Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Rural India Homestay: Kamcheepuram

On day 2, Alexa and I got in an auto-rickshaw after some rough bartering and did some shopping in a local market area. I bought bangles with gold on them, which are made from glass and are commonly worn by women here. I also bought a sari, which is what all the women wear here daily – especially in the south as it is very conservative. The ladies at the store wrapped me in it and I left wearing my sari over my clothes, but took it off in the rickshaw because it was thick and hard to move around in, and I was very hot.
        I quickly packed my back for my overnight home-stay in rural India with a company working to eradicate child labor. I threw an unopened deck of cards in my bag as a gift to the family I’d visit because it was all I had to give. After grabbing a PB&J at lunch, I went to the union to meet the others in my SAS trip – and realized that Tam was on the same trip! I don’t know how we hadn’t realized it sooner… but we hang out with the same people and are getting to be good friends, so I was excited to see her there.
        About 30 of us showed up and boarded the bus. I fell asleep for an hour, and chatted with Tam for the other hour and a half. We went through smaller cities and towns until we arrived in what could be considered a suburb of Kamcheepuram, the silk capital of India. A female Indian guide took us through the village of colorful buildings and dirt roads and showed us the building where we would be sleeping so we could set down our overnight bags. I was bummed realizing I wouldn’t stay with a family, but was still excited to be there. We went back downstairs and several women had arrived in saris with flowers that they pinned in our hair (I pinned mine on my shirt!). They served tea, which I couldn’t drink because tea and coffee here are made with milk rather than water.
        At about 4:30, we left for a very rural village to visit a “bridge school.” We had a male guide, who was our female guide’s husband, and he explained to us that the homestay was with a program he’d started called RIDE, which works to empower women in the work force and terminate child labor. They’d started these “bridge schools” to help kids transition from a life of dangerous work to a life of growing and education. The schools are open in the afternoons and evenings, much like a Boys and Girls club would be in Los Angeles. There is a school room, a sand area outdoors to play in and an outdoor stage.
        When we arrived, all the children had lined up on either side of the entrance. They had flowers and loose petals in their hands. We all stood staring, hesitant to move, and they stared right back at us. We took bold steps between the lines, and the children started cheering and handing us their flowers, throwing petals over our head so excitedly! They were so colorful, shy and smiling. It was so touching that they were as excited to have us as we were to be there. There was one teacher at the school, and a volunteer teacher from Germany who was19 yrs old and living in the building where we were to stay the night. There were about 70 children.
        They ran ahead of us around the corner to the stage and piled up there. We arranged ourselves in front of them and our guide told us that we should play with each other, so we did! It was so much fun.. hokie pokie, duck-duck-goose, jump-roping.. it was like being a kid again. It was hard to think that these smiling little people spend the day under rough machinery in terrible conditions; they were so bright and happy that it seemed impossible. As it got dark, we headed into the classroom and sat on the floor with them. Several kids got up and sang, which was so cute. I have no idea what they were saying. There was a huge language barrier as none of them spoke English.
        We left shortly thereafter, and they all waved at us yelling “byee!” as we piled onto the bus. We were served an Indian dinner at RIDE headquarters which was spicy and delicious, and had a presentation afterwards by the other German volunteer staying there named Alex. She is a teacher in a different village, and explained how the teachers require that students come to school in clean uniforms and with flowers in their hair. India’s big on flowers. She said that during her walk through the village to school, many parents will pass their children off to her to walk to school together and that she was happy they were beginning to trust her with their kids. I can’t imagine moving into rural India to volunteer without friends or being able to speak the local language.
        We got into bed by 10. There were cots and floor mats set up for us, so Tam and I took the floor. Each floor had 1 large room with about 10 beds in it, and it was not hard to fall asleep through the chatter after such an exhausting day.
        We woke up at 7:30, had breakfast and were on the bus in an hour. Our guide took us to another rural village. They were expecting us, and there were drums beating as we approached the temple in the village square. The women of the village gave us flowers and adorned our foreheads with a spot of red powder and a spot of deliciously floral-smelling yellow liquid. We were separated into smaller groups and taken around the village in different directions. There were excited children everywhere, and the people of the village followed us, parading us down the dirt roads. There were open sewers on either side of the roads like we had seen in Ghana, though less structured.
The people were eager to take us into their homes and show us what they had and how they lived, even though it was very minimal. Their hospitality was exceptional. There was a TV in every home. It was unexpected and fascinating – this was a higher priority than a bed. The government had provided a bathroom, but they preferred to use pots they’d set up in between homes. The homes were built from clay and mud with palm-leaf rooves. No one spoke English. We spent about 3 hours exploring their small town, and left at around noon to go back to RIDE.
On the way back, we stopped at the village potter’s home to see how he works. He uses a wheel with a prong that he sticks into a mound in the ground. Once it starts spinning, it doesn’t stop! It was amazing. The wheel was very unbalanced, and I can’t imagine trying to throw a pot on that thing. He made several right before our eyes, and I bought one for 20Rupees before we left. We grabbed lunch at RIDE and said goodbye to our hosts, and piled onto the bus to Chennai at about 2 pm.
We drove for an hour until we stopped at a silk factory. It was in the top floor of a small building, and was a company that RIDE had impacted by removing children and replacing them with their mothers. We all bought silk scarves from that shop which was neat, because even though we paid a little more than our friends did in the markets.. we knew that we weren’t supporting child labor.
We finished the drive quickly. Everyone on the bus fell asleep, including me. Tam and I raced off the bus and onto the ship together. We met back up after a shower with Megan and Kali in Tymitz Square for dinner. I’d run into Alexa, so the 5 of us headed out to a local restaurant.
The food was delicious, but a bug crawled up the wall next to my face as I shoveled chicken into my mouth – which reminded me to look around and realize what kind of place I was in. Luckily, I didn’t get sick in India – I’m surprised.. it must have had something to do with all of the Pepto I’ve been taking. Alexa and I packed for our overnight trip to the Taj Mahal, for which we would have to wake up at 3:30 am. India is exhausting, and though I only slept for about 5 hours – I slept hard.

