Around the World in 104 Days!


Semester at Sea, Around the world in 104 days... Bahamas, Dominica, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Viet Nam, China, Japan, Hawaii, San Diego here I come!

?You get the idea that God made Mauritius and then modeled Heaven in its image.? —Mark Twain

Woke up to the beautiful sight of Mauritius, a small island off the African coast, near Madagascar. Mauritius was the perfect transition from Africa to India, because it is an African country with completely Indian culture. They speak French there, but everyone we saw was Indian. The island was much more developed than I assumed it would be. It is as if they tried to develop it but the tropical flora would not stop growing and overflowing all over the place. It’s like the Talking Heads lyric “it was a Pizza Hut, now it’s all covered with daisies.” Everywhere you look there is vibrant, beautiful vegetation bursting. The island used to be one giant volcano, but now it is a series of oddly shaped mountains that were eroded from the initial volcano. I explored with Caroline, Krissie and Lily, led by our cab driver, Sam the Man. Sam took us to a grocery store to grab up all the local beers to get a taste of each one. I never thought so many beers would be brewed on such a tiny island. Caroline collects volcanoes, so the first stop on our little tour was a latent volcano that erupted years ago and is now a big crater covered in the most lush foliage imaginable. On our way there, we noticed floats and giant cutouts of Indian gods and goddesses being pushed and carried around town. Sam explained that they were preparing for an Indian festival that was going down on Wednesday. It seemed like the parade had already begun. After the volcano, we went to a gorgeous waterfall—one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Next stop was lunch in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road at a charming outdoor Indian restaurant. We ordered a couple of dishes to share that were meant to have small samplings of foods that appeal to each sense individually: spicy, sweet, salty, etc. Lunch was delicious and they seemed to like us a lot because they kept bringing out different flavors of rum on the house—coconut, pineapple, plum, exotic fruit, ginger, cinnamon. After a long, lazy lunch in the shade of their tent, we hopped back in Sam’s cab to hit up Flec n’ Flac beach. The beaches of Mauritius are breathtaking, with white sand, completely clear, warm water, and coral reefs for days. Mauritius is said to have the best snorkeling in the entire world. We didn’t even need snorkels though because the water is crystal clear. It was a fantastic day in Mauritius, now on to India!

Make my truth or dare effective

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Rule Number 1: NO SLEEPING IN PORT

