Special Sub-Topic: A Whirlwind Tour of Bermuda
|As our Whirlwind Tours yacht approaches Bermuda from the northwest, check out the view through the glass-bottomed hull. We'll be passing over several of the country's 300-odd shipwrecks, so try not to think about the fact that we're in a ship ourselves! The ships would run aground on a natural feature that extends up to ten miles from the Bermudian shore. What feature is this?|
Coral reefs. Coral reefs are living structures, animal colonies that take hundreds of years to grow and are easily damaged by the human touch. Their vast extent offshore made Bermuda the shipwreck capital of the Atlantic: sailing crews from distant lands did not expect to run aground when they were still miles from the coastline! Bermudian pirates took cruel advantage of this, chasing their quarries onto the reefs so that they could salvage the treasure at their leisure. Nowadays, the shipwrecks are home to diverse populations of sea life, having become extensions of the reefs that sank them.
|We're much closer to Bermuda now, and you can see that the land in its southwest has a sort of crescent shape. Narrow islands curve around a deep sound of clear blue water; the whole length of the six main islands is only about 35.4 kilometers or 22 miles. Bermuda's shape is closely tied to its beginning. Which of these events is responsible for the way the islands look today?|
Volcanic eruption. Bermuda's Great Sound has a volcanic crater at its bottom; so does Harrington Sound, northeast of the capital and almost wholly surrounded by island. And as if these two weren't enough, the whole island chain and its reefs mark out a truly enormous caldera. The last eruption of these volcanoes must have been incredible, disintegrating the cone and blasting away nearly all the land around it. Only the partial ring of Bermuda was left, a legacy of only 53 square kilometers (21 square miles). Don't worry, though: this all happened about 30 million years ago, and continental drift has separated Bermuda from its hotspot. No eruptions will cut this whirlwind vacation short!
|Please sit tight as we tie up our yacht at the Dockyard, on Bermuda's northwest tip. There we go! You'll have some time to explore the Dockyard on your own: you can watch the glassblowers, swim with dolphins, have a drink at the Frog and Onion or even go jetskiing. Just be careful when you cross the street: traffic moves on the left. It's yet another legacy of what colonial power, which built the Dockyard as a naval base?|
The United Kingdom. The United Kingdom's interest in Bermuda began in 1609, when the Sea Venture was shipwrecked (what else?) on her way to the Jamestown colony in Virginia. They had everything they needed to settle the place, which had no permanent human inhabitants before their arrival. Over the years, Bermuda's position in the mid-Atlantic, 1030 kilometers (640 miles) from North Carolina, made it a vital supply stop and trade center for British ships, especially after the American Revolution made much of the North American coast off-limits for the British navy. The Royal Naval Dockyard was begun in 1809 and served as a staging area for many operations, from a raid on Washington in the War of 1812 to refueling for Cold War vessels. It shut down as a naval base in 1995, but a British presence remains: Bermuda is technically a British overseas territory, with the Queen on its money and the Union Jack on its flags.
|If you're all settled in on the bus, we'll start the overland component of our tour. There's some beautiful scenery just outside those windows: colorful flowers, a glittering ocean, pastel houses ... Now take a closer look at those houses. Bermudian rooftops are very distinctive with their bright white paint and shallow terraces. Their design is dictated by the geography here. What problem do the roofs help solve?|
Bermuda's primary source of drinking water is rain.. "Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink."
The famous lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" could apply equally well to Bermuda. There are no rivers here, no springs, and no freshwater lakes, so islanders and tourists alike must slake their thirst with rainwater. Each building is responsible for its own water supply, and the terraced roofs are designed to direct the rain into a gutter that leads to a cistern. The white color comes from a limewash that is practical as well as attractive: lime filters the water for impurities.
|Enough driving for now -- I've seen your soulful looks at the water outside the bus windows! We'll stop here at Horseshoe Beach, famous for its crescent shape, clear water, picturesque rocks and pink sand. Where does that celebrated color come from?|
The skeletons of microorganisms. The microorganisms in question are red foraminifera, single-celled animals that live on coral reefs and grow dark red shells made of calcium carbonate. When foraminifera die, waves wash them ashore where their crushed shells add color to the pale, incredibly soft sand of the beach. You can usually see the pink tint best in the wet sand along the waterline. We'll stay here a while so you can have some fun on one of Bermuda's most photographed beaches; feel free to climb on the rocks, buy a fruity drink, or rent snorkel gear to meet the friendly fish. Just be back at the bus in two hours!
