Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

ImageFrom before the voyage began, I was most excited about visiting Rio de Janeiro.  Not only is it hosting the World Cup in 2014, but also the Olympics in 2016!  This city is on the rise and being there was one of the best experiences of this voyage.  The first day, my friends and I visited Ipanema and Copacabana, which are both very famous beaches in Brazil and for good reasons!  When we arrived, it felt so surreal that I was hanging out on world famous beaches and admiring Christ the Redeemer with my own eyes.

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my friends and I are trying to come back down to Rio for the 2014 World Cup or the 2016 Olympics (since our visas will still be good for 10 years!) Hopefully we’ll be able to work something out because that would be a real good time.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Coming into Buenos Aires I had absolutely no expectations of what I was going to see or do.  I really never thought I would see Argentina in my whole life just because it’s not a huge place that North American citizens venture into.  That being said, the city of Buenos Aires was beautiful, welcoming, and quite charming. 

ImageThe first day, my friends and I toured around the city and had quite a great time.  We spent the entire day and night going around to different places and experiencing Buenos Aires together for the first time.

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Buenos Aires was filled with adventure and was the first time many of us on the voyage had been into South America!  Of course Argentina is very well known for it’s beef so much that it was difficult to even get a meal without any! Ashby and I went out to dinner one night and she was able to snap this photo of me trying to cut my Argentine carne! 

ImageOverall, Buenos Aires was a great city and definitely one worth visiting for years to come! 

 

 

Montevideo, Uruguay

On arrival into Montevideo, I literally had no idea what my friends and I were going to do (as usual).  We always just kind of get off the ship and walk around to get a feel for the city the first couple of hours, but the area where we were in Montevideo proved to be quite a dangerous one that wasn’t a place for tourists to mingle in.  It took us a while to realize this, but one of my friends on the ship was clubbed over the head with a glass bottle and then he was beaten right by the ship.  This being said, we had to take many precautions and watch where we were which made our time in Montevideo less enjoyable than many people on the voyage would have wished for. 

With that being said, friends and I went jogging miles into the city center away from the dangerous area of Montevideo and the scenes from the center of the city looked just like they were out of a Los Angeles waterfront!  Seeing this, it became quite apparent to me that the disparity level between the rich and the poor is extremely large (which reminds me how important a middle class it to a society).

I was unable to take a lot of photos during my stay in Montevideo just because many people had their belongings stolen from them and cameras were a hot commodity!  However, one thing I did notice about the city was the amazing graffiti that lives on the walls.

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During our stay in Montevideo, my friends and I just walked around and really kept our feet on the ground, looking at everything and just taking it all in.  We typically stayed in a large group, always having my guy friends outnumbering my girlfriends and myself (always a good travel tip!)  Anyways, Montevideo was nice to stay in, but was not the best time for many people on the ship.  When we left, we were all looking really forward to Rio de Janerio, Brazil! 

Cape Town, South Africa!


All of us watched in awe as the MV Explorer pulled into the Cape Town port in the early morning of our arrival day. Ashby and I quickly ran up from the third floor to the observe us coming in on the eighth deck of the ship. The view was unlike anything I had ever seen before and the way that Table Mountain completely takes over the city of Cape Town is remarkable. Ashby and I got up around 5:00am that morning, but boy was it worth it to see the sunrise and us pull into such a beautiful port.

Waking up to seeing Table Mountain over Cape Town in the early morning.

I’ll have to admit, I was the most excited for this port due to the fact that not only was I in South Africa, but also that my Daddy and Kelley were coming to see me! I was very excited to have a little piece of North Carolina with me in Cape Town and I knew we were going to have an amazing time, as we did! It’s hard to discuss everything that Dad, Kelley and I did together because we did just about everything humanly possible to do in four days, but in this blog post, I will discuss what meant most to me from our trip.

On our second day in Cape Town, Dad arranged for us to have a tour guide take us around the city in a nice van and give us a cultural tour. This tour consisted of visiting the District 6 museum, stopping by the Slave Lodge, witnessing a cannon blast off for Cape Town’s daily Noon Gun, having a wonderful Malay lunch and then visiting Langa, a Township originally created for a population of 9,000 but currently housing 15,000.

