Friday, June 19, 2009

Pineapples of Vietnam

It is amazing how little we all know about certain parts of American History. Take the Vietnam War for example. What little we know about the Vietnam War was learned from the internet, a few family members, and a two minute lecture in High School history classes. I did not know that it is actually called the American War in Vietnam. I did not know that it had been classified as genocide. I did not even know the full effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese population. All of a sudden I was thrust into a culture that I knew nothing about. I knew that pho was tasty and that there is nothing better to eat than Vietnamese eggrolls. But really, how much does that matter?

I ate alone the morning we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (from here on will be called Saigon). All the parents who had come to meet students at the halfway point on our world journey were holding large signs and waving and crying. And I wished that I had someone down there waving at me. Luckily my day brightened with the arrival of a young group of Vietnamese girls who held out a huge sign that welcomed Semester at Sea to Saigon. I spent the first day in Saigon with my friends Win, Zach, and Jill. We went to a tailor and ordered custom dresses and bought Vietnamese rice hats at a chaotic market. We went to a chain restaurant named Pho 24 where we ate delicious pho noodle soup and eggrolls. That afternoon we decided to go to the War Remnants Museum. It was very difficult to see America from a point of view like the Vietnamese. They did not hold grudges, but they did not sugarcoat history either. I can’t really say much about the museum. It was one of those things that I can simply hope more people have a chance to experience. We spent the rest of the day buying pirated DVDs and souvenirs for all the folks back home.

The next day we took a bus to the Mekong Delta. Our first day next to the Delta was spent eating a box lunch on a boat before continuing to a candy factory on the river. Coconut chewy candies and ginger rice crispy treats were being cooked right before our eyes. We got to try and make rice paper, have tea with the locals, and even do a little shopping. Later that day we went into town and spent the afternoon wandering through the market areas next to our hotel. There were fruits of all different shapes and sizes. Bright pink dragonfruit, tiny bananas, and the fuzzy Chom Chom (which tastes oddly like a flavorless kiwi) filled my belly. That night we ate dinner alongside the river and watched the houseboats float by.

The next morning was an early start for all of us. After a 5:30 am wake-up call we walked down to the riverbanks and boarded a long boat on the river. We went into the heart of the Mekong, home of the world’s largest floating market. People in tiny boats would pull alongside us and offer anything from mangos to bottled water. They were interested in us just as much as we were interested in them. Now I have to admit that I was glad I skipped breakfast. There is nothing in the world as tasty as fresh pineapple that has been sliced into a beautiful creation. Then we bought a pound of mangos for $1! My fingers were sticky and covered in all sorts of fruit juice by the end of our time in the market. This was not the end of our river trip and we continued on, watching the people sleep in hammocks on the houseboats. Every boat had eyes on the front and it felt like a magical world. That evening we returned to the ship and wandered around Saigon searching for DVDs and other cheap technology.

The fourth day in Vietnam was one of my unique days. Up until this point on the voyage, Cape Town had been the only place I traveled alone. It was pretty easy in Cape Town; someone always spoke English, I always could see the ship, and I never left the nice part of town. When I traveled alone in Saigon it was a completely different experience! I have no words that can give justice to the terrors of Vietnamese traffic. Imagine crossing I-25 in Denver during rush hour, but with motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic and less care for human life. It is best to cross the street with one person on either side of you because then you have human cushions should a car refuse to stop! Anyway, I had spent the morning of this day at the zoo with children from a school for the deaf. It was a lot of fun and I made some new friends. I had no plans for the afternoon so I decided to wander alone and go to the tailor and maybe find a grocery store. Nothing exciting happened, but for an entire afternoon, I was alone in a city with few English speakers, high risk, and no sense of direction. It is the small things that make for an adventure. That night I went out clubbing with my roommate and some other friends and then for a change in pace we decided to walk back to the ship.

My last day in Vietnam was pretty calm. I bought postcards and stamps, made a few last-minute purchases, and bought a few groceries. Overall nothing exciting happened, unless I have successfully blocked it from my memory. After all, I had China to look forward to!

Monday, June 15, 2009



Well now that I have completely failed to keep up with my blog, I suppose there is no pressure on me anymore! Lucky for all of you, I am now stuck at work where I have copious amounts of free time.

So here is Thailand:

Thailand was stunning. Imagine elephant rides, ancient ruins, and beheaded Buddhas all mixing together for five amazing days. The first day was spent at an elephant village in Pattaya. We watched the elephants haul logs, play basketball, and eat bunches of bananas straight from our hands! Some students rode them into the nearby pond for their daily bath, but I chose to stay dry on my elephant ride. Let me just say that elephants are much wider than horses. They are also taller. Picture, if you will, a tall, really white girl attempting to drag herself on top of an elephant (and actually succeeding with the help of the elephant!). Now unlike riding horses, you sit on an elephant’s neck instead of its back. Even on the neck you feel like your legs have been dragged into the splits. There is nothing to really hold on to and every step of the elephant makes you worry about the plummet to the ground. Was it one of the best experiences of my life? Of course it was! After we left the elephant village, my friend Alicia and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing in Laem Chabang. Well there isn’t much to do in Laem Chabang. We hung out at the mall and cooked our own dinners at a restaurant called Hot Pot. After that we made new friends while drinking beer with the cabbies that were camped out on the pier. It was a good day.

