Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hawaii: Spring Break

On December 3rd I arrived in Honolulu at 6:00am.  As I walked around the ship, everyone was on their cell phones calling home and their significant others.  We have finally arrived back in the USA where there is no bargaining, no worrying about water filtration, no translation needed, and the right the a fair and speedy trial should anything go wrong.  My first stop was Pearl Harbor which was an amazing opportunity to see after coming from Hiroshima in Japan.  I watched the short-film on the event leading up the the attack on December 7th, 1941 and the ramifications of the aftermath.  I took the ferry out to the USS Arizona Memorial which is built above the ship that sank.  Being close to the anniversary there were several veterans there doing book signings and preparing for the anniversary on the 7th.  I took the bus back to the ship which $2.50 each way.  Yes no more bargaining which means no more $1 motorbike rides or rickshaw rides.

That afternoon I went to Waikiki Beach and enjoyed the sun and took in some last minute Vitamin D before returning to the frigid East Coast.  I have never been swimming in December, nor worn shorts.  The sun felt great as I enjoyed laying in the sand with my newly purchased Lei from one of the many ABC stores.  That evening I went out and was carded for the first time in my life.  I am so happy to return to the US being 21.  After staying up all night, ending up at a diner at 4am, and watching the sun rise over the harbor, I went directly to Diamond Head Crater with Aveni, Ali, & Liz.  We did the hour long hike to the top after exploring the unexpected farmer's market.  The view from the top was incredible.  We went to the beach afterwards before returning to the ship to go to Hilo for the following two days.

The Posse outside Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial

Waikiki Beach
The following two days I was in Hilo, Hawaii (The Big Island).  Hilo is laid back and not as commercially developed as Honolulu.  I went to Rainbow Falls which is a large waterfall and hiking trail.  Yes, I did see a rainbow there, but the overall landscape reminded me of Ithaca and how much I miss swimming in the gorges.  The afternoon I saw two movies with Liz, Sophie, Aveni, & Ali.  For only $1.50 each we saw Easy A and You Again.  The town of Hilo is quaint and filled with little shops including the best candy store ever which a large array of chocolates, jelly beans, sour candies, and even alcoholic candy.  I purchased peppermint bark and chocolate covered honey comb and ate it as I walked around the downtown area.  Hilo does not have a typical tourist beach, instead the coastline is filled with turtles nesting and lots of black sand beaches.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow at Rainbow Falls

Swinging from a Tree

Monday, November 22, 2010

Japan: Four Cities, Four Days!

I only have an hour until boarding the ship for ten days at sea before reaching Hawaii on December 3rd so I will make this entry short.  The first day I took the Bullet train to Hiroshima.  Teh Bullet train has so much leg room and only took an hour (at 180mph) instead of 5 hours driving or 3 hours by regular train.  Hiroshima was depressing to take in that much information and see so many artifacts about a tramatic event that the US caused.  The museum is surrounded by a gorgeous park filled with Peace Cranes and gardens and the city of Hiroshima is completely rebuilt.  There is one building that still stands from the bomb and the museum has artifacts from children that parents found and melted roof tiles and doors.  There are pictures of people's skin which literally melted off and the atomic bomb obliterated everything in a 4km radius and killed 200,000 people plus thousands more from radiation poisoning.

Kobe is a beautiful city with mountains in the background and filled with countless unique museums: the fashion museum, earthquake technology museum, and Sake breweries & museum.  The leaves are changing colors and the weather feels and smells like fall which is a great change from the humid & hot weather of previous countries.  I am happy to experience fall, even if just for a few days before returning home to the cold harsh winter.  Japan is my last international port and I am sad to see the voyage coming to an end, however 10 days of class is going to be dreadful, followed by finals.  Everyone in Japan lives underground I am convinced because there are countless shopping malls underground and cute boutiques and the streets are desolate and quiet.  As I sit in Starbucks I have seen four small dogs clothed in jackets, they are adorable.

I went to Tokyo and visited the Harajuku district where there are countless unique boutiques with outlandish intricate ensembles however they are extremely expensive but everything is gorgeous.  In the Shinjuku district is Times Square, a 14 story shopping center with American stores.  Japan copies the US in so many ways, advertisements have western models advertising similar clothes and four-story H&M's & Forever 21's line the streets, much larger than any of their stores in the US.  Starbucks are on every corner as well, however their winter flavors are different: I am drinking a Caramel Eclair Latte.  Also Japan is overly decorated for Christmas and English Christmas music fills the streets.  Bubble Tea in the US tastes the same as the authentic in Asia.  There are Crepe vendors everywhere with delicious crepes, savory or sweet, and wrapped tightly so you can eat them on the go: I had strawberry with vanilla icecream.

Yokohama is home to the Ramen Museum but sadly it is closed on Tuesdays.  The Olympic Stadium is in front of me as I sit at Starbucks and Cosmo World is across town: an amusement park on the harbor with a giant ferris wheel.  The streets are quiet but the city resembles Philadelphia: the old section with brick sidewalks and colonial & renaissance architecture.  I do not feel like I am in a city of 4 million people.

Building that survived the Atomic Bomb: the copper on the rough melted before the bomb detinated.

