JOURNAL from MARY MAGOULICK’S TRIP AROUND THE WORLD
SPRING 2005 Semester at Sea Voyage GO TO Semester at Sea Official Website (to learn more about the program)
Sections of the Voyage (skip to a particular section by clicking on these links)
|Departure and Orientation||India|
|Canada||Kenya and Tanzania (SAFARI)|
|THE ACCIDENT & My Main Account of it||South Africa|
|China and Hong Kong||Venezuela|
|Vietnam||End of Voyage & Return to Florida|
I worked as a faculty member on the Spring 2005 Voyage of Semester at Sea, teaching English and Anthropology classes. I departed Milledgeville January 12, 2005 for San Diego, CA. Faculty and Staff were scheduled to board the MV Explorer in San Diego January 14, 2005. I spent a few days in San Diego before our departure since I’d never been to California before. We sailed to Vancouver to meet the students there January 18, 2005. During our first four days of sailing from San Diego to Vancouver, we participated in an orientation.
Our trip was scheduled to take us to Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indian, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, and then back to Florida on April 28, approximately 100 days at sea, about half on the ship, sailing and teaching, and about half in ports, on various excursions related to the program and our specific classes.
As you will read in the following accounts, we had an accident at sea about 10 days out from Vancouver. This involved a harrowing night and morning, and then a diversion to Hawaii for repairs. After missing our first two scheduled ports, our voyage continued (by air at first) with China being our first “port” of call after Hawaii. Our repaired ship met us in Vietnam and the journey continued as scheduled from there.
Here are my accounts of events as they unfolded. Most of these accounts were originally written as email journals to a group of family and friends.
DEPARTURE AND ORIENTATION
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Just a quick note to let you all know that I'm in San Diego as of yesterday. The hotel I was in was a dive (an old YMCA) – but cheap and well located – just down the street from where our ship is docked actually (on Broadway Pier). This morning I was walking down by the dock just to see where the ship would be and figure out how to board tomorrow. Our ship (the Explorer) was already there and I actually was allowed to board today. It was all sort of unbelievable, and not really what I was supposed to do. But a woman from the port authority just kind of suggested and facilitated it, and once I was there, the SAS people allowed it (though there was a tense moment when I thought they would turn me back – with all my heavy, bulky, cumbersome luggage). Anyway, I boarded early and found the ship to be very lovely and luxurious (from what I saw). I did not stay on board long because since I am not really supposed to be there until tomorrow, I don’t want to make any “waves.”
As far as San Diego goes, it is sunny and lovely as advertised. I've mostly been walking around – the gaslight district, the port area(s), and old town. I've had some GREAT Mexican food, also as expected. I met a few other faculty today (we had arranged it in advance). We walked around together for several hours and went to old town.
Anyway, I can't wait to get underway tomorrow. I do have a window in my room (as I was hoping I might), and two little beds. So far, so good. I had such heavy luggage, but it barely fills my closets and drawers. I have plenty of room to expand. I plan to take a trolley tour of the city tomorrow morning, then most of the faculty and staff will start arriving and boarding around 1 pm, so I’ll be back at the ship then.
Hope you are all well. More soon(er or later),
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
We landed last night at Canada Place right downtown Vancouver after four days of sailing and going through our orientation, which was pretty interesting. Most interesting, I guess, was getting to know the other faculty and staff and getting a feel for the ship and life at sea, though we’ve been told life as we’ve known it for the last four days will change drastically once the students come aboard. So far we’ve had this whole beautiful ship to ourselves with only about 100 people. The students are boarding today – long lines of them were waiting with all their mountains of luggage when we (faculty and staff) left the ship for a sample excursion (or “field program”) today. This optional field trip is to the museum of anthropology on the campus of the University of British Columbia. We are scheduled to depart to cross the Pacific to head for Korea this evening. Right now I'm in the UBC student lounge using free computer email, but I have to run to the museum for our tour that starts in five minutes.
So this will be brief. All is well. I thought my room was so luxurious at first (because it has a window), until I found out that all the other faculty have much nicer places, including a living room area, a wall size window, and even little private decks in some of the rooms. They all have suites and I have a student dorm type room. There are two other faculty in rooms like mine, but all the rest are in much nicer suites. Oh well, my room is still pretty nice. The ship is beautiful all over, affording many great views of the ocean that is always all around us (at least while we’re at sea). It’s a new and interesting sensation to be moving all the time. So far it's been too cold to go outside much. We have been seeing dolphins most days at lunch, but no whales (yet). We had one really rough morning (yesterday), where we were rocking wildly and things kept flying and rolling around the room – I guess it was when we were going through some straits to get to the bay that Vancouver is in. But I have not experienced any kind of sea sickness yet. I did experience weird sea legs once I got on land, meaning my mind can't stop the rolling feeling of the ocean. So I feel like I’m still swaying all the time – I still feel it now. Apparently it lasts a day. It’s making me anxious to be sailing (and really moving) again.
Well, unfortunately I have to leave this free connection to run to the museum, which sounds great. I have no time to proof this, so forgive any errors. Hope you're all well – the other faculty and staff seem quite nice so far.
January 22, 2005
If this is your first report and you have not heard from me in a while, I'm teaching for a program called Semester at Sea.
On our new home, the MV Explorer (our ship), we are all starting to get into the rhythm of life at sea and in this unique floating community after over a week on the ship. We had faculty/staff orientation the first four days, then we docked in Vancouver and picked up the students. As we were told it would several times during orientation, life as we knew it on the ship changed drastically with the addition of 665 students. So far they’ve been pretty nice and enjoyable. We all eat together and share much of the vessel. We were advised to try to share meals with students most of the time, and usually this is enjoyable, perhaps because at this point (before any stress of classes has taken hold), everyone is in a good mood, still anticipating hopefully the great journey we’ve begun. Breakfast is a meal most students skip (I guess because it’s so early), so it’s mostly faculty and staff then.
Everyone is friendly and in a good mood. We are all equally excited about all we will see and do. I’ve met students from many states, including Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, and other places I’m familiar with, but I don’t think we have a single student from Georgia. There are two other faculty from Georgia, one a history professor from Agnes Scott College (Atlanta) and a wonderful biologist from a community college down South. But as far as I can tell, no students are from Georgia (or at least none are going to school there), and I’m not sure why. Actually, there don’t seem to be many students from the South at all – except Texas.
The ship is new and shiny and very nice – 7 decks with up to 100 rooms per deck I think (and a few decks have no rooms). Most of the classrooms and public areas are on decks 5, 6, and 7. Decks 2, 3, and 4 are where the students live, and deck 1 is where the crew lives (and part of Deck 2). I am on Deck 5, forward and port. I have 2 small beds, a wall unit with a decent sized closet and “dresser,” some nightstands between the beds, a very small desk with a drawer and a phone (intra-ship only), a small round glass table and chair, and a wall unit with some shelves (one of which holds my little television; the other holds my books) and some drawers. Two of the “drawers” are actually a refrigerator (small dorm sized one). The woodwork of the desk, furniture and closet is a light tan, the walls are off-white, and the floor is carpeted with navy blue carpet with little white stars on it. There are blue patterned bedspreads too. There’s a bland, abstract picture in a frame on one wall, and a good-sized window and tan patterned curtains. There is a little half wall between the beds and the window. I have my own bathroom, with very nice features, including a good, strong shower spray. The ship was built in Germany, so it’s got all the nice German engineering details.
Before we got it, the ship was used as a cruise ship in Greece – a small one. So there is also a lot of Greek stuff around – like Greek inscriptions about life (especially life at sea) on some of the public panels, Southern European outlets in the cabins (also one standard US one), and the luxury rooms (where most of the faculty are) are “named” cabins (meaning the rooms themselves have names, in Greek, like “Zambouli.” I think they may be names of flowers on our deck). My room is not named. In terms of the rooms, some of you asked about whether the other faculty who are in the nicer rooms have spouses or family with them. Most of them are here with spouses, and some even have children. But there are also five or so faculty in the nicer rooms who are single. There are only 3 of us faculty in the smaller student rooms – I assume they just ran out of the nicer ones. All of us who have the smaller rooms are the “younger” faculty. Most of the faculty are older – some retired, most in their 50’s or above.
Vancouver seems like a potentially beautiful city, but it was cold, rainy, overcast, and foggy most the time we were there. We could not even see much as we sailed into or out of port because of the fog. Then we had to brave the cold and rain to get into town, while we were there. We got quite soggy on our trip to UBC and the anthropology museum – which has a beautiful collection of Northwest Coast Native art that I enjoyed seeing. On the way out of the harbor, we had a somewhat better view of the city and Victoria Island (I think that’s what it’s called). It was evening, so we saw a lot of lights.
The weather has been a significant factor so far. We had only about a half hour of rough seas up to Vancouver, but since we left Vancouver, it’s been bad, as in stormy, with big swells, usually at least 15-30 feet. The first night out we were tossed around in rough seas all night and then most of the next day. Over half the students, staff and faculty were hit pretty hard by sea sickness. But the next night was much worse. We hit a very intense storm, with 75 mile per hour winds. It woke us up around 2 am and literally tossed everything about pretty wildly. I was thrown across the room (bed and all) before I realized how bad it was. I scooted myself and my bed back into place, and held on as we kept being thrown about. My drawers kept flying open and shut, open and shut, toward one side of the room, then the other side of the room as we rolled dramatically from port to starboard over and over. These banging drawers made a loud, predictable rhythm of noise that kept me wide awake in spite of how sleepy I was. I had prepared before going to bed by putting everything in drawers, on the floor, and otherwise in “safe” (battened down) locations. But this storm surpassed all expectations. It really felt sometimes like we were going to go over. There was a lot of damage. Many dishes were broken in the galley, trays and furniture was overturned all over the ship. And the grand piano in the union (where we have all our ship-wide meetings) was literally broken off at the legs and the top part went tumbling around the union. It’s still in the union, the legs sticking up jaggedly and forlornly where they were bolted down, and the top part lay flipped on its back in the middle of the floor. It stays there during Global Studies and meetings in the union as a persistent reminder of the intensity of that night.
But we all made it through, though not without even more motion sickness casualties. I took Meclizine (medicine for motion sickness) the one night (the first rough one) when I woke up nauseous, but my total discomfort lasted only about 45 minutes (until the drug kicked in I guess). Mostly I’ve been handling it pretty well. I seem to be more able to adjust to the constant rocking motion than most people. Also my room is at the front of the ship, which means it moves about MORE than most other parts of the ship. But I do alright with it – at least so far. Many people on board seem to be pretty seriously affected, wearing patches behind their ears or taking Meclizine (an anti-nausea medicine), which they give out for free at the clinic on board. Actually they have two bins on the wall outside the clinic. One is filled with Meclizine and the other is filled with condoms. Seasickness is a very widespread problem right now. Often during class or meals or other times, you’ll see people running for the bathrooms. There are also vomit bag stashed around for those who don’t make it to the restrooms.
Anyway, the morning after our really crazy night, we learned how much damage had been done on the ship. Breakfast was delayed because of all the damage in the kitchens, and many people reported that TVs had been ripped right off of platforms they are bolted to in every cabin (the TVs are used to show videos for us at night – nature films, travel films, and feature movies most nights). But the most dramatic casualty was that grand piano in the main large “lounge”/classroom. There are 2 other pianos on board. The only damage I and my things sustained was that my glasses got a little scratched up on one of the lenses, which is pretty annoying, but I can live with it. By the way, we were told by the deans, NOT to send anyone back home drastic reports of what happened because they don’t want the Pittsburgh office to be inundated with phone calls from anxious families. I’m certainly fine.
The wild rocking of the ship is a bit like an endless, mild roller coaster ride. When the ship is rising up, you feel sort of weightless, and going up stairs is easier. But when the ship comes back down (a few seconds later), it feels much harder to move and pick up your feet—like no gravity, too much gravity, back and forth. Everyone is still getting used to the new motion, holding onto railings and learning to adjust gaits. Apparently we’re training new sets of muscles, even just to sit in a chair or sleep. I think as a result of this (at least partly), we’re all very sleepy very often. At least I am. And I’ve talked with others about it quite often, how sleepy we are and how many naps we need. Of course, it’s hard to sleep at night when the ship is throwing your bed about the cabin, so that could be a factor too! Everyone has stayed in pretty good spirits I think.
The ship-board life is pretty interesting to observe. Students gather all the time in all the public places, playing games, studying, playing musical instruments, working on computers, or just talking. It’s kind of like being in an enclosed, isolated village – except that it’s mostly people from one age group.
We’ve completed teaching three days of classes so far. We have A days and B days (in terms of class days). We teach everyday at sea – no weekends. So tomorrow – Sunday – I teach my B day course – anthro). Two of my classes are full (women and lit & myth, symbol, ritual). The other (immigration lit) is smaller, but since it’s an upper level English class, 22 students is plenty.
We have been losing an hour a day, which makes it sort of hard to keep track of what time it is back home – I think we’re seven hours behind the East Coast now. Days and normal schedules are starting to mean less and less, and our schedule here (A day or B day, in port or at sea) is the reality. And so far it’s been pretty much at sea (except for our one day in Vancouver).
We arrive in Korea in another 7 or 8 days. We’ll be there 4 days, then we go to Japan, which takes only a day. Then we have very little time at sea between all the rest of our ports (usually five or six days or less). Right now is our longest period at sea. Unfortunately crossing the North Pacific in winter has proven to be less than ideally conducive to intensive study. But so far, my students have been very good. Most seem to be keeping up with the readings and discussing things well, even in these most trying conditions. Most of those afflicted by motion sickness seem to be recovering now.
The faculty have all been invited to dinner with the captain tonight – starting with cocktails at 7:30 in the “faculty/staff lounge” – one of the nicest areas of the ship, up one deck 7 fore, with a great panoramic view (students are not allowed in, much to their dismay). The dinner should be nice, as long as I don’t have a big slab of meat placed before me. There have in general (at our usual buffet meals) been plenty of vegetarian options. The food is good, but not great. We’ll get more exciting fare in port, I’m sure.
Do drop me a note to let me know how things are back home. And let me know if you have any specific questions.
January 25, 2005
Seas are still rough as we slowly cross the Pacific and teach classes everyday. We have all gotten used to walking in zigzag patterns, crashing into walls and each other, tipping over in chairs in classrooms, and having food and drinks come sliding onto us in the dining hall as the seas continue to toss us about. It’s very tiring, but it seems like most people have learned to deal with it most of the time. Lots of people have bruises from falling and crashing into things. I’m doing okay, though I’m weary of the relentlessness of both the storms and the workload. We’re all talking about how nice it will be to get to Korea and (hopefully) some stability. When we landed in Vancouver, I still felt like I was swaying all the time (we were there a day). I wonder if I’ll long for the movement of the ship when we’re on dry land again.
Some of you asked about the program, so I’ll give a brief overview. Semester at Sea is run by the Institute for Shipboard Education, which is housed in and affiliated with (as in accredited by) the University of Pittsburgh. Students and faculty come from universities all over the states and a few other countries. The ship has been turned into a “floating university” with classrooms, a union, a library, computer lab, etc. It’s a voyage not a cruise, a ship not a boat, and definitely an adventure (so far only in teaching in trying conditions). We will visit 10 countries in this order: Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Viet Nam, India, Kenya (& Tanzania), South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, and then back to Florida (we started in San Diego – faculty/staff, and Vancouver – students). I’m teaching 3 classes, Women and Literature, Immigration Literature, and an anthropology course called “Myth, Symbol & Ritual.” Classes are capped at 35 students, though I have some faculty and staff’s family members (of which there are probably 30) and seniors (the “ancient mariners” of which there are 18) sitting in my classes as well. But they’re about 35 students max.
There is also a “core” course called Global Issues, which everyone on board takes. It’s a geography course that teaches about all the cultures we’re going to see. There are probably over 300 seats in the “union” (a big lounge), and that’s where the course is taught from. But it can be watched on closed-circuit TV’s in all the other classrooms and some public areas (like one of the dining halls). Students have to be in one of those places, “attending” class, unless they are in their cabins, which they are supposed to be only when they are sick. The deans wander the halls during global studies to make sure everyone attends. Most recently, the lectures (mostly by Robert Fessler, who normally teaching psychology at Point Park University in Pittsburgh), have been focused on Japan, Buddhism, Confucianism, and manners. Robert’s sole responsibility is this course, but other faculty give guest lectures from time to time.
While in ports, we (students included) are supposed to coordinate our activities with our classes. There are a significant number of in-port excursions that are planned and run every semester by the field office and others activities are coordinated by faculty on each voyage. Since I have not done any of these field excursions yet, I can’t describe them in much detail. Most seem to be planned and run by tour countries in each of the countries we’ll visit.
I’ve signed up for a number of promising in-port activities like seeing Beijing and the Great Wall of China, seeing Hanoi and Halong Bay (in addition to Saigon where we dock) in Vietnam, and a safari in Africa (in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania).
I got a partially paid leave of absence from Georgia College to do this. I will be back in Georgia by the end of April – teaching 2 summer courses. This is the first time the program has followed this route across the north Pacific in winter. Usually the ship sails East in the spring (starting from the Bahamas) and West in the fall (starting from Vancouver). They switched that this time so that the ship will be in the Atlantic for the summer voyages – for which they want to go to Europe. So this crossing of the N. Pacific in winter is (we’ve heard) an experiment. I and many people I’ve spoken with here suspect that the next time they will go with a more southerly route, leaving from Ensenada, Mexico (which we were originally scheduled to do) if they go West in the spring again. It’s unclear why we left from Vancouver instead. But the rockiness of the voyage so far has not been conducive to good teaching, and thus doesn’t seem like a wise route for this voyage.
We have 665 students (who, I think, seem much better than average – maybe good students are more motivated to do this). There are also 2 deans, 25 faculty, 18 seniors (senior citizens who pay to come along as passengers), 30 or so family members (of faculty and staff), and quite a few staff (30 or so) including a doctor, 2 PA’s, one nurse, 2 counselors, about 8 or 10 RD’s, and various assorted others (librarians, registrar, field office staff, I.T. people, bookstore people, AV expert, videographer, etc.). Someone asked what the other faculty are like. They are mostly much older than me and mostly couples. But many are very nice, and there are a few that seem like potential good friends. I have not really noticed any “problem faculty” yet, though I’ve been advised that there are always one or two on every voyage. All three of our deans are women, and all seem good so far.
This long first crossing period will probably prove to be the most tedious and difficult part of the journey. Someone also asked about the food we eat. It’s institutional, and some days are better than others. The vegetarian option is usually pasta, vegetables and salad (meaning ice-berg lettuce). There are beans fairly often too. And sometimes there are vegetable soups or casseroles, or even veggies burgers, or tacos (with beans). The food is bland, mostly, and already I’m starting to see that we see the same few things over and over (especially for vegetarian options).
One of the fun things on the ship is that our communications are largely through announcements (an actual, live voice). So we have a noon announcement everyday telling us about our position (latitude and longitude), the sea conditions, weather, whether or not to set our clocks back an hour that day, what movies will play that night, what other events might be happening, and so on. And we also get a “dean’s memo” daily that tells about things going on around the ship, which to some extent repeats (or confirms) the noon announcements. I’ve been leading a yoga practice every morning from 6-7 am. In the evening there are talks anyone can give on any subject, called “community colleges.” Thus far these talks have included a range of topics from journal writing – I did that one – to Buddhism, photography, meditation, “the wonders of Hawaii,” and lots of others. There are also “family nights” – you can be assigned a “family” of about 6 people you commit to have meals with and so on regularly. This series of consistent and pervasive interactions and a general more up-close and personal communication system makes life here feel like a real community.
I think that’s enough for now. There should be lots more to report once we hit our first port. Actually we learned that our time in Korea might be reduced by a day because this crossing has been so hard on the ship that we’ll have to strop on Hokkaido (in Japan) to refuel. I don’t think we’ll be allowed off the ship there (since it’s only 4 hours), but maybe we’ll get some nice views at least.
I think we lose a day tomorrow as we cross the International Date Line. But we gain it back an hour at a time all the way around the world. We’re already about 8 hours behind you on the East Coast.
NOTE – LATER THIS NIGHT WE HAD AN ACCIDENT IN THE NORTH PACIFIC
The accident happened during the “lost night” of January 26/27. It was lost because we had crossed the International Date Line, losing one whole day (skipping from the 25th to the 27th). But after the accident we crossed back over the date line, putting us back a day. So the accident occurred the 26th/27th of January in the middle of the night. I was woken up at about 1 am from the intensity of the storm and the rocking in my cabin. It was very loud (drawers and thunder crashing) and kept me awake the whole night, during which I mostly tried hold and minimize damage to me and my cabin. A more detailed account follows below.
From my sister Eileen Kroll:
I am Mary's sister and official contact person in the event of emergencies for her Semester at Sea excursion. As such, I want to update those of you on what is happening, as there have been reports on the national news and radio stations concerning their situation. Mary is on a ship called the MV Explorer and we have all received reports from her about the rough weather conditions. Unfortunately, the situation is critical. I have received emails from the Univ. of Pitts. Semester program that the ship has run into gale force winds and severe storms with waves exceeding 50 feet. Yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard was notified and has now coordinated a rescue and response effort. The ship has lost power and is now operating in emergency conditions on one engine. The semester at sea communiqués have indicated that everyone on board remains safe and they have been properly prepared for an emergency evacuation. The Coast guard has issued a press release about this and the information has been picked up by some of the national news agencies, which is why I have decided to post this email.
The Coast Guard's press release has indicated that a 50 foot wave broke the bridge windows and damaged bridge controls and injured two crewmembers. They have also indicated that the ship is currently operating on one of its four engines, which can only keep the ship's bow into the heavy seas. Apparently the crew is using emergency steering to maintain the course. The coast guard is in constant communication with the ship. There is a Coast Guard Cutter that has left from Alaska to assist the Explorer and three Coast Guard HC 130 long range aircraft have been sent to the area. The plan at this time is for the ship to be diverted to Midway Island. Currently they are about 800 miles from Midway and it is expected that it will take them another 3-4 days to reach Midway.
When the ship initially lost power, MAYDAY signals were sent to other vessels in the area and the Coast Guard has indicated that they are coordinating with four other merchant vessels to divert and assist.
I will repost further information once I receive it. At this time, I don't know what will happen once the ship reaches Midway.
Please say prayers for the safety of all those aboard.
Later that day/night (also sent by my sister):
Hi Everyone: I have received another update on the condition of the ship. We have been told that the weather remains a significant factor but that the seas are somewhat calmer with waves only 15-20 feet (which is a drastic improvement from the 50 foot swells). The students and faculty have been allowed to return to their rooms and are attempting to get some sleep. The captain has given high praise for the resiliency and courage displayed by all. The communications remain crippled but they are attempted to make satellite phones available so that the passengers can phone their loved ones at home. Thus far, we haven't heard from Mary. I suspect that the students are being given first access to the phones.
At the present time the ship has regained the use of a second engine and is currently sailing at approx 10-11 knots. They have told us that their position in the Northern Pacific remains at 40 degrees 51 minutes North and 178 degrees 48 minutes East. This position has changed very little since last night's update. You can visualize ship's position by accessing Mapquest. It's basically in the middle of the Northern Pacific.
It has been decided that the ship will head for Hawaii. My impression is that they want to be able to dock in a full port in order to assess the damage to the ship and determine what repairs can be made or what accommodations will be necessary. At this point, the Univ of Pitt has indicated that no decisions have been made with regard to how this will impact the rest of the semester or whether the excursion can be continued.
They also do not yet know how long it will take the ship to reach Hawaii. They have promised to update the information tomorrow. Indeed, the communiqués have indicated that they will provide estimates and port information as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we have been assured that the passengers remain safe and unharmed. The Coast Guard remains in control of the situation and they are very hopeful that things will continue to improve.
