Finding my Downeaster Alexa
Its been along time since I made any sort of a journal, it’s been a 
few weeks since Vietnam, we docked at Ho Chi Mihn city, formerly known 
as Saigon, the largest of the cities in south Vietnam. The city was much 
more modern and developed then I expected, recently built medium sized 
buildings make up the city, with not many skyscrapers at all, sidewalks 
are decently sized, and there are many businesses selling shoes, shirts, 
bags, and other kinds of apparel all over the place. It’s easy to tell 
that this country has a base in manufacturing. The exchange rate is 1 
dollar to 20,000 Vietnamese doung (affectionately called “dong”) by all 
the SAS kids. Everything is extremely cheap, bottles of water and soda 
cost 10-30 cents, denoting that prices are roughly 5 times cheaper then 
they are in the US, if you used the price of water as an index (as I do).

     I spent the first 3 days with a Vietnamese friend of mine, and a 
few of us stayed at her house with her family. The food was strange, 
lots of noodles, dumplings and pork. I was skeptical about eating any of 
it, but after trying some of it, I was pleasantly surprised, the egg 
rolls were fantastic as well as the most popular dish called “pho” but 
pronounced “fuh”. On the second day we went to the Mekong Delta, the 
beginning of the Mekong river boat, once we arrived we took a riverboat 
trip down the river and attempted to relive some of the experiences of 
the soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war, the feeling of being in the 
jungle and the river was very interesting. I had just recently watched 
“apocalypse now” one of my favorite movies of all time, and it really 
helped me get in the spirit of martin sheen. I really wanted to put some 
face paint on and walk around in the water at night with a hunting knife 
looking to stab Marlon Brando when I saw him.

The next day we spent time going to the big markets in the city, shopped 
for tons of cheap t-shirts, bags, jackets, and other types of useless 
crap that nobody really needs, but everyone wants.  Me and one of my 
friends went and got massages, since he had gone a few days before and 
said it was awesome. It was pretty awesome, I don’t normally do that 
kind of stuff, it was cool. (don’t make happy ending jokes). I have to 
say the Vietnamese people were the nicest of any of the countries we 
visited (japan aside), they don’t harass you for money, they mind their 
own business, and when you do interact with them, they are respectful, 
and do their best to help you.

The next day me and Anthony took a quick flight to Phu Quoc, a small 
island located to the west of the mainland, the beaches were gorgeous. 
We got the most expensive room in a great small hotel for 50 dollars, it 
had 3 large beds, for too much for 2 people, but who cares when it’s 
that cheap right? We rented Motorscooters (125cc) for 6 dollars a DAY! 
We did a 25 mile cruise to the south of the island to one of the most 
pristine beaches. We arrived there and found a resort on the beach, we 
had some fresh grilled shrimp and slept on beach chairs under a canopy, 
it was very relaxing.

The last day we explored the city some more, went to karaoke with a 
bunch of friends, we sang the Beatles and a bunch of other stuff.   We 
sang the song “hey Jude” and towards the end of the song he says “better 
better better” right before the ending verses, but the translation say 
“berrer berrer berrer” which we thought was the funniest thing ever.

I remember joking about telling people my name was martin sheen, but In 
Vietnamese it would be said “mahtensheen” all one word.

If there was a song that I ask you listen to while you read this post, 
it’s “One” by Metallica.

Its been along time since I made any sort of a journal, it’s been a
few weeks since Vietnam, we docked at Ho Chi Mihn city, formerly known
as Saigon, the largest of the cities in south Vietnam. The city was much
more modern and developed then I expected, recently built medium sized
buildings make up the city, with not many skyscrapers at all, sidewalks
are decently sized, and there are many businesses selling shoes, shirts,
bags, and other kinds of apparel all over the place. It’s easy to tell
that this country has a base in manufacturing. The exchange rate is 1 
dollar to 20,000 Vietnamese doung (affectionately called “dong”) by all
the SAS kids. Everything is extremely cheap, bottles of water and soda
cost 10-30 cents, denoting that prices are roughly 5 times cheaper then
they are in the US, if you used the price of water as an index (as I do).

I spent the first 3 days with a Vietnamese friend of mine, and a
few of us stayed at her house with her family. The food was strange,
lots of noodles, dumplings and pork. I was skeptical about eating any of
it, but after trying some of it, I was pleasantly surprised, the egg
rolls were fantastic as well as the most popular dish called “pho” but
pronounced “fuh”. On the second day we went to the Mekong Delta, the
beginning of the Mekong river boat, once we arrived we took a riverboat
trip down the river and attempted to relive some of the experiences of
the soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war, the feeling of being in the
jungle and the river was very interesting. I had just recently watched
“apocalypse now” one of my favorite movies of all time, and it really
helped me get in the spirit of martin sheen. I really wanted to put some
face paint on and walk around in the water at night with a hunting knife
looking to stab Marlon Brando when I saw him.

The next day we spent time going to the big markets in the city, shopped
for tons of cheap t-shirts, bags, jackets, and other types of useless
crap that nobody really needs, but everyone wants. Me and one of my
friends went and got massages, since he had gone a few days before and
said it was awesome. It was pretty awesome, I don’t normally do that
kind of stuff, it was cool. (don’t make happy ending jokes). I have to
say the Vietnamese people were the nicest of any of the countries we
visited (japan aside), they don’t harass you for money, they mind their
own business, and when you do interact with them, they are respectful,
and do their best to help you.

The next day me and Anthony took a quick flight to Phu Quoc, a small
island located to the west of the mainland, the beaches were gorgeous.
We got the most expensive room in a great small hotel for 50 dollars, it
had 3 large beds, for too much for 2 people, but who cares when it’s
that cheap right? We rented Motorscooters (125cc) for 6 dollars a DAY!
We did a 25 mile cruise to the south of the island to one of the most
pristine beaches. We arrived there and found a resort on the beach, we
had some fresh grilled shrimp and slept on beach chairs under a canopy,
it was very relaxing.

