In recent posts I described how we were currently in the most intensive phase of the cruise, in 5 consecutive days visiting 4 ports in 3 countries. In my last post, L1602 – Handy seals, I documented the 4th day – a lovely day spent in the resort city of Punta Del Este in Uruguay, very clean and upmarket and known as “the Monaco of South America”.
Overnight we sailed north, and for our 5th and final day of this intensive phase we returned to Brazil, and the maritime city of Rio Grande. Having read the booklet describing the ports visited and tours available in them for this cruise, I already had reservations about Rio Grande. It was described as being Brazil’s second busiest port, and an integral part of the country’s industrial infrastructure. It also stated that there are a limited number of tour guides and vehicles in Rio Grande, meaning it is not possible to offer an extensive tour program. In fact only one tour was offered, my suspicion was that what they really meant was that there wasn’t much to see in the area. With some trepidation I had booked this one and only tour, described as a 30 minute guided walk around the historic part of the city, followed by a visit to the Oceanographic Museum.
As we sailed into the port, past numerous docks and a shipbuilding yard my concerns about this port only grew – and the quayside we were going to use looked uninspiring too, with barely any room for coaches:
However as we left the ship to board our coaches, a local band and traditional dancers were adding a splash of colour and local culture:
Our local guide introduced himself on the coach, he had quite a strong local accent and I had to listen hard to catch what he was saying. Talking later with other passengers I gather we were the luckier ones, other guides were apparently extremely difficult to understand.
We drove out of the industrial port area and into the historical area of the city, where we were instructed to leave the coach to view a museum. No mention was made of how long we would be off the coach, or how far we would be walking.
As the group got off the coach and assembled, I took this picture of the local fishermen mending their nets:
We were then led off around the far side of this building to enter the museum:
It was a very hot and humid day, and it was soon clear that walking far in the sun was going to be very tiring. Also, as this was the only tour offered, it meant that some of the more mobility-challenged passengers had risked doing the tour, as there was no stay-on-the-coach panoramic tour provided.
Having trudged all the way around the building, the guide was told by one person that the museum was closed that day, and then by another we could access it, but from the original side of the building! Trudging back, I looked around for something to photograph, and noticed these unusual tiles on the pavement, but I was a little concerned by the Cyberman-like motif:
Back near where we started we were able to enter the building, although anything worth viewing, yet alone photographing, was in very short supply. My jaw dropped when the guide said we would be there for 40 minutes! After taking a few pictures of ceiling motifs like this I retreated to the courtyard garden outside:
The garden was the best part of the place, and it was where I was delighted to see a tiny hummingbird, although it was too quick for me to photograph it. The trees and flowers were more obliging though:
Far sooner than the 40 minutes originally announced the guide rounded us up, and we were led back around the corner and across the road to a park. Here there was this tribute to the local paperboys!
He then led us to the waters edge past the fish market, then down another street. There was a great mixture in the buildings around us – some like these were in good condition…
… whereas some were like this, once they might have been quite grand, now they were just very forlorn and neglected:
This picture really summed up the city to me, while it was clear that in the past the city had been prosperous, it wasn’t like that now, with to me a definite air of sadness and neglect.
We had now reached the other end of the park, where this statue and huge tree caught my eye:
Our next stop was the Cathedral, as usual more ornate and impressive on the inside than on the outside:
We then walked some more, and reached a second park. On the way we passed this stall – the vibrant colours of its wares really standing out, this building, and these wall tiles which provided a reminder of the country’s historic links to Portugal:
In the second park we trudged past a pond, bandstand and statue, before to our relief the guide finally announced we would be reboarding our coach:
Back on the coach we were handed much needed containers of chilled water, which we drank as we drove through the city to the Oceanographic Museum. In fact there were three attractions at this site, the Oceanographic Museum itself, an Antarctic Museum laid out to replicate a scientific camp in Antarctica, and a wildlife rescue hospital.
The central exhibits in the Oceanographic Museum were quite striking, but the problem was that all the information panels around them were in Portuguese only!
There wasn’t much to see in the Antarctic Museum either, and the only patients in the rescue hospital were a penguin and an institutionalised sea lion – apparently when they tried to release it a couple of times it just came back:
Once again at this site the best thing to see were the gardens and it’s wildlife:
We then returned to our ship for much needed food and rest in the cool of it’s air conditioning.
Later I went up on the top deck to watch and photograph the sailaway, but of course we were back in Brazil so it happened on Brazilian time – an hour and a quarter late! While I was waiting I was struck on the contrast between the vista each side of the ship – on the port side it was very much industrial port, while on the starboard side there was a green and tranquil island with wildlife:
Also while I was waiting I watched swifts buzzing around the ship catching insects, sometimes flying very close to me, but almost impossible to photograph due to their speed and agility:
As we did finally sail away, some local fishermen proudly showed off their impressive catch:
The contrast between the cities of Punta Del Este and Rio Grande, and the experiences they provided on consecutive days could not be more marked. I was left wondering why we had visited this industrial port, Rio Grande which was clearly not yet set up for tourism, but had never got to visit Ilha Grande, described in the tour book as “a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience”. I suspect the answer may lie in the fact that for a good deal of the time we were in port in Rio Grande there was a refuelling tender alongside.
Postscript: Two days later I received a letter in my cabin from the Tours Manager, informing us that after speaking with various passengers and listening to feedback they were sorry that the tour did not live up to our expectations, and that we were being refunded 50% of the tour cost.