Thursday, February 26, 2009

Days 4-5, Cape Town, South Africa

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”– Scott Cameron
Day 4-Cape Town, South Africa
Finally able to sleep in just a little bit, we wake up around 9:15 to head downstairs to the buses for our “Cape Malay Cooking Safari”, as planned by SAS. I was apprehensive about signing up from the beginning because truthfully I’m not really a cooker and my family isn’t into exotic dishes. But, the idea of being able to be taught how to cook by an authentic South African tipped the balance in favor and I had applied. Later, we found out that the Malay people are actually descendents of Indonesian slaves who were brought to Cape Town hundreds of years ago to reclaim the land that Cape Town is housed upon. They are also Muslim.
With very little in terms of expectations, Brittany and I head onto a small bus with another friend of ours, Emily. While Emily chats it up with the guide (a white South African), Brittany reads and I stare out the window for another startlingly short ride. We find ourselves getting out of the car on a very colorful street. The houses remind me somewhat of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico and I go straight to shooting pictures of the funky street. Listening to the tour guide I am informed that the hierarchy in South Africa today and during apartheid is basically: white and rich, brown and poor, black and desolate. The frankness with which she and others talked about race was especially striking. Although many say that there are always truths behind stereotypes, I can’t help but to think that these types of generalizations stick people in rigid groups. However, to her credit, when I asked if there are residual feelings towards her as a white South African she responds that yes she does feel it and it takes her a while to gain trust from Black South Africans. She also recounts her own personal parlay into the anti-apartheid movement, even discussing being thrown into jail for her radical views.
But, back to our cooking safari, lol. She walks us through the colorful houses where we smell the divine scents of fresh baked bread and food. We then walk to a halal (muslim version of kosher) butcher where we are told to look at the purity and bloodlessness of the meat. Coming from a Jewish home, it looked exactly like a kosher butchery or even deli. From there we go to a spice shop where she explains all the different types of, you guessed it, spices.
The shop is small and the smells overwhelming. Our guide walks us through the baskets of colorful spices from Turmic to curry powder. She gently picks some up with a scooper and asks us all to smell or even taste the different offerings. I try the coriander which tastes just like licorice. While the group shops for spices, I find a small seat upon a rice bag next to the owner of the shop. Since I didn’t know what I wanted to remake yet, since we hadn’t even begun cooking, I figuring I could buy most of the spices at home and proceed to chat it up with the owner. He explains that he lets groups come and play with the spices free of charge. He describes his love of South Africa and when I ask him if he’s ever been to the states he explains that “there is nothing there for him there”. Although that isn’t exactly what I want to hear, he goes on to explain that he likes Obama, and has no ill will towards the United States. He tells me stories about India before Brittany shows up with spices and a cook book. We walk across the street to our chef for the day’s home, Hamida. Hamida turns out to be a wonderful Muslim women, who proper to her marriage did not know how to cook. She tells stories about first learning to cook with her mother-in-law and also recounts that now she teachers her mother-in-law more conventional recipes, such as lasagna. Interestingly, the interior of her kitchen is very modern, she has a dicer, a gorgeous fridge, granite tables and a microwave, which is a stark contrast to the antiquity of the outside of her house. She greets us with a strawberry milk drink, infused with Rose oil and small seeds, which was very yummy.
Our hunger takes over as we learn how to cook samoosas. It turns out that all my years of papercrafts are great training for samoosa making as some had trouble making the paper football like containers. We learn how to make the filling and then stuff our paper-footballs. (No worries, I have the recipes, hillary-we will be making these ). From the Samoosas we move onto making Roti which is sort of like a thin sweet wrap, which we later use to eat the food with our hands. Next, we begin making the chicken curry. I help put in all the spices, while Hamida instructs me in terms of the measurement of heaps (1 heap, ½ a heap…). We add salt to the recipe for more taste and then put it on the stove. Then, we make Tomato and onion Samfal, which is sort of like an Israeli salad, but with more tomato. We finish up by watching her make chili bites and then retire to the long table before us. The food goes quickly as our bellies swell in satisfaction of our creations. The time also seems to slip away and we are back onto the bus, heading for the ship.
I found the Cooking Safari to be very interesting. We got to interact with a whole other set of Cape Town inhabitants and even got to learn from them. I also got to see how much better they live then those in the townships. Under apartheid rule they were favored over the Black population, which has led to unevenness even today. Even on Robben Island, the muslims were given more food then the blacks in an effort to tear them apart and create jealously. I really enjoyed meeting Hamida, a seemingly modern women wearing her headcovering, but still working to earn a living.
From the bus we meet up with Becca and the four of us found our lady-driver from the day before. Interestingly, it seems that every time she picks up clients she tries to convince them to go somewhere else, farther. Brittany and I roll our eyes at each other as Becca and Emily seem to contemplate it.
We arrive on Long Street and head straight to the Women’s Trading Post where Brittany had bought her painting the day before. Becca and Emily each fall in love with paintings as I explore the other offerings, finding nothing. Unfortunately the man who we had met the day before wasn’t there and the woman couldn’t seem to locate him via cell phone. (They seem to bargain through cell phones by calling their bosses). Disappointed the four of us go to leave the huge indoor market when we happen to bump into the owner and his brother, the painter himself. Ecstatic, we run back to the stall and the bargaining hits over drive. The three of them end up with large paintings as my mind wanders back to a necklace that I had held off of the day before, a three strand freshwater pearl necklace that I had put off incase I found something better (it was only 10 USD). We quickly head down the street towards Green Market Square, me with the idea of the necklace, Becca hoping for some more earrings and Brittany and Emily with paintings on their minds. When we arrive, we notice many stalls gone and many more packing up. We split up (its safe there-there are a TON of police), Becca coming with me (since she was wearing a different version of the necklace and could point to it to help me locate the stall) and Emily and Brittany heading off to find their loot.
To my disappointment the stall that had held them the day before was completely down. However, there was a man standing next to it, asking what we were looking for. When Becca showed him her necklace he quickly exclaimed “I have those!”. Skeptical, since a lot of time stall owners with just show you a random necklace, we followed him to his stall. To my surprise, the other shopkeeper (she hand makes them while you watch) had a whole box of her necklaces. I picked out a pretty blue one and Becca and I went to find the others (we couldn’t find the earrings she wanted). The market was really closing at this point because it was Saturday, and we had a little trouble finding our friends amidst the chaos.
From the GSM, we hailed a taxi to the wharf. Brittany and I bought some snacks for the voyage and then went back to the ship for some R&R before heading out to dinner (our fave sushi place again) with Becca, Perri and Shayna.
Dinner is another delight as I eat an amazing Crunchy Tuna Roll which totally rivals Bento’s Crunch Roll. Britt and I split a Milk Tart for dessert (a South African specialty!). Their (everyone but me) plan was to go out after dinner, back to Long Street. I knew I was too tired because we had to wake up at 7:30 for our second Township visit and by the time we completed our long dinner, Brittany knew she was too. We hurry back to the ship to go to sleep, as the rain gently pours outside (a sign we made the right decision!)
Day 5-Cape Town, South Africa
As a political science major, especially one with an African Studies minor, the idea of visiting and volunteering at Townships was especially appealing. After Operation Hunger, I didn’t feel like I had seen enough as it focused mainly on children. Waking up so early was not particularly appealing, but again, I want to see it all!
We head down to the buses and embark on the drive to Khaylistia Township. The section we visit looked a little better then Green Park, but not by much. The shacks are made of shipping tin, the shops are made up of literal shipping crates but the people are full of smiles.
We head first to Vicky’s Bed and Breakfast. She tells us the story of her upstart which started as a small section of her house and is currently a multi-room, two story place to greet visitors from all over the world. Vicky discusses some of the hard ships of being a women running a business, but has obviously made a success of it. She also recounts the holiday parties that she plans for the community where each child gets a pencil or pen as a gift. We donate some rand and head downstairs to play with some neighborhood kids. We are stormed once more by children aching for stickers and once again we distribute them with smiles. Some kids were content with just one, while others seemed to keep running through the line. We try to be as fair as we can as older members of the community try to keep the kids in a line. Everyone gathers back on the bus where we discuss the idea of this form of tourism. Our guide “Jimmy”explains that although Townships were “No-Go”areas during apartheid, the community really wants foreigners to see their hardships so that there can be more public outcries. Seeing such poverty really did do a number on me, so it seems to be working.
From Vicky’s we head to a small craft market, which is home to a playground and directly adjacent from a church. We start at the craft market and I buy a couple hand made magnets, which consist of soda cans cut and crimped into flowers. VERY cool! We had back to the playground and Brittany hangs upside down from the jungle gym while I takes some pictures and hand out stickers. Heading to the church, we can hear the chorus singing beautiful hymns. Sitting in the black row we enjoy the music and the sermon switches from English to Courso. The church seems very western and an African Jesus is prominently displayed above the podium. It also seems to be populated by many more women than men. When I ask the tour guide why this is, he says women are more spiritual and men sometimes don’t feel it is their duty to pray. Exiting the church we take the bus to another B&B where we get to have a quick snack (some spicy donuts and custard, yum!).
Our guide then takes us on a walking tour. This was my absolute highlight. It turned out that Interm President Zuma of the ANC was coming to speak that afternoon. The streets teemed with people dancing and screaming. They proudly held out ANC flags and wore shorts adorned with Zuma’s face. As we walked through the chaos we remarked at the amazing experience we were having. Encircled by poverty we were welcomed by these people who posed for pictures (and even asked for them to be taken!), shook our hands and just seemed so genuine. There is no possible way for me to accurately describe the experience but it was just SO real and SO neat. These people are very political and even amongst poverty, AIDs and illiteracy, they manage to get so excited and involved. Unfortunately we had heard (and there is no way for me to verify this, so its not fact necessarily), that Zuma is actually quite corrupt and that a lot of Black Africans vote for the ANC because it was Mandela’s party, but is not currently very good for the Black community.
Heading back to the ship we were aglow at our very unique experience. South Africa is my favorite stop so far and I know I want to return to Africa as soon as I can. I think the continent really gets a bad rap, but it is so vibrant and beautiful. My experiences from Namibia and now South Africa will stay with me always as I continue to travel the world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cape Town, South Africa Days 2-3