I forgot to mention.. the villages we visited are all villages of untouchables, which is why it's so hard for RIDE to funding or assistance in working with these people. It was a clear indication of the caste system in India.

Village boys. The green leaves behind them is propaganda for a political party in Tamil-Nadu

The village phone

Children performing

The children on stage at the bridge school

Me and Courtney at Shore Temple.

Roadside cow. The language written on the wall in the background is Tamil, which is commonly spoken in Tamil-Nadu, the state where Chennai is.



Tarps huts on the beach.
Up to about 10 people live in 1 of these.

Amanda Kleiman

A goat, trash and boats on the beach in Chennai

India! Day one.

I woke up early and went to the top deck to watch us pull into Chennai. There were many small, oriental boats on the water. The ship had to blow its horn repeatedly to clear the way. The air was heavy and warm, and whipped so hard across my cheeks that I didn’t stay outside long.
After another hour of sleep, a shower and breakfast, we had face-to-face passport stamping again. Courtney, a girl in my Asian Art class, and I met in Tymitz Square… it was NUTS. There were people everywhere. We had just been informed that we had to carry our customs form with us in an out of the port for security checks. The forms were held at the Purser’s Desk, which is the ship’s receptionist. After pushing a shoving to grab those, we stood in the 1 ½ hour line to exit the port as the entire ship tried to leave simultaneously. Exiting the ship was smelly and suffocating - the air here is thick and hard to breathe.
We got in an auto-rickshaw, which is a motorized scooter with a car-like roof and seats build around it. It’s kind of like a golf cart with handlebars instead of a steering wheel. Every auto-rickshaw has a different horn, like dogs barking or children crying and other alarming loud noises. We got dropped off on a local street with internet cafés and bought our tickets to fly to New Delhi/Taj Mahal.
We had agreed to meet back up with our driver afterwards (who lent us $ for the internet café) so we could go to a bank with him and pay him back. A man walked up to Courtney with a cell-phone and handed it to her. After confusion, we finally realized it was our rickshaw driver! He said “get in the car with my friend.” It seemed sketchy, and we hesitated for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. We eventually got in the rickshaw, realizing that with no doors or windows – it would be easy to tuck and roll if we had to bail.
We were taken to driver #1, who introduced us to driver #3 and told us that #3 would take us to Mamallapuram, where we had planned to spend the day exploring temples. We agreed on 1,000Rupees per person for the hour and a half drive each way ($22). Driver #3 turned to us from the front seat, let out a huge belch that smelled of beer, and turned to face forward. I asked him how much he’d had to drink, and he said 1… so I kept my mouth shut.
We trucked along the highway at 60 km (39 mph). I almost lost an arm pointing outside the vehicle. The driving here is wild. Lanes are suggestions, and lights have timers on them – everyone acts on them prematurely. Drivers honk constantly to let other drivers know that they are coming up on their sides, or to move over so they can pass. What a headache. We scooted by the beach, which was covered with huts made from branches and tarps. There’s trash and people everywhere. Scattered on the roads, in heaps, on the beach, around homes… everywhere. It was pretty eye opening to see how these people live. Many sleep on the cement and don’t even build a hut from scraps.
        There were goats, cows and stray dogs everywhere. Hindu people believe that if you are bad in one life, you are reincarnated as a dog – so dogs are openly neglected. We were warned not to interact with animals to avoid rabies. Wild cows walked along roads roaming freely. It was shocking. They are not eaten here because they are sacred, but didn’t have any sorts of tags on them marking ownership by anyone.. its so different. I keep wanting to say it’s strange – but it’s not. It’s just a different way of life that I’m not used to.
