Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 56- Marrakech to Zagora, Morocco

Our wake up call did not happen this morning. Luckily Katie set an alarm so we could be on the mini buses by 7 am to start out 8 hour drive into the Sahara towards Zagora. I slept through most of the ride but stayed up for the switchbacks through some of the Atlas Mountains. They are so beautiful and I would love to return some day to backpack through them. We stopped for lunch at a random roadside restaurant where we had some sort of meat in various shapes. Our long and hot journey led us to the side of the road in the desert. Not really the middle of the desert and there weren’t many sand dunes. There were actually power lines that we followed for part of the way on our camel trek. Janae and I shared a camel for our hour long ride to the nomad camp. We passed some houses and saw children staring at the crazy Americans.


INSERT MUSIC REPORT HERE: (I already wrote about this once and I’m pressed for time so forgive me if it’s not exactly what you want to hear)

We were greeted by singers and dancers at the entrance to the cluster of tents. As we hopped off our camels, our group cautiously filed past the nomad performers, under the archway, and into the center of the camp. After putting our bags in our individual tents, we settled on carpets around the campfire. While we chatter, a group of performers entered the campsite. It was a group of thirteen men, dressed all in white with caps on their heads. They wore black belts across their chests and small swords at their hips. They lined up as if setting up a stage and two men crouched in front with big drums. They sang a traditional Berber song in Arabic accompanied with hand gestures and slight body shifts. At one point two men stepped out of line to dance in front of the group. The two danced in a back and forth way, mirroring each other’s movements. When they returned to the group, the lined joined hands and continued singing in unison. I originally thought their sound was homophonic; the melody of their voices sounding over the supporting beat of the two drums. As I listened more closely, I could tell there was something else going on. I scanned the faces of the singers, looking for a clue. The second to last man, on the far right of the line, was the one who was throwing me off. He was not singing the same sounds as the rest of the group. He wasn’t even singing on the same rhythm. His voice was contrasting the group in pitch and in time. His high pitched shout poked sharply through the solid melody of the rest of the line. The fact that he rose forward on his toes as his voice piped up accentuated his oppositional stance. Once I recognized the source of the contrasting sound, I was totally fascinated by it. I whispered to everyone around me and pointed excitedly to my discovery.

I spent the rest of their performance sitting with my mouth hanging open trying to soak up any and all details I could observe. At that moment I tried to take in the moment and the experience as a whole while trying to thinking critically about the music I was listening to. As much as I was wrapped up in the surreal concept of being somewhere in a huge desert in a nomad camp with the sun setting colorfully behind me, I was aware that the men in front of me were at work, performing for tourists. If I turned around the little bubble that I was in with those men would pop and I would be once again sitting with two hundred other students watching a show instead of living the life of a Berber nomad. Although the music, the singing, and the dancing were authentic Moroccan, there was something holding it back from being completely traditional. I think that something was the setting and the audience. When one of the singers brought a girl up and placed her in the middle of their line to join the group, I was again aware of our position as outsiders. As far as I know, a woman would not just jump up and join the ensemble for laughs in any other situation. However, the look of sheer terror on the face of the girl was too priceless to be critical any longer and I laughed along with the rest of the audience.

As the men’s troupe exited, another musical ensemble entered with two female dancers. This group included a ney, and three different drums. One of the drums was played with the hands but the other two were different than any other drums I’ve seen. They were played on both ends at alternating times, with two different kinds of sticks. The four musicians played while the women walked around the audience dancing. They grabbed students and got them dancing; first in a small circle and eventually in a long conga line around the entire central part of the campsite. The audience participation was the same as the night before, when we went to the folk show and horse fantasia. The women danced throughout the group while the male musicians followed behind.

Although I had experienced similar musical performances through video clips before arriving in Morocco, I do not think I would have been able to understand the attitude the performance creates in person. The look of happiness on the women’s faces as the led a train of young Americans around in the flickering fire light or the serene but serious expression of the men as they chanted deep into the night. Watching a documentary, reading other’s research, or listening to recordings would not do this experience justice. There is no way to learn what it’s like to fall asleep listening to a drum séance from reading a book. Being in the field and having the opportunity to get to know the people you are studying on a personal level is the only way to have the complete experience. Facts and figures are the same in life as they are on paper, but culture cannot be fully transmitted over distances through various forms of technology. Culture needs to be experienced firsthand, from those who live it daily. Culture is shared, learned, patterned, adaptive, and symbolic.



As the night went on, some annoying kids decided to get drunk and cause a ruckus. We had settled into our tents and fallen asleep after gazing up at the billions and billions of stars that reminded me of The Lion King when the starts form Mufasa and he talks to Simba. Around 1:30 am we heard a commotion from the tent next door. A guy and a girl had run up the top of the (handmade) tent and slid down the other side. I sat up as they were running up the top of my tent and they stepped on my head. I ran outside to yell at them as they jumped off the other side. As they ran past me I said, “You stepped on my head.” The boy’s response was, “You’re lucky that’s all I stepped on.” I don’t know this boy and he doesn’t know me so there is no reason for him to say that. Yelling amongst the drunken people continued till 3 am when Pearson finally intervened. I was so angry and embarrassed by the vulgar things that these people were saying that it was really hard to sleep.


+ + +

I have never seen anything more amazing (although I probably said this in another post) than the stars in the middle of the Sahara. I really expected Mufasa to start lecturing me on my purpose in life.


- - -

I don’t think I have to explain what my minus for today was.

