06 November 2011

30 September 2011

29 March 2011

Singapore: Only One Day, So Much Food and Fun

A view from the top floor of the famous old Rex Hotel, a Singaporian Institution since the late 1800's.  This was a fabulously posh hotel and the small museum of the Rex's history was great.

The local, modern Buddhist Temple in Singapore.  Located across the street from the Food Vendor Hall were we ate a massive, cheap and ridiculously good lunch.  The Bhuddist Temple is also known as a hall of 10,000 Buddhas, due to the large amounts of Buddha statues included in the walls.

Vibrant colors in Little India, Singapore.

More color, more Little India.

Noodles, Won-ton Soup, Chicken and Rice, Food Stall Center, Cheap and Delicious,
Shopping, Little India, China Town, Colonial Row Houses, Fantastic Modern Architecture, Pouring Rain, Chocolate, Merlion, Brilliant.

Pics from Mauritius and India

Me, Raja, Alla and Steven at the Botanical Gardens on Mauritius.  It was a great day with great new friends.
After traveling to India from Mauritius, I headed out on a trip to New Delhi and Agra. Here is the Red Fort of Agra, with the Taj in the background (on the horizon on the left).

A Brahma Bull, heading to the local Hindu temple, being lead by one of the Brahma priests.

Fatehpur Sikri, a palace and city complex created and abandoned (due to a lack of water) all within a 50 year period.  The city stands as a classic example of late Indian Sculptural prowess.

Fatehpur Sikri, a tall pavilion within the royal city.

The tower above the main entrance of Mylapore Temple in Central Chennai, India.  This layered tower is echoed by smaller towers within the main precinct of the open air temple.  It serves to announce the temple entrance to the nearby community.  All towers include an uneven number of layers and ornaments, including the odd number of golden vessels atop the tower.

28 March 2011

Africa Pics

On our way from Ghana to South Africa, we were lucky enough to cross the 0-0 point, where the Prime Meridian crosses the Equator.  The Captain blew the ship's horn and we all had a 5-minute picture party.

The open window is the cell occupied by Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment at Robyn Island, South Africa.  This island had been used since the earliest colonial days in South Africa for housing prisoners and less than desirable peoples by the ruling colonial powers.  Robyn Island was a very powerful experience, compounded by the fact that our tour guide was a former political inmate during Apartied.

Students visiting Robyn Island, the political prison of the Apartied South African Government.

A display from the District 6 Museum.  District 6 was destroyed under the auspices of "Urban Development and Renewal" during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The area of District 6 was demolished save for the religious structures on the site, and remains undeveloped due to the now recognized land claims of former inhabitants.  The are was so politically and civilly contentious that the area still remains mostly vacant.

A hand-drawn map of the District 6 area surrounded by poems and diary entries from former residents and important South African literary figures.  It is a strikingly beautiful, yet haunting image of a now vanished place.

Artwork at the District 6 Museum.

Rescued street-signs and rubble from the demolition of District 6.

On the second to last day in South Africa, I was able to go on a day long Safari.  Here the bull Water Buffalo eyes our safari jeep, making sure we don't get to close to his harem.
Cheetahs at the Safari Park Rehabilitation Center.

The view from the Cable Car up to the top of Table Mountain.  The ride was beautiful and we got to watch sunset from the top of Table Mountain.  One of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed.  I even saw the green spark that only truly accompanies awesome sunsets.

Me at the top of Table Mountain.

Standing above the clouds on Table Mountain.  The cloud cover that often falls down the sides of Table Mountain is referred to by locals as the Table Cloth.  It is easy to see why.

India II

After spending one day thoroughly enjoying Chennai, I headed with a large group of students to the airport to start our adventure to New Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal.

Rule #1 in India:  No liquids allowed in hand-baggage on Indian airlines.

This rule lead to some pretty interesting situations with checked baggage.  How can students accumulate liquids while traveling for only 2 days?  I just don’t understand. 

Rule #2 in India:  Counting is an important skill.

I felt a bit like a summer camp councilor during our two night trip to Delhi and Agra.  I must have counted to 44 (the total number of students on our trip) a million times over the 3 days we were together.  It was nice that we were all on one bus, but it was also a pain to count everyone, every time.  But, we left no one behind and we came back with everyone in one piece and healthy, which is more than can be said for other trips.  I will say, however, that all of the students were great, and apart from a few issues of waking up in the morning, were fun to be with for the entire trip. 