One of the many Christmas displays: Moby Dick

Hello Kitty Vending Machine: Arcades line the streets in Tokyo.
Entrance to the Harajuku District
One of the many delicious Crepe Vendors

Sample of a boutique in Harajuku

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hiking the Great Wall: Beijing & Shanghai

Today I flew four hours from Hong Kong to Beijing. Fortunately the Hong Kong airport had English Magazines so I bought GT & GQ and finished them just in time for arrive in Beijing. Unfortunately, it was an international flight and I stood in line for customs for over an hour waiting to embark China. I reached the hotel around 7pm where we had a wonderful dinner arranged at the hotel's separate banquet facilities. Course after course of meat was delivered to the table, again, most countries have large round tables with lazy susans so that everyone at the table can share. The hotel for the first two nights had karaoke rooms and a bowling alley. The town however was empty with the mountains in the distance as we were north of Beijing and close to the Great Wall. The room was comfortable and I slept well until 6:30am when I was awoken but the front desk and got ready for my first day of hiking.

Fireworks sounded all morning as it is Chinese Tradition to blast fireworks the morning of your wedding, we saw two brides by the hotel before leaving on the shuttle for the Great Wall. The first day we hiked 9 hours across the unreconstructed portion of the wall. This part is literally one foot wide and a dirt path which is held together by stones but there are no walls beside you just underneath you. The Great Wall traverses the top of the Steppe Mountain chain so it is quite a hike as we went single file up and down the outline of the mountain chain. The view was breathtaking and the weather was perfect. Finally cold, between 30-50 degrees which is a drastic change from the 80-90 and humid weather I have experienced in every other country. The leaves had fallen and the mountains were bare except for the occasional evergreen. Zadia found a large rock in shape of a heart so we called it the love rock and carried it for a while taking pictures at different angles until leaving it behind for future travelers to find.
For lunch I was shocked when hikers brought two large red coolers full of McDonalds to the top of the mountain. I have never had McDonalds delivered but after hours of hiking, a Big Mac tasted delicious as I sat with my legs dangling and enjoyed coffee as well. I do not know how far the hikers walked as there are no exits on this portion of the Great Wall minus the 9 hour section we walked which has an entrance and one exit. I continued walked, but around the Great Wall for an Hour as I passed a working military base and the guards stared at our group as we walked through fields around the base until rejoining the great wall later. I passed goats that had no one herding them just randomly chilling in the fields and an abandoned shack to my left. I enjoyed watching the sunset over the Great Wall before driving back to the hotel for dinner and some rest.
The 2nd day of hiking consisted of 4 hours on the preserved portion which was still crumbling and even steeper than yesterday. This section included the Staircase to Heaven which is more like a giant steep ramp as the stairs had crumbled. Today I had a boxed lunch which was disappointing but we donated the uneaten food to the locals. Vendors hike the Great Wall with us for the entire day trying to sell trinkets, however, they are over priced so I purchased my souvenirs at the bottom of the wall where they were 1/3 of the price. Everyone bought Panda hats which were hilarious as the 70 people in our group wore them walking across the Great Wall: I suppose a better idea than matching t-shirts for herding the troops.
The evening we drove 2 hours to downtown Beijing where we stayed at a really nice Holiday Inn, however, the location was terrible as it was not right downtown so I stayed at the lobby bar for the evening with friends and enjoyed each other's company and skyped. The dinner this evening was phenomenal with 10 course of duck, from duck meatballs to the chef cutting the duck in our banquet room into 108 pieces (the precise number for professional cutting). I love duck and to finally have duck in every form was the best dinner I could ask for.
The final day of my trip I toured Beijing and saw the Olympic Venues as well at the Forbidden City & Tian'amen Square which has the largest televisions in the world, two of them in the square playing commercials. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a moat and massive which courtyard after courtyard and considered the center of Beijing. I than went to the airport and boarded my 2 hour flight to Shanghai. I returned to the ship around 8pm, at dinner, and got ready to go out.
I went out that evening with my friends to celebrate my 21st Birthday. Beijing by day, Shanghai by night, not bad. The nightlife was hoping for a Monday evening. The first club played Happy Birthday for 5 minutes at midnight and we went club hopping until returning home around 7am: Yes I saw the sunrise in China.
Hannah, Nate, Zadia, Lindsay, & I on the Great Wall

Hannah & I enjoying the Great Wall

Zadia & I after our Duck Dinner

Lucia, our tour guide, & I

The Forbidden City

24 hours in Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong early on November 11th.  The port is in a gorgeous location between the two sides of Hong Kong.  I walked off the gangway and literally stepped foot into a mall.  Finally, an Westernized shopping center after months of markets filled with trinkets that I will find obscure when I return home in one month.  I walked into the baby section of the mall, filled with D&G Junior, Burberry Children, and countless others.  The mall had wireless but no benches so i sat on the steps until a security guard came over and scolded us for sitting down, so now I had nowhere to go.  Ali, Lindsay, Allison, & I walked to find Starbucks which did not open for another hour so I literally stood with my laptop to get internet until I could sit down in Starbucks.  The view overlooked the harbour and was worth the wait until I realized you had to pay for their internet.  It is near impossible to find internet in other countries.