        We arrived in Mamallapuram and went to Shore Temple. It was great! We studied this temple in class. I learned that it was 1300 years old, and there were  others like it that had been covered by the ocean. When there was a tsunami here 6 years ago, the water got sucked out before it hit and revealed 2 more temples!
        We then went to the 5 Rajas (sp?) to see 5 adjacent temples that were constructed monolithically – from one stone. Many of the facial features of the animals or gods had faded with time, but the temples were very cool to see regardless. Last we stopped by Butter Ball. It’s a huge boulder that defies all laws of physics on a rock slope. It rained, and we ran to the under-side of it with several young men. We got to talking - they were intrigued by our white skin and Court’s blonde hair. When she took off her sunglasses, they asked her if she wore blue contacts; they'd never seen eyes as light as hers before! They wanted our names and emails to find us on Facebook, which always makes me laugh. They were about 20 years old, and so excited to be speaking to Americans.
        Somehow I passed out in the auto-rickshaw on the way back despite the rain, noise and UNBELIEVABLY crazy driving. I woke up in Chennai at rush hour. I leaned forward in the rickshaw to look out the side, and there was a man a foot away in the neighboring rickshaw. I waved and he waved back and he laughed, which is one of my favorite parts of many cultures we’ve seen since leaving the states. The world is a very friendly place.
        Our driver kept putting us on the phone with driver #1 throughout the day and rarely communicated with us himself. #1 asked if we were happy and where we wanted to go next, and would then convey this to our driver. We had planned to go shopping and to Siva’s temple, but ultimately decided to just go home. When we tried to tell the driver this, but he called #1 to make sure it was okay. Then he pulled over at the beach and said we had to wait for #1. Then we argued and he took us to another location after calling #1 again. We got frustrated, and demanded he take us back to the ship and almost hopped out until he agreed.
We got back and tried to hand him $ quickly, but he put us on the phone with #1 again, who asked for a tip! I was dumbfounded. He expected money for calling us a few times to ask if we were happy? It was weird and I hung up on him, and we jumped out. Beggars SWARMED me and Courtney, pulling on our arms, grabbing our hands and not letting go. One girl tugged on my earrings and kept asking me for them, even though the ones in her ears were definitely worth more. Before we got to India, someone advised "If you have a personal bubble before you get off the ship.. pop it." It was weird to have a stranger reaching for my ears regardless. Many of them were young, and some had naked babies in their arms. They'd point to their mouths, indicating wanting $ for food. It’s very hard to walk away from, but if you give one person money.. more will come. :-\
Back in my cabin, I wiped my face on a white towel only to find a huge dark brown smudge across it. I immediately scrubbed my face. Some friends and I headed to Kabul Restaurant for dinner. We had no idea what anything on the menu meant, but pointed to some random things and got delicious food and beer in return. The beer was served in large, flowered coffee mugs. The food was served in clay bowls; generally chicken in some sort of sauce, all spicy and very flavorful. We ate with our right hands because the left hand is used to wash yourself after using the restroom - toilet paper here is scarce. We stuffed ourselves and paid no more that $7/ person, got back to the ship and went to bed early.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sea Olympics!

