“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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Salvador, Brazil - Days 1 and 2

Unfortunately, Salvador was not my favorite port (though I do not have a least favorite) and there are 2 things that contributed to this one was that there was a heightened sense of danger here and the second was that Rob, one of the LLCs, and his family had to suddenly leave because his wife’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was not doing well.  So they left from Salvador and returned home to be with him and their family.  They made it back in time to say their goodbyes and I firmly believe that when he heard they were returning he held on to say goodbye.  Having Rob leave has left a big void in our staff and saying goodbye before “it was time” was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I was pretty much a mess and had trouble controlling my emotions which I guess it is not a bad thing.  Since that was the 2nd day of the trip it definitely put a cloud over the rest of the experience.  I realized the importance of saying the things you always mean to say to the people you care about.  Also on the first night when I got back to the ship we heard stories of people being mugged in broad daylight that added to the negative energy here.  What is interesting though is as I walked around I never really felt unsafe, but I still kept my guard up and clutched my belongings wherever I went.  A lot of people left Salvador to head to Rio or the Amazon so by the 2nd day most of the people from our group were out of town.  If I do this voyage again I would probably opt to do one of those trips.

Anyway, there were some very good moments in Salvador and the old city area was beautiful and like I said I felt safe almost the whole time we were there.  The first day in Salvador I headed off of the ship with Laura, Marvel (one of the counselors), her daughter Siphan, and their friend Gayle.  We had been talking about repeating our time together that we had spent in Tokyo and since this was the last port this was the day!!  In order to get from where the ship was in the lower area to the higher area we had to take an elevator up.  So we did this and headed to the old town.  We stopped first for a delicious cup of coffee and then moved towards the Pelourinho area. 

As we were walking in and out of shops the sky opened up and luckily we were stationed in a shop where Marvel was making a large transaction (she was buying soccer jerseys for Siphan’s soccer team) so we planted ourselves here and watched the rain go by.  Recently in Brazil there were some major mudslides in Rio and even this area has been affected by it so when it rains it pours and the heavy rains really effect living conditions in Salvador and around Brazil.  Also because of the way the city is built on many hills with cobblestone roads the rains flow into the favellas (the poorer areas, their equivalent to townships) and effects the poorer areas more so then those in affluent communities.
A coconut payphone??

This is from a graffiti artist I was really drawn to:
When the rain cleared we kept walking and ended up at an Italian restaurant, shared some dishes and then waited out the rain again!  Luckily this was really our rainiest day and the other days would prove to be dryer.  On our walk back we stopped in Pelourhino square to watch a video being filmed for the Brazilian World Cup team.  The band Olodum (who are huge in Brazil – they were in a video with Michael Jackson) and Brazilian popstars Jammil were part of this video shoot as were some of our students.  It was fun to see some of the students dancing in the video and hopefully I will get to see the final product at some point. 

We left this area and Laura and I parted ways from the rest of our group and walked around some more, taking pictures as we went.  We ended at the restaurant, Cantina da Lua, which was named on a blog as the best bar in the world.  Now I have been to a lot of bars in the world and it was fine but I would not say it was the best ever.  I did try my first caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail…does the US have one??) which is this mojito type drink made with cachaca (a liquor made from distilled sugar), muddled sugar and lots of lime…it was quite tasty.  After running in to some students there they insisted we tried what they were eating and we both ordered it.  The traditional Brazilian dish was called escondidinho and Laura described it as some sort of shrimp and grits like dish. The gritlike substancecwas made from cassava and we ordered one that had shrimp and the other with chicken.  After this great traditional meal it was back to the ship for me.

Day 2

Debbie (an LLC friend), Allie (a Field Office friend) and I left the ship in the morning to walk around a little bit because the plan for the day was to meet up with some other people around noon when they were done with some trips and then head to the beach.  Part of what we went to see was the Igrega e Convento Sao Francisco (San Francisco Church) which is second in richness to the Vatican in gold. 
When we returned to the ship is when we received the news about Rob and his family leaving.  So we changed our plans and went back out to the old city to walk around so we could be back on the ship by 7pm so that we could be part of a little going away celebration. 
More Salvador photos:

We went to this little Coffee Bar/Bar that was owned by a man that Midhun had met the day before.  We sat there for some time chatting and getting advice from the bar owner.  It was a really great way to spend an afternoon when the mood of the day started out so crappy. 
Here is a caipirinha being mixed up:
The graffiti artist also painted a mural in this bar (I wish I knew the artist's name):
Before heading back to the ship we went to a “tapas” restaurant that he recommended called Zulu.  The menu was definitely interesting but we ended up getting fries with chorizo (cut up hotdogs), Nachos (Doritos with cheese sauce…why don’t we use Doritos for Nachos!!!), and potatoes with garlic cheese dipping sauce.  This satisfied our need for bar food! 
Back to the ship for the going away celebration which of course was sad and this is when I sobbed much!  Afterwards Midhun and I attempted to go out but when we got to the bar/club we were looking for it looked kind of sketchy and we did not see any other taxis outside so we decided to come back to the ship…so much for going out in Brazil.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ghana Days 3 and 4

Day 3

I woke up this morning ready to meet my trip to see the Wli waterfalls (the tallest in Western Africa) and the Mona monkeys. We left at 7am and had a 4 ½ hour drive ahead of us that ended up not being so bad because it was good sleeping time. I had the opportunity to hang out with a group of some really great students and got to know them a little bit better. When we got to the area near the waterfalls we had about a 45 minute hike (or stroll for some) to them and there were some pretty amusing conversations that ranged from the shear amazement that we were hiking through the African jungle/rain forest to comparing our outdoor gear to singing about the adventure we were on. I think the group of people I was surrounded by really added to the great day that I had.
Here are some pics from the nature walk to the waterfall:
As we walked into view of the waterfall hundreds of butterflies were flying around us, I recall paying for that experience in the past at butterfly ‘experiences’ or ‘habitats’ and these were butterflies in their natural habitat.

