Sunday, October 30, 2005

Summers in Rangoon, Luge Lessons

There was one question I was dreading more than any other when I returned home: what was your favorite country? Is it possible to pick, and Jason put it, between riding an elephant, being made leader of a tribe that has never seen a camera before, swimming with whales and learning their language? Can a father choose between his children? This blog, in essence, was a defensive mechanism against that question, so I didn’t have to sum up 100 days of experiences into a simple, “SAS is cool” response.

Then we arrrived in Myanmar.

Perhaps it was the fact that the our ATM and credit cards were useless thanks to the international economic sanctions imposed on that country. Perhaps it was the fear of the totalitarian state – is this what living in Germany in the 1930s was like? Or maybe it was the fact that I had to morally justify a visit to this country when the object of my heterosexual man-lust, Desmond Tutu, is the world’s most ardent opponent of the Myanmar government and told us he would not have joined us had he known we were traveling there (Danno – I would love to talk to Anna Eshoo at some point about why I think sanctions are the wrong approach to dealing with this country….)

But perhaps it was the fact that the white paste that the women and children use on their face elicited more surprise and culture shock to me than the sight of a burning funeral pyre. Or the fact that there are monks all over the place. Or the fact that huge and ancient city ruins - without a lot of tourists - still exist in the world.

Perhaps it was the fact that we just didn’t know what to expect.

All in all, my experience was the utopian ideal of Semester at Sea’s mission. Clearly not everyone had a similar experience. But I imagine that the early Semester at Sea trips into Communist China, Vietnam, Cuba, and apartheid South Africa must have been like. I’ve been waiting to write about it all week – I hope I can convey why I enjoyed this trip so much.

By the way, when researching what I should do in Myanmar before leaving on the ship, I had the hardest time finding people who had been there (I eventually found Brent Schulkin’s uncle who gave me some great suggestions). But turns out my sister Lilian has been here and I had no idea. Who knew?

I’ll finish the India report, then write about Myanmar. In the meantime, enjoy this picture – the meterological phenomenon that created a full halo around the Shwedagon Pagoda was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen (the halo was a lot brighter in person).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Myanmar State of Mind

We’re docked in Myanmar, and it looks like Iowa right now. Somewhere we took a turn into the Mississippi River. With pagodas and locals that wear dresses. This is going to be awesome.

I must apologize for cutting the India report short. I ran out of time with only a 23 hour day to process India and prepare for Burma. I’ll have to write about both between Burma and Vietnam/Cambodia. I wrote 22 pages in my personal journal about India, so maybe I’ll just reprint them here. Here’s an excerpt:

And then the girls said, “Really, why won’t you make out with both of us right now?”

Just kidding. Kind of. I just wanted to see that in print.

Really, I’ll catch up with everything then. A ton of people sent me emails in the last ten days – I’ve read them all but haven’t had time to respond to any of them. But I will when I get back.

We’re in Burma. This is crazy. See you in a few days.


I woke up 2.5 hours ago to watch the sunrise and went back to bed. I’m back, and wide awake! Where are we? In Myanmar about to enter the Aeyerwaddy River (which I incorrectly typed as Yangoon River in the previous entry). But that’s not important right now.

We’re in Varanasi, the holiest city in India, waking up at 4am to go to the shores of the holy river Ganges to watch the early morning religious rituals from a boat. Hindus see the Ganges as a godess, and even though it is a visibly polluted, this doesn’t stop the faithful from bathing and drinking the water, often times just feet away from…

Well, the bus drops us off about a ten-minute walk from the shore, and now I finally hear the sounds of India as we have been taught to hear. A funeral procession – no, a funeral celebration - is going on next to us, and the we pass the dozens of beggars and cows and faithfuls and holy men in our short walk to the shore.

(Allow me to interrupt this for a second – we’re in the river and our first sight of Burma is of completely rural countryside, with straw huts and villages and thousands of small fishing boats all over the place. I swear some of these boats will capsize on our ship’s wake. For the first time on this trip, I feel like we’re the first westerners to see some of this stuff, and in many ways, we probably are).

(This is awesome. I’m going outside for a while).

(Back to India).

We pile on the boats and the sight is something straight out of Star Wars, with buildings and people and colors that could be found in another galaxy. The fires on the funeral pyres light up the crematorium. People have gotten into the water, young and old, mostly clothed, though it was interesting to see that in such a conservative society, that we see very old women naked as they change into dry sarees. As the sun came up over the eastern shore of the river, we had the first up close view of the dead bodies.

(I can see four golden pagodas from where I’m sitting).

This was surreal. There are in fact floating bodies in the Ganges. We saw rotten ones. We saw fresh ones being dumped. Most of the time, people are supposed to be burned in the pyres before their ashes get dumped in the river, but some people, like holy men, those who died of snake bite, and those who can’t afford the cremation simply get dumped in the river. And since there are many faithful who also like to float while quietly meditating, the game “Is he dead or alive?” becomes a really fun game on the boat.

We exited the boat into the crematorium, where we did, in fact, see the bodies get taken into the river for blessing before getting taken to the funeral pyre to be burned. We saw the bodies get burned – one of which only the head remained. They would eventually move the head into the fire for full cremation.

This is as far away and alien as from our society as imaginable (or unimaginable). Yet there was this certain calmness and normalcy about it all. There was no culture shock. There should have been. This all made sense while we were there. This is what they do. They’re not hurting anyone (except perhaps the unhealthy practice of making use of the polluted river). Death is seen as a normal, mundane process in Varanasi; I asked our tour guide if there was mourning of the dead and he said there was momentary sadness in Hinduism, but for the most part, they believe the person has been reincarnated, so murning doesn’t exist as we understand it in the west.

I want to know more about this. I want to spend a month in India. Not to find some truth, but just to learn more as to what their thinking. This is simply surreal, yet so familiar and normal.

Ok, I have to stop now. We keep passing more pagodas and I need to see what is going on outside. It’s as if there are no western influences or modernities where we have been going. This is amazing.

Back in a few.

I Honk, Therefore I Am.

There is a difference between honking the horn in India versus honking the horn in the United States. In the US, one could argue honking is an offensive move – one that tells your opponent, “Get out of my way!” , or, “I’m coming through!” This was my mindset as I first witnessed the crazy traffic just moments getting off the ship in Chennai, India, where the cars might as well come with a permanently sounding horn. It would certainly save the abuse those buttons suffer from the millions of drivers on the road at any given second.

After several days of experiencing the traffic – the honking, the weaving, the cows all over the road, and the endless games of chicken - I realized that not everyone is in a rush to get anywhere. The honking serves a different purpose in India. It is a statement of affirmation. It says, “I’m here, so please don’t decided to take a sudden turn to your left.” I tells us, “I exist.”

I Honk, Therefore I Am.

Once you come to that simple realization, Indian traffic suddenly becomes much calmer that what first meets the eye. Yes, it is chaotic. Yes, it is statistically unsafe. But yes, there should be thousands more accidents than there actually are. I know we almost hit several incoming vehicles – it was just too close. But really, were we truly ever in any real danger?

We were given five days in India. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that isn’t nearly enough time. The 1 billionth citizen of the country was born sometime in the last ten years, and the country is as vast and rich and complex as most continents. But five days was a pretty good start.

We woke up with the usual early morning pre-port sunrise crew, and the first thing we noticed as we arrived Chennai was that the sky and the water were brown. And there was a bad smell; not terrible, but something we hadn’t noticed in any of the previous ports. I won’t lie – I almost couldn’t picture arriving without the sounds of sitars and the site of bazaars in the background, but it really didn’t happen that way. We arrived in a concrete cargo ship port, and our first view of the Indian subcontinent was of industry, as should be expected in one of India’s largest city.

