2.17.2009

namibia, my valentine

We just pulled away from Namibia and I’m honestly very sad to leave. I don’t think I ever would have come here on my own and I would have been missing so much. It’s an incredible country with deserts, shoreline, wildlife and really great people. It has been my favorite port by far and everyone I’ve spoken to on the ship is already planning a return trip in their heads. I know these entries are like novels and I want to apologize/thank you in advance for putting up with them. There’s so much to capture and so little justice that words can do.

The first day in Namibia we were greeted at the port by a choir of girls in traditional African dress clapping and singing. They were all around ages 8-13 and they were great. They were dancing, and stepping along to the songs and it was such a cool treat to have them welcome us to the country. After we were able to get off the ship a bunch of people were playing guitar and the girls
were singing along and dancing with the students and teachers.

We took the long walk to the end of the port and wandered into Walvis Bay to get money changed and check out the area. We rented a house on the beach in Swakopmund, so most people took cabs there to get the house settled while my friend Chas and I headed back to the ship for the FDPs we had scheduled that day. FDPs, or Faculty Directed Practica, are trips planned by the professors that relate to the classes we’re taking. We’re supposed to do a certain number of FDPs for our classes as a way to help relate our experiences in port to the material we’re learning.

My FDP was for Ecoacoustics and our trip was going to be putting on a concert in the desert. In case you’re wondering (and I’m sure you are), Ecoacoustics a music class in which we listen to both environmental recordings and soundscapes and analyze them. We also make our own recordings in port and discuss the sounds that we hear. And while that may sound pretty hippy, I actually really love the class. It’s making me completely re-examine how I think about music and the sounds that we hear on a daily basis. In addition to Eco, Matt Burtner, the professor who teaches the class, also teaches Technosonics (a tech composition class) and M.I.C.E which stands for Mobile Interactive Computer Ensemble. MICE has already had two shows on the ship and this trip was to be their first performance in port –a concert in the desert. The way that MICE works is that we take live sounds, like the wind, water or squeaky toys and create music by mixing those sounds with synthesized versions in order to create a new composition. A little out there, but also awesome. Since I like my class so much and had helped with one of the other MICE performances, I decided that instead of just going and watching the concert I wanted to help with the performance and make some music. In addition to just performing we were also making a video of the show which would then be edited into a kind of music video.
The group of us going early to film and perform met at 1pm and headed out into the desert. I have to say that I had never really seen the desert before and when you look off to the left and see the dunes rising up along the side of the road, it is breathtaking. All around there are just dunes upon dunes and the landscape is beautiful. It’s hard to do it justice with words or pictures but I’ll try nonetheless. I’ve realized we spend a lot of time in port in disbelief, trying to wrap our minds around where we are. This boils down to a lot of turning to one another and saying “CAN YOU BELIEVE WE’RE IN THE DESSERT RIGHT NOW!? IN AFRICA!?” Either way we drove along the main road out of town and then pulled off onto an unpaved path. After the unpaved road our bus pulled right out onto the sand and dropped us literally in the middle of nowhere with all of our gear. Some of the dunes have names or numbers to identify them but the place where we were was just called Dunes. We hiked up one sand hill and were met with a beautiful plane surrounded by blue sky and tall orange, khaki, and golden dunes. The show was set to start at 3 so we spent the time until then attempting to set up a variety of computers, microphones and electronics without getting everything sandy. This is a semi-daunting task considering we are surrounded by sand accompanied by a constant wind. But everyone in the group was in great spirits, excited to be in such an incredible setting and laughing and joking the whole time. We had plenty of time to play and take pictures while setting things up and getting some initial shots for the video. We took a number of “band photos”which quickly evolved into a very funny/awesome photo shoot in the desert with hair and scarves blowing everywhere as we did our best to appear like a badass band.

By the time everyone else arrived we were ready to play and everyone getting off the busses was excited by the scenery and the setup. The piece that MICE played was called Sandprints and was created by burying flat mics in the sand along with two standing mics near two of the performers. Around the flat mics we moved and drummed on the sand and two of the guys whistled into the standing mics. These sounds were mixed with computerized drum beat and they were synthesized through the computer so that the sounds of the sand and the wind and the whistling came out as new notes. It started off slow at first but once it picked up it was really great. People were encouraged to dance and to join in the drumming and by the second time we played everyone was dancing and drumming and whistling. It was so fun. After the piece was over everyone climbed on the giant dunes while we cleaned up the equipment. The other buses headed back to the ship but the group of us was having a great time and didn’t want to head back just yet. We decided to pull over on the side of the road on go Geocaching. I didn’t know about geocaching before the trip but one of the guys in MICE is really into it and had us all come along to find this cache. In geocaching there are little “treasures”or caches all over the world, tons in the United States alone, and you find them by plugging the coordinates into any GPS system like a Tom-Tom or a Garmin. Once you find the cache you sign the log book inside and people sometimes leave little trinkets in them. Occasionally there are Travel Bugs inside, which are tags that you can go online and plug in their codes and see how they’ve traveled from cache to cache all over the world. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool. So we pulled our bus over onto the side of the road and looked around for the cache, finally spotting it under a rock in a little green Tupperware container. We signed the log book and left a pin, a pen and a program from the show in the box for the next person to find. Then we took the van to Dune 7, one of the largest sand dunes in the world, and took a break to enjoy some sodas and beers at the foot of the dune. We talked to Prof. Burtner and his wife about some of the other shows he’s played and he told us about playing shows in locations all over the world using all kind of natural materials and sounds. He’s a pretty young guy and he and his wife, a dance teacher on the ship, are traveling with their three year old son Barrett. He says he looks for venues with magic and has played everywhere from caves in Sweden to ice melts in Alaska. We learned today that someone is writing a piece about the concert for the Journal of Computer Music, which is pretty exciting. We have another MICE concert tomorrow in South Africa that I’m really looking forward to.