Day 1 in Capetown, South Africa: For an entire day we lingered around the outside of the Capetown, staring at Table Mountain and the absolutely gorgeous city, because it was too windy and rough to get into the port. Finally, the next morning, we made it off the ship. This was our first luxurious, fancy, and not impoverished port, so it was quite a treat. Capetown is the coolest city I have ever been to. I would want to live here if one in four people didn’t have AIDS. Yeah, the rate is literally 25% infected. It’s tiny little city, big enough to be fun and crazy but small enough to get acquainted quickly. All the buildings are Victorian style and gorgeous and everywhere you look in the downtown is clean. You can drink the water too, which was a nice change. Capetown is different from most cities because the poverty does not exist in the downtown. This is because the blacks were displaced out of the city during apartheid, moved to the outskirts of Capetown to form cramped, dirty, and impoverished townships where people live in tin shanties. Now, they are in the process of building permanent settlements to house the displaced blacks, but it’ll be a slow, never ending process that will probably do more harm to the communities by splitting them up and forcing loans upon the poor. So, we get of the ship in Capetown. First stop, the sweet hostel we booked called “The Backpack.” It is a “backpacker” which is what South Africans call hostels that are really more like hotels. They try to draw in young traveler crowds. The Backpack was awesome, really nice with a pool, bar, restaurant, and good company. After a few drinks and settling in there, we explored downtown Capetown, namely, the infamous Long Street. After a delicious lunch, we bought a bottle of South Africa’s equivalent to two-buck-chuck and grabbed a cab to Lion’s Head mountain. We booked it up that thing to try catching the sunset. It got really hard and rocky at the end, but we made it, flip flops, bottle and all, to see the sun go down over the ocean with a burst of color, fog spilling over Table Mountain to our left, and a full moon rising in back of us. All the locals were up there enjoying the view, we’d heard it was the spot. We met a cool guy from South Africa and a bunch of girls from Germany, sitting precariously on a rock ledge above a steep drop off. They invited us, so we nervously climbed over to join them. It was scary but we made it out alive. We talked to them and learned about South Africa until it was dark and we realized we were still in flip flops, now a bit tipsy, and it was going to be a dark and rocky walk down. On the way down, Lakshmi and I befriended a 25 year old guy from the U.S., Nick. Nick does agricultural renewal in Afghanistan, and because Lakshmi and I are both Environmental Studies majors, it was easy to make conversation and we were all fast friends. Nick was vacationing alone, so we invited him along with our friends. He conveniently had a rental car, so he was able to take us all back to the hostel to get ready for some nightlife. It just so happened that U2 was in Capetown, and everyone there is obsessed with Bono because he does a lot of charity work in Africa. They threw a 76,000 person show in the World Cup Stadium and the city was overtaken with U2 madness. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars to go, since I probably wouldn’t in the U.S. either, Nick drove us up a mountain to see the show from there. We could completely see the stadium and light shows, and hear the music. There were tons of locals up on the mountain catching the show and raging. After that, we rolled to Long Street for a great night of dancing on the town. Late night McDonald’s was a little taste of home, only theirs is way better. We slept for a couple hours, but we don’t generally sleep in port. We’ll sleep when we’re dead. Day 2: Woke up early for a wine tour of the beautiful vineyards in Stellenbosch. Our group was awesome and as diverse as it gets: a South African tour guide, two guys from New Zealand, a woman from France, a guy from England, a German, Lakshmi and me. The woman from France, Ann, became fast friends with Lakshmi and I because she’s the coolest. Ann is 70 years old and has had polio since she was a girl. She is alone and traveling around the world, like us, only she is taking seven years to do it. She had so many fascinating stories and so much advice to give. We traveled around to five different vineyards, tasting about 40 wines, a zillion cheeses, olive oil and chocolate, with an incredible lunch included. The countryside was absolutely gorgeous. When the tour was over, we stuck with the Kiwis and the German, getting dropped off at Camp’s Bay for an evening on the beach and another sunset. We brought the bottles of wine we had bought over to the “best seafood restaurant in Capetown,” and they didn’t approve, saying “we’re not that kind of establishment” so they kicked us out. Next stop, our hostel to freshen up. That night got crazy on Long Street, where we danced all night until arriving at the best joint of all, a dub step club. Heaven. Danced ‘til we dropped. Day 3, 4, 5: Woke up in the hostel and rushed back to the ship for my safari! First we flew to Port Elizabeth. The South African airports are so much nicer, cleaner and faster than in the U.S. It was refreshing to just get through an airport without being hassled to death. Upon arrival in Port Elizabeth, we drove a couple hours into the African bush, where I saw what I’ve always imagined Africa to be. Driving up to our destination, the Kariega Game Reserve, there was a giraffe right as we pulled in. There were wilderbeast and blesbok grazing around the reception house. The lodge was incredibly nice. We had four people to a chalet, which were massive with kitchens, a living room, balconies over the bush, and big bedrooms. I had my own bedroom and bathroom with a king sized bed and a huge bathtub. The resort had a pool, spa, gym, bar and bomb restaurant (all inclusive buffet…mmm), and everything had a woodsy, lodge feel to it. Any of the animals can wander around the place, so some people even had monkeys on the porch of their chalet! Walking around at night was a little intimidating. We went on 5 game drives in 3 days, each for about 3 hours. My tour guide’s name was Dean and he was the head ranger at the reserve. The game reserve was absolutely inundated with animals. I thought we would have to search for them, but they were everywhere! It was nuts! Springbok, wilderbeast, blesbok, antelope, aardvark, and zebras were the most common. Then there was the cool stuff: Elephants crowded around our open-topped jeep, 20 of them at once, so close we could touch them! We rolled up 10 feet away from an entire pride of lions! We saw a family of ostriches, a male, female and their baby. There were tons of giraffe and they would come so close, standing in the road so we couldn’t move in the jeep. There were rhinos grazing around with their babies, and one rhino (the killer, black rhino, white rhinos are the safe ones) came so close it nearly touched the rearview mirror I was sitting next to. While we were there they were running lie detector tests on all of the rangers because they’ve been having trouble with rhino poachers. A week ago, poachers came in to steal a rhino’s horn (the valuable part), hacking it off with a machete and leaving the rhino to wander around the reserve bleeding to death. We saw a hippo, which I learned kills more people in Africa than any other animal. I guess those hippos really are hungry hungry. We saw monkeys, buffalo, huge birds, bush pigs, warthogs (PUMBA!), and so much more. We walked around a little bit in the areas that were safe to learn about the plants and poop and bugs, and ate some termites! They taste minty. Dean taught me so much about all the animals of the bush, and he tried to convince me to come back as a safari guide myself. I told him I’d think about it. At night we drank at the bar lodge with all of the safari guides and one girl even got lucky with a safari guide, which was unbearably hilarious. Especially when she drove back with a guide on the open jeep at five thirty in the morning for our morning game drive—best walk of shame ever. All in all, the safari was probably the best thing I’ve done on this trip around the world, thus far. Kariega Game Reserve is the most magnificent place I’ve ever been. Everyone that goes to Africa must do an overnight safari. It rocked my world. We flew back to Capetown for a final afternoon in the glorious city, where we shopped for some African souvenirs, had a great lunch and drank into the night before boarding the MV Explorer, and taking off for Mauritius. Tomorrow we get to Mauritius, an island somewhat close to Madagascar. Mark Twain once wrote, “you get the idea that God made Mauritius and then modeled Heaven in its image.” My dad wrote, “Watch out for pirates! You’re heading to a part of the world I’ve never heard of.” Can’t wait to explore this legendary island myself!

