Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oh, Sandy Africa!

Salvador is now far in the distance—though the image and stink of piss-stained streets still linger in my mind and nose—as we pass on to Africa; first stop: Namibia.

No one expected much from this obscure place, more town than country, whose whole is blown over with sand that detains the country's development, or so we thought. And as it is all desert, and it is Africa, we all assumed that winter would never drop below 70 degrees. We also envisioned it to be devoid of human life, because of all the sand, and because it is the second least densely populated country in the world (after Mongolia, which I've seen pictures of because of my father who has been there, and though I do remember there being plenty of people around in the background of those photos, I still imagined Namibia to be more deserted). We were also hoping that Namibia would fill that empty space with wild animals, like tigers, or camels, and maybe bears, though bears were unlikely. Namibia was also rumored to have very low crime, due to the lack of people, and (I hoped), because the wild animals overrunning the country cannot be charged for misconduct, considering they adhere to a separate set of rules.

But even the most ignorant and gullible of us were suspicious of any such country existing, as we would have heard about this magical place in a more striking way—like Atlantis, the Amazon, or Nimh, or on the cover of National Geographic, in Hollywood movies, from Darwin himself. But it was Semester at Sea that introduced us to this anonymous African country which, sorry, we know nothing about, and where none of us (if I may say so) extensive travelers, who have the earth's geography carved into the back of our hands, have ever been—Good luck.

What we did know for sure from riding into the country on the boat was that Namibia was (so fucking!) cold (though we failed to connect our boat-findings to our predicted on-land temperature of Namibia which, we still guessed, would be high 70s), its waves were rough and did not practice the same softness and sympathy as Salvador's had, and it is the home of one very hot Victoria's Secret Pink model, or so they told us in a pre-port presentation in hopes that we would recognize Namibia as an active country in the world. This factoid may have sold a good percentage of the Pink-wearing females and model-loving males, but oh, apparently 20% of Namibians have AIDS—we learned that, too—and we were again scared back into ignorance.

A reflection from the fourth day (today): the urine smell that pervaded Salvador was present in a similarly acrid fish odor that slaps us as we step off the boat, but disappears as we walk a mile inland to the port gate at which point any smells are slashed by sand that rides the wind into our eyes, down our shirts, in our shoes. The part about Namibia being covered in sand is mostly true. Trains run through the area between our ship and the gate, though there is nothing to warn us of their arrival but their trudging toward us in our periphery; and the only one I've seen pass, oddly enough, stopped before crossing completely to go back the way it came and then disappear.

Beyond the port are surprisingly modern buildings—not modern, per se, just more modern than expected—organized in easy-to-navigate blocks, between streets so empty two cars would never run into each other. The drivers seem to have some reservations about co-existing with pedestrians, however; drivers, like animals, seem to work under a different set of rules which permit the hitting, running into, running over, or other maiming of pedestrians, and as it happens, pedestrians are also with the lofty understanding that their crossing is always appropriate. Red or green, car or not, they walk; this is especially true for Americans, and it is sure to end poorly for someone at some point in the future.

On Friday, few people roamed the town, and those who did warned us to hold our bags tightly to protect ourselves from those dark guys on the corner. The few times we trusted locals to show us around, another would grab us away and say, No! Don't trust that man, follow me! So much for low crime.

On Saturday and Sunday, the streets were empty. As it turns out, shops and restaurants shut down for the weekend, save for one or two in each city that my friends and I sought out, and those were filled not by locals, (and, sadly, not by tigers and bears, either) but by other Semester at Sea students.

A brief rundown of Saturday and Sunday: Saturday morning, Drew, Kristin, Chris (a small and spunky New Yorker who has, more or less, become our third roommate), Jen, Scott (already introduced) and I headed out to go kayaking, though we didn't know where to go, when to go, and neither did the cab driver. We told him to go to the lagoon and he complied, and when we got there we spotted windsurfers, dolphins, and a woody inn with tourist information; unfortunately, we could not go that day. As we'd heard of many others going to Swakopmünd, a coastal town "more German than Germany," we asked the cabbie to take us there as well, and he did, though for a much higher price than we should have paid.

Sidenote: Money is rather complicated here, considering how I am being ripped off in Namibia while I simultaneously make a killing in USD. (ex: average cab fare, according to SAS student, from Walvis Bay (where our boat is) to Swakopmünd is 20 NADs (Namibian dollars; 20 NADs = $2.48) whereas we paid 80 NADs ($9.92). For 30 km, 80 doesn't seem so bad, though it is significantly more than the average Namibian, and I suppose there is no problem with supporting Africa by letting it rip us off, right?)

Being ripped off didn't stain our ride, however, which was stunning. At points we were surrounded by sand, its surface blown by the wind to look like stretch marks running through the dunes, then we spotted the coast (pictured above)—Skeleton Coast, to be exact—on the edge of all that sand, the water rolling and glittering, unspoiled by people. As the water sunk below the line of the dunes,
houses appeared in the sand which reminded me of the Japanese concentration camps in California, those thin-walled houses made out of stables always at the mercy of nature and the camp leaders. They were boxes placed in long rows, oddly colored and stagnant. A group of dark boys played soccer outside. A few miles down, after the line of weak pastel houses finally cut off, the water became visible again, and in front of it were a number of houses, all boxes, but not like those from before. These were painted the color of sand and covered with windows like barnacles cake to rocks. They all sat skewed 15 degrees south, each facade identical to the next—same windows, garage, front door, balcony. Coming into the city of Swakopmünd some time later, more identical houses; this time, they were organized more as military housing, but strangely German. Clumped together, they looked like a Christmas tree farm with their acute triangle tops and matching blue trunks.

Being Saturday, the entire city was more or less closed to us, and so we paid 80 NADs to eat hamburgers at an Applebees-level restaurant, get threatened by a camel-colored man with a lazy lip at an outdoor market when I wouldn't buy his carved nuts, and take a brief walk on the beach that may or may not have been littered with AIDS needles as it was with abalone shells. We will be going back there today, after Kristin returns home from her airplane ride around the city, in hopes that the town won't let us down on a weekday.

Sunday was probably my most Namibian day, meaning the things I did and saw could be found nowhere but Namibia. That is not say it was an all positive experience, but it's something to write home about, at least.

In the 40 degree morning, Kristin and I dragged ourselves onto a bus which brought us to a speedboat for our little anticipated Seal and Dolphin Tour. We were tired, cold, hungry, and very grumpy, idly watching a group of six Namibian dancers in bright yellow singing and stamping their feet until we could get on the boat. We were immediately introduced to the pelicans with their heavy rubber beaks and beady cormorant eyes as the guide tossed fish to them. Five minutes in, our guide hollered wildly and a seal jumped onto the boat, over everyone's lap, then leapt onto the floor. Like a puppy, the seal lay by his master awaiting his treat, and we pet him. That seal—whose name has escaped me—stayed with us for another five minutes then slid himself back into the water, making room for another seal—this one much smaller—to come waddling on. This one was uncoordinated and sloppy, dragging water onto the laps of the passengers, bumping into the seats, and tumbling onto the floor when he jumped. Needless to say, he was much more endearing, but he, too, had to say goodbye. From that point on, no one was excited by spotting seals in the water; our new target was dolphins. The dolphins were spotted, receiving some oohs and ahs, and in the midst of them, a whale emerged from the water, its mighty back rising as a mountain climbs in the background, and from it the whale blew water like a rocket and dropped back down again. This happened a few more times before we had to start heading back to the dock, and everyone was happy. We took a different route back and passed a seal colony, absolutely packed with black seals fighting, swimming, playing, doin' their thang. Nearing the dock, the most obese seal to ever live hitched a ride with us, flopping onto the boat, his blubber spreading across the floor as he crept heavily around (think Jabba the Hut). After sitting on everyone's feet, the seal was pushed back into the water and shook the earth as he hit the water.

Following the tour and a five hour nap, a group of us departed the ship to find a restaurant, any restaurant that was open. Our taxi driver spoke little English and had just as little knowledge about the town itself, so he darted from street to street, backing up, turning around—thank god the streets were empty—until we eventually found a place to eat. Crazy Mama's was the name, and its specialty was pizza and wine. After waiting forty minutes for a table, as this was the only restaurant open, we were seated, ordered immediately, and received our food a full hour and a half later. This gave us more time to drink wine, which we did, (the cheapest on the menu), and by the end of the meal, Kristin, Julie, Emma (Julie's roommate who I don't know terribly well), Hillary (a girl I met at the circus, a tall skinny one with short short blonde hair), and Anna (was her name Anna?) were so exhausted that while everyone else continued on to a bar/club (was not yet determined which), we went home.

Or we at least tried to; outside, a taxi cab and its driver waited, asleep. We banged on the window until the driver was startled awake and asked him to take us to the port, "to the big ship, please," we said. He nodded slowly and said, "sure, sure," and we asked, "do you know where that is?" and he said, "sure, sure," so we told him "5 NADs each, that's 30 total," and his nodded and said, "okay," and we got in. It was immediately evident that he did not know where he was going, then we grew suspicious by his fluent accord with us, accepting 5 dollars while most drivers won't settle for less than 10, and by saying nothing more than "sure" in response to our questions, as most drivers either admit they're unsure or will assure us that they will deliver us to the port safely. So this man is driving, he is slithering down the roads as if the tires are bald, and he is driving in the wrong direction. We redirect him but he doesn't understand English, and he doesn't understand pointing, and eventually we end up in a sandy parking lot, without lights, without people, and he stops.

We are all quiet, including the driver who has taken his hands off the steering wheel and is staring blankly through the window, when another car pulls up to ours so that it is staring the cab in the face and its lights are bright and blaring. Men file out of the car and confidently approach the cab driver and we are all thinking drug trade? money scandal? knife fight? then there's a knock on the window and the driver hastily rolls it down. "You're overfull," the man says, and the driver replies, "what?" so the man repeats, "you're overfull, you're overfull," then seems to say it in Afrikaans, because the driver finally understands and provides a lengthier reply in Afrikaans. The man tells us to all get out of the car, so despite it being 40 degrees, we comply and stand shivering outside.

As is probably clear by this point, the men who met us in the parking lot were cops, (which was a surprise, considering we had never seen cops there before) and they confronted the cab to arrest the driver who was, as it turned out, without a driver's license, and severely inebriated, so said the cops. One cop played with his handcuffs as he put the driver in the back of his car (without handcuffing him). Another cop (in another car) let us girls wait in his car while two more cops took over the cab, and we all drove to the police station together. There, the driver of our car settled things inside as the other cops stood idly on the sidewalk smoking, listening to music, and flirting—or so it appeared—with one girl who had decided it would be a good idea to bear the cold and smoke outside with Namibian cops. I shivered in the car watching them all as the girls in my car filled my head with distressing theories: what kind of cops would smoke and listen to music while arresting someone? why do they all look sixteen? why aren't they in uniform? I resolved that the rules were simply not the same here, that sixteen year olds may take care of business better than thirty year olds, that a high stress job demands frequent smoking—as is also the case in the states, as I've seen—and two of the cops were off duty, which allowed them to go out without uniform. Simple.

Half an hour or more later, the badass cop returned to our car to drive us home. We followed a truck which belonged to the station and as we drove, our cop, his window down, yelled to an off-duty cop in the back of the truck in Afrikaans. He then turned to us and asked if we wanted to go out on the town with them, as, apparently, the girl who'd been smoking with the cops raised that wonderful idea. We all immediately said no, take us home, and two minutes later, we were safely outside of the ship. After taking a photo with the nice policemen, the fish smell chased us up the stairs to the gangway and we sped to our rooms to be warm and sleep. This ship is finally feeling like home.

Today I woke up early and ate breakfast for the first time in days. In an hour, I will be off to Swakopmünd for more adventures, assuming my cab driver is licensed and the city is open, and hopefully I'll get around to supplementing these colorless blog entries with photos.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


(Pictured: Ship, berthed in Salvador, and me, dwarfed)

My mind and my body are in a peculiar state of turbulence; my body thinks it's 8 am, my body is sick, my body wants nothing to do with waking hours unless they are immediately followed by more sleep; my mind knows it's 10 am, my mind does not stop moving, my mind needs to be productive and strain itself. By Friday, at this time, it will be 12 pm, and I would guess by that point my mind and body will have grown furious with each other and divorced. For now, they are both only slightly miffed.

To catch you all up from Tuesday, (today is Sunday; I've left you all out for so long) the night out was pretty good fun, though I wouldn't say it ever surpassed one dim highlight which was only lasted a couple seconds: having a beer stolen by a quick and thirsty criminal over my shoulder. I don't think I've ever had anything stolen from me before, much less stolen from me so crudely. If I saw the thief now, I'd give him a high five for his style.

The following day was Wednesday—same day sequence here, folks—which called for a visit to Sacatar, an international artists community in—as luck would have it—Itaparica. For all of you who read, or skimmed, my last entry, you may have caught mention of Itaparica, and that would be because I went there, on Monday, and having carelessly read the description for Sacatar, I ended up there again two days later. The crowd was different and I'm thankful for that, and there was a greater variety of food, but the scenery was basically the same, and I was put on the same ferry, and I ultimately walked the same loop as the first day—a long loop of house after house in the heat on the hot ground suffocating under dry air. But it was fine.

The establishment itself was wonderful; the artists' lodgings were immaculate, especially in comparison to the surrounding buildings, the scenery was greener and fresher and even housed peacocks, and the people who lived there, artists and owners, were incredibly friendly, for artists and for people in general. Rahula the flautist from Bangladesh gave us a private show in his studio and proved his lung power through a conch shell that resounded through the room for three minutes plus when he blew into it. He then presented me with a paper flower, in return for my inquisitiveness, if I had to guess why. It reminded me of a short story I read last year called 'Paper Garden,' and though I can't recall the author's name and have mostly forgotten the details of it, I do remember loving the story. It entails a young boy and an older, broken female teacher who construct a paper garden together in their sadly awkward student-teacher relationship; that's something I've been intrigued by for a while in terms of boundaries, distinction between self and other of differing ages and mindsets, and on and on. Anyway. The flower is now sailing with me to Namibia, having settled into a comfortable nook against the window.

I found the 'artists' community' interesting given its basis, to provide artists with two months of quiet space in which to work, and maybe with each other. I appreciate that mostly for the fact that it's interdisciplinary and acknowledges that artists, no matter the field, are after somewhat of the same thing that can't be born from one medium or mind. That's also, though, what seemed to be a small flaw; not that I got an all extensive view of the goings-on in the house, but it looked to me as if each person was only contributing his own established ideas rather than really getting weird and uncomfortable. It seems like a really safe program to me, too much of a haven that's too much like home—but I may be wrong.

On the way home, I read Wells Towers' 'Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned' and wished this ship was less peace corps, more wild mutiny. There are rumors of pirates between Cape Town and India; if they're slacking, I'll take up the task of making things a little more interesting.
(I understand that schools do not tolerate violence or violent threats, but please note: I am without sword, knife, or other sharp object, without gun or likewise destructive weapons, without army or any similarly supportive mass or crew, and I lack the gusto to fully execute any plan, no matter how bored I am).

That night I considered going to Brazilian BBQ with a group of folks from Sacatar, but opted for grilled cheese and pizza in the cafeteria instead. (Parents, you may be thinking I made the unhealthy decision here, but if you only knew what constituted as dinner on a regular night, you would realize that pizza and grilled cheese is a step up. I also saved you 40 real).

Despite it being my last night in Salvador, Kristin and I watched 13 Going on 30 in the room and passed out early.

Having been unable to sleep in for days, I awoke at 7 and dragged Kristin, who would sleep all day were it not for life happening, to el super mercardo via taxi. We picked up a straggler from the ship who had nothing to do, too, and he (Brian, from Santa Cruz) ended up saving our asses with his polished Spanish. Then Kristin and I naturally fell into what we usually do together; in other words, we slept until we were abruptly awaken (by Eilis and Jen who came to bang on our door as a hello-we're-back-from-the-amazon!) We got our last acaí in the upper city together before retiring to the boat until dinner time, which I had been looking forward to all week. Cheeseburgers!!! Though I did two-time my dear cheeseburgers with a hot dog, which turned out to be much better, though I would never say that out of these peculiar circumstances.

The following day (which would, at this point, be Friday?) I woke up with an oddly sore throat, unlike that which plagued me days before, and I lay for a few minutes considering what to do about it, as I thought I had been healed. Eventually, Kristin woke up and it struck me then that no voice accompanied the air flow and oral movements I was directing at her, so I continued to speak, clear my throat, speak, and nothing. It so happens that, coincidentally, that same morning my body decided to reject all stored and incoming fuel, then more fuel, until my body was a vessel full of dry, heavy pipes. I didn't eat for fear that it would be rejected so I went to class hungry, and left early and still hungry, then I class two was substituted with a six hour nap, as was class three. Dinner food was openly welcomed into my body, then ejected soon after like a slap in a smiling face. This is still a prevalent issue today, though it is under constant supervision.

