Dahlfin II Status
Semester at Sea 2002Ron & Bonnie Dahl
January - May, 2002
Introduction, (Jan 15, 2002)
We are beginning a new adventure which will take us to many countries around the world. On Thursday, 17 January we flew to Nassau where we stayed at the Atlantis resort until we could board our ship on Monday, 21 January. The ship is 619 feet long, of Panamanian registry and the center of the Semester at Sea program. On board are 640 college students, 29 professors, 40 seniors (that's us) and crew. The objective of the program is to provide a semester of college study combined with in depth field practicums in the countries visited. Over 50 courses are offered and while in route between countries we will be auditing a number of them such as Asian art and music, cultural anthropology etc. Everyone takes Geography 1000 which is in depth study prior to the countries visited in such areas as politics, economics, climate, culture, religion etc. so that when we arrive in the countries we should have some fairly good background information. The following is our itinerary:
Well that's it. We will try and send something in on shipboard life, but probably not until after we leave Cuba as we have only one day until we reach Cuba so time will be a little tight getting ready for that country.
Email, (Jan 28, 2002)
Just wanted to let you know we're ok. Cuba was GREAT! Right now we're north of Puerto Rico - Longitude 70. Winds are pretty strong at least 25 knots right on the nose so glad we aren't sailing against this. Working on a Cuba section for the net which I hope to send shortly.
Email, (Jan 30, 2002)
Monday, 28 July 2002 Lat 20 80.7' N; Lon 71 64.5'W (noon readings)
We are just north of Puerto Rico, we can see it to starboard. We arrived in Nassau on Thursday night 17 January and checked into the Atlantis complex where we stayed 4 nights and 3 days. It was great. We went into downtown Nassau to check out the straw market, hiked back to the bridge - and of course checked out all the marinas. We also enjoyed using all the Atlantis facilities: pools, ocean beach, aquariums etc. It was a really nice way to start the trip and relax from all the last minute preparations made prior to leaving.
We boarded the ship on Monday morning, 21 January - slight panic when one of our bags didn't make it up to our deck level - finally found it 3 decks below among all the students baggage. We set sail right on schedule at 1430 and it was quite a thrill leaving the slip and heading out of the harbor. We have been on the ship just one week and one thing is very obvious - time literally flies by. So far there haven't been any free moments as we go from one thing to the next. Part of this is due to the fact that it took us only a little over a day to make our first port, so staring Monday night and all day Tuesday we had a number of briefings for Cuba, a total of 5 different sessions totaling over 12 hours. Oh yes, at 1700 on the first day we had our first lifeboat drill. What a mess! Clearly we have to improve greatly - we had another drill yesterday which went much better.
We arrived in Cuba on Wednesday morning and after clearing customs and immigration we went ashore - all 700 of us. Most of us elected to go to the welcome reception at the University of Havana where we were met by university students, had a brief ceremony with speeches and a light lunch. Unfortunately hundreds of us (Bonnie included) got VERY SICK on the sandwiches they served us: some students passed out in the street, a number were hospitalized - some for 3 days. Bonnie had a pretty rough night but with the help of ciprofloxin was able to make it for our departure the next morning to the city of Trinidad at 0700.
We really wanted to see rural Cuba so we took a 3 day, 2 night trip to Trinidad which is 200 miles SE of Havana on the ocean. This town retains much of it's colonial architecture (200-300 years old) complete with cobblestone streets. Our accommodations were a 5 star resort on the ocean sort of a mini Club Med complete with snorkeling on the reefs and even sailing. On the second day we went 2 hours through the mountains to Santa Clara to visit the Che Guevara memorial. On the way we really saw rural Cuba with little houses in the mountains and small villages. We saw tobacco plantations and went to a cigar factory where they hand-rolled cigars. On the 3rd day we visited a sugar plantation where we saw them harvesting sugar cane and even ate raw sugar cane.
We had the option to back to Havana a day early to see Fidel Castro who made a special appearance to speak to our students, but opted to stay for the remainder of our trip. Those who went, say he was very down to earth (he even joked about the food poisoning), yet was very charismatic and spoke for 4 1/2 hours.
Here are some general observations we made during our short stay:
All in all, four days were just too short and all of us said we could have stayed a couple more days. I will try and send another e-mail shortly on shipboard life, but it's hard to squeeze it in between our classes which started today.