Jennie asked me for ice cream flavors to define each port

Dominica: Rainbow sherbert with gummy bears Brazil: Rocky road with multicolored sprinkles mixed throughout Ghana: Mint chocolate chip (because you always underestimate how good it will be, and then it surprises you with being soooo bomb)

This One’s for Africa

My parents say that this blog is showing the fun side of my voyage but not the cultural education that I am receiving. I didn’t want to make it too dry, but here goes. For my friends who care about the fun stuff, skip to the end. While we are on the boat taking classes, all of the classes are geared toward thinking globally and acting locally. At each port, we take on a few natives of the next port, who give lectures and seminars on the country we are headed too. There is always an adult and a college student, so that we can get young and old perspectives on what to do, what to learn, what to see, and where to go. For example, Louis came on the boat in Dominica. He is a young adult from Manaus, Brazil, so he hung out with my group of friends and taught us the true ins and outs of Brazil, rather than the dry stuff we read in a textbook. He showed us all around Manaus, and it was very sad to see him go (he actually cried and we felt so terrible leaving him there). Because we are traveling through the global south, much of this has to do with colonialism, imperialism, poverty and the environment—so all the ways that westerners have taken, destroyed and imposed on the global south. This can be seen in their developmental struggles and constant misfortune. In Ghana, this all began with the slave trade. Interestingly, our route from Brazil to Ghana was the exact route taken during the slave trade, only backwards. Obama’s first visit abroad as the president was a trip to the slave castles and dungeons on the shores of Ghana. Michelle’s ancestors were from Ghana, and who knows where Barack’s are from, so it was very culturally significant for their family, especially their daughters. Everyone in Ghana is obsessed with Obama, but personally, I think it fishy that he came to Ghana, where they have recently found oil; where rich nations are battling for control of the newfound resources. Ghana does not have the infrastructure to mine petroleum on their own, so leave it up to us to exploit what they cannot. Everywhere we went, somebody would yell Obama at us joyfully, or shove Obama clad gear in our faces—t-shirts, baggies of crackers, flags, posters, you name it, they’ve got it with an Obama head. So back to the slave trade, this was a tragic population dislocation, brain drain, and economical devastation on western Africa. As if this were not enough to recover from, imperialism followed, in which nations like the United States scraped up all Ghanaian natural resources—gold, diamonds, oil, etc.—and still continue to do so today. The nation was thrown into a financial crisis, because foreign domestic investment shows little returns to the invaded country. So, the “magnanimous” international monetary funds lent out loans to Ghana. For every dollar given, the Ghanaians would be expected to return three. When they could not pay back these ridiculous loans, they were forced to undergo structural adjustment programs. These included downscaling in government expenditures, against the will of the federal governments, in areas that were at the discretion of foreign nations. This led to a disinvestment in public education, transportation, water resources, agriculture and other necessities that keep the nation strong. Because the rich nations were mandating where to cut spending, it screwed over the Ghanaian people for the benefit of those rich nations. For example, the government was forced to eliminate agricultural subsidies. Foreigner were then taking land from farmers, forcing Ghanaians to grow crops that were needed and profitable in their countries. These cash crops would be exported at extremely low prices, Ghanaian fields would be destroyed, and there would be no affordable crops available for Ghanaian subsistence. All the benefits would go to the foreign nation, and Ghana would be left with the ugly consequences. Another example: the clean water supply is no longer free, so everyone must suffer cholera outbreaks from contaminated water. Ghana still does not have clean running water, or rather any running water whatsoever, so even the citizens must buy purified water. They drink out of little plastic bags called water sachets because they are cheaper. Those who cannot afford purified water drink what they can find, and just last week while in Accra, Ghana, there was a massive Cholera outbreak. In Ghana, it is very disrespectful to wave or shake hands with your left hand. This is because they do not always have toilet paper, so that’s the wipin’ hand. It was so hard to get used to, but any left-handed wave was met with a scowl. Other Ghanaian ways: the widespread vendor saying is “its nice to be nice,” now none of us can stop saying it. The cocoa in Ghana makes for some of the greatest chocolate in the world. Everyone in Ghana is an artist and MUST show you their work immediately. They’ll give it to you for “free”, until you are forced to walk away with it and then they say ok ok we will split it, you buy half. The sewers are beyond smelly because they are all open and full of trash. The trash on the streets does not go to landfills so they burn it weekly instead. Everyone wears awesome bright colored jumpsuits, dresses and patchwork pants. They would make Will Smith green with envy. Now, from where I left off on my experience in Ghana. After a crazy night at Axim Beach, we made it back to the ship just in time for our field trips. I went to visit a village called Atonkwa. Upon our arrival, there was a big celebration with African drumming, singing and dancing. Before anything goes down at a village though, you must shake the hand of every elder, including the head chief. It was cool to shake hands with the chief because for the rest of the day, he sat like a statue, not uttering a word. They put on an awesome performance in which two men were doing acrobatics and fire tricks, swallowing razor blades, and performing other superhuman circus acts. Then, they had a naming ceremony for all of us, giving us Ghanaian names. In Ghana, everyone is named after the day of the week that they were born. I was born on a Friday so my Ghanaian name is Efia. They distinguish each other through middle and last names. After the ceremony, when socializing outside of the village with Ghanaians, they were thrilled that we knew our Ghanaian names, and many of us shared names, so that was fun too. After the long ceremony, we spent the rest of the day with the children at the village’s school. Some of the kids had never seen a white person before and even cried at the sight of so many, thinking we were ghosts! We let the kids play with our cameras, because they’d never seen such advanced technology, and got a kick out of taking pictures and seeing themselves on camera. The village had goats and naked children running around everywhere. There was an air of excitement and you got the idea that they truly sing, dance and drum everyday, not just for visitors. After the village, we went to another gorgeous beach to swim as the sun was setting. People all over Ghana carry everything on top of their heads, but a unique sight I saw on the beach was a woman toting a massive sewing machine