A Travellerspoint blog

India Part One

semi-overcast 90 °F
View Semester at Sea on MVVincent's travel map.

After all of this time I am finally posting a blog entry! Be prepared…this will be long, so if you don’t like reading my entries before, you are not going to like this one. I cannot believe how much I am learning on this voyage and how exploring the world is molding me into a new person.
Now to talk about India, an absolutely amazing country! It took us a couple of hours to clear immigration but once we did it was like a herd of cows heading to the slaughter house. There were sweaty bodies all around just dying to get out and onto Indian land. I had a planned trip with SAS and we were almost two hours past the time we were supposed to start so I was one of the cows trying to squeeze myself through everyone to see what was waiting out there for me. The second I got my head and feet through the door leading down the gangway I could hear lots of drumming and commotion. When I was able to see past all of the bodies I could see a small group greeting us with drummers and dancers. I walked down the steel stairs to the asphalt and was greeted by an Indian woman who welcomed me to her country with a gold dot on my third eye. I smiled, thanked her and continued on my way to find the bus for my trip. I passed through a crowd of traditional dancers that were putting on a show for everyone coming to their land. The place that the ship docked was in the Indian state Kerala on the southern tip of the country. Kerala is much different than other states in India in that it has an almost 99% literacy rate. I learned in my class that there are over 800 languages in India and the main one supposed to be spoken in this state was Tamil or Telugu, turns out neither were correct, well not entirely. The language spoken there was Malayalam and English. English of course is spoken throughout India as it gained its independence from England in 1947. I have come to learn that England was quite the superpower and colonizer in its high time and have molded an image of the English that is not at all great. I have also learned a lot from classes and my brother about the United States, but after visiting many countries that were colonized by the English I now have a better understanding and strange love for America. We too were once colonized and looking for our own freedom, we just had better means than other to gain that freedom. I can no longer look up at the American flag in the way I used to and look at the 4th of July as just a holiday to promote America. We are still “colonizers” but in a different way, and one that is more by individuals rather than a collective. I now look at the flag and think about us celebrating freedom in the same way that Ghana celebrates theirs or India theirs. India really has solidified (but not cemented) a better image and a more open mind for me in my life, one that could very well change when I visit Viet Nam and Japan.
Anyway, getting back to my trip! I walked through the gates where taxi drivers were not allowed and looked for my bus that was to take me around Cochin (Kochi), the capital and sea port of Kerala. I hopped on the bus and found a seat next to my friend Jessica who continued to travel with me in India. I looked up and saw that there was tape keeping up the A/C and that none of the seats were covered in plastic, something that was standard in all of our other travels. I was still excited, the air was humid and reaching 90 degrees so any A/C was good for me. Our bus finally left for the tour and our guide introduced himself and went through the usual dialogue many guides give. I listened intently, although now looking back on it I do not recall exactly what he said. I do know that we were going to Jew Town and to see the Dutch Palace, Synagogue, and local spice market. Jew Town was essentially a refuge area for Jews that were persecuted when the Portuguese were taking over India as Catholics. This was an area that was safe for them but over time their populations dwindled and there is now a standing Jewish population of eight in the area of Kochi. Believe me I would love to call the town differently but everyone and their mother calls it Jew Town so I “must do as the Romans(Indians) do”! In this area lay the Dutch Palace, Synagogue and spice market, about ten or fifteen blocks in area. As we stepped of the bus we were bombarded with merchants and traders trying to sell their goods, but this was much different, at least for me, than Ghana. Here the traders would only ask once, maybe twice, before giving up and moving on, and they would not follow you around and wait for you to leave an area to sell you something. The smell was not as gross as I expected either, mostly humid air though and because I am from Colorado and so used to dry air I could not really smell anything anyway. I followed the crowd and guide leading into the Dutch Palace where we were told no pictures were allowed. I snapped a quick picture of the emblem of the king and continued up the old stairs leading into the palace. Now this palace used to be where the King of Cochin and sometimes India would reside. I was expecting elaborate décor, beautiful gold arches and columns, and fantastic architecture. This is not what we got…in the palace were old copper tiles on the roof, dark wood posts, and tarnished paintings leading everywhere. I am sure that in its prime the palace was gorgeous, but because of tourism and the exploitation of the building nothing was able to be well preserved. The rooms we went into had a great story to tell nonetheless. In the Kings bedroom was a mural that told a wonderful story of Hindu gods and their trials and tribulations. Although the mural was dying in places and being taken over by time I was lucky enough to witness what had once been so important to the King. We continued through a couple of rooms that had similar murals, some unfinished. The last room we entered was the dining room where there was a portrait of all of the Kings that had resided there. These were the few pieces kept in great condition and away from any visitors hands and it showed. The palace lost its interest fast because we were all sweating from the heat, but looking back on it I think it was a great place to visit. I learned a lot about Indian rule in that they do not hold what others do valuable and sacred. They are very moderate and simply kept a clean look. They obviously had more important things to worry about than wealth and I think that helped them with the people in India. I do not know a lot about the history of India, but I am sure there was support for these rulers while under the British. The palace was called the Dutch Palace because they were the last to take it over before the Portuguese and later British rule, and at times it was even a sanctuary for the Jewish when they were being attacked. Right next to the palace was a turquoise Hindu temple for worship. These two structures were walled in with a beautiful blue and gold arch at each side. After leaving the gated area Jessica, a couple other girls and I had to leave to return back to the ship because we had previous arrangements. We did a quick walk down the street and saw a couple shops and bought some bottled water to quench our thirst. After that we rallied to find a Tuk Tuk driver to take us back to the ship. For those of you who do not know, a Tuk Tuk is a motorized rickshaw, three seats in the back, and a steel frame over a motorcycle, a wonderful experience to ride in one, and a very common form of transportation in India. We bargained for a Tuk Tuk and the four of us squeezed into this tiny vehicle. It was very slow getting back but a great experience for all of us while in India. We got to pass by cars left and right, weave our way through people and traffic and bypass any of the tolls that would normally be required all while having the breeze through our hair. We got to the dock and I got ready to go out with Dave and Sarah for the afternoon and to get some Indian food, something I had been looking forward to since the start of the voyage. Once we were all together I left the ship again and this time took a water ferry to Jew Town. Because I had been there just a few hours earlier I was able to show Dave and Sarah around a bit and take them to the ATM so they would not feel so much out of place. Once we all had our money we made our way to a restaurant that was of French style but serving Kerala Indian cuisine. The main thing I was looking for in India was naan, an Indian bread with oil or butter that goes perfectly with any rice and mushy food. I could not find ANY naan while in India though, something I found out later was due to my location (naan is a typical Northern dish). Although I could not find naan I ordered some prawns masala, lemon rice, and chapatti bread (much thinner than naan) with a grape lassy for the beverage. The food was SO good and flavorful! I got to eat with my hands in the typical Indian way of scooping rice with your thumb into your mouth and really tried to refrain from using any utensils. I did have to use a fork here or there to eat all of my food, but I tried my best to immerse myself into the culture and the first way was through food. After our awesome lunch we all went out onto the street to experience the spice market and shops to tickle our fancy. Dave was enamored with many of the antiques that were for sail and bought a couple souvenirs. I bought a traditional Indian robe and pants, and Sarah bought some scarves and a Sari which is what many of the women in India wrap up in. We all bargained for a few more gifts and then made our way back to the ship. Dave has a friend who lives in Cochin so he invited me to go out with them for the evening for some food and to be shown around like a local. I got to meet Boris, a 22 year old student of engineering who has lived in India for his whole life. He drove us around in his car around Fort Kochi (near Jew Town) and took us to the best restaurant in Cochin, Dal Roti. There I got to try Boris’ recommendations for food and I must say he has some great taste for food! I got a little sampler of a lot of Indian food with chicken as my main dish. This was a restaurant I recommended to many other students and faculty and even tried going back there on another day. Once we were finished with dinner Boris took us to a café where I got a ginger soda to soothe my stomach. Dave and Boris talked a lot and caught up on life since they had not seen each other in years. I sat there smiling as they chatted and had a great time people watching. It was getting pretty late so Boris took us back to the ship because Dave and I were both traveling outside Cochin early the next morning.