We ate at a Vietnamese Restaurant and I had Pho, despite just leaving Vietnam.  Afterwards, we took the famed Star Ferry across the Harbour.  It is over 100 years old and a Hong Kong tradition.  Upon arrival, I took a bus to the tram which leads to the Peak.  The tram is an old tradition as well and goes up the mountain at a 60 degree incline so you are holding on for your life as there are not enough seats.  The Peak is a mountaintop overlooking Hong Kong and the view is incredible, countless skyscrapers compose the skyline and ships go back and forth through the harbour creating a 24 hour lively city.  Upon my return from the Peak, I got ready for Dinner with Terry Catton, a hotelie who I got to know the past two summers at Statler because he son did two summer programs at Cornell and is applying there this year.

Lindsay, Ali, & I walked to the gorgeous Intercontinental Hotel located on the harbour.  We met Terry's Wife, Julie, at the hotel bar and had a drink and chatted with her.  She is a lawyer and works with city legislature and the judicial aspect of Law.  Soon after, Terry joined and we watched the incredible lightshow.  All of the Hong Kong Skyscrapers sync their lights to music for 20 minutes which is incredible for that many companies to work together.  Dinner was delicious: Terry ordered everything as I cannot read Cantonese.  We shared the courses which the waiters placed on the Lazy Susan.  Terry managed the Mandarin Oriental so everyone in Hong Kong hotel society knows him and he is well respected but now ventures in Real Estate.  I began with pork in a honey mustard sauce followed my corn & crab soup, beef, lamb, pigeon (which was surprisingly delicious and had a roasted skin), and of course an entire fish, bones and all, which is hard to pick at but you get used to it after so many countries.  My wine glasses were constantly refilled: both white and red, I preferred the Merlot but drank both because they kept being refilled.  The service was impeccable  and I feel that we had 3 waiters plus the manager checking up on us.  Finally dessert arrived, I was stuffed but ate mango pudding and mini-snowballs filled with a variety of fruit.  We enjoyed each other's company until 11pm when Terry & Julie headed home and Lindsay, Ali, & I walked back to the ship.  On our way we toured the Peninsula which was regal and elegant with marble floors, however, being late mostly everything was closed as they have a large shopping arcade. 

When I arrived back at the ship, I packed for my Great Wall trip and then walked into the mall to get internet.  Ironically, you cannot sit in chairs at night but can on the floor.  Foreign rules are so hard to learn...so I literally sat outside Nike on the internet until I went to bed.
The Tram to the Peak

Lindsay, Ali, Allison, & I on top of the Peak

Me at the Peak

View of Hong Kong

Already decorated for Christmas and wonderful Christmas music filled the streets and malls.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Surviving 'Nam

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on November 3rd.  Upon arrival, I was nervous to spend another week in a third world country.  However, Vietnam is quite developed and everyone is extremely friendly.  There is a shuttle to drive us from the ship to the Rex Hotel located downtown and everything is walking distance from there.  Downtown there is a Burberry store which opened yesterday and Zadia & I went in on opening day and I discovered it was part of a larger mall with Chloe & Marc Jacobs.  The boulevard is lined with trees and I felt that I was not in an impoverished nation until I began walk three blocks to the Ben Than Market.

The Ben Than Market is massive and is where the locals shop.  There is a giant fish & food market along with clothes and bags: the North Face factory is in Vietnam and bookbags are $10 while the large duffels are $20.  They come in all colors and sizes.  I even haggled for shampoo & water: something I had not experienced before but it was enjoyable because the retail price was already reasonable.  The exchange rate is quite an difficult because $1USD = 20,000 Dong.  I found the most amazing coffee chain: Highlands Coffee, basically the same font and interior as Seattle's Best and English bands play as I watch motorcycles fill the streets.  I had a delicious mint chocolate milkshake and since I have been here daily, I am a regular and the waitress Tram & I just exchanged emails.  Vietnamese are so friendly and hospitable.

Pho (pronounced faa) is a typical Vietnamese noodle dish and very popular because there are varieties of humorous t-shirts, my favourite being iPho and pictures of cattle, noodles, and the bowl underneath.  Another cheap item at the market are the complete series of every TV show: Will & Grace, 24, Sex & the City, Friends, etc. for only $15.  Movies are only 50 cents and they work: I watched Time Traveler's Wife last night and had no issues.

Afterward, I went to the War Remnants Museum.  It was eye-opening to see the opposing side of the Vietnam War and their opposition to the American invasion and being anti-nationalism.  Agent Orange was a gas mass-sprayed over the entire country and third-generation children are being born deformed.  The ramifications are evident after 35 years, yet the country is pretty well developed and the people are extremely welcoming to Americans.

The first night I, along with 8 friends, went to Blue Cafe and found the strongest, most reasonably priced beverages.  Long Island's were $2 and I ordered Tequila Pop which ended up being 3 shots of Tequila.  Aveni ordered one too so we just laughed at the lack of 'pop' and took the shots at once.  Afterwards, we went to Club (literally the name of club) where the welcomed our group and gave us a nice table but messed up our drink order (even there the drinks were only $5 and Vietnamese alcohol is surprisingly stronger than in the US and they sell hard liquor at the market as well, unlike Singapore where I only found it at 7-11s).  We danced for a while before heading to the SAS hangout spot for the night: Apocolyse Now.  Overall the nightlife is vivid, especially on a Wednesday.