on her head. Rasta men hung out all over the beach, trying to sell stuff and preach their ways of brotherhood, love and peace, Rasta mon, Rasta livin’. Exhausted, we got back to the ship in time to go out on the town of Takoradi finding our second wind. Takoradi is a little bit of a sketchy town, so the nightlife is the same. Prostitutes everywhere. We went in a huge group to Ocean Bar, where we hung out with people from Ghana and Semester at Sea students. The people in Ghana are among the nicest human being on the planet. When you meet them, they aren’t trying to merely learn your name and where you’re from. They want to know about your life, family, hobbies, interests, passions. It is never a surface interaction with them. They are so genuine and friendly, unlike Americans who write foreigners off very quickly. The next day, I traveled to Accra to do service work with an organization called “Freedom in Creation.” This organization was started by an SAS alumni, so people on the ship are trying to make a new sector. The goal of Freedom in Creation is to allow children in impoverished schools to come together to paint murals to raise awareness about the needs in their communities. The murals give them a voice in the global community and are sold in the U.S. to raise money for clean drinking water infrastructure. Getting to Accra, we headed straight for a school. The funniest quote of the day, after we were very late getting to Accra (transportation in Ghana is rough) Lakshmi: “Crap, we barely have any time. Better get in their quick, shake some hands, kiss some babies.” Jonathon: “Yeah, or kiss some hands, shake some babies. Common people! These babies ain’t gonna shake themselves!” Very insensitive, but after a stressful ride there, we needed some comic relief. The kids were thrilled to see us, and we went through the same infatuation with the cameras for the first hour. The students painted murals that are now hanging around the ship for all to see before they are sold to benefit the school’s community. The slums surrounding the school were devastatingly impoverished, so the school seemed like a safe haven for the children. The next day, we went to a different school and did it all over again. I must admit, it was not as rewarding as providing sustainable help to the school, but hopefully the profits from their painting will provide sustainable aid in the future. That night, we met up with Brittany’s friend Kara who is studying abroad in Accra. Heading to her college dorm, we expected a program full of Americans. We got to her dorm/apartment to find her roommates were all Africans and Kara only knew seven people that were not from Ghana, four Americans total. We all marveled at her bravery. She took us out to eat and explore the town. After, we returned to her dorm and talked to her Ghanaian roommate, Jackie. Jackie taught us so much about her culture, things I will never forget. The college students in Ghana are generally the wealthy, so they have not suffered as much from colonialism and imperialism, protected by their status. This has allowed them to keep Ghanaian traditions alive more so than the more impoverished people we had met. Talking to Jackie about her family, she began showing us videos of her sister’s recent wedding. She explained that white weddings would never occur in Ghana, had it not been for white invasion. She showed us the engagement ceremony, which is what Ghanaians truly consider marriage. Engagement in Ghana is fabulous. It looks like a wedding in the seating—groom’s family on one side, bride’s on the other. The groom comes to the bride’s house to “ask” to marry their daughter. All of the bride’s sisters and best friends wear the same outfits and the groom must pick the right woman in order to marry her. The really intense traditional families even put coverings over their heads! The bride must go through the same process of choosing her husband out of the crowd with a covering over his head. Jackie said that the same process goes, even when there is an identical twin involved! If you pick the wrong person, the engagement is called off completely. Everyone in the ceremony was dressed in fantastic African traditional dress, bright colors and geometric patterns. They all dance around, drumming, singing and having a great time. Much more fun than an American wedding. Three days later, the engaged couple gets married in their European white wedding ceremony, which they consider pretty much meaningless. After our talk with Jackie, we went to a nightclub to meet up with the rest of the SAS kids and then on to our hotel in Accra. At the nightclub, we met Chef Joe, from Lebanon. He told us to come by his restaurant the next day. The following day, we took Joe up on his offer. His restaurant was incredibly nice, so Brittany, Lakshmi and I made the boys sit separately from us, trying to secure a free meal. We told him to bring out all the best dishes. Joe brought out beer, pizza, burgers, shwarma wraps, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers and fried shrimp. We couldn’t believe the amount of food piling up in front of us and sincerely hoped we weren’t expected to pay. Then they brought out hookah (which they call sheisha). They asked if it was for three, and when we said yes, they brought out three massive, four foot tall, hookahs, one for each of us. Laughing at how over the top it was, we felt like royalty. In the end, the bill racked up to about 200 dollars, and Joe took the tab, thank god. As full as humanly possible, we went to the largest market in Ghana, Makola Market, which was a pretty rough experience. This market is miles long and jam packed with sweaty people, crammed cargo and chaos. There is literally not a square inch of space left open to breathe. Some of us girls made the mistake of wearing shorts, which was okay everywhere else in Ghana, but not there. People were yelling at us, hitting our legs, screaming “no!” and scoffing at our stupidity. We quickly changed into long skirts and were received much more friendly than before. The market did not get any less crazy though. Everyone walks around with things on their heads, like I said before, and I got whacked from the side with a big cargo box that nearly knocked me out. Soon after, I gave up on the market and Lakshmi and I agreed that we were over it and it was time to get the hell out of there. From there, we met up with Kara and her friends at a restaurant/bar that features different bands from Western Africa every Wednesday. There was also a sweet African art gallery. Following that show, we headed to Lobadi Beach, where they hold Reggae Night every Wednesday. The beach was inundated with hundreds of people from all over the world. Many SAS students came, Europeans, Middle Easterners, Ghanaians, and more. It was a sight to see everyone brought together by music hanging out on the beautiful beach all night long. We danced the night away and met so many cool people. We slept at a nearby beach resort called Afia Beach. In the morning, we had another rough transportation experience, trying to get a van back to Takoradi for on-ship time. We made it and spent the rest of our Ghanaian cash on great souvenirs that vendors sold around the port. When we floated away from shore, the vendors danced and sang in a drum circle for our grand farewell. It’s been a fun week on the boat and tomorrow we arrive in South Africa! Waka Waka wa-ehhhh this one’s for AFRICA!