Cape Town Day 2

       We awake around 10, get dressed and are quickly on our way. Our plan is to see Long Street during the day and if possible head to Table Mountain to enjoy the view. It is cloudy, so we brace ourselves for the likelihood that TM won’t happen. As we pass through the gate, exiting our gated jetty, we are encircled by taxi cab drivers’pleadings and offers. After our bad taxi cab experiences in Morocco we are uneasy about getting a taxi right outside the jetty, because they can be less reliable then those found outside of the wharf, but we find a nice women who quotes us 50 Rand for the trip (5$). As metered taxis can actually be more expensive than flat rate ones we decide to commission the trip. She drops us off in front of a large bead store and I search for some unique African beads for my mom (to no avail, they were mostly the usual beads). Brittany and I venture on through the small boutique stores, holding on to the zippers of our bags (pick-pocketing is common on this touristy street). We remark about the differences of the street from night to day (a lot less beggers, etc…) as well as marvel at the commercial nature of it and the fact that it felt like any other major city in the world, we had lost that “Africa feeling”from Namibia.

       Brittany haggles with a young man for a hand painted picture (he uses his thumbs with acrylic on jean, way cool) while I explore a very small giraffe print (I got it for 40 Rand). Pleased with our purchases we head back to the street to look for a quick bite to eat. The sky looks like it will clear up, so we decide on a restaurant hurriedly, “Mr. Pickwicks”. A couple outside gives us the universal thumbs up (once again ) and we proceed to order. The meal was not exactly great, but we shoveled it in and hailed a taxi to Table Mountain. Our driver was moody, which reminded me of a certain Las Vegas taxi driver (lol, dad), but he turned out to be trustworthy.

       Arriving at the summit of such a huge mountain was totally breathtaking; we conversed with a young Italian couple as we exchanged cameras to take pictures of each other. From there we headed to the ticket office to buy space on the next gondola. Some SASers hiked the mountain, but we were discouraged by the long speeches in pre-port about the many crimes and thefts that take place on the remote trails. Traveling up the side of the mountain was awesome, but not for those afraid of heights. As the city got smaller and smaller our proximity to the rocks along the sides of the mountain seemed to tighten. As the altitude hit my head we explored the peak, taking tons of pictures and stopping to call our parents. The views from the mountain were stunning as you could see most of the Cape Flats, the city center and even some of the townships. We were happy we pushed ourselves to do it as it was a little far from Long Street (although not particularly expensive). It turned out to be great weather and we could see everything!

       After a little over an hour we descended the mountain once more, looking for a taxi. Again, we are encircled by drivers so we just decide to follow one, who proceeds to lead us to a mid size van with lots of rows of seats. I was apprehensive at first as these mini-buses are allowed to stop and pick up more passengers along the way, but it was only us and David from Denmark in the van and they said they were going straight to the wharf, so we hopped in. We spent the drive talking to David who had kids about our age and worked on rig. It passed the time nicely.

       By the time we arrived back to the boat it was 6ish and we were exhausted. We decided on a short nap before dinner. Bad idea. I woke up with a terrible headache and more tired then before. But, hey, you’re only 20 and in South Africa once, right? So I downed some Ibuprofen and join Brittany for sushi at the wharf, again (it was our favorite place). I bring my ipod touch out with me, just in case of wi-fi, and am delighted to get some good law school news! After dinner, we return home to get a good night of sleep before our “Operation Hunger”service visit in the morning.

Cape Town Day 3
       We wake up early to make it to our “Operation Hunger”service visit. Traveling out towards the buses we don’t know exactly what to expect. We know we will be working with an NGO (Operation Hunger, lol) which excites me because I spent much of my sophomore year working on research about the work that NGOs do/did in Sierra Leone. The idea of getting to actually volunteer with one of the poorest townships in the cape made waking up so early not so bad.

       We take an alarmingly short bus (scary, because it shows how dichotomy in terms of economy Cape Town really is) ride to Green Park, a section of one of the worst townships, with an 80% unemployment rate. As I take out my camera to shoot some cute pictures of the little kids (we visited a nursery) I realize that I left my memory card in my other camera. Brittany hadn’t brought hers either because we were told that it could be seen as making the kids into animals at zoo by taking so many pictures. To add insult to injury the little kids loved posing for the camera and would often ask us to take pictures of them. Luckily some other friends of ours snapped quite a few pictures of it and we were able to borrow theirs. Plus my camera is able to innately take 7 pictures, so I have enough to scrapbook!