Langa allowed us to see a different side of Cape Town that many individuals turn a blind eye to. Walking throughout the streets of Langa, I found myself not asking the question of: “How do these people live under $2 a day”, but instead: “How is it that we live with so much money everyday?” How much can money really buy and when is enough, enough? The community of this Township was content and working to build a safe place that they can call home and to me, that was very inspiring.

Overall, Dad, Kelly and I had a wonderful time in Cape Town and it was definitely my favorite port of call on this journey. I’ll never forget the memories that we made and it is definitely a place that deserves a second trip and many more to follow!

Neptune Day!

Neptune Day traditionally is a day off of classes and a fun day for the students as it marks the passing of the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere. As an appreciation for this moment, SAS always has a ceremony for those who have passed the Equator via ship before initiating those of us who have not. The ceremony began with the staff leading King Neptune and Queen Neptune onto the deck that were then followed by the faculty and family members who had crossed the equator via ship on previous voyages. After the members entered, we had to make a pledge to King Neptune while all who wanted had fish guts poured on them, followed by jumping in the pool, kissing two fish, bowing to King Neptune, and having salt sprinkled upon our heads.

At the end of the ceremony, there was a traditional shaving of the head. Don’t worry—I didn’t partake in the shaving of my head, but most of the guys and some of the girls did. I joke that now when we get into ports, countries are going to think all 20-something Americans are bald!

At approximately 14:40, we were in the center of the world: 0’0. Looking out on the back deck, one would have thought it was a New Years Eve party! Everyone made signs and was cheering for the crossing—We’ve all gotten pretty nerdy about geography on the voyage. We were out on the deck all day trying to find differences about the water in the Southern Hemisphere of the world, but I’ve got to say, couldn’t find much! 0’0 looks a lot like 45’15 …just water for as long as the eye can see.

After the ceremony, we were official Shellbacks of the world…and to make it even cooler, we passed 0’0 which meant we crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator at the same time…making us actually Emerald Shell Backs!

Leaps of Faith in Ghana

I’ll start off by saying that Ghana has definitely been an amazing port in our voyage thus far. Of the four days that we were there, I traveled to the city of Accra for the beautiful markets, visited rural villages in the countryside, and saw the Slave Castles located on the coast. Out of these three things I listed, I am going to discuss the rural villages in the countryside for this post because boy do I have a story!

The third day in Ghana began with two SAS girls coming up to my friends and I at breakfast asking if we wanted to rent a bus with them for $5 each to go see monkeys and a waterfall…we didn’t really have any plans for the day, so we agreed to go with them.

We left the ship around 9:30am and walked throughout Tema trying to find the area where the vans are parked in order to rent one. On the way, we ran into the Prime Meridian, which was located next to a Presbyterian Church. We stropped there for a bit and two hours later from our initial leaving time, drenched in sweat, we finally found the vans! We were able to negotiate a price with the driver and we quickly loaded into the van on our way to see monkeys and waterfalls. Some tour guides told us that the ride would just be about 45 minutes…however, that was not the case. Instead, we arrived 3.5 hours later at a monkey sanctuary and immediately were greeted by sheets of rainfall. The village people were so nice that they let us into their huts until the rain stopped! We went out into the forest of Ghana to find monkeys when another sheet of rain came down, apparently, when it rains, the monkeys are less inclined to make an appearance. Needless to say, we stumbled across four of them, fed them bananas, got a few photos, and went on our way, running through sheets of rain the entire time. Funny what a group of Americans will do just to see some monkeys! After we were soaking wet from the rainfall, which we endured, we drove another hour in a typical Ghana van to get to a waterfall.

Apparently, getting to the waterfall required hiking up a mountain. We arrived around 5:45pm at the bottom of the mountain and needed to get up there…In Ghana, the sun sets at 6:00pm…needless to say…it quickly became pitch black. I was completely fine with turning back and forgetting the waterfall, but the people in my group were literally running up this mountain at dark…so I followed them up the rocks, over the bridges, and through the trees. We somehow made it up to that waterfall and it was a pretty cool sight…but it was dark so we could really only see the outlining of it and hear how powerful it was. After about five minutes of staring at it, I rounded up the troops to go back down the mountain and head for the van…lets just say that I had NO idea what we were in for…

As our group headed down, it began to pour sheets of rain on us yet again. Imagine this: Pitch black, rocky, slippery, raging waters on each side, and rain falling horribly accompanied with huge lightning bolts and 10 lost folk and you’ve got the situation.