Email, (Feb 4, 2002)
Friday 1 February 2002, Lat 06 26.2' N; Lon 51 06.9'W
Who we are:
On the "high seas": We get a "noon sight" (GPS) each day along with course made good, wind and sea conditions etc. The Lat/Long is plotted on a huge chart of the world we have up on our wall so we can watch our progression each day on the voyage. We average 320 to 380 nautical miles/day at speeds of 13.4 to 17 knots.
After leaving Cuba we went north of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The "Christmas Winds" are definitely here and we were glad not to be tacking against them as they were blowing a good 30 knots. We ducked in between the islands in the Anegada Passage and came back on the outside one morning between St. Lucia and St. Vincent which we could easily recognize. On the outside of the islands with nothing between us and Africa the winds (a steady 35 k with higher gusts) and seas (9-15 ft) picked up considerably. So there's now a moderate motion to the ship: there are many sea-sick people and a lot who are wearing pressure wrist bands. So far we're doing alright and actually enjoying the motion, but suspect things will get worse in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. (We look out over the water in these conditions and are SO GLAD we're on a 600 ft ship and not our tiny sailboat.)
Shipboard Life: We have finally settled down to some degree of normalcy as we started classes on Monday. Every one takes Geography 1000 which is presented every day. In this class we study each country (history, politics, culture, economics etc.) as we are traveling towards it. We've even had lectures on Oceanography and Marine Biology. All the other classes are divided into "A" & "B" days meeting every other day with a normal class load of 3-4 classes besides CORE. Bonnie picked out 8 classes (are we surprised? - it was so hard to choose) but has narrowed it down to 4: Slavery, World Music, Asian Art, and Marine Biology. Ron is taking courses in Slavery, Religion, Psychology, Comparative Politics.
Every other day we get up early for aerobics. All meals are served cafeteria style in The Main Dining Room or Harbor Grill. It's a great chance to meet students and Faculty (both of whom are really great) while standing in line. The food has been absolutely outstanding with a large variety to choose from. At 1700 each night we go into the Faculty/Adult Lounge for a glass of wine before supper. We are traveling with a number of well-traveled companions, so our discussions are very interesting and lively. Each evening at 2000 we have an hour of Community College. At 2100 there is a movie in the theater and we have a couple channels of closed-circuit TV. Our biggest complaint of the voyage so far is that there just isn't enough time to do everything - the days quite literally just fly by.
Sunday, 3 February 2002, Lat 00 58.6'S; Long 40 41.2'W
Yesterday we (adult passengers) celebrated 02/02/2002 with ancient Celtic and Russian dances taught to us by one of our members. The students had a "Tropical Night" dance in the Union.
Today we crossed the equator. It has been clear that we have been in the doldrums the past 18 hours as the winds and seas have settled down considerably - almost calm. It is heavily overcast with lots of mist and dripping humidity and a few rain squalls - kind of an eerie feeling but a decidedly different weather pattern from what we had been previously experiencing. We are especially glad for the air conditioning on the ship now.
To celebrate the Equator Crossing, today was set aside as "Neptune Day". The day began with a rousing wake-up call throughout the ship. The Captain, officers, crew, King Neptune, Queen Minerva and "shellbacks" (those who have crossed before) planned a number of festivities for the "pollywogs" (those who were crossing for the first time). Some of the initiation rights were kissing a dead fish, having pseudo "fish guts" poured over the initiate, and shaving heads. All in all well over 150 students and adults had their heads shaved. In the spirit of the day even our captain (who has crossed many times) volunteered to have his head shaved.
Tomorrow night we are invited to the "Captain's Table" in another dining room, a semi-formal affair with coat and tie. With less than 800 miles to go to our next destination, we'll be in Brazil on Wednesday morning.
Email, (Feb 9, 2002)
We are in Brazil. Have just come back from a 2 day trip in the countryside, visiting many villages, stayed overnight in a convent, boat trip besides motor-coach and ferry. Really great, learned lots. Carnival started last night so we are going to carnival tonite. Thievery is RAMPANT! Camera, money etc. So far we are ok. Tomorrow we spend a day on the bay, visiting a number of islands, swimming at the beaches etc. Time just flies when we are ashore trying to cram in everything. Right now we are in an Internet Cafe on the upper level in the old city which has to be reached via a huge elevator going right up the cliff. Will write more for the web page when we get back underway.
