August 30, 2008

Semester at Sea - India

I was most nervous about going to India. I had heard a lot of things about it and most of those things involved vomit.

For those of you who don't know me, puking is my biggest fear in life. I don't know why but the thought of it paralyzes me. A friend of mine from a previous voyage said the stench of certain places was so strong she threw up. To prevent that, I bought a chapstick, like Burt's Bees, really pepperminty, and rubbed it under my nose every time I went out. Additionally, we were warned by EVERYONE about the horrors of Dehli Belly. It's like Montazuma's Revenge only a lot more brutal. We were told the situation there was so bad that we should not eat off of plates that still appeared wet, we had to keep our mouths closed when we were in the shower and we were instructed to brush our teeth with bottled water.

I was prepared. Before I boarded the ship, I bought supplies, mostly for this India visit. I had packs of granola bars and other snacks as well as my own bottled water. My plan was not to eat anything whiile I was there. I also practically bathed myself in hand sanitizer. I know, I'm crazy. But it worked. I never puked.

What did happen was a bloody nose. We docked in Chennai (Madras), a heavily populated city in Southern India. All of India is heavily populated. As a result, it is heavily polluted. My nose was bloody the entire time we were there. I'll take that over puke any day.

My amazing roommates and I were becoming attached to the hip at this point and ventured out on our first afternoon. I have never in my life seen so many people (minus Carnival) but this wasn't a special event. It was just every day life. The ship frequently docks in that port and despite the massive debt that trip put me in, I was still considered wealthy to the throngs of poor we had to weave through in order to explore the city.

I'd been in crowds before but I had never been around so many people who were in absolute poverty. And this was the first time in all my travels where the beggars touched you and thrust their children at you. One old woman with an infant took our hands and helped us across the street. It was all very overwhelming.

Taking the cab rides were scary. We rode rickshaws, which are essentially motorcycles with a fancy board balanced on the back as a "seat" and it's given a cover to appear more car-like. They are notoriously unsafe but Kaycee, Lauren and I managed to squeeze into one. Of course, the drivers wouldn't take anyone where they wanted to go. They were all promised commissions if we were taken to the most upscale shops and bought things. I understand that we seemed wealthy in comparison to the poverty surrounding us, but there is also considerable wealth in India - they stay off the streets. By no means could we afford a single item in the places they took us to. We argued with our cab driver as he continued to promise to take us to our destination only to take us to another shop. After a while, we just gave up and went back to the ship.

I was lucky enough to visit the Taj Mahal. I flew Indian Airlines to New Delhi and then remember having to take a train for about 6 hours into the night to wherever we were going. People slept side by side on the grounds near the tracks. We all collected the train food we didn't finish and left it on a bench - handing out money or food to any one person could have started fights.

We visited so many places in India but I remember the travelling most. We truly did see cows roam free along the street, many camels too. But the camels were used as transport. We saw men with bears on the side of the street. They had a rope around the bear and when they pulled on the rope it would make them sort of smile and dance. We found out that these people trap bears and use them as a side show on the streets, demanding money if people take a picture. They fasten ropes around the bears mouths and when they pull on it they writhe in excrutiating pain, but to people who don't know any better it looks like smiling and dancing. It was heartbreaking.

I also rode an elephant. Their treatment was questionable and I think my friends and I were on a young elephant. It was so hot and the sun was really strong and I was so sad for these elephants I couldn't enjoy my time with them.

I went to my first temple and saw my first snake charmer. And then, I saw the Taj Mahal. It is so beautiful. It is so perfect that my mind couldn't wrap itself around the reality of it and the whole time I was there it looked like a painting or a photoshopped backdrop. I had no idea what the Taj Mahal was but I was expecting the inside to be almost like a home. It wasn't. It houses the tombs of the Emperor and his wife. He had it built as a declaration of his love. There is nothing else inside. Cameras are not allowed so unfortunately, I can't show you. It was smaller than I thought but absolutely amazing.

As we left the Taj Mahal we had to walk through a large park to get to the entrance. There were tons of kids begging for money and trying to sell us junk. There were cops patrolling the grounds and they would hit the kids they caught trying to sell to us.

The whole visit was amazing. Definitely full of contrasts. Unremarkable beauty next to filth and squalor; it was a place you either love or hate. I ended up loving it. I was mentally exhausted by the end of our visit but I think it was a turning point. It marked the halfway point of our voyage and it is probably where most of us felt that change - the spark that our travels meant more than flagging points on a map.

For me, I passed a test. We stayed at a great hotel that was considered to of very high standards. We ate there one night - an amazing feast of Indian food and I decided to partake. I was getting sick of my granola bars. Indian food remains one of my favorites and authentic Indian food cannot be beat.