Day 55- Casablanca to Marrakech

Early this morning 198 students gathered in the fifth deck dining hall to prepare for our camel trek into the Sahara desert. I was slightly grumpy because 1) there are way too many people on this trip and 2) there were too many clouds to see the sun rise this morning. The trip leader Michael Pearson divided us into 2 groups and passed out our passports. Jon and Janae ended up in the other group but I knew Jay Roberts in my group. Since there are so many of us we have to stay in two hotels in Marrakech. Our group loaded into 16 mini buses (about 15 people per bus) with our 4 guides (2 of which actually spoke English). The drive from Casablanca to Marrakech was approximately three hours. The scenery was surprisingly like the Texas country side. It was relatively flat and since it is summer, mostly brown. Our caravan stopped a few times along the way but our bus mostly slept. Matt Place actually slept on the floor of the aisle.


We arrived in Marrakech at the main square/plaza/bazaar around three o’clock and took over a whole restaurant for lunch. My first experience with Moroccan food was interesting. The first course was an assortment of veggies served with bread. We had potatoes, carrots, beets, eggplant, and peppers. The second course was chicken with some sort of yummy spices. Dessert was a variety of cookies and very thinly sliced oranges topped with cinnamon and some sort of crushed nuts. The oranges were fantastic and I highly recommend looking up a recipe.


We had some free time to explore the square before going to our hotel. The square was like a scene from a movie. There were snake charmers, monkeys, ladies doing henna, and carts selling food all around. Music filled the air as did all sorts of smells, good and bad. Jay and I browsed the shops for a bit but didn’t buy anything. He got a snake thrown around his neck by a local man and had to pay to take a photo and get it off. There was a man playing with a cobra and a man who got a funny looking snake to bite him on the nipple.


After this lovely cultural experience, we headed to Hotel Oudaya to check in and put our bags down. Kate and I decided to share a room so we cleaned up and got ready for our evening activities. We went by bus to Chez Ali for a folk show and horse fantasia, whatever that means. As we walked down the promenade around the arena, we passed several groups of performers, each playing a different tune. All around the complex there were rooms full of tables set for dinner. We were ushered into various rooms to await our meal. I found Jon (a little tipsy) and sat with him, Catherine (ex DASH) Kira, Euphae (sp?), Galla, Chen and Huong. Chen, Euphae, and Huong are from China and Galla studies in Mongolia. Huong and Chen are in ethnomusicology so we talked about how much we like Dr. Jones and his class. The performers walked from room to room, giving us a little preview of their music. I was really tempted to join in the dancing.


Dinner was similar to lunch but involved some couscous. Dessert was delicious fresh fruit: peaches, plums, and oranges. The folk show started after dinner and took place in the arena. There was a camel with a little house on top that you could go on for a ride around the arena. The main group of horseback riders galloped across the dirt in a straight line, back and forth with rifles in their hands. There were a handful of riders who did tricks like flipping off, running alongside the horse, and jumping back on. There was also some belly dancing by a lady on a platform built over a car that drove around the arena. The finale was a bunch of fireworks while the musicians from earlier played a song fit for movie credits. I fell asleep almost instantly when I got back to the hotel after such an adventure packed day.


Days 50 to 54- At Sea

These five days at sea ended up being a whirlwind but a much needed break from running around a foreign country. The first two days were spent at sea, catching up on school work, writing papers, giving presentations, sunbathing and sleeping. Our third day was an off day and at first no one knew what to do with ourselves. We were all thinking, “What the heck do we do without classes?” Well, SAS took this opportunity to ask us for more money! Day 3 at sea was the Shipboard Auction that featured artwork, clothing, vacations, food, dinner dates, stargazing, packing assistance, powerpoint tips, etc. etc. etc. I was very amazed and impressed by the items students and faculty came up with to donate. There was a silent auction going on for most of the day and the live auction after dinner. Most of the trips were auctioned in the live auction and went for a lot of money. A trip to Pakistan for a week with a private cook, driver etc. went for approximately $2,000. Sounds like a great deal compared to planning the trip on your own but still a big chunk of money after going on this voyage. I was shocked by some of the money people were spending. Up until this point I hadn’t really noticed how many of the students on this trip are really really privileged but tonight really brought out how spoiled some people are.


Day 4 and 5 at sea were class days again, we have been working on a class project for my education class. A lot of work and research and group meetings but still better than writing another 5 page paper. One night we watched the movie Casablanca in the union as a group. I had never seen it before and I thought it was great. I am a little bit sad I won’t have time to visit Rick’s Café when we finally arrive in Casablanca but I will try to make it there one day. Even though I know that Sam won’t be there.


Day 5 was spent bunkering in Gibraltar again. It was kind of a long day and we speculated as to where Gibraltar really is. If anyone knows who it belongs to or any other information please share! The last night after pre-port we gathered in the Golden Palace for Jon’s haircut. He has beautiful brown hair a la Zac Effron but decided it needed to go before our camel trek in Morocco. Erik grabbed the clippers and I grabbed the scissors and we went to town. An hour later Jon had a fantastic mohawk and looked like quite the BA.  There was a pile of hair on the ground that looked like a dead cat but he looked great. The crew kept passing us as we worked through the mass of hair on his head and giving us crazy looks. I am very proud of the result and can’t wait to see his parents’ reaction when they see him in Virginia!


+ + +

I went on a bridge tour today and was very surprised to see that only two people work there at a time. We learned about all the gadgets on the “dashboard”, the computers, the flags, and all that jazz. We each got to take a picture in the “captain’s” chair, looking with binoculars out at the wide open ocean in front of us. It was really neat and interesting but I don’t think I could ever work there. Too many flashing lights, buttons, phones ringing, and fire alarms going off for me.


