A Travellerspoint blog

Neptune Day!!

overcast 75 °F

Hey everyone! I have a surprise for you! I shaved my head for Netpune Day! Razor bald, and it feels NICE!! I think I might keep it! Neptune Day is the day when we cross the equator, although we already did that before the Amazon, so I guess King Neptune was mad and made us go through a trial in order to continue to Ghana. I had "fish guts" dumped on my head, had to swim through the "ocean", had to kiss a fish, kiss King Neptune's ring, and then last but not least, shave my head!! I had a blast today and had to share this with all of you back home! Let me know what you think.

-Mike

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Posted by MVVincent 14:23 Comments (8)

Hello/Goodbye Brazil!

I apologize for the long post...

sunny 87 °F
View Semester at Sea on MVVincent's travel map.

¬20 minutes ago our ship lifted the anchor and left the Port of Manaus. So now I sit here in my cabin and it is time to reflect. What to start with? I learned so much in these four short days and that is made it an absolutely amazing experience. I suppose the first thing to start with is that I am not as stressed as I was and not feeling exactly the same since my last post. I really appreciate all of the comments to help cheer me up and see the brighter side of life, but it is going to be a constant struggle throughout the voyage. I will be sailing for 9 days before we get to Ghana so that will also be a struggle to handle the stress, but I am sure that I will be able to make it through that. I have an amazing group of friends that I have formed on this voyage and know that these relationships will last a lifetime. We all love each other so much and take care of each other that we would probably be lost without one another. I am looking forward to spending the rest of the voyage with this group and will be quite sad when we all have to return home, but sometimes that is how life works.
Now, getting to Brazil. We were here in Brazil for four days and they were the most amazing days that I have had on this trip so far. The first day in Manaus our group went into the city and just explored the streets. Right when you come off the ship and through the terminal one is instantly shocked with the culture of the Brazilians. The first thing I noticed was that Manaus was a very large city that was just like any other in the United States, at least considering size and population. The main difference was that this city lay on the banks of the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers and is considered the largest shipping port for products in the Amazon region. The next thing I noticed about the city was the language barrier! EVERYONE spoke Portuguese but could not speak English or Spanish. This is largely due to colonialism and patriotism as I have learned in my classes and personal experiences. It was not until very recently that the Brazilian government was able to start building their economy and becoming more global. It is now part of the BRICS, a group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that is expected to be the five largest economies in the world by 2030, according to the World Bank. This is fascinating to me because it can already be seen today. The American economy is collapsing and the Brazilian economy is rising, bringing poverty levels down each year. Although the practices may be considered wrong to the American capitalist views, it is something that is working, and that is hard to deny given the evidence when being in one of these countries. It will be interesting to see if India, China, and South Africa are also bringing their economies up and bringing people out of poverty. So, because the economy is starting to grow, Brazil is realizing that they need to expand their use of language and that is why they are starting to incorporate English and Spanish into the higher education systems. They do not have a mandatory teaching of either of those languages in lower education, but I am betting that as time goes on they will begin to incorporate those into the schools. The language barrier made it difficult to get around, talking to taxis, waiters, or people on the street just to ask for directions. I tried to use simple phrases in Portuguese but that could only get you so far, so I used my hands and pointing a lot to try and get what I was saying across to the locals. This was really fun for me though and taught me a lot about this culture. It made me think of what happens when a foreigner that does not speak English comes to America experiences. It was interesting to see the similarities that two cultures would share regarding language. We often slow down our English to those who cannot speak it as if speaking slower will somehow make them understand. The Brazilians did the same. When I would shake my head or say that I do not understand, they would slow their speech as though I would be able to understand it more, but it just made it more difficult. For now on I will understand what they are going through and the difficulties that unfold from not knowing a language, and I will not slow my speech, but instead use writing or my hands to try and get a point across or try to understand something from a foreigner. Other than the language barrier, nothing else was difficult in Brazil. It was easy to pay for dinner, was safe to eat, and was fun to walk around the city.