The second day had my small tour group leaving for the River Kwai. I had never really thought about WWII in terms of Thailand before and this was a learning experience. We took a bus to a small town where we ate lunch in a jungle restaurant. None of us really knew what to expect when, after lunch, we were taken to the local train station. Now the Death Railway was built by 60,000 POWs from Allied countries. The Japanese wanted the railroad to stretch to Burma and help in the Pacific war efforts. 16,000 POWs died while building the railway. One of the faculty members on our trip found the train ride very emotional as her own father had been one of the POWs. It was an amazing journey that ended after the train crossed the re-built bridge over the River Kwai.

On the third day we had some new surprises. We were taken to the banks of the river and put into small boats in groups of 4-6. The boat ride was beautiful and our tour guide “Witty” made sure we had a good time. We got off the boats at the river entrance to the JEATH War Museum. This museum was designed as a replica of the huts that the POWs lived in. The name JEATH comes from the countries that were involved (Japan, England, Australia and America, Thailand, and Holland). Following our visit to the museum we went to the cemetery that held only a fraction of the POWs. That afternoon we took a bus to Ayutthaya, the former capitol of Siam. We visited some of the ruins and climbed to the top of the pyramid-like temples. All the Buddhas were in ruins missing anything from an arm to a head. Despite this destruction, the ruins were unbelievably beautiful.

My tour group spent most of the fourth day wandering through the ruins of Ayutthaya. We went to various sites of old temples and destroyed buildings. I bought a travel-sized wooden Buddha to come back on the ship with me for good luck! We continued on to Bang Pa In, the Summer Palace of the kings of Thailand. It was a beautiful mixture of Eastern and Western styles. There were elephant topiaries next to a Thai pavilion across from a traditional Western palace. That afternoon we went into Bangkok to do some shopping, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the rest of the day had been.

I decided to go back to Bangkok for my last day in Thailand. I was very lucky and the trip I signed up for went to Wat Po, home of the most amazing reclining Buddha in the world. He is the largest Buddha in Thailand and is 152 feet long with mother-of-pearl feet and gold plating. I really cannot describe this Buddha at all, but I promise to put up photos! After going to Wat Po my group took a refurbished rice barge down the Chao Phraya River and ate a delicious lunch while watching the city go by. After lunch we visited a fish market and then took a bus to Vimanmek Palace. Imagine a Victorian palace made completely out of teak. It is no longer used as a residence, but as a demonstration of Thai culture. That evening we returned to Laem Chabang and the ship. I was sorry to leave Thailand behind me, but I felt like my time there could not have been better spent. Besides, if there is one thing that Semester at Sea taught me, it is that there is always another port on the horizon

Sunday, April 26, 2009

India Part II

Okay, now for India. First of all, please read my previous blog as well as this one because it means a lot to me. Secondly, I know my memory is getting a little fuzzy in terms of travel details so if you have any questions just email me!

Day four of India was fairly tame. Most of the students had decided to sleep in and forgo the morning tours and so our group had maybe twenty people at most. The day started with a visit to the Baha’i Lotus temple. It was an amazing temple that (believe it or not) is the most visited building in the world with over 4.5 million visitors per year. We were lucky enough to arrive just before the services began and our group was lucky enough to hear religious services for multiple religions in a fifteen minute period. It was amazing to see all those different groups come together under one roof. After visiting the Lotus Temple we went to a Sikh Gurudwara (Bangla Sahib). This was a very interesting experience for me because we went through the entire ceremony with local Sikhs and those who had made a pilgrimage to the gurudwara. I ate the food they gave me which symbolizes god and enlightenment and I dipped my feet in the holy water that would cure all ills. I covered my hair and walked with no shoes and felt like I was no longer a tourist, but a part of India. We left the gurudwara and headed to the capitol buildings for a brief glance at Indian government. The buildings were beautiful in a western style, but after everything I had seen, they were nothing special. There was only one building in the governmental part of Delhi that held any real draw for me.

At the “Palatial Birla House” on Albuquerque Road I followed raised footprints though a garden path to the spot where Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi was assassinated. I cannot describe how this felt. Gandhi was one of the people that I idolized growing up. He stood for his beliefs no matter what the consequences were. I watched all the movies about his life and read stories about the changes he made. I was never able to understand how someone was able to stand up and shoot him in cold blood. Visiting his Delhi home was absolutely amazing. I walked through his garden where he would have nightly public walks. I saw his home, filled with only the barest necessities, and his room, untouched since the day of his death. Throughout the grounds of the house there are amazing flowers and signs with messages of peace and non-violence. I do not have that many photos of Birla House because I felt the need to be there in the moment instead of seeing it all through a camera lens. I cried a few tears of joy because I was there. I was standing in the same place that he had stood over fifty years ago. If I had any life changing moment in India, this would be it. The Taj Mahal, paupers on the street, and Hindu temples could have nowhere near such a huge affect on me. I grew up knowing that “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” and it meant more to me than I can say to be standing in Gandhi’s garden. Thank you Mom and Dad!