- - -

Erik tried to shave my arm hair with the clippers; he might have gotten a patch.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 49- Sharm El Sheikh to Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt

This morning was a repeat of the other day with a 5 am wake up call for our 8 am flight back to Cairo. We ran into a little trouble in the airport because apparently we didn’t have the right visas/stamps in our passports. We had port stamps, not general Egypt travel stamps. Good thing Elias was there, otherwise we would have never made it back. After some smooth talking (I bet it helped he had a gun) we boarded the plane for the hour long flight. Once back in Cairo, we headed to the National Archeological Museum, also known as the Egyptian Museum. We saw King Tut’s mask and various treasures from his tomb. His body/mummy is still in his tomb, but we saw a bunch of other mummies. There were human mummies of all sizes, cats, dogs, birds, snakes and even a crocodile that was at least 16 feet long (according to my feet)!


We had a speedy lunch at the same hotel by the pyramids then said so long to them as we started the three hour drive to Alexandria. We arrived fifteen minutes early to beat the group of 200 to make it on the ship without standing in the blazing sun for too long.


+ + +

I did not get detained in the Sharm El Sheikh airport or get taken to jail.


- - -

The museum was not air conditioned and all the mummies started to look the same after a while.


Day 48- Sharm El Sheikh

This morning I tried falafel for breakfast…not really what I think of as a morning food but it was ok. We jumped in mini buses at 8 am to head to Ras Mohamad National Park to go snorkeling. Once we arrived to the park our first stop was the camp grounds, where there is no camping allowed. Strange, I know, but it has something to do with protecting the environment which is totally understandable after seeing the pollution in Cairo. Next we saw the gate that was built to commemorate the agreement between Egypt and Israel about who Sinai belongs to. One on side it saws God in Arabic and on the other it says it in Hebrew. It is made totally out of cement. Then we saw some mangroves and some funny looking crabs. They had one huge pincher and one little one. Next was the magic lake. We all changed into our bathing suits and stood in a line at the water’s edge. With Sayid’s guidance we joined hands, took 10 steps into the lake, shouted “habibi” (or something like that, it means darling in Arabic) three times and jumped into the water. Supposedly this ritual will make you younger. Grant and Matt Stamper (professor Stamper’s sons) were worried about being any younger so they snuck in an eleventh step to become older. So far no one shows signs of aging in either direction.


We finally made it to our snorkeling spot and had the equipment distributed. I ended up without flippers but didn’t think that would be a big deal. I just had to learn how to use the snorkel because my breathing is not that coordinated usually. I have been snorkeling a few times but this was the best spot I’ve ever been too. I’ve never been in such crystal clear water, seen so many fish, or coral. We swam for about an hour looking at damsel fish, napoleon fish, and trigger fish maybe? I can’t remember all the names but we saw at least 7 different kinds of fish in schools and then a bunch of other fish on their own. Sarah got burned by fire coral on her butt so we headed back to the hotel to take care of her wound. I spent the afternoon laying around and watching movies, taking it easy so my cold wouldn’t fully develop. After dinner Marissa and I did some shopping in the old market. More souvenirs!


+ + +

I’m glad Marissa and I went all the way to the old market because until tonight I felt like I hadn’t seen anything except for our hotel. Now I can recommend places to people who might visit Sharm El Sheikh.


- - -

Apparently I had a wedgie while we were snorkeling because my butt got sunburned.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 47- Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

Another early wake up at 6 am put us on the bus at 7 am for the three hour bus ride to St. Catherine City to visit the St. Catherine monastery. Not everyone chose to go with us today so the 13 who did slept on and off between Eman’s announcements. Eman is our guide for this trip. She said we could call her mom if it was easier for us. She told us this area is sacred because many prophets passed through here; Moses, Joseph, Jesus. At the monastery we saw the cathedral and the burning bush. The burning bush was not burning today, it only burns on Sundays. It was found by Moses who heard the voice of God telling him to go to the pharaoh of Egypt and ask him to believe in God. Moses, who had been rescued by the wife of the pharaoh way back when, did what God asked and then escaped from Egypt. He went to Sinai and married a daughter of Jethro who he met at the well, which is also at the monastery. This information is what Eman told us. What I learned in catholic school all those years was not really in line with her story. She left out the part where the Jews were being held captive by the pharaoh, the plagues, etc. etc. I think that may be due to the different perspectives between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Certain things are more important depending on who is telling the story. Anyway, Moses went up on Mount Sinai and got the ten commandments and found his people worshiping a golden calf and then broke the tablets and had to get new ones…I think most people know how it goes.


The monastery is a Greek Orthodox monastery whose patron saint in St. Catherine. St. Catherine lived during the fourth century and was from Alexandria. She was part of a rich, royal, pagan family. Her tutor was a monk who taught her about Christianity and encouraged her to convert. The emperor tried to get her to go back to the old religion because all who converted were killed. St. Catherine was tortured but the next day all her wounds healed so she was ordered to be beheaded. Rumor has it that milk flowed out of her wounds when she was beheaded but that’s about where I stopped listening to Eman.


We were fortunate enough to be shown the library thanks to some connections between the monks and our bodyguard (each tour group has one) Elias. We met Father Justinos who is the only monk here from the United States and only one of two who are not of direct Greek descent. He told us about all the books in the library which is in the process of being rebuilt so most of the books are being packed up. There are thousands of handwritten manuscripts which are written on skins and parchment. There are over 11 different languages in the manuscripts and books but most are in Greek.



After leaving the monastery we went to Dahab which is a few hours away to have lunch at the Hilton. Another buffet with Egyptian food that we are getting tired of, surprisingly. Once we returned to Naama Bay and the Marriott we rested by the pool before showering and having dinner. Most of us decided to go out to Soho Square which is a very popular tourist spot in Sharm El Sheikh. We took a cab there and found the Ice Bar that we had heard about. We bought tickets for 20 Euros (good thing I had some left over). This bar is supposedly one of 6 famous ones although we hadn’t heard of most of them. The ticket is good for warm clothing (as stinky parka with a hood and gloves), 30 minutes in the ice bar, and one free drink. They might as well say one free juice or soft drink because there was no alcohol in those drinks. It was a little awkward because we were the only people in the tiny little room that had ice sculptures of a fish and an eagle. There wasn’t a bar tender and the bottles at the bar were empty. They brought our drinks from the bar outside and the music seemed to be coming from one tiny speaker in the corner. All in all it was a good experience but it wasn’t as spectacular as we had hoped it would be.


