Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Problemas en Portobelo

There are always those times when you may just surprise yourself. For me, yesterday afternoon was one of those instances. I met up with a group to go to visit the fortress and town of Portobelo. Winding roads brought us to this quaint town, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect; but I would describe it as a modest, run-down town that recently experienced some natural disaster. There was mudslide that took out a few homes and the fortress had seriously eroded since its glory days. Erosion was very obvious in this town that hugged the Panamanian (Atlantic) coastline. The history is, however, the greatest contributor to this area’s charm. A charming museum and church added to the town’s prestige and acted as highlights to the area that we explored. The tour felt a bit rushed, which I’ll explain that in a moment how I came to surprise myself.

So we were offered a taxi ride to Portobelo that would cost $15 per person round trip. (It’s very important to negotiate a price before you get in the taxi.) We were brought through the car by a bunch of middlemen when we were introduced to a female, Spanish-speaking taxi driver. We go into her mini-van when we were also introduced to her brother. Everything was good and dandy. Her brother, Eddie, started to go through the history with us. Understanding pieces of the Spanish conversation between the two, I knew he was translating what the driver was saying into English. In between he was very personable, asking us questions and telling us about his family, but mostly he boasted about his extraordinary talents as a tour guide. After a while in the van, we arrived at Portobelo. Eddie kept close tabs on us, while the driver remained at the car. In retrospect, I noticed some peculiarities about his behavior when another tour group (full of SAS students and faculty) arrived. He started to get antsy and was nagging us to go move on to the next part of the tour. This happened at the first fortress. We drove directly to the second one. Eddie brought us into a museum ignoring the person at the front desk (admission was $3). He told us to look around, but before we left, he told us we had to pay a dollar to get into the museum. He then brought us to another part of the museum where we watched a movie. Eddie tried to let the question slide when I asked if we were going to have to pay for the movie, telling me “not to worry.“ For anyone who doesn’t know me well enough, telling me to relax will typically only agitate me.

After the museum, we saw the second fortress, which was in much better condition than the first (because it had been directly under the mercy of the mudslide). We took a few pictures, but I felt like we had no more than five minutes, where I would have liked to maybe walk around the entire thing. We concluded the tour at a church. Eddie continually made incoherent comments such as “I’m not supposed to be bringing you guys here,“ or “that’s usually a part of another tour, but I’ll show you guys anyway.“ We got into the mini-van after a few minutes at this church, which possessed a very extravagant robe involving a story about a black Jesus from the 1600s. Sorry, but details of the story are a bit vague to me now. Eddie asked if we wanted any water or soda, but never encouraged us to look at the unique shops and stands that were sprinkled around the main street (which we, by the way, never walked down.)
We got back into the car and headed back to Colón. Eddie mentioned to us on the way back, that he usually charges $100 for tours like the ones he gave us, but he liked us, so it would only be $60. Our group looked perplexed and we understood it as a joke, especially since he wasn’t a great tour guide; he failed to (directly) answer some of our questions or just translated the answer from the driver. Eddie offered to take us somewhere else, so we opted to visit the Duty-Free Zone, which is a gated shopping center that sells products at wholesale rates. This area was the only place deemed to be safe in Colón, and we were encouraged to stay on the ship, but only to venture to the duty-free zone (which is why many people spent the night in Panama City.)

Our group decided that we would each pay $20 for the tour, which totalled in a $25 tip to go towards the driver and Eddie. When we arrived at the free zone (and had to tell them to let us out immediately because we said we just wanted to explore), two girls decided they wanted to be brought to the ship, and the two others and myself paid them then. Eddie took our money and glanced at the rest of the money remaining in the two girls’ hands. He, then, got out of the car, demanding that we pay the $75 for his sister. Well, I wasn’t having any of it. Refusing to be a push-over, I said “no,“ which sent him in to a tailspin. Eddie turned into this monster-like entity that started causing a big scene in the Free Zone. The driver had the van stopped and was yelling and blocking traffic. The argument attracted many people on the street, including a police officer, and of course the horns from the cars that were stuck behind the van added the drama. I refused to give him any additional money, so he was quite livid with me for not sufficiently paying for his services. I did my best to stick to the original agreement.

