To The Amazon By Sea And Soul

Day One         

                Dwarfed by Royal Caribbean’s 137,000-ton, balcony-lined metropolis, Enchantment of the Seas, docked ahead of it, the 180.45-meter-long Royal Princess, sporting only a tenth of the former ship’s gross weight at 30,200 tons, featured a 28.3-meter molded breadth, ten decks, and accommodated 710 passengers and 340 crew members.  The relatively tiny vessel would serve as my floating home for the next two weeks and would connect, by sea, the North and South American continents.

                Powered by four 13,500 kW diesel electric engines running at 720 rpms, it featured two four-bladed, 750 kW bow thrusters, two 19.4-square-meter semi-balanced rudders, two 9.9 square-meter stabilizers, and cruised between 18 and 20 knots.

                Built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in St. Nazaire, France, in 2000, it had been first delivered as the Minerva II the following year, but had been reconfigured and rechristened as the present Royal Princess in 2007 when Princess Cruise Lines had acquired it.

                Tender embarkation and the Purser’s Desk had been located on Decks 3 and 4, respectively, but all of the public rooms had been on Decks 5, 9, and 10.  On the former had been the Cabaret Lounge, the casino bar, the Photo Gallery, the shops, the fine art gallery, and the Club Restaurant and bar, while Deck 9 sported the spa, the styling salon, the fitness center, the card room, the pool bar, the pool itself, the barbecue grill, the pizzeria, and the Panorma Buffet.  The Royal Lounge, directly above on Deck 10, had been followed by the internet café, the fitness track, the library, the Sterling Steakhouse, and Sabatini’s Trattoria.

                Releasing its mooring lines at 1705, the 30,200-ton Royal Princess maneuvered from its port berth by means of its thrusters, following the wake of Enchantment of the Seas down the narrow, dark blue Intracoastal Waterway thresholding Port Everglades beneath powder blue skies, and then commenced a gradual, starboard arc behind the lumbering cruise liner at a four-knot speed.

                Clearing the rocky, pencil-thin breakwater embankment at a 15-knot speed 30 minutes after engine start, the yacht-appearing ship disembarked its local pilot and assumed a 082-degree heading.  Enchantment of the Seas itself had angled off the forward, starboard side to commence its Eastern Caribbean itinerary.

                The indistinguishable silhouettes of Ft. Lauderdale, now six miles behind the stern and further inhibited by the blinding sun hovering behind them, receded in the distance, the last glimpse of North America.

                The Club Restaurant, the Royal Princess’s main dining venue located on Deck 5, had been adorned with dark wood paneling and red suede upholstery and featured a bar, small round tables, and a simulated marble fireplace at its entrance, while the main dining salon itself sported multiple-story windows in the stern.  The first dinner at sea had included Cabernet Sauvignon; a lobster and seafood terrine with dill-mustard emulsion; cheese tortellini and spinach soup; watercress, red radish, and iceberg lettuce smothered with homemade bleu cheese dressing; barramundi and pencil asparagus with hazelnut butter, lemon herbed Israeli couscous; a banana nut parfait with caramel sauce; and coffee.

                The sun, an orange concentric circle, had inched toward the western horizon, from where it had dripped into tomorrow, rendering the sky a star-glowing black.  Paralleled off the starboard side by the lighted silhouettes of two Port Everglades-originating megaliners, the Royal Princess, a kindred, although isolated spirit in the civilization-disconnected void of ocean, had begun to arc into a 109-degree, southeasterly heading off of Grand Bahama Island in the Northwest Providence Channel, now poised to pass Bimini and thread its way between Abaco and Eleuthera and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  Maintaining a 19-knot steam speed, it had traversed 104 miles in the path between Fort Lauderdale and its current coordinate.

                Balcony stateroom 6055, located on Deck 6, would serve as my temporary, two-week residence and had been appointed with twin beds covered floral spreads; ornate, bedroom-style lamps and wooden backboards; a two-person sofa and a round table; dark wood closets, cabinetry, and writing desk; blue, printed carpeting and drapery; a sliding glass door balcony; and a showered bathroom. 

Day Two

                Maintaining a 121-degree heading and a 19.3-knot steam speed at 1200, the Royal Princess, gliding through small wavelets east of Cat Island, the Bahamas, had covered 340 nautical miles since its departure from Ft. Lauderdale, having reached a 24-degree, 25’ north latitude and 74-degree, 92’ west longitude position.  The warm, 24-degree Celsius temperature, had been tempered by a 19-mph wind out of the southeast.

              The Panorama Buffet, located in the stern on Deck 9, with both outdoor and indoor seating, featured an American-themed lunch buffet of southern fried chicken, Texas chili, corn-on-the-cob, rice pilaf, onion rings, and a salad of diced carrots, sprouts, seeds, nuts, and green goddess dressing.

              Pitching on its lateral axis, the Royal Princess assumed a rhythmic, bow-to-stern rock, the ship momentarily biting into the ocean and unleashing a fury of white, avalanche-like reactions of froth into the water at 45-degree angles from its hull.  To the west, but invisible to the eye, lay Rum Cay.

              Cacooned in the ship-wide, wood-paneled, green-marbled, book-lined library located on Deck 10, which overlooked the sea on either of its sides and the pool ahead of it, I wrote, periodic, suspended-moment contributions added to my ever-lengthening Cruise Log.

              Bombarded by the billowing, hot Caribbean wind, the 700-passenger ship plied the sea which, after some six months of having been supported by it and having sailed 50,000 miles through it, seemed a multiple-personality “human” to me.  At times smooth and calm like glass, it could equally spit furious, frothy-white anger at you.  The expanse out the starboard library windows, a reflection of the collected cloud islands, appeared a blinding silver glass surface, yet the view from the port windows, below an unmarred sky, had been one of deep-blue velvet.  Sea and soul both seemed reflections, and hence, manifestations, which temporarily, and somewhat rapidly, changed their states.  Of what the soul’s reflection had been, however, had not been so easily identifiable, at least not when it had been rendered a tumultuous one.

              Princess’s signature Sailaway Dinner, served in the Club Restaurant, included Pinot noir wine; a blue crab claw quiche with dry roasted chili salsa; butter lettuce, curly endive, radicchio, and arugula with Russian dressing; twin beef filet mignons with madeira truffle demi-glaze and almond-potato croquettes; a pear in puff pasty topped with sauce anglaise and nutella ice cream; and coffee.

