Cape Town Highlights

Robben Island: This island lies seven kilometers off the coast of Cape Town and was previously inhabited by political prisoners during the Apartheid era. The most famous of whom was Nelson Mandela, whose cell I saw. It was maybe 8×6 and had only a small desk, a thin piece of cloth to lie on, plus a wastebasket. It’s amazing how he stayed the person he was despite spending 27 years imprisoned in this cell. All tours of this island are given by former political prisoners.
What seemed most maddening for the prisoners is the beautiful view of Cape Town and Table Mountain from the island.

Sunset from Table Mountain: Table Mountain was absolutely stunning. Justifiably one of the seven nature wonders of the world, it can be seen from nearly anywhere in Cape Town. When the clouds roll in, it almost seems as if a tablecloth is covering the top.

 

Amina’s Take-aways: This food-cart was stationed right outside of our ship 24/7. Amina is a precious person; every morning I ordered two egg & tomato sandwiches (the best in the world), three samosas, and a bottle of water – all for a grand total of $2.50. I ate while chatting with her about my day’s plans.
Saying goodbye to her was surprisingly difficult. Despite only being around for six days, she sobbed while saying goodbye.

Toms and Rotary International Field Program: I’ve heard how Toms gives away one pair of shoes for each pair purchased, but it was pretty cool to give them away ourselves at Khayelitsha Township. We stopped at an orphanage, a school, and at Rotary International’s Nonceba project.

cape town township orphanage visit service taking photocape town toms shoes one for one

HintHunt: For this game, you’re trapped in a 200 square foot ways and have an hour to solve puzzles and figure out your escape. While I’m not allowed to spill many details (and taking photos was prohibited), I’ll stress that if you have an opportunity to play this game, do so. It was an absolutely amazing hour.

Spoiler Alert: We made it out with 1:19 to spare.

cape town hint hunt

Mabu Vinyl: I watched the movie Searching for Sugarman just two days prior to arriving in the Cape. The pilgrimage to this emblematic record store was fulfilling, despite Sugar having the day off and them being out of Rodriguez records.

Cape Foods: Favorite foods included bobotie (rice with ground meat, raisins, and egg), koeksisters (twisted fried pastries), biriyani, and hoenderpastei (chicken pies). Below is an ostrich steaks served with samp and beans – little pieces of corn niblets with a slightly smoky, tomato bean stew sauce. The ostrich was served with a South African Amarula cream liqueur sauce which was absolutely divine.

Green Point Soccer Stadium: I made it to a World Cup stadium during a World Cup year. It may have been 4 years after the World Cup took place in South Africa, but it was amazing nonetheless. Getting a stadium tour tour to see locker rooms, grass heat lamps, and cells for rowdy fans was amazing. Next step: A World Cup stadium during the World Cup! (Russia 2018 anyone?)

Semester at Sea: Sea Olympics

Each deck is separated into seas, and the winning sea at Sea Olympics gets eternal glory as well as free popcorn and the choice of getting off the ship first or last. Nearly every type of strength is tested from physical pull ups and tug of war to synchronized swimming and emotionally challenging haiku death matches.Following are scenes from the day’s events, during which my sea emerged victorious.
Tug of War:

Hula Hoop Relay:

Synchronized Swimming:

Lip Sync:

Frozen T-Shirt Competition:

Note – this event is much harder than it looks. They took t-shirts, twisted them, tied two knots into them, soaked them in water, and froze them solid. Our goal was to undo the knots and put on the t-shirt. It took our team over 30 minutes, but somehow we managed to win as chants of “Bering Sea” swept the crowd.

Eastern Toilet Squat Challenge:

It came down to the wire, but somehow the staff’s sea ended up victorious by squatting well over five minutes.

After each sea’s results were announced, chants and cheers broke out. My particular favorite was the Adriatic Sea chanting, “5th is fine.” Following are my friends and I holding our sea’s respective places.

semester at sea olympics group photo

Mauritius: Port Louis

Tropical paradise, cruise-ship hub, and once home to the now extinct dodo bird. With only one day in Mauritius and a 70{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} chance of rain, my plans of what to do there were unclear.During breakfast the skies were fairly clear so Celeste, Allie, and I made plans to hike Le Pouce mountain near Port Louis. But after going through the debarkation and security line, I was shocked to see that the weather had turned into a vicious storm. We huddled under a tent for several minutes before venturing out with backpacks covered and no umbrellas. Instantly drenched, we bundled into the first taxi we saw. It ended up being $25 for about a half mile ride. Nothing like providing the local economy a stimulus package, eh?

