Japan April 2024

Nowadays, I often travel for meeting my family and friends and reunions. This time, a friend would celebrate his 35th birthday on 27 April in Tokyo . As spring is a great time to see flowers in Japan, I took this opportunity to visit a few flower parks before joining my friends in Tokyo, Kamakura and Karuizawa.

Tokyo 23 – 29 April

I took a late morning flight and landed in the Narita Airport, Tokyo around 4:30 pm. The immigration service was very efficient (unlike the bad experience in Osaka last November) and I was on a bus heading to Shinjuku at 5:20 pm. I checked in a WPU Hotel which is very convenient and close to meeting points of the two day trips I had joined.

On April 24, I took a minibus tour (only nine passengers) to Mt Fuji on a rainy cold day. At the first stop – Fuji Motosuko Resort, we were given only an hour to visit a flower park known for Phlox subulata (ground pink). We paid an entrance fee of yen 1,000. While most tourists look for sunny days for selfies, I don’t mind all weathers: it is more atmospheric and moody with drizzle, mist and an overcast sky. The next stop was a spot for a postcard view of Mt Fuji. As it was raining, there was no view at all. We left after five minutes and stopped for lunch. All of us rushed in a mini-supermarket for bento / cup noodles / sandwich. Thereafter we were taken to the Gotemba Premier Outlets for two and a half hours! I headed to Konohana no Yu, a hot spring day spa which open-air baths overlook Mt Fuji. Though there was no view, the spring water proved to be good for my bones and muscles. At 4:30pm, we headed back to Tokyo. Most people on the minibus were disappointed. I took things easy enjoying the journey through mist, rain, spring green leaves and flowers.

On 25 April, I joined a tour to Hitachi Seaside Park in the morning and Ashikaga Flower Park in the afternoon. We set off at 7:30 am and did not return to Shinjuku till 6 pm. The bus was full with over 40 passengers. It took two hours to get to the seaside park: locals as well as tourists all come to see hemophilia. I found the crowd horrifying: I ran into people every single step. As I walked slowly I spent two and a half hours in a small corner of this expansive park enjoying the blue and purple hemophilia, yellow canola flower and watching people and their dog.

We had a bento/lunch box in the bus and arrived at Ashikaga famous for wisteria and rhododendron (azalea) at this time of the year. I spent a whole day in this park on my own in 2019. This time I was only given an hour to see the park. How could one really enjoy and appreciate the flowers when being surrounded by thousands of visitors? As a professional and flexible tourist, I made best use of my time revisiting the old and gigantic wisteria trees. The azalea was in full bloom with gorgeous colours. The park is indeed an extravaganza and the bright and colourful azaleas made me dizzy.

On 26 April, I moved to a hotel in Tsukiji where the famous fish market was once located. As I could not check in till 3 pm, I strolled in the area and had a fish bowl for lunch. I discovered that the Tsukiji Honganji was celebrating from 26 to 29 April the 850th anniversary of Honen (1173-1263) and the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Jodo Sect (Pure Land) of Buddhism in Japan. On the way back to the hotel, I stayed in temple and attended a ceremony. The hall was full and as the scripture was written in Chinese, I could follow the chanting. When I got back to the hotel after 3 pm, Alice also arrived from Hong Kong. We walked around Ginza with a view to finding a nintendo switch (a birthday present for Alan) to no avail. We googled and decided to take the metro to Shibuya which is a vibrant area full of young people. It was an eye-opening experience for me to see this famous game shop in a hip area. Alice and I had a beer after we accomplished our mission before joining Robert, Alan, Reiko, and Tracy for an excellent 8-course dinner at Habukatei in Shinjuku-ku.

Today was the big day for Alan. Robert, Alice and I spent a relaxing and most enjoyable afternoon to experience the neighbourhood in Omotesado Hills. I like the leafy, trendy, and relaxing atmosphere. We began with lunch at Afternoon Tea, an institution in the area famous for cakes. Then we visited a boutique shop to buy watches. We ended up in another shop buying pottery and drinking sake! In the evening, we had a sumptuous 8-course dinner in a French restaurant to celebrate Alan’s birthday. What a great day!

On 28 April, I spent a day with friends in Kamakura. We visited a friend’s holiday home in Enoshima with a lovely sea view on one side and Mt Fuji on a clear day from the other side. After spending a leisure morning strolling around and having a Thai lunch, we headed to Genjiyama Park to meet architect and ‘minka‘ expert Yoshihiro Takishita. His passion for wood and preservation of minka are admirable. We spent two hours talking about architecture, minka and art. Inspiring! We returned to Tokyo and had beef for dinner. But I had too much meat which upset my stomach.

Karuizawa 29 April – 1 May

I got up early from a sleepless night and attended a morning ceremony at Tsukiji Honganji from 7 to 8 am. Only a small number of Buddhists came and I once again could follow the chanting. The setting, clothes, decorations, music and rituals are different. I returned to the hotel doing nothing till I checked out at 11 am. I went straight to the Tokyo train station to wait for the 2 pm train to Karuizawa as I was in no mood to walk around. Tracy and I arrived in Karuizawa before 3:30pm. This was my second visit and I walked to the Kumobo Pond which still looked lovely. At 7:30pm, Robert, Alan, Tracy and I had another sumptuous dinner with wine, grilled beef and chicken at a nice western restaurant called Pyrenees.

We started the day on 30 April with drizzle. Despite the weather, we had a great busy day. We started off with a brunch finishing 1.5kg of soba in a typical noodle restaurant in Ginza shopping street in old Karuizawa. Then we visited the Shiraito Waterfall measuring 3m in height and 70m in width, in a lush forest. The next must-see is the Kumanokotai Shrine located at 1200m at the border of Nagano and Gunma Prefectures. I saw three elegant dogs that I have never seen before . The last stop was the Stone Church built with stone and glass in 1988 by American architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg in honour of Uchimura Kanzo, the Japanese Christian evangelist who founded the Nonchurch Movement in 1901. It is now a popular wedding venue. We were delighted to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in Bakery and Restaurant Sawamura that was opened in 2015. In the evening, Robert invited Tracy and I to his new vacation home which is a dream house! We had delicious shabu shabu paired with nice white and red wine. A great day!

The weather on my last day in Karuizawa was bad, cold and miserable. I took the 8:04 am bus to Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma Prefecture which is one of Japan’s three most famous onsens (the other two are Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture and Gero Onsen in Gifu Prefecture). Kusatsu Onsen boasts the largest flowing water volume of all hots springs. The water is one of Japan’s most acidic. It is a small town with lots of hotels and eateries.

The first place I visited was the Kosenji Temple located up in the hill above Yubatake. The temple celebrates the glory of Kusatsu Onsen and has many monuments including a famous Edo poet Issa Kobayashi (1763-1827). Once again, I paid respect to Kobo Daishi here. I walked around the amazing Yubatake. Then I wandered around the narrow lanes, sampling the local pudding before finding my way to enjoy a soak in Ohtaki-no-yu. It charges a high entrance fee of yen 1100. But I am not impressed and only stayed for an hour. The onsen experience in Mt Fuji is much better. When I left, it poured with rain. As I had no umbrella, I took shelter in the cafe having a drink and noodles for half an hour. I planned to take the 2:50 pm express bus back to Karuizawa and decided to walk in the rain to the bus terminal. The rain was so heavy when I got back to Karuizawa. Having got myself an umbrella, I went shopping buying a T-shirt, a pair of pants and a windbreaker in a small local shop run by an elderly lady. She looked so happy to see me and I spent almost an hour there! A highlight of my day!