The last day we explored the city some more, went to karaoke with a
bunch of friends, we sang the Beatles and a bunch of other stuff. We
sang the song “hey Jude” and towards the end of the song he says “better
better better” right before the ending verses, but the translation say
“berrer berrer berrer” which we thought was the funniest thing ever.

I remember joking about telling people my name was martin sheen, but In
Vietnamese it would be said “mahtensheen” all one word.

If there was a song that I ask you listen to while you read this post,
it’s “One” by Metallica.

India Continued: Varanasi, the Ganges, New Delhi, and more New Delhi

Editors note: this was written in segments at different times and
when I was in different moods, so forgive me if it doesn’t all fit
together that well.

So, I am back on the ship after India and I still feel tired. We
got almost no sleep the entire week. To continue from my last post, I
woke up after watching that movie and falling asleep on the train to
find that my phone and money had been stolen. My wallet had been opened
and the cash taken out and the wallet placed back in its original
location on the bunk. There were curtains for each bunk so someone must
have opened the curtains, looked around and saw my phone and wallet
laying next to me and taken them before placing the wallet back. I was
angry about the phone, and it made me feel negatively for a few hours
but overall it did not change how much I enjoyed being in India. It
would have been MUCH worse if they kept my wallet with my credit cards,
health insurance card, and drivers license. For that I am grateful.

We boarded the train around midnight and got off around noon in
Varanasi, the train station was crowded with many Indians getting on and
off trains, selling various types of fruits and vegetables and things of
that Variety. We found our driver and were brought to a hotel called
“The Raddison” the hotel was very nice, rooms were clean and they had at
least some internet.

We left the hotel after dropping off our stuff and went to see some
monument and touristy type things in the Varanasi area. We first went to
the Buddhist district and saw some beautiful temples and statues,
pictures will explain this better then I can at this time. We then went
to the heart of Varanasi. This city is by far the most crowded place I
have ever been in my life, once we got close to the center, cars are
either not permitted or they are just not used there because it would be
absolutely pointless. There is no such thing as sidewalks in Varanasi,
so the streets are FILLED with people, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cows,
bicycles, and scooters. Also, nobody uses turning signals, at all,
anywhere. The only signal anyone uses is the horn, I would compare it to
being at a world cup soccer game in South Africa and the noise of the
Vuvuzellas. This particular part India is particularly unpleasant, as
the noise is constant, it’s very loud and annoying and there is no
escape. However, the hustle and bustle of the streets with vendors
selling tons and tons of items was really amazing. ventured all over the
place looking at lots of silk Saris for the girls, shirts, pants,
bracelets, and anything else you might want. One of the interesting
things about this area was the face that we were some of the only
tourists around, so all this business and excitement surrounding the
city was essentially strictly between native Indians. We ventured down
some side alleys which were extremely tiny, but also filled with people
and sometimes motorcycles who drive quite fast. I have to saw, New York
driving seems calm and serene compared to most of India (Delhi was much
better in terms of traffic control). There is no such thing as red or
green lights, traffic just goes and goes, cross walks are none existent
and intersections are extremely dangerous. Enough about traffic though.
Some of my friends wanted to get a psychic reading (I was more
interested in getting some cool sneakers) but I went with some down a
series of alleys deep between the building and up these tiny spiraling
stone stairs from the side of an alley. We met the psychic but decided
not to get the readings done because the price was not good. This bring
up another important subject. The prevalence of bargaining in all the
countries we have been too has been huge. You would be a fool if you
ever took the price they initially give you. After Ghana and India in
particular, I can say I really am a professional negotiator, if I wasn’t
already. On expensive items, you could spend 15 minutes arguing over a
dollar with the merchant, they are tough! I probably heard the phrase “I
give you good price!” over 500 times in my 6 days in India.

Next we took a rickshaw ride for the first time, which was my
favorite thing we did the entire time in India. Cruising along down the
streets and the noise and seeing all the people, each living and
interacting with each other so close together was really an
unforgettable experience. We finally got to our destination, the Ganges
River! We arrived around sunset as the crowd started to gather for the
nightly religious ceremony where the 7 priests of Varanasi perform a
musical ritual on these elevated stones on the edge of the river. At the
edge of the river we boarded a rowboat and they paddled us about half a
mile down the river to see the holiest of holy temples which holds
inside it the “Eternal Flame” which has been burning continuously for
something like a thousand years. When people die, there bodies are
brought there and cremated during a special ceremony where a torch is
carried by one of the remaining family members from the eternal fire to
the cremation area (basically just a body and some wood) and they light
the fire with the torch. I remember seeing them shoveling some body
parts back into the fire (an arm and a leg), which wasn’t particularly
disturbing as much as I thought it might be, it kind of just was. After
this we returned to the bank from which we departed and got off the
boat, making our way back through the crowded streets on foot, and then
on a rickshaw and then back into our car who brought us back to the
hotel. At this point me and Sean went off on our own while the girls
went to there Henna Tattoo appointment. We left the hotel and got into a
waiting rickshaw, (which is a man with a tricycle that has a big seat on
it). We took it down the road and found a mall with a McDonald’s in it,
which sounded appealing after 3 or 4 days of eating only Indian food,
which is good but…. you know. We were walking to the entrance, which
were these massive glass windows with a glass door in the middle, as we
were walking up my friend saw his ship roommates in McDonald, and
decided to sneak up on them. Somehow in the excitement he didn’t realize
that there was a glass wall in-between him and the inside of the wall
and he power-walked/jogged directly into the glass window, hitting his
head. We laughed and all the Indians inside the mall just looked at us,
they didn’t laugh at him. When we got inside some guys who worked at
McDonalds came out and gave him some ice for his head, which was quickly
becoming a very big bump/lump on his forehead. We ate some food and went
to a nearby hotel where we met up with the SAS kids on a SAS trip, we
hung out there for most of the night and had a drink or two and then
made our way back to the hotel to go to sleep.

