Reflections of Travel to the Atlantic Islands : As a four-decade Certified Travel Agent, international airline employee, researcher, writer, teacher, and photographer, travel, whether for pleasure or business purposes, has always been a significant and an integral part of my life. Some 400 trips to every portion of the globe, by means of road, rail, sea, and air, entailed destinations both mundane and exotic. This article focuses on those in the Atlantic Islands of the Bahamas, Bermuda, Greenland, Iceland, the Canary Islands, and Madeira.
Nassau, on New Providence, offered immersion into British Colonial life with its architecture, beaches, and sights, such as Fort Charlotte, Fort Fincastle, and the Queens Staircase.
Causeway-connected Paradise Island was a crescent of beach-lined hotels, such as the ocean-themed Atlantis Bahamas Resort, but a pocket of history, tucked down a narrow street, was the French Closter, a 14th-century Augustinian monastery dismantled and imported from Europe by William Randolph Hearst.
Freeport, in Grand Bahama, offered its colorful International Bazaar, consisting of some 100 shops and restaurants, and Lucaya Beach.
Bermuda, also a British crown colony, was toured in three areas.
Hamilton, the first, provided a base in the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club for exploration that included its colorful Front Street, Bermuda Botanical Garden, and pink sand beaches.
The Royal Naval Dockyard consisted of numerous venues, including the Bermuda Tram, Clocktower Centre, the Bermuda Clayworks, the Bermuda Rum Cake Bakery, the Dockyard Glassworks, the Bermuda Arts Centre, the Frog and Onion Pub, the Craft Market, and the Bermuda Maritime Museum.
And St. George, on the island’s East End, promoted absorption of the area’s history through its King’s Square, St. Peter’s Church, the National Trust Museum, The Deliverance, a full-size replica of the 17th-century ship that transported supplies to the colony of Jamestown in 1610, and Fort St. Catharine.
As the world’s largest island, lying in the North Atlantic Ocean, Greenland was sparsely populated, rocky, covered with tundra and immense glaciers, and, in some cases, perpetually snow-blanketed. There were few air gateways to it, other than from Iqaluit in Canada, Reykjavik in Iceland, and Copenhagen in Denmark. Internal air service was provided by rotary-wing aircraft.
Other than an aborted trip from Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq in the south, which required an immediate return to Iceland because of below-minimum weather conditions, the almost continent-sized island was visited on two other occasions.
The first, to the Cape Dan settlement in Kulusuk, was accessed by a turboprop flight, which landed on a gravel runway, and was followed by an escorted tour, conducted only in German, of everyday native life, including the colorful houses, the rocky outcrops on which they were built, the community store, and kayaking on the crystal blue, glacier-floating lake in the community’s center.
The second, to Kangerlusuak on the west coast, was reached after a flight from the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The modern, Scandinavian décor inspired Hotel Kangerlusuak served as the base from which sightseeing excursions to Russel Glacier, via a four-wheel drive, and local area coverage, were made. Because of the summer season, thick drapery blocked out light that was perpetual almost 24 hours per day.
Several trips were made to Iceland, whose terrain and topography were other-worldly, with black volcanic lava, hot springs, geysers, and waterfalls.
The Hotel Loftleidir, located at the domestic Reykjavik Airport, served as the base for walking tours of downtown, which included Hallgrimskirkya, its basalt inspired church; four-wheel drives to the massive Gulfoss waterfall and imposing geysers; and flights to Heimaey in the Westman Islands, many of whose structures were constructed on top of the lava excreted from the last volcanic eruption.
The Eastern Atlantic Islands:
Travel to the Eastern Atlantic Islands encompassed two broad groups: the Canary Islands and the Madeira Archipelago.
A drive from Santa Cruz to San Cristóbal de La Laguna on Tenerife, the largest of the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa, revealed the World Heritage Site city of San Cristobal de La Laguna, the first example of an unfortified town whose grid served as the direct precursor of the settlements in the Americas under Spanish rule during colonial times. It consisted of some 1,470 buildings, 627 of which were preserved public and private classified ones harking back to the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and mid-20th centuries with a mixture of Mudéjar, Neoclassical, Modernist, Rationalist, and Contemporary architecture types.
Other sights included the Mercado Municipal, the Town Hall, the Coin Exchange, Captain General’s Mansion, and the Sanctuary and Convent of San Francisco.
Garachico, reached after a short drive, provided a sightseeing opportunity at the Castillo de San Miguel. Icod de los Vinos, reached after another short road sector, encompassed El arbol del Drago, the Convent of San Marcos, and La Casa del Drago for local wine tasting.
Aside from a tour of the Botanical Garden in Puerto de la Cruz, a virtual lunch buffet feast there offered selections such as Catalonian rose wine, tuna salad-stuffed tomatoes and potato and Andalusian sausage salad; baked chicken in wine sauce, roasted potatoes, potato croquettes, and cauliflower; seafood paella; assorted cream cakes, puff pastries, and ice creams; and coffee at the Hotel Tenerife Playa, overlooking the cove-nestled black sand beach and its crashing waves:
Center stage of the second Eastern Atlantic Island group was Madeira, which offered a unique and quintessential Portuguese experience after a circuit from Funchal, on its south side, through 600-meter high, pine-forested mountains shrouded in mist, cloud, and occasional drizzle, to Sao Vicente, on its north one.
The highlight here was a two-kilometer, 12-minute descent in a wooden “cestinha” sleigh. The sleighs themselves, originally used to transport goods from higher mountain locations to lower villages, were only recently converted to carry passengers with the addition of seats. Navigated by two “carreiros,” who both steered and controlled the twin-passenger wicker basket toboggan provisioned with a padded seat and a foot ledge, they were initially pulled forward by two ropes and then alternatively surmounted on two aft steps, depending upon angle, as they rapidly descended the steep, paved streets amidst everyday automobile traffic, often crossing active roads. Their speed was reduced by progressive, horizontal orientations of the wooden blades to induce friction.
The Restaurante Ribeiro Frio, located in the high-elevation, misty village of the same name and decorated with wooden walls, a beamed ceiling, a bar, and a crackling fireplace, offered a post-descent–and somewhat recovering–expresso at one of the small, round, tree-branch tables in front of the fire.
Subsequently following the winding, tightly-curved mountain roads past graduated, multiple-level farm plots reminiscent of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, my coach emerged to vistas of pure-blue sky and sea during its drive from Ribeiro Frio to Santana.
The Quebra Mar Restaurant, with its modern, circular dining room, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and volcanic mountain peak setting in Sao Vicente, served lunch consisting of “vinho de mesa tinto,” or “red table wine,” from the Ganita wine cellars; cream of vegetable soup with leaks, white fish in a crispy batter, fried potatoes, and a mixed, green salad with olive oil; thin beef slices in red wine sauce with rice; and fresh fruit topped with vanilla ice cream.
A drive through the ascending, cloud mist-shrouded roads to the Encumenada de Sao Vicente Pass, affording views of two seas, afforded a scenic overlook at Cabo Girao, the world’s second highest cliff with a 580-meter vertical drop to the sea, and lead to Camara de Lobos, Madeira’s second city.