That evening we flew back to Chennai. My final day in India was spent wandering from place to place in Chennai. I did some last minute shopping, went to an internet café (had some really good waffles there too!) and visited a few more temples. It was a fairly calm day and it was nice to just relax and not feel the pressure of doing touristy things. I was exhausted that night when the ship departed from India, but I was glad that I had been there. India was filled with extremes. There was extreme wealth and poverty, extreme natural beauty and pollution, and even extreme culture and exploitation. It was amazing and someday I would like to visit again.

Social Stratification

Here is a small blog rant and then I promise to write part two of India. So for the last two weeks SAS has been running the Shipboard Drive in which we donate money that goes towards scholarships, new gym equipment and so on. Well this year the Shipboard Drive is a competition between the seas (hallway groups kind of like dorms) and the winning sea will get a pizza party. This didn’t really bother me because I knew my sea wouldn’t win and what’s one pizza party in the grand scheme of things? Well now the competition has changed and the first seas to reach 100% participation in the drive will be the first seas off the ship in Fort Lauderdale. This is absolutely despicable in my opinion. Not only are they asking us to pay the program in order to leave the ship and see our families, but they are ignoring the huge financial schism between the seas. For example, my sea (Baltic) is mostly economy cabins, quad cabins, and triple cabins. These are the three cheapest cabins you can get on the ship. Additionally, most of my neighbors either have scholarships or work study programs because it is impossible to afford the program without them. We are the sea that is worried about not having cab money to get to the airport once we reach Fort Lauderdale. So yes, as a matter of fact we are losing the in the Shipboard Drive with 53% participation. Then take a look at the Bering Sea. They are all normal and suite style cabins with larger windows and some even have little sitting rooms. These are the students who can afford to spend $50 on a quesadilla at the Students of Service Auction (really did happen). These are the people that buy burgers every day at the grill instead of suffering through ship food with the rest of us. They, of course, are at 90% participation. There is a huge financial gap between “us” and “them”. And so all I can say is:

Dear Institute for Shipboard Education, I am paying $20,000 for one semester because you refused to give me a scholarship. I have loved traveling the world, but if you expect me to pay another cent just to disembark and see my family, you need to think again. I hope that you are proud of the way you have divided the ship into the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Well done.

Love, Kendra Hartwell—Baltic Sea 3116

Hopefully my message will get across because we have been told that they read our blogs to see if we have done anything against the rules. Still, I would appreciate it if any of you would be willing to call Semester at Sea and let them know what you think of the situation. All of the contact information is at



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

India Part 1

As a small disclaimer I need to mention that at this point countries and temples are blurring together and so I might mix up my historic sites in my Asia blogs. Anyway, here goes India!

In the days before we arrived in India, everyone was getting excited and ready to have a life changing moment. We were all told that India would make us laugh and cry and that we would never be the same again. Well, to tell the truth I did not have another South Africa moment. There was not a single instant that changed me; however, I do know that I am different. I have seen extreme poverty next to extravagant wealth. I have seen a begging child break character once to smile before returning to asking for money. I saw beautiful sites surrounded by extreme pollution and horrible smells. It broke my heart and made me wish that I could do something real with my life that will make a difference.

I spent my first day in Chennai with several friends. My trip to the Taj Mahal was not leaving until the afternoon and so I went into town with my friends Jill and Caroline. We had our first experience of rickshaw scamming when we were told that the place we wished to go was closed. Instead we were taken to a small luxury goods store that none of us could afford. We browsed, bought a few things, and finally demanded that our driver take us to the place we originally wanted to go. Well our destination was a bookstore that had two locations in Chennai. Naturally he took us to the wrong one that happened to be more difficult to get to. When we finally arrived at the right store, Jill and I had to head back to the ship and prepare for our next adventure.

That night I flew with 40 students to New Delhi. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about flying in a foreign country, but my fears were unfounded. Airport security was top-notch and the flight included those fabulous TVs on the back of each seat and a full meal that they called a “snack”. After arriving at our hotel we were greeted with flowers and cold tea. Colored rice on the ground stated “Welcome Semester at Sea”. Dinner was at a traditional Indian restaurant where several friends and I promptly ignored all health advisories and ate the most delicious vanilla ice cream in the world! Never fear, we survived.

We woke up extremely early in the morning to take a train to Agra. The train station was filled with mutilated children who would drag themselves over to you and ask for food. Our group finally had something to give and leftovers from box breakfasts were spread throughout the station. I felt that I was making a difference even if it was only a hard-boiled egg and yogurt. After arriving in Agra we took a bus to the hotel before continuing to several sites of interest. Signs on the road told me to “Be Happy, You’re in Agra!”. Our tour guide told us that Agra is one of the worst cities in India and that the only redeeming quality comes in the form of historical monuments.

That afternoon my group visited the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri which served as the nation’s capital from 1571-1583. In 1583 it was abandoned for “reasons that remain unclear”. One thing that has come from my world traveling is that I now see a Doctor Who episode in every historical site. Therefore my belief is that aliens attempted to take over India during this period of time and the Doctor had to come to the rescue! Anyway, the Mughal emperor Akbar had twelve legitimate children and something like ninety illegitimate children. Fatehpur Sikri had buildings that were built for several of the more important wives in the architecture of their homeland. It made the city very interesting because Muslim architecture was mixed in with Hindu temples and Chinese pagodas. That night we went back to the hotel and some people went off to a Jain festival. I chose to stay in the hotel and rest up for the morning Taj Mahal trip.

