to the Barbados before and had toured the island then, so today’s stop was for taking a long walk through town and on the beach.

  • Day60

    This is our last stop both in Brazil and the Amazon. This is a very small village is located on a very small river off the Amazon and is unusual because the waters are very clear and it draws many tourists and locals for swimming.
    It is difficult to imagine we could be any hotter than we had been in the past couple of days, but it definitely was possible. It took just a few minutes for our clothes to be completely soaked and the unforgiving sun mercilessly beating down on us did nothing to dry them - hhmmmm... maybe it was the 95% humidity.
    In any case, a quick stop tomorrow to allow the pilot to disembark and we will be on our way to the Barbados. We are looking forward to 3 full days at sea so we can begin to process all we have seen in the various countries in South America and start to ease into life off the ship.
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  • Day59

    Parintins is a small village on the Amazon that was settled by Native Indians 200 years ago. The village is very rich in Indigenous culture and this is celebrated annually with the Boi-Bumba festival which is a ritual of magic, mystery, passion and faith. This small village has a stadium (the Bumbodromo) that accommodates the 40,000 spectators that come to see this festival each June. There was a special show for our group that was quite spectacular. The stage pieces, floats and costuming were very complex and beautiful, not to mention the music and choreography.Read more

  • Day58

    After an overnight in Manaus, we set off on a cute, old double-decker boat named the “Amazon Explorer” to see the meeting of the waters. It is where the Amazon River (coffee with cream color) runs next to the Rio Negro (black water that is quite acidic) without mixing. It is quite a remarkable sight. I had no idea that the contrast would be so startlingly dramatic! The “non-mixing” has to do with differences in the temperature, speed and water density.
    Our next stop was a small settlement where we transferred into small motorized canoes that held about 10 people each. This mode of transportation gave us a chance to be quite intimate with the tributaries in this part of the jungle. As the waterways became narrower and darker and the birds began squawking at our intrusion, we truly felt a part of a totally different world that was very peaceful and rich.
    All too soon we were back in our reality, but the memory of gliding through the small tributaries of the Amazon will stay with me forever.
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  • Day57

    Manaus, Brazil is a city that is 800 miles up the Amazon. The city has a population of2,000,000 people and is at the junction of the Amazon River and the Rio Negro.
    The first day here brought us deep into the jungle again for a trek. Whereas our previous jungle hike focused on some of the natural things you can find in the jungle, this trek showed more of how indigenous, tribal people live in the jungle. Procuring water and food, as well as building shelter were the primary things we saw here. Our guides along the way have been born and raised in the Amazonian jungle so we have gotten some real insights into the lives here.
    We are at the beginning of the rainy season, so the river waters are beginning to rise. In another couple of months, the waters will have risen about 50’!
    This is why homes are on stilts and there are “floating” villages. The areas that are tributaries now will be completely dry by June.
    It was spectacularly hot and humid on our trek (especially when you are completely covered against mosquitos). Our clothing was completely wet and we were feeling quite drained until the caipirinha’s were passed around with a pineapple that was one of the best things I have ever tasted.
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  • Day55

    So yesterday we turned from the South Atlantic Ocean into the Amazon River. To aid me in my inability to describe the scale of this river, picture this: the Amazon River basin covers an area the same size as the continental United States. Inconceivable. The flow is more than 12x the Mississippi River and the mouth is over 200 miles wide.
    The four of us had an excursion planned for today that was a hike through the jungle in a 2,000,000 acre National Park. As I looked out our window this morning shortly before we were to leave, I was dismayed to se that a good portion of the window was covered with mosquitoes. Those who know me well recognize that I am bait - the mosquitoes will always bite me first before snacking on anyone I am with. So even though I had on bug-proof pants and long-sleeved shirt, a hat sprayed with bug spray, boots and socks doused in bug spray and I had 100% deet on my face and hands, I went back for a second spray-over.
    So we are sitting on the bus in the pouring rain and I am forced to contemplate the wisdom of this outing. A hike through the Amazon rain forest during the rainy season wearing at least a full pound of mosquito repellent. Why not? I feel good that they have not given the lecture yet about the bugs of the Amazon because that just might keep me locked in the bathroom on the ship. Speaking of bugs, check out the photo of the water bug that was near our dining table last night.
    The hike was incredible. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and managed the 12 of us with the help of a young Brazilian guide who went along ahead of us with a big machete. We saw multiple fruit trees, the Brazil nut tree, rubber trees and a tree that I can’t remember the name of that grows to 300’ tall. There are 238 different types of termites here. If the bullet ant bites you, it causes pain that is much like being shot with a gun - definitely want to avoid that one.
    We have 4 more stops on the Amazon before heading into the Caribbean Sea. Stay tuned.
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  • Day51