Email, (Feb 17, 2002)
Friday, 15 February 2002 Lat 25 45.3'S; Lon 013 50.9'W (Noon sight)
Greetings from the middle of the South Atlantic! After 5 days at sea we are 1,604 nm from Brazil; 1,752 nm to Cape Town, South Africa. Winds are ESE - F4. Our average speed is 15.2 k on a course of 113 degrees.
Arrived early in Salvador early Wednesday morning, 6 February. It took us quite a while to clear the ship as each one of us on the ship had to present our passports in person to the immigration officers. Afterwards we were greeted by someone from the American consulate and then finally were free to go on shore leave. We spent much of the first afternoon on a City Tour observing many contrasts between the old/new, rich/poor. Much of the newer architecture was quite contemporary with innovative designs and colors in the buildings. This was in sharp contrast to the favelas which are literally squatter dwellings that are built on any piece of vacant ground (usually on the hillsides) using any available materials. After a couple of months of occupancy they are able to establish "residency" and obtain electricity and water. Subsequent squatters then build on top of them etc. We saw a number of these different communities.
Since we had been on a number of the SAS trips (Iguazzu Falls, Amazon jungle river trip) before, we elected to go on a two-day trip to a small town north of Salvador, to Cachoeira. This trip got us out of the hustle and bustle of the city into the country side where we got to see how the majority of Brazilians live in small rural communities. We literally circumnavigated the huge All Saintes Bay visiting many colonial towns, an open-air market, a cooperative cocoa farm, tobacco factory, pottery village, and even a restored convent where we stayed overnight. We found the Brazilian countryside to be very lush, tropical and water rich. We even had a nice river boat ride on the second day and returned to Salvador via ferry.
Saturday was a free day for us in which we toured the city which is divided into two parts: the newer city is located on the lower level next to the waterfront, the Old City is located on the upper level which is reached by a huge elevator (lacerda) or two cable cars (plano inclinados). Our Salvador experience was greatly influenced in that Carnival had started just that Thursday so there was a lot of commotion: singing, dancing, and thievery. The thievery really became evident when 200 of us from the ship went to Carnival viewing stands on Saturday night.
Their Carnival is completely different from that in Trinidad in that there are none of the brightly colored costumes so there isn't much to watch: only thousands and thousands of people who are either watching or parading by to the bombarding music of the "trio electricos". These are semis that pull huge flatbeds filled with dozens of speakers 15 feet high. On top of the speakers there was another "story" which held a rock group, dancers etc. We have never seen such a high density mass of people (both in the parade and the spectators) in our lives. In going between the buses and our view stand, many of our group were robbed of money, watches and cameras. Ron felt a hand go in his pocket, but there was nothing there are we each had a small amount of money in our shoes. There was no way of fighting the people off - Ron likened it to a shark feeding frenzy. In other incidents, some of our group were robbed with knives. We were fortunate that no one was hurt and every one breathed a sigh of relief when on Sunday night everyone was counted in as being on board the ship. To get away from Carnival we had a relaxing day on the bay on Sunday where we visited a number of islands by private boat, went swimming on beautiful beaches and had a lovely buffet barbecue.
Our biggest complaint still is that there just isn't enough time to do all the things we want. Of course part of the problem on this leg of the journey is that as we reach across to South Africa we are crossing a time zone every other day, which means we lose an hour every other night. The motion of the sea has quieted down considerably. Interestingly, the worst winds and seas seen so far have been in the NE Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Leewards where we were sailing just a few years ago.
We celebrated Valentine's Day by making Valentines for our "secret valentines" drawn from a hat and our 5 adopted "grandchildren" one of the dozens of programs they have on the ship. That night there also was a Valentine Dance. Our courses are going well: Bonnie dropped Global Ecology and added Marine Biology. CORE continues to be a very exciting class as we explore topics ranging from oceanography and geology to globalization and SA history/politics. Each night we attend Community College at 2000 - on Sunday we're doing a slide presentation on our trip to South Africa. Afterwards we have movies in the theater or closed circuit TV movies or documentaries in our room.