There was no easing into India. Immediately out of the port were the hundreds of rickshaws, the thousands of beggars, and the millions of people. Make no mistake – there is no doubt that India has a billion people. The four cities that I visited – Chennai, Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi – always looked like the end of a great concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco. There are people all over the place. Except they won’t clear up and go home… there will always be people all over the place.

But nevermind that, we had business to take care of. Yas, Jason, and I (and possibly Chris) decided against doing the huge SAS trip in China and have been planning a side trip to the province of Sizchuan, where they have holy mountains and great chicken. We wanted to purchase the tickets online, but the government run Dragon Air didn’t allow for e-tickets, so we would have to go to a travel agency to get that taken care of. With the help of a rickshaw driver that would not leave us alone, we found a travel agency, only to find out that the tickets we wanted were sold out.

Never fear. We improvised. We asked for a map of China, and without knowing anything about anything, we randomly picked a city on the map, Kunming, and asked if they had tickets there. They had exactly three. And they were cheaper that tickets to Sizchuan. Without hesitation, and knowing nothing about Kunming, we made the reservation leaving from Hong Kong. Better yet, the employees at the travel agency were extremely generous and didn’t charge us anything for their time. I’ll let you know more about Kunming when we actually do some research on it. But we’re going, and I can’t wait.

We left the travel agency, and the rickshaw driver had been waiting for us the entire time. He would not leave us alone. So what did we do? We negotiated a price with him, of course, of 25 Rupees a person to take us out the whole day. He accepted, and we crammed into the rickshaw – three people in the back, me sharing a one-person seat with the driver, and the crazy tour of Chennai began.

It was a great day. We drove all over the city, seeing everywhere the poverty that is often isolated in the slums and the favelas and the townships in other countries in the world. We did a little shopping (the driver clearly was getting commission on a few of the expensive, crappy gift shops around town, but that ended as soon as we threatened not to pay), ate great South Indian food (Is that redundant? Iisn’t all South Indian food great?), and went to the huge-yet-sewer-smelling Marina Beach, which was heavily hit by last year’s tsunami and where everyone goes fully clothed and no one wears a swimsuit. It isn’t part of Indian culture.

Then again, what is? At this point, we were well aware of many Indian customs, such as the need to dress conservatively – all SAS guys wore pants and all SAS women wore sleeves and loose clothes (by the way, why do Indian women dress so beautifully, by our standards, yet men are the polar opposite?), the use of the right hand and the disapproval of public displays of affection between the sexes (though it is perfectly acceptable for two straight men to walk hand-in-hand down the street). We did notice that a lot of these customs were only followed by the older generation, and wondered if, with the influx of western culture into the country, if there is going to be a generational schism in India similar to what the US experienced in the 60s.


By the end of the day, our driver had a name, Baboo, and I got to drive the rickshaw while my passengers almost wet their pants. The day was almost over, we went back to the ship (but not before Baboo tripled the price of the ride), and we finagled our way into the welcome reception, hoping it would be as good as the one in Brazil. It was nice, with Indian dance and food, but not nearly as fun as Brazil. Not even close. But it had a great day, I’d already seen many things, some of them sad, some of them different, that I’d never seen before, but I was still waiting for that life-changing experience that people told me I would have in India.

I was sure it would happen at some point. But as I got ready for my 4am wake up call to catch my early-morning flight to Delhi, I was sure my chances of doing so were greatly diminished by having signed up, months ago, to one of the largest SAS trip: a crazy, four day tour of Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi with 69 people. I didn’t want other people being my limiting factor on this trip.

But alas, I had already paid. Most of us fell asleep immediately on the plane, hit Delhi, and got a connecting flight to Hinduism’s holiest city, Varanasi, on the shores of the Ganges river.

Varanasi was a lot different from Chennai. I’d been in India for 24 hours and I could already notice big differences between the north and south of the country, which further emphasized the importance of not assuming that any single experience is representative of all of India.

Varanasi is also important as the birthplace of Buddhism, where Buddha gave his first sermon (on enlightment) in Sarnath. We visited a museum of Buddhist history in India, where I learned that Hindus, with their big and complex belief system, can easily claim Buddhism to be a branch of Hinduism, with Buddha being the ninth reincarnation of Vishnu. Interesting, interesting stuff. Sarnath is in ruins because of the many Muslim invasions that India endured over the years (I’ll come back to the tense relationship between the Hindus and Muslims that has grown in the last few years and is the greatest threat to world peace since both majority-Hindu India and majority-Muslim Pakistan are sitting on nuclear arsenals).

This was my introduction to Buddhism, since we haven’t hit it on the ship yet, but it served as a great buildup to the rest of Asia, which I’m most excited about on this trip.

Alright, sorry for the blabbing. You might notice there are not pictures up yet. Things have gotten busy… plus no one can stop talking about India, which is a pretty time-consuming activity. I’m going to sleep for a little bit, then I’ll continue with the rest of the trip. Looks like these will be long entries.

All four engines are running right now – the ship is crossing the Bay of Bengal at 28 knots per hour. You should see the wake behind the ship. We hit the Yangoon river at high tide in the morning on the way to Yangoon. Of course I’m watching the sunrise, again. I think Myanmar is the country I’ve been most excited about visiting this voyage.

Back in a few.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

While my Sitar Gently Weeps

Now that we’re well into the voyage and I feel I learned to travel, I must admit I was really hesitant about my choice of doing a massive four-city tour in five days in India. I’ve had so much success finding independent trips in our last three ports, and had so much fun in the less-touristy destinations, that the idea of criss-crossing the country with 69 other Semester at Sea kids to India’s greatest tourist trap suddenly sounded really unappealing.

But this is India we're talking about. I went, and between Varanasi and the Taj Mahal I experienced some of the most amazing things I’ve seen, and the trip was absolutely worth it. Since we don’t have a lot of time until the next port, I’ll probably post part of the voyage after I take a long nap tonight (to avoid the “blog books” that Mandy mentioned in the comments for the previous entry… and since she seemed to appreciate getting mentioned a while back, Mandy, this is for you:

(Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy Mandy

(Ok, back to the issue at hand).

So I’ll take care of that tonight. And since there is a new internet system on board, I’ll see if I can upload pictures from Mauritius. Two people asked if I had a picture with Desi, but I didn’t take any pictures of him. I did find out other people did, so here’s one of them.

Also, here’s one of me spinning the guitar on the pen during the Sea Olympics. I know there are better pictures out there, I’ll do my best to upload once I get it.

Also, I noticed on the comments that an SAS mom is reading this. Welcome aboard, Clara! I’m very curious how you found out about this site – it’s not really linked to anything… And who is your son/daughter? Tell him/her/it I said hi.

I feel the ship leaving port as we speak. I really need a shower. Next upload should be relatively soon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Spring Break Fall '05

Free internet day! The internet has been the biggest headache for everybody on the ship with lost minutes (I lost 3.25 hours I had purchased between Salvador and Cape Town), and they’re switching the whole system in India, so until then, the internet is free. The problem is that EVERYBODY is on – no one is going to class, and many, many students stayed up all night online. Which means the internet is EXTREMELY slow. Result: no pictures in this update. It’ll take all night to upload the text.

Freakin’ IM. Everyone’s on it. Here’s a sample of every conversation, as suggested by Photographer Chris:

John: Hey
Bette: Hey
John: Where are you?
Bette: In the middle of the Indian Ocean. Where are you?
John: That’s cool. I’m in my room.
Bette: That’s cool.

Or, this is becoming more common:

John: Hey
Sandy: Hey
John: Where are you?
Sandy: In my cabin. Where are you?
John: In the Library. I’m coming down.
Sandy: Cool. Let’s make sweet love.

Alright, I made up the last line. Sort of. But we’ve seen a lot of students locate each other on the ship, eating up bandwidth since every single line goes from the ship in the Indian ocean to a Satellite to a server in the United States and back again.

