Island

Photoblog: a gray day in the Swedish village of Landsort

After the Berlin trimester ended, I flew to Copenhagen to begin a wee Scandinavian tour. The best part of this week was being with friendly residents and visiting their homes. Yes, homes. Not houses, accommodations, hotels, hostels, or dorms. In both Copenhagen and Stockholm, I stayed in city homes and then visited vacation homes by the water. Both cities are impressive and relatively unknown to me, but I valued most those moments where I was experiencing someone's place of hat-hanging. Rarely did I want to venture away.

Kari and Kristian heading to Öja, Sweden

Kari and Kristian heading to Öja, Sweden

Landsort is a village on the island of Öja an hour south of Stockholm. It marks the southernmost point of the Stockholm archipelago. My new friend Kari took fellow TGS co-worker Andy and his two friends to his vacation home on the island of Öja by way of a flat-bottomed boat. The sky was gray and occasionally spitting, but we enjoyed some walks along the central road (rarely a motor in sight) and up by the lighthouse that gives the village its name.

Andy on Öja island in Sweden

Andy on Öja island in Sweden

Kristian on Öja island in Sweden

Kristian on Öja island in Sweden

Kristian on Öja island in Sweden

Kristian on Öja island in Sweden

Luisa, Andy, and Kristian on Öja island

Luisa, Andy, and Kristian on Öja island

Kristian on Öja in Sweden

Kristian on Öja in Sweden

The lighthouse on Öja island

The lighthouse on Öja island

Wildflowers on Öja island

Wildflowers on Öja island

Wildflowers on Öja island

Wildflowers on Öja island

Andy staring into the gray Baltic skies

Andy staring into the gray Baltic skies

Kari and Kristian heading to Öja, Sweden

Kari and Kristian heading to Öja, Sweden

The southernmost point of the Stockholm archipelago: Landsort

The southernmost point of the Stockholm archipelago: Landsort

The mostly-pedestrian streets of Landsort on Öja island in Sweden

The mostly-pedestrian streets of Landsort on Öja island in Sweden

Öja island in Sweden

Öja island in Sweden

Kristian, Andy, and Luisa at Kari's house on Öja

Kristian, Andy, and Luisa at Kari's house on Öja

To see more travel photography, view my Flickr collections.

Let's Speak Haitian Creole!

My first language post arose from a desire to document and transmit the full experience of being in a relatively unknown culture: tribal Fiji. I didn't expect many people to find such a write-up relevant, but it dawned on me after hundreds of hits that lesser-known languages need some limelight, too. One could travel to Haiti and speak French; there would be virtually no gap in communication. But, I didn't have the luxury of French and instead opted for downloading some free software to learn Haitian Creole. Because I've spent the last eleven years learning languages that pack very few superfluous letters, the concept of learning French and not pronouncing half a word seemed absurdoix. Creole being a mix of many languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Taíno, and some African languages, it reads more phonetically and becomes more accessible than its' base.

Visit Haiti. And when you do, use your Creole. In the meantime, I'm going to attempt to process my four day rare experience through Port-au-Prince, the Central Plateau, and Jacmèl.

Haitian boy in the Central Plateau, in Thomonde
Haitian boy in the Central Plateau, in Thomonde

The Basics

Alo: Hello Bonjou: Good morning Kòman ou ye (pronounced co-mah-oo-ee): How are you? Mwen trè byen, mèsi: I'm fine, thank you. Mwen rele Lindsay: My name is Lindsay. Good evening: Bonswa Eskize mwen: Excuse me/Sorry Mwen regrèt sa: I'm sorry. Wi: Yes Non: No Mèsi: Thank you Tanpri: Please Goodbye: Orevwa

Driving around Haiti
Driving around Haiti

Getting Around

Ou ka ede mwen? Can you help me? Kijan pou mwen ale nan...? How to get to...? Direksyon: direction Mize: museum Taksi: taxi Otèl: hotel Kafe: café Mache (pronounced mah-shay): to walk Mwen ta renmen peye ak kat kredi: I would like to pay with credit card. Ayewopò: airport Estasyon: station Mwen gen kèk kesyon: I have some questions. Rezèvasyon: reservation Mwen pèdi: I am lost. Ki kote li...? Where is...? Mwen bezwen èd: I need help. Non ri a: street name Gichè otomatik: ATM

Man wearing a mask at Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti
Man wearing a mask at Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti

Conversation

Kijan ou rele? What is your name? Ki laj ou? How old are you? Mwen se ameriken: I am American. Mwen ta renmen...: I would like... Ki lè li fè? What time is it?