After we got back to the ship I showered the sand off, grabbed a quick dinner and my friends Chas, Justin and I got together to go to Swakopmund. It’s a long walk to the end of the port and we couldn’t find a taxi near the ship so we started to take the trek, bags in tow. Luckily a guy in a pickup truck passed by and gave us a free ride to the end of the port in the back. Perfect. We caught a cab to Swakop and started the drive through the desert. After such a great day it was incredible to be able to look out the window as we flew down the road and see the sun setting over the desert. It was almost dark and it was so calm and quiet and all I could see was sand and the last vestiges of the sunset peeking over the dunes. Not a bad way to spend a Valentine’s Day if you ask me.

Unfortunately the calm dissipated once we reached Swakop. My phone hadn’t been working all day so I borrowed a friend’s in order to get the address of our house before we left the ship. Once we got into town we told our cab driver the area we needed to go to and he didn’t know where it was. So he found some other cab drivers and once they told him where it was he said it was too far away and he was going to charge us more plus, since the other drivers were going to show us where it was, we would have to pay them as well. It was dark and we didn’t really have any other choices so we said fine. They drove us to the area but pass our place so we have them turn around and take us to the cross streets that my friend had texted me. It’s dark, quiet and not close to anything, but it’s our destination so we get out, pay the drivers and they leave us. However, now we don’t know what house is ours and most of the ones in the area have the lights out. We walk around calling names and looking to see if we can find them but to no avail. We have no phone and no idea what we’re going to do if we can’t find them since we’re far from town and have no way to get back. Twenty minutes pass and I’m getting a little worried so we decide that our best option is to go back to a house where we saw someone watching TV with their door open and ask to use their phone. This turned out to be a great choice. The guy watching TV was a 22 year old South African named Quentin and not only had seen our friends earlier that day but he offered to walk us to the house to find them. Thank Goodness. We follow Quentin and find our friends all settled in our beautiful beach house. There is dinner on the counter and the fridge is fully stocked with food and drink. There are 3 bedrooms with sleeping space for 6 and two bathrooms with big showers and tubs and a washer and dryer. We are in heaven. Quentin leaves and we invite him to come back later and have a drink with us. We settle in and Quentin does better than make good on his promise when he and his uncle, Clifford, show up with two bottles of champagne. We sit and drink and talk with them for a little while. They tell us they run a scenic flight business that takes tourists in small planes over the desert and along the coast. After they leave a bunch of us walk to another beach house to visit friends. We have some more drinks, hang out and then head home.

Once we get back my friend Nate stumbles in behind us and we realize that he is bleeding profusely. He must have stepped on something because his foot is a mess and there is blood everywhere. My friends clean the cut and put antiseptic on it but it’s really deep and we decide that he needs to see a doctor. We call Med-Ex which is the insurance provided to us by the ship and they hook us up with a local doctor. Keep in mind however that it’s 2am on Valentine’s Day Saturday and we’re in the middle of nowhere with no means of transportation. My friends Alicia and Taylor decide to take Nate to the hospital and the rest of us go to bed. Apparently the “ambulance”did come and get them but the ambulance was a pickup truck. On the way to the hospital they made a pit stop and dropped one of the nurses off at her house and finally made it to the hospital. They cleaned Nate’s foot and found that it had cut all the way to his fat layer. They cleaned out all the sand and sea glass and shell bits and gave him 5 stitches. After Nate was all stitched up the doctor gave the three of them a ride home since they had no other way back and they ended up back at the house around 5am. Somehow Alicia and our other friend Jill got up at 7am to go skydiving and the rest of us slept in until 9 or 10.

We got up and decided to make Sunday breakfast before heading out to the dunes. We had scrambled eggs, toast, onions and peppers and bacon along with coffee and orange juice. Not too shabby for a bunch of college kids on limited sleep. We hopped a taxi back to Dune 7 and spent the day enjoying some of Namibia’s extreme sports. The first thing we did was zorbing, also called sphere-ing or hydroballing. Basically you get inside a giant hamster ball filled with water , they push you off the edge and you roll down the dune. We had seen people doing it the day before and heard it was awesome so we signed up and hopped in the truck to go up the dune. My friends Megan, Taylor, Rosaly and I were joined by two older South African men in banana hammock speedos on our zorb adventure. The South Africans went down first and then we decided it was our turn. Megan and I hopped into the ball and they pushed us down the hill. It goes quickly but its suck a rush. There is water everywhere and it’s like being inside the spin cycle of a washing machine. We screamed the whole way down and had a blast.

After we got back to the base we put on some dry clothes it was time for sandboarding. Sandboarding is basically like snowboarding or sledding but on the sand dunes instead of snow. I thought we were going to be doing the kind where you lay on these flat pieces of wood and go down on your stomach but apparently we were doing the one where you stand up. I was really nervous since I had never snowboarded before and I am generally incredibly clumsy. To give you an idea of how much so, when we were putting on our boots to strap in my pair somehow hooked together and I fell flat on my face, this before even having touched a board. But this is an adventure so I grabbed a board, hopped on the back of the quad and our guide, Marcus, drove up to the top of this giant dune. He gave me a one minute crash course (lean back to go, forward to stop), hooked me into my board and then led me to the edge. It’s a long way down and very steep so I was nervous at first, but once I took the drop onto the hill it was surprisingly really easy. I started and stopped my first time down, mostly because I wanted to make sure I could stop, but once I figured it out I was able to go up a few more times and zip down the hill. The view from the top was incredible and it was so fun to fly down the hill and see the path you carved down the dune.

