Arriving at the bus terminal, I turned right back around and got on the Portliner train to try and get as close to the ship as possible. Having not traveled with my passport, and knowing the insanely tight restrictions on boarding, I knew there was no chance of talking my way on as a nostalgic alumna. As I rolled closer, I snapped pic after pic of increasingly higher quality until I found myself face-to-bow with my former nautical home. There are many reasons why SASers develop a lifelong love of the program and the vessel. For me, Semester at Sea changed the whole course of my life. I don’t know who I would have become without my round-the-world voyage in 2007. I certainly wouldn’t have met Garrett and Alexis, wouldn’t have felt strong enough to take my Big Journey, wouldn’t have aspired for the STA internship, and wouldn’t have landed in Japan today with my job at THINK Global School.Read More
Semester at Sea
I think there's merit in going on a field trip (or field programs, used to be FTPs in my day) in the first location, because–as cliques form quickly–you can meet random new people and create relationships with many people from the get-go. I did a quick trip to El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, and this pulled together some adventure-loving travelers who were excited to get their new hiking boots dirty.Read More
One year of teaching in China and two years of Peace Corps in Malawi later, my dear friends from Semester at Sea and I finally reunited. Alexis and I flew to Burlington, Vermont within 20 hours of Garrett's homecoming, and these are the good times we enjoyed. When I'm not at work, I don't want to be continuously documenting my life in high def. That's why I played with Instagram this time around (click on the images to view in lightbox).Read More
Q: I am from Birmingham, AL this is going to be way out of my comfort zone do you recommend finding a friend or just going alone. Is their a good floor to be on and does the inside/outside room make a difference? How many classes did you take while you were there and did studying abroad put you behind in your studies when you got back to school?Read More
I have just been accepted by SAS for the Spring 2011 voyage, and I randomly chanced upon your website. I am currently having a hard time trying to decide between a Semester at Sea program and a study abroad program in Berlin.
I know they sound very different, but I think they appeal to different parts of me, which makes it even harder to decide. Hence, I have some questions about your experience if you don't mind answering:
1. When you were traveling around the ports, did you feel they were too touristy? I don't want to limit myself to only exploring typical tourist destinations.
2. How strong were the academics? I know that the main experience comes from the ports, but I still want to learn and enjoy my classes. Did most people take classes seriously?
3. I wanted to clarify this with you. I heard that SAS had a reputation of being a "booze cruise" or a "party boat" in the past. How did you feel about that from your experience?
I just thought that it would be good to consult with someone who has been through the experience. Best, AlyssaRead More
A tsunami smacked me on the head last Tuesday, energy and activity in one exhausting wave, rendering me not quite unconscious but with twitching eyes and a crumbling mental capacity. And I don't mean that in a bad way.
Since the dawn of this website, I've known a radiant being of 6'1" stature and a high verbal capacity. Alexis Reller was my potluck, shipboard roommate on Semester at Sea and an instant friend, even though she found my ship ID photo pre-meeting downright worrisome. Alexis and I continued to galavant around the MV Explorer and the world's ports thinking, "Gosh, how lucky am I to have a partner like this broad," only to disembark post-trip and reunite regularly for the next three years with our friend Garrett Russell.
Since then, we've tackled fifteen European countries in thirty days (on a budget) and experienced ski and road trips alongside each other. She's my ultimate travel pal, one whose friendship is instantly renaissanced upon a simple "s'up" regardless of the time between interactions.
For the last year, she's been teaching English at a university in China. Emerging from the Mother Land in one piece, she carried with her musings on communism, the ample travel opportunities of the expansive land, and the power China can have on her expats. Her first night in Indianapolis, we discussed these - and many other - topics ad nauseam, letting conversations go conceptual at the drop of an adjective. I was thrilled to be back in contact with the person who helped me hone my appreciation for the world and its powers.
Late night chats welcoming later bedtimes and early morning rises squeezing in a sense of productivity; I wired myself with caffeine and racked my brain in the afternoons for food and entertainment ideas in the Indy area. It's rare I seize the day in my own city, and I usually save those occurrences for guests. We rode thirteen miles on bikes, hit up Michael Jackson (a tribute, of course) in concert, and grabbed a beer next to a handlebar mustache at the Rathskeller. And best of all, we coexisted in the same hemisphere - nay, the same room - for six days of social splendor.
Now you know why the website has been a little barren recently.
Opening our Conversation Up
With great friends come great conversations. Instead of using seemingly-unnecessary, elevated text to relay my fun week with a friend, I wanted to pose one of our musings for a more public debate. What's the point of having a blog versus a journal without calling for commentary?
Question: Does the quarterlife period virtually guarantee a change in character, often catalyzed by extreme factors, such as living in China? Or is the quarterlife a time to expect your friend pool to thin out automatically, as we all branch and swerve different ways, ultimately becoming the persons we were meant to be all along or will be formed into?
Alexis felt the country of China does weird things to people, mainly to the expats she knew, but I also felt people go through distinct changes post-graduation from college or simply in this transition period to "job world." It couldn't be just China, based on my own exposure to crises stateside, but I can only imagine what a year in Mao Country can do to a person.
And on that note, I'm sure both Alexis and I have changed since our high school or college years. We could very well be among the population of vastly changed individuals, but for the sake of our conversations, we are never in the wrong. Never.
What's your take on the changes in the quarterlife? Comment below or contact me!
Prepare yourself for a very visual-centric post today. Perfect if you went to a horse race yesterday and are a wee bit feeble this morning.
Gastropalooza: Indian Style
An eclectic video on Indian street food that will either make you hungry, want to go to India, have a headache, or think a musical pig is sneaking up on you. Thank you, MatTV.
The Exciting News
I hope you followed the application process like a fox. If you did, you already know the exciting news...
Not only am I pumped for these two lucky individuals, but I'm so thrilled that a fellow Semester at Sea-goer won the honor! And I'm glad that Natalie whipped out the big guns with her dance moves in both videos. This summer will be a treat to watch.
Travel Your Eyes Though Tibet
Some portraits, some editorial, some snapshots of interesting moments in Tibet; this is one interesting photo essay on China's rooftop from the Matador Network. The portraits are stunning, and I personally find any mountain culture thoroughly interesting.
Naughty Volcano Dirtying the Skies
Did you hear what happened this week with the skies over Europe? This is the culprit.
I can't believe I went to Chicago last weekend and didn't meet up with former applicant and current STA World Traveler Intern, Casey Hudetz! If I happen to make it up north again before this summer, I'm certainly going to make that happen.
And where am I this week? Right about now, I should be waking up from a rowdy weekend filled with galloping horses, tweed, and 90 pound men in pretty silks. Yes, I went to Keeneland to witness all the whinnies and snorts with my childhood friends!