On behalf of my mother and the rest of my family, I want to personally thank all of you who have written, called and kept Mary and the rest of the passengers in their thoughts and prayers. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and positive energy. Jen was right when she wrote me earlier and said that Mary is probably having an adventure of a lifetime and it will be interesting to hear her perspective! I will post another update as soon as I receive more information.
From a colleague (John Cox) (same day) sent to our departmental list at the college where I teach:
>You might send this link out the department, too:
January 28, 2005
From Eileen Kroll (sister)
Hi Everyone: We have received another update and once again have been told that everyone on board the ship remains safe and in good spirits. Unfortunately the weather will continue to be a significant factor for the next 48 hours. They tell us that after the storm clears, it should be much smoother sailing as the ship makes its way to Hawaii for an assessment of damage.
We have not heard from Mary at this time. I really believe that the faculty must be deferring the use of the satellite phones so that the students can get a hold of anxious families at home. Communications otherwise remain down and I don't know when Mary will be able to email us.
They have not provided the latest latitude and longitude coordinates so I'm not sure how quickly they are expected to make port in Hawaii. They have indicated that two engines are running and carrying the ship at normal speed for these weather conditions. The Coast Guard has told the Univ of Pitt that it considers the speed to be "normal." The Coast Guard Cutter that was dispatched from Alaska has not yet reached the ship but is planning on escorting the ship to Hawaii.
Thanks again for the continued prayers and positive thoughts and I will post updates as I receive them.
News story from the Pittsburgh paper. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/pp/05028/449224.stm
January 29, 2005
From my colleague David Evans:
This is David Evans, Mary's department chair. I just got a call from Mary an hour or so ago (we've been having our own problems here in Georgia with ice storms, fallen trees, and power and internet outages, so we've been disconnected for several hours) and she reported that things seem to be going pretty well. She sounded tired but OK and not stressed out (that I could tell from the pretty poor satellite phone connection).
Apparently, the current plan is for them to sail to Honolulu and evaluate the ship. Mary said that there's been an idea floated to fly the students maybe to China and just have them stay there some extra time if they can fix the ship, and then have the ship sail after them and pick them up and resume the itinerary.
We only talked for about a minute, so that's about it. The interesting thing too is that Mary didn't even know whether this whole incident has been in the news. They've been completely disconnected from the outside world except for the satellite phone. For awhile they were navigating with some students'/faculty's little portable GPS systems and compasses.
Anyway, Mary really did sound as though things were basically OK at this point.
Best, David (and thanks to Eileen for the earlier updates!)
From my sister Eileen (same day):
Thanks for the info David. We also heard from Mary again and she seemed less subdued than last night. She also assured my mom that she is unharmed. The latest ISE update has indicated that one of the faculty is suffering from complications of their injuries. Needless to say, we were worried. But obviously the faculty (to whom ISE is referring) isn't Mary.
For those of you who are monitoring the Explorer's position, the latest coordinates are 32 degrees 29 minutes North and 168 degrees 11 minutes West.
We also have a cousin who lives in Honolulu and Mary is planning on contacting him as soon as she gets to Hawaii.
I will keep you posted on more news as we receive updates.
Thanks again everyone for the positive thoughts and prayers.
No email contact throughout all this period until January 31, 2005.
FIRST MESSAGE I WROTE
AFTER THE ACCIDENT
January 31, 2005
We're in Hawaii, although not yet off the ship. I'm completely fine. It was a scary night, but I was not physically hurt in any way, nor were the majority of others. One faculty member may have a broken rib, a collapsed lung and possibly other complications, but even she seems better the last few days, although I think she’s on a lot of pain meds and has mostly been on bed rest. A few crew members were also hurt fairly seriously. But apart from that, I've only heard of cuts, scrapes and bruises, mostly not too serious.
We started teaching again and resumed mostly normal activities the day after the event. The students have been pretty resilient and focused for the most part. It has been beautiful weather these last few days, which is great for all our spirits. We are finally able to go out on decks. It’s like a whole other voyage now. We’ve seen whales and birds and dolphins. And everyone (well, mostly the students) are stripping down and enjoying the sun and warmth. This morning everyone was out on deck very early, trying to spot land. We could see mountains through the fog or haze, I think from other islands. Then as we got closer, people who know Hawaii started pointing out landmarks. Eventually we were sailing up to Honolulu harbor, with some very well-known landmarks like Diamond Head Crater. It took a pretty long time (several hours) from when we first saw land until we were actually docked. The coast guard came on board sometime this morning and looked around to assess the damage on the ship. And then as we got closer the pilots from the port came on board to help us dock (this is common procedure in every port). You might wonder how people boarded us while we were at sea. It was pretty cool -- we were able to watch it happen in several cases. Basically they drive a zodiac craft right up next to the ship. The ship crew has a door open, I think on Deck 2, and someone from the little boat grabs a rope they hold out from the ship and just steps across onto the ship. We saw about 7 coast guard men leave the ship this way as we got very close to port, and also saw the Pilot come on board the same way.
So—we definitely have had an adventurer so far, which is what we signed up for, though I’m sure none of us anticipated THIS adventure. I will send a fuller report later. But I just wanted to drop a quick note so you know all is fine right now. We are docked and no longer moving. We can see land and the city all around us, but we have to deal with immigration, customs, and the press before they let us off – probably not for many hours (we were told last night in various briefings). Then we will definitely have at least 5 days here in Hawaii to enjoy ourselves. After that, all remains unclear. Mainly the Coast Guard and others have to assess our damage to see if and when we can be repaired and under way again. I and most people on board have been in good spirits – ready to continue if that's an option. So please don't worry.
I'll write again soon.
Some sample responses from friends and family:
Yea! Jeff and I were beside ourselves with worry, Mary! I'm so glad you're in safe. I talked with your mother a couple of times, who was upset but bearing up. And Eileen was great at keeping everyone informed of what she could find out. We are all so relieved, I can assure you!
Thank goodness you're in—and in Hawaii for a few days instead of Midway!
Lots of love,
Very happy to hear from you! Your situation had sounded so dire. It must have been quite harrowing. So happy to hear you've arrived in Hawaii. I'm sure your family was very relieved too. I felt so bad for you after all your excitement and preparations that your trip should start out like this. I guess they'll not be taking this route in the winter again any time soon.
But, hey, Hawaii's not a bad place to divert to, especially if you have family there. Do you get to quit teaching for a few days? That schedule sounded grueling.
I think you now have boasting rights as the saltiest sailor at GCSU.
I'm really glad you're doing okay. I've always wanted to go to Hawaii, but that's hardly how I'd want to end up there! After I got your sister's first message, I started to write the following message, but never sent it because I wasn't sure it was in good taste ... I figure it's okay to send now.
I got your sister's message, and damn I hope you're alright. I immediately went searching for news, and found little more than what your sister had sent. Having read four news articles I did find one that I hope you'll appreciate in hindsight ...
“They should be coming out of the storm at any point now,” Smith said in an interview. “No one is in eminent danger.”
My dictionary does define "eminent" as "distinguished; notable; remarkable in degree." I suppose the latter could actually apply, but I don't think that's what they meant to say. The rest of the article is pretty much the same as the others I read and won't tell you anything you didn't already know, but just in case:
I'm really sorry this has happened, and it's probably going to make a mess(financially, academically ...) of at least the next semester. I hope you're doing okay. I'm guessing you'll be back in M'ville soon - give me a call if you want, let me know if there's anything I can do to help.
BACK TO MY ACCOUNTS
February 1, 2005
Things here are going well. We finally got off the ship last night after some debriefings from the ISE people. We were "lei'd" as we got off the ship (had leis draped around our necks), and it felt very good to be on dry ground. A few people got down on their hands and knees and kissed the (to my mind) disgusting blacktop of the dock area -- "the ground." We walked around for a while, got ice cream, some people got Starbuck's coffee or pizza, and then some of us went to Borders. It all felt incredibly surreal to me, being back in a more or less normal U.S. environment. This seemed odd not only because we'd been through such an intense accident and long period at sea, but also because we'd been geared up for traveling around the world and seeing other cultures for so long. I don't think any of us planned to see the States again so soon. But none of this is to say we did not enjoy being in Honolulu. I met my cousin Andy who lives in Hawaii there and we drove around for a while, in the dark and rain. Apparently we brought the rain with us, as it rained hard last night and this morning.
Tonight they are throwing a Luau for 720 of us at some private beach. Should be nice, I hope. Tomorrow I'm going on an around-the-island-tour with some other people from the ship (with planned stops for snorkeling and other attractions). Thursday I'm going on an SAS planned trip to the "Big Island" (Hawaii). And then my cousin is taking me hiking somewhere on Friday. So it should be a nice week.
I'll try to attach my description of the event. It's long and I have not proof read it very carefully. But if you want to plow through it you can. . . .Okay, looks like I'll have to send that later, since this computer won't let me open my file.
All is going well.
Thanks for all your good wishes,
February 2, 2005 (from a friend at IU)
For an interesting article on the problems of the Semester at Sea ship:
BACK TO MY ACCOUNTS
February 4, 2005
Things are going well in Hawaii. I'm enjoying my time here. We still don't know what the future holds, if the program will continue or not, though the latest forecast looks promising.
This (attached) is my account of what happened. Maybe you saw word of it on the news, maybe not.
Thanks for all your notes of encouragement and support. Please forgive any sloppy writing in my account. I have not spent much time on the computer lately.
I'm really fine,
MAIN ACCIDENT ACCOUNT
I wrote this before we arrived in Hawaii – it’s long, and actually it was written over several days.
January 30, 2005
Dear family and friends,
By now you’ve heard of our ordeal at sea. Although we heard it’s on the news, we have been mostly cut off from the outside world except for a few satellite phones on board the ship (and which I've had very limited access to). Probably you have heard or imagined all kinds of things – some of which may exaggerate, some of which may underplay what we actually experienced.
I think it was the night of the 25th, 5 nights ago, that “it” happened. I’ve been noticing that most people on board have taken to calling it “that night” or “it,” or “the event,” though we may yet decide to call it something else once time has passed [later—many people came to call it “the accident” or maybe most popularly “The Wave.” There was “Before The Wave" and "After The Wave” to distinguish parts of the voyage].
Early in the evening (just a few hours after I composed my last email of January 25) the captain made an announcement about the weather and our situation. Ironically, he told us it was good news, and that we’d have a much smoother night and calmer seas ahead of us because a hurricane to the South would push us in the right direction. I for one went to bed feeling relieved because we’d really been through more than enough rough seas and bad conditions, it seemed.
At about 1:30 am I was awoken by the violence of the ship’s movement – though it may have been going on for a little while before I noticed it. Once again (like previous nights with bad seas), my drawers were slamming open and shut very violently, my bed was sliding around (with the other furniture), and I was struggling to stay in the bed and out of the melee. This went on for a long time and seemed to get worse and worse as the hours crept by. Virtually everything in my room except the permanently attached things (like walls and shelves) was moved or thrown about. The beds slid around, the nightstands were knocked off their supports and fell over (previously I had not been able to budge these even when I tried), the heavy, round glass table kept falling (I righted it a few times) and rolling about. The chairs (2) were sliding and tipping all over. The metal, round garbage can and its lid rolled madly, and the drawers and refrigerator never stopping slamming open and shut. Every time it seemed a bit calmer, I would get up and try to right things, push the beds back into place and jam things together so they might not fall again. But this was futile and dangerous because I was being thrown about too, and banged myself up a couple of times on furniture (never seriously). So then I tried to stay in my bed, with the light on, and just held on to the ledge/half wall in front of my window. Sometimes I had to hold with all my might to keep from getting thrown from my bed or with my bed. Even holding tight with both hands, I was once or twice pulled away and slid with my bed across the room, being jammed up under the attached desk faster than I knew it was happening. The scariest thing was when the TV – normally on a high shelf across from the beds – came flying off its stand toward me. Luckily the second bed had already slid into the center of the room and made a perfect landing place for the TV, which then bounced from there to the floor and was one more thing rolling around. I tried to secure it too, but without much success.
It feels hard to explain what it was like because you probably imagine all this happening in your room, but your room is not violently shifting and rolling. Really it was all I could do to hold on and try to keep myself from getting injured. We’d tilt crazily in one direction and the TV would slide toward the door, where one chair was turned over and wedged and I’d worry they’d collide and the tube would break. Then the TV would slide back in the other direction, the drawers would slam shut, and I’d worry the TV would smash the glass table that was also rolling around, but it would be blocked by the spare bed sliding in front of it. Meanwhile the drawers were continuously and loudly banging open and shut, and I had a tight grip on my windowsill to try to keep from being thrown off the bed or have the bed slide into the melee.
Anyway, I go on at some length
because this lasted for several hours. The captain finally came on the PA system
around 4 am to tell us that we had encountered an unexpected storm, that they
knew conditions were difficult, that we had to stay in our cabins (many people
had apparently gone into hallways and public areas because they did not think
their rooms were safe), and that he was doing his best to steer us through it
and find calmer waters. So we kept hanging on. About 5 or 5:30 am we seemed to
finally be slightly more stable. We were told to clean up our rooms and stay
put. The crew and some staff then came around to every room to check to see if
anyone was injured or overly traumatized. I think I must have dozed until they
knocked on my door about 6:15 am. I straightened up my room yet again – we were
still rocking, but not quite so violently and I was hoping this meant the storm
had abated. A little before 7 am the captain again came on the PA system to tell
us we were going to turn back into the wind to stay on course for Japan. He
talked us calmly through the turn and assured us that from then on we’d be okay,
and it would not be so bad, that the ship could take it. But it was still
rocking pretty crazily in my room. Although I had straightened up most of it,
the TV was still on the floor. I was trying to hold that while we continued
rocking and rolling. Then I thought I smelled smoke (I later learned this was
probably the exhaust from our turn), and about that time the foghorn sounded,
and didn’t stop. That’s when I started feeling concerned. So I began to get
dressed, NOT an easy task in the again violently rolling condition of the ship.
In fact as I was trying to get dressed, I was thrown pretty violently all the
way across the cabin. My shin got bruised on the bed corner, but the bed kind of
broke my fall and I landed on it. I later learned that at about the time the
foghorn blew is when the wave hit that smashed in the bridge window and shorted
out the equipment that controls the engines. Without engines in those still
violent seas, we were being tossed about extremely. That’s why I got thrown
across the cabin so violently. I got right back up and continued to try to get
dressed, having to brace myself against the wall and hold onto the closet door
and whatever I could as I struggled to dress in those conditions.
Shortly thereafter our assistant dean, Ken, whose voice we’d already grown quite familiar with (he made all our announcements) came on the PA system sounding noticeably shaky. Later we learned he had been on the bridge when the wave crashed through – flooding it and causing destruction, sparks, even fire, and he had had to run back to his office to make the announcement. His announcement told us to put on our life vests and to proceed to the hallways outside our rooms. Because he sounded genuinely afraid (I thought), I felt afraid, really for the first time (rather than just annoyed) that whole night. As I listened to that announcement I thought we were probably going to die. But I was also already focused on somehow trying to survive, which meant finishing getting dressed and getting my life vest on and out into the hallways as quickly as possible, tasks made harder by the additional worry. I finished dressing in warm clothes and put on socks and shoes, which we’d already learned we were supposed to wear during two previous life-boat drills. As soon as I finished tying my shoes, I grabbed my life jacket (stored in my closet in my room), remembered to grab my room key (a card) and started into the hallway while I was still putting on the life vest. I made it into the hallway – even doing that was difficult because of our continual, violent rocking from side to side. No one else was in the hallway, and my immediate thought was that I was too late, and everyone else was already in the lifeboat. But as I moved toward our lifeboat exit other people started coming out of their rooms too – it turned out I was the first one out. Rebecca came out first (the biologist), then Trish and Andrew and their kids, and then most of the other faculty and staff who were in that hall. None of us showed hysteria or much obvious, outward concern. The children did seem scared, but even they were relatively calm and attentive. Their parents were very organized and calming. In fact, I think having children there made us all try to hold it together, to keep them calm and focused positively. We all gathered near the end of that little hallway where we lived, close to the door to our lifeboat. We were told to sit down, hold on, and stay calm. Not everyone from our hallway was in the hall, so we knocked on doors to check on them. Three rooms of people (one couple and two single people) said they were staying in their cabins and would not join us in the hall. And they did stay in their cabins through the whole event, though we checked on them periodically.
Some people had thought to bring food, water, and other supplies (like aspirin and bandages) with them from their rooms, and in fact one woman in our hallway was injured and required care. Trish (the Mom) gave her a sanitary napkin from her little medical pack that worked pretty well to stop the blood from her wound. Pat had what looked like a serious gash on her leg from where her TV had fallen and pinned her against her bed. Roberto Gomez (2nd mate) came to check on us and told us he’d send us one of the medical staff, who did eventually come by, but deemed Pat in no immediate need of attention. I sustained only very minor bruises and scrapes, most from those periods during the night when I kept trying to straighten things up or keep my bed from rolling.
So there we all were in the hallway, wondering what would happen next. Would the ship turn right over? The intense rocking and rolling did not let up. We seemed to be rolling to at least 45 degree angles from starboard to port.
It’s hard to describe and even fully remember what I felt and what it was like during that first half hour in the hallway. I was sure that at any moment we’d be told to proceed to our lifeboats. And I couldn’t imagine how we’d make it from the door, across the deck to our boat without being thrown into the still violent ocean that was tossing around our ship – we were literally tipping to such an extent that I was sure most of us would slide right into the ocean if we went out on deck (where the lifeboats are). Plus it was still raining very hard and it was very windy. I also couldn’t imagine how our little lifeboats could possibly fare better than the big ship in those violent seas. I kept thinking of that book, The Life of Pi, which I’ve read, and wondering if I could do all the things Pi did to survive after his shipwreck.
But these were only moments of thoughts and feelings. For much of the time I felt MUCH better being out in the hallway and with other people. Our hallway of people was great, I thought. Everyone near me stayed very upbeat and calm, and kept offering explanations of how we would get out of this (the coast guard would come, other ships would come, we would get the engines started, etc.). I also thought it felt better to be wedged into a hallway where no objects or furniture were rolling about so wildly and dangerously as they had all night in my cabin. We all sat with our backs tight against one wall, and our feet wedged against the opposite wall. We were still being pushed into both walls and had to use our balance and muscles to stay in this one position, but having two walls to brace against and no furniture potentially slamming into us, made it seem much easier and safer.
All during this time we could hear the furniture behind the walls slamming against the walls and doors we were wedged in against. There was constant loud banging and crashing, even more violently than before. We would roll in one direction and hear the furniture behind the wall going tumble, tumble, tumble, CRASH. Then as we rolled back in the other direction, we’d hear it tumble, tumble, tumble, CRASH against the opposite wall. It sounded like even worse crashing than what I’d dealt with all night, maybe because I was outside the dean's office, which had a lot of furniture and file cabinets and so on..
Through all this, my feelings alternated from a kind of blankness inside, maybe not wanting to acknowledge the situation, or realizing there was nothing I could do about it, to brief moments of terror and anxiety that we would be dying at any moment. Much of the time I felt intensely focused on the particular moment and the fact that we were alive and well right then and there. I would think, “I’m sitting here in the hallway next to everyone else, and right now in this moment I’m dry and warm and safe.” As more and more of those moments added up, I experienced less and less of the more terrified or empty kind.
Not too long after we came into the hallway on our deck (Deck Five, where the lifeboats are), the captain ordered all the students below decks to come up to deck 5. This was probably about 15 minutes or so after we were first told to proceed to the hallways. Once the students and some staff who live in those decks came up it was very crowded and noisy on Deck five. Although the students came right up to our hallway, none of them actually came into our hallway (in which only faculty, staff and seniors live). Since I was at the end of the hallway, nearest the door leading into the purser's square areas (because I had been the first out of my room), I ended up with a few students sitting on the other side of me. The students filled all the other hallway areas and purser’s square. Those who were right in purser’s square had fewer ways to brace themselves because the “square” (which is actually circular) is a wide open area and a good part of it has a slippery marble-like floor surface. So they were still getting thrown about – or more accurately they were sliding about as the ship lilted at sharp angles. Our ship’s videographer, Jerry, had his big camera out on a tripod and was taking video of this area; in fact he was set up right in front of me (I was behind the camera for a while). These images he shot of the students sliding across purser’s square were later shown on many news programs.
Overall, I thought the students stayed in remarkably good spirits, singing, telling jokes, and not panicking (at least as far as I could see and hear). I later heard that there were people crying or praying or showing stress. But I did not see or hear that.
One good thing is that we’d already been through rocky seas for a week, so most people were over their seasickness. The crew were all around us too, all of us with big orange life jackets. Some of the officers (the engineers, etc.) kept coming through our particular little faculty/staff hallway, in heavy rainy gear, soaking wet, because our hallway was one way to get to the bridge. They’d come running through with wrenches and other tools in their hands, telling us not to worry; they were getting it fixed. We’d all scoot and make room for them each time and try to get a brief report on how it was going. They were incredibly focused and nice, I thought, telling us their efforts and progress.
Eventually (maybe 40-45 minutes into it), a few people in our hallway said they felt the vibrations through the floor that meant an engine was started and they seemed hugely relieved that we would be okay. Shortly thereafter the captain came on the PA system again and explained what had happened. According to him, a wave taller than the bridge (they now say at least 55 feet high) hit the bridge in just the right way to smash in one of the bridge windows, which flooded the bridge and shorted out most of the equipment, which controls the engines, etc. We later learned as well that miraculously the two things that did not get shorted out were the two that were absolutely necessary to keep the ship running and helped us survive – the stabilizers and the communication system. Once the engineers got an engine restarted manually, we thought we were probably okay.
Although much of this was
explained only days afterward, the experienced sailors in our hallway seemed to
know most of it as it was happening. Again, they were very reassuring. Not long
after the first engine was started (maybe another half hour) a second one was
started. When we felt those vibrations through the floor we all felt assured
that we’d be alright, especially as the engineers were still coming through our
hallway confirming this. We ran on two of four engines from there to Hawaii, I
think mostly to conserve our limited supply of fuel (we were already low on fuel
from fighting storms and had planned to stop earlier than planned in Japan to
refuel before our first planned port of Korea). Anyway, once those engines were
started, and we weren’t fighting the storm (because our new direction was South
rather than West), we seem to be sailing along just fine.
We had to stay there in the hallway for another 4 ½ hours, probably until they were absolutely sure we were “safe” – or maybe until they patched up the holes in the windows on the bridge (which they did right after getting the engines started – again we learned this from the crew men running through our hallway to the bridge).
During those hours in the hallway, we were brought some food (mostly fruit) and water from the kitchen. Some people also took turns holding open the door onto the outside deck, because the ventilation system wasn’t working (it seemed), and it was getting hot and stuffy – maybe they were worried about us running out of air. In our little hallway, we talked a little, shared food and water people had rummaged for, sat and stared, and eventually slept (all scrunched up on the floor in odd positions and with our life jackets still on – which made lying down awkward). Some people in our hallway continued going in and out of our rooms, wrecks though they were, to get food or drinks, change clothes (it got VERY hot in the halls and we were dressed as per our instructions in warm clothes), and to use the bathrooms. All these were very brief forays. I went into my room once – briefly – and was amazed by how much worse it was than even after the worst moments the night before. I changed to a short sleeved t-shirt quickly, got some water, and left again.
Many of the students seemed to be showing stress, or its aftermath by talking a lot, telling jokes, and generally making noise. But at some point the safety door at the end of our hallway closed and the dimming of the noise allowed us to sleep, if briefly and not too deeply. We were incredibly exhausted, not only from the hallway/lifejacket ordeal but also from the sleepless night before, and probably from the aftermath of an adrenaline surge. Finally around 13:00 (1 pm) we were awoken by an announcement from our now much calmer assistant dean (Ken) and told to go back to our rooms and clean up as best we could. Broken glass was to be reported to stewards and pursers immediately, and all other damage or injuries should also be reported. My room seemed like a wreck, but it didn’t really take me that long to clean it, although there was broken glass and plastic (from the TV I think) all over the floor, so I had to be careful cleaning that up. My plumbing all worked fine (some people’s didn’t) so I took a shower, which felt incredibly good and oddly normal. I was also starving, so I ate a granola bar I found in a drawer, and drank a bunch of water.