Eddie and the driver moved the van, and by this time the two girls, who planned on going to the ship, got out in fear for their safety. Eddie came back and continued to demand an additional $20 from me (the other two had already given him an additional $20 each). I said I could give him $15, but he said that someone else would need to cover the extra five dollars, which we weren’t willing to do. I pulled out my wallet and gave him $10, which I even regret. Another bystander intervened saying that we did not owe him anymore money. Our group went in one direction, while him and the driver went in the other.
We went into a few shops, but everyone just wanted to return to the ship after that incident. We were also quite worried if Eddie was going to confront us on the way back to the ship, and God would only know what he would bring as “back-up.“ We got to the port safely and spoke with the boss, who originally offered us the taxi. We explained to him what happened that Eddie had tried to scam us. He mentioned we should have only paid the total of $75 and it should have ended then and there. But he called Eddie and I have never seen someone catch some many people’s attention so quickly. This took place just before the walkway to get back onto the ship, so many SAS members witnessed the scene in passing. We were then asked left and right by people that worked at the port and other tour guides. A mixture of Spanish and English was bombarding us. With the strongest Spanish, I received the brunt of the questions. They tried to get Eddie to come back and give us the money, but he was too chicken. The driver returned and explained her side. She is a church sister, who had hired Eddie as an interpreter, and she had paid him $15 as well. The only money we did get back was $10 from the driver, who ended up being scammed by this ath-hole too. Turns out that the driver and Eddie were not siblings. The driver did not understand the argument that went on in the Duty-Free Zone.

The incident intensified as the Port Police, as well as the Panamanian police were called. I was being questioned about the incident in both Spanish and English and ended up printing out a picture of the con-artist. The police wanted us to go to the station and file a police report. Since time was not abundant, we could not go, although the questioning and discussion, which had gotten the Dean involved at this time, lasted over 2 hours. Although charges won’t be brought against this man, virtually every person in the port will hear what he did...and we can only hope for social justice. Although my heart goes out to such a desperate person. We ended up losing a total of $40, where ten of it was from me. The evening ended up being so stressful, (where I did fear for my life at times, not knowing if Eddie would come back (potentially with a weapon) that I sought some counseling to get over the initial shock of the situation.
Despite the lazy tour guide, the broken-down taxi, and con-artist, I feel like I can take something away from my experiences in Panamá. Although I didn’t expect something like this to happen, it’s very important to keep everything in perspective, and I was not afraid to defend myself when someone wanted me to do something that I didn’t agree to. Many people apologized on behalf of the Panamanian people because they don’t want a bad reputation. I heard of some other great experiences in Panama, and many people were also very kind and helpful to me. I’m doing my best to not allow Eddie to shadow over the other good people in Panama. They take great pride in their country, which is growing quite rapidly. But I know these experiences happened for a reason, and I learned something about myself. I can trust my gut and confrontation doesn’t deter me from doing what I feel is right. I also try to put a positive spin on things.

Today is a day at sea, where I plan on relaxing and I have already caught up on some lost sleep. Costa Rica is tomorrow, and I’ve heard some great things about it already! (knock on wood).

¡Hasta luego!
Matt

P.S.
1. I meant ’wiggle room’ instead of “wiggle-round“ in the previous blog entry.
2. When I was told about a new 4-lane Trans-Panamanian highway, I thought it meant four lanes in each direction. Turns out it was only 2 lanes in each direction. I also found it funny that the highway help number is 800-AYUDA (which is 800-HELP if it were in English).
3. In Panama, they use the Balboa, which is constantly at the same exchange rate as the US Dollar, so I only had to use US Dollars in Panamá.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Panamá...an experience like no other!