Freakin’ a.

Anyway, before we launch into Mauritius, we just finished the Sea Olympics two nights ago and these two days might have been last two days have been my favorite days on the ship. Every team is called a “Sea” – Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Aegean Sea, etc.. grouped by where you live on the ship. The (very old) adult passengers, staff, faculty, and dependents named themselves the Vitamin Sea, and since I control the media on the ship, we started a trash talking war that involved lots of slides coming up in the middle of lectures that involved the eminent dominance of the Vitamin Sea over the rest of the ship. It was a great way to get people into it early, and doggone it, they were into it.

There was an opening ceremony complete with the lighting of the torch (built by my counterpart Allan and I using an overhead projector, a fan, and colored streamers. It looked really cool). Our talent show included the video that I spend way too much time on, but it will now be the final act of the official voyage DVD since the students liked it so much (I hope Transvideo is ok with that…). We might make an extended version of it. We have plenty of great raw footage we can add.

There were many events, such as relay races, "lemonade pong", basketball, tug-o-war, etc... I limited myself to the push-up/pull-up (with Global Nomad David) and synchronized swimming competitions. I haven't worked out much on the ship at all but managed to 76 push ups and 24 pull-ups (1 min rest in between), good enough for third place, I believe. Doing that is soooo hard with the rocking of the ship because there are moments when you are incredibly light (when the ship is sliding down the swell), and then moments you become extremely heavy on the way up. That's usually when most people collapse.

Anyway, since all the old people were on my team, we put together a team of five of the older women on the ship and myself, and prepeared ourselves for the synchronized swimming competition. They went all out - dragon costumes, choreography, and headbands made from (unopened) condoms. The pool is shallow enough so I was going to pull out my best tricks - the apple trick, the balancing of the cans, parallel bars on the pool ladder, and lots of flips.

Because of weather conditions (Monsoon season in India), the competition was moved indoors, and it was hilarious. Everyone dressed appropriately (or inappropriately), and did their routines indoors. Plus, it was televised to the entire ship, so all the crew members saw it as well.

I went crazy with the tricks. I took two 65lb weights from the weight room to use as parallettes, figured out I could spin a balancing guitar on a pen in my mouth, relearned Russian circles on the floor, and the response was much greater the one from the one-arm Kolman surprise at the Alumni meet last year.

Realize that people know I'm a gymnast, but until that point no one had seen any tricks, so this came out of nowhere. I'll let Chris comment on it when he writes the next guest blog. Beth says she mentioned it in her blog, and when I the internet actually works again I'll read what she said. But I had a good time.

Today is also the 50-50 day, the midpoint of the voyage, and so much has happened so fast. This is the lamest thing I'll write this trip, but the ship's really become a community and feels like home. It's always a nice feeling to see the ship when you've been away from port for a few days. And before I came aboard, I thought only the moments off the ship would really "count", but there's an entire life aboard that is pretty significant.

Things get really busy now. We spent most of our days at sea on the first half of the voyage, and now we spend most of our time on land - for example, a week in India is followed by a week in Myanmar with only 1 day on the ship in between. Given how much we do in port, this is crazy. But I'm certainly looking forward to it, especially this India-Myanmar-Vietman/Cambodia stretch.

Before I get back to India, let me talk about Mauritius. Now how did 700+ people end up on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that most of them had never heard of a week before? The threat of a pirate or a terrorist attack in East Africa is very real right now, and on a big ship full of American students, we are one of the most clear, visible, and easy targets imaginable. It was the smart decision. But I certainly wish we had gone to Kenya. I was looking forward to going to a majority Muslim country, but since the Global Studies class, (which I love and all faculty, staff, and students are required to take) focused on Kenyan and African subject matter even though we were going to Mauritius, it made for a little sadness that we didn’t make it.

Photographer Chris and I have decided we’ll do our own trip to Kenya someday – he’ll come in on his Canadian passport and I’ll come in on my Brazilian passport. Luckily, they made some time to talk about the island in class and cultural preport lectures, which showed Mauritius is a fascinating country in its own right - an island without original natives, it was populated shortly by Arabs, followed by Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French, with thousands of Hindus migrating to work on the sugar cane fields and Chinese to work in trade. The island has a developed economy not dependent on tourism, and is often cited as a model for peaceful racial relations. As a result, this incredibly diverse population is consisted mostly of French-speaking Hindus. It is a trippy experience. I can only imagine how many places with a million people we don’t know exist around the world – with their own history, culture, economy, etc… and how easy it is to forget other people are out there.

Mauritius is most famous for being the only home of the dodo - a huge flightless bird that was extinct in no time centuries ago since it didn't seem to have the fight or flight instinct in it. People would bonk one on the head and none of the birds would try to get away. What a dodo.

There’s a famous quote by Mark Twain about Mauritius – “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius." I’m sure that was true at some point, but years of foresting and industrialization and dynamite fishing keep it far from being heavenly in most places, but it is still a beautiful place at times. Google "Isle de Cerf" and you'll see what I mean. Again, when I have fast internet, I'll post the pictures.

No one had really made plans on the island, so we decided to wing it and just pick a spot and go. Seven of us on staff decided to go to Grande Baie on the north side of the island, look for a villa, and just stay there. We got a cab driver to get us around, and after a lot of wasted time and negotiation, we got a great deal in Mont Choisy, two apartments for very cheap near the beach. Since I hate just sitting on the beach doing nothing, I took my snorkeling gear and immediately go in the water while the rest of the staff would grab a little sun with a few Mauritian drinks of choice.

I loved my first experience in the Indian Ocean. I've been diving/snorkeling in the Atlantic Ocean my whole life, and I'm pretty familiar with the fauna, which doesn't vary all that much from place to place. Especially in the Carribean. But immediately I saw sea life I'd never seen before, with this interesting fire coral all over the place. There was a lot of damaged coral - a lot - and the landscape wasn't striking at all because of it. But I was more fascinated with the new fish that I didn't care all that much. I was out for a while, managing to go about a mile off shore before coming back.

By the time I came back, the Mauritian beer had taken a hold of the group and things had gotten a little incestuous. Since I didn't feel like getting hit on by older staff members all week, and since Chris has a girlfriend at home, we made our plans to get away the next day. We decided to rent scooters to travel around the island to the nicest beach we knew about, Isle de Cerf.

Thinking it through, there were a LOT of reasons not to rent the scooters, including:

1. Mauritians drive on the left side of the road.
2. I have absolutely no riding experience with motorcycles.
3. Mauritian traffic can be very Indian. In other words, scary.
4. My headlight didn't work. But we didn't know that.

Students, by the way, are not allowed to rent motorized vehicles of any kind. Staff is, but we're supposed to keep it quiet. We thought it through a little more, and once the price tag came out - $18 for the full day with no ID check or collateral - we were sold.

Chris had done this before in other countries, so I asked to follow him. We had a little map of the island and we would guess the routes. I packed my snorkeling gear and he packed all his cameras. As the photographer, he wanted his National Geographic moment, and we found several of them. As soon as something looked cool, we would stop and shoot it. I can't wait to upload them (he might have uploaded them to his site already, which I think is

We started out a little slow as I gained more confidence in my riding abilities, but soon we stopped in the very non-tourist town of Goodland, which I thought was a perfect combination of Carribean and what I imagine India to be, but with all the text in French. Chris was in his first heaven, with no SAS student in sight. I got some directions to the other side of the country, and then first thing we found ourselves in the middle sugar cane fields and other plantations in the heart of the island. By the way, every place we stopped we made a quick video making fun of the other staffers that they weren't there with us. I'll share those videos when I get back to the US.