Rule #3 in India:  See the Taj Mahal at different times during the day.

I got to see the Taj Mahal, not just once, but TWICE!  It was great.  We traveled to Agra by bus, after our train was massively delayed.  The bus ride ended up being better than the train ride would have been anyway and we were able to make it to Agra by midnight, rather than the train’s final arrival time of 4am the next morning.  We were able to grab a few hours of sleep at our fabulous hotel before heading out to see the Taj Mahal, or simply the “Taj” as it is known to Indians, at sunrise.  The pink hues of the sky were mirrored by the brilliant white marble of the Taj.  The local red sandstone of the other buildings on the site also glowed in the early morning light.  The best part, however, was that there was virtually nobody there.  It was like having the place to ourselves. 

That afternoon, we headed back to the Taj to view the site at sunset.  It was great to get a second chance to explore the site, which I find rarely happens on trips like this.  I got the chance to view such an important Indian Monument at two very different times of day, and in two very different moods – which can change your entire reading of a structure or space. 

Rule #4:  Bring and Take Pepto-Bismal.

This is important, and should be self-explanatory.  Indian food is great, however, when your stomach is not used to spices and new types of veggies, it can be deadly.

Rule #5:  Take the Auto-Rickshas.

They look dangerous, and most definitely are, but boy is it an experience you will never forget.  Taxis are great, efficient and cheap, but are too tame for adventurous hearts. 

Rule #6:  Just go with the flow and try to blend India.

You will never truly be a local, at least not yet, but it is great to try.  India has so much to offer.  So much to see and experience, there really seems to be nothing worth trying, worth getting involved in.  Whether shopping, eating, exploring, bartering, traveling, touring, just remember to always enter with your right foot and always try to eat with your right hand, its just easier that way. 

25 March 2011

India I

I may never return to India, but one visit was not enough.  If I never make it back to India, I can be happy in the sites I have seen and the people I have met.  However, I would count myself extremely lucky to be given another opportunity to experience more of what India has to offer. 

The first sitting of our berth at the Chennai Industrial Port was spectacularly disheartening.  It was dirty, smelly and drab, a poor first vision of this sub-continent.  After exiting the port on our first day in country, my mission was to find Indian Rupees (the local currency).  After obtaining enough to keep me afloat for a couple of days, I headed back to the ship to join the city orientation tour.  We walked and drove all over Chennai, India’s 5th largest city with over 7 million people located in southern India in the Indian State known as Tamil Nadu.  You may have heard of the Tamil Tigers from a few years ago, who lead a rather violent political movement in this same state. 

The city of Chennai is crowded and dirty and far below the standards in most US cities in terms of sanitation and transportation, but the grime seemed to only throw the kindness and laughter of the populace in stronger relief.  Everyone we met was extremely kind and generous.  The service at every point in my journey was great and humble to the extreme.  Granted, I am not used to nice hotels – being a connoisseur of hostels across the world.  However, I don’t think I have been anywhere with such great service and FOOD! 

I have always loved Indian food, but the real deal in a million times better.  What we get in the US seems to tend towards northern New Delhi style Indian, while the southern style is also just as great.  If I lived in India, I could be a vegetarian in a heartbeat.  The best places we ate at were totally vegetarian.  Including one restaurant were we did make a bit of a spectacle of ourselves (Danny from the Field Office, Adam the Videographer, Brittany the Photographer, Daniel the LLC and myself) by ordering nearly one of everything from the menu.  We ate everything, including a bowl of Mango Ice-cream.  It was totally worth the weird looks from the locals at the neighboring tables.

Shopping in India was also brilliant.  I bought a full-on Sari (traditional Indian formal wear) as well as several tunics and linen pants in the “Aladdin” style.  We also bought tons of traditional Indian snacks from the “candyman” in Pundi’s Bazzar in central Chennai.  It was great to hear our friendly “candyman” explain what everything in his stall was made of and what it was called in local Tamil. 

