Semester at Sea

This semester I will be on a ship taking classes and traveling to different countries. I will visit Cadiz, SPAIN ~ Casablanca, MOROCCO ~ Takoradi, GHANA ~ Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA ~ Port Louis, MAURITIUS ~ Chennai, INDIA ~ SINGAPORE ~ Ho Chi Minh City, VIET NAM ~ Hong Kong/Shanghai, CHINA ~ Kobe/Yokohama, JAPAN ~ Honolulu/Hilo, HAWAII ~ San Diego, USA.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"I'm black like a piano...can you be my keys?"

We’re in Africa!!!!!! Morocco was Africa of course, but it really didn’t feel like it. For the seven days we were on the ship from Morocco to Ghana, Ariel and I played ‘Oh Africa’ and ‘Waka Waka’ on repeat every day because we were so excited.

So yesterday we woke up around 540am because the sun was supposed to rise at 556am (I’m trying to see all of the sunrises as we pull into port…I’ve seen them all so far!). It was really cloudy so it wasn’t a pretty sunrise, but we could see land so we were still excited. There were a ton of little fishing boats (really small ones…not much bigger than canoes), and it was so cute because every time we passed one, the people in them stood up and waved. Then, we saw a school of dolphins!!!! It was my first time to see dolphins, and there were at least six of them! It made my morning.

Most people had signed up for SAS trips or had FDPs that they had to do for class, but a few of us didn’t. After customs cleared us, we got off the ship and headed toward the market. This port was definitely different from the last two because it was like there was a crowd ready to greet us. As we walked everyone either smiled and waved or came up and talked to us. The first people we talked to were two businessmen. They came up to us on the street and asked where we were from. One of them said he had seen many of our friends and was curious who we were. It was nice because it showed me how we are finally in a place that isn’t touristy. He asked for all of our email addresses and gave us a big, sincere “welcome to Ghana”. It went pretty much the same way all day – people kept asking us where we were from (they got really excited when we said America. Apparently they love us…their approval rating is 90% which is an interesting contrast having just come from Morocco where it is 16%), asking for our email addresses (who knows how many emails we’ll have by the time we leave. haha), and telling us “welcome to Ghana.” It was so refreshing to meet such happy, friendly people.

Anyway, it was a long walk from the ship into town, and then we spent almost 30 minutes in line at the ATM because only one ATM in the whole town took our debit cards. We got money, stopped by the post office and then wandered through the market. It was definitely a market for locals because it was mostly food and stuff like that…It was really cool though. There was a lot of fish and meat but also spices and crazy vegetables I’ve never seen before. We did find one lady selling beads, so we stopped and bought some. Some people we passed at one stand stopped us and asked our names. They weren’t able to pronounce them, so they asked when we were born. In Ghana you are named according to the day of the week on which you were born. My Ghanaian name is Abena.

After we had been through the whole market, we were ready for some lunch. It was too late to get lunch on the ship so we asked around about restaurants. We found out that they don’t really eat at restaurants so our only option was to go to a hotel. We took a cab to one, and it was BEAUTIFUL. It was right on the beach and right across the street there was a little shop with crafts. We ate and then went into the shop. They had a lot of awesome hand crafted figurines and stuff like that. I got a really pretty painting; it’s of two women carrying babies on their backs and baskets on their heads…which is cool because that really is how EVERYONE carries things here. We also talked to these guys for a while. I guess they were rappers…we asked them if they like Jay-Z and they started singing Empire State of Mind. Haha It was so crazy to hear Ghanaians sing about New York. They were really cool though, and I’m so thankful I got to talk to so many people throughout the day. Moroccans were a little closed off, so being able to talk to the Ghanaians really makes the experience more meaningful and helps me see the culture.

We took another cab back to the ship. The driver was funny…he had an American flag with Obama’s face on it on his window. They sell those flags everywhere.

Back at the ship, Shannon and I got in the pool to cool off. It was really hot outside, but I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone was saying it was going to be (Speaking of which…we’re at the ‘center of the world’! Takoradi is the closest spot on land to where the equator meets the prime meridian). We all hung out for a little while on the ship before we went out. I wasn’t planning on going out at all, but I’m glad I did because it was SO much fun. While we were getting a cab outside of the port, there was a big group of Ghanaians trying to make us bracelets and sell us jewelry…one guy yelled at one of the SAS girls, “I’m black like a piano, can you be my keys?” haha…we all thought it was hilarious. The bar was definitely a pool hall, but we turned it into a dance floor. Our one mission was to hear ‘Oh Africa’, and after requesting it about eight times, they finally played it! It was the highlight of my night. They also played ‘Waka Waka’ right after which was awesome.

