Posted by: notdaveng | December 13, 2011

All good things…

Current Coordinates: Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale Florida, USA

They stood. Their faces pressed against the chain link fence. Grasping hand painted signs and windswept flags. Their cheers a dull roar encompassing the rest of the portside activity.

The crowd at the edge of the dock – the waiting gangway a few feet from my porthole framing the shot of parents and loved ones greeting us at the end of our journey.

With the crew securing both the bow and the stern lines and the dull vibration of the engine dying beneath our feet we were now officially docked – reaching US shores for the last time during our voyage.

The rest of the morning erupted into a whirlwind of activity throughout the ship. Last minute packing. Last minute apologies. Last minute salutations. Last minute regrets. Last minute congratulations. Last minute questions.

Looking down into the ship’s main gathering place: Tymitz Square – I could see a veritable sea of people flooding the debarkation area on deck five.

Joining the fray I felt compelled to constantly wave; sign scrapbooks; handout my email address; and share hugs. Regardless of how many time I said goodbye to the same people – I was constantly in fear that there would be that one person I would miss.

But soon my time had come.

Rolling down the gangway and crossing the threshold past the customs official with gargantuan duffle bags in hand – a wave of realization hit me:

The ride was over.

Sitting crossed-legged on the hard concrete sidewalk and absentmindedly completing the shipping form for my baggage I silently contemplated the past three months behind me….

The sheer size of the globe; so many borders traversed; so many time zones crossed; so many stories to tell.

Travel is about the journey as much as it is about the destinations.

A journey that offered so many opportunities for learning and exploration also created more questions than satisfying answers. Questions that led me to explore future possibilities of travel – sparking an innate desire to keep going.

An appetizer of exploration sparking an appetite for adventure.

To which I now ask myself: what else is out there? And when will I be going back?

Thanks to all those who read along at home. You have become an essential part of my travels as my camera, poncho, or… universal electrical adapter.

And while Florida is still a long way from home – I will save the stories spanning the distance from here to there for myself as this will be my last entry.

Thank you again.

~Dave Eng
Former: Living Learning Coordinator Involvement & Recreational Sports
Semester at Sea Fall 2011 Voyage around the World

This voyage by the numbers…

Nautical Miles Traveled: 28,345
Countries Visited: 12
Blog Posts: 127
Blog Views: 5,945

Passengers:

447 Students:
38% Male / 62% Female
13% Frosh / 53% Soph / 25% Junior / 9% Senior
5% International Students

85 Lifelong Learners
35 Faculty
32 Staff
53 Family Members
20 Partial Voyagers

672 Total Participants

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TL;DR parents and loved ones greeting the ship arriving this morning; the realization that we’re in the last port for the last time; a whirlwind of activity; kept saying goodbye to everyone; crossing the threshold of customs that this ride is over; the sheer magnitude of the voyage; countries, borders, time zones, distances; sparking a future appetite for travel; thanks for reading; this will be my last blog entry


Posted by: notdaveng | December 12, 2011

End one voyage. Begin Another.

Current Coordinates: 24 19.82 N 080 25.32 W

Feeling the deck shift beneath our feet – we all experienced the deliberate sensation of a drastic change in course.

Steaming north at a faster than normal pace: Captain Jeremy’s roguish English accent came over the PA system announcing that the after end outside decks needed to be cleared immediately.

Amidst the hurried movement of deck furniture came the additional information that one of our passengers required immediate medical attention – and that the ship had altered course towards Key West in order to rendezvous with a rescue helicopter to evacuate the patient to a land based medical center.

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Within the hour a US Coast Guard seahawk’s silhouette emerged from the distance – first circling the ship before approaching the stern.  It’s down wash matting everyone’s hair against their faces.

As the student was stabilized and hoisted up via the rescue basket: she offered a goodbye wave to the ship – with present company waving in return.

For a voyage that was always plagued with rumors of students being “kicked off” between ports we had always publicly joked about the “Secret Blackhawk” that came to grab students in the inky blackness of night…

Who ever thought THAT rumor would ever come true?

Definitely not me.