As we walked around the first day I noticed that every street we were on was filled with stands where the locals would buy their goods. The stands were located on the sidewalks of all the businesses in the area. So essentially, Manaus was just one large market that was not built on tourism, but instead built on making goods cheap for the locals. The products were also all knock-offs of what you find in the States, so it almost felt like you were shopping in the black market of Brazil. The first day was fun, we saw most of the tourist sites and really didn’t live like the locals. That night, we went to find a Brazilian steakhouse, churascarria, and we got lost! At night!!! That was a little scary, but we were in a large group so I felt somewhat safe, however, I was the only male in a group of 9 and I didn’t know how I was supposed to watch over all these girls! We waved down a taxi and the language barrier made it extremely difficult to try and find a restaurant to go to. The girls were talking to the cab driver trying to communicate, but it was a failed effort until I walked up and said “churascarria” and then bam! The taxi driver immediately understood and was able to take us somewhere. It made me a little frustrated that the girls did not memorize that word and may have seemed a bit insensitive to the locals because of their lack of wanting to learn. The restaurant that we went to was absolutely amazing! It was the best steak I have ever had, aged, seasoned, and cut off the sword right in front of you. The restaurant also treated us like royalty! We got lots of drinks, food, and roasted pineapple for such a cheap price!! It was about $16 for a five course meal, five drinks, and then dessert. The local liquor that the Brazilians love is called cachaça, and I must say that I may have found my new favorite liquor. I believe it is made from sugar cane and they age it for years. It tastes like a mix of whiskey and tequila with a sweet aftertaste, but smells of sweet grapes. They also make this great drink that everyone liked where they mix cachaça, lots of limes, and sugar to make a cocktail that tastes like a long island/margarita. I wish you all could have tried that, but maybe I will be able to make that for you when I get back! After the restaurant we returned back to the ship and got prepared for our next couple of days that would be in the rainforest!
The next morning the group got breakfast on the ship and then went into town for a few hours to do some market and souvenir shopping. My mom was so awesome and was able to help reserve a night for the group at the Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge. We left for the lodge at one and had a really cool transfer from the ship to the lodge. We had to take a 20 minute shuttle ride to a local dock where a small canoe powered by a tiny engine was waiting to pick us up. We got in the canoe and I felt very nervous because of how small it was, but it turned out to be really fun and safe. The boat ride was also about 20 minutes and gave us a great view of the Rio Negro, named because the water is so black, and let me tell you, I thought we were floating in black coffee because of how dark it was. You could even get some of the water in a bottle and see that is was not clear at all, but black-brown just like coffee because of the sediment of the river. We eventually floated up to the private bank of the lodge and I was immediately unimpressed of what I was seeing. There was a white sandy beach with huts and beach chairs at the bank of the river. I thought I was going to an eco-lodge and that it was not going to be treated as a resort where luxury was everywhere. However, when we left the canoe and made our way up to the lobby I could see that the lodge was going to be more eco-friendly and cater more towards people like me who care about sustainability and helping the environment. I found out that the beach was actually natural and that every piece they used to make the lodge was made from already fallen trees and was actually very sustainable. We had a little difficulty with checking in because of the language barrier but eventually got it figured out and made our way to the rooms. We each had a small cabin that was secluded and in the jungle. I was suddenly very impressed, maybe not with the service, but with where I was staying…in the Amazon rainforest!! After settling in, we went to the natural swimming pools where the black water flowed into five natural pools. I must say that I was scared because I could not see the bottom, but there were a couple of wading pools where one could see the bottom, and I enjoyed my time in those. We did not stay long because the insects were beginning to attack, so I made my way to the hammock area of the lodge and took a great nap until dinner. The dinner they served at the lodge was traditional