| Cunard Queen Victoria 2017 World Cruise
Sectors from Fort Lauderdale to New Zealand
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On departure from Barbados we were informed that it would be 1814.7 nautical miles to Manaus, our final destination and the limit of navigation for Queen Victoria. The Queen Victoria turned into the estuary of the Amazon River just after 2100 on 22 January, crossing the Amazon Bar. It was early evening and in spite of all the information it was a surprise to see the width of the Amazon Delta. It is supposed to be 200 miles wide. It is difficult to state the length of the Amazon because the river banks are not fixed and then it is difficult to compare with the other large river, the Nile, although it is generally agreed that the Nile is longer than the Amazon although the water flow is much smaller. The Rio Negro from Manaus is said to be about 1,240 miles long. Fortunately our Captain and his officers had done their homework well, and although he and the Queen Victoria had never been to the Amazon before he steered us safely across the Amazon Bar. The chart 2229 was pinned on the information board and included the pencil line showing the proposed track along the river. The Queen Victoria then proceeded up the river overnight, anchoring within sight of the pilot station at Macapa as scheduled at around 0730. Macapa is 133 nautical miles upstream from the bar. An announcement was made that the ship would now wait until the local pilots and the Customs officials came on board and we were cleared to continue our voyage. Two pilot boats arrived, and another boat to deliver the officials. There will be two pilots on the ship for the entire voyage and they will take turns so there is always one local pilot on the Bridge. Just after 0900 it was announced that the ship was cleared and we could proceed upstream. Queen Victoria turned around, away from Macapa, continuing west. Macapa is on the Equator and so we had crossed the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere but the traditional festivities associated with the event were delayed because we would be crossing back and then again in the Atlantic Ocean on 29 January.
The river is generally very wide with many low-lying islands and clumps of floating vegetation, mixed with narrower channels where it is possible to see local people and their small wooden houses. Sitting on Deck 9 there is a good view down and across towards the rainforest. We were often at the canopy height. Local travel is by boat and some canoes paddled across to welcome us, as well as small narrowboats and larger ferries passing. It will be the maiden visit of the Queen Victoria to Manaus, and it is said that she will be the biggest and largest ship to go to Manaus. The weather is hot and humid and overnight flying insects were attracted to the ship, although the instructions were to minimise lighting and keep doors closed. Deck crew were busy at dawn sweeping up all the insects and collecting them in bins. As well as lots of moths on the top decks there were also insects crawling in the water gutters and a few mosquitos on the glass doors. By breakfast they had all disappeared and the ship was pristine.
Today was an early start, standing on the front of Deck 5 and then moving to Deck 6, to watch the Queen Victoria arrive at the Meeting of the Waters, where the the River Negro joins the River Amazon. These two deck areas are usually restricted to staff only and were specially opened for everyone to use. The two rivers are different colours, with the River Amazon on the left the colour of milky coffee due to the silt collected as it flows to the ocean, and the Rio Negro on the right clearer and darker due to tannins. The two rivers do not mix and the Queen Victoria was able to make her way along the join, as the Cunard helicopter flew above taking publicity pictures. This maiden visit of the Queen Victoria caused a special celebration because she is the largest ship to get to Manaus, and there was a helicopter to take pictures as she arrived in the early dawn. Previously the Cunard Caronia/Saga Ruby had been to Manaus, but she is much smaller. The Marco Polo had also been to Manaus several times, but again she is smaller. Later in February 2017 the Holland America Prinsendam will be coming, formerly the Royal Viking Sun and owned for a short time by Cunard.
Manaus city is about 10 milea upstream on the River Negro and because of the different temperature and high acidity of the water there is much less risk of mosquitos, and malaria, than on the River Amazon. The general approach of the local people is that Manaus is a modern city, and there are only mosquitos in the jungle or when ferry boats moor in marshland. The waterfront was busy with riverboats, some large ferry boats carrying vehicles on the bottom deck and then two or three decks of open passenger spaces. Local people travelled on small canoes with outboard motors attached to long poles. There were several floating petrol stations and a pilot boat station. Along the waterfront there was a good view of the Market Hall (Mercado Publico Adolfo Lisboa), the Cathedral and the Customs House with a glimpse of the dome of the Teatro Amazonas, the famous Opera House of Manaus. The white classical facade of the brewery was beyond, towards the bridge which crosses the Rio Negro. The speed limit in the Port of Manaus is 10 knots and during our visit the typical flow of the river was 3 knots. Our journey dwnstream will be quicker, and the riverboats also do their return journeys in less time.
