Baffled by Brazil

Day 56 – At port in Fortaleza – Find Insignia on CruiseMapper

Here at all-over-the-place Partout, Louis and Doris never expect (or want) international destinations to feel like home. After all, what’s the point of leaving home to be at home?

But Brazil – whose national motto is “order and progress” – has proven to be in a class all its own for presenting conditions unlike our home or any other non-home we have visited, and all of them are pretty much unsolved mysteries. If there are any detectives among you who can solve any of them, comment away!

A Variety of Complications

The first mystery arose in a letter from the captain left in our cabins as we approached Brazil.

“Due to a variety of complications with Vitoria port’s acceptance of cruise ships,” the letter read, “we will be revising our itinerary….” The revision involved replacing Vitoria of the unspecified complications with a second day in historic and scenic Salvador de Bahia. We never learned what the complications of Vitoria were, but we were delighted with an extra day in Salvador and gave the matter little thought. After all, whole countries already had been canceled. What was a mere city?

However, “a variety of complications” soon became the theme of our entire Brazilian visit.

The next message was more annoying than the first. It was entitled “Brazil Tax” and alerted us that a 25% surcharge would be levied on shipboard purchases, including alcoholic beverages, “to satisfy a local tax levied by Brazilian authorities.”

A 25% surcharge on purchases? Meu Deus! Buying onboard is expensive enough without a 25% markup. Local commercialism at work? Shoring up local municipal coffers? Who knows? But, again, no big deal for us. We have our own wine supply, and onboard shopping is not a priority.

Then came the ATM closure. “While Insignia is visiting Brazil and sailing in territorial waters, we are not permitted to operate the ATM on board,” our daily newsletter reported. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

We could understand a country wanting to funnel passengers into their shops but into their ATMs? Ooookay. Again, no bother for us. We avoid the ship’s ATM with its $5.99 withdrawal fee anyway but still. What next, Brazil?

It didn’t take long to find out.

The night before our first stop, the ship’s cruise director came on the loudspeaker to inform us that, per Brazilian policy, our temperatures would be taken every time we left and returned to the ship. This seemed a little ironic given Brazil’s catastrophic response to covid (the Lancet nicely sums that up) but, hey. That was then, this is now, new president and all that.

But the covid protocols didn’t stop with temperatures. The ship has experienced isolated covid infections since sailing. Until Brazil, the uninfected spouse/partner/roommate was given the option of confining with the infected travel mate in their own stateroom or moving to another room and being free to circulate on and off the ship, masked in public places.

Not in Brazil. Uninfected partners had the same option of locking in with the infectee or moving out, but now they, too, were confined to quarters for the duration of the quarantine. Explanation: Brazilian health requirements. (Guests try to estimate how many people are in quarantine by counting the telltale luggage racks at the doors where food trays are delivered and removed.)

And then there was the day the familiar disembarkment announcement, “We have been cleared by local authorities, and you may now proceed to the gangway” was followed within moments by, “Our apologies! We have not been cleared by local authorities. Please stand by for further announcement.”

We learned later that, yes, we had been cleared, and then we were uncleared. Because …? Another unsolved mystery in Brazil.

The Ultimate Mystery

Cruising is full of mysterious changes. At the opening welcome party, the ship’s general manager warned, “This is not a bus route. Changes will happen.” This being a shipload of mostly retired folks taking a dream trip, most people roll with the rollers, thoroughly aware that any minor convenience we may suffer is a supremely First World problem.

Then Brazil dealt the ultimate indignity: it took down our internet.  

We (passengers and maybe crew) have no idea how this was accomplished, or why. What we know is that, in the beginning (Santos/Sao Paolo), even the IT guy thought the disruption was just another shipboard internet failure. Ship happens! He re-set the network on this assumption. When that didn’t restore communications, the working theory was that some sort of incompatibility existed between Brazil’s 5G internet and our satellite links.

Finally, a week into our cruise up the coastline, we were told Brazil was interfering with our internet service everywhere within six miles of shore.

By then, the situation was disruptive enough (or the grumbling loud enough) that that the captain steered us one night out and beyond the six-mile mark just so people could go online.

Onward and Eastward

It hasn’t all been mystery and inconvenience, of course. Partout (and Louis’s camera) found plenty of dazzling sights as we sailed the 2,000+ miles from the port of Sao Paolo to Fortaleza, our final port. We will share some in our next (and final) blog from South America as we make the turn northeast to Cape Verde and Africa.

In the meantime, one last mystery we continue to puzzle over are the distinctive pictograph-like graffiti we saw on buildings, bridges and freeway overpasses up the entire coast. Doris repeatedly asked local guides whether the style and shapes meant something specific; she never got an explanation.

Like the variety of complications we encountered in Brazil, they are another mystery waiting to be solved.

An Unasked Question Answered

Doris asks, “How does an internet-based blog manage to blog when a host country has knocked out the ship’s internet?”

We probably could have sat around somewhere onshore using a public network. Instead, we used TMobile, whose international services (provided at no extra charge) so vastly outstrip any other US service provider’s that no avid traveler should leave home without it.

In port, we have used TMobile’s cellular network to reach the internet through mobile hotspots, post blogs and otherwise stay online despite Brazil’s best efforts to stop us. We also have used cellular to navigate the cobbled streets of every port since leaving the USA, to order Uber everywhere, to search for well-reviewed restaurants when eating onshore and to access Google maps to answer the ever-pressing question: “Where is the nearest wine store?” (And, trust us, with a 25% Brazilian tax on all alcohol purchases for 10 days? This became a pressing question for many passengers.)

The Verizon customers onboard? They can do the same … for $10/day.

We pay $90/month for all our domestic services, unlimited coverage in Canada and Mexico and 5 KGB/month of 5G data in virtually every country on earth. We can leave home without American Express but not without TMobile.

Coming Soon!

Bedazzled by Brazil

2 Months Down, 4 to Go

3 thoughts on “Baffled by Brazil

  1. Still loving your writing
    Don’t know if Pete sent you a note
    But we had a long day of no power yesterday
    Some SDG&E screw up
    Pete did check your place and found no problems
    So keep on sailing and writing
    Thanks for all your work


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