Brazilian and Tupí Indian and I really enjoyed it. They had amazing fish and steak along with lots of fresh fruit and drinks. After dinner the group went to a secluded area of the jungle where we talked and played games until 3 in the morning. That night is where the bonds we made as friends developed and now will last a lifetime. I was staying in a room with my friend Meg and we stayed up even longer talking about our lives and what we liked. We didn’t get to bed until 5:30am and then had to get up at 8 for breakfast. That did not work out for me though because I got really sick as soon as food touched my lips and was vomiting for a while. I felt better afterwards so we decided to go into the jungle on a guided tour and to a canopy walk through all of the trees. That was also one of the coolest experiences. The different views of the forest were amazing and I learned a lot about the flora and fauna that thrive in the rainforest at all of the different levels. When I can I will post some pictures to try and show the views and what I was experiencing. We had to catch a transfer back early so we went back to the ship after the canopy tour. That night, the Teatro Amazonas, the local opera house designed and by Parisian architects, was having a free show where the philharmonic was playing. We were lucky enough to get in for free and enjoy the show of a lifetime! I was so impressed with the design and the performance. I could really see the Parisian influence and design and felt like I was in Europe. Meg and I also got a private box seat which made the experience that more special and great. We returned home after the performance and I was extremely exhausted so I caught up on my sleep and went straight to bed.
For my last day in port we went out to try the Paõ de Queijo, a traditional breakfast food that is essentially cheese bread, and the local coffee. I was so happy to find coffee and was able to buy a drip system so that I could have it while I am sailing around the world. I also had a field trip planned through SAS where we went to Nova Era Mercantile, a distribution center. I learned a lot about how business operated in Brazil, and to be honest, I was really unimpressed. The lack of communication was prevalent and frustrating because the company didn’t even know we were coming there, even though it was planned over a year ago. It helped me understand the different practices and just how far technology has advanced and helped certain countries, and hurt others. The businesses in Brazil are also mainly family owned and do not have stock or interest in their inventory or other companies to support their own business. The owners of these companies profit a lot of the money because there are no shares for people to buy and for an outside control of the company. The government also has a large influence on the companies as opposed to the United States where corporations have a large say in what the government can do. This is something I want to debate with though, I suggest that if you have other opinions you should talk to my brother Nich because he knows a lot about the current business situations that are occurring in the States. I am simply gaining a new perspective, as I will in each country I visit, about how business operate and the comparisons and contrasts that I see in America.
I am in love with this country and will most definitely be returning to learn even more. I only got to experience one of the 26 states of Brazil and I experienced the Amazon. The next places I would like to visit are Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to see how their businesses operate and how the culture there is different from the culture in Manaus.
Now, regarding tourism, I am not sure if there is really a market to develop on service and eco-tourism. The eco-tourism industry is already large, so it would be competitive to start my own business in Brazil and maybe much of South America. It also seems that tourism, at least in Manaus, is not prevalent and the economy is already growing from many other imports and exports that tourism does not need to interfere. I would like to do more research however, because there are still areas that are very poor in American standards and could possibly have the potential for a market of that type of tourism. I did not learn much on how to develop my ideas, but I am sure that as I go through more ports I will hopefully have a great starting point to get myself going towards a career or through entrepreneurships with eco and service-tourism. I cannot wait to post more and I am so excited to arrive in Ghana. I believe that Ghana will be one of the main ports where I can develop my ideas. I also wanted to give a heads up that on Neptune Day, the day where we cross the Equator and the Prime Meridian, I will be shaving my head completely bald!!!! Look for the pictures/slash post to see how it goes. As always I miss you all. Know that I am having the trip of a lifetime though and that I am truly getting some of the best experiences in life traveling the world.
LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH!!
Mike