+ + +

 I was called upon as the resident Catholic to tell the stories behind the sties we saw today. Ms. Betty and crew back in high school should be proud of me!


- - -

God did not speak to me from within the burning bush today. I did, however, get followed by a small child for 15 minutes while he tried to sell me an egg made of stone.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 46- Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

I was up way before the sun was rising this morning. Also, before most people had left the club in our hotel. We saw them leaving around 6 am when our group was loading the bus to head to the airport. We each received a breakfast box from the hotel which contained 2 Danishes, 2 rolls, ham, cheese, jelly, honey, a muffin, and a piece of fruit. They know how to feed hungry college kids here. The ride to the airport was quick and we flew through security. (They don’t check for liquids or many weapons). The flight lasted less than an hour and before I knew it I was back in Asia. (Sinai is part of Asia although it is no longer part of Israel).


We checked in at the Marriott in Sharm El Sheikh in Naama Bay. Sharm means group of bays and there are 6, I believe, in Sharm el Sheikh. Naama means peace and is one of the most popular resort areas in Sinai. The Marriott here is a five star resort and we all walked into the lobby with our mouths wide open. It is beautiful and has a huge pool just 50 feet away from the Red Sea. We set our bags down to wait for us while we went on a jeep safari in the desert. Four jeeps (really Land Rovers) picked us up and took us about thirty minutes away to the desert where we off roaded in the sand around the mountains for a few hours. Our trip stopped occasionally to take in some amazing views of the vast desert and then half way through to ride camels. We took a 40 minute camel ride, led by some young children. It was much more comfortable the second time around, having the whole saddle to myself. It is pretty similar to riding a horse but the saddle is made of wood and has pretty sharp angles so you have to find that special position to stay balanced. The end of our jeep safari was a Bedouin camp where we lounged on pillows and rugs while we enjoyed homemade bread and tea. The bread was made thin and unleavened like a tortilla and served with goat cheese. The tea was hibiscus tea with more than enough sugar for my taste. As the sun was starting to set we laid in the breeze taking in the quietness of the desert.


Lunch was had at the hotel, a buffet with Egyptian inspired but Americanized dishes. I spent our downtime until dinner laying by the pool and occasionally napping. I wouldn’t have thought I was in Egypt looking around if it weren’t for the ladies swimming in full covering. There are burkas made out of swimsuit material so that even the most devout Muslim women can enjoy water activities. The lack of spoken English around me was also a clue that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. (Side note: I’ve never actually been to Kansas). Most of our group partook in happy hour at the hotel before dinner. We lounged outside by the beach where we were entertained by some belly dancing and sheesha. JJ and I were pulled up to join the belly dancer and we got a standing ovation. Not really, but I heard we weren’t bad at it.


+ + +

I have never been in a more relaxing and peaceful place as the Bedouin camp we visited today. It was obviously put up only for tourists but I think I could get used to their way of life. All I need is a life time supply of SPF 70 sunscreen.


- - -

I fell asleep by the pool this afternoon…all by myself. I must have looked like such a loser!


Day 45- Alexandria to Cairo, Egypt

I saw the sunrise this morning around 6:15 with little land in sight. Our SAS trip met in classroom 8 at 8:30 to prepare to debark as soon as we were cleared. There are 23 students on the trip and a family. Professor Stamper, his two sons Grant and Matt, and his wife are traveling with us. His wife is actually leaving tonight to go back to Virginia because their dog got hit by a car and has brain damage. She is very sad and Rick is very sad to see her go. He said he is already counting down the days till he sees her again and she hasn’t even left yet.


We jumped on the bus right away to get a head start before the Cairo/Luxor trip that has 4 buses full of students left. The trip to Cairo from Alexandria takes about three hours. We won’t get to experience any of Alexandria which is a bummer. Since there are so few of us, we each got our own row of seats on the bus. I think everyone napped the whole way to Cairo and missed the “beautiful” desert scenery on the way to Giza. Once in Giza, which is about 45 minutes outside Cairo, we stopped at a hotel called Meridien Pyramids for lunch. All SAS trips going to Cairo and elsewhere were having lunch at this hotel so we took over the whole ballroom upstairs. There was a buffet lunch which was mostly identifiable, thanks to some handy labels. Unfortunately there are many things we were advised not to eat because of the poor tap water quality. So salad and many of the vegetables were off limits unless we want to bring the TD on this early in the trip. Back on the bus we headed straight to the pyramids which could be seen from the hotel. I could not get over the fact that you might just be driving down the road to the store or to work and see the pyramids just chillin out the window. Totally blew my mind.


So we went over to the pyramids and went to a place where you can take pictures of all three pyramids at the same time. They call it the panorama and it’s a little plateau a ways off from the pyramids. This is where we had our first camel ride. JJ and I paid 50 egyptian pounds each to ride double on a camel named Banana. From the plateau a young boy led our camel train down to the pyramids which took about 20 minutes. At the end of our little trip he took our picture (you can’t really see me because JJ thought it would be smart to sit in front of me…he is over six feet tall)  and of course asked for a tip. In Egypt everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) requires a tip. Photo ops, directions, toilets, anything you can think of will require you to pay at least ten pounds. Luckily most people will accept various currencies so it’s handy to have a supply of 1 USD bills for such situations.