The next thing he found to shoot were these old Hindu women picking chili peppers with the Mauritian landscape in the background. They didn't want us there at first, but Chris has done this for years and it was awesome watching him approach and befriend the ladies. He stayed them for a while, not speaking a word in each other's language except for a little of Chris's broken Canadian French, they were fast friends and shot away. We couldn't stop repeating to ourselves, "We're in the middle of island off the coast of Madagascar on the other side of the world picking chili peppers with old French-speaking Indian women."

We rode for hours, stopping to shoot, enjoying the ride, landscape, beaches, people, and Hindu temples. Finally, we arrived on the east side of the island, where Isle de Cerf was located. We paied this guy who assured us a boat ride to the beach with a lunch in between. It was cheap. We locked out bikes, took a ferry through saltwater marshes into a beach where delicious bbq chicken awaited us. Then we went to the beach, where (old) topless European women and several clothed SAS students awaited us. I put my snorkeling gear, Chris shot away, and had a good few hours over there. Our plan - get back with enough time to return the bikes at dawn so we didn't have to ride in the dark. We took the boat back to the mainland and headed back to the north of the country.

Well, turns out the best light for taking pictures is at dawn/dusk, and Chris knew that. He would see something, pull over, look over at me, and tell me with his Canadian accent, "Rico, I have to shoot this." As the sun set on the horizon, there was a man burning a sugar cane field (they do this twice a year), the sky looked beautiful, and ashes were all over the place. He took a camera, I took some video, and he really did have to shoot it. By the time we left, it was pretty dark. And I found out my headlights didn't work.

Crap. I'm riding on the left side of the road with no motorcycle experience in an unfamiliar country around uninviting traffic with nothing to indicate I existed. And we would find these awesome things to shoot. We stopped at a soccer game while the sky was still blue, and I figured out my turn signal was working, so I put it on even though the vespa went "beep beep beep beep beep beep" when I did so. And people thought I was turning, so they wouldn't pass me thinking I'd be out of their way at any time. But better be visible jerk and be alive than an invisible target.

Out of this complete darkness, we see another burning sugar cane field, but this one had men with net trying to catch the animals that would run out of the fire. It was hilarious - of course Chris had to shoot it. And I took more video of it with his still camera.

We made it back safely at 9pm or so. I think we'll always think of that bike ride every time we hear a beep for the rest of our lives.

The rest of the staff was still being incestuous at the villa, and since I really enjoy hanging out with the students, Jason and I left the incestuous staff (Chris went to sleep) and went to the clubs at the island where hundreds of SAS kids were enjoying themselves. We got back at 4:30am, concluding one of my favorite days of this trip.

Amy, the IT coordinator, had reserved a scuba dive for us the next morning. After a little hassle trying to convince the dive shop people to let her dive without her card, we put on our wetsuits (it was surprisingly cold) and made it in the water. Ultimately, Amy said it was the least impressive dive she's ever done, probably because of the damaged coral, but I was so fascinated with the new fish that I had a great time and didn't pay much attention to that. (I got in my usual scuba dive zone - Amy said I didn't make eye contact with her until the end of the dive). I did get to pet a 10 foot green Morray eel, which was awesome (Amy took her camera - I'll upload the picture when the internet...). Their "skin" feels like this slimy silk and is the coolest-feeling thing in the world. They should make pillows out of that stuff.

We got back, met up with Global Nomads Jason and Byron (who lived in Jessica Simpson's house), and hired a driver to take us to the south of the country to see the mountains and temples in that area. This is a lot like what I imagine Hawaii to be - lush, striking volcanic landscape against blue ocean water. The difference is that this area has many Hindu temples, including one with an enormous Shiva statue being built that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. We hiked up to a temple where wild monkeys were feasting on offerings to Shiva, and the worshiping locals were being so incredibly generous by giving us some of the treats they had prepared. I was a little skeptical at first, but tried them anyway and they were delicious and no one got sick from it.

There are many waterfalls in the area, so the rest of the day involved us visiting them. Where possible, we would go right to the edge of the falls and enjoy the view for a while before hiking back. The only thing we didn't think was all that cool was this much-hyped seven-colored dirt, where hundreds of tourists were taken to see this mound in the middle of the forest. Granted, it is really nice dirt. Some of the nicest I've ever seen, actually. But it's dirt. It's not like the badlands, where the colored dirt fills your line of sight. It is more like someone noticed that Mauritius has really nice dirt, cleared some forest, and charged tourists 60 Mauritian Roupees to see it. But given the giant tortoises they add in for bonus, the $2 admission charge was worth it.

So that was our Mauritian experience. If the beginning of the voyage focused more on introspection, this trip was more all-out good time. Though it made me really, really excited for India. We crossed the equator again, making our way into warmer and more humid territory every day (by the way, we also hit Flatonia - this was the first time I've seen a swell-less sea on this trip).

I'm ecstatic about visiting India. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm waiting for a life-changing experience, since everybody tells me that India overwhelms the senses, but I don't know yet what that means. We've been studying it all week on the ship. We've been covering the carpets to protect from the filth that they've experienced in previous voyages. We've been told again and again of all the precautions needed to leave the country with a healthy stomach. We've been told to prepare psychologically. And we've been told to expect graciousness that can't be found elsewhere in the world. I don't know yet what that means. But I'll have a better idea in a week. I hope.

Rahul and Meg wrote a great essay on their visit to India in the TMTTV. I'd find it, but... anyway, I'm visiting the Delhi, the Taj, and Varanasi - one of the holiest places in India, and I'm waiting to see if it really does change people who go there. Even if it is only a couple of days.

I'll try to do a marathon blog session on our one day on the ship between India and Myanmar, for the "cobosceholics" as Anne calls it. Depending on what I find, it might be therapeutic. Who knows?

May the better half of the voyage begin.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ranch at Sea

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Ok, I know some of you might be waiting for the Mauritius report, but I've been extremely busy on the ship - all while having a good time, of course. Most of you reading this right now know that making the Executive Ranch and MS150-stylevideo clips is one of my favorites things to do in the entire world, and when the staff team was supposed to come up with a skit for the Sea Olympics talent show tonight, I suggested that we take advantage of the five video professionals on the staff and make a five-minute, slick-looking production on the Truman Show-esque premise that Semester-at-Sea is really a motion-control ride and that all the staff and faculty really are actors. Let's just say I haven't slept much the last few days. Though based on the response in the showing tonight, it was worth the effort. I can't imagine how it would have turned out if I had the Ranchmates to help brainstorm and make it happen.

Anyway, as soon as the Sea Olympics are done tomorrow (I'm competing in the pull-up, push-up, and synchronized swimming competitions), I'll immerse myself on the Mauritius report.

Speaking of videos, I was talking to Greg, a former Dutch gymnast on the ship a couple of days ago who mentioned that he was a huge fan of the Stanford Men's Gymnastics video pages, without knowing that we were the ones who developed it from scratch. I was pretty happy to hear how big those sites have gotten.

Yesterday I was officially as far away as San Fran as physically possible on earth, twelve hours ahead of y'all.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

French-Speaking Hindus

I was fortunate enough to hang out with Chris Bolin, the trip photographer (who is mentioned in the guest blog) for most of the best day in Mauritius, so I didn’t take too many pictures and am waiting to get his before writing the full report. It’ll be a fun one. Here are a few more previews, though, part of the reason it was so much fun:

The best and dumbest idea ever.

The best idea ever. (This is me hanging out with the videographers for the Global Nomads, Jason and Byron. Please check out their site - Both those guys lived for three seasons inside the Jessica Simpson’s household working on the reality series and they just received insider information that the Nick and Jessica split up. But I’m not supposed to share that).

The water.

They're so nice!

...snicker, snicker....

By the way, this is the state department warning that caused us not to go to Kenya.

More as soon as I have el fotos!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Hawaii of the Indian Ocean

We just left Mauritius, and are about as far from home as physically possible without involving a space shuttle, en route to India. Mauritius is no Kenya, but we made the best of it and yesterday was one of my favorite days as a result.

You know the drill. I'll have a report up tomorrow at some point (hard to keep track about your tomorrows versus my tomorrows), and leave you with this preview pic.

Also, Sara uploaded some pictures from our visit to Cape Town to Ofoto. I haven't checked them out yet, but I'm sure they're great.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


I made the mistake of giving the cleaners ALL of my laundry yesterday and now they tell me it won’t be ready until I’m Mauritius. My solution, of course, is to purchase SAS gear at the campus store. I’ll be super-SAS-man for this trip! Woohoo! Another paradise island!

We land in Mauritius in the morning. See you in a few days.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hit Me with at Tribal Pattern

Before I continue, I just re-read some of my older entries and am shocked – SHOCKED, I tell ya – at all of the misspellings (tale instead of tail?... jeez...) and...err, "creative" sentence construction… yet I refuse to spend the money to fix it. I mention this only to let you know that I know that you know. That’s all.

Ok, where were we? Sitting next to the pool overlooking the Indian Ocean a skip away from Madagascar. But that’s not important right now.

We find ourselves in South Africa sans Sara. I’ve enjoyed a near all-nighter with the students and wake up a couple hours later looking for something to do. There wasn’t a shortage of ideas – I’d been talking to Sara all week about doing something extreme, as South Africa is apparently an adrenaline junkie’s paradise (which means I’m right at home). Most students went Great White Shark diving, skydiving, extreme bungee jumping, handgliding, paragliding or abseiling (repelling) down Table Mountain. The shark dives have too many people and lost their luster over the years; I’m a certified skydiver but am not current, so I didn’t spend time getting current; bungee jumping was an eight our drive away. My choices clearly were handgliding or abseiling. I left my cabin and set out to do one of these.

Instead, on my wait out I found a couple of students, who with the help of a Stanford student, Emmanuel, befriended a 24-year-old taxi driver who lived in one of the Coloured townships (the story of Emmanuel might get its own entry in the future), and the taxi had agreed to take them to his house.

I had wanted to visit the townships for a while, and SAS or local companies organize tours of the slums, but Sara and I had discussed this at some point and decided that it was voyeuristic and didn’t seem quite right to show up en masse with cameras flaring at the poverty. But the opportunity to go to this guy’s place seemed a little more personal, and after thinking about it for a bit, I asked if them if I could join them.

The first thing Lloyd, the taxi driver did before taking us to the black townships, where most of the commercial township tourism occurs. We did a little bit of everything, learning about the township organization and government, tasting local brew, and running into a large bus full township tourists, which seemed uncomfortable because of the endless clicking of the cameras but otherwise was much more respectful than I thought it would be. We stopped by a local medicine man, who had all sorts of healing trinkets hanging from store and wanted to talk to us about purchasing love potions (which several of the students bought). But after a while I had to be Debbie Downer and drop the AIDS question, but given the cultural significance of healers in South African society, and the fact that they are officially recognized by the government, certainly the community must look to him when their sick.

Sure enough, it sounded like he’d assume some sort of leadership position in this issue, telling us how he estimated the was losing four clients a month to the disease, but that he mostly took the role of alleviating pain but left the true treatment of the disease to doctors. He also worked as an educator, and hanging between snake heads and lizard skins and pigs feet were condoms. It was refreshing to see.

We moved on to the Coloured townships, where Lloyd lived. We asked about the safety of the small group and he assured us we were fine since everybody knew who he was. He seemed somewhat bitter that the black townships got all the tourism (“we have the same problems that they have”) and that the coloured township went unnoticed. I’m sure there is some truth to that – we saw no tourist but still saw children swimming in sewers and even a covered body that had just been run over – some fellow trying to cross the highway that bisects the township. The highlight was the illegal rasta bar that he frequented, where they make a bong by cupping a broken beer bottle and smoking through their hands. It was an impressive, impressive sight. People were coming in and out to purchase their marijuana the entire time we were there, and sadly, most of the people in the joint were children.

Finally, another taxi driver that had accompanied us took us to his mosque, and it occured to me that I’ve never been to a mosque before. The elders there were completely surprised and excited to see these students show up out of nowhere and gave us a full tour that lasted quite a while. We were there as one of the prayers had finished, and it seems to me like a mosque, with their large, quiet, carpeted rooms, can be an awesome place to just get away from it all We spent the rest of the early afternoon there before heading back to the waterfront for a huge-yet-very cheap sushi dinner (a warm up for our sushioke day in Japan! Yeah!)

The weather wasn’t the greatest, so being the sucker for aquariums that I am I convinced Jason that it was it was the place to go before 17 of the staff members went out for yet another big-game meal (springbok… yum…) and lots of bonding, as relayed in Jason’s guest blog entry. We didn’t get home until 4:30am. I think. Yet I managed to wake up early yet again.

I looked up table mountain that morning, and it was clear! I decided I was going to go up there by myself, by foot, from the ship all the way up to the top. I set out through some of the sketchiest places in Cape Town and took a complete walking tour of the city (including a long stop at the Jewish Museum and their exhibit on Helen Sussman as recommended by Sara. South Africa has some incredible leaders) and several hours later I was at the base of the mountain… where it was cloudy once again. Abseiling wasn’t happening. I headed back to the ship, ran into a bunch of girls who had attended services in Desmond Tutu’s church and shared a cab with them back to the waterfront.

(Allow me to interrupt this entry to let you knowf that I’m witnessing yet another phenomenal sunset right now. Everyone, as usual is trickling out the deck to see it.)

I’ve made time for gift shopping in every country we’ve been in, and even though Transvideo has sharpened my negotiating skills, they’ve done nothing about my taste in cheap trinkets. I have no clue what to buy. Do I get something practical? Who would ever wear that shirt? Masks are cool, right? Can I have one with a tribal pattern?
(Seriously. This might be the best sunset yet.)

(Hold on.)

(Ok. Sun is down. I can continue.)

I overshot my budget yet again - I kept miscalculating how much money to withdraw and always was out of cash… sorry, Sara - but managed to purchase some quality merchandise, just in time for the weather to clear at Table Mountain and for a group of us to make our way to Table Mountain where the weather was beautiful. We just sat there long enough to still get dinner before making it back on the ship.

I never went abseiling. But it was the perfect ending to the perfect trip.

I don’t know. Maybe I get overexcited about little things sometimes - at home or halfway around the globe. I’m trying really hard not to sound rah-rah-rah and “awesome this”, or “phenomenal that” and use the same descriptions in every entry. I’m try not to sound like a broken record, but I can’t help it. I think what idiots the three kids who got kicked off the ship in Cape Town are for losing this opportunity (including one more my four work-study students). We just hit the one-third-way mark of the voyage and it’s going by way too fast. I know I’m missing a ton of stuff at home, (the ONLY downside of the voyage), but I wish instead that you all got to see what you’re missing instead. If you’re reading this and you have the means, come join me. Seriously.

Because life is pretty good around here.

Editor’s note: Becky Chaplin – your mom is next to me and she asks me to tell you to email her.

Africa is Real

Turns out Africa is real. It really exists. They weren’t lying to us since we were kids. It is a place, and it is there. I’ve been there, and I loved it. I’m excited to visit Mauritius, but make no mistake, I would have preferred to spend more time in Africa. At least we got two extra days in Cape Town, but the continent is so big and diverse and complex, with so much history (apart from South Africa), that I plan on coming back soon. Real soon. What you are about to read is strictly a (really long) travel log since we did so much, so this might turn into another two or three-parter so I can include some actual thoughts on the place. We’ll see.

I’m really glad there was an announcement about not missing the sunrise over Table Mountain as we arrived in port. People who didn’t wake up for it should receive dock time. Our first surprise: it gets cold in Africa! We got outside to FREEZING winds, and since I didn’t pack appropriately, and my hair was gone, I suffered accordingly. Cape Town is at about the same latitude as Buenos Aires, and this is the point where the cold south Atlantic current meets the warm Indian Ocean current, creating very rough seas and cold temperatures sometimes. It is whale breeding season, so it wasn’t long before we saw the first of many whales we'd see breeching as we approached the port.

Right away, I thought Cape Town was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. It wasn’t until much later in the week that of the few cities I’ve been to, I thought Rio had a slight edge in shear beauty, with San Francisco in a somewhat distant #3 spot.

(For those of you who live in San Francisco and don’t think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I recommend three things: 1) Visit the lookout point just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear, sunny day. 2) Visit the hookup point on Treasure Island on a clear night, and 3) Talk to any foreigner who has visited San Francisco and ask them what they think the most beautiful cities of the world are. But I digress).

We said our goodbye to the Tutus and I headed off to meet Sara at the Long Street Backpackers hostel. I’ve known Sara since freshman year at Stanford, where we lived in the same dorm. I knew she would be spending a year in South Africa in the city of Durban doing a med school rotation (internship? residency? fellowship? I can never get them straight) and we decided several months ago to meet in Cape Town.

The best thing about having a friend that lives halfway across the world? The fact that you have a travel agent in that country. Sara and I had been in touch by email about what we wanted to do, and, truth be told, she did all the work. I let her know what I wanted to do, and she added a lot of cool stuff to the list. She devoured the Lonely Planet book and set about making reservations and plans about where we were going. I was just along for the ride.

We had a couple hours before our rental car was to be delivered, so we decided to walk to the District 6 museum until then. This wasn’t the best time or place to visit the museum, as Sara and I were still catching up on the last few months, where needless to say, lots has happened to both of us. The museum is packed with information about the District 6 area of Cape Town, which was declared a white-only area during apartheid and 50,000 residents were displaced to the townships, very reminiscent of the way the jews were displaced from their homes in World War II. It really is a sad story, and given the cluttered presentation of the museum, and my intense interest in the subject matter, we didn’t do the place justice in the hour we were there.

But we had a car to pick up. South Africa is one of those “weird” countries where these crazy people think it’s ok to drive on the wrong side of the road. So dangerous! Good thing Sara was there, since I flinched at every corner from the taxi ride from the ship to the hostel, and she is experienced in driving from the passenger side of the car. When the rental car person asked if we wanted to insure a second driver, Sara and I mutually agreed that it was in our safety’s best interest that I didn’t touch the steering wheel. Sara made sure it wasn't going to happen.

(This was made especially clear in the hostel, where I encountered a many in the hallway. I stepped to my right to get out of his way, and he stepped to his left. We stood there starring at each other for five seconds before he decided to move to the right. Whoops.)

Having a car gave us a huge flexibility both to improvise and get away from the hundreds of SAS kids that take over the port cities (they’re not allowed to rent vehicles). We immediately took off for Cape Point, the southwestern-most point in Africa, giving me the opportunity to learn much about South African culture from Sara along the way.

Some of my favorite tidbits (some which were better understood later on the trip):
1. Stop lights are called “robots”. I wish I had take a picture of the street sign that said “robots” because it confused the bejesus out of me. I was waiting for C3PO ahead of us, but he never came.
2. Afrikaaners use “Is it?” like Americans use “Really?” and Canadians use “Eh”. A lot. And the use “AS well” with emphasis on the “AS” when saying “also”.
3. Afrikaans is a awful sounding language. As Sara put it, it is “a poor-man’s Dutch”.
4. Zulu and Xhosa, however, are the coolest sounding languages in the world. Not only to they have rich, deep, melodic syllables, but clicking is an integral part of the language! I thought I misheard things first time I heard it, but no, they have very different clicking noises that happens in conjunction with another sound, like some weird sort of ventriloquism. For example, “Ndegeochello” (as in Michelle, the singer) would have a click on the “N”. I vow to learn how to do this. Really. I’m not even kidding.
5. Black, Coloured, and Whites races are still officially recognized as such by the government. It is impossible to separate South Africa and racial issues – and is an issue that kept coming up over and over.

W e stopped along the way at Boulder’s beach to see the many penguins, the coolest birds ever. They are some mean mofos, though. Don’t get close to them. You can’t help but laugh watching them stagger around the rocks, because clearly their bodies weren’t made for rock climbing. But that doesn’t stop them.

(By the way, South Africa has the best traffic signs. This is one of my favorites, for two reasons. First, the morbid picture of a dying penguin, and second, because it has a picture of a bra. We found out later is the picture of a springbok, some form of antelope and the symbol of their national park, and delicious when barbequed… yummm.)

( This one also cracks me up. Poo.)

We found some students trying to make their way south, but alas, they had no car and we found ourselves away from SAS peeps at the point. The point, BTdubs, is beautiful. This is the Cape of Good Hope, the chaotic meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans where so many ships have sunk over the years. The weather was perfect, and we took a long time to simply stroll around, go down to the beach where a southern right whale and her pup where breaching just yards from the shore. And I was fascinated by what Sara knew about South Africa (thank god she’s a history major), HIV, and waiting tables in Martha’s Vineyard.

A few extra pictures:

Cape Point View
Another View
The Beach

We made our way back after all the strolling, encountering baboons on the way out (who really have nasty bums which explain why their tales are up in the air… but I digress), and made our way to a big game restaurant to meet with some of the SAS staff members and people we had met up at the hostel. If you’ve never had big game meat before, such as springbok, kudu, ostrich, crocodile, or shark (I guess that counts), and you’re not a vegetarian, you should try it. It really is delicious. Made me want a bb gun every time we saw a springbok… tasty… yummm….

The cost of these exotic animals on your plate? For an amazing meal that included bottles of wine, I believe we estimated less than $35 per person.

We woke up to rain in Cape Town, and since we had a 2pm ticket for Robben Island, we decided against hiking Table Mountain and headed for the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens instead, which was such a pleasant surprise. As Sara described in her blog entry, it was a Garden of Eden and it really was one of the most beautiful, serene places we’d ever seen, especially when the sun came out. There was a little of everything, including these mystery Fynbos plants everywhere (I’ll let you guys figure out what they are because I’m still not sure we ever truly figured it out). Our (my) favorite part was a the fragrance garden, where we rubbed and smelled… the plants. We just looked funny doing it.

Amidst all the frolicking we ran out of time and had to get back to the wharf in time for the ferry that would take us to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela lived for 18 of his 27 years in jail. Since much of the ANC leadership was also jailed there at the time, this became a place for discourse, and, in essence, the birthplace of South African democracy, which is why our tour left something to be desired. The country will still be talking about Robben Island 500 years from now, much like we do the constitutional convention, and it doesn’t deserve the short, crowded tour we were given. It doesn’t do the place justice.

Luckily, I had my personal historian Sara next to me. She’s poured through three or four SA history books in her short time there, including Mandela’s “A Long Road to Freedom” (which she finished on this trip), and gave me a much more better account than the tour gave us. I wanted to linger and ask questions, but there weren’t enough guides and we were rushed to the gift shop on the way out. I can only imagine the tour will get better someday. It has to get better.

The ferry ride back was a lot of fun… we managed to sit right in the splash zone of the boat, and the unfashionably white raincoat that I stole from the Ranch on my wait out proved not to be a raincoat but just a piece of cloth like any other. But boy, was it fun.

We headed back to the Kirstenbosch Gardens again for sunset before heading out to the quaint town of Hout Bay for dinner, which was amazing despite the fact that our uncomfortable waiter looked like an overgrown boy in his striped sailor outfit. But Sara (or her friends) did manage to get the best restaurants in South Africa, and this was one of them.