But with the excitement of a helicopter rescue behind us the rest of the day maintained a seemingly unsustainable blur – a furious pace of packing, moving, and last minute cleaning up.

With the terminus of our trans-global voyage now less than twelve hours away we officially ended our journey this evening with the Convocation Ceremony.  An event recognizing the accomplishments of the shipboard community during our four months at sea.

Speakers tonight included Executive Dean Jill Wright: a seasoned veteran of both international travel as well as the unique nature of our study aboard program – this would be her 8th and final voyage as part of the ISE staff.

Captain Jeremy Kingston – a master mariner whose skilful leadership led us safely around the finite contours of the Earth’s surface; as well as provided colorful commentary on all things student conduct related during his years with the program.

Kika Mothersil – our student leader who delivered the keynote address encompassing our new roles as global ambassadors as well as educated leaders.  Roles encompassed not only by students; but for faculty and staff as well.

And Mamta Accapdi – Dean of Students and the soul of the Student Life Team who recognized our most exemplary student leaders and work studies whose tireless efforts created one of the most unique and special voyages in the history of the program.

In addition: our unique experiences are eclipsed only by our unique student body whose various ages ranged from those gap year students straight out of high school to the seniors – 16 ended their undergraduate careers tonight having earned the their final credits with Semester at Sea.

We also recognized 15 exemplary students who through dogged perseverance and unwavering resolve were able to maintain a perfect 4.0 grade point average for the duration of the entire voyage – an academic transcript of straight A’s awaiting them at home from their studies aboard the MV Explorer.

Now with the voyage at a ceremonial close; the remainder of the evening was spent saying bittersweet goodbyes.  To both old friends and new.  Swapping photos and reminiscing of our enriching shared experience during our voyage around the world.

As for myself: I feel tired.  The last leg of this journey seemingly impossibly busy compared to the prior three months.

But with our rapid disembarkation tomorrow I can already anticipate more mixed feelings.

Representing both the end of one voyage – as well as the beginning of a new one.

TL;DR student suffering from acute medical condition helicopter off the ship; US coast guard rescue; rest of the afternoon spent packing, cleaning, and moving; end of the night with convocation; speakers were Jill Wright, Jeremy Kingston, Mark Thomas, Kika Mothersil, Jim Huffman, and Mamta Accapadi; spent last night on the Explorer saying goodbye to the community; mixed feelings about tomorrow

Posted by: notdaveng | December 11, 2011

?

Current Coordinates: 21 34.98 N 085 28.33 W

Sailing northeast and away from the Central American mainland we’ve begun to skirt the western most edge of Cuba.  A path that we will continue to follow for at least one more day before making the turn north again towards our final destination of Port Everglades Ft. Lauderdale Florida, USA.

With our last port of Roatan, Honduras under our belt there is only one direction to head in.  Both mentally and physically…

Home.

With the semester completed; friendships forged; and experiences gained – the official end of the voyage draws near.  The final date of disembarkation rapidly approaching us.

And with it comes a frenzy of packing as faculty, staff, and students all try to cram their t-shirts, Ghanaian drums, rolled carpets, and assorted souvenirs back into their duffle bags, suitcases, and backpacks.  Their fabrics stretched to the breaking point – and all but the most sentimental of items being donated to the ship and its crew.

But with the packing comes the inevitable: homecoming.  A condition known colloquially as “reentry” but also carries with it aspects of “reverse culture shock.”

Having seen what we’ve seen, been where we’ve been, and done what we’ve done: there has to be some degree of difficulty in returning to a land based life again.

So as part of a ship wide discussion in the union we spoke and shared.  Returning voyagers with first time voyagers.  US Citizens, Canadians, Egyptians, and Kenyans.  All discussing.

Where is home for us? Is it merely a place where you put your head at night? Where you were born? Or is it merely a collection of moving boxes?

Will you be going back home to a family? Perhaps bigger because of a birth while you were away – or smaller from a loved one’s passing…

What will be your expectations when you return? Both for your family and yourself?

Will it again be business as usual?

The question that the shipboard community hears most frequently from home is “so what was your favorite port?”  A difficult question to even digest and a seemingly impossible one to answer due to each country’s unique identity and culture.

How can you even ask that?

Also, how were we transformed? Did we transform? Did we notice – how would we even know? And if we did – was it for better or worse?

What happened while we were gone?  While on a ship of a seemingly endless supply of academics we were unfortunately one big news hole: a huge dearth of information.  So today we reviewed what had happened in the world since our departure:

Kim Kardashian was both married and divorced; an earthlike planet called “Keppler 22B” was discovered; and the Occupy Wall Street movement started and continues.

We learned that as we continued to sail east – the world continued to turn without us.  And people went about their daily lives without much thought.

So as we collectively pondered these questions I also thought about my reentry process.  The most prominent aspect being…

At the beginning of this voyage I craved adventure, excitement, and diversity. Seeing new things and going new places.

But at the end – as the high of travelling will eventually wear anyone down – I seek just the familiar and recognizable.

To once again see old faces from old places.

TL;DR turned northeast and beginning to follow the western shore of Cuba; last port over and now a frenzy of packing; conversation on how we will reentry the US; culture shock; where is home; where are our families; what will be our expectations; most common question we get is “what was our favorite port?”; did we even transform?; for me I just miss the familiar; old faces from old places

Posted by: notdaveng | December 10, 2011

Not bitter, better

Current Coordinates: 16 4.71 N 86 40.88 W

Parting my eyes for the first time I awoke from my slumber: a seemingly transparent white sheet surrounding me on all sides.  Batting the mosquito net away I swung my feet over the side of the bed while simultaneously inhaling a deep breath of the heavy and humid air.  A tinge of sea salt filling my nostrils.

We had only a few hours left before we were to set to depart from our secluded paradise so we grabbed a leisurely breakfast in the morning.  The lodge which locally sources its food also produces a diverse collection of jams and spreads.

The variety of which seemed to call from all corners of the fruit family with apples, bananas, mangoes, and limes making their way into the deliciously sweet concoctions.  We managed to make it through a whole loaf of bread and then some sampling them all during our meal – all of us busily trying to decide which flavors to purchase as a souvenir.

It was then that I stumbled upon the Mutton Pepper Jam: a spread that greets your taste buds with the same kind of kick as a handful of crushed red peppers but ends in a creamy sweet finish.  And with food pairings for basically everything ranging from toast to wings: I knew that I had made my choice.

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After putting away a seemingly endless delicious breakfast we decided to use the late morning to enjoy one last kayak and snorkeling adventure – but with the sheer quantity of food that we had all been eating I definitely felt like I needed to get some exercise or face being restless for the rest of the day.

Taking out a single kayak I made a goal of paddling one big loop around the bay: from end to end while following the coral reef on the outer banks.  Something I thought was minimally challenging at first but after returning from an hour of continuous paddling felt like I had gotten my money’s worth.

But like all good things – we had come to the end of our stay as we begrudgingly waved goodbye to our hosts as well as to our two new tail wagging friends Dynamite and Marley.  Their snouts pressed upon the glass windows of the minivan before departing on our way back to Coxen Hole.

Since I still had a couple of hours before reporting in for gangway duty I left on a walking tour of the town and on a personal mission of attempting to find stamps for my postcards.  A mission which combined with a televised futbol game, pouring rain, and a Saturday afternoon proved to be a futile effort.

Wearing a drenched poncho and wet boots I uttered the phrase “?Veder estampas para Estados Unidos?” to countless bodegas, pharmacies, and shop keeps so many times that after an hour the words – while stuck in my head – lost all meaning to me.

However when 4pm rolled around I headed back to the ship to prepare for the last minute onslaught – the rest of the living learning coordinators steeling themselves, no doubt for the deluge of students stumbling back from their bars, taverns, hotels, and pubs – all in various states that could only be loosely defined as “walking.”

And while unfortunately our pessimistic predictions came to fruition we were better prepared this time as we were all present to deal with the colorful assortment of students re-boarding the ship.

And again: as students questionable decisions forced me to miss our sailing away from yet another foreign port I found it hard  to be bitter…

…just better for even had the opportunity to visit Honduras at all.

