“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Mark Twain

Monday, March 29, 2010

Neptune Day, Talent Show, Port Louis, Mauritius and Beyond...Where Stacey learned she loves to snorkel and snails!!!

Saturday, March 20
First I would like to say I know it has been a bit since I have blogged and lots has happened on the ship.  We crossed the equator and those who had not yet crossed the equator by ship participated in Neptune Day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line-crossing_ceremony).  We were awoken by the crew banging on doors and ordering people out to the pool deck area.

This day is when some sort of fishy gunk gets thrown at people then they swim through the pool, kiss a fish and then have to kiss the rings of King Neptune and his wife Queen Merneva and then shave their heads. 
Chris and Cindy holding the fishes awaiting their kisses:

Since I have already crossed the equator I did not need to participate in this but I got to be part of the Royal Court and assist in the mayhem.  There were probably about a dozen or so women who actually shaved there heads and it was a pretty amazing experience to be witness to this.  They all looked really beautiful when they were done.  Other women cut there hair enough to send to locks for love to create wigs for cancer survivors.
Here is a picture of most of the people who altered their hair this day:

The day ended with our talent show which was an eclectic display of talent from dancing to stand up to bagpipe playing, jump roping and singer song writers.  There was something for everyone and like I have said before the talent on this ship is pretty amazing.  I wonder if it is the students that are drawn to this program or if it is the environment that is so welcoming to a variety of talents no matter the quality level.  I don't know.  This was the last of my big scale events so I actually got to breathe the days that followed, it was quite nice.

Tuesday, March 23 and Wednesday, March 24
So Mauritius, this land that no one I know has ever been to and most have not heard of, was a magical wonderful paradise. I definitely started making plans for my time there the night before we arrived yet everything turned out to be fabulous. It is interesting to think that in real life if I was planning to visit a different country I may spend months planning what I would be doing, how I would get there and where I would be staying. On this voyage I seem to figure things out as I go along. I am visiting countries for the first time and making plans the night before and I have been OK (mostly) with this. I would like to take some of this back with me when I get home. We schedule meetings out only hours maybe a day before. We plan large scale events in a week’s time and I we are traveling around the world only concerned about the moment and not stressing about tomorrow (at least I am trying!)

Anyway to Mauritius I will take you. These dancers greeted us as we left the ship:

We ported in Port Louis and Janelle, Laura and I took a water taxi from where the ship was located to downtown Port Louis. Once there we walked around the downtown area and were able to see the Indian, English and French influence that was present with the people, markets and architecture.

We had an English style brunch with bread, jam, coffee and pastries:

We walked through the markets and a park. In this park we came upon a man that at first interaction we thought that he was going to ask us for money, try to get us to by something or use his taxi. I hate that this was our first thought when we met him because he was just interested in talking to us because we were from a different country. When we tell him we are from America he tells us that he loves John Travolta and hopes to come to America someday to be an actor and meet him. He then proceeds to pull out some sort of Grease (the movie) playing card and started singing Sandy from Grease. So what did we do…we sang along with him. It was great random park moment!! Unfortunately I did not capture this moment on film because we were so in the moment, but here are some pics of the park:

We then headed to find a bus to take us to the beach. This was the best decision we could have made. While some people were taking taxis around for $30-$60 dollars we hopped on a public bus and rode it to our destination for less than $1 each way!!!! We were able to look out the window of the bus and watch as the streets pass by as we traveled north to the beaches of Trou Aux Biches. We did not really know where we were going except we heard there were beaches there and told to go north because the south was experiencing some storms so we told the bus driver that we wanted to go to the beach and asked that he let us know when we should get out. About 40 minutes later he said “Beach” so we got off and low and behold we were at the beach. When we got there we ran in to a faculty couple and their kids at the beach they were making plans to go out on a boat for snorkeling and we were inquiring to do the same thing so we decided to all go together. As we were about to pull out more of our friends showed up, Rob (another LLC), his wife Kathleen and their kids. So they hopped on the boat and the 11 of us headed out for snorkeling!!!
This is not the best pic of me but it is what I got:

