Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Semester at Sea: A Reflection

When the reality sunk in that I would actually be sailing on Semester at Sea, I made the effort to talk to some SAS alumni. When we first started talking, the reaction was always the same. "It was an amazing experience," they would start. "It absolutely changed my life."

I always get a little frustrated at people who make vague or overly dramatic comments like those in any situation. However, I learned over the past two and a half months that those statements were not overly dramatic. There is a reason everybody describes it the same way-- there's no other way to describe the dozens and dozens of incredible experiences that occur during a voyage.

Neither my words nor my pictures can do any justice to the story that has unfolded this Summer. In this blog, I've used words like "amazing," "incredible," or "beautiful" countless times but they don't really have the effect I'm looking for. I can talk at you for hours but It is impossible to truly convey the impact and influences of this voyage. This is why SASers (including students, faculty, and staff) become so close; we bond through the ups and downs of the journey.

While there were some "downs," they were significantly outnumbered by the "ups." I laughed, I cried, and I grew tremendously. Academically, there is no experience that parallels walking the grounds of a Moroccan Psychiatric Institution with your professor or applying that abstract Global Studies lecture on the fall of the Byzantine Empire by looking out at Istanbul's Golden Horn. Socially, I blew away boundaries of my "comfort zone." It paid off; I made some amazing friends and we shared some incredibly fun times like watching World Cup matches in Spain, dealing with the "experience" of a 9.5 hour sketchy overnight train ride, aimlessly exploring Bosnia, competing in the Sea Olympics, or simply feeling the silent power of others' presence while stargazing or admiring the beauty of a sunset at sea.

SAS prides itself on offering a truly "global perspective." My knowledge of world culture and current events is no longer limited to what I've read. It is now supplemented by the unique understanding that can only result from experiential learning--the study of politics, arts, conflicts, identity, and memory in (note "in" not "of") some of the world's most special places. I feel truly blessed to have had these profound opportunities. Despite the differences of the diverse cultures we were "injected" into, I gained a better understanding of how we are all human with the same basic nature and needs. It sounds like a load of mush, but it's true. I can tell you this because I've been there; I can now say that I have walked the "rough" streets of Barcelona, interacted with troubled kids in an Italian orphanage, observed the physical and emotional damage a war-torn nation, admired the homes and worshipers of the Islamic faith, seen a primitive Nubian village, and walked among the people of the impoverished outskirts of Casablanca.

One of the big lessons this summer was that of open-mindedness and flexibility. We were told countless times during the initial days at sea that flexibility is key on any SAS voyage. This was certainly the case; not everything went as planned and last minute changes changes requiring a little improvisation were common. This mostly applied to trips in port but played a big role in the "shipboard community" as well. Due dates for assignments were flexible, sea-sickness was an excuse to miss class, we had to conserve water, and peanut butter had to be rationed (oh no!). It was a great lesson when things didn't go as planned; everybody learned to work together and make the best of the situation because that's all you really can do. This adaptability is a great lesson and tool to take back into "real life."

The end of this voyage marks a return to reality. While I'm physically exhausted from this Summer, I'm more ready than ever to face the challenges of the future. My experiences the past 68 days have only increased my motivation and drive to work with and understand people in deeper ways, express the human condition through music, increase my knowledge of the scientific world, and continue my work as an "aspiring physician." These things I can accomplish at home but my travels are far from over as the infectious travel bug has inspired me to make sharing and learning abroad a priority in the future.

The end of this adventurous voyage is bittersweet. I have bid farewell to close friends and the MV Explorer, but it's time. I'm in California being greeted by my incredibly loving family and friends. It's fun abroad, but there's no place like home. Soon it will be back to school and I must now must face the intense transition and challenges that lie ahead. The voyage of a lifetime: Semester at Sea, Summer 2010.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 68: Norfolk & Disembarkation

There's nothing like a 24 hour travel day to conclude an epic journey. The day started at about 5:00am as I met Daniel, Lacey, and Mindy to stake out a spot on deck 6 for the sunrise and entrance into port. We had good intentions with the sunrise thing but unfortunately the muggy skies of Virginia didn't let us see much. The ride though some of the rivers into the port terminal was pretty exciting. Apparently SAS is one of the higher profile ship arrivals that Norfolk gets. Customs actually brought people in and did a decent amount of prep for our arrival. We also had a 3 boat escort into port which was kind of cool. As we got closer, the decks filled with people eager to see family and the sights of our final stop. A lot of my friends had family come out so it was fun to see the excitement on both sides as family eventually had visuals on students and vice versa (I still think I got a better deal by meeting my parents in Egypt...). We pulled alongside and sounded the horn as the excitement died down and we got to start the fun customs clearance waiting game.

We were released from the ship in groups by our sea/color and around noon I officially disembarked the MV Explorer. We went into a large storeroom where our bags (loaded the day before) were available for pickup. I had my main large duffle and a smaller black duffle filled with a few clothes and all my souvenirs. I found the large bag easily but wasn't so lucky with the smaller one. After an hour of combing every corner of the warehouse, it was officially declared missing. SInce it was a very generic looking bag, the most likely scenario was that somebody mistakenly took it. The ISE reps said this is fairly common; I got the name and number of a likely suspect because a similar looking bag was left behind. It was a little frustrating and made the day a bit more hectic than it needed to be (I was hoping to distribute weight between both but since the larger one was overweight for flying I had to layer on some clothes and toss the mouthwash at the airport). I got a message from my dad during my 30 second "layover" in Dallas that somebody had called having picked up the bag by mistake and would UPS it tomorrow. That's a nice thing to know.

Following the bag incident, I got the chance to meet the parents of Lacey, Mindy, and Kyle. Along with Daniel, we all decided to do a group lunch at the CPK within walking distance. We checked bags into a nearby hotel and had a really nice lunch. It was really cool meeting the families, they're friendly and great people. The time for goodbyes came as I had to cut out a little early to get to the airport. It's sad to say goodbye but I'm confident that the relationships established are strong and will remain so into the future. I got my bags and snagged a taxi. It was nice having a driver that spoke fluent English and even though the guy was a bit insane we had a great conversation en route. As I mentioned before, everybody in Norfolk knows about SAS because 800 traveling college kids invade the city twice a year. My flight to Dallas was about 90% SAS people (the TSA hates us) and was a pretty dreadfully boring 3 hours (although there were some great views from above the thunderstorms). The flight ran a bit late so a few of us made a fun little mad dash board the connecting flight. Dallas to LAX was rather slow as well, at least I got to enjoy a lovely dinner of diet coke, almonds, crackers, cheese, and a box of raisins. We finally arrived about 11:00pm (felt like 2:00am...) and it was great to see my parents excited and waiting.

Bittersweet is a great word to describe the past few days. Saying goodbyes and walking down the gangway for the last time was tougher than I thought it would be. The journey from fantasy to reality was aided upon arrival home by the waiting coleslaw and applesauce. Sleeping in my own bed (and one that wasn't moving with the roll of a ship) offered a great rest. I'm now among my family, friends and the familiar California landscape. I'm home, and it feels great.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 67: Convocation

67 days ago as we first boarded the ship, I never imagined how fast the time would fly.  I simply can't believe that tomorrow morning I will be back in the US.  People will speak English, the floor won't move, I'll have a cell phone again, and I'll be forced to settle back into reality.  Virginia is only a few hours away.


Today was the infamous cargo loading day.  We had to be packed by 10:00am and each of the seas was called over the PA to take luggage to a designated location where it would be transfered to the cargo hold.  Even though only about a hundred people were called at a time, it was complete mayhem in the halls.  They're narrow as it is; take 100 people with luggage the size of a small vehicle and it's rather crowded.  After the luggage fiasco, the shipboard community convened for the closing Convocation.  There were a lot of speeches, most with the same general themes of reflection on the dozens of incredible experiences this Summer, and quite a bit of faculty/staff/admin team recognition.  The ceremony closed with a really awesome video by our voyage videographer.  He did an great job and I was able to snag a copy, so I'll let you borrow if there's any interest.


After picking up our passports, we had our final logistical pre-port.  There was some good information about customs and whatnot but the majority of the meeting was a parody of our typical past pre-ports (culture and crime/saftey concerns, etc).  At every pre-port it was always heavily stressed that we must go to any means to guard, protect and not lose our passport.  The quote of the evening came from the Executive Dean who matter-of-factly stated that after we get though customs, the admin team "doesn't really give a s**t" about what we do with our passports.  Overall, it was a really funny event and also served as a good way to bid farewell to the staff that makes this all happen.  After pre-port we went out to admire the stars and moonlit ocean one last time before grabbing our final late-night snack and calling it an evening.  The goal for tomorrow is to get a very early start (hopefully after at least a few hours of sleep) and see the sunrise before our entrance into Norfolk.


While I'm really going to miss the environment and community here, it's time to head home.  I can't wait to see my parents, sisters, nephews, and friends.  It's been such a long yet quick 2.5 months.  That's all for now; USA, here we come.

Day 66: Re-entry & Reflections

I awoke this morning to the interesting sound of water seeping and dripping from the ceiling of our cabin onto the floor. Leaks on board are pretty common; there's a lot of flood damage around and they always tell you to not store electronics on the ground. Even though there was some splashage onto the desk, nothing was damaged. I called it in and the plumbers took care of the leak.