Ben Than Market

War Remnants Museum

Coconut Milk Vendor

Aveni & I & our Tequila <3

The Beautiful MV Explorer

Halloween in Singapore

I spent Halloween in Singapore and found it surprisingly festive.  The streets were lit up and storefronts were simultaneously decorated for Halloween & Christmas.  Giant Christmas Trees fill the atriums of malls while store mascots are dressed like witches and covered in cloaks.  Singapore is a shoppers haven: NYC shopping with Florida weather.  Every block is a different mall with the same designer stores: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Versace, Marc Jacobs, & D&G repeat after each intersection and inside each mall is a 5 story atrium filled with American labels of all price ranges.  After being in awe at the globalization of labels I went to Raffel's Hotel which is where the Singapore Sling was invented.  I indulged in the gin-based fruit drink which cost $25 but when in Rome I suppose.  That night I felt ill so I caught up on some much needed rest after crazy India.

The next morning, Ali & I took a taxi to the Cornell Hotel School in Singapore.  It is part of NTU and it only has graduate students pursuing their MMH because the business school at NTU has an undergrad program in Hospitality.  The campus is massive and I felt slightly homesick, but in a good way, when I walked into the air-conditioned, glass plated building and saw a mural of the Cornell Clock Tower.  At the reception hung two clocks: one with Singapore time & one with Ithaca time and on the coffee table sat the Cornell Hospitality Book I received upon being admitted to Cornell.  Su Ann, their marketing manager, gave us a tour and explained about the cirriculum which is practically identical with courses.  Afterwards, I explored the campus and saw their dining hall and lectures halls and then took the complimentary shuttle to the metro which is more modern than the US and extremely sanitary.  Singapore is known as a 'fine' city because of their strict law enforcement but I found it extremely pleasant because you do not have to worry about petty theft or crime like the third world countries I have been visiting.  After only 36 hours in Singapore I was sad to leave but anxious to arrive in Vietnam 36 hours later.

Contestants holding onto cars: the last one standing wins

Aveni & I decked in purple in front of the purple Christmas Tree.

Just another Halloween decorated statue

Cornell Hotel School: I miss the clock tower.

Marche-Restaurants: on the roof of the mall.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Only in India...

On October 22nd I arrived in Chennai, India.  Aveni's cousin who she had not seen in ten years acted as our tour operator and organized all of our transportation for a weekend to the Taj Mahal.  We flew from the Chennai Airport to Dehli on Spice Jet (a three hour ride).  The evening we stayed at a hotel which was run down and had no showers.  The 12 of us had Indian food ordered to the hotel and although rather spicy the Naan is delicious (bread that comes buttered, garlic, or with cheese).  Afterwards (meaning 4 am) Aveni's Cousin offered to buy me beer so we each had 3 40's and I politely accepted the offer since it would be rude to decline even though I do not like beer.  We could not communicate, yet he seemed to enjoy the company and I ended up going to bed around 6am, only to be awoken by the receptionist at 7am.

The second morning I piled into one of two taxis and drove  from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  Not including stopping for the lunch, the drive took 5 hours each way.  This structure is not easily accessible but highly worth the wait.  Upon arrival our tour guide took us in a tram car to the actual entrance.  The Taj is enclosed in a large courtyard structure with several other buildings, palaces, & guest houses.  The Taj itself took 17 years to complete and the surrounding structures an additional 5 years.  The Taj is a devotion to love from the King to his favorite wife and they are both buried inside the Taj, which is a tomb.  Our tour guide got us tothe front of the line to enter though security and then again cut through to the front to actually enter the Taj (instead of waiting an hour in the line that wrapped twice around the tomb).  I was surprised we did not get in trouble but he kept pushing us along and took all of the cliche photos of us jumping in the air in front, and holding the taj with our fingers, and many other snap shots which you normally have to pay for but all was pre-organized so we did not have to worry about hiring a tour guide and a photographer.  After watching the sunset over the Taj we had dinner where I ate more Naan and Sweet & Sour Chicken, completed different than in the US, it is spicy and grilled, not fried, and comes in a soup bowl.  We then drove 5 hours back to Dehli where we stayed in another hotel and I caved the following morning and took a bucket shower (so gross but I survived).  Also the water is not potable so you even have to brush your teeth with bottled water.

The following morning, Aveni left with her Cousin for Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India (I declined his drink offer the second night because I did not want to go sleepless for another 24 hours).  I went to the market before heading to the airport.  The Dehli airport is incredible, just like a major US airport.  There are luxury stores, and plenty of coffee shops and food outlets, including Pizza Hut.  I drank a caramel frappuccino and ordered food while Ali, Lindsay, & I waited for our flight on Jet Airways.

Transportation in India is mostly through Rickshaws.  They are automated three wheeled carts that cram as many individuals as needed.  Three comfortable but we did 6 with luggage when needed.  They are relatively cheap and convenient because they can go through traffic and therefore cut your transportation time during rush hour drastically.  Unfortaunately no one can be trusted and the drivers continuously stop and will take you to their friend's stores which are always open while they claim other stores and the markets are closed.  You have to be direct with them or they will continue to take advantage of you.  Ultimately, never believe anything they say and come prepared with your own itinerary and do not side track.

I made it home, back to the ship, safely and took a shower as soon as I unpacked.  It felt so good to clean the dirt off of my skin and face and hair.  After showering last night and this morning I feel back to normal but each time I step outside in the dirt filled air I immediately feel gross.  There is trash everywhere on the streets and nothing is sanitary.  As with many countries there are squat toilets, no toilet paper, and certainly no soap.  It is crucial to always carry tissues and germ-x with you at all times.