May 2 Tokyo- Hong Kong

My plane would depart at 5 pm. I decided to take the 8:17am train to Ueno so that I could visit the garden or a museum in the morning. It worked out well and I spent two hours looking at the special exhibition “Honen and the Pure Land” in the Tokyo National Museum, to mark the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Jodo sect. The exhibition is indeed impressive tracing the history of the Jodo sect through an extensive collection of national treasures and cultural properties owned by Jodo sect temples across Japan. The oldest exhibits dated back to the 13th century. They include invaluable notebooks, illustrated biographies, paintings, sculptures, calligraphy and Buddhist scriptures etc. Japanese are perfectionists: the meticulous way they have preserved these Buddhist treasures is most admirable. As a Buddhist, I could have spent a whole day with an audio guide to better understand the Jodo sect and to fully appreciate the excellent exhibits. But I had to leave around midday to take the Keisei Skyliner to the airport. Everything went smoothly and I landed in Hong Kong as scheduled at 9 pm.

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Swakopmund & Cape Town 23-24 March 2024 & Epilogue

March 23 Swakopmund – Cape Town

As our flight to Cape Town would depart at 5 pm, we had a morning tour of Swakopmund a pretty city on the coast of western Namibia, about 35km from Walvis Bay. Founded in 1892 as the main harbour for German South West Africa, Swakopmund with a population of about 50,000 has been a popular beach resort characterised by 19th century German colonial architecture. The city is inhabited by some indigenous people of Namibia including the San, the Ovatjimba, Ovatue, Ovahimba and other groups. We were taken to visit Mondesa, a suburb with performance by a local community. A group of children and teenagers sang and dance while a few indigenous ladies performed their traditional dance. I tried some local food including fried insects.

After lunch at the Tuc Restaurant by the seaside, we departed to the airport at 2 pm, departed for Cape Town at 5 pm and landed shortly after 7 pm. We were transferred to a nice modern hotel in the downtown area. Teresa and I skipped dinner and had a good rest on land after spending 21 nights at sea.

March 24 Cape Town – Hong Kong

My flight would depart for Doha at 7 pm. Having been to Cape Town several times, I was not keen to rush around. The only place I liked to visit this time was the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a World Heritage Site. Acclaimed as one of the great botanic gardens of the world, it is located at the eastern slopes of the Table Mountain and home to over 22,000 different plant species and over 200 different species of birds have been spotted. After checking out at 10:30am, I went to the garden with Elita and Jimmy who are also from Hong Kong. We spent over three hours strolling in the garden taking photos of flowers and plants. Highlight of the day was when Jimmy spotted a beautiful sunbird. The photo he took can be found in the collage below.

We returned to the hotel before 3pm and had a quick bite at Macdonald nearby. Then I departed for the airport and checked in before 4:30pm. Also the security and immigration service at the airport is incredibly slow. By the time I got inside at the departure hall, it was almost 6pm! I was exhausted and almost could not stand. Something must be wrong with the system! I flew to Doha, spent two hours at the airport and then took seven hours to fly back to Hong Kong. I landed at 9:30pm and was out of the airport shortly after 10 pm and was home before 10:40pm. Efficiency of the Hong Kong airport, immigration service and transportation are unrivalled. I am glad to be back in my small but sweet home.


This 21-day expedition far exceeds my expectations. Though I have been to Port Stanley and South Georgia and sailed to the Tristan da Cunha Archipelago, I have not really seen much in the first two places and have not stepped ashore the archipelago. Hence, I looked forward to this voyage and feel blessed as I have been able to spend memorable time in all these places this time. There are several aspects that I would like to highlight about this most memorable expedition. First, the weather was perfect and the sea was calm. As a result, we were able to visit the places as scheduled. I had no uncomfortable feeling during the entire voyage. Second, the expedition team led by Claudia with team members mostly from the Apex Expedition did a fantastic job. The 34 lectures and the six ship/zodiac cruises are excellent and most enjoyable. i enjoy meeting Peter, Shirley, Johnathan, Ingrid (a good story teller), Dave, Matt (to name just a few). When Peter told me a coming expedition this October from Costa Rica to Chile on Silver Wind, I decided to join. Third, I saw lots of icebergs when sailing around South Georgia: this is not what I had expected. Fourth, the wildlife is amazing. Though I missed the grandeur of Salisbury Plain where I landed in 1999, I was thrilled to find King Penguins on iceberg and watched them swimming and jumping out of water when zodiac cruising off the Salisbury Plain this time. I also saw Gentoo, Macaroni, Southern and Northern Rockhopper, Magellanic and African Penguins. Albatross is impressive: I was excited to see Wandering, Southern Royal, Tristan, Sooty, Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Black-browed and Gray-headed Albatrosses. In addition, we found Blue, Fin, Sperm and Mike Whales, Orca, Pilot Whale, dolphins, and millions of shearwaters and fur seals in the Tristan Archipelago and seals and flamingos in Walvis Bay in addition to countless petrels, skuas, terns, gulls and shags we saw during the voyage. As I find the camera too heavy to carry, I have mainly used my phone. Hence I had no good photos of birds and wildlife. I use below some images provided by Silver Cloud.

The expedition on Silver Cloud is only part of my 78-day journey (8/1-24/3/24). When I first planned this journey, I intended to visit Africa and perhaps Europe after the boat trip. But in view of the hip problem, I decided to return to Hong Kong from Cape Town. As a whole I have had a wonderful time: knowing my limitations, I would only do what I can and should. I am glad I survived despite three minor falls without mishaps. I remained in reasonably good health without catching flu or Covid and had no seasickness.

In brief, I had my amazing close encounter with half a dozen Sperm Whales in Dominica that is enchanting. Due to walking problem at times, I had not done as much as I used to do: just a few hours of activities at snail pace with plenty of rest in the evening. Travelling through the Northeast Brazil opens my eyes to how enormous and powerful Amazon is and Brazil’s rich resources. Brazil has relatively good infrastructures in terms of air and national highway. I am however not impressed by Manaus, my jungle experience and the 5-day boat trip downstream to Belem. But Sao Luis, Recife, Olinda, Salvador and Boipeba are worth visiting. I hope to return to Salvador one day to watch the carnival when I can go on to visit French Guiana, Suriname, Venezuela, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

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Remote Atlantic Islands & Namibia 10-23 March 2024

March 10-12 Sailing to Tristan da Cunha Archipelago (1388NM)

The weather is the king of the sea: we sailed on in search of the calm sea and sped ahead to reach the Tristan Archipelago where fine weather would expected as per weather forecast. Nature is incredible: no one knows what is installed ahead. On March 10, we continued to encounter countless icebergs and the Captain and his crew had to sail most carefully. When the Captain realised Iceberg D28a which was split off from the Amery Ice Shelf was ahead, he steered the boat to D28a so that we could have a chance to sail along it. We got fairly close to it and watched it for over half an hour. We saw blue and jade icebergs and numerous gigantic tabular icebergs. What a treat!

The weather began to warm up as we sailed towards the Tristan Archipelago. Days at sea passed quickly as I attended all the lectures that are interesting. At 4 pm every afternoon, I would have afternoon tea savoring a scone with cream and strawberry jam followed by recap at 6:15 pm and dinner at 7 pm. When we approached the islands, we began to spot the three beautiful species of albatrosses of the area, namely yellow-nosed, sooty and Tristan albatrosses. There are plenty of shearwaters, terns and petrels

March 13 Gough Island by Zodiac

I was excited to see sunrise at Gough Island, one of the least disrupted ecosystems left on this planet. The vertical ramparts of the sea cliffs of the island provide important habitat for almost the entire global populations of the Tristan Albatross and the Atlantic Petrel. Prominent features of the island are still in my memory from my last visit in 2016. But this time, I have been able to see much more: sheer cliffs and features of the coastline, the basalt rock formation, sea caves, vegetation, numerous seals on the beach, petrels, Sooty and Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, and Northern Rockhopper Penguins. Some also spotted the endemic Gough Bunting.