I have never really seen anything on Earth like the Panama Canal. The tour was a good choice to start off my experience in Panamá. The tour guide was a bit lazy compared to the others (we had several vans, being such a large group.) He told us where to roam and when to return to the bus without providing us with much general knowledge you typically hear from tour guides. We toured Panama City first, spending most of the time in the Historic part called Casco Viejo. I ended up getting lost and ran into another tour guide. This moment of humility reminded me that I’m not an expert traveler, like I was starting to think I was. She tried to call my tour guide to inform him where I was, but her phone died. In a state of minor panic, I ended up in the exact same place where I started (where the bus dropped us off) in Casco Viejo in front of the French Embassy. I followed my same path, this time avoiding my previous wrong turn and I encountered my tour guide. He wasn’t in a rush to leave, and we stayed for at least another half hour. After being reunited with my group, I enjoyed the scenery and the skyline of Panama City. Although I tried to barter with a woman (who I believe was from a native tribe), and that was not too successful; I didn’t end up purchasing anything from her because I did not understand her at all. It has been in the 90s thus far, so an air-conditioned van was welcomed. Panama City seems to be building up its infrastructure a lot with new buildings, including a Trump tower. Someone asked why Donald Trump was building a hotel in Panama City; my response was because he wasn’t busy enough investigating Obama’s birth certificate. But in all seriousness, the city is divided into various parts. Some areas have a heavy European influence (Casco Viejo), while the main area seemed like a cross of New York and Miami. Other areas that I saw from the bus and taxis did not seem as affluent. Overall Panama City offers a wide variety of architecture and sights, which I found impressive. Casco Viejo was certainly my favorite part.

We continued the tour to the Miraflores Locks (which is the locks system connecting the Canal to the Pacific Ocean.) We saw the ships lined up (about 8 were waiting to enter the Canal) in a distance. The allows ships to pass through the canal in one direction for 12 hours (from Atlantic to Pacific) and the next 12 hours in the other direction (Pacific to Atlantic). We got quite lucky by seeing 3 vessels pass through. The little “trucks“ pulled the vessels through the narrow channels with no more than 3 feet of wiggle-round. The water levels rose and sank to move the vessels into the next channel and it was a very cool process. Fifty-two (52) million gallons are used to pass one ship through the canal. The water is only used once, so an improvement in the expansion project is that they will be using the water three times instead of once. I did not see any construction at the Miraflores Locks, but the construction is apparently more visible at Gatún Lake. Miraflores also had a visitor center, which was interesting. I found out that Woodrow Wilson sent a telegram which signalled the final dynamite explosion causing the Panama Canal to fill with water in 1914.

Remember I mentioned not being sure what I’d do after the tour? Well, I returned to the ship and ended up choosing the side of spontaneity. Two girls encouraged me to join them in Panama City, but after being anxious about the “adventure,“ I followed through and went (after lots of encouragement). I went back with a group to Panama City (so I drove from the Atlantic to Pacific coast twice in one day). We ended up staying in a hostel. But the interesting story is how we arrived in Panamá City. It usually takes about 50 minutes to get into the city. It took us over two hours and not just one taxi, but two! We took a very cheap van that had four groups of people going to 4 very different locations in Panama City. Unfortunately we didn’t realize that, nor did the driver have a clue because he is from Colón (and they apparently don’t have any sense of direction in Panama City. His English also worsened the more lost we got.) Through this driving adventure, I saw the sun set and more sections of the city than I could have imagined. SAS gave us a list of parts of Panama City to avoid, and I’m pretty confident that we drove through each one on the list. The van ended up breaking down and the remaining passengers piled into a taxi. Ironically enough by this time, I was as cool as a cucumber. This driver knew his way around and found our hostel, which seemed to be in a suburban neighborhood. After arriving almost an hour late, we went to dinner and I met a new group of people from Semester at Sea. They said they had never seen me on the ship before, but I said the same. It was a fun evening. I had a Hawaiian pizza with some chicken at a Lebanese restaurant with a Panamanian beer (Balboa). Now I call that multicultural! Although I tried the local beer, again, I couldn’t tell you the difference between the Trinidadian beers and those from Panama. Being a Sunday night, we returned to the hostel after dinner and hung out there. I spoke some German with another guest from Switzerland, so I was content. And it was awesome getting to know a completely new group of people, outside the niche of friends I’ve seen to fallen into. I got all of three hours of sleep at the hostel and we returned to the ship at 8:15am, this time only with minor traffic, but the taxi situation was much less stressful. It’s hard for me to fathom that all of that occurred in a period of twenty-four hours.

Later today, I’m planning on visiting Portobelo. I’m still recovering from yesterday. Should be interesting to see how that compares to Panamá City.

Bis nachher,
Matt

P.S. I heard some of you are curious about the life style on the ship. The food is buffet style in two dining rooms (one is more formal). There is typically a form of potato, pastas, and salad and for dinner there is always a fish and meat option. You have to purchase soda, so I’m sticking to water and juice. The food has been delicious thus far, although my diet is very regulated now in the sense of time because the food isn’t available all day. The cabins are a good size. My roommate and I have plenty of space and storage. I’m grateful for the porthole window because I can’t imagine how I would have reacted to having no natural lighting for a month. Deck 2 is literally four feet about the water, so the slight rocking has been really helping me sleep.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

¡Panamá mañana!

So today was dandy. It rained, so it was the first non-sunny day on the ship. So not too many people were outside. In class, we spoke about humanitarian aid and technology. Again, we are still trying to determine an adequate definition for the term “Humanitarian Engineering.” And in case you were wondering, I finished my paper 20 minutes before the pre-port orientation, so I’m glad I’m not pulling an all-nighter. It’s finished. I’m glad to be done. Knock on wood, I don’t get any more unpleasant surprises such as that one. We also watched a video on efforts to distribute Vitamin A to impoverished areas because many of those people are vitamin A deficient. In Guatemala, they fortify sugar with vitamin A, whereas in Ghana they educate the people with techniques to include more vitamin A in their diets. It’s amazing to witness the different techniques and approaches of the world. (And that’s only one instance!)

After the “Engineering a New Tomorrow” seminar, I met with my Extended SAS Family for dinner. The members that were absent last time showed up and it was a great time had by all. We’re hoping to have “family dinner” every evening when our ship leaves port. In my opinion, it’s a great way to connect the people of all ages on our shipboard community.

For those who don’t speak or habla Spanish (refering to the title), we will be docking in Colón, Panamá tomorrow (Sunday) morning. I’m going on a “Full-Day Historic City and Panama Canal Orientation.” We will be visiting the Canal, for which Panama is oh so famous, and Panama City, the capital. No plans for Monday yet, although I think I’m going to either return to Panama City or maybe visit Portobello. It’s hard for me because I’m trying to plan something, yet I would also like to do something spontaneous. I’m going to try and just go with the flow…and hopefully practice my Spanish along the way!

¡Hasta la vista!
Matt

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oy vey...Change!

So this morning I was woken up by my cabin stewart who delivered me my laundry. I, then, found a rather inspiring post-it on my door from “Secret Agent X” stating:
        “You are capable of accomplishing whatever you believe in. (and on the other side) Live. Laugh. Love.”
I found this random act of kindness to be extremely thoughtful. Upon leaving my room, I noticed Secret Agent X had placed a post-it on each door with a different, inspiring message. It was a superb way to start another sunny day at sea.

We are officially halfway through classes right now. And today I received a new “course evaluation” form, explaining how I will be graded on this course. Although I feel it’s a fair grading system, I was quite aggravated to read that I have a 4-page paper due before we arrive in Panamá (which is 8am on Sunday, a.k.a. TOMORROW). I would have appreciated it if this adjustment was made at some point earlier in the class. Did I mention I skipped the 70s, 80s, and 90s-themed dance to get this paper done? That was a disappointment that I didn’t feel like I could enable myself to go.

