L1602 – Back to prison

In my last post, Hot visit to a brothel, I described the visit to our 7th and penultimate port in Brazil, Ilheus. After a day at sea, early on Sunday we sailed into our final port of call in both Brazil and the continent of South America, Recife.

Recife is the fifth largest city in Brazil with a population over 1.5 million, and is named after the natural stone reefs on the city’s shores. The many rivers, islands and bridges in the city centre have resulted in it being known as “the Venice of Brazil”. As well as being built on the major port and a large industrial and commercial base, tourism is also very important due to it’s beaches and historical sites.

As usual I was up on deck early in the morning to watch and photograph the ship sailing into the port. At this time the sun was shining, but the weather forecast for the day ahead was not promising with heavy tropical showers forecasted, so I thought it was likely to be the best time to get some shots of the city in sunlight.

What immediately stuck me was the size of the city – by now I was used to the landscape of tower blocks and beaches, but these seemed to extend as far as the eye could see in either direction:

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It was only when I looked at this next picture on a larger screen that I noticed (a) the extent of the favela-style housing in the foreground, and (b) the aeroplane!

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As we sailed in, we passed these fishermen, I would not fancy being on such perilous craft in those choppy conditions:

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Getting closer to the city centre and the port, these two tower blocks really dominated the scene – more on these later:

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In the next of these pictures, I was struck by the huge range in style and age of the buildings visible:

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After we had turned around and docked in the port, I went inside for a quick breakfast ahead of my shore tour. The tour I had chosen here was to cruise some of the city’s waterways in a catamaran. For once we were only slightly late leaving the ship, but had to negotiate a combination of port shuttle bus, port terminal building, and tour coach before we reached our catamaran.

As I sat on the tour coach waiting for it to depart, I couldn’t fail to notice this sculpture, although I wasn’t totally sure what it was meant to be:

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On the way to the catamaran we passed this attractive building, and also the Forte das Cinco Pontas – the Fort of Five Points. The fort with it’s five bastions was built by the Dutch in 1630, and today holds the City of Recife Museum:

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Before we boarded the catamaran we were offered a glass of fruit juice, optionally laced with alcohol. Unfortunately our coach party were the last of the three to board the catamaran – it was a tight squeeze to fit everyone onboard, and the only seats left by then were in the centre of the craft. To be able to take the photographs I wanted I therefore had to leave my seat and stand for the duration of the voyage towards the stern of the vessel where I could be next to it’s side and have an uninterrupted view.

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Not long after leaving the pontoon, we sailed past the two huge tower blocks which had caught my attention as we sailed into port earlier that morning. The local guide giving a commentary said that these 40 storey residential buildings were a recent addition, built as tall as they could get permission for. However he said their addition came at a price, as an application for the area to receive UNESCO status was turned down because of their presence. He also said that the original plans were for the towers to have their own private dock for the residents to moor their boats, but all that was actually provided was a basic wooden landing stage:

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As often seemed the case travelling around Brazil, there were some fine looking buildings, but these were often dotted amongst others looking very old and tired, in a poor state of repair:

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This building had murals painted by the celebrated local visual artist and sculptor Francisco Brennand, we would see more of his work later:

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We passed under several of the bridges, and as we did so we were encouraged to make a wish and clap & cheer each time. This bridge, the Ponte Boa Vista, is made from wrought iron from England, and was too low for us to pass under:

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One advantage of being on the catamaran is that we sailed quite close to the local birdlife:

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Recife is home to the frevo, regional music and dance associated with the carnival. At times when no commentary was needed we were played examples of this music, and at one stage we were also given a demonstration of the dance:

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As we passed under a flyover, I noticed a large number of boats of different sizes and colours, and a little while later we passed some fishermen precariously throwing out their net from their small boat:

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Sailing back towards our original pontoon through the port area, we passed a very familiar looking ship:

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We then passed the Parque das Esculturas – the Sculptures Park, located on a narrow strip of land between the port area and the sea. Here there were many examples of the sculpture work by Francisco Brennand, whose murals we had seen earlier.

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Passing a waterfront area popular with locals and tourists alike, we passed some more fishing boats, I was amused by the additional passenger in the bow of the second boat:

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As we reached the pontoon once more, I saw another graphic example of the great divide between the rich and the poor so obvious in Brazil:

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Once ashore, we reboarded the coaches to be taken to the next stop on the tour. Any readers with good stamina who have been following my posts for some time, might remember that in our first port in Brazil, Fortaleza, I was taken to a prison on a tour there. So perhaps it seemed appropriate, or even inevitable that I should be taken to another prison in my last port in Brazil also!

In both cases, the sites were actually former prisons, which had now been converted into arts and crafts centres. In Recife it was called the Casa da Cultura, and the single building was in the shape of a cross, with cells in each wing. As in Fortaleza, each cell had been converted into a small shop selling a variety of arts, crafts and other goods primarily aimed at the tourist market:

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At the centre of the cross was a open area, with these colourful murals on the walls:

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On the bars above the barred doorway to one of the wings was hung this colourful umbrella:

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The smaller multicoloured umbrellas hanging everywhere in the wings are very much a feature of the carnival in Recife.

After taking some shots of the outside of the building, there was just time to walk to a nearby bridge before it was time to reboard the coach. From the bridge I could clearly see this perilous-looking housing on the bank of the river:

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The coach then took us back to the port terminal building. Here I got a better view of that mysterious animal sculpture whose back had caught my eye earlier. The local guide told us it was supposed to be a lion!

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The port terminal building was still under construction, so there was no security checking performed there. All we did was make a pointless walk through the building, before queuing to board the port shuttle bus for the short distance back to our waiting ship. Thankfully the forecasted heavy showers had not materialised during our tour, although it was extremely humid, so I decided to stay in the cool of the ship that afternoon, rather than heading ashore again on foot.

Back on board, I went to the café for my lunch. As I sat there alone with my thoughts, I reflected on what I had seen and photographed that morning, and my thoughts homed in on the last picture above from the catamaran cruise showing the huge disparity in wealth reflected in the various buildings, and also the swooping bird. As I did so I became aware of the music playing in the café, it was Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”  – it seemed so appropriate for where my thoughts had led.

 

Postscript: Just before the sun went down I went up onto the top deck both to see if there was a sunset to photograph, and also to watch us sailaway from a South American port for the last time on this cruise. The clouds were too numerous to view the sun setting, and dusk was upon us before the mooring ropes were released and a tug helped us leave the port:

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As we sailed out, I noticed that one of the communication towers that I had seen glowing white in the morning sun as we sailed in, was now lit in a variety of colours shining out in the gathering darkness:

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We left the port and the pilot behind, and headed out into the vast Atlantic Ocean once more. A four day sea crossing lay ahead before we would reach our next port of call.

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