2012 — ALL SEVEN CONTINENTS REACHED!
Antarctica was such an adventure. I really didn’t know what was in store for me when I got on the ship in Ushuaia but it was more then I could have ever imagined.
I went kayaking about 12 miles a day, hiking on various islands and did the ultimate challenge that you can possibly do in the Antarctic.. THE POLAR PLUGE!!!! I met some amazing people on the ship and had a wonderful time. Here are some pictures!
I also made this little penguin movie while at a landing…enjoy!
My first day in Argentina has been a lot of fun! It started off with a few bumps but has been incredible. My flight landed last night around 9:30pm after circling above the city for about a half hour due to thunder. When we landed, we couldn’t get off of the plane because the walk way died and couldn’t lift to the plane doors. That took about an hour. Thinking it couldn’t get any worse, all of our luggage was “trapped” on the plane. The airline wouldn’t allow workers to bus the bags from the plane to the baggage claim. After about two hours the bags finally came. Then I had to figure out how I was supposed to get to my hostel. At this point it was around midnight and pouring rain but I finally got a cab…soon to realize that he didn’t speak any English. I kept on pointing to the address to the hostel that I had written down just to make sure he understood. The third time I asked him (about 20 minutes into the drive) he said no. Let the freaking out begin. It all ended up okay but I was getting nervous.
After that I got to the hostel. At first I couldn’t find it because it is on the 6th floor of a walk up building that has an elevator in it that I couldn’t really figure out how to use (don’t worry I eventually figured it out). Then I got in and was told to go into the empty bed of a 6 person room… well, long story short I got a tap on my arm to a girl that was confused why I was sleeping in her bed…. I thought it was the open bed. She was really cool though, I moved and we laughed about it this morning.
I got up and went to breakfast where I met an American, two Germans and a Brit. They all planned to walk around the city, visiting a Japanese garden, a cemetery and eat authentic Argentinian pizza! So I tagged along with them and had a great time. After we ate I decided to separate and do some exploring on my own. I walked through downtown where I got caught in the middle of a political protest. It was really cool but I couldn’t figure out what was going on.. there were cars with huge horns all over them and kids with loud drums. I was walking back toward the hostel and I asked this girl if she spoke English. Turns out she went to college in NYC and we walked down one of the main roads talking about how she wants to move back to the US. After that I came back to the hostel, where I am at now, to chill before the night begins. There will be a BBQ and Tango show at the hostel! Pretty much everyone who is staying here will be going, it should be fun!
I am flying out of Buenos Aires tomorrow and heading down to Ushuaia!
Australia and New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand are two of the most beautiful countries in the world. Since this trip was pretty last minute for me I decided to do things I have never done before. I began by completely going alone, staying in a hostel by Darling Harbor in Syndey. From there I met wonderful people. I lived with two Germans and a Korean and they were so nice and shared a lot of their travel stories with me.
New Zealand was one of my favorite experiences. I joined a tour group and met some fascinating people. Most of the people on my trip were from Australia, people of which I plan to go visit when I have a chance to get back there.
I did a lot on this three week adventure. From going up the highest building in Sydney to Skydiving in Queenstown, I completely conquered my fear of heights.
Here are a few photos from the trip.
I also took a GoPro with me and recorded a lot of the trip. It was my first time putting a film like this together but enjoy!
Semester At Sea
I am about to embark on a trip of a lifetime – a study abroad program on a ship that circumnavigates the globe. Be back in May!
I will be blogging for Arizona State University but I will also post my entries here as well, Cheers!
A lot has happened within the past two weeks. I have gone from Arizona, to Florida, and then to the Nassau in the Bahamas to board the MV Explorer. The Spring 2012 Voyage of Semester at Sea (SAS) debarked from Nassau, Bahamas on January 21 two days late due to some students having problems with their visas. Due to the skills of our captain, we were able to arrive at our first destination Roseau, Dominica as originally scheduled. I have been able to meet students from all over the world, got acquainted with ship-life, and explored the island of Dominica. Dominica is a beautiful island that had some of the most genuine people I have ever met. I explored the downtown area of Roseau, snorkeled at the Champagne Reef, swam at Middleham Falls, the Emerald Pool, and The Gorge (a river where parts Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed). At night almost of the students went out to Crazy Coconut. There we all met locals and were introduced to Dominican nightlife. I am back on the ship now currently sailing down the Amazon to Manaus, Brazil! We will arrive in port on January 31, 2012!
It’s my first day back on the ship from leaving Brazil. What an amazing country. When I got off the ship, some of my friends and I went straight into the Amazon. We took a boat far from part and went on a canoe ride through the small waterways. We saw monkeys and beautiful birds along with many homes and families who live there. Unlike many students, I went to Rio de Janeiro…one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I walked on the beaches, shopped in the famous markets, went hang gliding over the city, walked through the favelas and experienced Brazilian nightlife!
The first day of the trip was strictly to see the Amazon. We saw the different waterways connecting, dolphins, monkeys, natives and some of the biggest lily pads in the world. After getting back to land, we headed straight for the airport to catch a plane to Rio! It was the equivalent of a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. We arrived at around 10p.m and headed out for the night. We went to a local Brazilian bar and had Caperchina’s and Acqi!