Despite the surprise assignment, my class has really drilled in my head that working with communities and strong-willed individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences is extremely difficult (to the nth degree). And I’m just about ready to accept the fact that you cannot please everybody. In class, we express different opinions and believe very strongly in them, which I feel may hinder someone from listening to others or appreciating their point of view(s). It’s not an easy task to listen to someone without your own bias interfering when you have a different view on an issue. The activity that we did today required writing on the board, and I volunteered to take notes on the board, which broke up the monotony of sitting, offering another perspective of the classroom. It was difficult and due to constant nitpicking, we often failed to come to a consensus on even the most miniscule details of the task at hand. On a lighter note, I feel it’s important to mention that I don’t feel like I’ll get used to the fact that I have a view of the Caribbean Sea from my classroom. It’s a nice treat.

I introduced to a few of my SAS friends/acquaintances the mind-boggling game of Bananagrams! They seemed to enjoy it and I’m hoping to have more fun with my favorite (and addictive) banana-themed speed scrabble game. After dinner, I took part in a Seminar with The Great Game of Power, which is the activity we did in class yesterday. The group and experience, again, offered some great perspectives and insights to the fact that most people interpret and view the same thing/issue differently than you.

So I’m glad to be setting my clock an hour back tonight. I need that extra hour! But just think the next time that you don’t understand another person’s stance or opinion on a topic, try to get to know more about them, so then you can better grasp from where they’re coming on the issue.

Panamá on Sunday!! (And no, we are not going through the Canal, but I am going an excursion that pertains to it.)
Bis dann,
Matt

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It pays to listen...

Today started off kind of late. I slept in till just before 11am. After some serious roommate bonding that kept us up till 3am, I still wanted 8 hours of sleep. (My roommate, Elijah, is also interested in photography and quite talented.) Today was much more relaxed while at sea. In class we spoke about “contextual listening” and good techniques for becoming/being a genuinely good listener, such as body language. Listening seems to be a significant attribute to humanitarian engineering that people can simply neglect. We also did an activity called ‘The Great Game of Power’ involving a table, water bottle, and six (stackable) chairs, and we had to “create a scene” with these objects and the class had to figure out which chair was intended by the sculptor to hold the greatest amount of power. The interpretations of the “sculpted scenes” demonstrated the variety of perspectives a group of individuals can possess. I attended a seminar presentation about the Panama Canal Expansion Project Program by our interport lecturer from Panama, who works for the project. I need to take my malaria pill tonight and then it will be Friday tomorrow! One week on Semester at Sea and it’s been simply spectacular!!

Next time you talk to someone…truly listen and ask a follow up question, or try to genuinely answer a (follow-up) question, when you’re asked.

¡Hasta pronto!
Matt

We Speak Trini in Trinidad

Two glorious days in Trinidad and Tobago, although I remained on the island of Trinidad. I experienced pleasant and unpleasant odors on the streets. I received stares from people who identified me as a foreigner as I walked through the Port of Spain (the capital of Trinidad and Tobago). The Trinidadians say they speak Trini, which is technically English (you can understand it when they speak slowly), but I couldn’t understand anything at times. I would consider Trini to be its own langauge.

I would describe the island of Trinidad as carefree and kind. Walking through Port of Spain was a great start. We saw most of the government or architecturally-pleasing buildings, but my favorites were Woodford Square and Independent Square, where I enjoyed observing the Trinidadians enjoy the gorgeous day outside. Some strolled through, others sat, others napped, others played chess, etc. Some people wanted to know what I was doing in Trinidad or if I came on the big ship…others wanted to show me around, which I learned later was in exchange for a tip. Some people were more straightforward and asked me for money. I discussed about this in our reflection group, but no one seemed to experience that. I recall 8 people asking me for money to “help them out.” I started to get the impression that they had expected me to just give them money. Well, I’m on a budget too, but I did tip the two gentlemen that helped me around town (Jesus (that’s what I was told his name was) brought Devlin and I to a bar to try Carib (Trinidadian beer) and, the other, Barry who found the local soda that I wanted to try, Canning’s.)