TL;DR awoke to being surrounded by a mosquito net; leisurely breakfast locally sourced food; tasted different jams; bought a great one: Mutton Pepper Jam; took one last kayaking run for exercise; wandered around Coxen Hole trying to find someone who sold stamps to no avail; busy night in the drunk tank; didn’t get to see us leave the last port; but not bitter – just glad that I got the opportunity

Posted by: notdaveng | December 9, 2011

Sans students

Current Coordinates: Marble Hill Farms Camps Bay Roatan, Honduras

Gradually pulling up next to our berth – the early morning light illuminated all decks of the MV Explorer as the gangway plopped down next to the finished concrete dock.

A stark contrast compared to freight and working ports in our previous countries of call.  Adding to the curious juxtaposition was the diversity and prevalence of all sorts of tourist amenities right outside our cabin portholes: a duty free shop, restaurants, bars, ATM’s, and a taxi stand.

Clearly we had arrived in a tourist destination: its newly developed infrastructure silently begging us to come and spend our money – no doubt a welcome sight for all aboard.

Wandering around the colorful strip mall parked outside our ship – I witnessed groups and groups of students hopping into cabs to take them the short hop over to the western side of the island.  A paradise of hotels, restaurants, shops, and main streets.  An obvious draw to most of the international visitors of Roatan.

But as gaggles of these students departed in taxis filled to the brim – my friends and I hopped into the next available vehicles for a ride in the opposite direction: to the end of the long narrow island where we had to first convince and then negotiate with our drivers to take us there.

For east and away from our ship’s berth in Coxen Hole lay Marble Hill farms – a secluded and tranquil eco friendly lodge whose far flung location on the opposite end of the island we optimistically hoped would deter any students from encroaching in on our statuary – our secret staff lounge in the tropics.

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So after a harrowing journey through the mountainous region did we finally come upon our lodge – seemingly tucked away and hidden form the prying eyes of the main road.  In actuality a small mom & pop operation whose main keepers Ingrid and Paul kept things tidy, the reservation book filled, and the breakfast grill warm.

Both Ingrid and Paul warmly met us in the main reception house – the latter still wearing a dripping wet suit from a morning scuba diving excursion.

After enjoying a fresh lunch of spicy shrimp and rice sourced locally we were all anxious to explore the beachfront that hosted both a long pier and a dock house holding a plethora of kayaks and snorkeling equipment.

Grabbing masks, fins, kayaks, and paddles we started heading out – rowing hard against the calm and serene waters to make it out to where the waves were breaking.   A light blue tinge in the water reporting the location where the sandbar met the coral reef.  A good 300 yards away from the shore.  A beautiful sight to behold beneath the water while the sky turned dark above it.

It was only then when the wind began to pickup and the gentle pitter patter drizzle increased into a torrent of rain.  Drenching all of us and flooding our kayaks as we meandered in the water next to the coral reef.

The rain: both refreshing and exhilarating as well as frightening and tumultuous was a strange mixture that I imagined encompassed most of our journey around the globe.

Filled in some ways with both dread and joy – but always containing learning moments: for both us and the students.  Moments that nevertheless always sparked a desire to ecstatically continue forward: despite setbacks and hardships.

Bobbing in my kayak and floating in the middle of this storm with friends I realized that this was probably the most peaceful time for me during this whole voyage – a solemn closing for our second to last day in port….

With absolutely zero students around.

We got what we asked for.

TL;DR docked in Coxen Hole, Roatan; most of the students went to west side of the island for the parties; we went one hour to the east end to Marble Hill Farms; a small mom and pop eco friendly lodge; delicious locally sourced food; enjoyed the beachfront with kayaks and snorkeling; kayaked out into a storm by the coral reef; was tumultuous but exhilarating; a good second to last day in port; and no students around…

Posted by: notdaveng | December 8, 2011

Lather with baby oil. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Current Coordinates: 16 37.87 N 083 29.92 W

It was strange at first. We’d gained an hour on the clock.

As we headed north and away from Panama – our ship has made a hard left turn and started heading west – a first during our voyage as we’ve exclusively headed eastward in our circumnavigation of the globe.

And with the additional hour came another strange phenomenon: noise.  Noise has returned to the halls and public spaces as finals officially came to a close at 5pm today and the collective student population rejoiced with the completion of the academic semester and freed from the rigors of classes, lectures, tests, and papers.

And as if the situation couldn’t get any better we are now less than twelve hours away from landfall – one of many facts we learned during our final Pre-Port Briefing on our next destination of Roatan Island, Honduras.

At the beginning of this voyage we were originally supposed to call Havana, Cuba our final port – a seemingly unattainable jewel in the Caribbean Sea for travelers and US citizens alike.  But as the ship’s travel license application seemed to wallow in the bureaucratic bowels of whatever desk it had landed on – prudence dictated that we choose an alternate destination.

So last month word was passed down that we would instead be visiting Guatemala as a replacement port since all signs indicated that our application would not be approved in time.  But sadly after some international reports of increased health and safety risks on the eastern seaboard – our itinerary was changed once again for a final foreign port of call in Honduras.

Don’t get me wrong – I would have loved to see Cuba; and I had my heart set on Guatemala for a while.  But a fact of life is that we don’t always get what we want.

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like Honduras – in fact I think that with its white sandy beaches, warm surf, bright sun, and loads of outdoor eco-adventure activities: it would make an excellent final port of call.

Also it widely accepts the US dollar with a very favorable exchange rate – which is nothing to sneeze at either.

But despite all of its benefits the island itself still poses some interesting challenges.  While in the past we have been warned of largely health / safety / etiquette / economic issues.  This time the issue was more medical.

With a rather abundant population of sand fleas: we were warned to stay off the sand as much as possible – a difficult request for a college aged population at a Caribbean tourist destination – as the bites from these nasty creatures could easily turn your skin into a patchwork of red welts.

Instead we were warned that if we absolutely had to sit on the sand then we should invest some money into a beach chair AND (believe it or not) some Avon Skin so Soft Baby Oil – as the fleas have become naturally immune to most commercial bug sprays.

Sit in the sun.  Lather with baby oil.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Got it.

And as we once again heard the warnings about student behavior in port specifically regarding damage to local property, drunkenness, and partying – I became sadly pessimistic that this might once again be another occasion where students show up late to the ship.  Often intoxicated with some stumbling and vomiting along the way.

But as this can be an issue in ANY port we’ve been to: Honduras is compounded by the fact that since it falls outside the semester students feel that conduct sanctions can do very little with their classes complete and final debarkation at our next port.

However I ask them not to test the patience of the senior administration as they can still be dismissed from Semester at Sea for their behavior; academic credits held for lateness; or being left behind in the county for a missing passport.

All scenarios that I prefer not to test out.

But the other part of me remains cautiously optimistic as I plan on spending my only two days in Honduras on the east end of the island.  As far away from the party central on the western side of this slim inlet.

Relaxing and enjoying my time with colleagues before we all part ways in Florida.

And for our last port of call: I can’t think of anyone else I would rather spend it with.

TL;DR turned left after Panama and gained an hour; first time we’ve headed west in this voyage; twelve hours from Roatan Island, Honduras tomorrow; today marked the end of finals and the academic semester; tourist destination with good infrastructure and white sandy beaches; beaches are home to sand fleas; best avoid or use baby skin so soft; pessimistic about student behavior as this is the last port; but students can still be sanctioned; just want to spend my time on the east end away from students and enjoy our final days with my colleagues

Posted by: notdaveng | December 7, 2011

A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.

Current Coordinates: 09 19.73 N 079 55.14 W

Groggily rubbing my eyes I glanced outside my porthole to see the drastic change of scenery – normally a serene ocean view changed to that of a bare wet cement wall.  Slowly lowering out of my field of vision as the morning sun shone through from the other side.

I had awoken to the first set of locks during our one day passage through the Panama Canal – a wonder of the modern engineering connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea through the Isthmus of Panama.

I was relieved to hear that we had made our first approach later than scheduled – an unexpected windfall which gave me ample opportunity to get topside (with camera in hand) to witness our transit through the next series of locks at Pedro Miguel.

Ships are actually raised and lowered when transiting through the Isthmus of Panama.  Up from the Pacific Ocean on one side in the south and then down again on the Caribbean side in the north – spanning an eighty five foot difference.

On approach through the Pedro Miguel locks: tiny wooden rowboats approached our vessel containing hard hatted men wearing brightly colored PFD’s and catching cables thrown by the crew on the forward deck.  After stringing the heavy steel spun cables to the powerful trams on either side – the vibration of the engine throughout the ship lowered as the MV Explorer slowly came under the control of the canal operators.  Our only guides through the painfully narrow passage.

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However with a solid three feet of clearance on either side we were one of the luckier vessels who could still comfortably transit the canal with room to spare.  Whereas other vessels of “Panamax” size (the largest possible size that can be accommodated by the canal) often had less than one foot of clearance – or sometimes scratched the concrete walls as they slid through the locks.

And while the edifices surrounding the system screamed of turn of the century styling – the entire process smacked of elegant simplicity.  An entirely water fed system dating back to the 1910’s – the canal has since been in continuous operation throughout the day and night to accommodate the never-ending traffic backing up on either side.

A sensational piece of engineering whose minimalist design was exceeded only by its strategic value and usefulness on shortening an otherwise harrowing journey.

For vessels who could not afford the often $100k+ transit fees for passing through the locks – their captains could always try their luck at rounding the Straights of Magellan on the southern most point of South America.  Thereby adding weeks to an already long journey as well as racking up an enormous bill thanks to rising fuel costs.

Sailing away from the last set of locks on the now Caribbean side of the canal – I thought about the tens of thousands of workers over the years who had died in the process of creating such a magnificent civic.  Falling victim to the yellow fever, malaria, accidents, and disasters that often plagued the valiant undertaking.

And how a singular vision and a steadfast determination were the only two factors that overcame such a dangerous and perilous project of constructing this engineering marvel through the dense and mountainous Central American rainforest.

My new favorite palindrome: A man A plan A canal Panama

TL;DR woke up this morning to see us transiting the first Panama Canal lock; made it topside in time to see us passing through the next lock at Pedro Miguel; have to raise the ship on the Pacific Ocean side to cross the isthmus and then lowered on the Caribbean Sea side; guided through the narrow locks by trams on either side; three feet of clearance on either side; some other less than one foot or scraped the edge; entirely water fed and constructed in the early 20th century; $100k+ transit fees; tens of thousands died in its construction; a feat of modern engineering

Posted by: notdaveng | December 6, 2011

He who loses twice – loses all

Current Coordinates: 07 45.93 N 079 46.61 W

Sailing southeast along the Central American mainland today we’ve recently taken a hard left turn as we square up to face the isthmus of Panama and the early date we have with the Panama Canal tomorrow: reaching the first lock before the break of dawn at 5am.

With many of the students busied by their final exams – most of the corridors fell into a dull rumble of pencil scratches, shuffling papers, and muffled coughs in a ship that felt like one big study hall.  But as the end of the day drew near many still found room for some recreation as tonight marked the end of a long hard road in our Ping Pong Singles Intramurals League.

Before we landed in Costa Rica the league had played several games from the post season double eliminate bracket – the results of which provided tonight with our top five competitors.  Each jockeying for a spot as the best player on the ship.

John Henry Fowler (one of the dependent children on board) had never played before boarding the MV Explorer – but after months of practice had earned a spot as one of the ship’s top players.  Ashvin Sood representing the Bering Sea and Michael Bluestone from the Red Sea earned spots in the tournament after becoming the top two finalists from the lunchtime league.

Sam Wallace from the Mediterranean Sea sported the record for being on finals team for EVERY intramural sport offered; his clutch style earning him yet another opportunity to snipe another championship.

And finally there was Michael Williams – our drama professor from Cape Town, South Africa.  A player whose enthusiasm for the game was matched only by his experience around the table top.

