I finally managed to get my skydiving video uploaded! Man, was it a blast. I’d do it again any day, that’s for sure.
Warning: strong language….Hey, when you’re falling from 10k feet..it happens
I finally managed to get my skydiving video uploaded! Man, was it a blast. I’d do it again any day, that’s for sure.
Warning: strong language….Hey, when you’re falling from 10k feet..it happens
As my Semester at Sea voyage neared an end, we approached one of our final ports: Ghana. Ghana would be one of the most difficult ports yet, being a somewhat small and underdeveloped country, with a rich and bustling culture. I will do this blog post mostly with photos and descriptions.
One sure thing Ghana will be remembered for is how women carry and sells various things while balancing it on their head – It’s pretty cool! Traffic in Ghana can get pretty bad, so these women (and children as well) take advantage of this by walking up to cars and offering all sorts of goods. Between water, bread, and fried squash, it was really something cool to experience! The bread they sell is so soft and sweet, and the fried squash taste kinda like a giant french fry but fried in coconut oil!
I was given the chance to visit a Children’s school! We played with the children in between breaks; they tackled us for the stickers we brought them! These children really wanted to be picked up and acknowledged. The school was rather poor, mostly outdoors, and there was a hut in the back where a women was making food in a strange somehow surreal looking outdoor kitchen. It was like looking into a different era: a huge bowl of oats cooking over an outdoor fire. Never mind is was over 100 degrees outside.
I got to hike to a really amazing waterfall! We even experienced a giant swam of bats above us that flew out of the mountain. Our shoes were later covered in bat poo..oh well.
and of course can’t forget the wild monkeys that we fed bananas to
Gonna keep this one pretty quick! 12 hours in Mauritius!
So, I pretty much lucked out on the little African island-country of Mauritius. My best friends family friends actually lived in Mauritius! As such, they had happily arranged for my friend to bring three other friends along with him to be accompanied for the day by a personal driver. I was in shock, and most of all grateful he invited me – and I still am, he was truly a blessing as a friend.
We got there and sure enough the driver was waiting for us. He picked us up and drove us to the family friend’s estate where we were greeted by their secretary (still not sure what this guy did for a living!) and treated with absolute hospitality. They served us coffee, took us out for lunch, and despite the pouring down rain, took us out on their boat that they had ready and stocked with rum (Mauritius is known for her rum) sodas, water, beer and snorkeling gear!
Some drinks and a dive into the water with an under water camera!
Ahhh! I love fish!
Anyway, enjoy the photos!!
India Blog Post
India was a place I have only dreamt of visiting, yet here I was on my way to this colorful, diverse country. I was ecstatic, to say the least.
Our ship arrived in the port of Cochin, India located in the state of Kerala. I woke up that morning, opened my port-hole to see a few local authorities standing outside. They noticed me peeking out and waved with laughter. Great start, can’t wait to step off the ship!
Finally I was able to disembark and I and one other friend headed out into Cochin without much plan or idea of what we’d do – just eagerness to get off the ship. It actually went pretty well! We managed to push through the dozens of taxi drivers begging us to use their service, and got a ticket to ride the ferry to the other side of Kerala. Once we got there, we realized with the bustling streets that it would not be the safest to walk along the area (nor would it be the most productive, considering both my friend and I had a 5 day trip planned with a tour group and we had to be back for pickup in the evening.) A local pulled us aside and said “100 rupees for tuktuk tour! Interested?” Now, a tuktuk is this sketchy, tiny, open-air vehicle that locals and tourists take as taxis. We heard about these tuktuk tours before, and actually this was the cheapest offer we had heard. Not only did it seem convenient, but also fun. So, we took this guy up on his offer and he took us on a short tour of the area.
We stopped by museums, old churches, shops, and even the beach. The beach was particularly fun – there were goats and dogs everywhere, as well as locals playing Cricket. He also showed us the local life, and we had a stop at a laundry place, where locals washed all their clothes by hand. We ended the tour with a stop at a place to grab lunch – The Dosa House. I never had a dosa before, they are kind like spicy, flavorful pancakes with assorted chuttneys on the side. (pardon any misspelling)
When we got back to the ship, I packed my bags and was ready to rock n’ roll to my text India adventure. I had a 5 day, 4 night trip planned with a tour group organized by one of the other Semester at Sea students. Our first flight would take us to Hyderabad, India.