I'm so proud and excited. Out of the 10 "seas" (including the Nomer Sea, aka No Mercy), we were in the top two and as one of the smallest seas, the underdog.
Opening Ceremonies were at 1 and we all met in the Union to do our sea-chants we’d come up with the night before. We chanted "Purple is the way to be, we are the Aegean Sea!" a lot. We also sang/rewrote A-G-N-C (Aegean Sea) to the tune of YMCA (Baltic, there’s no need to feel down! I said Bering, get yourself off the ground… ). The “Nomer Sea” consits of all the staff, faculty and lifelong learners (i.e. the Archbishop). In the past, they’ve been called the Geriatric Sea, the Agin’ Sea and other such elderly-referencing titles. We all made jokes about how ooooold they are all day, even though all the kids were on that team including 6-month old Griffin.
At 2, Desmond Tutu announced “Let the games begin!” and that’s exactly what they did. I ran upstairs to meet my teammates for the hula-hoop contest. I placed third, and another girl on my team placed first so she went to the finals and won! Synchronized swimming was HILARIOUS. A lot of guys had on bikinis, which was so funny and some groups actually had pretty good (and extremely silly) routines. Some of the groups used “Me No Speak Americano” as their music, which is great because it’s a song we all love to jump around to in port so everyone had fun with that. We placed 2nd there.
THEN I did “Sustainable Sculpting” which was sculpting from trash (beer cans, straws, toothpicks, cereal boxes.. etc.). We were the only group to make a statue of Desmond Tutu, but still didn’t place. I’ll post a picture later, it was so cute! And we deserved recognition for it. Grrr.. After that was the orange pass (under our chins) which was so much fun. We didn’t place there which was so frustrating because we should have and the judges were obviously looking the other way. When they realized their error as other teams began to defend our case, they bumped us up to being tied for first with Caribbean who we were neck-and-neck with all day. Until that happened though... I got pretty worked up. Our lipsyncing skit far surpassed the rest, as did our spirit. The top 3 lipsync groups are performing again at the logistical pre-port tonight and Alexa is in it!
We bonded so much as a deck/sea today which is great because now I feel like I actually know the people on my floor and am friendly with them, rather than just recognizing them in the hallways. It reminded me a bit of Greek life – you have friends on all decks in all seas, but always have your home base to go to, which is so neat and a lucky feeling to have.
Anyway, they announced the winners at the end and of course, we came in 2nd behind Caribbean. But that’s okay, because we still had a fantastic day and I think the point is more to bring the ship community together than to see who can pick up an ice-cube with chopsticks most efficiently.
I guess that’s all for now. I’m in a stellar mood. Heading to dinner (again..) after I finish up my film paper in a few minutes. Can’t wait for India, which will be off the bow in about 13 hours. Wow!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It gets intense in India.

I learned a lot lately, and want to share some of my thoughts.
I’m eavesdropping on a conversation, where information on the crew’s daily life aboard the MV Explorer is being revealed. They work 14 hours every day, with no days off unless we are in port, when they can have up to 2 days on land. Also, we are now set on a route that doesn’t need to follow minimum wage laws and their pay is lowered for this reason. They do not work for tips like the service industry in the states (though we tip them anyway after the voyage). This is why we don’t fly the American flag anywhere on the ship, which is very bothersome.  At this point, I’m feeling overly catered to and very spoiled. I guess they knew what they were getting into when they took the job.
        On a different note, we watched a documentary video in our Global Studies class, which is required for everyone on the ship. The video was about how Indians learn to speak with English, American or Australian accents to be hired by outsourcing agencies in each country. They said the youth culture in India is mesmerized by the “American Dream,” which is ironic because it often doesn’t even exist in America. They are taught about baseball and common slang. It’s hard to imagine people wanting to try so hard to be a part of another culture. Often times, Indians rebel against their work personalities by accentuating their Indian attributes, like dress and jewelry, and try to speak in their native Indian language. They choose standard American names to use over the phone so customers cannot recognize that they are from a foreign place.
        People here have been talking about India INCESSANTLY. This is cool because we’ve been learning a lot about where we’re going, but I wish that people on the ship would just unleash us when we arrive in Chennai and let us experience everything the country is on its own. We’ve heard a lot of the same stories, descriptions, warnings.. it’s becoming too much. One good thing, though, is that there are two Indian inter-port students who performed for us tonight. Sunila sang while Bahaji (sp?) played the violin and it was beautiful. We haven’t even had our logistical pre-port yet. Sigh.
        I have, however, found the cultural and religious things we’ve learned about to be extremely interesting. Much of it is centered around the Ganges River. Indians brush their teeth in the river, use it as a bathroom, clean their clothes, send floating prayers across the water in small paper boats until the river accepts them... There are so many uses for the Ganges.  It is said in the Hindu religion that one’s soul undergoes reincarnation, and the only way that a soul can be released back into the original energy of the universe is to spread one’s remains or ashes in the Ganges (or “Ganga”) River. It is for this reason that people go on pilgrimage to Varanasi, which sits on the river, to die. There are “houses of death” along the river for these people to stay. This way they can be cremated and have their ashes spread to release their souls. When a child dies, their soul is still considered pure and they are not cremated. Instead, they are wrapped and attached to a weight to pull their bodies to the bottom of the river to rest and become a part of the earth. The same goes for cows, which are sacred, and explains why beef is extremely uncommon throughout the entire country. From what I hear, it is not uncommon for a cow or child to detach from their weight, making them visible as they float down the Ganges. It is for this reason that I can honestly say I am happy not to be going to Varanasi – I don’t think these are things I could handle.
        The river is said to have dripped from the hair of Shiva after prayers went to him to cure a drought. Shiva accepted water onto his head as hair and allowed it to drip down to the top of the Himalayas and continue to form the Ganges. This is why the river is such a religious symbol and seen as a place that can absolve anyone of their sins. It is also for this reason that people bathe in the Ganges. 
        We have been told to use our right hands only, since left hands are used for “cleaning activities.” People in India eat with their hands a lot, so I’m excited for that. I’m really scared of getting extremely ill the way I did after Morocco...  About 45 Indian Rupees is equal to $1USD. I have a shopping list of all the things I want to buy and am pretty excited about it!