Other than the excitement of a leaking ship, today has been pretty uneventful. I've had lots of time to work on organizing pictures and made the final trip to the gym this morning (good riddance...I can't wait to run on actual land that doesn't move) . We have to be packed by tomorrow morning so I've made some good progress and it's actually been a lot easier than I thought it would be. There were a number of sessions regarding "re-entry and reflection" throughout the day. I went to one entitled "Caught the travel bug?" and it had some good info and tips on future travel and how to do it cheaply, for free, or get paid (basically, the answer was to stay in school or go into academia). I'll state the obvious: I'm hooked now. The travel bug is a full blown infection. Anyone want to go to Vietnam with me next Summer?

I need to make good on my promise to offer some specs and info about our ship, the famous (or infamous?) MV Explorer. Enjoy.

Built in 2002 by the well respected Blohm & Voss shipbuilders of Germany
Described by Maritime Telecommunications Network "as one of the safest ships afloat"
U.S. and international health and safety ratings in the 99th percentile
One of the fastest passenger ships of its kind in the world (haha...right, too bad we run at less than quarter speed to make time for classes)

Tonnage: 25,000 tons
Length: 590 ft. (180 m)
Beam: 84 ft. (26 m)
Draft: 24 ft. (7 m)
Outside Deck Space: 30,000 sq. ft. (2.800 m^2)
Passenger Decks: 6
Pool Area: 7,500 sq. ft. (700 m^2)
Swimming Pool: 1
The Union: 380 seats
Dining Hall Deck 5: 470 seats
Dining Hall Deck 6: 210 seats
Outside Dining (Deck 6): 110 seats
Faculty and Staff Lounge: 138 seats
Classrooms: 9
Piano Bar: 104 seats
Passenger Capacity (double basis): 836

That's all for now, I have to go figure out the US Customs paperwork.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 65: Finals & The Alumni Ball

The morning started early with a final in Infectious Disease.  Since there's essentially no time for profs to grade, the test was nearly all multiple choice and wasn't too bad.  The Abnormal Psych exam also went well.  A little before noon, I was officially done with the summer semester.  After lunch I began the process of packing.  I didn't accumulate a lot of "stuff" compared to most people but it's still a daunting task to fit everything that I originally took (when I had the time/space to figure out how to squeeze every free inch) and some of the new acquisitions.  I made some decent progress so hopefully I can just look at the rest and it will pack itself.

The Alumni Ball was the big activity for the evening.  At the conclusion of every SAS voyage, the ball is a formal program, dinner, and dance to celebrate the conclusion of the voyage and our declaration as SAS alumni.  It was fun to walk around about an hour before the program/dinner started because there were only guys out and about (a rare sight when the ship is over 75% female) because all the girls were going through the normal pre-event freak-out routine downstairs.  The program was comprised of a long slideshow, entertainment and a very strange roommate version of the newly-weds game.  Since everybody was all fancied-up we took pictures with the captain and made our way to dinner.  It was actually like a real cruise for once; the food and service was really quite impressive (not to say the crew doesn't normally a nice job).  Dessert was a huge and well stocked buffet which provided a great way to conclude the "psh...this is sort of like vacation, I can eat horribly" mentality that most have used throughout the voyage.  After desert, the dance was held up on the pool deck.  Those of you who know me well would be very impressed; I lasted quite a while and actually attempted involvement.  Overall, I have to admit that the evening was kind of fun.

We gained another hour last night putting us on Eastern Standard Time.  Yet another reminder that we're getting closer.  Thursday is designated as a day for re-entry prep and reflection with a few sessions that focus on the whole reflection bit.  That's all for now, I should probably get back to thinking about packing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 64: Study Day

I had originally planned to postpone this post until tomorrow morning but the current situation of a rocking ship, loud creaking stabilizer outside, and a snoring roommate led me to reconsider. Today was a productive and relaxing study day. There was nothing overly exciting; I mainly used the time to brush up on info for tomorrow's Infectious Disease exam and the final Abnormal Psych test. There was also a trip to the gym and a nice nap. I spent a decent chunk of the day helping out some others with some research for final papers that are due tomorrow. Looking up political and economic stuff can be kind of fun (yes I know I'm weird) and makes for a good study break.

There was yet another beautiful sunset this evening. While we're 0 for 3 on seeing the green flash, it's still a very cool view. Since it was a lot less windy today, there were quite a few students and faculty out to enjoy the sunset which made for some good final photo-ops. I've begun the process of picture exchange with some people. It's a bit more difficult than it sounds due to the vast amount of pictures people have and the general lack of storage mediums to transfer them with. My computer now has over 30GB of pictures on it from this trip (most not mine) and tomorrow after finals I'll start the wonderful task of sorting through them all.

I'm looking forward to getting the two tests out of the way tomorrow. It will be a relief to be done with the classes but also a little hectic as the process of packing starts. Tomorrow evening is also the Ambassador's Ball, the formal dinner and dance. It's not my first choice on the list of things to do, but I'll attempt to keep a positive outlook. That's all for now, I'm going to reattempt the whole sleeping thing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 63: Global Studies Final

This afternoon we took the Global Studies final.  It was a little rough but not too bad.  The class presented a lot of information but, unlike many social science or history courses, you can't do essay tests with that many students.  For this reason the final was comprised of multiple choice questions asking details about names and terms (and there were roughly 300 to choose from).  Fun stuff.  I have two more exams the day after tomorrow and them I'm done with school for the Summer (only to start again a week later...).

Other than the exam, most of the day was spent resting and reading.  Every time there's been a Global test the seas seem to get rougher so that's always fun.  I'm waiting for the day I lose my balance on the treadmill and totally eat it.  There was an absolutely beautiful sunset this evening.  We were outside awaiting the green flash (missed it due to cloud cover for the second day in a row) and it was cool to admire the beautiful sky surrounded by ocean and insane wind.  While awaiting tonight's meeting on disembarkation procedure, Daniel, Lacey, Mindy, and I somehow got into a rather intense discussion about Croatian and post-Yougoslavian "war image" politics.  Even though we still really have no idea what we're talking about it feels so cool and intellectual to try.  Our disembarkation meeting this evening covered some of the basics for arrival in Norfolk in a few days.  If all goes according to plan I'll be off by noonish and will have a few hours to kill in Norfolk before catching the shuttle to the airport.  Depending on what's around the port I might be spending a good 5 hours at the airport so if you're bored the afternoon of the 21st give me a call (wow...cell phones will work again; what an amazing technology!).

I have a relatively fee evening (and an extra gained hour to kill) so I think I'm going to go borrow a movie from somebody.  How exciting.  That's all for now, g'night from middle of the Atlantic.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 62: Last Day of Classes

Today marked the last official day of classes.  It seems like we started so long ago but there has only been 22 days of actual class.  Tomorrow is the dreaded Global final which has many people pulling a pretty late night tonight.  The day after is a "study day" followed by our finals in other classes.  It's a relief to be almost done with school for the Summer but it plays into the overall bitter-sweet feeling as we near the end of the voyage.

Classes today focused on conclusions in terms of a "global perspective."  It sounds like a bunch of academic mush but it really makes all the difference when you get to apply a lot of this cultural reading and lecture to the actual ports (as we did the past 60 days).  I know I complained a lot about the many FDP papers and "reflections" but they are such an integral part of the program as it really gets you thinking.  Especially in the Summer where everything moves at warp speed, it's good to reflect on some the really profound things we've seen and done.  The afternoon was pretty typical; I hit the gym and did some studying.  I've been experimenting with group studying a bit more here; some of the history stuff is good to talk out a bit.  The evening was spent working thought the Global Studies curriculum with Mindy and a few others.  As time progressed and study burnout kicked in it was rather entertaining to see what strange tangential discussions arose, especially with the addition of caffeine.  My "sea" had a milk and cookie social tonight.  It's amazing how hard it was to find a decent cookie the past few months.

One of the things that has been a bit difficult through the voyage is keeping up musically.  I have my old marching clarinet here and have been getting it out occasionally to keep with with some technique, but I really miss the R-13.  I never realized how therapeutic regular practice was.  There's a bit of a void without the fun of chamber music and just being around a good music scene in general.  There's a few musicians on board I've talked with but it's so hard to find the time, resources, or location to put anything decent together.

I received my shuttle bus ticket from the port to the Norfolk Airport today and it was a surprising reminder of how we only have 5 days left.  It's going way too quick.  That's all for now, I should probably be well rested for a final tomorrow.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 61: The Simpsons and Religion

"C21," a typical class day, has drawn to a close.  Before we left in June I thought it would be really strange to have class on Saturdays and Sundays.  I don't really notice at all; to be honest I had no idea it was a weekend until I looked at my watch five minutes ago.  Time does strange things when there's no reference.  All went smoothly with classes today and I'm very happy to finally be done with papers.  Now the focus is memorizing 200+ names and terms for a Global Studies final in two days.  For a class with 750 students it's impossible to do anything besides a multiple choice final which is actually a bit harder when you're dealing with a history/social science class due to the details.  There has been quite a bit of dissatisfaction among students and faculty with the way Global Studies has been taught and tested this voyage.  I've heard a few snippets about the folks at UVa not being particularly fond of the situation either.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, plays out regarding final grades and whatnot.

