Three continents, 14 days, and the second-largest ocean on Earth as the playground—cruising across the Atlantic was the experience of a lifetime. By Satarupa Paul
“Land!” A fellow traveller eagerly pointed to a speck on the horizon. Around us, the azure Atlantic Ocean stretched endlessly, complemented by a sunny blue sky, as if the two were part of a Piet Mondrian painting. Two days ago, on November 23, 2019, we had set sail from Barcelona and cruised across the enchanting Mediterranean Sea. On the previous night, after navigating the Strait of Gibraltar, we’d finally met the majestic Atlantic Ocean. The welcome however, was a stormy one; angry waves lapped at the sides of the ship, rocking us from side to side on our beds. The soothing lullaby of the Mediterranean Sea was replaced by an ominous groan that made us tremble in our sleep. It wasn’t until dawn broke, blanketing the ocean in a sheath of gold, that the mighty Atlantic eventually calmed down.
To the thrill-seeking seafarers amongst us, this was but a preview of the adventures that lay ahead on this transatlantic voyage, aboard the Marina of the Oceania Cruises. These adventures would be the highlights of a singular experience—navigating the Atlantic Ocean over two weeks, crossing the Equator, and passing through numerous time zones, docking at three continents and witnessing the incredible sights, sounds, and tastes of faraway lands—and doing it all from the plush comforts of one of the top luxury cruises in the world.
Now, that speck of land grew bigger. Our first port of call was within sight.
A rhythmic pattering of rain enveloped us as we stepped inside the fantastical Garajonay National Park. Other sounds seemed to cease in this luxuriantly green, dense forest; even the calls of birds and chirping of insects were curiously absent. Around us, the tangled mass of trees, ferns, and moss lay drenched in a continuous drizzle that we could only hear, but not see. So thick was the foliage that only a few stray droplets reached us occasionally, as we silently hiked through this magical UNESCO World Heritage Site in La Gomera—one of the eight volcanic islands that form the autonomous Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands.
Once known as the world’s most westerly charted point, the Canary Islands served as a bridge between the Old World and the New World for centuries. Christopher Columbus used it as the last pit stop on many of his explorations, most notably on his quest for India that ultimately led him to America. Originally inhabited by the aboriginal cave-dwelling Guanches, the islands were eventually conquered by the Spanish in the 15th century. The largest and most populated island in the archipelago, Tenerife, is popular for its spectacular beaches, holiday resorts, vibrant nightlife, and heritage towns. Along with the rest of the Canarias, it’s also known to have the best climate in the world— mild temperatures that vary little throughout the year, with blue skies and eternal sunny days.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital city, is best explored on foot. Beginning at the Plaza de España—the heart of Santa Cruz and also its largest square—the walk dives into the busy and hip shopping district of Calle del Castillo. Stately colonial buildings line the paved street, some housing important government institutions, others sporting luxury brands, designer stores, and chic cafes. Notable landmarks include El Chicarro—a bronze statue of a horse mackerel, and the Catholic church of San Francisco de Asís. Off the main street, a maze of winding alleyways leads to the historic Old Town. Here, the buildings acquire a more colourful facade with large Spanish doors and windows. The serene Iglesia de la Concepción, or the Church of the Immaculate Conception, is fashioned in a Tuscan baroque style upon the first chapel erected by the Spanish conquistadors, from where the city was expanded.
A 20-minute and €2 (INR165) tram ride up steep hills takes you to the historical city of San Cristóbal de La Laguna, commonly called La Laguna. This ancient capital of the Canary Islands is also their cultural capital. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town centre is breathtakingly charming, with paved lanes lined by colourful houses leading to open squares, where you may chance upon local street theatre, music, and dance performances. The Iglesia de la Concepción here is a twin to the one in Santa Cruz, built around the same time—in the early 16th century. The magnificent Cathedral of La Laguna is built in a mix of architectural styles, with Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic influences. It holds the remains of Spanish military man Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, conqueror of the island and founder of the city.
Located at a distance of 50 nautical miles from Tenerife, or about an hour away by ferry, is the spectacular island of La Gomera. The second-smallest of the Canary Islands, this one’s a nature lover’s paradise, with over 600 kilometres of hiking trails. The landscape here changes dramatically as you drive upwards from the coast to the mountains—black-sand beaches give way to craggy volcanic cliffs, and lush banana plantations are consumed by dense rainforests of the Garajonay National Park. The highlight of this 4,000-hectare protected park is its thriving prehistoric laurel forest—remnants of the rainforests that covered the tropics millions of years ago. Numerous springs and streams flow through the forest, which remains almost permanently shrouded in clouds and mist. Besides lending a mystical aura to the forest, this sea of fog produces the moisture that continually condenses into the falling droplets that we hear as we walk through the park.
Spaniards love their tapas, and the Canary Islands are no different. In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Bodeguita Canaria is a traditional tapas bar lodged in an old house with original Spanish tilework. It serves authentic Canarian tapas—wrinkly potatoes with red and green mojo sauce (made of olive oil, garlic, local peppers, spices, and coriander) and almogrote (red mojo sauce mixed with goat cheese). On La Gomera, Mirador de Abrante is a cosy restaurant with a glass-floored skywalk offering some of the most outstanding views: the picture postcard valley of Agulo below, the blue Atlantic Ocean stretching beyond, and the towering Mount Teide—Spain’s highest peak and the third highest volcano in the world—rising in the backdrop. Here, a delectable spread of Canarian tapas is often accompanied by a demonstration of El Silbo—a pre-Hispanic whistling language that is used even today by the islanders to communicate. Must-try Canarian beverages include local wine produced in the vineyards around La Laguna, the coffee cocktail of barraquito, and the delicious La Gomera speciality of Gomerón—a liqueur of grappa and Canary date palm syrup.