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Wanting to make the final five games special: I requested that the crew bring our ping pong table (which normally lives near the pool on deck 7) moved down to the Union where we could play our last few games away from the wind and weather – and in an environment where we could use the A/V system to full comical advantage.

Always a sucker for a spectacle – I recruited two of my students: Sam Faktorow and Jeff Wei to help me commentate the evening’s activities.  Each of us decked out in our finest attire in an attempt to mimic the great commentators behind… let’s say Wimbledon.  Or Monday Night Football.

But really: we just wanted to look quasi-professional.

The first four games went by in a breeze with players rallying back and forth: struggling to make it to the top while simultaneously avoiding the loser’s bracket as well as elimination.

But when all was said and done it came down to our final two competitors:

Sam Wallace
A natural and heavy handed player whose slams have reportedly possessed enough power to break the skin.

vs.

Michael Williams
An experienced and intractable opponent whose ability to return the most vicious of volleys had catapulted him to the top.

And while many in the crowd had their favorite pony in the race: the lines had clearly been drawn.

This was a student versus faculty match.

With youth and energy on one side versus experience and stamina on the other.

Hard slams versus a “never-say-die” attitude.

With a best of seven game series before them: each side fought valiantly as the tiny white orb volleyed at alarming speeds from one end of the table to the other – a mere streak under the hot stage lights illuminating this blue battlefield.

While the matches were close – Williams pulled ahead early with a three game lead and eventually won the fourth – ending the tournament in a sweep.

A hard-won champion for the faculty and staff aboard the ship.

TL;DR sailed southeast following the coast towards Panama; canal crossing tomorrow in the early am; finals day today with the ship essentially becoming a big study hall; ping pong finals in the union tonight; John Henry Fowler, Ashvin Sood, Michael Bluestone, Sam Wallace, and Michael Williams; ended up with Sam vs. Williams; student vs. faculty; Williams won a best of seven series to claim the title; a victory for the faculty & staff aboard the ship

Posted by: notdaveng | December 5, 2011

And then I saw! And then I saw!

Current Coordinates:  09 54.74 N 084 43.28 W

Swinging one foot over the other I plopped onto the white painted wooden seat beneath me while simultaneously bringing my paddle up and over the ledge.  The rest of my seven person crew followed in suit as we slid slowly away from beach and out in to the harbor.  The figures on the beach fading into the distance…

After about an hour bus ride southeast from Puerto Caldera my group came upon a small shack – its orange PFD’s and stacked paddles crying out from a distance that we had arrived at our outrigger canoe launch.

After a short instructional session from the staff we took the brisk walk out across the road and into the warm sands of the black sandy beach – breaking our bus load up into smaller groups and claiming our separate canoes in crews of eight.

The yellow wooden vessels sported white “outriggers” on the side that helped stabilize an otherwise potentially dangerously unstable craft while at the same time making it “virtually” impossible to flip – a wager that some on board cared not to take.

During a short instructional session we learned that while one of our guides would sit at the stern of the vessel and steer for us – it was up to the person in the number one seat to set the pace.   And while I would have preferred to take a break from any additional leadership duties – I instead got talked into sitting in the front.

With great LLC power comes great responsibility.

The speed of the canoe is governed not only by how many strong and swift people you have in your crew – but rather on the process of keeping everyone’s strokes in rhythm.  Timing is crucial if you hope to paddle anywhere.

And since not everyone behind me could always see my paddle hitting the water – I had to yell “STROKE!” every two seconds in order to keep us on pace.

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Today I learned that after saying the same word every two seconds for a half an hour it forever loses meaning to you.

Venturing about 500 yards past the cliffs of our beach we made headway against the incoming waves until we were safely past the breakers – placid waters meeting our keel.   Heading parallel to the shore we soon landed at our final destination where our entire group raced ashore to a short strip of sand separating the dense jungle from the ocean.

Surrounding us was a beautiful panoramic of pebble beaches, sheer cliffs, and vast forests that that overlooked the harbor: a mouth to the mighty Pacific.

The shining sun illuminating the tropical backdrop while the warm waters lapped at our feet.

