Monday, November 25, 2013

#612 Ship life

To get from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador, we opt to travel on the MV Explorer rather than traveling overland through Brazil.

So for the 200 or so of us on board, the ship feels more like our own private yacht.  And the crew makes us feel even more special by surprising us both nights with an elegant dining experience on deck 5 rather than the usual buffet line.

 And during the day we have time for other fun activities such as housekeeping in the computer lab.

And some celestial navigation with a sextant just to confirm Captain Jeremy is on the right course.
Yours in enjoying life at sea,

Saturday, November 23, 2013

#611 Hitting the High Spots in Rio

As we sail into Rio de Janerio, the view from our cabin window becomes our itinerary.
Our first stop on land is Sugarloaf Mountain, elevation 1299 feet. 

View from Sugarloaf Mountain
 Later we visit Christ The Redeemer statue, elevation 2300 feet.

View from Christ the Redeemer Statue
But in our view, the real highlight is the world's 7th largest library, collection 9 million items.
View of the Brazilian National Library
Yours in finding the high spots,

Friday, November 22, 2013

#610 The Smallest Ginkgo Tree in Argentina

We often visit Japanese gardens when we travel.

We find the Japanese garden in Buenos Aires to be a calm oasis bordered by a 12-lane one-way street.
Plopped in the middle of all this "urban", two aspects of this garden stand out.  First is the large expanse of water.
And second is the abundance of large stones.
Often the stones are coupled with water.
The water and stones overshadow the plant specimens in this garden with one clear exception. 

I smile when I find what must be Argentina's smallest ginkgo (my favorite tree) in the garden's bonsai exhibit. 
Yours in keeping an eye out for the little things,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

#609 A Day at the Ranch

Some of our best Semester at Sea experiences happen away from big cities.  It happened again in Argentina when we traveled a couple hours from Buenos Aires to spend a day with the gauchos.
Gauchos ride horses and have no reason to pave their roads.
But at the end of the muddy road, we find the gauchos know a lot about barbeque.
And music.
Yes, we ate it all up.

Yours in enjoying a day at the Estancia,

P.S.  Thanks Ashley!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

#608 Underground Buenos Aires

When Semester at Sea offers an "Urban Archeology" trip to a Buenos Aires historic district, count me in.  Of course the story starts with a map.

In 1985, a local man bought a dilapidated 200-year-old mansion in the San Telmo neighborhood with plans to rehab the property and open a restaurant.  Now the place is called El Zanjon and is considered by some to be the most important archeological site in Argentina's capital and largest city.

That's because early in the project workers discovered a sizable brick tunnel extending across the neighborhood and intersecting with another tunnel.  Matching the excavations with the 1800 city map showed two streams intersecting on this property.  The tunnels offer a glimpse at early attempts at urban flood control taking the streams underground, solving a drainage problem, and creating more buildable land in the growing city.
Yours in solving mysteries with maps,

Saturday, November 16, 2013

#607 El Ateneo book shop

On our first visit to Buenos Aires, we must go to El Ateneo book shop!

Built 100 years ago as a theater, the bookstore is now a major tourist attraction in the city with more than a million visitors annually.  The theater seating has been removed and replaced with bookshelves - as the roulette tables were removed and replaced with bookshelves on the MV Explorer!

Yours in enjoying theaters, bookstores, and the combination of the two,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

#606 The longest way round

As the crow flies, it's 4,274 miles between Cape Town and Buenos Aires.  If you're a crow hitching a ride on the MV Explorer, that trip will take about 12 days.  And that's just the way I like it.  
We departed Cape Town, the furthest point from home of our voyage, on October 30.  And tomorrow, we dock in Buenos Aires after traveling nearly 5,000 miles at about 14 mph.   

Like road trips in the US, traveling internationally by ship gives you time to think about where you've been and where you're going. You see things much better that way.
The long way around is the sweetest way home.
You see things much better that way.
No matter how far you may wander or roam,
The long way around is the sweetest way home.

Yours in traveling the long way round,

#605 Sailing with astronauts

Leading us around the Atlantic is our academic dean and NASA astronaut, Kathy Thornton.
And teaching us astronomy and celestial navigation is NASA astronaut, Pinky Nelson.
To honor these two veteran explorers on board, six of us - Katie, Sarah, Dave, Julie, Kelly, and I - brought our own flight suits with us on the voyage and we wear them proudly for important events such as the Adventures in Space presentation, a talent show, and Halloween.  