       Ok, enough about the camera, more about the kids! The children were so joyful as we played games. They didn’t speak English, but it is truly amazing how communicative two people can be even if they don’t speak the same language. I gave out hundreds of stickers that ilana had given me prior to the trip (great tip Lauren!). I also helped weigh kids. That was the “Operation Hunger”side of the trip. They use us as volunteers to measure the kid’s arm circumference, weight, height and age. They then put the data on a graph to determine if the children are malnourished, and if so how much so. I was in charge of the weighing, which was a little overwhelming as keeping the littlier kids still enough to weigh them was hard. But I was thrilled to be helping. During this time Brittany was helping plant a veggie garden with which older members of the township could plant sustainable food, in order to aid some of the malnourishment.

       I continued to weigh the kids and play with them. Whoever says Semester at Sea is a worthless Booze Cruise (and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that idea in people’s eyes when I mention what study abroad I picked) has never gotten into a tickle fight with a five year old African child. From Green Park we venture on to a rest stop for a quick lunch where we are asked to purchase some loaves of bread for our next stop. I gather up a loaf before our trip depletes their supply and we are on our way.

       I believe the next stop was in a segment of Khaylistia, but I never got its name. Any who, this second stop took us to a food kitchen. It was literally someone’s home on the outskirts of the squatter town who provides food three times a week for the impoverished. She gets little funding so she uses her own money to feed them. She had asked the mothers to bring all of their children so we could weigh and feed them. When we first got there they sang us an adorable song and we responded with the Hokey Pokey. It was a little awkward but everyone enjoyed it.

       From there chaos ensued. While Brittany made PB&J for everyone, I went back to the scales to weigh the kids. There were hundreds of people and it was quite complicated to keep track of the numbers, at times we even had to write on the kids arms so that the data collectors could keep everything straight. I gave out more stickers and after an hour or so, everyone retreated to the front yard to play. And I mean play, these kids spoke some English and were VERY playful. They wanted to do our hair (which consisted of them running their fingers through it and then twisting random spots), play hand games and of course get stickers. I was surrounded a few times (especially when I gave out ladybug stickers) with children (and some adults) shouting “For Me”which throwing themselves at me(not in a violent way). It was a very positive expierence, but also very sad. At the end of the play time the man in charge came out with the completed chart which showed the boys off the chart (or severly malnourished), while the girls were moderately malnourished. The mothers explained the discrepancy by saying that the girls stay closer to home and to the kitchen while the boys tend to venture off for the day and skip meals. It was very sad to imagine these happy playful kids don’t get enough nutrition and are at risk for so many diseases. It puts all our spending as Americans into perspective. How can we rationalize a pair of 200$ jeans, when these kids are ready to knock someone over for sticker? Its kind of pathetic. But no more of my philosophizing, I’ll go on to explain the rest of my day 

       Tired, mentally and physically, the bus drops us off at the ship and we head to our room. We decided against a nap, as it hadn’t worked out the night before and proceed to track down Becca to go to dinner. We were quite hungry but I really wanted some authentic South African food by the wharf (the idea of a taxi was too tiring). We walk around and around and finally settle on a restaurant. I order Ostrich, which had a good flavor believe it or not, but was quite chewy. We relax for a little and discuss our days before heading back to the ship for some sleep.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I’m super busy with classes so I thought I would break up the South Africa entry. Here’s day one!

Cape Town, South Africa
Day 1
Going into South Africa I didn’t really know what to expect. We arrived in Cape Town a little later than we were supposed to, around 11 o’clock. The original plan was for me, Brittany, Laura, Perri and Becca to go to Table Mountain (arguably the world’s oldest mountain which has an omnipresent presence on the cape as its smooth top dominants the landscape), then Robben Island (the political prison of the apartheid government where Mandela was held). However, due to the late arrival we had to skip Table Mountain (we ended up going later in the week), but we decided to make the most of it and headed down to Long Street (the thriving cafĂ©/club/shopping street) and on to The Green Market(the bargaining square).
Keeping good track of each other we navigate the stalls all set up in rows in a large open air square. The bargaining is quite different than in Israel or Morocco or frankly even Namibia. The shop keepers are not very aggressive and although bargaining is a must, the prices seem to hit a floor pretty quickly. I settle on some elephant hair bracelets and a pair of candle stick holders while my companions stimulate South Africa’s economy. Pleased with our purchases we look for some local fair to tide us over. I walk by a British family on holiday who are eating some fish and chips, they give us a thumbs up for the food and we head inside. Calamari Express is a local fast-foodish restaurant that serves us some VERY yummy calamari for about 3 dollars each. Oh yea, South Africa was CHEAP!!! The exchange rate was also favorable so even stores we have in the United States were cheaper there.
After our bargaining fun we head to Robben Island for a somber afternoon. Becca had pre-ordered our tickets since we had heard that SAS tends to buy up all the ferry tickets. By three we are on the ferry to the infamous island. I may draw some slack for saying this, but it is my journal, so what can you do lol? Although I found the island to be atrocious (not physically, as it is gorgeous and has penguins!) but due to the nature of these men’s imprisonment (basically plotting to overthrow the government, organizing African politics, etc), I found the prison not to be totally overpowering. Mandela has been quoted to say that it was his University, his place of learning. An ex-inmate showed us around the prison, even stopping at his old cell. He told us stories of political meetings and basketball games. The men were able to see their families only once a month, but they still got to see them. I couldn’t help but draw connections between this situation and the holocaust and although these men were thoroughly wronged, they were not starved (although they were not fed all that much and Blacks (that’s the word they use) were fed more than “Colored”(again, the word they use meaning those of Indonesian decent or Indian decent). I should mention that Mandela has permanent eye damage from his time working in the Quarry. I found the island to be very sad, but most of all I found our tour guides life to be very sad. When asked why he took this job, which entails him to relieve his worst prison memories, he replied, quite simply “I needed a job”. Unfortunately this attitude seemed to prevail throughout much of the impoverished outskirts of Cape Town, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.
The tour took quite a few hours and gave us a great reference which with to view the city as a whole. We return to the ship and quickly head back out to go to dinner and then out to Long Street. We eat in a gorgeous restaurant on the wharf (fancy, but still inexpensive) before we are off to go out. I should also take this time to mention the V&A Waterfront. As seems to be the case with all our port so far (save spain), there is an extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Stepping off the ship felt like going to Disney World. The wharf was gorgeous, the mall huge, the shops pretty and overpriced, the waitstaff white infact expect for a few jazz playing Africans the whole waterfront felt very white. There were a ton of police everywhere and for the most part we felt totally safe there. As I will later recount, our trips to townships painted a very different view of the city. Typing this, I can’t help but wonder how many individuals step off their cruise ship for a day, play in the waterfront and then return home thinking that is all there is to Cape Town.
We take a taxi to Long Street (another inexpensive thing as it cost less then a dollar each). We get dropped off at the wrong club (the four of us were meeting other friends), but see quite a few SASers and try to get our bearings straight. A young South African points us in the right direction and we head to our destination. Dancing with other SASers and peering out at the locals we have a lot of fun. Perri and I don’t stay long, as she has a safari the next day and I am quite tired from our long day. Sleep comes quickly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We are about to disembark for South Africa!!!! I am SO excited! Today we are planning on going to Table Mountain, Robben Island and hopefully some craft shopping! So here are my SA questions (even though I haven’t had a chance to answer the Namibia ones).

