Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cape Town, South Africa

We arrived on Friday morning, and as soon as we were cleared I left for my FDP to Zandvlei Estuary, Cape Peninsula, and Cape Point. Zandvlei is the only functioning estuary in False Bay and it just looked like some ponds with some different types of grasses and other plants. There were several birds we saw, but as I'm not a birder, it wasn't very interesting to me. The estuary was interesting but really wasn't anything special. After that we ate at a restaurant and then went to Boulders Beach. That was where we saw African Penguins up close. They were walking around everywhere and we were able to get pretty close to some of them. They used to be called Jackass Penguins because they sound like donkeys. After spending some time taking pictures with the penguins, we went to Cape Point, which isn't the southernmost tip of South Africa is, but it overlooks False Bay and the supposed Flying Dutchman shipwreck. We hiked for about 15 minutes up to the top of a very steep cliff to the lighthouse. We also saw where the Flying Dutchman crashed. But after that we just went back to the ship and I relaxed for the rest of the night.

The next day I went with a couple friends to the Two Oceans Aquarium and it was amazing! There were a ton of underwater animals and even a touch tank. Then we went to lunch in the mall and went to the Botanical Gardens. We had to take a taxi there, but it wasn't too far away. It was very beautiful, but really only interesting to those who have a passion or hobby for plant species. There were a couple birds but no other animals there. The plants and flowers and view in general was great, but walking around a viewing plants got a little boring after a while.

On the third day, I originally had an FDP that I sold so I could go to Robben Island. We woke up early and went shopping around the market and I got some paintings and little things. Then we went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. This island was where they took political leaders who opposed the apartheid. But, it was also used by the Dutch and British earlier for prisoners as well as people with Leprosy. They didn't understand the disease and they didn't have a cure for it so they put everyone on a island who had it and they were forbidden to have children. But during the 70s through the 90s, it was used for political leaders like Nelson Mandela and Sobukwe. We got to see Mandela's cell, as well as other people's cells and group cells. We also got a bus tour of the island and saw some of the sites. Then we went back to the ship and relaxed for a while, before coming back out to Skype.

On the fourth day in Cape Town, I went on a trip to the Amy Biehl Foundation. Amy Biehl was a Fulbright scholar who came to South Africa to study and help with the apartheid. She was stoned and then stabbed to death by four angry black men who thought she was a white person trying to take their freedom away. Her parents started the foundation to end the cycle of violence by educating children and better preparing them for future job opportunities, and also giving them after school programs. We visited the office, where apparently two of Amy’s killers worked. I did not meet them but other people in my group did. I think all four of her killers are now associated with the foundation in one way or another. Then we visited a school and met some of the children and the principal. We also went to a couple after school programs that were focused on teaching the kids music and dance. They performed several dances for us and I even got some on video! We ate at a restaurant that served only meat, so it was very frustrating and difficult for me to find anything to eat. But, overall the trip was one of my favorites and I would seriously consider going back and volunteering at the Amy Biehl Foundation.

The next day I decided to go out and get some stamps and some more money. So I walked to the Waterfront and didn’t have any problems. It was really nice walking around by myself for the morning without anyone else to worry about. Somehow, I felt safer in Cape Town than any other place we’ve visited. Safer than most places I’ve been to in the U.S. But later I found out that there were larger amounts of theft reported, including at least one person robbed at gunpoint in a taxi. Other incidences included people walking to the Waterfront, like I did, and just being held at knifepoint. I was extremely surprised to hear that and felt lucky, to say the least. I’m not sure if I didn’t look like I had anything of value, considering I never dress up for the countries, or if I was just not in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if I walked to fast for them. Because every time I was around a South African male (white or black) I would pick up my walking, but I really wasn’t ever alone in the sense that there were always a few people around. Whatever it was, I definitely will not be walking around there by myself again. Apparently, there were so many incidences that they are considering not returning next year. Anyway, after my dangerous morning, I had my trip to the Cape Community TV station, or C-TV. It was very interesting because its purpose was strictly social movement media, meaning they didn’t play mainsteam or entertainment media. Only issues that were pertinent to their community. They even had meetings where members of the community could get together and discuss what topics they wanted to be broadcast. It was also interesting because rather than being a journalism station that aims for neutrality (which is what every news station will tell you, but hardly ever are) they explicitly said that they were left-wing and if you wanted something to be on the air, it had to agree with their views otherwise they wouldn’t air it. I’m not sure if I liked this idea because the type of journalism I’m partial to is neutral and objective. But on the other hand, can you create a media that is intended to change social norms and ideas without having an agenda? Whichever, it was great to see a different point of view on how journalism should be.

The final day in Cape Town, I woke up to a rocky start. I had a trip planned for 7:30 in the morning and I tried to get to bed early so I would feel rested. My roommate, however, had a different idea when she came into the room with a boy, intoxicated of course, and they blew some horn over and over again. I finally told them to leave and that was the end of that, but it was not the best start to my last day there. My trip was to the West Coast National Part and Langebaan Lagoon. Although we didn’t see many animals since it wasn’t a game park, it was still really neat. We saw eland, ostriches, flamingoes off in the distance, and a variety of birds, along with the landscape of the lagoon and grassland. After that we came back and left for the rocky seas. We will be in Mauritius on Tuesday, just for the day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tema, Ghana

After we arrived to Ghana and were cleared by customs (which took a while) we left for a day at Cape Coast, which is about 3 hours from Tema. The drive there wasn't very fun - it was extremely hot and with no a/c so the windows were down the whole time. And it was a very windy day so my hair kept whipping me in my face. But after we got there we ate at a vegetarian restaurant (I was surprised to find one in Ghana) where all of the proceeds went to an orphanage. I think it was called Baobab. Anyway, after hanging out for a bit, we went to the slave castle in Cape Coast. We walked around the museum and the premises until our tour began. It was very interesting to not only hear about these slave dungeons and the middle passage, but to see where the slaves were actually kept. Apparently, one Ghanaian that didn't work there, turned to a couple girls in our group and told them that all of this was all their fault. They spent the entire time in the dungeons crying their eyes out, a bit overkill. I think anyone who understands the history of the slave trade can also understand the tensions that are sometimes still present between Africans and Americans/British. I guess they didn't have any idea what they were about to witness, which is perfectly ok, but then they proceeded to talk about how everyone else were too busy taking pictures and not really concentrating on the dungeons. Did I mention these were extremely spoiled, rich, preppy girls? Anyway, after leaving the slave dungeons, we walked around Cape Coast and shopped at the local places.

The next day we went to the Kakum National Rainforest, which is north of Cape Coast. This park was basically a short hike up some very steep hills and stairs to the canopy areas, where we crossed these wobbly "bridges" over a 100-200 ft drop. It was a little freaky, but very interesting. Did not see any animals though. Then after waiting for my group to eat, which took at least an extra hour, we went back to Cape Coast. At that time I was starving, but the same three girls didn't want me to eat. They told me to get "fast food" so we could go. I don't remember telling them that while I was waiting for them to eat. So we left and returned back 4 hours to Tema and I had a veggie burger on the ship. Yum. After that, my roommate and some other people went to an Internet Cafe for a bit and then we went home. It's very interesting learning how to bargain with the taxi drivers. The first day when we went to Cape Coast, we were told a price of "4 mil.", which we took as 4 million cedis, for two cars. But after five very confusing minutes, they explained that that was 400 cedis. I managed to get it down to 360 for three cars, which was a decent price. We had some very interesting discussions with the taxi drivers about Ghanaian politics, government, and their culture.

Yesterday I went with SAS to a local radio station in Ada. It was very interesting to see it and learn about their local radio.The stations there are much more community based and focus on controversial issues that occur to try to fix them or better develop the areas. They also try to address "glocal" issues, or global issues relating on a local scale. I was very excited to see their radio station, and it seemed like the used older technologies but it was similar to what I've seen, the audio boards and they also use Marantz recorders. After we left the radio station, they took us to a local community where they mine salt, or also called salt weathering. There were mounds of salt for miles and miles, it was pretty spectacular. Everyone there seemed to enjoy what they did and it was a pleasant community. We asked a woman what her dream job would be and she said, "What do you mean? This is my job. I do this to support my children." Then we asked two kids what their dream jobs would be and they said teacher and accountant. I'm glad to see they have those dreams, but unfortunately, some kids there are taken out of school so they can work at the salt mine and make money for their family.

Today, I went to Accra with a couple girls and it was really fun! People were saying some pretty negative things about it because everywhere you go, Ghanaians come up to you and try to get money. But I expected that going in, so if you really understand what it will be like then maybe it's not such a shock. You just have to be very insistent about not wanting anything and they will usually go away. Some girls aren't very good at that because they don't want to be mean. The thing is, they talk to hundreds of people every day so as long as you aren't completely rude, that isn't out of the ordinary for them. We went to Global Mamas, a fair trade organization and I would highly recommend going there. I bought a wallet, bag for make up, some headbands, a hat for my mom (sorry not a surprise anymore mom!), and a shirt for my niece. I wanted to buy more but I didn't bring enough money and the store is more expensive than on the street because everything is hand made and didn't use child slaves. I think it might be all made by mothers, but they write on the tag who made the item. That store had some amazing things, I wish I could've bought more! Then I went to a nice store on the side of the street, I chose it because the guy didn't come out and hassle me. He also gave me a very fair price when I asked him about a drum so I shopped there for a while. A lot of people bought drums in Ghana, and they are aware of this, so they make the price really high and try to scam you. If you come to Ghana and want a drum, or anything for that matter, be aware of that and know what the item is worth so you don't overpay. Anyway, I bought a medium sized drum from him for my boyfriend, a mask, and a dress for my niece. I think it was a pretty successful day of shopping. I only have 3 cedis left so that's just enough for a taxi back to the ship. Tonight I'm just planning on relaxing and doing some homework (I have a paper and oral presentation due by Wednesday, on top of reading). Then tomorrow, I'm going to try to find some stamps to mail my postcards. We have to be back on the ship at 6 and I know there will be a huge crowd starting around 4, so I'm not trying to get back that late. Next stop will be Cape Town next Friday.

Leaving Brazil and on to Ghana

So a little recap on Brazil: My roomie and I went to the markets on Friday morning. We ended up walking around a lot trying to find them but when we finally did they were very nice. I really enjoyed looking at the things they were selling (a lot included scales or other parts from piranhas). But walking around, at least for me, was very sketchy. I’m from a smaller town so I’m not used to being around that kind of big city atmosphere. I didn’t like so many people walking so close to me and bumping into me. Needless to say, I had my bag held tight against my body. By the way, on a side note, I bought one of the Pac Safe bags and so far it’s working great! It’s slash proof and has zippers that lock so they can’t be pick pocketed. Seem like it’s working well! Anyway, walking through Manaus, being constantly stared at, being called gringas, and having salesmen follow you around wasn’t very fun. All in all, I really enjoyed the Amazon as a beautiful part of nature, but the city of Manaus isn’t one I’d want to return to.

From Brazil to Ghana, we had one of our longest stretches of days at sea, the longest being from Yokohama to Hilo. It was difficult for most, since we experienced the rockiest waves we have come across yet. My roommate and I spent the majority of two of the days sleeping. However, it paled in comparison to the SAS experience in 2005. Nonetheless, it was different and tough to get used to. Unfortunately, we are expecting to see even worse waves from Ghana to South Africa. Eventually the waves became smoother and the last couple days to Ghana were enjoyable.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Manaus, Brazil

We arrived in Manaus on Tuesday, but before that, we picked up several foreign dignitaries on Sunday morning. They arrived via another boat and came aboard the ship around 9 a.m. All of the student ambassadors greeted them at the gangway and we met three diplomats and two spouses. Their names are John Matel Michael Cavey, and Aimee Dowl, who I had the privilege of escorting around the ship along with two other ambassadors. They all work at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, except I believe John works at the U.S. Mission. Aimee’s spouse, Derek Kverno, also boarded the ship. I had some time to talk with him and he is a very interesting person. He works as a teacher, teaching at international schools around the world. Finally, Michael’s spouse, Shan Shi, also stayed with us. She recently passed the exam to work at the U.S. Embassy and will be working there soon. Both Shan and Michael were in the Peace Corps, which I thought was very interesting. All five who joined us were extremely intelligent and fascinating people who had interesting things to share with the students about being a diplomat. I’d never in my life considered that a possible career, but being paid to travel and live in these amazing foreign countries sounds like a great job.They joined us until we reached Manaus and then debarked.

On Tuesday, bright and earlya t 8 a.m., I left for my first excursion in Brazil. It was the Swimming with Dolphins faculty-directed practica. We left for a two hour boat ride to a local man’s property who had been preserved very well. We hiked through the rainforest for an hour or so, something we weren’t aware that we were going to be doing. I’m glad I didn’t know though, because had I known I might not have gone. But it was one of my favorite parts thus far. We didn’t see any animals but so much flora and that was amazing in itself. I’ve been taking notes about what we see and what the tour guides have been telling us. Unfortunately, later in the night while caiman catching, I dropped the paper in water so it’s drying right now. But if I can remember correctly, we saw Brazil wood, a type of orchid, obviously many plants that I don’t know the name of, and several insects. Oddly, I didn’t see any mosquitoes during the hike, but many insects on the ground. There were huge black ants and then these tiny red ants called Army Ants. You really have to watch out for those suckers. We weren’t supposed to stop when around them, but when people around you have stopped on this tiny path, it’s hard to avoid. A girl behind me started hyperventilating because she was afraid of being bitten by these ants. Anyway, after the hike, we went to get lunch at a local outside restaurant. I didn’t find any food particularly interesting, there was pasta and a lot of fruit. Oh and of course, fish, however I wasn’t able to sample those. So far I haven’t given in to eating meat at all and it hasn’t been too difficult. After lunch, we went to a lake that fed these dolphins so they lived in the area. These dolphins are called pink river dolphins or Pink Amazonian Dolphins. They are obviously pink and look differently than marine dolphins. I had no idea that these dolphins existed, so swimming with them was incredible. I have to admit, they look a little intimidating but it’s way too cool to be scared! Although I can’t speak for my fellow females, who spent the entire time in the water screaming. We weren’t supposed to scream because it could obviously scare the dolphins. But I guess that’s what some girls do. They swam under and around me, touching my legs and feet, in this completely black water. So I could see how it could be frightening for some since you can’t see what is swimming under you. After swimming, we went back to the ship and I prepared for a second trip that day. Around 7 in the evening, I went caiman spotting, or as they called it “alligator spotting.” I’m not sure if they call it that for uninformed people, but caiman and alligator are definitely not the same. I don’t think they even have alligators in Brazil. But they have plenty of caiman, which we saw. I was a little disappointed because we went out in several of these small boats, but our tour guide didn’t catch any himself. When another boat caught one, he took us over there to see and hold it. Holding a caiman was very cool, but I really wanted to see him actually catch one. But I did hold one, a speckled caiman, and they are either very tame or just so freaked out they won’t really move. Very beautiful animals. I felt bad for them because some students dropped them. I swear, I never thought I was really suited for nature, but compared to some people here I sure am. For some reason, I haven’t been scared or worried at all this trip, but I’ve seen a numerous amount of people freaking out.

On Wednesday, I had to wake up early again to go on an excursion called Amazon Explorer. I was a little disappointed with this one personally, but I know some people who really enjoyed it. We took a river boat out to the meeting of the waters, where the Rio Negro, a black river, met the Amazon or Rio Solimoes, which is a brown color. Look it up, it’s very cool! I really enjoyed this part because seeing the extreme contrast was something I’d never seen before. The rivers are different colors, temperatures, and have different flora and fauna in them, yet they are so close. Then we went to the exact same place I had gone caiman spotting the night before. We went on a short walk through another part of the rainforest that didn’t have natural trails but had boards and walkways built by man. We saw a cappuccino monkey in the trees, lizards, and caiman in a lake with many water lilies. I also saw many, many mosquitoes. Luckily, my roommate brought Permethrin to spray on our clothes so the insects didn’t touch me. But I couldn’t say that for other people there, especially those who wore tank tops and shorts. Then we ate at the restaurant there, which served the same thing I had the day before. Then we sat there for literally two hours waiting for a small boat to come. They had 100 people on this excursion which affected my experience. Having to sit there in the heat and humidity in long sleeves and pants for so long wasn’t fun. I think they definitely could’ve planned this better. Finally, a boat arrived for my group and we went piranha fishing. And when I saw we, I mean they fished and I watched. I had no idea when I signed up that we’d be fishing so I was very disappointed. They did throw them back in the water afterwards, but fishing isn’t an activity I really support. But only our tour guide caught one, no one else had any luck. Or maybe that was just my luck, since I’d hoped that no one would catch any. After the fishing we just returned to the river boat and came back to the ship, where I took a nice shower and relaxed all evening.

Thursday I had another trip planned to the zoo and it was a service project as well. I knew that we would be visiting an orphanage and taking children to the zoo with us. But what I wasn’t aware of was that this orphanage, Abrigo Moacyr Alves, is a special orphanage that only takes in kids with neurological diseases. It’s about 20 years old and they have 54 people living there. Some of the kids are only mildly affected but there are others who are very sick and are confined to a special infirmary room. It was a different experience for me since I was already nervous being around kids without such disorders so I was very nervous around these children. After we walked around the facility, which is paid for by the state, government, and donations, we left and went to the zoo. Upon arriving we helped serve them lunch and then took the children around the zoo. There were interesting animals such as boas, anacondas, big cats, a harpy eagle, capybara, many birds, and many monkeys. All animals there are found in the rainforest. After walking around the zoo we said our goodbyes and left. The rest of the day I went shopping at the markets with a girl I met from Boulder. We ended up going to the mall here, which was a huge disappointment because they only had Americanized stores. Anyway, after walking around for a while and trying to order food, which was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, we left and I went to a wifi area near the ship to skype and catch up with the blogging. Now I'm getting ready to go back to the ship and get some well deserved sleep. Tomorrow my roommate and I are going to the market early to buy some nice local souvenirs and then the ship is leaving Manaus by 5 p.m. Next stop: Ghana.

Roseau, Dominica

From Friday evening until Monday morning, we sailed to Dominica, all of us getting used to the rocking ship, some becoming very seasick. Luckily, I never vomited, I only became dizzy and disoriented often. We have different days for classes, called A days and B days. Somehow, my roommate and I only got our classes on A days, leaving us the whole day off on B days. That was very nice to catch up on homework, sleep in, etc. However, being a work-study student, I had to wake up bright and early to work my shift on Sunday. But Saturday, I had all of my classes: International mass media with Downing, Global studies with Nalbach, Marine biology with Lawrence, and Anthropology of the ocean with Helmreich. It wasn’t a really difficult day, but concentrating was hard due to the rocking back and forth. It takes a while to be used to and the worst of it is in the Union, where the Global Studies class is held. But around Sunday evening, I was already pretty used to the ship and at times didn’t even notice the rocking. Just in time to arrive to Dominica at 8 a.m. on Monday.
I couldn’t get myself to wake up early enough, so I slept in a bit, seeing as how my field trip wasn’t until 1:30 p.m. (1330). So when I woke up, I got ready and met my group to go snorkeling in Champagne Reef (a must for any snorkeling/scuba enthusiast). Although I had a lot of fun and saw so many beautiful coral and fish, I’d recommend not going in a large group and just going there on your own. Being in a huge group following one dive master and having beginner snorkelers kick you in the face is not fun. But I’d love to return and do a little snorkeling with a small group of people. We saw many different coral, including brain and fire coral, an octopus, and many different fish. Also, there were bubbles coming out of the bottom (hence the name Champagne reef). My professor and dive master explained what caused this, but of course I can’t remember now.

On Tuesday, I woke up and got ready for my 4x4 adventure through the forest! It was very cool. We took safari-like jeeps and went through the forest and up the mountains. We saw many different plants and waterfalls. Then we went to a little cave area with a lake that we swam in. That was where they shot a part in Pirate’s of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest. So that was pretty exciting but it was freezing. It was beautiful driving through the semi-deciduous forest. I’m exhausted now and I’m about to go get dinner, do some homework and go to bed.