Under African Skies

And the ports just keep gettin’ better. People were not kidding when they said that Ghana is insanity. Citizens of Ghana are as friendly as human beings can be, eager to shake our hands, touch our hair, learn our names, and pose for photos, sqealing at their image on camera. The most prevalent language is English which was a huge relief after Brazil where we could barely buy a mango without a struggle. The clothing style is Fresh Prince of Belair, technicolor dresses and suits, and I am eager to revamp my wardrobe—they look damn good. They carry anything and everything on their heads. From fruit to matresses, nothing is too heavy or unstable to balance gracefully while walking around town in 90 degree weather, smiling from ear to ear. Last night was arguably one of the best nights of my entire life. It all started when Don found us a “tour guide” slash hang out buddy, Franklin, to help us find transportation and hotspots. We told him we wanted to go to the jungle, a national wildlife preserve. We ended up at a gorgeous beach resort called Axim Beach instead, 2 hours in the opposite direction of the preserve we had hoped for. Not the worst place to be dropped off though! We threw on swim suits, headed to the bar and played their form of Mancala out of hippo’s backs, using stones for marbles. Adventuring around the resort, we climbed through a gorgeous forest, swung on rope swings, met people from all over the world, and swam for hours in warm water with waves so massive they cotinually urged us to get out of the water. It was one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen. The resort was wild, not like our tamed beaches and forests, but truly overflowing with natural vegetation and beauty. Liz, our crazy friend, found her (and us) a Croatian sugar daddy who had all of our charges tacked onto his tab. He was definitely married, wedding ring visible and all. He ordered us a feast of lobster, chiciken, rice, garlic bread, beer and whiskey. Endless amounts of whiskey. After rock climbing to the perfect spot, bottle of wine in hand, to see the sunset, it was time for the night festivities. The hotel staff built us a bonfire on the beach realizing we were there to stay. Franklin was getting increasingly crazed, rambunctious, hammered and obnoxious. I thought he was going to die on multiple occasions. He jumped over the bonfire, barely clearing it and landing in a face plant on the other side. He broke a wine glass and ate it—literally ate it. He sung on the top of his lungs without breaking for so long that we had all memorized the words to his nonsensical babble. The chorus went, “OH OH, My life. OH OH My life” and we sang it like there was no tomorrow. We walked further down the beach to get away from the firelight for some star gazing and Allen led a meditation cirlce. Right after it we stripped down for skinny dipping in the warm ocean, where the waves had gotten increasinly rough and spectacularly high. No longer able to see the waves coming, as they were pitch black in the night, the surprises of waves toppling and flipping us over never got old. After that, we returned to the beach bar where I ran into Bernard, a man from Ghana that I had met earlier in the day. Bernard and I went on a walk together because he persistently insisted that we do so—he had to get something off of his chest. Turns out he was head over heels in love and he knew we could make it work. Begging me to write to him everyday and later move to Ghana to start our life together, I insisted that it could never work out. Regardless, he took my address down and promises he will write frequently until I come back for him. He asked me to give him something to remember him by. All I had in my bag besides clothing was a bandaid, and man was he stoked to have that bandaid. We resolved to sleep on the beach, for we had not reserved a villa, not realizing we would be coming to Axim Beach at all. We all had to be back for day trips at 8am, so we pleaded to have a cab waiting at the reception at 5AM, knowing how untrustworthy Ghana taxis had proven to be. They promised us they would not only have it there, but would wake us up too, and we laughed at the thought of them scouring rooms for us when we didn’t have one. So Brittany, Allen, Caroline and I passed out on the beach. The hotel staff came down, acknowledging out squatter ways, and covered us in blankets! Then they turned off all the nighttime lighting so that we could have total darkness to sleep peacefully under the stars. Promptly at 5AM, they found us on the beach to wake us up for our cab ride back to the MV Explorer! After a whole 2 hours of sleep, we dragged our tired bones home. Now, I’m going on a village experience before leaving to do service work at impoverished schools in Ghana. Writing this to stay awake because I know if I fall asleep, I may miss the bus. Ghana is the bomb-ah!!!!!