After sandboarding we decided to finish the day by spending an hour riding ATVs in the desert. I had heard from a friend who had done the trip in the past that ATV-ing in the desert was one of, if not the most fun things to do in Namibia, and I have to say that he was so right. We got onto the quads and we were a little nervous since they were semi-automatic and we got another 1 minute crash course which basically consisted of, push this to go, push this to brake and change gears when you feel like you should. But again, we had nothing to be nervous about. We headed into the desert and had a blast. We followed our guide all over, down ridiculously steep hills, up the sides of bowls and all across the flats. He would go ahead of us to scope out an area and do ridiculous tricks, jumping halfway off of peaks and popping wheelies everywhere. The views were incredible and driving the quads was so fun. Also, the phrase eat my dust has never taken on a more literal meaning then when you drive through some really dry sand on a flat plane. You kick up giant clouds of dust and the affect is pretty neat looking. The hour passed too quickly and all of us were sad for it to end. We thanked our guides, grabbed some snacks for the road and hired a van to take us home. The sun was going down as we drove and all of a sudden the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight came on the radio. We all starting singing and laughing and it was a pretty perfect end to the afternoon.

We got home late and by the time we all showered and changed most of the restaurants in the area had already closed their kitchens. This coupled with the fact that it was nearly impossible to find cabs left us in a bit of a predicament. We decided to walk to a nearby hotel that we knew had a restaurant and try our luck. When we got there the kitchen was closed and the woman said that they only thing that would be open was the gas station but that they did have food and were open 24 hours. We had her call us a cab and the driver said that he would take one group and then come back and get the other. Half of us took the first shift over and arrived at Total, a perfectly nice gas station market in downtown Swakop. We had lots of tuna at home so we bought a few loaves of bread and some chips, drinks and snacks and waited for the other group to arrive. Apparently our cab driver made some pit stops on his way to get the other group so we hung out for a while and talked with the guys who were working at the gas station while we waited. Simon and Eben were both around 21 and were working the 12-hour shift from 7pm to 7am. We talked about American and Namibia politics and the national elections that they have coming up in November. Swakop, the majority party is facing opposition from a faction that has broken off and will be running candidates for the first time in this election. They expressed their distaste for George Bush and their excitement at the idea of an Obama presidency. We also talked about music. Simon had more songs on his little cell phone than I think most people have on their iPods so he played us clips and told us about his favorite American singers (Rihanna, Chris Brown, T.I. and Usher, just to name a few). Apparently Simon liked me quite a bit and asked me if we could take a picture together on his phone. Finally the other group arrived, got their food and we headed home to eat. We were all starving and feasted on tuna sandwiches, chips and snacks. We were all beat from a long day in the sun and we crashed hard in our beds until the next morning.

The next morning people had made appointments to get massages at the hotel down the beach since the exchange rate made the prices really reasonable. I couldn’t book one in time but I tagged along with Taylor and Rosaly to see if they had anything else open. We all got fluffy white robes and I relaxed in the sauna while they got massages. The spa looked out onto the beach and it was a beautiful day. After being very sandy and dirty the day before it was nice to feel refreshed and clean. We took a cab back to the house, locked up and, after picking up some postcards and stamps, headed back to the ship in Walvis Bay.
Spain was a test route. Morocco was a culture shock. But Namibia was a gift. The landscape was so beautiful and so different than anything most of us had ever seen. It was so easy to just sit back and be in awe of how majestic, sprawling and exquisite the desert was. Plus, the contrast of the desert and the ocean, literally right next to each other, was amazing. Being able to wake up and look out our window to see the sun rising over the water and then being able to watch it set on the dunes is something that is so rare and striking. Namibia was also really fun. I had the opportunity to spend my time with people who were excited and open to all possibilities and that was something that made my trip really wonderful. There were certainly moments where it would have been easy to get cranky, when there are no cabs, no dinner and you’re lost or stuck, but everyone rolled with it and had such a better time for it.

The gravity of this trip continues to hit me every day like a ton of bricks. Every time I wake up in a new country I feel like I need to be pinching myself to make sure that this is real. We turn to each other all day, wherever we are and ask, “Can you believe what we’re doing right now? Can you believe where we are?”and I’m fairly certain that we will never stop asking those questions. Tomorrow we arrive in Cape Town and I’m sure that I will be in awe all over again. We have 5 days there and I can’t wait to make the most of it.

Until next time,
lia

2.09.2009

guts, kisses, tutu and neptune

Today was an incredible day. Why? Because today was Neptune Day. 

An old Navy tradition, Neptune Day is a bunch of rituals performed to celebrate the first time a sailor crosses the equator. Coming on Semester at Sea you’ve heard about Neptune Day before, but even then, you aren’t sure exactly what to expect. So, yesterday evening, we received and email stating:

 SUBPOENA to all POLLYWOGS,

You are hereby requested to appear before the ROYAL COURT OF THE REALM OF NEPTUNE, in the DISTRICT OF EQUATORIUS, because it has been brought to the attention of HIS HIGHNESS, NEPTUNE REX through his trusty SHELLBACKS, that the good ship M/V EXPLORER is about to cross the equator and enter those waters accompanied by passengers who have not acknowledged the sovereignty of the RULER OF THE DEEP.

THEREFORE be it known to all Slimy Pollywogs that The Royal, King NEPTUNE REX, Supreme Ruler of all citizens of the deep, will, with his Secretary and Royal Court, meet in full session on board the offending ship M.V. EXPLORER on the 9th day of February, A.D. 2009 at 0900 on Deck 7 aft, to hear your defense.