Posted by karen at 07:16 PM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2008

Semester at Sea - Mauritius

Decided to go back to writing my current thoughts about the voyage because the journal entries were way too long and had some information not relevant to why I am posting now.

In reading back on our visit to Mauritius I was a little shocked at how much I declared not to be a fan. Especially considering the Seychelles, our original honeymoon destination are right next door.

However, I think everyone was a bit disappointed and took it out on this country that didn't really deserve the 'tude. Our original destination was supposed to be Nairobi, Kenya. I was going to go on a safari!!!! A true African safari! After September 11 our ports of call were all very closely examined. There was a lot of violence in Nairobi and a lot of it centered around the American Consulate there. The violence was too great a risk and the port had to be taken off our itinerary. It was replaced with a tiny island off the Eastern coast of Africa called Mauritius (rhymes with delicious). The dodo bird originated here and Mark Twain thought the island was so beautiful that he suggested "Heaven was copied after Mauritius".

There wasn't a lot of time to prepare for the new port of call and I honestly had never even heard of it. I had nothing scheduled and I was totally bummed about missing my safari. The rules were very strict - you CANNOT leave the country where we dock. If that were the case, I'm sure we'd have all booked the next flight out for a safari.

I distinctly remember the port smelling of black olives. It was wierd. It was my first experience with "island time" and found that there is not real rhyme or reason as to when stores open and close. I decided, with my friend Juliette, to get my nose pierced. Not completely sure how we ended up where we did, but it was in a small store that was super cluttered and probably not very clean - but it's all part of the experience. At this point, this was my ninth piercing and it probably hurt the most. We didn't speak the same language and I am not sure how we communicated what we wanted but I loved mine. He used a really long needle and just forced it through my nose. It took a while and made my sinuses go crazy. But the second it was in I felt no pain and I loved it. After I got married, I thought I should let it close up. I can't wear it to work and it just seemed more of a pain back in the real world. I miss it though. I loved it so much and thought it suited me well.

Since we were on a tropical island, some friends and I decided to go to a small resort at a cool part of the island called Flic en Flac. It was very relaxing - minus the time I had my first encounter with flying cockroaches. One of my favorite memories was taking a paddleboat out with my friends Trina and Janet and seeing a bunch of flying fish - at least a hundred.

Enjoy -

Posted by karen at 05:56 PM | Comments (0)

Semester at Sea - South Africa

So I am going to actually post my journal entry here instead of attempting to rewrite all of it....enjoy!

I am in love with South Africa! I donít just mean that it is a nice place and I had fun; I mean I am in love with it. I could definitely see myself living there. I will definitely go back. I think everyone should go.

So, we all woke up at 5:30 or 6am to see the sun rise over Table Mountain in the bay of Cape Town. It was so pretty. I am glad that I did it. I probably wonít be doing it again, but it was worth it. Then, I went back to bed. That day was really fun. I was by myself. The shopping is so CHEAP! And the mall is directly outside the shipís dock. I went by myself because I learned quickly that shopping in a group accomplishes nothing. It was really fun. That night I went to see a play. A Midsummer Nightís Dream in an outdoor theater. There was a wonderful wine and cheese reception for us on arrival. It was definitely a Karen night. Sandy and Jennie got busted for videotaping during the performance. I think Sandy even got the bust on tape! At the play Susan met some people from Ireland who couldnít believe that US students could go to Cuba and bring back cigars. It was neat to hear someone elseís perspective. During the play I think I caught my production professor sleeping!