I did not want to stay in my room alone. In fact I was afraid of my cabin – I kept reliving how my furniture had flown around dangerously just a few hours before. So I went out to purser’s square (just down the hallway and kind of the center point of the ship). Many people were there, some reporting damage or talking, others just hanging out there. The kitchen brought down a big tub of simple sandwiches and fruit (just a slice of cheese between two slices of bread). I ate one of these sandwiches and it tasted incredibly good. I guess adrenaline makes you hungry. I was in purser’s square for about an hour, I think, during which time I saw a lot of people and a number of interesting encounters – people crying and hugging each other, some people yelling at each other, people showing off bruises and scrapes, talking about how trashed their rooms were, and many people coming up to the purser to report damage to their cabins (the most common complaints were no plumbing or no electricity). The chief purser talked to me for a while about how much damage her office sustained. Then she opened the door and showed me. Everywhere on the ship literally looked like a tornado had been through it. She had a 500 pound safe on the middle of her desk and furniture and papers everywhere. I took some pictures the next day showing some of the devastation, but even by then much of it had already been cleaned up. It’s incredible that five days later we were really almost back to normal.
I spent that afternoon with friends – I accompanied one injured friend to the clinic to get a gash on her leg cleaned and bandaged. Turned out she should have had stitches earlier. In the clinic, as I waited while she was treated, the medical staff showed me how much damage they’d suffered – much expensive machinery and equipment (like the x-ray machine and microscopes) was ruined. Like so much of the ship, it was chaotic, files and papers, and bandages, and stuff just everywhere. But the staff was in good spirits, and had gotten the clinic in good enough order to treat most people, which mostly meant bandaging and reassuring people (there were only a few patients while I was there). The kitchen managed to serve a dinner that night of hot dogs, chicken, salad and French fries (and a Jell-O dessert), which was comfort food to many of the students.
I and many others worried whether we’d be able to sleep in our cabins, because we were afraid of them, of our memories of the night before there. But the community really banded together. The people on our hallway with kids were having their kids sleep in the room with them, so they made their kids’ room (across the hallway) a storage room for all the items we did not want in our rooms. We moved my glass table and TV down there (along with the same items from others on our floor), and another friend lent me duct tape with which I taped everything else I could think of into place – including the dreaded drawers that had banged so alarmingly loud all night. Some friends offered to let me sleep in their room, but I stayed in my cabin. When I lay down, at first every little swell or rocking motion made me tense up. But very quickly, probably in less than five minutes I was out like a light for a solid eight hours. Several other people I spoke with the next morning reported feeling similarly, at first tense and scared to sleep but then sleeping like stones that night – we were all exhausted beyond normal limits.
We’d had a faculty meeting late the day of the event and were told we should teach classes the next day to try to keep everyone occupied and therefore focused on something other than the event. So the next day we had classes as normal, food as normal, and were told we were probably going to Midway Island, the nearest land mass – 800 miles away. Conditions were still fairly stormy. We now know that there was no help closer than Midway, though we thought a coast guard cutter would be near us that first evening. Everyone was a little shell shocked, but having more or less normal activity did help. Most of my students were engaged and focused on the readings. We all sat on the floors of our classrooms amidst (sometimes) smashed remnants of furniture or badly banged up walls, doors, podiums, etc. I remember we were all amazed in one classroom at the things that did NOT get broken, like some ceramic plates hanging as decoration on the wall of Classroom 8. The still rocky waters those first few days raised concerns or brought back bad memories for some people. But we had been living with such strong jerking and rocking and awful seas since the beginning of the voyage, that it did not really seem that abnormal. Fewer people seem to have slept well the second night (or so it seemed when talking to people at breakfast). As time went on, we settled back into our “normal” routine. There are a number of counselors on board who have been helping anyone and everyone who needs it, in both group and private sessions. And we all talk about various aspects of the experience to each other, so I guess that helps, at least in processing it.
Yesterday and today we are in MUCH calmer waters, and it’s much warmer outside (60’s and 70’s maybe). We are seeing albatrosses and other sea birds, and some people (not me) reported seeing whales around midday, breeching off the port side. The next day I did see several whale spouts in the morning, and a few distant glimpses of surfacing whales. About the third day after that night, I saw a bird from my cabin window (the first I’d seen since Vancouver) and felt remarkably cheered – just to see a sign of life outside the ship. We are finally allowed on deck, outside, for the first time during the voyage, and it feels glorious. I hear statements (and think them) like, “THIS is the voyage I signed up for.”
THE NEXT DAY – This morning we can see Oahu, our destination is Honolulu, though it is very misty outside, so it seems almost like a mirage. We should be there in a few hours, but we probably won’t be able to go ashore until quite late in the afternoon or evening, because there is a lot of bureaucratic stuff to get through, including dealing with the press (which I’m sure they want to control as much as possible).
As I write this I can’t believe that it’s been five whole days (now six) since it happened. But I definitely feel pretty calm and settled. I heard a number of people saying during or shortly after the event (“that night”) that they did not think they’d continue on the voyage. But since then I think a lot of people have reconsidered. We don’t know if ISE (the Institute for Shipboard Education that runs Semester at Sea) is going to even give us the chance to continue. But if they do, it’s clear to me that most of us will go on. People keep saying things like, “We’ve had an adventure, just not exactly the one we signed up for.” After so much work and effort to prepare to get the time off to do this, most of us don’t want to miss our opportunity to see the world.
Part of me can’t believe that this is attracting so much attention. No one died, few were seriously injured, and there’s a war and lots of other more important stuff going on. But given that it’s mostly rich white kids with concerned parents, I guess our accident (with its patina of disaster) seems newsworthy. Maybe some parents contacted the media and made them think it was a bigger story than it is. I heard today that we were even mentioned on The Daily Show. If anyone has taped any of this – please save it and make a copy for me. It’s really strange being part of something that’s on the news, but not having any idea of what the news says. We have no internet, and only a few satellite phones, where we stood in long lines to talk for 5 minutes each and usually with spotty connections. Many people heard things about what the outside world knows from talking to their families, but overall, we feel like we are mostly in the dark, isolated in our own world, at least I do. On the one hand we are all anxious to get on the internet and phones and find out more information (the administration have doled it out very carefully and with control it seems to me), yet on the other hand it’s been sort of nice building our community here. In most respects I really hope we continue the voyage together.
We should know more after a few days in Hawaii – apparently we’ll be there 6 days at least. We will stay on the ship, sleeping in our cabins and eating in the cafeteria (if we want to). Once they assess the ship’s damage, we’ll know whether and when and how we can go on. We won’t go to Japan or Korea for sure. Everything else remains in doubt. One can imagine many worse outcomes to our experience than a week in Hawaii. ISE has already put together field programs there. The only one I paid for is a one day trip to the “Big Island” – Hawaii. There is also a big Luau they are throwing for us tomorrow (3 free drinks for those over 21).
Hoping never again to be in the middle of the North Pacific (in winter or any other time),
February 3 update
I spent today on the “Big Island” (Hawaii). The volcanoes are interesting, though we saw no currently flowing lava (lots of steam though). It has been rainy every day since we’ve been here. Maybe the storms we experienced followed us. The first night when we finally got off the ship we got orchid leis and went on a long walk on dry land. Many of the kids wanted ice cream and pizza. We also hit Starbucks and Borders. The next day I went on a walking tour of China Town here in Honolulu with one of our professors who is an expert in Chinese art history. Yesterday I went in on a car rental with some others and we drove around the whole island, stopping at points of interest (a surfing beach, a hike to a lighthouse with a beautiful panorama, a little town, other beaches, etc.). At the lighthouse overlook, we saw lots of whales – though from a distance. Apparently it’s the calving time of year for humpbacks (who come here for it). Tomorrow I’m scheduled to meet up with my cousin for a possible hike. I have to say I am pretty exhausted and could use a day off! But I don’t want to miss out on seeing Hawaii. The latest we’ve heard is that we’ll be flown to Shanghai starting on the 10th, and from there we’ll continue the voyage. But we’ve not yet been told when or where the ship will be ready.
Life goes one – thankfully.
February 9, 2005
Things here have been beautiful, sometimes relaxing, sometimes rejuvenating, sometimes hectic (trying to see too much).
The psychologists on board tell us that we have been through a major trauma and should expect various symptoms starting now. The ones I have had that are on their list include a bad disaster dream 2 nights ago (not involving ships or water), being fairly irritable, and being very tired (to totally exhausted) at the end of every day (especially after touring for twelve hours or teaching and touring a little in the same day). Then it occurs to me that none of these are particularly unusual symptoms for me generally :) Anyway, I really think I'm doing fine. Many of us talk about what happened on the ship, and I've talked to some of you about it – which apparently is the prescribed treatment. One friend – Linda – kindly lent me her cell phone one day when she had free minutes in Hawaii, so I was able to call and chat with several friends and family.
I think I may have already written about some of what I did in Hawaii. My favorite thing so far was a hike up to a lighthouse on the east side of the island (Oahu) during a drive around the island I did with other faculty and staff and 2 children of one faculty (in a van we rented). Our hike wound a mile up a hillside (which in and of itself was scrubby, but nonetheless had interesting flora and fauna – and birds like zebra doves all along the way). From the top we had a gorgeous panoramic view of the ocean – much of it turquoise – and saw numerous whales spouting. One slapped its fin (or whatever it’s called) something like 25 times and was rolling and surfacing. I could have stayed there watching for hours, especially after the effort of the hike. But the children with us had been hoping all day to do some snorkeling, and they begged us to please go on to Haunuma Bay (the snorkeling site).
We did, but unfortunately when we got there it was already closing (at 5 pm) – though we could see it was a lovely spot – from the vantage point of the cliff above where we parked – it's a nature preserve – to which I would later return (see below). We saw a mongoose running along the sidewalk there – much as we'd see squirrels in the States. By the way, the kids tried to go back to Haunuma Bay the next day with their parents and found it was closed due to jellyfish (I guess this happens a few days every month – someone said the 8th and 9th days after a full moon). But then another day they did get to go snorkeling there finally.
Earlier that day we saw the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. I was not interested in stopping there, but others in our group were quite keen on it. It took 2 hours to get to the viewing platform and look at oily water. Sorry if I seem cynical or uninterested in history, but here we were supposed to be going to Japan to see among other things Hiroshima (one of my scheduled trips there), hopefully getting beyond our ethnocentrism, and instead we were in a site that can only stir up anti-Japanese sentiment. Through much of our time there I was humming to myself: "I don't wanna study war no more."
From there we drove to the “North Shore,” (the whole north side of the island, which is less developed, has wilder seas, and many beautiful views). We stopped first at a cool little town on its northwest border (I forgot the name). We ate lunch there (people bought various things from various stores – I had a burrito), sitting at a picnic table we shared with a big, sweet orange cat that made me just a little homesick for my two cats (neither of whom is orange or goes outside).
We then drove along the whole north shore – where because of the more dangerous tide only the bravest surfers play. It was rainy for the next few hours, sometimes raining very hard. We stopped at Sunset Beach, where the kids collected seashells, we all let the surf run over our feet, and watched the surfers out there riding and crashing.
So much of the scenery here is so outrageously beautiful, that it's hard to pick out any one thing to describe, but the green, lush mountainsides and the dramatic coastline and lovely ocean water made for pleasant hours of viewing as we drove.
After our hike and attempt to see Haunuma Bay, we found a beach in town, probably part of Waikiki, and let the kids swim for a while, though it was still raining (lightly). Finally we made our way back and had dinner on the ship.
The next day I took an organized tour to the "Big Island" where we saw lots of lava and volcanic activity (no hot lava – they wouldn't let our bus go there – though there is a spectacular new flow into the ocean right now that I saw on TV). Volcanoes National Park seems lovely – we did get to walk through a "lava tube" there and saw lots of steam and vents. But mostly they did not let us do much beyond brief stops for photo ops. We wanted to walk down to a crater and were told the gas was too dangerous (hordes of tourists were doing it before our eyes). But our bus had plenty of time to stop at a coffee shop, a chocolate shop, and an orchid store, where we spent over a half hour at each – so we'd buy things (they were all over priced). So overall it was too commercial a tour for my taste, but nonetheless I'm glad I saw the "Big Island" (Hawaii).
I have also spent time in subsequent days at Ala Moana beach and shopping center, other shops, walking around downtown, and on Sunday (Super bowl Sunday) I went back to Haunuma Bay and snorkeled – for the first time in my life. It was a blast. I was skeptical about whether I'd see much – they make you watch a film first – for the safety of the reef. This film shows many fish one could expect to see, and I assumed it was exaggerated. But I really saw almost everything from the video – bright yellow and black fish, rainbow colored ones, huge ones, small ones, every color, mostly feeding on or hiding in the coral, which I tried very hard to avoid touching. I got better at controlling myself in the tide as time went on. I was with 2 other people from the ship, and we took turns going in and watching our stuff on the beach, so I did not actually stay in that long (we got there relatively late because of meetings earlier that day and how long the bus took to arrive there). But I am very glad I went – it's a lovely spot – I guess an old crater from a volcano – with gorgeous bright turquoise water and lots of coral all the way up to the shoreline. Not much surf comes into the bay itself, so it makes for excellent snorkeling. Of course it's my first time trying it, so I may not be the best judge. One of the women with whom I went – Rebecca, the biology prof – has done much snorkeling, and I don't think she found it the best site she's visited. But it thrilled me.
I also spent part of one day with my cousin Andy here. We went to the University of Hawaii (at Manoa) and walked around the campus – where 40,000 students attend (and where he graduated). We ran into several people he knew from his days as a student there, and I could see that there is a very friendly spirit among people here. We also had a great Thai dinner.
Since Monday we've been teaching again. That seems to be taking most of my energy. I now have a set of 35 essay exams to grade. I guess I'll try to do much of it on the plane to China – which I should be on this Thursday. We'll be 2 days in Shanghai, 4 in Beijing, 3 in Hong Kong (all by flying), then fly to Vietnam for a week. From there we are scheduled to meet our ship again, which I think we'll all be thankful to see (this will be around the 26th or 27th).
In the end, only three students and three seniors opted to leave the program. I think we all have so much invested in it (emotionally, and time and energy-wise) at this point, that leaving would cause more anxiety than staying. Plus, maybe we feel like we deserve a trip around the world after what we experienced. And ISE has done a good job of pulling together a way for us to complete the program. The ship seems to be in good shape – from what I can tell (which isn't much). But that's what we're told. The students are whiny about exams – probably partly this is re-channeled anxiety about what we went through. But we are an academic program and the tests will happen.
Special thanks to my niece Heather (at MSU) who tracked down our address here and sent me a thoughtful card. We've been advised that no packages should be sent to Vietnam or India because they would likely never make it to us.
SAME DAY – message from ISE my sister received
I'm forwarding this so that you can see what they've told us.
Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2005 4:01 PM
Subject: Voyage Update: February 9, 2005 4:00pm
Dear Family and Friends,
Members of the shipboard community are now making preparations for their departures from Honolulu over the next four days. Although the charter company that had agreed to provide the necessary flights to Shanghai withdrew from their commitment, we were able to secure flights for all participants on United Airlines and Japan Airlines (JAL) flights. The first group of 171 will depart Honolulu this evening, the 9th, and subsequent groups will depart on the 10th (170), 11th (263) and the 12th (153). Each group will be accompanied by staff and/or faculty.
All originally scheduled overnight field trips in China will continue as scheduled. Students traveling from Shanghai to Beijing, Xian and Guilin will return to Hong Kong, meeting up with those participants who will travel directly from Shanghai to Hong Kong. As always, our in-country field trips include faculty or staff trip leaders. The ISE administrative team will have a base of operations set up in JC Mandarin Hotel and Equatorial Hotel in Shanghai and the Panda Hotel in Hong Kong. All participants will be provided with emergency contact information that will enable them to reach the Dean on duty, the medical staff and our in-country tour agents.
All participants will be informed of their respective group and itinerary at a community meeting today.
Work continues on the MV Explorer. It is expected to be completed within the next 2-3 days, after which "sea trials" and required inspections will be conducted. The plan that remains in place calls for the vessel to sail for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to meet up with the shipboard community.
ISE is grateful to the staff at United and JAL for their responsiveness, cooperation and service. Additionally, we appreciate the hard work of our tour agents in China and Hong Kong who are helping to ensure a smooth implementation of these complex travel schedules. The safety of all of our participants remains our foremost priority.
Our faculty and staff are also working very hard to ensure the continued integrity of the academic program and field experiences.
Please continue to check our website and watch for email updates.
The Institute for Shipboard Education
February 11, 2005
Plans have changed in a frustrating way (for me and most of us). The charter company we were working with did not have visas for their flight crew, so ISE had to frantically re-book us on commercial flights at the last minute. I got bumped to a flight that doesn't leave here until 10:30 pm tonight—though we have to meet for "disembarkation procedures" at 6:30 (which will make our trip total from here to there 32 hours – ugh). This is two days later than I thought I was leaving, which means two days less to see China.
From here we are flying directly to – unbelievably – San Francisco. So after a month and lots of time at sea, we will be a couple hundred miles from where we started – it's become a joke (though the laughter may be slightly pained) among the faculty to plot our route to nowhere thus far (though admittedly we saw Hawaii and an angry North Pacific). We have a nine hour layover in SF before taking another 13 hour flight, in my group's case, directly to Beijing – so we'll finally get to our first truly foreign country then (we're not counting Canada since we were there less than 24 hours and it was rainy and miserable the whole time – plus it's still America).
Anyway, this new schedule means that not only will those in my group get NO opportunity to see Shanghai, but also we won't get our full four days in Beijing. And we were the group that paid extra to spend the additional four days in China (the ship schedule was to be in Shanghai only for 2 days – anyone who wanted to pay extra could spend an additional $700 plus to spend the 4 days the ship would have been at sea in Beijing and fly directly to Hong Kong).
As things stand, I should arrive (with 175 students and other faculty and staff) in Beijing at 6 pm on the 13th. Then we fly to Hong Kong on the 16th. So we'll be arriving incredibly jet lagged and exhausted half a day late for our tour there. The first morning after that we are scheduled to go to the Great Wall. Dave Sharp – a Bloomingtonian friend who is also on the trip – joked that he's going to be sure to take lots of pictures because that will probably be the only memory he'll have of it.
Sorry to indulge in a frustrated rant, but flying is not my idea of a fun way to travel, especially when it’s a flight in the opposite direction from where we’re going with a 9 hour layover. Maybe this is displaced frustration. Anyway, I guess it’s better than canceling the program, so I’m happy we’re going on. Too bad that charter company screwed up so bad.
One bright note is that we get 2 extra days in Hong Kong, though I've heard (from a friend who’s been there on business a lot) that our hotel there is not so great – and it's a half hour train ride from points of interest.
BUT – we all keep reminding ourselves – we are here, and able to go on, even if not in ideal fashion.
The ship is apparently being repaired on schedule and should be there to pick us up in Vietnam.
I think we'll all be happy to see it again. We can leave stuff on the ship, but we'll be schlepping big suitcases around with us because we have to bring clothes for various climates – wintry Beijing and hot Vietnam – plus our teaching materials. We'll have two class days in Hong Kong.
Here in Hawaii I have kind of run out of steam and money. It was so demoralizing to learn about these awful flights that I don't feel like doing much more. I did go to a play last night near Chinatown called "David Carradine, Not Chinese." It was pretty good, but past my bedtime! I usually go to bed really early (like 9 pm) on the ship. But I get up most days around 5 am, by which time it’s usually light (though not in Hawaii), so it works out fine. Otherwise I've just been shopping and walking around the last few days here. It's been very hot the last several days, so it's hard to be out there most of the day.
Sorry to sound grumpy. Most of you are probably in winter wondering how anyone could complain about extra time in Hawaii right now. I'm sitting in the computer lab on the ship (half of which is working fine again), and it's packed. Most of us who are left (numerous plane loads of people have been leaving for the last 2 days) are just feeling grumpy and ready to move on for the trip we signed up for.
That's the news for now.
Hopefully the next time I write I'll be in China (too briefly) and if I'm coherent I'll write you from there – or maybe not until Hong Kong.
CHINA & HONG KONG
February 19, 2005
I'm in China and all is well. Actually I'm in Hong Kong now, leaving for Vietnam tomorrow.
I wish I had more time. I will write more from Vietnam, but I'm kind of out of it now. I've picked up a virus – not Avian Flu.
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know all is well (except for this awful flu I have contracted), and I'm thinking of you all. Computer access here is fairly expensive, which is why I am not writing more (that and the fact that I’m feverish and not feeling at all up to it). It stinks having two extra days here in Hong Kong and not even being able to leave the hotel. I had one day of sightseeing (a pre-planned trip) on Lantau Island, then I fell sick that night. Those two days after that were teaching days. It was all I could do to drag myself to my classes and then teach before collapsing in my bed again. I guess it’s better to be sick now, though, than at a time when I would miss a trip I’d pre-paid for.
[written February 23, 2005] We finally got to China after our 30 hour flight ordeal. Nothing unusual – in fact we were on schedule the whole time – that's just how long it took to get there on the route they booked us on. It was a long and grueling flight. I think I watched 3 full movies, and they served us food several times. Thank god ISE had ordered vegetarian meals for those of us who are vegetarians (something like 30 of us out of our group of about 175 on this flight). I had a nice seat with extra legroom, but it was near the bathrooms, so the noise and traffic made it hard to rest much.
Upon arrival in Beijing we were exhausted, but I was on duty since I was “trip leader” for our group of 75 faculty, staff, and mostly students. Being trip leader was stressful. We had a tour guide (actually a couple of them from Beijing International Business University) who did most of the real work. But I was responsible for getting students on to the bus on time, and making sure there were no problems in our group. I don't believe there was a single time when all 75 people were actually on time – maybe the worst was the day we went to the Great Wall and 2 students were missing for 45 minutes. It was especially stressful because that day was very snowy, and this is up in the mountains. The wall itself is quite steep and thus slippery in those conditions. Anyway, I was imagining them with broken limbs somewhere up top, but in fact they had just decided to take a cable car ride, which landed them far away and very late. That was fairly typical. When we first arrived in Beijing our guides were not actually there to meet us. It was a fairly awful first half hour or so because we were all ready to drop from exhaustion, and yet we were stuck without our guide to take us to our hotel. He – Jeff – eventually showed up and turned out to be very nice. Apparently our plane was early, so he wasn’t really late. We all dragged our luggage to the busses and eventually got to our hotel (not a dorm as we’d expected), got our rooms, and were able to sleep. We got there at about 10 pm Beijing time, so our sleeping schedules got re-arranged relatively easily. God knows what time it was in Hawaii at that point, or when we’d last slept. But we had three full days of activity ahead of us, so I for one was out like a light within a half hour of getting into my room. Jeff took those who wanted to go for dinner at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. He actually took us to meals at “American Restaurants” several times. He’s been running these trips for 10 years, so I guess he feels he knows what we want.
In our three days in Beijing, we saw an incredible amount of very beautiful sights, ate a lot of great food, and tried to take in what we could see (mostly from the busses) of life in China. Mostly we were taken to tourist sights. The first day we saw Tiananmen Square, Mao's Tomb (including his body – or maybe it is wax we heard in class), and nearby spots. Then we went to the Forbidden City – where the emperor lived. It's a huge, enclosed sort of park full of harmoniously arranged buildings, each of which is highly, tastefully designed and decorated. The designs involved lots of blue, red, and yellow paint on the ceilings and walls (in lovely floral or geometric or dragon or other motifs). In much of the other artwork too – in stone, marble, brass, etc. – there were motifs involving dragons, lions, cranes, and turtles. There was a garden near one of the gates that was very beautifully laid out, from mosaic tile work in the walkways, to split trees, piles of rock sculptures, and lots of landscaping – it was lovely even in winter.