We got to the airport that night, boarded our flight and eventually arrived at out hotel in Hyderabad. The guy who organized this tour for us was actually Indian himself, and his grandma (who lives in Hyderabad) came along with us and met us at the airport. She greeted us with bottled of waters and smosas – quite possibly the sweetest woman alive. We also had a meal ready for us when we got to the hotel, which was Biryani, a spicy indian rice-based dish served with yogurt and breads. It was delicious, but quite frankly I thought I was going to die by how terribly spicy it was….it was…the good kind of pain though. Yummy..satisfying…but painful.
The following morning we stopped at various museums, but what really highlighted the day was a visit to a local all-girls college that was actually run by the grandmother I mentioned before. This was absolutely amazing. The girls all excitedly greeted us with hugs, served us snacks, and we spoke to them about college life in the US and our experiences in India. Turns out, we made the Hyderabad newspaper!
That evening was something absolutely mind blowing. We had the opportunity to see Hyderabad’s famous night-time laser show! Lasers reflected off of water and presented beautiful images and told a beautiful story of India. Bollywood music played in the background, locals all danced together. The laser show, which was conveniently in English, spoke of how India came to be with it plethora of religions. At the end, it brought Islam, Christianity and Hinduism together as one in complete harmony. Seriously, I pay for a plane ticket back to India just to see that laser show again.
In the next few days we got to visit Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal in Agra/New Delhi. Both of these places were surreal. I could not believe I was actually there, and I did my best to absorb every second of its outstanding beauty.
The Taj Mahal, as many of you may know, is one of the world’s greatest wonders. Built in around 1632, it was created by Mughal Muslim emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved and dearly departed wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Inside rests her tomb.
On the final day we took a trip to down town Delhi for a visit to the Jama Masjid Mosque. When we arrived the mosque-keepers (for lack of a better word?) covered the women in scarves and clothing, and we removed our shoes and were able to enter the mosque. Somehow I wondered away from the group and found myself floating about. The inner mosque was filled with tourists, however as I got to the back of the mosque there was a second exit. The back was higher up on a platform, and presented an absolutely beautiful view of Delhi. Only locals sat in this area, praying, listening to music. I instantly felt out of place, and all eyes were suddenly on me. Family’s found me amusing and asked me to take photos with their children. It was embarrassing, but part of the cultural fun travel brings.
At the end of this day our tour operator surprised us by taking us to a place where we could celebrate India’s holiday known as “holi”. It was a little early, but it was just for fun. The tradition is throwing colorful dust on everyone around you and screaming “HAPPY HOLI!” It’s supposed to be a lot of fun, and it brings friends and family together during this time. It WAS a lot of fun, although getting that stuff out of my clothes, hair and skin proved to be a challenge
And so ended our tour and we were transferred back to the ship.
On my final day in India I spent it at a local boy’s orphanage. The boys at the orphanage were all once street-children, working and begging for any penny possible before picked up by the orphanage. The kids all danced and preformed for us, we played games such as soccer or basketball, and finally had a traditional Kerala meal served to us on banana leaves (probably the most delicious thing I ate on the trip!)
In High School some of my best friends were in fact from the country of Burma (presently known as “Myanmar”) and in college when I was an intern for Michigan’s Refugee Development Center I taught English to young Refugee student from Burma. Naturally when I discovered that I would travel to Burma I was in shock, thinking “I am going to visit a place that people flee from?”. Although my understanding of the unrest in Burma is limited, I worked to prepare myself. Not two weeks before we ported into Burma there were protests nation wide. These protests were held by the Buddhist Monks of Burma fighting for their rights and beliefs as people. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but nevertheless I was excited to experience a country only few foreigners have gotten the chance to explore.