The ship sailed at full speed today (all four engines running full as opposed to one normally) for about 20 minutes.  The official purpose was to do some calibrations with the engines but I also think there was an urge to show off how fast this sucker can go.  We were going between 30 and 40 knots (right now we're cruising at 14) so it was fun to head outside and watch for a bit.  It wasn't anything overly dramatic but cool nonetheless.  This evening I went to a session about "The Simpsons and Religion."  It was a presentation by our Global Studies professor about a paper he published a few years ago.  His basic argument was that the show is essentially the only example on television that portrays religion and religious issues on a regular basis.  There was quite a bit of character analysis and the idea that parody is really only successful when you present a topic that society has a decent amount of familiarity and comfort with (i.e. religion) was presented.  I've often see The Simpsons used in classes as examples of satire.  When you look at the writing it is packed with some great intellectual wit.  He had an interesting argument and commentary on popular culture that probably does have some merit if you really look into it.

A late night snack/study session has again pushed my blog composition into the the early morning hours (hence the grammatical errors that are likely present on a lot of these posts), so I'm pretty beat.  Luckily we get an extra hour again tonight.  It's quite nice having 25 hour days, I could get used to it.  That's all for now, it's time to hit the sack.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 60: A Final Family Dinner

Most of the dense fog that surrounded us the past few days has lifted so we now have a nice view of wide open ocean.  Day three at sea went well and was pretty uneventful.  Our water consumption has decreased dramatically compared to the past two days.  The night of departure from Morocco and first day at sea saw us using about 101 gallons of water per person; an absurdly high number (average at sea is about 50-60 gallons per person).  I think that's a good indicator of how dirty Morocco was.  There were some longer showers just to get the grime off (it was probably our hottest and most sweat producing port also) and some people were coming back from the 4 day showerless trek around the rural Berber villages.  It's interesting to see that the water use correlates.

Classes are going smoothly and professors are trying to cram everything into the last few days.  Students are busy now and will be the next few days with papers and finals but the real challenge is for teachers who have to get everything graded before disembarking.  This evening we had our final official "extended family" dinner.  It was again good to talk and there was a lot of heavy reflection on the voyage; we were in the dinning room for over two hours.  Jim and Leslie treated us to an ice cream cake, which was very nice (I think that's the largest slice of cake I've ever eaten...).  I really hope I'm able to keep in touch with my "parents" and "sisters" after we disembark.  This voyage has been the first time that I've had so many meals in the "European style" where we just sit, eat, and talk for hours.  It's very refreshing and a shame that it won't work very well with the time constraints of reality (i.e. on land).

Last night's meteor shower was very cool but a little anemic.  We were out there for a little over 2 hours and saw about 3 "fireballs."  With all the ship's exterior lights off the night sky is absolutely stunning and the meteors we did see were pretty awesome.  Apparently the tail end of the shower is tonight so I might venture out a little later on.  RA training officially started back at Cal Lu today.  It's weird not being there with the staff but I'm going try to keep via email.  The transition home and back to school is going to be rather quick but given what I've accomplished this Summer it's a small price to pay.  That's all for now, I have to take advantage of late night snack while it's still around.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 59: Classes & Prop. 8

It's back to the normal routine of a typical class day.  All went went well today; we're behind schedule in all three classes but that's to be expected when you try to cram a semester into 23 days.  The morning was spent discussing Malaria and our little blood sucking friends in Infectious Diseases, sitting through an extremely exciting talk about Colonial North Africa in Global Studies, and listening to a wonderfully uplifting lecture on suicide in Abnormal Psych.  The afternoon was spent working on papers with Mindy and a visit to the gym.  Once all this reflective essay nonsense is finished it'll be time to start thinking about finals.

This evening Daniel and I attended a very interesting lecture/discussion about CA's Prop. 8.  It was lead by our Executive Dean who is a law professor and great source because he's actually read all the opinions and whatnot that have come out.  I really enjoyed his presentation because it's the first time I've had the chance to hear the saga from a completely legal (NOT political) perspective.  The entire process is hideously complicated; I'm glad I have a decent Civics/Poli Sci background or there would be absolutely no chance of following.  He went through the recent decision by a federal judge and the timing couldn't have been better as we got word that it was stayed until next week during the talk.  I don't want to get too into it, but it's fascinating from a legal perspective and interesting how significantly different this is from the arguments we often hear.  The guess among legal academics is that the 9th Circuit will probably affirm the constitutionality of same sex marriage (the most recent opinion) and it will eventually make its way to the US Supreme Court.  So, we're looking at 4-5 years.  Of course, this being our wonderful legal system, there's about 100 other little exceptions or techniques that makes essentially anything possible.  What I found even more interesting was how many of the people present (half students, half professors) were not from CA (including the dean) but had very thorough knowledge of the situation.  I guess this is one of the more heated and significant legal battles brewing now so most of the country is watching.

Other than that excitement, the evening is going well as I organize my laundry and try to find something to do.  We have a lovely 25 hour day today so the extra rest will be nice.  That's all for now, I'm off in a bit to watch a meteor shower; it's clear outside and with all the ships lights turned off is supposed to be pretty awesome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 58: Study Day

Today was officially designated as a "study day" and it was very nice to have the day off.  There is, of course, always the opportunity to study and write some papers which is probably what the free day was actually intended for.  I got a decent amount of work done and, after a few revisions, will be done with the mess of reflective papers that are due. 

As I was walking into the dinning room for lunch today, the head waiter stopped me and asked it I would like to have lunch with the captain.  I figured my usual lunch group could do without me for one day and took him up on the offer.  On occasion, the captain will come down to his reserved table and four or five students will be asked to join him, so the opportunity was pretty cool.  Everything here is usually buffet style but I discovered you get served well when dining among the ship's leadership.  There was the expected usual conversation and he shared a few stories from the years at sea.  It wasn't anything spectacular but was a fun experience nonetheless.

Today was the start of our "shipboard drive" which is basically a large fundraising effort.  SAS is a nonprofit and I can see how our tuition probably doesn't cover a lot so there's a large push for donation.  The big events today were a silent and live auction.  I was planning on making some type of small donation (under $50) so a great opportunity arose when a little bidding war broke out between Daniel and I over two packets of those floss-toothpic tools that somebody donated.  We went back and forth for a while which seemed to provide a decent amount of entertainment to those passing by (it was fun to play along and make comments like "what idiot would spend $25 on toothpicks?").  The clock winded down and I eventually was victorious and bought myself some "Pic-n-floss" packets for $32.  Hey, it's a donation.  The live auction was much more entertaining.  There were actually some decent items available and a lot of money being thrown around.  Girl Scout Cookies went for $150, a chance to steer the ship for $400, a bubble bath in the Executive Dean's bathtub for $200, field passes for the Stealers for $650, 3 day trip to Italy for $800, a professor's sweatband for $120, etc.  It was fun to watch, but that's a lot of money.  I guess it goes to a good cause.

Classes start up again tomorrow and start our final four class days before exams begin.  We're back in the fog and feeling the familiar roll of the Atlantic.  It's weird with course evaluations and things already starting to wrap up.  That's all for now, I'm off to do some reading for tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 57: Ibn Rushd Univ. Psychiatric Center

As I write we are pulling out of our final port on the way home.  I have to say, today was a pretty typical SAS day and a good way to spend the final hours in port.  The "typical SAS" part comes in as we departed for the Psych Hospital an hour early so the whole "flexibility is key" motto came into play as we made a quick detour to the Hassan II Mosque for a visit.  There was no reason other than to kill time.  It was actually kind of nice because I got a chance to see a bit more of the interior since a different door was open. 

After arriving at the Hospital we were led through some rather daunting looking gates onto the campus and eventually to a conference room with mint tea waiting (a sign of Moroccan hospitality).  The professor/psychiatrist, Driss Moussaoui, gave a short talk on the history of mental healthcare in Morocco and there was active discussion for a good two hours.  It was an incredibly interesting visit.  Upon his arrival in 1979, there were only 2 psychiatrists in Morocco and he essentially built the "public" mental healthcare system from nothing.  The reason "public" is in quotes is because there has been such little financial support from the Moroccan government and the facilities are almost all built with private donations.  His story is very intriguing and one that is still continuing.  Under his lead the system has come a long way but is still far from sufficient (there are only 1000 psych beds for a population of 32 million).  Despite a bit of arrogance (which is probably deserved considering what he's accomplished), Moussaoui is definitely one that has devoted his life to "fighting the good fight." 

The institutionalized patients themselves are usually very severe and since there is really no support staff (the nurse to patient ration is 1:40) there's a heavy dependance on family.  Many times the family cooks meals and buys medication to bring into the hospital.  I could go on and on about the discussion; it was a great experience.  Afterwards we had a chance to do a quick walk around the facilities which were in surprisingly good condition.  There was so much information presented it's hard to soak it all in (even with my 8 pages of notes).  We left the hospital in the early afternoon and my extended family mother, who was also on the trip, offered to treat me and a few others to lunch.  We walked to a cafe close by and had a fun little lunch with some pretty heavy discussion about healthcare policy and the role religion should play.  Yes, this day has been very philosophical.