The next day (day four), we spent a few hours seeing monuments and
shopping at the markets until our flight at 4PM, we got to our flight,
and arrived in New Delhi around 6pm. We checked into our hotel, the
Royal Plaza which was super fancy (The one with the Rolls Royce
in-front, as per the picture I posted to facebook a few days ago). We
went to the M-Block market, which is basically kind of like a few grid
style city blocks of clothing stores, restaurants, and coffee/hookah
places. We went to a hookah bar and met up with Amit, the owner of the
tour company we had used to help arrange our trip. We spent an hour or
two talking with him at the hookah bar about life in India, the economy,
and life in the US. He had lived in Detroit for 6 years, and had
traveled a decent amount in the US, so his perspective was that of India
and the United States from a pragmatic business man type view. One of
the things he said that really stuck out to me was “People come from all
over the world to visit India, and they come home and talk about how
much of a spiritual and emotional and beautiful experience it was,
that’s fucking bullshit man, the only spiritual experience is saying
“thank fucking god I wasn’t born in India!!”. I suppose you could say
he’s kind of a cynic, which I really liked. We went to his house
afterwords and had some drinks and sat around chatting and smoking
cigarettes for a few hours, he explained to us how crazy the New Delhi
real estate market is, how all of this mostly mediocre apartments cost
millions of dollars, and how the super-wealthy have accumulated in areas
like New Delhi and Mumbai. A friend of Amit’s was also with us at the
hookah bar, he was a balding man who spoke decent English for an Indian
in his late 30ies. He was modestly dressed but we learned throughout the
night that he had a company worth 200 Million dollars, something which I
was at first skeptical about. Amit had his driver pick us up and we took
a ride with his friend to his friends apartment, before we left Amit
said “Now you can go see what a 5 million dollar apartment looks like”,
This didn’t really mean much to me because his place seemed like an
averagely decorated medium size apartment. We got to this next apartment
and an automatic gate let us in, a security guard opened the door and
another male servant type guy ushered us in, this apartment was by far
the nicest I have ever seen in my life. Every floor was made of
beautiful marble or perfectly colored polished hard wood. We walked into
the first basement room, which had 25 foot ceilings and I was blown
away. Towards the back of the room was a large glass window (in a
basement) which went out to an underground garden which was open to the
sky, in the middle of the garden sat a 7 or 8 foot tall solid brass
Buddha statue which he had imported from Thailand. There were various
rooms furnished with perfect multicolored lighting and the special
marble which comes from the area of India near the Taj Ma Hall and is
translucent, so it can be lit up from underneath.

On the 4th day we went and saw some monuments in the morning, some
colonial areas once occupied by the British and then we went to the
airport. Our flight was at 1:50PM and we arrived around 1:00 with
plenty of time to spare, as the airport was not that crowded. We checked
in and then went to use the bathroom, two of us (Haley and Erin) went
through security before us and me, Sean and Emma sat on a bench In the
airport and chatted for a little bit. I checked my watch and saw it was
1:30, we had no idea that the time had gone by so fast. We went through
security and missed our flight by a matter of minutes, they informed us
that the next flight would be the next day at the same time, putting us
in south india after the ship had already left which was not a viable
option what so ever. All of our phones weren’t working (mine had bee
stolen) and our ATM cards didn’t work at the one ATM which was available
at the airport. The security was very tight and they would not allow us
to come back in the waiting area without a ticket, but the main ticket
booth was outside the entrance, in the front of the terminal. I
convinced them to let me out while sean and emma waited inside and sean
used a payphone to call SAS and inform them of our delay, I really
wanted us to just take a flight to singapore and stay there for 5 days
until the ship arrived there. Once I got out I went the office and found
the ticket information, then I went back to tell sean and emma but the
gaurds would not let me back in, this resulted in my going up to the
glass window where they were sitting and writing messages on a piece of
paper using the end of a match head. We decided to take the flight and
we left and got our ticket. We called Amit and asked for help and he got
us a hotel for free back in New Delhi, we took a taxi and got to the
hotel. We decided to go see a movie that night in one of the fancy
Indian theaters so we left the hotel and got into a rickshaw. The
rickshaw took us to this super fancy mall, really one of the nicest I
have ever been to, we saw “this means war” easily one of the stupidest
fucking Hollywood movies I have ever seen. It was basically a montage of
anorexic girls joking about clothing and sex, and men on testosterone
fueled hormonal rages making asinine jokes at each other in order to
somehow impress the bimbo skeleton in charge (reese witherspoon). It’s
frightening and disturbing to think that the rest of the world views us
the way we are portrayed by the delusional liberal scum in the media
industry. We took our flght to Cochin (south india where the ship was)
and made it back to the ship with about an hour to spare. THE END!

India: Art, Heat, and People

So, I am writing this, my first post about India while riding on my
first ever sleeper train across India! I have to say India has been one
of the most exciting experiences I have had on Semester At Sea so far,
and this is only the evening of the second day, in addition to that, our
first day we composed almost entirely of traveling.
I’ll explain from the beginning. We arrived to the port of Cochin
which is in the very southern state of Kerela yesterday at around
10:00AM. As we walked down the gangway (ship code for entrance
ramp/walkway thingy) there were traditional Indian dancers and musical
performers waiting for us on the dock. They were playing some sort of
jovial and jolly India music, face paint, nice costumes the whole deal.
We went past them and began the negotiations for a taxi, once
negotiations were over we made our way to the Airport and boarded our
first flight, from Cochin to New Delhi, the Capital of India (which is a
big deal for a country with 1.2 BILLION people!). Most of the people on
the flight were upper middle and upper class, traveling for business. It
seems to be that every man between the ages of 25 and 40 is a computer
programmer of some sort. When we were in the taxi we noticed something
strange, the taxi driver’s cell phone rang and his ring tone was the
song that goes “we wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy new year”
(you know which one!). After making note of it I didn’t think about it
again until we boarded our flight. To my surprise, the music on the
plane was Christmas music, without vocals, just instrumental Christmas
music (including Jingle Bells) on repeat for the entirety of the 5 hour
flight. My theory is that it’s some sort of possible obsession with
American culture and a music of post colonialism British influence mixed
into one.

