Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Magnificent Desolation

This is nice. I’m enjoying the nighttime reflections in the water of downtown Nassau, sitting on the staff/faculty deck in these last quiet moments before the students arrive. Everyone just went to bed after the last minute preparations and what has become our nightly ritual of heading over to the faculty lounge until they’re done serving.

I want to apologize for the constant spelling errors and awkward sentence construction in the blog. I minimize my time on the computer so I write these small updates in stream-of-conciousness format. I do plan to write full, cohesive essays once in a while that would involve proofreading.

Anywho, there's a picture of my scuba dive from the photographer who followed us around. You can check it out here – that is me in this picture. The hurricane had churned the water a bit that day. BTWs, my land-based pictures will be uploaded at a later date.

I felt a little spoiled today… the parents were allowed on the ships without their students and the ship staff prepared an amazing display of culinary artwork that included realistic, lifesize sculptures and dragons made completely out of chocolate. The dragon looked so impressive Dunny would have soiled his pants.

It was during the parent presentations that it first hit me that this is real and we’re about to set sail. Assuming all students make it to the ship despite the hurricane, we’re off tomorrow, and the anticipation is starting to reach “I’m-going-to-Stanford” levels for me.

(By the way, there are 19 Stanford students on this voyage).

If the rest of the students are anything like the work-students who arrived early on the ship, which I assume they will be, they’re going to be blast. But these last moments of silence are pretty relaxing. I’m staying out here a few more minutes.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

My Sierra Camp

So the staff is officially awesome. More on that in a minute.

There’s really no way to describe how massive and logistically mind-boggling it is to get this operation underway. I’ve been hearing about Semester at Sea since Bobby first traveled in 1999, and have immersed myself in the process since first applying for the job in 2001, but I really didn’t understand how big this beautiful ship was until I entered it for the first time yesterday afternoon. Relatively speaking, the ship isn’t even that big – massive cruise ships, easily a couple times bigger than the Explorer, have been coming in and out of the port all these last few days. But I'm sure I'll be picking the brains of the crew members and administrative staff trying to understand what it takes to get 700 people around the world in a ship like ours.

Due to an overflow of students, several of us staff members have been housed in the restricted area of the ship alongside the crew. There is a very distinct separation of powers on the ship, and the crew areas are strictly off limits to any non-crew members (staff, faculty, and students). That is, with the exception of The Pit, where we can allow other staff members in here. But that’s it.

Sounds bad, but it is kind of cool, actually. Our rooms certainly aren’t as nice as anything on the academic side of the ship, but we’re starting to develop a very fun reputation around the ship, and making sure that once students are on board, this (and the faculty lounge) will be the place where the staff gets to party. Hard. My cabin is surrounded by people such as Sony, a former videographer for CBS who is shooting the video for this trip (it isn’t part of my job, but I’ll definitely be helping her out as much as I can), Chris, an amazing photographer who absolutely captured the essence of Nassau in the pictures he took today, and Jason, the campus store manager who would feel completely at home living in the Ranch. We hang out a lot. Yup, things are fun.

There are more, and I can’t say enough about the rest of the staff and faculty. One of my favorite things about Stanford was the fact that almost everybody was passionate about something, and these are the people that facinate me the most. The same thing is happening here all over again. It takes a certain kind of personality to apply work for Semester at Sea, and these are fascinating people who also happen to know a good time. And we’re meeting a ton of these people

I’m working closely with Allen, a crew member who became an AV technician after spending years as the ships radio engineer. The guy is awesome and will be a pleasure to work with (alongside my four work-study students).

My schedule during orientation has been somewhat light, especially since it didn’t take long to figure out the ship’s equipment (thank you, Transvideo!). So I took a several hours to explore Nassau on my own, on foot. Nassau oozes remnants of British colonialism, and becomes very apparent as you walk past all sorts of architecture and remnants and memorials and to old white British people in this predominantly black city.

By seeking the highest spot on the island (wasn’t very high), I found the old fort, which was adjacent to the Queen Staircase. All I know from the Queen Staircase comes from a tour guide that greets you at the top of the stairs as you try to go down. I was the only tourist in the area doing this when he stopped me and started giving me his well-prepared spiel on the steps. Halfway through it, in mid-sentence, he falls asleep. Thirty seconds later, he wakes up, and without missing another beat, continues the story as if nothing had happened.

I had the narcoleptict tour guide. After the third time falling asleep talking directly to me, I had enough time to pull my camera out and snap a picture of him snoozing. His last sentence, after waking up for the third time, was that “any gratuity is appreciated for his services.” Needless to say, I tipped him.

I had my snorkeling gear with me, so I walked alongside a beach for another hour looking for a place to get in and came to a dock where a lot of little Bahamian kids were running off and jumping into the water and having the happiest time of their lives. I just parked my stuff, sat down, and just watched them do this for another hour.

I could have watched them all day.

I did manage to go snorkeling (and scuba-diving yesterday), but the pier was pretty awesome. Life is good. My two biggest wish-lists at Stanford that I never got to do were 1) Go overseas for a while, and 2) work at Sierra Camp. I’m getting the impression that I’m killing two birds with one stone on this trip.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The best day of the trip so far

The Bahamas are about as American as you can get outside of the United States, with the exception perhaps of Canada, but yet there's something so similar with every other country in how the crazy the cab drivers are around here... on the left side of the road. It'll take me another day to get used to it, for sure. My cab driver had an awesome Jamaican (Bahamian, actually) accent when talking to everyone else, but managed to pull a Madonna and speak in a perfect midwest accent when asking me where I should take him. Pick an accent and run with it, willya?