Until I depart on Wednesday I am going to go to the markets and enjoy Indian food and cultures.  Overall I love India but am anxious to see the rest of Asia.

Rickshaw: the only form of transportation.  Fits 6+ luggage

Fried Cheese!

The most beautiful symbol of love.

Me at the Taj <3

The Dodo prevails long after extinction

I arrived in Mauritius on October 14th for two days.  I visited the Shree Vishnu Temple where the gentleman gave me a tour of the temple and explained all of the God & Goddess shrines.  I participated in the service and learned about several Hindu traditions & rituals.  Hinduism is popular there because 80% of Mauritians are Hindu.  All of the souvenirs are Dodo Birds even though they went extinct in the mid 1600s after British Colonization.  From t-shirts, to key chains, to postcards, everything is about the Dodo Bird.  After visiting the market I returned and got ready to go out for Tuyeng's 21st birthday!  We had dinner on the harbor front where I had kalamari.  After enjoying drinks and the weather we went to the casino which turned out to be a men's club so we left and ended up going bar hopping and dancing until heading back to the ship via water taxi.  We had to take water taxis, really run-down boats that the locals drive, from the ship to the actual harbor since we were at the industrial end but it was fun.

The second day, Ali & I went to a cafe on the water and bought real coffee since the ship's coffee is syrup mixed with hot water.  We then went to the international convention center which holds large Bollywood events, political conferences, and car shows.  The previous night was a 1000 person wedding so they were still tearing that event down.  The convention center was massive and the tour was led by the sales executive since the general manager, Kalaish had a last minute meeting (I met him last January at Cornell).  Ali & I then returned to the harbor and went to the craft market and I got a calzone and martini for lunch before boarding the ship for Asia.

The Shree Vishnu Temple

The Posse at 1st Restaurant in Chinatown

The main hall of the International Convention Center

View of the Harbor

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turning over a new leaf in South Africa

I have had an adventurous four days in Cape Town and am sad only have 48 hours left.  On our way to Cape Town from Takoradi we crossed the center of the world (0,0): The intersection of the Equator & Prime Meridian.  An old maritime tradition, Neptune Day, ensued.  Faculty poured fish guts (green slime) on students who then plunged into the pull and climbed out the other side to kiss and real fish (no joke) to signify that they had crossed the equator.  Next came hair loss.  Around 100 students shaved their heads, much of which was donated, to continue celebrating the tradition. Of the 100 students, the majority were girls.  I did not participate in the tradition but watched as many of my friends partook in the tradition.

I arrived in Cape Town at 5am on the morning of Sunday October 3rd.  I awoke at 5am to watch us pull in and see the sun rise over the cape.  Our port location is the best yet, we are docked at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront which is home to a 350 shop mall, countless restaurants, a gorgeous 5-star hotel.  We are a short walk to downtown Cape Town, through the harbourfront and past the Wheel of Excellence (The Ferris Wheel).  The town is quite developed and there are many recent additions including a massive block man made out of coca cola cases (probably 60 feet high), because of the World Cup that took place only a few months ago. Since crossing the equator I am now experiencing the beginning of Spring in South Africa and the weather is crisp in the morning and warmer in the afternoon.  Before disembarking we had to listen to a diplomat for an hour as he gave us stories of robbery, homicide, and rapes that have recently occurred.  South Africa as a whole as the highest crime rate, HIV/AID, and unemployment in the world.  However, the waterfront and surrounding wine lands are spectacular and I have not encountered a single incident *knock on wood.*

Seven of my friends & I departed the ship Sunday morning and found Felix, our tour guide for the day, who drove us to two wineries and an amazing Brai (BBQ).  Neethlingshof Estate was our first stop where we sat at a white wooded table outside, overlooking the vineyard and tasted six wines.  My favorite was the Malbec which is a red wine with plum and chocolate.  Afterward, we went to  Asara where we sampled chocolate at their Confectionery along with wine.  The sun shined the entire day and the temperature was perfect for sitting outside tasting South African wines.  The Brai had several stations and the entire restaurant and seating was sprawled outside beside a park.  Later that evening we got dolled up and painted the town red for Ali's 21st Birthday!  We bar hopped down Long Street where we danced with the locals and managed to not be at the same nightclubs as the rest of the SASers (Semester At Sea Students).

After a second night of only 4 hours of sleep I awoke bright & early to partake in a historical tour of Cape Town (This tour was supposed to go to Robbin Island for the day but the ferry broke so they took us on the worst field trip ever.  We went to the Castle of Good Hope which acted as a fortress and to warn residents of incoming ships to which they would sell their local produce since the ships were often stopping at Cape Town on their way to Europe or Asia and needed to restock.  We then walked to the District 6 Museum which acknowledges the areas segregated past since 60,000 blacks were forced to leave the neighborhood during Apartheid.  Then we saw the Parliament Building and enjoyed the most randomly assorted boxed lunch, in the park.  The two hours following lunch was the worst.  We received a two hour tour of the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Cape Town which is a single room with pictures and plaques but no artifacts.  The elderly Jewish lady in charge led our tour and even though she knew we only had an hour, continued to give us fabricated stories of the people's lives in the pictures (the pictures we random still shots, not ones depicting specific individuals).  But she insisted and continued.  Since she took so long we were unable to see the Nelson Mandela exhibit at the Slave Lodge in Cape Town which is far more important to Cape Town's history.  The Cape Town Holocaust Museum was also an incredible disappointment compared to the elaborate display at the Holocaust Museum in DC.