              Maintaining a 119-degree heading and an 18-knot steam speed east of Mayaguana in the Puerto Rico Trench at 2215, the Royal Princess, now 526 miles from its Florida origin, had been crowned by an intensely-black velvet sky in which the Big Dipper had burned its almost-glowing imprint.  Each bite of the ocean with the ship’s bow produced a violent explosion of blurry, white, snow-like condensation which the wind carried the length of the hull, saturating its temporary deck- and balcony-denizens.  So poised, it would pitch over the nocturnal bridge to tomorrow. 

Day Three

              Propelled by its engines, which transformed the dark blue of the ocean into a turquoise and frothy white wake, the Royal Princess had maintained its southeasterly course on the eastern fringes of the Atlantic throughout the night, paralleling the Turks and Caicos Islands and moving toward the Sombrero Passage.  Dawn refused to fully open its drapes, leaving the sky a light-devoid opaque and the sea a navy gray.

              The Panorama Buffet lunch included chicken satay with peanut sauce, Cantonese shrimp-fried rice, fried pot stickers, vegetable tempura, wasabi, and Asian rice pudding with dates and raisins.

              The tip of the bow, as evidenced by the forward, ship-side windows of the Royal Lounge on Deck 10, revealed but an arm’s length point, which continually bit into the deep blue at 1600, yet paradoxically stretched back toward, and widened into, a full-sized, 30,000-ton, balcony-lined vessel which supported the lives of well over a thousand souls and presently bridged two continents.  The sky, mostly filled with billowing white and dirty-white cumulous formations, appeared a series of tropopause-stretching mountains.

              The bow, like much of life, proved a tiny point, but it had been from all these tiny points from which all things had always seemed to grow, a theme somehow supported, if correctly interpreted, by the bow pointing toward what appeared, from my vantage point, of infinity.  It had not seemed to matter how many waves, large or small, the ocean could bowl toward the ship, they had always stretched, without perceptible end, toward the sea-and-sky horizon line.  For it seemed that it had been from this infinity, that the starting point—the ideas—had come, the very origin of the souls who had been endowed with the capability of this thought.

              Every manmade entity on the physical planet had begun with the thought which had initiated it, whether it could be singularly accomplished and completed, or collectively carried out—in effect, a smaller, although nonetheless fused, “whole.”

              Today’s very cruise had been made possible by a kindred “whole,” by those who had discovered the buoyancy theory, had devised naval engineering, had drafted the plans to design and construct the vessel, had processed earth’s raw materials into the parts and pieces of the design, and had mastered the techniques of navigating it.

              Yet, the navy Atlantic stretched before me had not, to my knowledge, been man-made, nor had the souls given the opportunity for autonomy, identity, personality, ability, and thought.  Like the bow, all things seemed to possess a “starting point,” a creation, if you will.

              I wonder who had created them…?

              Dinner, in the main dining venue that evening, had included white zinfandel wine; a wild mushroom tartlet with truffle oil and rock salt; Caesar salad; crawfish etoufee with Louisiana hot sauce and rice pilaf; chocolate cappuccino cake with orange-pineapple ice cream; and coffee.

              The sun, caught behind a mighty gray cumulous fortress, stretched its arms, manifested in a series of streaks, toward the ocean’s surface only moments after 1800, its physical descent all but obstructed until its light orange refraction oozed below the horizon line toward tomorrow.

              Dense, nocturnal cloud cover at 2200, whose visibility could only be detected by the stars’ invisibility, removed even that parameter from perception, leaving a black, dimensionless void through which the relatively small ship tunneled, and the fierce wind blowing across the open pool deck to hint at motion north of the Virgin Islands.  Even that, without the white explosions of water projecting from the hull’s sides, could not be fully verified.

              How, indeed, does one capture something in words when there is, in reality, nothing—when, by the process of elimination, no senses remain to stimulate and hence to which to connect adjectives?  The state certainly applied to the description of the ship’s perception of motion.

              Yet the cruise liner’s instrumentation, like the unwinding of a clock, had revealed progress during its two-day sea suspension.  Maintaining a slower, 16-knot forward speed at the eastern end of the Puerto Rico Trench, it had covered 951 miles since it had initiated its journey and now imminently approached the tiny French island of St. Barthelemy in the Caribbean, with 134 miles remaining to traverse. 

Day Four

Gray tendrils, like smoke rising from the dark sea, corkscrewed into the pre-dawn sky at 0645, only a faint orange whitewash brushed between them.  Having navigated the Sombrero Passage throughout the night, the just returning-to-life vessel closed the final gap to its first port-of-call.

Passing 0.60 nautical miles off of Pain de Sucre Island some 90 minutes later, the Royal Princess, now beneath brilliantly blue, early-morning skies, commenced its final approach in the equally, flawlessly blue water toward the yacht- and sailboat-anchored harbor, threshold to the small, mulitple-hilled, green-carpeted, and red roof-dotted island of St. Barthelemy and its Gustavia capital.

Weighing its right anchor with six shackles at 0828 at a 54-degree, 41-minute north latitude and 62-degree, 52-minute west longitude coordinate, the ship rotated to multiple compass headings throughout the day beneath the baking, blinding Caribbean sun.  Fort Lauderdale, its origin, lay 1,094 nautical miles northwest of it now, a path, for me, of physical separation and internal self-examination.

A quick breafkast in the Panorama Buffet had included cranberry juice and oatmeal with raisins, pears, and bananas.

Located 15 miles southeast of St. Maarten in the Lesser Antilles, St. Bathelemy, whose eight-square-mile area supports a 5,043-strong, French-speaking population, had been discovered in 1493 during Christopher Columbus’ second voyage, who named it “Batholomew” after his brother.

Because of its rocky topography, which, unlike that of neighboring Caribbean islands, renders it infertile and therefore unsuitable for agriculture, it had remained uninhabited until Frenchmen from Guadeloupe had settled there in 1648.  After 230 years of possession claims by France, England, and Sweden, it definitively became a French-owned Royal Colony of Guadeloupe in 1878.

Its present-day popularity had been sparked in 1945 when Englishman Remy de Haenen arrived and constructed a house which he later transformed into the island’s first guest house, attracting wealthy Europeans and Americans.  That guest house is the current Eden Rock Hotel.

A light lunch in the Panorama Buffet had included a chef’s salad with cucumber, carrots, seeds, nuts, bleu cheese dressing, sliced turkey, tuna salad, and tomato foccaccia bread.