Cause this is AFRICA!

9 days on this glorious boat later… We’re in freaking AFRICA!!!! It’s been a long 9 days of laying out, eating, sleeping, and going to class occasionally. When I look back on my life 5, 10, 20 years from now, I will always wish to be back on this ship. It is truly paradise. Out of the entire semester I calculated my total days spent in class to be 23, including exam days. Living the life. Someone started calling my crew of best friends here, “the hippies, the hipster and the Mexican” hahaha so we’re goin with it. Yesterday was the “Sea Olympics” which is like color war between the halls. My crew competed in synchronized swimming and made the sickest mash up and choreographed every second like it was our job. So the hippies, the hipster and the Mexican did a synchronized swim routine in front of the entire ship and its all the rage. People have been watching videos of it all day and are begging for encores. Started with light pretty classical music, we spun out of the swim showers doing ballet. Held onto a ballet bar for perfectly in unison pleas and arm stretches, and pathetic toe touches. Then did a war scene to some intense brassy classical bangin, fell in the water dramatically in pairs pretending to be dead. Came up out of the water holding our little Mexican, pato, above our heads spinning in a circle to NAaaaaaa sevenna na bahishibaba (lion king circle of life) which we dubbed to segway into dubstep. We whomped him up in the air above our heads then threw him head first in a Jesus stance forward. We whomped into a line to do some sassy dance moves. Then Adam and I jumped out of the water while everyone else did a swimming back and forth thing. The dub step segwayed into upside down by a-teens (a super poppy song) and Adam and I had a perfectly choreographed dance which we did side by side and the end was “I lost myself in fantasies of you” and then it went straight into “shook me alllll night long” where we got down on our knews in stradling positions headbanging in circles, real sexy-like, got up on the second you shook me all night long, sexy walked up to each other, wrapped my leg around him, and madeout, falling into the water sideways all while making out. Then we all got in a hump line and synchronized humped to “push it real good,” did some more crazy swim moves like flips and stuff. Lakshmi, Pato and I got on the bigger boys shoulders for a line spin move, the song went into “waka waka” shakiras fifa world cup song, and we ended with a shimmy on their shoulders and “CAUSE THIS IS AFRICA” (a line in the song, and we just happen to be headed to Africa). It was beautiful. Not sure if I’ve talked about my best friend on this ship, Lakshmi (lock-shmee) yet, but just so you all know, she is the coolest chick on the planet. We run around the boat making people feel uncomfortable with our loud, weird and hilarious ways. Hahah no really though, we have the best time, all the time and nothing less, ever. She is half Indian, other half from Guiana, and is the most worldly gal I know. She’s lived in Germany, Guiana and Oregon. Her mother and she are the founders of a sustainable community, which they are currently building In 150 acres of Oregon forest. Her family was all pretty much royalty in Germany, managing all the wheat and agriculture for East Germany up until World War II. They still have remnants of villages standing and a museum dedicated to her family. She won a huge beauty pageant in Oregon to win a scholarship and the girl that lost to her had her dad publicize news stories that Lakshmi had cheated and they ended up on 5 different news stations, and ended up with reporters outside her house constantly, so she changed her first name Sylvie, to her middle name, Lakshmi, hence the crazy name. She’s done everything, seen everything, and lives life like I hope to live it someday, but definitely do in her presence. Her joyful disposition is infectious and her crazy, lack of inhibitions makes everyday too much fun. “She’s got everything delightful, she’s got everything I need!” Get off tomorrow in Ghana! In our rooms, the paintings are removable and people leave tips of the trade for how to live life on and off the ship. Repeatedly people exclaim, “Ghana is the craziest port of all! You’ll party your ass off much more than you think” and things like that. Not what I expected, since when I hear Ghana, I just think of National Geographic photos, so I have no clue what to expect. Still taking my malaria pills and boy are the dreams getting good. All I know is it’s probably a good place to keep the ship doctor—Dr. Bill’s—rules in mind: Don’t do it (unprotected sex) Don’t get bit (rabies, malarial mosquitoes) Don’t get hit (cars, people, bouncers, etc.) Don’t get lit (drugs) Don’t eat shit (contaminated food and water) Dr. Bill knows what’s up, he’s the man. WHAT AM I GHANA DO?! Beach bungalows, a village experience (drum circle dance party Semester At Sea trip), jungle exploration, and partying in Accra are all on my mind. Winging it with Lakshmi is a sure thing. Here today, Ghana manana!

