I am finally in Austin. I was incredibly lucky that my parents came to San Diego to do a business trip and picked me up to go home together. I have so much to tell my family and friends, but first I’m grateful for some days to return to normalcy. I think the hardest part of getting back to real life is not gonna be the change of pace, or the weather– it’s going to the fact that everything will look the same as it was, but I will be different. I will process life differently now because I see that I am small. My life is trivial, but my actions are imperative.
I had wanted to do the Spring semester trip that goes to Asia because I thought that was more foreign to me and that going far was important for me to learn. I thought I’d already new about this side of the world because this is where I’m from…
I realize now that I underestimated how important the mediterranean still is to modern society. This is still after so many centuries, the most important area for modern immigration. The Atlantic ocean has been the stage for the most important movements in history, and I need to understand it because that’s the world I inhabit.
I still think we are entering the century of the Pacific ocean, but the past needs to be understood before we can proceed into the future.
I count myself lucky to have taken this trip as part of my college education. I appreciate my place in the world as a person first and as an artist second. There is so much more traveling I want to do and the greatest thing is that I have no excuse to fear! So hell yeah, I’m backpacking it out as soon as I get the chance.
Thank you to my friends and family back home. Thank you to my friends on this trip who became my family. Thank you to all the people I met in every port, whose eyes lit up when I explained my journey and wished me luck on my way.
This has been an incredible journey and I can’t believe we’re at our last port. WHAAAT??
I signed up for a program through semester at sea where we volunteered at a turtle conservation center. It was one the “IMPACT” programs that SAS does, and it was probably the most immersive program I did, largely because we stayed with local families in their homes. The conservation work consisted of taking down data about the Olive Riddley turtles that come in huge numbers to this particular beach to lay their eggs. We were incredibly lucky to get to Ostional Beach precisely on the day of the last “arribada”… and this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We saw 70,000 turtles in one night. 70,000! And they’re like 40 Kilos each so it was difficult to even walk through them at night. They’re extremely light-sensitive so we had to use these dinky red lights and I could not get any quality pictures that captures the sheer quantity of turtles, but trust me, it was insane. We walked for miles during our 8pm-12am patrol and I could barely get by without feeling like I was gonna step on a turtle or in one of their nest holes.
They are amazing creatures. They are so not built for land roving but they do it! These mama turtles do incredible things to make sure their 100 eggs are settled before they go back to the sea.
The great thing about this project is that the conservationists are trying a new program to help the community of Ostional get involved. Since turtle eggs are commonly eaten, to prevent them being sold in the black market the municipality has created an official group of people that get to harvest a certain quantity of eggs to sell. They make a fair amount of money from it and their community makes sure that there is no need for smuggled eggs anymore. Since they have the education to do it correctly, they do not harm any other nests in the process. And the most amazing thing- the reason we were here- is that it is actually good to take some eggs out of this beach. There is so little coastline suitable for these turtles anymore that they’re all cramped on top of each other and there’s actually too many eggs cramped in. This lowers the rate of survival as the eggs get smashed and cause infections that kill them all. The data we helped collect is going to destined to reinforce previous studies that back this claim.
These are the type of conservation projects that really make a difference in the world. Conservation isn’t about the environment, it’s about society. The world is gonna keep on turning one way or another and nature will outlive the human race in one way or another, but we are the ones that have to decide how much destruction we want to stop inflicting.
On the very last day in port I spent in great company doing an action-packed tour of a volcano and a waterfall and a mud-bath and a horse ride. One of my favorite days overall!!
I feel like I really did some amazing things here though, and I’m ready to do finals and head home!!
I interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to bring you this post on how we crossed the Panama Canal! It was so exciting to be going through this marvel of engineering that has had such an impact on the movement of the world.
I absolutely loved the Island of Trinidad in the short 2 days we had there. Our inter-port student Samuel showed a few of us around his home town, Port-of-Spain. He took us to the high school he attended, a highly regarded prep school for boys in a gorgeous historic building. After that we ate Roti, which is like a burrito made out of Indian food. Because amazingly there’s a large Indian population here!
We visited the Zoo and I got to feed a giraffe named Mandala! And I saw a lion only 5 feet away from me which was pretty amazing to behold.
The next day I had my field lab for Global Music and it. was. incredible.