March 14 Inaccessible Island by Zodiac 

We arrived at the Inaccessible at sunrise. The weather looked great and we were all got ready for a zodiac cruise. Unfortunately, the swell was over 1.5m and it was difficult to operate the zodiac safely. Instead, we had a boat cruise of about 75 minutes. I must say a boat cruise is totally different from a zodiac cruise. We had so much time that we cruised twice: clock-wise and counter-clockwise. We had a pleasant day ending with cocktail on the pool deck at 6 pm for a recap and to watch sunset with thousands of shearwaters heading back to the island.

March 15 Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha first discovered at the beginning of the 16th century by Portuguese explorer Tristo da Cuhna and dominated by the 2000-m tall Queen Mary’s Peak, is the world’s remotest inhabited island with a population of 260. The 1961 volcanic eruption brought temporary disruption to the islanders who had to take refuge in the UK for over a couple of year. We were fortunate with the weather which was sunny and warm. We also managed to get ashore safely despite the swell, with the help of six experienced crew at the gangway.

I spent the whole day on the island. While a small group hiked to the top of newly formed volcano next to the settlement, I took a leisure walk with a local guide. We stopped at a few landmarks including the post office, the Anglican and Catholic churches, the hospital (but we did not have a tour), and the Hatched House Museum. At noon, I tasted a the famous Tristan Rock lobster sandwich in the Post Office/Tourist Office/Cafe building.

After lunch, I paid USD10 (pp) for a ride to the famous potato patches with Skip. The driver, who has been working in the UK and Australia, prefers to spend his retirement life on his own on the island. He showed me his potato patch which is a bit off the main road. While Skip took the ride back to the centre, I decided to take the 3-km long walk. I first walked back to the driver’s patch where his cousin was tilling in the field with his family. I watched the team of three work and was amazed to see the number of potatoes they got from a small plot. Their patch would give them enough harvest for home consumption for a year. Life on the island is simple: each family has two cows, two sheep, two cars and a potato patch where they have their holiday home. They can go out to fish and catch crawfish and spend the weekend away from the village if they want. They are happy to live on the island. I walked as slowly as a snail soaking in the atmosphere and was ready to return to the boat after 4pm. I got sight of a fishing boat in the port and was lucky to have a look of a live Tristan Rock Lobster.

March 16 Nightingale Island by Zodiac

The original plan was to have a zodiac cruise / kayak in the morning followed by a landing in the afternoon. The swell was much for kayaking. So everyone took a zodiac cruise to the Middle Island and Stoltenhof Island. We saw plenty of Northern Rockhopper Penguins swimming in clear water around the zodiac and on the rocks. The giant kelp that can grow to 40m is most impressive. The rocky shore was full of baby seals with the adults enjoying themselves in the water. The landscape especially the Stoltenhof Island is stunning. On the way back to the boat, we witnessed how a petrel took and feasted on a wounded penguin. That is a nature and survival for the fittest.

The original plan was to land on Nightingale Island in the afternoon to look for the penguins and yellow-nosed albatross. But as the landing area is now covered with seals, the expedition team considered it not safe to land. Instead we had another cruise to explore the other side of Nightingale Island. Dave was the zodiac driver and we had an excellent time exploring several sea caves with lichen and moss in bright colours.

March 17 Inaccessible Island

As we had left South Georgia one day early, the expedition team arranged a morning zodiac cruise on the northern side of Accessible Island as the swell was manageable. When I first woke out and found the island top covered in mist, I was not hopeful. Anyway, by the time we stepped into the zodiac at 9:30am, the sun had come out and the sea remained calm. We had a nice cruise exploring the further side of the northern shore of Inaccessible Island. The bay was sheltered, nice and calm. We saw plenty of seals, waterfalls, and some Northern Rockhopper Penguins from a distance. However while two zodiacs continued to go east to almost the end of the northern shore, our zodiac turned back in order to look for penguins. As a result, we missed a fantastic wildlife extravagance of albatrosses, two big male seals fighting over a female seal, terns and skuas (A passenger told me about this later that day).

The scenic zodiac cruise of Inaccessible Island drew this expedition to a happy ending. Though we would still have a day with activity in Namibia on March 22, we all felt that this expedition had ended on a high note with a grand slam in the Tristan da Cunha Archipelago. Peter Harrison, an authority on seabirds who has been travelling for over 40 years, said it was only the third time he managed to visit all three islands on a single expedition with good weather. We were indeed blessed! While having steamed Tristan Rock Lobster for lunch by the pool, we watched beautiful clouds veiling over Tristan da Cunha. It is likely to be the first as well as the last time I visit this remotest inhabited island! Goodbye, Tristan da Cunha Archipelago

March 18 – 21 Sailing to Walvis Bay (1632NM)

We had four full days at sea. The weather conditions were excellent and the sea was generally calm. Unfortunately there was not much to see (no land and few birds). The expedition team kept us busy by putting on three or four lectures a day and a bridge tour. In addition, there were other activities including team trivia, spa seminar, golf putting, quiz etc. When I reviewed the daily chronicles, I realised I had attended altogether 34 educational lectures plus a few workshops on ancient navigation. Among all the talks, I find Peter Harrison’s last talk on “Seven Years Seven Continents” which is actually about his life, passion, career and achievements, most moving and Shirley Metz’s account of her ski as the first woman to the South Pole in 1989 inspiring. I am truly lucky to meet this remarkable couple on this expedition.

March 22 Walvis Bay, Namibia

Today, we landed in Walvis Bay, Namibia. I got up early to watch a beautiful sunrise over breakfast. After docking at a pier, we disembarked and had to go the Namibia Immigration Office. I disembarked about 10 am and did not get a stamp on my passport till 11 am. Very inefficient! I joined a group to take a harbour cruise followed by kayaking. I had a wonderful morning on the boat watching the performance of a seal that leaped onto the boat to get fed. We were excited to find two the strange looking sunfish swimming close to the boat. There were numerous seals popping out of the water.

After an hour’s cruise, we went ashore and were treated with champagne and a light lunch. I had not kayaked for years and dared not partner with Teresa who had never kayaked before. So she went off with another guest who is experienced while I took a solo kayak. There was no current and I managed to kayak with ease after a while. There were countless seals swimming around and on the beach. Unfortunately we could only kayak for about 40 minutes. We then had a ride along a long seashore lined with Greater and Lesser Flamingos, terns and many other birds. Finally we mounted a dune offering panoramic views of salt pans and a salt plant. We were back on the boat around 2:30pm.

Teresa and I felt tired and spent the rest of the afternoon getting ready for disembarkation the following day. I got all dirty clothes washed. We had briefing by Claudia and the expedition team at 4:45pm and a farewell reception at 6:30pm. We watched a memorable video of the expedition.

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Silver Cloud March 2-10, 2024

Why this Expedition?

This Silver Cloud expedition with 203 passengers onboard and an expedition team of 27 goes from Puerto Williams, Chile to Walvis Bay, Namibia from March 2 to 23. During this 22-day Atlantic journey, passengers would spend about ten days visiting the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, three islands in the Tristan Archipelago (Gough and Nightingale Island, and Tristan da Cuna) and Walvis Bay. As a matter of fact, I have the fortune to travel to all these places before. But I did not see much of the Falklands owing to a storm in 1999. Our boat sailed past the Tristan Archipelago and could not land islands owing to a respiratory problem on these islands that prevented any outsiders from stepping ashore. I am have a fascination for these islands. Hence, when I saw the itinerary a year ago, I decided to join.

March 3 Sailing: My last sea journey was on Silver Explorer from Iceland to St John via Greenland in 2019. I felt at home and quickly settled down in the routine at sea. I would attend most if not all lectures at the Explore Lounge. There are four restaurants: I would enjoy a light breakfast between 8 and 9 am, take a light lunch at noon, have afternoon tea at 4 pm and cocktail at 6pm at the bar or at the recap in the Explore Lounge followed by dinner after 7 pm. I tried to spend some time at the gym everyday to work on my back and hip problem. Time passed by quickly!