Finally it was the day that I was the most excited for. I had a chance to visit the Taj Mahal! It was one of those things that I had been excited to see since I was extremely young. Just last year it was decided by the Indian government that the Taj will be closing to the public in the near future so that preservation work on the monument can begin. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan over the course of twenty years from 1632-1653. The Taj was a tribute of love to Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Wikipedia summary of the story goes like this: “In her dying breath, Mumtaz Mahal urged Shah Jahan to build a mausoleum for her that the world has never seen before. Shah Jahan granted his wife's wish, and construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal”. My first site of the Taj was stunning. It was like the mausoleum glowed in the sunlight. We were given under two hours to wander through the gardens and see the sights. I cannot really find the words to describe walking through the area surrounding the Taj Mahal and taking the usual tourist photos. Despite the extreme pollution just a mile away, the gardens were beautiful and the fountains were clean. I only spent about five minutes inside the actual mausoleum before deciding that the outside was much more spectacular. Finally it was time to leave and move on to the next place, but someday I will go back and spend an entire day wandering around the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

Later that day my group went to the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan was kept under house arrest by his oldest son. Considering how beautiful the Fort was, I can’t imagine that house arrest would be that terrible an experience. From the Agra Fort there is a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal and the surrounding pollution of Agra. Although I enjoyed visiting the Fort and learning its history, I wish I could have spent that time at the Taj Mahal instead of changing location.

That afternoon the amazing day was completed with a trip to the Mother Teresa Orphanage in Agra. The full title of the orphanage includes something about home for the “sick and destitute”, but right now I am feeling lazy and don’t want to look up the official information. I had hoped that this would be another experience like my South Africa Operation Hunger trip, but unfortunately it did not meet expectations. Despite my small disappointment I truly enjoyed playing with the children. On my wall is a page out of a coloring book that I helped one of the orphans color in. When he was finished he wrote his name in Hindi on it and made me write mine also. Then he showed it to all of his friends and gave it to me with a smile and a hug. The hardest part of this trip was not seeing all the children, but seeing the care given to the mentally ill. I say “care” because it is the only word I can think of. It was more like a prison with the patients locked behind bars. They were alone and many of them were bound so that they would not physically harm themselves. It was heartbreaking to see people living like this and to know that their care would have been much worse if they were not in the orphanage. I spoke with one of the sisters about the problems they face every day and she told me that even though life is difficult there are little blessings every day that make everything worth it in the end.

This is the end to my India blog part one. I will write about my last two days tomorrow, but I thought it might help to split it in half! Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mom Love

I would like for everyone in the United States to call my mom today and wish her a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
Mom, I love you very much and I wish that I could be home to give you a hug, a kiss, and a homemade card.  I hope that your day is beautiful and full of joy!
Love, Kendra
P.S.  Sorry I have been such a bad blogger lately.  India news coming soon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cape Town, South Africa

My blogs about South Africa and India will probably be the two most complicated to write. It is extremely difficult for me to really share my experiences and how they affected me, but I will do my best. South Africa was a different experience for SASers from the start. For one thing, the port was non-industrial and had a huge mall within walking distance from the ship. For another, this was the first country where our logistical pre-port left me terrified! In past ports we had been warned of petty crime and occasional riots. For South Africa we were told of past student rapings, violent crimes, and some political upheaval. This was not my experience.

My first day in South Africa was spent on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Robben Island is a fairly unique experience because they have former political prisoners work as the tour guides. The ferry to Robben Island was filled with tourists and we were given an informational video on the prison. Our tour included the village, the leprosy cemetery, and the prison itself. I was able to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and the lime quarry where he worked. I also got to see penguins! After getting back to the ship, my roommate Hannah and I got dressed up for a night on the town! We chose to go to Mama Africa to meet up with some friends and try some authentic African cuisine. And so what did we eat? Crocodile, springbok, kudu, and ostrich! My personal favorites were the crocodile and the springbok, although the ostrich was pretty damn good! We also had some delicious vegetable samosas! Mama Africa had an amazing band come in later that night which was a lot of fun! Hannah and our friend Jillian were given a chance to dance with the lead singer which created one of the funniest videos of the voyage thus far! After Mama Africa we met up with some more friends and went to a few more clubs before calling it a night.

Day two was by far my favorite day of the voyage thus far. A group of about forty students boarded a bus headed to an Operation Hunger service visit without really knowing what to expect. Our first stop was a Xhosa shanty town where only about three community members spoke English. Our work center was the Green Park community center; an ironic name considering that only trash and dirt surrounded us. The assignment was to weigh and measure all of the community children and to plant seedlings in a small garden next to the building. At first both university students and shanty children were awkward and did not know what to say. Finally we were able to break through the language barrier with digital photos and the high five! I have a theory that Semester at Sea will bring two main things to children around the world, smiles and high fives!