Today, Sunday, I am feeling much better, though still being cautious (save for the two helpings of thai curry, which could not be refused, even in death). Nothing interesting ever happens on the ship so I'll leave you with the thai curry; it's the best I've got.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tres Dias

It's impossible to keep up when I'm working through this shotty internet service, so I'm posting three entries at once; don't be alarmed. I suggest you take a short break between each day, give someone a hug, watch some Ellen, grab some coffee. You know, the small, good things in life.

Today is Neptune Day, which means we don't have class because we crossed over the equator, which apparently calls for extensive head-shaving, the spilling of fish guts over everyone's heads, kissing a rigor mortis fish on the lips, jumping in the ship's saltwater pool, then being knighted by the Neptune king. Though spirits were high and many impressionable students were pressured into goin' bald, I still have my hair (as do Kristin and Drew). I did partake in everything else, though, including the fish kissing, which you all know is undoubtedly the worst act there is for me to do in this world of endless possibilities. At least I contained my vomitus.

A short while afterwards it started raining, as it always does. That's an interesting thing about being on an ever-moving vessel; rain never ruins a whole day—given the storm travels slower than 20 knots or so—at the most, it's twenty minutes spent inside knowing it will cease soon enough.

And then I saw a whale! I think I was the last one to see any form of sea life off the side of the boat; Kristin saw dolphins, Drew saw flying fish, etc. I only caught a flash of its back before it leaped back in, but it was a magnificent sight.

I woke up with what is commonly referred to as "sore throat" by professionals worldwide, and it's been kicking me hard and tirelessly in the lymph nodes, upsetting my body into a fury, a 100+ degree fever, chills, sallow mucus that plays red-light-green-light in my nostrils. My ears have closed up, my eyes are tired and red, and every last friend has deserted me.

Drew and Amanda (a tall blonde lady from Jersey) are in Lencois; Eilis (eye-leash: a wonderfully spunky brunette from Long Island), Jen (a Pen State girl, a bit goofy, petite in size, much like my mother, for all of you who know her, you understand), Scott (our 6 foot something bodyguard who protects us from all things foreign and dangerous), and Julie (our wonderful, beautiful Brazilian amiga who got us around Salvador the first day) are in the Amazon, petting tigers and cutting down vines; and Kristin (my cousin, you all know her and know there exists no explanation to suffice) is at dinner, or "Bahia by Night," eating full roast pigs off sticks and drinking caipirinha [ka-i-pi-ri-nya: Brazil's national cocktail, consisting of cachaca (sugar cane rum), sugar and lime].

Since they left me, I have been mostly in bed, or seeking out makeshift beds as I attempt to stick to my former plans—pool chairs on the ship, a padded ship deck on a ferry through the Atlantic, the sand of Itaparica island—even though I would rather stay home and just sleep this fever into the ground. Kristin accompanied me on those excursions, though; it is only tonight that I am alone.

So here I sit, in my bed, on the ship, in Salvador, Brazil (the harbor of which is pictured above). I purchased some tea at the pool bar upstairs but am wary of drinking it too soon as I've burnt my palate the last two nights and have already dealt with repercussions of that—bubbling, peeling, and now, great discomfort in eating, drinking, etc. A nice girl named Aja (ay-ja, like Asia) who lives down the hall kindly gave me Sudafed, Motrin and Halls to make this night a little easier, so I hope the Sudafed will make me drowsy enough to fall soundly to sleep without waking up too many times for lack of air intake.

Tomorrow I will go to the circus and learn the way of the clown, or so I hope. I will be going in sickness and in health, as long as I am living, so let's hope my bones aren't dangerously fragile. I imagine them as igneous rocks boiling under my hot skin, just waiting to erupt.

I enter this entry with great enthusiasm as Aja's medicine worked miracles on me overnight. Sure, I woke up with a little pinkeye, but the occlusion of my nose is concentrated to one (not two) sides and my throat only hurts when I breathe through my mouth! Good news for all.

I went to the circus today and had the most wonderful time; probably the most fun to be found in all of Brazil. The group was "Piccolino," founded as a method to reduce poverty on the streets, collecting poor children found climbing street lights, getting tangled up in capoeira circles, or exhibiting similar odd talents, and this group took them in and fed them as the children were taught to walk the tight rope, do back flips or ride a unicycle. Some have been there as long as fifteen years and it is really quite impressive what they have learned or otherwise gained from this humble group, just a couple circus tents on the side of the highway. I doubt I will interact with native Brazilians as intimately and usefully as I did today—hands-on spotting and instructions, physically working through language barriers as they taught us trapeze, unicycle, tight rope, tumbling, juggling and silk rope. Everyone was impressed by my unicycling skills (as the only visitor to successfully perform as I glided across the broken floor). A few of the other girls were quite talented as well, a couple of them ex-gymnasts or otherwise acrobatically inclined, so we did a lot of interesting group work—pyramids, spotting, barreling across the floor. (I know barreling isn't the right word, but I don't know any better way to explain it).