We ported into the capitol city Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) and my experience on this day would be to explore the city in depth. The first night started out with an evening transfer to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which proved to be absolutely beautiful. I honestly expected a pretty building to take pictures of, but this went simply beyond that. The Pagoda was huge, going beyond my initial expectations. You enter and remove your shoes, and follow a walk way into the main center of the Pagoda. Once at the center, you are surrounded by countless small Pagodas, Buddhists statues, meditation/prayer areas, worship area, and of course there are Monks walking around and basically relaxing everywhere. Smells of incense filled the entire area, and when the sun set it became an even more amazing sight to see as the lights turned on to brighten everything in sight. The Pagoda itself (the stupa_ stood over 98 meters into the air. Following the Pagoda we had a stop for dinner, where I was able to taste Burmese curry. Not exactly my favorite kind of curry, but it wasn’t half bad. I can now officially say I have tried every kind of curry offered to man.
(above curry imagine from google)
The following day I had a field lab with my Theater class. This labs topic was Burmese Puppetry. The day proved to be more interesting than I expected, especially since I have never been a fan of puppets. We watched the puppet masters create these works of art by hand, which was incredible. Something I really found to be interesting was that these puppets are made with care, and the genitalia is included in their making. We asked why this was, and the answer was that to the puppet master these are more than just mere puppets, but real beings with soul, therefore it is crucial to include all the essential parts a creature would need to survive – from genitalia, to fingers and arms, they put careful detail into every part. Later, we watched a performance with the puppets, and in it depicted Burmese culture and music. From the puppet show I learned that religion (Buddhism) is a very important part of Burmese culture and daily life.
(above puppet image from google)
On my third day in Burma I gathered with my friends and we prepared to head off to Ngwe Saung Beach, located about 6 hours from Yangon. This was an adventure I organized through a local tour company, and I was excited to see how it would turn out. En-route to Ngwe Saung Beach we stopped in a city known as “Pathein”. In Pathein we took a visit to a small market where I was bombarded with small children begging for change. I had a large bottle of water than I let them have..which didn’t last long among them. After the market was a stop at a smaller Pagoda. Again, we removed our shoes and headed up. This one was, while much much smaller, still very beautiful. At the end a local monk asked my friend and I to take a photo with him and a few other locals. I found this to be so exciting. Locals in Burma apparently do not see tourists often, at least this is what I was told. I really loved taking photos with them as well! ❤
After the Pagoda we had lunch in a small local outdoor tea house. To play it safe (as this place was not very clean and we had trouble trusting most of the food) we decided to order fried chicken. A small portion of the menu was written in English, so we pointed to what we wanted, however the server later came back to make an attempt to explain that what we requested was not actually chicken..but just..fried chicken bones. We were all very confused…
Upon making it to Ngwe Saung beach, we checked into our hotel, which was actually a gorgeous beach-front Bungalow! For only about 30 a night, I was staying at an amazing resort. I couldn’t believe it. It was absolutely breath-taking! During the days we walked the beach and found random, and really nice, places to eat at. Again, the food was cheap. Try and go to a beach front restaurant in the states..you won’t get a fry for 3 bucks..but here an entire meal was between 3-6 dollars. On the beach I rented a horse from a local for about 10 dollars and road him along the beach for an hour – it was difficult, but a lot of fun. We also rented motor bikes and road them from one end of the beach to the other, including a visit to a local island you are able to walk to during low tide. This island, known as “Love Island”, had beautiful statues built on it, an amazing view of the beach, and a weird tree that grew a very thick branch that I was able to climb and swing on. During the evening locals continued to smile and welcome us, and even ask for more photos. This is something I loved about Burma – the people were almost too incredibly kind and could easily be compared with Japanese hospitality. One night we walked to a little Japanese/Burmese restaurant that had an evening fire show.
On the way back from Ngwe Saung Beach we stopped at a local Elephant Camp. For 5 dollars the elephant keepers took us on a ride through the jungle with their elephants. It was amazing! Elephant are so much fun.
I left Burma on the final day wondering how such a country could be in current unrest. Maybe it was because I stuck to touristy areas, but I felt Burma seemed like a beautiful, still-developing country. A lot of the voyagers were complaining heavily about their Burmese experience, that it wasn’t clean enough, there were not enough banks or ATMS..but I honestly loved the developing charm Burma had. It was indeed a whole new world, but I enjoyed every moment of it and would love to see Burma again one day.