“What’s that?” I asked the old shopkeeper, as he hurried about in his dingy tea stall. The object of curiosity was a large glass jar filled with a luminescent green liquid. “Licor,” he answered in Portuguese, placing two shot glasses on the counter. I took a measured sip and felt the sweet, potent alcoholic beverage sliding down my throat, warming it instantly. I had just had a taste of grogue—the national drink of Cape Verde, made of distilled sugarcane and herbs, with an alcohol content of over 40 per cent. And I wasn’t leaving without packing a bottle from that solitary tea stall atop Monte Verde—the highest peak in São Vicente, one of the 10 volcanic islands that form the nation of Cape Verde off the coast of northwest Africa.
Part of the Macaronesia eco-region, it was settled by the Portuguese along the Atlantic slave trade route in the 15th century. Today, Cape Verde is the region’s most Westernised country. Not much grows on the hot, dry island of São Vicente, yet it presents a stunning image—black lava beaches streaked with wispy white dunes brought in by Saharan winds, unspoiled soft sand merging with the indigo ocean. On a clear day, a drive up the 750-metre-high Monte Verde affords beautiful panoramic views of the island.
Set around the moon-shaped port of Porto Grande, Mindelo is the largest settlement on São Vicente and also the country’s cultural capital. Complete with cobble-stoned streets and candy-coloured colonial buildings decorated with blue Portuguese azulejo tiles, it presents a mix of its Portuguese heritage and African ancestry. The markets are a delight to explore. With clusters of makeshift stalls selling everything from fresh produce to local handicrafts, African Market is a ﬁne place to interact with the locals. Housed in a lovely restored two-storeyed building, the Mercado Municipal is a food market stocked with exotic fruits and vegetables. In bars and music clubs across Mindelo, one can experience the traditional music of morna.
The peppy tunes of samba wafted out of one of the beach-side shacks on Copacabana. The cruise had come to an end, and I had chosen to spend a few days exploring the sights, sounds, and tastes of Rio de Janeiro, the sensational party capital of Brazil. The three continuous days of cruising that had brought us to South America seemed long at ﬁrst, but with the line-up of activities and social events onboard Oceania Cruises, they went by swiftly. The most exciting was a unique ceremony that commemorated a ﬁrst-timer’s crossing of the Equator, or what is known in sailor parlance as ‘Order of the Shellback’.
In Brazil, we had ﬁrst docked off the northeastern conglomerate of Recife. A sprawling urban jungle, Recife has a vibrant cultural, entertainment, and restaurant scene. The historic town centre, Recife Antigo, is intriguing with colonial buildings, large parks, and churches, of which the Capela Dourada is particularly fascinating. Part of the Franciscan Convent of Saint Anthony, it dates back to 1588 and features dramatic gold leaf carvings in its interiors. Just six kilometres from the bustling city centre lies the incredibly charming and tranquil town of Olinda, built on a steep hillside and distinguished by its 18th-century architecture, baroque churches and convents, and characteristic brightly-painted houses. Along with the town centre, the historic Basilica and Monastery of St Benedict, built during the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Once a centre for the sugarcane industry, Olinda is now an artists’ colony, with numerous galleries, museums, and workshops sprinkled around. Vibrant shops sell colourful local artefacts, including Brazilian ceramics, Havaianas ﬂip-ﬂops, and Bahian Ladies ﬁgurines, even as locals dressed in carnival ﬁnery readily pose for photos.
My 14-day-long transatlantic voyage aboard Oceania Cruises culminated in an exploration of Rio’s most iconic landmarks—Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Selaron Steps, and Copacabana Beach. A lifetime of experiences was accumulated on the cruise. Today, in a world under lockdown, there’s ample time to tap into the recesses of memory and relive the epic journey.
The Miami-based Oceania Cruises is a luxury cruise line that operates six ships on worldwide itineraries, including this 14-day transatlantic voyage from Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro.
Various international airlines offer daily connecting flights from Delhi, Mumbai, and other major cities of India to Barcelona. From Rio de Janeiro, flights to Delhi or Mumbai are incredibly long—anywhere from 22 to 40 hours! Domestic codeshare partners connect you from Rio to Sao Paulo, from where international carriers fly you to your destination with one to three layovers along the way.
Oceania Cruises offers a selection of luxurious suites and staterooms, with rich wood interiors, custom crafted furnishings, original artworks, and the signature Tranquility Bed Collection. Verandah Staterooms come with a plush couch, writing desk, flat-screen TV, and private teak verandah, while the spacious suites feature living and dining areas and walk-in closets. The marble and granite-clad bathrooms are fitted with a bathtub and shower, and come with Bulgari amenities.
Oceania Cruises’ trademark ‘Finest Cuisine at Sea’ programme offers gourmet dining experiences across four speciality restaurants, as well as The Grand Dining Room and Terrace Café—all at no surcharge. Helmed by French celebrity Chef Jacques Pépin, the speciality dining includes Toscana (Italian), Red Ginger (Asian), Jacques (French), and Polo Grill (steakhouse). A complimentary 24-hour room service menu is also available.
While the onshore excursions are not to be missed, there are various ways to enjoy the days at sea too. The daily roster of fun activities aside, the programming line-up includes band performances, movie screenings, high teas, and nightly musicals. A pool deck with hot tubs offers the perfect setting to chill, while the stately library is wellstocked with books across genres. Standout onboard experiences include The La Reserve experience, an elegant seven-course dinner menu paired with fine wines and great conversations, a cooking masterclass at the state-of-the-art Culinary Centre, a guided tour of the ship’s kitchens and galleys equipped with the finest culinary equipment, and a therapeutic massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa.