Editor's note: Jason Vanhee wrote his last guest blog entry on our final day at sea, and I just found it now, ten months after the fact. I think it is still worth uploading.
I arrived on the ship early, three days before almost all the staff, seven days before the students. When I got here the halls were empty, the walls barren, the rooms tidy and quiet. There's something of the same look to the ship again, now on the last night.
The students aren't roaming about tonight. They sit in public places talking and getting their journals signed, or huddle in their cabins with their good friends. The walls are vacant once more; the stewards are clearing everything off of them. It's a lot like trees in autumn; some are still green and leafy, some are losing their leaves, but most are bare, a few dry, skeletal vestiges left. Here and there a nametag has somehow escaped notice, or a white board wasn't packed, or a sticky note leaves a message that may never be answered.
And in our rooms the chaos that has grown up in the last months has vanished. All of our bags are packed, the largest carried away to completely fill the second deck hallways. What's left isn't much; a few changes of clothes, perhaps, a book, the breakables. The things that we'll need for the day or two until we get home. So the cabins, too, look much like they did, just a few signs of life in most of them.
Within twenty four hours the Explorer will look the way I found it, clean and empty, just a few people walking about where once there were hundreds. I wonder if anyone leaves a sign of their presence; a note hidden behind a life jacket, or a picture tucked up under the bed. Do the cabin stewards search carefully to eradicate any signs of the old voyage, or can something slip through? I like to think that somewhere on the ship there is such a sign, overlooked for months or years, waiting patiently for someone to find it. That the clearing out of the ship is somehow not the end of our presence here. That we will still sail onward.