Once we arrived in New Delhi we were picked up by the driver that
would be driving us for the next two days. We began to embark on our way
from New Delhi to Agra (the city that host the Tajma Hal(sorry for
spelling?) and the Agra Fort, and ridiculous historical places that I
will attempt to describe later in this post.) We expressed to the driver
that we were hungry and he offered us two options “McDonalds or
restaurant”. After about 5 seconds of careful consideration we chose
restaurant. When we arrived, we could see this place was fancy, gated
entrance way with guards and valet parkers, multiple areas, one of them
hosting a wedding reception, and a well designed fancy upper class
restaurant. I had nahn, which is some amazing toased soft flat pita type
bread, and a shish kebab meal, the service was fast (something I miss
about home in addition to the food). The food was fantastic, we had
drinks and kept ordering more until we were full and then we tried the
desert. I wish I could describe the food in a more accurate manor, but I
really have no idea what i’m eating most of the time, everything I eat
is full of flavor and a touch of spice. The food is WAY better then the
Indian food at home.
I have to say I really didn’t know what to think about India, I
thought there was going to be beggers and poop everywhere (lol!). Thanks
to a rapidly expanding economy growing at around 8% per year, confidence
and happiness are plentiful. After asking multiple people, it seems that
everyone is happy (generally), and if you want to work, it is quite easy
to obtain a job. Also, everyone is SO nice. Unlike most of my
brainwashed classmates (sorry guys), I am not in delusion to the
difference between something being “different” and it being bad, or
good, not showering and having a lack to basic forms of hygene and then
eating soup with your hands is fucking disgusting and it’s dirty, sorry
Ghana, thats not “different” it’s barbaric.
Anyways! We left the dinner full and happy, at which point we made
our 5 hour drive to Agra, arriving at the hotel around 1:30am. We
checked into our room, and I enjoyed some of the internet and Skype my
father and one of my friends. I really enjoy speaking to my family, it
helps give me a sense of optimism about the future that I haven’t felt
in a long time. It seems everything is going well at home, in what feels
like the first time ever! I REALLY hope the economy gets better and
tension and confidence regarding the national situation improve, I don’t
give a shit who is president we just need to get our shit under control!

After going to sleep around 4:30AM, I decided to skip the sunrise
at the Taj Mah Hall, so I kept sleeping while my friends went there.
They came back around 9:30 and woke me up and we went and ate some
breakfast at the hotel, they had some pancakes, some Puri, french toast,
coffee, mango juice, and wonderful omelet. I would KILL for some pizza,
a pastrami sandwich, and a very large omelet right now. After breakfast
we went to see the Agra Fort, the second largest fort in india, built
over a thousand years ago it covers around 2 square MILES! Did I mention
that it has MONKEYS climbing around on and running all over it?! I
seriously think the Jungle Book was inspired by this place. (which I’ll
confirm when I get some internet). Massive doors lead to big squares, a
massive moat, and this was only the entrance. It is impossible for any
of us to comprehend the WEALTH possessed by the kings and rulers of this
time period, entire courtyards and living quarters for THOUSANDS of
women ( all unofficial wives of the king) carved out of marble, baths in
every living area, with running water. Fountains with constant water
pressure one thousand years ago! There was a small palace built with a
running water system built into a big sitting around in the wall that
was used to wash the king with a constant stream of cooling water as he
played parchese with his friends, rolling the dice and having all the
naked women act as the game pieces and place themselves in formation on
a courtyard made of pure marble that could have taken hundreds of
workers 20 years to build. Words cannot do it extravagance justice, you
will have to see the pictures (don’t worry I’m taking tons of them) to
really get how elegant these places are. There were rooms with so many
small mirrors placed throughout them that ONE candle lit in the center
would have millions of reflections in each of the mirrors. One thing
that really stuck out to me was the “Chain of Justice” a solid gold
chain, 80 meter long, from the top of the temple across the moat to the
outside with golden all along it that ANYONE could ring, regardless of
caste, wealth, or position in society. If the bell was rung they could
address their grievance directly to the king himself without
appointment. This was a symbolic gesture to set the tone of
accountability between the Kings and the commoners in society, and could
be said to have set the tone for modern day politics and common law.

After we left the Agra Fort our tour Guide Gotham, took us to visit
the factory of the families who BUILT the Taj, and who have continued in
the marble design trade for 14 generations. They showed us the exact
process in which it was made and it is some of the most beautiful
artwork I have ever seen. One coffee table top, carved from one block
granet, holding thousands of hand carved stones of many varieties and
origins can take two YEARS to complete, and they sell for about 2000 
dollars. The Indian government has subsidized the shipping of art
exports so any item you buy can be shipped free internationally, to
encourage foreign trade, particularly with the united states. I got a
set of marble coasters, each one featuring different colored stone
inlays of a detailed Taj Ma Hall, each representing the different
seasons and weather that would change the way the Taj can look.
After this we stopped for lunch, and then proceeded the “Baby Taj”
built before the taj mah hall, to be a used as a mausoleum for a dead
king. After this we went to see the Taj Ma Hall at sunset, and I could
not beleive how BIG it is! I still cannot understand how it was built,
even with today’s technology it would be an absolute masterpiece, and a
multi-multi billion dollar investment. We took some pictures and saw the
sunset.