March 4 Falkland Islands: New Island & West Point

Falkland Islands

The archipelago comprising East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 smaller islands with an area of 12,000 square kilometres and a population of under 3700 (2021) is a British overseas territory with internal self-governance. Port Stanley is the principal settlement. The islands have had French, British, Spanish and Argentine settlements and the British reasserted its rule in 1833 despite Argentina’s dispute. In April 1982, Argentine military forces invaded the islands and the Falkland War ended in two months later. A referendum was held in 2013, almost all Falklanders voted in favour of remaining a UK overseas territory.

We had over 200 passengers on the boat and were assigned to four different zodiac groups. Teresa and I were assigned to Group 1. Today we were the first group to go ashore a sanctuary of animal life – New Island. We disembarked at 7:30am and would return by 10 am. After walking for about 1km, I arrived at the Settlement Rookery’s cliff, a fantastic site by the South Atlantic Ocean. Shag was the most numerous bird at this site: we saw two species – imperial and rock shags. When looking carefully, I could find rockhopper and Macaroni penguins, black-browed albatross and chicks, skua, striated caracara etc. I also benefitted from the explanations by bird experts. While walking on the island or in the zodiac, I also saw steamer duck, kelp goose, upland goose, ruddy-headed goose etc.

We departed New Island after 11 am and arrived at West Point, a north-westerly outpost of the Falkland Islands, after 2:30pm. The highlight here was a visit to a huge colony of black-browed albatross in the rugged cliffs above the waves located about 2.5 km from the landing beach. On arrival, Jonathan found a small colony of Magellanic penguins at the end of the beach (less than 1km from the landing point). We therefore went over to look at these penguins. The walk was not long but the steep slopes in a few places were a challenge for people, like me who have walking problems. I forgot my walking poles which would be most useful. After watching two dozens of Magellanic penguins, we returned to the starting point and I began my march to the albatross colony. Sadly, I walked slowly with pain and was only half way at 4:45pm. Given my condition, I decided not to rush and turn back. We were all treated with tea and home-made cakes by a couple- the only residents / care-takers of the area. Their cottage is quint and lovely. They lead a truly self-sufficient life with their vegetable plot, chickens and fresh catch from the sea.

March 5 Falkland Island: Port Stanley

I was in Port Stanley for a few hours in 1999. Looking back, I would say the logistics were poorly executed by today’s standard. Passengers had to pay for a chartered flight from Santiago to Port Stanley in order to board the boat. After lunch, the boat set sailed to the Antarctic Peninsula and the group was supposed to visit Port Stanley on the way back to Ushuaia after South Georgia. Unfortunately, a bad storm prevented the boat from approaching Falkland Islands. That was my first visit to Falkland Islands.

Silversea passengers had join a 5-km hike, a battlefield bus tour or city walk. I decided to take the bus tour. It was an excellent choice that took me to learn more about the Falkland War from the British perspective. After the 2-hour tour, we were dropped off at the museum which has been vastly improved since 1999. I also visited the Cathedral before taking the zodiac back to the boat at 1:30pm. I had a great time.

March 7: Shag Rocks

Antarctic waters predominantly sink beneath the warmer subantarctic waters, while associated zones of mixing and upwelling create a zone very high in marine productivity, especially for Antarctic krill.

After sailing for almost two days, we crossed the Antarctic Convergence a marine belt encircling Antarctica with cold, northward-flowing Antarctic waters meeting the relatively warmer waters of the sub-Antarctic. This natural boundary separates two hydrological regions as well as separate areas of distinctive marine life and climates. As Antarctic waters predominantly sink beneath the warmer subantarctic waters while associated zones of mixing and upswelling create a zone very high in marine productivity, this water rich in nutrients provides abundant food for marine life.

For two hours around lunch time, we had sighting of a dozen of killer whales (orcas), 50+ fin whales and four blue whales on our way to the Shag Rocks, a group of six small islets covering an area of less than 20 hectares with the highest peak standing 75m above sea level. Located in the westernmost extreme of South Georgia (240km west of the main island), these rocks are covered by guano of seabirds mostly South Georgia shags, prions and wandering albatrosses. Boats sailing in South Georgia water can travel at a maximum speed of 10 nautical miles an hour in order cause the least disturbance to the whale population.

March 8: Salisbury Plain & Possession Bay, South Georgia

We sailed into the iconic Salisbury Plain soon after a beautiful sunrise. I was surprised to find icebergs in all direction. My first visit when I saw millions of king penguins on the plain in 1999 always brings sweet memories. Unfortunately because of Avian Flu, visitors are not allowed ashore. Instead we had a zodiac cruise which gave a totally different experience. The weather was perfect and the landscape was surreal and stunning. More interesting was to find and watch king penguins standing on icebergs sliding down and swimming round the icebergs. They all seemed to have a fun time!

After an unforgettable zodiac cruise, we stayed on board enjoying the sun and the icebergs. We were all blissful. In the afternoon, we had our first landing in the Possession Bay where we saw a colony with a few thousand pairs of king penguins. I was honoured to take a photo with Peter Harris who is an authority on seabirds. In addition to fur seals, we also found a small colony of gentoo penguins. There was so much to see and I did not want to leave: I was the last passenger to get on the zodiac at 5:30pm.

March 9: Fortuna Bay & Grytviken, South Georgia

We were blessed with good weather. Today, we had a gorgeous sunrise and things looked promising. Then the expedition team found the wind too strong to land on the Fortuna Bay as planned. The Captain repositioned the boat to a nearby more sheltered cove so that we could land and stretch our our legs for 45 minutes. Though there might be fewer king penguins, I had a great time strolling along the bay, watching Northern and Southern Giant Petrels and chicks, elephant seals and fur seals in addition to hundreds of king penguins and a couple of gentoo penguins. We had a tight schedule and had to set sail for Grytviken before noon.

The fine weather continued when we sailed into King Edward Cove. Grytviken was a whaling station established on November 1904 by the Norwegian sea captain Carl Anton Larsen. During its heyday, about 300 men worked at the station. Explorer Ernest Shackleton added fame to Grytviken when he arrived here after an incredible and almost impossible journey from the Elephant Island in order to organise a recue operation for all his men sailing on the Endurance. He returned to Grytviken in 1922 where he died of heart attack on January 5 and was buried.

The place is full of history. I could either join a 5-6km walk to the lake or join a short guided walk. Given my condition, I was on a slow lane and joined a guided walk. When I visited here in 1999, I could walk at leisure and visit his grave. The place is now preserved with more restriction on visitors who are no longer allowed to walk to his final resting place to pay tribute.

When we returned to the boat, the Captain broke the news that owing to the iceberg situation and weather conditions, the boat would not proceed with the original plan to spend two more days in South Georgia. By getting to Tristan da Cunha archipelago two days earlier, we could avoid bad weather in both locations. I love to stay longer in South Georgia. But if the weather is bad, it is not possible to do outdoor activities as planned any way. So we sailed northeast.

Categories: Expeditions | Comments Off on Silver Cloud March 2-10, 2024

Chile: Santiago 27 February – 2 March 2024

Why Chile?

Chile is adorable. I first visited Chile in February 1999 before embarking on my first expedition to Antarctica. In 2013, I stopped over briefly for three days and visited Valparaiso. I returned in 2017 (March 3-18) for a hiking trip to Ojos del Salado. I have come for the fourth time because of an expedition from Puerto Williams to Namibia from March 2 – 23. As I have travelled for over a month in Chile, I decided to explore the Amazon and the Northeast Brazil before meeting up with Teresa, my cabin mate in Santiago on 27 February.