The pyramids are gigantic, we all know this, but there is no accurate description for how tiny I felt next to the massive structures. The bottom layer is taller than me by at least a foot and there are possibly 300,000 stones in each pyramid. It took 20 years to build just one and was totally built by hand. They are absolutely magnificent and I am still struggling to warp my head around the fact that I was there and I touched something that is thousands or years old. Interesting fact: Obama visited the pyramids a couple weeks before us and is the first president of any country to go inside the pyramid. However, he did not ride a camel. What would people say if the President of a country was seen participating in tourist activities. Would anyone take him less seriously for riding a camel? Ask any man who has ridden a camel and he will tell you it is quite an accomplishment.


After visiting the pyramids we strolled by the Sphinx and speculated which animal it most closely resembles. It has the head of a human and the disproportional body of a cat (?). Once we rescued Dan from a camel man and reclaimed his 300 pounds we were back on the bus driving through Cairo, past the Nile, and to Conrad Hotel to check in for the night. We took showers to get rid of the pyramid dust on us and had dinner at the hotel. The dinner conversation was pleasant as I sat next to the Global Studies professor, Alex Nalbach, and his partner Marc Vincent. The figs for dessert were some of the best figs I have ever had in my life.


Our small group returned to Giza at sunset to see the Sound and Light show at the pyramids and Sphinx. Between the lasers, colorful lights, booming music, and animation I learned some interesting Egypt facts. For example, it took 100,000 people to build the pyramids, the granite comes from Aswan, and the pyramids belong to Cheops (and two other guys I can’t remember). I saw a shooting star over Cheops’ pyramid which was a perfect ending to an outstanding day.


+ + +

I walked like an Egyptian today but resisted the temptation to buy a “traditional” head cover like many other people. I felt way too cheesy wearing it, like it was part of a Halloween costume.


- - -

We have a 5 am wakeup call tomorrow.


Day 44- At Sea, Pre-Port Egypt

Since I didn’t get to celebrate my brother Andrew’s birthday yesterday, it was super exciting to celebrate Andrew Buckner’s birthday here on the ship. Andrew turns 20 tomorrow but we will be scattered all over Egypt so we are celebrating tonight. His mom ordered him not one, but two cakes for the occasion! Tonight we had the chocolate ice cream cake and we will have the other after we return from Egypt. I made Andrew a card with a dragon on it because he is quite fond of dragons. He was really excited about it and everyone wrote a nice little message for him.


The biggest event of the day for Andrew was his long awaited haircut. Sam made him an appointment for this afternoon and I tagged along with the camera to document this transformation. Andrew once upon a time had shoulder length green hair and three piercings in his ears. He allowed Sam to direct the stylist to fix him up nice. Luckily Andrew was all smiles during the process but I’m sure he was freaking out on the inside. There was quite a pile of hair on the floor at the end but now he has a real boy haircut! The lady even showed him how to style it using product! Everyone ohhed and awed when he emerged from the spa on the seventh deck. I don’t even recognize him right now because he looks so different.


After the festivities of Andrew’s birthday we went to pre-port for Egypt and learned all about our first stop in Africa. It was interesting but not as much as most pre-ports because I am going on an SAS trip the whole time so I don’t need to know as many details.


+ + +

Andrew looks fantastic and was so brave to trust some girls telling him how to fix his hair.


- - -

I ate too much ice cream cake.


Day 43- At Sea

Today was back to class again. It was a nice sunny day so most of the free time between classes and evening activities was spent outside on the seventh deck. Most importantly, today is Andrew’s 15th birthday! I had a short phone conversation with him after he got out of drivers education for the day. Someone is growing up way too fast. I asked him if he wanted anything cool from Egypt for his birthday and he said nothing in particular, just good pictures. He did mention that he saw a nuclear power plant in either Cookeville or Crossville, Tennessee. That worries me.


+ + +

I am really glad we have two days between ports this time around because all those sleepless nights are starting to catch up with me!


- - -

I didn’t get to celebrate Andrew’s birthday with him for the first time in a LONG time. Hope it was fantastic anyway!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 42- Varna, Bulgaria

I woke up this morning nervous but totally psyched for heading towards the bridge. I had breakfast with Jon, Rocky, and Ryder at Ryder’s request. Rocky (Ryder’s dad) talked me through the bungee jumping, convincing me it would be fun and not scary. I left with Shane, Erik, and Erica and made it to the bridge by 11 am. There was already a small group gathered but the bungee guys were not there yet. We waited about half an hour before we were hungry again so we decided to walk to find some food. Our destination, unfortunately, was the Golden Arches since that’s what we could see from the bridge. It took us way too long to walk there and we got a little lost. I thought I ordered chicken strips but I got chicken wings. Any may I say they were the best darn wings I’ve ever had! It was interesting eating American good in a foreign country. There are no free refills, free water, of free condiments. At least the restrooms here were free, most places aren’t.


By the time we made it back to the bridge there were about 30 people in line. We waited, and waited, and waited for three hours and there was still a crowd in front of me. In the end it got to be 4 pm, time to go back to the ship, and there were fifteen people still in front of me. I just sucked it up and decided I wouldn’t be jumping off any bridges today. I exchanged my Lev for USD instead and went back to the ship to say goodbye to Bulgaria.


+ + +

I had the courage to almost jump off a bridge. And I am convinced that I will one day! Also, banana and whiskey ice cream is a weird but good combination.


- - -

I am still kicking myself for not going yesterday with Whitney and for leaving for lunch today. Oh well, as Shawn said, “Your mother will be happy.”

Day 41- Varna, Bulgaria

I was woken up by a storm at 5 am and even when I went to breakfast it was still raining. I went back to sleep and after lunch Rudy and I headed to the Varna mall to look for some shirts to wear in Africa. Dan, Calvin, Lauren, and Julie came to the mall with us to see a movie. Rudy and I had some trouble finding clothes because the styles here are so different and very strange. Eventually, we found some suitable clothes and relaxed with an iced coffee before going back to the ship to meet Whitney to go bungee jumping.