Once we left we stopped at a restaurant and picked up some nahn,
and then went to a coffee shop/hookah bar. We sat and smoked hookah and
used the internet for a while. As I was sitting I saw a commotion
beginning to stir on the street, a procession of people carrying very
larged intricate lamps and some carrying hand drums and other musical
instruments followed by a man covered head to toe in shiny garb sat atop
a while horse was being lead by a very large group of people down this
street, which was somewhat of a main road, with lots of traffic. We
followed the procesion for a while and I got a video, it was very
beautiful.

Now this leads be back to where I am now, riding on this sleeper
train, watching the stations and the homes and the trees go by, laying
in my tiny little bunk, with hundreds of Indians snoring very loudly
around me. We were booked on this 11 HOUR sleeper train from Agra to
Varanhassi, but as a result of some error my ticket was “unconfirmed” so
I had no idea which seat I was going to have. We arrived at the train
station, which was designed very similar to Jamaica station in queens.
Families are laying around everywhere sleeping and hanging out, eating
snacks waiting for various trains to arrive. Loud announcements that
nobody can understand are constantly blaring out of the loudspeaker and
we are completely lost, with no idea which track our train is on.
Thanks to some friendly locals they point us to the right track, as the
train arrives, hundreds of people start to board, the cars have tiny
entrances, and even tinier hallways through the cars. As we walk we can
see all these people sleeping and snoring and lounging around in there
bunks. We finally figure out our car and I just go with my friends even
though I didn’t have a bunk (at least I didn’t know where it was) as a
result of my ticket situation. We find our spots and finally put our
stuff down, I am afraid to go look for my own bed because I have no idea
where it might be, and the idea of walking down 10 cars to seems like a
challenge that I can never accomplish. The ticket man comes and thank
god I have a bed in the same car, and now here I am. I fortunately put
two movies on my IPhone for this purpose as my laptop is a piece of crap
and the battery hardly lasts an hour. I have a choice of “Monty Python
and The Holy Grail” or “Silence of the Lambs”….. I think since the car
is dark, and it’s 2:30 am, I’ll watch the second. Hello Clarice………

Cape Town: An Oasis in Africa Part 1

It’s been what feels like at least a week since we left Cape Town,
although nobody keeps track of the date or the days the week so I’m
really not sure. For some reason I kept putting off writing about
Capetown because it was a long (and amazing) 6 days, but I was worried I
wouldn’t remember it all, or that there would be enough to write about.
It’s interesting to me that sometimes having a great time with friends
isn’t really all that interesting to describe. Cape Town definitely
inspired me to feel some feelings about Africa and the world that I was
surprised about.
On the first day, the ship arrived to the port at it’s usual port
arrival time, around 7-8AM. Most people, myself included, usually wake
up to see the sunrise and to watch us come into the ports. This was
especially nice in Cape Town. Cape town is a city located on the water,
with a quite massive rectangle shaped mountain sitting behind it, it
seems as if it’s protecting it from the elements, and the rest of
Africa. The weather is beautiful and VERY different from Ghana, it
really reminded me of California. It seemed to be about 75 degrees and
completely clear in the daytime, and a little bit cooler at night, low
humidity, and no rain!

The first thing I noticed as we entered the city is how modern and
western it was, I really had little knowledge about South Africa until
we arrived and I was stunned at how developed it is. There were big
office buildings, fountains, and nice restaurants and bars. It really
reminded me of a European city, with a mixer of a variety of European
cultures. Since we only had half the day, we spent some time exploring
the “green market” section, where all the pretty African souvenirs are
sold, then we found some other people and sat and ate some pizza with
them. I would kill an innocent child for a slice of GOOD pizza right now.

After my required academic trip (we call them FDPs) which is not
even worse describing because of how stupid it was. Okay fine I’ll
describe it. Basically, the bleeding heart liberals who run SAS are
always concerned that we might hurt some locals feelings in a foreign
country (god forbid) so they constantly lecture about being “culturally
sensitive” and to be a “traveler, not a tourist”. They also require that
each of us sign up for 6 of SAS sponsored trips (which we have to pay
additional money for). Then when we do the trips, they pile 50 or 60 of
us into a massive shiny new tour bus, and heard us around like cattle in
the most absolutely tourist-like fashion possible. They leaders of the
trip are carrying clip boards and wearing hats that don’t fit them
constantly taking head counts and making sure we don’t stray more then
20 feet away from the group. If someone were to use the phrase FDP in a
sentence it would go like this. “Hey man what are you doing today?” “I
have an FDP to take care of” “The sucks man!”.

After the dreaded FDP was taken care of, me and some friends
eventually made our way off the ship around 9PM to go to “Long Street”,
the street/area with all the bars, and many restaurants and pool halls.
On our way over we spotted some friends who were staying at a hotel on
the closer section of the street before our destination. We stopped to
see them and ended up hanging out there for a while, this hotel had
special rooms on the roof of the hotel which had been converted to a
place to hang out. These “rooms” were made out of aluminum trailers
which had been imported from the US and designed by some artsy artist
type person into an interesting grove of motor-homes, I forget the
official terms. We had some wine, champagne and tequila. After this we
left the hotel to go out to the bars, I ended up leaving my group to go
with another group who I had seen on the street. We ended up going to
some clubs and then going back to the ship late, I had a 30 second
conversation with a local girl.

The next day I ventured to a place called Boulder Beach, infamous
for the only PENGUIN colony in Africa, yes penguin. I don’t know how
they got there, but it was truly a one of a kind experience, and I
recommend everyone go visit them. after taking a 30 minute drive we
arrived at the beach, which is covered in huge boulders which inspired
it’s title. The penguins are everywhere, swimming around, laying on the
rocks, and they are quite friendly as long as you don’t get closer then
one foot to them or poke things in there faces. We spent the day there
laying around and hanging out, after which we made our way back to the
ship.

To be continued………… its 4:15 AM and I have to wake up in 3 hours
to get off the ship in India!