As the more industrious students weighed the kids, I started playing ball with one little girl who was maybe five years old at the oldest. By playing ball I mean that she would throw a tiny red ball into my hands and I would toss it back to her. I almost felt like she enjoyed missing the ball more than catching it because when she missed it she would have to run around after it! I could spend all day talking about that one little girl! When she finally grew tired of her toy (which took quite a while), she and I went outside to see how the planting was going. I left her with one of the other students while I quickly went to get my camera. When I returned I had my personal life-changing moment. I walked in the gate and saw her standing alone by the door looking somewhat worried and confused. She turned to look at me and suddenly I knew what to do. I knelt down and held my arms wide open and she ran straight to me! As I held her I understood the power of unconditional love. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand each other, or that we had only met several hours before. At that moment I was the mother and she was the child and there was nothing else. Sadly our time at Green Park had to end and I said goodbye with tears in my eyes. We had done good work to help a community in need, but I felt that I was the one who received a real benefit.

This moment was not the end to the day and our Operation Hunger trip continued to a soup kitchen in an English-speaking township where we fed anyone who needed food. I did not have another epiphany, but it made me feel good knowing that my actions in the world were making a difference in the lives of others. Our trip concluded with all the students pooling together approximately $250 to buy toys for the children of Green Park and our trip leader telling us that she had seen forty students who would someday make amazing parents. At the end of the day I was feeling fairly morose and I did not know what to do with myself. Most of my friends were on safari and I was still having trouble digesting everything I had seen and done. It was at this moment that Clive from deck 6 Garden Lounge told me that things would get better. I went to a bookstore and out for coffee with my favorite professor, who had also been the trip leader for Operation Hunger. Clive was right, things did get better!

On the third day in Cape Town, I was somewhat unsure what I was going to do. I wanted to go up to Table Mountain, but I wasn’t sure about climbing it. At breakfast I ran into Joan Knecht who is our ship nurse and she invited me to take the cable car with her, Shirl (a LLC), and Bob (an adult passenger). Needless to say, I was the youngest person in our group, but it was still a lot of fun! The cable car revolves, giving passengers a 360 view of the mountain ascent! It also took about two minutes as opposed to the two hour hike! Once on top of the mountain we wandered for a bit, cameras in hand, before taking a lunch break and the cable car back down. We still had some time to kill so we decided to go to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden which is reputed to be one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. I felt that it was a beautiful picnic spot and had some amazing statues, but overall the gardens were not that impressive. It was still a fun place to be for $2! We headed back to the ship in the early afternoon and I got ready for an exciting dinner out. By which I mean dinner alone with a good book at a sushi bar. It turned out to be just what I needed! Living in close quarters with about 1000 people does not give many chances for quiet or peace. It was great to go somewhere by myself and just relax with a book.

My fourth day in South Africa was delicious! Yes! It was time for Kendra’s COOKING SAFARI!!! One of the things I miss most about home is my kitchen. It might be small and impossible to maneuver in, but it is still a kitchen! There is nothing better on a stressful day of class than going home and baking brownies, or cheesecake, or bread. Even in the dorms I at least had a kitchenette downstairs! Our day of cooking started with an explanation of Cape Malay culture and how the Indian influence is evident in the food. After this we visited the stores that our cooking teacher had shopped at for our class supplies. The main store was the spice shop where there was an overwhelming medley of smells in the air! We were taught about each spice and what it does to flavor a dish. When our spice adventure concluded we continued to our host’s home. Our host was a wonderful woman who had volunteered to work with us students despite her husband’s surprise home renovation which left her missing half a kitchen. Under her tutelage we learned how to fold samosas, cook up “chilli bites”, make chicken curry, and make a special kind of bread (similar to naan). Once everything was cooked our group sat down for a fabulous meal in which we had a chance to speak to our host and guide about their lives as Muslims in Cape Town. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the V & A waterfront with friends.

The final day in Cape Town was bittersweet. Most of what I did was hunt down souvenirs for family and friends and attempt to find something for myself that follows my global kitchen equipment theme. I ended up getting a metal teapot with traditional paintings on it to go with my Spanish mug, Moroccan tea cups, and Namibian salad tossers! Leaving South Africa was extremely hard for me because I felt like I belonged there. I found a place that I could make a difference and you never know, maybe someday I will go back and see what good I can do!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spelling Bees and Snorkeling

As most people are forced to realize, technology is not always a friend. In my case it has become the frustrating enemy! What happened, you might ask. Well, long story short, my laptop has left this mortal coil. It is no longer with us. The funeral will be held on Tuesday. With it go my Namibia and South Africa) blogs and about half of a paper for History of U.S. Immigration. I will try to re-write the blogs (and paper, but they may not be in order. For starters I am going to do Mauritius and the Sea Olympics!

Mauritius was beautiful! It reminded me a lot of Hawaii except that it didn’t have nearly as many flowers. Since we only had one day in Mauritius I chose to spend it on a catamaran! Snorkeling equipment was provided and I spent the majority of the day with my head underwater. The water was amazingly clear and we could see a ton of fish at the first site! Sadly, my mask was leaking and the pretty fish were not worth salty eyes so I spent most of my time there just swimming around. After about an hour we all got back on our catamaran and went to another area of the bay. And then it was time for lunch! This was one of the most amazing meals I have had on this trip! We had barbequed chicken skewers, barbequed swordfish, garlic bread, and mashed potatoes. After eating (and waiting twenty minutes!) I went back into the water to see more fish with a non-leaking snorkel mask. There were fewer fish at this part of the bay, but I still was able to see glowing squid and some other small fish swimming around. I forgot how much I love snorkeling. It is just me, my breathing and the water. It was so peaceful and it reminded me of meditating. Hopefully I will have a chance to do it again in either Thailand or Hawaii!