Like many of the countries to come, Vietnam just wasn’t one of those places I ever saw myself going to, although it is one I really felt excited about. We ported into Vietnam and instantly I noticed how hot it was. We went from below 30’degrees in China to over 100 in Saigon, Vietnam! Finally, warmth! The cold has its charm, but I am really a summer-time type of person.
My first night out in Vietnam was amazing! I had the local shuttle take me down town where a lot of SASers were gathering. I had originally gone with one guy and another girl but when we got there I found two of my closest guy friends just looking about with no real plan. So we all agreed to head out and grab a bite to eat at a very random hole-in-the wall restaurant, which turned out to be amazing. Seafood hotpot, giant prawns and eggrolls really hit the spot! Cheers to a Saigon Beer, and then exploration around the city. Eventually we split off and it was just I and my two friends. We decided to get massages, which is what Vietnam seems to be famous for. For 15 bucks I got a facial, foot, leg and head massage and it was extremely relaxing…..in the states a facial alone would be 40+. Before the massages we stopped at a Vietnamese coffee place, where we had Weasel Coffee (a Vietnamese delicacy) What’s that you ask? Are you sure you want to know? Well, they feed the weasels coffee beans, they ferment in their tummies…and I am sure you can guess the rest. It was the strongest coffee I have ever drank ! By the way, it was Valentine’s Day this night, and at the end the waiter gave me free dessert! It was truly a blast! We stopped by an amazing outdoor market, and on the streets locals were selling nick-knacks, I stopped along the way and bought a really nice bamboo flute for my dad, a traditional instrument of Vietnam.
The city where we ported, Saigon, is extremely bustling and fun! Abundant with plenty of bars (filled with tourists), places to eat and shops, it really is a hotspot. On the roads are endless amounts of motor bikes. I never took a taxi in Vietnam…because getting on the back of a motor bike and paying a dollar to a local just seemed so much more thrilling. I know it seems crazy, and in a way it was, but it’s something you must do in Vietnam. Locate a trustworthy local, usually you know they are responsible if they hand you a helmet. Not only is it fun, but it helps out the local community.
Later on into my Vietnamese experience, I took a trip to a local orphanage with a trip organized through Semester at Sea. My first impression was that it was dirty and smelled horrible, but after opening my eyes a little more, the environment for the kids was actually spectacular; a perfect sense of community, meals, clothes, balls and smiling faces. The children swarmed my crayons and coloring books I brought for them.
Eventually I found myself traveling with a group of friends back into the city during the day. Today’s destination was the War Museum. I had to remind myself where I was, and who I was, in this beautiful country that suffered not too long ago (and still suffers in many aspects, although greatly improving and developing) Reading signs and seeing pictures of the victims of Agent Orange due to the war in Vietnam that horribly deformed people and left children deformed before birth. I was horrified, but also left with hope. Other signs showed Vietnam’s determination for success, and how they have come through the hardship and now work as one of the U.S’s greatest allies.
On the way back from this day trip my friend got me some coconut water sold by a random vendor on the street!
On my final days in Vietnam I spent them in the Mekong Delta. We road rafts and canoes down the river, where we stopped to hike and explore nearby villages. We took a boat to a nearby cabin where we spent the night in mosquito nets and had cooking lessons outdoors. The next day we visited the largest floating market in the world, and continued our boat ride down the river, we passed locals working and children playing. What I loved most about this was everywhere we went there seemed to be hammocks! I found myself drifting to sleep on many occasions. On one day we even rented bicycles and road them around the Mekong Delta villages, where we passed little hut-houses, farms and animals galore!
Locals and children always smiled and waved loudly at us as we passed, welcoming us to Vietnam!
At one point we event stopped at a little workshop where we sampled and watched locals make coconut candies, which was absolutely delicious! On my final day we hiked to an area that had hundreds upon hundreds of birds (mostly egrets) among the treetops!
