Recently, I cruised the Caribbean, my first time there. For my wife, who hails from a Caribbean country, it was her first trip back to the region in 40 years.
Although hurricane season had officially started, it was early enough that we had beautiful, sunny weather the entire week. I really needed the break from the tedium of everyday worries. Just seeing the great expanse of blue water up ahead, behind us, and next to us as we sailed from port to port was soothing and mesmerizing. Add in the highly visible stars at night – including the rare alignment of five planets in an arc, and ah-h-h.
A couple of the ports of call were highly artificial and uninteresting. These were at places developed by the cruise line and accessible only to its passengers. There was opportunity to take excursions outside the confines of these places, but my wife and I decided to avoid the fuss and expense of riding around on excursion buses just to spend a few minutes for photo opportunities at various locations.
The one port we both enjoyed immensely was San Juan, Puerto Rico. We spent the few hours we had there wandering through Old San Juan. I enjoyed having hundreds of pigeons fly around us at their very own Parque de las Palomas. I even let my wife drag me through the hot streets to view the spectacular El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro). It was fun to see this landmark from the sea as our ship sailed away from San Juan.
While onboard, my wife attended a lecture on the real pirates of the Caribbean. She learned that English, Dutch, and French pirates favored particular small islands for hiding their ships and treasures. This spurred her to do a little research on the history of some islands off the coast of her birthplace. Her maiden name is French, rather than Spanish, English, or Irish, which are common in her coastal city due to immigration patterns from hundreds of years ago.
Generally, it seems that people love to imagine that they descend from royalty or respectable go-getters rather than, say, chimney sweeps, women of ill repute, and criminals. But my wife found out that the island from which her grandparents came had been favored by English and French buccaneers back in the 1600s and 1700s. She was thrilled by the prospect of having pirate blood!
Her father and his older brother had spent years at sea as merchant seamen, and she speculated that it was their pirate genes that gave them wanderlust. Her father moved the family from their homeland to New Orleans to Texas to New York City and beyond, and he never spent more than a few weeks at a time on land. This moving around and his absence caused considerable anxiety and even anger to his wife and children, to the point that the marriage collapsed and the children became estranged from their father.
Now armed with life experiences and some knowledge of history, my wife can imagine the thrill of visiting new lands, rubbing shoulders with people of different cultures, and trying unfamiliar foods and beverages. She can also imagine the hard life of a mariner, swabbing decks, chipping away rust, painting the hull, yanking on heavy ropes, kowtowing to superior officers.
Perhaps all that pales in comparison to the sensation of floating on the oceans. The horizon and the vast expanse of the waters gives the impression of freedom. But one is not truly free on the ocean. Even pirates understood that one is a mere speck that can be wiped out by waters agitated by winds and currents.
And yet throughout time, for some it has been THE way to feel alive.