Posted by MVVincent 17:29 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

Am I Living?

sunny 81 °F

So I am up at 2 in the morning my time and I am still working on homework!! Although I am only taking 12 credits, I feel like this is the largest workload I have had my entire college career! Everyday I have had at least five hours of homework and reading for my classes, which is doing a toll on my stress levels. Tonight has been the worst night that I have had the entire voyage. I have been working on classes and reading/researching since 9am nonstop. I was even working during my breakfast/lunch/dinner times in order to try and get to bed at a decent time. That however, has not been working out as I still have one paper to write before my class tomorrow morning. I thought I would write a blog entry though to give my mind a rest from all the stress.
Before I left on my voyage there was a study abroad orientation for the students at CSU where they described this curve of “ happiness/stress” that, on average, each student experiences throughout their studying abroad. Everyone typically starts off at a high level where anything that goes wrong has little effect on the excitement and happiness of studying in a different country. Eventually that level begins to drop and go into a trough of “depression” where many thing go wrong (or seem to) and stress can be at an all time high. Then after a little time in the trough, students will pick up and alleviate the stress where they will plateau to a normal rate of stress and happiness. Then the cycle restarts when the student returns home.
I think that I am drastically falling in this trough, and quite early in my voyage. I have been extremely stressed these past few days and not necessarily felt depressed, but just anger from nowhere. I can probably attribute it to homesickness and a high workload in the classes, but my anger is really affecting my attitude towards my friends on the ship and my attitude towards the program. I have been clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth more than I ever have these past few nights, and it has been detrimental to my health. I actually developed temporomandibular joint disorder (tmj syndrome) and had to see the doctor because I could not talk, eat, sleep, or think without being in severe pain…to the point where I was in pain. The doctor gave me medications, which just added more stress because now I am taking 5 prescriptions daily and it is taking its toll on my stomach. I have no other option though, I would rather be in stomach pain (as usual) than mouth pain and at least try and get some sleep.
On top of having slight medical problems and having a high workload resulting in a ridiculous amount of stress, I have also developed an irrational hatred to some of the students on the ship. I absolutely cannot stand the stereotypical rich prep kid from New York that treats this voyage as a complete joke and is wasting their time being on this. My hope is that they will screw up in some way, most likely from drinking, and get kicked off the ship. I feel as though I am in high school again, there are SO many immature people on this ship that it is really having an effect on me. I for some reason cannot ignore them and focus on me, and I know that this is all out of my control. Any advice on what I could do? I also went to a “pub night” where they serve alcohol to the students by the pool, and there I felt like I was again in high school. I also felt that there was a lot of people befriending each other for the sole reason of having a sexual relation, which I cannot connect with at this point because of the immaturity in both the female and male populations on this ship. Someone will need to prove their maturity to me before I consider anything of that sort because this voyage is not a “cruise” it is a “voyage” to be taken very seriously…I mean you are earning college credit on this and experiencing places that only a fraction of people get to experience. They should feel extremely privileged to be a part of this program, but that is absent in many of the students. I have stuck with a group of girls that I really enjoy and share the same mentality as me. One of the girls I have grown quite fond of, Meg, and I hope that we can develop a relationship as the voyage continues. I miss having my rants with everyone, I find that those usually help me clear my mind and distress. I miss my baby Mary Jane so much and wish I could just give her a big hug right now, I could really use it. If you guys see her please give her a hug for me so that she still feels loved!
My hopes are that within the next few days while I am in port in Brazil I can get away from everyone and find some alone time. It is extremely difficult to find a place on the ship where people are not socializing and where one can get away! Maybe I can meditate in a hammock on the Amazon! Speaking of, we have officially entered the Amazon! It is really , really gross brown water, and the ship has to conserve its water because they cannot filter the sediment that the river carries with it. When I get to Manaus I will be able to see the meeting of two rivers, the Rio Negro and the Amazon where miles of brown water and black water run side-by-side until they finally mix at the “meeting of the waters” which I would like to experience when I am in Manaus. I also am trying to stick to a small group of friends so that I do not get overwhelmed with the planning and needs of many people. As a natural caretaker I have been the natural leader in our group for organizing the trips that we will be doing. Anyways, I wanted to write this blog as an outlet for “ranting” and informing you all of what is happening in my part of the world. I hope Colorado and the USA is doing well without me! I miss you guys!
Lots of hugs and kisses!
Mike

Posted by MVVincent 21:37 Archived in Brazil Comments (8)