For the next three days Jessica and I traveled together. I organized a tour with the help of one of my professors to Munnar, the tea country highlands in India. I met Jessica in the morning on the ship and we both made our way out of the dock where we met Peter, the man who booked our tour. They were standing there with my name on a piece of paper, something I haven’t had yet on this trip so I felt like royalty in a way. They gave us each a Jasmine flower necklace that smelled amazing, a fragrance that I will never forget. We both were so happy to be going on this tour and in a couple of minutes we saw that our professor was showing up with his wife and daughter for the same tour. They got the same welcome treatment and then each of our cars pulled up with a private driver for the entire trip. We had a small white Tata Indigo with A/C which was a huge relief for us because the heat was taking a toll on both our bodies. We met our driver Joseph and started on our way to Munnar which would be a four hour drive. We drove out of Cochin and noticed all of the coconut groves, brick makers, and plantations that surrounded the roadways. I fell asleep because I was so exhausted from my first day of exploring. Around noon Joseph took us to a restaurant that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere right before we entered the mountains. Jessica and I ordered some rice, masala and chicken along with bottled water to drink. We were in an open air café that was surrounded by banana trees and forest. I suddenly felt like I was in the Amazon again because of the environment. We finished up another amazing meal and then continued on our way to Munnar. We drove up through the small roads in the mountains with cars coming too close for comfort. We each tried to focus on the beautiful green scenery and noticed we were entering a protected area for wild elephants and tigers. I thought we might see some, but the only animals we saw were monkeys crossing the roads here and there. Eventually we pulled off to a place that offered elephant rides, but neither Jessica nor I were interested. I didn’t want to ride elephants because I could see that they were not treated very well and I felt bad that they would always have humans on their back telling them where to go. I got this feeling from working at the zoo as a leader for pony rides. I felt so bad for the ponies and knew that all of the fat American kids were straining their backs and that we were exploiting this animal for a ridiculous pleasure. Don’t worry, I no longer work at that zoo and believe they have improved the rides a lot in the years since I left. After the elephant ride stop Joseph drove to a spice garden for us to explore. At this time the two of us were just so tired of driving and traveling that we just wanted to get to our hotel and take a nap so we told Joseph to continue on and that we would stop on the way back to Cochin in a couple days. He seemed a bit upset but granted our wish and took us to our hotel. As we pulled up to the hotel, which was on a private road, Jessica and I were in awe of the surroundings. As far as the eye could see were rows of tea trees with fog rolling over the mountains. In the distance was a long waterfall adding to the pristine land we were staying on. The hotel consisted of a lobby and restaurant, and had six small cottages that were perched among the hills. The room was small but perfect for just a two nights stay. The bathroom had a toilet but there was no shower, instead a faucet with a bucket and a pitcher. I chuckled a bit when I saw it and just had to remember that I was in India! After we checked in I noticed that we were the only ones at the hotel and instantly feelings of loneliness and depression overcame me. I felt like I was in Ghana again, locked in my hotel room, all alone, and most of all wishing-no craving to be back on the ship. I cannot explain these feelings very clearly but the best way to get my point across was a feeling of homesickness, something that I have not felt often, but was very strong at this moment. I do not even know exactly why I felt this way, I was with Jessica, a friend I have really come to like and admire, yet I was somehow all alone. Trying to overcome this strangeness Jessica and I decided to take a walk on the road to see where it would lead us. We talked about school, life, interests, etc., and took a lot of pictures of the wonderful tea lands. There were lots of flowers in bloom and green as far as the eye could see. We found ourselves walking to the base of the waterfall where the water pooled into many small ponds before turning into a river. We came to bridge that went across the water where at the other side was a small tea house for guests. We didn’t go to get tea but took many more pictures and turned around to walk back to the hotel. Once we got back to the hotel I was better but these feelings were still taking a toll on me. I decided to take a much needed nap so that maybe when I woke up I would feel much better and well rested. Unfortunately I only felt rested when I awoke. I found my professor and his family on our patio chatting with Jessica because they were in the room next to us and I joined in for some small conversation before dinner. That night we had some similar Indian dishes as before and talked a bit, but I was still not feeling great. We went back to the room, but with nothing to do I took a small walk by myself just down the road. As I started to walk I began to break down and started crying. I sat there under the Indian stars and eucalypts trees shedding tears into the soil. I thought about the relationships I had formed, will form, have destroyed, home, Mom, Dad, my brothers, my cat, my apartment, the ship, my friends, love, loss, everything. I cried. A much needed cry, I just needed to let all of these feelings melt away and turn into tears that could leave my bodily and find their way into the dirt beneath my feet. I sat there for a long time just crying, and then I could cry no more. The feelings were dissipating, and I began to feel better. I thought about where I was..in India, on a cool Spring night, with a friend, experiencing a new culture. I could finally put my thoughts into perspective and continue my journey without feeling homesick. I cleaned up, wiped my face and sat there staring at the stars so that my eyes would not be so puffy when I returned to the room. When I got back I changed, slipped under the covers and turned on the tv. National Geographic was doing a special on India and tigers so I watched that for a little bit and then drifted off to sleep eventually retiring for the evening.
The next morning I woke up feeling quite refreshed and ready to take on the day. We had a traditional Indian breakfast at the restaurant which turned out to be a lot like dinner, there was a soup like dish, rice, chapatti, and then we both had a cup of masala tea. The breakfast would probably not be my first choice when I wake up but it was still great. After eating Jessica and I got in the car and Joseph took us to the first place on our full day tour. We went passed through the town of Munnar and saw a lot of interesting restaurants and shops that we would want to stop at later in the day. The first stop for us was at the tea museum. We bought our ticket and made our way into the museum where we found a lot of animal trophies and old pictures of the tea plantations. Before we could even look around and read about the history we were rushed into a room full of Indian tourists to watch a video on the history of the tea lands so I guess it worked out in the end. After the movie we were guided up to a loft where tea leaves were kept and where we learned about the different teas that were made in the area. After learning about this we went down to a manufacturing area where we saw tea leaves being dried, processed and turned into a powder that once steeped in hot water would turn into a delectable beverage. We then went to the small gift shop and bought lots of tea to take back home and of course to have on the ship. The two of us then separated from the tour group and went back through the museum to see all of the pictures and to try and grasp the full history of the tea lands in India and Munnar. Then we went outside where we were given a cup of masala tea (chai tea in America) and it was so good that we went back to the shop to buy more of what we just drank. We felt very good and refreshed and got back in the car to continue our tour through Munnar. Joseph drove a little more into the mountains and took us to a dam and Echo Point where we found the most beautiful reservoir in India, at least from what I was going to see while I was there. The water was a green blue and sparkling under the sunlight with the orange and green mountains in the background. We took lots of pictures and at some point during this voyage I will post what I am seeing, but I don’t think any picture can do justice to what we were seeing. We went to some small roadside shops and bought a couple of souvenirs and then continued to another reservoir that was about thirty minutes away from the dam. There we went into a small shop to drink some more tea, again pleasing our taste buds, and then walked around the many eucalyptus trees that were imported from Australia a long time ago to protect the grounds. There was a paddle boat stand and