Life on the MV Explorer:
Just as the waves roll by and along the ship’s side, so have the days spent at sea. Some are more unique than others, containing a conversation that’s a precious and genuine as a gem. Others are frittered away with classes and chatter. Despite the kind of day, I always feel this overwhelming need to push for progress. A voyage that is essentially designed to force me to unplug from the normalcy of my collegiate life, I still strive to make a mark, even if it is in the simplest of ways. I found my outlet amongst my sea, which is really just the division of housing within the ship’s decks. My side of the 4th deck upon the MV Explorer has been dubbed the Red Sea. Within one of our initial Sea meetings, we broke the ice with awkward, camp like handshakes. These were comforting in a way and reminiscent of warm up activities from Freshman Orientation or Student Government Retreat back at Quinnipiac. But quickly, we got down to business in outlining our main goal…winning the Sea Olympics. This is a day full of relays, gym class sports and friendly rivalries. Appointed to plan the Sea Olympics were two individuals from each Sea who would act as co-captains and assist their team to victory. Myself, along with a girl in the cabin next to mine volunteered for the job. Thinking back, it’s so typical for me. Even after sailing miles from home, I still need to contribute for the good. This fact seems fitting considering I’ve been to more leadership conferences than birthday parties thanks to my involvement on my home campus. Anyways, after attending several meetings, selecting the events, crunching the points, the day of the Olympics Ceremonies came. The entire shipboard community piled into the Union and waited for the games to begin. We each fired off our cheers and rants as well as displayed our creative flairs on our Sea’s banner. After these first challenges where judged, and the Red Sea failed to place in any event, it was clear that we would be the underdogs of the competition. The next morning however, brought new hope as our small, but mighty Red Sea came in first place in two events, and won spirit points for our overall attendance and sportsmanship. At the end of the day, we all just made it about having a great time and showing the members of our community support in their efforts. When we reconvened in the Union for closing ceremonies, we were satisfied with the cheer we brought to the table. As the winners were being announced, we didn’t hear our names be called for 2nd or 3rd place. This being said, we went crazy when 1st place went to our little Red Sea! We had somehow overcome the odds. Looking around as we were cheering in celebration and slight disbelief, we took the center of the Union stage together knowing that it was a win everyone contributed to. This being considered, walking around the ship lately has been pretty sweet. The Red Sea has relished in the ability to milk the bragging rights as well as looking forward to being the first to disembark the MV Explorer when we reach our final port of San Diego, California.
But this victory got me thinking about small victories in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it’s really these little goals that drive us forward. Maybe it’s these that are the most important. I’ve started to view the small accomplishments in a new way, a way that makes them significant. While it’s nice to try to save the entire world, maybe it just as important to contribute every day to the overall evolution and save our every day worlds. We can think big all we want, because that global thinking is essential. But just as vital in the continuation of global good is the local acts and holding onto the hope that random acts of kindness will perpetuate enough of the world to create a path for peace.
All the Indian Ocean’s love and mine,
We entered the Amazon. The water should have been a precursor to the reaction I may have to Brazil and it’s environments that would soon surround me. However, the river never breathed a word of it’s deception, it just surrounded us, staying a consistently watered down chocolate color and as cloudy like milk. We continued to sail down the river a thousand miles; a distances that resembles the travel between Chicago and Boston, until we were there, our next port and new location for an outing. Manaus at first glance looked just like an American city but in a time warp due to its colorful advertising that seemed to be a tribute to the 1980’s. Since it was a Sunday, the city was slightly dead, but there was still fun to be had. Growing up on the East Coast prepared me to survive with some humidity. But in comparison to Brazil, a muggy, Maine day is child’s play. Jeans and shirts soaked with sweat; we called off the exploration for lunch. After enjoying traditional Brazilian steak and searching for enough reception to make some calls home, the walking continued. Brazil smelt like rain and soot. This smell was exceptionally prominent that night when we dove into the essence of Brazilian culture at a traditional Samba dance. The streets were closed off and there was a beautiful blend of students and locals moving together. While we shook ourselves silly and most enjoyed too much tequila, the city came alive. It was almost sad to see the sunrise.
The next morning, I discovered what the notorious Amazon had in store for me. Aboard a riverboat, I was overwhelmed with wonder, the smell of diesel and anticipation. Four the remainder of our time in port, I would travel the Amazon and explore the rainforest. The first day was a complete success. Myself along with a large group of SASers enjoyed being educated by our tour guide, Fabio and experiencing aspects of life in Brazil only available in the Amazon. We caught Piranha and Cayman, played soccer with kids that live in a village along the river and got an opportunity to swim in the Rio Negro. However, among the fun, the environment caught up to me. Somewhere between the purified water and the intensity of the Sun on the equator, sun and food poisoning cancelled the rest of my trip. So while my fellow Amazonian enthusiasts traveled among the different ecosystems within the rainforest, I slept off the effects for the next three days, snuggled into my blue and orange plaid hammock.