The walk to the bridge is about 45 minutes and we arrived around 5:45 pm. Several SAS kids were leaving saying that the group was closing up for the evening. We went on (one of the longest bridges I’ve ever seen) thinking we would make reservations for the next morning. There was a small crowd still there so we asked if we could squeeze in tonight. They said yes so Whitney signed her life over to them right away. I wasn’t completely convinced so I waited to see what all this was about. I saw two girls chicken out before one girl just climbed onto the railing and swan dove over the edge. She must have done that before because she looked like she was having a great time. Two guys went just as easily and said it was very fun. I still wasn’t ready so I let Whitney go. We counted down from three and she jumped over the edge. At the bottom, as she hung upside down swinging, she yelled, “That was awesome!” Once she was hoisted back on the bridge, the guys started packing up so I just passed because I could come back tomorrow morning. On the way home all Whitney could say was, “I can’t believe I just did that.” Between watching Whitney and hearing Athena’s stories from the day before, I talked myself into going in the morning.


After dinner a group of us headed to the bowling alley. We found Galaxy Bowling which is on the main strip in town above a gay bar called Alexander. Sam, Shane, Spencer, and I were on a team against Anna, Meredith, Erik, and Andrew. Most of us were horrible at bowling so after one game we went upstairs to play some pool. Sam and I played against Anna and Meredith and won two games. On the way home we snacked on popcorn from a street vendor. We made it back by midnight to prepare for our big day tomorrow!


+ + +

I convinced myself to do something totally dangerous and crazy.


- - -

I had the second worst score in bowling tonight…what else is new though?


Day 40- Varna, Bulgaria



Today a small group of us decided to visit the various tourist sites around Varna. Our first stop was intended to be the aquarium. We followed the map closely but couldn’t find it anywhere. Rumor was it was like Petsmart so we kept walking to find the dolphinarium. Once again, we wandered for a long time and couldn’t find it at all. After a quick photo shoot and a run in with a crazy Bulgarian lady we decided to settle on the beach for the afternoon. I got to swim in the Black Sea which wasn’t as clean as I would have hoped, but still fun. As the sun started to set we walked back to the ship, stopping to peek in on the pro volleyball tournament going on nearby. I spent the evening at a bar on the beach with various SAS kids. Athena, Jon and I had a liter each of Tabour for only 3.50 Lev! There was tequila to celebrate Jess' birthday....again. We had to teach Craig the proper way to take a tequila shot, salt and lime included. We made sand angels and did cartwheels on the beach. When the creepy Australian started asking some girls inappropriate questions we figured it was time to head home.


+ + +

We were really spontaneous today and I liked it.


- - -

If I don’t make it home it’s because a crazy Bulgarian lady cursed us because we didn’t have any money to give her.


Day 39- Varna, Bulgaria

So my streak of sunrises ended this morning when I didn’t hear the alarm. I woke up 30 minutes late and caught the tail end of the sky changing colors. It wasn’t a total disappointment but still a failure. We arrived outside the port of Varna, Bulgaria around noon yesterday but we just had to hang out till tonight around 7 pm. We got to use the tenders in the morning to get on land and explore the city. After breakfast Rudy, Andrew, Erik, Julie, Dan O., Shane, and I walked to the center of town, taking in the new and unique culture of Bulgaria. None of us know much about the country and this is the first time SAS has ever gone here.


We had lunch at Makalali Club on the beach. Julie and I shared a Marco Polo pizza and margaritas. Who knew that Varna was a resort town? It seems to be pretty popular for European tourists and has a nice beach. After lunch I went on the “Wonders of Bulgaria” trip with SAS. Our first stip was Aladzha Monastery. The monastery is a collection of limestone caves from the 13th century. The monks who lived in the monastery were part of the Doctrine of Holy Light order. They values silence and stillness which is why they chose this isolated location for their monastery. We climbed around in the caves for a while then jumped back on the bus to head to Golden Sands, a major resort location. Golden Sans is a beach with several popular hotels, restaurants, bars, discos, and beach activities. We ran into a man advertising a restaurant who had never met and American before. I’m not sure if he was joking or not but he said he had only seen Americans on TV. He was so excited to meet us; it was like a little kid meeting his hero. After exploring Golden Sands and scoping out some evening activities, the tour took us to the Stone Forest. The Stone Forest was formed almost 50 million years ago when the area was actually an ocean. The pillars that make up the Stone Forest are made of clay and limestone that formed underwater like stalagmites/tites. There are many mythical stories connected to these pillars; about positive energy, luck etc. Upon returning to port after our tour, I shoveled down an appetizer at a local restaurant before jumping on another bus for an FDP for my education class.


Jenny took us to the Medical University of Varna to meet undergraduate students our age for a reception they students planned by themselves. We were warmly welcomed by about 30 students. They took us on a tour of their school where we visited the cadaver lab, the library, and a classroom. This university is a program that students attend right out of high school. So for 6 years, 18 to 24, they study medicine and then take a test to be a certified doctor in the EU. To be specialized in any area they spend time training under a doctor. It’s strange to think that people so close to my age are almost doctors. Outside, in the courtyard, we were served snacks and drinks while some professors played guitar and accordion and sang. After being entertained with their original music, the dj put on some traditional Bulgarian songs. One student asked if anyone would like to learn a traditional dance. I threw Jon’s hand in the air so he was pulled up to the front.  He dragged me up there with him and we joined hands with the Bulgarian students. The dance is sort of a conga line with stepping, grape-vining, and skipping. It was fairly easy to catch on and soon enough almost every SAS and Bulgarian student was dancing. I had an amazing time getting to know the students and exchanged some emails. Hopefully we will all keep in touch.


