Thoughts on Columbus, Ponce de Leon and North America

2018 HAL Voyage of the Vikings

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Perhaps it’s a fact of life that as one ages, curiosity increases and distraction ensues.  That might explain why, as we have researched the Viking Age, we find ourselves delving into topics further afield!  It was so easy to be side-tracked into a little exploration regarding Columbus which then led to a “look-see” about Juan Ponce de Leon!  And so on.

In the last blog post, I mentioned that Leif Erikson was the first explorer to establish a colony on the North American continent.  In 1000, he and his crew over-wintered in the settlement they named “Vinland.”    The ruins of the only Norse settlement found in North America thus far are in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. They were discovered in 1963.  It may or may not be Vinland—but  it is proof of the first European landfall in the Americas!  Almost 500 years later, while looking for a trade route to Asia, Christopher Columbus came upon the Americas, once again, albeit to the south.  The difference in 1492 was the exploration-conquest-colonization-profit factor.  Columbus’s 4 voyages led to ongoing European contact with the Americas.  The knowledge that a new continent existed between Asia and Europe was a breakthrough in geographical science and led Spain, Portugal, and other European sea powers into a new era of exploration and colonization.

Juan Ponce de Leon, at the age of nineteen, first came to the Americas as a “gentleman volunteer” with Christopher Columbus’ second expedition in 1493.  He stayed on in Puerto Rico.  By 1513, wealthy from his plantations and mines; politically connected; and having lost his Puerto Rico governorship to Columbus’ son, Diego, Ponce de Leon led the first known European expedition to “La Florida.”  He landed along Florida’s east coast near St. Augustine.  He charted the Atlantic coast down through Cape Canaveral, the Florida Keys, and then up the Gulf coast.  And historians agree, he never, ever, searched for a “Fountain of Youth!”  Upon his return to Puerto Rico in 1514, he was knighted by King Ferdinand, reinstated as governor of Puerto Rico, and authorized to colonize Florida.  He attempted to do that in 1521.  However, “the native Calusa people fiercely resisted the incursion.”  Ponce de Leon was injured in the leg by a poisoned arrow.  The settlers escaped to Cuba where Ponce de Leon died from his wound.  His body was returned to Puerto Rico.  His tomb is in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in San Juan.

Of course, European kingdoms continued to send expeditions and continued to establish colonies in the New World.  They built large trade networks across the Atlantic, introduced the natives to Christianity, and exchanged new plants, animals and food crops.  The search for a westward trade route to Asia continued.  Vasco Nunez Balboa crossed the narrow Isthmus of Panama and became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.  Magellan sailed across the Pacific.  He was killed in the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines.  But the expedition went on to reach the Spice Islands in 1521, returning home via the Indian Ocean, and completing the first circuit of the globe!

What amazing feats of exploration!

This was a fun detour on the road of research.

Leif Erikson and the Vikings

2018 HAL Voyage of the Vikings

Sunday, July 8, 2018

In preparation for our next cruise, I’ve been reading up on the Vikings and Leif Erikson in particular.  I know we’ve all heard that Christopher Columbus never actually got to North America; although he did sail to the Bahamas, Hispaniola, and to the coasts of Central and South America.

It was the Vikings who first came across the North American continent.  Captain Bjarni Hergelfson and his crew veered off-course during a storm.  They sighted an unusual land with no fjords or icebergs.  The landscape was forested and green.  Captain Hergelfson, took detailed notes about his two sightings of the unfamiliar land but he did not go ashore.  Later, after conversing with Hergelfson, Leif Erikson bought Hergelfson’s boat; put together a crew and set off to explore the area himself.

First arriving at an area believed to be Baffin Island, Erikson continued sailing southeast for two days and came to an island with a mainland behind it.  On this land, Erikson built temporary shelters.  When the men found grapes growing wild, they named the settlement Vinland.  Today, Vinland is known as L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.  (The ruins of this Viking settlement were found in 1963.)  Erikson left Vinland in the Spring when his men were ready to go home.  But the surprising issue is that very few people ever returned to Vinland.  Only Leif’s sister and a small group of settlers returned.  They were killed by Indians.  And so, Europe remained almost totally unaware about this discovery of the New World!

