By Karl Berger (Austrian) ~
…And then was nothing more left: Just to cruise the ocean, where the next target, Salvador da Bahia in Brazil, was about 2800 nautical miles (about 5000 km) away. Respectful we went out to the big ocean, thinking on the Sea-masters that did the travel a few hundred years ago. Alvares Cabral, has been the first that stepped on Brazilian ground, in 1500, just a few years after finding out that America isn’t India, by Columbus. Not to imagine what hurdles they had to take, having nothing more than the stars, a sailing boat, a small crew and lousy food on board. Also Dona Leopoldina came in my mind, when she was heading to Rio, where she had to meet her husband, Pedro I from Portugal, in 1817, whose 200th anniversary is coming soon, just in about two months. The Austrian were not so well prepared at that time, when they left Trieste, the seagoing harbor of the Habsburg monarchy. They lost one ship still in the Mediterranean Sea (Austria), and therefore Dona Leopoldina from Habsburg, had to move over to the other ship (Augusta) in order to arrive at the wedding date in Rio. When I appreciate my glass of Prosecco on deck 16, where all the nautical apparatus are installed, to find the right way to Rio, I think about this ancient way of navigation, of the suffering they had on board. About 70 days they needed for the whole distance that we shall do in 17 days only. A “sundowner gin and tonic” reminds me to the relieve they must have had when the hot equator sun has left the horizon, and the dark night frightened the crew and the captain, as the guests anyhow were stunned of fear and suffering. Our speed was about 20 knots and so I estimated 37 km per hour in order to calculate the equator crossing. The outside climate changed right after we left Tenerife, and the cool winds of the Mediterranean gave place to a worm breeze of the tropical belt, starting at 23 degrees of northern latitude. My calculation failed just a few minutes and almost punctually at 10:00 am we crossed from the northern to the southern hemisphere. Our German-table-colleagues had a guess that wasn’t that good, I found out at the Neptune´s party, where the celebration of crossing the Zero Meridian, was a happening that moved all the people to the pool where they just had fun and noisy music, beside lots of alcohol.
Quiet waters brought us further down to the southern hemisphere. Not any “affect” of the equator, as you are familiar on transatlantic flights, when the fasten-seat-belt-signs are announced due to tropical winds. The sea was just calm and easy. My book writing therefore advanced a lot, when after the workout in the morning and the following brunch I could find a few hours for just doing nothing, except writing a few pages. Exactly 143 hours, we could say six days, we were on open sea without any “terra a vista” , any land in sight, as the Portuguese would say. Then, suddenly a few birds came alongside the ship and we knew that the coast isn’t any further. Salvador´s skyline came to our view right after, and although early in the morning everybody got excited and went to deck or to the balconies in order to see the entrance to the “Bahia de todos os Santos”, the all-saints-bay, which is a three times bigger bay than the Bahia de Guanabara (Rio de Janeiros´ bay) is .
Big vessels were around and I had a look to the island Itaparica, which is about 20km away from the mainland. Knowing that there will be in future the biggest bridge of the southern hemisphere, connecting mainland and this peninsula, as I have seen a project sketch on a congress for bridge builders. I was probably the only on that ship, knowing about this mega project that may be realized only in 2030. Salvador welcomed us with a group of samba and capoeira people, performing next to the ship. Now, we felt really like home, the first time after leaving Venice. The “mercado modelo”, the handicrafts market, gave us a worm welcome and quickly I went to an Itaú cash machine to see whether my Brazilian credit card still was working fine. It was. Up the elevator we came to the well known Pellourinho, the historical part of Salvador. As the cathedral, which hosts almost a ton of plated gold on its interior, was closed, we went to the San Francisco church that impressed us again. Fresh coconuts and a cafezinho were the highlights as we didn’t opt for acarajé and vatapá, the local finger food favorites, well known from earlier trips to Bahia.
Coming back to the market we right met a few families from the ship and a beer or two was the lubricant for our conversation. Gauchos, Paulistas and we, all were glad to be “at home”, finally, and to speak their own language, to have a perfect temperature and always a breeze from the sea.
Leaving Salvador, our ship faced the strongest sea we had on our travel. Not gaily, would the seaman say, but rather strong. This night, I had to use my “sea-bands” again to avoid any nausea during night. Running down the shore we faced rain and so Rio de Janeiro was waking us up with clouded sky and a grey sugar-loaf that looked much more impressive, overwhelming I would say, from the coast line than from the mainland. Slowly the ship moved into the Guanabara Bay and all the famous buildings and skyline we witnessed from a different angle. It was just great. Flamengo beach to the left side was a piece of land that we know that well, the Christ statue of Corcovado was clouded but well we knew about its beauty. Finally we came closer to the port, to the praça Mauá, which nowadays is called “porto maravilha”, the marvelous port. Disembarkation was very easy and quick, as all the customs formalities were done some time before. Our luggage was fine and within a few minutes we had a taxi and the driver updated us on all the local issues. Luckily, he was a positive guy, and loved his city: his “cidade maravilhosa”, his marvelous city!