I have a stellar itinerary. The first day is a trip to Mamallapuram, where some Hindu temples we’ve studied in my Asian Art class are built. The next day I leave for an overnight home-stay with an Indian family to get to know the real culture in the south. I will be with my family that day and return to the ship to explore Chennai at night. I leave early the next morning with Alexa and some friends to go to New Delhi by plane (weird!). Upon arrival, we’ll take a 4-hour taxi from there to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and stay there for the night. We’ll return the next day to New Delhi to spend the day there until our flight leaves at night, putting us back on the ship by 2 am. If this trip to the north doesn’t work out, I’m going to explore about 6 different cities in the south with my friend Evie. Alexa and I signed up for Bala Mandir orphanage visit through SAS on the last day. I have some independent trips and some that are organized. Regardless, I think just being in India will be cool no matter what I do. I’ve been anticipating this country (and Vietnam and Japan) the most, and can’t wait to get off the ship!
India has the largest train network in the world. Their food is incredibly spicy, so I’ve been putting Tabasco sauce on everything at meals to condition myself. Have been watching Indian movies all week to learn about the culture, and reading the Lonely Planet books in the library. I think that no matter how much I prepare, nothing will get me truly ready.
Tomorrow is Sea Olympics! I’m in the Aegean Sea, which is purple, so I bought a purple SAS shirt. We bought purple fabric in Ghana for our deck to wear as bandanas, and I have a purple snow hat with me. I signed up for crab-crawling soccer, an orange necking pass, the hula-hoop tourney and sustainable sculpting (with trash). Our team is making a sculpture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu! I just need to remember sunscreen this time because my nose is still red from before Mauritius, and so are my ears… :( I’m also not very happy that I can’t capture videos because I lost my point-and-shoot camera, and left my journal in Mauritius. It had everything in it.. contact info for people in Ghana, places I ate, cities I visited, stickers I bought.. everything. Hopefully I’ll find a way to get it back, but as of right now it’s not looking so good. At least a camera is replaceable.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Megan and Travis goofin off! The water is so clear...

The girls!

All of the catamarans parked where we spent the day

The ride there, everyone is so happy :)

Laying on the nets on the ride to the small island!

Catamarans lined up at headquarters before we left.

On The Water Taxi

M(otor) V(essel) Explorer

Leaving the ship!