Humanity

I realize that I haven’t blogged about my time in Cape Town yet, but I
feel like I need to write this down and talk about it because it’s fresh
on my mind. I feel like we (humans) are living in the age of hedonism,
greed, and self worship. I have been to places like Ghana and Brazil
where people are living in permanent abject poverty, and suffering on a
daily basis, although I feel compassion for them, I don’t feel
compassion for people in general. My gut instinct tells me to blame
those who have so much, and consume so much because they don’t make ANY
effort what so ever to help those other people who are suffering, but if
the table’s were turned, and Africa was rich, assuming they even made
there way up the food chain enough to accumulate some surplus, do you
really think they would take care of the rest of the world? The problem
is not with Europe, or America, the problem is with people. There is no
such thing as the greedy “haves” and the poor compassionate “have nots”,
an overwhelming and depressing majority of people have no purpose or
motivation in life to do anything but EAT and BUY and TAKE. I watched
two movies that helped me explore my feelings about it, the first was
Se7en, about the seven deadly sins, and it made me empathize with the
serial killer who took matters into his own hands to teach the world a
lesson about their sins. The second movie was The Devils Advocate, when
Al Pacino gives his speech about how this entire last century has been
plauged with greed and self serving little spoiled children of people,
an age where everyone aspires to be an emperor, or a king over all of
our stuff, it’s such a sick joke and it seems like everyone is eating it
up. Last night we had a “dance party” on the ship, and It honestly
disturbed me. I feel like Hollywood and the music industry likes to play
jokes on the masses by releasing the absolute worst, most vulgar and
immoral content they can possibly come up with in order to see if people
are stupid and selfish enough to eat it up, and of course they do. It
was amusing to see everyone try to unleash their inner negro as “lil
jons” song about “skeet skeet skeet” came on and the crowd went wild
singing along. I turned to my friend and I said “we are all going to
hell, and this is why”. What kind of existence is this?! Who are these
people! I’m on a ship that is oozing and dripping with filth and
hedonism. We are going around to tour the world on some sort of pathetic
liberal apology tour because we feel guilty as a society for all the
damage we are doing and all the sinful greed that we exhibit. What they
don’t understand in their self-centered dogma is that ALL people are the
same, there is no such thing as “happy and benevolent poor people” in
there “beautiful” natural cultures. It’s disturbing to think about.
These starving people are all like YOU, if you were starving you would
do exactly the same fucking thing… When The Devil’s Advocate cut to
the credits the song “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones came on, and
it could not have been more appropriate. He says “I see the girls
dressed in there summer clothes”, and I knew he was talking about all
those harlots and deranged prostitutes upstairs rubbing their STD
invested bodies on each-other. I need to come home and play some fucking
metal…. before I end this rant I’ll say one more thing….. VANITY,
MY FAVORITE SIN!

"Africa: The Land of Culture"

I didn’t take the time to write down many notes during my time in Ghana so I am probably going to forget some details. 

            We arrived in Ghana on Monday, February 13th at 8:00AM. The first time I went outside the first thing I noticed was how hot and humid it was. The weather for the entire 5 days we spent in Ghana was around 90 degrees, very humid, and very hazy. I only saw the sun once, which was on the last day. I am not sure if this is the natural weather for Ghana or if it is the result of pollution.  The port we docked at was an industrial port, and I doubt commercial cruise ships often dock there, if at all. I suspect the reason for us going to Ghana altogether was because it is on the way to South Africa, and it probably doesn’t cost too much to park the boat. 

            Once me and my friends got off the boat we took the shuttle out out of the port to an area with lots of taxi’s waiting to take us away. They are very aggressive and will try to rip you off right away if they can get away with this. As we were driving you could see people selling things to the people stuck in traffic, some shacks and huts with people living in them, or street vendors selling all kinds of mostly useless things like brooms, stereos, and kitchen knives all around. 

            First we went to the Accra Mall, which looks like a shopping center/mall you might see on long island. The filth is cleaned up, the floors are clean and look to be made of something resembling marble like they would at home, and the stores are pretty similar to those at home. Clothing, electronics, and some fast food.

            After we left the mall we took a taxi to the capital city of Accra, we spent some time walking around, from the first few moments that we spent in the city, local merchants instantly approached us trying to aggressively sell us all kinds of variety of bracelets, necklaces, small paintings, and other types of stuff we mostly didn’t want. They were extremely annoying. I can sympathize with them because they need to make a living, but it was past the point of being acceptable. 

            Somehow along the way some guy/salesperson kept following us and would not leave us alone, we told him we wanted to go eat some local food and so he brought us to a restaurant a few blocks away. He kept asking for money and finally convinced one of the people we were with to buy him food and that he was going to come eat with us. The local food is a disgusting dish called “fufu” that is basically some strange mash potatoes/palente (not sure how its spelled) type substance in a bowl of soup and some goat meat mixed in. The best part about this is that it is eaten with your hands! That’s correct, there is a lack of clean water, showers, and general hygiene and sanitation, AND these people eat soup with there hands. It was disgusting to watch. I ordered chicken and rice, and obtained a fork thinking that “you can’t mess up chicken and rice… right?” wrong! It was terrible. We spent about 30 minutes waiting for the check, and 30 minutes waiting for change. It seems as though the locals have no concept of time, service, and working in general. 

            The second day we took a trip to some of the big European castles and slave dungeons that were built by the Portuguese, dutch and English some time in the last 500 years. They were pretty interesting, the dungeons seem like a horrible place to be, hundreds of people packed into tiny rooms like sardines, about 1/3 of them died in captivity before ever being sold to work in slavery. I wasn’t particularly deeply disturbed or emotionally affected by the experience because I am quite sick of white people being blamed as a race for slavery, and because I have seen enough graphic violence thanks to late nights on the internet for this to even compare.