The third day I commenced in yet another day of wine tasting.  This SAS trip was by far my best, they are really hit or miss.   We drove in a large van with 20 bikes attached to wine country.  There we walked around a quaint town filled with local art shops and restaurants.  Afterward we hoped onto 24-speed mountain bikes and cycled for 13 miles through countless vineyards as the mountains laid as the backdrop of our journey.  You may think you hate physical activity but you could be wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed bicycling all through wine country until I reached the final destination of Solms Delta, a gorgeous vineyard where we partook in a wine tasting & food pairing with 6 wines, shrimp, salmon, beef, mussels and more.  We then drove to the town of Stellenbauch (another wine region) which boasts a college, coffee shops, and local artists.  I purchased a piece of art from an artist who was in his shop painting.  The gallery was filled with brightly colored pigs, penguins, and ostrich eggs.  South Africa is known for having a variety of animals but the Cape Town region is known for its penguins and ostriches which you see everywhere.  I was hoping to go Ostrich Riding but the closest place is a 7-hour bus ride so I had to pass.  Later that evening I enjoyed appetizers and drinks with friends at a habourfront restaurant.

Today I surprised myself again by completing a 2 hour hike up Table Mountain.  The Mountain is the backdrop to Cape Town and makes a presence at over 1000 Meters high.  After hiking practically vertically for hours I reached the top with Ali and the view was well worth it.  You can see the intersection of the Atlantic & Indian Oceans.  The top is massive and consists of additional hiking trails which provide panoramic views of South Africa.  Ali & I enjoyed lunch overlooking the Cape at the Mountain Top Cafe.  The initial ascent to the top along with hiking around the top and eating lunch took up most of our day.

View from the ship onto the waterfront and Table Top Mountain in the distance.

Wine Tasting in Stellenbauch.

The passionate Jewish lady who led our holocaust tour.

After hiking Table Top Mountain.

Tomorrow I am going to Green Market Square where I hope to purchase an Ostrich Egg and then am going wine tasting again at a winery that has cheetahs so that shall be interesting.  I also hope to get to Boulder Bay before leaving Cape Town which is where hundreds of penguins reside along a beautiful sand beach.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Evelyn & Edmund

Before I commence allow me to lay out the characters:

Evelyn: Our first guide, she chauffeured us from the ship gate to the Takoradi bus station. She is allusive, yet wears a lime green shirt and white wedges.
David: Kwame's son. He is an economics major at the University of Accra.
Edmund: Kwame's driver and our chauffeur for the trip. He gets ecstatic discussing the three wise monkeys. Edmund overly enjoys off-roading in his free time.
Kwame: CEO of the future Senchi Waterfront Resort. Our generous host for the week.

Ali, Lindsay, & I met Evelyn at the Takoradi port gate on Wednesday, after walking directly past her as we left the gangway. She drove us to the bus station where she handed us three tickets. After repeatedly disappearing a gentleman grabbed our luggage and we boarded the bus. Before we know it, Evelyn is on the bus and we assume she is coming with us. After ten minutes on the bus she runs to the back of the bus and hands us 10 Cedi's (Ghanaian Currency) along with Kwame's phone number on a piece of paper and has the bus driver stop where she leaves us all on our own 'out there.' After 5 hours we arrived in Accra after the painfully slow traffic and poorly kept roads, all the while listening to 90s pop (Celine & Mariah amongst others). I ventured off the bus (as the sole white male) and was immediately greeted by David. After retreiving our luggage we walked to the car with David and another mysterious gentlemen (later to be known but not until the final day as Edmund the driver). We placed our luggage in their large toyota truck, one side splashed with paint, and begin the second leg of our journey to Akosombo. After another 2 hours we reached our destination: The Volta Hotel. However, along the way, due to traffic Edmund decided to use the dirt path complete with random cinder blocks to get ahead. This is where we met Kwame and enjoyed some form of chicken-tuna-egg sandwich that the chef, Raymond, prepared for us. After an exhausting day of travel we retreated to our guest rooms, with balconies that overlook the lake, for a nights' sleep where all of the lights do not turn off.

We awoke the following morning to enjoy breakfast. The toaster did not toast but there was warm instant coffee and warm milk and delicious pineapple. Edmund & David greeted us at the hotel and drove us to the hydroelectric plant located at the Volta Lake Dam. We met the general manager and the head engineer who gave us a tour complete with hardhats. The dam produces 60% of Ghana's energy, as well as exports to Cote D'Ivore. Next we drove to the banana plantation where we discovered that Kwame's brother, Alex, owns four banana plantations. We were amused by the banana monorail that circles the plantation collecting harvested bananas to be washed, boxed, & shipped. Before departing, Alex generously gave us an entire box of bananas. Next we paid the same toll twice to drive over the highly raved about bridge which compared to the rest of Ghana's infrastructure is fascinating but nothing that surprised us.