We were incredibly lucky to spend a day with The Melodians, a prolific steel pan band. They have a sister band in London and their leader Terry flew all the way to Trinidad to come speak to us and receive an award. It was so exciting to meet him. There were lectures on how the pans are made and then we got to play music! I loved that it was so hands-on… My high school in Austin had a terrific steel pan program in the Fine Arts Academy so the sound of the pans reminds me of high school. It’s an amazing instrument and I loved learning about it from the people that truly live with the pan. It’s a life-style… These bands are run by families and whole communities. The competitions are enormous! Trinidadians are very proud of their music.
I loved this place! I want to come back soon and see more areas of it.
I experienced two very different sides of it these past six days, and I’ve got to say that Brazil is tremendous.
We docked in Salvador, Bahia, which is one of the regions with the most Afrobrazilian influence. I had a field lab for my Language and Anthropology class on the first day, and it was wonderful. We had a class on the Candomble religion that is very prevalent in this region which takes Yoruba beliefs and blends them in with a touch of Catholicism and native mysticism to create a beautiful mythology that exemplifies what it is to be Brazilian. There is a room at the African Cultural Museum in Bahia that is covered with the most beautiful artwork-huge carved wooden plaques each showing one Orixa (deity) with its corresponding animal symbol. They were so creatively made… It’s probably one of my favorite pieces of art/sculpture I’ve seen on this voyage.
We had a fantastic dance class with a woman who gave us movement that had significance to the worship of the Orixas. It was nice to be in a dance studio again! I’m already excited for ballet in January!
The next day I went off on my Amazonian adventure. We took a deathly overnight flight to Manaus and then a series of other transportation to get to our lodge in the Amazon. Are you ready? We did plane-plane-bus-boat-bus-boat, and we made it.
The next day we woke up at 5am to catch the sunrise over the river and the birds waking up.
Then we went for a 3 hour jungle walk where our guides showed us the amazing resourcefulness of the local people who have figured out how to use every plant available to them. We saw poisonous frogs, a huge-ass tarantula, and no snakes. Holla.
Then we went out again on boats to do Piranha fishing! Of course we did catch-and-release, but I still got freaked out that the hooks would sometimes go through their eyes… I didn’t really catch one. But it’s ok! I petted a piranha that our guide caught! They showed us that piranhas can chew through bamboo stalks and our fingers wouldn’t be hard at all. Then we spotted some pink dolphins swimmin’ away. And then our brave guide caught a baby cayman with his bare hands. I held it! It was crazy and I’m super proud of myself.
For all of you that know me… I am a city person. I love nature, but I am very aware of how inept I would be in a survival situation.
This trip made me gasp in awe at the true force of the rainforest. It is incredible how much water moves through this one area of the planet daily, and we were there during dry season! The entire time we were in the jungle out guide would keep pointing to the taller water lines, where the river reaches during high season. They were usually 20 feet above our heads.
This trip made me recognize that I have the ability to do more nature. I can not only survive but thrive, and even enjoy it! I want to do more of this stuff. It’s decided.
After getting back to Salvador (boat-bus-boat-bus-plane-plane-plane-plane-bus-ship) I had a fantastic day of exploring the Pelourinho, the historic area at the top of town. They have this crazy-looking elevator thing that helps you getup to the shelf where the city is perched for only a nickel! And even though it was a Sunday afternoon something amazing happened. We stumbled in to the Afro-punk festival of Salvador, which was like a small-scale Camden market with Afrobrazilian flair!
There was a concert stage, dancing, street food, and many a craft to be bought. I had a blast and made a few friends and had a mango mojito.
I’m really glad I visited the amazon on this trip. I know I’ll make it out to Rio de Janeiro someday, but this experience was truly unique.
Ok, I’m calling it. Favorite country! (Not counting Spain, where I shall live one day.)
When I signed up for this voyage, the idea of doing a “trans-atlantic” cross on a ship was very attractive to me. It felt so old-school and glamorous… I was imagining that it would be like 1923 and I’d be traveling from New York to London to see some old buddies of mine from the war.
But we didn’t do that cross. We went from Senegal to Brazil. We took the path that was travelled by millions of souls forcibly taken from their homes and sold.
What a change.
I struggled to wrap my head around that… how horrific it must have been.
On our beautiful ship we had several class days and some fun activities. It seemed incongruous that we could be so blessed on our journey under such different circumstances.