After lunch I realized I had over 40 Dirham in coins left (coins are unexchangeable) so I swung by a shop on the way to the ship.  The past few days I had been comparing prices for a Guenbri; an Arabic string instrument.  I handed the storekeeper all my coins trying to indicate that this was my last day and I needed to get rid of them and he smiled and let have the Guenbri, so that was pretty cool.  It's probably not the most authentic but still has rather decent tonality.  I got back to the ship in time to beat the final port rush.

It's hard to believe we're departing our last port.  Morocco was a lot of fun and an interesting place; I don't think I would describe it as that tourist friendly and it definitely presented the most difficult language situation of any port we visited (my pathetic French has improved a bit).  As I look around the ship I think most people feel the same: we're tired and ready for home.  It might just be the insane heat here or the "last port" mentality but the ubiquitous exhaustion is pretty evident.  Thankfully tomorrow is a "study day" which will offer some opportunity for rest.  That's all for now, I'm off to the the post-port reflection.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Day 56: Casablanca Souks & Rick's

The original plan for today was to do Rabat on our own.  While working on the game plan last night Daniel, Lacey, Heather, and I talked with a few other SASers who made the journey that day.  The general consensus was that the trip was not really worth it due to the similarity of Rabat to Casablanca and Marrakech.  Had I known other people willing to go I probably still would have gone just to get out a little more but we had a good day here also.  After two really long days we were in need of some rest so we took it pretty easy in the morning.  I was still up early but hit the gym and did a bit of tweaking to some papers before we met up to go out.

Most of the late morning/early afternoon was another Casablanca walking adventure.  We got a chance to spend some more time in the Medina and Souks (basically a bazaar) where I perfected my people watching and bargaining skills.  I don't know if I'd actually call it bargaining "skills" but I have devised a pretty effective method the past few countries.  They give me a price, I laugh and say exactly what a want to pay, they retort with a higher price, I laugh again and walk away.  I'd guess about 75% of the time they call me back and take the original price.  It works especially well since I don't buy anything big and what I do get I could usually do without and have no regrets walking away from.  I'm sure there are much more effective methods out there but it works for me.  Other than the souks and some of the commercial area outside the port there's really nothing else to do in Casablanca (at least within walking distance for us) that we didn't already hit on the city orientation.  An interesting random observation: there seems to be more Mcdonald's here than in any other country we've been to.  The locals pronounce it "Macdonald's" with a heavy French accent, it's rather entertaining.

We went back to the ship for a little while and then ventured out again for dinner.  We decided to splurge a little bit and do a nicer dinner since it was our last evening in port.  Of all the recommended places the only practical/walkable/safe one was Rick's Cafe again.  SAS people have taken over the place every night here so I'm sure they appreciate the business.  The food was good, not overly impressive, but the atmosphere was a lot of fun.  We ended up sitting near a Canadian professor on vacation and had a good time talking American politics for about 45 minutes before moving on to more appropriate travel swapping stories.  The evening concluded with the necessary Moroccan mint tea (way too sweet me for) and our journey back to the ship.  Tomorrow I have my FDP to the local psychiatric hospital so I've been trying to read up on the state of mental healthcare here.  It should be a really interesting experience.  That's all for now, I'm about ready to call it a night.

Day 55: Marrakech

"Didja know we're riding on the Marrakech Express..."

Well, we didn't get to take the Marrakech Express (probably a good thing, I've already heard about some interesting times on the Moroccan railway system), but did get to enjoy a 3.5 hour bus ride from Casablanca to Morocco.  I think it's safe to say that we hit the climax of insane traffic in Egypt, but it's still pretty wild here.  During the trip we got some standard Morocco info from the guide and made the obligatory gas station pit stop.  I often wonder how the owners of these little shops in the middle of nowhere feel about being bombarded with rabid tourists every few hours.  Despite how annoying we can be, I'm sure we provide some good income.

Upon arrival in Marrakech (among the impoverished desert villages and groves of palm trees) we stopped at the Majorelle Gardens for a little while.  I don't think it was originally part of the trip but I'm glad we made the stop.  Marrakech as a whole can be described as kind of hot, dirty and crowded but the gardens were the exact opposite.  There was quite a bit of really beautiful desert landscaping in a very tranquil atmosphere.  It was another view or Morocco and very nice to visit.  After departing we drove by the original adobe city walls (with their famous 7 gates) we stopped for a visit at the Bahia Palace.  The palace used to be home to top ranking appointed leader for Morocco when Marrakech was the capitol (the historical name escapes me at the moment and I can't decipher my'll be nice to get real internet back in a little over a week).  The building is a great example of Moorish architecture with some gorgeous plaster work and fine mosaics.  Each room has a unique ceiling design and mosaic floor.  We walked through the gardens and each of the four wings before continuing to the Dar Si Said Palace.  The palace is not in great condition and was converted into a museum.  A quick walk though revealed quite a few Berber and Arab antiquities. 

Following the museum, we walked to a restaurant close by for lunch.  As usual for these trips, it was a set menu so I was really excited to try some authentic cous-cous.   It came on a giant platter for our table (thankfully we had silverware and didn't have to "authentically" eat by hand) and was unlike any other cous-cous I've had before with lots of whole veggies, tender beef, and an interesting sweet sauce.  It was excellent, quite delicious.  After lunch we had a few hours of free time in the Medina.  The hundreds of shops give it a very Turkey/Egypt bazaar feel but the salespeople weren't nearly as aggressive.  It's been hard to find decent pens in the last few countries but I think I came up with a few.  Other than that, the shopping wasn't too useful for me since I have no need for fake leather or a tarjine.  We ended the day by winding up at the Jemaa el Fna Square.  When you think Morocco, this is the image that probably come to mind.  There were all kinds of people with monkeys, snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, and so on.  It was pretty crazy.  It was fun, but I have to admit that the experience would have been a lot better had it not been so "stressful."  We didn't stay in the square too long because every time you turn around somebody is handing you an anesthetized snake or a monkey is jumping onto your shoulders.  These would both be fine with me if there weren't 4 Moroccan men surrounding you asking for photos and money at the same time.  We got out relatively unscathed; Daniel had to pay a little over a dollar for a decent monkey picture.  The game plan then turned to taking covert pictures of the activity from a distance (thank you 10x zoom), some of which turned out surprisingly well. 

After our excitement in the square we boarded the bus for the trip back to the ship.  As always, the three hours seems to go much longer when it's dark and you're tired/hungry.  We got some dinner back on the ship, did a little planning for the next day and called it a night.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Day 54: Casablanca

I'm not sure whether I'm disappointed or relieved to say that our journey though the storm last night wasn't nearly as rough as expected.  We hit some strong waves but nothing like we were told to brace for.  We arrived to an overcast industrial port in Casablanca this morning.  There's not too much cruise traffic here so the port authorities seem a tad confused about how to handle 750 college kids.  We had a really interesting Diplomatic Briefing this morning before the ship cleared.  It was probably the most straight forward and politically informative one we've had so far; it was actually quite enjoyable.  After clearance, Daniel and I decided to go explore Casablanca on foot for a few hours before our city orientation departed in the early afternoon.  We actually ended up being the first two SASers off the ship and into port so that proved to be a little adventure.  After the 20 minute walk out of the Casablanca's enormous commercial port we found ourselves in town.

I think the best way to describe the streets of Morocco would be very dirty but interesting.  Daniel and I walked around the Mechouar Bazaar, through a local "market," and eventually ended up at the Hassan II Mosque.  We then followed the coastline back to the port.  Jumping right into the streets of Casablanca was a great cultural experience.  We saw a lot of local interaction, live chickens for sale on the street, huge slabs of meat hanging from stores (most covered in flies), feces in the middle of the road (unknown whether human or animal), eel and fish layed out for sale on the sidewalk, and multiple folks urinating on the sidewalk on which we were walking.  The most memorable part was the intense and strong odors.  It wasn't just one small of "nasty" but alternated between rotting fish, diesel, urine, cooking spices and incense among many others.  The way I'm describing this it probably comes off as a really gross experience but I didn't really think of it that way.  Yes, it was rather filthy but seeing the people made it really fascinating.  Their dress, mannerisms, interaction, and reaction to us was really great to see.  I guess that's one way to get a good feel for the culture.

After grabbing a quick lunch on the ship, the city orientation departed for the Hassan II Mosque.  While we didn't get a chance to view the world's third largest mosque from the inside, just seeing the exterior was amazing.  It's considered a "modern" mosque having been completed in the 90's and the Moorish architecture is quite intriguing.  The mosaic fountains are beautiful and the square is enormous; it can hold over 100,000 people (and will be filled to capacity in a few days as Ramadan begins).  After admiring the "Great Mosque" we departed for a drive around some of Casablanca's neighborhoods.  Later we stopped at the Lady of the Lord Cathedral, the largest of 7 Christian churches in the 99% Muslim city.  It was a unique design that had a ton of really intricate stained glass.  Next, we took a walk around the many shops and Central Market of the "New Medina" area before spending some time at the Palace Mechouar.  The palace is very pretty and still in active use by the king but serves a more symbolic role used primarily for diplomatic summits.  We had another stop in the Mohammed V square for a quick photo-op before our final walking tour though the UN Square and some of the bazaars closer to the port.  There wasn't a ton of time for shopping but this is probably a good thing as the merchants are pretty aggressive (we've learned that large groups and pretending to be mute usually fends off the many "guides" offering assistance).  We eventually arrived back at the ship.