Will it really be that modern? How expensive/hard to get will taxis be? Will it feel/be safe? Will we make it up Table Mountain? Will the townships (I’m going with SAS) feel like a kickback to apartheid? How prevalent with the remaints of apartheid be? Will I expierence any racism? How will my cape malay cooking safari go? How big of contrast will there be between this port and Namibia? Will the people be as nice? How expensive will Cape Town be?



Namibia was such an amazing experience. It was a rollercoaster of adventures which ended happily. So here is the story:

We awoke around 730 on Saturday, fresh from our week at sea, ready for our safari. We signed up for an independently planned trip to Etosha National Park in the north part of Namibia. For a 1/5 of the price of the SAS South African Safari, Britt and I decided to sign up! We were told that it would take 4 hours to get to the park and from there we would have an afternoon ride, dinner and then pitch our tents and get up early for a full day safari with a morning safari the last day.

After the debriefing, Brittany and I disembark and on our way to the buses we enjoy a short dance show by native children organized by the Christian Aids Foundation and invited to the ship by SAS. Adorable and interactive, their ages ranged from 8-14. After the show we decide to take a chance and interact with the kids, many of whom speak English, German (Germany colonized Namibia before WWI, when they were known as South West Africa, after that South Africa colonized them), Afrikaans and their native language. While Brittany tries her luck with learning some simple step, I try to learn how to say hello in a native click language. Despite the fact that I royally mess it up, the little girl seems totally amused and tells me that I am quite good at it.

Next, we head to the buses where we are greeted by the rest of our group: Mindy, Eli and Mickey G (Mickey is a one of the professors on the ship, Mindy, his wife and Eli, their 13 year old son), Alisha (a 27 year old student), Becca (one of our good friends from the ship), Kate and Sarah (twins), Kara, Britton (the sole male), Laura (another of our shipboard friends) and Erin. We also meet our tour guides, Polly and Gabriel. As the sun swelters I wonder if the long pants and shirts I brought to protect me from malaria carrying mosquitoes were a good idea (I am also taking Doxycycline).

We are off around 11 and are informed that our ride will be 500 km, which will take about 5 hours. A half hour later we stop in Swakopmund, a German vacation spot right outside of Walvis Bay. Our guides gives us 30 minutes in which to get money from the ATMs (10 Namibian dollars=1 USD, which makes it very easy) and get water at the Zupermarket. We quickly spot some ‘Curio Shops’or tourist shops. We get our errands done as soon as humanly possible in order to shop. Since we signed up to safari the whole time it is unclear whether or not we will be able to shop at all while in Namibia. We find a non-profit shop which sells items made by local African women. It is very inexpensive and I purchase a string of ostrich egg beads for my mom and copper bracelets for Ilana and me.

Returning to the safari vehicle (it is a short bus with big windows that slide down) I settle in and watch the scenery change from desert to shrub and finally savannah in a matter of 2 hours. We stop every so often to use the restroom and purchase snacks. Alternating between my headphones and chatting with friends, I am still amazed that we are in AFRICA when I notice the clouds enlarge and darken, a foreshadowing of our night ahead. Our 4 hour bus ride quickly (or more preciously slowly) turns into an 8 hour one. The guides blame it on the weather washing away the gravel ride they usually take, but we believe the company was just deceptive about the amount of time it takes to get there, since on map a short cut could not have taken off that much time.
We arrive at dusk, seeing a few Springboks but mostly greeted by a large storm. The guide informs us that it is the rainy season (much like Miami, they have a wet and a dry season, rather than four season), bracing ourselves for what he feels in inevitable rain the next day too. Most of the group stays on the bus, while Brittany, Becca, Mickey G and I follow the guides out to put up tents because we are the only ones who have rain gear (good idea with the poncho, mom!). Eventually, I head back to the bus while the guides finish up, supplying us each with a small mattress and very clean sleeping bags in each tent. Some are very wet inside, but ours was luckily not. Trying not to get discouraged by the idea of a rained out safari, Brittany, Becca and I volunteer to help make dinner, an effort of distraction. We decide learning how to cook by two African men would be an adventure in its self and we were right. We hollowed out squash and stuffed them with corn, cooked pasta on a propane cooker and warded off other people from other groups whose guides hadn’t started cooking yet and were eyeing our food. Polly and Gabriel laugh as we attempt to season our concoction. As the rain pours, we stay dry under the enclosure while the rest of the group stays in the misery of the bus. An hour or so later we beckon our group to come partake in our African feast. After scarfing down our food (it was SO good!) we run(quite literally) to our tents, our sneakers sliding in and out of the mud on our way. By some miracle, Sarah and I, manage to fall a sleep pretty quickly after exchanging a few life stories.
The tent shakes around six am, it is Polly, one of our guides inviting us for some breakfast before we take off. Our group gathers around the cereal, bread and jam exchanging stories about the lack of sleep and the drizzling rain and clouds above. I take one of my malaria pills with some hot cocoa (nestle!) while Brittany puts jam on her bread. I discover for the second time that my medicine does not agree with me and succumb to the inevitable. Mickey G reassures me that since it had been in my system for at least 30 minutes, it should still be protective. ‘Should’is not exactly what I want to hear, but I resolve to make the most of it. Heading onto the bus, I look out at the drizzling rain and wonder how the day will turn out. Within an hour we see more springboks than I ever thought possible and the sky begins to clear. We soon see a lone giraffe in the distance and I think to myself that things are looking up! With my dslr and telephoto lens, I had the best chance on the bus of getting good pictures which enabled me to procure a permanent window seat and even jump across the aisle(and people!) a few times with no complaints. Admiring the giraffe, I think back to AEPhi and the adventures I must be missing, but still, I saw a real lily!!!! Take that Aunt Sunnie!
Throughout the morning, the bus seems unable to idle, constantly turning off when we slow to see an animal, yet it always manages to start again when we try to proceed. Around 10 am, after only seeing one giraffe and some springbok we take a break and stop at a fortress-like restroom. Wondering what the protective difference between getting out here and in the middle of the road is, as we see no fences in sight, Brittany, Becca and I pack into the bathroom. Upon our exit, we notice Polly and Gabriel finagling with the engine, which is refusing to start. Convinced yet again that our safari will be quickly ended, we all distract ourselves by taking pictures while we hear the hum of the engine go in and out. Luckily, after 20 minutes our heroic guides manage to fix the problem and we are off. Within 10 minutes, Mindy screams to stop the car and back up, she announces that she saw spots! I quickly stand up and notice not one but THREE CHEETAHS!!!!!!!!!!!!! We are able to get wonderful pictures as they get close to the bus and even cross the road ahead of us. The mood of the safari was forever changed as we later found out that Polly and Gabe had only seen three in their WHOLE LIVES and that they are VERY rare. We were also the only bus to get to see them! Excitedly, we continue on through the park and before lunch we had seen not only those cheetahs but some up close and personal giraffes (again, I told them aephi says whats up). We stop at another camp sight where we chat with some other SAS groups, who had seen zebras but no cheetahs. Envious of their sightings we eat our meal and shop a little in a small shop (I bought a handmade bowl for 4$ and some earrings for even less-Namibia is cheap!). Determined to see zebras, we journey on. All of a sudden we see a halted safari vehicle in front of us, stopping short, our guide asks what they are looking at. Polly points at a tree in the distance and we make out the shape of a male lion beneath it. Zooming in with my camera, I am able to confirm the sighting. To think that we were actually seeing a male lion in the WILD!!!! With a clear sky ahead, I am totally thrilled. As the afternoon progresses we see ostriches, oryx, more giraffes and even ZEBRA!!! We ended up seeing two herds of zebras (including a baby!), very close to the car before the sun begins to set and we head back to camp, where we are greeted by a whole new set of animal the not so elusive drunk SASer.
Prepared for a noisy night, we head down to the watering hole for sunset while Polly and Gab cook our dinner. Brittany, Becca and I take a million pictures before what may be the most gorgeous sunset I have ever seen. The pinks, oranges and purples are absolutely striking and although no animals show up for a night time drink we are fully satisfied with our day and the sunset. Returning to the campsite, we shower and eat before heading over to the pool area to escape the other VERY drunk groups. The three of us split one Hansa Draught, which was on tap and made in Namibia, figuring it would be the only time in our lives we would be able to sample Namibian beer. From there our bus-group headed up a tower to view the stars, which was also AMAZING! The sky was totally clear and we could see the milky way, orein’s belt and the southern cross plus countless other constellations. Staring up at the stars (while ignoring the mammoth sized beetles around us) I am once again reminded at the amazingness of this journey and how thankful I am for the opportunity to be seeing all of these things at such a young age!
From the tower we walk back to our tents to go to sleep. The other buses were loud, but I am a heavy sleeper and armed with my ipod on high I was able to go to sleep pretty quickly. The next morning we are awoken by Polly’s shaking and quickly bounce out of bed and pack up in an effort to ensure that we do not receive dock time (we needed to be back on the ship at 6 and the line can get long). I decide to leave my malaria medicine for that night in an effort to repeal the nausea (it ended up working, apparently when you take it at night it reduces some of the side effects). Sarah and I disassemble the tent, eat our breakfast and head on to the bus.
I fall in and out of sleep for literally the whole bus ride. We stop at a post office to get stamps, a gas station to use the facilities, but we refrain from stopping at a picnic stop to eat and instead eat our bagged lunches on the bus in an effort to save time. Our efforts pay off and we end up with enough time to stop in Swakopmund once more. However, this time, our guide shows us a craft area at the bottom of the hill. Brittany, Becca and I literally charge walking 10 minutes to the area in the sweltering heat. With only 20 minutes to bargain and shop we go straight to work! We quickly find out that unlike the Arab Market in Israel or Souks in Morocco, the sellers are willing to go REALLY low with their prices. It was hard to figure out what things were worth since they would rapidly knock off large percentages of the price. Armed with my remaining Namibian money (about 150 Namibian Dollars or 15 USD) I look at all the goods before figuring out what I want. The vendors call out ‘sister’as we pass. Unlike the souks this was an open air market, with the goods displayed on blankets on the ground. This gave it a comfortable feel and I never feel unsafe (unlike morocco or even Israel) despite the rather aggressive vendors. Brittany helps me pick out an elephant hair bracelet for Ilana (5 USD), while she settles on a price for a carved bowl and giraffe mask. I move onto a carved giraffe and with no idea as to what it is worth, the man asks for 350 Namibian dollars. Normally, 35 USD for a giraffe carving of this size (roughly one and half feet) would not be obscene, but I obviously didn’t have it. After some back and forth I hand him 50 Namibian and he agrees! Overjoyed I head on to some wired animals, purchasing a few for my mom’s jewelry. Becca purchases a funky mask and we move on, running back towards the bus. We make one more stop to see African flamingos on the beach, another reward for our speediness, before returning to the ship.