India is not a cohesive group, just as Europe is not a cohesive group.  The difference between northern Indian provinces and southern Indian provinces like Tamil Nadu is very similar to the difference between the UK and Italy.  Even the languages are completely different.  The unifying language is actually the colonial English language, usually spoken by the educated class, rather than any type of Indian language, with the possible exception of Hindu.

04 March 2011



It has been a while, and I apologize. 

We are coming up on India on Sunday.  The entire ship has been gearing up with explorer seminars, cultural discussions, a viewing of the film Ghandi and lectures on various Indian topics.  It has been facinating.  We have several faculty, staff and students on the ship who have significant connections to India.  Whether through family or personal time spent in the country or even personal research. 

I can't wait to buy a Sari, see the great Hindu Temples of the Tamil Nadu region and the city of Chennai.  I am even flying to Agra and New Dehli to see the Taj Mahal from Monday through Wednesday.

Our last two ports were amazing.  South Africa was a different experience in and of itself.  It was like arriving at Disney World after living in the desert for a year.  Especially after visiting Ghana.

Our last stop was in Port Louis, Mauritius, the island most famous for the extinct Dodo bird.  It is sad that such a beautiful Island is known throughout the world for something that doesn't even exist anymore.  I will say, however, that I did by a Rain Stick with a Dodo carved on it.  It was a total impulse buy, but I only spent 3 US dollars on it, so not so bad in the long run.  I also was able to mail a post card, even though it was Sunday.  That means I have sent a post-card from every port when have been at after leaving Nassau.  I hope to send many in India.

As a previous of posts to come soon.  I want to take a few posts to look back as South Africa, and the amazing natural beauty I saw and experienced.  Let me just say that I totally walked with Giraffes.  Yes, you read that right, Giraffes.  I know, I can't believe it either.  South Africa was rife with contrast.  Poor, rich, white, black, brown, high, low, dry, wet, cloud, sun, windy, still, calm, crazy all interact on a level that is distinctly personal.  I also want to talk a little about Mauritius, and all the things I am learning about student life.  It is strange, but I am learning more about University life as an administrator that I did as a student.

Life is so strange, and short, and it is running by at a speed that is impossible to keep up with sometimes.  Don't waste a moment.

17 February 2011

The Atlantic Ocean Meets the Indian Ocean

We are nearing Cape Town, South Africa and the spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.  The Cape is notorious for its violent seas, and we have definitely had a small taste of a rough ocean passage last night.  Right now, we are steaming in a holding pattern outside the Cape Town port, waiting for the wind to die down so we can safetly enter. 

This is the end of another long stretch of classes, and even a few mid-terms for some students.  Although we are not quite to our half-way point in the voyage, we are almost to the half-way point in class meetings.  This is due to the fact that there are several short stops in several more contries after India.  Then we have one more long stretch or courses, and final exams as we cross the Pacific Ocean. 

I promise more pics soon.

Last day in Ghana

My last day in Ghana it was slightly rainy. Although it was muggy, it made the day more enjoyable, since the Market I visited was much less crowed. The experience was pretty overwhelming so I just jotted down some words and phrases that came to mind during the day. By the way, Ghana is known for Ashanti Kente fabric, woven by the men of the Ashanti villages and apparently coveted all over western Africa. There is definitely some Kente fabric coming home with me.

Brown, dusty roads, verdant trees, green vegetation, palm tress, coconuts, streams, shoreline, beaches, crashing waves, the Atlantic Ocean, fish nets, long and stout, men pulling the nets ashore at mid-day, Port, Construction Zone, workers, shipping containers, metal, steel, colors, greasy, dirty, long hours, market stalls, Cedi, sellers, buyers, traders hawking wares, vibrant colors, post Cards, bags, fabric, cloth, instruments, drums.

John the Port Agent, ride into town, Market stalls, rabbit warren, small alleyways, twisting and turning, lost, found, backtrack, kitchen stalls, fabric stalls, shoe stalls, salon stalls, fish stalls, food stalls, bean stalls, corn stalls, everything stalls, music, people talking, rhythms, cadences, rain on aluminum, open drainage, food, fish, friendly faces, questions and answers, beautiful, yellow, red and green, shopping, noise, cars, trucks, largest roundabout, finding town, finding home.