Playing in the waves on the beach in Jacmel, Haiti
Playing in the waves on the beach in Jacmel, Haiti

Learning While Speaking

Mwen pa konprann: I don't understand. M ap aprann Kreyòl: I'm learning Creole. Pale Angle (pronounced pah-lee ahn-gleh): to speak English Mwen vle aprann Kreyòl: I want to learn Creole. Mwen pa konnen: I don't know. Mwen pa te konnen li: I didn't know that. Sa bon pou konnen: That's good to know. Tradui: to translate Mwen pa ka li Kreyòl: I can't read Creole. Li difisil pou mwen pale Kreyòl: Speaking Creole is difficult for me. Ou trè sèvyab: You are very helpful. Mèsi pou fason ou ede m avèk Kreyòl mwen: Thank you for helping me with my Creole. Kòman yo di...an Kreyòl? How do you say...in Creole? Sa sa vle di...? What does...mean? Mwen ap sonje: I will remember that

Painted numbers on the outside of Edeyo school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Painted numbers on the outside of Edeyo school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Numbers

Youn: one De: two Twa: three Kat: four Senk: five Sis: six Sèt: seven Uit: eight Nèf: nine Dis: ten Onz: eleven

Girl at the blackboard at Edeyo School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Girl at the blackboard at Edeyo School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Time

Jodi a (all 'di's are pronounced tzi): today Demen: tomorrow Ayè: yesterday Midi: noon Lendi: Monday Madi: Tuesday Mèkredi: Wednesday Jedi: Thursday Vandredi: Friday Samdi: Saturday Dimanch: Sunday

The Central Plateau of Haiti
The Central Plateau of Haiti

Develop Vocabulary

Etazini: United States Tanperati: temperature Vyann poul: chicken Pwason: fish Vyann bèf: beef Dlo: water Byè: beer Soulye: shoes Manto: coat Chapo: hat Grangou: hungry Vit: quickly Bra: arm Janm: leg Tèt: head Lajan: money

Practicing my Creole on the beach in Jacmel, Haiti
Practicing my Creole on the beach in Jacmel, Haiti

And once again, you're now as fluent as I am! Doesn't take much. Put your skills to use and visit. It's the best way to learn a new language, and it's something Haiti needs: your presence to develop an honest perspective on a country that is richer than we recognize.

All photos © ProjectExplorer.org, 2011

Sick as a Donkey: Day 61

That'll do, Donkey.

Holy mackerel, Mykonos ripped my body apart and threw it to the seagulls. With every passing minute on the ferry, my head swirled against the motions of the waves and filled with pain. My cough was extreme. I went through three toilet rolls blowing my nose dry. And it's so sad, when your body becomes a victim to disease on the road, but I tried to wipe away my horrifying expression and enjoy as much as possible this most anticipated destination: Santorini. Here's what one can expect from Santorini... -All civilization lies at a high elevation on the island. It takes a while to get places. -Buildings really do cling to the cliffs and present those beautiful cityscapes. -The beaches are both calm and crazy and all are clothing optional. -Scooter and ATV rentals abound, making it very easy to get around and love where you are

Climbing elevations caused my head to throb. I could barely open my eyes to the gorgeous sunset falling over the rooftops. And without the ability to open my eyes, I couldn't rent a scooter and therefore discovered no beaches. Sadly, I did not see Santorini the way it was meant to be seen. But I did spend a lot of time in an air-conditioned room watch samurai movies and Major Payne.

My weary body did, however, muster up enough energy (after 18 hours of rest) to go on the optional tour with the group: to walk over the Santorini volcano, swim in hot springs, and ride a donkey from the water to town. Views were blue, rocky, and gorgeous at every glance, and luckily, the heavy smell of sulfur in the hot springs had no affect on me. I could barely breathe, let alone smell! We covered our faces in hot mud from the floor of the hot springs, and my struggling complexion caught a break with its healing effects. And finally, we boarded stubborn donkeys at the base of the cliff, only to laugh and scream all the way up. They would run, stop, bite each other, squeeze our legs against walls and other donkeys, and I couldn't help but make as many "ass" puns and donkey references as humanly possible. I laughed and was momentarily cured of my ailment. But I expended my days worth of energy and returned to shower, sleep, and watch amazing movies once more.