In review, I had SUCH an unforgettable experience in Namibia. From attempting to learn a click language from a young child to spotting a wild cheetah to bargaining in Swakopmound, Namibia has been my favorite port so far. The people are friendly and the country is beautiful and diverse! Our adventure, despite its negative beginning turned out to be a successful safari!

Happy Sailing!

Friday, February 13, 2009


So I don’t have time for a formal entry, but I wanted to post my questions for Namibia, so here it is:

Will I see all of the Big 5 animals? Will I be able to do a night ride? How will sleeping in a tent go? How big is the German Colonial Legacy? Will there be a lot of English (its their national language)? Will I love the country? Will the people be nice? Will I be able to eat the food? Will it be good? What crazy food will I eat? Will my international phone work? Will it be hot? Will I get crazy dreams from my Malaria medicine?

Happy Sailing!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Hey!!! I’ve really enjoyed all the emails, from family and friends to readers, you’ve been making my days! Yesterday’s Quiz seemed to go well, I knew all the answer so hopefully that came through in my essays. We played lots of cards yesterday as none of us had anything major to study for. We are traveling along ‘the middle passage’or the old slave route. As such the Students Of Color held a day of silence with a reflection time at 8 oclock when they broke their silence. I went and let me just say it was very powerful. We forget, while on this beautiful cruise, that millions of slaves were forcefully transported along these shores and stared out at the same ocean, yet instead of seeing endless beauty, they saw the hard unknown.

Last night, I noticed that the direction we are headed (towards Namibia) put our window directly facing the moon’s ascent. It was SO amazing to watch the reflection in the water. The views on this ship constantly amaze me!

Today I had my usual A classes, Global Studies and Digital Art. In DA, my professor showed one of my projects as the example, I was very excited as photoshop can be very overwhelming, especially when the project is basically to do whatever we want with 3-4 pictures.

Tomorrow I have an Art History Quiz, but its only on 6 slides, Falagon would have laughed! Tomorrow night I helped Brad, our Living Learning Coordinator (sort of a cooler version of an RA) plan our Red Sea Meeting. We will be playing bingo, but with actual prizes from the school store (a mug, bandana, etc). I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. Then the day after that we’ll be in Namibia on SAFARI!!!

Happy Sailing,

Today we have been getting CNN world. I’m a VERY happy camper 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Neptune Day to B6

Neptune Day to B6
It’s been a while since I last updated. Sea days tend to be pretty busy in a very different way then school days at home are busy. We on the ship utilize that time to catch up on work, refresh our memories on everything that had been covered so long ago and was interrupted by our wonderful Spanish and Moroccan journeys, discuss adventures and catch up and of course sleep. We lost an hour last night after not doing so since Spain and let me tell you, I forgot how much it throws me off in the morning. I somehow managed to make it to Global Studies which is great!

Neptune Day was two days ago, I can’t believe how quickly time passes! Neptune Day is an old sailing tradition whereby a ship crosses the equator and has a party of sort. On the ship it means getting “fish guts”(I’m pretty sure it was blue pancake batter) poured on you, kissing a fish, jumping into the freezing cold pool and shaving your head. I did everything except the last stage, although quite a few people (including women!) did shave their head. My friends and I claimed lounge chairs early and were able to watch the festivities even after we were done. People laid out all day, but coming from Florida, it’s not really my thing so I laid out for an hour or two (I got some color though!) and then returned to my cabin for some studying. At night we had a real BBQ. In case you haven’t heard, the food on this ship is pretty horrible. I seem to not have a very advanced palette (lol) so I can sort of force myself to eat something, but when they said there would be actual hot dogs I’m pretty sure the whole boat jumped for joy! It was very yummy indeed.