When we crossed the equator we upheld the tradition of Neptune Day! Every first timer had to be dowsed in fish juice, jump into the pool, kiss an actual fish, and then be declared a Turtleback. It was pretty exciting.
Another SAS tradition is to shave your head, apparently. I buzzed my head in August so I didn’t do it this time around, however I did do the honors for my friend Elinor. Here is is!
Ship life is really great, all in all. I’m busy with school work but it’s still light in comparison to my usual course load at Michigan.
Oh also I did a tour of the bridge, which is where they drive the ship! It was all very Star Trecky.
After being spoiled rotten in Europe, most people struggled at first when we were suddenly in a place so different from what most of us have ever experienced.
My first day in port left me confused and worried. A large group of my friends wanted to go to Goree Island, which is a beautiful little island 20 minutes from Dakar that also is a very important site in the history of the slave trade. When we stepped out, we were not ready for the aggressiveness of the cabdrivers and shop owners. Getting to the island was a 4 hour ordeal… Since no one in Dakar gives change all of us fresh off the boat went to ATM’s to take out money, and our crisp 10,000 Franc bills were rejected. everywhere.
We accidentally hired two tour guides that day that helped us get change, took us to fabric shops we didn’t even know we wanted to visit, and followed us around all day, even on to the boat to the Island. Some of my friends were angry and put off by their insistence so I, as my usual pacifist self realized that I had to communicate between the two parties. Our tour of Goree Island was nice… I would have loved more time there since it was a peaceful retreat from the hustle of Dakar. Thankfully I managed to go to the most important part of Goree Island.
The slave house here was the final stop for people being taken to the new world. It was incredibly powerful to see the holding cells and selling grounds where families would be split up forever. Walking in, the energy of the place vibrated with pain and loss even after all these years.
The following day I went to mass at a monastery called Keur Mussa. We met with a monk who showed us around the place before the service.
The music used in the ceremony was a lovely mixture of catholic hymns and traditional Senegalese music adapted for worship.
I loved the art on display inside the chapel.
The following day I visited the Holy City of Tuba, which has one of the largest Mosques in Africa. It was quite a drive and once we got there it turned out women not only had to wear head coverings, but pants were also not allowed! Local people were very kind and leant us some fabrics to cover up. In the time while we were waiting, a small crowd gathered around us and took pictures and videos on their phones. It was so interesting to feel like we were the tourist attraction. In the moment it felt kind of odd, but I realize for most of history it’s been the other way around, no?
The mosque was massive and beautiful. We heard so many sounds that definitely were different than Morocco’s calls to prayer to me.
People approached and asked to take pictures with us. It was so funny.
Our last day in Dakar I did an amazing field program that took us to the famous pink lake. However that turned out the be the least exciting part of the itinerary. We went to a Fulani village where we met the chief and his wives, who showed us inside one of their homes. Each wife has her own house where she lives with her kids, and the husband alternates where he sleeps each night to make it fair.
The women were selling handcrafts to supplement their income which is mainly based on farming.
The people were so welcoming and friendly, and it was incredible to communicate even though there were no shared languages at all.
I learned how to say “thank you” in Wolof- it’s “jerryjeff”.
Yes, pronounced like “Jerry-Jeff.”
Then after lunch we stopped on the side of the road to another small community where we watched as they performed their traditional dances! There was a group of drummers, all male, that accompanied an all-female dance group. They came out in their beautiful traditional clothing and did what amounts to a dance off as the music intensified. We were pulled up into the dance floor one by one and had a hilarious time trying to copy their movement. As a crowd from the village gathered to watch us as much as the dancing, some women hopped up and joined the dancers too. The community seemed very close-knit… Of course everyone knew each other, and having large tourist groups come through to watch the “show” must be a common occurrence. It seemed like they were very proud of their heritage and traditions and loved sharing with us.
This last day was truly wonderful because I felt the most human connections of my entire stay in Senegal. Maybe it was getting away from the big city that did the trick.
The first day I was conflicted because I wanted so much to like it. I wanted to have amazingly human interactions with people that have lived incredibly different lives than me, but this was difficult when I was struggling to do the most basic things.
I now realize that I went in with the wrong mindset… you don’t come here to “like it”. If you want to “like it” you go to Cancun. I want to be challenged, I want to embrace feeling uncomfortable and have honest conversations with myself about privilege and issues that I saw play out before me for the first time.