Santorini has the parties and the peace. I wish I could have experienced and loved both, but instead I dealt with the realities of travel: the occasional disease caused by exhaustion. It happens, and you can either ignore it (and suffer later) or take your vacation in sips, saving up energy for the moments that really make the trip. Now I know Santorini should be done...for next time...when I'm fit and ready.

An Island I Can Handle: Day 57

Windy Paros

Weee! A beach! A warm beach! Without jellyfish, sharks, or boiling outdoor temperatures! The Greek islands were calling me while I was still preparing for the trip in America. Every island the ferry passed was a tease until we finally slowed and reversed into the port for Paros. Oh, sweet breezes and salty air! We made it to our relaxation portion of this year's internship, a much needed moment for sun-worshipping and getting rid of my wicked farmer's tan. Paros marked the first destination on a tour of three islands in the Aegean Sea, and she met almost every expectation. White buildings with strong blue accents made up the entire landscape, and windmills stood poised over the harbor. Restaurants lined the boardwalk, and the wind made my hair dance into happy knots. Maybe the only thing that strayed from my pre-conceived images of the Greek islands were the appearance of the beaches, not sugar white but more in line with their volcanic births.

The tour itinerary was something along the lines of "choose one or more of the following: eat, walk, shop, rest, beach, pool, tan, read, rent scooters, drink, enjoy your beautiful surroundings" and so on. Well, okay. That sounds darn near perfect. And the next day, when it came to a full day of experiencing Paros, our tour guide had something in store if we had no inspiration on our own. I took part in the optional day tour and found myself wandering picturesque fishing towns, running across wave-breaking walls, and at a lovely beach playing newly invented ball games with new friends and a very hospitable sun.

Nightfall in Paros had me dancing on a table. How'd I get up there? Oh, I know. Two days of soul-pleasing leisure and a Red Bull. And it did not take any convincing to get the other tour participants up on the tables with me. Flashing lights pulsed and free group drinks flowed to make smiles spread across our newly tanned faces. This was only the beginning. We all had energy. And to be in Greece during the high season when ferries overflow and funnel in mass amounts of tourists, we were there hassle-free, our only responsibility being to enjoy new company and atmospheres.

Paros left a good taste in my mouth. Made me long for even sleepier islands and the breathtaking beauty of an uncommercial destination. Greece could be a painter's dream, soul-quenching...but our next stop being Mykonos, we were about to have our soul's disgorged via thumping music and innumerable cocktails. Which sounds better?

That's a Big Ol' Island: Day 14

Rainy Sydney

Chris said it right. Our descent into Sydney revealed a coastline that seemingly never ended. This is the country/continent I've been reading up on for the last month, and never have I been so scared of a country's wildlife than I have coming into Australia. And after being all over East and Central Africa, I think that's saying something. I couldn't wait to giggle at everyone's accents, and Chris welcomed back civilization with open arms. I was still bumming off our departure from Fiji, but boy was this a cool city we stood in. Looking at our itinerary, we knew we were heading for an ultra-modern, powerhouse of a hostel for the evening. Wake Up Sydney wins international hostel awards, and being two travelers who love to find the hidden gems and steer clear of the easy path, we were very skeptical we'd enjoy this stopover.

But when Christian, the general manager, awaited our arrival out of customs, we got the pleasant surprise of seeing the personable side of the institution. He dropped our things at the hostel after hooking us up with all the amenities and took us for a drive around a very wet coastal city.

Chris instantly fell in love with the place, which called to mind his home in the Bay Area. I was just plain blown away by the sheer size and expanse of the harbor, surrounding houses, buildings; it was all so cosmopolitan...and huge!

"There's where Russell Crowe lives, up on that entire top floor."

"Here's the best view in town of Harbor Bridge and the Opera House."

"This is where the massive New Year's Eve celebration occurs every year. The place is absolutely packed and rowdy. We're already booked up for the holidays!"

