This time last week, I was hiking around in the Sonoran desert with the wind so dry my skin was flaking within two days. Water was nowhere to be found, unless it was in a lake on a golf course or in the ever present water bottle I had with me.
This week, I am somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, on my way to the Caribbean and a few days of island hopping and relaxing at sea. In stark contrast to the desert, there is water everywhere, as far as the eye can see.
There is also water coming from above, as I had the bad fortune to sail just as a major weather front reached Port Canaveral. Several hours later the huge ship is still moving from side to side, though the lightening and driving rains have subsided.
My trips out west always bring back memories of the many Westerns I watched on television as a child. I still wonder if an early cowboy headed up this canyon or that trail. How did they set off into a seemingly endless desert? How was the water that was so essential for survival found by the earliest settlers?
Whenever I am at sea, I do not have as many thoughts about the early explorers, though their courage was just as great and their challenges were even more unknown. Was the Earth flat? How long could their provisions last before finding land? Were the ships seaworthy for the great storms that could not be predicted?
At least there were Indians in the arid lands of the West to guide early explorers and settlers. The Native Americans traded with early Spanish explorers and showed them water sources, mountain passes, and river crossings.
There was no one in the middle of the Atlantic to show the earliest European explorers where to go. They were largely on their own, depending on their wit, knowledge of the stars and their own resourcefulness.
We often talk of the “good old days”, but no matter how romanticized movies made the discovery and exploration of America, those were very tough times. Today, Phoenix has just over 1,300 restaurants of every cuisine imaginable. You can play golf on over 185 courses and relax in some of the most luxurious spas in the world.
The same transformation is true when traveling by the seas today. The ship I am on has over 2,700 passengers. With the crew, it is larger than Donalsonville. It has six different restaurants, including a Johnny Rockets and a Starbucks. I am using the internet via satellite and transmitting this to the paper with ease.
Amazingly, my cruise ship is only 40 percent as large as the biggest passenger ship in the world, the Symphony of the Seas, which was launched only three weeks ago. Between the passengers and crew, this ship houses just over 9,000 people, more than reside in all of Seminole County.
To put this in perspective, Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492 with three ships: the Pinta, Nina and the Santa Maria. All together, they sailed with just 88 men.
The earliest exploration of the Western United States was often by sea as well. It was not until 1805 that Lewis and Clark arrived as the first official United States party to the West Coast. Thirty three brave souls participated in this well planned expedition. They would marvel at how the west has become the home to tens of millions of people today.
Desert sand or rolling ocean waves, the variety of this country is amazing. Overcoming the challenges faced by those that conquered the land and sea paved the way for those of us who enjoy them today, sometimes within the same week.
Dan Ponder can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org