Oh and there are lots of REALLY cute dogs wondering around in Vietnam! I can’t say they are “stray” they are all taken care of by the greater community, although they technically explore and live as they like, these little furry cuties tend to find homes on their own.
Vietnam was an amazing experience! I really hated to say goodbye, there was still SO MUCH that I did not get to see! I missed Ha Long Bay,and the Cu Chi Tunnels, but with only 6 days (and the amount I did see) I can’t exactly complain! See’ya Vietnam, and hello Singapore!
When reality set In that I was going to be heading to China with Semester at Sea, I honestly wasn’t so sure what I would be doing in China. It was never a place I’d see myself going to – but here I was on my way! I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle, the pollution I have heard so much about, and while I wanted to see the Great Wall, I felt I wanted an experience a little more diverse, something I could relate to…something I would fall in love with. As such, I set my heart on going to Guilin, China way up in the mountains. Why? Well, initially I was simply interested in seeing the great wonders of Guilin: Reed Flute Cave and Elephant Trunk Hill. I am a nature junky, I love caves, I love to climb and hike, so I felt this would be the best choice for me. Little did I know, Guilin held something so much more precious, something I know will stick with me forever.
We did visit the caves and the hill I mentioned, and I loved every second of it. While extremely touristy, I tried to see past that as I placed the palm of my hands inside Reed Flute Cave and tried to absorb the 180 million year old phenomenon it is. The cave was decked out in colorful lights, and although I would have preferred to see it in its natural state, the colors did give its amazing structure charm. This cave has seen so much – I wish it could speak because I’d have so many questions.
Elephant Trunk Hill was just pretty to look at. A natural formation that resembles the trunk of an elephant, locals liked to dress up and take pictures in front of it. I wanted to touch it. No matter Guilin was freezing, I wanted to cross the river and climb it.
Eventually it was time to get on the bus, up the mountain, to board a second buss which continued up the mountain via a winding (and terrifying) road, and finally we excited to see countless stairs going up. It was hiking time! Through the freezing fog, we headed up the mountain. I saw tribes and villages, small schools, markets, woman selling taro roots cooked over an open fire. So many fire places everywhere! To keep warm I often bought these taros and munched on them – much like a potato, but somehow so much more satisfying.
Completely engrossed with what I saw as I passed by locals, I didn’t even notice the view that was slowly becoming. Eventually, I looked up and I thought I’d fall off the mountain in pure shock. We were so high, in the fog, and in the distance I could see the amazing beauty Guilin brought. The mountains and land formations were other worldly – it was something I only ever saw in the movie Avatar, yet here I was, on planet earth, seeing what just didn’t look real. Any and all of life’s problems became so pointless staring into its vastness.
Eventually lunch was served in a cabin like building. Inside, it was still freezing but a lovely fire place warmed the enclosure as we all gathered in, and we were served soups and fish. Places and meals like this I only ever saw playing Skyrim or watching Game of Thrones. I remember often thinking “ it would be quaint to be exploring long, freezing distances to take cover in a cabin with a fire place where a fresh meal is served” yes, I am weird, and when I was here I realized that I was experiencing something too pleasantly similar. The small things please me so well.\
It was even greater the next day to board a river cruise on the Lijang River from Guilin to a small area known for its popular water show and, again, its surrounding hill and mountain formations. On the cruise we passed by mini floating markets where men on bamboo rafts sold fruits and fish on the water.
Eventually we made it to our destination: Yangshuo! Our hotel was in the heart of what the locals called “The largest market in the world” and that night we headed to something that left a print on me forever: The water show of Yangshou! You can only see such beauty here, and only here. You go to a place where there is a small clearing to see the river, and behind it are the amazing mountains and hills I keep mentioning. At night you head here, and the lights are all off: and then it begins. Women come out dressed in lights while floating on rafts, sing their heart out to tell a story of their tribes and love for the land. Huge spot lights turn on and brighten the beautiful hills and mountains, so it is all you see. I wish I could describe to you such a sight to see, but you can only experience it if you go for yourself! So please do, Head to Guilin, China – you will love the culture and history, and coupled with the sights to see it is impossible not to fall in love with. Go when it’s warm, although the freezing temperatures had a special charm.