It probably didn't make it easier coming from a remote Fijian village, but I was more in culture shock of Sydney than of little old Nakavika.

Christian offered to take us out for drinks that night and give us the opportunity to see the Opera House become alit by an evening light show, and it was our best intention to make that happen. But, a lack of sleep, a pile-up of work, a need to shop and eat, and power up for the Outback stopped us from doing Sydney right.

We're both determined to return; needn't we worry. And neither should you.

Bamboo Bear Grylls: Day 8

Bamboo Raft Construction Site

Bui and I could only appreciate a few games of “Last Card” before one bite of breakfast had her running for school Monday morning. I took my books and journals to a mat on the patio for a little writing when Abel joined me for a quick lounge and giggle. The important thing to note about village life is the emphasis on relaxation. Note it. Do it. Love it. Chris, Lina, Moji and I grouped together in the late morning to head out for an exciting program by the river. Hiking in flip-flops proved a bit difficult, but we were soon bounding from rock to rock barefoot by the flowing waters that cut into the jungle’s core. We forged rapids, stumbled on mossy boulders, and ended on a small beach beside a bamboo forest. Moji chopped away about ten shoots and assembled them into a trusty raft, with our ever-so useful helping hands,of course. I felt so Bear Grylls, I attempted an English accent that turned into an Aussie one…which I didn’t even know I could do.

IMG_1389

Once the raft was sea-worthy, we floated about 10 meters away to a trickling spring on the other side, a hot spring that spewed 80 degree water with a sulfuric twist. Chris, our gondalier, wasn’t content with just moving across the river after all that hard work of tying knots with vines, so he pushed us towards the rapids downstream.

The waters were at best about two feet deep and incredibly rocky. Our vessel tried to skewer a couple boulders and toss us into the river before it finally wedged itself into a pool for an eternal rest. The walk back through the rocks gave us red and bloody knees, but the laughs induced by the mini-adventure on a self-made raft were worth the potential for wound infection.

Walking back upstream the way we came, Moji and I attempted a little prawn fishing with one pair of goggles and a young bamboo stick topped with ten rusty nails. I tried getting one school of fish for about 20 minutes, continuing to jab and announce, “Aw, I came so close!”, and Moji humored me by letting me continue, adding later that "it always seems like you’re just that close". Touche.

The climax of the program was certainly the literal high point…and the last event of the adventure: a 30+ foot cliff jump into teal, chilly waters. The crawl up the mossy rock face was nearly as scary as the impending plunge, and upon reaching the final step before the jump, I nearly busted my own vocal chords with spontaneous screams. It took about three minutes of nervous dancing, slow countdowns, and self-encouragement to rock myself to that point of no return. I had enough time to scream twice until my feet and outstretched arms broke the water surface. It was a slap heard ‘round the jungle.

Of course it took Lina, Moji, and Chris a combined 20 seconds to do their jumps (twice might I add). Advice for others: don’t look down.

We returned to the village by the singular dirt road entrance and indulged in belly filling meals on the floor. Soon after, Fane pulled out a sulu and shirt for me to wear to the school, where I was going to volunteer a little time to unintentional complete classroom distraction.

Lina and I wanted to offer any services we could provide in order to make some progress, but what usually occurs in these situations is a rowdy, screaming classroom with one or two kids actually following your instructions as opposed to just giggling at your outfit. Our social studies lesson on “How Roads are Made” didn’t change mindsets or anything but hopefully taught one person how to draw a road cross-section. So useful in the practical world.

When my time as a Fijian village teacher expired, I changed back into my appalling Western attire in time for Abel’s lesson on cooking with bamboo. It was a practice from the days before pots and also one that is used on modern day picnics. As the cassava boiled inside the young bamboo shoot, the kids giggled wildly, running in and out of my video footage. Abel taught me how to say some hilarious and simple phrases, while older women walking home from the farms stopped to laugh at my attempts. The cooked cassava was as soft as a well-cooked sweet potato, and just as sweet. We ate it with our fingers while practicing ballet moves and more phrases until the darkness settled.

With the night came a few more travelers from Lautoka, our friends from the Madventure house, and many of us ate together by candlelight in my host uncle’s home next door. The kids, Bui and Pio, played with the wax from the dripping candles and created a guessing game for after-dinner entertainment.