Amazonian Woman

The next couple days in Manaus were spent exploring the city. I ate at the Brazilian best steakhouse in Brazil—Bufalo, where the meat never stops coming. I can honestly say that it was the best meal I have ever had in my life. I went with my friends Brittany and Allen and when we arrived, we saw the dean and captain of our ship with their entourage. When we were seated at one of the best tables in the house, which happened to be near them, we asked to be moved to a spot where we couldn’t be seen. Immediately, their faces lit up and they assumed we were American celebrities. After moving us to a table out of sight, near the kitchen, they rushed out with a tray of free drinks. We looked around and noticed that nobody else was getting this treatment. Here in Brazil, the know how to make a drink. They just mash up real fruit, usually strawberries or limes, add some sugar, and fill the glass to the top with vodka. It’s delicious and puts you in delicious spirits. They brought out tons of beautifully fried side dishes—yucca, polenta, onion rings, egg rice, beef ravioli, cheese—all fried to perfection. Each time one would run out, they were urgently refilled. Allen and Brittany are both servers at home and looking around, watching other tables’ service, they explained we were definitely getting the special treatment. The meat was incredible, every cut imaginable, including the weird ones, like chicken hearts. We stuffed our faces with meat until we all thought we couldn’t take it anymore, until they brought out the lava cake. After four hours of indulgence, we had had our fill and begged them to stop bringing us food. The rest of my time in Brazil was spent on a rugged overnight in the Amazon Rainforest! Lakshmi and I found a trip while strolling downtown and the next morning we were getting picked up at the port at 8am for a wild jungle adventure. It just so happened that other Semester At Sea people has found the same tour guides and made our trip 10 people in total. Everyone was quite the character, and while we didn’t know one another at first, we seemed like old friends upon our return. I will not be able to fully describe this trip because it is impossible to describe two days of consistent laughing so hard we cried, when you just had to be there. First off, they had to get us four hours deep into the jungle to see the true wildlife, by taking a car to a boat to a car to another boat, and finally to our little hut in the jungle where we would sleep in hammocks, thinking thoughts of anacondas, vipers, boa constrictors, jaguars, tarantulas, and mosquitoes with malaria. In one of the car ride stretches, everyone in the group hopped into one van, while Lakshmi and I got in the other van, which held Lakshmi and I, two tour guides, the driver and a sketchy dude that didn’t speak. Along the way, our van kept stopping on the side of the road while the other van would continue. The driver would get out and pace, the sketchy dude would rearrange stuff in coolers, removing and replacing bottles and other items, and we would be asked to get out and look at something insignificant, like a pond or junkyard with dogs chained up and chickens running everywhere. We had assumed the coolers were our food and drink for the trip, but when we arrived at the final boat ride, we had no coolers left and the sketchy dude was gone. We were positive we had been part of a drug deal. The other van said each time we stopped they were worried about us and were glad we made it. More on this sketchy stint later… Upon arrival, they fed us fish and I was so hungry, I ate a whole piece of fish for the first time in my life. Then, Lakshmi, Lucy and I decided to take a trip through the jungle. About an hour later, Damien, our hardcore tour guide, born and raised in the jungle, an alligator wrestler that would put Steve Irwin to shame, announced that it was time to get back on our boat—a glorified canoe. He said we would be on it for six hours, but when we asked what we were doing, he ignored us. That was a common theme throughout the trip. Every time somebody asked “what now?” Damien would ignore, leading us blindly through our days, filled with surprises. So we hopped onto the canoe, 12 of us in a canoe with a hole in it and a scooper to remove the accumulating water. He took us to a sandbar with a floating house for some fishing. He handed us sticks for fishing poles and we all got a kick out of thinking back to the U.S. where fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry with special gear, TV shows, magazines and competitions dedicated to the sport, and here we were with our sticks catching fish left and right. We caught piranhas and used them as bait for bigger fish, to catch our dinner. On our way to fish, we held a canoe wide rock paper scissors tournament, where the loser would have to be bit by a Piranha. Wade lost, and the first Piranha caught (mine! Mom you would have been proud) was latched to his arm, ending in blood and laughter. Damien led Lakshmi and I over to a teeny weeny canoe, if you can even call it that, handed us some sticks for oars and told us to get in and go. We had a blast canoeing around the Amazon River, exploring all the incredible marvels it has to offer. While we canoed, everyone else played soccer on the sandbar, covering themselves in cow dung. Rowing around the river bends, we saw some pigs and a cow and were eager to get closer. As we came around the bend, we were headed straight toward about 50 bulls stampeding our way! We must have gotten too close for comfort and we weren’t sure if cows could swim, so we got the hell out of there fast. We watched the most gorgeous sunset I have ever seen while the meathead of the group, whom I nicknamed “Meatstick”, sang out “Pink pajamas, penguins on the bottom” to the Lion King tune. Meatstick’s nickname caught on quickly and he pretty much provided entertainment throughout the trip, as we poked fun at his expense, but he never seemed to realize which was the beauty of it all. During the sunset we spotted a sloth! If I’ve ever seen an animal with the facial expression and movements of a total pothead, it’s a sloth. Once it was completely pitch black, all of us piled in the glorified canoe and we assumed we were headed back to our hammocks. Damien was just getting started though; unbeknownst to us, we were on an alligator hunt and he was determined to wrestle an alligator onto our boat no matter how long it took. We had been joking that Damien wrestles alligators, but apparently it could not have been truer. Alligators are dinosaurs, it’s scary, and I don’t ever want to see that many again. Finally, we headed back for dinner, drinking and some campfire fun. Lakshmi and I were questioning Damien about herbs in the jungle because we found out he went to school for herbal medicine. He told us about a 5-plant concoction that is illegally made in the Amazon that makes people hallucinate; tripping out harder than anything we’ve ever heard about. He said, “Remember the man riding in your van? He makes this”. And the truth comes out! Drug dealing suspicions confirmed. We slept a total of about three hours in our hammocks, before an early morning wakeup call. We hiked through the jungle in search of monkeys, snakes, and everything nice. Damien taught us survival skills and what to eat to cure just about everything. Amazonians even have trees that you can eat to abort a child or get a boner (the Red Boner Tree). After a long hike through the jungle, it was time to swim and relax. The Amazon adventure was a huge success and surprisingly, we all came out alive.