Delicious Mauritius

We are back on the ship and cruisin towards one of the countries I am most looking forward to: India. I am incredibly sea-sick and sunburned, and thus cannot sleep.. so I thought blogging might be a good distraction.
Mauritius was amazing. It was such a treat to be able to enjoy a tropical area with all of these wonderful people. When we pulled into port, they put us through the same procedure of having to get each of our own passports stamped individually - face to face with customs agents. Alexa and I then watched the diplomatic briefing from our cabin as we got ready for our day. The only big thing to make note of is that Mauritius is considered a third world country, which I don't think any of us were expecting.
We got off the ship with our friends Nick and Kalin and headed into town to find a waterfall hike and later hit the beach. Almost everyone here is Indian, and has a thick accent. There were women selling clothing in Indian styles and different scarves made of silk and cashmere. We walked around the market in the town center and I picked up a watch for 100 Mauritian Rupees - about $3.33. I also bought a new backpack (for 250MU aka $8.50) because I didn't bring one, and the one I bought in Ghana failed. The market is structured by people laying out the goods they sell on tables lining the streets of downtown, and you walk down the center of streets. All sorts of things you'd find on the streets in NYC; knock-off sunglasses, perfumes, purses, watches, etc. It is an area where cars do not pass. Many of the buildings were run down, and it was really interesting to see the juxtaposition of a nice, wealthy bank building next to a shack-like restaurant, etc. The same went for local homes and apartment buildings.
When my group decided to opt out of the waterfall hike, I was upset.. and then conveniently ran into my friend Utsav in the market. He was going hiking! So I joined him and the 2 girls he was with, and we started to find our way to the nearest mountain. We met a taxi driver named Igbar who was a really nice man and took us on a small hike he used to do several times a week. He said in his 24 years of driving a taxi, he's never brought anyone up there! So it was neat to get some physical activity and hang where the locals do. Igbar picked up a tamarind seed-pod that had fallen from a tree and broke it open (he came on the hike with us!). He told me to break off a seed and suck on it, so I did and it was SO sour! Tamarind is used to spice a lot of food in this part of the world - chutney, tea, popsicles.. you name it. It was like a natural warhead candy. Another great thing is that I SAW A WILD MONKEY! I got really excited and pointed him out to everyone. Igbar hurried us along because he said that if you hang around too long they can get aggressive! I am happy to say that I did not leave Africa without seeing a monkey. Phew! Next he drove us to the top of a hill where we could see the entire city, and he pointed out the neighborhood where he lives. He is Muslim and of Indian heritage, and the call-to-prayer came blaring from the mosque speakers as we stepped out of the car for our photo opp. I didn't realize how long it had been since I'd heard it in Morocco! And it felt really neat to know exactly what was going on when I heard it.
THEN he took us to Grand Baie, where we walked around to find a beach and some food. This is where we said goodbye to Igbar and thanked him for everything! The water was crystal clear and stunning, with small dinghy boats of all colors floating around in the shallow areas. I bought a tiny pineapple on the street and it was the sweetest pineapple I've ever eaten. I ate it like corn on the cob, holding the green leaves and biting into the yellow meat of the fruit. My friends and I parted ways and I found an internet café and then hopped in a taxi to Ocean Villas.
As I walked in, I ran into Kelly and Ross who took me out onto the beach with the rest of our friends. I'm so happy it all worked out because I wasn't positive about where I was going and don't have a cell phone to sort these things out once my friends and I split up! Now I know what it was like for my grandparents. :)
I ate spaghetti at the pool bar and spent the afternoon enjoying some rum and coke in the warm waters of the beach. Some other SASers were staying there as well and played guitars as they sat in the sand. The "villas" turned out to be more like apartments without kitchens, and were beautifully decorated. There were even flower petals laid across the beds! It was Corey's birthday, so we had a good time celebrating. I had intended to head back to the ship at the end of the night, but realized my catamaran excursion planned for the following day left from Grand Baie (where I was), which was 30 minutes and an expensive cab ride from Port Louis (where the ship was docked). I ended up staying in the villas with my friends overnight, and stayed up late with about 3 or 4 people as everyone else went out clubbing. We had long, emotional and intense conversations but it was a pretty amazing bonding experience. It was around 3 am by the time we all stumbled to bed.
We woke up at 7:30 am to get breakfast, which was included in the price of the villas. I was on a different catamaran from everyone I'd stayed with and split off from them to meet my group. We found each other easily at the tour group's headquarters and quickly boarded a catamaran. There were a lot of people from France on vacation with their kids. I met a lot of new friends from SAS that had signed up for the same public boat. As we set off towards (San?) Gabriel Island, I laid down on the nets in the front of the boat. Water quickly splashed up from under the boat leaving the few of us up there completely soaked. The seas were rough and it was a wild ride. The coolest part was that we saw flying fish! They popped above the water and spread their wings, soared for about 5 seconds and then plopped back where the belonged! It was so strange to see fish with wings.
We passed several small islands that were beautiful and pulled up to our destination after about an hour. We had each had several drinks by this point on the way in (11 am). Ironically, everyone I was with last night was on a private catamaran that was parked RIGHT next to ours! They had much more of a party atmosphere with a central bar and music blaring. Needless to say, the SASers from our boat quickly jumped ship and swam over to theirs. We brought snorkeling gear and got to see some neat fish and coral on our way.
We danced a lot and drank in the sun. Bob Marley is so great to listen to at the beach and on the ocean! It was a beautiful day outside. A girl who is from Ohio named Jordan (goes to UD) said "Man, this is better than Lake Cumberland!" and I couldn't help but laugh. At lunch time we swam back to our boat and were fed a plethora of barbecued meats and rices. The day trip included an open bar, lunch, snorkeling and the boat ride for about $55. WHAT a deal. It was interesting to see how families on the other side of the world vacation - parents are drinking at the open bar while kids are snorkeling around doing their own thing. Nothing like trips to Disneyland or All-American road-trips. We took a motorized raft to the shore and walked around a little bit before boarding the catamaran and heading back to our base. I (somehow) fell asleep on the way back in and hopped in a taxi with some of my new buddies. We got to the ship at about 4:30. There was a huge barbecue that started at 5 on the top deck and was incentive for people to get back to the ship on time! I ate a hearty meal of ribs and greek salad, and slept until about two hours ago. What a great couple days. Unfortunately, I picked up absolutely no souvenirs, postcards (or thimbles :( ..). Guess I'll just have to make my way back there some day! Maybe next time I'll remember to put on sunscreen...