That day we also saw the "temple of heaven" (where the emperor prayed), a market, and had an evening at an acrobatic show – which had both incredible and fairly mundane moments – a lot of tumbling, twisting, bending, balancing, and contorting (and a lot of props, everything from umbrellas, to hats, and bicycles). We had dinner at a “Chinese” restaurant, though the vegetarian options were slim. Five people at our table were vegetarians and could eat only two of the eight or so dishes they served.
The next day was snowing, and that's when we drove in the morning to the Great Wall. It was a tense ride up the mountains as cars were sliding all over the road. But our bus made it fine. As I mentioned, once there, we had to deal with very slippery conditions on the wall itself. And visibility was quite low. I walked in both directions for a ways, until it got so steep that people were literally falling all over the place. We probably could only see about 50 meters ahead of us at any given time. Actually, visibility was low the whole time we were in China – probably largely because of pollution (we were told). The students loved the Great Wall, maybe partly because of the snow and bad conditions. They were able to interact a little with the Chinese because everyone was laughing so much about the slippery conditions, and because we were all clinging to the railing to try to help us get up or down. But people we were going up and down both sides, so there were a lot of interesting encounters of no one wanting to give up their grip on the rail, or people laughing about slipping around each other. There was a lot of falling and sliding too, by Chinese and Americans. And there were some snow ball fights, including a couple between our students and many of the Chinese there. I think that made a lot of our students very happy, to see the intersections across all humanity. One student told me, “It’s just like our theme in global studies – One world, multiple world views!!!” She realized that “we really are all one people,” I guess because we all slip on the snow and have snowball fights.
Other big attractions we saw included the "summer palace" (where the emperor vacationed--there's a lake and hills and lovely nature incorporated into this huge private park), a market – where just about everything you can think of is for sale pretty cheap, some good restaurants, and general drives around the city. China was as crowded as I expected, and people have different concepts of personal space and appropriate public behavior. I saw people spitting everywhere – sometimes right in front of me – actually I think it was always men. And a lot of men shoved and pushed their way into where ever they wanted to be, regardless of whether they were there first. For instance, at the temples and palaces, there were times when you needed to fight through a crowd to see into some of the buildings. And sometimes just on the street, you might find yourself shoved out of the way if someone thought you were in their way. There were also tons of vendors, selling tourist junk like postcards, bags, hats, you name it, who would appear everywhere our bus went, or every time we came out of a monument (and sometimes in the monuments – though they had officials trying to stop this). And bathroom facilities were a shock to many students or other who hadn't traveled much before. Most public facilities have squat rather than sit down toilets, and usually no toilet paper. There is also usually no soap or paper towels or driers to wash hands afterwards. People started realizing why it's always important to carry along your own toilet paper and hand disinfectant along with cameras and other necessities.
One day we went to a fancy hotel for lunch. It had a beautiful airy, open lobby with lots of gold and red decor (favorite decorative colors in much of China). And the buffet lunch featured virtually every kind of food, from pizza to sushi to eel and other Chinese delicacies. And one night they had dinner for us at a restaurant that served (specializes in) "Peking Duck" -- named for the city (Beijing is just another spelling/pronunciation for Peking). That night Jeff had the restaurant make some vegetarian dishes. So all the vegetarians among us sat together at one big round table and had about 10 really delicious dishes prepared with no meat. It was a feast that we all enjoyed very much -- things like spicy eggplant, snap peas, bean curd, soup, and many other dishes. In Chinese restaurants meals are served "family style," with all the dishes being brought to the table as they are cooked (still hot). The tables all have a big round turntable in the middle, so you just rotate this movable part of the table until the dish you want is in front of you, then you quickly scoop some of the dish onto your plate and put it back on the turntable for others to take.
We also visited the university that hosted us that night (Beijing International Business University), and met some American and Chinese students who attend there. The Americans live there for a semester or year, and seem to be doing pretty well at learning Mandarin (the language) and the culture. They have pretty standard types of dorm rooms – which we got to see. One difference from American dorm rooms is that in the bathroom (which each room has) the shower head is just attached to the top of the wall but with not shower or bathtub area. So when you shower, the water will spray over your toilet and sink and so on. Since everything is ceramic or water proof, this doesn't hurt anything. I think probably most Chinese shower by rinsing off briefly, turning off the water, soaping up, and then briefly turning the water back on to rinse. So they probably don't get as much spray all over as we would if we took a typical shower in that space. These student rooms had a couple of typical dorm like beds and other furniture, and were shared in the American students case with maybe one other student (although the girl whose room we saw said she lives there alone). These exact same rooms that Chinese students are assigned to house SEVEN or EIGHT Chinese students each, so they are much more crowded. We were told this by the American students we met and by the Chinese students who accompanied us on our trips. Two of the American students I spoke to in this dorm said that since it was winter break for lunar new year (the biggest festival and holiday of the year in China) that they had just come back from a fieldtrip. They went to a village in Tibet for a week. This village was, they were told, the last matriarchal community on earth (still functioning as such). They said it's somewhere near Shangri-La. These students will be in China for a year. They seem to like studying there – they said everything is pretty cheap, but also kind of hard to adjust to culturally sometimes. The study abroad experience they were describing there reminded me of my year abroad in France – though of course China is much different from France. But the whole ex-pat student community life, and the immersion in the language and culture were similar.
Some of our students met up with these Americans at a bar later that night and reported that they (the exchange students in China) were kind of snotty toward them (the SAS students) – like they know China better than anyone who just passes through for 3 days could – which is of course perfectly true. Our students were a little annoyed – but it is true that we're not really getting to know any of the cultures we visit more than superficially. But we are seeing a lot MORE cultures than most study abroad programs ever could. So it's a trade-off.
I really only was up and about one day in Hong Kong – and that was for a trip I "lead" to Lantau Island, which has Buddhist monasteries. It's a very quiet and beautiful place mostly – lots of state parks, hiking trails, and so on, in a mountainous terrain with many views of the ocean. I think it's fairly isolated because it was only ever accessible by ferry or boat until they recently constructed a bridge. Now one part of the island is much more developed. We walked through a village that was very quiet and seemed pretty poor – the streets wound right through people's yards and we saw into houses through open doors. They were very small houses (one room about 12 by 15 feet large) and with minimal furniture. Many women were preparing lunches right on the sidewalk over little coal burners. We saw lots of seafood drying, or for sale, or sometimes it was alive (in buckets).
There is a huge, bronze statue of Buddha on the island that we visited near the monastery where we had lunch, but there was so much mist that day, that we could not really see the statue even when we were right below it. It just appeared as a ghostly apparition – you'd see an arm or knee as the mist clearly or shifted a little. The museum inside was interesting. We had a good vegetarian lunch, but did not really get to see any of the monastery besides the public dining room. We also spent an hour at a beach on one part of the island, but it was cool and overcast, and I don’t think anybody swam. I walked along the beach for a while, and then I lay on it for another while. It was a calm and pretty place, completely at odds with the jungle of very modern skyscrapers and highways that makes up the main part of Hong Kong.
It was later that night that I started feeling ill, so I never went out in Hong Kong again. Our hotel there was far from the main areas of town (though most of Hong Kong appears to be quite crowded and urban). We had two class days there at the hotel, so I mustered my energy to teach, but then I really just slept otherwise the whole time I was there.
February 23, 2005
Thanks to everyone who wrote in recent weeks. I hope to find time to answer you all individually when we get back on the ship. For the last week (plus) I have had the flu and have been totally out of commission.
But I'm finally feeling a little better and have ventured out into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for the first time. I actually had a trip scheduled to Hanoi and Halong Bay for three days. The morning the trip was to depart I was feeling my worst. I tried to just stay here, but our hotel (the Omni – which is quite nice) would not cooperate -- they just kept telling me they did not have a room available for me to stay there. The doctor gave me some antibiotics (because he thought it might have turned into an upper respiratory infection). Because I thought those drugs might help and because the hotel was leaving me no option, I ended going to Hanoi. Not a smart choice, but I couldn’t seem to figure out a way to stay at 5:30 in the morning (the time our trip was leaving), and I literally couldn’t talk (I had no voice at all because of an excessively sore throat). So in my feverish state I saw no alternative but to go on my trip. The flight was miserable – I thought my ears were going to explode from being already sore and then being exposed to that airplane pressure. It was awful and worrisome. When we landed I could only hear partially for about an hour. I was worried, but then things kind of popped back open and suddenly I could hear again, thankfully.
Once in Hanoi our tour guide herded us onto a bus and began the tour immediately. I made it through the first sight (the "temple of literature," a beautiful park like area with temples devoted to Confucius and other great scholars – it was the first university here a thousand years ago too). I also heard some interesting folk music performed here, but I could barely stand up throughout this and was feeling more and more miserable by the second (because of my flu).
Then we went to lunch, and since I could barely lift the spoon to my mouth to eat the soup and other delicious dishes they served, I knew that I just did not have the energy or ability to continue. I explained this to our tour guide, and he kindly took me to the hotel in Hanoi where the others would be staying two days/nights later. So I holed up in Hanoi at a French (though now run by Vietnamese) hotel for two days and nights. I would not have missed the $650 trip I had prepaid for if I had had any energy at all. I mostly just slept in my depressing little room. There was a “funny” episode where I asked the front desk to fix my heating unit, which I couldn’t get to work. I still could not talk, so I wrote this in a note. Then I had workmen trouping in and out of my room for the next five hours, while I lay on the bed with absolutely no energy. I just left the door open and unlocked for them. They brought in ladders and equipment and eventually fixed it, I guess. They sort of tried to talk to me a few times. But since I couldn’t talk at all, and they couldn’t speak much English, this fell flat. I did eat breakfast at the hotel, and I went down and asked the restaurant staff to make me soup one night, which they did (quite nicely and deliciously). Otherwise I never left my room. I had a TV, though the stations only came in at certain times (I think because it was satellite). But all this did give me the time I needed to rest and recover from the worst of the flu I had.
When the tour group got back to Hanoi (from Halong Bay) two days later, I rejoined them. I accompanied them on the tour through the city that last day, so I did see a bit of Hanoi, including the grounds where Ho Chi Minh once lived (which are beautiful) his mausoleum (with him in it), the history museum in the city, and the army museum. Then we flew back to Saigon that night and went back to our hotel – the Omni, very luxurious but not very well located.
Hanoi was kind of cold and overcast. Saigon is hot and sunny and very crowded and noisy. One of the most interesting and noticeable things about Vietnam so far is the very large number of mopeds on the roads, many more mopeds than cars or trucks or anything else. And people seem fearless on them – basically refusing to yield even to big busses. And no one wears helmets. Some people carry pretty big loads on these mopeds as well – before and behind themselves.
Right now as I sit in an internet cafe and write this, there are two carts rolling by outside the window next to where I'm sitting with lots of little potted plants for sale -- it looks like cactuses in one and little palm trees in another. An older woman wearing one of those classic cone shaped hats and a tunic and loose pants is pushing the cart with the cacti. There's also a guy out there stopped on his moped with a small child on the back (maybe about 3 years old). The child is wearing shorts, an orange jacket, a baseball cap, and a mask. Lots of people here wear masks (especially while riding mopeds) because of the pollution. There are many, many little shops lining the roads everywhere we've been, selling everything from noodles, to copy machines, to airplane tickets, and one across from here advertising "international fine food." I may go check that one out just to see what it means.
The food, when I've eaten, has been pretty good – they are pretty understanding of vegetarianism, and I have been served some delicious dishes, like eggplant in spicy sauce, tofu, veggie curry, spring rolls, soups, and yesterday an interesting vegetable "basket" of vegetables. The basket was apparently made of deep fried potatoes or something like potatoes. We are being given buffet lunch and dinners at our hotel, and they do not have many vegetarian options. But we ate at restaurants on the Hanoi trip, so I got to sample some of the truly delicious food available here then – although I only was with the group for two of those meals. There were a lot of French tourists at the hotel in Hanoi. I have not noticed as many in Saigon, but that might just be because of where I'm staying.
I walked around shopping one afternoon with a couple other professors, but I spent all my money at the first shop, and I had no credit cards nor any other money with me. There is a bus that runs from the Omni hotel to the post office downtown for us (because our hotel is so far away from everything), so I knew I could take the bus back to the Omni. But since it only runs once an hour and is about a 40 minute ride, I did not want to go all the way back to the hotel and then out to the downtown area again that day. It's very hot here (90's I think), and I'm still recovering (weak) from the flu, so once I ran out of money, I just walked back to the bus and then rode back to my hotel. But I was out most of the day all in all, seeing the cathedral in the morning, walking around for a couple of hours just looking at the city, and then working at the internet cafe for almost two hours. Plus I had lunch at one of the other official hotels housing our people. The one shop where I bought stuff had beautiful textiles from village people who live in the "Golden Triangle" (region where Shangri-La is -- where Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand meet -- I think). I bought a wall hanging and a little purse -- both beautiful.
Another day I went on an outing in the city to "China Town" in Ho Chi Minh City. The temple we visited was interesting, and some textile market streets, and general views from the bus. But we spent too long at a market, which only sells daily, household items (pots, pans, plastic wear, cheap clothes and shoes, etc.). It was so very hot that day, that most of us just congregated near the entrance to the market where we waited about an hour for our bus to take us back. It's amazing how hot it is and it isn't even the hottest time of the year here.
A lot of students did tours to the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and other places outside the city (including Cambodia). Many students also did a LOT of shopping at the main market downtown, which I never even saw. I think many, many women also had fancy dresses made from tailors here, which reports from previous voyages recommended. They'd pick out and buy fabric, take it and a picture from a magazine or a drawing of the dress they wanted to a tailor, get their measurements taken, and then pick it up a few days later. I heard many students talking about this over meals, but I did not see any of the resultant dresses/creations. They were all excited that they'd be getting a designer type dress for only about $80 total.
I've been a little surprised by how little consciousness anyone seems to have of the war -- both Vietnamese and Americans. I guess I can understand our students not really thinking about it because it happened before they were born, but many of their parents were in the war, so you'd think it would matter to them. And I'd have thought Vietnamese would not especially be friendly to the aggressors who devastated their country. But they were very warm and generous for the most part. There are museums of the "War of American Aggression," and students visited some war sites, but I did not hear people talk about war much at all. And many students seemed to really LOVE Vietnam, naming it the place they'd most like to visit again, or most enjoyed visiting on this voyage.
We have been in Vietnam for 4 days now, and I think we're scheduled to meet the ship again tomorrow. It's amazing how much I'm looking forward to seeing my crummy little room there again and getting back to a routine. It may be because I've been so sick and resultantly exhausted during most of these two weeks. But many other people seem to express being equally excited and relieved to be getting back on the ship, as far as I can tell. It’s been a couple of weeks of very intensive and exhausting travel, compounded in my case, since I endured a nasty bout of the flu through it all. But the ship is our "home," and I guess we crave the regularity of life as we came to know it there.
Well, I have already spent over an hour here at this internet cafe, and I should try to get some other work done. Hope all is well where you are – which for most of you is about halfway around the world, at least judging by time zones (we're exactly twelve hours off from the East Coast time now).
March 6, 2005
I'm in India. Getting back on the ship in Vietnam was interesting -- long lines and reunions (because we'd all been in different hotels for a week and out of our routine for over two weeks). It felt good to return to "normality" too and something that feels like "home." Although they had our bus trips from our various hotels staggered so we'd arrive at different times, we had to wait in a pretty long line at the dock to get on the ship, mostly I think because they were checking all the students' bags for alcohol (which none of us are allowed to bring on board from ports). Then after about an hour of waiting, we got back on our ship, just as we left it (only repaired). The hour I spent in line went by fairly quickly. Getting back into my room again and unpacking still left me with plenty of time to go back out and spend the last of my Vietnamese “dong” (the currency) on souvenirs that were being sold outside the ship. A whole little market of vendors appeared to serve us. I bought a few prints and a little, decorated, wooden letter holder. I resisted buying one of the conical hats (known as "Non La" I think) -- because I couldn't imagine it not being damaged before I got it home and because I couldn't imagine using it once home. I have a bunch of hats and things from Africa that I have never worn. Anyway, it felt pretty good to sleep in my bed again, even though it’s remarkably narrow and cramped. And it was nice to see all the crew, who are in general such hard-working and upbeat, friendly, helpful people. We have a new cabin steward in our hallway, Ray, instead of Edwin. But otherwise the ship doesn’t feel that different. In fact a lot of the cosmetic damage (holes in walls or torn chairs) has not been repaired or replaced, but apparently the big stuff (that runs the ship) has been repaired sufficiently.
Classes started immediately the next morning, which left most of us extremely busy for the next 6 days—we teach everyday, including weekends. I am very happy to have this brief respite now that we are again in a port, though I have about 90 papers to grade. Our internet access on ship was down most of the time we were at sea between Vietnam and India, so students were kind of frustrated. I think it was also hard for them to come back and realize (again) that this is an academic program, and they do have to actually work. And so do we faculty, and it was kind of hard on us too. In fact, this period of sailing and teaching between Vietnam and India has probably been the most stressful period for me of the voyage so far. I feel like I missed most of two whole ports (Hong Kong and Vietnam) because of my illness. Since seeing the ports is what makes the teaching (work) part of this worthwhile, it’s left me feeling like all I do is work, under very trying conditions, and without the rewarding travel I had anticipated. But hopefully now that I’m feeling better and we’re in port again, that will change.
We got to India on Friday early am. It really is our first true (foreign) port that we've approached by ship, so even though the voyage is halfway over, we have only just now been through our first real arrival, which involves "pre-ports" (briefings / meetings) on the two evenings before we land. Two nights before arrival we have the “cultural pre-ports,” in which interport lecturers and faculty and student experts tell us about the culture we're going to see -- including details of life there involving music, art, religions, customs, language, etc. Then the next night at the “logistical pre-port” we learn about safety, money, health, transportation, trips, and dangers, to name a few topics. Finally, the morning we arrive we have a “diplomatic pre-port” or briefing where we hear from the cultural attaché from the US embassy who comes aboard to speak about the country and what we can expect there. This first morning when we pulled in to dock in India there were maybe 50 people on deck watching the procedures (around 6 am). It did not look like a very promising or pretty dock area -- kind of industrial, ugly, dirty, and not evidently near much else. But there were Indian officials or workers helping us dock and "cleaning" the dock area (literally soaking up oil and scrubbing the ground with cloths). And then after a while some musicians set up on this dock (while we were all on the ship still) and started playing some traditional Indian music to welcome us. That was a nice little perk we did not expect.
The first program in India on the ship, after the diplomatic briefing, was a "yoga demonstration" that I had signed up to be in charge of. We can't actually leave the ship until we clear customs in any country, which as you can imagine takes hours for over 700 people--and apparently India takes longer than most countries. The customs officials come on board and have to examine and stamp every single passport, and sometimes they drag this process out because they get perks (at the very least coffee and pastries while they're on the ship -- or so we’ve heard). Anyway, as the trip leader for the yoga demonstration, I basically was there to greet the woman who ISE had contacted to do this demonstration. This woman, dressed all in orange (traditionally a yoga color of meditation/enlightenment) brought two girls with her, who demonstrated a variety of postures, most of which were quite extreme, while she just talked about what they were doing. This woman who was the teacher was pretty pushy – she kept telling me to "go have them make another announcement so more people will come to the demonstration." Since she's done this for years, she knows the ship has a P.A. system. What she wouldn't believe, is that we're not supposed to use it except when absolutely necessary. There were probably 200 people who came, but she expected the whole ship! Anyway, the demonstration was interesting overall. Afterward she led a small group in yoga practice, during which she kept asking us what was the matter that we couldn't get into these postures? And it was mostly pretty flexible young women who looked to be doing the postures just fine to me. I did the yoga with her for a while, but when I saw that she was making it so unnecessarily difficult I decided to stop and just watch. The students would be all bent over in forward bend and she'd yell at them to bend farther! She also brought some stuff to sell, and was very concerned about people knowing it was for sale--again she kept pressuring me to get Ken to make announcements for people to come and buy her stuff. She sold posters of yoga postures, CDs, books, and tapes.
Later that day (1 pm) I went out for the first time, on an SAS organized “city tour.” It was a pretty good tour – most notably because we got to visit a private home, that of our tour guide in fact, in what she told us was an upper middle class neighborhood. They were a very nice and hospitable family. Their house was pretty nice too, though different from American middle class standards. They had electricity, running water, nice furniture, a television with cable, fans but no air conditioning, probably 4 bedrooms, several levels, a front and a back balcony, and what looked like a few outbuildings. They had a woman who does the cooking and helps with cleaning – she showed us her kitchen, and it was full of pots and pans and metal containers lining shelves and tables and most surfaces. But much of the structure of the house is just a little different from what we’re used to. For instance the bathroom is more set up to take bucket baths, it seemed, than showers as we know them. And there was a flush toilet, but Indians apparently don't usually use toilet paper. Like most of the world, they use water to wash themselves instead (which by the way those who use it consider cleaner). So there were little containers (plastic or metal cups) near a faucet next to the toilet, but no toilet paper in sight.
Anyway, we also saw a Hindu temple in Chennai (a.k.a. Madras—the city we are in) on that tour, and a church, and an area of the beach that was hit by the tsunami.
The temples of South India are quite spectacular. Because various invaders from the North had somewhat less success in this region (at taking over or replacing the traditional culture), there are still a fairly large number of intact temples and temple treasures (statues and so on). These temple complexes usually consist of a whole series of buildings with courtyard areas and even a water area, all of which are used in various ways. We saw people washing themselves and their clothes in the water – each temple has a water source, kind of a large pool with steps all around it. And there were all colors of saris (6 yards long pieces of cloth) that had just been washed lying across the steps to dry. We also saw people praying in some temples, sitting in supplication or yoga postures in the courtyards, for instance, or going up to a priest in a little temple within a temple to get a blessing (some ash or other substance touched into the center of the forehead by the priest). I got blessings several times (whenever I gave a priest money). Sometimes in addition to the ash, the priest will give you a token, like once I got a little string of jasmine flowers. At some temples (where there weren’t priests) people might just bow before the idol or altar, putting their hands together in front of their chests and bowing repeatedly, probably while muttering or thinking a prayer. Most temple complexes seem to have dozens of little temples inside (each devoted to a different deity or a different aspect of a deity I think), plus a lot of courtyard areas where people sit and meditate, gather, and I guess live if they are there on a pilgrimage. These still used, a.k.a. “living” temples, are painted very bright colors. The main building and many of the side buildings are a steep pyramid-like shape, and are covered in (or made up of) statues representing the gods and goddesses (or important heroic figures in the religion). There are many gods and goddesses in Hinduism, 33,000 or 330,000 depending on how they’re counted (but always some multiple of 3 – a sacred number in Hinduism). There are also mandalas (geometric designs that remind one of the sacred and are used as a meditative tool either in making them or observing them) on the ground in various places, sometimes of colored rice powder or chalk (I think) or painted on ceiling or floors, or even carved into the cement. At the home we visited, they had a mandala sticker on their sidewalk (going into the house).
You have to take your shoes off to into the temple. So most of us were walking around in socks – there was a stand outside where we left our shoes that a man put on shelves and watched for us. Once inside, most of the ground was cement, though leading from the shoe stand to the temple was a road that had rocky and sandy places. The cement we walked on was very warm, which we could feel without shoes protecting our feet. One time I stepped in something wet (it was hard to keep your eyes on the ground with so much amazing, colorful stuff to see in every direction), which was disgusting – I was imagining that I had stepped in spit, but maybe it was just water from something.