The next day I went to Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve which is about 4 or 4Ĺ hours north of Cape Town. We drove through these massive mountains and it was so cool but kind of scary because we were on narrow and twisty roads on the edge of the mountain in this big bus that could hardly make it up. Fortunately, our AC worked because it was so hot. We actually had to switch our bus at first because our AC wasnít working on the original one. We all napped a little on the bus but Janet totally passed out. She had her head back and her mouth open and it looked so funny. Dave thought it would be funny to put a gummy letter in her mouth. It stayed in her mouth for a while and sort of sucked on it. We took pictures and laughed so hard we cried. She woke up and was a little mad that we put the candy in her mouth but I donít think she knew about the pictures. Anyway, I had never been to the desert before. It was so pretty. Everything was different shades of rust. It is currently summer of South Africa and is NOT the time to go if you canít stand the heat. It was the hottest place I have ever been in. it was so hot. I was sweating in places I wasnít aware had sweat glands. Anyway, we were literally the only ones around for miles. When we arrived they had these delicious drinks waiting for us. Sort of like a champagne fruit drink. There were fruit chunks on the bottom too. I liked that. They also had some snacks out. The food at this place was fantastic. We stayed in these chalets which were like little lodges for about six people. I had to evacuate my room because some large bugs had died in the corner and an army of ants were busy getting dinner. They were all over our beds. This was just in my room that I shared with this girl Veronica. It figures that my room would be the one with the bug problem. Plastic cups were not included in the price of the chalets! Fortunately, my friend Janet had two extra beds in her chalet and we moved there. She and I shared a room and she was my personal exterminator for the evening. She escorted these big hairy spiders outside. I didnít sleep well that night. The pool was beautiful. It was a bit of a walk and we were on top of the Cedarburg Mountains, so high up that our ears kept popping. We did go on a walk at sunset. It was great. It was mostly downhill and we got to take jeeps back up. We walked to this amazingly huge canyon and watched the sunset. It was so amazing. It was a giant fireball. We even saw a zebra. That was very cool. The zebra is friends with this donkey and they are always together. The ranger said you never see one without the other. My friend Trina says they have jungle fever. We also went star gazing since there are no lights anywhere near us. I saw Saturn and its rings and I also saw Jupiter minus the big red spot. We went on a night drive through the reserve but only saw springbuck which look like deer, and an owl. Trina got to hold the spotlight to look for animals but she kept shining it in Daveís eyes, unintentionally of course. Lauren got to sit next to the driver who was totally flirting with her so he didnít do as much guiding as he could of! At one point we got too close to the side of the road and a big bush smacked me in the face. It was pretty funny. Our morning began with a delicious breakfast and what was supposed to be a short walk of about 15 minutes. It was a very long walk of more like 40 minutes. Then we visited the Bushmen or the Sans people just like in National Geographic. It was interesting but I felt like they were putting on a show for us. I didnít believe for a second that was where they really lived and was sort of disappointed by that. Of course we were invading their privacy and they did get money off of us. I bought a painted rock that I am using as a bookend. I bought my mom a bottle filled with different colored pretty sand in it. The Bushmen were all so short. On the ride home we stopped at an open air farm museum which was interesting but I could have lived without. Then we went for a wine tasting. It was okay but it was supposed to be some of the best. Everything tasted a little too woody and my favorite was a white wine which really surprised me. We got back to the ship at about 5pm and wanted to go to an authentic African restaurant. It was 8:30pm and everything seemed closed down. It was so dead. I was shocked. Dave spotted a bar called Bobís Bar and Bistro and really wanted to go there. We walked over and when we got to the front door all these heads turn and stare at us. They were all men and checking out Dave. We were all laughing hysterically that Dave would spot a gay bar. Then they wanted to go to this place called The Purple Turtle which looked like some kind of burger joint. Janet and I didnít want to go there since we donít eat meat. As we turned the corner to the entrance some guy thrust himself out the window to hock a loogie onto the sidewalk directly in front of Trina. He didnít see us so that was cool and he apologized. But we decided it was too dark and dank and loud to go inside. We headed in the direction of Adderly Street which is supposed to be the main street in Cape Town and we were so hungry that we decided to stop at the first place we found. That place happened to be The Holiday Inn. We felt so stupid eating at The Holiday Inn restaurant listening to American music while in South Africa. But Trina had the worldís greatest milkshake, so it was worth it. We also ate on the patio, which overlooked Green Market Square, which was neat but the market was closed. After dinner we went back to the ship. Dave went out to a bar for some girlís birthday and Janet wanted to have a relaxing night to catch up on her journal, so Trina and I went out. We didnít really feel like looking for Dave and we didnít make much of an effort. We ended up going to this great jazz bar called The Green Dolphin.

