Atlas: Our Virtual World Cruise

This post is for Zora, who is on her own home-school adventure during middle school.  She learned about our website and wrote to me to tell me that she loved the idea of going on a virtual world cruise and was going to do the same thing.  Tonight I received an email from her with more detailed questions about our cruise.  Thus, this post includes pages from the Two in the Middle  manuscript so that Zora can add fun “excursions” to her cruise.  I’m crossing my fingers that Two in the Middle finds a publishing home soon so that our story can help inspire others to rediscover their own love of learning.  You can help by letting others know that their comments on this website and at will help publishers see that readers would like to read the book.

This post is for you, Zora.  Bon Voyage! We’d love to get an “email” postcard along the way 🙂

By the middle of our school year, we had found much to engage our minds and days.  But, for four months one activity gave us more pleasure than anything else: our cruise around half the world.  Our ship was a book: an illustrated, large-format atlas that Natalie opened onto her lap each afternoon in the schoolhouse.

“Where are we today?” I’d ask each day, looking up at the world map we had posted on the wall of the schoolhouse.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, today we are arriving in the port city of Capetown, in South Africa,” announced Natalie as if she were the captain of the ship.

We were in love with our large edition of Geographica, an atlas we had been given as a gift years earlier but hadn’t opened but a few times to quickly look up a piece of information.  Now we were immersing ourselves in its pages, using it to study world history, culture, geography, politics, and religion.  In January, we had set sail from San Diego on a “virtual world cruise,” which corresponded to an actual 119-day world cruise with Regent Seven Seas.  The actual cruise fare started at $64,995; thus, we were getting a huge bargain by being “virtual” passengers.

Natalie’s first assignment had been to make a packing list, which would take into consideration the different kinds of weather and temperatures we would encounter.  Our research and reading list included travel guides and the internet (tourist sites for individual countries, museum and historical sites, and weather forecasting sites), as well as novels and movies set in the destination countries, which included islands in French Polynesia, Australia, Singapore, Philippines, China, Vietnam, Seychelles, Kenya, South Africa, and Namibia.

Natalie wrote letters and postcards to William from some of the ports of call.

Taiohae, French Polynesia

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear Daddy,

Here we are in Taiohae, French Polynesia, an archipelago (group of islands) in the Pacific Ocean.  The weather was cloudy/90 degrees when we sailed into Taiohae Bay this morning.  The bay is actually a flooded volcanic crater, and two mini-islands guard its entrance.  We also went to Notre-Dame Cathedral.  There are two towers from an older church at the entrance, and the new cathedral has fabulous woodcarvings.  Then we crossed a bridge and walked through a temple that has sculptures made out of local volcanic rock.

At Sea

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dear Daddy,

It is quite something to sail through French Polynesia towards Somoa.  There are so many tiny islands, I can hardly believe it!  In my last postcard, I mentioned the Gauguin Museum.  I learned that Gauguin was very unhappy and slightly crazy – especially after his paintings were misunderstood and rejected in France.  He loved to use color to express emotions.

We watched films, including “Rabbit Proof Fence” about the displacement of the Aboriginal people in Australia and “My Brilliant Career,” based on the life of Australian author Miles Franklin, who was determined to be a writer when women weren’t encouraged to be anything but pretty wives.  We read a powerfully written book of short stories called Out of Bounds: Seven Stories of Conflict and Hope by Beverley Naidoo, which spans more than 50 years in South Africa, and watched the film “A World Apart,” about anti-Apartheid journalist-activist Ruth First.

We had even been able to partake of some of the pleasures of a cruise.  At one of the sightseeing stops on Lautoka, in the Fiji archipelago, we had read in the itinerary that the ship’s passengers would be served tea and homemade cake.  Thus, we had cake and tea during “Atlas” that same day.  The evening the ship anchored in Thailand, we dined at a Thai restaurant for dinner.

However, our favorite pursuit was having Natalie read aloud from Geographica.  As Natalie would write in the Applewood Quarterly, “Our atlas is an enormous book that weighs 7 1/2 pounds. It is also terribly interesting, full of maps and entries about every single country in the world.  There is a wealth of information inside the pages of the atlas, including details about weather, geography, economy, agriculture, politics, religion, culture, and history, just to skim the surface.”

While Natalie read aloud, questions popped up for both of us.  We’d stop, so that Natalie could look up the answer immediately, or jot it down if it seemed to warrant more in-depth research during her independent study time.  The most illuminating moments were when we compared details, such as, population density, life expectancy, religions, gross national product, and primary economies.

We were sad when our ship arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the final homeport, in mid-May.  It meant that our read-aloud sessions and daily visit into the pages of Geographica had ended.  We were moving on to other subjects to study.  But as I pointed out to Natalie, we hadn’t visited every country in the world and Geographica was in our library available to explore anytime she wanted to learn more about another country, and I’d be happy to join her.




    • TwointheMiddle

      Don’t forget to also look under the “What We Did” link on the website cover page. This will take you to a link on the world cruise, which includes additional links to Natalie’s graphing project and Photo Essay about the Seychelles.

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