Wildebeasts! (sp?)

I don't know why this reminds me of Jaron.. hahah


At Aquila Game Reserve


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Hello all!
We’ve just arrived in Mauritius! It’s beautiful outside, but looks like every other port so far (from the ship). The currency is the Mauritius Rupee, which has an exchange rate of 30:1 to the USDollar. It is about 40 miles by 30 miles, so it’s pretty tiny.
I’m spending the day hiking and exploring the local city of Port Louis. It would be nice to hit the beach, but I’ve got to pick up post cards and get online for a little bit too. Tonight I’ll probably end up at a villa rented by some friends… and come back to the ship so I don’t get charged for room and board!
I decided to go on a catamaran voyage on the second day here. We leave at 8 am to get on a catamaran, which takes us to Gabriel Island, and includes lunch, an open bar and snorkeling all day. It was really inexpensive and I’m pretty excited about it! Someone compared it to spring break since we all just finished our midterms, but it’s on a much smaller scale as it’s just enough time to refuel and get back into the middle of the big blue to head to India.
The dodo bird was indigenous to this island, and was HUGE. Like 3 feet tall-ish, I think. Unfortunately, it went extinct 400 years ago.. but is still a fascinating attribute and is pictured on their flag.
The last thing is a note on the cultural and logistical pre-port last night because it was so great. Dean David is HILARIOUS. He listed the 17 things he knows about Mauritius. Some of these include that Mauritius is an island, that Mauritius has a flag,… Mauritius is dark at night (the slide was black), that Mauritius has happy fish (showed a picture of a fish smiling with a laughing soundtrack) and that “Mauritius has a lot of … beaches” (with a picture of a lady in a bikini with huge boobs on the beach”).
The people here are mostly Indian and African and speak French, so I’m excited to practice a little more of that! Alright, the diplomatic briefing is almost over so I’m going to prepare for my day. Until next time!

Amanda Kleiman

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Leaving ZA and Africa.