Every night when I get back to the ship from the port (this was true pretty much everywhere we went), my first task was to clean up and thereby also to try to cool myself down. I lived in Africa for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, so I know from that experience that I can handle the heat pretty well, better than many people. But in many of these ports, even though we weren’t there at the warmest time of year, it was very hot and humid (as well as polluted, which compounds the effects of the heat), leaving me tired and sweaty and dirty just from the heat and grime by the time I got back to the ship. Plus the port area or the areas we walked through between the port and town were often not especially nice. And many of the cities (Chennai and Saigon especially) were extremely polluted. So, anyway, I always felt grimy by the time I returned to the ship, and cleaning up and cooling down were the first order of business. Yet that was sometimes a little tricky because we are allowed only one shower per day while in port, and we have to use other water conservation methods too. So I would usually just wet down and soap up a washcloth and wash myself with minimal water. Between scrubbing off the orange, oily stuff I had put on my forehead by priests at the temples, and washing my feet that had only socks for covering in the temples and streets around them, I had some pretty dirty washcloths by the end of most days in India (and other places).
Anyway, in spite of these challenges, I loved visiting these tall pyramidal temples that soar high into the sky and involve many statues in relief of scenes from Hindu mythology. This temple in town was “living” and was painted brightly in many colors (on the outside), like blues, pinks, yellows, violets, greens, reds, oranges, etc. In some of the smaller inner temples (also highly decorated this same way), and sometimes with a dressed, robed, bejeweled or otherwise decorated statue of a particular deity (or two) or a representation of some concept from Hinduism inside, we saw many Indian people praying. In addition to what I already described (above), people lit incense and gave flowers and puffed rice as offerings (they laid them before a particular altar or statue). There were many more Hindus there praying than there were Westerners touring. But we are often an object of attention just because we look different. Throughout the trip I’ve noticed that people will rubber neck in all kinds of settings to get another look at us, sometimes comically. It doesn't seem like there's any lack of whites around, but nonetheless. . . .
In fact in China one old couple came and stood next to our group, not talking, not trying to interact in any way. We were in Tiananmen Square waiting for tardy students to return to the group at the place we’d said we’d meet. These two old people just stood there among us the whole entire time, close to a half hour. It must have made some people nervous because they asked Jeff (our tour guide) what these old people were doing -- why were they standing there watching us? He explained that they were probably from the country (farmers), who had never seen non-Chinese people before. So even though they weren’t gawking or obviously even staring, they were fascinated by us and just wanted a closer look. Jeff told us that he was the same way 20 years earlier (though he was young – probably 40) – he’d never seen Westerners, and the first time he did, he couldn’t stop staring.
So we drew a fair amount of attention (being a group of about 35 from the ship) at this temple in Chennai too. There were some beggars there too, not particularly aggressive ones, mostly just sitting in the temple holding out their hands as people went by. Some of them spoke, but not in English. And the streets around the temple were a cacophony of vendors set up in little booths all along the street (selling religious objects like pictures of the gods, as well as candy, food, drinks, and household items). There were also many people (many women in colorful saris), animals (chickens, dogs – didn’t see any cows then), traffic (cars, mopeds, busses, bicycles, and the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw) and so on. We did not get much time to linger in the streets because our guide wanted us to go on to the bus again to continue our tour. I bought a plastic covered print of Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and the arts and the consort of the god Brahma), though there are two other gods in the picture too (remember three is a sacred number) from one of these street vendors on the way back to the bus. It cost me 30 rupees (less than $1). The vendor did not speak English, but somehow we communicated just fine (usually not hard to do when money is being exchanged for goods).
From the temple we went to a catholic church, the most famous one in Madras, where St. Thomas (doubting Thomas) was martyred, according to legend. Supposedly he brought Christianity to India long before it ever succeeded in Europe (1st century AD), and there are a significant number of Christians in South India, especially in Kerala (a state in the Southwest – not the state we were in, which is Tamil Nadu). Kerala is where Thomas spent most of his time according to legend. But in Madras (Chennai) Thomas wasn't as successful and is considered to have been martyred there. The church we visited is built over the supposed site of his tomb, which one can visit (though I didn’t because we had limited time and I wanted to see the beach, as explained below). Interestingly, to visit the tomb one must remove one’s shoes (as in Hindu temples), though one could wear shoes in the church itself, which is quite lovely, in a European style typical of cathedrals, with a high vaulted arch ceiling with large windows. It was all whitewashed to make it feel light and airy. Over the altar there is a statue of Jesus, typically, but this one is blended with Hindu symbols, in that Jesus is standing on a huge lotus flower and is surrounding by peacocks (both common images in Hindu temples). People were worshipping quite piously in the church—supplicating themselves before statues of the saints – especially Mary. This more physical style of prayer also suggested (to me) a blending of Catholic and Hindu tradition/impulses.
The church is very near the beach (Chennai is on the coast), but it wasn't damaged in any way that we could see. But we walked down the road behind the church right to the actual beach (as our tour guide suggested), and saw lots of evidence of damage from the December 26, 2004 Tsunami that hit Chennai very hard. The beach looked like it was full of rubble, maybe from buildings that had been there? A lot of people live right there on the beach in incredible, abject poverty. It was very difficult to see this and consider the kind of poverty people live in. In fact, we had to dodge human waste and garbage all along the beach as we walked down closer to the water. Kids followed us relentlessly asking for money. We saw rubble, all kinds of garbage all over the place, people squatting in shells of surviving buildings, all under the full sun in intense heat (and this isn't even the hottest time of the year). Right near the water were many probably recently erected shanties (temporary housing erected with sticks and scraps of cloth, paper, and whatever, right next to each other) in a long row. These provided tiny, flimsy spaces that probably whole families lived in.
There were some field trips set up in Chennai to participate in work projects to help with Tsunami relief. I talked to a few students who participated in those, and they felt good about what they had done, but they said it wasn’t really organized well enough to even take advantage of the manpower they were offering to provide. They did some painting, lifting, and so on, but not much else (though they saw a lot that needed to be done).
So much of what I see in India reminds me very strongly of all I saw and experienced when I lived in Africa, even in terms of lifestyles. Yesterday, my second day here, I went on a tour of temples in Kancheepuram and Mammamalapuram, two cities South of here famous for their Hindu temples. They were both amazing places. Along the way, we got a lot of sites (along the roads) of India, much more like what I've seen in movies and documentaries – lots of cows wandering around (haven't seen any in Chennai proper yet), including bulls whose horns were painted and decorated. I also saw lots of thatched roof houses, lots of women carrying heavy loads of wood or other things on their heads, and lots of people in general. Most of the women seem to wear saris or loose tunic over loose pants. Men wear pants usually, though sometimes with longer, loose, traditional shirts. We also some a number of tsunami relief "cities" all along the beach road – tent cities recently erected, I guess. Most of these sights (except the decorated cow horns) were extremely reminiscent of life scenes I saw repeatedly during my two years in Senegal -- housing styles, living patterns, right down to the colorful, loose clothing and graceful gaits of people.
On our field trips, we rode in air-conditioned motor coaches (buses), but it was very hot all of the time we were outside, which was often (to see all the temples). Some temples in Mahabalipuram and Kancheepuram (two temple rich towns south of Chennai) were like those I described in Chennai, living, colorful, and full of people. Others were no longer in use or were more like monuments than places of worship per se. Especially notable in Mahabalipuram was “Arjuna's Penance” – a beautiful series of carvings along a stone outcropping in the town. The natural rock itself is impressive (a huge granite outcropping with a natural crevice in the middle), but the way it’s been carved into, showing scenes from the Mahabharata (a Hindu classic epic), make it compelling and beautiful. The natural fissure represents the sacred Ganges (a river in Northern India), and even (naturally) has water that runs through it during rainy season. There are a couple of huge elephants carved into it, as well as many other figures. “Arjuna” – the hero of the Mahabharata – is portrayed doing penance in a classic yoga “tree” posture. You can tell he’s a real penitent because his stomach is concave from his fasting. On the other side of the fissure, closer to the ground, the scene depicts a cat imitating Arjuna’s posture, but the cat’s belly is fat. All around the cat mice are sitting at his feet to learn from the yogi. But the lesson (we heard in a film on this from my class) the mice will learn, is not to follow false profits. Because of the cat’s fat belly, one can assume he is not a true penitent and will quickly eat those poor mice. Since I’d heard this story beforehand, and since our guide skipped this relief almost entirely, I looked at it myself for a while. A student came to look too and I pointed out Arjuna to her. Then I said, “The cat should be somewhere near here,” and we were both looking, but not for long. There were MANY men and boys hanging around all these tourist sights in Mahabalipuram, trying to sell us all kinds of stuff, from postcards, to carved granite balls, to carved elephants, and so on. Mostly we tried to ignore them (as our guide suggested), but they were not easily discouraged. Anyway, when one of these men heard me say I was looking for the cat, he immediately pointed him out to me: “The cat is right there!!” And there he was. You can see images of it here: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Culture/Archit/Mahaba.html
When I caught back up with the group they were in a “cave” that was really just an opening that had been carved into the granite rock. They even left some of the granite that they shaped into beautifully carved pillars, to give it the feeling of a room of a palace. And the back and side walls of these shelters (there were several of them in a row) were also elaborately carved in a bas relief style with all kinds of scenes – in this case mostly scenes of daily life from the time they were carved (about the 7th century AD).
We also visited the “five rathas” sight, another showcase of the carving talents of people from Mahabalipuram. Even today the art of carving in granite goes on there. We passed dozens of little “workshops” – just open sheds – with men pounding away with hammer and chisels at all kinds of designs. Our tour guide told us they ship their art all around the world – most of it is commissioned. They also try to sell small stuff to tourists. I bought a little carved ball of granite with the letter “Om” – a sacred sound in Hinduism and yoga – and other scenes carved onto it.
At the sight of the “Five Rathas” there are in fact five small "temples" or monuments, many decorated with elephants or lions. Our guide said maybe they were not really temples (since they are small) but rather sample temples, showcases of the work of the master carvers, that rich men could look at to decide if they wanted to build a temple. There was a cool elephant and other interesting carvings there too. I think I remember hearing as well that these were only fairly recently re-discovered, having been covered with sand for years.
We also visited the now museum-like (not a “living temple”) shore temple, very near the sea. This is a recently named world heritage sight, so there is a fair amount of effort to preserve and beautify the surroundings. It features a 16 sided prismatic, black granite lingam (phallus) in one of the inner chambers. Many Hindu temples have such symbols, and sometimes very explicit sex scenes depicted on the walls (though we did not see any of those). Some people speculate that the reason not many Westerners are interested in Hindu temples is because they were too shocking to our tastes, especially in terms of spiritual art that features sex. According to what little research I've done in Hinduism, part of the reason they include such scenes has to do with recognizing all ways of human life and the body as potentially sacred and important in worship. Our guide said this phallus was not originally in this temple, but I don’t know why he thinks that (he wouldn’t really talk much about it and did not want questions on it). I had already asked him too many questions (I got the impression), because I had all these notes about the temples we were supposed to see, but every time I tried to ask him something he spoke over me or gave me a very brief, incomplete answer before quickly explaining something new to the whole group. I think he actually skipped one of the temples we were supposed to see in Kancheepuram, and so he did not really want to let me corner him or ask him much. He did give us some good information though.
One thing about India you have to know is that there is so much incredibly beautiful stuff here, from architecture, to clothing, to art, to jewelry, to religious monuments and practice. But there is also a lot of poverty here, so there are always people trying to sell you something, or just trying to get money from you, sometimes pretty desperately. Every one of our tour guides (on every tour I did) took us to various shops (rug shops, sari shops, trinket shops) as part of our tour, hoping we’d buy goods because they got a commission from the shop if we did. So they had incentive to keep taking us to shops. Even taxi and rickshaw drivers would try to take you out of the way to shops like this (for a possible commission), even when you’d tell them very firmly where you wanted to go and that you did not want to make ANY additional stops. Once or twice an auto-rickshaw driver begged me to let him take me to some shops. I managed to avoid most such detours, except during these official tours.
Anyway, all along the way to these temples, we had lots of hawkers, vendors, and beggars hounding us – from the second we stepped off the bus, until after we were back on it. When we were already on the bus after seeing a site, they’d still keep shouting at us and showing us things to buy through the windows. We could practically not take a step without having someone in our faces. We kept being told to ignore them, not to give them money, not to engage them. But sometimes it's really hard to ignore them, and often they were selling things people wanted to buy. Many times we had to wait to start the bus going again because someone was finishing a transaction with one of these street vendors as we were ready to pull away. At one bus stop, I bought a bunch of really pretty pieces of cloth from a woman selling them, for something like 200 rupees a piece (cheap). As I was showing them to people on the bus, about 10 other people went out there to buy similar cloth from the same woman for the same price. Meanwhile about a dozen other vendors showed up at the bus-side, with carved wood, sandals, jewelry, carved soapstone elephants with other little elephants inside them, and all kinds of other things for sale. There was even a man who sat down with a covered basket and a flute, and as we watched he opened the basket and charmed the cobra therein. As we tried to take pictures, he covered up the basket and asked for money if we wanted to take pictures (all communicated through sign language and through the windows). There was always a lot to see and experience, even just from the bus.
That particular day of temple tours, I bought things from a few vendors (postcards, the cloth I mentioned, and the carved stone ball I described above)—not without some hassle over each. The man who sold me the carved ball agreed to my price, took the money and gave me the ball, but then kept following me and asking for more money. I finally gave him another dollar just as I was getting on the busy, just because I figured it was only a dollar and he obviously needed it more than me. He was basically begging at that point, so I felt pity. But in general bargaining, and bargaining hard, seems to be expected and even appreciated here.
Kancheepuram is a center for silk (they make the most renowned silk saris in India), so while there we were taken to a silk “factory.” We did get to see some men weaving the silk saris on big looms in the basement-like area, and that was interesting. But most of our time there was spent upstairs in the shop, where they had lots of silk for us to purchase. I bought 2 saris, described as "pure silk," that are very pretty. One is predominantly wine colored with some gold and green in the pattern. The other is predominantly green with some gold and wine in the pattern. I don't know if I'll ever wear them, but they were so beautiful and relatively cheap (about $20 each) that I couldn't resist. I also bought a couple of little scarves there that are very soft and lovely, and also "pure silk" (a popular phrase from the sales women in this shop).
In general I've been spending lots of money here. I keep only taking a certain amount with me, and then wishing I had more. I don’t want to take my whole wallet or even credit cards because we are warned often about the likelihood of being robbed or pick-pocketed. So I keep thinking I better not take along a credit card. Plus we have been advised that some vendors here will do funny things when running your credit card, like running it through twice, or copying the numbers down or something. But mostly I’ve shopped at the “mall” in town (Spencer Plaza) and I think it’s more reliable. But today I forgot or neglected to bring anything but cash (which I have a limited amount of), so I have already spent virtually all my money. I just kept enough for lunch and getting back to the ship. Since I did not bring credit cards or an ATM card I can’t buy anything else, which is sad because there is so much beautiful stuff here, and it’s a hassle getting here and back, so I hate that I can’t take full advantage of actually being here. But then again, maybe I don’t need to spend more, since I’ve already bought so much. Even at the mall you have to bargain for things (except at bona fide department stores). Most of the stores here are just little boutiques that sell rugs, shirts, purses, bedspreads, jewelry, and/or other trinkets of interest mainly to tourists. So, they have no fixed prices and you can bargain (though I’ve found they bargain hard). I think I spent way too much on the first few embroidered “rugs” I bought, especially after hearing how much other people paid for similar things. But I try to tell myself, “If I think it’s a good price based on what I would pay for it in the States, then I should not worry about it afterwards.”
One day I also went to “Victoria Technical Institute” (a shop – but government subsidized) next door to Spencer Plaza. It is a great place, with fixed prices that are MUCH lower than any of the shops next door. But they don’t have the real luxury type items, no carpets or nice jewelry. Still, I found a lot of nice things to buy there and spent over $150. My favorite purchases there are some cast statues, one of dancing Shiva and one of Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and art). Eventually I also bought several rugs, one silk on silk, and the others wool -- at various shops. Plus I bought some silver jewelry. I love everything I bought, so I have no regrets. All in all, I spent about as much as most people on the ship did to fly to Delhi and see the Taj Mahal, which I don’t regret not seeing (because I think there's plenty of beautiful stuff to see right here in South India), so I don’t feel bad.
The way to get around in Chennai/Madras is the "auto rickshaw," which deserves some attention because it is both ubiquitous and amazing. The auto rickshaw is a thing to experience – it's basically a three wheeled kind of cross between a motorcycle with a covered bench in the back and a golf cart (it runs on gas though). They will take you anywhere in the city for about a dollar (though because we’re white we have to bargain pretty hard for that price – which is still more than Indians pay). These always golden yellow vehicles, open-aired, flimsy, but very bold, whip around in traffic like you wouldn't believe—sliding in and out of spaces, sometimes with apparently only millimeters to spare. And you have never seen traffic anywhere in the world like in India (at least I never have and I’ve been around). There must be rules of the road, or there would be a lot more accidents (I've seen none), but what those rules are, exactly, eludes me for the most part. It's also quite windy riding these rickshaws, and smelly. The searing hot wind blows your hair into wild disarray, makes your eyes tear up, and assaults your nostrils, especially when you stop next to other vehicles puffing out ugly black exhaust -- sometimes right into your face. Chennai is just plain smelly – there is so much pollution here. From the morning we arrived I've not lost my sense of the smell of the city – kind of burnt and dirty. One guide book I read said that the air is so polluted in this city that just breathing here is the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Anyway, I've been on rickshaws three times now pretty safely.
Even in the fancy mall here, people are very aggressive about sales. They follow you around through the halls trying to get you to come into their shops. And once you’re there, they work you (for a sale) very hard. I think it’s a point of pride with them to not let you leave without having purchased something. Most shops are small and crowded, but they find a seat for you and put on this big show of whatever they catch you looking at, and by the end they may have pulled 50 or 100 items of their stock off the shelves, out of packages, and have them displayed for you. It's hard to walk away from a purchase after all that. Plus most of the stuff, for me especially textile art, is so beautiful. So I’ve bought plenty, but I have not bought something in every single store I’ve entered. I’ve also resisted entering plenty of stores. But just going to the mall here (which I did about three separate times in all) is a cultural experience, plenty to see, hear, do, and reflect upon.
Well, as I sit here in the internet café in Spencer’s Plaza, having worked at my email account of India for the last hour and a half, I'm starting to get hungry. I plan to eat lunch in the food court, where I hear one can get a good Thali (Indian tray of various foods—a typical lunch) for 80 rupees (less than $2). So I want to get there before the restaurant closes [later – it was a delicious, typically South Indian lunch – all yummy vegetarian, hot, spicy food].
Tomorrow I'm supposed to be going down to Pondicherry with several other faculty members from the ship. We're renting an air-conditioned car and driver to take us there. In addition to just seeing the city, we're going to try to visit the world famous Aurobindo Ashram. But we've heard they don't always let visitors in. We'll see.
I may also come back to the mall again sometime, or do some other shopping. There is so much here in India, so much of everything really, you’d clearly need a lot more time than 6 days to make a dent in trying to see enough to get a sense of the place. Just driving around you see lots of wealth behind gated walls in the form of huge mansions. There are lots of shops, businesses, colleges, billboards (I read it's sometimes known as the billboard capital of the world -- and some of these billboards are real artworks), and mostly lots of people in all kinds of colorful clothing, doing all kinds of work, or just sitting along the road. It's a crowded, intense, intimidating, thrilling, interesting, hard to describe place. With GREAT vegetarian food – I've been out to eat twice, hoping to make it three times shortly. I'm sleeping and mostly eating on the ship. If there were restaurants within walking distance to the ship, I’d eat out every meal. But since it’s an auto-rickshaw drive and a fair amount of hassle to get anywhere, I’ve only managed eating this fantastic food, probably the best I’d find to suit my taste anywhere on the planet, about once a day.
I'll try to send another message from here before we leave.
Hope all is well there,
March 8, 2005
My plans for a trip to Pondicherry fell through because the tour company we arranged it with suddenly doubled the price at the last minute. I still thought it would be reasonable and wanted to go, but the others did not want to. Since it would have been at least three hours each way, I guess it’s not so bad to have skipped it, but I really wanted to get out and see more than just what I can get to from auto-rickshaws (which has basically meant the mall and the nearby businesses on that street).
But at least I've been venturing out in Chennai everyday. Some people just hole up on the ship, I think because of the heat and the hassle of going out. Plus some people are staying on-board to do grading. Today I went to a temple focused on eight manifestations of female deities – called Ashtalakshmi, right here in Chennai. I went with a couple of other profs. It was a good trip, though VERY hot. Four of us (faculty) hired a private car (with AC) to take us around for four hours, for about $5 a piece. The temple was interesting and very pretty -- right on the water (the Ocean). There were many statues of female deities within the inner temples, and they were all decorated and dressed pretty elaborately. Apparently in Hinduism the statue of a god or goddess is believed to embody the spirit of the deity only if it is appropriately adorned. We had a fairly aggressive priest who basically required us all to get a blessing, because to do so we had to give him money. Larry had only a 100 rupee bill (a very large donation -- I usually gave 10 rupees for a blessing), and so he got an extra blessing, including a string of flowers. But the temple was free to enter, so it was still a deal, I think. This was a living temple, so there were many Indians there, praying or visiting. As usual, we attracted a fair amount of attention because we were the only whites there (and this time there were only four of us). There were a couple of groups of school children, who were very cute, in school uniforms. One group was lined up to go in and each student had a piece of watermelon, but they were all waiting from a signal from their teacher before biting into it. We watched this as we were putting back on our shoes after leaving the temple.
We also went to a shop (the Indian Art Museum) that many people had said was good, where I bought a few wool rugs, and the other also bought some things. Then we stopped for a quick South Indian lunch. It was delicious – as all the food here is, even though it was just a little local, "greasy finger" kind of restaurant that our driver recommended. Only Pat C. and I wanted lunch. The other Pat (M.) and her husband -- Larry -- were worried about food poisoning or something from Indian food, and so did not want to eat. Since we did not want to hold her up waiting for us, we just asked our driver to take us someplace close that would be fast and good – and it was fast and good. The whole restaurant was full of Indian working class people besides us. They all got these typical “thali” lunches (platter of various foods – dals, curries, soups, rice, crispy bread, etc). For the Indians, the waiters would come around with buckets of the dal or whatever and would refill their plates for them if they wanted -- just slopping it right on. Pat and I were not offered refills, though I tried at one point to get a passing waiter's attention -- unsuccessfully (I think they all just thought we were so out of place that we couldn't possibly want lunch the way Indians would). But we had plenty to eat.
Tomorrow I'm planning to go to the national museum in the morning, and then maybe shopping one more time [later -- I heard from various people on the ship that night that most parts of the museum that are most interesting are closed right now for reconstruction or repair. So I decided not to go there]. I'm debating buying a top to go with my saris. But since I don't plan on wearing the saris beyond this particular trip (to the ambassador's ball where everyone dresses in something they've gotten on the trip), I'm not sure it's worth it. A couple of you have written suggesting saris are the perfect size for curtains, so that's probably what I'll try to do with them. I think the rugs I brought today are very pretty, but I haven't seen them since I bought them and won't probably until I get home, because they packaged them up so intricately into such a small size that I don't think I could ever reproduce it. (I watched them do it and it took two men five minutes of practiced work to get them into this one small package -- with intricately tied rope around it making a handle). How I'm going to get all this stuff from the ship (in Ft. Lauderdale) to home in Georgia is something I'm not thinking much about, yet. I’m renting a car to drive myself back from Florida to Georgia, so I keep thinking in the back of my mind that I have plenty of room. But I also realize that getting it from the ship to the car (which I’ll have to take a taxi to rent), could be kind of a nightmare. Oh well, I’ll cross that bridge . . . .