Wednesday’s Adventures with Professor Nelson

Ghana (February 9th)

I love architecture, and I love field work. On Wednesday, a couple of the ships staff and faculty members traveled to a two remote Slave Fort sites with Professor Nelson. First of all, props to Professor Nelson for arranging the trip.

We head out of the port area toward the small coastal community of PrincessTown. Getting there is always half the fun, and on this trip it was more like all the fun. About 3/4th of the way there, our driver tried to traverse the wrong side of a mud slick. Needless to say, we were stuck. The 4 guys that were with us tried rocking the van and pushing it out of the mud, but we just didn’t have enough muscle. Luckily, a few locals walking by recognized that we were obviously foreigners in need of assistance. Upon reaching the next village, which was only a short walk away, the locals sent back a large group of young men to help us out. With their help, we got the van out of the mud, and then had some fun taking pictures with our rescuers. On a side note, the young men also seemed to have a huge amount of fun copying our accents; many of them could pick up our accents on the first try.

After getting back under way, we headed to PrincessTown, where after a short hike, arrived at the ruined remains of an impressive Slave Fort that was once captured and then run as a successful slaving enterprise by a local Ghanaian Chief named John Konie. It was great to stretch my analytical muscles and try to read the fort as architectural remains, something I haven’t done in a while. We also meet several of the locals who either work at or just hang around the Fort with the head grounds keeper. After looking around for an hour, our new friends procured some coconuts for us, and I drank my first full coconut and then ate the inner pulp. It was fabulous.

We then headed for lunch at another local resort, where we actually ran into several SAS students, faculty and staff. The lunch was excellent, and mostly consisted of grilled lobster, chicken, stir fry and a local corn dish.

Our last stop of the day was another slave fort in a town called Dixcove. This one was quite large, and had some of the most elaborate ornamentation in the original structure. I plan on writing more about this site later, once I get the chance to do a bit of research.

When we arrived back at the ship, we learned that the ship had just received our promised supply of fresh water. The port had been unable to provide the ship with enough fresh water earlier in the week, and we had been forced to enforce a few periods of water shut-down to preserve our reserve supply. However, with the new supply working, we all had the change to shower and scrape the mud off from our earlier adventure.

The Water Village

Poverty tourism really embarrasses me. Sometimes I get sucked into the experience and don’t realize until too late that a trip may be just that, poverty tourism. I want to make a promise now that I will strive never to experience a place through the lens of the complete other, taking pity on those who surround me. I will strive always to be connected to the experience and try to appreciate the richness of a differing or even opposing culture without judgment. I understand that this may prove hard depending on the situation. I also understand that this may not always be possible, but trying is paramount. Trying is liberating. Trying is what I will strive to do.

The needed preamble to this discussion is a visit we made to a tourist spot in Ghana called the Nzuelo Water Village. This village is strikingly beautiful, set amid the wetlands of coastal Ghana.  The village itself is totally suspended on posts and beams above the surface of an expansive lake. The only way to reach the village is to climb into a local canoe (seating no more than 5 people) and paddle for about 50 minutes through a maze of canals, streams and small swamps. On a separate note, I saw a cormoran – which in my opinion is one of the most exotic sounding birds.

After reaching the village we were lead through the main section to a small community center. We really didn’t have a change to speak with anyone but the chief and we were only in the village for about 40 minutes total. The experience was fascinating, but it really made me think about why I wanted to visit a “village” to begin with. Was it the architecture, the people or just the “village” expectations that I was trying to fulfill? I still don’t know, but I am trying to work it out.

After paddling back down the waterways that lead to the village, we heading to an embarrassingly great meal at a local resort.  It is striking to do such seemingly opposing things in such a short time.  We then got a change to walk down one of the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches I have ever encountered, and we were definitely the only white people for miles.  The local population was playing, traveling, working, fishing and hauling in their long shore based nets while we strolled down the beach.

Our walk ended at the Slave Fort of Apollinare, a restored structure that has wonderful exhibitions of local history and culture, developed and maintained by the local community.  All in all, it was a great day.  However, I have definitely seen some things that have made me re-evaluate myself and my motivations, which is what any successful travel experience should do.

Reflection on Ghana

We arrived in Ghana early Sunday morning.