Needless to say, everyone is excited. Simply because, not only do we have no classes today, but this sounds like it’s going to be fun. We get woken up at around 8am, not by our usual alarm clocks, but by the crew members dressed in costumes, wearing bandannas, foil hats and green paint banging on drums and blowing horns up and down the hallways. At 9am everyone heads to 7 aft to find the Royal Court of Neptune all set up. The guy who makes all the daily announcements, Luke, who is hilarious at any time, is introducing the court like the starting five of a very obscure basketball team. Everyone who has been on a previous voyage is dressed in “shellback attire”like the crew and the King and Queen are there in all their nautical glory. The King (our fantastically British captain Jeremy) is painted entirely green and is wearing robes, a wig and a very snazzy crown.

We are then informed that in order to cross the equator we need to prove to the king that we are worthy. Only then can we transition from being Pollywogs to full fledged shellbacks.  This includes first reciting the Neptune pledge. Once the pledge is complete, the rituals begin. Everyone lines up and comes to the pool where first; we must each have fish guts dumped on our heads. While I’m fairly certain they were not actual guts, the concoction was green and awfully smelly. Then we each have to kiss a very large, very dead, fish being held up by the queen. Finally, we had to kiss King Neptune’s ring before jumping into the pool.

Everyone was giddy as we got dumped with fish guts and then took the plunge into the pool. But, guts and fish kissing are not exactly the Neptune Day main events. The most important thing of the day is head shaving. And while I’ll say right now that I was not brave enough to shave my head, I was very impressed with all the people who did. Lots of guys and even 10 or so girls sheared it all off and some even took it a step further and bic-ed the whole head. Very fun to watch and I give lots of credit to our newly shorn girls and guys.

After the festivities wound down we were free to enjoy a day of absolutely beautiful weather with no class. The sun was out and it was at least 80 degrees so almost everyone spent the day out on the deck in the sun. My friends and I headed to the very front of the boat on the 7th deck where the sun was shining in full force and we got a great breeze coming off the ship. We passed the rest of the afternoon talking, tanning, listening to music and looking off the edge for flying fish.

And just when we thought the day couldn’t get better we were met with a celebratory bbq out on the deck for dinner. While the food on the ship is good, it definitely gets repetitive and everyone was excited for some burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, ice cream and fruit. They had a giant fruit display and I stealthily grabbed a whole pineapple from the pile. Thanks to some impressive knife work by my friends Nate and Taylor we cut it up and it made the perfect end to our meal. We sat on the deck, watched the sun set off the side of the ship and marveled at the fact that we’re in school right now.  

The final thing to cap off the day was a lecture given at a nightly forum called Explorers Seminar. The woman who spoke is traveling with us on the ship with her husband. But, up until this past December she worked as the personal secretary for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I didn’t know much about Archbishop Tutu until recently but I’ve become increasingly in awe of him as a mediator, spiritual leader and human rights figure. Lavinia talked about “Tutu as I know him”and spoke about the various roles he played throughout his career including his work against Apartheid and his time with the TRC. She told a story about the night that Nelson Mandela was released from prison and she got to welcome him into the Archbishop’s home and see him speak for the first time after his release. Usually when the SAS ship stops in Cape Town Archbishop Tutu comes onto the ship to speak or say hello, and he’s even done an entire voyage around the world. Unfortunately, he’s going to be out of the country when we’re in port, which I’m a little disappointed about. But I definitely want to learn more about him while I’m on the trip and talk to Lavinia more about her time with him.

At the root of all his work is the idea that we’re all children of God and that each person should be treated with love and respect. No exceptions. And I have to say that that is a philosophy I can stand wholly behind. I read a quote from him this past fall before coming on the ship that really stayed with me. It said, “Take the anger from your hearts, Wipe the tears from God’s eyes, and live a life of love.”And while these sentiments are easier said than done, I have faith that in trying to live them; I will become a better person in the process.

As I said, this had been an incredible day and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more to come.

with love,

lia

2.07.2009

al marib ahsssan blad

So we just got back on the ship after Morocco and I have to say that while certainly overwhelming, Morocco is an incredible country. If ever the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”were to come to mind, our experience there could be the paradigm case. 

We got off the ship on Tuesday morning and the first thing we see is a very industrial port with cranes and shipping crates everywhere. In order to get out of the port and into the city we needed to walk about a mile and a half and I think that everyone was a little nervous to say the least. In our pre-port meetings we talked a lot about how Islamic culture is different than what we we’re used to, how we shouldn’t wear our hair down or make eye contact with men and that definitely made us a little apprehensive. However, we found our way out of the port, caught a taxi to the train station (which was an adventure in itself) and boarded our train to Marrakech.

By the time we reached the train station all of the first class seats had been sold so my friends and I shared a second class compartment with a younger man and a middle aged Moroccan woman. Somehow one of my friends struck up a conversation with him but since I was the only one in the cabin who spoke French he and I ended up talking for almost the entire train ride. Let me preface that by saying that my French, while pretty good in high school, has quickly deteriorated into fraco-mush. But somehow, between his English and my French, we ended up having an incredible conversation. Hicham, as I found out his name is, is 22, lives in Marrakech and is studying to be an engineer. We talked about America and his perceptions of our government. He said that while he thinks America is great country and that the people are good people he believes that the government is often wrong, especially when it comes to foreign policy. I have to say that I often agree with him. He, like most of the people I’ve talked to in other countries, is excited to see how Obama will do as president. We talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and he showed me some powerpoints about the devastation going on in Gaza. He told me how a lot of people in Islamic countries are boycotting American and Israeli products because they don’t want their money fueling terrorism. We also had an interesting conversation about religion. Being a Unitarian Universalist, I occasionally have to give a quick explanation of my religion, which is often no easy task when speaking perfect English. So you can imagine trying to do so in broken French to a guy who has just told you that Israelis are terrorists, me sitting there all the while knowing that my mom is Jewish. But, what could have been a sticky situation actually turned out to be not that bad. He seemed to get what I was saying and understood where I was coming from. We also talked about things that are Haram in Islamic culture and how strictly or loosely people actually follow the rules laid out for them. Aside from all the heavy stuff we talked about what we are studying in school and he played us some of the American music he liked. He showed me pictures of his friends and his girlfriend and the camping trip they took over the summer to the Atlas Mountains. After the initial scare of being in port and not knowing what to expect, talking to Hicham definitely put things in a better perspective for me.