I found an observation that Mindy made to be really interesting.  We didn't see anything on our city tour that was constructed before the 20th Century.  There are  definitely older sites out there, but after inquiring a bit we learned that the Moroccan Government doesn't really promote tourism to these sites because they are trying to cast a more modern view of the country by encouraging tourism to more contemporary areas.  It's an interesting tactic.  After dinner on the ship a few of us went out for a little walk to Rick's Cafe (Casablanca the movie, anyone?) for desert.  The cafe was opened by a retired US diplomat to replicate the one in the movie.  It was actually a really fun experience, especially since I recognized many of the subtle nuances having seen the movie a few days ago.  After the walk back to the ship and a quick ping-pong match it's time to get some rest.  That's all for now, I have to prepare for tomorrow's journey to Marrakech.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Day 53: Morocco Pre-Port

As I write we're currently passing back through the Strait of Gibraltar making our way around the northwestern tip of Africa.  Today we anchored near the port of Gibraltar and "bunkered" (aka refueled).  It's good to know that, 7000 tons of fuel later, we're ready to make the trek back across the Atlantic.

My test in Infectious Disease today went well.  It's weird to think we only have four class days left.  Its hard cramming a semester into 23 days, but it's been a fun ride so far.  I went to the inter-port student presentation this evening and got some good info (mostly food recommendations).  After that was our final logistical pre-port.  I might actually miss sipping a chamomile tea and listening to those hour long sessions filled with sarcasm that pound the dangers and specifics of each country into our heads.  After the ship clears tomorrow I have a city orientation of Casablanca.  Sunday I'll be on a day trip to Marrakesh that was originally supposed to be on Monday.  Due to the last minute change, I had to give up my trip to Rabat (Morocco's capitol) and now have a free day Monday.  There's been some talk of doing an independent trip to Rabat for part of the day on Monday but we'll see where that goes.  Tuesday, our final day in port, I have an FDP (faculty directed practicum) to a psychiatric hospital in Casablanca.  That should be a really unique visit and is probably one of the things I'm most looking forward to (besides the food of course).

We were given a warning earlier in the evening that we'll soon be entering a heavy storm off the coast of Morocco.  There's really no way to avoid it and get to port tomorrow morning so we're in for a rough night.  The recommendations included securing any lose items in the cabin or they'll start flying.  I'll be sure to let you know how all that goes.  That's all for now, I have to go figure our the dollar to dirham exchange rate.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Day 52: Crew Appreciation Day

Since the day was devoted to appreciating all the work the crew does for us, one of the suggestions was making our bed this morning (usually the stewards do it when the clean the room).  I know it doesn't sound like it should be that complex, but it's a rather complicated bed and took me about 20 minutes to actually get it looking relatively decent.  The other suggestion was that we bus our own tables.  This was a good idea but with everybody putting stuff in the wrong places it probably ended up making more work for the crew.  Otherwise it was a normal day of classes.  We have one more class day tomorrow before arriving in Morocco on Saturday.


The afternoon was comprised of finalizing the Global Studies paper due tomorrow and a trip to the gym.  The treadmill is getting a bit tedious (I did five miles today, you can only stare at the annoying red-dot display for so long) and it doesn't help that you're in a tiny room filled with mirrors.  To occupy some time the other day I tired having a staring contest with myself but it didn't work out too well.  This evening we had to signup and request seating for the upcoming Ambassador's Ball (supposed to be a rather big deal, don't tell anybody but I'm already dreading it) so it was pretty chaotic as I joined about 400 other students descending upon a few table setup in one of the more inconvenient locations on the ship.  At least I have a table with people I know.


I just got back from the special event tonight, the crew talent show.  The crew is from over 30 different countries and there was some really clever and interesting acts, mostly music and dance.  Of course we had to close by singing "We are the World."  Tomorrow we arrive in Gibraltar and bunker (refuel) for most of the day.  I'll keep an eye out for some Gibraltar monkeys.  That's all for now, I should probably think about that Infectious Disease exam I have tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Day 51: Midterm

We had our second Global Studies Midterm this evening.  The first one was a rather interesting experience and it resulted in a bunch of committees eventually deciding heavily scale the scores.  Today's test was much better written and organized so I felt pretty good after finishing it.  Otherwise it was another day of classes.  The saga of TB and eating disorders continue.

The seas were a big rougher today.  For folk like me who don't really have motion-sickness issues it's kind of nice because there's no line at meals.  This evening there was a screening of the film Casablanca in the Union.  I've always been told it was a classic and must-see.  It wasn't really what I expected but interesting and probably good to finally see.  It was also a nice little break after the midterm.  Sorry there's not much else exciting happening here on the MV Explorer.  That's all for now, tomorrow is crew appreciation day so I should probably go buy a gift for our cabin steward. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Day 50: Talent Show

Since we're at sea for multiple days, there's really nothing exciting occurring so I'm going to bore you with the mundane details of my life.  So, consider this an advance apology.  We're working though TB in Infectious Disease right now and learning how a third of the world's population is infected made me remember the statistic that nine out of ten medical students at USC-LAC Hospital will test positive for TB by the time they finish their third year.  The joys of what I have to look forward to.  It's also very comforting to know that our professor spotted a "likely case of progressive TB" on our TurkishAir flight from Izmir (yes, the same one that blew a tire, seems to be one doozy of a flight).  I think I'll get another skin test when I get home.  In Global Studies we listened to a lecture about honor killings.  I was hoping it would be a bit more optimistic than yesterday's lecture on the contemporary slave trade in the Mediterranean, but this wasn't the case.  We have a midterm tomorrow night so just about everybody has gone into study mode.  In Abnormal today we watched an episode of Oprah from the 70's (an interesting experience itself) on eating disorders.  Interesting but again slightly depressing.

The afternoon was filled with paper writing and a trip to the gym.  This evening we had the voyage student/staff/faculty talent show.  It was actually really entertaining.  I think the highlights included the two deans acting out "We're on a Boat" (youtube it if you need to, it's worth it) and some of the faculty dancing to MJ's Thriller. The harmonica playing and "rapping magician" acts were pretty good also.  I got an email from my parents a few hours ago and they successfully scaled Mt. Sinai this morning.  It's good to hear they're doing well and after a few more days in Cairo they should be back in the US.  Since we're now sailing westbound, today is our first official 25 hour day.  After losing a bunch of hours earlier in the voyage, it'll be nice to get a little extra sleep now.  That's all for now, I should probably join my peers in that whole midterm "study mode" thing.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Day 49: Laundry & Ice Cream

Well, after a day of Olympic excitement it's back to classes.  We're at sea for another four days and all of them will be busy trying to fit in papers and study for exams.  Since teachers have to turn in grades before departing the ship, many assignments are due soon to leave time for grading.  I have three pretty significant papers that it would be nice to churn out before Morocco so a decent amount of the afternoon went into those.  We also have an upcoming Global Studies midterm in two days so I just spent the majority of my evening among the tales of Mehmed "the conqueror" and Suleiman "the magnificent."

In celebration of our pathetic 8th place finish yesterday, my Baltic Sea had an ice cream social this evening.  It's nice to get some decent ice cream since we really haven't had gelato since Croatia.  Today was also a much needed laundry day so hopefully a bag of nice clean cloths will appear soon so I actually have something to wear tomorrow.  Other than that, the day was pretty uneventful.  I hear the fires are pretty bad back in CA so I hope all gets better there.  That's all for now, I should probably get some rest.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Day 48: Sea Olympics

The Sea Olympics is an event that has occurred on every single SAS voyage and today marked 102nd SAS Olympiad.  Each floor of cabins on the ship is divided into a "sea" community, sort of like a residence hall.  For example, I'm a member of the Baltic Sea and down the hall is the Caribbean Sea.  Each voyage there is one day at sea without classes where members of each sea unite and compete in a number of strange events.  It's actually a rather big day with the entire shipboard community participating (including the faculty and staff as members of the "Diploma Sea").  The opening ceremonies were pretty wild.  Each sea has it's own chants and practically everybody stuffed into the Union screaming, dancing, etc.  I was told I actually looked enthusiastic and I don't think they were sarcastic so apparently I'm getting better at this acting thing.

I was a sub for the Global Studies Jeopardy but wasn't needed too much.  Later in the day I competed in the relay race and had to spin around, do hopscotch, run up some stairs to my teammates.  Other big events I went to go watch included dodgeball, "extreme" musical chairs, synchronized swimming, and the infamous lip sync.  People got really enthusiastic and creative about the whole thing.  It's amazing what a bunch of college students cooped on a ship can come up with.  There was a lot of very spirited people and noise throughout the day and it was a fun way to take a break from the normal routine.