On Sunday and Monday (Feb. 6th and 7th), I traveled to several castles and slave dungeons, as well as a unique water village.  The water village was interesting.  The village itself is several hundred years old, but it is constantly being rebuilt due to its location above the waters of a large natural lake.  The entire village is built on stilts that are sunk at regular intervals into the lake bed.  It was rather hard to determine the total population, as we only had a quick tour, but it is home to possibly a hundred or so people (maybe more).  We met the local chief, but it was strange to walk through this intimate village as pure tourists.  I am still processing the visit, and don't really know yet what my opinion of the whole situation will be.

On Sunday, we visited two sites that had formerly been slave dungeons and defensive coastal castles.  These sites were built and expanded by various colonial powers over a period of about 250 years.  I still can't put into words exactly what I experienced at the sites.  Even now, I am having a hard time processing the fact that these structures once housed hundreds and thousands of humans who were kept in such in-human conditions and treated as no more than dumb animals, then shipped over the Atlantic Ocean to unknown lands, never to return.  Along the very same course that we travelled from Brazil to Ghana, simply in reverse.

While at one of the slave dungeons, we walked out through the large set of doors known as the "Door of No Return".  We stumbled instantly from a quiet and somber tour through the fort into the heart of a local gathering of fishermen and their families, preparing their gear and boats along the coast at the foot of the structure.  It was a riot of color and sound.  We were surrounded by people shouting and laughing.  It was such a contrast, it was hard to comprehend.  Especially after experiencing the depths of the slave dungeons.  Both should be remembered, both scenes should remain as testaments to the resilience of the spirit.

04 February 2011

The Atlantic Ocean and Sea Olympics

We are now more than half-way across the Atlantic Ocean.  As we get nearer to Ghana, the excitement on board is definitely increasing.  It also may have something to do with the fact that we held our opening ceremonies for the Semester At Sea, Sea Olympics.  Everyone on board has the opportunity to be in a "Sea", which is pretty much the equivalent of a residence hall at a land university.  Each sea competes throughout two days of light-hearted competition, including events such as group cheering, dodge-ball, two on two volleyball, trivia, and the crowning event:  a synchronized swimming/comedy routine.

Sea Olympics allowed the whole shipboard community to come together in a great shared experience of competition and all-around fun.  The Red Sea won the Sea Olympics, and the right to disembark in San Diego first after we dock.  Apparently its a big deal to get off the ship first.  I will say, though, that I really loved the Yellow Seas Synchronized Swimming routine, and the Bering Sea's Limbo competitor was very gracious in defeat.  Also, the Aegean sea was amazingly gracious when they were announced as the second place sea.

After the end of competition, we had a wonderful dinner of grilled meats and bar-b-q cooked on the 7th deck by the ship's kitchen crew.  The ribs were delicious, and so were the hot dogs.  Everyone chowed down and probably ate way too much, but it was so scrumptuous, it was hard to pass up.  The evening was crowned with various flavours of ice-cream, chocolate sauce and sprinkles.  What could be better?

Dr. Bill lead the closing ceremonies, and after-wards I pretty much headed straight to bed.  It was an exhausting day, but well worth all the effort.  In retrospect, it is remarkable the amount of creative and organizational talent that went into making the Sea Olympics a success.  Julie, the LLC who facilitated and organized the Olympics definitely deserves a medal.  Without all her hard work, the Sea Olympics would have never happened.

After heading to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour, I was startled awake by an intense thunderstorm.  Although the ship barely rocked during the whole of the storm, the sky danced with curtains of rain and lightening.  It was so interesting to see a thunderstorm at sea.  Without all of the traditional reference points of ground, foliage and geographic features, it was strange to see the storm spread out toward the horizon.  It was also interesting to see lightning strike the ocean surface.  What happens to nearby fish?  Do they get electrocuted?  This is something I will have to research further.

I will leave you with a picture, graciously provided by Mary Johnston, our Voyage Librarian.  Here Julia and I chill under some palms in Dominica:

29 January 2011

More Amazon River

We are nearing the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a lot quicker sailing down the river than pushing up the river.  I know it makes logical sense, but it was it was nice to experience.

Everyone is gearing up for the rougher seas in the Atlantic.  I will probably start some sea-sickness medication tonight, just in case.  I am usually good after a half day of misery, so hopefully my track record will hold.  The work load has lessened, and now i hope to catch some more lectures and events.