Jessica and I were feeling adventurous so we decided to rent a boat for half an hour out onto the lake. We had a great time slowly paddling our way through the waters and taking in India. It finally hit me that I was here, in India, a place I have been dreaming about for so long, and it is nothing like what I was expecting, it was much better. I was so happy to be there and really felt great, a far cry from the previous night. After our lovely boat trip we got back in the car and Joseph took us to lunch at a restaurant in Munnar. We got some more amazing food and then went around the town and did some shopping buying spices, statues, paintings, anything that caught our eye. India is very cheap and a really fun place to bargain, nothing at all like what I experienced in Ghana as I mentioned before. I got items that were set at 1000 Rupees for less than half that, which would equate to about four dollars. After our great time shopping and exploring Munnar we decided to go back to the hotel, this time Jessica was feeling a bit tired and wanted to take a nap. Once we got back I let her rest and I went for a stroll on the road leading to the waterfall. I met my professor at the tea house at the one end of the bridge where I got a cup of tea and got to take in more of India. He left and continued on his way with his wife leaving me there to what I would describe as meditate. I did not think much but mainly absorbed my surroundings, the sounds and the smells. I took a deep breath and then walked back to the cottage because it was getting dark. I ordered dinner for Jessica and myself and then took a quick nap on the patio. After dinner Jessica and I were pretty tired so we both went to bed pretty early. I looked at all of the photos I had taken, fixed them up if they needed it, and then fell asleep. This was my last night in Munnar and I was happy that I would be leaving with a somewhat exhilarating experience.
When we woke up in the morning we had another great breakfast and had about half an hour before we had to leave back to Cochin. I walked around a little bit and got my last Munnar air before I checked out of the hotel and got in the car. Joseph had promised to take us to a spice garden on our way back so our tour wasn’t quite over. We drove for about 45 minutes before we got to the spice garden where we were greeted by a man who seemed to be waiting for us. I paid the entrance fee and then we were directed to an area to wait for a guide to explain the many spices and plants to us that they had in their garden. I was expecting to see large crops of all the spices but found that this was a very small garden and they had only planted a few plants to show the tourists when they came by. Our guide introduced himself as Joseph, what a coincidence. The first spice I got to see was black pepper which I did not know, I then got to see vanilla, aloe, ginger, touchmenots, and other plants that had medicinal or other purposes. At the end of our short tour was a small gift shop where we could buy spices and tea that were grown in the garden or in the surrounding areas. I bought some saffron, curry, ginger, cardamom, and vanilla. I also found this bottle of many spices together that are supposed to help with migraines and because I am blessed with having them all too often I jumped at the chance to try something that might help in a different way. You do not ingest the liquid but instead rub it in on the scalp, temples, and tonsils below the neck and it is supposed to work wonders. I have luckily not had a migraine since leaving India so I do not know if it works yet, but my fingers are crossed that there may be something out there for me to help with this curse. Anywho, we bought our spices and went back to the car and tipped our guide a small amount for showing us around. After that our driver Joseph took us back through the mountains to Cochin. I slept on most of the car ride because India was really tiring me out and I think Jessica did the same. Around noon I woke up and asked Joseph if he could take us to lunch before dropping us off at the ship. He bobbled his head and proceeded to a restaurant on the outskirts of the city, maybe only half an hour away. The restaurant seemed more fancy than most we had been to and there was a good crowd of business people on lunch. I ordered mushroom butter masala, a cup of tea, a bottle of water and basmati rice. I didn’t eat much because I was still a bit full from breakfast but I had enough to fill my stomach and get some energy for the rest of the day. Once lunch was over I got back in the car and we drove back to the ship. It was a relief to see home again sitting there on the water. We got out of the car, said goodbye to Joseph and thanked him for everything, and then made our way to our rooms on the ship. I took a refreshing cool shower, changed my clothes and unpacked my bags. I took a deep breath and laid back on my comfy bed. It was 4pm and there was still a lot of time before my other friends would return from their trips to Agra and Varanasi, two places I really wanted to visit, so I went to find Jessica to go do some shopping and get some dinner. When we walked outside we were bombarded by taxi drivers trying to rip us off, I know this because I had taken a water ferry for two rupees, and they were asking 100 to 400 rupees for a taxi ride to the same area. Jessica and I pushed our way through the crowd and kept our faces down and kept saying “No, no, we are taking the water ferry.” They would get frustrated and try to lie to us by saying the ferry broke, or was not coming for another hour. This I knew was bullshit because I had ridden the ferry up until six at night. Jessica and I waited there on the dock and I was being very patient. I think Jessica was a bit more eager to get going so she convinced me that we should take a tuk tuk to Jew Town and then walk around and find dinner at Dal Roti later on. I agreed because I did not want to frustrate her so low and behold when we got off the dock a driver was waiting there for us and said “I told you so.” He told us nothing, but I just shook my head and began to bargain for a good price if he could take us around for the rest of the evening, the first stop being an ATM. We eventually came to terms on 100 rupees for the evening which I thought was a fair price. I got his name first before getting in and also took note of the license number because the driver, Rias, looked very sketchy. Turned out he was a drug dealer which made me a bit uncomfortable. As we drove he kept asking if we smoked, which we refused and said we could not because we would get in trouble on the trip. He would not stop asking and trying to sell to us, saying that he had the best hashish in India. The voyage is too important to me that I will not cave in and accept anything while I am visiting these countries, no matter how easy it is to get. He finally shut up about selling to us but then continued on saying that he would take us to these stores that had high quality items, not what I would find in Jew Town. The first shop he took us to was recognized by the government and had many merchants ready to sell us their crap. I say this with resentment because these stores have a deal with the tuk tuk drivers that if we buy something there then they get commission. Because of this everything is overpriced, and then “discounted” for us because we are “good” people. I found this to be a horrible marketing scheme and a bad way for them to make money. Maybe the first time people would fall for it, but I knew that I could get the exact same product in Jew Town for more than half the price, so I refused to buy anything in these stores. They would all also say “Hey, my friend, come visit my store, I have something you like.” If they knew better they would not all say this because this too also started to make me boil when I was getting taken advantage of because of being a tourist, especially when every single store we visited had the exact same things. After leaving this first shop Rias insisted on taking us to a few more, all of which we would come out empty handed. He then refused to take us to Jew Town and lied to us saying that all of the shops were closed. I knew this too to be bullshit because I had shopped and walked there at six and they were all still open. I was in no mood to argue though so I told him to take us to Dal Roti instead. He had no idea where it was though so he had to ask for directions, he had also been smoking every time we went into a store so he was probably lost because of how high he was. We finally found the restaurant but he tried to lie to us again by saying the restaurant did not open until 8. I told him to pull over, I got out and asked someone myself when the restaurant opened and they said 6:30. I was beginning to get really annoyed with Rias at this point and because we had about half an hour I told him to take us to a bar so we could have a couple beers before dinner. He could see the frustration in our faces so he took us to a bar on the water where Jessica and I could finally get some peace from Rias. We sat there on the patio and ordered a couple beers. I did not want to get too full so I only drank one and Jessica had two before we were going to leave. As we were finishing up our drinks a couple asked if they could join us because there were no more seats on the patio. We of course said yes and welcomed them to our table. We found out they were from Switzerland on a five week vacation traveling all throughout India. Cochin was one of their last stops and they were only going to be there for one night. I did not like the place we were at so much so I convinced the couple to join us at Dal Roti since this was their only night so they could have some really fantastic food and not something mediocre. They were more than happy to come with us so again four people piled into a tuk tuk and Rias took us to a place that we had actually asked him. When we got to Dal Roti I showed them where we could sit and got us a few menus. This is where India got interesting…

