Diary/Photo Journal

Week June 22 - June 28, 2014

The start of this week saw a few miles traveled so we could spend a few days in a small town nearby the Parque Nacional Marinha dos Abrolhos, a marine park known for its diving and for its humpback whales.

We made it to Penedo, a lovely town on the banks of the Rio Sao Francisco that was both colorful and quaint.

Sugar cane everywhere

Many small hamlets snuggled in the hills

And then, there are the "Sem Terra"
(see red flag) that squat on land owned
by others and are very difficult to remove

Penedo - A beautiful historic
town along the Sao Francisco river

Photogenic church and buildings
from the 1700's

Enhancing our experience, we stayed at the Hotel Colonial, the converted living quarters for the Ingreja Nossa Senhora Da Corrente built in 1729.  The stairs creaked, the shutters were loose, the walls were cracked and it was just wonderful.

Our hotel was the living quarters for
the Ingreja Nossa Senhora Da Corrente
Hotel Colonial

View from our room and
the front window

Ingreja Nossa Senhora Da
Corrente - 1729

View from river to Peneda

Rio Sao Francisco

Our stop in Peneda was also to make sure we would have a place to watch the second game for Team USA (vs. Portugal) and we found a nice little riverfront restaurant to enjoy the game.  We were joined in our support for the U.S. by our waiter who had placed a bet with coworkers that the U.S. would win 2-1.  Sadly, up to the last minute of the game, his win almost secured when tragedy struck - Portugal equalized the game 2-2 and Team USA walked away with a respectful tie and the waiter, a bigger tip from us.

We made a friend while watching the game
USA vs. Portugal

Still Believing!


Final score, 2-2 and quite impressive
performance by Team USA

Hillside community of "Indians"

See the man (or woman) lying
down in the mountain?

Beautiful orange flowers on the

We were off early in the morning and enjoyed a bit of the countryside as we ventured further south.  We passed some small hamlets tucked into the hillsides that just lent themselves to pictures. 

Our goal for the day was to make it to Aracaju, a city where a good friend in the U.S. is from (Valeska), and have a bit of time with her family.  We were warmly greeted by her parents and sisters and Gerson had a bit of fun with the nephew.  Lunch was delicious and after a quick settling into our pousada, we returned to watch the second game of Brasil (vs. Cameroon). 

Economical work vehicle

Small communities tucked into the hills

View from pousada near Aracaju

View into a very nice outdoor bbq kitchen

Lunch with friend Valeska's
parents - wonderful food

Watching Brasil vs. Cameroon


Final score 4-1 Brasil!!

Fortunately, Brasil won the game (4-1) and it was time for churrasco and fireworks.  It turned out that on this Monday, it was Sao Joao's day and fireworks are the norm  Gerson, not being one to turn down a good firework, enjoyed the explosive displays.

Gerson and Vinicius

Valeska's father, Bispo having fun with
the fireworks

Gerson with Vinicius and his father

Gerson never met a firework he did not like

Mules are not good at obeying
traffic lights

And this is how Brazilians drive!

Even the one-street towns are
ready for the World Cup

Another nice hill community

The next day, our goal was realized when after a very long day negotiating rather interesting roads, we made it into Caraveles, a small community that is the launching point to get to the Parque Nacional Marinha dos Abrolhos.

Gerson's 50th birthday was June 25th and although there was no party for him, he got to celebrate the week with many new underwater friends.  On his actual day, we just walked the very quiet town (one of the safest towns in Brasil we have been in) and enjoyed a bit of a bite to eat and a few cold cervezas.  Feliz Aniversario to Gerson!

Caraveles - our jumping off point to get
to the Parque Nacional Marinha dos Abrolhos

Quiet streets at night, very nice church

Feliz Aniversario (Happy Birthday)
Gerson's 50th was a quiet night just enjoying!

Beautiful hibiscus

Beach near Caraveles

Extremely rare sight in Brasil -
an actual motor home!

Fisher"man" on its boat

Even the vultures like a day
at the beach

We were up and about early the next day to arrange our anticipated dive trip to the marine park but unfortunately, we could only arrange an overnight jaunt (with all the dives we could endure) for another day hence.  Thus, we spent a relaxing day having a leisurely beachfront restaurant lunch, watching other World Cup games and readying our equipment for our dive trip the following two days.

Our hotel for two days - no Gerson
not the big boat, the little blue boat

Small fishing hamlet

Humpback whales

On the way to the Parque Nacional
Marinha dos Abrolhos

More humpback whales - so incredible

Beautiful boobie!

The cost of the two-day trip was a bit much but as we were essentially celebrating two birthdays (Gerson's now and mine in July), we justified the expense and absolutely no regrets.  Because we were the only people that booked the overnight trip, we had the small boat assigned to us and only us, the captain, the cook and the dive master were aboard.  Fortunately, I can blend right in on a boat with limited facilities and the two days of minimal privacy was no problem.

Stunning islands in the marine park

Gerson with our captain (Zilton) and the cook

Let the diving commence!

Green eel swam along for a bit

Small sand shark

Gerson and Louise admiring
the large schools of fish

Beautiful fish

We started out at the crack of dawn and the five-hour trip to the park's islands was very easy.  The boat departs from the mouth of a river and we were treated to some beautiful views of the shoreline with the rising sun and even more spectacular, were the sightings of  many humpback whales frolicking in the waters. 

We no sooner moored and we were in the water dropping to about 40' (13 meters) and casually swimming amongst the locals.  Large schools of fish greeted us and I was able to swim along with a large green eel as it slithered among the rocks.  It was a great way to increase our appetite and a hot lunch was perfectly timed for our return to the boat.