When we were worn out we went back to the ship and got some sleep. This morning hasn’t been very eventful. It’s been raining nonstop, so we didn’t want to go back out. Now I’m just getting ready to go to the orphanage this afternoon…I can’t wait!

Friday, September 17, 2010


Day 1

I had signed up for a SAS trip to the SOS Children’s Village, so as soon as we docked in Casablanca on the 9th, I got off the ship and onto the bus. The differences between Spain and Morocco could be seen immediately! The port in Spain was nice and pretty and everything was really close to the port. But in Morocco, the port was very dirty and industrial with lots of crates and cargo ships. The air was full of dust, and it was HOT. Regardless I was excited to be there and see the country.

The first stop of the day was at the George Washington Academy.  I was a little confused at first because I didn’t know we were going there, and I didn’t know what kind of school it was. Turns out it was a private American school (K-12). The facility was really nice and clean. After talking to one of the school’s directors, we learned that the school was composed of mostly upper class Moroccans (the tuition is very expensive), all of the students must learn Arabic, French and English, and most of the students go to the US or Europe for university when they graduate. I knew it was by no means an accurate view of an average Moroccan’s education, but it was interesting to see nonetheless.

After the school we went to the Children’s Village. SOS Children’s Villages can be found all around the world, and they take in orphans and other neglected children. Basically, the children live in the houses around the village and each house has a ‘mom.’ The moms are hired to live full time at the village and take care of the children they are given. They are given a monthly allowance for food, clothes, etc. All of the children in the village go to school in the city and within the village they said they try to teach them skills that will help them be successful when they’re 18 and leave. None of the children in the village are adopted though because adoption is not allowed in the Muslim faith. 

It was so interesting to see an NGO in action. I don’t think I was there long enough to be able to accurately say if what they’re doing is working, but on the surface it seemed like a great system.

After we got a tour and asked questions, we had some time to play with the kids. They didn’t speak English very well, but while some people played basketball or soccer with some of the boys, I got to use a little of my French with a group of girls. I was so excited. I was a little self-conscious at first because she didn’t understand some of what I was saying, but then I realized that they didn’t speak French fluently either. She would be saying something and then randomly switch back to Arabic (actually most people threw in Arabic words when they were speaking French so it made it difficult to understand). Haha. Anyway, I still enjoyed talking to them…one girl even gave me here sticker before I left! It was so sweet…I wish we could have stayed longer.

I got back that night around dinner time. Some people were going back out, but I was worn out so I stayed on the ship.

Day 2

We got up early to get a train to Marrakech. Everyone said Casablanca was dirty and expensive, so we didn’t see the point in hanging out there for long. We got to the train station at about 8:45am, and the 8:50am train still hadn’t left. We got our tickets, and went out to the platform. The station was packed, mostly with other SASers. By 9:00am the train still hadn’t come, and then they made an announcement that the train was delayed 45 minutes. Apparently, when they say 45 minutes, they really mean an hour and a half. Haha. We finally got on the train a little after 10, and it was PACKED. All of the little rooms were full so we had to squeeze in the aisles. I was not thrilled about standing in the cramped isle for 4 hours, but after about an hour one of the rooms opened up.

We finally got to Marrakech and took a cab to the medina (it’s the traditional old part of all Islamic cities where the markets and stuff are). We went in the medina and found our hostel. It was AMAZING. It was soo nice compared to our hostel in Spain, and it had so much charm and character. In the lobby area there were traditional Moroccan decorations and no chairs, only pillows on the floor. There was a beautiful pool in the main courtyard, and my bed was super comfy. I wanted to move in and stay forever!

After we checked in and set our stuff down, we went out to explore. Our first stop was to get ice cream (dressing ‘conservatively’ is not fun when it’s over 100 degrees…so we craved ice cream the whole time), and it was delicious! Then we hit the ATM and headed for the markets. On the way, in the main square, we saw our first monkey and snake charmers. It was so crazy to see it in real life! We all felt bad for the monkeys because their life definitely didn’t look fun. But we tried to avoid the whole area as much as possible because we had run into one of the SAS faculty who said they usually just throw the snake on you and then won’t take it off until you pay them. Anyway, we saw so many awesome things in the market but I didn’t by much the first day. One thing I did buy was linen pants to wear on the camel trek. The guy at the shop looked exactly like James Franco! Haha. It was funny…we all took a picture with him before we left.