1 Minute or Less Moments: This week on my Nomadderwhere Facebook Fan page I have published three more videos, and are they cool or what?
- The Christmas lunch in Nakavika, waiting to be served as we sit segregated in the community hall...boo
- Garrett, Mario and the twins taking a nap on our floor on Christmas day
- The awesome traditional architecture of the Fijian forts in Pacific Harbour
It may never again be the case that my weekly schedule includes two of the same day, a Groundhog Day-esque situation where déjà-vu is on the agenda. I can easily get lost in every activity and duty I have this week, but times like these need to be relished. We are crossing the International Date Line tomorrow night, and our previous time travel attempts will suddenly be trumped by massive proportions. We've started a trend of contemplating yesterday in order to make sense of today, and in the spirit of doing so, I need to take a minute and remember the massive country I visited just a few weeks ago.
The rain created an unpleasant ambiance outside but an "oh" so glorious one in the cabin as we pulled into Hong Kong. I snoozed until the large, loud buildings burst my dream bubble with their antennas, and I crawled up to breakfast for a priceless view of a very wet city. Unfortunately, this wonderful moment in time came with a bitter tragedy, as we congregated in the Union to learn about the Virginia Tech shootings. To be comforted by the Archbishop was a moving experience that sadly had to occur.
After a talk and a moment of silence, Hong Kong beckoned us to its more authentic locations where the Chinese influence resonates audibly. Garrett, Alexis, and I boarded the cleanest bus we had seen in months to explore the great Kowloon Walled City Park, set up the hill away from the city life. Garden pagodas littered the natural paradise, which provided an arena for many to practice Tai Chi. A leisurely walk down the road led us to a temple complex for Buddhists, Confucians, and Taoists worshippers, and the colors and sounds were invigorating to every sense.
After soaking in the exotic ambiance and hitting up the Ladies market, Alexis and I prepped our lovely selves for a night on the town of all towns. Two hip American ladies in colorful dresses strutted along the waterfront to view the city light up with flare, and then we hopped on a ferry, a bus, and a subway to the nightlife district.
The next morning started a non-stop travel fest where Alexis and I, equipped with massive backpacks, took every form of transportation imaginable, excluding horseback transport. When I awoke the next morning on a sleeper bus with the smell of feet and smoke engrained in my nose, I was in Lijang, China, a beautiful city adjacent to the most spectacular craggy, snow-covered mountain. After applying layers of clothing in the parking lot, we began to tackle a very sleepy city at 5 am.
The old town was at the least picturesque, with long stony streets lined with antique architecture and winding rivers reminiscent of old European cities. It might have been my imagination, but every little stray dog that scurried by looked oddly like a dragon. Taking a moment to enjoy the morning traffic, we stopped at a nearby Tibetan restaurant and ate a breakfast I continue to fantasize about. Vegetarian dumplings and steamed rice…as Dad would have described it as a culinary extravaganza.
The Black Dragon Pool park, on the outskirts of the town, showed us once again that nature reigns supreme over all, with calm ponds that reflected the omnipresent mountains in the distance. I bought an ink painting near the entrance by an artist who paints with his palms and is known throughout Asia for his skill. The depth and mood of the work that I picked was dreary and mysterious, completely opposite of the physical space I was viewing. Monkeys and peacocks ran amuck to thrill the tourists, but my favorite moments did not include the "wildlife" but the cool stones in the shade where I laid back for a nap.
The students painting the surrounding landscapes made me feel I was in the presence of true inspiration Another tasty Tibetan meal later, we were on a five hour bus ride towards the borders of Myanmar, Tibet, and mainland China. The streets of Dali at night were an incredible sight to behold: rooftops lined with Christmas lights, women dressed in mountain Sherpa cultural apparel, and brilliant pagodas lit from beneath. Our window shopping flew to a halt when a sudden rainstorm blew into town for sixty seconds and receded back into the mountains as fast as it had come.
We welcomed the night, anticipating the most pleasant sleep in days, which unfortunately only lasted about five hours because the mountains called our names in the early morning. We took an incredibly bumpy rickshaw ride to the cable cars that scaled up the steep and leafy mountain side, and once we reached the top, market vendors, restaurateurs, and policemen were waiting for us. The views from the mountain were hazy and grand, especially from where we scaled the ancient cliff side dwelling near the summit. The altitude made this five minute hike the most draining length to date, but the destination made all the wheezing worthwhile.
Luck missed us on our descent when they decided to oil the cable lines and cause us to miss our check out time at the hostel. Then came Beijing...
Three months had to pass before I understood that life had not stopped at home. Muted communication and selective media made it nearly impossible to remain intact as my family encouraged a vacation from my home realities. I read today that a fellow high school classmate died on Valentine's Day, and I remained oblivious of this for too long. A close family friend suffered a heart attack while exercising and dropped dead on his own residential street, but my relatives refrained from telling me. Here I sit on the outskirts of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, feeling the hot sun warm my legs, the cool shade brush my jacket, and sensing bitter confusion from the experiences I continue to have.
Did I pay money to escape the sour points in my life that I would otherwise chew on and grow from in order to fill a slight curious void with new social settings and dynamic people? Is the existence of my emotions pivotal to a stable and justified environment at home? This confusion is as hard to swallow as my malaria medicine from breakfast, which still lies lodged in my throat. In this land, so tangibly orderly, they believe that souls live on in others, using them as vehicles out of the chaotic cosmos in which they inhabit. No matter how closely or distantly connected I am to those who die, I feel a sudden loss of purpose and a fire in my throat that lodges until a clearing is paved. Some times my lost sense of worry proves helpful, in instances like last night, when sleeping on the street was the most viable option. However, I take advantage of this power because it drains my unconscious feeling of gratefulness for my own life.
A layer builds between my tangible body and my soul. Heavy falling leaves sound like stickers on the ground, and each pop reminds me I am human. Talib Kwali says life is a beautiful struggle, but it is hard to find beauty in lives being cut short of their potential. For the lucky ones like me, the beauty crawls on us willingly, but when it struggles to find those in need of it the most, I lose faith in its abilities.
In my circle of friends, he was known as Krazy Karl, and his accomplishments were always overlooked by his reckless weave through maturity. Out of the thousands of people that make up my concept of the human race, two less lives stand behind me. Whether they knew their influence or not, they gave me a mental springboard off which I bounced my life goals. The numbers I know continue to whittle down, without stopping in order to let me cruise through this cultural experience untouched. Thankfully, the most important numbers in my life have stayed around to retain the form of my sanity, but as easily as a neighboring heart can fail, so can one directly connected to my bloodstream.
A few washes of water eventually ease my malaria pills down smoothly, but the fire remains. It could be a wandering flame from my internal hearth that diminishes from worldly disappointment, but I hope that the inevitable coming of every death does not take such a toll on my fervor. I need the thoughts to breed appreciation, and hopefully washes of paint can slowly ease the painful residue that this beautiful struggle leaves behind.