The next day we got an early start. We woke up, had breakfast and met our tour guide and topless Jeeps for a tour of the city. Our first stop was the Christ the Redeemer Statue – one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was an incredible statue. It stands 30 feet tall and can be seen from almost any angle of the city. The view from the top was amazing; you could clearly see the skyline of Rio, the favelas, and the crispy blue ocean with a bridge stretching across it. After that, we drove though the jungle of Rio. Right in the center of Rio is a huge jungle. There, we saw monkeys, turtles, and more birds. When we drove down the mountain to the beach, we could see hang gliders, floating down over the city. My friend said he was absolutely going to do it…so 16 of us decided to go. We all decided to go and before we knew it we were at the top of a mountain, looking at the platform at the edge of it. I was terrified. The view from the top was unbelievable. It seemed unreal that I would be floating over Rio until I saw Colleen run off the platform to take off. I didn’t know but how you being hang gliding is to run straight off a mountain. I was freaking out for about an hour but then it was my turn to go. I had to sprint off a mountain…and I did. It was incredible. I was in the air for about 30 minutes just looking at the city under me. After that the group and I decided to go to a Brazilian Steakhouse as a celebration. It was about 40 US Dollars and it was an all you can eat buffet. Every type of meat was available – even chicken heart. They would bring it around on rods and gently cut off a piece or two for you. They also had beans, sushi, salad and French fries, etc. If you wanted it, they had it. After shoving our faces we went back to the hotel to change for the night. We went to a Samba class and then went to a samba club to use our new skill. After that we went to a few bars and experienced the different types of nightlife in Rio.
The next morning we woke up early again and got a bus to the favelas. The favelas are slums in Brazil. Right in the middle of Rio are favelas. They are government run slums where people live. Since they are government run, there are schools and sewers there. We walked through it and painted a mural for the children. We also played soccer with them. After all of that, we took pictures with the children and they loved it. They would then take pictures and stare at the screen after the picture would be taken. We then went to the Old City and shopped walking around the markets and meeting different locals. My friend and I took the Metro back to the hotel where we met up with everyone again to go out for the night. We all met and went to the same Brazilian Steakhouse we went to right after hang gliding – it was that delicious! After that we went out to another bar and had more Brazilian drinks and snacks before heading to the airport at 3a.m. to fly back to Manaus to get back on the ship!
Brazil was a fascinating country with flavor. The locals were very nice and helped us get around wherever we needed to go. I will definitely come back to Brazil at some point and hopefully visit Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro again for Carnival!
We just got back from Ghana and what a trip it was! It was completely different than I thought, but it was much better then what I expected.
The first night we were here, a few friends and I went to Coco Beach and stayed in a resort for the night. We played soccer with locals and hung out around the resort, drinking local drinks. The following morning we went into the center of Accra, which is one of the biggest cities in Ghana. We shopped on Oxford Street, which was the main street and ate a Frankie’s – one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been too! We also bought FanIce, which is Ghanaian ice cream and was absolutely delicious. You eat it straight from the package and you suck the melted ice cream out. It was very different than anything I’ve experienced in the states. That night we went out in Tema, which was the port city where the ship was docked. There were a lot of Semester at Sea students at the bar, Manila, so it was a nice mix of local people with familiar faces.
The following morning we hired a tour guide to take us around Ghana. We went to Jamestown, which is in old Accra, Nima Market and we walked around central Accra. The first stop was the Jamestown lighthouse which was old and out of work but we walked up it and saw the view from the very top. There were shacks everywhere with people playing soccer – futbol – at the field right below it. From there, we went into the family square of Jamestown where there are houses and “neighborhoods”. We met our tour guides family and learned about Jamestown. Most people who live in the area that we visited never leave. They spend their whole lives within the borders of the neighborhoods. They work as fisherman right behind the shacks. We went and visited the fisherman and some of us got to go out with locals on their boats. I went with two friends and while the two locals that came with us were rowing, a guy who came on the boat with us had to bucket out water that was leaking onto the ship. The locals that took us out do that every single day of the week from 8a.m. to noon. After we got back to land, we were walking to lunch when our tour guide ran into his old friend- the headmaster to a school that was not to far away. We ended up going to his school with him and we met all of the children. Before we got to the school we went to the nearest candy hut and bought all of the toffee lollipops and gave one to every single student at the school. The students were so excited to see us and to take pictures with us. After we left the school we went to eat lunch at a local spot. I ordered a bean burger and jollof rice, which is a Ghanaian dish that was amazing. We then went to Nima Market and went to people’s houses and met with five families. We hung out with our tour guide Charles, and met his friends from when he was young. He also showed up his mother’s house and where all of his friends live. At that point it was getting dark so we took the SAS shuttle back to Tema to go back for the night. When we got back we met up with more SASer’s and headed out to Manila Bar again and had a fun night where they played Shakira’s Africa and the Macarena. I’ll never forget everyone out on the dance floor while we were all yelling, dancing and drinking – Cheers to Ghana!
The following two days I went into Accra. The third day we went to Marcole market which is the biggest market is Western Africa, and the fourth day we went to Global Mamas, a store that sells the making of African Women’s shirts, bags and headbands. On every tag it has the names of the woman that hand made whatever it is you buy.
Overall Ghana was a beautiful country. The locals were friendly, nice and happy that we were visiting their country. The major word that I heard throughout the five days in Ghana was unity. Everything was about unity and family, something that is refreshing to see.
South Africa was an amazing country. It was a completely different experience than I thought I would experience.
The first day we got there I walked around the Waterfront, which is a shopping area right by the ship. After spending the day walking around the port area and eating some South African cuisine, some of my friends and I went to Long Street – the bar district of Cape Town. We went to a restaurant called Mama Africa, a lively restaurant. I ate venison, impala, crocodile, warthog, ostrich and springbock. Surprisingly, all of it was delicious!
The next day was one of the best days of my life. I woke up at 4:30am to go shark cage diving. What an experience that was. We went out on the ocean at sunrise and got in the cage where great white sharks were swimming all around us. I touched one of the fins. After that we got back into Cape Town and quickly changed and went up Table Mountain – which overlooks all of Cape Town. We spent about an hour at the top walking around looking at all sides and then we immediately headed to a professional rugby game. The Stormers v Hurricanes game was South Africa v New Zealand, the two best teams in the world. We all got really into the game and South Africa ended up winning – we knew it was going to be a fun night in Cape Town after that! But the day wasn’t finished yet! Right when the game ended we met our cab driver and he drove us across town to the Olympic stadium to see the Ajax play the Santos – two of South Africa’s best teams. After the soccer game we ventured to a penthouse that some students bought and hung out overlooking Cape Town.
The next 3 days I ventured to Johannesburg to Kruger National Park where I went on a genuine African safari. It was unreal. We saw rhinos, zebras, impalas, giraffes, elephants, wildebeests, water buffalo, hippopotamuses, warthogs, monkeys and a beautiful grown lion with a full mane. We went on three safaris. Two were at nighttime and one was a full day. It was beautiful. We saw all of these animals in their natural habitats, which is something you can only do in some parts of the world because of zoos all over the world. We learned that it only takes poachers 8 minutes now to fly into the reserve via helicopter and steal rhino’s horns, which are worth thousands of dollars. Our safari guide told us that it is on his bucket list – along with his coworkers – to kill a poacher. In Kruger National Park, it is a law that you are allowed to shoot and kill any poacher you see on the spot. That is how much the animals mean to the people of Africa.
We arrived back in Cape Town the night before the ship was debarking. We all went out to a bar in Camps Bay, a really nice town on the other side of Table Mountain. A lot of SAS kids showed up so they shut down the bar and everyone was scattered with figuring out plans for the rest of the night. One of my friends rented a mansion on the side of a mountain so that’s where we were headed. The mansion was unreal. It was huge will so many bedrooms, a huge kitchen area, a game room and an infinity pool overlooking Table Mountain and Cape Town. It was the perfect way to end our time in Cape Town.
The next morning I woke up early and went to Robben Island – the prison island where Nelson Mandela was held. After Robben Island I went to Langa Township, one of the oldest townships in South Africa. To my surprise, this township was a lot more modernized than I thought. Out of all of the shantytowns I have seen while being abroad this was the one with the most comfortable living. After leaving the township, we headed back to the ship and set sail for Mauritius!
So let me start with explaining why I am go grateful I got to go to Mauritius even though it was on the SAS itinerary. So while we were at sea a few days before we were supposed to get off the ship, the assistant dean came on the loud speaker and said that due to weather and the lack of speed we were going at we did not have time to stop in Mauritius. When all of the students heard this everyone was devastated. We all thought it was a joke, until everyone received emails from ISE in Virginia confirming that we would only stop in Mauritius to refuel but we would NOT be allowed off of the ship. So the night before Mauritius we were given a dance party. It was so much fun! Everyone was dressed up on the 7th deck and they played music from our middle school days. Everyone knew all of the words and some of the dances like the cha cha slide. After sweating and dancing for about an hour and a half it starts pouring. Everyone runs out in the rain and continues to dance. It was unreal, one of the most fun nights of the voyage. Even though we didn’t think we were going to Mauritius, everyone accepted it at this point. When the crew shut off the music and the party was over, students weren’t ready to leave. We stayed on the 7th deck for another hour or so and were chanting “We’re not going to Mauritius” and signing songs like Baby Got Back and Fresh Prince of Bellaire.
The next morning we al slept in because they offered a brunch. After brunch we all went to the 7th deck to layout and it was a perfect day. Everyone was outside hanging out with speakers and endless decks of cards. A few hours after settling into the day we see an island. It was Reunion – the island that Jurassic Park was filmed on. It got everyone excited. As we were passing the island, the assistant dean got back on the loud speaker and started talking. Nobody wanted to listen because we were sure it was going to be bad news or something having to do with classes. It wasn’t what we expected – he REINTSTATED going to Mauritius! He explained that we would be able to get off the ship but only for four hours and that we had logistical pre port later that night. I can’t even explain how excited everyone was. The dean walked outside and got a standing ovation. That night everyone slept on the deck and watched us pull into Port Louis and get ready for the next day!
So we have to go through face-to-face immigration starting at 6a.m. and everyone was up and ready to have fun for the morning in Mauritius. We ended up getting off of the ship at 7:30a.m. Our first stop was to a nice beach pretty close to the ship. After the first stop we head more into town and head out to another beach, which was breathtaking. It was near the 5 star resorts that Mauritius is known for. There we run into other SAS kids and we just hangout and have a few drinks in this pristine paradise. After we have a dip in the Indian Ocean, we head to the markets where I bought so much stuff. Most of the things being sold in the markets had Dodo birds on them, the extinct bird that was specific to Mauritius. After that we ride back with our cab driver and talk to him about the lifestyle there. He loved it – he has traveled a lot and said that if he never left the island again he would be happy. We got back to the ship around 11:30am. After getting back on the ship, my work-study boss told me that people in Mauritius and Dominica speak the exact same Creole. So it is easier for Mauritians to speak to Dominicans that it is for them to speak to someone from Reunion (the island about 50 miles away). It was very interesting.
I definitely plan to go back to Mauritius. 4 hours was not enough time in the paradise but everyone was so thankful that we were able to go. The next ports are all going to be harsh, so having some time on the beach was perfect.
India has been one of the most eye opening ports we have been to so far. I definitely plan to come back.
