Even though we were in Montevideo, Uruguay not that long ago, a forced change in the Seven Seas mariner’s itinerary had us there again. Why? We were originally scheduled to make a call in the Falkland Islands, but because of a continued disagreement between the Falklands and Argentina, Argentina would not allow us to land there if we had already been or planned to go to the Falklands.
Although sorry to miss the Falklands, where we would surely have seen lots of penguins, we were happy to spend more time in Montevideo, Uruguay. No one minded because it is charming, plus there is a great food stall market, the Mercado del Puerto, in an old railroad station with many different kinds of grilled meats and a wide variety of Uruguayan wines. And, it was across the dock from the ship!
Legend had it that Montevideo was christened in 1516 when the Portuguese explorer Juan Diaz de Solis first laid eyes on a hill near the mouth of the harbor, and uttered the words “Monte vide eu” (I see a hill).
Since we had been here the week before, we killed time shopping, reading, swimming and sunning ‘til the next day when we had loaded a new group of passengers and headed for Punta del Este, Uruguay – again. This time we sailed into the harbor and tendered to shore in small speed boats that are also our life boats. It is known as the “St. Tropez of South America.”
We were excited to be back because this time we were going to the Ralli Museum of Contemporary Art, a lovely Spanish-style building in the fashionable Beverly Hills neighborhood. There was a fabulous set of Venetian scenes by Canaletto (I know he is not a contemporary artist) and others by Dali, Chagall, etc.
Ralli Museums is a private institution with five museums located in different cities around the world and features the world’s most complete collection of contemporary Latin-American art by living artists. They were founded by Harry and Martine Recanati and as a nonprofit, private institution do not accept donations or subsidies from either public or private sources, nor do they engage in commercial activity such as dining facilities or museum shops!
Then we were on to Casa Pueblo, once the home of famed Uruguayan painter and sculptor, Carlos Paez Vilaro. This “living sculpture” is a stunning masterpiece. It took 36 years to complete! The white stucco building sits on a spit of land jutting into the ocean. Each room has a swirling cone that is the roof. It too is white. From a distance the house looks just like a handful of Dairy Queen vanilla cones of different sizes. The stark white against the azure sky is just spectacular. It is a hotel, a museum and an art gallery filled with many sculptures, paintings and ceramics created by Vilaro himself.
Vilaro is also known for a heroic search for his son. The son was a soccer player and his team was flying to a match sometime in the ’70s when it crashed in the Andes, in the winter. There are few places on earth as desolate as the Andes, especially in the winter. The players thought they would not be found alive. Some were injured. They made a pact and signed it, saying that each gave permission that should they die, the survivors were to eat them to survive!
Three months after the crash, when the snow was gone, Vilaro gathered a crew and set out to walk into the Andes to find the team. He had never lost hope that his son and team had survived. And he did find his son and the surviving teammates. He considers that his finest achievement.
Our next stop was supposed to be Rio Grande do Sul (the great river of the south), Brazil where they speak Portuguese, which always surprises me as I tend to think of all of South America as speaking Spanish. It is the largest wine producing center in Brazil.
An amazing fact is that in 1748, 2,000 Portuguese settlers from the Azores arrived and 28,000 Germans came in 1824! They protected the regions from being invaded by neighboring countries and populated the barren interior of the southern region.
Unfortunately, high winds and rough seas prevented us from docking, and tendering in via lifeboats was out of the question. That caused a mad scramble among the staff to come up with alternate activities. Especially since the next day was a sea day! There were new lectures, shows by the entertainers, cooking demonstrations, dances and everything else they could think of.
Our resident anthropologist and storyteller, Terry Breen, presented a great program on Brazil’s plans for the 2016 Olympics.
The next day was spent relaxing, eating, drinking, eating, playing cards, eating, watching an old movie – “The Mission,” starring Robert De Niro – eating and napping. “The Mission” was set at Iguazu Falls, which we recently visited.
Our next stop was Porto Belo, Brazil, a seaside town that is the entry way to Blumenau, an hour inland. When we got off the bus we were in a charming alpine community where everyone seemed to speak German and the German influence was everywhere! Was this really the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina?
This was the home of Fritz Muller, the biologist who was Charles Darwin’s friend and who chose this region to live and study the local fauna and flora. He was born in Germany in 1822 and after studying natural sciences and finishing medical school, he set sail to Brazil in 1852. He wrote “Facts and Arguments for Darwin,” a book translated into English defending Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
Many Germans immigrated with him and the place is charming. We had lunch at a German restaurant, the Park Blumenau, and then visited the German gift shops. The town has an ecology museum in the old Muller homestead, a national park, a water museum, part of the Atlantic Rain Forest and the Spitzkopf Ecology Park.
The next day we landed in Santos, Brazil, the largest port in South America. We drove through the old city and its commercial architecture from the early 1900s was elegant. The old Coffee Museum was spectacular. It was inaugurated in 1922 to celebrate 100 years of Brazilian Independence and was designated the Coffee Trade Palace.
We visited the Santos Football Club stadium that is nearly 100 years old and that Pele made famous. Next we went to the Orchidarium, the orchid gardens. Gosh, it was hot and humid. Then we drove along the miles of sandy city beaches. They are wide, filled with umbrellas and people and ever so clean. They were beautiful. There are three more stops to make over the next few days before we reach Rio and start our journey toward the Amazon.