Have you had any similar experiences while on the road? Tell me about them by commenting below!
I am sitting on a ribbon that tops the craggy mountaintops of North China, the distant laughter of tourists are drowned out by the rustling dry leaves around me and even though I am breaking a serious law in a Communist country. My means are justified by an ending sense of satisfaction from one of the most visited sites in the world. My left leg dangles over a drop that would surely cement a lasting impression of the Wall's stature, and my neck seeks shelter in the shell of my coat. The zigzagging mountains ahead look nearly impossible to climb, but somehow thousands of years ago, a man thought it wise to add twenty more feet of troubles for intruders. It is snowing upwards with white bud tree petals, and I can gather the faintest scent of their aroma.
As if we don't time travel enough on this globe-trotting adventure, I jump yet again (backwards this time) to moments near Charley Creek when the air was changing and the bare trees led my imagination to reveal its potential. The true magic of the Great Wall is not in its breadth and magnitude, but it is in the crumbles, where these once natural materials attempt to return to Earth and give in to the wind.
I, in my man-made coat, sit sheltered and sniffling from the weather that chills and astounds me. I, too, will one day crumble, hopefully after being something grand, and return my natural essence to the world that provided me the chance. I am one of few who can sit where I am, but this sensation can be acquired within a foot's step from a front door or a sidewalk. This nature is the same everywhere, but it is the man that transforms the land that looks on.
Just as the gutters jut out from the vertical surface, so does my left foot, now asleep from neglect. The mountains echo back every noise from the city below, as if to say "that car horn was annoying…here, you listen and tell me it's not." How long would it take to sit here and feel uninspired, to do something great, to live outdoors, to sense the world, to feel like a part of the human race. I guess that would be until the next tourist walks by and ruins your moment in history.
I left off last in my adventures listening to Led Zeppelin with one headphone in my left and the other in the right of the toothless old man next to me (read the lead-up to this story in Flashbacks of Nam). After convincing all the men on board that my iPod was not for sale, the guy hanging out the window, picking up hitchhikers, motioned for me to run up and jump out of the moving bus. I stood at a T in the road, my backpack in tow, with a cloud of dust blowing up from around my feet. My new bus friends pointed in one direction as they sped off into the hills, and I started my trek down a long dreary street.
An hour later, I found a little beach town, met a man who owned a hotel and scheduled a bay trip for the following night. A little wandering got me a long way in this town. I found some excellent vegetable dishes at a seaside restaurant, a fantastic night market, and wandered a smelly yet scenic beach in beautiful solitude. I let sleep come peacefully to me that night, since the questionable stains on the wall could have kept my mind racing all night.
I awoke early to take in the morning activity only to fall asleep on a beach chair on the next day. After some errand running, I hopped on another motorbike to the waterfront where I boarded a three story wooden boat in the most chaotic and destructive marina environment I've ever seen. Vietnamese boat captains believe bumper boats don't just exist in the amusement parks.
Floating alongside the humongous grottoes that rocketed out of the teal waters was a sight my camera couldn't capture accurately. The hazy day created an eerie tone for our afternoon cruise, and the visit to a monstrous and dramatically lit cave only amped up the mystery evoked by this natural wonder. Young girls from a nearby floating fishing village came by offering different fruits insistently, and I had to partake in eating the swirling pineapples I had seen by the roadside stands.
Our captains and "guides" appeared to be bilingual, but they definitely took advantage of the language barrier and left the majority of us extremely confused with the facts of our situation. Apparently, there was a government problem, and everyone could not stay on the ship as they paid to do. Everyone piled off the ship at a nearby island to stay in a hotel, but at the last second, the captain grabbed my arm and told me to stay on the boat. I sat with my backpack strapped on, alone on a pirate ship, watching my new friends walk away and became terrified for my own safety.
Eventually a whole new group filed on and the night proceeded as it was intended to. Hours of talking to experienced travelers and listening to conversations in German later, I fell asleep on the rocking boat, a task at which I am very skilled; however, one thing I am not accustomed to is hearing the rustling, pattering, and squeaking of little mice under me. This fun encounter led me to steal a seat cushion from the dining floor and sleep with the limestone islands outside.
The rest of the day centered around introspection...floating through the grottoes with a soft breeze, riding in a bus back to Hanoi, a dinner of crackers and soy milk in a nearby city park, and a flight across a country that would leave me mystified for years to come. I was ready to leap back to the ship and prepare for one last day of sight-seeing and inexpensive shopping sprees. And that I did, but not without more crazy episodes of crazy motorbike rides, yelling at scamming taxi drivers, and deep-fried scorpion antics in the cabin…thanks to a one Miss Alexis Reller. She truly made my worst nightmares come true.
I parted Vietnam with a smile, knowing this beautiful country witnessed my first true instance of lone traveling in the Third World, and luckily it was a success.
What do you think about my first solo female trip? Was Ha Long Bay more beautiful than you imagined? Comment below!
Tears dropped with the rain this morning as the words "Port of Kobe" came into clear focus. A brass band resonated off our approaching ship from the dock, and the faculty found some early morning giggles by marching to the beat. I, on the other hand, felt static and confused with the impending implications of a last foreign port. I have yet to discuss so many things, complete multitudes of homework, meet 600 more people, and understand what this trip is all about. Twenty days remain, and in order to accept the future, I need to reflect on the past. After watching too many Vietnam War films at sea, I became overly excited for this new country of wonder and history. Wading up the Saigon River lacked the usual color and vigor of a port sunrise, but today, little fishing boats approached us from all sides, curious as to who was on board and what the ship was like. I tried to let this moment sink into my memory; however, I was preoccupied by the inevitable conversation with Garrett…that he wasn't going to join me for Ha Long Bay.
After the predicted blow, I spent my morning shower in tears, trying to comprehend how I could still enjoy this port for which I was so enthused. Hours of contemplating later, I decided to make my own dreams come true, so I went. Ho Chi Minh City buzzed with motorbikes, but I paid no mind to the rickshaws that were following me down the street. Instead, I enjoyed the little shops and the conical hats that littered the heads of many.
Alexis, a few other girls, and I took a service trip to nearby schools for the deaf and an orphanage that housed children who suffered physical and mental handicaps. I exercised my artistic skills and drew pictures of Mickey Mouse and caricatures of Alexis for the little girls who loved the humor and signed their appreciation to each other and to us. A short night of market shopping, incredible bargains, and leisurely walking concluded with intense packing for a trip that would mark my memory forever.