Posted by MVVincent 10:52 Archived in India Comments (1)

Mauritius!

sunny 80 °F

This was originally a port that I was not supposed to visit because the weather was so bad when we left Cape Town that we were not going to be able to stop there and then make it to India in time. However, with some strings pulled, our administrators were able to make the visit happen. The entire community was relieved to know that we were going to Mauritius as this was a part of our original itinerary. All of us are now prepared for the worse though in our coming ports. Weather is unpredictable and there is really no way around that to keep the entire shipboard community safe. I would rather be alive to tell you all a story than floating at the bottom of a sea. Anyway, we get to Mauritius and we only have four hours to explore the port. Many of the students got a taxi driver, were taken to the liquor store, and then to one of the local pristine beaches on the island. This eventually led to an upset in the community, but I will come back to that later. What is more important to you at home is what I did while I was on the island. Dave, who has become my best friend on this voyage (even if the feeling is not reverberated), Alex and I all went out onto the dock and got our first breath of Mauritian air, which turned out to be very refreshing even if we were in a shipping port. It was a short walk for us to get to the waterfront where we found all of the stores were closed until nine. We wanted to go to the beach later so we did not have time to let the shops open up, instead we walked around the waterfront a little and then went into downtown Port Louis. In Mauritius, almost everyone speaks a French Creole, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to practice my French! As we walked through the markets I could see lots of French writing and was able to translate for Dave and Alex what they were seeing and what everything said. This was the first time that someone was not annoyed with me speaking French on the voyage, but it is probably because I was using it in a practical sense and able to get us around more effectively than others. As we were walking downtown I saw a little restaurant that was selling “croque monsieur”, a grilled cheese sandwich with Dijon and ham that I had in France when I visited there at 16. I had never been so excited to see a food that I recognized! I went in and bought my delicious sandwich while talking to the waitress in French, it was a great and satisfying experience. After that we went to the downtown gardens and snapped some pictures. Close by was a local market with lots of fruits, vegetables, meats, and spices. It was great walking through this market and watching how the Mauritians conducted their day-to-day buying at the market. I saw some of my professors there and also quite a few SAS students that were walking around, exploring the same as us. Once we were done at the market we wanted to get a taxi driver and go to Flic en Flac beach. I had another great chance to speak French to someone, so I took advantage of it and bargained a good taxi for us for the rest of the day. The driver took us to the beach and we got to see some of the beautiful landscape of Mauritius which included green mountains, sugar cane plantations, and the coast on our right. The drive was about twenty minutes and well worth it. Once we got to the beach we noticed that this is where many of the SAS students flocked to. I saw a lot of my friends there as well as my roommate. They all had alcohol in their hand and were making a wonderful ruckus. The locals were all so curious about what was going on because out of nowhere a crowd of young people just came and took over the beach. I was able to talk to a couple of women because Dave pointed them my way as I knew French. I tried to explain as much as I could with my limited vocabulary that we were all students traveling the world and our ship was only going to be in Mauritius for four hours. I also tried to explain that everyone was drinking because this is what Semester at Sea students would consider their Spring Break or holiday. They seemed a bit more at ease after the explanation but were more fascinated with me and wanted to speak to me much more about what I was learning, where we were going, and that I could communicate in French. I explained as much as possible and even had a wonderful conversation with a couple that only knew French. They even told me that my French was great and if I hadn’t said anything they would have assumed I was from Paris. I took this as a huge compliment and it really assured me that taking French as a minor was a great decision and that with more practice and emersion I would soon master the language. I joined my buddies in the warm turquoise water and had a beer as we were all swimming and enjoying ourselves. Before I knew it Dave was calling my name and telling us that we had to go to make it back to the ship in time. As I was leaving I noticed that many of the students were not picking up their trash and essentially just trashed the beach. I was so disgusted, but as I was leaving I picked up as many beer cans and liquor bottles as I could and put them in the recycling so help keep the beach clean. As we drove in the taxi back I talked solely in French to the taxi driver asking him questions about his life, where he lived, what languages he knew, how educated was Mauritius, really anything I could find out. He was so enthused to tell me about himself that we both forgot about Dave and Alex in the car, I think we even annoyed them because we were not including them in the conversations we were having. The driver had a lot of CD’s and I told him that I wanted to buy a couple from him so that I could keep up with my collection of music around the world. When we pulled into the dock and everyone left the car I bought a couple CD’s from him and as I was leaving he threw in another one for me. We checked into the ship and Dave, Alex and I all went to get some lunch and prepare to leave the beautiful island we hardly got to know. I began transferring and downloading my music when I realized that the third CD the driver gave me was not a CD at all, it turned out to be porn! I could not help but laugh at the idea that this driver liked me so much that he thought he was giving me a gift by giving me his favorite porno. Don’t worry I did not keep it. So as we left Mauritius I did not have a lot to reflect on myself except this-it is important to be respectful to all people you meet when traveling and to especially respect the land you are visiting, the other is that when you are learning a language, use it as much as possible! It is really expensive to get back to Mauritius so I may never see the island again. The memories I created there will last with me forever though and if the day ever came when I could return, I would not hesitate and take advantage of the opportunity in a heartbeat!