Pursuing a 202-degree heading and maintaining an 18-knot steam speed by early evening, the Royal Princess had already placed a 20-mile gap between itself and the island of St. Bathelemy, its temporary reconnection point to land, civilization, and each other, leaving its kindred-spirit Wind Surf and SeaDream I vessels behind in the harbor.

The sun, collecting into orange, cylindrical energy on the western horizon, reduced the sea slate to a dark navy and the island to a sheer silhouette below pink-and-gray, dusk-brushed cloud islands, leaving the colorless gray of the diametrically-opposed ocean and sky strata, the emotional descent after the enthusiasm, the silence after the music.

The Caribbean Sea, whose suboceanic basin covers 1,063,000 square miles and stretches between nine and 22 degrees north latitude and 60 and 89 degrees west longitude, is bordered by the Greater Antilles islands in the north; the Panamanian, Colombian, and Venezuelan coasts in the south; the Lesser Antilles islands in the east; and the Yucatan peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica in the west and is 25,216 feet deep in its Cayman Trench, which threads its way between Cuba and Jamaica.

Believed to have been originally connected to the Mediterranean Sea 245 to 570 million years ago during the Paleozoic period, it had gradually separated, forming the present Atlantic Ocean.  Covered by carib beds, it sits on half-mile-thick sediment from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic periods, arching in the middle, but dipping near landmasses.

Its five roughly elliptical submarine basins, separated by submerged ridges, include the Yucatan, the Cayman, the Colombian, the Venezuelan, and the Grenada.  Sub-surface water enters the Caribbean Sea across two sills below the Anegada Passage, itself located between the Virgin Islands and the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola.

The low and high salinity southern currents primarily enter the Caribbean Sea through channels and passages of the southern Antilles, trade wind-propelled through the narrow Yucatan channel into the Gulf of Mexico.

Believing he had discovered a new passage to Asia, Christopher Columbus had been the first European to sail the Caribbean Sea in 1492, landing in the Bahamas and later founding a Spanish colony on the island of Hispaniola.  17th-century voyagers, such as William Dampier, published their observations concerning the area’s natural history, while the British Challenger Expedition, occurring in 1873, had been followed four years later by the American Expedition on the Blake.

The Caribbean’s submerged coral reefs, supported by clear water and uniformly-warm temperatures, provide the base for most of its shallow-depth flora and fauna, while its tropical climate, varying according to elevation, trade wind, and current, result in divergent rainfalls, from ten inches in Bonaire to 350 inches in Dominica.

Disconnected from the whole, the Royal Princess assumed autonomy, identity, and individuality.  No longer at its origin, it had been free to forge, without boundaries or restrictions, its own path.  I wondered, however, if that path could be considered “forged” or “followed.”  The former indicated one which it itself had created and could only be identified by looking behind it.  The latter implied one which had been predetermined and could only be identified by looking ahead of it, whether it had actually been followed yet or not.

Examination, upon retrospect, clearly indicated that a cruise ship had been designed and created for the general purposes of transportation and vacation, but that the actual operator determined its sailing program of duration, days and times of operation, and ports-of-call.  The ship, therefore, followed its predetermined path, but only forged it after it had been completed.  That path could only be considered a series of multiple, shorter sectors, comprised of individual cruises or itineraries, or the complete journey, after it had been removed from service.  There would, undoubtedly, have been both smooth and rough seas during that interval, along with good and less-than-good events, but its overall performance could only be judged, by its creator, when it had completed its collective mission.  It would then be able to judge its role within the greater scheme.

I wonder how this related to my own life path.  I, too, had disconnected from the whole and had assumed autonomy, identity, and individuality, but could not determine the limitations and boundaries these qualities had given me, questioning if their inherent freedoms had enabled me to forge my own path, without restrictions, or to have followed the path predetermined for me, in which case it had been the restriction.

The ship’s path had been determined by its operator, a determination comprised of a series of decisions.  My own path had also been determined by the decisions I had made regarding its direction, but, like a ship with an intended destination, my own direction had served as my destination.  This direction, therefore, had constituted the first “decision” and the path forged to reach it had constituted the subsequent series of smaller, individual ones.  If all this be true, then my own life path would clearly be a forged, or created, one.

If my direction had been determined by intended life goals and achievements, which themselves had been the result of earlier decisions, and if the steps deemed necessary to reach them had also been a series of decisions, then I still needed to examine what had caused me to choose the specific goal or achievement (direction) in the first place and what had caused me to choose the individual steps (decisions) to journey there in that manner.  The second of the two had been the easier to determine.

Endowed, like all humans, with reasoning and rationality, I consistently employed this primary ability in the “step process” toward the goal, but knowledge and experience, the secondary elements, infinitely improved my ability to do so.  It is doubtful that a person, lacking or deficient in these secondary aspects, could make the same decisions.

The reason behind the direction, or the decision concerning the direction, had been more difficult to determine.  Ostensibly and simplistically, life’s pursuits, such as preparing for a career, could result from the desire to attain a level of prestige or monetary wealth, but neither would likely occur without existing interest and ability—to which I would add the word “pre-existing” interest and ability.  Pursuing an activity because one “likes” or “enjoys” it is, again, a simplistic statement and concept, but what determines why he has that like is not so simplistic to define.  One can, for example, “decide” to try a new endeavor in life, the degree of liking sometimes only determinable after its sampling.  But it is doubtful that one can simply “decide” to “like” something or “decide” to have the “ability” to succeed at it.  Again, interest, penchants, abilities, and likes do not seem to emanate from any innate willingness or self-propagation, but instead from a source beyond us.  Each of us, I believe, has the ability to perform some endeavor or activity better and more precisely than any other—so much so, that that endeavor is not even equitable to work, although it may be a grave, grueling effort for others, and therefore its execution is almost like an extension of that person, resulting in an internal satisfaction and fulfillment which becomes the reward in and of itself for performing it, whether monetary compensation is ever actually received or not in exchange for it.

This indicates that this spark, or inspiration, provides the striven-for activity, field, area, or goal, and that that goal is predetermined before our very own creations.  But does that then not signify that one’s life path is “followed” as opposed to “created?”