On Halloween, our flight crew hosted the two astronauts for lunch followed by a photo op with the captain and hotel director.
 We know how lucky we are to be traveling with these two expert explorers here on planet Earth.

Yours in exploring with the experts,

Saturday, November 09, 2013

#604 Extending our family

Extended families make a ship feel more like home.

Last night - about 1,000 miles off the coast of Argentina - we enjoyed dinner by the pool with Ryan and Hillary (on the back row) and Sophie, Amy, Jessica, and Willa (on the front row).  They seem to enjoy the shipboard pizza as much as we do.  It was our 6th family dinner of the voyage.

Many students sign up to be part of a shipboard family - on this voyage, about 400 of the 575 students.  And we're glad they did!

Our family gets together regularly and we often see each other around the ship.  We do the things that regular land-based families do: 
  • Parents caution students against risky behavior.  Shark diving in South Africa?  Let's think about that.  
  • We kid each other a lot.  You're going to visit ANOTHER library in Buenos Aires?  
  • And we compete against other families.  Next week, we're going to take on the other shipboard families in a game of Family Feud.

Having a shipboard family is a highlight of the voyage for us. 

Yours in appreciating the sunshine, the pizza, and especially these six students,

Monday, November 04, 2013

#603 The 114th Sea Olympiad

The 114th Sea Olympiad took place today somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Diploma Sea (faculty, staff, and lifelong learners) started out big by winning the first of 27 Olympic events: the Sea Chant competition.
Give me an F.  F!
Give me an F.  F!
Give me an F.  F!
Diploma-SEA, diploma-SEA
From east to west we all agree!
Bachelors, Masters, Doctors, too!
Diplomas crush the likes of you!

Diploma-SEA, diploma-SEA
From east to west we all agree!
When you play us, think it through:
We give grades to the likes of you!

Diploma-SEA, diploma-SEA
From east to west we all agree!
Mid-terms, quizzes, papers due:
Diplomas crush the likes of you!

Diploma Sea also won the trivia and scrabble competitions.  And we came close in spades, spoons, and spelling bee.

But the most fun event to watch was the Balloon Smash.  That's Kelly in the black shirt paired with Sarah in the pink competing against a tall pair of students from the Yellow Sea while on the right, two astronauts await their turn.  The object is to protect the green balloon tied to Kelly's leg and pop the red balloon tied to their opponents.  After much laughter and shenanigans on a moving ship, the Yellow Sea squeaked out a victory.

The first place team, the Mediterranean Sea, wins the right to disembark first in Fort Lauderdale.

Yours in the Olympic spirit,

Saturday, November 02, 2013

#602 The longest road in Africa

The N2 is the longest road in Africa and it's beautiful!

In some places, it reminds us of the Big Hole River Valley in Montana.   And we have the opportunity to see about 400 km of it as we drive east from Cape Town four hours to near Mossel Bay.  It is almost a game drive of its own as we spy herds of sheep, cattle, ostriches, and blue crane along the way.

Yours in appreciating road trips in Africa,

Friday, November 01, 2013

#601 African Wildlife on the Garden Route

Along the southern coast of South Africa, we travel from Cape Town to the Garden Route Game Lodge for an up-close introduction to African wildlife.
Our morning and evening two-hour game drives in traditional open-topped Land Rovers are led by Ronald who brilliantly mixes his deep knowledge with humor and passion.

This ever-expanding game lodge property now covers over five square miles so it's big enough to feel remote while you can be sure you'll see animals. We learn about successes in efforts to expand the property toward nearby reserves while re-introducing native free-range animals and returning the land to natural vegetation after many years of overgrazing.
When we aren't on a game drive, we tour the Reptile House (the puff adder is a local bad boy) and visit Cheetahs.
We stay in a beautiful 8-sided thatched-roof chalet with A/C, powerful shower, and a porch with views of Fynbos and mountains.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the lodge are delicious highlights.
The Garden Route boasts a mild climate similar to our 50th state, Hawaii.  But this is definitely not Hawaii.  

Yours in Africa,