    Forteleza, Brazil

    February 23 in Brazil

    Forteleza is our last stop before entering the Amazon River in a few days. We had intentions of going in and at least taking a walk despite the fact that it is oppressively hot and humid. There is often a local person on board to offer assistance and answer questions. When we asked if there was somewhere we could walk, he said “no”. Apparently crime here is too high to allow a “gringo” to go anywhere safely. He suggested we ride the shuttle to the mall. When we got there (a very nice mall) we were escorted inside. We used the opportunity to pick up some necessities and walk a bit in the air conditioning.
    We were escorted back to the ship and decided to indulge in a nice lunch since we felt a little shorted on our stop.
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  • Day49

    Maceio, Brazil

    February 21 in Brazil

    We are headed around the “nose” of South America and this lovely city provided us with the restfulness of lovely beaches, turquoise water and warm breezes as we strolled along the pedestrian walkway that runs the full length of the beach.
    There are some rather unusual sailboats (see photos) that take people out for rides. They are very casual, with wooden benches on the deck of the boat and beautifully shaped sails. Coconut water and ice cream seem to be the refreshment of choice here.
    We met and visited with a charming young Brazilian woman who is a construction engineering student and is here on vacation for a few weeks.
    One more stop before we head into the Amazon!
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  • Day48

    Salvador, Bahia

    February 20 in Brazil

    Salvador is an interesting city that is primarily influenced by Africa in everything from the food preparation, the handicrafts and the music.
    We had a fascinating excursion today that was a percussion workshop. It was located in one of the favelas (Salvador has a population of 2 million with half living in favelas). We were in a small recording studio that was owned by a gentleman named Peta who had been playing percussion instruments since he was 5 - he is now 47.
    He was an incredibly patient man and entrusted each of the 12 of us with one of his special instruments. He taught us various samba rhythms and gave us each a chance to play something. He gave us an idea of his musical history and life in Brazil. He is extremely talented and explained that as a child he would practice one particular beat for 3 hours at a time. He just completed Carnival here where he played for 8 hours each day.
    And, bless his heart, at the end he encouraged us all to take up an instrument and try to play with his background beat. Instead of plugging his ears, he smiled a wide smile and made us feel pretty good about ourselves.
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  • Day45

    Blame it on Rio

    February 17 in Brazil

    My dear wife, Ali, is currently out of commission so this blog post on Carnival falls to me. It all started with our special tickets to the Winner’s Parade, a collection of the 6 winning Samba school entries capping off the fesivities of Brazilian Carnival. We heard about the the more than 450 block parties, the numerous street parades and the millions of people that attended the Ipanema and Cocacabana beach parties, but these happened just prior to our arrival and the city of Rio was managable for the past three days of our visit. We thought the Winner’s Parade on the last night of our visit was probably just a low-key show for visitors like us with our special passes and shuttle busses.

    Not so. The samba schools are dance clubs that work nearly a full year to develop the theme, samba music, dances and floats for their entries in Carnival. During the festivities, 5 or 6 of the 12 major schools (there are hundreds of minor schools) are selected to perform in the Winner’s Parade, which occurs in the Sambadrome, a structure built specifically for this event.