The first day I went to a women’s village. When I read about this village before my trip, I didn’t expect anything that I experienced. We were welcomed by the whole community, presented with jasmine flowers and ate an authentic Indian mean served on banana leaves. The experienced all tied together when all of the village children came out to play with us. They were so intrigued by our lives and they always wanted to make sure that we were enjoying ourselves. After walking around the village we went to a weaving factory. This is where they make blankets and such for the community. After the factory some of us were dropped off at a welcome reception thrown for SAS students by one of the local colleges. We walked in and it was beautiful. It was right on the water with students dressed up in suits and saris. We started socializing with the students and hearing about their lives as college students in India. As we sit down to eat, some of the student-performers put on a wonderful show for us. After leaving the reception, we headed back to the ship where we quickly all went to sleep getting sleep for day two of India!
I woke up early and had no plans in store. Everyone left for Delhi or Agra in the early morning and I didn’t leave for my trip until day three. So I headed to the Field Office and saw what trips were available. The only one was an Averdyric Center. I had no idea what this meant but I decided to do it! When we arrived at the center, it was not what I expected at all – it was a hospital. We were talking to the head doctor about how he doesn’t believe in western medicine. It was interesting because he was telling us to ask questions and that no matter what there would be no offence taken. So we were talking to him for about two hours discussing why he doesn’t ever plan to take westernized medicine. He used the example of animals; animals get hurt all of the time and recover and heal all of the time – we forget we are animals. It was a different way of looking at everything. After the hospital, I ran into two of my friends who were supposed to leave in the early morning but their flights got cancelled, so we went out together.
Waking up at 4a.m. was difficult but well worth it after what I did the next three days. We arrived in Delhi around noon and toured around the city. We saw many Hindu and Baha’i temples, cows bustling around and children playing in the streets with no shoes on. It was a different environment but strangely safe. There was not one time in India where I felt threated, which isn’t what I expected from what we were told. After touring the city we headed to the train station to head to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is located). We got on the train and it was absolutely disgusting. It was torn up, trash everywhere, seats were broken, bullet holes in the windows and it smelt very badly. We dealt with it for six hours before arriving to a hotel where we quickly went to sleep again before an early wake up tomorrow again!
Day three we woke up at 4:30am so we could go see the Taj Mahal by sunrise. We left the hotel and headed over – we were 5 minutes away and were the first in line. When I walked in and saw the Taj Mahal through the entrance structure, I was blown away. It was absolutely beautiful and looked unreal. Every single picture looks photoshopped because of how beautiful is was. After we left we headed to the Agra Fort. It was a very interesting place. The fort was not only huge around the outside, there were smaller forts designed on the inside – something that is very different from other forts. After that we went to the “Baby Taj”. This was an exact replicate of the Taj Mahal on a much smaller scale. It was the size of a normal house but had the same water channels and courtyard. After lunch and more touring of the city, we headed back to the Taj Mahal by sunset. The color of the Taj changed because of the golden sun hitting on it. Literally it went from white to gold because of the sun, it was incredible. We then headed back to the train station and boarded a train back to Delhi and went to sleep around 1a.m.
The following morning I decided to check out of the trip with three friends. We went to a market where we bought woven baskets, scarves and Ali Baba pants. We took the metro around the city to find a few markets and we stayed at one called Delhi Hot. This market was amazing. It had streamers flying above it in all different colors and all of the street vendors had all colorful items it looked a little but like Disneyland. Except, in Disneyland you cant trade an item for an item. Let me explain. So I have been wearing the same pair of jeans throughout India. They are old and warn down so I officially decided to get rid of them. At the first market i bought a pair of pants, changed into them and were carrying around my jeans from Forever 21. So I saw this bowl that I really liked and after 20 minutes got him to trade me the bowl for my pants! From then on out every worker in the market wanted to trade with me. They wanted my t-shirt, sunglasses, and sunglasses case – anything I had they wanted it. We then met up with the group and headed back to Cochin.
The last day in India came to fast, but we still had a big day planned. We woke up early and went to the Kerala backwaters. These waters are known in Cochin. We took a rickshaw there and he took up out on his personal boat around. We also met his fisherman friends and we held live crabs and fish. After floating down a river we went back and headed to Fort Cochin and Jew Town. This area of the city was full of markets. Each market was a little bit different, which was a nice change up from every other market we went to. My friend and I left the other people we were with and took a ferry to another island. There we spent the end of St. Patrick’s Day shoving our faces with American pizza at Pizza Hut! Our trip to India was ending and we were getting our bags checked to get back on the ship, and they told me that I wasn’t allowed to take Holi Days paint onto the ship. So, naturally my friend and I left the paint at the security counter and quickly ran on the ship to change clothes and ran outside the port gate and threw it around and got it everywhere! While we were doing this the rickshaw drivers were having fun with us, we let them throw it and smear it on our faces. Then we got back to the ship security and they all started laughing at us! It was a perfect ending to India.