When I was making a deal with the little tour company that had the boats I was told that part of our trip out would be to an aquarium. I said that we did not want to go to an aquarium we wanted to go out on the ocean…the Indian Ocean that is. What I realized later was the glass bottom boat we took out was serving as an aquarium.
We saw different types of fish that I had not seen anywhere other than in an aquarium, this was an amazing, peaceful yet surreal experience. Then it was time for me to snorkel. One of the people captured a video of me commentating out loud my process of putting on the fins, the mask, getting into the water. It is pretty amusing. Though it seems like it would not be a big deal, I was a little stressed jumping into the water for the first time. As it turns out it is really easy to tread water with fins on your feet, if you put the tubey thing in your mouth you can breath with your head under water and the goggles allow you to see things you would not be able to otherwise. I love snorkeling…it is my new favorite thing. And when people ask me what I do for fun I will respond with snorkel. It is now what I do!!!

After we were done with this great adventure Laura, Janelle and I parted ways from our snorkeling buddies and searched the area for other friends who we knew were staying close by. We did end up getting in a taxi at this point (but negotiated a fair price) and headed to the Beach Villas in Mount Chosy only a 5 minute taxi ride away. Some of our friends got rented a Villa for the night and invited everyone for dinner – there was a barbeque. The place was awesome, with the exception of some on wanted ants. We decided to stay the night as well and it was great to stay off the ship in this great location. It was great night full of eating, some beverages, great conversations and night swimming in the pool that was off of our rooms.
Here is a pic of Danielle, Laura, Emily and I:

I was in the southern hemisphere looking up at stars that we would not see at home, while looking out onto the Indian Ocean …it was truly a breathtaking moment.
This is from the grouds of where we stayed:

There were lots of snails around in these bug beautiful shells, I kinda like snails now!  Though I am destined to be squished by a giant snail someday because I did squish a small one with my barefoot when it was dark.

At first I thought I will ony be in Mauritius for 36 hours I need to make sure I have this great cultural experience and it would not be right to only see the beaches. Then I realized I did see the people, interact with them in local markets, and respect them and their culture. Also, there was nothing wrong with spending the little time we had there connecting with friends in the splendor that was Mauritius. I am not sure who said it that night but it was as if we had stepped into a computer screensaver or background. Here are some screensaver shots:

Here is me in the Indian Ocean, you can make it your screensaver if you would like!:
On the walk from our Villa to the Beach we passed by this Hindu shrine on the beach:
When we got up the next morning, made breakfast then I walked down to the beach and then wrote some postcards from the balcony deck that was attached to the room I was staying in.
The view from our Balcony:

Then it was time to find a bus to take us back to reality.  Here are some sights I saw from the bus:

Laughing Cow!!!!!

Here is what I learned about Mauritius. The main languages spoken here are Creole and English. They have a very high literacy rate. The people are super friendly and live in a fairly harmonious fashion despite racial, religious and ethnic differences. It is less expensive then the US but nowhere near as inexpensive as Vietnam, India or China. Tourism has become a main source of revenue for a lot of Mauritians though most of their tourists come from Europe and Australia and not the US. And I will be having my destination wedding here… I just need to find me a groom! There is a lot more of the island to see then I got a chance too; there is a volcano and waterfall in the middle of the island but it was a wonderful, much needed trip.  If you have the opportunity to visit Mauritius...do it!!!

Now I am about 36 hours away from being in South Africa and during the day we were able to see Africa off of the starboard (right) side of the ship.  The other night we watched Invictus in the Union and it allowed my mind to settle on the fact that I am actually going to South Africa.  South Africa is one of the reasons I wanted to do a full semester at sea voyage.  I never imagined I would be going here and now a month after China I am going to South Africa.  I consider myself truly blessed to have this opportunity and so grateful to be here.  I will get to see my friend Tricia in South Africa, in fact as I write this she is sound asleep in Johannesberg, South Africa and she will fly to Cape Town on Wednesday to meet me when I arrive.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cochin, India - Monday, March 15 and Tuesday, March 16