            The third day I did a trip to a community radio station called Radio Ada (pronounced ah-dah), named after the community in which its located. In this context community means more like a count, as the radio station serves about a circular area of about 50KM (35 miles). This was definitely my favorite time in Ghana aside from the nightlife. The radio station was founded around 1998, in an area without running water or electricity. The founders of the station went to the people of the communities (about 500,000 people) to collect funds to pay the $2000 dollar licensing fee required by the government in order to start broadcasting over the public airwaves. In total they raised 100 US dollars, but the government accepted it anyways. The radio station is a beacon of light and the only connection that their approximately 250,000 regular listeners have to the outside world. They get all their local, national, and international news, weather, emergency broadcasts, and funeral announcements from this station. 65% of the people in the community are unable to read or wright, so the radio station has classes for reading and writing over the radio that people are able to follow along with. Their objective is to develop the community and they regularly have politicians come in to connect with the people and keep them accountable. The people in these communities actually feel as though their vote matters and that they have an influence, and as a result of things like Radio Ada, they do. They even have a lost and found, when items are found they are returned to the station who announces them over the Radio so that the owner can claim them. They explained to us that programming generally runs from 5am to 10pm every day, at one point they changed their hours to end at midnight instead of 10pm and many community members complained that the children would not go to sleep because “if Radio Ada is still on then it’s not bedtime yet!”.

            The fourth and fifth days were mostly uneventful with the highlights being going out at night to the one bar at which all the SAS kids always seemed to congregate at, it had a very large outdoor dance floor and some pool tables. I played pool against some random Turkish guys and met some other people. I also spent a lot of time at the internet cafe catching up on some internet and skyping with my family. I ended up making friends with one of the guys who worked at the internet cafe because he asked for my help fixing one of their computers. His shirt said “Brookhaven” and a number on it and it reminded me of Brookhaven hospital by stony brook, I asked him where he got it and he said was a gift from someone in the US. I asked him where I could get some cigarettes and he offered to take me so we started walking through tema, I think we walked for about 30 minutes, within 2 minutes of leaving the cafe I was absolutely the only white person in the area and I got lots of stares. We walked and walked, it felt like a movie, the bustling markets were very very busy and it was about 5pm so most of the people were getting out of work, it reminded me of Brooklyn or queens in an industrial area. We talked about life and he was very interested to know about how life is in the US, his English was very good and I think he will do well someday if he ever makes it out of Ghana and comes to the united states.

By the way, the title of the post was inspired by a shirt one of my room mates was wearing that showed a picture of Africa with the title “Africa: the land of culture” above it. Maybe I’m being “Eurocentric” but culture to me is not poverty and violence. There is some culture in Africa, but it only arises once the basic needs of a society are met and when people have the time to create and appreciate “culture”, Africa is not the land of culture.

 

Brazil and The Amazon

It’s been about two days since I got back to the Ship after leaving
Brazil. The concept of time is pretty different here. I never know the
day of the week or the date unless I look it up because we don’t go by a
regular schedule. We have classes on days which we are at sea
continuously until we get to the next port, including the weekends.
There are only A and B days. It’s interesting to see how little the date
and day of the week matter when you stop using them. My birthday is in
less then a week, which I suppose is exciting. They have an option for a
private fancy dinner and I think i’m going to have one with some friends.

The Amazon trip was fantastic, i’ll explain more about that now.
About 40 SAS students took this trip together, it started in the port of
Manaus which is the city in the middle of the Amazon, it has about 2 
million of theonly 3.5 million people which populate most of the
Amazon’s 5 Million + square miles. We didn’t spend much time in Manaus
because our tip was going to take up almost the entire time in port, and
because it’s not a particularly fun city. Lots of the other SAS kids
took trips to Rio De Janerio but I couldn’t justify spending over a
thousand dollars just to go to Rio for 3 days. Now that we have
Brazilian visas, we can return to Brazil without a hassle anytime we
went in the next 5-10 years. I really want to come back to Brazil for
the world cup in 2014!!

Once we landed in Brazil we went straight to the dock where the
riverboat was waiting for us. The boats are small wooden things with two
levels and not much else. Some plastic chairs scattered around where the
only place to sit. After taking off we went to the Meeting of the rivers
which is where the Amazon and the Rio Negro (a black colored tributary
river to the Amazon.) At the point where they meet it looks like coffee
mixing with milk, the black color of the Rio Negro and the Amazon really
contrast each-other. Next we went see these massive lilly pads floating
in a swamp that had some caymans (alligators) hanging around there.
We spent the rest of the day cruising around the river boat, hanging
out, listening to music and relaxing. We spent the first night sleeping
on the hammocks basically under the stars since the boat is totally
open. It was nice being out in the amazon in nature without cell service
or internet or even a normal bed. We ended up driving in a massive
rainstorm which was quite exciting, it seems to rain alot every
afternoon in the Amazon (hence the rainforest name). The boat’s only
defense against the rain was to put this plastic tarp over the exposed
areas, which was only semi effective.

The next day we arrived at some unknown location on the edge of the
river and got out of the boat. We entered the jungle for the first time
on what was to be a very long and terrible hike. In order to walk
through the jungle long sleeve shirts and long pants (jeans in my case)
are a must. The Jungle is the single hottest experience I have ever
felt, not necessarily in terms of temperature although I’m sure it was
somewhere around 90 degrees at all times. The problem is the insane
humidity and power of the sun beams are a result of our being almost
directly on the equator. I really disliked being inside the jungle, it’s
none stop full body sweating from the moment you get inside until the
time that you leave. On our way I saw a spider that was the size of my
hand, very scary. We also passed a bees next and they proceeded to
immediately attack everyone that walked past, their were victims but
fortunately for my tactical skills I was able to avoid them.

Once we escaped from the forest after at least 3 long hours of
unbearable suffering we made it to a native village of some of the
indigenous people. Most of the villages are high above the water because
the river gets so much higher during the rainy season. A bunch of SAS
guys including my self played some soccer and lost badly to the locals.
It was a ton of fun though, it’s not when people can connect without
speaking any of the same language through something that everyone enjoys.