After snorkeling we returned to the ship for more barbeque (of a lesser quality) in anticipation of Sea Olympics! Now in order to understand Sea Olympics I need to explain how the MV Explorer is organized. Similar to dorms with floors and RAs, SAS has seas with living learning coordinators. The seas include the Red Sea, Bering Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea (yay ninjas!), and Adriatic Sea. The professors, lifelong learners, and family voyagers are all in the Odyssey. Now the seas were required to participate in events such as wheelbarrow race, spelling bee, synchronized swimming, and potato sculpting. I was only participating in the synchronized swimming (although I wish I had done spelling bee).

Now here is a small (large) rant. I stayed after at the meeting to sign up for events to see if the spelling bee was still open. About four other people were asking about various things and the leaders were assigning things that had no contestants yet. Suddenly I hear “spelling bee” and before I can jump at the chance a (CU) jock goes “Oh I’ll do it!”. I turn to him to ask if he was a good speller and he replied “Oh yeah…sure”. I repeated the question letting him know that I was really good at spelling and would love to compete. Finally I gave up and left. Round one of the spelling bee the Baltic Sea was eliminated on “celery” spelled “cellary”. Hell hath no fury like Kendra when epic stupidity strikes! I have nothing against poor spellers (I love you Dad!), but I do have issues with people who ruin the chances of others on a whim. Needless to say the Baltic Sea came in second to last place in the Olympics overall with medals in Sudoku and Twister. Synchronized swimming was a lot of fun though and there were parts of the day I did have fun, but those of you who know my competitive attitude will understand how the spelling bee broke my spirit!

Well, there you go! One semi-coherent blog entry with a complimentary rant! Now I feel like sleeping for weeks. India left me physically and emotionally drained and I need some time to absorb everything I have seen and done in the last few days. No class tomorrow so I will try to write out entries for Namibia and South Africa! Happy Purim everybody!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crew Appreciation

Since I am being fairly lazy tonight I felt like I should write another blog post. Today’s topic is the crew of the MV Explorer! I have been planning this post for a while and I don’t think anything I can say can really do justice to the hard working people on this ship.

My three favorite crew members are Achilles (who Hannah and I called Edga for the longest time)r, Joseph, and Clive. Achilles is my cabin steward and is one of the nicest people on this ship. For the first few weeks the idea of having someone come into my room and clean every day was intimidating. The fact that he would fold my pajamas and place Mr. Beeps my stuffed bear at the head of my bed was also somewhat foreign. However, his hard work is not unappreciated! Every morning my roommate Hannah wakes up before I do and goes to breakfast. When Edgar sees her leave he knows that I will be leaving in about thirty minutes for class. After I (finally) drag myself from bed and go outside he is waiting there patiently with a smile and a “Good morning Kendra, how are you today?”. He never complains about picking up our dirty towels and always brightens the gloomy days!

I ought to preface my stories about the dining hall staff with an explanation that I often eat lunches alone. Most of my friends have class on an opposite schedule than I do so more often than not I will be seen alone on deck 6 staring morosely into my PB &J. Joseph works in the Garden Lounge dining hall on deck 6. Every day you can here him singing while he clears plates and cleans tables. For a long time I only enjoyed his music from a distance, but one day he came up to me while I was sitting alone and started up a conversation. We talked about the different countries and how hard it is to be away from family for such a long time. We also talked about how little I ate and he asked if there was anything in particular that I liked. I replied that I love the ship’s iced tea and every day since then he will bring me a pitcher of iced tea to fill my water bottle. Whenever I sit alone he will take time out of his busy day to come and talk to me. I know that many other students feel uplifted by his singing and I wonder if he understands how much we rely on his cheerfulness to brighten our days.

Clive was the first crew member that I really had a conversation with. The day before we arrived in Spain I was sitting alone in the main dining hall on deck 5 doing homework when Clive comes over and says “I am Clive, where are you from?”. We had a great conversation about life and family. Several days later I was eating lunch with a friend and we told Clive about our parents’concerns regarding the white slave trade in Morocco. Clive promised that if we went missing, he would lead the search party for us. Simply knowing that someone was looking out for us made me feel much more comfortable about Casablanca and Moroccan adventures. Today I created another Clive story. Most of my friends and my roommate are on safari and I was feeling lonely and somewhat pitiful so I called home. I love calling home, but inevitably I will cry and wish more than anything that I could see my parents! After the phone call I went up to eat dinner and mope. No moping allowed! I had been sitting outside for about five minutes when Clive comes up and says “I was going to stand in your sunshine, but it looks like someone already stole it from you”. I told him that I was feeling homesick and he said “Don’t think about going home. Think about bringing home to you and sharing your life with everyone you meet. And I promise that your day will get better”. He was right and soon my favorite professor and her sixteen year old daughter came and sat with me and we ate while marveling in the beauty of Table Mountain. They later invited me to go to a bookstore and out for coffee with them. And so I am now sitting in my room with three brand new books ($5) and a smile on my face.