So as I have stated before the job I am in sometimes necessitates that I am taking care of some student concerns so some of this was while I was traveling on the ship and then when I arrived to Cochin so it took me a little longer to leave the ship then I anticipated. So at 3pm when I finally got off of the ship I left the Island of Willingdon (where we were ported) with Chris (a friend who works in the Field Office) and we headed out by rickshaw to the Fort Kochi area to see what Cochin had to offer. When we walked out of the port we had to go through immigration and customs and had our paperwork checked and rechecked before we could leave the port area. Once out we were bombarded by rickshaw drivers asking to take us places and we negotiated with one man to drive us to the island of Fort Kochi and show us all of the sights to see.
Views from the Rickshaw:
Chris and I:
I really liked the Cochin area, it seemed calm by Indian standards and though there were some stands we would walk by with vendors who wanted us to buy their wares I did not feel overly harassed as I did when I was in Chennai or even when I traveled through India 2 years ago. Also it seemed as though this area of India is more affluent then others I have been to. I did hear a statistic that the literacy rate of the state of Kerala (where Kochin is located) has one of if the highest rate of literacy in India, something like 97%. We were given a tour that included the Dutch Palace which was some sort of museum the chronicled the past rulers of Cochin:

Santa Cruz Basilica:
Street Cows:
A ginger plant of some sort, this is ginger:
What you see here is the dust coming off of the ginger - it was burning our eyes:
 Unfortunately for us the oldest Jewish Synagogue in India which is located here was closed by the time we visited so we were unable to go inside. We also got to see the Chinese Fishing Nets that only exist in this part of India, they were put up between 1350 and 1450 by traders from the court of Kublai Khan (isn’t he from Mario Brothers…hee hee). Our driver dropped us off at the restaurant, Dal Roti, that had been suggested to us by a friend and also we read some reviews about on trip advisor. But it was around 5 and we were not meeting others until 6:30 so we ventured out some more, walked around by the water and then sat an watched some guys playing cricket in a park.
When it was time for dinner we were amazed by another delicious meal that may have been just as good as the one that I spoke about in Chennai. After having a rough start to my day to end it with an amazing meal and for less than $4 was really helping me to seelk pleasure in all that I do. When Chris and I got there we thought we would order Samosas. On the menu it was something something samosa (2 or more people) we ordered it anticipating the arrival of our friends and then thinking we would order a meal after they arrived. The waiter laughed and told us it was to much food and we said it was OK. This is what arrived:

It was like an Indian Calzone and it was a little bit of amazingness in my mouth!!! So our friends finally arrived helped us polish this off and because there were 6 of us we each split a dish with someone else which worked out great.
After dinner it was back to the ship and back to work but I knew that I would be able to leave for a little bit the next day.


Today was pretty low key and I was able to get off the ship for a few hours and explore the Ernakulum part of Cochin. I was able to eat street Samosa (the real kind) and Chai Masala (finally!!!) Look how joyful I look:
This was where we got our food from:

Cindy and I walked to the water and were able to take in the view of our ship. So I was looking to buy some scarves because the last time I was in India I was able to get “Pashmina” scarves for a really good price. When I was in Chennai I did not have a chance to shop so I figured I would do it here. Well at the end of the day I was determined to do a little bit of shopping and Cindy and I found ourselves on a street that looked like where the local people shopped and up until the last half hour or so of our day we did not see any Westerners. We could not figure out why there were no scarves to be found until I realized if this is where the locals shopped why in the world would they have any sort of heavy scarf it never gets cold enough to warrant one. So I left realizing it was not that important for me to buy these and I was happy that I got to experience a space amongst some of the local people.
Here are some pictures of that walk around town:
Large Gandi statue:
See no evil:
The Rainbow Bridge:

India was interesting for me because I did not see what many others saw (this time) and know I should feel grateful that I have been to this magnificent country twice in my life and most people I know have not even been to once.  It is just something I have been thinking about and have gotten through.

Everyone made it back to the ship for an on time departure and now I am on the ship to Mauritius. My goal between now and then (besides putting on a talent show) is to learn a little something about Mauritius.

Usually the night that we are departing I am ready to just be back in my cabin on my own.  But I was invited in by some students on my sea (my neighbors) to have Henna painted on my hand because I did not get to do this and a lot of others did. 
It was a great moment to get to know some of my students who I had not had a chance to really connect with before and now I feel as if we have a connection.

Friday, March 19
So tonight is the night before Neptune Day and I will blog about that experience.  But it is a ritual that people who travel by ship across the equator experience.  Also tomorrow is the night of the talent show which means that after tomorrow night I can breathe a little buit because my two major projects will have been completed.