December 20, 2012
We have arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which marks the end of the first portion of our sea voyage from Rome, Italy, to Manaus, Brazil. During this part of our journey on the Pacific Princess we crossed the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second largest ocean in the world, after the Pacific. The Atlantic covers about 20% of the planet. It took us 12 days to make the crossing, including a couple of stops along the way.
Before we left the Mediterranean Sea to enter the open Atlantic Ocean, we spent a day in Gibraltar. At this location Europe and Africa are only eight miles apart. The ancient Greeks called the two sides the “Pillars of Hercules” and it was once considered the end of the known world. As it stands at the western entrance to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar is a natural strategic location. There is a long history of conflict here, beginning with a Moorish invasion in 711. After their rule for over 700 years and a period of Spanish occupation, Gibraltar became a British dependency in 1704.
Only 2.75 miles long and ¾ mile wide, Gibraltar is known as “The Rock” because it rises abruptly to 1,396 feet (425 meters) high. We spent the morning hiking to the top of “The Rock”, walking by a Moorish castle, first built about 1160. As we neared the top we saw the first of the famous Barbary apes who live here. These tailless monkeys were a riot to watch as they scampered around us. When our climb was complete we were rewarded with great views of the sea and city below.
During our actual Atlantic Ocean crossing we visited two islands. The first was Madeira. Located off the coast of Africa, the island is volcanic in nature and contains towering peaks that rise higher than 6,000 feet (1,830 meters). Madeira was colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century. It soon became known for its crops of sugar and grapes.
An early visitor to the island was Christopher Columbus, who arrived here in 1479 to buy a cargo of sugar for a Portuguese merchant. He stayed on the island and married a local. His son Diego was also born here. After a few years Columbus left and moved back to Spain. He went on to make his first voyage to the Americas in 1492.
Many exotic plants came to Madeira by passing ships and it became known as the “floating garden”. The island soon grew into one of the first European tourist spots. Madeira was mentioned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Three Gables, as one of the story’s characters lists it as a travel destination on par with Cairo and the French Riviera. We spent our time exploring the beautiful city of Funchal. It was great fun to walk through the narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets.
From Madeira we continued west across the Atlantic Ocean, sailing at a latitude of 32 degrees north, for five days. We had very good weather for mid-December. As we sailed we reflected upon the countless crossings that have been made between Europe and North America. Voyages between the two continents back in the early 19th century took as long as two months!
The sea days provided us with the opportunity to rest and relax. We worked out, enjoyed leisurely meals and attended lectures and shows. We had the privilege of presenting an overview of our Trekking the Planet journey and its goal of raising geography awareness during one of the sea days.
We were still about 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) off the coast of the Eastern U.S. when we arrived in Bermuda for the day. It is Britain’s oldest colony, founded when a group was shipwrecked on the island for 10 months in 1609. They eventually built new ships and continued on their way to Jamestown, Virginia. One of those shipwrecked on today’s Bermuda was John Rolfe who later went on to marry Pocahontas.
We anchored near the Royal Naval Dockyard, which was built in 1814 by thousands of convicts brought over from England. From here it was a 20 minute ferry ride to the capital city of Hamilton. Characterized by pastel colored houses and white roofs, we found Hamilton a quaint place to spend a day.
After a transition day in Fort Lauderdale we will re-board our ship to make our way south towards Brazil, visiting several Caribbean islands along the way.