A Frustrating Journey to Santiago

I had to buy my ticket from Salvador to Santiago in a great hurry on 24 January when the airline pressed me for a departure ticket from Brazil. After having trouble with Wi-Fi and the language, I eventually bought a ticket from Salvador to Santiago. Instead of sending me a ticket, Latam sent an email reminding me the time of check-in. I saw the date March 27 in the email without ever realising it was the wrong month. (This is not the first time I had made mistake because I was stuck with the date/time I had in mind without actually reading and taking in the information/data. A cognitive degeneration problem?) When I arrived at the Salvador airport around 2:15 am on 27 February and was told that I could not fly, I was shocked by the mistake I had made. As I must arrive on time in Santiago to join Teresa who would arrive from Sydney that afternoon, I had to pay about R2900 to change my flights departing at 11 am to Santiago via Sao Paulo. This mistake cost me dearly. On top of that, I spent the whole night and day at the Salvador and Sao Paulo airport. Interestingly, I noticed that I was annoyed with myself and upset for a brief moment before letting go the unhappy incident (perhaps thanks to my Buddhist training in the past three years!). I spent my time reading and watching lectures on Buddhist scriptures on YouTube. Time passed quickly and finally I landed in Santiago just before 9 pm. I took Uber to the hotel and was pleased to see Teresa who would be my cabin mate.

3 Leisure Days in Santiago

I am getting old and lazy. Teresa and I decided to join two full-day trips to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso on 28 February, and to the El Yeso Reservoir and Cajon del Maipo on 29 February, and an afternoon trip to Baha’i Temple on 1 March.

I took a day trip in 2013 to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. But I do not mind visiting these lovely places again. The itinerary is indeed different, and I was able to spend some three hours strolling in the hilly streets in Valparaiso, a World Heritage Site known for its structures, colourful houses and street art. I must say the place looks smarter, more vibrant, lively and colourful with impressive street art and murals. Reading what I wrote in 2013 and the photos, I can tell how much it has changed. I could have spent a whole day exploring the small corner of this remarkable hillside city.

The trip to El Yeso and Cajon del Maipo is all about nature the surrounding mountains and valleys of Santiago. It is a long drive (75km), and we reached an altitude of some 2500m. We were picked up at the hotel before 7am. As I have been to different parts of Chile with even more impressive landscape and scenery of the Andes, canyons, salt lakes and glaciers, I find the scenery pleasant but not stunning.

Our expedition began on March 2. All joining passengers would stay in the W Hotel on March 1 and take a chartered flight to Puerto Williams to board the Silver Cloud. After a delicious brunch, Teresa and I moved to the W Hotel before joining a sunset tour to Baha’i Temple at 4:30pm.

The highlight was sunset watching at Sky Tower, the tallest building. The panoramic views are spectacular. Here I can see all the mountain ranges engulfing Santiago. I had a free glass of champagne when watching sunset. We stayed on to watch lights coming up and did not have dinner in a nice Italian restaurant till 9 pm.

Our expedition trip began on March 2 when all joining passengers on the Silver Cloud would depart on three chartered flights to Puerto Williams. We were in Group 3 and would be leaving by bus after 12:30pm. We had a leisure late breakfast. While Teresa went out for last minute shopping, I stayed in the waiting lounge. We had a smooth transfer to a private airport and our plane with about 70 passengers took off before 3 pm. we had a 30-min stop at Puerto Arenas for refill and arrived at Puerto Williams after 7:30pm. It was raining and cold. after a short ride, we arrived at the pier and boarded Silver Cloud just before 8pm. Teresa and I had a nice suite on Level 6 with a balcony. We settled down quickly, had a “abandon boat drill” before dinner after 9pm. It was a long and tiring day. I was thrilled to watch the boat leaving the harbour while having dinner.

Categories: My American trips | Comments Off on Chile: Santiago 27 February – 2 March 2024

Brazil: Salvador & Boipeda 20-26 February 2024

Why Salvador and Boipeda?

Salvador, founded in 1549 by Tome de Sousa, is the capital city of the state of Bahia known for its cuisine, music, architecture, Afro-Brazilian culture and carnival and a perfect end point of my trip to northeast Brazil. Boipeda , a small island (a part of the Cairu Archipelago with an area of 88 sq km and a population of over 3,000), was totally unknown to me till I met Claude, a Swiss on my 4D3N trip to the Amazon, who considers Boipeda, a biosphere, the most beautiful island in Brazil. Hence, I added this stop when finalising my itinerary.

Salvador, the first capital of Colonial Brazil, is one of the oldest in the Americas and one of the first planned cities in the world. The majority of the population has African, European and Native American roots. The African ancestry is from Angola, Benin, Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal and Mozambique. Situated on a steep escarpment, the city has been developed into the Upper Town and Lower Town. The Historic Centre of Salvador in the Upper Town is a World Heritage Site known for its colonial architecture studded with monuments dating from 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

By the time I settled down in the nostalgic Pousada Colonial Chile on Rua Chile, it was almost 4pm. I have been warned not to go out in the evening as it is not a safe city. Hence after a quick tour of the church square and a wholesome dinner with shrimps and rice, I returned to rest in my simple but comfortable room.

4 Nights in Boipeda (21– 24 February)

On 21 February, I got up early and took the 9 am catamaran to Morro de Sao Paulo (R151) which took over two hours. The shortest way to get to Boipeda is to take an hour traversing the Island of Tinhare on 4×4 (R150). I managed to book the transfer at 12 noon while on the boat. It is fun to drive through the interior of the island which reminds me of the terrain and sand dunes at Lencois Maranhenese National Park. Then my host George of Casa Amerala Chales picked me up with his boat from the beach. I had a nice chalet that is tranquil and peaceful. I did not even bother to cross the river to explore the Velha Boipeda (the village) in the afternoon. The casa only provides vegetarian food which suits me well.

The next day (22 February), I crossed the river shortly after 9 am to see whether I could join an island tour (R250). By the time I found an agent, the boat had left at 9:30am. I therefore reserved for the following day. The weather was perfect, and I walked along the coast to the Cueria Beach. It is a leafy lovely short walk. I spent the morning at the beach and had a sumptuous lobster lunch for only R140. Unfortunately, the way they cook does not bring out the flavor and the over-cooked meat tasted like rubber. After lunch, I took a quad ride back to the village (R20). I enjoyed strolling in the tidy and picturesque village (not as touristy as Morro de Sao Paulo) before taking a ride back to my hermitage across the river.

Unfortunately, the weather got from bad to worse: it rained non-stopped throughout the night and did not stop till 9 am on 23 February. The island tour was cancelled. I watched the rain and listened to its soothing rhythm over breakfast. Nature, rain and forest bathing are spiritual!

When the rain finally stopped after 10 am, I decided to go to the village and take a quad ride to the Morere Beach (R35). As soon as I got there, torrential rain poured down for half an hour followed by a brief moment of sunlight. It continued to drizzle on and off throughout the afternoon. I was lucky to take a cart ride with a dozen passengers (R15). A more comfortable ride. As I was dropped off further away from the village, I had an opportunity to see the less developed part of the village. A wonderful experience! I was back in the casa before 5 pm and had a nice vegetarian dinner.

Finally, we had a good weather on 24 February and the island tour with went ahead at 9:30am. We first stopped at the natural pool off Morere Beach which was overcrowded with some 20 boats. Then we spent two hours at the Castelhanos Beach. After 2:30 pm we stopped at Sao Sebastiao, a traditional fishing village for lunch. After 4 pm, we set sail again passing through a mangrove tunnel before stopping at an oyster bar in the middle of the river. I had half a dozen of oysters (R18) and a dozen of clams (R30). They have very different taste and texture! I watched a strangely beautiful sunset. On the way back to the village, torrential rain retuned: we were all wet and cold. Strangely, the rain stopped as soon as we stopped off the boat. Tonight, I moved to stay in a pousada in the village for a night.