In any event, Brazil wasn’t a complete bust because of the people that I met along the way. The kindness that was present within my interactions with Brazilians was overwhelming. In our first port of significance, Brazil helped to renew my faith in the interconnectivity of the human condition. Even when language created a great divide, a basic human understanding as present, and despite heat, dirty water, or literally a bad taste in our mouths, that understanding made all the difference.
All the Amazon’s love and mine…
We didn’t have a plan. So when the MV Explorer pulled into the port of Roseau, Dominica, we knew anything was possible. It’s hard to put into words the events that occurred over the next few days. I’m not sure if the difficulty comes from the amount of activities, or just because some of us don’t exactly remember. Either way, after the whirlwind stop in this beautiful Caribbean country, my little shipboard family has become sort of notorious for spontaneity.
We decided to wing it, because it would be cheaper, and that’s how we met Kurtis. He started out as our 39-year-old taxi driver and tour guide extraordinaire. However, we experienced 48 hours of him showcasing his PhD in driving and missing potholes, as he navigated us along our adventure through the towns and mountains of Dominica. Somewhere between our first and last steps off the gangway, we came to understand him not only as the best definition of life on this island, but as a friend.
On the first day, he showed us the typical spots for tourists… the hot sulfur and steam baths, Trafalgar Falls and Titou Gorge. But when the tourist attractions were over Kurtis proceeded to open him home to us, and extended an invitation to his daughter Selena’s 4th birthday party. Once there, the real Dominica showed itself. Kurtis, along with his friends and family wanted us to be fully immersed in the local culture, which means we were also immersed in Dominican rum. Through their hospitality, we got a good taste of local spirit, or in this case local spirits. This unique cocktail hour was quickly followed by an array of appetizers that included possum, and some sort of sausage that was in fact not sausage but something wrapped in the intestine of a cow. Although these are things we would never consider within the borders of the United States, the influence of the locals and their bartending skills, made it impossible to turn down these “delicacies.” As the birthday party came to a close, we all piled back into Kurtis’ van and made our way back to port, singing Caribbean jam songs.
The next morning, Kurtis was waiting for us right off the gangway, and in the distance we could hear the locals shout our names in tribute of the night before. As we began round 2 of our experience on the island, we were given nicknames. E was “The Local Hero” because of his possession of an iron liver, and I was “Champion Girl,” as I was the only female adventurer amongst all the boys. Renewed with the spirit of adventure, we set off to the beach. On the South side of the island, instead of typical white sand, the beaches are as black as the night sky. While admiring the beauty of the ocean greeting the nontraditional sand, we grabbed some lunch from a local snack shack. A middle aged Dominican woman greeted me, and in her Creole infused English, she said, “What can I get you, baby?” I told her to surprise me, and she presented me with a cold Dominican beer and a Styrofoam container containing chicken wings that were stewed in traditional spices, rice and beans, and exotic potato salad. After our lunch, we decided to head back to port, and look around the crowded streets of Roseau. We said goodbye to Kurtis after exchanging hugs and email addresses him. Desperately hoping that he would keep in touch, our group walked away from a new, but very dear friend in order to discover a little more about the city he calls home. For the remainder of the afternoon, we enjoyed taking advantage of the new value of our American dollars. With arms full of souvenirs and completely exhausted from our time in Dominica, we headed back up the gangway to watch the ship leave port.
As I stood on the front of the boat, my new home, I looked out on Roseau, and only then understood what had just taken place. In less than 2 days, I had found yet another home. I have grown completely attached to this place, generally unmentioned and tucked into the Caribbean. Dominica is remote, and the contrast between mountains and cities was completely satisfying for a first stop. There are few words to describe how beautiful Roseau looked as it buzzed in front of an immense scene of mountains, rain forest and memories. A tear fell when the city fell from my view, but leaning back on the railing and thinking about the Amazon entrance ahead, provided a little comfort to the sting of leaving such an enchanting place. Brazil definitely has some big shoes to fill, because we’re already planning a reunion trip to rediscover the adventure we found on Dominica.