Alexa woke me up in the morning on the 6th because I slept through my alarm. I laced up my shoes and we hurried out the door just in time for our safari at Aquila Game Reserve. I fell asleep immediately upon hitting my seat on the bus.
I think it was about two hours later that Alexa shook me awake, telling me we'd arrived. I donned my shades and we exited the bus to step onto the lush grounds of the game reserve. The base is a resort, and it was beautiful. We walked through a lobby with slate floors and through a grassy green courtyard (I haven't seen grass in a long time!). There was a large restaurant with excessive amounts of food where we filled ourselves up for the safari. I was just moving into my hangover from celebrating my birthday so well.
Full and happy, we all left the building to climb into huge trucks, which would drive us through the reserve. Alexa and I hopped in the last truck with just 2 other people, our trip leader and a guy named Ryan, and our guide, Daniel, took off through the gates. There were buffalo immediately to our right, which is one of the BIG 5 that African regions like to boast about. South Africa has one of these animals on each of their currency notes. We were told that buffalo cause the biggest problems because they are extremely aggressive and give no warning before they charge, whereas other animals (like rhinos) give false charge movements or grunt, etc. Next we saw Springbock, which I had eaten for dinner several nights earlier! They were so beautiful, and I immediately felt guilty for eating one. :( Oh well, it was tasty.
We saw some hippos sleeping and swimming. They are incredibly lazy animals, and very cute when they yawn. They remind me of icebergs because only a very small part of them shows above water, and they can be very aggressive and territorial if you get too close. We drove by several rhinos some of which were babies but you wouldn’t be able to tell by their size. They were white rhinos and had really wide, square mouths. Their tusks were exceedingly intimidating. One of them gave motions that he was about to charge at us, so we took off. We then came across two juvenile elephants, and drove around on the path that went right next to them! They're SO great. I love how they feed themselves with their noses.. what a strange concept!
We moved on to a human watering hole that the reserve had set up with green-clothed tables and bottles of champagne. There was no water anywhere, but champagne galore. I refrained, as it did not sound appealing under the hot, hot sun.
When we got back into our truck, we drove around a watering hole that the elephants had moved to so they could cover themselves in mud and cool down. Daniel told us that they might lay down in the mud to cover their bodies, and minutes later, one of the elephants dropped to his knees in the water. SO awkward. He kind of rolled around, and waved his legs helplessly until his friend elephant came to help him get up. Once this happened, they got aggressive with each other and charged head to head! What a show. One of them trumpeted, and their trunks intertwined. They backed up behind another truck so we lost sight of them and carried on. But I got videos! Phew. There were a lot of Wildebeasts, which shamefully reminded me of The Lion King and arcade games. We sang some hakunah matata in the truck on our way to the lion sanctuary.
The lions have their own special section so Aquila can regulate the presence of other species in the reserve. When we went into this sanctuary, it felt like going into Jurassic Park with wires and cameras everywhere at the entrance. We passed a giraffe on the way in, and he was surprisingly really camel-like and short. Our guide said "it is a type of giraffe that has adapted to bending over into the brush to eat, but they can only bend over a few seconds at a time because all the blood will rush to their heads and their heads will explode." I kid you not. The lions were VERY far away, and we could see them with the zoom lens of a camera but barely with the naked eye.
We saw some different types of antelope, and headed back to the base. They had lions and a leopard in a caged area as they were in recovery from having been rescued, and will soon be released into the park. Thus concluding my sightings of the BIG 5! We were well fed once more with views of an infinity pool and roaming ostriches, and sent back to the bus. On the way, I stopped to use the restroom.. and when I looked in the mirror, realized I'd gone through the entire day with a full face of make up from the night before. Red lipstick and all. I'm still not quite sure why nobody told me about that.. but I guess it must not have looked that weird? We got back to the ship and napped, and Alexa and I later met up with our group of friends at a jazz restaurant called "The Green Dolphin" in the wharf area. A nice, relaxing night and early bedtime was just what we needed.
In the morning, I boarded a bus at 7 am to dive with sharks at Ganbaai! We drove for an hour, and were told that the seas were too rough so they couldn't take us out, so we turned around. What a let down. I spent the rest of the day in the mall catching up on some internet things and doing some shopping for necessities. My friends and I went out that night to dinner for 2 more birthdays. The restaurant we went to was called Cubaña, and was UNreal. Hands down THE best steak I've ever eaten in my entire life (better than Hyde Park, and L'Ami Louis in Paris). Unreal. Man. We went to a club called Fez later, and because they played house and most of our friends weren't feeling it, we left early. Unfortunately, I was too focused on getting the birthday girl home safely to realize I'd left my little digital camera in the taxi. :( I'll have to pick a new one up in Hong Kong.
At 8:15, I met up with some other kids from my floor to catch the 9 am ferry to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years before elected as president after apartheid, and to which we'd purchased tickets a week earlier. Because the seas hadn't calmed down, all ferry rides were canceled, and my second day in a row was botched. I spent the day writing postcards and running last minute errands, and got lots of jewelry at the local market in the center of town.
All in all, South Africa was really neat. It was nice to be in an area where communication was easy and technology was new. I also got to eat a Subway sandwich! On the downside, I am pretty sad that I did not get to see a township or have authentic Braai (barbeque) food. I would have done these things on the last days once they freed up, but most of my friends had already made other plans and there was no way I could go into a township alone. I have unfinished business in Cape Town, and have to go back for Robben Island, the sharks and the townships. There’s also tons of great rock climbing in the area that I missed out on. I’d like to see more of the country... I stayed pretty local and really just saw one city (except during the rafting expedition) which in retrospect is a bit unfullfilling (sp?).
Mauritius is still technically Africa, but extremely influenced by the French so I've decided that I've left Africa. In some areas, women would tell me their children were scared of me because of the color of my skin, and when I tried to wave to them they'd bury their faces in their mothers' clothing. In other areas, I would be called "my sister" by the locals. Africa was diverse and full of history, and I loved every minute I spent there.
One day, I'll be back.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Potjiekos ("Pot Food" in Afrikaans)

Zen Birthday Dinner :)

Climbing Table Mountain

View From The Top

Me and Garrett halfway up!

Rachel, Tall Ross and Megan

Tam and Rachel in Fish Guts

Sarah, Travis and Ross covered in FISH GUTTSSS AAAH!!

Neptune Day!

(Pictured Above: Me, Travis, Kelly)

Amanda Kleiman

Last of Ghana

"Look, black and white!"

Dirty Food

School Girls