The next morning we set out to hike Table Mountain, something I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time. The mountain seems to have its own weather system – always cloudy when the weather at the bottom was gorgeous. We were running out of time, so we took a gamble and hoped the clouds would have cleared by the time we got to the top.

The view started out magnificent. We were told that the short route would take us between 1.5-2 hours to make it to the top, yet we were there in a little over an hour. As were the clouds. It was like entering the set of Lord of the Rings (Sara’s line), covering us with mist and looking just like Scotland. Not that I know what Scotland looks like. Anyway, it was really cool (and freezing) hanging out up there in there, but our view was less than stellar. The hike was nice, but I’m really glad I made it back on the last day in Cape Town. Sara, make sure you get up there on a clear day.

We took off for a coastal drive on the way to Hermanus, going through township after township after township., which is no different from a Brazilian favela or a Venezuela slum. Poverty is poverty anywhere in the world (though so many people in South Africa were systematically placed in the townships, but that’s another issue). I was really surprised by how many we see and how it there. This is where I made full use of my HIV researcher guide/driver, because as Sara put it, South Africa is AIDS right now. Africa has 16 of the 45 million AIDS cases in the world, and in places like Botswana, 47 percent of the population is infected with HIV and the life expectancy has dropped to 27 years (I’m 26 right now). The promiscuous culture and the stigma associated with the disease in South Africa makes it even more difficult to deal with the problem there, and it really hit it home when she said that one out of every three people we were looking at were infected, especially since we were looking at a lot of people. I’ll come back to this subject.

We made our way down the beautiful coast to Hermanus, about two hours west of Cape Town. If Noronha had the Bay of Dolphins, this was the Bay of Whales. During whale breeding season (September), as many as 70 whales come do whale things there, like breeding, breeching, and attracting tourists. They come very close to shore, and within a couple minutes of getting there, we had already identified seven. (by the way, Cape Agulhas, the true southernmost point in Africa, is visible in that picture). These southern right whales massive creatures, about the size of eight or so elephants, and but they look so calm and graceful bobbing up and down so close to shore.

We picked on one of the cliffs overlooking the bay, away from everybody else, and stayed there reading, and journaling (diarying? That sounds bad.), just watching a whale that wasn’t going anywhere, for about an hour or so. This was one of my favorite moments this entire trip, and I’m printing the full size version of my view from that spot when I get home:

 (Can you find the whale in this picture?)

Hermanus is a such a nice little town, a place you wish your grandparents lived at, and is very quiet at night. We went to bed early and woke up very early since I wanted to watch the sunrise and Sara wanted to go out for her jog – part of her hardcore marathon training regimen. I went back to the same bay from the previous day where the sunrise was beautiful, made even better by the fact that five whales were bobbing less than fifty yards away. It was hard to leave that spot.

We set out through the mountains to the beautiful wine town off Franschhoek, where we tasted wine, bought cheese and chocolates, and enjoyed ostrich in a two-hour lunch at the best restaurant in South Africa, La Petit Ferme.. I could have stayed there all day.

The next stop was the town of Stellenbosch, an Afrikaaner college town famous for its wine. We enjoyed some Zanzibarian music in the Stellenbosch music festival (something I would never have thought of doing – thank you, Sara), which included, of all things, a woman whose butt did things butts were not supposed to do. Seriously. I think there was a Chinese dragon under her dress. I expected her behind to crawl up around her chest and up her neck at any point. It was as impressive as anything I’ve seen so far.

There were hundreds of SAS students in town, many of them in our hostel, so I spent most of the night chatting with them, until 3am or so. We had to return the car in Cape Town the next day, so we headed back (stopping in Spier) and took another walking tour of the city which included a stop at the Slave Lodge where an exhibit put together by the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and highly recommended by the SAS students in Stellenbosch asked many influential people the question, slightly paraphrased, “If you had only one piece of wisdom to leave humanity, what would it be?” This is a traveling exhibit that should be in the US soon, so please go visit it when it comes to town. It is well-worth it, well-presented, and thought-provoking. Just neat.

After the tour, we kicked it at the hostel, hanging out with other fellow travelers (I love the atmosphere of hostels in South Africa – Cape Town is a great backpacker’s city), playing gin, drinking South African beer, and waiting for a live band that never showed up. I had a great week with my tour guide/driver/historian Sara, and we said our goodbyes. Maybe she’ll be there next time I come to Cape Town. Because I am coming back.

I left the hostel and met up with some SAS girls who were being badgered by a local man and they asked me to pretend to be a boyfriend so he would go away. I did, and he didn’t go away until I caught him with his hand in my pocket trying to pull out my camera and wallet. We left the bar, piled 12 of us inside a cab, drove to another part of the city where we danced until the wee hours of the morning.

I had two extra days that were unplanned for, so I had to improvise. I’ll continue the travel log of the last two days tomorrow. Here's a preview.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Special Bonding, Only On Julio Days

The call to find guest bloggers returned a lot of favorable responses. Jason, the guy I once described as "would easily fit in the Ranch", already wrote two guest entries. I might regret posting this first one before my South Africa report.

Warts and all. Warts and all.

Rico isn't a happy camper. Oh, he may seem happy, but he's not. It's day six in Cape Town, and we're going somewhere, or doing something, or...well, you know. The days all blur. But there's a problem. Rico, you see, keeps missing out on the bonding.

There was initial bonding, of course. There were only about a hundred of us on board for the first four days, with little to do but ramble around a mostly empty ship, eat with each other and get very limited starts on our jobs. We hung out. We asked questions. We figured out who the cool kids were (for the curious, it was just about all of us, but we still figured it out). All good stuff, and everyone got to play. And Venezuela, where everyone seemed to have prearranged stuff to do, didn't feature much together time.

But then came Brazil. Rico took off for some sort of paradise, where he claims to have seen dolphins, been interviewed for TV, and been crowned King of the World or some shit. Whatever. I wasn't there, so I can't speak on it, but it all sounds a little made up. Put it on top of the rescue plane story and I think we've got a whiff of something pathological.

But I digress. Often, and at length. See, there it was again.

Anyway, there was a side trip in Brazil that featured me, Chris B. the photographer, and Yas, the cutest little Resident Director in the whole wide world (no, really, she's just the cute, bless her little heart.) What happened will forever be known as the Julio period of our lives, wherein we overshared while drinking Brazilian beer and caiprinhas. I'll spare you the details (mostly because Rico hasn't yet heard them all, and would once again feel left out. We can't have that.) Julio was this guy we ran into in the little beach town we stayed at; he had a glob of white something on his lower lip at just about all times, and we saw him about a dozen times. He spoke very little English, but acted like he did by carefully repeating anything you said and nodding. He was our BFF right away. Rico never met him. See what he misses out on?

The point is, there was bonding. Boy, howdy, was there bonding. I know so much about those two. I could mention Chris's technique, but I won't. I could talk about Yas's numbers, but I won't. I could tell you...well, everything about me, but that would be really, really boring after a while. A very short while. I'm not that interesting. Really.

Rico got back with his dolphins and interviews and BFF with people who run hotels on the islands story, and all we had was beers around Julio. So of course, we had to act like we were the winners on that trade. We had bonded, you see, and all he had done was spend a four days in paradise. Alone. As if any of us would want such a horror. I turn my nose up at it.

Funny thing was, Rico was bothered. Or at least, I must presume he was. Because we get to Cape Town, and he vanishes with Sarah, re-emerging for a single meal. A very good meal, of game meats of all sorts, that was really great, but still, just a meal. And then he misses going out for dinner and drinks, and hearing a cover band comprised of a tiny Goth girl singer and a fat guitar player singing “Africa” by Toto. And he misses CAP 100, The Winelands and Beyond, an unofficial Staff-only trip where we tasted a lot of wine and didn't really bond as much as we could have but still had a great time. Rico was in the same town as us, but we didn't call him. Because we're bitter that he has these great (and probably completely false) stories of what he did.