We stopped this morning to allow our last diplomatic contingent from Brazil to disembark.  Now, we go non-stop until Ghana.  We should reach port in Takoradi, Ghana 8 days from now.

Hi Everyone from the MV Explorer

28 January 2011

The Amazon River, Part II

Well, we are back on the Amazon River, and will be cruising toward the Atlantic for the next two days.  Manaus is located almost 1000 miles from the mouth of the Amazon River, so we have some miles to cover.

My time in Brazil was fantastic.  I was able to see the meeting of the waters, where the Amazon River and the Rio Negro actually flow side by side without mixing due to the large difference in current speeds, temperatures and PH factors.  I also went on a great hike throught the jungle where we saw huge Cypruss trees, a wild squirell monkey, a three-toed sloth, and the famous Victoria Reginius water lilies which can grow to be 3 meters (9 feet) across and can hold up to 12 pounds of weight.  The whole day trip was great, and I was so tired when we came back aboard the ship, I took a 3 hour nap.

After walking through the jungle, we we caught in a torrential rain, and everyone was completely soaked.  It was actually pretty exhiliarting to be rained on in the Rain Forest.  Everyone kept a great attitude, and just went with the flow of the day.  After speading in small boats back to the floating restaurant where we started our adventure, we had a huge lunch of local dishes, including a fish called the Piraracu, which can grow to be over 6 feet in length.  It was pretty tasty.

We were then taught how to fish for pirahna, and several of our group caugh one, including the red bellied pirahna which is the most agressive.  Our bait was raw beef cubes - which in and of itself was pretty interesting.

The last few days in Manaus, it was great just to get to know the city better.  I walked around with several people and bought a few small souveiners and postcards.  We walked around the local vendors, who cover pretty much every open space in the center of the city selling everything from TV remotes to fresh fruit to childrens toys.  The whole city was overwhelming in its tastes, smells and colours.

Now, its on to Ghana, after 9 days at sea.  I am sure we will all be happy to arrive at our next continent, especially those who sadly still are suffering a bit from sea sickness.  However, on a happy note, we have some new guest aboard from the US Embassey in Brazilia, as well as an interport student from Ghana.  It is going to be great learning from them during their time aboard.  Our last embassey guests talked alot about the Foreign Service for the US and it was very intersting.  Who knows, maybe I can be an ambassador some day?

23 January 2011

Water, Isolation and Symphonies

Early morning fish market in Manaus, Brazil.  I have never seen so many different kinds of fish!

Brazil is FANTASTIC!!!