The river varies during the year and in February the level is still rising, the depth increasing, and many of the trees and islands presently visible on the banks opposite the city will disappear under the flooding waters as the season progresses. The solution is to build floating piers and our berth at the Torres Floating Pier was easy to access. There are up to 20 cruise ship visits each year, presumably on different days because the pier is not very long. It had been a pleasant journey upstream and we wondered why Cunard and other large cruise ships have not been here more often.
The area is famous for two types of dolphin, and they can be seen in Manaus and also in Santarem. The Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), also called the boto, is the largest species of river dolphin and it can grow to lengths of up to 2.6 metres (8 ft 6 in). The colour of its skin changes with age; young animals are grey, but become pink and then white as they mature. The pink colour is blood seen through a very thin skin and they can blush. The smaller tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) is also found in the rivers of the Amazon basin. While the Queen Victoria was proceeding to her berth there were glimpses of the pink dolphin.
Manaus was founded by the Portugese in 1669 who must have seen the benefits of settling at the join of the two rivers. The natural rubber industry brought an economic boom and great prosperity to the Amazon region that lasted from the late 19th century to about 1920. It was one of the first cities in Brazil to have electricity as well as having a system of trams and a modern sewage system. Manaus acquired magnificent houses and other buildings, including the ornate opera house. The port's commerce began in that period with the need to ship rubber products downriver. When the rubber market collapsed in the 1920s, with competing British-sponsered rubber production in Malaysia, Ceylon, India, Indonesia and Singapore, the Port of Manaus declined. It did not recover until 1967 when it was made a duty-free zone.
The day was going to be busy because there was the Manaus City Tour in the morning, then the Rio Negro boat trip in the afternoon. There was scheduled to be 90 minutes between the two tours so we expected no problems in getting back to the Queen Victoria for lunch and to re-fill our water bottles. The Manaus City Tour began with a drive past the British Customs House, the Alfandega, which was pre-fabricated in England using stone from Scotland. The tower used to be a lighthouse. The next feature was the general shopping area between the waterfront and the Avenida 7 de Setembro and then the fruit and vegetable market. There were mountains of hands of bananas next to piles of watermelons, local fruit, sacks of potatoes and limes. Everything was in large quantities and it is both a retail and wholesale market. Shopkeepers in small villages come to buy in bulk and then sell at a profit. A stroll outside led to the next market, which was full of small stalls with vegetables and spices, then a large open area selling meat and fish. There are thousands of different fish species in the River and the fish had to be de-scaled and the smaller fish were sliced in order to chop the many small bones so the fish could be eaten without further filleting. River fish are usually more boney than those from the ocean. There was plenty of time to explore independently and our guide helped us purchase some local cheese.
It was not far to the Mercado Publico Adolfo Lisboa, built in 1882, and modelled on Les Halles in Paris. The Mercado was restored in 1978 and the central area contains many local craft stalls; there is also fish, fruit and vegetables. The red funnel of Queen Victoria was only 300 metres away.
The second place on the itinerary was the Museu do Indio. The route passed some restored colonial-period mansions, including the Palacio Rio Negro on the Avenida 7 de Setembro which was built in 1913 for Waldemar Scholz, a German rubber baron. The gardens are open to the public and it is now a cultural centre. On our way to the Museu do Indio we were told there had been problems at the local prison and that the building was ahead of us, with all the police cars. The Museu do Indio is a small museum which is part of the Salesian convent and the contents show the history and lifestyle of the local Indian people. It is open in the morning and the afternoon but closed at lunchtime. There are five rooms containing weapons, tools, household objects, hammocks, medical equipment, musical instruments and artwork. The explanation of rituals for death included wooden tools for the grinding of bones after the body had decayed. There was also a long explanation of the use of curare as a poison on spears and blow pipe darts so it would paralyse the game without killing those eating it latter - a delicate art. The area had some boarded houses and people sleeping rough on the pavement and was therefore best accessed by tour or taxi.
The final visit and highlight was to the Teatro Amazonas, the Manaus Opera House. It is adjacent to the main square, the Praca do Congresso, and the Palace of Justice. Both were built during the term of Governor Eduardo Ribeiro, the state governor of Manaus during the golden years of the Rubber Boom in the final years of the nineteenth century. The Teatro Amazonas is located on the side of the Praca Sao Sebastiao, named after the church of the same name which was completed in 1895. The ceiling painting is by Domenico de Angelis who also worked on the Teatro Amazonas. The Praca Sao Sebastio is a large square which is paved with the classic black and white wave pattern seen in Lisbon, there is a memorial in the centre, and surrounding gardens and statues.