I do not feel, as I negotiate the world, that I am being deliberately drawn toward certain actions or compelled or commanded to take the steps which I have hitherto taken.  If this had been the case, then all of these steps would have been correct ones and some, upon retrospect, had not been.  Yet the ultimate goals, which had provided the direction, such as in the fields of aviation, teaching, writing, foreign language, travel, and photography in my life, had been compelling beyond myself and euphorically rewarding, as if their pursuit during my life path had been the equivalent of a long-forgotten, detoured, but ultimately re-intercepted eternal path—all of which indicates, by deductive reasoning, retrospection, and experience, that my life’s direction had been predetermined—the very reason for my creation—but that the individual steps taken to travel there had been based upon my own free-willed decisions.

The veil of blackness had intermittently fallen outside and at 2210, pursuing a 148-degree heading, the Royal Princess had been 90 miles south of St. Barthelemy.  

That evening’s Italian-themed dinner in the Pizzeria on Deck 9 had featured Chianti classico; antipasto of roasted red and green peppers and eggplant drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with shaved parmesan cheese; an individual casserole of lasagna al forno; dark chocolate mousse; and coffee. 

Day Five

Heaving on all axes like a toy boat, the Royal Princess had bridged the Leeward and Windward Islands on a southeasterly heading throughout the night, paralleling St. Christopher, Guadeloupe, and Martinique.  Crawling at a ten-knot steam speed at 0809, it embarked its local pilot, who navigated the ship the remaining 1.3 miles to its second port-of-call, St. Lucia, through the channel to Castries Harbor below the huge cumulous quilt of morning, which had torn directly above the hull, revealing the day’s first pouring of blue.

Rotating abreast of the already-docked Costa Atlantica, the smaller Princess “yacht” had pulled itself sternwards by its water-grinding thrust reversers, ejecting its first mooring line, like a high-speed, slithering snake, at 0856 toward the concrete for a port berth at a 14-degree, 00-minute north latitude and 60-degree, 59-minute west longitude coordinate at La Place Carenage.  The skies definitively opened to an illustriously blue morning in the Caribbean.

St. Lucia, whose 27-mile-long by 14-mile-wide dimensions result in a 238-square-mile area, supports a 156,000-strong population, most of whom live in Castries, its capital.  Part of the Windward Islands, and located 21 miles from Martinique, it had featured a colorful history created by a diverse succession of inhabitants.

The Ciboneys, the first of these, had been hunters and gatherers, but little remains of their lifestyle, including the reason for their disappearance, and they had been followed by the Arawaks, who had survived for some 800 years, engaging in pottery, weaving, agriculture, and shipbuilding.  The Kalinago, who had alternatively been known as the “Caribs,” conquered the Arawaks, killing their males, but retaining their females as wives.

St. Lucia, originally called “Iouanala” or “Hewanorra” in Amerindian, meaning “there where the iguana is found,” adopted the designation of “Santa Alousie” in the late-16th century when the Spaniards had first arrived and diluted their supremacy.  Francois Le Clerc, a pirate and the first European settler, had attacked passing Spanish vessels during his residency on Pigeon Island.  The English, making an unscheduled landfall in 1605 when their ship, the Olive Branch, had been blown off course on its journey to Guyana, purchased huts from the Kalinago, but of the 67 who had disembarked, only 19 had survived after the first month and subsequently fled in canoes.

Although the French West India Company had taken legal ownership of St. Lucia in 1651, 14 different groups would stake claim to it in the almost 175 years until it had finally been ceded to the British in 1814.

The thriving sugar cane industry rapidly declined in 1794 when slavery, mostly from Africa, had been abolished.

Despite the continued use of some French and Creole, English had become the island’s official language in 1842, and 40 years later, the first immigrants, from Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, India, had arrived.  In 1967, it had been granted self-governing status by England, and on February 22, 1979, it had become an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.

As the white quilt of sky had settled atop the green-forested mountains of St. Lucia and the pre-dusk silence had settled on Castries at the end of the work week, the Royal Princess had retracted its thick, taught mooring lines from the concrete dock and almost imperceptibly separated itself from land, inching past the Costa Atlantica and the threshold of the runway serving the George F. L. Charles Airport.  Pointing its bow toward the blinding yellow western horizon, it exited the harbor and disembarked its local pilot at 1745 before moving out to open sea.

That evening’s dinner in the Club Restaurant had featured merlot wine; vegetable hot pot soup with miniature empenadas; seasonal field greens with celeriac, tomatoes, and green goddess dressing; tiger shrimp kebabs with mango-lime relish and jasmine rice; chocolate-banana brioche pudding with caramel sauce and rocky road ice cream; and coffee.

Pursuing an easterly-southeasterly course through the St. Vincent Passage, the Royal Princess commenced its brief, suspended interlude between St. Lucia and Barbados, its third port-of-call, beneath star-sparkling night skies, but bit into the almost-surreal sea which churned into ethereal, aerial spray only short of mist.  Maintaining a 141-degree heading and ten-knot steam speed, it penetrated the dank, humid, 85-degree evening, the orange pinpoints of light representing the silhouette of the southern tip of St. Lucia 20 miles behind its stern.  The wind blew out of the east at 25 mph. 

Day Six

Approaching the Bridgetown pilot station serving the island of Barbados at 0700, the Royal Princess had embarked its local pilot 18 minutes later.  Docking to port at the “Sugar berth” amid a fleet of several cruise liners, among them the Explorer of the Seas, the Veendam, and the five-masted Royal Star, the Princess ship appendaged itself to the island on that crystal blue morning at a 13-degree, 06-minute north latitude and 59-degree, 37-minute west longitude coordinate.

Measuring 14-by-21 miles, the independent, triangular-shaped island nation of Barbados features a 166-square-mile area and lies 100 miles east of the Windward Islands, separate from the Lesser Antilles archipelago.

Resting on a base of sedimentary deposits, with thick shales, clays, sands, and conglomerates formed 70 million years ago, it accrued a layer of chalky deposits capped with coral before it actually rose above the water surface.

Elevation varies according to area.  Mount Hillaby, at 1,115 feet its highest point, is located in the north central region, while the land descends in a series of terraces toward the sea in the west.  The decline in the east, from the mountain, moves toward the rugged Scotland District, while a sharp decline in the south leads to the St. George Valley.

The island’s first inhabitants, the Amerindians, occupied the area during the 1,000-year period from 500 to 1500 AD, and had been succeeded by the Spaniards who had arrived in the early 16th-century in search of slaves.  Because of its remote location and relatively small size, however, they had abandoned it less than 50 years later, and its prevailing winds, from the northeast, deterred most travel to it, Europe-originating vessels unable to reach it unless they sailed in a westerly direction, with the winds.