We went to dinner at a restaurant that had a rooftop terrace overlooking the square, and we got there at the perfect time – we saw the most beautiful sunset. It was amazing to watch the city come alive as it got darker. The food was soo good too. I had my first couscous of the trip! After dinner we walked around a little and then got some more ice cream; we just couldn’t resist!

Day 3

The next morning we went to the rooftop terrace of our hostel and had a really yummy breakfast. I have no idea what it was (it was a mix between a pancake and a crepe) but it was good. We all got ready and then went out to explore the markets some more. I was on a mission and ended up getting everything I wanted.

My absolute favorite purchases were the spices I bought. We randomly came across a spice shop and fell in love. The shop owner had us sit on a bench as he brought all of the spices around for us to smell. He also gave made us some mint tea to drink while we waited! I got two cooking spices, cinnamon, some rose tea, and two bars of ‘perfume.’ I REALLY hope they let me through customs with all of it!

You have to barter hard…it was exhausting, but I don’t think I got ripped off too bad on anything. A guy at one of the shops pinched my cheek after we had settled on a price and called me a good haggler. Haha. It was little creepy but still funny.  For a few days afterwards, the shop owners’ voices were continuously ringing in my head with their calls of ‘I make you good price’ and ‘student discount, student discount’…all of which the used to try to entice us to look in their shop. Like I said, it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought it would…it was actually pretty fun!

Again we had ice cream for lunch. Haha. Justin Beiber was playing in one of the shops next door. It was hilarious to experience Bieber Fever in Africa. We got dinner in the square at a sort of street vendor, and again I got couscousJ.  We went back to the hostel and jumped in the pool to cool off from the long, hot day.

Day 4

We were up bright and early to leave for our camel trek. The guide met us at our hostel, and we left around 7am. There was a little confusion at first because we had signed up for a ‘private’ tour (there were 22 of us) and paid the private tour price (the guy at our hostel said we were getting ripped off anyway because they ran the same exact tour for 25euros less…it would have been nice to have that extra money, but by that point I didn’t care…I just wanted to be on my camel!). After many discussions and phone calls to their boss, they ended up providing water to make up for it.

We got in the bus and left Marrakech. Not far out of the city, we started to get into the high Atlas Mountains. After about an hour we stopped at this little café that had a panoramic view of the mountains. It was so beautiful! I had a little breakfast (pita bread and cream cheese…so good!)and coffee, and then we got back on the bus. The drive was a little nauseating with all of the twists and turns, but the view more than made up for it. We stopped again a few hours later to look over the mountain pass we had just come through. Of course, we had to take some pics…then we were in the bus again. Not far down the road, we were going around another sharp corner and a bus hit us! It was so scary…everything happen so fast. We were all just silent at first because we couldn’t believe what had happened. A huge crowd of men formed around the two cars and they seemed to animatedly discussing whose fault it was. Eventually the car got hot so we all got out to stretch our legs. When I got out I realized how lucky we were…they don’t have guardrails on the mountain roads and we weren’t far from the huge cliff. We were also lucky because the accident didn’t cause much damage (it bent the rim of one tire and left a dent in the car). I’m so thankful that it turned out ok. They changed the tires, and we continued on.

We stopped for lunch in a town that is called the ‘capital of cinema in North Africa.’ Apparently Laurence of Arabia, Gladiator, Prince of Persia, and a bunch of other movies were filmed there.

After lunch we kept driving and moved into the low Atlas Mountains. We passed a bunch of Berber villages along the way. It was really interesting because at first glance, I would think of them as poor but then I saw that they had electricity and satellite dishes (but then I found out in class yesterday that the government subsidies satellite dishes and people don’t really have to pay for them). For my Poverty and Economic Development class, my group is doing our Human Development Indicator project on Morocco. It was kind of difficult to decide though how ‘developed’ they are because a lot of the indicators come from a western perspective. For example, the country was generally pretty dirty (even though they seemed to have technology, education, etc.) but I couldn’t figure out if that was a problem or if as a Westerner I’m just hyper-sensitive about cleanliness. My group meets tonight to discuss it so we’ll see!