I'm not sure how well this internet is working, and since I'm doing it on the ship, it's expensive. So that's it for now. In spite of many assaults to the senses and sensibilities here, I really find it beautiful, amazing, and powerful.
Hope you're all well,
March 16, 2005
We’ve just crossed the Indian Ocean from Chennai and should arrive in Mombassa, Kenya this afternoon. As usual, I’ve been teaching everyday. Actually, in this 7 day period at sea, we did get one day (Sunday) off, unusually, for a festival to mark crossing the equator, called “Neptune Day.” Anyone on board ship who has not crossed the equator is known as a polliwog (or “wog”), and once you’ve crossed, you become a shellback (I think this is true for all ships by the way). To mark passage into “the exalted shellback family,” there are rituals you must go through. Not everyone actually does so, but I did.
First the “court” of current shellbacks, led by King Neptune (in full regalia like all the court) parades into the ceremonial area – in this case the (outside) aft 7th deck, near the pool. The court announced its arrival by banging pots and pans and playing flutes or something. They were all dressed in white sheets, wigs, silly tin-foil crowns, and had lots of make-up. King Neptune was all painted green (and was our shirtless captain). The court made a few pronouncements, we all recited a poem (paying homage and begging to join the shellback fraternity) that we had been warned to memorize (the night before), and then we lined up for the “hazing” part of the rite.
We who became shellbacks each had a pitcher full of a gross mixture of fish guts, sour milk, and who knows what else, poured over our heads. Then we went into the pool, climbed out near King Neptune, kissed an actual (dead) fish, knelt before Neptune and kissed his ring, and then were dubbed “shellbacks” (dubbed with a sword by a member of the court). The ship’s captain wore the ring we kissed, Rebecca Hartung (Robert’s wife was his consort who sat there smirking, and Robert Fessler held the sword and did the dubbing. Ken (asst dean) was on the court too, maybe making us kneel. Trish held the fish I kissed.
About half of the community participated in the ritual. I was among the first 6 or 7 that actually got the gunk poured on my and went through this part, because I had been warned (by Robert) that the water in the pool gets more and more disgusting (full of the fish gut/milk crud) as time passes. In fact the pool was still clear when I went in, though in spite of going under several times, I did not get all the junk out of my hair or elsewhere. I was able to take a shower soon after. By the way, Neptune used his trident to shove a number of would be shellbacks back into the pool. So some people really had to wallow in the gunk. Apparently he did this when he felt someone did not show enough humility before him. Our new ship’s captain who played King Neptune seemed to enjoy his role and used his trident power gleefully. Throughout there was also loud music playing and a generally festive mood. Almost everyone was crowded into that area even if they weren’t doing the ceremony.
Later that morning, quite a few people had their heads shaved – and this I did no do (though quite a few women did – mostly students). Some faculty had been auctioned off the night before and the students who bought them won the right to shave their heads (it was mostly men). By about 1 pm that back deck around the pool was looking pretty awful, between the fish guts, sour milk mixture that filled the pool (and had splashed and dripped all around) and all the cut-off hair lying around on the wet deck. But as usual, our crew got things clean and put back together relatively quickly.
Later that afternoon there was a ship’s trivia game (like jeopardy) that faculty were the contestants in – I was one of the five contestants. A student had made up the questions. A number of them were questions from the global studies exam – global studies is the “core” class that everyone on board is required to attend daily. Embarrassingly, NONE of us were able to even guess on some of those questions (like “What are the two souls called in Hinduism?”). But there were many others we could answer. I was not as quick on the buzzer as another faculty member, and I got a few big point questions wrong (you lost points for guessing). So I came in third out of five. But it was a lot of fun and we had a big audience. The global studies prof was our MC (Alex) and his wife Rebecca, another professor, was “Banana White” who took care of the board.
The students also had a scavenger hunt that afternoon and there was a dance in the union that night. It seemed like most everyone enjoyed the day. It was just so nice to have a day without classes, nice for faculty and students. Every afternoon at 5 pm there is a happy hour in the faculty/staff lounge (which is the most beautiful place on the ship – with a great view) on deck 7 forward. I and a steady group of faculty go most days, maybe 10-20 people (staff and seniors also may attend). But on Neptune Day we had a record crowd of something like 50 or 60 people. So I think it was a successful festival. The next day it was back to work as usual.
I’ve just gotten my third assignment from most classes. So two days after turning back the last sets of graded papers, I now have more grading.
Tomorrow I leave for a five day safari in Tanzania – to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater, Olduvai Gorge, a Masai village, and lots of game drives. I’ve never done a safari before, so I’m looking forward to it, though I’m well aware it will be a mediated and produced event.
I probably won’t have any access to email during that time, so don’t expect to hear from me again until sometime in about a week.
Hope all is well wherever you are.
March 25, 2005
The safari experience was as billed and expected – lots of beautiful landscapes and wild animals. We saw virtually everything – including all the “big five” (so called by hunters because they were the most elusive/hardest to kill) – buffalo (cape), rhinos, elephants, lions and leopards. We saw much more besides. It was all in all a pretty glorious experience that I enjoyed immensely in spite of my skepticism going into it.
Early the first morning we left the ship for buses. Our safari company (hired by ISE) – Micato Safaris – met us and gave us necklaces of carved wooden animals as we boarded their air-conditioned buses for our five hour drive to the border with Tanzania. This was a mostly uneventful drive, though I saw a beautiful rainbow at one point as well as a troupe of baboons walking along the road. And we all saw a giraffe at one point, and there were lots of beautiful birds everywhere. We also saw glimpses of the massive Mount Kilimanjaro through the clouds, which mostly obscured it – and apparently do so most of the time. There are many other mountains around there, but they are all completely dwarfed by Kilimanjaro. Our border crossing seemed like it might go smoothly. But after we got our passports stamped in Kenya our bus sat there at the border waiting for almost 2 hours. It turned out our sister bus (in which the rest of our 88 member group rode) was behind us broken down. As we waited at this dusty, not especially populated outpost, we watched a few people herding cattle and trying to keep out of the intensive heat (as we were doing too – our bus was turned off so no AC). We did have some cold drinks (courtesy of Micato Tours), and snacks – potato chips and cookies. Finally the other bus came and we all crossed into Tanzania together, only to have to stop again at the Tanzania entry point a few miles down the road, where we spent another hour getting all our passports stamped (this time to get into Tanzania rather than out of Kenya). We did all this in reverse on the return trip home – though much more smoothly that second time.
One of the safaris was designated long ago as a “parent trip.” Many parents (for about $4000) came and met their children and accompanied them on safari (it cost us just about $1000 for us from the ship). Although our trip was not the one designated as the parent trip, so many parents wanted to come, that the overflows were booked onto our trip, so we had about 8 parents. There were also about 8 faculty, staff and tagalongs (as the spouses of faculty and staff are fondly known), and all the rest were students. Overall our group was pretty responsible – meeting the bus on time and so on. There was a student who lost her passport somewhere along the way, an event which has occurred at every single port thus far. You’d think after seeing their friends lose days and lots of money replacing these at embassies, they’d be more careful, but there’s always one . . . .
From Tanzania we had another four hours to our hotel. About halfway there OUR bus started malfunctioning (“losing power” our safari director – Patrick, who was on our bus – told us). The other bus also broke down again (fan belts) and so we were way behind schedule. This was after 5 pm – we were supposed to be at our hotel for the night by 6 pm, and we were still over 3 hours away. This is what they talk about in our global issues course as “African time” – things happen on their time, not ours. We finally drove to a hotel where some people on a different safari – but from our SAS group – were staying for the first night. After a half hour wait there, we were met by our little safari vans – the vehicles (Toyotas with typical lift-up safari roofs) that we would use for the rest of our safari. These smaller vans took us the last few hours to our hotel, where we arrived around 9:30 pm. We had a pretty good dinner, and then went to bed. I did not sleep well – partly because I had a roommate who snored (a staff member), and partly because I was keyed up about being there and the upcoming game drives.
This first night was at Lake Manyara, which proved in the morning sunrise I witnessed, to be a very beautiful spot. Our room overlooked the lake and hills below us. It was too bad that we did not have more time to enjoy this place or do any game drives there. We left that morning for Ngorongoro wilderness area on our way to the legendary Serengeti. All along the way, especially after we got into Ngorongoro wilderness area, it was incredibly beautiful, with lots of mountains and hills, and the savannahs of endless grasslands and occasionally clumps of trees or rock outcroppings. I was not prepared for the immense and overpowering beauty of the landscape. We also had been seeing Masai people all morning – notable for the brightly colored red, purple and blue cloths (cloths – like blankets) they wear along with lots of beaded jewelry. Everyone around there tends cattle, but only the Masai have such distinctive clothing. Their villages spread out throughout the Ngorongoro wilderness area, but are no longer in the Serengeti (a national park) at all. They are the only people who live in the government declared wilderness area. No one lives in the national park (the Serengeti). As we drove toward Olduvai Gorge (on the way to the Serengeti, which borders Ngorongoro wilderness area) we saw our first zebra, antelope (Grant and Thompson), some wildebeest, a giraffe or two, and many more birds. Our guide (Rogers) was incredibly patient about stopping, especially I realized later, considering how many more of all these animals he knew we would soon be seeing in the Serengeti.
At Olduvai Gorge we saw the site where the Leaky family found many of their most famous discoveries, like remains of Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Australopithecus Boisei, and some famous footsteps that were embedded in the soil. There is a nice little museum there and we had a talk from the director. We also ate a boxed lunch in the picnic shelters, provided by our safari tour group. It started raining as we left, and continued to rain quite heavily until we got well into the Serengeti. It’s rainy season in Tanzania, just starting, which is why so many animals were there (more than at many times of year we were led to believe). And many were babies.
As we drove through the pounding rain on muddy roads, we saw many more animals, all the kinds you’ve seen for years on TV nature shows – I don’t think there was anything we didn’t see, but I don’t exactly remember the order in which we saw things that day. I know we saw big herds of zebra, wildebeest (often together), quite a few hyenas (spotted), many ostriches and secretary birds, many gazelle and other animals from that family (antelopish), many birds, some of my favorites of which were lilac breasted rollers (very lovely, especially in flight). Our driver was extremely patient about stopping for us to take photos and adept at explaining everything to us – he knew all the animals quite well and had many books and binoculars we used. Late in the day – near our lodge (the Seronera), we saw hippos, mostly submerged in a pond, and then lions. The lions were not even that hard to see or far from the road. The vans all have CB radios and talk to each other about where to go for interesting sightings (all the guides are African by the way). So soon all 14 or so of our group’s vans were congregated near these lions, and they did not budge, even in response to rude students hissing, calling, and in other ways trying to make them move. They were snoozing soundly, which lions, the most efficient hunters, do 20 hours a day (sleeping or resting). They were all females, about 5 of which we could see – though most were partially hidden in the tall grass (one was completely in the open). Every so often one would roll over, stretch, scratch or somehow move, and a paw or ear would become visible in the fairly tall grass they lay in. The lioness who was right out in the open – just a few feet from us – really never budged, though I did see her whiskers move, her eyes open a tiny slit, or an ear twitch. We were all abuzz in the vans, jockeying for position to get photos and fill our eyes.
Then our driver –Rogers – heard on his CB radio where we might see a leopard – one of the more elusive animals apparently – so we went tearing off in pursuit. We did not find it that night but did the next day, along with 4 beautiful male cheetahs, that we even saw running. The whole day was one of oohs and ahs, excitement, many photos, and good cheer. In our van (you stay in the same van with the same people through the whole safari) we had a great group, mostly faculty and a couple staff. I thought we all got along well, being polite about switching seats periodically, sharing our binoculars (I was the only person who brought a pair besides the driver – they were the most popular thing), telling jokes, enjoying the experience, and generally having a great time.
We got to the lodge shortly before sunset. I was very dusty, so I quickly took a shower, which felt very luxurious and refreshing. Then I wandered down to the patio (which extends onto a rock outcropping) where everyone was gathered for the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen or imagined. In fact I’m not sure whether what I remember could actually have been real – the sky was so brightly and completely shaded with oranges, reds and mauves. And the beautiful Serengeti stretched out in all directions. But it did not last long. After the sun set completely we went into the lounge and had drinks. This particular lodge, the Seronera, is built among huge boulders that are incorporated into the décor. So inside the lounge there are some huge rock outcroppings. In general the lodges are filled with motifs and decorations that remind one of hunting and safari scenes, kind of hokey, but also kind of fun. We stayed at a different lodge each of our four nights. The food was usually buffet style and included plenty of vegetarian options—better than the ship actually.
Anyway, the subsequent days of safari were also spectacular. For $350 extra you could go on a balloon ride in the morning (had to have been arranged back in November). I did not opt for that, but we saw those who did gliding through the skies that morning – actually they seemed to usually be only a few feet off the ground. The rest of us went on an early morning game drive, where we saw tons of lions, including one group of lions eating a recent kill (a zebra), hippos running (out of water), zebras drinking at a pond, giraffes, and many male lions too. I think that morning drive was my favorite of the trip. It was fairly cool and there was not much dust, we were all in a good mood, and we saw nothing but beautiful, amazing scenes, one after the other. Plus morning is my favorite time. It was a sublime morning.
We returned to the lodge for breakfast, a talk from our game director, and then lunch. (The balloon folks had a champagne breakfast in the bush.) Our director talked about what he called “female circumcision” usually known as female genital mutilation in the States. He said it is completely outlawed in Tanzania. One of our faculty questioned him about why they provide surgical tools and gloves and so on for male circumcisions (as he told us), but nothing at all for female “circumcision.” He replied, “Because it is completely against the law and we want to eliminate it, not encourage it.” She said, “But people are still doing it.” He replied, “But they are not supposed to.” So the issue remains far from being resolved. Women are still being mutilated, which often results in death or serious infections or complications, and the government claims that since it has outlawed the practice, they have taken care of the problem. I think many of our students are hearing about this “FGM” stuff for the first time and can’t really believe it happens. I showed a film about it the other day in my women and lit class, where a girl talks about how she wants to be “excised” (in Burkina Faso) because all her friends have already done it and are pressuring her that she’s not a real woman until she does, and because she will then get to have a big party thrown for her. She was 14. In case you haven’t heard of it, FGM means removing part or all of the clitoris and possibly more of the vagina (and sometimes sewing it up as well). It is a controversial practice in much of Africa, but there are many local organizations and even governments trying to outlaw it and educate women against it. There are also some who argue it is a “tradition” and that is reason enough to be allowed to keep doing it. In many people’s opinions (including mine), its only purpose is to subjugate, control, and punish women.
Upon leaving the lodge that afternoon, we drove to a Masai village in Ngorongoro Wilderness Area (above, not in the crater). The Masai are a traditional (Nilotic I think) people who herd cattle and eat only meat and a mixture of blood and milk. They dance in such a way that the men jump very high from a standing position – straight up. You’ve probably all seen them on TV. All throughout our drives in Ngorongoro we saw Masai people constantly, either herding cattle, in their villages, or more often, along the road, trying to get money from tourists. Much of their economy seems centered around tourism, which probably also helps them maintain some of their traditions. Many of them speak English and will not let you take their picture unless you pay them. They also make many things for sale for tourists – bracelets, shields, knives, necklaces, etc. The safari company prepaid our visit to this village, so we finally had an opportunity to take as many pictures as we wanted and visit close up. It was sort of interesting – they danced and sang and performed for us. But of course it was completely produced just for us, and they were mostly interested in selling us stuff, which was displayed all around the enclosure where they took us. They also showed us inside their huts and inside their school – where the children performed a few songs and a few lessons for us (counting numbers in English). The children were young, maybe from 6 to 10 years old. Our guide, Issai, kept flirting with one of the women students in our group (of 8 people) that went into a hut together. She was kind of dense about it, but I told her that it’s typical joking behavior to flirt in Africa and she should just have fun with it. She did not seem to find it funny. When he saw me talking to her, Issai must have assumed I was her mother and offered me 10 cows, 20 goats, and a sheep for her. We joked that that was her worth. She still did not laugh, but he really was joking (more or less).
We left the village after less than an hour there to return to our lodge for the night on the rim of the crater (with incredible views). I unfortunately started feeling itchy shortly thereafter. I assumed I had been bitten by something, probably in the Masai house/hut where I was sitting down bartering for my reluctant daughter’s hand in marriage. As the evening wore on, more and more of these “bites” covered me. My roommate pointed out that I probably could not have gotten that many bites, and that it actually looked more like a rash. She gave me some cortisone cream she had, but it did not help much. The itching woke me up at about 4 am, and I couldn’t sleep any more because of it, though I slathered on the cortisone cream. I mostly felt it on the insides of my arms, but as I lay there focused on itching, I started to notice other places that itched too. So I went into the bathroom, turned on a light, looked in the mirror, and saw this very intense and pervasive rash covering virtually my whole body. Everywhere I looked were red patches and bumps. But I couldn’t get any relief at 4:30 am in a safari lodge. So I lay and suffered for a few more hours. At about 6:30 I took a totally cold shower (not by choice – there was no hot water), but it did not give me any relief. At breakfast I asked the safari directors if they’d seen anything like this before and they pointed out that it looked like an allergic reaction – specifically hives (had I ever had them before I might have realized sooner what it was). Luckily ISE always sends along a medical kit, with all kinds of meds including Benedril. So I found the trip leader, got the medical kit from him, and dug out some Benedril pills. About a half hour after I took some, the itching went away, and a few hours later the hives started disappearing (or at least diminishing). I had to keep taking the Benedril for the next few days since if I didn’t every four hours like clockwork the hives and itching would recur. Within hours of being back on the ship it all cleared up entirely and has not recurred. Anyway, the joke was that I am allergic to the Masai. In fact my allergic reaction could have been anything, the dust, the food, who knows.
The last day of the actual safari we drove down into the crater – Ngorongoro crater – the eighth largest in the world, where there is a huge, mostly protected area of perfect habitat for most of the typical safari animals. The main thing that you don’t find there are giraffes, but we had already seen many of those. In Ngorongoro Crater we saw many more zebra, wildebeest, antelope, and gazelles, plus lots more (5-6) lions, including more males, and pairs – male and female. Rogers told us that when they’re apart from the pack like that they’re probably mating. He said they mate 70-80 times a day for several days, and in fact he later showed us in a book that explained this was true (apparently the female lion needs a lot of stimulation to ovulate). Although the odds seemed good for it, we never saw the actual act between any of these lions. They just looked exhausted whenever we saw them, and apparently they were well deserving of their rest. At one point when a pair got up and started walking, Rogers said, “Now they’re going to do it, NOW! Get ready!” They kept walking slowly along, “Any minute now, be ready! . . . Now!” And on that last now they both flopped down and onto their sides in the sand and went back to sleep. How anti-climatic, we groaned.
We also saw rhinos – at first just one in the distance that all the vans converged upon. It was nonetheless very easy to spot, with its distinctive shape and that clearly curved up horn on its forehead. Later we saw a whole group of 5 or 6 – including a baby – though they were not so easy to see without the binoculars. Rhinos are apparently among the hardest things to spot on any safari, so we were happy. We also saw Cape Buffalo, more hippos, flamingos, more ostriches, many other birds, and another leopard – we had seen one in the Serengeti in a tree. This one was walking in the grass – mostly we saw the tail, then the head when he sat down. It’s also a very beautiful landscape down in the crater, with the walls of the crater surrounding a very large plain that was full of trees, lakes, bushes, rocks, and of course animals.
We were at that point all pretty content with our safari experience, but of course there was ONE MAJOR animal we had yet to see, in fact the one I most longed to see – have you noticed what I have not yet mentioned? The elephant had thus far eluded us. Many other vans had seen them (we heard from our friends over beers or meals at the lodges in the evenings), but we had not. We were really pressuring Rogers to try to find us one when a report came on the radio that two were crossing the road several miles away. We went tearing away, racing on the dirt roads. By the time we got there the elephants were a bit in the distance, but they were unmistakable and amazing – towering above all the other animals – and much like you see in films, majestic, sort of graceful, and riveting. We saw two lone males with huge tusks, that Rogers said were probably looking for water. Apparently females and their young don’t risk the open ground of the crater usually.
So we did get to see some elephants, though I personally had hoped to see more and in bigger groups. I had thought lions would be much harder to find and see up close than elephants, but such was not the case on our particular safari. We probably saw at least 20 lions, including at least 5 males, and 4 cheetahs, and 2 leopards, and rhinos, and hippos running (things that most people don’t see). Of course the whole scavenger hunt aspect of tourism emerges here—it becomes like a game or contest to see what everyone else in your group may have seen, or to see things that are rarely seen, or hard to find. And I know this about tourism. But my desire to see elephants was really not about keeping up with the other vans. They’re just fascinating, amazing animals, and I really wanted to see some in the wild. The two males we saw were great, but I would have loved to see whole families, with babies, to watch them interact, and to see them up close. And apparently that’s not such an unusual thing to see on safari. But we missed it.
Through much of the safari I felt very euphoric – everything was so beautiful and exciting – and everyone was in a good mood. But I was also very aware that having this be one’s ONLY experience in Africa gives one a very mediated, separated, and really false sense of what Africa is. As Joy Williams says in her piece, “Safariland”: “Africa . . . is in great part a sad landscape, scorched, dispirited, full of people and cattle. Cattle and people are just cattle and people, after all. It gets harder and harder to muster up much enthusiasm for them. The Africa of this desired illusion is this: You have entered a portion of the earth that wild animals have retained possession of. The illusion here is that wild animals exist” (from Ill Nature, p. 27). Of course besides the wild animals you find tourists in the parks – lots of tourists, all believing they are experiencing something fundamental, elemental, “real,” and unusual. I don’t think I saw a single person of color on safari excepts the guides (even among our students) – we were all white, mostly pretty well off financially. And everyone else in the lodges (besides our SAS group) was the same. No Africans live in the Serengeti (except for researchers and people who work for safaris). And only the Masai live in Ngorongoro, and they have adapted quite extensively to tourism. As our safari director told us, “The Masai used to say, ‘You can’t take my picture because it will steal my spirit.’ But now they have decided that for a price, they’ll risk their spirits.” There is even a law, Rogers told us, that you cannot stop along the road and take Masai pictures or give them things. This is because so many of them spend their whole days along the road, begging from tourists, that their own Masai economy and social structures are collapsing. Also some children are regularly hit and killed by running in front of moving vehicles. Nonetheless, we saw many Masai chasing and begging from vehicles, and we saw many vehicles indulging them – giving them goods or money.
I don’t agree with Williams entirely that the rest of Africa is “sad and dispirited.” But it is crowded and full of problems, as well as the joys and celebrations that are part of all cultures. But no one on our trip had interactions with Africa or Africans outside of these planned, mediated encounters, or by viewing some of it from the windows of our air-conditioned buses. We got back to the ship only hours before we set sail. There was a vibrant camp of merchants set up right outside the ship (one that popped up just for us), but that kind of marketplace interaction is hardly indicative of much of the reality here. Students were excitedly trading shoes, t-shirts, soap, shampoo, and all kinds of things for trinkets, jewelry, wooden objects, and other stuff they could find there. Did they thus have a truly African experience? Some people did not do safaris, or they did shorter ones, so they may have had time to get out and see more of the “reality” there. But I suspect most have only a very superficial, tourist-oriented consciousness of what Africa is like. I guess this is true of most of the places we’ve been, but this just strikes me more because I’ve lived in Africa and know what we were missing.
I guess we still have a chance to interact with real Africans again and see more of the reality of it – since we are going now to South Africa – Cape Town. We should arrive in a few days. I have a variety of little trips planned and one overnight trip to Kagga Kama (a game reserve that also has San rock paintings).