The next day my friend Janet and I went sky diving. SO FUN!!! I totally recommend it. I am so spoiled. I got to go sky diving in South Africa. We made reservations and a van picked us up along with a kid named Todd from Nebraska. He seemed pretty cool. The day started out foggy but ended up nice. We took a nice drive, about 45 minutes, out of Cape Town and went to this big garage. They were unable to provide us with a video cause they were so busy but I didnít mind too much. Janet didnít bring our receipt for proof of payment so we almost didnít go but luckily they believed us. We were told that all of the equipment was made in the US and that if the main parachute doesnít work that there is a back up and should something happen to our tandem master (the guy strapped behind us) that the parachute would automatically go off at a certain point. Anton was the man in charge and even wore a shirt that had ĎAnton in chargeí on it. He was crazy but fun and he got us all strapped up. I went first and he complimented me by telling me that I hadnít been eating my porridge because I was tiny. The harness was so tight that my posture was bent and I walked funny. Janet said I definitely had a bubble butt. Janet went with a man named Edgar who was so cool. My tandem master was named Chris. We had to run to the plane, which was about to take off without us because I wanted to pee one last time before we jumped. The plane was so small. It was crammed full and there were 7 of us including the pilot. We all sat on the floor. At least the door to our plane closed. Sandy said that her plane didnít have a side door and they just had an open hole on the side of the plane. Chris was wonderful. We had to sit close together so I sat between his legs and he just put his arms around me and held me or rubbed my arms to calm me down. He could tell I was nervous. He started dancing in his seat and I started to dance too but he told me not to dance too much because I might arouse him! more compliments. I felt very safe and completely trusted him. I was so in love with him. There was a bit of a misunderstanding and he had to pretty much throw me out of the plane because I left my foot in too long. He just lifted it up and threw it out. It was so much fun but really scary. How insane to actually throw yourself out of a plane! We were at about 9,000 feet. Janet watched us exit the plane since we went first and she said that we flipped backwards. Chris told me that we would feel weightless and like we were floating. I felt weightless but not so much like I was floating. I felt all the wind. It was so hard to breathe and I felt all this pressure on my chest. My mouth was so dry and the only time I could breathe was when I opened it but when I opened my mouth, it blew up like a puffer fish. It was cool but really scary. Janet said I screamed but I donít remember. When the parachute opened, I expected there to be a big jerk but there wasnít. It was very smooth. There was about 15 seconds of free fall and maybe a minute or two of parachuting. It was too short. I could see everything including Table Mountain. It was so fun. Chris even helped me take a picture of us up in the air. He asked me if I liked the view from his office. I told him that I was jealous of his job but I donít know if I would really like to take people sky diving for a living. He did say that one of the perks of his job was free and constant air conditioning. When we landed, Chris gave me hug. I love him. He even played bumper parachutes with Todd and his tandem master while we were in the air. It was brief though but very funny. After that, we ate a local African restaurant called Mama Africa located on Long Street. I had this yummy grilled butternut squash with cheese and spinach and mushrooms. It was definitely the best mean I have had to far. Sandy and I split an appetizer of mussels in coconut sauce. Delicious. My friend Dave had this wild game dinner. It had the crocodile and springbuck and ostrich and other sorts of safari animals Nasty. Dinner was accompanied by an African band with lots of drums. It was perfect. Then we went back to the Holiday Inn to get more of those perfect milkshakes. They werenít as good as they were the day before but we werenít going to let that ruin our perfect day. We went to a club called Club 169. It was so hot and crowded and only mildly fun. I did meet this cute boy though, unfortunately named Mike, who is also 23. we were both so happy to have met another older person. He was really sweet and really cute. We went home at about 1am and Janet, Dave, Trina and I decided to meet the next morning to go to Cape Point.

On the next day, my friends Janet, Dave, Trina and I went on a tour of the Cape Point Peninsula. It is the southernmost part of Africa and the place where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Dave and I went to the tourist office early in the morning to book our trip. In our down time before the tour began I called Rick who said that I had a birthday card following me around the world cause he kept missing the deadline. The four of us killed some more time by going to this huge flea market. We paid for a van to take us all of 4 blocks cause we werenít sure where it was. But it was really cheap. The flea market was outside and was so freaking hot. We didnít stay too long and decided to eat lunch on the ship in the air conditioning to save money. Trina was telling us that she got her eyebrows waxed and her feet done and Dave thought that meant she got her feet waxed. We all had a good laugh over that. Our tour was so fun even though we all slept in the van. Luckily a few other people were on our tour so the driver didnít feel totally stupid. We stopped at Boulder Beach and played with the penguins. Well, it was more like we chased them and they ran away from us. They smelled bad. We also got to see ostrich and baboons. It was really windy and extremely gorgeous. When we got back, Dave went out and Trina, Janet and I went out for pizza and had a good bonding night. We all want to have summer reunions in South Africa.

The last day in Cape Town was spent visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served 27 years as a political prisoner. It was really interesting. It was the four of us again. That was my little South Africa group. We were the only Americans in our group. Janet had overslept and was really cranky because we had to rush to catch the ferry. Dave was getting annoyed with her and said if she remained crabby that we would all run in the direction of the sun so that she would have to follow us. She is extremely sensitive to the sun. Our tour guide was a former political prisoner which I thought was cool. We were so glaringly American though especially because Dave was busy stuffing his face with Corn Pops while we were being told how little the prisoners were fed. Of course, in all of our inappropriateness, we thought that was funny. We are all going to hell. We went to Table Mountain next. The three of us girls opted not to hike it while Dave braved the heat and the climb. We didnít get to stay long because the winds were picking up and the last cable car had to leave. The rest of the night we shopped. I ended the night with a delicious blackcurrant frozen yogurt cone.

Of course, this is only a brief summary of what we did. I had so much fun and canít wait to go back. There are so many flea markets but it was so hot to spend a lot of time at the outdoor ones. We were supposed to be going to Kenya but due to current political conditions it was deemed unsafe to go right before we left the Bahamas. All I wanted was a safari to make my African experience complete. Now we have to go to the island of Mauritius, which no one has ever heard of and no one thinks it could ever measure up to Cape Town. I am sure we will try to make the best of it.

Enjoy the pics!

Posted by karen at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)