We arrived to the waterfront as the weather continued to worsen. We scouted out a gelateria with WiFi, and I decided to suffer through a bowl in exchange for the WiFi password. The things I do for internet…


The ‘spaghetti gelato’ was scooped and then put through a gelato press. I’m not sure if the shape had any effect on the flavor, but it did seem extremely silky and was loads of fun to eat.

After our snack, we relaxed while waiting for the rain to abate. After over an hour with no let-up, we decided to just take our chances and brave the outside. We headed to Port Louis market to spend the afternoon.

What I loved about Port Louis market was the design. The first floor was a traditional local market with vegetables, fruits, and meats while the second floor was full of souvenirs. I stood on the staircase watching people interact in the market for only about 15 minutes, but could’ve spent hours there.

The below man tried to sell the same bunch of herbs to every passerby. Every attempt of his failed.


I found it slightly ironic that nearly every souvenir seemed to commemorate the extinction of the dodo bird. Nonetheless, I am coming home with one of the following carvings.

Just as we were leaving, the weather began clearing up. But regardless of the weather, Mauritius provided an important break and I was glad to be on land – even if just to eat gelato.

Semester at Sea: Neptune Day

Ships and navies across the world hold initiation ceremonies when sailors cross the equator for the first time. As we passed into southern waters, Semester at Sea held Neptune Day during which students transform from slimy Pollywogs turn into honorable Shellbecks – the sons of Neptune. The ceremony involved kissing a fish, pledging our allegiance to King Neptune, and an (optional) head shave. Neptune day began in the early morning when the crew (King Neptune’s Army) paraded through the halls and up to the pool.

We all gathered besides the pool as King Neptune (Scottish astronomy professor Ian Campbell) tested us before granting us permission into the southern waters.

Following is a glimpse of Neptune’s initiation ceremony featuring my friends Victoria, Courtney, Celeste, Cat, and I.

semester at sea neptune day 2 semester at sea neptune day jump in pool semester at sea neptune day kiss fish semester at sea neptune day

Over 75 men and about 20 women shaved their heads. When the first ponytail was cut off, a roar went through the crowd.

semester at sea first ponytail cut neptune day adriana and gracie semester at sea neptune day after semester at sea neptune day party panorama

India: Kathakali

Kathakali is a stylized Kerala dance-drama known for its make-up, costumes, and body movements with percussion. There are no words; the story is conveyed through hand gestures, expressions, and dance. Traditionally Kathakali begins at night and ends in the early morning, but my homestay directed me to a theatre with a condensed version and front row seats. I arrived an hour early to watch the actors apply their makeup.

What amazed me about Kathakali was the style of dance-drama. It gave particular emphasis to the eyes, nose, and lips. Watching actors dance with their face like this was unreal.To be a master of this art requires a minimum of a six year formal education along with many years studying Kalaripayattu – the martial art of Kerala.

The virtuous protagonist (pachcha) for the show always wear predominately green makeup.

Streaks of red in an otherwise green-painted face symbolize villainy or evilness.

Excessively evil characters have predominantly red makeup and a red beard. While the show I saw was all male (including the below character on the right), since the 1970s women have been allowed to train in Kathakali.

The drama I watched involved the evil man (above) forcing the woman to love him, until her father (below) finds out and inevitably kills him. There would be blood.

As soon as I get ahold of decent internet in May, I’ll upload a video of the eye/nose/lip dancing because it’s hard to explain just how amazing it was. All in all, the show capped off an amazing stay in India.

India: Guruvayoor Aanaottam

I had no idea what to expect from Guruvayoor Aanaottam. Lonely Planet described it as an ‘elephant race’ festival, but even that meant little to me. Where were the elephants running to? Where were they coming from? Can elephants run? Regardless, the festival date coincided with my visit so I headed to the city of Guruvayoor to discover firsthand.

As soon as we got off the bus we could see the elephants lined up. Elephants are like celebrities in southern India. Months before festivals, the names of the attending elephants are often posted on signs and billboards.

Super excited, I raced to the front of where we were allowed. The elephants seemed to be divided into tiers. The fastest ones were already at the front, while the medium fast or slow ones arrived later.