PS: it's now Sunday, 17 February and today we crossed the Prime Meridian, the place in the world where time begins. So from now on all our longitude readings will be E instead of W.
Email, (Mar 1, 2002)
Thursday, 28 February 2002 Lat 31 32.2'S, Lon 033 34.4'E (noon sight)
Greetings from the Indian Ocean. We were suppose to leave Cape Town at 2330 on the 25th but high winds in the harbor delayed our departure until 0530 the next morning. Rounding the cape and heading east along the coastline proved to be fairly rough with strong winds and rough seas. After a couple of days things have settled down a bit but we still have some seasick people on board. We are presently 851 nm from Cape Town and have 1,474 nm to go to our next stop, Mauritius. The wind is NNW 21 knots and the seas are 2 - 2.5 meters.
Arriving on the morning of the 20th, we got up at 0500 to watch the approach into the harbor. It was still dark and the lights of Cape Town twinkled all around Table Bay under the dark shadow of Table Mountain lurking in the background. Sunrise was especially spectacular breaking over the mountains just to the north of Table Mountain. It certainly was different from our approach last spring when we came in on a 747. With the help of a harbor pilot and 2 tugs, our ship was able to wiggle its way into the Victoria and Alfred basin where we had the best slip in the harbor.
After clearing Immigration, our first day was spent on a South Africa tour that looked at different life styles of South Africans. Highpoint of the trip was when we visited a black township. Townships are ghetto-like communities that vary from extreme poverty and squalor to those which have electricity and water. The township we visited was one of the better ones and a special part of the visit was our interaction with the children. They were a delight - so anxious to see us and they would literally cling to us wherever we went. They went really wild when we showed them their images on the little viewing screen of our video-cam - they just couldn't figure out how their moving pictures came out of that little box. Everyone in our group brought candy and treats to be distributed by a big "mama" who took charge and made the children stand in orderly lines.
Because we had visited many of the Cape Town attractions on our previous trip, we elected to go to those areas we didn't get to before. So on the second day we went to the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which specialize in all types of South Africa flora, the winery at Groot Constantia and out to the seal colony on Duiker Island. That evening we went into 3 other townships visiting a community center where we were treated to singing, drumming and Zulu dancing; a township restaurant where we had an authentic South African meal; and an out-door tavern where we listened and danced to more music. These visits to the townships clearly left their mark on us showing us a part of South Africa we hadn't seen before.
We then took a 2 day trip into the Little Karroo, 200 miles NE of Cape Town into the rugged Cedarberg Mountains to visit the Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve. Once again we marveled at the austere beauty of rock formations and semi-desert. Our lodging was 5 star in a cave complete with king size bed and 8 ft long bathtub. During our stay we went on a number of nature walks into the bush and a night drive in which we saw a number of animals. The highpoint of this trip was on the second morning when we walked through the brush to a cliff where there were a number of the famous pictograph paintings of the San (bush) people. It was quite a thrill to see these stick-like paintings made of red ochre (reminding us a little of the L. Superior pictographs), some of which date back 6,000 years. In a primitive way we could almost feel the figures running as they chased their game. A little less exciting was our visit to a so-called "San village" which was put out in the bush not too far from the lodge for show. San people, who discarded their contemporary clothes for loin cloths, sold trinkets and imitation "rock paintings". It was clearly a case of exploitation which bothered many of us as there are so few of these bushmen still in existence. We were told, however, that there are a number of them to the north still living a nomadic lifestyle in their natural environment reasonably untainted by contemporary civilization.
Our remaining 2 days were spent in Cape Town enjoying the lovely waterfront with all its boutiques, curio shops, and excellent restaurants. We even hiked into the central city on one of the days visiting the Green Market (an out-door craft market) and modern stores.
It's good to be back aboard after the hectic days of "shore leave". How quickly we settle into the routine of meals, classes and activities. Again the days aren't long enough. Part of the problem is that all of us (students, professors, and adult passengers) are plagued with an almost incessant need to sleep. It doesn?t help that we keep moving through time zones. We lost one hour of sleep last night and another again tonight. Many of us are taking 2 hour naps in the afternoon and still have trouble staying awake in classes and fall asleep reading assignments. Evenings are also quite busy starting at 1700 with a Happy Hour get-together, supper, community college and then movies either on TV or in the theatre - and we haven't even begun telling you about all the organizations on board. This morning Ron and I overslept, almost missing breakfast getting in just as the dining room closed. We're trying to exercise in the afternoons in the health room - but that cuts into nap time.