Even though Singapore was only a day, it was by far one of my favorite ports. Right when we stepped off of the ship, my friend Jie from Maymester 2011 met us right when we got off the ship. It was so nice to see a familiar face outside of the voyage. Also, she was with Stephanie – a TA from Maymester. So it was pretty much a whole Maymester reminiscing session for the first few hours because Kendra made it four of us. The only one who wasn’t an alum was Colleen. Anyways the first place we went was the botanical gardens. This is what Singapore is especially known for. The gardens were beautifully clean and lush. We walked through it (even though it was scorching hot) and ended up at this cute little restaurant and sat down for a traditional/Singaporean brunch. The restaurant had a very cool concept; reuse everything that you can. The lamp shades were coffee tins and the tables were wood that couldn’t be used for any manufacturing purpose. The food was delicious as well. After eating we went in a cab and headed to THE hotel of Singapore. It is known worldwide for having an infinity pool on the roof – one of the highest buildings in Singapore. It looks like it is three separate buildings connected by a huge boat-like structure on top of it with a large infinity pool and a bar. Anyways we go up to the top to have a few drinks and just hangout at the top starting into the skyline of Singapore. The hotel was very strict, if you weren’t a guest at the hotel, you could NOT get into the pool. After heading down, we get in a cab and head to market to eat. The market was every type of food in the world – literally – under one roof. We all gave Jie some money and she walked around and got us a bunch of different foods. We ate for about two hours and headed to a outdoor shopping area and just walked around and saw Arab Street. Arab Street is where all of the Turkish and Moroccan type things can be bought. There were hookah bars and cloth for sale. It was all placed in front of a beautiful mosque right at the end of the street. We then went to another roof top hotel for drinks to say goodbye to Jie and then headed back to the ship.
Singapore is beautiful, it is right in the heart of Asia when it comes to traveling. We were 30 minutes away from Malaysia and about a 4 hour flight away from Australia. There is so much to do in Singapore and it is one of three only city-countries in the world. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back.
Vietnam was a completely different experience from the rest of Semester At Sea ports and other places I’ve been. The first day off of the ship my friend and I go to a tailor to get a dress made. We were talking with the workers and other SASer’s that were there before realizing that my iPhone was gone. Later on in the day we realized that it was taken out of my bag, along with a pen and my Cambodia itinerary. So, as you can image, it was a really bad start to the day/port. I was very mad/sad/ everything that someone would be when they realized their phone got stolen but I didn’t really have time to be sad – I was almost late to meet my trip to go to Cambodia!
So I get over losing my phone (kind of) and enjoy my time in Cambodia. The first stop we made after our hour flight was Phnom Penh. Right when we got off of the plane we went straight to Palm Tree Orphanage. This orphanage was beautiful, the conditions weren’t bad, the children were very happy and very talented at making crafts, drawing and some singing. We talked and danced with the kids for about an hour before moving to dinner. Dinner was delicious. We were all making jokes because there was rice in countless forms – rice, rice papers, rice pudding, rice tea and rice noodles. After dinner we headed out to the backpackers district for the night which was where all of the nightlife and night markets are. We first stopped off at the night market and I’ve never seen anything like it. In Thailand and China I have been to night markets but they didn’t have a stage with a band and singer and lights all around the state, unlike Cambodia. Everything was very inexpensive, shirts for $1.50 US. After collectively buying half of the market, my friends and I gave our purchases to the Resident Director of the trip so he could take our things back to the hotel while we go out. We then went to Heart of Darkness, which is a known club in the area. It was one of the best nights of the trip. It was people from all over the world and we were mainly hanging out with Belgiums, Australians and Germans. It was also my friends 21st birthday, we everyone was just having a good time and really experiencing the nightlife of Cambodia.
We had a early morning wake up call to get on the bus to go see the killing fields from the Cambodia genocide. The genocide happened about 30 years ago when Khmer Rouge (the communist party) was in control of Cambodia. It was a span of four years and about two million Cambodians were killed. We went to the fields where the Khmer Rouge would dig huge holes in the ground and one by one slit peoples throats, crack skulls, or beat them to death. The bodies would fall into these holes and act as a landfill… We were standing the thousands of dead bodies. Right in the middle of the fields is a memorial for those who were killed – a huge building filled from top to bottom with bones and skulls. The heads of the elder were closest to the ground and then it went up by age, followed by other body parts, filled to the roof. On most of the skills you could see the cracks from the tools the Khmer Rouge used on the Cambodians. The scary part was that if the skull did have a crack on it, it was exactly the same as the one next to it. It was a routine factory that was produced, killing people fast and the same. People weren’t people anymore, they were numbers – counted by the skulls.
After experiencing the shock of the Cambodian killing fields, we headed to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We walked into this used-to-be-school and saw what the people who were killed at the killing fields lived like. It was one of the harshest things I have ever seen. Since it used to be a school, the rooms looked like classrooms, some still with the blackboards on them. But instead of desks, there were pictures of people who lived in the room, original beds and torture tools. Looking out unto the middle of the prison you could see where they hung people and huge pots where they would dunk people for torture if they needed information from them. They would put chemicals in the dirty water and dunk their head until they would speak -regardless if they did they ended up with a extremely burned and distorted face from the chemicals. The Khmer Rouge also documented everyone who attended the prison by taking a picture (headshot) of them. All of these photos were hung up for us to see along with the chair that every single person who was killed in this disaster sat. That is when a lot of people broke down. All of the killings and everything that made the genocide progress was this chair.
After the Museum everyone headed to lunch while my friend and I wanted to wonder the city to find an inexpensive iPhone and inexpensive Beats by Dre headphones. It was a hilarious two hours. We hire a tuk tuk driver to take us around – anywhere that we would find phones or headphones. We couldn’t find any. We just went to place after place talking to Vietnamese people and making jokes with our tuk tuk driver about how all over other parts of Asia these two things are the easiest things to find! We made a total of 12 stops on our journey and finally decided to go back to the hotel. Nick was going to play chess with our tuk tuk driver but we had about 10 minutes to get some food and meet back up with the group so he couldn’t.