2 Nights in Salvador (25-26 February)

I returned to Salvador taking a different route (R270): by boat to Curral, coach to Itaparica and ferry to Salvador. The fast boat left the Boipeda at 11:30 am and I was back in Salvador just before 4pm. The connections were perfect, and I even had a free transfer to Pousada Colonial Chile. The weather was perfect, and I went out to explore the historic centre and walked to Praca da Se, the main square where the Cathedral Basilica stands and then Pelourinho. In this Afro-Brazilian culture heartland, the colours, people and music are exhilarating. The golden sunrays falling on the fading colourful buildings as well as the dilapidated churches and convents created a striking surreal image.

As I would depart at 4 am on 27 February for Chile, I only had one full day in Salvador. I began the day at the Lighthouse Barra by taking Bus 1001 (R5.20). The bus is neat and tidy with a driver and conductor. I passed the high-class posh residential area. The lighthouse built since the 16th century has a toy-like feel and I was interested to find some Chinese figurines of the 17th century.

Then, I took a taxi to Pelourinho (R30) and spent the next four hours visiting the Church and Museum of Carmo, Church of the Third Order of Our Lady of Rosary of Black People, Church of St Domingo and Church of St Francisco (all built in the 18th century) and the House of Jorge Amado Foundation (a famous Brazilian writer (1912-2001) of the modernist school). The tiled mosaics and gold-studded baroque architecture of the Church of St Francisco are stunning, and the triangle-shaped Pelourinho Square are most picturesque and atmospheric.

Time passed so quickly that I did not have time to visit the Cathedral Basilica and the Casa Benin which traces the history of the slaves from Benin and other parts of Africa (I visited Benin many years ago). I watched the most beautiful sunset during my month-long stay in Brazil from the roof top of Pousada Colonial Chile. I went to bed early and took Uber to the airport after 1:30 am. I was on my way to my final destination – Santiago, Chile


I have spent a month in a small corner of Brazil – from Amazon to Salvador Bahia. Looking back, I have a few thoughts. First, I do not think I have seen the best part of Amazon. The 4D3N jungle tour is so-so and the 5D4N on the ferry to Belem is boring by my standard especially as I was charged (over USD500) for a very basic and uncomfortable room without window. Second, Sao Luis and the 3D2N side trip to Lencios Maranhenses far exceed my expectations. Third, I had my first Brazilian carnival in Recife and Olinda. I am not a party goer, but it is a good way to experience the Brazilian culture. I am delighted by the ceramics of F Brennand. Fourth, I personally find Fernando de Noronha touristy, overrated and not value-for-money. I find Lord Howe Island (a small island in Australia with World Heritage status) that I visited in 2000, much more impressive. Fifth, I had a most enjoyable experience in Boipeda which is worth going. Sixth, Salvador has so much to offer and is a must-see destination in Brazil. A visitor can truly appreciate its colonial past, roots with Africa and the Brazilian spirit and history. I would like to return one day especially during its carnival.

Categories: My American trips | Comments Off on Brazil: Salvador & Boipeda 20-26 February 2024

Brazil: Fernando de Noronha 16-19 February 2024

I have not heard of Fernando de Noronha (some 350km off the Brazilian coast and 500km from Recife) before I planned this trip. I discover this archipelago, a World Heritage Site, has become a popular destination for the Brazilians. As the Azul air flies there, I have been able to visit this island with my air pass.

The relatively low-lying archipelago consisting of 21 islands and islets, extends over an area of 26 sq km with a population of over 3,000 in 2020. The main island is about 10km across and 7km long. In 2001, it was designated a World Heritage Site because of its importance as a feeding ground of tuna, sharks, turtles and marine mammals. With its protected status, the number of tourist arrival is limited to about 500 per day. Visitors are required to pay an “environmental tax” of about R97 a day. In addition, all foreign visitors have to pay R358 for a 10-day pass to visit the Marine National Park (though most visitors may spend 3-5 nights).

4 Nights in Noronha (16-23 February)

After a short flight of over an hour, I landed at the small airport. I paid the environmental tax for four days and R35 for a short ride to Casa de Mirtes. Mirtes, the host, is nice though we can’t communicate. She loves plants and the whole place looks like a mini-forest. But being allergic to mosquito and other insects, I dared not sit outdoor. Through Luiz’s help, I booked three trips including a one-day island tour, a morning canoe and a sunset boat trip, for R580.

On 16 February, I spent the afternoon exploring Remedios, the centre of the island, and the nearby beaches. There are several interesting historical buildings, canons, fortification and ruins of warehouses. The island was probably named after Fernao de Loronha who was a main financier of the expedition that discovered the island (but it was misspelt -“N” instead of “L”). Between 1501 and 1511, Loronha built a series of warehouses along the Brazilian coast. The ruins of a warehouse can still be seen. Given my hip problem, I did not walk up to the imposing white fort. Everything is expensive: I paid over R200 for lunch and a beer in a nice restaurant opposite the Palace.

On 17 February, I had a great island trip. Instead of seating at the back of the truck, I was given a seat next to the driver / guide, N who is a nice strong lady. She laughs all the time. Though we can’t talk, we form a natural bondage! We first stopped at the Bodo Beach when the group walked up a view point to look at the iconic Two Brothers Rocks. I played safe and sat on the beach. The next stop is the Sancho Beach with several view points, one of which is to admire the Two Brothers Rocks. Then we had a thrilling time when before climbing down a vertical staircase with 22 steps to the beach. I managed to get down and climb up the staircase without mishaps!

Next on the itinerary was the Leaos Beach to see a lion and a turtle rock and the coral reefs close to the shore. But no snorkeling is allowed. We visited the Sueste Beach nearby which is a turtle reserve: no activity is allowed. After a nice lunch, we went to the St Antonio Port for snorkeling. The water was not clear: I hardly saw anything though other saw turtles and baby sharks. Finally we spent over an hour to watch sunset with the sun dropping between the Two Brothers Rocks. I had a most enjoyable day!

On 18 February, I was picked up at 8am and spent an hour and a half canoeing from the port. Here, two canoes with six seats each were tied together: I felt very safe and could canoe without efforts (others were doing the job for me!) We watched many spinner dolphins close to the port for half an hour before moving to the cliffs below the fort which produce some extraordinary loud noises that resemble lion roars. Incredible!. Then we stayed in a small bay next to the port. I jumped into the water with my snorkel gear and saw my first shark (tubarao-lixa) of this trip.

As I had joined a sunset boat trip at 4:30 pm, I did not return to the guesthouse. Instead, I snorkeled for an hour in the beach next to the port. Today, the water was clear and I saw three turtles, some baby sharks and lots of fish for an hour. Unfortunately, I had not bought the underwater camera with me

At 4:30pm, I got onboard a boat with some 50 passengers. It was a boring ride for three reasons. First, the weather was unstable and windy: it became cloudy and rained later. Hence, there was no sunset and we could not go to Sancho Beach for a swim. Second, there was nothing to do on the boat. The seats are uncomfortable and limited. There was not much space to move around. Third, the Brazilians love loud music. I had no peace on the boat.

I had a free day on 19 February (I should have taken the morning boat trip that would go as far as the Marine National Park i.e. the Dolphins Bay). I met Laura and Nathan from Switzerland in the guesthouse. They planned to go to the Dolphins Bay to watch the spinner dolphins and the Sancho Bay to swim. They invited me to join them. I gladly accepted and we set off before 7 am. The taxi cost R40. It is a short walk (1km) to the lookout point of the Marine National Park. A ranger was there and he was not optimistic about the chance of seeing the dolphins. Luckily a school of some 30 dolphins arrived before 8am. They feed at night and spend the day time socialising and relaxing. There were few visitors and I watched the dolphins, the water and the birds for over an hour. Very peaceful and soothing.