Why is it so easy to have a completely lovely day in a place so secluded from our favorite vices, activities, and daily pastimes? I think it’s because life is meant to be simple. Simple and vibrant. Like a Fijian village.

Kava and Waterfalls: Day 7

Kava Mixing

Bui’s knees in my back and adorable, obvious rustling in bed wake me caused a laugh to accompany my first breath of the day.  She had spotted something in my bag that she liked, so I proceeded to pull out the bag-o-tricks from my sister-in-law that included bubbles, a very high-pitched whistle, a hypnotizing hourglass, and a flower for her church-ready hair. Instead of going with Chris and a fellow traveler named Lina to the next village for family time, Abel offered to take me on a little trip to a nearby waterfall. Bui jumped on that bandwagon with a smile that spanned her entire face. And as we walked, more children tagged along, sliding down muddy slopes for the poised camera and pointing out the sensitive fern before cautiously stepping over its little thorns.

The first waterfall was like a natural stairway with cascading clear waters making the descent a little dicier. Some of the kids plummeted into the teal pool with us while others remained on top, shouting down to us and each other, as excited as though this were a candy store shopping spree. The water was as cold as it was wet, but we disregarded this discomfort by trying to balance on a fallen log like American Gladiators.

Across the pool, Abel and I climbed onto some flat rocks shaded by a fantastic tropical canopy to find a second and much more deadly waterfall. Dropping a large rock down, he demonstrated what would happen to our heads if we jumped. Obliteration. We sprawled there for a while, talking about the village and America, while fluorescent spiders walked by our resting chins that overlooked the ledge. The kids on the other waterfall sang and danced for our attention.

When we came back to the village, hair dripping and laughing, my host parents and all their friends were lounging in the yard, drinking kava, sharing a sticky bowl of colorful popcorn, and awaiting my inclusion. The adults and parents posed for photos as enthusiastically as the kids and pulled me into the frame for a few shots.

We moved the party inside my house when the clouds began spitting, and for the next three hours, I witnessed a hilarious evening among lifelong friends that included my serving of tsunami bowls to every man, card tricks, riddles, and childhood games. Sometimes the volume and amount of laughter during certain Fijian games caused me to believe they weren’t so family friendly, at which point I would turn my head left and right asking anyone, “What’s so funny?”.

Abel, while mixing bowl after bowl of kava, asked me to put my camera on video mode while the men harmonized songs of pride and love for their country and countrymen. 15 to 20 men closed their eyes to reach high notes and perfect tones in a concert just for me. My eyes fluttered by lamplight to the tunes of the Highlands, head heavy to my pillow in the middle of the crowded, sleepy room. It was the kind of peace John Lennon would fantasize about.

What Culture Shock?

Whole Village a'Crazies

We anticipated wild animals or at least poisonous critters; there were only slightly famished mosquitoes. We were prepared for long drop squat toilets; we sat on flushing porcelain thrones. And we assumed we’d make many a cultural blunder within our first days, but honestly, living in the Fijian Highlands for a week was only culturally shocking in one sense: it’s so friggin beautiful. Idyllic. Lush. Vibrant.

And to think a place so lovely is not only that but open to outsiders such as ourselves and able to make us feel comfortable beyond our expectations.

What we as travelers often worry about is the possibility of experiencing the new and/or shocking and not knowing how to deal the right way. And being prepared for the new causes us to step in the unknown as we would put a timid toe into frigid waters.

Will this sweet old lady be offended if I forget to say jilo when I walk behind her? Will a snake cross my path or hang near my head on this mountain hike? What if I wear a hat as I walk across the village, will the children howl in shock? Aw gee, look at my leg! I’m bound to have malaria by now!

The reality in Nakavika is that there’s a greater chance of forgiveness for making mistakes than disrespect for what you didn’t know. Plus, the Namosi Highlands were blessed with both hands in that all those things that make jungle life so unappealing are not there in Fiji. It’s safe. It’s perfect. We were living in simple, gorgeous, welcoming luxury.

Makes it easy for wayward nomads like ourselves to dive into a culture so utterly stunning. Hesitate no more, readers, Fiji wants you, and trust us…you want Fiji.