The elephants run half a kilometer to the temple, do 7 laps around, and touch the flagstaff at the end. The first elephant gets special treatment in the temple and gets to carry a special thidambu.
Below are the elephant prods, which I found to be overly sharp.

Random Tangent: For some reason I find elephant eyes to be their most attractive feature. Aren’t they just stunning?

At exactly 3 pm, a man at the front yelled and the elephants began moving. The ones at the front ran, the ones in the middle walked, and the ones near the end shuffled.

We weren’t allowed to walk along the main road until the very last elephant had passed. By that time, a mass of people had formed.

The race ended in the main Hindu temple of the town, which foreigners aren’t allowed in. I understand their policy, but it still would’ve been nice to witness the festival’s ending.

India: Kerala Photography

While most of my friends went north, I chose to stay in the south and spent my six days exploring Kerala. Kerala is the region on the south-west of India’s coast and is one of the most well-developed in India. The first day was spent with my travel writing class on a houseboat touring the Alleppey backwaters.

It was the most relaxing class I have ever been in. We spent our time writing about our surroundings, taking in everything and enjoying cumin fried bananas. The waters were an extremely clean white- almost identical to the color of the sky.

After the field program, I immediately hopped on a bus and headed to Kumily. There I visited the Periyar Tiger Preserve, where former poachers are now employed by the government to track wild game with travelers.

While I didn’t see any tigers or elephants myself, I enjoyed the scenery.

In each of the three cities, I took part in homestays. The most memorable was Aroma Homestay in Kochi. Joseph and Elizabeth helped me have an amazing time – doing everything from helping plan my daily itinerary to getting me front row tickets to the Kathakali show. If you’re in the city, staying here is a must.

With the help of Joseph, Elizabeth, and Grandma Rosie, I took part in three Kerala style cooking lessons. Below was the meal I enjoyed after buying two pale spotted fish in the market.

While I was going around town, I visited a ginger spice shop. My lungs could barely function inside of the rooms due to the absurd amount of ginger in the air.

My favorite attraction in Kochi was the Chinese fishing nets.These massive nets are over thirty feet tall and have to be operated by a team of at least six fishermen. They use massive rocks to keep the lines weighted and balanced.

After the net has been pulled, three men hold it up while one scoops the catch before the waiting birds have a chance for dinner.

Bagan

Over 2000 ancient temples, pagodas, and shrines remain in the city of Bagan today. These are what is left of over 10,000 constructed beginning in the 10th century during the height of the Pagan Kingdom. Of the ones still standing, roughly 10 are the ‘must-see’ tourist attractions, others see a few visitors, but most lay deserted. Thanks to the lovely overnight bus from Mandalay, we arrived to Bagan at 3:45 am. Our guesthouse, as well as most of the town, was closed. Vulture taxi drivers smelled our foreign blood and attacked immediately once we were out of the comfort of the bus. We retreated to the road where we met a nice horse carriage driver, whom we took off with to watch the sunrise.

The horse stopped while everything around us was still black. The driver shined a flashlight to the top of the temple, and told us to climb to the top. We took off our shoes and began the ascent. Seeing almost nothing in the darkness, but by feeling the stairs in front of my face, I made my way up.

Watching the sunrise from atop the temple was beautiful. The horizon was composed entirely of temples, shrines, and trees. At around 8 am, hot air balloons began flying in the distance.

After being dropped off at our guesthouse, we took a seven hour nap. Two overnight buses in as many days is just rough.
The following day, we visited first some of the recommended temples by our guesthouse. The massive behemoths were stunning, lessened only slightly by the overabundance of souvenir sellers around every corner and even on the steps inside.

While the recommended temples were fantastic, I didn’t feel like I was truly discovering Bagan until I rented a bike and set off alone. I stopped first at a small temple right off the main road where I saw a woman standing on top. A man beckoned me in, and shined a flashlight on the stairs for me to climb. He told me a history of the temple and asked me to look at his brother’s sand paintings after seeing the temple.

Another highlight was a group of two temples right by the side of the road. Nobody was there, but as I began exploring a child asked if I wanted to buy postcards. The temple doors were blocked on three sides, and locked on the fourth.
As I was getting ready to leave, the boy’s mom came rushing up the temple steps holding a set of keys. She unlocked the temple door and shined a flashlight on the walls as her son explained that the murals were ‘originals’ (photo enhanced for vibrancy).