Then I followed a well-maintained path (1.1km) to the Sancho Bay. There are several excellent viewing platforms where I sat for 15-20 minutes each to watch birds – frigate, eared dove, black noddy, white-tailed tropicbird, white tern, red-footed booby, Noronha Elaenia and vireo (both endemic species) etc. I also saw plenty of lizard, crabs and rats. By the time I reached the Sancho Bay, Laura and Nathan also had their swim and climbed up the staircase. Without pre-arrangement, we met up and took a taxi back to the guesthouse.

After a rest, I set off to the port for another snorkel with a camera. I took the bus that cost me R5 each way. Unfortunately, it was windy with swell. It was impossible to snorkel: I was thrown off thrice somersaulting by the waves. A nice strong man came to my rescue and pulled me out of the water though I was less than two feet from the shore. I now fully realise how dangerous and ferocious waves can be.

I had a lift from Mirte’s husband to the airport at 9am on 20 February. The flight departed on schedule after 11am and I arrived in Salvador, my last stop in Brazil via Recife around 2:30 pm. I took Uber to Pousada Colonial Chile in the historic centre of Salvador.

Categories: My American trips | Comments Off on Brazil: Fernando de Noronha 16-19 February 2024

Brazil: Recife & Olinda Carnival 12-15 February 2024

Brazil is most famous for its annual carnival in Rio. However, I am more interested in the festivities in the ancient colonial cities of Recife and Olinda known for their cultural heritage, colours and tradition. Frevo representing the main event of the carnivals and an energetic dance with frantic musical rhythms, is an important political and cultural legacy associated with social upheavals of the late 19th century in the Northeastern part of Brazil.


In early morning of 12 February, I flew from Fortazela to Recife and settled down in a hostel before noon. My agent in Manaus did not reserve accommodation till last minute and could only put me in a hostel in downtown Recife at a ridiculous price of R805 for a dorm bed for two nights! The arrangement was unsatisfied, but it was too late to find alternate accommodation. The bed was so hard and the room with two fans was so hot that I could not sleep. The nice thing was that I met a lot of young Brazilians who came here for the carnival. They are friendly and most helpful.

I ventured out after 4 pm when it was not so hot. I walked from Boa Vista to the old town where the carnival was in full swing. As soon as I crossed the first bridge to the island of Sao Jose, I was surrounded by carnival goers, young and old mostly dressed up with make-up all heading to the old town connected by a second bridge. I was overwhelmed by the happy faces, the ongoing sound, dancing, singing, music and streetscape. Though the buildings are mostly dilapidated, the atmosphere was intoxicating and exhilarating. Processions with crowds streamed constantly past me. I followed the crowd walking through the narrow streets with colourful colonial buildings.

Then I crossed the second bridge to the island of Recife studded with magnificent restored colonial buildings with a large stage in Marco Zero Park. The narrow streets with throngs of people singing and dancing. I was energized with spirit uplifted! However given my hip problem, I decided to leave before 8 pm though I knew the best time was yet to come and the party would not be over till 2 am. I called Uber but no car turned up though I was charged three times with two cancelations fee totaling about R40. The traffic was messy. Eventually, I walked across Pte. Buarque de Macedo to Sao Jose hoping to find a taxi. Eventually I got one and was back to the hostel after 9pm.

The next day, the young people in the hostel were all preparing to go to Olinda and asked me to join. One even put make-up for me as Brazilians would not go to a carnival without it! Tiago, a nice young man from the south gave me a lift and said he would leave around midday as he had luncheon appointment at 1 pm. This suited me as I would not be able to stand in the sun for hours. The spirit, energy and carnival atmosphere in Olinda is beyond description. (to elaborate later)

Olinda, a World Heritage Site

I stayed in Olinda for two nights as I could hardly sleep in the hostel owing to the heat and the hard and uncomfortable mattress. I was glad to have my own room in a pousada with a swimming pool. As there were some small-scale events going on in Olinda, I had an enjoyable leisure time without throngs of people around me: I sat in a pub enjoying a cold beer while watching a few processions passing by.

On February 15, life in Brazil was gradually coming back to normal. I took a taxi for a day to visit the Oficina (office/workplace) and the Institute of Francisco Brennand (1927-2019), a Brazilian painter and sculptor, best known for his works in ceramics. (to elaborate later)

After spending the day in museums, I took a leisure stroll along the deserted streets of Olinda and watched sunset from Alto da Se. I had a chance to visit the Basilica of St. Bento when it opened for an evening mass. The Se Cathedral, the Church of Carmo, and most of the churches were closed. (to add later)

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Brazil: São Luís & Fortazela 5-11 February, 2024

São Luís (5-9 February 2024)

Located on the Saint Louis’ Island in the Saint Mark’s Bay bordering the Atlantic Ocean, São Luís, the only Brazilian state capital founded by France, is the capital and the largest city in the state of Maranhão. Its historic centre dating from the 17th century city, is a World Heritage Site with the largest and best-preserved heritage of colonial Portuguese architecture of all Latin America.

São Luís is known as the “Island of Love” and as “The Brazilian Athens” due to its many poets and writers including Sotero dos Reis, Goncalves Dias (the most famous), Ferreira Gullar; as “The Tiled City” as most buildings in the historical centre are covered in tiles; and “The Brazilian Jamaica” because of the popularity of the reggae music. According to an autosomal DNA study, the ancestral composition of São Luís is 42% European, 39% Native American and 19% African. Until the mid-19th century, Maranhão’s economy is one the most prosperous in the country. After a decline, its economy has gradually revived since 1960s. Today, the economy of São Luís is based on aluminum processing, pelleting industry, food production and tourism.

Trip Plan: I would visit the historic centre of São Luís and take a 3-day side trip to stay at Barreirinhas and visit the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park which has an area of over 1,550 sq km including 70km of coastline, the valleys of white sand dunes fill with freshwater lagoons. The rainy season is from January to June. The rainwater is prevented from draining by a layer of impermeable rock located beneath the sandy surface. The ecosystem in the park includes area of restinga and mangrove ecosystems.

As I have been warned how unsafe the Brazilian cities are, I have arranged pick-up from the hotel. At 2 am on 5 February, I was greeted by Vinicio at the São Luís’s airport and arrived in Hotel Premier near the beach before 3 am. I had a good rest and began strolling in the historic centre around 11 am. The Leões Palace now the Governor’s Residence is majestic and beautifully restore. The nearby buildings including Ravadiere Palace, Forum etc. are impressive too. But the exterior of the cathedral is not well-maintained. Strolling along the Rua Paz and Santana and walking to the Convent of Merces, I passed through many dilapidated buildings.

On 6 February, I was picked up by a minibus at 6:30 am and travelled 260km to Barreirinhas. I stayed two nights at the Pousada do Porto on the Preguicas River. I had a nice programme including a sunset Lagoa Bonita circuit from 2 to 7 pm on 6/2; a full time Atins tour from 8:30am to 5 pm on 7 February; and a boat trip along the Preguicas River from 8:20 am to 3 pm before returning to São Luís at 4:30pm on 8 February.

The local agent in São Luís is American Trip and the tourist products/arrangement and the hotel and tour service far exceed my expectations. During my brief stay I am able to experience the expansive surreal white sand dunes inland and on the Atlantic coast as well as along along the Preguicas River. I also saw the extensive mangrove ecosystem with birds and a variety of palm trees during the boat trip.

Fortaleza (9-11 February)

My trip to Fortaleza was poorly planned. First of all, I could not get a flight with my air pass on 9 February and had to take a bus. At first the agent advised that I would travel in the daytime and arrive in Fortaleza for three nights. It turned out that the bus would depart at 2 pm and arrive around 8 am on 10 February. I had no choice by the time I was aware of the arrangements. After a leisure morning in the hotel, Vinicio showed me the old historic centre again on my way to the bus terminal. I am impressed by the Portuguese colonial architecture – the Mercado das Tulhas, picturesque squares, staircases and aged tiled buildings.