The final overall ranking of seas determines who will get to leave the ship first in Norfolk.  I just came back from watching the closing ceremonies and my dear Baltic Sea placed 8 out of 10 (hey, we put in a decent effort) so we won't be off too early but it's not a huge deal since there's nothing overly exciting to see in Norfolk anyway.  As I mentioned, today was solely devoted to the Sea Olympics so that's where everybody's attention has been.  Tomorrow we're back to classes and reality for a few days until Morocco.  That's all for now, I have some papers that should probably be written.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 47: Cairo Museum & Farewell to Egypt

Our trip to the Aswan airport was once again preceded by an early morning wake-up call.  This time, EgyptAir took us to Cairo.  For the most part, the morning and flight were uneventful (probably a good thing).  Upon arrival in Cairo we went straight to Egypt's most well known museum, the National Archeological Museum.  The facility houses the majority of Egypt's famous finds, some as old as 50 centuries.  We only had a few hours so the guided portion of the tour hit the major highlight, the King Tutankhamun exhibit.  We visited the tomb in Luxor so it was cool to actually see the stuff that belonged there (yes, we paid to see a mostly empty tomb).  Tutankhamun is the only tomb discovered in recent history (1922) so it is really the only example of actual contents of a Pharaonic tomb.  The actual body was contained in a beautiful pure gold coffin surrounded by 2 others, a sarcophagus, and 4 other outer "shells" (all plated in gold).  The layers intended to protect the body along with giant statues of Tutankhamun in the actual burial room.  Also found were countless gold treasures (including mini-coffins for his organs and, yep you guessed it, a lock of his grandmother's hair), lots of food and wine, chariots, weapons, and some really beautiful and intricately decorated gold and silver thrones.  Other than the Tut exhibit, the museum has a number of sarcophaguses, examples of Ancient Egyptian art, and actual mummies. 

The visit was short but well worth it.  It's amazing how well all of this is preserved after over 3000 years.  Apparently there are even more items in the basement of the museum that have yet to be catalogued and displayed.  The museum itself isn't in the greatest condition.  Like many public facilities (although not airports for some reason), the general condition of the building is poor and, without air conditioning, I can't imagine the lack of climate and humidity control is good for the exhibits.  This is probably the reason why a lot of the other amazing Egypt finds are displayed at other museums around the world.  After departing the museum we drove over the to the Giza region to grab some lunch before the journey back to Alexandria.  The 2.5 hour bus ride was a bit tedious but necessary and upon arrival at the ship my parents had the opportunity to come onboard and see the ship in a little more detail.  I think they got a great feel for the "shipboard community" after dinner with my friends and meeting with a few of the faculty I've gotten to know well.  We had a good tour and eventually the time came to say goodbyes as we go on to continue separate adventures.

This port went incredibly fast.  We traveled at lightening speed to see Egypt and I'm happy to report it was an amazing experience.  This place has so much rich history; it's really interesting and profound to see that aspect against the backdrop of a nation with so many political and social problems.  It's very dirty and there's a lot of poverty here.  Everywhere you look there's an armed guard or member of the "Tourist Police" with a semi-automatic weapon.  The significant division in the distribution of wealth is very apparent as you drive or walk through any part of the country.  Our visit to Egypt was an incredible experience, both captivating and powerful.  I'm so glad my parents were here to enjoy it with me.  To be perfectly honest the true highlight of this port was having the opportunity to share this time with them.  As the ship departs tonight, my mom and dad will continue their adventure to the Sinai region.  I'm sure they'll have a great time and I can't wait to swap adventure stories in now less than 20 days.  That's all for now, I must bid farewell to the land of the most ancient ancient civilization.

Day 46: Abu Simbel

Another 5:00am wake-up call started off the day.  After a quick breakfast we boarded the bus for a ride over to the Aswan airport.  Our total group is about 100 people (3 buses) but due to the limits on plane tickets we had to split in half for today (an early and and a late group).  We were lucky to be in the early group as I can't imagine walking around in the afternoon heat.  The flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was only 40 minutes and is a very routine route.  If you don't fly the only other way to get to Abu Simbel is a 4 hour bus ride through a pretty harsh desert with convoy of 30 other buses (not fun).  The flight itself offered some really interesting views of Egypt.  We were at a fairly low altitude so you could clearly see the expansive desert and enormity of Lake Nasser.  It's really quite a sight to see the hundreds of miles of miles of uninhabited desert.  The small airport in Abu Simbel is geared completely toward tourists and upon arrival we hopped on a shuttle to the actual temple.

The temples dedicated to Ramses II and his (favorite) wife Nefertari are considered to be one of the most famed sights in Egypt.  I now understand why.  The enormous exterior sculptures and intricately beautiful interior carvings are simply awesome.  The condition of everything is surprising very good.  It's a lot of fun to hear about many of the stories behind the images inside the temples from our guide and then actually see and understand them.  One of the coolest things about the tempe is its construction to allow sunlight into specific faces in back chamber only on two certain days a year.  This was determined by the ancient Egyptians through the application of astronomy to the construction.  Like the Temple of Philae yesterday, the temples at Abu Simbel were actually moved and reconstructed to avoid damage of the rising Lake Nasser.  The reconstruction was completed in only four years and you cannot tell at all (we spent a good amount of time looking for where the "blocks" meet and didn't come up with much).  We only had a couple of hours to explore the temples and enjoy the surrounding views before our return flight to Aswan.  On paper, dealing with flights and whatnot just for a short visit to a temple doesn't seem that logical, but it was absolutely worth it and probably one of my Egypt highlights.  The return flight saw a bit of turbulence and on arrival to Aswan we returned to our island hotel for lunch and a bit of afternoon rest.

In the evening we met up again for an optional excursion to spend the evening in an actual Nubian home.  We departed by motor boat from the hotel and the half hour ride was worth making the trip itself.  We passed through some really beautiful areas of the Nile and saw a good deal of local wildlife and culture.  It's so cool to glance up at a sandy mountain and see a lone camel resting near a tree.  The further we got, we saw more Nubian people and many kids paddled in their makeshift boats right up to ours.  Many Nubians will open their home to tourists during the day to make some extra money.  Although it's a bit touristy, there was still a very authentic feel to the experience.  In the words of Global Studies' Dr. Bowler, we were essentially "injected" into their culture for a bit.  We explored the very interesting house (hard to describe, you'll need to see pics), got the opportunity to hold crocodiles (my mom was all for it but my dad had a few reservations), and interact with the locals a bit (mostly avoidance from overpriced souvenirs).  Overall it was a really great experience.  After taking a boat back to the hotel we got some dinner before officially calling an end to a busy day.  This trip has just flown by; I can't believe that after our flight and visit to Cairo tomorrow I'll already have to be back on the ship.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 45: Aswan

We got a chance to sleep in a bit (yes, I now consider 6:15am sleeping in) before grabbing some breakfast at the hotel and embarking on our bus journey to Aswan.  Due to the rather harsh conditions of the desert, longer bus rides always go nonstop and with an empty bus following as a backup if there's any trouble.  Apparently we're traveling Egypt in style (including our personal armed guard...).  The ride from Luxor to Aswan is a straight shot South following the Nile.  It's a bit eye-opening to pass through some of the many rural farming communities that are very primitive and somewhat impoverished.  We passed many crops of sugarcane, corn, and cotton.  It was really interesting to see the contrast of semi-green farmland and desert within a few feet of each other.

Upon arrival in Aswan we visited the Temple of Philae.  The Greco-Roman temple has a lot of features that make it look very Pharaonic.  The temple does not stand in its original location; it was moved from it's original "island" to the current island of Agilika.  Since the construction of the famed Aswan High Dam, water levels in Lake Nasser rose continuously and eventually covered the majority of the temple.  To preserve the incredible shrine to the goddess Isis, it was transported and painstakingly reconstructed piece by piece over a period of ten years.  As with the temples we saw yesterday, it's breathtaking just to be around a building with such rich history and art.  The carvings (including a good deal of Greek graffiti) and hieroglyphics are well preserved and it's fascinating to hear some of the stories behind them.  After ferrying back to the mainland we drove over the small, original Aswan Dam on our way to visit the Aswan High Dam.  Since the engineering and debt producing masterpiece is a military site, you have to be careful with any dam pictures you take (you knew I'd have to fit it in somehow).  The view of the Nile was very nice and I didn't realize how expansive Lake Nasser is.  After departing we made a quick stop by the original ancient granite quarry to see the "unfinished" obelisk before arriving at the hotel to check in and get a late buffet lunch (with some awesome apple cake).

We'll be at the hotel for two days, and I'm glad because it's situated on an island in the middle of the Nile with a gorgeous 360 view.  We left the hotel in the early evening for our Nile cruise on a felucca (canvas sail boat).  The feluccas and other river transit are run by the Nubians (a displaced group of people from central Africa) and we got the chance to sail around a bit down the Nile.  With practically no wind, the ride was rather slow (backwards on a few occasions) but it was still a pretty fun experience.  We even got to clap and sing along to some Nubian songs (my inner musicologist sensed a strong African influence; pretty logical since we actually are in Africa).  Upon the conclusion of our little cruise we bussed over to a local papyrus shop.  There was a short demo on how papyrus is actually made and we got a while to browse the selection.  The prices were really good; I actually ended up with a nice 8x10 papyrus painted with ancient Egyptian musicians for about $5.  After getting back to the hotel we braved the buffet dinner again, attended a short little lecture on tomorrow's adventure to Abu Simbel, and called it a night (after catching up with the blog of course).  I'm again happy to report that any left over GI issues have subsided and we're getting good rest (i.e. everybody's in a good mood).  Tomorrow is another early start to catch our flight to Abu Simbel and see some of the most famed temples of Egypt.