+ + +

Meeting people my age and talking to them like I talk to my friends from home was an amazing experience here in Bulgaria. I really wish SAS would organize opportunities like this to meet our peers in each country. Some people even made plans for swimming tomorrow with the students. I think being with people our age gives us a different perspective. Especially if we aren’t into meeting strangers, this field trip is a safe way to meet locals.


- - -

I got cranky because I didn’t get dinner and I had been away from the boat for more than 12 hours today. I need a shower.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 36- Istanbul, Turkey

I understandably slept in this morning and headed out to the city after lunch on the ship. A group of us browsed the spice market until Anna and Meredith met up with us to go see Galata Tower. The tower is a short walk from the port and has a spectacular view of the city. However, I did not want to spend 10 lira to ride an elevator so only a few people went up and I just pretended that I went by looking at their photos. After the tower, we wandered around Taksim square. It has a nice, wide road with all sorts of shops on both sides. Along the way we found some musicians performing on the corner. We stopped and listened for a while and I really enjoyed their music. There was a drum, hammer doclimer, and guitar. I liked it so much I actually bought a c.d. from them.


We had dinner at a place called 360; higher than almost every building in the city it give a 360 degree view of the breath taking skyline. I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Istanbul. The food was great, definitely worth the money, and a great change of pace from ship food. After dinner I went with Jon, Jack, Athena, Whitney, Amanda, and Kara to a hooka bar to play checkers and enjoy our last night in Istanbul in a more low key way. We enjoyed listening to the call to prayer during the warm night. It’s becoming a normal and even expected daily occurrence that will be missed when we return home.


+ + +

Dinner was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far and made me totally fall in love with this city.


- - -

I thought I was all alone today because I slept too late, luckily everyone else did the same thing!


Day 35- Istanbul, Turkey

Today was the big day for going to the Grand Bazaar. Well rested and armed with Lira we set out across town. First stop, the spice market. Smaller than the Bazaar, this market specializes in spices, tea, Turkish delights, and other foods. There are also jewelry, souvenir, and clothing shops. After a brief stop there and for lunch, we finally arrived at the Grand Bazaar. Our huge group broke up and planned a meeting place and time. Erik, Brooke, Anna, Meredith, Shane, Rudy and I wandered through the labyrinth that is the Bazaar. We saw glass lamps, hand painted ceramics, embroidered cloth, traditional instruments, and exotic jewelry, among thousands of knick knacks and trinkets. We practiced out haggling and came out with some fantastic purchase. We lunched at Ambrosia Café in the Bazaar before more shopping and heading back to the ship.


I met up with Dan and Calvin who invited me to join them for a movie. A group of us jumped on the tram to the “movieplex” to see Harry Potter 6. The theater has assigned seating and no air conditioning. Also, there is an intermission halfway through the movie. When it ended at 11 pm we went back to port to go out for Jess’ (from South Carolina) 21st birthday. Dan, Calvin, Jess, Katelyn, Lexi, Craig and I went to Taksim Square to find some dancing for southern belle Jess. Along the way we met up with Jenna, another Dan, and Stefan, the Bulgarian inter-port student. Jess must have had the most memorable 21st as we arrived back at the ship as the sun was rising.


+ + +

I impressed myself with my ability to negotiate prices in the Bazaar. I’m a terrible liar and turn bright red but I managed to get some things for half the starting price!


- - -

I had to explain to Cassie how to use the toilet at the movie theater. It is just a porcelain hole in the ground with a bucket to splash water in when you are finished. Can you imagine that you have to pay to pee in a hole?


Day 34- Istanbul, Turkey

This morning the girls (me, Sam, Logan, Brooke, Whitney, and Julie) got up early to go experience the traditional Turkish bath. We set off walking in the general direction, intending to ask for directions if there weren’t any clear signs. The bath, or hamam, we were looking for is called Çembalitas and is supposedly 300 years old. We found the two streets where the hamam was supposed to be situated but could not for the life of us find the door or a sign. We asked about five people and finally realized we had passed the entrance three time without noticing it. Once we found the hamam we chose our style bath. We went to the women’s area (men and women are strictly segregated) and changed into our towels. We had all resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be naked but once we went into the steam room we noticed everyone had matching panties on. We awkwardly crept back up to the locker room to get our undies when an attendant showed us the basket of one-size-fits-all black panties that everyone is supposed to wear. Thank goodness we figured that out, otherwise six awkward girls would be the only fully nude ones in the palce. Now that we were dressed appropriately, we could lay on the heated marble slab in the middle of the room to start sweating. Everyone laid together until, one by one, the attendants called us over for our bath.


First, we were splashed with a huge bucket of cool water which felt great in contrast to the warm marble. Then, the attendant scrubbed us all over with an exfoliating glove. I kept my eyes closed, but the other girls said they saw mounds of dead skin coming off their bodies. After the scrubbing, the attendant took a thin cloth full of soapy water and made piles of soap bubbles on my stomach. Then she lathered me up with the soap. She took me by the hand to a tap on the wall that flowed into a basin. She rinsed me with water from the basin and then washed my hair. Next, I sat in the pool in a room off the steam room. There was a cool pool and a Jacuzzi to alternate between. When I was ready, I went for my oil massage which was a full body massage and I mean from toes to fingers to scalp. At the end of the massage, the attendant woke me with “Lady…” which is the only English word I heard any of them saw. I went back to the marble slab and took a nap while the other girls finished their massages. After we were all relaxed, we dressed and headed back to the ship for lunch. The walk took a little longer than expected so we had to sprint the length of the ship to make it to the dining hall and then grab our food as they were trying to put it away.


