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Home > Virtual Cruises > South America on Azamara Journey
South America on Azamara Journey
Day 1: Pre-Trip Thoughts
Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires
Day 3: Setting Sail
Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay
Day 5: Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil
Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio
Day 7: Carnaval in Rio!
Day 8: From Rio to Montevideo
Day 9: Disembarkation in Buenos Aires
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Day 4: Wednesday, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Punta del Este, UruguayIt was a short sail to Punta del Este; as a matter of fact, we never even left the Rio de la Plata, the river that forms the harbors for both Punta del Este and Buenos Aires. This is a port I've never visited and had no preconceived opinions of, and so I booked myself a ship-sponsored half-day tour of the town -- just to get my bearings.

Thankfully, I received my shoes back from Godwin, my butler. He brought them back to me, along with an apology for not being able to get out all the water stains. Given the amount of water damage, I think they looked pretty good, though I may try taking them to my local shoe repair shop when I get home. But before exploring this port city, I headed up to the Windows Cafe, the Deck 9 buffet, for breakfast.

I was very impressed. Like most small ships, the amount of space available for the buffet was limited. However, Azamara had managed to squeeze in a better selection than I have seen on many ships three times the size. Besides the self-serve buffet offerings, there were several "made to order" stations. Of course, there was the ubiquitous omelet/fried egg station, but in addition, there were a fresh juice bar, which squeezed juice or blended smoothies from fresh fruit; a ham carving station; and a cooked-to-order pancake and waffle station. In the self-serve section, there were at least seven varieties of smoked and marinated fish, a complete Japanese miso setup, a full spread of steamed vegetables and of cheeses, unusual egg dishes (for example, little pastry cups filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo served atop buttery slices of toasted baguette), and always an interesting second sausage choice to go with the standard pork links; two examples: merguez (a spicy, North African sausage) or cheddar cheese bratwurst. There was also a blintz station, as well as one serving various stuffed pastries: ham and cheese croissants and apple fritters -- and all these in addition to standard buffet offerings!

With a fully belly, I boarded a tender for the 30-minute ride to Punta del Este, which afforded ample opportunity to form some cursory impressions. The port is strongly reminiscent of upscale Mexican resort, beach and boating destination Cabo San Lucas -- the resorts, marinas and proliferation of pricey pleasure craft. Also, like in Cabo, our tender today deposited us at the central yachting and fishing marina. The available pier stood quite a bit higher than the gunwales of the tender, making getting ashore a bit tough for some of my less ambulatory fellow passengers. On the dock, itself, two couples in costume took turns dancing classic tango to the output of a small boom box at their feet.

Taking it all in from the dock below were three of the fattest, most lethargic sea lions ever to have crossed my path -- so fat that one of them had to make at least three attempts to haul itself onto the dock. There is an island offshore from where we docked which has one of the world's largest sea lion colonies, but from that colony of thousands, a few with high I.Q.'s, or even higher L.Q.'s (Laziness Quotients), discovered that hanging around the marina docks was a much easier way to get fish than hunting them down, since the fishermen toss the carcasses of the fish they filet into the basin within easy reach of the overfed sea lions.

With more than 300,000 vacation-time visitors, Punta del Este is Uruguay's most important summer resort area. Tourism is a strong enough economic force that there are no factories or industrial enterprises to any extent. That would certainly explain its popularity, as well as the vast number of beautiful, upscale vacation homes we passed in our motorcoach tour, led by our tour guide Silvana. In an exclusive neighborhood called San Rafael, all the houses were roofed in tile fashioned by melting local beach sand, mixed with various coloring agents. The result was roofs that seem glasslike in texture and reflectivity. We passed one house that had originally been offered to the Shah of Iran when he was contemplating exile and another that had been built by Juan Peron for his wife, Eva. Eva Peron complained of always being cold, so her husband built a fireplace in every room of the house. I counted nine chimneys poking through the roof.

One of the most charming aspects of life in Punta del Este is that there are no house numbers. Instead, each house is given a name, most of them romantic or evocative of tropic paradise, say, "Deep Blue Sea" or "Palms at Sunset." The post office has those names registered, and that is how mail is addressed and delivered. On a more eerie note, however, was a sculpture of a thumb and four huge fingers reaching out of the sand along one of the beaches we skirted; it was created by a Chilean sculptor. He claimed to have been influenced by the massive statues on Easter Island, and I could see the derivation, but I also couldn't help but be reminded of the ending of the Stephen King movie, "Carrie."

We drove through another upscale neighborhood -- called, believe it or not, Beverly Hills -- en route to the Ralli Museum. The museum is named for the wealthy Italian businessman who fell in love with Uruguay, built a private home there and created a museum, which he filled with art of his own choosing and purchase, and which he made available to all totally free of charge. The collection originally began with contemporary Latin American artists but was expanded to include the works of Spanish-speaking European masters Miro and Dali, and further expanded to other countries and other time periods, including a collection of 16th- and 17th-century European masters. One of my favorite portions was the sculpture garden, with its lifelike arrangements of figures in family groups.

A fitting end to the culture-vulture tour was Casapueblo, the combination studio, home, museum and hotel belonging to the artist, Carlos Paez Vilaro. He began with his atelier, then added on rooms in haphazard shapes and directions. No two rooms are alike, and because Vilaro detested straight lines, all the shapes are fluid and organic, reminding me, in many ways, of the work of Gaudi. Vilaro, an eccentric, was friend and houseguest of an eclectic group that included Marlon Brando, Albert Schweitzer and Pablo Picasso.

I spied a couple of lovely-looking waterfront restaurants as we made our way back to the pier and asked Silvana for a lunch recommendation. I ended up at Lo de Terre, on the upscale end of the spectrum, where I enjoyed dining on inaki (hake), a tender, flaky white fish, served with sauteed vegetables and sauced with an almond foam. Here's a tip: Menu prices are scary at first. With the current exchange rate of about 20 to 1 between Uruguayan and American currencies, it's not uncommon to see entree prices in the 800-peso range (about $40 USD).

I chose that night to dine in Discoveries, Journey's main dining room. I found much to my liking about the menu, with pasta, fish, shellfish, veal, beef and vegetarian entree options. I started with a cup of Louisiana chicken and andouille gumbo, which I would normally expect to be bland anywhere outside Louisiana but, which to my pleasant surprise, had a substantial bite to it. I followed that up with prime rib, which was served medium rare as requested. This being the first night dining in the main restaurant it's too soon to make judgments about food quality and presentation in that venue, but the service has so far been outstanding.

After dinner, I decided to catch the show in the Celebrity Cabaret Lounge, Journey's main showroom. Tonight Helen Jayne, a Brit singer, did a set of standards and show tunes. Ms. Jayne has quite a set of pipes and clearly idolizes the late Judy Garland who she eerily seems to be channeling when she sings, down to phrasing, physical posture, gestures and facial expressions. Like Garland, Ms. Jayne knows that getting the emotional impact of a song across is more about acting than vocal pyrotechnics. And, like Garland, Ms. Jayne has a big voice, one that could fill a large concert hall, perhaps too big a voice for the small, intimate Cabaret Lounge.

And then to bed -- tomorrow is our first sea day.
Day 3: Setting Sail red arrow Day 5: Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil

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