Have I Mentioned that Brazilians Like Their Beaches?

Day 62, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023; Alter do Chao, Brazil

Sand, sand, sand.

Alter do Chao is known for its beaches, and when the Amazon River is at record low levels, the beaches multiply. Today’s port is near Santarém, where we stopped five days ago, but a world apart from that city. This is a small beach town sometimes known as the “Caribbean of the Amazon.”

Tendering was only part of the journey ashore. A large wooden pier loomed up high, sparking the imagination of what this area must look like when the river is up. Our tender docked at a boat, which was rafted end-on-end with another boat, which was rafted end-on-end with a floating platform, which led to a long wooden pier and eventually a hill of sandy beach. After climbing that sand hill, we reached the original pier to be met by a local dancer.

The only ship excursion here went back to Santarém. Most of us just fanned out through the few blocks of the town and along the boardwalk. Shoppers bargained for jewelry, straw hats, t-shirts and mounted piranhas, spending any Brazilian real they still had, as this is our final of nine ports in the country. The piranha earrings were a big draw, as this seems to be the only place along the river to buy them.

Beyond the boardwalk is a long stretch of sand and a bit of shallow water, with beach huts on the far sandbar. Distinctive blue boats with white benches were anchored in the shallow water.

After walking through the town square with its small church and admiring the colorful murals, two of which marked the bathrooms by the pier, I reversed my journey back to the tender and the ship.

My recent reports on our shallow passage by the grounded ship near Manaus have made the “big time!” Fellow cruiser Ralph Bunting sent me the link to an article from The Maritime Executive, which provided details about the ship’s mishap. It also used one of my photos and referenced my report. In my ignorance of ship types, I called the vessel a cargo ship when it is in fact a tanker, so I corrected the original blog post.

Back on board, it seems trite to say “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” but that’s exactly what has been happening since the beginning of the month. Wreaths and other decorations are showing up here and there, and garlands grace the atrium stairways.

But the big activity was the construction of gingerbread villages near the Ocean Bar on the Upper Promenade. First the carpenters built platforms, and then the culinary and housekeeping teams started with draping, decorations and gingerbread creations.

Now there are more than 50 whimsical gingerbread structures, all made and decorated by the ship’s culinary team. Most but not all are in the central display, surrounded by lit trees, giant gift boxes and lots of hanging ornaments.

Other decorations grace the bars, lounges and restaurants – even by the Lido’s handwashing stations.

So far there has been no official opening ceremony, but it could still happen, as we are on board until Dec. 19. On previous pre-Christmas Grand Asia cruises, we had a tree unveiling with caroling and a visit from Santa Claus. After 30 years of cruising, this will be my first actually on board for Christmas, as I’ll jump to the Zuiderdam to join my family on Dec. 22.