The bus departed on time. To my horror, I spent the first four and a half hours following the same road to Barreirinhas: the agent should have arranged me to get onboard in Barreirinhas on 8 February. The bus was only half full: all passengers could have two seats. However, I could hardly sleep. I survived and was relieved to arrive at the hotel before 9 am on 10 February. What a waste of time and an uncomfortable journey for an elderly person! I spent the morning sleeping.

Fortazela, the state capital of Ceará, is known for its beaches punctuated by red cliffs, palm trees, dunes and lagoons. The highlights in the old city include the art nouveau José de Alencar theater, the neo-Gothic Cathedral Metropolitan and some colonial architecture. While the new beach area is fronted by modern expensive high-rise condominiums, the downtown is run-down with many dilapidated areas.

As it was raining heavily and the street was deserted, the hotel receptionist advised me not to take the bus and wander around the downtown as it might not be safe. It sounds a bit scary! I took his advice and only walked along the beach front (about 1.5km along Av. Beira Mar and the Iracema Beach). A huge stage was set up with performance during the carnival. After a light dinner, I watched Marcia Fellipe known for her electrifying performance for half an hour (it would go on till 2 am, I was told). I walked back to the hotel before 8pm while locals and carnival goers began to arrive. I could feel the carnival atmosphere but it was too late for me.

As I missed one day on the road, I ended up having one day for sightseeing. I joined a popular bus tour to three beaches – Morro Branco, Praia das Fontes and Canoa Quebrada. The tour lasting some 12 hours only cost R100 though I spent another R235 on two buggy rides in Morro Branco and Canoa Quebrada. (to add)

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Brazil: Amazon River & Belem 31 January – 4 February 2024

The Amazon River

The 6,400km-long River is the world’s largest river by discharge volume of water and longest river system passing through Brazil, Columbia, Peru and Venezuela with Brazil holding by far the largest portion of the River. The headwaters of the Mantaro River in Peru is considered Amazon’s most distant source and the Solimoes River meets the Negro River forming the Amazon at the Meeting of Waters at Manaus, the largest city on the river. The Amazon basin is the world’s largest drainage basin with an area of 7 million square kilometre.

People arrived in the area between 10,000-30,000 years ago. There is ample evidence that the area were home to complex and large-scale indigenous societies with more than three million living around the Amazon. The pre-Columbian Amazon populations might probably range between 8-10 million. Today about 1.5 million of the Amazon population is indigenous, distributed across some 380 ethnic groups.

I booked through Claudio, an agent in Manaus, a cabin on a river ferry Amazon Star and spent five days sailing downstream from Manaus to Belem (31 January to 4 February). Claudio drove me to the pier before 10 am but the boat did not set sail after 12 noon. It was a great pity that despite my request, Claudio did not take me to the old part of Manaus again to see and take pictures of the Lisbon Market and other historic buildings.

Life on the Boat

I have read some interesting notes from travellers on this 1500-km long river journey. Claudio said I would have a nice cabin and chances to leave the boat to explore the ports of call. I had Suite 13 on deck 2. But it is a steel windowless cabin with a bunk bed and toilet. Furthermore, passengers were not allowed to get off the boat!

Facilities. The boat launched in 1981 is very basic. It carries vehicles, goods and passengers mostly Brazilians and backpackers who sleep with their hammock. Given my age and mobility problem, I took a cabin with toilet for single occupancy (the published price is R2500 = about USD520). I was disappointed as I had a bunk bed and without windows. I was provided with a plastic chair which I could use for sitting outside to get fresh air and natural light. The dining facility is very basic. In a nut shell, it is the most basic and uncomfortable boat that I have ever taken. As all announcements were in Portuguese and most of the helpful locals did not speak English, I had hardly any clue what was going on and to expect.

No Landing. The boat made brief stops for an hour or two in a couple of ports each day. But it spent fourteen hours in Santeram. Whenever the boat arrived at the pier, there would be a flurry of activities with food/drink peddlers hoisting their commodities to passengers on the boat. Then they would rush onto the boat to sell after passengers had disembarked.

Food. There is a small restaurant that serves breakfast (R10/15) on deck 1, lunch / dinner (R20) and a small bar on deck 3. The bar sells beer, soft drinks and snacks without comfortable sitting area. The breakfast is good while lunch and dinner are basically the same with chicken, beef and fish that come with spaghetti, rice, bean and salad. I do not find the food appealing. So I had to force myself to take one main meal a day.

Space. The boat is fairly small with hundreds of hammocks taking up the decks 2 and 3. There is not much space to walk around without bumping into people. The only free space available is the bar area which is also a smoking area on deck 3 and the top deck. But there is no bench to sit and relax. As I have a problem sitting on the hard floor and in getting up, I found no comfortable space on the boat to sit and enjoy the scenery.

Scenery. The river with its brown earthly colour water, is impressive, expansive and powerful. Without wave, the boat sailed along smoothly. There are always activities on and along the river with fishing boats, small boats, barges carrying vehicles and goods, passenger ferries, people living along the river, cattle in the field, birds and vegetation. In Santeram, I saw dolphins as well. The section of the river I enjoyed most is from Gurupa to Belem on 3 and 4 February.

People. I was the only Chinese on the boat and many locals thought I was Japanese. They were curious and always asked where I was from. Though I can’t speak and understand Portuguese, I always told them I am Chinese from Hong Kong. I have only spoken to a Brazilian doctor who wants to practise his English before he got off at Santeram. There were about 15 foreigners on the boat including six French young people. We talked and I enjoyed their company.

After leaving Gurupa, I noticed some passengers started to throw bags of food (biscuits etc.) in plastic bags to children who raced to greet the boat in their rowing boats. Why? Sweet, biscuits etc are non-essential for maintaining good health. Such practice can encourage unnecessary greed and desire: they can use their time more fruitfully by fishing. Above all, I am concerned about the use of plastic bags which would do more harm to the environment.

How I Spent My Time

Given my hip problem, I should not remain in a position for too long. Hence, I mindfully kept walking slowly around the boat and stood looking at the fast-moving river. I enjoyed people-watching, taking photos and sitting on my plastic chair outside my room to read. I am glad to finish reading a book and a few Buddhist scriptures. I watched lectures on YouTube by Professor Law on Sandhinirmocana Sutra whenever I had good internet connection. After watching sunset, I retreated to my cabin and lay down to rest. On average I spent eight to ten restless hours in bed. As a result, I remained tired and lifeless. I watched and experience life on a slow lane and was glad to get off the boat after 97 hours on the boat. In brief, it is the calmest and most uneventful journey I have ever made.


Located on the banks of Guajara Bay and the Guama River and founded in 1616, Belem is the capital of the state of Para. It has experienced moments of plenitude: known as “Tropical Paris”, it was prosperous during the golden period of rubber in the 20th century with many historic buildings.

I was almost the last passengers to leave the boat as I had to wait for Ulisses, my guide to help me carry my 23-kg suitcase off the boat. He came with his son who was the driver. He took me to see the Fish Market which is the largest open air market in South America (I was told), and we walked around the old port and the fortress which though small is well-restored with a good museum with exhibits on the indigenous people before the founding of Belem in 1616. The old town which is the commercial trading area with colourful colonial European architecture is sadly derelict. There are many homeless people sleeping on the street near the old port.

The buildings next to the fortress including the Cathedral, the convent and a nobleman’s house are impressive. But the cathedral was closed. Ulisses took me Mangal das Garcas, a lovely oasis in the city with egrets, parrots, macaw, red ibis, flamingo, iguana etc. He planned to show me the Basilica Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazareth of Exile which is considered the most beautiful church in Belem. Unfortunately, it was closed. I had a photo stop at the Paz Theatre modelled after La Scala of Milan before I was dropped off at the dock to spend three hours on my own. At 6pm, Ulisses dropped me at the airport for a flight to Sao Luis at 1 am on 5 February.

Categories: My American trips | Comments Off on Brazil: Amazon River & Belem 31 January – 4 February 2024