Day 44: Luxor

Although there was a rough start in the morning, it ended up being an amazing day.  I previously mentioned our absurdly early morning so let me be more specific: a 3:15am wake-up call.  My internal clock is pretty screwed up from the past 40 days of time weirdness but 3 hours of sleep is always kinda tough.  I was a lucky one; my parents unfortunately got no sleep.  In India it's known as Montezuma's Revenge and in Egypt as the "mummy's tummy."  As careful as they both were, my mom and dad had a bout with extreme nausea and some GI issues all night and into the morning (they weren't alone; a few other parents had a similar problem).  I felt horrible for them; it's not only hard to see loved ones not feeling well but trying to encourage them to keep moving for our 6:00am flight was difficult.  We immediately started the Bismuth (Peto-Bismul, a miracle preventative/treatment drug for SASers) and luckily one of the staff nurses was also on our trip.  She happened to have a med kit on her and was graciously able to spare some Zofran and offer advice.  Both were miserable though the flight (probably a lot due to anxiety and lack of sleep also) but by the time we landed and got moving there was much improvement.  They got through most the day progressively feeling better but neither felt 100%.  I'm very happy to report here on the morning of day 3 that after a good night's rest, plenty of Bismuth and lots of hydration, both are feeling great and ready to conquer the rest of the trip.  

Following an uneventful flight on EgyptAir and arrival at the Luxor Airport we made our way to the famed Valley of the Kings.  This desert valley contains over 60 amazing tombs from the Pharaonic period.  We visited four: Tutankhamun, Ramses I, Ramses III, and Ramses IX.  Tutankhamun's tomb was small but cool because of the famous story of Howard Carter's discovery and it still contains the actual mummy.  The other three tombs had a great deal of original hieroglyphics, carvings and paintings on the walls (it's worth repeating: 3000 years old!).  The colors are clear but faded and you can easily image how vibrant and amazing the tombs were originally.  It's also quite interesting to follow the common themes (images) present in all the tombs.  The hot and stuffy treks under the valley floor were well worth it.  We then traveled a short distance to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut (hat-cheap-suit, or "chicken soup" as our guide claims the locals say), Ancient Egypt's only female pharaoh.  There are a number of cool paintings on the inner temple walls.  The top level some interesting statues of "her."  It kind of seemed a little counterproductive to represent her as male, but whatever works.  From the top there was a great view of the West Bank.  After a quick stop to see the Colossi of Memnon (two giant "singing statues") built during Alexander's occupation, we made our way to the hotel for lunch and much needed rest.

After a nice afternoon nap at the hotel we set out again for the Temples.  The Karnak Temple is simply breathtaking and worth the flight to Luxor itself.  The largest temple in the world, it was built over a period of 1600 years.  Obviously the building process was under the direction of hundreds of kings and therefore you can see an electric mix of statues all dedicated to the god of Thebes, Amun-Ra.  The majority are from Ramses Ii who plastered his name over most of the temple.  Two of the more famous obelisks are found inside and the Hypostyle Hall contains a bunch of enormous columns that once supported an immense roof.  The entire place was colored at one time (there is still faded color present on some areas) and would have been a magnificent sight in it's day.  The Karnak was actually connected to our next stop, the Luxor Temple, by a sting of over 1000 small Sphinx statues in ancient times.  The Luxor Temple was also an amazing place to walk around.  After moving past the exterior obelisk we saw some of the really intense and beautiful statues in the temple.  Many are damaged from years of being built on top of and it's an interesting site to still find a mosque layered on top of a portion of the temple.  After seeing some of the vivid carvings inside we bussed back to the hotel for dinner.

Everybody retired early in the evening for much needed rest.  I attempted to start showing some pictures of the early part of the voyage to my parents but all of us were too tired to get very far.  We got a great night's sleep for the next day's journey to Aswan.

Day 43: Cairo

Egypt!  We pulled into our first North African port early in the morning.  There was a buzz of anticipation throughout the ship as this was probably the port people were most looking forward to.  Usually overnight trips do not depart until the morning of the second day at port but this wasn't the case in Egypt.  This fact in conjunction with the large number of people on some trips (up to 300 in one overnight) led to quite a bit of chaos on the ship.  The parents arrived in the midst of all this and I met my parents in the Union before our trip's departure.  It was really great getting to see them, I was so excited it was tough getting decent sleep the night before.  It's so hard to catch up effectively because there's so much to share on both sides but we're doing pretty well.

After the ship was cleared we departed by bus for a quick drive around Alexandria then through the Sahara Desert to Cairo.  We have a really good guide that will be with us through the whole Egypt trip.  As promised the traffic situation in Egypt is absolutely insane.  There are no rules.  Although I've had a lot of crazy traffic expose in previous ports, it's only been two days here as I write (on a bus in the middle of the Sahara again, this time from Luxor to Aswan) and nobody even flinches anymore as we pass on a two lane road with opposing traffic head on a few hundred feet away with no hint of breaking.  The desert drive was very interesting.  The most obvious feature is all the unfinished buildings.  Practically everything is "under constriction" because as long as the building is unfinished there's no property tax.  For this reason, most people live in apartments that have unpainted exteriors or half completed top floors with rebar still poking out.  It's also cool to note all the unique "pidgin" houses on the side of the desert roads.  A commodity here, pidgins are eaten by a lot of men as a demo of superiority.

On arrival in Cairo we had a buffet lunch at the Meridien Pyramids hotel.  Offering typical Egyptian food, there was a lot of meat and bread.  Outside the hotel there was a beautiful view of the Giza Pyramids, our next stop.  Upon arrival we got a little of the basic history and info on how to avoid the hounding locals trying to sell things.  The souvenir sales people here are notoriously some of the worst in the world, it's legitimately very difficult to walk by without being ambushed (we're getting good with "no" and "go away" in Arabic).  The pyramids were stunning.  After the initial shock at such magnificent structures (3000 years old!) it's a little anticlimactic because there's really not much to do except walk around in the 100 degree heat and take pictures.  I'm told you can always bribe the guards and try climbing them but we saved that for another day.  The mighty Sphinx was also incredible to see (albeit a bit smaller than imagined).  You see images of the Great Pyramids of Giza so often it's weird and awesome to actually be there.  We then drove to a spot with a nice panoramic view of the pyramids and did the obligatory camel ride.  It's a bit wild trying to hang on as they stand and knell at the beginning and end but once you "feel the motion of the camel" the ride itself wasn't too rough.  My parents and I each had our own camel and the three were tethered together.  Don't worry, we have plenty of pictures.

Following the camel adventure we checked in at the hotel and had an hour or so to rest up.  In the evening we attended an interesting little Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show at the pyramids.  As one member of our group observed, its kind of like Disney meets Egypt.  They basically go through a historical narrative while shining different lights and lasers on the pyramids.  It was a little corny but also kind of cool.  I felt kind of bad for my mom and dad because they were still adjusting to the time changes and slept through most of the show.  After arriving back at the hotel we grabbed some dinner and hit the sack for an absurdly early start the next day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 42: Egypt Pre-Port

The wonderful cycle of two class days followed by a port continues.  Overall today was a pretty typical pre-port day.  We had a great lecture in Global Studies about the current state of economic and political affairs in Egypt.  I know that probably sounds incredibly exciting but it really is interesting when presented from the perspective of "you're actually gonna be there tomorrow!"  My test in Abnormal Psych went well.  I don't want to get too confident but I feel like studying for psychology isn't that bad compared to the mass amounts of memorization required for something like biology that I'm used to.

This is pretty random but I forgot to include it the other day and it's definitely blog worthy.  I mentioned a few posts ago about how our Turkish Air flight from Izmir to Istanbul had one of the rougher/just plain disturbingly scary landings I've been through.  Talking with my Infectious Disease professor the other day I leaned that we actually blew a tire upon landing.  That would probably explain the strange skid and swerve thing.  Overall only one tire in a group of four isn't that big of a deal but it was exciting nonetheless.

We've been a little spoiled the last few weeks in the Mediterranean with really calm seas but the wind and swells picked up today and we started rocking a bit more.  It's always fun to be taking a test (on a meal tray, mind you; we don't have desks) with the scantron or test form sliding sliding away every few questions.  I went to the seminar by our inter-port Egypt lecturers this evening followed by the logistical pre-port session.  Egypt, along with Morocco, will be one of the shadier ports so there's a lot to think about (and I'm glad I'm on an organized SAS trip) but I'm still really looking forward it.  My parents should be in Cairo for the evening tonight and will arrive on board the ship tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow at this time we should be together in Cairo.  That's all for now, I have to figure out how to pack five days worth of stuff in my backpack.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 41: Back Through the Dardanelles

I think I say this every time we return to classes after a stretch at port, but it's such a weird sensation to go from galavanting around Istanbul one day to sitting in Global Studies the next.  I was talking with a few people last night and we came the conclusion that the ship has definitely taken on a "home" sort of feel.  We're all getting used to the food, accommodations, and people around.  I don't know whether that's good or bad.