I awoke at 4:30am, hitched a ride with four other random kids, waited in six different lines for airline tickets, and flew off to Hanoi by my lonesome. I couldn't help but hear the sounds of my parents' voices echoing in my ear, "Please promise me you will NEVER travel alone." I felt incredibly torn between keeping my family at ease and following my own path that I would surely regret forever not taking. The answer was obvious.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, aimless wandering got me to the city bus station, where about ten motorbike drivers helped me get onto the right route. I gave the astounded bus fare collector a dollar bill, hoping he wouldn't kick me off from lack of Dong. Instead, he charged me more, kept the dollar for himself, and I remained on the bus next to a woman squatting and hurling on the floor. Pleasant.
The next bus ride made history in my own timeline, a roller coaster literally and mentally. A man approached me off the city bus and shouted "HA LONG BAY?" about three inches from my face. It seemed he knew what he was doing, so I followed him to a ticket office, paid three dollars, and climbed onto a mini bus where I was forced to sit in the back. The song "Rosa Parks" stuck in my head for the remainder of the trip.
Once I was an official passenger, the driver pulled out of the station, as though all he needed was one real ticket holder to validate his transportation services. About three minutes later, ten of the driver's "boys" piled onto the bus in a frenzy, and I thought I was surely done for. I masked my all-consuming worry by listening to my iPod, but that only spurred on the interest of multiple guys to come check out my electronics.
Just before I let myself get comfortable in my seat, a man rolled next to the bus with the oldest rickshaw known to Vietnam, and on this rickshaw sat a large metal apparatus that I can only imagine was a land mine (or rather, an engine). And as was expected, on this magical mystery tour to Ha Long Bay, the men grabbed the explosive/mechanical device and hauled it onto the bus. I laughed, thinking this trip couldn't get any more eventful…keep in mind we had yet to even leave the sidewalk outside the station.
I flew from one side of the bus to the other as the driver weaved through cars and traffic, laying on his horn to notify the city he was passing. One man always kept his head out the door and yelled at people on the side of the road, some of whom waved us down and hopped on for a few miles. At one point, I had four old men watching Family Guy on my video iPod and wanting to exchange their cell phones for my hi-tech contraption.
What do you think of my first solo journey thus far? Continue reading The Terror of the Tung, and/or comment below!
The chaos has fully set in. Lauryn Hill and her soulful ballads mark my release from a hectic two days of studying, exams, and all that shipboard hooplah. It really is a shame that we spend such a ghastly sum of money for an incredible school experience, and the most distracting element of the trip is the school part.
It has been nearly a month since the hazy view of Chennai rose from the horizon, and just as the stale smell dissipated from the ship, so did India's potential for immediate digestion into my cultural bell. The speed in which I had to work, rest, and prepare for the next new experience caused me to sweep its colorful memory under the rug, and because of this fatal gesture, my mind has slipped into the Semester at Sea shock state (also known as SASS).
Days at sea lack their former luster, new countries leave me confused, and beads of sweat explode out of my pores at the mere mention of a paper due date. I firmly stand on the opinion that this voyage of discovery cannot be experienced with open eyes unless one gets the opportunity to chew on every memory, every instance of fun and hardship, every incredible sight.
I have yet to review the hundreds of pictures I took aimlessly from Malaysia or Vietnam, and it only occurred to me, while wandering through a cave in Ha Long Bay, that I should stop clicking and start looking. It is a true tragedy when someone receives such an opportunity [to travel and encounter millions of different people, most who would never get this chance] and does not realize its potential to shock the eyes, shatter past views, and construct new truths that open the eyes even wider.
As if the first day of my homestay didn't evoke intense emotions concerning the lives of these people and my own in comparison, the trip consisted of an entirely new itinerary to challenge and amaze us.
The morning was fresh and dripping with tea and street noise, and no amount of sleep deprivation could keep four American girls from waving at pedestrians and recalling Disney musical favorites on the bumpy drive. A temple complex appeared at the merging of three rivers, and I surrendered the idea that I could capture every unbelievable sight that walked in front of my lens. Instead, I settled with four or five certain portfolio entries as every corner offered me an incredible view into the lives of the colorful Hindis. I mimicked every motion of our guide in her veneration for the idols; however, I conveniently slid out of the way when elephant blessings provided a nice snot slick to all who offered their heads.
Now that we had tackled Hinduism, the textile industry needed to be covered if we were going to command India by midnight. Speedy, smiley weavers with impeccable skill magnetized us to the cashier with rugs, throws, and placemats in hand, but not until I spent the majority of the time watching rows of thin cotton accumulate on ancient looms. The street life whirled around us as we piled into the motor coaches with our wrapped winnings in tow, but we spun the dust upward to squeeze in another school before lunchtime.
After months of constant smiles, I experienced a surge of sensations that led to confusion and, eventually, tears when the next visit included a student body struggling with the crippling effects of polio. Our welcome came in the most traditional manner, and once adorned with the appropriate jasmine garnishes, the children began to impress us with their dedication to prayer, their grace in traditional dances, and discipline in the art of karate. My state of confusion arose after the first recitations resonated throughout the room, and I observed the tightly squeezed eyes and unwavering voices of one hundred souls. I encountered the same situation the day before, but the presence of physical disabilities led me to see them in a new light. This enraged me.
I couldn't understand why I felt sad for children who seemed more excited and happy than others and tried to view them with the same eyes. Regardless of my mindset, these children were incredible and vivacious, and after we exhibited our high caliber skills with the hokey pokey, the school's lead dancer took interest in me from my stellar performance. I wish I could have retained all the Tamil they taught me.
After lunch and a table top nap at our last school, we witnessed yet another beautiful dance number, and at its conclusion, all the Western ladies approached the stage for a shot at traditional Hindi dance. Every sight I could ever hope to witness was a part of our eventful two day itinerary, and I left exhausted, dirty, and content on a night train back to Chennai.
As we floated away from the jellyfish infested waters of the harbor, my wallet was lighter, my new goods littered my bed, and my mind felt forever altered by this country I will probably never see again.
How would you have reacted at that school? Tell me your impressions of India in a comment below!
The brilliant skies of a port sunrise illuminated our cabin before we cleaned up our mental messes from India, but regardless of your readiness for another mind blowing experience, they rise out of the horizon and thrust you to land. Malaysia was a 270 degree sight to behold, where billowing clouds transformed into neon palettes that decorated the mountains in our path. High dock prices kept the Explorer in the harbor, so we boarded our own lifeboats to tender onto Penang Island. City buses helped us avoid the taxi rush and dropped us near shopping malls and street markets, where raw fish and chicken carcasses dampened the mood to shop for the local candy and pretty trinkets. Alexis and I shocked ourselves with a multi-hour stay in a massive indoor mall, equipped with a Starbucks and internet cafe. Reasoning that we would be one with nature the next day silenced any internal disappointment immediately, and we continued to spend money.