After we arrived at the station in Marrakech we piled into cabs and made our way to Riad Mur Akush where we were staying. Driving in Morocco is fairly nerve-wracking since it seems like the lines and stop light and crosswalks are all just there for show. Our cab drivers zig zagged all over, weaving through people on motor bikes, other cars and people in the streets. We got dropped off near the riad and again we were a little nervous. We had to go down two alleys and ring the bell, all the while wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. However, as soon as Mohammad, the owner of the riad let us in we knew there we had been worrying in vain. The place was absolutely beautiful. There were only five rooms in the whole riad and we filled them all. There was a beautiful courtyard in the center, a room for breakfast and a rooftop terrace. There were tiles everywhere and all of the furniture was made of thick, dark, wood. They gave us mint tea (possibly one of the most delicious things ever) and we put our stuff away and decided to head out and explore the souks.

The souks are the giant marketplaces in the old city of Marrakech. We made the fifteen minute walk from the riad to the market and the minute you step into the area it’s like a sensory overload. There were people everywhere. Hundreds of stalls selling shoes, leather, ceramics, jewelry, teapots, lanterns and clothing. Plus food stalls all in the center all grilling meat or selling piles of dried dates, apricots and figs. There are stalls that are simply giant pots of snails that they ladle out by the bowl. There are stalls with whole lambs heads and tangines. Not to mention all the sounds. There were people shouting and bartering in English, French and Arabic. There’s snake charmers playing flutes, men standing in circles telling stories, music coming from some shops and the sounds of donkeys pulling carts filled with everything from pottery to refrigerators. The storytellers reminded me of my friend Tom, who, if he could lean Arabic and take a week to grow his beard back would have fit right in with them. You could also hear the call to prayer radiating from the Mosque in the center of the old city. There were people selling herbal medicine and one lady selling piles of human teeth. We deiced to split into smaller groups and look around. My group ventured into the stalls while some of the others went into the center of the market to see the snake charmers. I’m actually glad I didn’t go with them since apparently the charmers are quite aggressive, especially about throwing  snaked onto people’s heads and shoulders. They also saw monkeys on leashes which I thought was pretty sad. Most of us didn’t buy anything that afternoon, resolving to come back the next day now that we had some kind of knowledge of where things were and what we wanted. We headed back to the riad and then to a little restaurant for a dinner of pizza and schwarma. The exchange rate in Morocco is pretty great so we were able to eat a good meal for very little cash. We headed back to the riad and stayed up late talking until bed.

The next day we got up early to eat breakfast and plan the day. Half of the group wanted to go to a leather store and to see the remains of a palace and the other half of us wanted to spend the morning in the markets. My group headed out for the souks and spent the morning browsing, bartering, pretending we didn’t want things and then bartering some more. I don’t know how good my bartering skills were but I ended up buying some bracelets for my friends, a teapot for my boyfriend’s mom and a ceramic serving platter for my mom. By lunchtime we were starving so we decided to eat at a restaurant called Argana which was right in the market. We all got more tea (surprise) and decided to try some tangines. Basically a tangine is like a Moroccan crock pot made of terra cotta and the top is shaped like an upside down funnel. Throw in some meat and a combination of vegetables or fruit and nuts and everything becomes tender and delicious since all the flavors are kept inside while cooking. My friend Nate and I decided to split a tangine M’rouzia which was lamb with almonds, onions and raisins. I have to say that I’m getting hungry again now just thinking about it. The lamb meat was falling off the bone and the raisins were plump and delicious. We literally scraped the tangine clean after we ate all the meat and then sponged up the oil and sauce from the bottom with bread.

After lunch we decided to go visit the Palais Badi which was built in 1593 and still has some pretty impressive remains. We had to walk there from the market and I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t proud of being able to navigate our way in broken French. Madame Allaire, wherever you are, you’ll be glad to know that I still remember droit and gauche and didn’t get lost or die. We spent most of the rest of the afternoon exploring the palace ruins and taking pictures and then headed back to the market en route to the riad. I got some henna done on my hand which I really like. I’m hoping to get more done in India.

After relaxing for a little at the riad we decided to go to a hookah bar before dinner. We had to walk to the bus station to get a cab, which was learned later wasn’t in the best part of the city. We could only find one cab so we had to go in shifts which was actually a little scarier than we had planned but in the end everyone came to the same place and we thought we could have some hookah, maybe some tea and then get dinner after. Well, at this point things got a little messy. We go into the place that we think is the right café and I ask if they have hookah. The man says yes, they have kookah so I’m thinking it must just be a pronunciation difference. So we sit and get a table and people arrive in shifts as the cab comes and gets them and once everyone is there I try asking more about the hookahs and if they have different flavors of shisha. This is that part where we discover that kookah was not actually a pronunciation difference. Kookah, we learn, is what they call Coca Cola. Oh no. 