SAS prepared us pretty well for the two days in port. They encouraged us to wear long pants to fit in, but it was just way too hot for me (high 80s, low 90s with enough humidity frizz a poodle.) I did try it but changed into shorts after lunch. We were encouraged to talk to the locals, which those conversations and interactions were certainly the highlight of my experience in Trinidad. Some approached us, and I approached others. They are extremely kind, optimistic, and warmhearted people, but a bit photo shy. One funny incident in a gift store was where I had a funny face competition with a little boy, probably around 4 years old. He touched my hand, probably recognizing someone with pale skin for the first time. Although, Trinidad has an extremely diverse population (Try to imagine the diversity of the US being compacted into Delaware, which is the size of Trinidad). The acculumation of various religions and different backgrounds are what make Trinidad unique, no one seems to be racist or arrogant. They treat each other with respect and take pride in the fact that their nation is not homogenous. Carnival is also a tradition that originated in Trinidad.

So those are my overall impressions of the Trinidad, and I would say that the excursions further enhanced my experience. Last night, at the Turtle Vigil, I observed the Leatherback Turtles lay their eggs and even got to see a few little baby turtles make their way out to the ocean, after getting to hold little Squirt and Turtle, Jr. The Leatherback Turtle is a miraculous gentle giant. The females we saw weighed between 800 and 1,200 pounds and were about 5 ft long and 4 feet wide. I even got to tag one of the unmarked turtles. Leatherback mothers lay their eggs at night to prevent predators from seeing where the eggs are buried, so it was virtually pitch-black as my group witnessed this magical event by a tiny light. We got to see, touch and photograph a total of around 8 turtles during our time at Mathura Beach. The community has made great strides in protecting these gorgeous creatures. The tour guide was also funny describing the road we took to get to the beach as a “pothole with a little asphalt.”

My second excursion was this morning to the Mount St. Benedict Monastery. We started with a driving tour of Port of Spain, stopping shortly at the Botanical Gardens. The tour guide was extremely informative and I really felt the serenity she described.  When we reached the monastery on after driving up a hill at a 45º angle, we had some fruit and banana breads along with freshly squeezed orange juice as we took in the views from the guest house balcony. At one of the highest points on the island the monastery proved to be a quiet place with a mystical sense from the lingering fog (which followed two twenty-minute showers.) The monastery is also famous on the island for its yogurt, which I would recommend the Passion Fruit flavor to anyone except those that are lactose intolerant. That tour concluded with a hug from the tour guide. She seemed to be the epitome of a proud Trinidadian.

After the tour, I tried a Roti, which is a local food made with lots of curry (originating from the Indian immigrants in Trinidad). I tried it with rice, chick peas and chicken in a curry wrap. It was okay but certainly worth trying. Their local soda “Canning” tasted kind of bizarre…and I’m still not sure how to describe “Sorrel”-flavored soda. I also tried the two beers from Trinidad, Stag and Carib. If you’re wondering, I couldn’t tell the difference, they both tasted fine to me. I’d say either brand is worth trying, but be careful because they have over 5% alcohol. As we sailed away from port, I concluded my experience in Trinidad with a reflection conversation in Spanish about my impressions and what I experienced in Trinidad. Overall, Trinidad is a nice country that has a lot to offer American tourists, sort of like an undiscovered treasure. So maybe someday I’ll find myself “liming” (Trini for “hanging out”) in Trinidad and Tobago again.