Note: For some reason we have been unable to access our pocketmail from Cape Town. So if any of you have written we will have to wait until another port and try again.
Email, (Mar 10, 2002)
Saturday, 9 February 2002 Lat 14 07.2'S, Lon 064 45.0'E Noon sighting.
Greetings again from the Indian Ocean. Since leaving Mauritius we've been skirting a small cyclone (diameter 120 nm) 300 nm to the NW of us. It's path is SSW and we are heading 51 degrees so we were at the closest point yesterday and our paths are getting further apart each day. However, warnings have been sent out for the eastern coast of Madagascar. Currently the wind is NNE at 17-21 K and the seas are 2-2.5 meters. We are 564 nautical miles from Mauritius and have 2,088 nm to go to Chennai, India. We should be crossing the equator again in another day or so.
Mauitius is a small island (30 miles long and 16 miles wide) located about 600 miles east of Madagascar. It is a volcanic island surrounded almost entirely by one of the largest unbroken coral reefs in the world. Geologically speaking it is relatively young with beautiful rugged jagged mountainous peaks on its southern half. As we were coming up its western side to Port Louis, these peaks almost looked like the dramatic pictures we've seen of Moorea. It is also very lush and green and we witnessed a number of rain squalls in approaching the island and had rain a couple of times each day while we were there. (The rainy season here begins in January and ends in March.) Mauritius is a white sand, palm-fringed tropical paradise surrounded by a coral reef and clear inviting lagoons that are perfect for sailing, windsurfing, and diving.
Our ship docked in the capital, Port Louis, in a congested harbor that we had to walk around through a rather poor and derelict area to reach the main part of the city. (We quickly found a water taxi to take us back and forth across the harbor to/from the ship on subsequent trips.) We unknowingly wandered into some of the poorer sections of the city on the first afternoon which reminded us of many of the towns we had seen in South America: small narrow congested streets with lots of people traffic, sewage in the gutters, produce sold on the streets. In sharp contrast, part of the waterfront has recently been developed into a very upscale area, the Le Caudan Waterfront, which has lovely landscaping, boutiques, a casino, bars, and restaurants. But it was really outside the city that we experienced Mauritius at its best.
The tourist industry has come to the island in the form of dozens of deluxe resorts and hotel complexes. We spent a full day up at the Club Med in the NW corner of the island where we enjoyed the luxurious ambiance of manicured lawns and palm trees, a huge "designer" swimming pool and a beautiful ocean beach complete with the all-inclusive "beach toys": glass bottom boats, water-skiing, kayaks, snorkeling, wind-surfers, and hobie cats. After snorkeling on a very nice reef and some beach time, we had a 1 1/2 hour buffet lunch which was served via "islands" of French cuisine, Mauritian/Indian dishes, seafood grilled before our eyes, a desert bar of ice cream and French pastries and endless bottles of wine. But the high point of the day was all the sailing we did on the hobie cats. The conditions were perfect: an off-shore wind of @ 18 knots, no seas and we just kept reaching back and forth inside the 5 mile long lagoon riding high on the amahs as they lifted soaring in the wind. Dahlfin II was never like this.
On the next day we again went sailing on the Indian Ocean on a 43 foot catamaran which we took to a group of islands north of Mauritius. Once we were no longer in the lee of the main island we had 20 knots of wind and literally went skimming over the tops of the waves at incredible speeds (no instruments, GPS etc. so we couldn't tell how fast). We anchored in a lagoon behind the reef of one of the islands where we again went snorkeling. The coral was quite different from that which we were used to in the Bahamas and Caribbean and we saw a number of new species of fish. The water was the warmest ocean water we have ever swam in - 83 degrees Fahrenheit. On the last day we went hiking in the mountains in the southern half of the island.