The Teatro Amazonas is set above the street and there is an access road up to the entrance which is supposed to be of stones incorporating latex to reduce the noise made by the wooden wheels of carriages. An example of a carriage is on display.There were no information books or music CDs for purchase and our information comes from a pack of 12 postcards produced in 1996 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building of the Teatro Amazonas, and which includes a postcard of the building under construction. The cornerstone was laid in 1884 and the Teatro Amazonas had its design drawn up in Portugal at the Lisbon Engineering Office. The wealthy rubber barons wanted Manaus to have a spectacular Opera House matching the best in the world and all the best materials were used. In order to achieve the desired luxury and refinement, most of the materials used in the construction were brought from Europe: glazed tiles from Alsace for the dome; iron railings and furniture in the style of Louis XV of France; Italian marble; steel beams from Glasgow; fittings and the rose window for the main hall from the Koch Fréres Parisian house. Only the wood used in the floor and the chairs came from Brazil, from Bahia, but they were hand worked in Europe before they were actually used in the building. It was usual to transport work to Europe from Manaus and it is reported that wealthy ladies sent their gowns back to Europe for cleaning. The Teatro Amazonas was inaugurated on 31 December 1896 and only completed more than two years later. It therefore dates from the same times as our house. The Italian Liric Company performed for the inauguration night.
The facade of the Teatro Amazonas was originally painted pink and it was restored to that colour in the last restoration in 1990. It had been painted blue and grey in previous redecorations. The construction of the theatre used the most advanced construction techniques of the time, introducing metal structures, especially the dome, with its iron frame being brought from Europe. This grand element that does not have the function of giving light to the internal space, stands out not only for its size but also for its unique multicolored coating, in all 36,000 glazed ceramic tiles that, besides providing a monumental character to the building, reflects the desire to make this theater an unique piece of work in architecture. The mosaic forming patterns with the colours of the brazilian national flag.
The auditorium is said to resemble the shape of a harp. The painting of the ceiling of the auditorium was made by the Brazilian artist Crispim do Amaral, and reproduces the vision that one person would have by standing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and looking up. The four paintings around represent Dance, Tragedy, Opera and Music. The chandelier is made of French bronze and Italian crystal. There is a mechanism that allows the chandelier to lower at the audience level for cleaning and maintenance. The stage drop cloth used in the centenary celebrations in 1996 was also painted by Crispim do Amaral and represents the "meeting of the waters" of the Negro river with the Solimoes river, forming the Amazon river. The painting shows Yara, "The Mother of the Waters" and two gods representing the rivers. On our visit it seemed to be a different drop cloth. The drop cloth raises entirely up to the dome, without folding or rolling, to avoid damage to the painting. The stage of the Amazon theatre has a hydraulic mechanism that permits its frontal part to lower about 3 metres below its regular level, allowing for dynamic set-up for orchestras and other interesting effects. A central underfloor airconditioning system has been added.
The Amazon Theatre has 700 seats, 250 in the stalls on the ground floor, in red velvet covered wooden chairs, plus 450 in the boxes. There are 90 boxes, with 5 seats each, divided into its three floors. There is a special box reserved for the Governor of the Amazon State, that is also used by the President of Brazil, when he's present. On each column of the 22 columns in front of the noble boxes on the ground floor there is a Greek Tragedy Mask, representing a famous artist, writer, painter or musician such as Shakespeare, Moliere, Goethe, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and others. Important families at that time had their own private box and donated their matching mask. The auditorium has near perfect acoustics for all kinds of performances, from single guitar to an entire company even without an amplification.
On the first floor, the Noble Room of the Amazon Theatre was used originally for dance parties and ceremonies. It was decorated by the italian artist Domenico de Angelis in 1899 and presents paintings with regional motifs, statues of famous artists like the one of the composer Carlos Gomes, and the painting of the ceiling. The paintings of the ceiling represent the Glorification of the Arts in the Amazon : Dance, Painting, Music and Acting. A special painting technique gives the observer the sensation that the eyes of the main personages of the painting are always looking at him, no matter the position he stays in the room. Over the metallic columns, cornices, balustrades and pillars, the technique of stucco has been used, making it resemble marble. The illusionist effect can also be seen in faux tapestry, on painted Gobelins representing the fauna and flora of the Amazon Region, a theme required by the Amazon State Government. The floor was made of 12,000 pieces of noble woods handworked in Europe and mounted without the use of nails or glue. The chandeliers are italian Murano glass, and very old and valuable. There is a balcony with a blue and white ceiling reminiscent of the work of Wedgewood. A small museum includes musical instruments and another has examples of costumes used for the 17th Amazon Opera festival in 2013, Parsifal by Richard Wagner, and for the 18th Amazon Opera Festival in 2014, Manon Lescaut by Puccini. There was chance to admire the iron staircase, made in Europe.