    We knew these basics ahead of time, but the reality was revealed when we saw the glow of light from the Sambadrome as our bus was crossing town, still miles away. The Sambadrome is like a linear stadium, but nearly one-half mile in length and seating more than 70,000 people. We reached our seats in the brightlly light parade stretch about 9:00 PM and people were asking us if we planned on spending the whole night. Say what?

    The first of the six schools entered the Sambadrome about 10:00 with pulsing music, fireworks, much noise and cheering. We had one beer and pizza by that point. Only then did we realize that each samba school has 3000-3500 costumed participants and 5 or 6 spectacular floats laden with dancing people who actively engage the audience. We had held off on drinking the national drink, the caipirinha, but the rush of colors, pulsating beats, costumed bodies and excitement of the event led us to unwisely succumb and imbibe as the evening progressed. I remember the name “caipirinha” by thinking of the word piranha, but it turns out the similarity is not just in the sound of the name.

    Each samba school takes about an hour to pass through the stands with a break between, during which we tried to process the overwhelming visual, auditory and social experience, (and get more caipirinhas). Then the next school starts up, with a different song, color scheme and theme (usually political, a rich field right now) and more overwhelming stimulus. We got home at 3:00 AM even with the favorable 1-hour time change that conveniently occurred that night. We didn’t even see the last two samba schools, fearing we would miss the early departure of our ship. So, Ali is in bed and I am writing. The photos accompanying this blog enhance this verbal description, but there is one word that I have never used that perhaps does it best…scintillating.
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  • Day45

    What a fabulous day in Rio! The 4 of us hired a guide to see some of the popular sites plus some other sites that we might not be able to get to on a regular excursion. Luciana quickly assessed our group and saw that we were interested in seeing as much as possible and we did indeed! She had some great connections and she would phone ahead to one of the more crowded sites and have someone she knew there purchase the tickets for us and have them waiting when we arrived.
    Our first stop was the Christ the Redeemer statue. We took a cog train up there that at times seemed to move nearly vertically. There is something special about actually seeing something so iconic. The clouds obscured our view over the city somewhat, but it was a magical moment none-the-less.
    We sped across the city to take the 2 trams that go up to Sugarloaf mountain. The views were spectacular and we learned a great deal about the layout of the city from Luciana.
    Next was a drive-by of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Apparently, there is quite a “beach life” in Rio. Luciana said that most of the people on the beaches are locals and you always go to a specific area indicated by a number along the road. For example, she always goes to number 9. All of her “beach friends” are also always at number 9. Within 9, she goes to Moises beach shack. For very few reals (about 31 cents per real), Moises provides you with a chaise lounge, an umbrella, will get you any refreshments that you wish from any restaurant and will watch your stuff if you go swimming. She said that she’s known her beach friends for years, but she never sees them anywhere but the beach. Hhmmm...
    Our late lunch was near Ipanema Beach. We specifically asked to have the typical Brazilian dish Feijoada. It is black beans, garlic and a number of different meats served with rice, cassava flour and kale. Delicious, especially paired with a caipirinha and a shot of some unknown alcohol that is supposed to “open up the appetite”.
    Back to the van, where I immediately fell hard asleep until we arrived at the Rocinha favela for a short walk. The favelas (about 1000 of them in Rio) are almost like small cities. They are quite poverty stricken and struggle with crime and disease, but there were some small improvements in the one we visited. There is electricity (illegally obtained, but not pursued for payment), running water and some technology such as cable tv. There are many services such as groceries and clothing shops, but there is no infrastructure to speak of.
    All the rest of the time, Luciana regaled us with lots of stories about Brazil, life in Rio and some of the people she has served as guide for in the past.
    With our heads about to explode from all the information, sights, sounds and smells of the day, we head back to the ship to prepare for an evening at the Carnival Winners parade. Who knows what that will bring?
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