Welcome to the 3rd World, Home of the Bare-assed Brazilian Beauties

Yesterday we finished our trek along the Amazon River when we arrived in Manaus, Brazil. The day was spent drinking Brahma-the local brew, visiting the historic opera house, sorting through crafts and nic nacs, eating and exploring, We settled in at the day’s hotspot, a bar that played live music for a rowdy crowd. Brazilians taught us to dance the Samba, and as the crowd grew, it spilled over to the streets and somewhere in there, these gigantic puppets of people about 11 feet tall joined the party. Travelers, such as myself, always believe that wherever we go, somebody will speak English well enough to communicate with us. Like in Dominica, where the language is Creole, but everyone you talk to can speak English. Manaus ain’t Dominica, and these people don’t have the slightest clue what I’m talking about when I open my mouth. So, we resorted to smiles, hand gestures and just danced the damn Samba. The people might not know English, but they do know that when a girl is alone, she is to be danced with and when a beer is empty, it is to be filled back up. Brazilian men do not let an empty glass stay empty for more than 15 seconds, and if you say no, they’ll fill it anyway knowing you’ll drink if they pour. The people are so friendly that they never stop trying to babble on about something, even when you repeat no comprendo! no comprendo! Hoping that Spanish will do, even though they are not Spanish. Nighttime in Manaus is where the scene turned from great to unbelievable. We went to the School of Samba, where they practice for Carnaval every Sunday night by throwing a mini Carnaval. Have you ever seen 500 tambourines in unison? Because I have. Imagine Stomp the Yard, two crews facing each other, led by the 2 most gorgeous, tanned, Brazilian women, shaking their booties like theres no tomorrow heading the orchestra of cowbells, tambourines and bongos by using their asses as a meter. After a while, they opened the street up so we could join in the madness and it soon became the biggest, craziest, sweatiest dance party I have ever been to. I shimmied back and forth with one of those 2 lead Samba dancers for about 5 minutes and she moved so fast I was swimming in sweat. We danced the steamy night away until the wee hours of the morning, inundating the streets with good beats and Samba fever. One thing is for sure, Brazilians know how to get down, and Americans could learn a thing or two about what a Sunday night should look like,

Rasta Vibes Mon

Nightlife in Dominica got pretty nutty when all the Semester at Sea kids inundated a club called “Krazy Coconuts,” where we were all some crazy coconuts. The club’s fog machine was a little overwhelming, but the local rum took away our doubt, and soon we were dancing our pants off. We put them back on and danced them right back off again. The dance floor scene was a good way to separate the chillers from the bros and hos of our trip. Day two of Dominica, I went on a field trip for my class, ‘Poverty, Disease and the Environment.’ We went to organic and herbal farms. The herbalists were an awesome Rasta family, and they taught us all the herbal cures that keep their family well. They’ve never been to a doctor or taken medicine, but are all in good health. They had me convinced, so I’m planning on growing a little herbal bar of my own sometime soon. Dominica is full of Rastafarians and I think they’re the only true Rastafarians I’ve ever met. And boy, do they have some nice lookin’ dreads. After the field trip, I hung around downtown and met some more cool locals. The people of Dominica are the coolest chillers on the planet. Everyone is friendly, happy and hospitable. On our way back to the ship, we all agreed that we wanted to come back here to live one day; nothing wrong with a tropical island, organic living, cheap housing and free healthcare. We also agreed that we would most likely say we wanted to come back and live at every port. Now, we’ve left the Caribbean and are headed toward Brazil on the Atlantic Ocean. At 10pm tonight we will enter the delta of the Amazon River! We’ll cruise down the Amazon for 1000 miles!!! I started taking my malaria pills today and I hear I should look forward to some crazy vivid dreams and possible hallucinations. Amazon livin’ here goes!