The group got separated at it became only four of us together in the mountains. We couldn’t figure out how to get out when all the sudden, a small, barefoot man with a large lantern came out of nowhere and told us that it was his duty to save us and demanded that we follow him. I seemed to be the only hesitant one in the group, as I was not sure about the good will of the man. However, following him was one of the many leaps of faith that I have jumped while being in Ghana. In my mind, this man could have been very good or very bad, but with no real other option, I just prayed to God that he was a very good man and indeed he was. The small man with the big lantern lead us over bridges, under trees, over rocks, through river streams, and out of the storm (literally and figuratively). All I can say is thank God for that little man. He came out of nowhere in the midst of my fear and came to the rescue.

We didn’t arrive back at the ship until 1am and I hadn’t eaten all day! The funny thing is, the only time I noticed I was hungry was on the ride back to the ship. I suppose when you’re in survival mode your brain forgets about the fact that you are starving!

After that third day in Ghana, I can definitely say that we had quite the adventure and some leaps of faith that kept us going!

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands

Because of the protests in Northern Africa caused by the amateur film defacing Muhammad, the International Shipboard Education and the US Department of Security both agreed that Semester at Sea needed to take a detour from Morocco. The University of Virginia decided that instead of us traveling to Casablanca, we would venture off the Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands stand right off the coast of Morocco and remain a big tourist spot for Europeans. I, along with all the other members of the shipboard community, had no idea what to do in the Canary Islands except go to the beach. However, when we pulled into port, the beautiful sites of volcanic summits and mountains that surrounded the islands took me back. I watched the sunrise over the volcanic summits of the Canary Islands and it honestly was an once-in-a-lifetime view.

View from the ship

The first day, my friends and I toured the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which involved visiting a huge market that is held in the square every Sunday. The market reminded me of a huge yard sale or flea market almost. After our visit to the market, we stumbled upon a beautiful beach that we later learned had sad imported to the islands from the Sahara Desert! The mountains on the beach were beautiful and stretched far into the ocean. The first day in the Canary Islands was a blast, but the second was even better.

My friend Max and I decided we wanted to go running 6 miles up a volcanic summit in the Canary Islands. Max jokingly ask our professor, Don Goniat, if he would like to join us. Apparently Professor Goniat loves to run, so he told us to meet him at 8:00am and he would take us running with him up this mountain! Needless to say, I was pretty hesitant about running with my professor because I don’t like running with people…let alone my teachers! Nevertheless, Max, Dr. Goniat, and myself went running up this summit at 8 in the morning the second day of our stay in the Canary Islands. I have to admit, although I was hesitant about the run, it turned out to be a highlight of not only the Canary Islands, but my entire SAS voyage so far. We had a great time together and all enjoyed the fabulous views of the city from the top of the summit. Dr. Goniat took photos and they may not be the cutest (concerning the fact that it looked like Max and I were melting we had been sweating so much), but they sure capture a great moment shared between friends. Later that day, Max and I explored the city some more. We walked down to the Opera House of the Canary Islands and enjoyed wonderful views of the harbor area while stumbling upon little shops and restaurants along the way.

Max and I after a little running!

Though our stay in the Canary Islands was only two days, they were well spent and it was definitely a place that I am glad we visited. We were all bummed we couldn’t have the pleasure of entering Casablanca, but I suppose that just means I’ll have reason to go to Morocco another time!

A Snapshot of Europe In Photos

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First day off the ship in 7 days! Galway, Ireland

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Kissing the Blarney Stone for good luck in Cork, Ireland!

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Guinness Factory tour in Dublin, Ireland

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River cruise in London, England!

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On London Bridge!

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Champs de Lycee in Paris!

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Exploring the European Union in Brussels, Belgium!

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Eiffel Tower in Paris!

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Overlooking the city of Lisbon, Portugal!

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Monkeys in Gibraltar! I had so much fun with these things.

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Wine tasting in the vineyards of Spain!

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Olive vineyard in Spain

Lisbon, Portugal

It was early morning when the MV Explorer made way into the beautiful port city of Lisbon.  We sailed into the city under the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge that has a striking resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge; I could have sworn we were in San Francisco!  Turns out, the Ponte 25 de Abril was constructed by the American Bridge Company just about 15 years after they built the Golden Gate…Go figure!  There was a beautiful boardwalk by the bay that housed an outdoor gym!  Traveling throughout Europe, I have continuously seen these gyms that are outside.  They have all the same equipment, just without the electricity needed to run them.  It’s a great way to save energy and building space…I have a feeling that the US will catch onto this phenomenon pretty soon.