There are so many hardworking people on this ship and, although I have only brushed the surface of their lives, I am extremely grateful to know them. Even tonight I met a new crew member at the piano bar who is from Turkey and was telling me all about the beauties of Istanbul. I wish I could fully express the amazing things done by the people working on the MV Explorer, but words cannot do it justice. Besides, I have three new books to read (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tempted Champions, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Wisdom of War, and bizarre looking book called Jude: Level 1. Am I a dork? Hell yeah!). And so goodnight everyone! I plan to go to bed early knowing that there is an amazing crew taking care of every student on this ship!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Neptune Day!

Whenever I feel homesick I go up to the deck 7 pool bar and buy a bag of popcorn. It is stale and too salty, but it never fails to make me feel better! Tonight I splurged and bought a large bag to eat while looking at the stars. Even with the ship completely lit up the stars here are amazing! Right now we are between Namibia and South Africa preparing for the next adventure. I promise that this post is not about homesickness; instead I plan to write about Neptune Day and my shipboard family! Neptune Day was a whirlwind of fish guts, sunburns and barbeque. Technically we celebrated Neptune Day the day before we crossed the equator, but the sentiment was the same. On February 8 (happy birthday dad!) all “pollywogs”were sent an email requesting their presence before the royal court of Neptune to acknowledge his sovereignty. We woke up on February 9 to the sound of people running up and down the halls screaming and banging on doors and drums. After dragging ourselves from bed my roommate Hannah and I moved up to deck 7 where the festivities began!

In order to be initiated a student had to stand in one of the side pools, have “fish guts”poured over them, kiss a fish, kiss Neptune’s ring, jump into the pool, and then be knighted by our security officer Joe. And so I became a shellback with fish in my hair and water up my nose! I looked a fish in the eye and kissed it right on the lips (I later found out that the fish was fake…). The rest of the day was class free and so I went up to the front of the ship to read and relax. After falling asleep in the sun I woke up with a spectacular sunburn from the bottoms of my feet to my neck! That night was an impromptu barbecue with amazing burgers and corn on the cob! With ice cream for dessert it was a perfect end to a great day.

But wait, there’s more! That same night was my first dinner with my extended family. The ship has a program called “extended family”in which faculty, lifelong learners, and living learning leaders can create a family with several students. The families eat together generally twice a week when at sea and they provide a good outlet for students who need help or are feeling homesick. My family consists of two boys and five girls (not unlike the general male-female proportion on SAS) and our “parents”Fred and Nancy. Fred Levine is an art history professor on SAS and he recently spoke in our general Global Studies course about the cave paintings made by early humans. Our first family dinner was great and I am very glad that I have a family away from home.

Well, I know that this was a kind of slow email, but I promise that my Namibia and South Africa post will be interesting! With any luck I will find a cheap internet café in Cape Town and will be able to put up some safari photos!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Here is a small note from the other side of the world (Senegal to be exact) to let you know how much I love you! I hope that you have a wonderful day filled with cheesy Aloha shirts and mom's carrot cake.

Love, Kendra

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Spain to Morocco

Feb. 6, 2009

The first intense set of adventures has come and gone and now all that students can think of is Namibia! Well, Namibia and seasickness. I thought that seasickness was just for the weak, but as I had to be given a seasickness shot today the size of a horse tranquilizer, I am rethinking that prejudice. Combining seasickness with the five students who have broken wrists, sprained ankles and pulled muscles gives the MV Explorer a less-than-cheerful student body. Why all the injuries you ask? Well yesterday as we left the port of Casablanca the ship was forced through a tiny gap in the seawall with huge swells surrounding us. My roommate Hannah and I were sitting on our beds when all of a sudden we go flying across the room, beds and all! It was like Bedknobs and Broomsticks combined with large waves! Luckily my seasickness didn’t set in until late last night when I was reading for my Military Force and Diplomacy class. And then today (after a night of unsuccessful attempts to take medication) I surrendered to the ocean and let our amazing medical team give me a shot. So now I am sitting in my cabin feeling like a mule kicked me in the shoulder and decided to write a Spain/Morocco update for everyone!

First of all, I have to say that words cannot give justice to my experiences, but I will do my best to explain everything completely. We arrived in Spain early in the morning and hundreds of students climbed out onto the decks to see land for the first time in nine days. Luckily the port of Cadiz was in a very nice part of town and we were able to get favorable first impressions. I spent the first day wandering around Cadiz with some friends. We didn’t have a set plan and so we simply walked around the entire city finding some amazing public gardens and drinking Sangria in the shadow of a beautiful cathedral. Spain is paradise for the homeless cats of the world and they are all well-fed and loved by the city residents. Before the novelty of stray cats wore off I would run after them taking photos. On the first night I went to a SAS sponsored flamenco performance that included a dressage exhibition and example of a bullfight. The show was excellent; although many people felt that it was completely unauthentic and that we would do better to find a real flamenco show.