Trishaw rides, local beers, and night markets gave us our first cultural taste later that evening, but we cut the evening short in order to rest up for an early morning bus ride to the Cameron Highlands. Anna, Laura, Alexis and I caught a tattered old bus and discussed life goals before the bumpy ride rocked us to sleep. We took Lonely Planet's suggestions and set up camp at Father's Guesthouse, where the sound of rain drops on the corrugated steel roofs won us over. The mountains wrapped a misty haze around our relaxing day, and we soaked up the lush land we so often miss at sea.
What the city of Tanah Rata lacked in activity, it made up for in ambiance. We planned for a "Mossy Forest Hike" the next morning to quench our flora and fauna cravings and spent the rest of the night tasting Malaysian table wine, playing new card games, telling stories, and watching Alexis track jaguars outside. We neglected to tell her this was not jaguar country but tiger territory.
Our adventure began with the sunrise, as we piled into a van and drove up to the highest point in the Highlands. The wind was brittle on the lookout tower, as was the rusty tower itself, but we braved the cold and the tetanus to take our scenic photos. The mossy ground gave with every step of the hike, where we had to hurdle logs, weave around bamboo, swing around branches, and long jump frequent mud pits. Every few minutes, we would reach a clear patch that revealed a breathtaking view of the tea plantations, but the mood heightened from serene to exhilarating with the discovery of a tiger paw print.
The BOH tea plantation wrapped around every hill in sight, and the museum café that overlooked the fields was a perfect location to sip on a cup of fresh caffeine. Instead of heading back to the city, we asked our guide to drop us on the side of the road, just to make the trip a little more interesting. Strawberry, bee, butterfly, and rose farms littered the mountain roads, and we couldn't pass an opportunity to buy cheap and fresh produce at the little markets. Four American girls walked down the country roads in Malaysia, with bags of tomatoes, dried strawberries, and jam galore. While we walked back towards Tanah Rata, I had an incredible urge to hitchhike in the back of a pickup truck full of chickens, but my search for the perfect candidate went unsuccessful. Instead, we settled with the city bus that we flagged down by throwing our bodies in its path.
Only after a little shopping and dinner did we get back on a return bus to Penang, and I spent the five hour ride day-dreaming and giggling at Alexis sleeping with mouth open wide. We called it an early night in order to maximize our last day shopping and wandering aimlessly. After a stressful tendering situation, where I nearly received dock time, I stood on the back deck watching the lights of the city dissolve into the sea.
In short, Malaysia was a success.
Of all the times I have celebrated the grand holiday of April Fool's, never have I been in such a vulnerable location, where the Captain and his crew have incredible potential for scaring the living daylights out of us. Doctor Matt claimed to quarantine two students for leprosy, Dean Ron (the voice) mentioned a nearby cyclone, and I have a feeling the sly Captain Jeremy will cut all power to the ship suddenly without explanation, just for giggles. He draws on his eyebrows; he's capable of any slimy deed. It's all fun and games until someone contracts the plague, falls overboard, and dies in a tropical storm. The hallways are continuously regaining their fresh smell after the stench of Chennai and its rancid waters. Every student has a designated pile of "India clothing" in their rooms that they dare not mix with regular dirty laundry. True, the big city pollution left a permanent memory in all our noses, but as India disappeared in our wake, it was not our olfactory abuse that dominated conversations but the diverse array of wild experiences and wonderful people that we met in those five short days.
Alexis and I brought some much needed excitement to the anti-climactic harbor sunrise of Chennai by wearing turbans and striking Yoga poses on the top deck. The Indian bureaucracy and their ridiculous immigration rules gave us many good hours of sleep before we could clear the ship, which was immediately followed by some rickshaw fun.
It would have been helpful to know a little Tamil, because when we said "street market," I guess we actually said "the most expensive market in Chennai." Five costly shops later, we realized our driver received commission for dropping us off at these Nordstrom-esque locations. Anger slowly began to devour our little group, but arriving at a tasty Indian restaurant quickly made us forgiving people again. It was at our first lunch that we noticed the head bobble, the Indian way of saying yes, O.K., it's all good, whatever you want, etc.
More shopping lead to extreme exhaustion, which we decided to medicate with a nighttime visit to a chic coffee bar called Mocha. It is here that I will warn you of an ancient Indian proverb: I wear capri pants; therefore, I contract malaria. My leg was a succulent network of bloody tributaries to those silent killers.
The next day, two Lindsays, a Meg, and a Sarah were graced with the company of a well-mannered, good-hearted rickshaw driver, who became our practical guide to the city and told us to pay only if we were truly satisfied. That night, after buying out the textile industry, we popped sleeping pills and rode the night train to Erode.
Up until this port, any countryside we have seen could have resembled an American landscape, but India's farmland was nothing like the corn-filled plains of Northern Indiana. Our home stay was in an upper-middle class house juxtaposed with a school that resonated with praying children. Welcome leis and bindis gave us our first cultural bite, but it wasn't until we found ourselves in a line of chairs facing a sea of young faces that we felt a wave of difference between our two lifestyles.
They proceeded to pray for the prosperity of the world and meditate as a school, while the foreign onlookers discreetly took pictures. The children were respectful in every sense of the word, and it was refreshing, a treatment we didn't deserve. Later, when the teachers left them to their own devices, mayhem restored in their little bodies, and dust was flying up from their pattering feet.
We saw weavers, sugar cane farmers, and carpenters, all before the lunch hour, where the tables were sprinkled with a vast array of savory foods and no silverware. It was an odd experience to which we quickly grew accustomed.
After a mid-day siesta, our group departed for the local markets, and never have I felt more like a celebrity, or an outcast, as I did in the fruit market, where eyes constantly followed our every move as though we were a new species or life form. Apparently, white people don't hit up the rural Indian food markets often. I found no interest in shopping for discount sarees when I could sit on the street corner and watch this exotic world go by, where bulls lead carts of grains down the street and half the shoppers lacked foot apparel.
Dinner at the home of our hostess exceeded expectations yet again; however, it was the Hindi lesson and henna/Western gift exchange later in the evening that satisfied our cultural cravings. One day in the little city of Gobi felt like many, and we could have left on the train that morning with ear-to-ear smiles, but a whole new day still awaited.
Any questions about traveling through Chennai and rural India? Comment below!
My transformation began with the first step off the gangway. The equatorial sun toughened my already sun-kissed skin, pollution darkened my nostrils, mosquitoes feasted on my leg, and the stench of the city penetrated deep into the fibers of my clothing. Any Westerner would experience this discomfort with a visit to Chennai, but this is not the transformation I am talking about Now I sit under a canopy with yellow spices under my fingernails, jasmine in my hair, red and yellow pigment on my forehead, seasoned air in my lungs, dirt covering my bare feet, and the sound of a thousand school children resonating in my ears. These sensations are by choice and this decorative lifestyle I once found tacky is gaining my appeal.