After the disappointment of not finding anything we headed to the airport to fly to Siem Reap to see some of the lost temples. We land after another hour flight and headed straight to dinner where we also saw a traditional Cambodian dance show. After that we headed to another night market. This was my favorite market – it was not only huge, but they had massages at every other shop that were $2 per hour. The night went as follows; a foot massage, went shopping, a head and shoulders massage, went shopping, got a body massage and then ended the night at a bar called “Angkor Whaaat?” . I spent $6 for 2 hours and 15 minutes (including tip) on the massages and I bought a lot of gifts, shirts and souvenirs and spent about $18. It was fantastic. We headed back to the hotel because we were planning to get up at 4am to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.
We woke up early and saw the sunrise over the lost city of Angkor Wat. It was beautiful. The sun was right over the towers in a piercing orange flame. There were a lot of people there soaking in the beauty and the meaning of the tempe. After a quick visit to see sunrise we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and breakfast before going back to Angkor Wat to tour the tempe. Our guide started off the tour saying that Tomb Raiders was filmed there and throughout the trip showed us where certain scenes of the movie took place. It was a beautiful place. After Angkor Wat we headed to a few other temples where my personal favorite was the Elephant Terraces. It was a ruin that had the trunks of telephones on the sides of buildings and it would protect them.
We headed to the airport back to Vietnam for the night and continued the night. Right when we got off the plane my friend and I went to a fitting for our dresses. After we walked around Ho Chi Minh City for a bit, going to different shops and looking at different types of food and shops. We were exhausted from getting no sleep in Cambodia so we went back to the ship and had a good nights sleep.
I woke up at 8:00am by a phone call from my two other friends, Kendra and Colleen, who went to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay while I was in Cambodia. We planned to meet up and explore Ho Chi Minh because none of us really had. We go straight to Ben Thon Market and walk around there for a bit. We then went to lunch at a nice restaurant that ended up costing us a total of $11. We were having such a good day! We then headed to a electronics market where I bought a cheap Nokia phone that I will be using until I get a new on e back in the US. It’s a great phone…it even has the game snake (if you are about 20 years old you will understand the significance of that). We then headed to the War Remnants Museum and started to get an understanding of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese side. It was completely bashing the United States and they had a huge room full of pictures of rallies of many different countries protesting against the US. They also said that the War happened because the United States just wanted to gain control of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. It was crazy to read this because that was not what we are taught in the US. Also, there was a huge room dedicated to Agent Orange. It was insane to see the affect that Agent Orange had on both sides, but also the defects that children of war veterans had. There was a place on the wall that I will never forget that showed a picture of a young blonde girl from Philadelphia who didn’t had an arm because her father fought in the war, but she (her parents) were compensated for the defect. All of the pictures of the Vietnamese with defects didn’t get any compensation, and they made that fact known. That was another major way that the Museum bashed the US. It was neat to be walking the Museum with other Vietnamese people, especially older Vietnamese because they were alive during the war.
After the Museum we took scooters to Kendra and Colleen’s dress shop so they could have their fitting. We then met up with the girl that we were going to be couch surfing with! Let me start by explaining couch surfing. It is a website where you can find people in the places you are and you can hangout with them and stay on their “couch” for free! It is a backpackers website with a concept of “I just want to travel and experience different cultures and don’t have a lot of money or friends to see things with'”. It was one of the funnest experiences of my life. We stayed with a girl named Tom. She was 20 years-old and born and raised right outside of Ho Chi Minh. We met her at her house. She lived above her mothers restaurant with her sister. They didn’t have air conditioning, just 2 fans that were blazing around the bed (which was a very thing mattress on a low bed housing). Anyways she took us to one of her favorite bars. We stayed there for a while and actually met two other American students who were suiting abroad in Ho Chi Minh. It was really interesting to hear what they had to say about the country. They said that studying abroad there was a horrible decision because they couldn’t do anything without registering it with the police. For example if they wanted to sleep over at a friends house they would have to get it approved by the police. One of the first nights one of the girls didn’t and she almost got arrested and police were looking for her because they thought she was missing. They also have both gotten robbed twice.
We went with the two American girls and Tom to the Vietnamese backpacking district and met up with a bunch of SASers. It was a lot of fun, the music and the environment was great. We then headed back to the ship and thats where things went very downhill. We were standing at the side of the ship when a scooter comes by and snatches Kendra’s purse right off of her shoulder. Her iPhone, wallet, camera and Colleens wallet was in there. She also just bought the purse she was wearing that the market earlier in the day. Kendra was furious, she yelled to the other scooter drivers to take her to follow but they just continued their conversations. It was disgusting. Tom starting crying and was saying that she hates Vietnamese people and that they do things like that. Long story short it was a long night where everyone was mad at the scooter drivers and the view they had on Vietnamese people went very low. Other than the last part of the night it was a fantastic day!
Yesterday while we were walking around we also hired a tour company to take us to the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was an amazing day. We had to drive around a lot to get to these two places but well worth it. We went to the tunnels first and saw first hand how the Vietnamese Army defeated the US. We saw the tunnels that went on for miles, how they cooked underground with a chimney through leaves that would smoke sideways instead of straight into the sky, the shoes that they wore backwards so the the US soldiers would think they went the other way, and the variety of traps that were throughout the grounds. It was unreal. We walked through the tunnels and saw the different bunkers. The tunnels were very very very tiny – the one that tourists can go through are almost 3 times as big as the real tunnels because most people wouldn’t be able to fit in them. The 3 of us could barely fit into them. After the tunnels we stopped and picked up food to eat in the Mekong Delta. When we arrived there we took a boat to an island and learned about the surrounding area. The Mekong Delta is one of the largest rivers in the world with about 20 million people living on it. It starts in Tibet and goes through almost all of Southeast Asia. We went to Unicorn Island and stuck out hands in a honeycomb with bees all around it, drank a drink that had a dead bird, gecko, scorpion and snake in it, had crispy honey-covered banana chips and ate dragon fruit. After that we went on a canoe ride through a small river in the island. It was beautiful with water coconut plans growing all over the place. After that we got in the car and headed back to Ho Chi Minh with time to pick up completed dresses and to buy a few more souvenirs.