Afterwards, we met up with Kwame as his resort-in-process. The Senchi waterfront resort will be completed in April and will have 100 rooms. There will be meeting space, a pool, full-service restaurant, and wait for it...a private island with spa located in the lake, only accessible via boat. The restaurant will be floating on the lake overlooking the spa. Currently there are 400 workers who literally pour the concrete to make cinder blocks which are used for the hotel. Kwame also has two other projects in the works, located in the rainforest and the second one further north. We enjoyed lunch at the resort where the lovely chef of the former hotel prepared us traditional Ghanaian food complete with plantains and peanut soup with chicken. (As Ali & I write we are going to the washed through the dam and put through the turbines. There is a hurricane brewing).

After lunch, Kwame drove us to the library which was constructed by Peace Corps workers. Here we met the village chiefs, we all sat on plastic chairs, who greeted us warmly with many handshakes. Here we learned that hand shaking occurs frequently and they joke that it is because God did not want them to have hair on their palms. We also learned that Ghanaian school children are forever cheerful as they roam about the school grounds in their uniforms and constantly wave to welcome us.

Edmund drove us to the Cedi Bead Making Area which caused us to drive down a long dirt road to find Ghanaians firing glass to make beaded bracelets and necklaces. Here we encountered a lime green tour bus which made us question how is got there since the road was extremely bumpy. Sidebar: there are livestock everywhere. Goat, Goats, and more Goats crowd the dirt roads and roam freely throughout the country.

After a few more random stops...the lake, the port, and a school, we returned to the hotel were we showered and ate dinner at the hotel's restaurant with Kwame. Following dinner we enjoyed drinks. Tomorrow we must get up before sunrise but do not fret because Edmund will be here to drive us the 2 hours to the Accra bus station where we will board a tro-tro (mini bus) to Cape Coast Castle which is where slaves were held before being transported to the new world. Finally, before we leave, we are going to complete the canopy walk through the rain forest which is the highest canopy walk in the world.

Personal Reflection: People are genuinely sweet & welcoming and it smells much better than Morocco. We will never look at a banana the same again, however, we are still on the quest for chocolate. Throughout the country there are signs advertising concrete 'blocks for sale.' We are convinced that Kwame owns the town, Evelyn controls the bus system, and Edmund is lucky he has not been in a car accident.

P.S.- Kwame also owns Ghana's the organic, fair-trade pineapple production. His home is nicer than most American homes, yet their parrot cannot talk, but they do have a gatekeeper.

The Banana Plantation

On top of the hydroelectric dam which makes 60% of Ghana's energy

At Kwame's hotel: to be finished in April 2011

Cape Coast Castle: where slave departed for the West.

After completing the longest & highest canopy walk in the world.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Out there, 5 Ramen & 1 Camel will not get you to Rabat.

Morocco is a completely different world. They do not utilize any form of sanitation in form of soap nor keeping trash off their streets or beaches. Also they do not abide by street signs or use intersections and you have to haggle for everything from souvenirs to taxi fare, there are no fixed prices in Morocco. The MV Explorer is docked at one of the largest artificial harbors in the world and is in between the Morocco Naval Port and an active Phosphorus plant which has caused the crew to wear masks and the ships' decks are covered in dust so we remain inside our protective shell with running water and electricity. Upon arrival I entered the Medina which is the fort that was used as protection many centuries ago and now encases a vast market filled with knock-off Louis, Gucci, Prada, and even Polo is exotic enough to warrant the production of fakes. I also visited the Mosque Hussan II which is the second largest Mosque in the world, which is only exceeded by Mecca. The Mosque Hussan II is literally built on the Atlantic Ocean and is 600,000 SQ FT and can accommodate 2,000 cars under its massive structure. We were not allowed inside the mosque due to the end of Ramadan which had its final night on our first day in Casablanca. Since the Mosque is built on the Atlantic there is a wall where children and teenage boys jump off into the rough waves and then swim to shore. Although the police try to prevent this, they have little authority amongst the Moroccans and this seem prevalent throughout the rest of the country.

The 2nd day I went on the city orientation where I again visited the Mosque which cost $800 Million and yet the majority of Morocco's population lives on less than one dollar per day. We also visited the King's Palace, of which I have seen three throughout the major cities in Morocco. Casablanca hosts a large jewish quarter and a large private beach with four pools for the wealthy while those less fortunate crowd the trash covered beach. I spend my nights on the ship because the city does not have a welcoming night life and for the second and third day most of the shops were closed due to the end of Ramadan and the Id celebration which is a large feast that follows the conclusion of the holiday. Ramadan increases crime significantly in the city because of its impact on the economy. All of the businesses have limited hours, therefore employees work less and earn less and have trouble affording food during Ramadan, not to mention the poverty level is as high as 33%. Fortunately that night, Lindsay & I stumbled upon the Times Square of Casablanca and drank at the Sky 28 Lounge of the five-star Kenzi Tower Hotel which is on the 28th floor and has panoramic views of the city.

The following morning I took a 2.5 hour train ride to El Jadida which is further down the coast and hosts an abandoned Portuguese Fortress and Cistrine under the Medina. We rode first class on the train which guarantees you a seat and due to the currency conversion is only $10 round trip whereas passengers are crammed into coach and many try to sneak into first class but are escorted to the back by security. Speaking of Security they are everywhere: Shopping Malls, Hotels, Ports, Grocery Stores. No one is trusted and crime is high. The largest mall in Africa is reportedly located in Casablanca: however, when I visited the area I found a four story shopping center with at most 50 stores...way to go Africa.