We docked in Manaus, Brazil early this morning.  I rushed to the gangway, in order to catch my trip at 0900 from the pier.  Prof. Karen Van Lengen led a group of students and interested staff on an architectural tour of Manaus.  Our tour guide, a local Brazilian who also happened to be an architect and engineer, was wonderful.  He was able to answer all of the weird and quirky questions posed by the students, as well as the more architecturally specific questions of Prof. Van Lengen.  We discussed the various “New Urbanism” projects that the city government is currently involved with, including a large plan to relocate many of the people who inhabit the areas known as “Flavalas”, small squatter communities built on stilts directly in the creek beds that criss-cross the city.  Manaus is a city of water, 85 creeks, all tributaries of the Amazon River, including the Rio Negro, cross the city. 
One of the many ad-hoc neighborhoods founds along the many creeks in Manaus
Manaus, much like it was a hundred years ago, is still isolated from the rest of Brazil.  There are no roads that connect Manaus to any other major Brazilian city.  Manaus is completely surrounded by the Amazon Jungle, a quick jaunt out of the city end rather abruptly at heavy forest.  Even the capital, Brazilia, is only reachable by airplane.  The only highway that leaves Manaus actually takes you to Venezuela.  Most of the local communities are reachable by River Boats or Ferries.  Some of the most remote cities and villages can be more that 6 or 7 days away by boat.  Even our large ship, traveling steadily up-river, took 2.5 days to get from the mouth of the Amazon River to Manaus.     
Various Street Shots in Manaus.
Our tour also included the central historic district, where the Amazonas Opera House is located.  This Opera House was totally built with imported materials from Europe, including Italian Marble and French panes of glass.  The Rubber Barons, who controlled much of the region during the Amazon Rubber Boom during the late 19th century, were all of European origin, and the Opera House stood as a testament to the links with European Culture and Fashion that the Barons wished to maintain.  The Opera House has been beautifully maintained and the original fixtures and interior decorations are all still marvelous.  Most interesting is the decoration of the ceiling.  A French artist was hired to decorate the interior of the Opera House with images of local flora and fauna.  Instead, the newly arrived artist, who was still so impressed with the recent World’s Fair in Paris, painted a scene as if the audience was looking up under the Eiffel Tower.  The Illusion is lovely, and further ties the structure to the European culture it was meant to echo in this far away place.  During our visit, the local symphony was conducting a rehearsal for a later performance.  We were able to stay and listen to several movements of a very powerful classical piece with soaring stings and beautiful brass notes.  It still amazes me how much music can effect me.  It may be overly poetic, but the music today seemed to seep all the way to my bones.
Amazonas Opera House
The musical day continued.  After returning to the ship for lunch and a rather needed nap, I met up with about 200 of the students and staff to head to a local Samba School for a demonstration of one of the local drum and samba corps.  Manuel (The Forestry Prof. from last time) was great in introducing us to this local community, and everyone was very excited to learn a little Samba and Dance off some of the excitement of being in a new port and a new country.  By the time we arrived, the demonstration had turned into a full blown block party, and everyone in the samba school and the local community were on hand to welcome us in spectacular fashion.  The drum corps performed masterfully, and the sound was overwhelming.  The students were full of energy and kept the drummers and samba dancers going with their enthusiasm.  The interaction between the Semester at Sea community and the local population was great to see.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the exchange of music and dance and really just a lust for life, which seems to typify my Brazilian experience so far.  All of the people we have encountered just beam with energy and life.  Even the buildings here, which many could describe as dilapidated or at least weather beaten, laugh at the world through there colorful facades.  Blue, Aqua Marine, Red, Yellow, Purple and Green doorways, walls and patches flash from every direction you look.

Viva Brazil!!!

The Amazon River

We have been traveling up the Amazon River for two full days now.  The scenery has been magnificent, but sadly I have missed quite a bit of it.  I plan on positioning myself on one of the open decks, misted periodically with bug spray and sunscreen, and watch the river on the way back out to sea.  Although I have been quite busy, it has been exhilarating being around so many young people, and many other who are young at heart.  Everyone has also been amazingly flexible and patient as we work out all the kinks and get familiar with the systems aboard ship. 
I am doing better with the nautical names, and only got in trouble once yesterday for calling it a boat.  

The students aboard have been fantastic about involvement and attending lectures and interesting presentations after the class day has officially ended.  One very popular seminar yesterday evening was the “Sex-perts”, were many members of our medical staff and extended community came together to have an open and frank discussion of sex.  It was great, even though I only got to see a very few minutes of it.  The lecture in the adjacent classroom was also full and was given on the topic of the Amazon, by a local forestry expert who joined the ship in Maccaupa, Brazil, along with several US Embassy officials.  Manuel Lima, Jr 

Our guests from the US Embassy have been amazingly laid-back and willing to engage the students in various ways.  At dinner they sit and talk with groups of students and during lectures, entertain all types of questions on various topics concerning Brazil and its relationship with the US and the World.  Sadly, they will be leaving us when we dock in Manaus.

Brazil, here we come!!

Promised Pictures

 Prof. Nelson lectures to a group of students, Lifelong Learners, staff and faculty near the MV Explorer, before setting out to explore the city of Rousseu, Dominica.

A faded sign for a local high school mascot is barely visible on this weather worn wall.

Students and other voyagers explore the historic district in Dominica.

The central bell tower of Dominica's historic Catholic Church.  This church stands as a sentinel above Rosseau.

16 January 2011


Technically, this is my third new country, but the first actual port that we have visited.  We left from Nassau, The Bahamas (#1) on Wednesday.  On Friday evening, we stopped in the port of San Juan, Porto Rico to refuel at an outer fuel bunker.  Although we were technically in US territorial waters since Porto Rico is a US protectorate, its my second new country for this trip.  Also, it was a reduced price for cell phone calls, so that will be my last call home for the foreseeable future.  This morning, we docked at Rosseu, Dominica.