I have a quiz today in Military Force which I feel prepared for, but we shall see. Yesterday, I turned in my first project for Digital Arts. I’m getting pretty good at Photoshop and I can’t wait to utilize it with my scrapbooks!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

B4, A5, B5

B4, A5, B5
Due to the lengthy nature of my last post, I have been a little behind on my daily ‘Sea Day’blogging. I also wanted to preface this post by saying that these posts are all written as if they were entries in my diary or journal. I am not checking for grammar, I am not even re-reading as I write, this is not a homework assignment. I want these posts to be au naturale :)

Ok, so back to the last couple of days. Everything has been very structured. We wake up, fill our water bottles, head to global studies, go to our classes, take naps, do our work, work out, have dinner, go to a seminar or two, go to the 7th deck for a little bit and then go to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sea Days. I get to catch up on my reading (I just finished Carl Hiassen’s Skinny Dip), chat with my friends and get actual hours of sleep.

Classes have been going well. I got that quiz back from Military Force that I had mentioned and I managed to get an A. So I was quite happy. Its really hard to gauge your workload and test load on this ship because unlike our home campuses everyone is on a different academic level. This is of course compounded by the fact that the ship is run through UVA. Anyway, I was quite happy with the successful quiz.

I have a digital arts portfolio due tomorrow: two funky Photoshop colleagues and 10 straight pictures from Spain and Morocco (5 each) with an accompanying journal entry. It was really hard to narrow all my pictures down, but I think I managed to capture my trip!

In two days we have Neptune Day! That is the day when we cross the equator. It is sort of like a huge color war. I’m very excited!!!

Ok, I’m off to class…

Happy Sailing!

PS. Email me! I love getting emails from everyone from family to my old teenage scrapper subscribers to my new subscribers!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I think it is imperative to this recounting that I relay my expectations of Morocco before the trip in order to truly funnel this reflection. Before this trip I envisioned Morocco as a cross between Israel and Aladdin, a gorgeous Mediterranean feast for the eyes and ears. I envisioned bright colors from fashion magazines and ornate gold shoes and outfits. What I got was sort of a cross between the Arab Market in Israel, Beverly Hills in California and what I can only envision the slums of India to be like. At times, mostly snuggled up in my Riad, I could envision Aladdin and Abu swinging from the roof tops, but those glimpses were few and far between. But, let me explain…