So we decide to split up again since we’re realizing that it’s just too difficult, not to mention unsafe to travel in such large groups. We discover that the hookah place is next door so everyone who wants to smoke goes over there and the rest venture out to find a place for dinner. I end up in a nice small group with my friends Nate, Bradee and Taylor and we settle in for some apple hookah and, unsurprisingly, more mint tea. After hookah we decided to go back to the riad area and find some dinner as it’s getting late and we’re getting hungry. We need to stop at the riad before heading out again and when we get there we find Hassan, the really great night hotel guy, just hanging out since no one else is back yet. Taylor had bought some mint tea in the market earlier that day and Hassan took us into the kitchen and showed us how to make it. We all sat down to enjoy it and the owner of the Riad next door came over to join us. We ended up staying and talking with Hassan and the other riad owner came over with bottles of beer for everyone. The six of us sat and drank and talked with Hassan and the other owner about where they live, their families, etc. Hassan is from a Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. As it turns out it was only his second day of work at the riad and we were his first customers. He spoke English really well and told us that he had learned it from a Peace Corps volunteer who had lived in their village. He also spoke Berber and some Arabic. The other Riad owner spoke French and Arabic so he and I conversed as well. They taught us how to say Morocco is beautiful (which is the subject line of the entry) and wrote it out for us in Arabic. Hassan showed us pictures of his village and the places in the mountains that he would hike with tourists. We also talked a little about America and again both men expressed their happiness that Bush was out of office. As we were almost reaching the bottom of our bottles of beer, the dinner group came back to the hostel and told us about the restaurant they had just eaten in that was located in the hotel about 2 alleys down. They said it might be closed but we quickly finished our drinks and got over there. There was a man in the alley blowing out the candles when we arrived and he told us that they were just about to close. But luckily, he let us in anyway. We were so thankful and once we got inside we could see why the other group had been so excited. The hotel was absolutely beautiful and the restaurant boasted comfy couches, jazz music and a bar. We placed our orders and quickly became friends with our waiter/bartender Rashid since we were the only people in the place. He said that I looked Moroccan and that Taylor looked like Scarlett Johannsen which we all got a kick out of. He made us drinks for free and the food was delicious. After we ate he showed us around the hotel and took pictures with us in the courtyards.

Over dinner we had a really great conversation about how the trip is already starting to change us. Bradee and Nate both said that they already know they’re going to hate going back to school and seeing the people who never think further than the next weekend or where to get beer. All of us agreed that Morocco was a pretty big culture shock but that we almost preferred that to Spain. While Spain was fun, it was also easy. It took us more time to warm to Morocco but in the end it was more rewarding. I like to think of when we got dropped off by the cabs in the area near the Riad. We were all scared, surrounded by people who looked nothing like and speaking languages we barely understood. Walking down the alleys for the first time we had no idea where we were going, not to mention the fact that the word “alley”is not usually one that puts people at ease. But, as soon as we got into the Riad and met Mohammad and Hassan and saw rooms and the courtyards, we realized what an incredible place we were in. All we needed to do with Morocco was to look past the things that were simply different than what we knew, and separate the fear of not knowing from what was actually dangerous. The people we had the pleasure of meeting in Morocco were all thoughtful, interesting, incredibly kind and helpful. I think that if the tables were turned, visitors to America would be hard pressed to find people who were as patient and willing to help strangers as the ones we encountered.

We woke up the next morning early to catch the train back to Casablanca. Upon arriving we had a few hours before on-ship time and decided to go see the mosque Hassan II. We got there and it was raining and windy and hard to see or walk straight but by the time we got on out tour and were able to see the inside, dealing with the bad weather was well worth it.  Hassan II is the third largest mosque in the world and as was built relatively recently. Our guide told us that many passages in the Qu’ran alluded to a throne for God above the water and so in 1986 they decided to build this Mosque on the coast of Casablanca. Not only was it astounding in its size, but the sheer breadth of ornate carving, painting and tiling was overwhelming. No space remained untouched by details. It also boasted the highest minaret in the world and, when open for prayer, can fit 25,000 people. They had a sanctuary with a ceiling that opened to reveal the sky, an underground bathhouse and seminary school adjacent to the building.  Overall one of the most impressive and reverent religious spaces I’ve ever seen.

After the mosque I was ready to go back to the ship. Three days yet again un-showered and longing for a good nap, it was nice to be back home. And just in case the prospect of a hot shower wasn’t great enough, I came home to find my inbox flooded with emails from friends. I could have burst I was so happy. Now, however, we have another 8 days at sea before Namibia. We’re back in classes every day, writing papers and doing homework like regular college students. But, on Monday we cross the equator and get to participate in Neptune Day. This is a series of navy traditions put on by the crew to celebrate crossing the equator. I hear there is some fish kissing and water throwing but the most exiting prospect is that people shave their heads. Last spring they set a record with 60ish girls buzzing off all their hair. I will say right now that I will not be a part of setting a new record, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless. Until then I’m just sailing along, trying to keep seasickness under wraps and enjoying each day

New updates to come after Neptune Day and then on to Namibia!

until then,

lia

2.02.2009

i may not be double jointed, but i better be flexible.

One of the first things they told us during our on-ship orientation was that the most important thing to be on this trip was flexible. Yesterday, they decided to put the concept into practice.

Last night in logistical pre-port (a meeting we have every night before we’re set to arrive in port in order to get important information about safety, culture and getting around) we were informed that instead of arriving in Morocco at 8am the following morning we were going to be delayed until an unknown time.

We spent most of yesterday in the Bay of Gibraltar picking up fuel and enjoying views of the Rock of Gibraltar. However, due to some rough seas the fuel ship that pulled alongside us that afternoon was unable to run the fuel line and we couldn’t get the gas we so desperately needed. So, we were delayed. Everyone was clearly surprised and a lot of people were disappointed as they had signed up for 3 day trips that were set to leave early the following morning. Luckily for me, my travel plans weren’t really affected as we planned to spend the first day exploring Casablanca and then hop a train to Marrakech the following morning.