I'm sure you've heard what he did by now. Rode an elephant, was made leader of a tribe that has never seen a camera before, swam with whales and learned their language. Yes, it seems pretty incredible, but the way he tells the stories, you could almost believe it. Me, I think he was just trying to compensate for his lack of bonding.

Because he was sad that he had missed it, you see. Complained that we didn't call. Whined about the injustice of it all. Wailed and gnashed his teeth, even, which should tell you all how serious it was.

So now, back to the beginning, it's the day he gets back, Day 6 in Cape Town. We all go out for a birthday dinner, 17 of us. This is no bonding moment. Too many people. It's tough to bond in groups larger than will comfortably fit on one road trip. Dinner is followed by drinks, and we get down to 10. Still too large. But then, through the intervention of a fortuitous showing of gymnastics at a neighboring bar (okay, it was power tumbling, but what the hell do I know about that?) we end up, just me and Rico and Yas, in a bar together. Could we bond?

No, really, Rico asked that question. Could we bond, are we bonding, is this bonding, yadda yadda. We tried to patiently explain that if he had to ask, we weren't. It was like watching him try to do “For Example” (which he should tell you about at some point). Pitiful.

And then...breakthrough. We suddenly shared. We bonded. Oh, we had come close, when Yas was almost crushed by the door of a cab. When we sang about “working the streets down in Africa.” When we fought off that chain wielding gang of, wait, that was “Weird Science”. But at long last, we bonded.

Again, I can't go into the details. I can only mention there was South African beer involved. And Long Island Iced Teas about the size of a swimming pool. (This is a lie. The Mexican bar by the ship had drinks the size of swimming pools. Served in tupperware bowls. Seriously.) And dancing. And milkshakes. And Rico getting to be a part of things. Okay, there were stories about getting walked in on during various acts, but that's all I'll say. So don't ask. I'm not telling. But it's Rico I'm talking about here. Just so you know.

The only problem is that now, poor Chris is behind. And no one else has even really gotten to start. So Rico has to come bonding again in Mauritius, and won't be able to rescue any creole-speaking Hindu princesses, or find a lost golden temple, or any of that. Just Mauritian beer (is there such a thing? God, I hope so) by the beach, and disclosure into the night, and a new, hopefully improved BFF who will almost assuredly not be named Julio.

But you never know. He might be.

Administrative issues

Friends. The staff of the Cobosce understands that you have a choice in blogs, and we thank you for choosing Having said that, I’ve been accused many times of holding back stories and, and Mandy called it, being mysterious. Perhaps there is truth to this rumor. Given the logistics of a 23 hour day, and the time and price of the internet on the ship (the Brazil entry cost me over $60 to upload), and the fact that I avoid internet cafes in port, this is not intentional. However, we at the Cobosce think we have a solution and will expand our staff accordingly. In an expansion of the guest blog paradigm, I will try to recruit fellow staff members, students, faculty, adult passenger, crew, people I like, people I don’t like, etc… to contribute a funny story or two that they might think my friends would want to hear. The only restriction is that the story can’t get me fired, otherwise, the comments will run unedited, warts and all.

I guess I should line up people to write first.

Anyway, I’m working on the South Africa posting and pictures and that’ll be up soon. I’ll also try to upload shorter blurbs as we make our way to Mauritius. I am flattered by the number of people who have requested that I write more, and I’m doing my best to honor the requests.

Speaking of rumors… spreading rumors around the ship is a lot of fun because it spreads like wildfire. For example, there's a rumor going around that I'm trying to dispel that I spent the entire time volunteering at HIV hospitals when I actually spent the time with an HIV researcher. Anyway, these have been my three of many favorite (innocent) rumors to start, but I’m sure there will be more in a few days.

3. Yas is organizing a thumb war tournament. This is funny when 700 students want to sign up for it. I put this on the Dean’s memo under her name with the tagline “Warm up those Dueling Digits!” and people kept bugging her to participate. And she had to tell them it’s not real (“Hey, can I sign up for the thumb war tournament?!”). But she decided to give in and really hold a tournament. I was the first name on her signup sheet. But I never signed myself up.

2. The staff waterskiis behind the ship at night. I posted this on Yas’s board one night (“Yas – I got the skiis… the Captain said we can go skiing at 4am… remember to set your clock ahead tonight!) and let’s just say students can be very, very gullible.

1. The ship hit a whale in South Africa. This one is still making it’s way around.

Here's a quick pic from our early morning arrival in Cape Town.

Full report shortly.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I Heart Africa

I am on the ship as we are about to set sail after a perfect, long stay in South Africa. After much badgering, I convinced the lovely, funny, beautiful, all-around good-girl Sara to write a guest blog entry (a move shamelessly stolen from TMTTV). Below are her unedited comments; I’ll post my own at sea.

hi all. Sara here. I am taking a year off from med school in NY and living in Durban, South Africa for the year doing HIV research. this past week I had the good fortune of being able to take a week off of work and hang out with Rico in Cape Town. such fun.

Rico has asked me to write a guest blog entry – maybe he's worried that his readership is floundering and thinks the blog needs a bit of a boost (only kidding!)… I'll do my best.

in looking over his past blog entries, I feel confident that Rico will do an able job of thoroughly regaling you all with the details of our adventures together. so I'm going to gloss over much of the week and focus on a few highlights about Rico – a few vignettes that he might not necessarily relate…

first off – Rico as mayor. or at least that's how I now think about him with the SAS crew. whenever we ran into any of the students from the ship (and with 700 of them – it's not an infrequent occurrence) – they would all get huge grins on their faces and come running up to greet him. Rico would reciprocate with a big grin of his own, a series of friendly pleasantries, inquiries about their travels, etc. it's like he's some sort of celebrity – or a small-town mayor, if you will. shaking hands with all, making everyone feel welcome, sharing a bit of the Rico-love with all… if there were babies to kiss, he would have been doing that too (although thanks to the readily available supply of condoms on the boat it sounds like this hasn't been an issue!). it's very cute to see. Rico is definitely in his element.

despite all of the attention, Rico is still the same loveable, goofy guy as always. one of our many stops was at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – a veritable Garden of Eden, truly the most serene, beautiful place I've ever been. we wandered around the grounds with Table Mountain looming as a backdrop and just couldn't get over how lucky we were to be in such an amazing place. at one point, we were wandering down one of the many paths and were both so totally engrossed in our surroundings that we had one of our rare moments of silence. I didn't even notice it was quiet though until the silence was broken. all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Rico started singing "Eternal Flame." yes, the Bangles. as soon as he realized what he was doing, he quickly stopped – but it was too late. I was on to him. he at first tried to deny the episode but I wasn't fooled and couldn't help but burst out laughing. clearly the fame and celebrity of his prestigious SAS audiovisual tech job hasn't quite gone to his head.

Rico also liked to engage in conversation, albeit one-sided, with the various animals that we encountered. this tendency first became apparent on our first afternoon when we stopped at Boulders Beach, a penguin reserve on the way down to the Cape of Good Hope. Rico launched into various imitations of penguin movements and then proceeded to narrate the internal monologue of a pair of penguins walking along a rocky precipice ("hey larry, you think I can make that jump?" "I don't know fred, looks awfully big to me…" "I'm gonna go for it… 1, 2, 3!" "man, that was awesome!"). similar scenes subsequently played themselves out with baboons and whales (with different voices, of course).

we had a great week though. a little of everything – hiking, mountain climbing, local music appreciation, whale-watching, museums, wine-tasting, eating up a storm… I'll let Rico tell you all about it in his own blog entry.

Rico is definitely having a true once-in-a-lifetime experience (as cliché as that sounds) and it was wonderful to get to tag long for a small piece of it. I'm only jealous that I can't stow away for the rest of the trip..

Sara,I miss you already. -Rico