We’ll be in Panamá in the next few days. I'm excited to use my Spanish! :)
Bis dann,
Matt

Monday, May 23, 2011

Almost to Port

So have you ever tried to run on a treadmill while on a cruise? I did today and so please imagine trying to run on a conveyor belt while you are being rocked left and right. It’s sort of a two-steps-straight and one-to-the-side pattern. It was certainly a unique to start my morning. Today was the third out of ten classes that I’ll be having on the voyage. Class time just flies by, but today we only had the one professor (the Dean, who is also teaching the class, was not there) who shared with us his current project in Honduras. He has helped this Hondurian community to install a water system, which brings water inexpensively to this community. He said that the project is not finished, but it was cool to hear about an actual Humanitarian Engineering project by the person who was responsible for it. These SAS professors are all quite impressive. (You can read about them here: http://www.semesteratsea.org/current-voyage/overview/faculty-staff.php)

Today we also received a typed version of the goals we had for ourselves for this voyage. We had to pick a word/goal and describe it. Mine was: “Discovery – I have never been to this part of the world, and I would like to learn and experience as much as possible! I’m excited for this unique endeavor! –Matt Knoth (2046)“

Tomorrow morning we’ll be arriving to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (which is ONE country.) I had a last minute schedule change with the nature center that I was supposed to be visiting tomorrow, so tomorrow I’ll be attending “The Turtle Vigil.“ SAS explains it like this: “Each year, majesty and mystery emerge from the deep. The Leather Back Turtle makes its nesting journey to the north and north-eastern coasts of Trinidad from March to August.  This labor of love lasts from forty to sixty minutes after which the turtle returns to the sea. Tagged turtles from Trinidad and Tobago have been found as far away as Madagascar. Witness this spectacle.” It something I’ve witnessed on the Discovery Channel, but it’s probably much cooler to witness in person! (knock on wood) So I’m off to the “Pre-port Seminar” for Trinidad and Tobago, which is basically a crash course orientation on culture and ways to behave.

Should be interesting to return to solid ground,
Matt

P.S. We receive a Daily Memo from the Dean, and I thought it was nice to see that SAS has a sense of humor: (This has been directly copied and pasted from the Memo)
“Water Conservation 
Please remember to conserve water on the ship.  Some tips: Don't leave your faucet running while you shave or brush your teeth.  Take a "sailor's shower" where you turn off the water while you lather up and turn it back on to rinse.  Shower with a friend.”

Rough Seas

It’s not as bad as the title may sound. As this voyage has continued, I feel like I’m feeling more and more of the ship’s motion. I think this weekend was the first time I ever had class on both days. My day started off with a tour of the Bridge (main control and steering area). Unfortunately the MV Explorer doesn’t have a luxurious steering wheel, but the captain’s chair was quite comfy and the controls were super cool. I had to resist from pushing any buttons. Class was a bit more confusing than I would have liked. Some parts of the class are a bit too abstract for me, but I feel like I’m doing the best I can, so I’m managing (and realizing what happens with you put an International Studies and Spanish student in an engineering class.) But overall, today gave me a sense that the “honeymoon phase“ is coming to an end as I’m realizing the intensity of the work and swaying of the ship (although I have been sleeping like a baby.) The views were distracting as we sailed in between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The class paused several times to “oo and ah!“ We learned about Water and Sanitation issues in Latin America today, which the statistics are quite depressing in the Seminar.  The evening programs included the Extended Family dinners, where I have two SAS grandparents and an SAS brother and sister. It was a nice dinner, although the “grandparents“ took a huge interest in the other “brother“ whose major was engineering. After they left I had an interesting conversation with my SAS “sister“ who is from India and has convinced me I should travel there. The evening concluded with a “SAS Friending“ event (Speed Friending, Team Challenges and Pictionary), where I got to meet quite a few new people, which finished with Pictionary and the game Catch Phrase. I have some more reading before bed...so it’s going to be a late night.

Gute nacht!
Matt

P.S. I came in my room today to see that it had been randomly searched. Nothing was confiscated, but it’s nice to know that SAS takes it’s rules very seriously and that I wasn’t there to witness them going through my stuff.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End of the World...