We are looking forward to this cruise.  It’s been on our bucket list for a long time.  We’ll journey to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland.  We’ll learn about the Vikings and their influence.

I hope you’ll join us on this new adventure!

2018-07-18 V of V itinerary map
HAL 2018 Voyage of the Vikings

Holland America Line’s MS Prinsendam SOLD!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Holland America Line has announced the sale of the MS Prinsendam to the German travel and cruise company, Phoenix Reisen.  The Prinsendam has been chartered back to HAL and will continue its planned itinerary through July 1, 2019.  At that time, Holland America will absorb the remaining Prinsendam voyages into those of the Rotterdam, Veendam and Volendam.

I’m writing this post because we have traveled aboard the Prinsendam many times and have a deep and enduring fondness for this unique ship.  She is known as the “Elegant Explorer” for her classic style and intimate size (she carries a total of 835 passengers.)  The Prinsendam can enter and explore ports that larger ships cannot.

We first sailed aboard the Prinsendam in October, 2009 to the Mediterranean and Black Seas (then repeated and expanded the experience in 2015); in 2011, and again in 2013, we sailed the Baltic Sea, North Sea and Kiel Canal; the most amazing cruise EVER was the South America and Antarctica adventure in 2014.  Our last voyage aboard the Prinsendam was in 2015.

 

Here is our photo tribute to a grand vessel:

San Juan, Puerto Rico

2018 HAL World Cruise

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We were curious to see San Juan again.  The 2017 Hurricane season was very damaging to Puerto Rico and the repairs are on-going!  Ironically, just a few days ago, a contractor managed to knock down a critical power-line and wipe out the electricity!  Happily, power was restored by the time we arrived and Old Town San Juan looked as lovely as ever!  The buildings had been cleaned and many were newly painted.  Although lots of street signs were missing, the overhead electric wires were firmly replaced and in working order; the roofs were repaired; everything was neat and clean!

We awoke in San Juan to a bright and sunny morning.
We awoke in San Juan to a bright and sunny morning.
Old San Juan looked as lovely as we remembered.
Old San Juan looked as lovely as we remembered.
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It’s an easy walk off the ship and into town–which is, literally, right across the street.
Columbus Square
Columbus Square
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A tiny park across the street from both San Juan Bautista Cathedral and the El Convento Hotel. Love the old tree!
The San Juan Bautitsta Cathedral, containing the tomb of Ponce de Leon.
The San Juan Bautitsta Cathedral, containing the tomb of Ponce de Leon.
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The El Convento Hotel was once the nunnery of the Cathedral. Today, it is a lovely hotel and restaurant across the street from the Cathedral and just up the hill from Pigeon Park and the Chapel of Christ the Savior.
Looking towards La Forteleza, the Governor's Residence.
Looking towards La Forteleza, the Governor’s Residence.
Looking towards the Governor's Residence at the end of the street.
Looking towards the Governor’s Residence at the end of the street.
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The San Juan Gate. There are five gates in the Old City Wall. This gate was used by Spanish dignataries. They would enter the city and then walk up the street to the Cathedral and thank God for their safe arrival.
Shoppping in Old Town.
Shoppping in Old Town.
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Looking at Harmony of the Seas on the pier as she prepares to depart San Juan. We will follow her out a little later.

 

This was our last port-of-call for the 2018 HAL World Cruise!  We’ll be home in a few days and must now get busy packing up for the disembarkation!  Thank you for joining us on this adventure.  We love to hear from you as we travel; and it is our sincere hope you find these destinations as interesting as we do!

See you, again, next time!

Praia, Ilha de Santiago, Cape Verde

2018 HAL World Cruise

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It was the Portuguese who settled the island of Santiago in 1462.  Antonio da Noli discovered the island and built a garrison in what is now Cidade Velha (Old Town) but was known then as Ribeira Grande.  It was transcontinental slavery that made Ribeira Grande the second richest city in the Portuguese realm.   Praia, which means “beach” was a coastal community about 9 miles away.  So, when French pirates attacked Ribeira Grande in 1712, the inhabitants moved to the plateau above Praia.  Today, Praia is the capital of Cape Verde.