We scarfed down our burgers, grabbed, Rudy, and ran to meet Sam and Logan to go on a boat tour of the Bosphorus. Tommy from California and Nikkie from Houston (she went to Memorial and kind of knows Drake etc.) joined us. We were glad to get a guy to come so we wouldn’t get ripped off. Tommy negotiated with a man named Rami to take us up the Bosphorus, over to Asia, and back again for 20 Lira each. We all squeezed on a tiny fishing boat and headed down the strait. Rami gave us a good history lesson and pointed out all the important sights. We crossed over to the Asian side of Istanbul for half an hour which gave us time to get a snack and take a quick stroll. When we got back on the boat, Tommy had acquired some raki, which is like ouzo. Rami was so excited he called the captain of the boat up to show us how to mix it properly with water. There were not enough cups for everyone to have some so the captain called his brother’s boat to meet up and give us some cups. To make the world a little smaller, on that boat was a girl who went to Logan’s high school! We all toasted to Logan’s ½ birthday (she also got gifts and a cake from her mom).


Once our boat adventure was over I rushed to shower before my FDP. For music we went to see a traditional Sufi Dervish ceremony, also known as semma. This ceremony is only performed by men and is a religious activity where they spin in circles while in a trance. One hand is lifted palm up while the other is palm down to create a vessel of the body. The love of God flows through the men and to other people through this act. We got to ask one of the men questions after the ceremony which really helped us understand better.


+ + +

I have now visited 4 continents!


- - -

Raki is just as gross as ouzo, but it makes for some good stories when you’re traveling with a plump Turkish man! Also, my camera decided to delete all my photos from the boat trip. Big minus!


Day 33- Istanbul, Turkey

Early this morning we arrived in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey is home to 73 million people, 99% of which are Suni Muslim. 13 million people live in Istanbul so the population is more than 3 times the size of Houston. Turkey is slightly larger than Texas and fairly similar in geography. There are 20 million Kurds in Turkey, making them the largest minority population. None of us could figure out where Kurds come from so if anyone knows please leave a comment below.


There are 20 thousand Jews who were expelled from Spain. They speak Ladino which is a form os Spanish. Four thousand people are Greek Orthodox and the patriarch of the church is in Istanbul. There are various rules for becoming the patriarch which are making it difficult to find a new one. I would describe them but they’re complicated and boring. Turkey has some crazy rules in their “secular democracy” which include it being illegal to criticize Ataturk or watch Youtube.


I signed up for the city orientation through SAS so we boarded the buses early this morning to visit all the popular sights. We first visited a local mosque where we learned proper mosque etiquette. It was an interesting experience because it was all quiet but people were just hanging out, chatting in the corner and children were running around chasing each other. We ate our boxed lunches in the park next to the mosque. As a side note, the ship packs weird lunches: a salami or bologna sandwich, 2 chicken legs, a hardboiled egg, a dessert bar, a piece of fruit, a juice box or Capri sun, and oreos. After lunch, our group made our way to Hagia Sofia, another mosque. It is one of the largest in Istanbul at a ridiculous 194 feet tall. It has 2 minarets where the call to worship is sung from. The Hagia Sofia’s two make the six of the Blue Mosque next door stand out on the skyline. After visiting these two amazing places of worship, we crossed the street to the Hippodrome, home to several ancient Egyptian monuments including an Egyptian obelisk. If I remember correctly, Constantine put this area together as a race track back in the day. Next we saw the Basilica Cistern which is an underground water storage area. It was created in ancient times and existed under the city of Istanbul for many years before being discovered. It is dark and damp, the ceiling held up by many columns. There is some water still there so there is a raised walkway. There are koi fish in the water along with several lira coins. There are two huge stones holding up some columns that have the face of Medusa on them. These add greatly to the eeriness of the cistern with the dripping water and dim lighting.


After dinner on the ship I headed to the bridge with Jon, Athena, Amanda, Whitney, and Jenna. The under part of the bridge is filled with ships, bars, and restaurants. We found a place with bean bags outside and lounged there with our sheesha. There are Christmas lights hanging from the bridge along with thousands of fishing lines from the men above who are fishing for anchovies to grill and serve on the street. Istanbul has such a different atmosphere that we are all enjoying so far. There are a hundred things I want to do and see here so we called it a night pretty early to get ready for our big day tomorrow.


+ + +

I saw Medusa and I survived.


- - -

I missed seeing Anne Hathaway at the Blue Mosque.


Day 32- At Sea, Pre-port Istanbul

Today was a class day so there was not much going on. During pre-port we got a lot of information about Istanbul. Istanbul is going to mark a transition in our voyage away from the stereotypical European ports. Istanbul itself is actually built both in Europe and Asia so it is the only city in the world to be on 2 continents. It was originally called Byzantium, then Constantinople, and now Istanbul. Dean Zoll gave us a long talk about safety in Turkey, talking about covering ourselves since this is the first predominately Muslim country of many on our trip. We are advised to wear long sleeves, pants, and to cover our heads. Shoulders and knees should always be covered but in the mosques, clothing should go to the wrists and ankles for woman as well as a head covering. We were lectured avout public intoxication and the prevalence of date rape drugs. All in all, preport left us all pretty nervous about exploring Turkey. However, I’ve spoken to people who have visited frequently and who have lived there and only heard positive things. I’m excited to watch the sun rise over the Istanbul skyline tomorrow.


+ + +

Dia got flustered again tonight…here is why. (Please excuse the expletives, they were just too vital to leave out)


“Some students have gotten drugged, woken up naked in an alley, scared as shit.”- Nurse Stephanie

“And we all know how scary shit is.” – Dean Michael Smith


It took 10 minutes to get everyone to stop laughing, Dia was so flustered she couldn’t go on with her presentation then Dean Smith got out his handkerchief and she started laughing again because, really, who has a handkerchief?


- - -

I had a test today and it was hard.