|Have you all enjoyed your beach visit? We're going to take another bus trip now: it's about a twenty-minute ride to Bermuda's capital city. This is where the public buses and ferries fan out to the rest of the island, if you'd like to come back and explore on your own. You'll also find shopping, museums and some lovely colonial architecture. What's the name of this city?|
Hamilton. Hamilton became the capital in 1815, replacing St. George's, after a brilliant former slave named James Darrell found reliable shipping routes there through the reefs. (Pilot Darrell's skills and knowledge earned him his freedom, a lucrative position as King's pilot, and the distinction of being the first black Bermudian to own property -- namely a house in St. George's.) Harbor pilots still do a brisk business: the shallow-draft ferries may not be likely to run aground here, but the giant cruise liners require some care!
Take some time in Hamilton: buy some lunch, go shopping, or see the art exhibits in City Hall. We'll meet back in Par-la-ville Park.
|If you've all found the perfect souvenir, we can take a walk down Front Street to see the parade! We have a fine opportunity to see some unique Bermudian dancers who traditionally performed only around Christmas and Easter. Their colorful regalia is inspired by tropical birds, and their name comes from a West African word for "drum" or "rhythm." Who are they?|
Gombey dancers. Gombey (pronounced GUM-bay) troupes typically contain between ten and thirty dancers, almost all men and boys. The dances are handed down in families in a tradition that dates back to the 1700s and fuses West African, Caribbean and British culture; Bermudians often dance to snare drums and fifes in addition to drums in the Congolese style. Enjoy the performance, and remember that it's customary to show your appreciation by tossing coins at the dancers' feet.
|There's more than one reason that Bermuda became a smuggler's paradise, and limestone is one of them. Soft rock and abundant water combine to make impressive networks of caves! As we head northeast, we'll visit Bermuda's most famous cave, discovered in 1905 and named for its clear waters. Where are we going?|
Crystal Cave. The intrepid explorers who first found this cave were two boys -- Carl Gibbons and Edgar Hollis, both aged 12 -- who were looking for a lost cricket ball. What they found was stunning. The cave ceiling is a riot of pale stalactites, some of them almost touching the pool of water so crystal-clear that you can see the cave bottom, up to 17 meters (55 feet) down. With judicious squinting, you can even see a rock formation that looks a bit like reggae legend Bob Marley, although the boys can be forgiven for not having realized this in 1905.
|We'll continue on the bus to the Town of St. George, a World Heritage site at the northeast tip of Bermuda. There's a replica of a sailing ship from 1610 in the harbor, near the stocks and ducking stool where you can see reenactments of 18th-century justice. Just two blocks away is the Western Hemisphere's oldest continuously used Anglican church, where generations of Bermudians have sought the keys to the kingdom. What is the church's name?|
St. Peter's Church. The building doesn't quite date back to the founding of St. George's, but there has been a church on that site from the beginning. The fine wooden altar is from the early 17th century, and a chalice from 1625 is still used for communion. Tucked up among the cedar ceiling beams, you can see a tiny slaves' gallery from when services were racially segregated. (Slavery in Bermuda, as in most of what was then the British Empire, was abolished in 1834, although segregation lasted much longer.)
I recommend a stroll in the church's peaceful graveyard, or a peek in the museum across the street to see some artifacts excavated at St. Peter's. Archaeological digs there have turned up some surprising things -- including the body of a colonial governor who'd supposedly been buried all the way back in England!
|I'm afraid this is the end of our tour, but we do have one more Bermuda treat for you. Take a seat here, overlooking St. George's Harbour, and enjoy one of the two national drinks: the Dark 'n' Stormy and the Swizzle. They both have the same active ingredient, an alcohol fermented from Bermuda's main historical crop. What is this type of alcohol?|
Rum. For centuries, sugar cane was a mainstay of the Bermudian economy. After a sugar cane harvest, the leaves are burned off and the woody canes are crushed to extract two things: crystalline sugar and liquid molasses. The molasses can, in turn, be used directly as a sweetener or fermented to make rum. Historically, making alcohol has always been the most popular choice!
A Dark 'n' Stormy mixes Gosling Black Seal Rum with ginger beer; the Rum Swizzle, popularized by the local Swizzle Inn, involves two types of rum, fruit juice, sweetener and ice. To your health!
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