Finally around sunset we got to our camels! They were bigger than I expected and really cute too! They were all sitting and waiting for us with their legs curled underneath them. We picked our camels and got on. I name mine Tobias J…the name suited him. Haha. They made the camels stand up (pretty scary at first!) and then we rode off into the desert. It was perfect timing because the sun was setting and it was gorgeous! We rode for about an hour and a half until we got to the nomad village. First they served us mint tea and then they cooked an amazing dinner for us – some kind of soup, vegi tangine, and melon for desert. It was definitely my favorite meal in Morocco!

After dinner we sat outside and our guide told us jokes and riddles. They were really corny, but they still cracked me up.

Some people went straight to bed but a few of us waited while they built a fire. It was so cool…once they got the fire going they played some of their traditional music. It was amazing to be sitting on a sand dune in the Sahara Desert and listening to them play their drums.

After a little dancing around the fire, we went back to our tent. I dragged my mat outside and slept under the stars. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; the sky was so clear and there were so many bright stars. We could even see the Milky Way, which I have never seen before. I didn’t want to fall asleep because I didn’t want to stop looking at the sky, but finally I did.

Day 5

The next morning I woke up at dawn and again it was absolutely beautiful. We sat on the dunes and watched the sun rise from behind the mountains. It was time to head back, so I went and found Tobias.

We got back in the bus and then drove to get breakfast. It was pretty much the same drive on the way back, except we stopped in the town called the ‘capital of cinema in North Africa’ and walked around the village that was built in the 15th century. It was pretty crazy to see it and think about how old it is and about how many people have walked on the same paths.

Long story short, some people were really concerned about missing the last train out of Marrakech, so they asked the guides if we could pay them to take us directly to Casablanca. They ended up agreeing. By lunch time everyone was complaining about everything and I was starting to get irritated. I just didn’t understand why people couldn’t appreciate the adventure instead of focusing on how hot it was, how long the drive was, etc.  Anyway, I was ready to get back, and after about 16 hours in the car, we got to the ship. Our guide added us all on Facebook the next day…he was so adorable. Haha

Day 6

On our last day in Morocco, we all slept in. Then we went out one last time to get free internet to upload photos and whatnot. The hotel we went to was packed with SASers though, so the internet was too slow to get much done. We went back to the ship and later that night went to the top deck to watch as we left the port. Again it looked very different than Spain, but the coolest part was the Hassan II mosque (the third largest mosque in the world) – it had a bright green laser coming out of the top. I assume it was pointing to Mecca, but I don’t know for sure. I wish I had the time to go in the mosque, but I drove by it a few times and got some pictures.

Anyway, we left Casablanca and are now on our way to Takoradi, Ghana!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Spain was a lot of fun! The first day we got off the ship, and we were all just SO excited to be on land/in Spain that we went crazy taking pictures and running around Cadiz; it is such a beautiful city. We explored for a while and then got some lunch and sangria (it was funny because we all ate pizza…it wasn’t exactly Spanish food but we were sick of ship food and just wanted something yummy and familiar).  That afternoon we went to the beach and relaxed there for a while, and then we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner.

We were in a big group (about 11 I think) so as we wandered around that night we couldn’t find anywhere that had enough room for us. We all started to get a little frustrated because we were hungry and it seemed like we had been walking all night. We were about to split up when we found this restaurant in one of the plazas. We ordered a bunch of tapas that Dean David told us we had to try while we were in Spain – I got paella (it had seafood in it so I didn’t really like it), tortilla espanola (I think that was the name…it’s like this potato/egg/tortilla cake and it was delicious) and croquettes (the way Dean David described them made them sound amazing but these had tuna in them so I wasn’t a big fan of these either). The night started a little rough but dinner ended well! After sitting and chatting for a while, we went to a club down the street and had an awesome night.

The next day Ariel and I were up bright and early to catch the bus to Sevilla. We were both exhausted and slept the whole way there, but once we arrived we took a tram to the central plaza and then navigated our way to the hostel. We were so proud of our travel skills! The hostel was a little sketch – it was realllly cramped and our room smelled like mildew. We had our own lockers though and all of their security made me feel safe, so I was thankful for that. After further investigation of the room we discovered the source of the lovely smell – there was mold on one of the walls where the paint was chipping and there was mold on the bathroom ceiling. Yay! Haha. It was super cheap though so I guess you get what you pay for.