February 2nd, 2009-Morocco/Casablanca/Marakkech/Riad Mur Akesh
We arrived a day late to our second port of call, Casablanca. As we turned the bend to dock they warned us over the PA system that we needed to ‘secure our personal belongings’, they weren’t joking. I pretty much laughed through the whole 10 minute ordeal as things went flying from side to side, off counters, into our sink, onto our floor and the like. Nothing broke, which made us one of the luckier cabins, as we were the exception to the rule.
From the moment Brenden, Julia, Brittany and I walked off the ship, we knew things would be different than Cadiz. For one, we were stationed in a VERY industrial port. We are talking cranes and big tanker ships. Not a luxury cruise in sight. There are two gates to get out to Casablanca about 1 ½ miles altogether. Normally, this would not be that big of deal, however there were a lot of very aggressive taxi cab drivers aching for our commission. We were warned ahead of time not to yield a taxi until you are out of the main gate, however, at the time it was very unclear how far ahead the main gate was. Reluctantly (and clenching our purses) we marched onwards and outwards. When we finally got through the main gate we headed to a local bank to exchange our money (1 dollar=8.4 dirhams). We were also told ahead of time that the train station (to get to Marrakech, our destination) was walkable, so we proceeded to ask everyone in sight for directions. Somehow we ended up going a VERY wrong way, and we ended up in a more peculiar neighborhood, to say the least. We then decided to relent and hire a taxi. We agreed on the price of 50 dirham (a little over 6 dollars) and were on our way. The driver was hilarious but also a little unnerving as he proceeded to offer Brendan cigarettes, Turkish coffee and also a turn at driving. It was one of the many Moroccan moments where the true gravity of the situation was too great to even process, but at the moment it was hilarious.
When we arrived at the train station our driver decided to clarify that it was in fact 50 dirhams each (for about a 10 minute ride), we were new to country, so although we knew we were getting ripped off, we didn’t realize by how much so we paid him begrudgingly. When we got into the station we heard accounts of people being asked to pay over 30 euros! Let’s just say from there forward we were careful to clarify the total amount.
1st class (125 dirham) was sold out, so we went for 2nd (84 dirhams) which did not guarantee you a seat for the 3 ½ hour ride. As we walked out to the terminal, I was ready to elbow my way into a seat (jk, sort of ). All four of us ended up getting a seat in an 8 person cart. I sat next to a woman named Fadoua. She was very friendly, a flight attendant, so she spoke some English. We made small talk for a while and she told us about her small town, even inviting us to come if we could (of course we couldn’t). She said that she felt that women were equal in Morocco (something, I didn’t really see). We watched the country side go by and made small talk for the duration of the travel.
Upon arrival in Marrakech we were greeted by a friendly man, Mohammed, the manager of our Riad. A Riad is an old converted house in Morocco which opens into a courtyard. If you ever find yourself in Morocco or somewhere else that offers these, make sure you book them! They are sort of a Moroccan Bed and Breakfast (more about the breakfast later). Since I had recommended the Riad to others on SAS, Mohammed had offered free transport from the train station for our party. When I saw the very modern looking mini-bus, I was elated. A short ride took us from the modern section of the city to the older medina. The transformation and dichotomy of modernity and antiquity was a constant theme of my Moroccan experience. As we followed Mohammed down an old alleyway with gorgeous oval arches, I once again pictured Aladdin jumping from windowsill to windowsill. The transition from the crowded Medina (think Arab corner in Jerusalem) to the peaceful oasis of our Riad was also breathtaking. Inside the ornate door was ‘a whole new world’. A large courtyard with a table and chairs. A beautiful fountain lining one wall all the way up to the sky (three stories). The other three walls contained open air hallways with more ornate doors leading to guest rooms. Our room, the suite (there were four of us), was at the very top of the Riad. On the same level was also a second patio. On the ground floor courtyard we were greeted by another man who served us home made mint tea and cookies. We took a ton of pictures and marveled at the fact that we were actually in Morocco, as it seemed so surreal. After taking in the sights of the riad we dropped our stuff off and asked for directions to the Souk (the bargainer’s market).
The four of us must of looked like quite a sight clenching our purses as we steadfastly walked through the throngs of people on the very busy street outside our Riad (who would have known so much noise could be occurring so close to our oasis). We passed (and got cut off by) motorcyclists, drivers, donkeys, horses and people. As we turned the corner we were confronted by a huge town square with hundreds of street performers. From snake charmers (seriously, with cobras!) demanding money in exchanges for pictures to henna artists the plaza was full. There were also men with monkeys bellowing for tourists to take their pictures (these both saddened me and freaked me out as the treatment of the monkeys left something to be desired). We immediately decided to stay together and walk into the alleys of the souk (again, think Arab market in Jerusalem). We each had different small souvenirs in mind. For me, I wanted a leather bag, a scarf and a small lantern. (Mom, you will LOVE the lantern, the glass is gorgeous). We walked stall to stall haggling, again getting cut off by donkeys and the like. The shop keepers spoke good English and were not nearly as aggressive as those in Israel. Some were slimy ( Brittany and I got offered a few hundred camels for our hands in marriage), but for the most part the bargaining was fun and fruitful. I got my bag (Ilana we can share!) for 200 dirhams (about 25 dollars), not bad for leather (and boy does it smell like leather!). It is an across the shoulders light brown bag with a beautiful embedded design with stud. I bought a scarf for 70 dirhams (about 8 dollars). It is blue and perfect for the cold weather that we were experiencing. Lastly, the lantern which I had the hardest time bargaining down. They seemed to want way too much money for them and although I really loved them, I couldn’t see spending 400 dirhams on them. After getting lost (we wanted to exit the Souk, which was quite hard, but eventually with the help of a Moroccan man and some dirham we made it out) I bargained a very pretty one down to 100 dirhams. Brittany bought 2 scarves, 2 bags, a lantern and some other misc. things. Julia bought a bag and Brenden bought a Berber flask (boys, go figure). It was altogether a great experience
Pleased with ourselves we headed to the main plaza to find some dinner. We ended up settling on a Moroccan restaurant 3 stories up from the plaza which offered gorgeous views of the chaos below. Brittany and I shared Chicken Tangrine. Upon cutting into it, I immediately realized that this chicken was probably alive earlier that day. It was stringy in texture and had a slightly different taste than what I am used to. A lively conversation ensued about how processed our meat in the United States is and the fact that we never really have fresh meat. The chicken was served with sweet potato and apricots and was quite good. However, I am pretty sure I can peg this meal as the reason that I couldn’t hold food down for the next two days (I am fine now and it didn’t really affect my trip, mom, so don’t worry!).
The meal was super yummy and he brought us orange slices with cinnamon for dessert. We ordered some mint tea as it was all of our favorite from earlier that day. As I sipped my tea and looked out at the chaos below it hit me that I was truly expiring a whole new culture. This ship and semester is just so amazing in its ability to put you in situations that you could never have imagined, such as what happened next.
As we strolled back through the plaza, Brenden remarked that he had always heard that they ate sheep’s head in Morocco. Playfully, we all dared him to eat it, if we could find some. A whole section of the plaza was dedicated to little food stations and stands. There were hundreds of stands with VERY aggressive people looking for your patronage. We finally found one which would let all of us sit. I could not believe it as Brenden at the nose of the poor sheep (dad, don’t read!), but when he moved on the brain, I’m pretty sure Julia and I wanted to run away. Brittany even tried a little brain, but I was way too scared.
It was getting dark as we walked around a little more. Some guy tried to pickpocket me (I didn’t have pockets-thank you money belt!) which freaked me out but thankfully nothing was lost. Brenden wanted to check out a DVD store along the plaza so we made that our final destination. Counterfeit DVDs are the norm, not the exception in Morocco. With our purchases in hand we decided to head back to the Riad. We walked quickly and cautiously through the chaos, smiling when we managed to locate the correct ally to our riad (they all looked the same). We unloaded our bags and headed back down stairs to discuss our day over more mint tea. The other SASers came back from their adventures and we all exchanged stories before heading to bed.
February 3rd 2009-Marrakech/
We woke up bright and early, but unfortunately the sky was not as bright as we headed down to breakfast. I knew breakfast was included based on my many conversations with Maria, the booking agent, however I did not know what exactly would be in store. A gorgeously made table on the ground floor was the perfect initiation to our meal. Mohammed outdid himself with homemade Orange Juice, Coffee and Tea. There was cheese and breakfast crepes. Homemade delectable treats abounded. I loved the crepes (of course carbs) and since this was really the first meal I wasn’t feeling up to eating I stuck to those and orange juice. Yum!
We said goodbye to Brenden, who was staying an extra night with the other SASers (we had dinner with a Moroccan family that night so we had to return to Casablanca) and departed for the botanical gardens. Finding a taxi was quite easy and this driver kept his word of a 20 dirham fare. He offered to stay at the gardens while we walked around for an extra 40 dirhams, but there seemed to be other taxis around, so we departed towards the grounds. The gardens were gorgeous despite the rain (I had my AEPHI anorak). The trail was paved in deep sepia, the plants green with pots in blues and yellows. Unfortunately, due to the ship, I can’t upload pictures, but take my word for it, they were gorgeous. Yves Saint Laurent donated a lot of money to the garden and thus her name was prominently displayed. The botanical gardens are just another example of the dichotomy of beauty and poverty in morocco. In the gift shop, Brittany bought a vintage photo and Julia bought a book on Moroccan decorating. I sat next to another fountain and daydreamed about the beauty that was surrounding me.
From the garden we headed to the train station where we were able to purchase 1st class train tickets. I was skeptical at first, but for only 5 dollars the idea of a marked seat convinced me. We sat with two other SASers, Amanda and Paige in a MUCH nicer cabin. Each of us had our own seat (rather than bench) and I was actually able to nap for much of the ride.
The big adventure came after the train ride, however. We hailed a cab close to the station and showed him a little pamphlet which was supposed to direct him to our part of the port. Either he hated us or was just confused, because he dropped us off in a VERY sketchy part of the port. There were throngs of port workers, all men, howling and cat calling us. This was another moment when the true gravity of the danger was too much to even process. We were probably 1-2 miles away from the right part of the port on a very industrial road with only men. Clutching our bags and envisioning the crushing sound of my lantern against an intruder as we walked straight faced through it all. Thank goodness we made it back to the right part of the port and back to the ship, because I can truly say that was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I am not sure if we were actually in danger but at the time it seemed overarching.
As Brittany and I made it to our room and said goodbye to Julia, all we could do was laugh at the bizarreness of what had just occurred. But there was a very bright side, we had made it! We were independent, we traveled in a VERY foreign country and remained unscathed, with all our belongings intact. Plus, we were about to embark on another great adventure for we had signed up for Dinner with a Moroccan Family.
I had no real idea as to what ‘Dinner with a Moroccan Family’would entail, except, obviously a meal. Before we arrived in Morocco, I purchased 4 postcards and a plastic cup from the school store for my Moroccan family. I thought we would be maybe traveling by bus to a village or something. Maybe we would be asked to help with the cooking. Instead, we were asked to make groups ranging from 2 people to 6. Brittany and I made a group with the Assistant Dean Luc and his family(wife Melinda, daughters Lily (9 months) and Abby (3 years old)). The group leader pointed out our family to us, a man and his wife, in their forties. Brittany and I walked with the man towards the paved part of the port. He clicked his keys and an E-class Mercedes was quickly illuminated, blue on blue. Pleasantly surprised, Brittany and I climbed in, myself in the front seat with Brittany in the back. Luc and his family went with his wife. The ride was certainly another adventure as he proceeded to show us each and every feature of the car, which he announced cost over 100,000 US dollars. He stopped a few times to show us a car dealership, a mosque and some other sites while showing off the horsepower of the car, at times down the middle of the road, quite literally. Laughing off our nerves Brittany and I once again made it unscathed at their apartment. Up the elevator we went, only to arrive at a gorgeous flat. It was decorated in a Moroccan fashion, red and gold, with a gorgeous dining room lined with cushions. Abby announced that she wanted to watch TV while Mel put Lily to sleep. Leila, our hostess, promptly brought out a counterfeit copy of Ice-Age, in English, announcing that counterfeit was the only way she could purchase it. We got to know our host and hostess while three housekeepers stayed in the kitchen to cook. Leila told us how after her first husband was killed in a car accident she had to move back in with her father, since he did not want a single women with two kids (who now go to engineering school in the states) to live alone. She talked a lot about the position of women, which I found fascinating since I have to write about it for my Military Force class. She discussed how when she first met Muhammad (our host) he was very direct in asking her out, even though that is not how things were done. They have now been married over 8 years!
Our family could not have been friendlier and it was very nice to spend quality time with Luc and his family. In the SAS promotional video, they recount how the relationship between professors and students is so different on the voyage because of the unique situations that it brings one into.
I asked Leila if she had any Coca-Cola Light (Jimmy-you would be proud!), she said she didn’t but would ‘send out for it’. I told her that was totally unnecessary, however, 30 minutes later, I was offered some. After such a rough experience by the port, this dinner rekindled my love of Morocco. From the gorgeous multi-course meal (more tangine, lamb with apricots and nuts, couscous, a gorgeous caramelized desert, Moroccan wine(very tart), and fried triangles with rice) to the commonalities between us, it was an amazing experience. They were Muslim, but recounted how religion should be private and seemed very progressive. Another family joined us with more SASers and as the group grew so did the fun and the laughter. Brittany befriend these two young boys and they discussed school and whatnot. I was sad when we had to leave and all of us (luc and his family, britt and I) went with Mohammed in his car. How Melanie did not have a melt down during the drive was pretty impressive as I held onto Abby in lieu of a seatbelt. Brittany and I returned home, tired and quickly went to sleep.
February 4th 2009 Casablanca
Our original plan had been to walk around Casablanca and maybe visit a mosque on our last day. However, after the port incident we were unsure of ourselves and without Brenden or a male we were even more nervous. We had heard that if SAS day trips don’t sell out, it is possible to hop on them last minute. Despite the fact that we each had about 200 dirhams left we decided to hop on the ‘Service Visit’to an orphanage and an American school. As we boarded the bus, we weren’t sure if we had made the right decision, but decided to go for it anyway. We sat behind The Thompson’s, the leaders of the trip and their three children. We quickly got to chatting with them as we drove along the Oceanside. It was very apparent as to why the ship had been so rocky when we saw huge waves upon huge waves. I have never seen anything like that! It was very windy, but from the view of our bus, it was unreal.
Our first stop was the George Washington Academy, the largest American school outside of the United States, they have campuses all over the world. We ate lunch in their cafeteria, I could only hold down a small pudding at that point, but I still enjoyed conversing with Moroccan students in their perfect English. Most of the individuals who attend GWA are middle class or wealthy and plan to attend university in the states. While this was interesting, the highlight was the next stop, the orphanage.