Well it’s almost May 22nd, so it doesn’t seem like the world has come to an end. I’m quite glad too because my first day of class was today. It has been a challenge trying to maintain my balance on the ship, but so far I’m managing. It was unusual to be in rocking classroom where the projector screen swayed slightly with the boat and to see the ocean outside my classroom window. The class consists of two professors that are collaborating together and about a dozen students and Lifelong Learners. The group is really diverse with people from all over the place with unique experiences and opinions/perspectives. The class was basically a discussion group and the 2.5 hour class flew by! I’m (and I think the whole class is) still trying to grasp a solid understanding of Humanitarian Engineering, but from the assignments and class discussion, I’m excited to learn more. After class was our Seminar, where we have a group project and are working in randomly selected groups of three. We have to create a conceptual solution for one of the issues in the countries we are visiting, in alignment with the U.N.'s Millenium Developmental Goals. That's due towards the end of the voyage.
Probably the most intriguing part of the experience thus far has been the variety of conversations that I have held with various people, from the Academic Dean to Lifelong Learners and my fellow peers. I’m going to try an do some more homework before I go for the late night snack at 2200. A few more days at sea before we arrive in Trinidad.

¡Hasta luego!
Matt

Día 1

So today was hotter than I’m used to. It didn’t seem as far to walk from the hotel to the ship last night when I went without my suitcase...that sidewalk had more holes than a cheese grater... So going into a situation where I don’t know many people seems to be a repeating pattern in my life (i.e. Germany, freshman year), so this “first day“ hardly seemed any different. Fortunately the cabins are spacious (enough). Today was lots of orientation... a bombardment of information. Some speakers delivered their information in a fun and entertaining way, where others didn’t so much. We also had a fire/evacuation drill, and my extremely relaxed roommate from California took his time and we were the VERY last people to show up to the muster station. The German in me was not too happy. However, it was funny when his friend (also from California) showed up after us... Other than that it seems to be working out fine with my roommate.

Everyone seems very excited and I haven’t heard of any cases of seasickness yet. But I met three people who speak German (one from Germany, a business professor and my professor for my Seminar: Engineering a New Tomorrow). And I thought I’d only be speaking Spanish! It’s always fun for me to speak a combination of the three: English, Spanish and German. Okay that’s all from here. Class starts tomorrow and I have some reading to do... Maybe I’ll be able to find my way around the ship tomorrow.

Bis später,
Matt

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Here we go!

So everything went smoothly today. I arrived safely in the Bahamas and I'll be boarding the ship tomorrow morning. The last few days were quite hectic for me trying to get a lot of last minute things done before I left, as well as stressing over whether or not I forgot to pack something. Knock on wood, I'm well-prepared. I did not get much sleep last night due to fears about the flights or losing my luggage. But since it all worked out, I think I'll be sleeping like a baby tonight. I met a few students also on Semester at Sea (SAS) that had the same connecting flight as me in Atlanta. I lucked out having two seats to myself in the plane, so both flights I read "Mieses Karma" (a book in German, titled "Bad Karma" – it's quite funny). So now that I'm here I'm going to start exploring, rather than stay in my hotel room. Tomorrow should be an exciting day because I get my roommate and will be meeting a lot of interesting (I'm referring to the good connotation) people! Wow, I'm about to embark on a Semester at Sea Program! :)
Later gator,
Matt

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So a new adventure...

Well it's been a while since my last post, but I think you'll be excited to hear that I'm doing another experience abroad. This time I will be participating on a Semester at Sea (SAS) program. 7 countries in Central America and the Caribbean in 26 days. I'm thrilled for this exciting opportunity, and it starts in less than 9 days! I have completed my freshman year, where I started swimming again and am pursuing a double major. My freshman year has certainly taught me a lot about myself and others. Now I feel this SAS program is going to bring even more new experiences and shed new light through this voyage travelling to the Bahamas, Trinidad, Panamá, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. I'm taking a course about Humanitarian Engineering and a seminar called "Engineering a New Tomorrow" while on the program, and I'm looking forward to learning more about the subject material because I'm not exactly sure what will be in store. This is a part of the world, with which I'm not very familiar, but hopefully my years of Spanish classes will help to guide me through this cultural enrichment. My goal to update this blog during my time abroad, but I cannot guarantee how the internet connection will be on the ship. We will have to wait and see! I'm glad to have you along for the ride. :)

Cheers,
Matt