Overall I had a great time. However, I will not vista Vietnam again. All of the people I met were rude and their actions were disgusting. My friends and I weren’t the only ones that were robbed – there are countless others on the ship. I loved meeting Tom and had a blast with her so if I ever do come back it would be to visit her. I would, on the other hand, go back to Cambodia. I had a blast there and loved the people and the environment. Everyone was so nice and wanted to learn about us and America!
China was an amazing port. Unlike most students, I had the opportunity to go to Tibet; only 34 of us did.
The first day the ship was in Hong Kong and I immediately went to the airport to fly to Beijing. Beijing was amazing. It was my second time there so I decided to leave the group and head off with my friend. We left the hotel around 8am and did it all. We first went to the 2008 Olympic Stadium. We saw the Birds Nest and went inside the Water Cube. Since the Olympics, they have made it into an amusement part. It was very cool but it was surprising to see that the diving pools and swimming pools were very small. The Water Cube couldn’t t even hold that many people. Anyways, after that we took a train to a huge market. They had everything in this market for very cheap. We both ended up getting Beats by Dre and some really cheap electronics stuff. We were at the market for about two hours. After that we headed to Tennamin Squaure and the Forbidden City. They were both amazing. We walked around the area and took a lot of pictures with local people. It was so crazy how a lot of people asked to take pictures with us. And some parents would put there babies in pictures with us! After that we went to another night market where we bought jackets, make up and other clothing. We ate at a buffet above the market which was delicious. After a long day of completely traveling on our own, we headed to Starbucks and then back to the hotel where there was free wifi!! (On SAS, wifi in general is amazing – and when its free you choose that over sleep!) The next morning we woke up very early and went to the airport for a flight to Tibet; the highest city in the world. It was a pretty long flight considering we were flying across China, but it was well worth it. Right when we got to the hotel, our tour guides greeted us with white scarves. We didn’t understand the meaning of the scarves until the next day. Anyways, we got to the hotel pretty late and went to a quick restaurant for dinner. After dinner we headed back to the hotel to adjust to the elevation of 12,000 feet. I fell asleep very easily but after about an hour I couldn’t sleep – I had the worst headache. We all met for breakfast around 8am and quite a few people were sick. After eating breakfast and drinking some water mostly everyone was ready to go for the day. The first place we visited was a blind school. The School for the Blind was created in 1997 by a German man who was blind. He raised enough money to start this school which now has graduates working all over the country in various majors, many in massaging. It was incredible to see all of the children fully functioning while being completely blind. After the school we visited the Polota Palace; the home of the Dalilama. Every single Dalilama has lived in this palace. We climbed 536 steps to the top of it and were literally on top of the world. While we were climbing up, we saw a lot of monks walking up to pray. All over the palace and the city were prayer flags. Along with prayer flags all over the place were the white scarves, just like the ones our tour guides gave us. People give these scarves to heal the sick and to free spirits. All over the palace was white scarves placed in front of different Buddha statues and different rooms of the house. After walking around the palace we headed to lunch. We had a fantastic lunch full of Tibetan food such as Yak – the meat of choose in Tibet. After lunch we headed to one of the most prestigious temples in tibet; the Jokhang Temple. This temple is where all of the local people come to pray on a daily basis and the area around it is sacred land. Pilgrims come from all over the world to see this temple and to pray to the Buddha of the Future and the Guru. After walking around the Temple we had some free time to walk around the markets (which was very rare for tour groups because you usually cannot be away from your tour guide). After an hour or so of shopping and buying our own prayer flags, we went back to the hotel to rest. It seemed like we had a lot of free time but it was definitely needed with the elevation adjustment. We then went to dinner at a local hotel and the food was yet again delicious. Four of the main dishes were full of Yak. We then headed back to the hotel and called it a night. We all met for breakfast around 7am before having a two hour drive to the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. We went to one of the most sacred rivers in Tibet, the Yamdrok Yumtso. We drove up the side of a huge mountain to end up at the top, looking down on the river. Along the way we saw a lot of Yak, the animal of Tibet. When we got to the top, we had a chance to ride the Yak. After stopping for about a half an hour taking pictures and riding Yak, we headed down to the river. It was unbelievable. A perfect reflection of the mountains were in the water. There were also a lot of prayer flags flying every where. One of the many Tibetans do is when someone passes away they go to the foot of this river and make a mound of rocks with the ashes of their loved ones. All over the foot of the river were mounds of rocks. There was also a shrine-like statue with thousands of prayer flags and white scarves hanging everywhere. After the river we went to a local Tibetan house. It was very interesting to see how the local people live. Everything was based around their prayer room. The kitchen and other rooms of the house had a very easy access to the prayer room. Prayer flags also hung from every house. After visiting the house we went to eat lunch. They had really good Tibetan food – meaning they had a lot of delicious Yak. We then went to one of the most famous monasteries in Tibet, the Sera Monastery. It was freezing while we walked up a long walkway to the monastery, but when we arrived all of the Monks were in the yard debating. They all sat in the middle of a yard and were debating about philosophical things. It is one of the places where the people who choose the next Dalilama go. When we left it started snowing! It was so cool but we all enjoyed the snow. We quickly went back to the hotel and rested until dinner. We went to a Tibetan steakhouse for dinner which, of course, was full of Yak meat. It was yet again another great meal, our last one before we leave to go to Shanghai! We were pretty much flying all day to Shangahi but after we landed my friends and I experience the beautiful nightlife of the city. When we got back to the ship, we quickly changed and went to see my friend from Semester at Sea this summer (Maymester 2011). It was so much fun, there were four of us from Maymester 2011 so it was a complete reunion in China! After reminiscing we went to the Hyatt hotel where they had the highest bar in the world. The view was breathtaking – pictures don’t even give it justice. After that, we went to a few other clubs and had a blast together. The following morning we woke up early and went to some markets around the area where we bought Beats by Dre headphones, Longchamp bags and Tory Burch clutches all for very cheap. China and Tibet were amazing, both fun and beautiful.