I shot one hundred and fifty photographs, and the best ones were those that the school children took when I let them push the shutter. Vivacious curiosity captured even through the numbing effect of the flash. This moment is beyond storybook…it's time travel. Instead of bringing popular inventions and artistic prints like Marco Polo, I can only offer my worldly stories and a deck of IU playing cards. A coconut just crashed to the hard dirt ground, splashing its milk onto nearby flowers…THAT moment was storybook.
Smiles from old man gardener make me comfortable, but his eventual hover over my writing does not…ok, he just left.
I'll never be further away from home as I am now (unless I follow Sally Ride's footsteps into space), and it just shows that physical proximity has nothing to do with proximity in the mind. Home is a constant thought, here, in the land of colorful gods and caste systems. I can only imagine that when I return, India will come back to me in vivid memories
How will I change when I go back to my SUV, my air-conditioned dream home, my wasteful lifestyle? Will I be a snob with a knowing smirk and exclusive adventures that no one wants to hear? Will I drop every modern convenience and result to an ascetic life?
Never mind my literary fluff because I know what will result from these priceless journeys…a mind that give me confidence to test and question. The old gardener just asked if I ate lunch with my hands…yes…and it was good. Earlier today, I followed a band of drummers, adorning a welcome lei and a bindi, and with the turn of a corner, one thousand girls and boys came into view, sitting "Indian style" facing 10 empty chairs. Ten Americans stood in disbelief before taking a seat of honor. I could imagine multiple SAS people who would laugh at the situation or find it ridiculous, but as these children sat meditating and praying in unison for the prosperity of the world, I found great pleasure being in their company and not the shipboard community.
These children are many and fill this country with humor as vibrant as their sarees. It could be wonderful to fill your days with smells of wet soil or the sweeter sound of classroom recitations in unison, like the old gardener (who just offered me a handful of freshly picked berries). I can always have that option later in life, but for now I will search for this feeling deep in the bowels of overstuffed and under-cultured Indy, where at least I can enjoy my own family instead of the idea of others. I'll take it as a sign that I just ate the last offering of flowers from the gardener.
Just putting my thoughts into words...what do you think? Do you ever have similar musings?
I fear the worst has happened. As we sit here bunkering off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, with the entire skyline in view, I cannot begin to summon up my most exciting and memorable experiences into a simple Word document. I am accustomed to and comfortable with the unfathomable, the exotic, the unique lifestyle I have developed in the past thirty-three days. Maybe it is because the fear for my own life was not a dominant emotion during this port, as it was in sunny, dangerous Brazil. Through this port, I knew the spoken language and spent a good time isolated and guarded by mall security and rangers on a safari. Upon my first step off the gangway, I celebrated my first moments on a new continent and ran to make the most of the first day. Camera poised and eyes engaged, I waltzed down Long Street, only after many long, unwanted delays from the boys gawking at every American store we passed.
The unimaginable occurred as we walked down the busiest street in Cape Town, I had money…in my pocket. No money belt here! I was smooth sailing, shopping without a care, talking to the taxi drivers about things to do, life was great. I'm setting myself up for a harsh downfall with this build-up, but one needn't worry, I'm still alive.
After my friends left on a Kruger safari, I wandered without a destination throughout a very wet Cape Town with a calling card and umbrella in hand. Never have I been alone on the opposite edge of the Earth and met up with an old high school and college friend…until now. Julie and I found each other at the wharf, enjoyed some leisurely walking, shopping and some intense, gluttonous activity.
After delighting the spirit of Sir Fidel, I flew across the nation to visit his relatives, the wild lions of the African bush, only to find that I didn't enter the Manyeleti Game Reserve so much as a Pottery Barn catalog. Waterfall showerheads and plush down comforters hardly screamed "safari" to me, although my limited knowledge of safari norms comes from childhood viewings of the Lion King. Aside from the rangers and reserve staff, we were the only human beings inhabiting the reserve those few days, but sadly, the number of different animal species I spotted in the wild dwarfed the number of people in my group with whom I enjoyed conversing.
Seated atop an open 4x4 land rover, I positioned myself near the ranger, the tracker, and the rifle, in case there were things to be learned or approaching predators to be shot. I didn't want to be slipped off the back seat by a mischievous baboon or an elephant momentarily turned carnivore.
The African bush presented a surprise to all of us expecting rolling grasslands and Bilbao trees decorating the sunrise landscape. I had my eyes peeled as if I could track those clever animals myself, trying to peer through the thick shrubbery for a glimpse of a zebra stripe. Even if I was looking in the direction of a herd of wildebeest, it was only after the tracker, seated on the hood of the vehicle, spotted them from a mile away, redirected our route to an off road path closer by, and situated us within a few yards of the creatures that I could actually notice their presence among us.
The most impressive spotting occurred in the black of night, when the tracker raised his hand, screeched our progress to a halt, and walked halfway into the bush only to emerge with a five inch chameleon he found in a tree. After we snapped numerous photographs of his findings, he placed the little amphibian back on its territorial branch, walking through Black Mamba infested grasslands in the process.
Five game drives, each including a break for tea or cocktails, resulted in an extensive animal sighting list: a pride of lions, hippos, a massive herd of buffalo, hyenas, a Black Mamba, a Pufferhead, wildebeest, zebras, elephants, leopard, giraffes, owls, impala, kudus, water buck, crocodile, chameleon, mongoose, and baboons. Our only viewings of ostrich and springbok, South Africa's national symbol, were in the form of filets, finely sliced and garnished with parsley and sweet potatoes.
One of the most shocking personal revelations I had on this safari was the fact that twelve hours of travel by air and bus to and from the reserve didn't phase me in the least bit. When an afternoon nap at sea can be marked in nautical miles, it's actually more shocking to stay put.
As enjoyable as it was to experience an African safari with some of the most knowledgeable rangers on the continent, I counted down the hours until my social circle reunited. Upon returning to my shipboard cabin, I learned a valuable lesson about eating before taking malaria medicine, but no amount of unpleasant gastro-intestinal activity can keep me from living my South African days to their fullest.
The next morning sped toward us in what felt like minutes, and we arrived at the Clocktower Mall just in time for a township visit. Entrepreneurs decorated the paved streets of the Langa township selling barbequed sheep's head, used dress pants, and assorted homemade goods off the bordering fences and poorly constructed booths. I kept my camera rested in hand to minimize my game drive tendencies because even though I was, once again, invading a new community, I was there to experience first-hand instead of just observing the oldest tribe of people in human history, the Xhosa.
A woman lovingly entitled "Mums" invited us into her two room home where she houses a family of six and her own jewelry business. As she showed us her scrapbook and explained the Xhosa rituals, we attempted to mimic her spoken clicks that seemed to flow off her tongue much easier than ours. Hugs, pictures and jewelry purchases brought a close to our home visit as we began our walking tour of the Langa township.