Anyway, after we checked in we started walking around and exploring the city. We found this cute little café tucked away on a side street and decided to stop for lunch. I tried croquettes again and they were amazing this time. We spent almost three hours at that café just eating and talking. After that we were still tired so we went back to the hostel and had a four hour siesta. Haha It was such a relaxing day! At the hostel we met this guy from Tennessee who works in Morocco at a handicapped orphanage. Of course I immediately wanted to be his best friend, and it was nice getting to grill him about what to expect. We’re sad because we never got his name (we just keep referring to him as Tennessee. haha)

The next morning we went out in search of churros con chocolate. Basically it is a hot, deep fried churro that you dipped in a mug of thick, warm, melted chocolate…sooo good!  We ran into a friend and spent the rest of the day exploring the city. One of my favorite things was the Archives; it’s the building that houses all of the original documents from the exploration of the New World. It was really interesting! We also saw the Tower of Gold, where they kept all of the gold and silver that the explorers brought back from the New World, the bullfighting arena, and a bunch of other stuff. Sevilla definitely has some fascinating history!

That night we went out in search of dinner and ran into two other SASers who decided to join us. Once again I chose poorly on the tapas, but the good company more than made up for it. Some other SASers passed by on their way to dinner, and we discovered that we are all in the same ‘sea’. It was good to meet other people on our floor, and we are all pumped for the Sea Olympics (the decks are divided into ‘seas’ and then we have Sea Olympics with different sports and activities)!

The next morning we got some yummy crepes on our way out of Sevilla. Once we were back in Cadiz we thought we would be productive and find a laundry mat since laundry is so expensive on the ship and you can only do it on certain days. Anyway it was a major fail because we couldn’t find one anywhere (Google maps took us to some random house). I got tired of carrying my heavy bag so I went back to the ship while Ariel stayed in town. Later I went back out on my own and walked around a different area of town. It was a lot less touristy, so it was really nice. I stopped a few places before I went back to the ship…my favorite was this bakery where I got the most amazing pastry.

On the last day in Spain we all went into the city to get our last fix of free internet before we left. I got to skype my mom, so I was happy. After that we walked up the top of one of the church towers and got an incredible, panoramic view of the city and the ocean. We overindulged in churros con chocolate one last time before exploring the market and getting some things at the grocery store. On our way back we ran into some other SASers eating lunch so we sat down with them and soaked up the last few moments of Spain. It was a little sad to leave because it went by SO quickly, but I was pumped to get to Morocco!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The past two days have been awesome. Yesterday after breakfast we went outside and watched as we passed the Azores islands. We came so close to them! I didn’t even know these islands existed, so I thought it was pretty cool. It reminded me of Lost or something because they seemed very ancient and not built up like most places.

I took an intense nap both yesterday and today because these time changes are killing me; we’ve lost an hour each night for the past four nights in a row. For some reason the fact that the clocks would change so much never occurred to me, so I wasn’t really prepared. But apparently when we cross the international dateline and gain a day, it is on Thanksgiving, so I guess we get two Thanksgivings! Haha

We will get to Spain on Saturday and I’m soo excited. Ariel and I planned out the whole week and it will be awesome. We are going to spend the first day in Cadiz at the beach, market, churches, etc. and then we are going to take the first bus out the next day and go to Sevilla. Two nights ago we went to a seminar about Spanish food and it all sounded SO good. I can’t wait to have some good, authentic meals and tapas!

We originally had one day on the ship between Spain and Morocco, but since it actually only takes about two hours to get to Morocco, they moved up our arrival time to 2pm the day after we leave Spain. I’m excited to have an extra day in Morocco, but I was freaking out yesterday because I didn’t have a single thing planned for the entire week. Then, Ariel told me that the camel trek she is going on (there are about 20 people going and they organized it on facebook) had some open spaces, so I joined that group! I’m so relieved but also really looking forward to it. We are going to spend the first day around Casablanca (I signed up to go to an orphanage, but those trips are really popular so we’ll see if I get it). Then we’re going to take a train the next day to Marrakech. We will spend two days there hanging out and hopefully the big, traditional market will be open. On the 13th, we will get up early and ride camels for a few hours out to the desert. We should pass some Berber villages along the way! We will camp in the desert that night, ride the camels back in the morning, and then take the train back to Casablanca that night.
We finished the day yesterday with a photo scavenger hunt and a little stargazing (they turned the lights off at the front of the ship so we could see the stars but we got there kinda late so there wasn’t any room to sit down).

This morning we went to breakfast and then I had an awesome workout – first I saw a whale! It was really far away but I saw it nonetheless. Then Desmond Tutu and his wife were walking outside and he definitely waved to me. Haha. It was awesome.
I’m going to bed soon…I have a lot of reading for class that I should do but I want to catch up on sleep before I don’t get ANY in Espana!! :)