Japan was an amazing country, one that I have always wanted to visit.
The first day there we immediately got off of the ship and toured around Kobe. Kobe, Japan is known for its amazing Kobe beef and the brewing of sake. We went to a sake brewery and a restaurant that is known for their Kobe beef. The brewery was very cool, everything was shown and explained in simple videos in English. It also wasn’t that far from the shopping district where we got to experience the delicious Kobe beef burger. After walking around for the day, we went back to the ship and met up with our friends. Almost everyone on the ship who stayed in Kobe the first night went to the same bar. It was a pretty small place but it was nice that it was all SAS students and just a good time for our last port.
The next morning we got up early and headed to Kyoto. Kyoto is about thirty minutes away from Kobe, and it is known for its cherry blossoms. We were very fortunate to get into Japan as the cherry blossoms were coming into bloom. People try to catch this their whole lives. Unfortunately it was raining while we were in Kyoto, but it didn’t stop the flowers from being gorgeous. In one of the parks, all of the trees were covered with cherry blossoms that it looked like pounds of snow. There had also been flowers that fell so it was almost all white. After walking around the park and picnicking under a little canopy, we headed to the Gold Pavilion. The Golden Pavilion is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto and it is pure gold. It was still raining when we got to the Pavilion but it was breathtaking. After taking a few pictures and tying to escape the rain, we headed to the train station where we got on a bullet train to Tokyo. It only took us two hours by bullet train to get from Kyoto to Tokyo. That night we met with my friend from Maymester (who we saw in China as well) and headed out for the night!
After a pretty relaxing night, we headed to get sushi in the heart of Tokyo, Shabuya. The hotel we were in was about three minutes walk from the biggest intersection in the world! Anyways, the sushi we went to eat was served on conveyer belts, what Tokyo is known for. It was my first time eating sushi and I absolutely enjoyed it! After eating some sushi, we went to Shabuya 109, a shopping district where harajuku girls shop. It was an endless-level shopping area that had all different types of styles and clothing. There area around it too had many different shopping. We shopped for a good portion of the day but continued the day by going further to downtown Tokyo to the Tokyo Dome to watch the Tokyo Giants take on the Dragons. Baseball in Japan is the same as going to an American Football game in America. It was insane. When we were buying tickets, we had to choose which team we wanted to root for, because like in English soccer, fights will easily break out. The taxi driver we took told us to root for the Giants so thats what we did, and right when we got inside we saw all of the other SAS students. It was very fun. After the gam we all went to Rapungee, the bar district of Tokyo where all of the SAS students again met up and went out!
The following morning we got up early and was ready for a productive day. We immediately headed over to the Tokyo Dome again, and went up the largest hotel in Tokyo where we could see every part of the city! After going up, we went to a park nearby where we sat and relaxed in front of the cherry blossoms since they were quirky dying. After the park we called a restaurant where we were dying to eat – a place called Ninja (Ill explain it in a little). We then went to Cat Street, which is where you can see all of the harajuku girls dressed up in a lot of different things – they were dressed up like dolls. Short after we arrived, the weather was rainy again so we quickly ran to cover. Little did we know we didn’t have a place to sleep so thats when the journey of Japan began. My friend from Maymester was leaving a day earlier than we thought so we ran around the city trying to find a place to stay. We went to every part of the city looking for a cube hotel or love hotel but ended up getting kicked out of every single place. The clock was getting tight on getting to Ninja for our reservation so we just quickly ran there. Right when we got there I knew it was going to be a really cool experience. Right when we walked in a Ninja came and welcomed up to the restaurant. He did all of these different ninja-like movements and took us through this dark alley way which there were tables surrounding it. Each table was gated off on its own and had little lamps and the entrance. Our waiter, I mean Ninja, gave us the menu which was on a scroll. Then he brought out all of the food and did tricks with it. We also enjoyed a magic show while we were dining. It was a very fun experience. After dinner the hunt for a place to stay was still on. We literally couldn’t find anything – everything was booked. We were even willing to spend money on a nice hotel but all of the rooms were booked. While walking around in the rain with our bags, we run into one SAS student and he tells us that he was planning to sleep at an internet cafe. So that is where we ended up. We slept in a cube. Two of us to one cube with a computer and a television in it. It was a really cool way to spend the night. Everyone in there was local and it was nice to see something that a local Japanese person would stay in for a night.
After we left the hotel in the morning we went to a nice lunch and headed to Yokohama, the city where the ship was going to meet us. When we got there we all stopped at the grocery store to stock up on food for the rest of the voyage. It was really sad that the last international port was over.
Japan was a great port and a fantastic way to end the voyage.