Posted by MVVincent 10:50 Archived in Mauritius Comments (2)

So Long South Africa

sunny 70 °F
View Semester at Sea on MVVincent's travel map.

I left last night with a whole new array of experiences from South Africa. I will try and keep the blog short, but I cannot promise anything, there was a lot that I learned and want to share. As per usual I will go on a day-by-day explanation of what I did while I was in South Africa. I will however, give the main themes of what I learned while I was there. Racism is still prevalent, South Africa is growing a lot in the world economy, the inhabitants are extremely welcoming, there is a lot of European influence, I felt like I was at home, and the landscape was one of the most beautiful I have seen in the world.
So the night before getting into Cape Town I experienced seasickness (motion sickness for that matter) for the first time ever! I have never been so sick before, puking way too much, too much to even keep the medicine down that was supposed to help. Needless to say, the night before Cape Town was very rough and not the best when you need a good night’s sleep before exploring a port. The morning that we arrived into Cape Town was the same as previous ports, I was anxious to get out onto the land and see what was out there for me! For my first day in Cape Town I went out with my roommate, the first time on the voyage, and a group of his friends to go hike Table Mountain. This is always difficult for me because I always feel like an outsider. We have had enough time on this voyage that almost everyone has formed their groups and they almost give a cold shoulder to anyone that wants to talk to them. It is also very difficult because nobody introduces each other! I don’t know what it is about my age group but it is as if we are somehow all supposed to know each other. So instead of James introducing me to the group, I had to go around and do it myself, and of course I didn’t feel very welcome. This feeling lasted even after the port as I see the group on the ship and don’t get any acknowledgment from them. This is not that important though, I am sure over time things will get better, it is just frustrating that I have to make such an effort to make new friends! Anyway, after introducing myself to the group we all walked to the V&A Waterfront, a large wharf with lots of restaurants and shopping. We all wanted to get some snacks for the hike so we were looking for a grocery store. We asked around and found out that the supermarket was in the mall on the wharf. We went into the mall expecting it to be an easy find, but, as it turned out this was the largest mall I have ever been in! It was three stories and stretched over five blocks. There were so many stores with anything the heart desired. This was a drastic change from Ghana, really drastic from any of the ports that I have visited on this voyage. We walked around a lot of the mall until we found the supermarket and finally we could get some shopping done. This supermarket, the Pick n’ Play, was so welcoming as it was very much like the ones in America. I knew coming into the port that South Africa was a growing industry for wine, so I found myself in the wine aisle looking for a good rosé to have when we reached the top of Table Mountain. I started a trend as everyone in the group also bought a bottle of wine. We then all started on our trek to the famous Table Mountain. The mountain got its name simply because it is a mountain with a giant plateau and when you are down at the bay it looks like a table. It is one of the most spectacular views to have the ocean on one side of you and this gorgeous mountain on the other side. It really reminded me of Pikes Peak as a backdrop when I was living in Colorado Springs. We started at the base of the mountain and took one of the famous trails, Plateklipp Gorge, to the top. I started off great, I was breathing great, my stomach was feeling optimal, and I was well hydrated. I was leading the way with the hike for about 15 minutes until I started feeling really exhausted. I did not realize how long it had been since I had been on a strenuous hike and my body was starting to fail. The hike was extremely steep, a natural stair master one might say. It reminded me of when I hiked to the top of Pikes Peak, the first half was great, but as soon as I reached the treeline everything went downhill. I started feeling very queasy, I was burning up, and any amount of water I drank made it all the worse. My calves were burning, my thighs were shaking, and I was getting dizzy. I needed a break so I sat down on one of the rocks and let most of the group pass me. I sat there, huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath. I also tried not to focus on the pain in my stomach and just kept looking up saying “I am going to be up there and it will be worth it!” This was actually very helpful to keep these words floating through my mind and to keep me going. I continued up the trail, taking lots of breaks, and enjoying the view. I tried not to focus on being behind the group, and tried not to think about them all enjoying the top as I came up from behind, not having the same experience. I luckily found that two girls in our group, Kayla and Rosemary, were also having a hard time with the trail so I stayed with them because I had extra water and wanted to be sure we all made it up safely (something that I have not seen as a care with other groups of people on this ship). We took our time, pacing ourselves, breathing, and taking as many breaks as needed. The flora in Cape Town is very unique as it is only found in this one region in the world! It is called the fynbos biome and all of the plants that were around us on the hike were very interesting and unique. Every time we stopped for a breather I would take in my surroundings and was really appreciative that I was experiencing this unique landscape. I eventually started leading again and found myself jogging to get to the top when I could tell I was on the last stretch. I grabbed the chains and posts as I went up my last stretch of the trail leading to the vast plateau. I was there! I made it to the top and collapsed in excitement that I was finally there. I forgot that I was burning up, sore, having stomach cramps, unable to breath, it all went away as my eyes started to water because of what I just accomplished. I stood up, took in a deep breath, and began snapping pictures. I could see the Indian Ocean far in the distance, and then on the other side the beautiful city of Cape Town, the World Cup arena, the wharf, and then in the distance I could see our ship. I quickly got in a lot of pictures and then made it my goal to find the rest of the group. I found them in the café that was at the top and sat down with a sigh of relief. I bought a sandwich, chips, and got a glass for my wine. I popped the cork to the Obikwa Rosé and poured a generous glass. Everyone did the same with their wines and we all had a cheers to making it to the top of Table Mountain. The wine was crisp, warm, and very sweet. It was definitely not the best wine I have had, but it didn’t matter, this was the experience of a lifetime! I rested up enough and James and I went around to snap some pictures. I will show you these amazing photographs when I can so you can get a sense of what I was seeing and how I was feeling. James and I then bought a ticket for the cable car and made our way down the mountain in less than ten minutes. It was surreal that I got to the top of a mountain in two hours but it took only ten minutes to get down. James was going sandboarding later so we went back to the ship and I took a much needed shower. I then met up with a group of friends that night and we went out for some dinner. It turned out that Dave (one of the best people I know) and I were the only hungry ones, so we went off on our own to a tavern to have a cold beer and fish n’ chips. It was an amazing dinner and was great to have a guys night out essentially. After our dinner we went out to Long Street where the bars were located with a group of girls from the ship and had a great night. I don’t need to describe having fun at a bar, but I will say that it feels so good to let loose sometimes and forget about your worries. That night Dave and I walked back to the ship, an adventure because of state we were in, but made it safely back to our beds and passed out.
The next day I met up with Brynn F. (not the one who saved me) and a couple other girls and we went to the wharf to get some lunch. Surprisingly we went to McDonalds, but it was worth it because everything was different and it was the nicest McDonalds I have ever been too. It was very modern and catered to the “hipster” in the world (Kole you would have loved it). The food was better than fast food in the States but still very fatty and not the best for my stomach. After eating and doing a little shopping at the mall we all decided to go to the aquarium. Brynn is studying to be a marine biologist so this was a trip that she really wanted to do. I got to see penguins native to South Africa, and also a shark and fish feeding that occurred in the large tanks. The aquarium itself was not very unique, I have been to several, but it is great to see how each incorporates care for marine life. There were also a couple of animals I had never seen in person before, the King Crab and the Box Jellyfish. The crab was massive! Its legs spread out at least five feet and it looked like a giant spider living under the sea! The Box Jellyfish was spectacular. It was so cool to see that this tiny creature is considered one of the most deadly in the world. It was hard to think that the long stingers floating behind the clear creature could kill a human being with only a small touch. After leaving the aquarium we went to get something to eat from the food court and then Brynn and the other two girls went to the botanical gardens as I returned to the ship to get some sleep. That night Dave, Brynn and I had rented a villa in Kommetjie, a small town on the other side of Table Mountain. The drive there was long, but worth it. We met Colleen, the woman who owned the villa, and her husband and they were the nicest people I have met on this trip. They were more than accommodating to us and really made us feel at home. The villa was a mansion right on the beach. It had four bedrooms, a kitchen, two bathrooms, and a living room. I felt amazing being able to stay there. The three of us walked into town to get a bite to eat and found ourselves at one of the pubs. We got some beer and wine and some burgers to eat. The wines we had were fantastic and it went well with the live music playing outside. The owner of the bar and his wife came over to introduce their selves and ask how we were enjoying our time. We talked to them about being from America and learned that they met and fell in love at Disneyworld and truly loved America and its people. This made us feel great and after some conversation, Will, the owner, gave us a free bottle of wine and some jello-shots. It was so awesome to get this when you had just met someone. The people of South Africa were really making a great impression and making us feel at home. We returned back to the villa and I finally got the opportunity to Skype. I called my mom and was able to talk to her and I had here call as many people as possible so I could talk to them too. I got to talk to my dad on his phone after not hearing his voice in over a month. I started to cry because I was so happy to hear his voice and to see my mom starting to cry herself because of the situation. I had my mom call my grammy and brothers. Sadly, she did not answer nor did my oldest brother Robby. I was very upset that I could not talk to them but had her reassure them that I was thinking of them and that I loved them very much! I then was able to talk to my younger brother Ray and it made me so happy, I began losing my voice because I was holding back the tears. I then was able to Skype my older brother Nich and my friend Justin who took my spot in rent while I am away. The first thing I saw was their smiling faces and I again began to get emotional. Nich then held up my babygirl (cat) Mary Jane and I about lost it. She is the absolute most wonderful thing in this world and it really made me sad that I could not be there to give her a big kiss and hug. Even writing about this is starting to make me cry. But I was able to see Nich and Justin and the apartment and it was honestly one of the best uplifters for me on this trip and truly made me feel so loved and happy. I then forced Nich to get my best friend Kole over to my house so I could see him too! It was so great to see everybody’s faces and hear their voices. I am so sorry to those that I did not see but it does not mean I love you any less. I still think about you all of the time and love you very much! After Skyping with everyone I finally got some sleep which was around 3am. We then had to wake up early and return back to the ship because some of the group was going shark diving and the other half was going on a field trip.
I was by myself for the third day, but when I got back to the ship early in the morning I got to sleep in until noon. I then went out onto the wharf to do some shopping and get some lunch before we would go back to the villa for the night. I went to a restaurant right on the water and got a refreshing Black Label beer and some fish n’ chips again. I enjoyed my lunch alone and got to do some reflecting. Where was I? I was sitting on the wharf of Cape Town, on the tip of Africa, halfway around the world from my family. I believe that it has finally set in that I am traveling the world and that this is the absolute best experience I have witnessed in my short life. I finished up my meal, drank the last of my beer, and set out to the local markets to find a flag (something I am collecting in each country) and any local art that I found interesting. Later that evening I met up with Brynn and Dave and we made out way back to Kommetjie to enjoy our last night at the villa. It was Sunday so the bars were closed as well as the liquor stores. This was to be the only night that I did not have either wine or beer but something I was looking forward to. We made our payment to Colleen and then enjoyed the small snacks that we brought with us to the villa. After some time we decided to go on a midnight stroll on the beach. It was so beautiful to look up at the night sky and see the Milky Way. Usually there are always too many lights, but being right on the beach with great friends and looking at the many constellations made the night spectacular. I went off looking for seashells and that is when I wrote the message in the sand to my friends and family back home, “Thank you 4 giving me the world!” This is something I truly mean, and if you haven’t seen the picture you must. I can’t thank you all enough for the encouragement, love, education that you have all given me. I made it an early night because we were supposed to do a bike n’ wine tour the next morning and I did not want to feel groggy on a bike ride.