Next came the overnight in the jungle, after all the hiking and the
exhausting soccer game we took our hammocks and carried them for an hour
through the jungle at NIGHT until we got to the campsite, which was
essentially some pieces of wood piled against each-other forming a beam
that we could hang out hammocks on. The guides made a fire and started
cooking us delicious chicken on it, one of the guides snuck off and came
back with a small alligator that he found and captured without any tools
of weapons. Sleeping was very difficult due to the horrible humidity,
the bugs, and the uncomfortable hammocks. The sounds of the jungle were
very interesting, there were a ton of bugs and animals doings things
late at night. The stars were also quite visible.

The last day was by far the most fun to me, after coming back to
the boat from the overnight in the forest we went to go swim with the
wild pink river dolphins, there is an area where they are often fed, and
we swam directly with them in the water without cages or any kind of
protection from them. They were surprisingly friendly and SUPER soft!
We also saw some caged scale fish, about 6 feet long and the single
scariest fish I have ever seen. They are scally with red and black
stripes, when they snapped their mouths closed to eat the fish they were
being fed, the force was so great that it sounded like a whip cracking
as if they were breaking the sound barrier. After the swimming of the
dolphins and the scale fish, we went fishing for Piranhas, I didn’t end
up catching any but some other people did, and they ate them. (I tried
it, it was gross).
After this we went to another indigenous tribal village and they
performed some cool dances for us and I bought some souvenirs.

The final part of the trip was very special as well, after the fishing
we went back to the boat and ate dinner, after which we spend the rest
of the night hanging out on the back of the boat listening to music,
singing, and drinking caprenias (not sure how it’s spelled). This is a
drink I will definitely be drinking when I get back to the US, its
basically some sugar, crushed limes and rum although I would like to add
some crushed strawberries to sweeten up the flavor.


Ghana is next!

Today we entered the mouth of the Amazon river, the perfectly blue
waters of the Caribbean faded into the dark blue of the Atlantic, and
now as we entered the ocean surrounding the entrance to the worlds
largest river, the dark coffee colored water mixes with the ocean water.
I really can’t begin to describe how BIG the Amazon is, we have been
going down to the Amazon for 8 hours and we can’t see land on either
side! Fun Fact: the Amazon has a greater discharge than the next 7 
largest rivers by volume.

Once we get to Brazil, I am going to be doing an amazon riverboat
tour for 3 nights at which point we will go piranha fishing, swim with
pink dolphins, go canoeing at night, and hopefully not get killed by the
insane amount of horrible insects and animals that inhabit the area.

Sea life is great, today I woke up and went to class, hung out by the
pool, worked out, went swimming, laid out in the sun, played some ping
pong, and had a few glasses after dinner. I have never felt this level
of humidity in my life. I am slightly nervous for the jungle. I saw the
biggest moth of my life today, and it went after someone (at least I
thought so). I’m going to attempt to include a picture I took today as
well as one of the ship, not sure if they will work though.

As usual, please email me Rafael.Yakobi.S12@Semesteratsea.org!

Class at Sea

I am sitting in my classroom listening to my professor, and as a I
glance to my left out the windows I am looking at the island of Puerto
Rico (not sure that’s how its spelled), just thought I would share. I
will be in country of Dominica tomorrow, i’ll update again soon!

Blog post: Semester at Sea: The last week at home, The Bahamas and The Arrival.

My first five days of my journey towards the beginning of semester
at sea have been fantastic. The process of organizing thoughts and
putting them to words is still somewhat new for me, and probably
lacking, but I think it will be an excellent skill to improve.

My last week in New York was a good one, I got a chance to see a
whole bunch of my friends some of which I haven’t seen much lately
before I left, and it was a great feeling to see that people cared about
what I am doing, wanted to see me before I left, and took the time to do
so. It was interesting to see who didn’t seem to care/notice at all,
although based on the last few months of my incessant banter regarding
semester at sea, I would say that it isn’t possible to say they didn’t
actually know. I think they are jealous, and that’s okay with me.

It just occurred to me as i write about my last week in New York about
how disappointed I was about not selling my car and getting a different
one. I have to say I haven’t thought about it ONCE in the last five
days, maybe it didn’t really matter after all.

My first few days in the Bahamas were a blast, every day I met some
new Semester at Sea students, and within these last 5 days I have
completely lost track of time, at this moment I have NO idea what day it
is! It helps to remind me how we ascribe value to things that
intrinsically are meaningless, and when we aren’t pressured to continue
caring about them, they lose their value. Perhaps I was living by
someone’s standards other than my own.

The Bahamas is like almost every other Caribbean island, a
completely over saturated mesh of cheesy tourism, inflated prices, and
beautiful beaches. I think the correlation can be made that it is
symbolic of the innate need for everyone to engorge themselves according
to modern American culture.

Tonight is the end of day two of the voyage and I have already met
some amazing people, and made friends with more people then all of my
friends at home and all of my acquaintances combined. I feel like if we
got off the ship today, I could stay with any of them as if we had
always known each-other. The sense of community and openness and
approachability of everyone is unlike anything I have ever witnessed.

Another interesting thing has been the amount of people who have
recognized me from my active participation in the facebook group in the
months leading up to the trip, I am happy to be part of an elite of
about 5-10 student who names many people on the ship would recognize.
The highlight of this in the Bahamas when this international student
from India came up to me in a crowded bar and said “I just wanted to
tell you that I love your comments on Facebook” in his strong native
Indian accent.

Also, there is a ridiculous amount of gorgeous, smart, wonderfully
nice girls on the ship, I have met more high caliber women in the last
few days then in my last 4 years of college, and it’s only the second
day! I think I have a crush on like 15 different girls all for unique
and equally worthy ways.

The atmosphere is great, everyone says hi or smiles to each other
in the hallway, and I can go up to anyone without needing a reason just
to say hi, introduce myself, and just talk.


My thoughts are all over the place. Hopefully the quality of these
blogs will continue in the upcoming weeks!