From this jaunt I made a couple new friends, one of whom is an ex-gymnast from San Diego California, and I traveled the city with her and a few of her friends (and Kristin, of course) the rest of the day. We eventually split up as they trekked (by taxi) to a Wal-Mart owned shopping center in search of Brazilian snacks while Kristin and I walked to a marketplace nearby. I finally bought a couple things—a pair of leather tie-up sandals, a t-shirt and a pair of earrings—all pretty cheap. I am very pleased.

Brazil has been fun mostly for the fact that I can't communicate; it makes for a lot of laughs as I employ my broken Spanish en communicado con Portuguese speakers. I know a couple vital phrases in Portuguese; I will share them with you now:

Hello: Oi
Goodbye: Tchau
Thank you: Obrigado
No thank you: No Obrigado (quite easily the phrase most commonly used by foreigners)
How much: Cuanto e
Yes: Sim
No: No
Sorry: Disculpe (second most commonly used phrase)
Guarana: Guarana (A delicious drink made from a plant used in popular energy drinks, like Red Bull
Acai: Acai (A fruity sorbet-like dish served in a bowl with fruit and granola, consisting of the native Brazilian Acai plant, containing, or so I hear, five times the antioxidants of blueberries).

Anyway, Kristin and I are going to head to dinner on the boat now. Not safe to walk around in Brazil just us two after sunset. We'll be going out later though; apparently Tuesdays are big festival/party nights for Salvadorians and, as rumor has it, there'll be drummers, capoeira dancers, and even an American Bar.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Day One and Beyond

So far, this trip has basically been the in-your-face execution of all self-jinxing, first in missing every flight to the Bahamas, then by having to stay overnight in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, potentially losing my bags, and sleeping, at most, ten hours in the last three nights combined. I didn't expect it to be waveless in engineering, but I will say that it was much choppier than expected, and though I had convinced myself upon waking on the 27th at 3:00 am to fly out of Monterey that everything would go horribly wrong, I do still consider myself a generally lucky individual—having been supported financially and otherwise for this trip alone—and all negative beliefs were shaded by a subtle yet stable optimism that I knew I would arrive and everything would work out.

I arrived to the modest-in-size, décor, and-everything-else Monterey Airport at 4:30am with Red Bull in hand, anticipating a zippy flight with only a couple stops before I would reach my destination: the Bahamas.

Having been dependent on my mother for everything up to this point—the tickets, documents, etc.—her eventual departure allowed for everything to go awry; the sky was still dark and the gate—one of four in the whole airport—was filled with sleep-deprived travelers who, judging from hearsay, were flying within the country, many with Phoenix as the final destination. The flight was to board at 6:30, but that passed, and then 7:00 passed, and at 7:30, the lady at the gate pulled the mic to her mouth to tell us they were waiting for a mechanic to arrive for a final check of the plane, and that was all she knew.

I have finished a second Red Bull and a bag of Chex Mix—for lack of restaurants in the airport; called my mom countless times to update her, to tell her I would miss the next flight and need a new one, to cry, to complain about airports, etc.; have discussed an alternate flight with the gate woman who told me the only option would be to go home and fly the next day—an idea to which I would absolutely not agree; slept for twenty minutes as a middle-aged man with prune-y olive skin watched; and clicked the 'get mail' button countless times to see if my boyfriend who had just flown to Germany was still alive, when they finally came in again, having disappeared for over an hour, to tell us, "at the least, it'll be an hour."

Finally, at 10:30, the gate lady re-entered the room. We would leave in approximately half an hour, she said, so we all boarded and I called my mama to check what the final route would be, and she said "Monterey, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Ft. Lauderdale, hotel." I had the baggage men re-tag my bags accordingly, and we were off.