We could sense a definite feeling of community among neighbors that we agreed was lacking in America. Robb and I found ourselves willing and eager to live in these conditions if it was possible to experience their simple and proud lifestyle. While walking through a butcher shop/smokehouse/bar/living room/convenience store, Alexis and I could have sworn we were walking through a fraternity house and nearly felt comfortable enough to plop on a nearby emerald couch.
Odd sights of stylish Mercedes driving by roadside sheep's head BBQs and sounds of American house music blaring from twenty square foot shacks were just a few of the surprises on our way.
A large barbed wire fence came into view and soon a stampede of preschool children ran to the four American kids approaching their gate. One child appeared uninterested as he rolled a wheel about the playground, but the remaining one hundred forty-nine eager students ran towards us as soon as Robb's stickers emerged from our pockets. Even though there was a horrendous language barrier between us and the children, they understood what our cameras were doing and that tens of stickers could cling to the face with a simple press of the thumb. Those kids marked a highlight from Cape Town for all of us.
We capped the Cape Town experience off with dinner on the wharf, a couple of beers, and a last sunset that silhouetted our ship to an orange sky. And with a final toast of our massive mugs, our foursome made a vow that Cape Town would see us again, united and eager to share another amazing time together, and that time will be the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"The stretch between Mauritius and India will be our worst waters of all." We are cruising at a speed of 12 knots on an ocean reminiscent of cobalt blue Murano glass. Whoever scared me into thinking this would be a week spent taped to my mattress is getting their room teepeed. As Alexis and I sat watching last night's sunset off the Garden Lounge deck, our non-existent wake and the slow ripples from the bow barely distorted the brilliant palette of colors that painted the ocean. I mentioned to her that our vista reminded me of a computer desktop background, a sad comparison that told me I am sorely nature deprived. It was a glorious and tranquil moment in time quickly ruined by the evening announcements.
Every day, San Diego gets closer and the pain of separating from the MV Explorer, from daily brilliant sunsets, and from my closest globe-trotting comrades becomes a burning thought, especially when my experiences keep getting more interesting and memorable.
Mauritius came into view around lunch time last Thursday, later in the day than we expected thanks to some rocky, nauseating waters slowing us down. After a dramatic turn of events within our travel group, Alexis and I exited the gangway with backpacks bulging and the mottoes of "Carpe Diem" and "Let's leave every American in our dust."
We did just so as our taxi cap plummeted us into downtown Port Louis and plopped us on a street corner, a.k.a. the bus station. As he urgently pointed towards a bus that predated Rosa Parks, we realized we had no Mauritian Rupees to pay the fare; however, in a moment's time, the nearby electronic store (with a non-existent inventory) transformed into a friendly American Express office, changing six of our USD into Rs 200 and giving us the benefit of the conversion doubt. Luck be these ladies so far.
An hour and a half ride (that definitely wasn't an express route) left us on a street corner of Mahebourg, and juxtaposed to our gawking eyes and aimless walking, the surrounding stray dogs looked like they were running errands. Once again, the words "Blue Bay" and a finger point were all we needed to eventually find our way down the stretch of rentable bungalows.
It only took four price inquiries, multiple tours, and a mile of browsing to find the gorgeous "Chantemer" and her wonderfully psychotic landlady, Ms. Indra Tinkler. All we had was all we needed: a queen bed, a clean shower, and a door leading straight out to powder white sands and views of neon green mountains. It seemed all too easy to plan a snorkeling trip and rent bicycles around the peninsula, especially when travel guides like Patrick are willing to drive to the nearest ATM just for convenience's sake. Sugar cane fields and roads leading right into teal waters made our leisurely ride a dream, which we finished with a grocery raid and a beachfront picnic.
Our American girl charm attracted a nearby Englishman staying in our chateau, and we shared Mauritian sundowners, life goals, and humorous accents until the wash of a trillion stars covered our rainbow sky. As any female American college student knows, evenings out are most efficiently enjoyed if teamwork is the number one priority, and work together we did. Thanks to a rental car, a local child with a Mohawk, an odd deck of cards in conjunction with the new game of "Walrus," a thorough impression of the Incredible Hulk, and our sly skills of persuasion, we experienced an unforgettable night that left us richer and fulfilled, laughing under the stars.
A few hours later, the sun came out along with a few malarial mosquitoes, but nothing could break our gazes with the fluorescent clouds that dwarfed sunrise sailors. Our private beach was littered with neighbors raking their backyard beaches and walking their rascally dogs, one of which darted to us and set up camp in my lap until others arrived for a sniff. Alexis, being the native San Diegon that she is, spent hours in the tide pools, searching for stranded animals and throwing starfish at the ocean and myself. I was not amused and photographed from a distance.
The day had come for us to pack our bags and depart from this island of fantasy and merriment, and, with an entire free day upon us, the last thing we wanted to do was rush back to a shipload of sun-kissed boozers. Instead, we went sailing. Along with the Englishman and his father, a Korean couple, and two local sailors accurately described as "pirates", we boarded the Renaissance and headed out, albeit hesitantly, on our three hour tour. The irony of our miniature voyage magnified with the passing of a one hundred year old shipwreck and the skipper's decision to jump off for a swim out to sea.
We arrived back at the marine park, where our previous snorkel trip took place, but our personal pirate proved to be an invaluable resources as he swam alongside us, grabbing wildlife for better viewing. I understood how crazy he actually was when the removal of his snorkel preceded two minutes of hole gouging and the emergence of eight long tentacles. Ink sprayed continuously until he slapped the angry octopus on the stomach of my roommate and told her to swim back. I remained a good fifty yards from the gelatinous creature, but this didn't stop the pirate from thoroughly scaring me at a vulnerable moment while climbing into the boat…twice.
A stop at the most beautiful beach imaginable gave our tour a magical and humorous turn as the ocean's massive waves sent us spinning across a pure white plane. On our way back, the crew couldn't help but scare the Korean woman a few more times with mock disaster before coming to shore in front of the Chantemer.
Our new sense of satisfaction topped off an incredible entire journey, and it was time to cast away from our vacation destination. A penny-pinching dinner on board gave us some dollars to spend on an enjoyable St. Patrick's Day celebration, where we reflected each detail of our adventure over Blue Marlin beers and basked in the glory of each accomplishment. Once again, the world's inaccessible, unfriendly, foreign façade lifted to let these American girls through.
This post was syndicated to Semester at Sea's Shipmates publication for a new column called "My Life at Sea." As if every day isn't a remarkable gift, I experienced something today that had me choking back tears from unfathomable intensity.
