At Sea Towards Saint Helena, 3/24/2023, National Geographic Explorer
National Geographic Explorer
We have been sailing for two days now. Tristan da Cunha is behind us, and the island of Saint Helena is ahead of us. We are still too far to see it, but that does not stop us from squinting into the distance from time to time, wishing it closer and closer.
Days like this one go at their own unique pace, allowing us to catch our breath after the intense activity of our last landing. We recharge our batteries in expectation of what lies ahead.
It was a good day to attend presentations. Jim Kelley spoke on wind, waves, and water, and Eduardo Shaw revisited the thrilling life of Captain James Cook. After lunch, we had the chance to learn more about the intricacies of Lightroom with David Cothran, and we finished off the day with a bit of friendly competition with our very own first GeoBee. Feeling refreshed and well-rested, we look forward to what tomorrow brings on our voyage towards the island where Napoleon spent his last days.
We awoke to a beautiful morning in our final destination – Madeira! We had an early start with a full day of activities that began with the first departures at 7:30 a.m. Following an early breakfast, the birders among us departed for the Madeira highlands to look for several endemic species, including the laurel pigeon, the Madeira firecrest pipit, the chaffinch, and the Micronesian kestrel! The second morning departure headed for a scenic drive around the island and up to the Pico dos Barcelos to take in the fantastic panoramic views of Funchal, including the bay, the harbor, and the surrounding hills. We passed through the village of Cârmara de Lobos, the Sea Wolves Lair, a charming fishing village once painted by Winston Churchill. We continued our drive through forests of pine and eucalyptus on our way to Cabo Girão, the highest cliff in Europe with views as far as the eye can see! In the late morning, we headed up the mountain pass and along the vineyards of Estreito de Câmara Lobos, followed by a tasting of wine and “ginja,” the local brandy. The last of the morning departures took the rest of us on a full day tour of this remarkable island! We drove through small villages, along the central mountain range, and over the island to Pico do Arieiro, the island’s third highest peak. We descended into the village of Santana with its charming and traditional houses and vineyards to have lunch. In the afternoon, we arrived at Porto da Cruize for a short visit. On the way back to the ship, we made a photo stop at Ponta do Garajau and Christ the Redeemer, with his outstretched arms overlooking the sea. Following lunch on board National Geographic Explorer , afternoon half-day tours begin. These started with a food and culture tour, where we were guided through seven food-tasting locations to sample the best of the regional flavors of Madeira! The more adventurous departed for a half-day hiking tour along the island’s eastern coast. Hikers kept an eye out for butterflies and endemic birds along the way. In the evening, we were treated to a performance by local folklore group Boa Nova on board National Geographic Explorer . By the end of the performance, many guests were on their feet dancing!
The orb became visible on the dusty horizon and slowly grew brighter. The seas were roughed up by a stiff wind, and there were only a few seabirds about. As the day progressed, the winds picked up, and the seas grew restless. More seabirds were sighted, once again showing us that they are masters at handling all kinds of weather. Our day was packed with many activities. In between, we quickly set about packing and sorting last minute things in preparation for our departure from the ship. The meals, the wine, and the coffee all took on a different flavor. For sure, part of the day was spent up on the bridge taking in the enormity of the Atlantic Ocean. Teatime was a very special one. It included Swedish pancakes, part of a long tradition on the ships. The lively chatter in the bistro was a strong indicator of how much we enjoyed this delicious delicacy. During cocktail hour, we enjoyed the Guest Slideshow, which offered ample opportunities to laugh and reminisce about the remarkable journey we have all shared. This was followed by our Captain’s farewell speech and an opportunity to thank many of the crew who have cared for us so wonderfully during our long voyage. By late afternoon, we were in the lee of the island of Madeira. The city of Funchal rose steeply up the volcanic slopes of the island until we lost sight of it. The hazy conditions that were with us at the start of the day continued to accompany us. However, we were all relieved that the sea state was calm and soothing. We were grateful that the night would be quiet to allow us to prepare for our visit to Madeira.
Today we arrived to La Gomera, our last stop in the Canary Islands before we sail off to Madeira. The weather has been nice, and many of us stood on the outer decks as National Geographic Explorer made her way into the island’s harbor. As soon as we were cleared by local Customs’ officials, we disembarked and headed for the buses that would take us on tours around La Gomera. Some of us went to Garajonay National Park. We had the chance to walk around the lush forest of laurisilva, for which the island is famous. Others decided to hike to Raso de la Bruma for a quicker-paced exploration of the island’s wonderful trails. We gathered together for lunch. We enjoyed a live demonstration of Silbo Gomero, the island’s whistling language, which was recently recognized as part of the cultural heritage of the Canary Islands. To round up the day, the crew’s band, The Spice Boys and Girls, performed in the lounge after dinner.