U.S. Airlines was training a new flight attendant who happened to have a lisp and dyslexia, which was kind of enjoyable, as her muttering grabbed my attention and I think it was the first time I actually listened to the presentation. Though many were distracted and upset by the amateur interpreter, I have no complaints about the flight save for the fact that all refreshments—that includes water, sodas, alcohol [pretzels and peanuts weren't even in the equation]—cost twice as much as on land, so I drank/ate nothing.

The first thing I did upon landing was turn on my cell phone to see that my mom had left me a voicemail saying the route would be changed, again, and I would need to re-route my bags, again. So I skipped off to customer service to wait in a line consisting of everyone on my flight, all of them having missed their connections, all of them angry. Here I found that the baggage man in Monterey had looted my luggage tickets, leaving my bags virtually impossible to track, so I would have to be hopeful even though I couldn't be at that point.

It has come to my attention, after re-reading all I've written, that this is really boring stuff, so to save you, I'll just say that everything improved from that point on; though I flew backwards—from Monterey to Phoenix to Las Vegas to Ft. Lauderdale—I eventually arrived, safely, though sleep deprived, in Florida. The taxi driver may have driven in a few circles for a few extra bucks before dropping me at the door of the Rodeway Hotel at midnight, and I may have been put in a room directly next door to all-night karaoke jam time, but I slept fine for the four hours that I did and arrived at the airport the next morning two hours early, bags in hand, and feasted on a crusty ham and egg sandwich while I waited.

At the gate, I met some fellow SAS people who had had an equally troublesome time getting there—one even slept under a bench in the airport. Though I can't say I remember their names, I do recall that they were mighty affable fellows and I've since sensed an underlying hey-I-remember-you-from-the-airport,-you-were-my-first-friend connection when I see them, which is nice.

The flight was lovely; I had the wits about me to get through a few pages of reading, received a free Bahama Mama from the Bacardi Bar right around the corner from immigration, met my bags and shared a cab with the people from my flight and a few more who waited awkwardly by the luggage carousel, obviously headed to the same place.

As we were very clearly tourists, our taxi driver took the liberty of ripping everyone off. But Todd and I, the stragglers, were sure to contest the prices he insisted we pay, [even though we had reservations saying anything as our driver had what looked like a stab wound in his neck], but we ended up paying less than everyone else. The drive itself, though, was probably worth everything in my wallet just for the view—the crystal waters, lush vegetation, crayon colored landscape. Nothing I'd ever seen before.

The hotel (pictured in the background of the above picture) itself was nothing special, especially in comparison to the majestic Atlantis which towered over everything else in the city, but it, unlike the Atlantis, was all-inclusive, and there really couldn't have been anything better than that after being pressured to pay two dollars for a ginger ale and five to have my bags pulled through the airport's sliding glass doors by a lofty black man. We swam in the hotel pool and ate and drank hotel food and drink, caught up on sleep, and went to the beach during the day where we tumbled in the water, choked on salty Atlantic under the tide, nearly died, drank out of coconuts, and watched two black boys go from black to white to black as they covered themselves with sticky white sand then pushed each other back into the water again.

At night, the forty or so SAS kids there made friends with the hotel employees, sang karaoke and played volleyball with them, danced with them, then slept in preparation for the hour long line to the ship the following morning, then to our rooms, then to meander the ship in search of new friends, new spaces, new views.

The rooms are pretty small; I'm thankful to be living with Kristin, my cousin, who will quickly adjust to my way of living as I have to hers. She brought twice as much as I did, and look! I've already forgiven her. We have a lovely little window where we watch the waves roll together, though we have yet to see any impressive life leaping in and out. Apparently a whale and some dolphins have already been spotted.

Our current location is unknown [by me]. We glided through Puerto Rico yesterday afternoon, and while I found the land and buildings somewhat remarkable, most people were most excited about being in "America," as America means cell phone service. Though I prefer to gaze than to photograph, my mother kindly lent me her camera so I've been trying to use it, and have, in the Bahamas and as we passed Puerto Rico, though the pictures are really nothing special.

Some interesting observations about ship life:
These days, walking has become quite a feat. I have attempted to use this to my advantage, as I've found that people bond most easily in times of strife. It has made for some quick friendships—from bumping into people, being laughed at for being thrust into walls, bonding over the oddity of this disabling power, and anyway, stumbling everywhere is kind of fun.

Also: I would like to add that, as I [and Kristin] have observed, cruise ships foster healthy and active bowels, which I assume is from the constant undulating, though it could just as easily be from the horrible food.

That is basically all I have for now. I will get into classes later, among other things.