Bumpin' into the Interior: Day 5

Stopping for Tea in the Mountains

Anthony Bourdain, chef and world traveler extraordinaire, is a firm believer that the best way to approach a new culture and community is to check out the marketplace. Lautoka's market was quite a large spread of all things root vegetable and spice, and the smells within the arena brought to mind East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the ever-pungent Subcontinent of India. We shelled out some dollars for peanuts, bananas, and food for the day of movement into the Fijian interior.

After a four hour bus ride around the coast of Fiji, the man waiting for our arrival at a dirt road junction on the side of the highway was Moji, our program "manager" while we were up in the Nakavika village. We played a little Frisbee, a universal crowd pleaser/entertainer, until the carrier made its way in from town.

When it came time to pile on and squeeze in between brothers, mothers, and children, we happily merged with them and blessed the breeze that billowed in from the open flap. The air grew increasingly heavy and cool, and while others found it frigid, my Hoosier blood found it warming and kissed with memories of summer.

Two hours on that bumpy road brought us to a home where we waited for the onward carrier towards Nakavika village. The occasional step uphill squeezed old oranges underfoot and sent juice squirting for meters.

We sat on mattresses on the porch and enjoyed some tea and biscuits, together might I add. Moji and Kimbo took their big hands and crushed four or five biscuits into their mugs and made soup. We all tried it out of curiosity, which from the speed of our decisions to join along made me wonder how much they could sway us to do in the name of new cultural experiences.

It was only 3 or 4pm, and the sun was bursting through the sides of the palms on its way to setting. The mountains were slathered with foliage and looked like cliffs I'd never seen before. Seemed as though they came from the world of Zelda. I snapped photos of them like a shutter-happy maniac.

Finally, the last carrier ended our full day journey with the arrival to Nakavika, where many children flocked to form our welcoming committee. When the village dispersed our weary frames to different houses for the week, I got the good fortune of staying with Moji's brother, Weiss, wife, Fane, and their daughter, Bui, who was also my six year-old bunkmate.

Even though the sun was already set, it was only time for afternoon tea and a little farm corn. We sat Fijian style around a tablecloth as neighbors joined and left after grabbing an ear or sharing a cup of sugary tea. Heads would pop in from outside and give me a firm handshake (along with pull away finger snap) before engaging in speedy Fijian to discuss me.

And then came the kava.

We walked by kerosene lamp with kamikaze frogs leaping in and out of our path. Moji's father acted as the headman of the village, so it was at his house that we were greeted and officially welcomed into the community. A large wooden bowl of water soon turned murky when a thin cloth bag of ground kava was massaged into it. Moji informed us that once the kava hits our lips, we were no longer citizens of America but full-blooded Fijians, living here as part of the whole family. We happily drank to that.

The kava tasted like something I couldn't place. Instantly, the tongue goes numb, and you're looking for a chaser. Not that the drink is particularly disgusting, relatively; it's just not the flavor of which lollipops are made.

We lounged and occasionally sat up to put the coconut shell to our lips, while I attempted to learn a few key terms like "tongue" and "come here" with Moji's youngest brother, Abel, who was living with and taking care of his parents while they were sick. It's surprising how quickly and seamlessly those from Nakavika could make us go from strangers to homogenous among the clan.

I returned to my home for dinner and to learn a local favorite card game called "Last Card", similar to Uno, before heading to the red group's fundraising event for the school. It pleased me like mad to see the emphasis this village put on its schools and education. Every Friday night, the village splits up into four teams (red, yellow, green, and blue) to drink kava and pool together money for the school system. I landed the equivalent of $3.50 U.S. in the pile and became the honored donor, shelling out the tsunami (or massive) bowls of kava to the headmaster, school manager, and everyone edging the room.

Wandering back to my home with a heavy head and sloshing stomach in the pitch black of night, I could just barely see the grass in front of me. Already I had memorized the layout of the Nakavika land, and that pleased me. I was surrounded by a style of living that at times makes more sense to me than American suburbia.

The word that came to mind as I followed the dirt path to my home was "necessary": the reasons for doing anything, the logic behind NOT doing so much else...necessity. What's necessary to survive here cuts out all the clutter and worries we thrive on at home. As it says on many sulus walking around the village, "Fiji is how the world should be."

I slept like a log in paradise.

Can You Say Walrus? Day 45

Mauritius, Blue Bay, Snorkel, Alexis Reller

"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.