We found Praia to be charming and more Mediterranean than African.  Many of the buildings date to the Portuguese era, the sidewalks are decorated with the signature Portuguese designs, and although U.S. dollars are accepted and English is widely spoken, the music is exotic and reminds you there is an African influence.

We took the ship’s shuttle up to the plateau and spent the entire day walking around, shopping, visiting the sites and enjoying the local brew!!!!

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On the dock in Praia, Cape Verde looking at the city before us. The original “Praia” is on the coast and the fortified city is on the plateau.
Taking the shuttle up to the plateau.
Taking the shuttle up to the plateau.
Seen while on the shuttle to town.  Talk about great posture!
Seen while on the shuttle to town. Talk about great posture!
Looking back at the MS Amsterdam.
Looking back at the MS Amsterdam.
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The cannon along the old fortified city wall looks like it’s aimed directly at our ship!
looking down to the coastal part of the city.
looking down to the coastal part of the city.
The Church
The Church
Interior of the Church.
Interior of the Church.
The Presidential Residence
The Presidential Residence
Walking through town.
Walking through town.
The colorful market!
The colorful market!
Everything looked good!
Everything looked good!
The people were very nice!
The people were very nice!
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As we entered the square, we found a concert taking place! We quickly snagged a table and spent a lovely time sampling the local brew and enjoying the music! Morna is the music of Cape Verde. Sounds like an Argentine tango with Cape Verdean lyrics.

 

We are now on our way across the Atlantic and will arrive at our final port-or-call, San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday.  The party is almost over.

Dakar, Senegal

2018 HAL World Cruise

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dakar was an interesting port.  Situated on the Cap-Vert peninsula, it has been an important trading location—starting from Goree in the 1500s and later from the mainland when the railroad was built in 1906.  Today, it is the capital of Senegal.  Because we chose to visit Goree, we didn’t see much of the city itself.  Our short excursion to the Pullman Hotel took us across pot-holed, dirty, sand-filled sidewalks where the locals elected to walk in the streets instead.  We found the smiling local folks to be charming.  If we ever return, we’ll try to spend more time exploring the city.

Meanwhile, here are photos of the lovely island of Goree:

On the dock in Dakar, Senegal.
On the dock in Dakar, Senegal.
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The Ferry Terminal (but you must exit the port at the cruise dock and re-enter at the Port Authority)
Waiting to take the ferry over to Goree Island.
Waiting to take the ferry over to Goree Island.
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Boarding the ferry to Goree Island along with lots of schoolchildren wearing their school colors.
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Boarding the ferry–but look at the boat behind us–Its name is “BEER”! Now those must be party peope!
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On our way to the island. Goree is infamous as a slave trading center and many of the old buildings are still there as is a museum. But the island, today, is more an artists’ colony with many artisans living and working there.
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Goree Island was settled by the Portuguese in 1556. This is the old fortress which now houses the museum.
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Entering the “House of Slaves” built in 1776. But by that time, the island was under French rule.
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The “House of Slaves” is where the “product” of people was stored. Ships approached from the sea and the slaves were transfered though the “Door to Nowhere” also known as “The Door of No Return”
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As many as 25 people would be cramped in a cell of this size. The slot at the back was for food delivery.
Door of No Return
Door of No Return
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The view, from the sea, of “The House of Slaves” (the pink building with upper story columns) and the infamous “Door to Nowhere” visible just above the water line.
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This sculpture is from the Martinique people and celebrates the abolition of the slave trade on Goree Island in 1848.
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Today, the island is a colony for artists. Its streets and old buildings are charming.
The Church
The Church
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Monumenat to the history of Goree Island presented to Senegal by the United States.
Passing some Baobab Trees as we return to the harbor.
Passing some Baobab Trees as we return to the harbor.
Back at the harbor.
Back at the harbor.
Waiting for the ferry.
Waiting for the ferry.
Passing a fishing boat as we return to Dakar on the mainland.
Passing a fishing boat as we return to Dakar on the mainland.
Back in Dakar, we took the shuttle to Independence Square.
Back in Dakar, we took the shuttle to Independence Square.
From Independence Square we walked to the Pullman Hotel.
From Independence Square we walked to the Pullman Hotel.
Pullman Hotel
Pullman Hotel
The end of day libation.
The end of day libation.
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And we return to the MS Amsterdam where the provisions for our upcoming Atlantic crossing are being loaded.