However, this did leave us feeling kind of in limbo. All of a sudden we had 24 more hours on the ship and nothing to fill them with.  Board games were picked up, scavenger hunts were organized and a lot of people settled in to watch a broadcast of the Super Bowl. Our executive dean is a huge Steelers fan so we were able to pick up the signal from a German broadcast. It was definitely the most interesting broadcast of the “zuper-bowl” I’d ever seen as there were no traditional commercials and no English. Although it was pretty funny to hear the announcer pepper in words like “line-BAH-KAH” and “roth-les-BURGAH”

Aside from the zuper-bowl, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on my time on the ship thusfar as I have admittedly not been the most frequent blogger. It’s strange how it really took going to our first port for the gravity of this trip to sink in for me. Yes it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, yes it will change me and yes we’re getting to see the world in a way that is incredible and unique. I knew these things. I still know them. But all of a sudden they really do seem more real.  I spent 9 days looking out my window to nothing but water and then all of a sudden there was Spain. And even better than that was that I got to experience it, head on, for four days. I stayed up until 5am and ate churros con chocolate, I stayed in my first hostel and I saw Las Meninas at the Prado. But then, I got to go back to the ship.

And getting back onto the ship and seeing the friends that you hadn’t traveled with, hearing their Spain stories and seeing where they went and what they did, all of a sudden made the ship feel like home to me.  My friend Greg remarked that, for the semester this is “our ship” and then one day we leave, and it belongs to the next group of people to sail on it. For the first time it’s starting to feel like this place is “ours.”  Cheesy perhaps but certainly true. And while I think it took me a little while to get to this point, as to be expected I guess, I’m really content to be where I am.

So despite the fact that I am violently seasick again thanks to the rough seas and we’re running a little behind schedule, it doesn’t really matter. Because tomorrow we’re going to be in Morocco. And that, is incredible.

Be well and I can’t wait to share some stories about Marrakech with you soon.

lia

ps. – thank you to everyone who has been sending me emails! I love receiving them more than you can know and am trying to get back to everyone as soon as possible. I love hearing what is going on with you all at home and staying updated,so thank you!

buenos dias: adventures in españa

Hola! First of all, sorry for the lack of updates.  We stayed at a hostel in Madrid that happens to have free internet and I found out there is a way to update your blog via email so I'm going to start doing that which means far more frequent blog posts. Hooray! Also, I promise not all of them will be this long so feel free to read the parts you like and skip the rest. I’ve realized that blogging is both for me to share my experiences and help me to remember them so it may get a little lengthy. For this, I apologize.

So far Spain has been incredible. We landed in Cadiz early on Wednesday morning and everyone was itching to get off the ship. Not that seeing only water for 9 days wasn't great, we were just really excited to hang out on land. We spent the first day exploring Cadiz. Lots of people had signed up for SAS trips to take them around the city but since my friends Greg, Nate, Taylor and I didn't have any trips scheduled until later that evening we got to spend the day in the city on our own. We actually ended up being really happy that we didn't do a tour as we got to see all the sights but without a big group and a boring guide. We saw a roman theatre that was built in 100BC, the Cathedral in the middle of the city, and had time for sangria and tapas in the plaza. We climbed to the top of the bell tower in the cathedral and the view was incredible. Cadiz is surrounded by ocean and almost all sides so everywhere you looked were the tops of the houses and churches and the sun shining off the water. The weather was great as well so we were able to eat outside and walk around in tee shirts and sandals. For a first day in Spain, we couldn’t have asked for much better.

After heading back to the ship to clean up we all met up for an FDP (faculty directed practica) that was a night of Andalucían flamenco. About a group of 60-100 people loaded up the buses and they took us to a place in the country. I semi loved and semi hated this FDP for a few reasons. The night began with a display of Andalucían horses and a “bloodless bullfight demonstration” which was basically a baby bull running through the cape a few times. Then they brought us inside and gave everyone sangria and tapas. There were a few dancers along with a guitar player and a singer. The dancers performed a few pieces and then finished by taking some people on stage to dance and finishing with a collective dancing of the Macarena.  While most of the experience was very cheesy and touristy (especially the Macarena) and I’m not a big fan of exploiting animals, the flamenco was beautiful. The male and female soloists moved so sharply, intensely and gracefully and if you just focused on their dancing it was really incredible to watch.

The excitement of flamenco didn’t last long however as we had to leave at 6:45 the next morning to catch the train to Madrid. We arrived at the train station in a sleepy stupor but caught the train to Madrid on time and were on our way. Unsurprisingly I slept the entire 5 hour ride and once we arrived we then had to find out way to the hostel. No easy task as Greg was the only person who spoke Spanish and couldn’t remember the word for metro. However we got to Cat’s Hostel unscathed and checked into our 10 person room. The hostel was really great. Our room looked like summer camp bunk with 10 low bunk bed and 10 automated lockers. The hostel also had a bar in the basement and an Islamic style courtyard with beautiful tile and a giant stained glass window. Plus free internet access. Not too shabby for 20 euro. We ventured over to the Plaza Mayor for lunch and headed back for a siesta and some internet once it started to rain. Luckily the rain passed quickly and we headed out for dinner.