Rosseu is a wonderfully small town, with some great historic structures and a beautiful 19th century catholic church.  The island is not really a hot-spot for American tourism, so the locals didn't really know what to make of this ship full of students docking in their town, but I hope we made a good impression.  It was also nice to arrive in a small port on a Sunday.  This meant that many of the shops were closed, and the students and staff weren't bombarded with people and pulls on their time and money right off the ship.  It has been great to have a kind of buffer day for everyone to explore safety a new city and country.  It has also been wonderful to have a low key day for all the students and staff to become used to the process for entering and exiting the ship while in port.  I definitely got a little sun today, but hopefully I staved off the major sunburn.  I may even come out of this trip with a decent tan.

Yesterday, Add/Drop seemed to go well.  Hopefully there will not be any major problems on A2 (Tuesday).  Also, just for your information, days of the week, including weekends, don't really mean much aboard ship.  I have stopped trying to remember what day it is other than what day we are in the class and port schedule.  Days at sea alternate between A and B class days, while port days are non-class days.

Tomorrow, my plan is to get a little personal time in - including some sketching in town and on ship.  The voyage has been surreal so far, I can't believe that I was just in Dominica, sipping a fruit smoothy  under a palm tree.  How cool is that? 


15 January 2011

This Ship Has Sailed

So, the ship has sailed, rather literally.

We set off Wednesday evening from Nassau to a nice rousing cheer from the departing ISE (Institute for Shipboard Education, our home office) staff and parents who had accompanied their kids to port.  It was exciting pulling away from port, knowing we wouldn't be back for more than almost 4 months.

After a heavy bout of sea-sickness on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, I felt much better by dinner and was able to get on with the real work.  Student orientation went well Thursday, and many people complimented me on my speech regarding the seriousness of the UVA Honor Code (which, let me tell you, is pretty darn serious, I mean kick you off the ship for violating serious.), even though I was pretty much sick as a dog through the whole thing.

Friday was the first day of classes, and students seemed to be settling in pretty well.  No major issues, so all in all, a good day.  Today, however, was crazy.  I am the main contact on the ship for registration and this evening was the official drop/add period for courses.  It was crazy for about 5 hours today.  I just worked through student after student, but it was great to meet so many different students.  Especially since they are all so interested in taking a vast assortment of classes.  It has been a really interesting experience learning more about administration and group and individual problem solving strategies just from doing my job and observing other doing theirs.  A true on the job education, and I an truly grateful to ISE for giving me the opportunity to do this wonderful program.

Tomorrow, we dock in Rousseu, Dominica (the capital city).  I am going on a prof. lead walking exploration of the city with a professor from UVA, it should be great!

Well, pics soon, I promise and more about my adventures in a new country (a beautiful, tropical country at that).

Good Night everyone.

10 January 2011

Nassau Day 2

As stated before, I am here in Nassau, and loving.

After a pretty nondescript pair of flights from Memphis, through Charlotte, to Nassau, the group of professors I met up with in Charlotte and I headed by taxi/van to the ship at Prince George Dock.  It was amazing to see the ship towering above the port.  We checked in to our cabins and then headed to various faculty and staff meetings.

I definitely hit the ground running on my work here, and I think the work will be pretty much a stead stream until we get all the students settled in their classes during the second week of the voyage.

A few words to the wise, it’s a ship not a boat, and we are going on a voyage not a cruise.  I live in a cabin not a room and I am on deck 5 not floor or level 5.  The front is “forward” and the back is “aft”, though that still sounds a bit funny to say in conversation.

After a full day of meetings, Layne (One of my Charlottesville counterparts) and I headed with one of the inter-port lecturers to walk over to Paradise Island and the Atlantis Resort (As Seen on TV).  It was amazingly brash and grated on my senses:  too colorful, too big, too noisy and too busy.  I did visit the casino, which you have to walk through to get anywhere apparently, but didn’t partake.  I did however, art nerd that I am, love the three amazing Chihuly glass sculptures at the casino.

Also, the indoor aquarium was great – though kinda creepy in its overly theatrical nature – but still a blast.

And folks, it’s only day 2.  We leave Nassau (baring delay) on the 12th, then on to Dominica.