The unchallenged settlement of the English in 1627, from either Amerindians or Spaniards, had been fraught with other obstacles—notably infrequent provision sailings from Europe and the difficulty of establishing an export crop, although the Dutch had provided valuable assistance in 1640 in transitioning the island from tobacco and cotton to sugar.  Because of the latter’s scarcity in Europe, sugar cane cultivation and its sugar production had transformed it into a lucrative location with high demand and resultant profitability.

Remaining an uninterrupted British possession from its initial 17th-century settlement until November 30, 1966 when it had become an independent member of the Commonwealth, Barbados, the first island between Europe and Britain’s eastern Caribbean territories, is a major link between them, with a quarter century of supersonic Concorde service to its Grantley Adams International Airport and multiple, daily cruise ships to Bridgetown, its capital and only seaport.

Its primarily clay-, lime-, and phosphate-comprised soil supports sugarcane and tropical tree growth, including mahogany, while farmland is almost exclusively under the control of large landowners and corporations.  Small deposits of oil, natural gas, clay, limestone, and sand augment revenue generated by tourism, its rapidly-growing and primary foreign exchange revenue source.  Services, manufacturing, and agriculture are its three pillars of production.

An eclectic array of dishes in the Royal Princess’s Panorama Buffet that day had included turkey cutlet parmesan, goat cheese and artichoke tart, Cajun potato wedges, pickled vegetables, and a fresh berry and pastry cream tart for lunch.

Appendaged by a taught, thick rope on the aft, starboard side to the dark blue-and-yellow Pelican II tugboat, the Royal Princess laterally separated itself from the concrete dock at 1650, inching toward the black-and-white hulled Holland America Veendam.  Rotating its bow to a starboard, zero-degree, due-north heading, the comparatively tiny Princess ship paralleled the mammoth, 137,000-ton Explorer of the Seas.  Still accompanied by the pilot boat, yet autonomously moving under its own power in the darkening-blue, pre-dusk Port of Bridgetown, it exited the breakwaters and harbor-marked buoy and disembarked its local pilot at 1706, whose bobbing, cork-like boat turned 180 degrees and waved farewell.

Now under its own captain’s direction and command, the Royal Princess, so disconnected, assumed an initial 264-degree heading and an 8.7-knot speed, the ocean cresting into 45-degree angled waves from either of its sides beneath the white and silver cloud strata.  Metamorphosing itself into an intercontinental liner, it set sail for the tiny, hardly-populated Devil’s Island off the coast of South America.

The evening’s Club Restaurant dinner had featured white zinfandel wine; potato cream soup with Italian prosciutto; curly endive, iceberg lettuce, daikon cress, red radishes, and French dressing; chateaubriand, served with bernaise sauce and almond croquette potatoes; chocolate-peanut butter pie and chocolate marshmallow ice cream; and coffee.

Mighty streaks of energy, like the hands of God, stretched toward the sea from the charcoal cumulous, mostly obstructing and seemingly absorbing the sun’s yellow core, a soul of radiance.

Pitching and rolling like a cork at 2200, the Royal Princess, maintaining a moderate, 15-knot speed and now 74 miles from Barbados, penetrated howling, 26-mph winds out of the east which bombarded its port side.  The island of Tobago and the South American continent lurked somewhere in the southwest. 

Day Seven

Severely pivoting on its lateral and longitudinal axes throughout the night, the Royal Princess had re-intercepted daylight in little improved conditions: encroached in gray, sometimes slanting rain, it bit into the white caps and barreling waves with its bow, large, foamy, white, arctic snow sheet-resembling projections fanning out from either of its sides as it pinnacled each crest before once again descending into their valleys and repeating the process.  Pursuing a 139-degree heading and still maintaining a 15-knot forward speed at 1025, it had been north/northeast of Georgetown, Guyana, with 243 nautical miles between it and its last port-of-call.

The Mexican-themed lunch in the Panorama Buffet had included, among other dishes, a grilled chicken garden salad with bleu cheese dressing; Mexican rice; nachos with guacamole; and dark and white chocolate-dipped bananas.

Heaving on its axes and caught between the charcoal strata of sea below and cloud above at 1600, the tiny Royal Princess penetrated no-man’s land, that portion of ocean beyond the Caribbean Sea and its multitude of islands densely trafficked by cruise ships unleashing tourists by the thousands on a daily basis, and the desolate morosity of the northeastern quadrant of ocean off of South America where few ventured, destined for the pinpoint specks of the Salvation Islands, the gem of which, Devil’s Island, had “sparkled” with a penitentiary-inhabited population which had vacated the location in 1953, leaving a desolate, although tropically lush lilly pad visited only a few times per year by this very vessel.  I had indeed made a statement concerning the relative allocentricity of my travel, a decision whose steps I urgently needed to re-examine in order to re-establish how they had connected with each other and how they had somehow led to the current one.  Perhaps the brain’s logic of progression had failed to incorporate emotionalization in its deduction process.  Yet, here I was, and the idea of turning back now had been less logical than the one which had led me here.

Despite my internal hesitations, the ship externally plowed on at 15 knots…

Like the waves barreling toward the bow, life sometimes presented obstacles in our paths, whether or not we were ready to deal with them.  Could this have been inadvertent circumstance, fate, or a test to ascertain our often-unrevealed ability to surmount them?  If the latter had been the case, then it had been one more of life’s attempts to strengthen us.

The day’s denouement, as tantalized by the visual sensory channels, had traditionally characterized itself as one of ultimate, although brief, color spectacle, of oranges, auburns, reds, chartreues, and purples, of glows, refractions, and projections, whose audible equivalents could have been the crescendos of a symbol, followed by the emotional decline in parallel with that of light’s recline.  But the mostly-dark cumulostratus blanket above today had only promised the latter portion of the sequence, the reduction in shades to blackness.

If I could have reached out and captured what little light remained in the sky, which would have been a very muffled, camouflaged one, I would have done so in order to “retain” the day, to arrest if from dissolving into nothing but memory, not because the day itself had posed any significance to me, nor because it had any relation to a recollection of the current sailing, but just to have stopped it from leaving—although I do not quite know what.  Perhaps it had been a futile attempt to stop the time process, a process which I subconsciously knew paralleled my own earthly time process, whose period, like that of the day, would ultimately run out.  What would occur then?  Like my life’s span, the earth’s span would also ultimately run out.  What, indeed, would occur to it all then?