 Let me explain a little bit about the Spanish schedule.  Spain is a country for night owls. Lunch is the big meal of the day and it’s usually around 2pm. Then you take a little siesta and maybe have some tapas before a light dinner around 10. Bars and Clubs open around 1am and people stay out until 5 or 6 in the morning. It’s pretty common for club goers to be sharing the bus with businessmen on their way to work. So, we headed out for dinner around 10 and since almost no restaurant should have to be subjected to a group of 14 hungry and excited Americans we decided to split into two groups. My group went for paella, traditional rice, vegetables and seafood served in a cast iron dish. The rice was in a really flavorful yellow sauce with lots of mussels, shrimp and chicken. Muy delicioso.  

After dinner we met up with the whole group and decided to do a pub crawl run by the hostel.  Our group of 10 was joined by another 3 Semester at Sea friends and we headed out around 1am. For 10 euro we were able to go to 3 bars and clubs and got a free drink at each. The first bar was a local salsa club and after getting our free glass of Sangria we decided it was time to dance. The DJ was playing some American songs and since we knew all the words we singing and dancing up a storm. So fun. We then hit the second bar and were given free shots as well as more opportunities to dance. Finally we went to the third bar/club which included more drinks and more dancing. Not only did this club play a hilarious selection of music such as “Wake me up before you go-go” but it also had a small stage which we stormed for a hilarious rendition of “I Will Survive”. Needless to say by the time we left this club everyone was in great spirits. We went outside to get some air and made some broken Spanish conversation with some other people from the hostel and random Spaniards. Around 4 or 5am we headed back to the hostel but a few of us decided that we wanted some churros con chocolate which is a common Spanish snack of long churro donuts that you dip in cups of thick, delicious melted chocolate. So, the few of us hungry and happy enough to brave the walk wandered over to the Puerto de Sol to a 24-hour churreria. We got a whole bunch of churros and a few cups of dark chocolate and sat down to enjoy. Churros con chocolate is delicious, but let me tell you, it is especially delicious at 5 in the morning in the middle of Madrid.

The next day we decided we wanted to see all of Madrid so we took advantage of the free tour offered by the hostel. Our guide, Adrian, was absolutely incredible. He knew the whole city and was very entertaining and funny. He took us all around the Plaza Mayor, The Palacio Royale, Puerto del Sol and the Prado.

Adrian took us to a convent where the sect of nuns is not allowed to see anyone except for the other sisters and the priest. However, they sell these bisquits to make money for the church. So the way you order them is you go into the church and into this little room and you ring the bell and go over to this big lazy susan where you’re on one side and the nun is on the other behind the wall. You tell the sister what you want and put your money on the lazy susan and then turn it to the other side and she turns it back around with your order and your change. It was unlike anything I’d seen, not to mention the bisquits were delicious.  The ones we had were like almond macaroons and were sweet and moist and tasty.

We also learned about the symbol of Madrid, the bear in the tree. Apparently there used to be these trees all over the city and the fruit that was on them fermented to make alcohol inside the fruit. The city also used to have a lot of bears who happened to really like to eat this alcoholic fruit so the symbol of the city is the bear reaching up into the tree to get some booze fruit.  The tour was great not only because we got to see Madrid but it was a great opportunity to talk to Adrian and learn about Spanish life and culture and history. He talked about the city from medieval times all the way to the present and we talked to him about laws in Spain, how he grew up, his education and everything. It was incredible to learn that in only the past 30 years Spain has gone from being a complete dictatorship to a progressive, liberal and wealthy democratic country.

After the tour we were mucho hungry and mucho tired so we settled in for a long lunch and a long siesta. I was able to use skype and video chat for the first time which was muy exciting. The three friends who had joined us the night before came back from the train station and informed us that the tickets they wanted were sold out and had to stay another night. So, we decided that the more was the merrier and that we could indeed fit 14 people into a 10 person room. Adrian had informed us earlier that you could get into all of the museums free of charge after 6pm so a group of us decided we wanted to go see the Prado which is like the Louvre of Spain. We saw many many paintings of Jesus and Spanish royalty and got to see a few of the paintings we learned about in global studies that week like Las Meninas by Velasquez. Las Meninas has been reinterpreted by artists like Picasso and Dali and is one of the most notable of Velasquez’s works. It was incredible to see it in person. Another, less dignified highlight was a portrait of the Virgin Mary and San Bernardo where the holy mother is shooting a very long stream of breast milk into the Saint’s mouth.  We only wished we could have read the caption in Spanish.

After the Prado we met back at the hostel and decided to figure out dinner. Someone mentioned the words “Mexican food” and we collectively decided that Mexican sounded perfect. Our waiter, Diego was Peruvian but spoke impeccable English which he said he picked up from school and American movies. Hannah, Alicia and Laura all ordered full plates of Nachos which are usually meant to share as an appetizer and the rest of us got tacos, flautas, and gringas rojas. One of my favorite things about traveling is sharing meals and this was one of my favorite ones. The food was delicious, we were starving and everything was hilarious. Everyone in the group has a great sense of humor which, coupled with tasty food and the thrill of being in Spain, made for a really great experience.

We all skipped, stumbled and made our way back to the hostel after dinner and most of us decided that since we had to catch an 8am train we couldn’t do another Spanish night out. We stayed up late talking and making funny noises and caught our train to Cadiz the next morning at 8am. We were a tired, smelly yucky group but we got there and were able to spend our last few hours writing postcards home and enjoying some last minute tapas outside the Cathedral.
Overall for a first port I think we could not have asked for a better experience than Spain. It was a clean and relatively safe country to help get us used to the excitement and trials of independent travel.  We learned that the rest of the trip will require increasing amount of creativity and patience as our language gap widens and we head into increasingly unknown territory. However, it was also, if nothing else, incredibly fun. Having a good travel group is priceless and I’m pretty lucky to find a group that can roll with the punches and have a great time along the way. I’m looking very much forward to Morocco and  our other ports of call and, of course, updating you along the way.

Best from España,

lia