How quickly we settle back into the routine after the days of scurrying around trying to get the most out of our shore leave. Both of us have eased off considerably in doing the reading assignments for our courses and feel good just about being able to make it to class. So far we've been able to stay away from afternoon naps on this leg, but our evenings continue to be full with Community College, discussions and documentaries/movies. (Last night we saw Indiana Jones, The Temple of Doom on closed-circuit TV.) Meals continue to be some of the more interesting parts of the day as we share discussions with professors, students, and fellow travelers often discussing such topics as globalization, human rights, racial inequalities etc. - and lighter topics such as where we are going in India, what we are going to wear in India. Already we have begun to have seminars on the transitions from West to East, cultural shock, and generally what's expected in the different countries we will be visiting. Shipboard rumors seem to fly fast and furious. Right now there's a rumor that we may not be able to go to India because of increased unrest, rioting etc. in the country. Apparently they have back-ups for each country: so far we have had to replace our safaris in Kenya with Mauritius and Malaysia with Singapore. So loosing India would be a BIG loss for the overall voyage. We really feel isolated from the news of the world because all we get is an abbreviated form from an Internet service. We could go out on our own on the Internet to find out more and will if need be - but that gets a bit pricey.
Email, (Mar 14, 2002)
Wednesday, 13 March 2002 Lat 01 36.5'N; Lon 079 26.6'E (noon report)
We crossed the equator again early this morning. This time there was no festivities or celebration as the first time. Interestingly, we have been experiencing the same calm conditions on either side of the equator as we did before and the last 2 days it has been very calm. We did, however, have one short-lived very strong rain squall yesterday - just the way they write about it in the books. Our present conditions are wind NW 7 - 10 k, seas 2 -3 feet, the most calm it has been on the whole voyage. It is also becoming very hot: air temp 87 deg F; sea temp 87 deg F. Our present speed is about 13.5 knots and we make good between 320 - 370 nm/day.
We have only 790 miles to go to Chennai - and yes, it looks like we are going to India. There are certain areas we have been told to stay clear of and all of our trips go to other areas, so hopefully everything will be all right. The excitement amongst all of us is really running high as each day we get closer and in CORE and Community College we learn more about the history, culture, religions, art, architecture and places we are going to visit. Last night Bonnie went to a class to learn how to tie on a sari (most complex as it is a single piece of cloth 6 meters long) while Ron went to a class on India folk drama and music. This is our first "eastern" country, the first which will be radically different from our western backgrounds and experiences. Also, if you look at the itinerary, from here on it is one country after another in rapid succession.
Email, (Mar 28, 2002)
Sunday, 24 March 2002
We are now in the Straits of Malacca headed down the slot between Sumatra and Malaysia towards Singapore. The wind is light and variable with calm seas. There is, however, a lot of shipping. Each time we look out we can see at least 1/2 dozen boats, some of them very close. They range all the way from small fishing boats to huge tankers and container ships. We are 1,366 nm from India and have 268 nm to Singapore which we should reach early tomorrow morning.
It is hard to know how to describe all the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of India. For India is a truly sensual experience that titillates all the senses. It is the largest country in South East Asia and very densely populated. In 2000, the population reached 1 billion and is presently increasing at 1 million/month. To put it in our perspective: India has 3.5 times more people than the US living in 1/3 the space. Globally, 1 in 6 people are Indian in today's world. This population is incredibly diverse, divided by languages, religions, and cultures, by cities and villages, by extremes of poverty and wealth. In addition to the poor, who live in hovels, there is a rising middle class (we saw area after area of large apartment buildings) and a smaller very wealthy class. The caste system remains a dominant component in everyday life. It is basic in establishing self-identity and most social activity. Arranged marriages are still the norm (95%), those with mixed marriages literally become social outcasts. Extended families live together in the same family unit. Probably the most important component of the Indian's life is religion which is pervasive in all areas of day to day living. With the Hindu religion being prominent (80%), there are also Muslim 14%, Christian 2.5%, Sikhs 2%, and Buddhist 1%. Language is also another great divider. Although there are 17 official languages, there are more than 1600 languages and dialects - often existing within distinct geographical boundaries. English is the only language known throughout the country; yet only 3 in 100 speak it.