After breaking out the snorkeling gear I ventured out with a few other brave souls to see if we could get lucky in the otherwise churning and murky water.   While we first kicked and splashed around only to see the rocky bottom below us – our guide soon gathered up both a live starfish as well as an octopus: the latter discharging its inky spray angrily into the surrounding water.

When we thought nothing could eclipse our eight digited friend from the deep we turned ocean side just in time to see a sea turtle surface a dozen feet from us: his tiny head bobbing just a few inches above the water to gather a much needed breath before diving back towards the shadowy bottom.

Then when we thought that NOTHING could beat a friendly sea turtle: we glanced up at the trees above us trying to find the source of the endless cawing only to discover a pair of one of the country’s most beautiful creatures: the scarlet macaws.  And as a species that mates with one partner for life: we had apparently stumbled onto a domestic dispute as one side tried to defeat the other with sheer volume.

On the way back in we learned that as a country about the size of West Virginia – Costa Rica possessed 5% of ALL plant and animal species on earth – no small feat.

Fighting a nap on the bus back to port – I reflected on the day behind us.  That – despite losing my watch – the trip that I had picked for its physical challenge had grown into a field study on the biodiversity of this “Rich Coast.”

TL;DR out rigger canoe adventure today; crew of eight people; was talked into sitting in the front position; first person sets the pace; said “stroke” so many times during the day that the word lost all meaning for me; paddled about 500 yards out and settled on a beach where we snorkeled; saw starfish, octopus, and sea turtle; then saw a pair of scarlet macaws; Costa Rica home to 5% of the plant and animal species on the planet; for an area the size of West Virginia

Posted by: notdaveng | December 4, 2011

A simple recipe for excitement

Current Coordinates:  Parque Aventura  Esperanza, Costa Rica

A simple recipe for excitement:

First find two steel braided cables – string it between two trees.
Now take two aluminum pulleys and stir well with a harness and a helmet.
Set the mix in the rainforest for three hours with forty SAS students.
You’re done when you’re exhausted.

Yes, a seemingly simple combination – but when set amongst the tree tops in the lush tropical forest of Costa Rica it makes for both an exciting and harrowing experience.

Settling into our berth in the rapidly warming early morning air – I departed from the ship as soon as the gangway dropped with some of my colleagues.  All of us headed to the Zip Line Canopy Tour scheduled first thing in the morning.

As our bus quickly filled with over forty participants from the ship we soon departed for the short drive north of Puerto Caldera and into the maw of the surrounding foliage.

As zip lining is a resource intensive activity – what with all of the belts, harnesses, helmets, and gloves – forty people seemed like an unwieldy number.  But luckily the whole bus load organically broke up into smaller groups after we had all finished climbing into our gear.

Hopping into the converted Honda pickup truck my group took their seats on the steel bench welded to the bed moments before the tailgate flipped up and we started a brief – but comically bumpy ride – deeper into the jungle and to our first set of towers.

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Towers that were simple wooden platforms set among the trees: only pairs of steel braided cables connecting the little man made islands up in the canopy.

While the staff quickly hooked my harness onto the lines – I recalled the last time I did this back in the day as a Boy Scout.  The thrill; the excitement; the parentally completed insurance waiver that I held onto dearly.

All of it was coming back to me – and it was difficult to hide my own thrilling anticipation of swinging through the trees.

Zip-Lining:  originally created in order to get biologists from one treetop platform to another as speedily as possible – grew into a tourist attraction when it became apparent that the ride BETWEEN the towers was a hell of a lot of fun.

So after several hours of flying through the trees – our time in the sky was rapidly coming to an end.  However our last zip line was by far the most exciting which at 550 meters long also made it the fastest.   So when flying through the canopy one last time while simultaneously spanning a river gorge: I sincerely wished that this would be a flight that would never end.

purra vida amigos

TL;DR went zip lining with 40 people from the ship; including Remi, Joi, and Fabio; not very far away; got there as a big group but split up in order to finish all of the stations in the morning; took a bumpy truck ride to the first set of stations; thrill of flying through the canopy; reminds me of Boy Scouts; last line was 550 meters long and was the fastest and also spanned a river gorge

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