Getting here was an ordeal. After packing all night long, everybody at the Ranch woke up before 5am, some wearing custom-made "My name is Rico" shirts, and cooking the best french toast I've ever had. Couldn't think of a better farewell. I remember getting on the plane, but I don't remember taking off or landing. But I did manage to get off the plane in Miami, where Hurricane Katrina is spending the rest of its summer vacation.

You would think no planes are capabable of flying by looking outside at that crazy wind and rain, and in fact, many flights did get canceled, including the two flights to Nassau immediately before mine. I was convinced it was only a matter of time before my flight got canceled and I'd have to spend the rest of the day at MIA, until I heard a voice over the loudspeaker instructing us to start boarding.

So we did. Not a lot of people believed the plane would take off, but the captain came on the intercom and told us, "The winds are very strong but at least they are running exactly in the direction of the runway. We'll have a massive tailwind on our side, so we'll be in the Bahamas in no time".

Sweet. But in the meantime, there was a miscommunication with the baggage people about which plane was going to be used, and all the passengers could see their luggage getting pummeled by Katrina. My luggage was twice as heavy when I picked it up later in Nassau because it turns out clothes are really good at absorbing rain water. Who knew?

It gives me a lot of comfort knowing that the flight took off in that weather because I booked a really tight flight in Brazil from the island of Fernando de Noronha back to the ship, and if we could take off in a hurricane, my flight in Brazil will make it back on time, doggone it. But that's a story for next month.

Anyway, got to Nassau, took a cab to the hotel where there was a message from one of the student life people that I had chatted by email to come meet them, so I did. I just got back from dinner/drinking/casino/dancing with them, and I like them already. Tomorrow I'm scuba diving before boarding the ship for the first time. Scuba diving, by the way, is my favorite thing to do in the world.

So I can safely say this was the best day of the trip thus far. I'm off to bed.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

And we're off!

Almost done packing and cleaning my room... and now I must decide between getting a little sleep and run the risk of oversleeping and missing my 7am flight to Miami because of it. Hmmm... regardless what I decide, I can guarantee someone will be completely out from the moment they hit that comfortable middle-row airplane seat.


Given that I can barely see straight right now, a true update will have to come from the MV Explorer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

1 week to go...

More actual thoughts and comments later, but this is a synopsys for those of you interested where I'm going. Let just say this trip has been on my mind for a really long time.

Aug 18 - Become a U.S. Citizen after 15 years living in the US

Aug 19 - Rush to get a US passport since my greencard is no longer valid. Also, new Ranch Party.

Aug 20 - Refresher scuba dive (required by dive shops in the Bahamas). Plus karaoke with Aden

Aug 24 - Last day at Transvideo until my return.

Aug 25 - Depart for Bahamas. Meet with locals and other staff people

Aug 26 - Two tank scuba dives in Nassau. Board ship for several days of orientation

Aug 30 - Ship departs Nassau.

Sep 03 - Arrive La Guaira, Venezuela. Travel to the Gran Sabana National Park at the outskirts of the Amazon four days of hiking and meeting the Pemon Indians. I have the Malaria pills ready.

Sep 13 - Arrive Salvador, Brazil (the homeland). Spend a day hanging out at this historic city

Sep 14 - Travel to the beautiful island of Fernando de Noronha, the "Brazilian Galapagos". I've dreamt of going there when I was a little kid growing up in Sao Paulo. I plan on doing a lot of scuba, hanging out at the beach, and traveling by bike around the island.

Sep 20 - Enter the Kingdom of Flatonia. Just kidding. But that would be awesome.

Sep 26 - Arrive in Cape Town, South Africa. Meet up with Sara. Hilarity ensues.

Oct 07 - Arrive in Mombasa, Kenya. Travel to the Maasai Mara Game reserve for a four day camping safari. Spend some time at a Massai village.

Oct 19 - Arrive Chennai, India. Visit Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), and Varanasi (to see early morning religious ceremonies from a sailboat on the Ganges river).

Oct 26 - Arrive Yangon, Myanmar. Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, the world's largest pagoda. Travel to Bagan, the "Land of 4 Million Pagodas". Do some river trips and spend a few days with local villagers.

Nov 03 - Arrive Singapore

Nov 05 - Arrive Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam.

Nov 06 - Travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a cruise on the Mekong River. Visiting the Killing Fields and Russian Market. Travel to Angor Wat to see temple ruins.

Nov 12 - Arrive Hong Kong. Visit the city and travel to Beijing. Tourism ensues.

Nov 20 - Arrive Kobe, Japan. I won't make plans until I arrive, except for meeting Dunagan, Aden (he doesn't know it yet), and everyone else (Jason - is Cirque out at that time) for a night of karaoke in Tokyo.

Dec 01 - Arrive Honolulu, Hawaii. First glimpse of US in a long time, and probably really warm weather after some cold crossing the Pacific in the winter. Suggestions welcome.

Dec 07 - Arrive in San Diego. Meeting with local warriors for intricate religious ceremonies.

Dec 08 - Back at the Ranch and T-vid as if the voyage had never happened...