Some of you asked about our new captain. Captain Buzz, who was in charge when we turned back into that storm in such a way that almost killed us all, was relieved of his duties (“given a leave of absence to rest” we were told) before we left Hawaii. The students remain oddly (in my opinion) devoted to him. But I and many others were very relieved to see him go. Some people had decided they would not continue on the voyage if he remained in charge of our vessel. At one point I heard that there would be an inquiry before he would get another command. But then we heard recently that he is already working again on another cruise ship – as Captain. Anyway, our new Captain is Jeremy Kingston, a British man. He’s been pretty nice, more low-key than Buzz, who sought the limelight.
We had very smooth sailing all the way up until we left Kenya. Apparently there has been a tropical storm on the other side of Madagascar that produced a lot of wind. We have been rocking pretty steadily and fairly intensely the last several days, though it’s calmer again tonight. These swells are NOTHING like the rough weather we had in the North Pacific, but nonetheless many people have been hit by seasickness again. I even felt it the other day, when I had hardly been hit at all across the Pacific, but apparently that’s common too (a lot of people are feeling it now for the first time). I’m fine now, after one dose of Meclizine. But many of us have been reporting that it’s been hard to sleep these last few nights with the ocean motion fairly intense. I think it’s bringing back a lot of memories that are unpleasant (to say the least).
So that’s the latest. Life on ship is pretty good, though as usual I have a huge pile of grading to get through. We have less than a month left (just over three weeks I think), which has not really sunk in with most of us. Three more countries, Brazil and Venezuela after South Africa.
The movies for the night have started (it’s 9:15 pm). They are showing The Lion King tonight, which I’ve never seen, so I may watch it for a while (given where we are and all).
I probably should proof-read this again, but then I wouldn’t send it until tomorrow and probably many of you wouldn’t see it for a few more days. So forgive any errors or sloppy writing.
Hope all is well there.
April 4, 2005
We recently left South Africa and are headed for South America. Crossing the Atlantic has thus far been much less traumatic than our crossing of the Pacific. Today on the ship we have a recess from classes for the “Sea Olympics” – various silly contests between the “seas.” All the students on each deck are assigned to one of the seven seas and have various events meant just for their sea – including these Olympics. The faculty and staff have been dubbed (for these events) the “Dead Sea,” though we’ve changed it to the “Grateful Dead Sea.” There are events like a lip-sync/choreography contest (last night), a sign/parade contest this morning, mashed potato sculpture, tug of war, synchronized swimming, 50’s hair styling contests, and various others. The only one I’m signed up for is the euchre contest (a card game) – though I’m not the most competitive euchre player. I’m not even sure if any students play – so we’ll see how much of a tournament it is.
Later – there were tons of contestants. I let another staff member have my spot on the team after we lost our first game – they eventually came in fifth out of nine teams in that section. The other staff team came in first. I was thinking last night as we saw table after table of poker players that they should have a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. There are students (mostly men) playing that game every single night, often well into the night, and probably for pretty large sums of money. And sometimes they play during the day.
Again, later – I have not watched that many events because I’ve been grading. The Grateful Dead Sea is not doing great, but I think we won’t come in last place at least.
Anyway the team that wins (racks up the most points) in the Olympics gets to get off the ship first when we return home to Fort Lauderdale (the whole disembarking process takes hours and hours apparently). But in any case, faculty and staff get to get off the ship second, so we’re not all that motivated to win. Plus we’re so busy. I’m using the time “off” to try to get through at least 3 sets (out of 5 sets I now have) of papers to grade. I’ve already finished about half of my goal and it’s still before lunchtime here. But I’m also feeling a little burnt out at it.
In South Africa, I saw a lot of beautiful things. The port we sailed into was the most beautiful one we’ve seen yet on this voyage. And the actual port area is incredibly luxurious (again, especially compared with many ports we’ve been to). There are mountains right up to the sea there, and many lovely views. We saw sea lions playing right alongside our boat as we docked. There is a large mall and boardwalk area right outside where we docked (it was apparently modeled on San Francisco’s waterfront), so most of us took off as soon as the ship was cleared and explored. I went through the mall, looked in a bookstore (like Borders) and various other shops (this was very much like a typical mall in the States). I stopped at an internet café that was already packed with our students, and then I found a grocery store, where I bought some red tea (“rooibos” – one of my favorites and from South Africa), and saw a bunch of other faculty there too, indulging themselves in luxuries like nice cheeses, good breads and pastries, and so on.
After shopping for a few hours, I ate “Mexican food” for lunch. Note: don’t expect good Mexican food in South Africa. I ordered veggie burritos with a choice of chips or rice on the side. I asked if salsa came with it and was told yes, so I ordered chips. Some of you Anglophiles may already have realized that what I got as “chips” were French fries. And the burrito – well, it was awful – green beans and carrots smothered in barbecue sauce and wrapped in a tortilla. The salsa was not bad, but no “chips” to eat it with. I also ate on the waterfront that night with Narwolds (faculty family). We had pizza for dinner, and that was actually quite nice.
That afternoon of the first day I did a city orientation that included a visit to the castle (really a fortress), a museum, and some gardens (a big park) downtown with a lot of beautiful vegetation. We parked at one end of the gardens and walked through to the museum at the opposite end. There were lots of people strolling through the park -- and in the middle a state of Rhodes (a white man who became rich off the land in Southern Africa). We saw a film about him on the ship one night--seemed like a typical tale of colonization -- his wealth and development of the country at the expense of the local people. But apparently he's still revered in Capetown. We also had views from the bus of parts of town like District 6 and the Malay district, and a museum stop. District 6 was an integrated area in the middle of town during Apartheid that was destroyed because they did not want blacks or “coloreds” living in town where whites also lived and worked. The city just moved the people there out to townships and bulldozed their homes out of existence. Now the area is still undeveloped in remembrance of this history. We also visited the anthropology museum, which had some good exhibits on San culture (ancient people who left many rock paintings and are still around, though mostly further up north now). It was a very nice museum, and we only had an hour there (could have used more time). We tried to visit a church downtown, but it was closed.
The next day I took a tour to Cape Peninsula and Cape Point – where there were incredibly lovely views of the ocean and mountains all along the way. And the weather was perfect – sunny and cool. We also saw African Penguins near the Cape – they were very cool to see, though there were MANY people crowded on the boardwalks to see them. I saw them waddling, swimming, standing around, some sitting on nests, and some babies huddling near parents. They swim incredibly fast and gracefully -- kind of surprising I guess because of their waddling gait on land. These were fairly small penguins who seemed to like to dig into the sand. There were quite a few clustered along the end of the boardwalk where most of the tourists were. But there were also a few sort of hidden in plain sight all along the way from the start of the boardwalk. Apparently there was some place where you could swim with penguins. Friends of mine did that, but we did not get the chance. There were some craft stores on the way back to the bus, but I had not brought any money or credit cards with me. At one stop there were tons of merchants set up with booths of stuff to sell to tourists. I tried to bargain for a few things, but I found the merchants to be totally unwilling to bargain at all. And I found their prices to be quite high. Since I already plenty of African stuff from West Africa, and nothing there was screaming out at me that I should buy it, I did not purchase anything. A few other people from our bus did buy a few things.
That evening I went to a play. Originally the trip was supposed to be to a vineyard and to watch a version of Media in an outdoor amphitheater. I thought that was what I had signed up for (and paid something like $60 for). But at some point someone changed the plan and instead we went to a theatre in town and saw a production of the one-woman show, The Syringa Tree. We had a brief talk from the writer/actor (Pamela Gien), and someone who teaches theater in Capetown who was once a semester at sea faculty member. There was also a reception for us with finger food and wine. The theater was very beautiful, I thought (architecturally). And the production was very good -- about a white girl who grows up in the country and learns about racism through how the family's servants are mistreated. She was a good actress (playing many different parts), and overall it was a good production -- though honestly it felt more like a storytelling event to me than a play. I guess those generic boundaries are blurred. Many people from the ship went.
Then the next two days I was on a tour of “Kagga Kama” nature reserve – a trip I chose mainly because I wanted to see the San (used to be called “Bushman”) rock art there. It was a long (5+ hour) bumpy ride there in these sort of odd vehicles --we sat in a trailer pulled by a cab -- so we only had side views out the windows and no communication with the driver. There was supposed to be a radio link to the cab -- where the guide was as well. But in fact we couldn't get it to work. So the guide would tell us what we were seeing, but we couldn't hear him, only a vague mumbling. We'd push the call button and yell, "TALK LOUDER. WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!!" But we only heard this uninterpretable mumbling. Finally we stopped and used the bathrooms and had coffee at a bed and breakfast in the mountains, and we thus were able to tell the guide we had not heard what he'd been saying. Then he sat in the back with us for the rest of the way, so we got information from then on.
The whole drive was through the mountains, so there were plenty of lovely views. We also saw some animals there – antelope-like animals mostly, some wildebeest, ostriches, baboons, and a few others. It was in the desert, but was incredibly lovely, I thought, with lots of plants (dry soil desert plants), rocks, and mountains on the horizon. We watched the sunset from a large rock outcropping the first night before dinner. We then had a night game drive where we saw a few more animals (including a family of foxes). It was very cold and we were in open air hiked up backs of jeeps, but we were huddled together and had a bunch of blankets. The guides would shine spotlights where they thought we might find something. The first thing we found was I think ostrich heads and necks sticking up over the grass. They were lying down, but their heads were unmistakable. The best part of this night drive was when we turned off all the lights and sat silently staring up at the incredible view of the stars. There were a few shooting stars, an amazingly thick Milky Way, and Southern Hemisphere constellations -- like the Southern Cross. None of us knew that much about what we were looking at. But we picked out a few things and mostly enjoyed the amazing vastness the night sky revealed of our universe.
They had a telescope set up back at the lodge through which we got to see Jupiter with moons, and Saturn with rings. One of the guides there gave us information on the constellations. He pointed out Gemini (my sign) and some other famous ones. We ate our meals out in an enclosure with a big bonfire and food over an open trough of coals. It was fun. The “lodge” rooms were either huts or caves. Mine was a cave room – really cement sprayed on the walls and ceiling to give it a cave-like appearance, and a fake leopard-skin bedspread. When the guide took us to our rooms, he said, “Welcome to the Flintstones!”
The first afternoon I and some students sat out under some natural cliffs near the main lodge building during our few free hours. There was a swimming pool there that was apparently VERY cold. A few people took a dip, but no one stayed in for long. I graded papers out in this really beautiful place, with a slight cool breeze. It was one of the best places I ever remember grading in. The next morning I was up very early. I left my "cave" and stepped out into this lovely desert landscape to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen. It seemed like the sky was various shades of rose and gold for more than 180 degrees. And with the desert plants and the mountains on the horizon, it was all in all a very breathtakingly inspiring morning. I walked around for a while and enjoyed it. There were also these little rodent like animals (I forget what they're called) around the "cave" rooms. There were sweet and cute.
We had our breakfast in the fresh air again (from the same enclosure as the night before) -- eggs and bread and fruit and several kinds of meat (that I ignored). Then we went on a morning drive to see the rock art, paintings of the rock face made by the San people who used to live there (apparently none live anyway near there anymore). The art was interesting, mostly using red and black colors (from ground up minerals and rocks around there). I suspect it’s not as old as they claim, partly because it’s out in the open but still very strong. Actually, they admit they don’t know how old it is, and that estimates put it from anywhere between 200 and 6,000 years old. But then they keep referring to it as 6,000 year old rock art. The figures we saw were mostly humans, though we did see a few animals and symbols, mostly quite small figures, much smaller than what I’ve seen in France. The guide was pretty good in explaining it. But they were pretty lax about protecting it. Although they asked people not to touch it, many of our students and others in the group put their hands or fingers right on the rock very close to if not touching the paintings. Comparatively, the rock art (cave art mostly) in France is much more strictly protected. But I guess since this is a private preserve, they can cater to tourists in whatever way they want to. Apparently there are quite a few sites with these paintings on the preserve, but they only took us to two. It was hot and I think a lot of people were not so interested. I would have like to have seen much more, but I must have been in the minority. They did take us to the big swimming pool they have, which was in a breathtaking setting, surrounded by cliffs which did indeed include several more sets of paintings -- including an elephant that seemed to have another animal painted inside it.
It was a beautiful couple of days, but another long ride back. We stopped at an interpretive museum of South African frontier life on the way back. They had various kinds of farms and typical building from the South African frontier (kind of like Greenfield Village in the States). They also served some really strong local liquor there, which a number of people sampled with glee. We got back to the ship around 5 pm. That night I had dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant with friends (again at the Waterfront Mall), and as we finished I started feeling some serious digestive discomfort. We walked around the mall for a bit -- there are many stores with African arts and crafts (from all over Africa I think). We stopped at the grocery store too. I bought a bunch more red tea -- "rooibos" (pronounced "roy boss") -- an excellent, healthful herbal tea (full of anti-oxidants) from a bush that grows wild in the mountains of South Africa -- I drink it often in the States and was happy to bring it back both for myself and as a souvenir for friends. Anyway, I continued feeling more and more indigestion and discomfort. So I returned to the ship and went to sleep. Later that night I became violently ill. I assume it was food poisoning, maybe from something I ate on safari. It was an awful night, and the whole next day I was out of commission (could barely stand up). But then I recovered within a day and am back to normal now. I feel like I’ve had more than my share of illness on this voyage and hope I’m fine from now on. I hope I did not pick up a parasite somewhere -- I had enough of those from my Peace Corps stint in Africa to know I don't want to deal with it again (hard to diagnose and get rid of).
Because of this I missed my last day in South Africa, which was particularly unfortunate because I was supposed to go to a township, which I was really excited about (I had bought a ticket for a tour). I stumbled out into the purser's square area with my ticket right before the tour was scheduled to leave. There was a student standing there looking like he was hoping for something to do. I asked him if he wanted to go on the township tour in my place. His face lit up and he was very happy to get the ticket. So at least it did not go to waste. There are all kinds of students on this voyage -- some are very wealthy and others are on full financial aid and have little to no money to spend in ports. Many students arrange their own independent trips and excursions while in port because the ones the travel desk (on board) offers are often very expensive (sometimes -- a few are free). But students can almost always find sightseeing to do (just walking around, going to parks, temples, etc.) for free or very cheap. And they can eat all their meals on the ship. Still, I felt good that a student got to make use of the ticket that I couldn't use. So I stumbled back to my cabin and slept. The doctor whom I saw in the morning recommended I take an anti-nausea drug, and that kind of knocked me out in addition to being already tired from the vomiting and diarrhea all night.
I had also hoped to do some shopping that last day (I had bought nothing in the country but the red tea), but alas I only slept all day long. I even missed the township choir performance on our ship (the choir came on board and performed in the Union). I really wanted to see this, but I just did not have the energy to do anything other than lie in my bed. I was still quite nauseous and in pain and literally couldn't stand or sit up for long. The good thing about intestinal illness though is that it doesn't last too long. I did not eat for a day and then had only juice and bland food for another couple of days and I was fine. In fact the next day (first day back at sea), I was teaching again -- classes every day at sea.
Other key things I missed in South Africa, but that many others did and talked about, include going to the top of “table mountain” (a landmark in town with beautiful views), visiting Robbin Island (the prison for political prisoners like Nelson Mandela during Apartheid), and visiting wine country (of which there is much all around). Actually we drove through a lot of vineyards on our way to Kagga Kama. And we had a “tasting” on the ship last night for all the faculty and staff. None of the wine they served us impressed me especially, but I think most of it was cheaper, table wine (that they will now have available in the bar in the faculty staff lounge).
As has been the case throughout this voyage, I left this country wishing we'd had a little more (or a lot more) time to explore, discover, and enjoy. It's interesting seeing so many places all within a relatively short time span, but it's also kind of frantic. And I'm so much more used to staying in a place and trying to get to know it, than just popping in for a brief taste.
South Africa is so much more developed, at least Cape Town is, than anything else I’ve ever seen in Africa. It’s really striking. I saw some students literally throwing up their arms in joy and shouting with glee as they entered the mall because it reminded them of home so much. It felt kind of strange to me, like, “wait, we’re not supposed to be done with our trip yet.” Capetown stands in such stark contrast to all the other countries we've seen except Hong Kong and parts of China. I guess since we did not get to visit Korea and Japan we missed the two most affluent countries on our original itinerary. So we've mostly been in much poorer places, seeing how the majority of people on the planet live. That's been a brief glimpse (or reminder) of the kind of experience I had in the Peace Corps. But South Africa was more like pure vacation, with maybe a few brief forays into a township or an AIDS clinic, and so on. Many students spent the whole time there hang-gliding or seeking out other adventures of that kind, touring wine country, swimming, and so on. Fun and relaxing, but not what I was thinking this trip would be about.
Well, that’s it for now. This crossing of the Atlantic will be our longest time at sea since our first days attempting to cross the Pacific. We arrive in Salvador (Brazil) in just over a week. Then we have 5 days there, a few days to get to Venezuela, 5 days there (or maybe 4), and then just a few days to get back to Florida (on April 28).
Sorry that I apparently inadvertently left some of you off this list for a while. If you have not gotten messages in a while and are interested in reading the backlog, let me know.
Hope all is well, Mary
April 11, 2005
We arrived in Brazil two days ago. We actually arrived a whole day early because one of the students on board developed acute appendicitis a few days after we left South Africa. So we used all four engines and sped at 28 knots the rest of the way to get here early. He had surgery the first morning and is reportedly fine now – will even be back on board soon and ready to continue the rest of the voyage.
But in spite of our early arrival, we were not allowed to get off the ship until yesterday (Sunday) because that was what our visas said. So we had classes and a normal schedule one whole day in port. The ship's crew got to leave the ship, so we watched them coming and going with packages, but we were stuck here – even a Brazilian woman on board who is married to one of the professors. It was killing her to see a bank on phones in the dock, and not to be able to go down and call her family.
Anyway, yesterday (Sunday) I went with a group of faculty and staff for a morning excursion. We walked from our ship to the city elevator from the lower city (where our ship is) to the upper city (where the old town and many points of interest are). The old town here in Salvador, in the state of Bahia, is very lovely – with cobblestone streets, lots of old, ornate churches, and many lovely little houses and businesses in a very European style. There is lots of art for sale, along with other souvenirs. One of the churches I visited is ornately decorated in gold in a Rococo style. There are lots of town squares and public areas as well. We did not have a guide book or guide, so we were not entirely sure what we were seeing, but much of it was beautiful. On one of the squares there was a music store blaring the music of Joao Gilberto (whom I recognized because he’s one of my friend Ruth's favorites), so I went in and bought the CD (I think it's a greatest hits kind of collection). There is so much great music from this region of Brazil. I hope to hear some live and maybe get a few more CDs.
We also stopped at the Mercado Modelo – the main market for tourists – a huge venue with all kinds of fun things for sale, clothes, jewelry, woodwork, and every possible souvenir-like item. But it is incredibly hot and especially HUMID here. I'd been walking around for a few hours, during all of which I was literally dripping wet with sweat – and everyone else seemed to be too. So around the time we got back down to the market (which is nearer our ship), I hit a wall of heat exhaustion. I did not buy anything. Coming back onto the ship (which is always heavily air-conditioned – too much so), I literally felt like I was walking into a meat freezer. But after an hour back aboard (and a cool shower) I was cooled back down.
Then yesterday afternoon I went to the championship soccer game (an SAS sponsored trip) between Bahia (this state) and Vittoria (a state further North). It was quite an experience to see a Brazilian soccer game in person. 400 people from the ship went, but I was in a section with mostly Brazilians. They were so incredibly passionate about every move in the game. In the "pre-game" (played by the non-professional teams) Bahia won 3-2. But in the professional (real) game, they were ahead 2-1 until literally the very last minute, when Vittoria unfortunately scored to tie the game. And it ended that way – I guess the championship is based on a point system. I love soccer in general, so I was able to follow all the action, and was up on my feet jumping and cheering as loudly as the Brazilians whenever Bahia scored – and getting upset when the other team scored or got calls in their favor. The Brazilian fans would dance and sing and gesture to the Vittorian fans for quite a while after each event in their favor. But they were quiet at the end.
Today I am going to see a Capoeira (martial art with African roots) school/performance. Then tomorrow I go to a Cachoeira (a pretty town declared as a heritage site) and then the next day to Itaparica Island. I'll let you know how it all goes.
One other thing in this section of our voyage that has been interesting is that we have had an oceanographer from NOAA on board. Apparently not many ships sale this route from South Africa straight to Brazil, and they wanted to deploy some equipment in those waters. The man from NOAA (Gustavo – originally from Argentina but now in Miami) was wonderful. He gave a lecture in global studies about all the work NOAA does and what they know about the ocean, and he let anyone who wanted to participate in the launchings of the equipment. I watched and sort of helped launch a couple of things (to measure various ocean currents and so on). It was pretty interesting.
Hope you all continue to do well in you worlds,
April 18, 2005
The rest of my stay in Brazil was great. I spent one day on a trip to Cachoeira, which was a pretty town with lots of 17-18th century buildings. But many of them were severely dilapidated, and they can't tear them down due to being a world heritage site and the accompanying ordinance that says they can only be restored. Some are being restored, but many have crumbled to literally just a facade. We also visited a cigar factory there – watching the women (it's all women who work there) roll cigars. I think they have to do 300 a day to get minimum wage, which is a couple of hundred dollars a month. I asked why it was only women who work there and was told it's because they used to roll the cigars on their thighs, and the men's thighs were too hairy – making for hairy cigars. We also saw a modern art gallery in town.
But the coolest thing we saw that day was the experimental chocolate farm that we stopped at on the way to the town. And we drove through lush, green countryside to get there. The factory was taken over by peasants who are part of the MSF (movement sin terra--landless movement). They just squatted on the land, built houses, and said the land was theirs. The case went to court and the peasants actually won. We saw inside one of their houses, and in their gardens. We saw cocoa trees (and tons of other foods they grow), opened a pod, tasted the fruit (there is a white sweet pulp around the seed). The fruit tastes like fruit – sweet and pulpy, not chocolaty. But there is a slight hint of chocolate if you bite into the seed, though it’s bitter. We learned about how the woman we saw makes cocoa powder. She pounds the dried seeds in her giant mortar and pestle, then forms that into a ball, freezes it, and then grates it into the kind of cocoa powder we're familiar with. She also makes dried fruits and candies and sells them. I bought two bags of the cocoa powder, but I'm not sure I'll be allowed to bring it through customs.
I also spent time on a trip to two islands in the bay where we were. There was not so much to see or do there, just enjoy the pretty views of the ocean. It was a lovely day, though oppressively hot and muggy in the afternoon, but I mostly I graded. I brought my papers along because I am so far behind on it. I finished those papers but now have three more sets to grade, and final exams coming in over the next few days. But grading on a beach on a remote island off the coast of Brazil is nothing to complain too much about.
We get to Venezuela in a few days – our last port. Last night there was an auction on ship of whatever people wanted to donate. I bought a promised painting of a landscape scene by an art student (for $55). Other people paid $90 for a box of girl scout cookies or $450 to be served dinner by two of the profs. But the biggest prices were for vacation homes people offered for a week – like some in Alaska and Hawaii – I think the highest price was over $900 for a week in Alaska (transportation not included).
For those of you from Bloomington who frequent Lotus Festivals, you may remember a singer from Venezuela who performed there in 1998 – Irene Farrera. Anyway, she is our interport lecturer (she joined us in Brazil and has lectured about her country – Venezuela) during this interim sailing period. She’s a great person and a brilliant musician, and has been very fun to get to know. She lived in Oregon for 20 some years, but recently moved back to Venezuela. She is giving a performance this Wednesday.
People are starting to focus on our return home. Students are studying and have only 2 days left of finals (no more classes). I have tons of grading and end of voyage reports to write. I've started packing up boxes.