The seafood dinner in the Club Restaurant that evening had included Chardonnay wine; panko-crusted crab cakes with fennel fondue; mesclun salad with thousand island dressing; Alaskan halibut in Chablis sauce, served with tiny shrimp and boiled red potatoes; chocolate mousse atop a brownie base with raspberry ice cream; and coffee.

Plowing its temporary trench through the Equatorial Currents at 2215, now north of Paramaribo, Suriname, and 207 miles northeast of Devil’s Island, the 30,000-ton ship, still bombarded by fierce, hot, humid winds, trailed saturated mist plumes along its sides generated by explosive, sea water reactions.  The wave-induced pitch had intermittently subsided.

The day at sea had, alas, brought no startling revelations, only a few miles which had brought the vessel closer to its immediate destination, a short, although necessary, portion if its journey which, when coupled together, equaled its whole one.  Like my own life journey, the day had been one of many which, when coupled together, also equaled the whole one.  Unlike the ship’s journey, however, it had been difficult to determine its destination. 

Day Eight

The Royal Princess had closed the gap to the South American continent throughout the night.  Sunrise, officially occurring at 0647, had offered little more than the reverse of the previous evening’s sunset, a gradual re-introduction of light which had metamorphosed the external, horizontal strata into progressively lighter gray hues, but had failed to reveal any color or glow.

Cradled by the silver, almost mirror-reflective sea at 1000, the ship penetrated the hot, humid, 25-mph winds off the coast of French Guiana at a 13-knot steam speed, now 42 miles from its Devil’s Island port-of-call.

The day’s international lunch, served in the Panorama Buffet, had included chicken a la diavola, Greek moussaka, dirty rice, Mediterranean vegetables, vegetable gratin, and chocolate bread and butter pudding with vanilla sauce.

At 1300, the Royal Princess began its final approach to the Salvation Islands’ Pilot Station, their almost-gray silhouettes, devoid of an appreciable, topographical distinctions, appearing ahead and to the right of the bow beneath the mostly cloud-draped sky.  Reducing speed to little more than a crawl, it moved past St. Joseph, whose sandy perimeter received periodic onslaughts of white, foamy surf from the ocean, and embarked its local pilot at 1332, who maneuvered it into a starboard approach to its anchorage off of Ile Royale’s leeward side in the thick, humid, almost oppressive air.

Located on the northern coast of South America between Suriname and Brazil, French Guiana, which had been settled by the French during the 17th century, is both an Overseas Department and an Overseas Region and constitutes the largest portion of the European Union outside of the European continent itself.

Its three main geographical regions comprise the coast, where most of its 209,000 population is concentrated; its dense, almost-impenetrable rain forest, which gradually gains elevation as it approaches the Tumac-Humac Mountains on the Brazilian border; and the two island groups off the coast, the Iles du Salut and the Ile de Connetable, the latter a bird sanctuary.

The Barrage de Petit-Saut hydroelectric dam, located in the north, provides power, while fishing, gold mining, timber, and eco-tourism are its predominant economic activities.  The Guiana Space Centre, in Kourou, employs 1,700.  Principle transportation includes the international airport in the suburbs of Cayenne, the capital; the Degrad des Cannes Seaport; and an asphalt road from Cayenne to the Brazilian border.

The Iles du Salut, or Salvation Islands, lie eight miles northeast of Kourou in the mid-Atlantic and comprise Ile Royale, Ile St. Joseph, and Ile du Diable.

Settled by French colonists seeking to escape the disease-ridden jungle of the low lands on the continent proper in 1760, they subsequently served as outposts for ships too large to dock in Cayenne, and were initially known as “Iles du Diable” or “Devil’s Islands.”

Ile Royale, the largest of the three and the only one still inhabited, had been the headquarters of the prison governor of the infamous 19th-century French penal colony, which had housed more than 80,000 prisoners in the 101 years between 1852 and 1953.  Its current hotel had been the prison warden’s mess hall.

The actual Ile du Diable, the smallest of the three and measuring 1,320-by-3,900 feet, accommodated the leper colony.  Among the most famous prisoners, which had encompassed spies, political prisoners, and World War I deserters, Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army Officer, had been falsely accused of treason, completing more than four years of his sentence on the hot, humid, rain-deluged island from April 13, 1895 to June 5, 1899, and Henry Charriere, allegedly the only prisoner to have escaped and to have lived to tell the tale in the now-famous book, Papillon.

A June 17, 1938 decree abolished prisoner transportation to French penal colonies, although it had taken another 15 years before the last one had been removed.

St. Joseph, which grew in size as the ship approached it, sported dense, tropical vegetation above its rocky perimeter, in which several pink, wooden cottages, almost choked by the flora, pierced the green canvas.  Ile Royale, a short swim away, had been thresholded by a small pier and several anchored sailboats.  Civilization beyond the prison population had somehow established itself here and the boats had provided its maritime entry.

Grinding engines eight minutes later indicated the release of the starboard anchor with four shackles at a 50-degree, 16-minute north latitude and 52-degree, 35-minute west longitude position.  Considerable time ensured before it had been determined that the sea state would permit safe tender operation, upon which a voice over the ship’s public address system ultimately pierced the safe, vacation-oriented delusion with the words, “Welcome to the penal colony of Devil’s Island!”  The miles covered through no-man’s land (or sea) from the Caribbean to the northeastern edge of South America had deposited me here, and the “tourist route” had been well behind me now.

To put a foot on tiny Ile Royale, or “Royal Island,” which had been more popularly known as “Devil’s Island,” where 80,000 had, until 1953, been accused, correctly or incorrectly, and imprisoned, and whose sole goal, amidst the brutal conditions, had been to escape, had certainly constituted one of the definitions of “exotic travel.”  That step both contrarily and paradoxically served to fulfill the opposite of the prisoners’ intentions and desires, of escape.  The island, upon retrospect, had nothing to do with the desire and, hence direction of, travel to or from it, but instead personal will which, upon further examination, took on diametrically-opposed directions when the action had been self- or other-determined, the former pertaining to my circumstance to travel here and the latter to the prisoners’ to flee it.  To remove that core of the soul, that self-determination, had been the equivalent of removing the soul itself, since the essence of will, direction, and action had been the propelling force behind every living human.

A rocky, inclining path, leading from the single-boat pier to the island’s interior, yielded to a cobblestone, green moss-overgrown one and threaded its way through dense palm trees, lush vegetation, and thick humidity.  Hack out a clearing in a malaria-ridden jungle, I had thought, and man will find a use for it, as the French had with the penal colony they had established here.