Classes today went well.  Everybody (both profs and students) are pretty scattered but that's to be expected.  We spent 45 minutes talking about vomit in Infections Disease.  I think it's part of his master plan to keep us eating appropriately in Egypt.  Global Studies today started with an interesting pirate impression and I don't know if I've ever attended a lecture titled "Knights and Pirates" (complete with acting) before.  We have a test in Abnormal Psych tomorrow so I've been devoting a bit of study time there.  I also have three pretty big papers due right before Morocco so I began some brainstorming there as well.  After hitting the gym this afternoon I went to a session on travel photography by our staff photographer which was actually really interesting.  Apparently I need to work on keeping better cohesion among the photos I take.

Other than classes and significant anticipation for arrival in Egypt, today was fairly unexciting.  My parents should be arriving in Cairo tomorrow (or today/tonight however it works with the time changes) and I can't wait to see them the day after tomorrow.  I've probably read over the Egypt itinerary 4 or 5 times now; it's going to be an awesome trip.  That's all for now, I have some Somatoform disorders to memorize.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 40: Mosquing, Walking, and Climbing

I followed up last night's Sufi experience today with a trip focusing on Islamic art and practices in Turkey.  The trip left mid-morning and after a drive around the Golden Horn we stopped at the Eyup Mosque and Cemetery located in the northern area of the city.  The first thing that makes this mosque unique is the attached cemetery.  According to our guide, conservative Muslims don't burry their dead in an elaborate fashion with a tombstone and whatnot but "Turks are different."  The mosque itself was fairly small but had some really interesting and elaborate tile work that, in my humble opinion, rivals that of the Blue Mosque because you can actually get up close and see it inside the Eyup.  There was also a nicely decorated attached tomb.  I think the highlight of the day was the "scene" our guide created in the mosque.  He told the girls that hair coverage was optional so a few didn't use a scarf.  A security guard quickly approached him and a rather heated exchange (in Turkish) ensued.  The next 10 minutes were spent listening to our guide rant about how the Quran says nothing about women covering their hair and how all religious rituals should "be up to the individual."  It made things a bit awkward but was interesting to see perspectives and watch it play out.

Following our excitement at the Eyup Mosque we drive back down the old city and got a more thorough tour of the Blue Mosque.  It was a little less busy today than when I was there on Wednesday so that was nice.  We then made our way to the Ibrahim Pasha Palace, which now hoses the Turkish Islamic Arts Museum.  There wasn't tons of time to look around but we did see some cool gold pieces, ceramics and an absurd amount of rugs from the sixteenth and seventeenth century (a few of which were rather enormous).  The tour was scheduled to return to the ship early afternoon but I signed out with a few others to do lunch at a place close by.  I needed one more decent Turkish meal and got a good one of meatballs and spices with an interesting couscous/rice side.  We walked around some shops a little more before embarking on an epic journey to climb the Galata Tower.  The tower was on the other side of the Golden Horn so the walk was rather intense (why take public transit when you walk?).  It took a couple hours moving at a brisk pace but we meandered through the large public park and some other new sites on the way.  I think the climb to the base of the tower was more intense than the actual tower climb itself but once at the observation deck it was well worth it.  Istanbul is a beautiful city and the panorama from the top was a great experience.  After making the journey back the the ship my time in Istanbul was officially complete (for the time being...).

Istanbul is definitely the most unique port we've visited so far.  I really enjoyed the time here but it's amazing how fast it flies by.  We pulled out of port a few hours ago and are on our way to Egypt.  As I type my parents are in New York awaiting their flight to Cairo tonight/tomorrow (gotta love time changes).  We have a longer and really neat trip planned for Egypt so I'm looking forward to seeing them and starting that journey.  On the ship we have two days of classes before arriving so it's time to get back into study mode.  That's all for now, I should probably attempt to start that whole homework thing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 39: The Bazaars & Sufi Dervish

Today was a dedicated Bazaar day.  The first order of business was getting to the Grand Bazaar.  I walked with Daniel and a few others to the Metro station close by and we took the tram to the entrance of the world's largest covered shopping center.  I don't like to brag but we're getting pretty good at figuring out these large foreign city metro systems.  After arrival Daniel and I split off from the others since we have similar shopping interests (or lack of is probably a better way to put it) and we walked around for a while.  The place is exactly as described: enormous and overwhelming.  Most of what I've heard always stresses the variety of over 4000 different shops.  After walking around for a few hours and picking up a couple things for people I've come to the conclusion that there are really only four types of shops: leather, rugs, jewelry, and trinkets.  It was a must to see but I don't know how people could spend days there (even though many did...and spent quite a bit in the process).

After the Grand Bazaar we grabbed a quick lunch at a place close by.  I got a beef "doner" which is apparently a pretty typical (and cheap) lunch option.  I also finally got a cup of real Turkish Coffee (you'd be amazed how difficult it was to find) and definitely approve.  Following lunch we re-entered the Bazaar for the sake of walking directly through it since walking around the outside would take us way out of the way.  The next hour or so was spent roaming around the streets of the old city in the general direction of the Spice Bazaar.  We eventually reached the Spice Bazaar and browsed for a little while.  I wanted to pick up some tea but was a little disappointed that it was all labeled in only English (surely not for the tourists...).  I eventually got some Turkish Apple Tea that looked a little more legit at a market close by.  Somehow we later found ourselves walking through the lesser known Livestock Bazaar and I have to admit I'm a little disappointed I couldn't bring a goat back to the ship.  We walked around for a few more hours seeing quite a bit of Istanbul and eventually got back to the ship.

Back at the ship I hit the gym and grabbed a quick dinner.  This evening I was signed up to attend a Sufi Dervish Ceremony.  The music is played on typical Ottoman instruments including the flute-like "ney" and is a great example of non-western ritualistic music.  The Dervish dancers went through a ritualistic routine of whirling as a representation of a union with God.  The ceremony is still preformed in a religious setting in some parts of central Turkey but what we saw was a (hopefully) authentic performance.  It was a really interesting and quite an "entrancing" local cultural experience, I'm glad I got the chance to go.  Tomorrow I have a short trip focusing on Islamic practices in Turkey that visits a few more mosques and palaces.  That's all for now, I need to work out tomorrow's schedule so I can fit in a climb of the Galata Tower before we depart for Egypt.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 38: Ephesus

The original trip itinerary described most of the day as an opportunity to "discover Ephesus."  I didn't really understand how this could take all day until we arrived at the ancient city in the morning.  The city in its entirety is very large and in 95 degree heat can be a rather challenging area to tour and explore.  We walked through the Agora and town hall before seeing the ancient Roman baths (hmm, seems like I've seen something like that before...).  There were also some interesting fountains and a huge restored portion of the Celcus Library.  We saw the Grand Theatre and Gymnasium before eventually making it all the say to the Stadium (still in use for concerts today) at the end of the city.

It probably sounds like just another ancient archeological site but understanding some of the related history is what made the experience a real highlight.  If the book of "Ephesians" sounds familiar it was because St. Paul was a visitor to the town and synagogue/church.  St. John also spent a significant portion of his life around Ephesus.  He did quite a bit of preaching and likely composed his Gospel  in the area.  One of the cooler things to physically see was the actual hospital ruins where St. Luke, also an Ephesus resident for a short time, treated patients.  There was a lot of staff on this trip (including one of the nurses, the psychologist, and a psychiatrist) so I was in line right behind them for the geeky photo-op at Luke's clinic.  The roads we walked on around Ephesus are original; it's pretty awesome to think that I've possibly walked on the same routes as some of the more influential names in history.

After spending quite a bit of time around Ephesus we made the drive up into the mountains (beautiful scenery once again) to visit the officially recognized House of the Virgin Mary.  There are quite a few alleged Mary residences around but this is only recognized by the Catholic Church.  It was a pretty big tourist area and a small little house (mostly reconstructed) with a nice little chapel nearby.  When finished here we traveled to the Basilica of St. John.  John spent the majority of his later years (before the exile) in and around the region.  The remains of the really large
church we visited also contain John's original tomb (no remains anymore).  There were some more awesome views around the area which included a few stork sightings.

We made a late lunch stop at a restaurant near the previous night's hotel.  The lamb kabobs and rice were a pretty good first actual Turkish meal.  After lunch we visited the Ephesus Museum that houses a lot of the original sculptures from the ancient town.  Once again I have to thank HumTut and this darn liberal arts education for the ability to recognize a lot of the names and faces.  In the museum I had fun talking with some other folks who appeared to be American and learned that they were also on a study abroad program based in Athens where they visit a lot of early religious sites.   After the museum we stopped by the famed Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  The only thing part of the enormous and elaborate temple left is a single pillar.  It was kind of anti-climatic but still interesting and good to see.  After a stupid tourist visit to a leather fashion show and store (funny how our guide just "coincidentally" led us so we'd be close by "if" there was extra time) we made the way to the airport for our flight back to Istanbul.  After arriving on the ship I joined most of the other members of the tour by running upstairs to grab a much needed salad and fruit smoothie.

Overall the trip was really great.  The only other student I knew well was Lacey and it is always good meeting others on these sort of things.  Besides the food issues (and Lacey leaving her cell phone at the hotel...) there were no real kinks, all moved very efficiently.   There was a decent group of students but also a lot of faculty and staff.  It turned out that my Abnormal Psych teacher was the trip leader and my Infectious Disease prof was also tagging along.  It was fun getting to know them a bit better and talk with some of the others.  We had a good time and I can't wait to explore some more of Turkey.  That's all for now, we're off the the Grand Bazaar tomorrow (any souvenir requests email soon!).