Au Revoir Dominica

sunny 79 °F

So I finished up in Dominica and what can I say? It is the most beautiful place I have been to in the world so far! The island is called the Nature Island because it is one of the few mountainous islands where the jungles weren’t destroyed because of the British and sugar cane plantations. The island is completely covered in lush green jungles where bamboo and banana trees grow in abundance! I have never been to the jungle so this first stop on our voyage was a pleasant surprise. The first day I went to a place called the Emerald Pool where a small waterfall feeds into a shallow crystal clear pool with waters in the 70s! After we had a short stop there, we continued into the jungle and went river tubing! This was also one of the coolest activities that I have ever done. We went about 3 miles through the jungle in warm river waters and guides that were really helpful explaining the culture of the Dominican’s. At the end of the trip we got some local rum punch and coconut which was really good. That afternoon we went into the capital Roseau where we walked around and got some local Creole food which was absolutely delicious. I then returned to the ship with a group of friends and got some dinner. That night we went to one of the bars where the locals go, JR’s and it was a blast. I got to dance with a bunch of people and try some of the local beers, Kubuli which taste like a Rolling Rock. We then went to Krazy Koconutz where there was a bigger dance floor and felt more like a club than a bar. It was interesting to party with the locals, but it is very important to keep an eye out because you are in a foreign country. Today we went to a gorge where Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was filmed. You would swim through this tight cave until you reached a couple waterfalls, and it was extremely beautiful. I couldn’t take pictures because of the water, so it is Dominica’s little secret that not everyone goes to. After that I traveled with friends to the botanical gardens where we had a nice picnic with some of the flora and fauna local to Dominica. I am now back on the ship and beginning my homework. It is pretty cool to think that while all of my friends were sitting in class or in the cold, I was swimming in the hot jungle! I also got to meet a lot of the locals and learn a lot about the culture of the locals and how tourism impacts their economy. The island is very sustainable with 40% hydro-electric energy. Also, because it is a volcanic island they are beginning to develop geothermal energy so they are not heavily reliant on diesel power. The island unfortunately relies on tourism as their main “import” and source of economic income. However, before it gained its independence, the British were able to support the island. When the British left, they also forced the Dominican’s to have a large export in order to sustain the island in a growing and globalizing world. The main export of the island, because it was a perfect climate for it, was bananas, importing over 300 tons to the UK every week. However, because of competition with larger plantations such as Chiquita in other parts of the world, the Dominicans were forced to bring in an import because they could not produce enough at a low price to transport to the world. Now the banana exportation is down to about 15 tons a month to the UK. We in America have never seen Dominican bananas because they have never been able to export it and match the competition and demand. Now Dominicans rely on tourism as a source of money, but it does not truly support their economy. For one, not many people in the world have heard of Dominica, and those who have probably came over on a cruise. The island is not easily accessible because they do not have a night landing airstrip, there are no direct flights, and there are very few cruises that come to Dominica now. Apparently Carnival Cruise Lines discontinued stops in Dominica and it hit their economy hard. The island is also quite susceptible to hurricanes during the season which also destroys tourism. It was a great learning experience for me to know about the history of the island because this can further my research and knowledge to go into eco-tourism and service-tourism. I am slowly trying to develop a way where tourism can actually benefit the locals on islands such as this or the Bahamas, or any Caribbean island for that matter. The way I see it, tourism in these islands only benefits the tourists! There is this illusion of a cycle where tourists spend money in a “poor” country, the money goes to the locals, and in turn, the tourists get white sandy beaches and delicious food and souvenirs. What many tourists do not realize is that the cycle skips the locals getting the money. For instance, when tourists visits the Bahamas, they will most likely go to a resort, Atlantis perhaps, where they will find many Bahamians working in the resort. One thinks, this is where the money is going, I pay the resort and the resort pays the employees. What is unknown is how very little the employees actually make when they are working for about ten hours to serve you, the tourist. What is also unknown is that the resort is owned by a rich American who, because they do not have to pay the employees a high salary/wage, more than profits from the money that comes into the resort. The Bahamians do not see that money, but they have to be so dependent on you, the tourist, because however little money is brought in is what supports their families and puts food on the table. This is the unfortunate cycle: the tourists spend money, the money goes to a resort or tour company even, and that money is put into the pocket of the rich American, or back into building more for the tourists. Just this short time out at sea and traveling this small part of the world has changed me. I have already become less dependent on money, and I also feel as though I need to give more than what anyone asks because I know they are not getting a profit from tourists. I have also realized just how rich Americans are, and it is disgusting. You can argue with me as much as you want, but until you travel the world as a “traveler” and not a “tourist” it can be extremely hard to realize. I have also become more sustainable than I ever was. Living on a ship teaches you to conserve energy more, conserve water, conserve food, and compost/recycle. Living in Fort Collins, I already recycled, but I did not conserve energy nor did I conserve water or food the way I do now. I am excited to bring these skills that I am learning back home to teach to all of you! Or at least Nich and Justin at the apartment . For now I am happy to be leaving Dominica on a great note, the people there were the nicest people I have met in the world, and very entertaining. I will be returning at some point in my life, hopefully with a new development on how to promote service- and eco-tourism in these “poor” countries. I also say poor in quotations because these countries may be economically poor compared to our standards, but they are actually rich in culture and heritage, something that is diminishing in America. It seems that’s American’s today do not spend time with the family, are strictly focused on work, and are losing a rich taste in food, religion, language, practices, traditions, music, and behaviors. I love experiencing these new cultures, and it is a new perspective to see just how different the American culture is from the rest of the world. I will try and post pictures of beautiful Dominica when I can, but for now I hope everything back home is going great and you all are having as much fun as me! I will post again once I enter the Amazon and go into Brazil. Love you all!
Mike