The island’s sole museum, located half-way up the path, had been a dual-floored, wrought-iron balconied cottage with an off-red and cream façade, shuttered windows, and a wooden shingled roof, and displayed island-related artifacts, models, and diagrams.

A walk to the path’s summit had been met with a treed, green grass expanse of the island proper, and several penal colony-remnant structures, such as the two-story, balconied “Gendarmerie Poste des Iles” or “island police station,” and the brick and block “Eglise Classee,” or church, which had been constructed in 1854.  Its “Chapelle des Iles – espace de liberte” or “island chapel – area of freedom,” sported a stone floor; a wooden, slated roof; painted, wooden murals depicting prison life; an upper floor; and a steeple.

The island’s many antiquated, decaying stone walls and pillars had provided testaments to the equally fading memory of this historical period, relics which had been intentionally eradicated from the memories of the souls which had been enslaved by them.

The prominent, orange lighthouse hailed from 1934.

The small, crumbling, moss-overgrown children’s cemetery, sporting cross-adorned graves, provided a strong statement of injustice: the hot, humid, cruel, harsh, disease outcrop, coupled with the premature deaths of those who had never made it to adulthood and therefore had never begun to forge their life paths, had resulted in a final resting place, on the far side of the island not far from the ocean, which had been isolated, crumbling, and seldom-visited.  How, indeed, can one be remembered for his contributions and achievements when he had never lived long enough to create them?

The summit-perimeter path led round the cottages of the island’s only “auberge,” which featured stucco walls, shuttered windows, corrugated metal roofs, and small front porches.

Amid the decaying ruins, half-walls, and cells had been the “quartier des condamnes” which featured the rusting, wrought-iron bases once used as beds and the wall-connected bars to which the prisoners had been nightly shackled.  It had been in the narrow cells with their small, single, high-arched windows covered with wrought iron bars where the prisoners had awaited the completion of their sentences or death, both of which had served as “releases.”

The solitary confinement cells, which were located across the way and were equally small, offered no window and, hence, when their doors had been closed, were reduced to total blackness.  Channels of human senses and perception had served no purpose during these times.

A weed-overgrown reservoir had been dug by the prisoners, who had done so while braving the oppressive, breath-inhibiting humidity; torrential rains; disease-transmitting mosquitoes; and skin-tarring rays of the equatorial sun, one teaspoon at a time—the only “tools” they had been given to complete the project.

A walk through the small hotel’s lobby, which had been the prison warden’s mess hall and now housed the bar and a tiny gift shop, led to a tabled, outdoor patio where patrons eat the daily three-course “menu,” quoted in euros, and enjoy views of the actual, rock, palm-covered, 131-foot-high Devil’s Island across the water, which had served as the Emperor Napoleon III’s decreed penitentiary.

The collective, three pinpoints known as “Devil’s Island,” had, more than any other place, been a study of cruelty, torture, endurance, and survival inflicted by humans to humans, which used the planet’s existing, natural elements to heighten it, and hence forced one to examine that fine, instantaneously severable line between life and death, the island’s conditions often inducing one to think “beyond” that line as the sometimes only viable alternative of “escape.”

As a study, it had offered two paradoxes over and above the one already contemplated upon arriving here.  The first of these involved past primitiveness and future advancement.  Its harsh, uninhabited conditions, only now overgrown with lush flora, beckons of the bowels of human behavior—criminality—yet its present tracking station serving the Ariane Space Program whose launch pad, located 12 miles away on the French Guiana mainland, hinted at its future, as it now plays a role in manned and unmanned missile and rocket launches which transcend the boundary of the planet itself, an example of humans fostering advancement for the benefit of humans, and hence the diametric opposite use of the island for humankind’s goals.  The world is, according to Shakespeare, indeed a stage, and its people only players in whatever scenario it is deemed most appropriate for its current cause.  Time and intended goal are the parameters which had distinguished Devil’s Island from past to future, from penal colony to space program, from planetary prison to planetary escape.

The second of the latently discovered paradoxes had been created by my ship itself, the Royal Princess, anchored in the distance and visible as I descended the cobblestone path back to the pier.  Appearing an infinitesimal speck in the vastness of ocean already sailed, it had, at the same time, served as the “bridge” of connectivity, the floating path I had walked to travel here, re-linking civilization.  Because of Devil’s Island’s population scarcity, and its very uncivilized historical use, it had, in essence, been civilization—and hence seemed grossly out-of-place. 

As I crossed the short distance from the island to the anchored vessel on the ship’s tender filled with thoughts, lessons, and paradoxes, of one thing I had been quite sure—namely, that I had performed a feat its 80,000 prisoners had only dreamt of—the rapid, effortless, unimpeded, willful departure from it, without a single hindrance or hesitation.

Obstacles in life are, indeed, only insurmountable when another person’s will is contrary to your own—the ultimate source of planetary conflict.

The Club Restaurant dinner back on the Royal Princess that evening had included white zinfandel wine; mesquite smoked chicken breast with spiked red pepper coulis; mesclun greens, daikon, and baby tomatoes with ranch dressing; cordon-blue style veal scaloppini with Swiss cheese and ham and served with roasted cylinder potatoes, broccoli, and grilled tomatoes; miniature profiteroles with chocolate chip mint ice cream; and coffee.

Having nudged itself out of its anchorage at 1756, the Royal Princess, virtually shrouded in mist some four hours later at 2200, maintained a 14-knot steam speed and pursued a 120-degree heading along the coast of French Guiana, having already passed Cayenne.  The penal colony of Devil’s Island, now almost deserted, lay 55 miles behind it.

Day Nine

Having spent most of the night boring through the morosity, the Royal Princess, sailing the western fringes of the Guyana Basin 70 miles off the coast of Brazil, had, by 1100, been knifed by rain.  The latitude, unwinding like a reverse-mode clock, stood at two degrees.

The French-themed lunch buffet in the Panorama Buffet had included chicken in mushroom sauce, macaire potatoes, tomato provencale, green peppercorn pate, brie and French bread slices, and bananas foster with vanilla ice cream.

Having progressively arced from its predominantly southerly to a southwesterly course, the Royal Princess had crossed the equator and inched into the Barra Norte at 1600, gateway to the Amazon Delta, its bow now clearly immersed in its calm, but characteristically coffee-colored waters.  The equatorial transition, my first by sea, had been obliviously accomplished on numerous prior occasions by air, with flights between North and South America, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as flights directly between Europe and Africa, while a visit to La Mitad del Mundo, in Ecuador, had enabled me to place one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern.  The current event, however–one of many global travel milestones–had been part of my lifelong quest to reach certain key planetary points.  Unlikely to ever be completely released from its gravitational restraints in order to view it as a whole from above, the pursuit had at least enabled me to perspectively experience it from its characteristically geographical coordinates.