Louise going back to school

Got to swim in the middle of the fish for
quite a few minutes

It is difficult to put the size of this
lobster in perspective - but the
antennas had about a 4' span!

More lobsters with about 12" bodies

Vivid blue tangs

A second dive took us to another island and more fish and a quite a few lobsters.  I think the lobsters knew they were protected as you could swim right up to them and they would come out to take a look at these odd-looking creatures.  One lobster had antennas that spanned at least 4' and I can only surmise the body to have been close to 2' (based on about half was visible). 

We had a bit of time to dry down before we took a little jaunt to one of the islands where several marine researchers live for months at a time.  The island is nicely preserved and the buildings minimally effect the balance of the island.  Many boobies (not the researchers, but the birds) were around the island and we were given access to the lighthouse for our sunset pictures.  Also, during our sunset island exploration, we were joined by a group of marine biology students (two from the University of San Diego) that were studying in Brasil for a few months and were involved in taking some reef samples for study. 

Turtle sunning itself

Sunset over the island

Walking path to where the marine
researchers live


Louise having a bit of fun

Bright yellow fish everywhere

Gerson coming around one of
many huge coral towers

After the island walk, it was back to the boat and into the water for an eerily exciting night dive.  I always have a bit of hesitation before a night dive, but as soon as I am in the water and my flashlight is on, all reservations are whisked away on the currents.  Almost immediately, we saw a huge sleeping turtle (the shell must have been at least 3' in diameter) and so many creatures that only stir at night.  Unfortunately, expended batteries and a faulty underwater camera left us without pictures of the night-wonderland.

Walk around one of the islands

Boobies abound

The boobies have no fear
of humans (and rightfully so)

A different boobie on her eggs
Check out the blue eyes

First thing in the morning, we were thrown into the water for a bit of a swim before coming to these monolithic coral formations that thrust out of the sandy ocean floor.  We swam among many of these sentinels and found ourselves again among schools of various fish, arches to swim through and beautiful coral formations.

From there, it was a walk around another island and spending some face time with many boobies.  These birds have little fear of humans as they have lived in protection for so long so the birds hang out next to the path and casually watch you as you walk past.  We were fortunate to see a young chick, a teenager (identifiable by its molting) and a young adult (brown in color), all ignoring us as we walked by.

Evolution of boobies:

First, couples dating then doing what couples
do leads to boobie baby and
boobie baby grows into boobie awkward
teenager and grows into young adult

Gerson climbing the lava

Boobie nest

Where's Gerson?

Beautiful view

One side of the island is covered in an ice-plant-like plant and the other is a jumble of lava formations.  These formations are very similar to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland (see United Kingdom journal, page 3) and I will resubmit the explanation for the formations here:

The Giant's Causeway was formed 60 million years ago when molten basaltic lava flowed into the existing chalk beds.  The lava cooled and hardened from the top and bottom surfaces inward, thus contracting and creating a pattern of hexagonal cracks at right angles to the cooling surfaces.  Erosion eventually made its way into the lava flow and the basalt split along the contraction cracks, creating the fascinating hexagonal columns.

Now, with this explanation in mind, this island resembles the Giant's Causeway so much so, that the difference is only the amount of erosion seen on this island.  It really was deja vu all over again.

Puffer fish stranded in very small pool

Gerson lifted out and we placed into a larger
pool that at high tide would be absorbed into
the ocean

View across the rock formations are very
reminiscent of the lava formations in Northern
Ireland called the Giant's Causeway - compare
the pictures and what do you think?  The
difference is the level of erosion, but very similar.

As we walked the island, we found a little puffer fish stranded in a very high tide puddle and we chose to carefully pick it up with my Havaianas and place it in a much large and lower level pool (that will easily be restored with the next tide).  The puffer did what puffers do and expanded like a balloon and we just hope it deflated quick enough to get below the surface and away from nosey boobies.

Another delicious hot lunch on the boat and we were cruising back to Caraveles before noon.  I do not know if we could have timed our departure with any more perfection as we could not drive a straight line because of the numerous whale sightings.  We would see a whale breach over 'here' and point in that direction and then another whale would be slapping its tail closer over 'there'.  It was a challenge for the captain to keep the boat in any one heading, let alone our cameras straight on the whale.

We had so many whales frolicking in the
water around us that I had to include some
of the most amazing photos. 

It's amazing how the males
will act when a female is around!

A whale entertained us with his
slapping his fins while rolled
onto his side and back

The most breathtaking moment was when a large male was trying to get the interest of a female (as we surmise because of the exhibited behaviors) and the male turned on his back and side and was slapping his long fin on the water with his tail writhing behind.  The female was casually dancing around the larger male and their respective blows were heard as though they were directly underneath the boat.  We watched this display for many minutes before the lovebirds tired of their audience and slipped beneath the water.

It certainly was a "fluke" to see so many playing whales on the way back from the marine park.    

Although the trip home was several hours, the time flew by and we found ourselves exhausted.  We took a few minutes to peek at a community of carangueijos (crabs) that live in the mangroves (and are delicious) and then it was back to our pousada. 

A large frigate did a fly over

Yes, more whales!

Picture Perfect!

Carangueijos - or mangrove crabs -
if they were just a little bigger, yum!


We thought that by going on the overnight trip we would not be back in time to watch the knockout round with Brasil vs. Chile yet we did arrive back in time to catch the last few minutes of overtime play and the decisive penalty kicks.  After a very tense and emotional penalty kick showdown, Brasil was victorious and Caraveles erupted in cheering, honking horns and fireworks.

After a bit of celebration in the town, it was an early bedtime for we weary whale-watchers so we could get an early jump on our departure the next morning.  But what a memorable week!

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