Next, we will visit Praia on the Island of Santiago in Cape Verde.

Banjul, Gambia

2018 HAL World Cruise

Monday, April 16, 2018

 

In 1816, Captain Alexander Grant (by order of the British Colonial Office) established a military post on Banjul Island.  He renamed the island St. Mary’s and named the settlement in honor of Colonial Secretary Henry Bathurst.  The settlement was meant to suppress the slave trade out of Western Africa and, also, served as a trade outlet for the merchants who were ejected from Senegal when the French took over.  Eventually, it became the capital of the British colony and protectorate of Gambia.  With Gambia’s independence, it became the national capital.  The name was changed to Banjul in 1973.

This is a very poor country.  The people are very nice and look happy but we wonder what it is like to live here.  Our guide, was a port guard who took the day off to earn extra money as a guide and driver.  Four of us hired him for 4 hours and paid him U.S.$80.00 for his services.  Not only did he perform as a guide; he was our protector as he fended off over-zealous hawkers and (no doubt) potential pickpockets!

It is our custom to start a port day by taking photos from the aft deck.
It is our custom to start a port day by taking photos from the aft deck.
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In Gambia, you can see all the main sites without ever leaving the ship! Arch 22 was built to commemorate the military coup of July 22, 1994, when President Jawara was overthrown and replaced by Yahya Jammeh, also replaced in 2017 by Adama Barrow.
These are the twin minarets of the King Fahad Mosque.
These are the twin minarets of the King Fahad Mosque.
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We disembarked the ship and looked for a taxi. Most of our cruise mates were taking organized ship’s tours.
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One of the bridge guards introduced us to a driver (a port employee earning extra money on ship day). We walked across the bridge to the police station, loaded up into Seedy’s vehicle, and set out for Kotu Beach.
Seedy and his car for our trip to Kotu Beach.
Seedy and his car for our trip to Kotu Beach.
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As we were exiting the port gate, we saw about a dozen of these carts coming in. This is merchandise, from all over the island, that will be set out at the dock for a pop-up market!!!!
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As we left the port area, we passed Dobson Street, an old neighborhood with distinctive buildings buit by the Portuguese. It was a bit of a disappointment. The buildings are there, but in disrepair. So sad.
Dobson Street
Dobson Street
Markets set up along the road to Kotu Beach
Markets set up along the road to Kotu Beach
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This is a very poor country. the people are very nice but the living conditions look challenging.
Schoolkids playing soccer without a soccer ball.
Schoolkids playing soccer without a soccer ball.
School girls carrying no books.
School girls carrying no books.
Ahh, ther's always another mosque!
Ahh, ther’s always another mosque!
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Arriving in Kotu Beach where we find a commercial district set up to provide services for the condo dwellers. There’s a supermarket, gas station, restaurants, and lots & lots of vendor stalls!
Vendors are selling wood carvings, jewelry, fabrics and clothing.
Vendors are selling wood carvings, jewelry, fabrics and clothing.
Kotu Beach
Kotu Beach
Walking along Kotu Beach.
Walking along Kotu Beach.
Enjoying the local brew at Sailor's Beach Bar.
Enjoying the local brew at Sailor’s Beach Bar.
Eye-catching wall mural.
Eye-catching wall mural.
Even the stonework is lovely!
Even the stonework is lovely!
Leaving Kotu Beach and heading back to the city.
Leaving Kotu Beach and heading back to the city.
Approaching the port.
Approaching the port.
Entertainers on the dock to see us off.
Entertainers on the dock to see us off.

This experience was eye-opening and thought-provoking!

 

Our next port is Dakar, Senegal.