On our ride back to the ship early in the morning we drove along the coast and got to watch the sunrise over Table Mountain. It was wonderful to see the yellow and orange rays come over the plateau making its way to the dark blue coast. We drove through the many coastal towns that looked like the French Riviera where luxury cars and houses took up the streets and hills leading up to the coast. After a while we made it back to the ship and we all got ready for our wine tour. We rallied the group together, Brynn, Dave, Eleni and I, and started walking to Long Street because the meeting point was downtown. As we walked I noticed the many people on their way to work, most of them black. It was still easy to see that racism was prevalent after Apartheid. The poor were black and the rich were white, it was still unjust and it was still corrupt. I tried to not let this bother me as I walked down the streets but it was always at the back of my mind. We then found our meeting point but saw that we were half an hour late so we ended up missing our tour. Luckily we did not put down a deposit so I did not lose out on any money. We then tried to figure out what we were going to do for the day. We still wanted to do a wine tasting so we determined that we would take the train to Slellenbosch, a town with the most vineyards, and to visit a couple of the wineries. We went to buy our train tickets at the large Cape Town station and because we had a lot of time I got a KFC breakfast. I am not sure if KFC served breakfast in the States, but this sandwich was amazing. It was chicken, hash browns, Cajun sauce, bacon, and lettuce, not a typical breakfast but so delicious. It was time to board the train so we made our way to platform 9 and sat on the bench for the arrival of the locomotive. Once it arrived many people poured out, almost all black. I took note of this and researched more that this was a common mode of travel for the poor coming into Cape Town from the surrounding townships because it was the cheapest form of travel. We were sitting first class, something I now regret, but it was not what you would expect at all. The train car smelled of feces, was humid, the windows were covered in dirt, graffiti was all over, and there was no lighting. It was a fun train ride though because there were lots of people to talk to and the scenery was ever-changing and gorgeous. We passed through ostrich farms, zebra farms, springbok farms, wildebeest farms, and then finally cattle farms. It was so interesting to see all kinds of different wildlife on one train ride. When we got to Stellenbosch we went into the city to get some coffee at a small café. The town was gorgeous and really had the influence of the wine country present. It was a replica of a small European town with small houses and buildings but all beautifully painted and with their own flower gardens. The town also is the host to one of the universities so it had a large college-aged population. I felt great to be in a college town again and it really reminded me of Fort Collins. After getting some coffee we went to the tourism office to find a way to the vineyards for some wine tasting. The most affordable and fastest way to get from vineyard to vineyard was on the Vinehopper, a local tourbus. The driver took us to Spier winery where we had a tasting of five wonderful wines. I had a chenin blanc, sauvingnon blanc, merlot, shiraz, pinotage, and cabernet. I got to learn how to taste like a professional and what to look for in wines, something I hope to teach and do when I get back home. The Spier winery also had a cheetah sanctuary so I was able to see baby cheetah cubs, young adults, and adults. They were adorable and reminded me of house cats, but because we were running out of time I was not able to hold or pet any of them. After the Spier winery we went farther into the wine country and went to the Bilton winery. There we had a wine and chocolate tasting where a certain chocolate would accompany a wine. It was so good to have a meld of the two as a new way of tasting wine. I tried some of the same types of wines and was able to see the difference in production and presentation. Bilton definitely had better wines and an estate, but they did not have cheetahs! It was starting to get late so we had our driver drop us off at the train station and we made our way back to Cape Town. On the train ride back I had one of the best conversations in my life when it comes to learning about other cultures. One of the locals was interested in Dave and I and struck up a conversation by asking if we were students. His name was Zukasi and I learned more from him than I ever could have from a textbook. I learned about the difference in racism views in the parts of the country but even more fascinating to me was his use of language. He could speak four languages, English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa. It was so interesting to hear him switch between all of the languages in one sentence and just how enthusiastic he was to learn about us and vice versa. I got his Skype address and email so I hope I can keep in contact with him as I continue on my journey. He got off at his stop which took him to the Langa township and we continued on our way back to Cape Town on the train. When we arrived in the station I noticed that there were not many people getting off the train. People were not going to work anymore so instead of returning to Cape Town they were all leaving it, those that were getting off the train were tourists or someone wanting to go to the bars for a night out on the town. We made our way back to the ship and I went out that night with a small group to get some dinner. I didn’t do anything spectacular in the evening. It was a quiet night for me and I went to sleep pretty early. My roommate was supposed to be returning from his safari so I thought that I would probably see him, but he did not show up until late because he had gone out to the bars on the wharf and stumbled in drunk. I didn’t take much notice of it because I was so tired.
The next day everyone had trips so I was off by myself again. There was only one problem, this was to be one of the worst days I had on my voyage, nothing like Ghana, but still not great. I woke up with no money because of the night before which meant no way of getting a calling card and no way to contact home expect by email that I was okay. I needed to call my credit card so they would not think I was charging anything and it was fraud, which they closed my card because of charges earlier. So I scrambled to find enough coins in my room so I could buy a calling card. I turned over everything, opened every drawer, checked every pocket, and eventually found enough money so I made my way to the post office and bought the cheapest card I could get. I immediately called my mom, no answer. I then called the credit company, and they were closed (even when it said 24 hour service). I called my dad, no answer. I took a deep breath and went to a local store to see if my card would work, I knew I had a small balance on it so I would probably be able to use it. It worked! I had a sigh of relief but then began to think that they may cancel it soon so what was I to do that night? I went to call my mom again, no answer. I then went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of rosé. I went to KFC bought a meal and then sat outside and had it all to myself. As I was drinking halfway through the bottle my friend Sarah, who was also alone that day, found me and we ended up spending the rest of the day together to keep each other company. I was stressed beyond belief, and unfortunately I ran out of my medication for depression a few days earlier and I was feeling the effects of it the most this day. I called my mom finally one more time and she answered but the minutes then started to diminish quickly. I talked quickly with her and had a reassuring talk, keeping most of what I had done that day to myself so that she would not be worried. It is hard having a drastic time difference, especially when you need to talk to someone. I was also feeling really left out that day. I am still not able to have a great relationship with my roommate, my other friends were gone, and even more than that I was not being invited to go places like I would have expected. It was a rough day and I needed a break, even though I was on vacation in a way. What I needed most was the assurance that I was wanted, which I was not finding. For some reason the hardest thing for me was not being included with my roommate and his group of friends. I try to not let it bother me as much as I can, and I have made considerable improvement on this voyage, but it still seems to fail miserably. I am quite unsure what I am doing. But anyway, I went back to the ship, half-drunk, and went to my room to try and do some emails or get some rest. James then walked in the door and I took the opportunity immediately to join him on whatever he was doing. I was not going to let him not talk to me and just leave. We ended up going shopping on the wharf with some of his friends and I showed them the best stores to buy something unique at. I was finally starting to feel included although I felt I really had to raise my voice in order to be heard. Typically back at home when I say something I will get an acknowledgement. Here though I would repeat myself many times before I got an answer and, sometimes I never even was looked at. It feels pretty shitty and made me wonder if I ever did this back home and if I did I vowed that I would never let it happen again. After some shopping we returned back to the ship to change and then go out to dinner. The group size grew, all his friends, but they were all looking for a great place to eat. I kept recommending this one place, but every time I said something they ignored me. I was starting to get pissed off. I finally yelled at them saying we should go to this place and finally I got a response. They checked out the menu and agreed that this is where we should eat. I was relieved but still mad at the effort it took to get to go to this restaurant. We ordered a beer tower and I once again got some fish n’ chips. The night was getting better the more I was drinking and I actually noticed that James and his group of friends started talking to me more. When we finished at that restaurant we went to Mitchells, one of the bars on the wharf, and met up with a bunch more SAS students. I bought James and his friend Elliot a shot and each a beer because they were so cheap. I almost did that as a way of getting recognition and trying to “buy a friendship” but it worked. That night was fantastic and we were there for a couple of hours talking to lots of people. I sat down with a couple local girls, Marie and Cassandra and we began talking a lot about who we were. They were fascinated with America, neither had been, and I was just as amused with learning about them and Cape Town. We had some great conversations and I bought them shots. James was ready to go, and I did not want to leave by myself at night, so I had to go back with him. I hugged Marie goodbye and when I went to hug Cassandra I got something more….we can just say I love this lip ring  When we got back to the ship I realized I was pretty inebriated so I went straight to bed to avoid getting in trouble in any way. I could not go to sleep though, so I went outside the ship right on the dock because we had free wi-fi. I was able to Skype some friends again, my wonderful ladyfriend Spicey, and then Kole and finally Kendall. It was great to see them and hear their voices but my battery was dying so the conversations did not last long. I again am sorry to anyone I could not skype/facebook but just know that I love you all so much! I was finally able to get to bed and prepare myself for my last day in Cape Town
I woke up around 10am and had a couple hours before a field trip with one of my professors to more wine tastings. I went into town and finished up any shopping that I needed to do before noon. I bought some cool painting and bowls as well as some coffee for my parents. When I got back to the ship I had to be quick to get to the bus because we were going to be leaving soon. I didn’t get any lunch so I was hoping that I would be able to try it when I got to the wineries. The bus ride was short but I slept the entire time. We got to the first winery, Nelson Estate, and I got to see the production of wine coming from the grapes in the vineyard, to the storing facilities where fermentation takes place, to the oak barrels they stored in the cellar. I was getting a migraine at this point and feeling very sick. We got to the wine tasting room and I was relieved to see a plate of cheese and crackers in front of our wine tasting glasses. I got to try a lot of great wines including a fantastic rosé that went well with the various cheeses offered to us. After the tasting I bought a bottle of wine to share on the bus and a glass to go with it. Meg and I drank it on the bus with our professor on the way to our next winery. When we got to the next winery, Backsberg Estate, we were escorted to a room with very large oak barrels along the side and a long table set up with wine glasses at each seat. We got a lovely presentation on the production of wine at this estate as well as trying the many wines they offered. This estate also produced brandy so I was able to try some brandy with crackers and I must say that it was very good. After the presentation I went and bought two bottles of wines to taste as well as two glasses from this winery. I shared with a few people on the bus and also my professor. I must say that there is nothing like getting buzzed with a professor from MIT. It was truly a different experience but very fun because she normally does not drink so she was getting very hyper. I learned a lot about how South African wine is entering the global industry with Apartheid now being over. I unfortunately broke my Nelson Estate glass on the bus so I will only be coming home with two wine glasses, if they also do not break.
My time in Cape Town was amazing! I can see myself living here in years to come and I hope that I will be visiting again sometime in the near future. I am trying not to write a lot again, but I realize that that is nearly impossible when one experiences and learns so much. I have many more stories to tell when I get back home and so many pictures to post and show you all. From the bottom of my heart I thank you all and I love you more than my vocabulary can describe. Thank you for keeping up with the blog and I hope to be posting soon now that we are on our way to Mauritius.
Love you!
Mike