Also when we looked up to see speckles of black to the left of the falls once you readjusted to what you were looking at you realized you were looking at hundreds of bats.
When we reached our destination some people immediately ran into the base of the waterfall to take a refreshing dip in the water and there were those of us who opted for eating our bag lunch before the heat took over our food. I quickly ate my chicken sandwich and then with slight hesitation entered into the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall. We had to walk over sand and rocks of different shapes and sizes to get to the bottom of the waterfall. I stood under a waterfall and it felt like a high pressure massage; it was pretty amazing…nature is pretty amazing!!! I also discovered why it is called a waterfall and not a waterflow. When we lied on our backs and looked up as the water was coming down we were able to see the large drops of water actually falling towards us it did not just flow in to the base but fell. That would be the philosophy lesson for the day! After spending about an hour here we hiked back to where the bus was located again this was filled with fun conversations and connections. 

Our next stop would be to see the Mona monkeys in the village of Tafi Atome where they have kept these monkeys sacred. After a short walk into the jungle/rainforest we waited for our guide to call to the monkey. When they appeared he handed out pieces of banana for us to feed to the monkeys and showed us the proper way of feeding them You should be able to hold out the piece of banana then the monkey will come up to you and while you are holding it they will peal it and gently nibble at your banana. So I volunteered to be the first banana feeder and my initial experience went slightly different when the monkey I went to feed roughly snatched the banana from my hand (I have a scratch on my hand to prove it and the rumors on the ship about how I was attacked by a monkey).
Here I am in the aftershock:
Others continued to feed monkeys just the way the guide described and I was encouraged to try again. So I did, of course! As I was building up the confidence to bend over to feed the monkeys again one jumped from a tree onto my arm and I freaked out a little bit after realizing that they really were gentle creatures I calmed down and then a second one jumped on me and it actually was pretty awesome. One student described to me the look on my face when this happened and she said she could see the physical change in my presence when I finally went from scared for my life (and fearful I would be pooped on) to a state of calm to being full of joy.
Here is the progression:

After my monkey adventure we were standing around looking at the monkeys and the sky opened up and it down poured. Yes I was standing in an African rain forest and the rain was coming down. It was a surreal experience though after a few minutes we retreated to someone’s porch area to get out of the rain.
The sun shining through the trees moments before the sky opened up:
How about this:
This rain lasted for about 20 minutes and created muddy rain puddles. We walked through a small village and as we were waiting by the busses some of us noticed that a group of people who lived there had gathered in a drum circle playing music and singing. We took some time to chat with the women and children that were there.
Here are some scences from the village:

They were really happy to have us there and happy to share their music with us as well. One of the women there even let one of the students, Brittany, attempted to carry a large pot on her head and if time wasn’t of the essence I am pretty sure Brittany would have been put to work and would have been helping them fetch fresh water.
We boarded back on the busses were each handed a bag of plantains and started our long trek back to the ship. Partially through the ride back a student declared she was bored and we played a game that I hope to take home with me it was a combo taboo and charades type game and passed the time nicely!!! It was back to the ship and then to bed in anticipation of another early morning trip.

Day 4

This morning was another early start to what would be a very productive day. I was headed out on a Semester at Sea trip to do some work with Habitat for Humanity. We were unsure of what to expect (which seemed to be the trend in Ghana) and got on the bus for our 2 hour and 45 minute drive to a small village to help with some of the labor needed in building a house. There were 45 of us who went and we were split into 3 teams of 15 people each and were responsible from moving dirt to help lay the foundation in the houses that were being built.
Here is digging taking place:
Here is one of our student's moving dirt:
This is where the house was being built:
I think at first some of us thought huh we are moving dirt…but someone needed to do this and why not us, on most other construction of houses someone would need to be paid for the work that we were doing. This was the first time I participated in a Habitat for Humanity project and really appreciated the small group work that we were able to do. Our group was excellent and because of lack of tools we were not all always able to be doing something but we ended up having a very natural unspoken flow of swapping out responsibilities which was quite necessary in the extreme heat we were in. Emily (one of my LLC friends) came prepared with her iphone that can play music out loud which ended up being an extremely essential component to our day. The hard physical work became more manageable when you could break out into song or dance in the middle of it. After we worked the site provided us with a lunch consisting of chicken and rice of course but the sauce for the rice was a-mazing and the best meal I had during my time in Ghana. Children from the village had come to assist some of the students with the work they were doing and served as a great distraction to us during lunch as well.
Here we all are:
As we were parting ways we took up a collection and since this was the last thing any of us would be doing in Ghana most people had a little bit of money to contribute. The people who coordinated the site were so excited by our donation and promised to let us know how the money ended up being spent. We could tell that when we were there they were in dire need of some new equipment and hopefully the little bit we contributed can go towards this. Though we only worked for about 3 hours; the heat and humidity made it seem like a very long time and we were soaked through from sweat and the air conditioned bus ride back was very uncomfortable. I am not really complaining about this because I feel very lucky to have been living in a very well air conditioned ship and to be able to take air conditioned transportation to and from my destinations in most ports. It was an ironic uncomfortable feeling one that I did not feel comfortable feeling if that makes sense.

I really enjoyed my time in Ghana and again I feel like I was able to get a pretty well rounded experience. I am grateful for my time here and would not mind returning someday.  I think if you have an ability to connect with someone who is from the place you are visiting regardless of the destination and what you actually doing you have an enhanced experience.  The people I have met and traveled with have made all of the difference to my experience.