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.    

Safe Arrival

I am here (here being Nassau, The Bahamas)

I am safe and on-board the MV Explorer, my new home for the next 4 months.  We leave for Domenica on the 12th, after the students have boarded the ship.

My cabin is great, the food has been great, the staff and crew are great - everything is just great....

more later tonight, I promise.