Later on in the day, my friends and I journeyed to Cascais Beach to enjoy a beautiful day.  It was a lovely  beach and I even got approached by an Irish family an holiday who began asking me about the American Election!  Needless to say, I was quite excited to finally talk politics with people not from The States.  I think everyone who reads this would know who the Irish wanted to win the election to the large difference in how one political candidate cares more about out foreign relations when compared to the other party’s nominee.  Anyways, later that night, we enjoyed ourselves in a hopping part of the city called Bairro Alto that consisted of multiple blocks containing lively restaurants, bars, and salsa clubs.  It was a great atmosphere to be in and we just hang around in the streets using the great skill of people watching.

The next day, we visited the beautiful City Center of Lisbon and hiked up to Castelo De S. Jorge at sunset.  This castle looks out on an absolutely breath taking view of all of Lisbon and really allows an individual to catch a breath from all the hustle and bustle that takes place down in the city streets.  It was built in the 11th century during the Moorish period and it has natural slopes to the north and west leading to a perfect location for protection of the city.  Overall, Lisbon was a beautiful city for which deserves a visit back in the near future.  Hopefully down the road, Portugal will not be known as the country that puts the P in PIGS, but instead of a country that cherishes their rich history as a global power and looks to a bright future within the EU.

The Other Side

Over the past five days, Natasha, Ashby, and I have traveled to: Antwerp, Paris, Brussels, and Bruges.  I thought I would just choose one specific encounter with a local to write about, because I can honestly say that this one encounter has made a lasting impact on my life.

My friend Natasha is Indian and constantly gets approached by different ethnicities asking if she is “one of them”.  In this particular instance, we were standing in line waiting to get a train ticket from Antwerp to Bruges and a man of Middle Eastern decent pulled Natasha aside and said to her: “Are you one of my kind”?  Natasha, Ashby, and I were a little taken aback with the man, but Natasha politely told him she was from India and that was the lead into him revealing to us that he was an immigrant into Belgium from Afghanistan.

Hearing this as an American can be alarming to some, but I simply butted into the conversation and asked him: “Have you ever been back home?”  He replied with: “Oh no, my country is destroyed.  There is nothing to go back to.”  For some reason, this response to my question hit me hard and I realized the reason why it did is because I’ve never heard an Afghanistan native’s point of view.  At home, even the most liberal news is tented with America bias views on the Middle East…Talking to this man was the real, unedited, raw thing.  We all four went into Starbucks together to grab a cup of coffee and speak to him more.

He told us that he is 19…Younger than me, and moved to Belgium when he was just 8 years old…right after September 11th, 2001.  He ventured into Belgium alone without his parents or anyone he knew.  The only way he survived was because he went to the Belgium government, told them his story, and they promised to take care of him.

I asked the casual question (at least I thought) of where his family is located.  I never knew I would have gotten the heartbreaking response of:  “I don’t know, I think they are dead”.

It turns out, the last time he had seen them was when he emigrated from Afghanistan in 2001.  Never in my life have I been so touched in such little conversation.  It took five minutes for my complete outlook on the United States foreign policy to be questioned.  When asked about what the United States should do about the Middle East, his response was simply: “I don’t even know anymore, they’ve done too much, it’s gone too far”.  I could not handle the overwhelming emotions I felt when I was talking to him, so I simply had to excuse because I was about to start crying.

Having two International Relations majors as friends on the trip leads to constant conversations about the United States involvement with the rest of the world and many talks discussing what is happening globally that very few individuals take the time to learn about.  My friends on this voyage have taught me so much about what is really happening and they have opened up my mind into leaving my American bias behind in order to understand the other side.  It’s really changed the way I view the world and for that, I am so grateful.

I was so interested in understanding the global community we live in today that I even bought a copy of The Economist!  I am currently reading every single article just to attain more knowledge and in the hope of caring more about world issues.

After only being on Semester at Sea for less than one month, I can confidently say that if you stretch your limits and reach out to the global community around you, it can impact your life in ways you never thought possible.