The next morning I took a train from Cadiz to Sevilla with a group of four other students. We were hoping to spend one night in Sevilla before continuing to either Cordoba or Granada, but unfortunately all hostels were filled to the brim thanks to Semester at Sea and a soccer game that night in the city. In the end we decided to simply spend the day in Sevilla and then take a train to Cordoba that night. That one day in Sevilla was amazing. At first we had some trouble finding the nice part of town, but once we saw the cathedral, we knew why everyone praises Spain. We visited the Real Alcazar which seemed to me to be a miniature Versailles with amazing gardens and absolutely stunning mosaics! If I worked in Sevilla I would go to the Alcazar every day for my lunch just to sit and breathe in the peace. It was hard to believe that there was an entire city on the other side of the wall! That night we took a fast train to Cordoba and spent the night in a very nice hostel (Hotel Boston). The next day we were all too exhausted to visit any tourist sites so instead we spent most of our time relaxing near the hostel before taking a slow train back to Cadiz. The final day in Cadiz was a blur of grocery shopping, chocolate con churros, and postcard writing. We left that night and I was finally able to fall asleep with the gentle rocking of the ship once more.

The following day we pulled into Gibraltar to bunker (take on fuel), but thanks to extremely rough seas the Explorer was forced to spend a whole day there (without landing to look at the monkeys!) which pushed our Morocco arrival date back by about 18 hours. Our arrival in Morocco involved going through a narrow sea wall with heavy waves. The result was broken dishes in the dining halls and a flipped chest of drawers (caught on film) in my cabin. Since we had lost a day in Morocco, many of the trips were changed. Luckily my trip stayed on schedule and the morning after our arrival in Casablanca twenty-two students took a bus to the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the ancient city of Fes. I can’t find words to describe Volubilis and the surrounding areas. When I had pictured Morocco I had not expected lush green valleys with beautiful trees and mountains! The ruins of Volubilis were in amazing condition with mosaics made out of local stone filling the houses. It was easy to imagine a complete city filled with people living their lives. After visiting Volubilis our group continued to Fes for the night.

My second day in Morocco was spent in the city of Fes. Our tour guide was a Fes local and so he knew exactly where to take us. We spent most of the day in the Old Medina (Fes el Bali) where the largest “souk”in Fes exists. Some fun facts about the Old Medina:

· The Old Medina is home to the world’s oldest (859 AD) continuously running university; the University of Al-Karouine

· The medina is believed to be the largest contiguous car-free urban area in the world as well as the largest medina in the world)

· The medina is the craftsmanship capital of Morocco and almost all goods sold in areas such as Marrakech or Casablanca originated in Fes.

I have to say that the Medina was like being pulled into Arabian Nights or Aladdin. It was the first time I really felt like I was in another world. In one day I visited a ceramics studio where I saw how mosaics are created, a tannery with a view of the city, a weaving studio where we could buy Moroccan scarves fresh off the loom, and an apothecary’s shop filled with stuffed foxes and exotic remedies. I learned that when someone in the narrow street calls out “Grand Taxi!”to pull over to one side and let a pack-laden donkey pass by. I learned stories about ancient kings and modern ones who all found true love in Fes. It was like being pulled into a fairy tale and I never wanted to leave!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and we returned to Casablanca late that night. On our last day in Morocco a large group of students decided to walk to the Hassan II mosque which is one of the largest mosques in the world. We were told that it was a twenty minute walk from the ship to the mosque, but it tuned out that it was a twenty minute walk from the ship to the port exit! Morocco has strange weather patterns and when we were about fifteen minutes from the mosque there was a torrential downpour of rain! None of us had umbrellas and things would have gone very poorly if the “tourism police”hadn’t pulled us over and driven us the rest of the way free of charge! And so unlike most students, I have a good story about being picked up by the police and riding in a paddywagon. The mosque was beautiful and awe-inspiring, but it could not compare to my experience in Fes. We spent the rest of the day in the Casablanca medina doing some last minute shopping. My favorite Casablanca was buying a round loaf of bread for 1 dirham (about 15 cents) to eat while following a rainbow back to the ship.

Now we are on our way to Dakar for fuel before the adventure continues with a safari in Namibia!

Monday, January 26, 2009

I suppose that every journey involves a destination. In my story the journey and the destination are one and the same. So here I am sitting in cabin 3116 on the MV Explorer. Edgar the cabin steward has already been by and folded my yummy sushi pajamas and placed Mr. Beeps (the amazing traveling bear) back on my pillow. Looking out my porthole the only thing in sight is the mass of water and waves. I am in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean approximately 850 nautical miles outside of Cadiz, Spain. Right now the rolling waves are somewhat unwelcome and are making me wish that the rice pudding at lunch hadn’t been so damn tasty. I think that the students who thought Semester at Sea was the booze party of their lives rethought alcohol after the first wave of seasickness. The weather today is much cooler than it has been over the last week and the outside temperature is 63o Fahrenheit. It is 2 pm here and 7 am at home causing students to curse the time zones of the world. Luckily there is only one more day of class before our 9 day “weekend”. Of course no class means that we will be out exploring the cathedrals of Cadiz and the souks of Casablanca! My journey is just beginning and the destinations are dotting the horizon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bahama Time!

I'm heeeeeeeeere!!  Hope everyone is enjoying January.  Today is supposed to be 75 with some slight breezes.  How awesome is that?  I would write more, but I want to go soak up some vitamin D!