I have this free internet connection (a rare fluke on the ship), but I think I'm about to loose it (every so often the ship has a glitch where a few machines are free – usually I can't get on when that's the case because the students wait in line for hours for those machines – but I was lucky today). But I better send this before they restart the system to fix this glitch, which they're about to do.
Hope everyone is well,
April 26, 2005
We're sailing between Cuba and Haiti today on our way back to Florida, where we arrive in less than 2 days. Here (attached) is my latest, and probably last, report.
This is likely the last report I’ll send before our return. We arrive in less than 67 (now 47 – I’m writing this over the course of a 24 hour period on and off) hours to Fort Lauderdale, our final port, where we’ll all disembark and go our separate ways. We all have these I.D. cards that were issued to us when we first boarded. They have our names and significant info (like ship id number) on them. They serve as keys to get into our rooms and to get on and off the ship. Most people (including me) wear them on lanyards around our necks at all times. If you forget and leave your card in your room you have to pay a dollar to get the pursers to let you back in (or find your cabin steward if he’s around to open it with his pass key). The cards work like a hotel room card key on our rooms. And we pay for all items on the ship with our cards – food and drinks we may choose to buy (there are snack bars on board in addition to the cafeterias), items from the ship store, as well as services like haircuts, massages, etc – these charges eventually go onto our credit cards. It’s a cashless system. So your card is basically the only thing you need outside of your room except for books and stuff.
We also use these cards to get on and off the ship by swiping them or scanning them through a computer at the gangway. You can’t get on or off the ship without scanning your card through the machine there, and this is how they keep track of everyone’s whereabouts. They always know who is on or not on board. There are sometimes those who sneak through without swiping and then we all have to wait (to leave a port for instance) for those few individuals to come back and swipe. Many people also forget or ignore to turn in their passports (to the purser) upon returning from a trip involving a flight (for which you need a passport) in any given port. The purser gets all our passports stamped collectively each time we leave or arrive anywhere, and they need them before we can ever leave or enter a port. There is always a handful who forget or neglect to check in properly, which always means lots of announcements on the loudspeaker system (piped into every cabin and public area) every time it’s our last night in port. Last night, for instance, there were announcements every 15 minutes for a while – the final one of which went something like this: “For the 748 individuals on board who have properly checked in and turned in your passports, thank you. For the two of you who have still not done so [names given], please report to purser’s square immediately.” This came after literally dozens of other announcements all evening, many of which were calling on recalcitrant students to come to purser’s square to have passports stamped or get cards swiped, etc. But partly we had an excessive number of announcements as well because we were in a “water emergency” situation all day yesterday – no showers, flushing, or any kind of washing allowed – because we weren’t able to get any fresh water from Venezuela (they had a water line break on shore). At sea, we make our own water from ocean water that we desalinate on board. But we can’t do this while in port, and we used way too much water early on in this port. The no shower restriction that last night was especially unfortunate for those people who were coming back from long trips where they already hadn’t taken showers for days (like the Orinoco Delta) and then still couldn’t shower once they got back on board – until this morning. We are back to normal again.
Anyway, I went out yesterday just to walk around the port area, and when I came back, I realized that I was swiping in – embarking – for the last time. We’ll all have one more disembarkation (leaving the ship for the last time in Florida) and that will be it. It feels bittersweet. I will no longer need this card that has hung around my neck for 3½ months. I will no longer be allowed on board. In fact we are only allowed one trip down the gangway that last day – no coming back for something forgotten or to say last goodbyes – though I imagine the port area itself will be chaotically full of swarms exchanging tearful goodbyes and enjoying reunions with families (many parents are coming to meet their kids). The “sea” (group of students) that won the Sea Olympics disembarks first, along with any students who earn a 4.0 GPA in classes here. Then the faculty/staff get off second. The others seas get off in an order determined by a drawing – the whole process will probably take about 6 hours – I hope to be off the ship by 11 or 12. But I know I won’t get through all the rest of the red tape for hours. In our meeting yesterday afternoon about disembarkation procedures, we learned that we drop off all our luggage (except carry-ons) the night before – I’m still packing. The crew unloads it all. Once in the port we go through immigration, pick up our bags from a luggage claim area, go through customs, and then there will be a UPS store to send boxes home (like teaching materials), and taxis and so on to get away (and family to meet people). I’m renting a car and driving myself the 10 hours back to Milledgeville. Hopefully I can make it the same day, but I have the car for two days just in case.
So you can see that leaving is on my mind. I finished grading yesterday (now two days ago) – what a relief. Today I have been working on packing a little, reading, and hanging out. I also have an evaluation to fill out, and a million other things I had hoped to do, but am now thinking may not happen in the little time left (like copying good photos from the “public folders” on our intranet here on ship – there are so many there that just looking through them is hours and hours of work). There was a slide show today from all the students in the digital imaging class this semester – some good images – took about 2 hours to get through all of them. Tonight there is the “Ambassador’s Ball” – a fancy dinner and dance for $25 that goes to charity. I’m going – okay next day – now I’ve gone. It was pretty fun overall. The food was not great, but they tried to make it seem fancy and special. The students were all decked out (kind of like prom), in many cases in dresses or outfits they’d had made or bought in various ports (for instance many women wore saris – I did not). At the dessert bar (not opened until 10:30 pm) there were beautiful sculptures of flowers made out of vegetable and cooked dough. They literally carved carrots, beets, and other vegetables to look like roses, tulips, etc. It was pretty amazing, much more so than the quality of the actual desserts (for instance one of their favorite dessert ingredients on ship is Jell-O). There was also a slide show in the union and then a dance that went on until 1 am. There were other little activities as well—like a champagne toast, pictures with the captain, and I think an improv performance (which I did not see). The main activity of the night (perhaps even more than drinking) though, was snapping pictures.
I enjoyed Venezuela, in spite of all the excessive “travel advisories” we got regarding travel there. Apparently there is significant anti-American and anti-Bush sentiment, and frequent political protests all around town. So they warned and re-warned us about how careful we need to be. They also controlled many of our trips, not letting us go to certain parts of Caracas and not letting us wander around in town (even if it was part of the trip description – as it was for me for at least one pre-paid trip). I went into Caracas on two days – once for a city orientation and once for a “Simon Bolivar” trip. The port where we docked – La Guaira – is about a half hour (more if there’s traffic) drive from the capital, Caracas, a city of 8 million, very modern – at least as seen from the bus window, with lots of shopping malls and American chain restaurants and stores. We also saw a number of “ranchitos” (poor sections like barrios) all up and down the mountainsides – mountains separate Caracas from the sea.
The port city where we were – La Guaira / Maiquetia – was devastated (as was much of the coast here) by heavy rains that brought on huge mud slides in 1999 – killing 15,000 we heard. And it virtually wiped out their cruise ship and other shore-oriented tourism, further harming already hard hit coastal economies. You could tell, since the coast was obviously not set up for tourism much any more – though they once were – as the lovely port terminal building revealed. They said we were one of only two “cruise ships” that have visited this port this month. But our tour operators had a number of interesting trips planned, and most people enjoyed their time here – a lot of beach trips and mountain trips.
The main places I saw in the city were the national and fine arts museums, which have beautiful collections, a couple of colonial houses (haciendas), including Bolivar’s birth place right in Caracas (now a museum), and a museum dedicated to him, and the Pantheon – a kind of cathedral / mausoleum to heroes of the state – of which Bolivar is the principal. He basically is revered all over South America for having liberated 8 countries (I think it’s 8), including his home – Venezuela. He was a good military leader and sympathetic to the people from what I gathered. Our guide that day was actually kind of crazy. He talked non-stop about every thought that came into his head – from politics, to religion, race, and anything else volatile. He – Wolfgang – had a captive audience (only 8 of us in a van) and never shut up. And his theories were mostly crackpot or just bizarre – for instance that Clinton was put into office by Reagan and Bush (Sr.) with drug money they made in Columbia and how he won’t call US the United States because there are many other “united states of America” including Venezuela, which has several states (that are united). Although he claimed he welcomed questions, he rarely let anyone get a word in, question or otherwise. He mixed in the info about Bolivar with all this other nonsense, which I mostly tried to tune out.
On the other trips our guides were pretty good, though everyone had things to say about politics here, especially concerning Chavez – the anti-American, pro-Cuban/Castro president. There was a possibility that Chavez and/or Castro were actually going to come to the ship to talk to us, but in the end their schedules did not allow it. Anyway, from what my tour guides (except for the crazy Wolfgang – who I think likes Chavez) said, Chavez’s revolution for the people is frightening. They’re worried that the rich or even middle class may soon be attacked or not allowed to keep their wealth – since Chavez says he wants to model himself and Venezuela after Castro and Cuba. But they did grudgingly agree that Chavez has done good things for educating the poor. There’s a lot of graffiti all over the place both for and against him.
We also went on one of my trips to a city park which is sort of a zoo (partly anyway). We saw a lot of snakes and turtles, a group of very playful monkeys, and a beautiful jaguar there. In this park there is also a replica of Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria – Venezuela is the only place on the American continent where he ever actually landed, we were told.
One day I also took a wonderful tour to the “Rancho Grande Cloud Forest” – about a three hour drive from the port. It’s a beautiful national park with a rainforest climate, but in the mountains, very green, lush, and misty, with tons of birds, flowers, plants and trees. We walked to the art deco hotel that was built there in 1930 but never completed or used. So it’s this decaying monolith being slowly taken over by the jungle. It’s used by the research staff as a place for meeting up and serving (for instance) our meals – but it’s really just a shell of a building. Unlike national parks in our country, this one is only used by scientists and people with permits. The public can’t go there, so we were lucky to visit. We took a hike with one of the scientists who works there. He explained many of the trees, flowers, insects, habitats, birds, and so on. Impatiens grows wild there (though it’s not an indigenous species) and many other flowers I can’t remember names of. There were also fruit trees, bananas, papayas, etc. It was a beautiful hike – at the top of which (4,000 ft I think) he made our group close our eyes and absorb the sounds, smells, and feel of the cloud forest. It was one of those memorable trip moments. I heard many insects, a few birds, the leaves moving in the wind. It was also incredibly green smelling, if that makes sense, and extremely humid. Luckily it was quite cool, temperature wise (maybe in the 60’s), but so humid that we were all dripping sweat, and all our glasses were fogging up, especially whenever we stopped.
Back at the hotel shell, we were served a delicious lunch of avocado and tomato salad, arepas (the corn bread that is a national dish in Venezuela and delicious) and tons of fresh fruit – also chicken for the meat eaters. We sat on stairs or rocks or the ground and relaxed while continuing to see new birds and hear new sounds – including very loud howler monkeys in the distance (that sound a little like a pack of dogs). As we drove back down out of the park, we actually saw a big troupe of red howler monkeys, just next to our bus on the road, swinging through the trees. We got out and watched them for a while. They are very beautiful, with deep auburn colored coats of fur. It felt like a fitting final thrill of the whole entire voyage – seeing these beautiful monkeys jumping between trees in a cloud forest up in the mountains. There was also lots of interesting, sometimes beautiful scenery on the drive back to the ship.
As I mentioned, yesterday, our last day here, I just walked around town – the Port of La Guaira / Maiquetia. I had lunch at the restaurant (called “el Avila”) recommended by one of our SAS administrators – an ethnomusicologist who has done much of his research in this country (Max Brandt). I had the national dish (without the meat) called Pabellon Crillo – a delicious plate of beans, rice, and fried plantains. They brought out some very hot salsa too, and of course some arepas. Normally it’s also served with shredded beef. And it had fried eggs on top of it. Very delicious, especially compared to ship’s food. Over half the restaurant was full of SAS faculty, staff, students, and seniors. There was a vegetable/fruit market (street after street full of vendors) doing a lively business as we walked to the restaurant, but it was all closing up (as were virtually all the stores except for a few bakeries) once we left the hotel, about 1:30 pm. I guess Sunday siesta is observed religiously! I went into a bakery and bought a piece of tres leches cake – with lots of sugar and milk, cream, sweetened condensed milk – I actually don’t know for sure what’s in it. But many people recommended it, so I tried some. Too sweet! But delicious.
Venezuela is also, one of the biologists in the park told us, the country where the cocoa plant (the tree/fruit/seed that eventually is turned into chocolate) is believed to have originated – he said they base this claim on Venezuela having more varieties of chocolate plants than any other country. So I wanted to buy some chocolate here – but we never (on any of my trips) had any real time or opportunity to do any shopping. So I ended up buying a bar of “Savoy” chocolate at the bakery yesterday. This is the company, our guides told us, that is the main Venezuelan producer of chocolate, but I see on my wrapper that it’s now owned by Nestle. So it probably won’t be especially different from any other chocolate. I did get some “homemade” cocoa at the chocolate farm we visited in Brazil, so I can try making some brownies with that when I get back – those of you in Milledgeville are invited to come over and try some. And that could be quite soon.
PREPARING FOR THE END OF THE VOYAGE
Since life on board ship still feels like the norm (though thankfully there are no more classes – but there are still lots of meetings) – it’s not completely sunk in how soon we’re leaving. But going through all the accumulated stuff is definitely starting to make that point sink in – there are strict rules for how to dispose of no longer wanted things of all kinds. People are frantically looking for boxes, tape, suitcases, and other packing materials. We were all warned to get all this in Venezuela (I had gotten mine before that), but some people clearly did not pay attention.
We’ve had a variety of charity drives and events on ship (an auction, the dinner tonight, etc.) and today we learned that we raised over $20,000. Everyone had a chance to nominate a charity to whom to give this money, and today we had a meeting in which we heard about each of the 11 nominated charities. Then we voted on those we want. The top 4 or 5 will get about $5,000 each. I voted for the best sounding grass roots ones – an orphanage started by some former SAS students in Cambodia, a girls’ school in Chennai, a faculty (on our voyage) AIDS project in Tanzania, and another.
Another sign of the end of the voyage are poster-boards around the ship with signs on top saying, “On this voyage I learned . . .” or “I want to thank . . .” and pens dangling from them. I was just reading some – only a few people have written things so far. The funniest one was: “On this voyage I learned . . . that iceberg lettuce is indestructible!” It’s true that we’ve had it at every single lunch and dinner every day on the ship – no matter how far from land or what land we’re near. It’s been a little scary sometimes – like “where are they getting this from and how can it still be edible?” Other people write mushy things or silly things, or wise things like, “I learned about the world . . . that pollution is a problem everywhere.” Some parent wrote “I learned . . . that I can’t home school!” (which all the parents who brought their children have had to do during this voyage). I assume it’s a student who wrote, “I learned . . . that American Chinese food is better than Chinese Chinese food!” Another wrote “I learned about the world . . . that there’s lots and lots of water.” I may write down some of the other gems that appear just to remember them.
I will miss many things about this community – a lot of wit, good intentions, good humor, talent and intense shared experiences. There are other things I probably won’t miss, like whiny students who can find you easily, anytime they want, and having to watch the displays of the drunken and obnoxious students – both of which happen because we’re all living together in this enclosed and fairly small floating village. I have learned that students this age these days are not at all shy in their relaxed (i.e. non-classroom) environments about walking around practically naked, regardless in most cases of body type. Many seem to like getting as drunk as possible as often as possible, even when they are clearly making complete asses of themselves—literally falling down drunk. While this is not exactly news, it is more annoying to witness it so often and to literally have it bump into you. Apparently at the welcome reception in Brazil, for instance, where hundreds of our students showed up already quite drunk from their soccer experience that afternoon, there was a lot of very embarrassing behavior – especially many of our female students making out quite publicly with multiple partners among the Brazilian men (students) who came as hosts. I only heard this from others of our students who attended who were themselves totally put off by the behavior, ashamed, they said.
But there really are all kinds of students here – many of them wonderful. Many are the alternative types – those who shave their heads, wear fatigues, brood, etc. Many play music really well in public places, write poetry and perform it in jams on open mic nights, post journals even longer and more detailed than mine on livejournal.com, put on a great performance of the Vagina Monologues, and so on. There’s a lot of real dedication and imagination, which is heartening. I know a lot of students are worried about possibly losing some of the focus they’ve found here, and about going back, facing the other “reality,” and dealing with left-behind family and friends, not to mention saying goodbyes here. In fact we all got a memo today on tips for re-entry. We hear a lot on the ship about how many lives this experiences typically changes, how many people go into development, humanitarian, or international work as a result, or just have more vision and compassion. I’m sure that will be true of some of our students. But I know it won’t be true of all or probably even most of them. It would be interesting to know how many of us actually incorporate this whole experience and change our lives or attitudes/beliefs because of it. We’ve seen much that’s shocking, but it wasn’t ever mandatory to take in the shock. There were many easy, beautiful, fun trips you could choose in every country. A significant number of our (often quite wealthy) students will have to either lie on their customs declarations, or pay a significant amount on the purchases they have made on the trip exceeding the allowed $800 limit in goods we can bring back duty free – in many cases they exceeded this by a significant amount (reportedly over $1000 is spent per port just on souvenirs by some students who call themselves “the $1000 club”). I think it’s possible to walk away from this only minimally affected in the consciousness-raising way that SAS advertises everyone as experiencing. But many do seem changed in positive ways, and getting to glimpse and participate in that makes it a very worthwhile experience overall.
Well, I better send this before more hours or even another day goes by while I keep babbling. I hope to reconnect with all or at least most of you sometime in the new future. Do drop me a line or call to keep me up to date on what’s going on with you if I don’t see you soon.
April 26, 2005
Hey Milledgeville friends,
If all goes well I will be back in Milledgeville this Thursday late night. I will need a ride to Macon airport to drop off my rental car sometime before noon on Friday. I know it's an awkward time since you are probably all busy with finals. But if anyone has time or can take time to help I'd really appreciate it. [some of message skipped]
I have moments of not being able to believe this is ending already, and others of thinking I can't wait to get back home.
Anyway, see you all soon,
POST VOYAGE FINAL REPORT
May 27, 2005
It's already been about a month since I've been back in the States. It's hard to believe – but then again I just got done teaching an intensive 3 week, 3 hours everyday Maymester course (on Women and Popular Culture – it was great) – so that has made it feel like a brisk and definite return to the old life. Here is one final report of the voyage adventure and an update on what's happened since I returned.
When we arrived in Florida that last morning, it was an emotional scene – more so for the students and parents, I think – but really all of us felt it. We sailed into port quite early (6-6:30 am), and many of us were already up on deck. Those who weren't were awoken shortly because just as we pulled up to the dock they started playing, quite loudly, Neil Diamond's "They're Coming to America" over the loudspeaker system. That meant it was playing in everyone's cabins, plus on all the decks (outside).
There were quite a few parents already at the port, waving wildly at their kids, holding up signs, shouting, calling their kids on cell phones, and so on. Some of the students had signs hung over the decks as well. The parents seemed much more excited to see their kids than the kids did to see the parents. I think the kids were all realizing that their grand adventure was ending and who knows when they'd see each other again. So they all looked kind of glum while their families enthusiastically waved and shouted at them from shore.
Once we were docked, we knew we had several hours at least before they'd let us off the ship, due to customs, unloading our luggage, etc. So we went to breakfast, our last meal on the ship, though of course it just felt like any other breakfast, with the same food we’d seen every day for months – powdered eggs, some kind of meat, potatoes, fruit, and pastries or bread. I ate on the deck with the usual friends from faculty, staff, and families. We talked about how we'd be getting home, what we'd do next, and so on. We snapped some photos of ourselves (in groups).
Then I went to my cabin for a while. I packed up the last of my toiletries and other things, and got my carry-off bags all situated. I went into the purser's square area, where a lot of people were hanging out, and sat and talked and waited for the next few hours. There were a lot of tearful goodbye scenes, especially among the students, a lot of people asking others to sign maps, journals, and add a few words to remember them by. In fact, this whole scene lasted too long. We were all packed, anxious, and ready to leave. We'd had a party in the faculty-staff lounge the night before, so most of us had not gotten all that much sleep. Plus we were anxious about the arrival and return to our lives. I faced a ten hour drive home, so I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible.
The hours crept by, 8 am, 9 am, 10 am. Finally we started wondering what the hold-up could be. It had never taken this long to clear any port. Apparently the stevedores – unionized dock workers who unloaded our luggage – were going purposefully as slow as they could to make more money (so we heard through the ever-efficient rumor mill on the ship). Whatever the reason, it was a long wait.
Finally about 10:45 they started calling for the first of "the seas" (groups of students) to leave the ship. I went and collected my stuff from my cabin, and left that little cabin for the last time, and waited in purser's square for them to call our group to leave. We started disembarking for the last time around 11 am. I thought it would probably take another couple of hours to get through all the red tape, collect my luggage and be on my way. But I was wrong.
I got my luggage and had a stevedore load it on his dolly within 10 minutes, then I was through customs with hardly a glance from the agent, and then I was all loaded up and in a taxi within another couple of minutes – in spite of the long line of people waiting for taxis. Somehow a taxi just drove right up to where I was and started loading up my stuff. It took a while in line at the airport to get my rental car, but I was on the road by 12:30 pm. So it was better than I'd hoped.
The drive home was long and boring. It felt odd to be driving again, to be back in the U.S., to be listening to NPR on the radio. I stopped at the rest-stop on the Florida turnpike and found myself ordering a pizza slice at a Sbaro's. I never eat that food normally – in fact I don't think I've ever eaten their pizza before. And I wasn't conscious of wanting pizza. But I saw the place and just found myself in line ordering and then eating. It was good, but made me sleepy about an hour later in the car. Luckily I had a supply of chocolate that I doled out to keep myself awake.
I fit all my luggage and boxes into the taxi and then into the rental car, so in fact I did not send anything or have to worry about how I would get it all back home. That all went much more smoothly than I'd worried. I made it all the way back home that night and was in my house by 10:30pm. Jennifer, a student who'd been house and cat sitting for me, met me there.
We unloaded all my junk and she left to go back to her parents' home (where she normally lives). I re-introduced myself to my cats, who I swear were looking at me with looks that clearly said, "But you died; what are you doing here?!" But within an hour they were all cozy with me again and obviously happy (purring) to have me back.
The next day I took my rental car back to Macon (no rental car companies in our little town) and realized I had locked myself out of the house. I had my house key set in my hand as I was leaving, and I remember thinking, "I don't need these, I'm not driving my car, I'm driving the rental car," and putting them back down. I had really gotten out of my habits and did not remember the whole you-need-a-key-to-get-into-the-house routine (I had not needed a key for months). So after my friend Giles drove me back to Milledgeville, I was locked out of my house and decided to go to the office. I used the secretary's key to let myself in my office (the key was on the same ring as my house key) and called Jennifer, who dropped off her key for me.
Meanwhile, while I was in my office, I started going through all my mail from the semester. One of the first letters I opened was from the board of regents for the Georgia system telling me I had been granted tenure and promotion. Hurray!!! And there was another little card inviting me to a reception in about an hour for all of us who had received tenure and promotion in this college. It was a happy set of circumstance all in all. In the next several days I found myself really warmly welcomed back by all my friends here, and actually have had very little down time.
I had imagined that since I'd have no jet lag, that I wouldn't really be that tired when I returned. But I was wrong – I was completely exhausted for at least 10 days. I could barely drag myself out of bed most mornings, and was bone-weary tired much of the time that I was awake. I got right back into most routines, including my yoga class. Then I started teaching May 10. It's been non-stop busy since then – without the luxury of sleeping much. I still have to give the exam for this class I’ve been teaching on Tuesday, then I start teaching again for Summer I on Thursday.
One other really happy piece of news I got upon my return is that I received a Fulbright Grant to teach in Croatia next Spring. So there have been all kinds of nice homecoming surprises – kind of takes the edge off of ending one adventure to know there's another looming in the not-too-far-distant future.
Well, that's my news since the ship. I hope you're all well. Thanks for taking this journey with me virtually, and thanks for all your words of support and friendship along the way.
Let me know how things are with you these days.
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