The extensive travel, an unending series of discoveries, revelations, and learning processes by land, sea, and air, and their sub-modes, had been infinitely enriching, but equally humbling, as one accurately gauges his relative size—and, perhaps, importance—to the whole.  Only the very few had the visions to tame the planet for the improved survival of the whole, and thence required the effort of the many, often coupled with significant time, to manifest that vision into physical reality. 

Although the collective efforts of these “sub-wholes” may not have been readily apparent or assessable until the individual projects—the sublimated “visions”—had been completed and behind them, I wonder if the lives of the “smaller” individuals make any contributions to this whole and, if so, what those contributions to it may be.  I wonder if these contributions, manifested as entire “life projects,” will only be revealed and hence understood when they have been completed and are therefore behind us…  Would our lives not take on entirely greater significance and, coincident with them, fulfillments, if those purposes could be revealed before the picture has been completed—that is, during the process, increasing the importance of the goal?

And yet, as I gaze out of the low-to-sea windows from the dark wood, painting-adorned, red suede upholstered, living room-style den next to the wrought iron stairway leading to the Purser’s Desk on Deck 4, the horizontal expanse of the almost muddy-appearing Amazon Delta, reached shortly after 1700 and changing in hue on the horizon where it is met by the sulfuric, dirty-gray sky, the vessel moves on.  The sea moves by.  And so too do the days of my life…

Dinner in the Club Restaurant that evening had included sparkling wine; smoked sturgeon with cucumber and apple slaw and lemon confit; cold yogurt and cucumber soup with oregano and dill weed; standing rib roast with creamed horseradish, Yukon Gold potatoes, green beans, and corn-on-the-cob; chocolate brandy butter cream cake and fudge chocolate ice cream; and coffee.

Safely protected by the sanctuary of the Amazon River banks, the Royal Princess, pursuing a 231-degree, southwesterly heading and an almost-lumbering nine-knot speed at 2315, had returned to calm, vessel-stabilizing waters, lightly brushed by hot, humid, rain forest-indicative breezes beneath clear, star-twinkling skies not having been encountered for several days during its suspension in no-man’s land.  Tracing its quickly-dissipating, zero-degree latitude path in the river, it had covered 310 miles since it had departed Devil’s Island, a comparative speck, whose memory at this point had proven equally as small.  Its trek down the Amazon had, in earnest, begun.

The 3,990-mile-long Amazon River, flowing from mountainsides and glacier-fed lakes high in the Peruvian Andes from a location only 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and encompassing a large part of Brazil and Peru, significant portions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and a small part of Venezuela in its north-to-south expanse, is the world’s largest river in terms of basin size and volume, and the second only to the Nile in length, delivering 20 percent of all ocean-fed water with a 2.7-million square mile basin area.

The result of a structural depression, the basin, a subsidence trough which has been sinking under the weight of the surrounding highlands’ eroding material, has been filling with sediment for 66.4 million years.  The depression, flaring out to its greatest dimension in the Amazon’s upper reaches, lies between two old, low crystalline plateaus, the Guiana Highlands in the north and the lower Brazilian Highlands in the south.

During the Pliocene Epoch, between 1.6 and 5.3 million years ago, freshwater had filled the basin until an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean had been established between 10,000 and 1.6 million years ago.

That outlet, 40 miles in width and located north of Marajo Island on the equator, is a lowland of sand banks and half-submerged landmasses called the Amazon Delta whose 170-billion-gallons-per-hour flow, the collective result of Andean glaciers, daily rains, and numerous river tributaries, into the Atlantic discharge through this mangrove-fringed estuary.  Its 6,360,000 cubic feet-per-second release transforms water from salty to brackish for more than 100 miles.

Its more than 1,000 known tributaries, rising in the Guiana Highlands, the Brazilian Highlands, and the Andes Mountains, and comprised of drowned, alluvium-filled valleys, had been created when melting glaciers from the Pleistocene Period had resulted in a sea level rise which had flooded the steep-sided canyons from the Pliocene Era, although he upper part of the valley, encompassing eastern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, had later been covered with melting snow from the Andes.  One of these tributaries, the Madeira, which flows northeastward from Bolivia, is 2,000 miles long, while seven exceed 1,000-mile lengths, enabling large ships to sail as far as Manaus.

The first European to have explored the river had been Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish soldier who had sailed it in 1541 and gave it its current name after battles with local female warrior tribes whom he had compared with the Amazons of Greek mythology. 

Day Ten

Throughout the night, the Royal Princess had begun to take its first bite out of the Amazon, maintaining its snail’s-pace, ten-knot speed and reflecting its hull lights on to the muddy-tan waters which assumed the appearance of snowy-white whipped cream, their tranquillity, coupled with the vessel’s minimal speed, deceptively evoking motionlessness. 

Suspending its journey for a two-hour period in Santana at 0820, during which time it had been subjected to Brazilian immigration formalities and embarked local, river pilots, it moved back out to the relatively narrow river’s center flanked on either side by dense, green, rain forest vegetation representing the Brazilian states of Amapa in the north and Para in the south, now beneath light, pastel-blue skies in which a series of seemingly-connected, billowing cumulous mountains floated, baselessly suspended over the water artery.

Pursuing a 204-degree heading and slightly greater 14-knot steam speed at 1200, it initiated its sector between Santana and Santarem, its first Amazon port-of-call.

A tray of tiny lunch delicacies in the Panorama Buffet that afternoon had included tuna salad and salmon mousse with red onions and capers on baguettes, deviled eggs, spring rolls, Russian salad, chicken and pumpkin risotto, fresh fruit, and hazelnut drops.

The Italian-themed dinner in the Club Restaurant that evening had featured merlot wine; an eggplant parmesan casserole with basil-tomato sauce; mixed greens, baby spinach, crisp bacon bits, pine nuts, pecorino cheese, and bleu cheese dressing; pot roast braised in barolo wine and served with polenta cakes; penne arabata; baked cheese rolls and butter; gelato di zabaglione and toroncino; and coffee. 

See “To the Amazon by Sea and Soul: Part 2” for the conclusion of this article.