The Teatro Amazonas has undergone some renovations since its opening in 1896. It presented its last full-length opera in 1909, then fell into disrepair, housing variety shows and local school productions. There was an effort in 1974 when a broad restoration took place, preserving its original architectural style and giving the building a more modern infrastructure, with new lighting and air conditioning. There were also some internal adjustments and restoration of furnishings at this time. The last intervention, back in 1990, corresponded to the full restoration of the theatre, which had serious conservation issues. At that time, Brazilian and foreign technicians recovered the original features of all paintings by Domenico de Angelis and by Crispim do Amaral, the bronze and crystal Murano chandeliers, the two house drapes, among other pieces of art. Its gilt-edged interior was restored over two years, at a cost of more than $14 million, most of which was paid by the government of Amazonas state. The restored theatre was unveiled on March 17 1990 to an invited audience. It was planned that Placido Domingo would take part in a performance of Bizet's opera Carmen after he performed in Rio and as part of a series of cultural performances. Unfortunately funding to keep the Opera House open was frozen by central government and he did not perform. Twenty six years later, on 28 August 2016, Placido Domingo visted Manaus and is reported to have expressed interest in performing for the first time at the Opera House. The first famous tenor to perform was Jose Carreras who opened the concert series for the Centenary Celebrations on 27 February 1996. Tickets were reported in the LA Times to have cost $600 each and for the tenor to have been paid $300,000 to perform.
There seems to be another Amazon Opera House, the Theatro da Paz in Belem. It was founded in 15 February 1878, inspired by La Scala in Milan. The theatre originally had 1,100 seats, reduced to 900 today. The images show it has a similar colour scheme, similar inspired design and was also assembled from parts from Europe. It is slightly older and larger.
After a quick lunch the Rio Negro Cruise departed from the other side of our pontoon, at the bottom of the gangway. The riverboat retraced our morning arrival as far as the Meeting of the Waters, where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes meet. The journey downstream from the pontoon was an hour. It was a much better view of the two different colours as they flowed downstream alongside, even though it has generally a less sharper edge in the afternoon, especially after the riverboat tours have churned up the water. The combined river is very wide, as can be seen by the size of the canoes and small fishing boats.
The journey continued back towards Manaus along the Rio Negro, passing small groups of floating wooden houseboats. Houses on land are built on stilts to cope with the changing river heights. Lake January is an ecological park situated between the two rivers. The area used to have builders of wooden boats but because of the politics of cutting down local trees thie business has ended and new boats are now made of steel or aluminium. Repair and maintenance of the existing old wooden craft is difficult. The next stage of the journey through the narrow channels is on motorised canoes, each seating 10 people, which are powered by outboards. The canoe station also has a restaurant and souvenir shops. The expectation was that the lake was home to lots of giant Victoria-Regia water lilies. There was a group, not far from the canoe station, but they were not large amd looked wilted. The motorised canoes also had difficulty keeping far enough away and many of the leaves were holed and worn. Nevertheless the leaves are still sharp and dangerous and the guide who handled a leaf to show its underside did so carefully, holding it with a shoe in one hand for protection. We had seen better waterlilies in other countries.
The journey on the water was interesting and there were giant white egrets on the banks and at the top of the trees. There were also other colourful water birds, the size of coots. Local Indians came to offer us a small animal for a photo - maybe a monkey but we didn't stop to look. There was time to buy a drink and look at the souvenir stalls before embarking our riverboat.
The tour returned to the Queen Victoria just as the buses were being loaded to go to the Teatro Amazonas for the special music concert. Our return was scheduled for 1830 and checkin for the concert was 1845. Those who attended reported that it was an excellent concert which began with Mozart but then quickly moved to Brazilian music, gradually becoming more modern. However there was alternative entertainment on board. It was Burns Night and at 1945 there was a celebration in the Queens Room of the life and works of Scotland's favourite son. Anyone who had brought their tartan wore it. The celebration began with the traditional parade of the haggis, carried by the chef and led in by bagpipes, then the Selkirk Grace and the Address to the Haggis. Glasses of Scotch whisky toasted the Lassies and there was a response which toasted the Gentlemen. The poem "Tom o'Shanter" was read and finally everyone stood to sing Auld Lang Syne. Haggis nips and tatties was on the menu (as a starter) in the restaurants.
Having stayed overnight and then departed at 0700 our Manaus pilot disembarked at 1430 as we passed a town (San Sebastian?) and the two Amazon pilots joined for the remaining journey.
The next part Continues the Journey at Santarem, the next major town down the Amazon where the Tapajós river joins the Amazon and again the town is beside clear waters of the Tapajós which then meets the Amazon without mixing. Once more we did a rather different river trip in the morning.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 5th March, 2017