Our main experience in India was structured by a 3.5 day trip to Delhi, Agra, the Taj Mahal, and Varanasi. We left on the afternoon we arrived in Chennai, flying 2.5 hours to Delhi. The next day was a 20 hour day with a 4 am wake-up call and getting back to our hotel at midnight. We took a train (2 hours) to Agra, the city adjacent to the Taj. When we arrived at the train station there were a lot of people sleeping on the ground and in the station. We were fortunate as our group got a pretty good car with air conditioning, still Spartan by US standards but not as bad as another group that made the trip in a box car with wooden benches and no windows. In the Agra area we visited Fatehpur Sikri, a silent and petrified sandstone city where time has stood still for the past 400 years. After lunch we went to Agra Fort which is a perfectly preserved Mughal City from the height of the empire's splendor.
We have all seen pictures of the Taj Mahal stately standing before the long reflecting canal, but nothing can describe the serene simplistic beauty like being there. It literally takes your breath away. It was built in the early 1600's by the Mughal Emperor, Shahjahan, in memory of his beloved wife who died giving birth to their 14th child. Built completely of white marble it glistens in the sunlight and then takes on different hues with the shadows and changing light of the day. Although we were familiar with the exterior structure, we were completely unprepared for intricate marble carvings and artwork of inlaid semi-precious gems of the interior. We were there for 3.5 hours including sunset. It ranks right up there with one of the high-points of all our traveling experiences.
On the second day we went on a city orientation of Delhi passing by many of the governmental buildings, embassies and wealthier homes. We also visited a number of temples, the high-point of which was a Sikh temple. An eerie atmosphere pervaded the experience produced by a monotonous haunting chanting in Punjabi accompanied by drums and some kind of melodious instrument. In the center was a sort of alter administered by priest-like Sikh. It was a very humbling experience.
We then flew to Varanasi which is the oldest living city in the world existing for the past 3,500 years. It is situated on the Ganges River and is the holiest of holy cities for the Hindus. In the afternoon we visited Sarnath which is as holy to Buddhists as Varanasi is to Hindus. There we visited the ruins of an ancient monastery, a new Buddhist temple and Archaeological Museum. Back in Varanasi we visited an open market and an Indian Crafts Center where we were entertained with music and dancing.
The following was another high-point of the trip - we went down to the river to watch a spectacle which has remained unchanged over the centuries. Getting up before dawn we walked in the dark through the narrow cobble stone streets of Varanasi to the river where we boarded boats to watch the ritual bathing in the Ganges. At dawn, pilgrims converge at the holy waters for ritual immersion and prayer to release their souls from the cycle of rebirth. We bought little "boats" with candles which we lit and placed in the water, watched the sunrise, and observed the people as they came down to the river to bathe and wash their clothes. Afterwards we left the boats and for over an hour and walked through the narrow streets (a car couldn't get through) of the city experiencing the city as it woke & came alive for the day. Storekeepers opened up their small shops, incense was burning everywhere, and the people came - the streets became packed with teeming humanity. Once we emerged into the wider streets we were besieged by the early morning traffic: cars, trucks, trishaws, cows, ox-drawn carts, more people - all with a cacophony of sounds that overwhelmed us. For us, this was one of the most memorable experiences of our visit to India.
We then flew back to Delhi, had a 3 hour lay-over, and flew back to Chennai arriving at 2300 very tired.
The last day we spent on a trip to rural India out of Chennai to visit a farm and village. There wasn't anywhere near the congestion of people we saw in the cities and the countryside is quite beautiful. It was incredibly hot. Bonnie began to get quite sick - they call it the "Delhi Belly". We think it was from bad water on the ship the night before as the ship was rationing water in port and we got a couple of bottles from a suspect container. By late afternoon and the bus ride back to the ship she was really miserable and by 2000 was in the ship's infirmary with a very high fever and eliminating fluids at a steady rate. She stayed in for 2 nights and 2 days, had continuous IV's (11 liters) and lots of antibiotics. The whole episode was complicated by an extremely low drop in blood pressure for 30 hours. The medical team on the ship is a doctor and 3 nurse practitioners. Recovery after being released from the infirmary has been slow and we chalk it up to one of those travel experiences we will never forget.
Well that's it. India was an incredible experience - one we will never forget. On to Singapore.