I visited many other smaller temples that day. Inside one was a family taking siestas, another had binds of rubbish waiting to be disposed of, another yet smelled oddly of corn. It made me curious about the use of these ancient relics, and how a government like Burma’s can maintain such an extensive number of them.

Since then I’ve begun to wonder, how does one get the keys to an 800+ year old temple?

Foods of Burma

Before arriving, I had no idea what Burmese food would taste like. I knew Burma was between India and Thailand on a map, and guessed it would be some sort of combination of the two.It turns out I was partially right; their cuisine is heavily influenced by geography. Samosas and biryani were sold on the street, while their curry was to-die for.
For breakfast, the two most famous dishes are mohinga soup and fritters. Mohinga, the unofficial national dish, is a breakfast rice noodle soup in a fish broth made with lemon grass, garlic, ginger, and onions. Bone-shaped fritters and samosas are the most common street food, particularly around breakfast time. Because what could possibly start to your day better than deep-fried goodness?
Burmese curry, one of the other national dishes, tasted different each time I ordered it. Some were lighter and almost souplike, but my favorite curry (pictured below) came as a thick paste on top of fried fish. The curry was very spicy and garlicy, but the main flavor was ginger. It reminded me almost of a heavier version of Thai curry, with even more aromatics herbs and spices.
Many restaurant menus had a section dedicated for Thai food. In Bagan, I couldn’t help but order a bowl of red curry.
Watercress seemed to be the vegetable of choice in Burma, appearing on most menus.
On my final day in Yangon, a friend and I went to a Shan noodle restaurant. After staring at the six pages of noodles on the menu, I eventually chose Shan sticky noodle soup – mainly because I had no idea what sticky noodles were or would taste like.

While I was waiting for the Shan noodles to arrive, to my side a lady was stuffing dumplings with minced spinach and folding them.

myanmar handmade dumplings plateAfter watching her complete the tray, I couldn’t help but order a plate. What I did not anticipate was how they arrived – fried in one large dumpling pancake. The top layer was as thin as paper, while the bottom of the dumplings remained soft and tender as if boiled.

Finally, my sticky noodle soup arrived. Let me tell you something – when Burmese people say ‘sticky’ noodles, they mean it. It took me several minutes to de-clump them enough to grab my first bite. But they were worth the effort. The noodles were fully cooked, yet chewy – and paired well with the full-bodied gingery, garlicy, fish and soy sauce broth.
While five days certainly isn’t enough time to fully understand a culture or its food, I loved everything I tasted. Burmese food is extremely influenced by their geography next to Thailand, India, and China – all of which have cuisines I love. I look forward to breaking out my new Burmese cookbook and trying some new dishes when I return in August!

Burma: Yangon Photography

My first and last two days in Burma (Myanmar) were spent in the capital city of Yangon, where our ship was docked. The first thing that struck me about Yangon was the sheer size of their pagodas. Shwedagon pagoda is over 350 feet tall, while Sule (pictured) also towers over the streets

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The second thing that struck me was how all of their red and green traffic lights countdown the seconds until they will change.

While I was walking towards the pagodas, a group of schoolchildren on a field trip noticed us and (along with other camaraderie) loved having their photos taken. On the face of the children (and nearly every adult) is thanaka – ground tree bark paste which prevents sunburn and gives a cooling sensation.

On my last day, I woke up at 5 am to take Yangon’s circular train around the city. After (eventually) finding platform 7, I took a seat with the locals and waited for the train.

The three hour ride passed by pagodas, markets, and slums. Duck egg sellers roamed the cars, picking up the train at one station and leaving the next. Burmese people taking furniture to the market rushed to load the train, and were often still loading the train as it was beginning to leave the station.
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After I got off the train and ate lunch, I found a group playing chinlone who invited me to join them after watching for several minutes. It seemed like a version of hacky sack or keepie uppie. Without hesitation, I took off my shoes and joined the game.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that chinlone is a combination of sport and dance, a team sport with no opposing team. The focus is not on winning, but rather on how beautifully one plays. While I was able to keep the ball up (for the most part), I highly doubt anyone was impressed by my ‘beautiful’ game.
After playing for about 10 minutes in the 100 degree Yangon weather, I was fried. The following photo is actually from the Mandalay Royal Palace, but it fits nonetheless.