Posted by MVVincent 05:07 Archived in Dominica Comments (4)

Set Sail, Next Stop Dominica!

sunny 79 °F

I have finally been at sea for a day! It seems like a lot of students are getting seasick because of the rocking of the ship. I have been fortunate enough to not get motion sickness and I actually am enjoying the rocking, it helps me get to sleep and is very relaxing. The ocean is amazing! It is incredible to see the waters change colors with the sun and to watch the waves as they crash into each other. I am also really lucky to have a great view from my window out into the sea, although some of the waves can be high enough that they splash against it. I had my first day of class today too! It is crazy to be taking classes on the weekend, but you also forget about the days when you are out at sea. The dates are more important than the specific day of the week. I found a lot of messages written on the back of one if our pictures that gave “secret” advice to the students who will be in the cabin next. I can’t wait until the end of the voyage when I can write my own crazy advice for the next students. I have also never been so excited to learn! I am actually looking forward to going to class everyday (there are only 20 days of class) and learning about the amazing cultures I am going to visit. We also had an involvement symposium last night, and believe it or not, I started a French Club on the ship! I also met a girl, Vanessa, from Paris that will be able to help the group out when we are having conversations. I also joined an extended family where a group of students will be paired with an adult to make a new family while we are studying abroad. Don’t worry though, I will always have my real family back at home in Colorado with everyone I know and love. We arrive in Dominica on Monday for two days. I am super excited for this port because it is one of the last Caribbean islands that has a lush tropical rainforest! It also has the largest population of indigenous Kalinago people in the Carib region. They love chicken in Dominica, and I cannot wait to try some of the Creole food and dishes that are popular on the island. The island is also volcanic, and there is an area called Champagne Reef where the water bubbles and it feels like champagne while you dive or snorkel. I also found out that Pirates of the Caribbean 2&3 were filmed on location there, so I will probably visit that part of the island to see if I can recognize any scenes from the movie. Who knows, maybe another movie is being shot there now! If there is a place where I can find WiFi, I will post the pictures of the ship and Dominica, but for now be patient as I cannot upload pictures fast and I can’t use all of my internet minutes. Again, feel free to email me at michael.vincent.s12@semesteratsea.org because it is a free service to me, and I would like to talk to all of you a little at some point during this journey. Thanks for all of the comments so far and being there with me in thought as I circumnavigate the globe! I will post again after Dominica but I hope everything back in the States is going well and that you all have a great semester with whatever it is you are doing. Lots of love as always!
Mike

Posted by MVVincent 16:16 Comments (2)

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