Today, I slept through class due to an unknown time zone change and punished myself in the form of compartmentalized exercise and resumé construction. After our typical hilarious lunch time antics, I struggled through a tedious exam, ran down to deck 2 for a quick shower, and then situated myself within arms length of the front chair in my next classroom.
While I am normally magnetized to the window seat in the back, which usually curbs my seasickness, I relocated in order to improve the vista that I am sure remember my entire life. That swiveling seat and chilled glass of water sitting ahead of me was reserved for the most accomplished man I've ever shared oxygen with, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His tangible presence summoned immediate attention and respect upon entering the room, even though his wardrobe included board shorts, knee high dress socks, and black leather flip flops. We were all poised with smiles, straight backs, and pencils in the air when he rose to speak from the adjacent podium, but he immediately expressed his own humility ever so subtly in an attempt to homogenize the classroom. Tutu transformed himself from a living legend into the every man within minutes, contradicting all our preconceived assumptions as to why he became an priest and what he was like as a child (entranced by comic books). He became a cartoon character, a goofy man with a drive to inspire the youthful that inspire him unknowingly.
I left with welling tears in a state of intrigued confusion, knowing it would be a while before I could fathom what just happened.
On this ship of dreams, it's just another day when the most famous archbishop in the world speaks to your classroom. At home, it's a jaw dropping phenomenon.
After having the be-jesus scared out of me for this port, I was a tad hesitant to step off the gangway, expecting to have my passport easily sliced out of the money belt that was conveniently located in my underwear. Because of this long winded warning, I was at my most attentive state, armed with an angry stare and a determined stride (holding a pen like a weapon at my side). Even though my façade was solid, pulsating drums and colorful piles of houses melted my interior, as did the humidity. Scamming taxi drivers got us to the bus station where we quickly bought the last three tickets to Lençois. It was a six hour ride full of unnecessary pit stops, grotesque Brazilian teens smoking in the lavatory, and smelly seat companions, but we certainly had an adrenaline rush every time the bus played “chicken” with oncoming traffic. Every little uncomfortable bit of the journey was a treat to experience.
Garrett, Alexis and I jumped out of our seat when a woman passed us and asked in English, “Is anyone in the bathroom?” Immediately, we made friends with the American and her bilingual friend, who within minutes of meeting us made accommodations for our overnight stay and two day trek through the wilderness.
We greeted a very wet Chapada Diamantina at 0900 hours with our guide, Arnaudo, who was equipped with all our gear and a wonderfully bouncy gait. Natural rock slides and water the color of iodine made our first rest stop a bruising but exciting delight, and after teaming up with another trekking group, we powered off into a rainforest known to gobble up naïve travelers without guides.
The rain came and went in the most unfortunate of times, for instance, while trudging up a steep rock face on the side of a mountain. Apparently their motto that it only rains in the mornings and at night is relative (similar to ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere’), as well as their concept of time (15 minutes = 3 hours). The most unexpected part was watching one of the guide’s backpacks float down some rapids we were debating on crossing, only to see him jump in at a moment of panic. The rain rerouted our travels to a cavern on a cliff where we spent a soggy night spooning on sleeping bags that smelt of unpleasant things. Alexis was careful to listen for jaguars outside our nylon walls, but Garrett focused on not rolling down a 60 foot drop. I, on the other hand, had little to think about other than the Chinese water torture nature was conducting on my forehead.
We survived the night and left alone to back track our travels to the rockslides, which went from amusing to abusive overnight. Arnaudo met us at the top of the falls to warn us against crossing, out of fear for our lives, so we lounged on the other side of this tourist destination and relaxed our burning feet in the cool waters. After twenty minutes of peace, we see crowds forming on the other edge of the water hole and men with ropes jumping haphazardly into the rapids. We started to pack up and look for the guide, but the men told us to stay. They were the survival crew from town, crossing the water to rescue us. The following twenty minutes included zip lines, cheers from the crowd, grasping rope for dear life, being pulled underwater by the force of the currents, the crowd taking pictures, bloody knees, bags flopping on the rocks, and a triple high-five from the three “Americanos” who were saved from danger in the Brazilian outback.
It was only when we ended our two day trek in the mountains of Brazil when we realized how horribly we smelt. One hospitable offer from Arnaudo and the three of us were taking showers in shantytown. My dripping hiking boots did not look inviting, so I took the streets like a local and walked barefoot to the nearest shoe store for some Brazilian sandals.
Meeting back with our fourth friend, Robb, at an Italian restaurant back in town facilitated an animated recount of all our travels and the great times we had, as did the three Caipirinhas that satiated our thirsts. As the night winded down, we rested in the town square where a stray dog and his antsy legs kept us company until a spontaneous downpour sent us running with everyone else under the covered market, laughing all the way. During that overnight bus ride to the ship, an overwhelming exhaustion sent me into a deep sleep that I could not remember having. I rejoined mankind at noon the next day with sore legs and clean hair, finally.
Pelourinho, the old city district in Salvador, glittered of elaborate Carnaval celebrations, loud musical presentations, and children spraying very wet silly string on their annoyed parents. Women in large, bell-shaped dresses and men in mini-skirts made us feel like the least festive people on every city block as we pranced around in jeans with our valuables duct-taped to our stomachs. The constant fear of being mugged or abducted by lurking criminals exhausted us, as did the shock that we were in the presence of the biggest festival celebrated on planet Earth.
We decided to embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity and head to the heart of the main event, the Barra circuit. My heart vibrated in my chest with every semi that rolled by, blaring traditional music and rattling bass beats from the hundreds of speakers on every truck. Twirling skirts, sweat beads flying, free bandanas being thrown everywhere, SKOL vendors shaking makeshift maracas to lure in thirsty partiers, confetti shooting into the sky, old ladies with tinsel wigs and gold pants…every audio-visual stimulus sent our hearts racing.
Brazilian women with beads and mustaches made our nights with their shimmys and chants, making us feel like we were united in the celebration. The only thing that brought us down from our elevated state was when they informed us that we were presently surrounded by drooling, dangerous criminals, eager to ruin our American lives. Luckily, the Brazilian SWAT teams were constantly weaving through our territory.
Millions of dollars in fireworks and pyrotechnics could not have raised our excitement anymore than when the next "bloco" rolled into our vicinity and the name of FATBOY SLIM appeared in flashing lights. Parked at our feet, the world-renown DJ’s semi blasted a techno/reggae remix of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, an American classic that we alone appreciated to its fullest extent. For many of us, this was one of the best moments of our lives, only topped by the fact that our safety that night was never in jeopardy.
I melted into my bed that night, too pooped to even ice my throbbing feet, but my ears were ringing from an unforgettable experience. The intensity of every situation in the past few days was paramount to what I have known in the past, and I met it all with two thumbs up and one very shifty eye. As I like to put it, Brazil smacked me in the face, but I smacked it right back. And now…on to South Africa.