Posted by MVVincent 14:13 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

A message to my friends and family...

large_Cape_Town_3_057.jpg

You are all so wonderful and I thank you so much! If you can't read the picture it says "Thank you 4 Giving me the WORLD!!!" I wrote this on the beach in South Africa in Kommetjie and it was when the stars were absolutely amazing! I will post a blog entry on South Africa in a few days I love you!!!

Mike

Posted by MVVincent 15:36 Comments (2)

Akwaaba Ghana!

overcast 80 °F
View Semester at Sea on MVVincent's travel map.

What do I have to say about Ghana? The only thing that comes to mind is transformation; transformation in myself, transformation that has occurred, transformation that is soon to come, transformation that may never come. This is the one word that I can use to describe Ghana. I don’t think anyone could leave Ghana without transformation coming to mind.
I am going to try and give you a mental picture of Ghana, but I believe that no words or photographs can actually capture this unique country. The first thing that I noticed when we docked in Tema was that we were truly in Africa. We were in a shipping port and as far as the eye could see (not far at all) there were shipping boxes and freighters, heavy machinery, and large cargo ships crowding the area where our shipped was positioned. I was truly excited to get out into Ghana and set my first foot onto the African continent.
The first day was the “bottle opener cracking the cap of a beer” for the mind. I was with my usual group of friends and we were set to explore the capital city Accra (ah-kraa) and have a wonderful culture experience. We got more than we could have asked for. As I swiped my card and went across the metal bridge and set foot onto the African continent, I had my first encounter with Samuel, a local Ghanaian. He shook my hand, a unique handshake where they snap at the end to show happiness, and then started asking me about my life. I was so taken back by the bombardment of these people that I kindly was telling him about my life and in turn asking him what he did. He was a high school student looking to find more education and was in need of money to support his family. This was something I was going to find out was the case for the majority of the people I met. Samuel then went into business mode and started to sell me a bracelet that he makes in which he could put my name into. Because I don’t wear bracelets, I instead told him to make one for my brother because of his unique spelling of the name and because he loves bracelets. (Nich I know you are going to love it!) This was my first time bargaining on the trip. He asked for 50 cedi ($32) which was ridiculous. We went back and forth with prices, and with some fake emotions from Samuel, I was able to get the price down to 10 cedi. I didn’t find out until later that this price, too, was very high to what they are traditionally sold for. I do not feel bad about the purchase though as that money probably bought five meals for his family that night. After making the deal with Samuel, my group and I left on the shuttle bus to go into Accra. As we drove away from the port all I could see was that I was in a developing world. I noticed the shanty towns that littered the sides of the streets, the hundreds of concrete abandoned buildings that filled the city, the barbed wire fences to keep people out, the fires along the road burning trash, the trash that wasn’t being burned that filled the streets, and of course the smell of sewage and decaying material. This was my first introduction to the first world, and what did I do as we drove through these streets? Smiled.
Was that wrong to smile? I don’t think so. I feel that I was not smiling because I had more money or because I came from a place that was far more wealthy, but instead I was smiling because I was enjoying this unique experience, and everywhere I looked I could see smiles coming from the peoples mouths. Not only the experience, but this was going to be the first port of many where I was finally a minority, a TRUE minority. Everyone in Ghana except for maybe 1% of the population is Black. I use Black because this is the most acceptable word from the locals. It does feel strange using vocabulary as this can often be derogatory in the United States, but when you are in Africa, the mentality is different. For the most part, this is the first interaction that these people have with a white person. The word used to describe us was obruni meaning stranger, and that is exactly what we were. As you would walk through the markets and the streets and go to an area that is not “touristy” it was amazing to receive the looks and was fascinating to be pointed at. I finally have a small sense of what minorities go, or have gone through, back at home. It may not be as prevalent in our areas anymore, but there are many parts of the U.S. that still experience heavy racism towards those who are not white, so it was great (I know this sounds so weird) to have that experience. I also could, and can still not, stop thinking about what was going through some of the kids minds as they saw a white person for the first time. Did we look like aliens? Were our blue eyes something of another world? Where did this language we spoke come from? Where did our bright clothes and hair come from? All of this was very new for the children, and it showed in them running and hiding, but then peeking out from behind the corner smiling out of curiosity. I fell in love instantly with the people of Ghana. They have opened up new doors of my brain for me, and every night I stay awake trying to grasp what they thought of us, and also how we view outsiders back at home. That is why this blog is so hard to write! I have so much going through my mind that it is hard to write it down in a flowing blog. So I apologize if I skip around, but it is because I have learned so much and want to teach it all at the same time.
So as I said, I love the people of Ghana, even if some of them were trying to hassle me into buying something. This hassling became very frustrating, but I had to keep in mind that this is the money they need to be making to feed their families, and if I could bargain it down a little, it was not a problem. The problems came in on the last days because I had most of the stuff they were trying to sell already so I didn’t need or want to look at what they had. I instead wanted to know more about their family and their life, which was more difficult to come buy if you didn’t give them a little something eventually. Something that was brought to my attention that I haven’t really considered when I visit some of these areas is that as a white person from America we are demanded by the Ghanaians in some instances to give them money. The mentality of the Ghanaians is that a white person has money, and because of years and years of “training” them to believe that through what me think is generosity, the kids and others have developed this sense that we are walking “ATMs.” This has raised some big points for my research. Giving money to anyone numerous times only teaches that person that you will give them free money if you ask, or simply look like you need it. While it is so nice to be generous, this has a degrading effect on development for some poor communities. Instead, we should be giving school supplies and resources, not money as a form of generosity. Resources can include food, clean water, and most importantly education and to build a motivation for people to want to be educated. I find that the money is not always wisely spent, and I learned through my trip that if you give money to a man in Ghana, more often than not he spends it on himself, if you give money to a woman she will use that for her kids and to support her family.
This brings me to a store and company that I fell in love with called Global Mamas. This company is a fair-trade certified non-governmental organization (NGO). Their entire line of work and model is to support the Ghanaian woman to make a living simply for the reason I stated above, the women will use the money to support the family. Global Mamas started from two Peace Corps volunteers and they have employed over 600 women in Ghana. They employ women with amazing hand skills, working with clothing, fabric, soaps, beads, books, etc. and they take these women off the streets and start giving them an hourly job. If the women are do well at their work then they are able to move up the line and make more money than they ever could have working in the markets. This is an amazing opportunity for the women, and also an amazing company. I have bought some items from their headquarters in Accra, but I know that I will be buying online when I get back home. I strongly suggest that you all check them out at GlobalMamas.com and do some more research on your behalf because there is simply too much for me to list here.
So let’s get into what exactly I did in Ghana. The first day I went into Accra with a group of my friends and the first thing we did was go to the bank! This was actually a more daunting task than we had thought because there were so many people trying to sell us products on the street that it became a bit overwhelming. Luckily we had a man, Michael, take us around and ward off the sellers that we were not interested in. We got a little walking tour of Ghana, going through the slums, alleys, dirt roads with goats all around, and also where great restaurants were. We all felt very safe and comfortable with Michael leading us around during the day. We found ourselves at a restaurant called Buka in Accra where I found my favorite dish on the voyage so far. I loved the place so much that I returned two more times because I was in love with the atmosphere, people, and of course the prices (they were so cheap and worth the large portions)! The meal I fell in love with is groundnut(peanut) soup with fufu. The soup is a tomato base with lots of spices and flavor. Okra, peppers, cayenne, and palm oil are all used to make the flavors of the soup optimal. The accompaniment with the soup is called fufu which is like a raw dough, but don’t worry it isn’t dough at all. The fufu is made from pounded plantains or yams and cassava. Cassava is a root traditionally grown in Brazil and it is used as a flour. What the Ghanaians do is pound water, cassava root, and plantains together for an hour or so until it forms a consistency like raw bread dough. They then put that in the soup and you tear at it and eat the soup with it, all with your hands. It is the most amazing food ever, but many people do not like it because of the consistency and also because the soup can be too spicy. To me, it was perfect, I have been craving it every day that I was there, and since we have left Ghana. Lucky for me I bought a cookbook and will hopefully be able to make it when I get back. After going to the restaurant we went to the famous Makola market where for blocks there are street vendors trying to sell anything you could possibly imagine. We were dropped off by taxi at the Coca-Cola bottling plant (very run down) and made our way through the market to Nkrumah circle, a large hub for people in Accra. As I stepped out of the taxi I noticed that everyone was pointing and staring at us, speaking Twi to their friends and family, probably asking “why are there obruni here?” I noticed right away too that I was making quite the impression because of my lip ring. They had never seen anything like that and they were all asking and pointing. I asked a woman what she thought and showed her that it was a piercing just like what was in her ears. She laughed so hard and asked if it hurt, which I replied “No” and tugged at it to show her what it looked like and how it was pierced into my lip. She was so enamored with this jewelry, as well as the rest of the people, that I started to feel uncomfortable having it. I soon calmed down and got that thought out of my head. I was teaching new cultures about ours and showing them possibly a new style that they may adopt just because they saw me with it. There were even many women who told me they wanted to kiss me because they loved my lips! Don’t worry I didn’t make out with any of them, but simply chuckled and kept on my way. We returned to the ship exhausted that night and I passed out because I had a field trip early the next morning.
My field trip was to the Torgome Village in the eastern part of Ghana right past Lake Volta. On the bus ride over to the village we passed a game reserve where I saw baboons in the wild for the first time in my life! I unfortunately did not get any pictures of them, but it was so interesting to see different wildlife from what I am used to. We got to the village and the first thing to see were all of the kids dancing and drumming around the bus giving us a warm welcome. I took many pictures and eventually will have some posted on this voyage. When we stepped off the bus we had all of the kids crowding around us as we made our way to greet the chief and elders of the village. We shook hands with about 30 elders and really felt welcome into the village. We made our way to the seats situated across from the chief and prepared for a naming ceremony that was to be put on for us. The children did typical dances, we witnessed traditional drumming, and also prayers performed by the elders. We then proceeded to the naming ceremony where we were called up, presented our names, a bracelet that signified change and happiness, and a pot made from the village bearing our new names on it. My new name is Edem, which means he who gives. I thought that it was pretty fitting. After the naming ceremony the kids showed us to where the pottery is made and then around the village. The kids of the village were also taken back a bit by the lip ring, probably the first time in their life they had seen anything like that, but eventually they warmed up to me and started holding my hand and taking pictures with my camera. The girl that led me around, and that I have a couple of pictures with was named Emily. She was the oldest of her sisters and seemed sad as she walked around because she never smiled. I didn’t know if it was me or if she felt like she had to lead us around. I eventually realized that she was sad I was going to have to leave, something she knew from the start. She hugged and cried as I said goodbye to her, and waved consistently as the bus left the village. It brought tears to my eyes that I may never see this girl again and that I made her sad herself. It was almost like leaving Trista, my niece, behind and having to say goodbye to her. It is because of this one experience that I vow to return to Ghana and go back to this village with school supplies and other resources to help the