Just a few miles away sat the SOS Orphanage. It was created along with a slew of others across the globe after WWII. It is set up so that one ‘Mother’has 9 children. She also has a helper ‘Aunt’every so often. She gets a stipend with which to take care of the children and gets one day off a week. We didn’t get to meet any of the mothers but we saw quite a few children. They seemed immensely happy as we watched in on their dance class and singing class. Their smiles were invigorating. It was more of a tour then service visit and another highlight was an impromptu concert by a young boy with a drum. He seemed to love to pose for the camera and was also a smiler. The children did not speak English, rather they learned French and Arabic. I found this visit very enlightening as it was yet again another side of morocco.

I could feel the 250 dirhams aching in my money belt, unsure if they would be able to be used. Before we left, I donated 100 of them to the women in charge of the orphanage and hurried back to the bus. We still had an hour and half before we needed to be back at the ship and the bus was still in commission. Somehow Brittany and I managed to convince the Thompson’s to inquire with the driver and the rest of the bus about stopping at a Supermarket. Of course everyone on the bus was pretty excited about the opportunity to get some snacks for the ship and we were on our way. We ended up at a nice ‘Supermercado’, where we all stocked up on food for the next week. It was a great finish as I was able to get Diet Coke and other goodies and finish off my money.

We returned to boat in time to drop off our passport, unload our goodies and secure our items for some more rocking.

Morocco was an amazing adventure. It was truly a dichotomous trip from the beauty of the riad to the poverty of the Medina. I don’t know if I would go back so soon, but the experience is one I will always cherish and I know I am stronger and more cultured for it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No Classes/No Morocco Day

No Classes/No Morocco Day
Due to inclement weather we weren’t able to refuel until this morning so we are now enroute to Morocco. The weather is still pretty bad and the ship is rocking pretty hard. I made the mistake of waking up early for a seminar about bartering which was held in the union which is in the front of the ship and is the rockiest part of the boat. I ended up pretty sick from it so I went back to the cabin and slept for a while. Today is sort of a weird day because they are putting together last minute activities, such as open mike night tonight and lectures on Islam. The mood around the ship is one of confusion as they have not yet announced if the SAS trips will go through as planned. I only have ‘Dinner with a Moroccean Family’ which isn’t until Wednesday night so I’m fine. We are still going to go to Marakkesh, just for one night instead of two. The lady at the Riad was very accommodating and is not going to charge us for the first night. So I’m pretty set, but at the same time it is hard not to be disappointed at all.

I’ve had a pretty lazy day, its sort of hard to read with the movement so Brittany and I have done some woolite laundry in a futile attempt to get the smell of cigarettes off of our clothes (thank goodness for American no s5moking in public places laws).

This morning the sea was a grayish blue, very dark and stormy. Now the sun is out, but we are still rocking. The sea is a royal blue.

So now its about 7:20 my time and we are heading into the Casablanca harbor. They had to turn off the stabilizers so everything is flying, in a funny way. You look out and its all sea or all sky. Our beds are flying, with us on them. When they said this would be an experience they weren’t lying.

I am very excited to finally get to Morocco and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Happy Sailing!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Classes

No Classes
Wow, I seriously can't believe tomorrow we will be in Morocco. I am so excited! Today we bunkered (got fuel) in Gibraltar, which is actually a separate entity, a territory of Great Britain. Although we aren't allowed to deboard and explore we can still see the "rock" which is what it is famous for. Today we slept until 12. I finally feel semi caught up after not sleeping forever. I spent the day catching up on homework and basically regaining my traveling strength for Morocco. My hair still smells like cigarettes, even after so many showers, which is basically what Spain smelled like. Miguel wanted me to add in that it smelled like oranges (Spain, not my hair).
So I guess here are my questions for Morocco:
Will people speak ANY English? Will we get lost? Will the Riad be nice? Will we have enough time to see everything? Will I barter well? Will it be super cheap? Cheap at all? Will there be anti-Semitism (there was some in Spain, swastikas in train stations, etc, usually crossed out by the next passerbyer)? How crazy will the taxis be?
1 day till Morocco!