All the Caribbean’s love and mine…
The Beginning of the Boating:
Before, I dive into the splendor that is life on the big blue; I want to apologize for being incredibly bad at keeping this current. Internet use is limited on the MV Explorer and life has been a whirlwind of new places and faces. So here goes a quick recap. The nights in the Bahamas was spent meeting new friends, who little did I know would soon become more like family. Between the late Bahamas nights, the long customs lines, unpacking and being packed into the ship’s Union for orientation, the 600 something passengers that are joining me on my exploration of the world, have somehow stopped being individuals that represent 200 different universities and instead, we started to realize we’re all here for a common purpose. We’re here to see the world, and use that experience to fill something that might be missing. Our true purposes are all different. Some are wandering, some are searching, some are taking the opportunity to explore before yielding into the real world…but we’re all here together, and that in itself is the catalyst for relationships that far different than those I’ve come into contact with before. Something about our lack of contact with the outside world makes it possible to break down barriers and get to know these new faces faster than you can believe. Some, I’ve only known for about 7 days, but our insides jokes and shared global exploration, makes it feel like I’ve always had them in my life. So while I might not know everyone, I’m certainly meeting some of the most remarkable people. Together, we’ll take on the world, which is still a little surreal. After leaving the first port, I felt so overwhelmed. But also present was this weird mixture of being scared to death of what lies ahead and sublime excitement to take a huge bite out of the next adventure. So instead of crawling into my shell and protecting myself, I hung out with the members of this shipboard community that are near and dear to my heart. And as we discussed the elements of this floating life that are only hilarious to those who live it, the laughter made my nerves disappear. With distant announcements from Captain Jeremy, beginning with “this message is for the entire shipboard community,” and ending with a friendly reminder to not fraternize with the crew, I settle in and enjoy my new home. I could continue to bore you readers about the other elements of ship life, but the size of the cabin, the food, the classes are really just details in the background of something that seems to be a lot more meaningful. There will be pictures posted of those components, just so everyone can get a sense of my floating adventure, but it’s more important to know that I’m okay. I like the constant rocking, I love these people, I’m fascinated by how this semester is unfolding, and I’ll make it back stateside safe, with just a little more salt in my hair than when I left.
All the Atlantic’s love and mine…
So, I don’t really know how I got here. Not here being my first post from day one of the voyage. Physically, I understand the process and transit it took to move me over the map. I put in the hours to make it happen, the phone calls, shopping trips, packing, organizing and gas guzzling transportation. Rather, here being the mental journey about to be embarked upon in this great adventure. If you asked me even 6 months ago what I’d be doing on January 11, 2011, my response would have been something simple surrounding my normal winter break routine. I figured it would be just another Monday. Normally, I’d be joyfully wasting my time with friends, looking, but not really finding, something more. However, my entire life is about to change. I’m transforming myself from a full time Quinnipiac University Junior, to a citizen of the world. No more, am I an involved kid on campus, because it’s finally here. Time to crack open the oyster and see if there’s a pearl. A semester abroad, traveling 11 countries by sea. To follow is the tale of what I’ve traveled through so far…
With bags packed, and eager eyes for the events ahead, I set out for my international flight from Logan in Boston. Thinking all my ducks were in a row, I wasn’t prepared when the SIM card in my iPhone suddenly decided to check out and leave me completely without any form of communication, domestic or international. The lovely device decided instead to lock me out and exist for the next 104 days as a lovely frame of steel. So if you’re reading this, and wondering why there was no response to the fair thee well texts, it’s because I never got them. And after spending about 4 hours driving over the greater Boston area on a Sunday night with zero luck in obtaining a SIM card, it looks like I never will receive them. Thus, I trekked on with the hope that I can be resourceful and luck enough to rely on the kindness of strangers and not 3G services.
The final good-bye was tough. After huge hugs, I walked away with a tear stained shoulder and the reassurance that I’d make it home soon. After getting through security and meeting a fellow Bobcat, I was finally boarding flight 1701 and settling into my seat. Placed next to me were a mother and daughter who came into my life bickering and left the exact same way. The theme of this particular match was apartment rentals and yogurt. The daughter, who would have been beautiful, if she just put a smile on her face, instead, sat with arms crossed demanding that her mother continue to pay for absolutely every expense in her life. Hearing this girl argue about finances and want more than what was already in her very apparently privileged life, reaffirmed the reasons why I’m making this journey. No longer do I want to be like this girl, unaware and unappreciative. I think I already do a fine job of making sure the people in my life know that they are valued, however, many days go by that I’m guilty of taking things, moments and individuals for granted. This is why I thirst for a bigger perspective.
I deeply desire to not be so lost in life anymore. I also wish the same for this girl, who clearly needs connect the dots and realize life isn’t about being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or the Louis Vuitton bag she clutched the entire flight.. Staying focused on my mission behind this voyage, I tuned her and her side chatter out, and opened the enveloped sealed with love that my Big Sapphire Sister, Mallory, lovingly put together to send me off. Laughing again when I noticed the “seriously don’t open this until you’re on the plane” note written on the seal, I tore it open and relived the reasons why my sorority sisters are some of the best people I’ve met. Which is just another reason that makes it harder to leave. But knowing that I have their support, along with the support of my friends and family back home, provides a little comfort and the knowledge that leaving them will make a big difference. Sometimes, you have to spend time away from the people you love to make the time you do spend together that much better.
I guess all that there is left to say is I hope this is as amazing as it is made out to be. I’m pretty open minded about what I’ll find out there. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll even manage to find myself. Worst-case scenario is that I walk away with a full passport of customs stamps, and that doesn’t sound like a bad deal at all. So for now, I think I’m going to hit the town, and discover what this Bahamas place is all about. At the end of the day, if life hands you lemons, just get a little salt and something to wash it all down.