village out and to see Emily maybe one more time so that I can give her a present that comes from America. I had such a great time at the village that I wasn’t too exhausted when I got back to the ship. That night I had a hotel reserved so I tried to get some friends together to go with my to check in and stay there. Unfortunately I was not able to get anyone to go, so I went on my first (and last) adventure by myself on this voyage. I took the shuttle into Accra with some other students and found myself a taxi. The taxi driver knew were the hotel was, but these two men were hassling me about buying shoelaces and trying to get 50cedi out of me. I was getting really frustrated because they were keeping my taxi door open and not letting me leave, which was also making me a little nervous. I eventually got them to go away and was on my way to the hotel. It took three hours to get there from Accra and it really wasn’t that far away. It was dark out and I was by myself so I was getting a bit nervous. The driver was driving through parts of town that and taking lefts and rights that I would have never been able to find my way back if something had happened. We were driving through areas that reeked of human waste, areas where families were living in shacks with 10 or more people, areas that did not have any electricity or roads. I was starting to get really freaked out and was praying that the taxi driver was not kidnapping me but knew his way to the hotel. At 9pm I arrived at the hotel and had a sigh of relief. I paid the taxi and went quickly to the reception desk and checked in. The receptionist showed me to my room and it was not at all what the pictures were showing. The bed was two concrete slabs with pads on top, one sheet, and a zebra blanket. There was a small tv with local stations, and a really old door that was extremely hard to shut and lock. I was staying in a suite so I had my own bathroom which was really gross and I only used if I absolutely had to, and also a tv lounge room that I didn’t even walk in. Each room was connected by a hallway and a door without a lock that connected all of them. I locked myself in the room and tried to breath deep and tell myself that everything was going to be okay and that I would make it through to the next day. I ordered dinner and had it delivered to my room, two bottles of water, a beer, and chicken. I ordered boneless chicken and was brought a chicken leg with very little meat on it. I barely touched it, but instead drank the refreshing beer and just kept telling myself that everything was fine, this was an experience I needed. I got online and tried Skyping my parents, but my connection was slow and I only got in a few words before my computer just shut off and died. This made everything even worse because I didn’t have an adapter for my charger, so I was now without email or connection to the outside world. There was also no phone so I couldn’t call anyone in case of an emergency. I was terrified. I tried my hardest to read from my novel, Losing Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman (which I highly recommend), and drank my beer so I could not focus on where I was at. I gave up and just closed my eyes and tried to get some rest. I was in and out of sleep throughout the night and probably got a total of 3 hours of sleep. I got up at 6 in the morning and got out of there as fast as I could. The taxi back didn’t know where to drop me off, nor did I, so I was winging it and got to the port of entry. There I had to ask armed guards to help direct me back, and thankfully they were so nice that one walked me back to the ship so I would not be bombarded by people or by trucks carrying cargo.
I got back on the ship and took a shower and as I walked out for some water I ran into my great buddy Dave who is from Boulder. Dave was a football player for the Buffaloes and as you can imagine is a huge dude! He is very tall and quite built, but he is the biggest teddy bear I know. He reminds me of some of my friends back home and we have been pretty good friends this entire trip. Dave was looking for someone to hang out with to go into Accra and I, even after only having 3 hours of sleep, volunteered and we set out on the shuttle buses once more. We had a fun ride out there, I caught up on my reading and got a little bit of sleep because it took an hour to get to the shuttle drop-off. When we were there we found a group of people that had not been to Accra, Dave had not been there either, so I showed them around to the banks, Buka, and then Global Mamas. After that we had different destinations, so Dave and I went to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park where I had a great time. We walked around the park and saw the trees planted by famous politicians across the world, saw the statue of Nkrumah and his tomb along with his wife’s tomb. We then went to the museum and learned a lot about this great political figure. For those of you who do not know, Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence in 1957 and it was thanks to Kwame Nkrumah. He renamed the country from the Gold Coast to Ghana and was the leader in getting other African countries to gain their independence in the years following. He was overthrown by a military coup, and Ghana had its power through multiple coups until the 90’s. Nkrumah fled to Guinea and was in a political position there until he became ill and died in a hospital, never able to see the full independence of the African countries. He was a very interesting political figure and wrote many books about his thoughts. I would suggest also researching Nkrumah if you have the time as this he is a significant part of African history. After going to the memorial Dave and I made our way back to the ship and got a hearty dinner on board. I met up with a group of people that wanted to go out that night to a Reggae Festival at the beach. I wanted to tag along and go with them because I thought it would be really fun and I wanted to relieve some of the anxiety that I had been experiencing. As we left the ship around 9pm it was pretty dark out because Ghana experiences power outages quite often. We went to the taxi port, there were about 14 of us, and immediately I was starting to feel uncomfortable. They were trying to haggle down to 30cedi and none of the drivers were agreeing to it. There was one driver who did agree to it, but when the girls I was with got in the car I noticed that is was unmarked, black, and tinted windows. I told them that they “need to get out right now, this car is dangerous, and I am not getting in anything that does not say TAXI on it, I am not risking my life tonight.” They agreed and didn’t realize that is what the car was, and we started to look at marked cars. It was getting really hectic, and we made the driver mad so he was cursing at us and I was truly starting to feel uneasy. I felt like I was going to puke and I was going to listen to my gut feeling and not go out that night. I told the group I was with that I could not handle this and I was getting really dizzy and just needed to get back to the ship. I walked back by myself to the ship, but because I knew the route through the shipping port, I made it back without any problem. When I got back on the ship I wanted to burst into tears. I was so shaken up and just wanted to cry my heart out. The last two nights were really rough on me, but I was able to keep myself together and I made my way to the piano lounge where I found my friend Brynn. Her and I talked for a while and I was able to calm down. I emailed my mom telling her about the situation and that also really helped. I did however, really just want to hear her voice as reassurance that everything was going to be fine. I went to bed that night and got a good nights rest.
I woke up the next morning ready to take on the day, although I did not know who I was going to be going with nor what I would be doing. I found myself on the shuttle bus into town early in the morning, and luckily it was quite crowded so I got to talk to a lot of new SAS students and figure out what they were doing. When we got into Accra I showed them around a little because I had been there a lot already and then I made my way to the internet café. I was relieved to find that the café was very modern and they were helpful in getting my connected to the internet. I was able to Skype my mom (4am her time) but it was such a great thing to be able to do. I wanted to Skype so many more people, but it was highly unlikely that they were awake, especially on a school night. My laptop also died again so I was out of internet for the day. I sighed, and then started making my way back to the shuttle station to get back on the ship to meet my roommate to hang out with him for the afternoon and night. As I was walking out, a man who knew almost only French was in dire need of help. He spoke to me a little in the café because he needed help with the internet and I was the only person who spoke and understood the French. He had diabetes and left his bag and everything else in a taxi and it drove off. He was in dire need of his insulin shot and was panicking that he was going to die. This made me really nervous but I was able to call him a taxi and able to translate to a police officer and the driver the situation that he was in. Since he lost everything he needed some money, so I gave him the little I had and sent him off in a taxi to the hospital so that he could survive. The police officer was there with me to assure the driver would not do him wrong. I hope that the man did make it there and survived. This was the first time that I had used my French on this trip as a form of communication and I was impressed with my ability to understand and speak to this person. I got back to the ship in the afternoon and ate lunch there. Then I took a much needed nap and had time to reflect on my day. That evening my roommate, who I never hang out with, and his group of friends had rented a villa in Tema. I went along with them to go party at the house they had and then go to the bars later. The trip there was very similar to the trip to the hotel, but I felt very comfortable because I was with a large group and James had been there before. We got there, and the house was surrounded by abandoned buildings and dark streets. This was the only populated house on the street and it had a large fence with barbed wire and guards at the gate. This was a bit reassuring to see guards, but also a little uneasy because there was a requirement for the guards. We partied at the house for a little bit and then made our way to the bars where the rest of the SAS students had been at. The bars were very fun and safe and there were a lot of students there. I got my dance on and had a great night. It feels great being older than a lot of these students and being able to monitor your alcohol intake and be mature when you are out drinking. I never went overboard and was always aware of what was happening around me. I had to drag James out of the bar because he was a bit drunk and didn’t want to leave. It was just him and me in the taxi and I was finally able to talk to him about us not hanging out, which was really bothering me up until this point. I think that since that talk in the taxi and walk back to the ship we have established our much needed bromance. I have this “bromance” with all of my friends back home, and so when I was staying in the same room with someone and we barely talked it was driving me crazy! We both agreed to include each other on more things, and to be more open about how we are feeling and what we want to do, which is great. I am feeling so much better being on this trip now that I am getting these friendships established. We went to bed that night, James puked, but he was okay and I didn’t have to take care of him. I had another field trip in the morning so I needed to get some sleep so I would not feel crappy going on the trip.
I woke up the next morning feeling great and ready to take on the day. I had a field trip to Global Mamas so I was able to meet one of the founders of the company and finish up my shopping. The last day was pretty short and uneventful and when we got back on the ship I went straight to bed. I woke up for a little while and started my blog but I don’t think I had enough reflection time so I went back to bed and throughout most of my day today was able to reflect on my experiences in Ghana and finish this entry.
What I am walking away with from this country is a new mind. I am looking at the world differently, and especially the industry I want to go into. I have thought of a lot of new concepts and ideas that I can apply to my industry that will help benefit the local populations I would be working with. I also have a better outlook on the United States. I may be harsh here and there, but I will never, or at least try to never, take for granted what I have been privileged with by living in the States. What we all have, no matter how poor anyone is, is better than what 70% of the population in Ghana has. It is this privilege that I have that will help me try and bring enlightenment to my family and friends and also bring resources to underdeveloped countries and communities, in the world and back at home. I look forward to returning to Ghana in the near future and I hope I can bring some of you with me as it is a life changing experience. No one could walk away without having their life changed from visiting a country in West Africa. I have also been inspired to start a project that will help raise money to build schools and fund recycling programs in Ghana to help with the infrastructure and the education of its youth. This will be a daunting and mentally strenuous task, but one that I am willing to take on and that I hope will help for the better of Ghana. I would love and encourage the help from all of you back home on starting this project, but maybe we can start it when we get home. I may get a head start though while I am on this voyage. I can’t wait to share more in depth my experience here in Ghana and I am welcome to many emails if possible to michael.vincent.s12@semesteratsea.org of you would like to talk to me more one on one. I have loved all of the comments so far on this voyage from you back at home. I really feel loved knowing that you are on here reading my experiences and following me on this voyage. We are on our way to South Africa, and today we passed over the center of the world where the Equator and Prime Meridian meet! I will post pictures hopefully in South Africa, but if not look forward to the next blog. Love you all!
-Mike

Posted by MVVincent 13:45 Archived in Ghana Comments (7)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 37) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 »