Today I went to Marrakech which hosts yet another opulent palace and the largest traditional market in the world and yes it is massive and similar to the market in Casablanca is filled with knock-offs and several other tourist items that are marketed as traditional Moroccan icons. I also went to a Pharmacy which appeared as more of a black market where we entered a private room and the doctor, along with two assistants allowed us to test creams, remedies, and spices. They even had medicine for weight loss and Viagra without a prescription. The market hosts Henna Ladies which grab your arm, give you a tattoo and demand Durham (Moroccan currency). There are also monkey dancers and snake charmers that fill the quad preceding the Market. The food here is delicious and everything is communal style. Couscous with beef and grilled vegetables consist of a traditional meal. I also visited the Jardin Majorelle which is filled with gorgeous fountains, cacti & overarching trees that provide shade. Yves Saint Laurent found inspiration here and created a trust before he passed away in 2008 to ensure the upkeep and preservation of the Jardin which hosts plants from five different continents and embodies Jacques Majorelle who was 'one of the most important plant collectors of all time.'

Tomorrow we leave for 7 days at sea before reaching Ghana which is the port that I am most looking forward to experience.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


After spending five days touring the Andalucia region of Spain, I am sad to leave Espana. On the second day here I took a train with Lindsay to Sevilla and met up with Ali, Ariel, & Lee. We stayed at the Sevilla Inn Backpackers which is a conveniently placed Hostel, located one block from the Cathedral. The gothic church is the third largest in the world and is the burial ground for Christopher Columbus. Beside the Cathedral is the Alcazar which is the oldest living residence of royalty but is open to the public for tours. We spent over an hour touring the expansive gardens which include an intricate hedge maze. Later that evening, Lindsay & I saw our first bull fight at the Arena. However, seeing six bulls die is quite depressing. After viewing the 2 hour long bull fight we saw an underground Flamenco dance while enjoying Sangria. The night life is vibrant all over the south of Spain with families staying out late into the evening and students partying until 6am. I survived my first hostel visit and the staff was extremely friendly.
My third day in Spain consisted of visiting the landmarks in Cordoba. After taking a 2.5 hour bus ride to Cordoba, we walked to the historical section where we toured the Mezquita. Largely influenced by Islamic architecture, the double arches are held by 856 columns made of marble, onyx, jasper, and granite. Later that evening we took a 3.5 hour bus ride and returned home where I greatly appreciated sleeping in my own air conditioned room as opposed to the room at the hostel which held 8 guests.
Yesterday, Ali, Lindsay, & I toured Cadiz and went shopping. Afterward we went to the beach and walked out on the pier to St. Sebastian's Fort. While in Spain, I tried Sangria made with Champagne, Manchego Cheese, Sherry, Brandy, Olives, Croquettas, Paella, Churros, and Cafe con Leche: all of which were local to the Andalucia Province.
I leave at 6:00pm this evening and will arrive in Casablanca tomorrow afternoon where I will be spending my next 6 days of this incredible voyage. Although Spain is six hours ahead of EST, Morocco is only four which means I will be able to enjoy a full nights sleep tonight!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Crossing the Atlantic

After 9 days of shipboard life I have finally reached Spain! US Airways lost my luggage on my flight from Philly to Halifax. Fortunately, it arrived the next morning before I boarded the MV Explorer which is fabulous! I am on the 4th floor with a great view. They clean our room daily and the waiters are wonderful. Perry always remembers Lindsay, Ali & Me and greats us at each meal. The food is a little repetitive but there is also a bar, coffee lounge, and snack lounge. My typical day consists of eating, laying out, going to class, and playing cards with friends. Everyone is really nice and just excited to be on this voyage. My roommate, Tom, and I get along really well and fortunately we are both well organized since the rooms are small. The first 8 days of the voyage consisted of no sign of life, except the Azore Islands which took an hour to pass, as we were encompassed by the Atlantic. The hardest part, aside from not seeing land has been the daily time change and we are now 6 hours ahead of EST.

My classes are going really well. I am taking, Anthropology of Tourism, World Art & History, Psychology, & Global Studies. All of the classes relate to the countries of port we are visiting and it is incredible to see the historical landmarks that I learn about in class. The rigor is nowhere near Cornell and just consists of reading.

As of 8:30 am this morning we were in Cadiz, Spain! I watched the sunrise before ending my past 9 days of AA and went wine tasting. Southern Spain has the largest Sherry production in the world and we toured the oldest single family owned Vineyard in a nearby town. Following the tasting and tour we went to a farm with 350 horses and after touring the area. We watched an hour long horse show which was incredible. Now Lindsay & I are eating lunch outside the Cathedral, which is chiming 4:15pm, located in centre-city and plan to tour Cadiz the remainder of the day. We are going to Seville tomorrow by train and then Cordoba the following day. I leave Cadiz on September 8th and will be in Casablanca, Morocco from September 9th-14th. There are no classes while in port so the next 11 days are going to be amazing. Thank you for following my blog and I will continue to update as excitement ensues.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Beginning

I am finally home in Gettysburg, PA after spending the summer in gorgeous Ithaca, NY.  Now I have two days to pack before I leave for Halifax, NS via Philadelphia.  I will be enrolled in Semester at Sea and am so excited to travel the globe.  I will be updating my blog when I have the chance so stay tuned for updates!