Email, (Mar 29, 2002)
Friday, 29 March 2002, Lat 04 56.1 N; Lon 106 16.2 W, Noon Report
Greetings from the South China Sea! As we round the Malaysian Peninsula and head towards Vietnam, again we see a lot of shipping including a number of smaller boats. The conditions are extremely calm with winds NNE 7k and seas of 2-3 ft. We are 243 nm from Singapore and have 336 nm to go to Vietnam. So this is the shortest sea-leg of our trip (1.5 days) and we barely have time to catch our breath from Singapore before we start traveling in Vietnam.
Historically Singapore brings up thoughts of a rough-and-ready port of call complete with rickshaws, opium dens, pearl luggers and pirates. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Before World War II, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei were all loosely amalgamated as a British colony. Since the war, they have emerged as 3 separate independent countries. Today, Singapore is a thriving city-state that has overcome its lack of natural resources to become one of the strongest economies of Asia.
Singapore is an island about the same size as the city of Chicago - 30 miles long and 15 miles wide at its widest point. It is located off the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula along with several smaller islands which also belong to the republic. The main island, Sentosa, lies adjacent to Singapore making the inner harbor one of the best natural harbors in the world. We saw this first hand in the amount of shipping that went in and out of the harbor and the number of ships that were anchored in the outer harbor (dozens) while we were there. It is also a favorite destination for cruise ships and a number of them came and docked during our stay.
Part of Singapore occupies land that was reclaimed from the sea through landfill operations. The whole island is actually one big city-state; there are essentially no rural areas or other cities. As we drove around, it seemed that it was just one big mass of skyscrapers and industrial complexes, all of which are relatively new. We were told that just 40 years ago most of the island was just a collection of villages. One thing that was particularly apparent to us was the beautiful contemporary architecture in most of the high-rise buildings - it seems as though no money was spared in the hiring of architects and we observed many exciting innovative designs. The island is quite densely populated (4.1 million) with most of the people living in spacious, well-equipped high-rise apartments and very few single family dwellings. We were told that Singapore is the most western of all southeast Asian cities and indeed we felt quite at home shopping in the magnificent malls and traveling by bus or taxi from spot to spot. It was quite a contrast coming directly from India.
The whole area seemed quite affluent and stable. The unemployment rate is only 3% and we never saw any beggars. Singapore also enjoys extremely low rates of crime, pornography, and drug use enforced by strict laws some of which have the death penalty. Other laws have heavy penalties for what we would think are minor infractions: littering (S$625), failing to flush a public toilet (S$94), smoking in a public place (S$500), jay-walking (S$50), eating on the subway (S$312). Needless to say we found Singapore a very clean city and felt quite safe traveling throughout.
We went on only one organized SAS trip while there, an ethnic tour of the city in which we visited the Botanical Gardens, Little India, a market place/fisherman's wharf and Chinatown. The rest of the time we toured the city with friends or on our own. One of the evenings a group of us went out to dinner at the famous Boat Quay, a strip of up-scale outdoor restaurants along the waterfront for seafood. Another night we went with the same friends for supper in Chinatown where we choose our food from various outdoor stalls along a city block and ate on adjacent picnic tables. From there we went to the Night Safari, a unique zoo-like complex that is open only at night and has animals roaming in their own habitats while we went through the park on a Jurassic-style tram and walked on paths in various topographical areas such as the rain-forest, savannah etc. The whole complex was very well done and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the animals roaming in their natural setting.
On one of the days we took a gondola high over the city up to Mt. Faber and then across the water over to Sentosa Island which has among other things a large spread out theme park. We went primarily to take in the natural ambiance of the island with its beautiful gardens and pathways and to visit the Underwater World which is a very well done aquarium with long glass tunnels that go through the main fish tanks. We stayed into the night and the park took on a completely different fairyland-like atmosphere with special lighting in the trees and water fountains. The high-point of the evening was a spectacular Musical Light Show with water fountains, laser beams and holograms all set to musical in a large amphitheater. We also went one more time to Chinatown to roam the narrow streets and browse in the shops. The rest of our time in Singapore was spent shopping in the magnificent malls.
Well that's all for now. Bonnie is almost recovered from her "medical bout". It's hard to believe that tomorrow we'll be in Vietnam. Last night in Community College we re-lived the protest years of the war, complete with songs and first-hand dialogues. It brought back lots of memories of an era past.
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