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Sel at Sea

Sel at Sea

January 8 - April 27, 2013

A blog written by Sel Yackley during her four month trip around the world with Semester at Sea, January 8 ~ April 27, 2013. Blog and photos Š Sel Erder Yackley.

Sel at Sea

Sel at Sea

January 8 - April 27, 2013

Sel at Sea January 8 - April 27 , 2013 My voyage on the MV Explorer for a Semester at Sea is a dream come true--making me wonder why I waited until the seventh decade of my life to experience the joy of sailing around the world. What made this cruise unique was the diversity of the travelers, the in-depth classes offered by experts in their fields, the exceptional side trips arranged by well-versed tour operators, the informative lectures about the countries we visited, and the affordability of our luxury accommodations.


Tuesday, January 8 It was the eve before what I hoped would be a lifechanging experience: four months aboard the MV Explorer as part of the Semester at Sea program. Arriving at the ship, we took a tour of all seven levels and had an orientation by Les McCabe, president of the Institute for Shipboard Education; Ms. Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia; and Captain Jeremy, a Brit with a great sense of humor. Here are the statistics on those sailing with us: 627 students from 27 different countries and 125 universities, 68% are female 45 professors (all with PhDs), 43 are Fulbright Scholars 38 Life Long Learners, like me Three dozen children belonging to professors; the youngest is 3 months old 55 staff members connected with the University of Virginia 112 workers, including the kitchen staff The idea for Semester at Sea is at least 100 years old. It became a floating shipboard reality in 1963. More than 60,000 students are alumni, including my son Joe. We sail from Ensenada, Mexico, tomorrow night, January 9. Our first stop is Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. 2

Friday, January 11 We are walking the hallways and decks as if we are all drunk, swaying from side to side. It will take five days for us to get to Hilo, Hawaii, through open waters. Topy and I are wearing the wrist bands for motion sickness and taking Dramamine, having seen some children of faculty members become sick. We are told over and over again to wash our hands thoroughly and to use hand sanitizers that are in the corridors everywhere. Our vessel, the MV Explorer, was built a decade ago by a Greek shipping magnate who went bankrupt. It was purchased by the Institute for Shipboard Education in 2006. It has been fitted with classrooms, a library, computer lab, fitness center, a spa, several dining rooms, an amphitheater that holds 900 people, a swimming pool, and a faculty lounge for adults only. Our cabin is spacious with plenty of storage space, a refrigerator, a TV (with which we can participate in classes via closed circuit), a desk, a love seat, a table, and a telephone. I am excited that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, is available for chats and lectures, as are all the faculty, spouses, and the staff of SAS. I am looking into auditing an anthropology and a world religions class. Women Writers of the World sounds like an interesting one too. In addition, we have a choice of four seminars to attend every day. And on this ship we talk only about Day A or Day B (no Mondays through Sundays). No days of rest! We also keep losing an hour after so many nautical miles as we sail westward. When asking directions, you have to know if you are at port or starboard side or forward or aft of the ship. It is going to be a learning experience in all sorts of ways. 3

Thursday, January 15

Hawaii Hilo is the capital of the Big Island of Hawaii and its biggest city. It has a population of 60,000, 4,000 of whom are students at the Hilo campus of the University of Hawaii. It is a town of working people, mostly engaged in agriculture, including cattle ranching. The farmers no longer plant sugar cane but harvest papaya, bananas, vanilla, coffee, macadamia nuts, and orchids and other exotic flowers. As you reach higher ground, this region gets as much as 20 feet of rain each year. We stopped for fuel in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, a 12-hour voyage from Hilo. The approach to the harbor was exciting, as several whales and some dolphins escorted our ship. Oahu's green mountains, scattered with clusters of white homes, rose in the distance. Skyscrapers line the coast, making Honolulu look like a typical American city. Nearly a million people live on Oahu, with a daily average temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. It is a paradise for tourists. We have already set our clocks back four times and will do so again before we cross the International Dateline, meaning we will lose a day. Sunsets on the ocean are breathtaking.


We have crossed the International Dateline, which means we lose an entire day. I can't figure out how to adjust my watch and how many hours ahead we will be of Chicago and Istanbul. Even the computers cannot sync ...Â


Sunday, January 27 Yokohama, Japan After a very rough 12 hours at sea, with 30-foot waves and 65mile-per-hour (hurricane force) winds, we arrived in Yokohama Sunday, January 27. Captain Jeremy said the storm was supposed to move east, but a low-pressure system hung above, causing the ship to swing from side to side and the cancellation of evening classes. We were advised to go to our cabins, but we could barely stay put in our beds and did not get much sleep. Yokohama, a city of 3 million people, is the largest port in Japan, on the northwestern edge of Tokyo Bay. The city of Tokyo, which has a population of 12 million, is further north. Pulling into the harbor on this crisp, sunny Sunday was awe-


inspiring, with majestic Mount Fuji in sight. A fireboat shot sprays of water 50 feet into the air to welcome us, while a band, dressed in navy and white and waving huge yellow flags, played Western marches. People jogging or walking their dogs on the miles-long boardwalk stopped and waved.    Japanese people are kind, reserved, and well-mannered. They genuinely like Americans and go out of their way to help with directions and information. Emperor Akhito is beloved, but many Japanese have no confidence in their politicians whom they blame for the state of the economy in which they see a shrinking middle class while the rich get richer.

Monday, January 28


Tokyo, Japan

Japanese Imperial Palace


View of Tokyo from Skytree Tower in the upscale Roppongi neighborhood. The 2,000-foot tower, which opened in May 2012, boasts the Modern Art Museum on the top floor. When we visited, there was an exhibit by Makoto Aida who uses various media to jolt the viewer's senses.

Life at Sea Classes start at 8 am, and I have visited a couple of lessons on oceanography, but the large classes in the Union are more interesting to me. I can sit in on the Religions of the World, International Law, Human Nature, Health Promotion, Water for the World, and others. Lunch and dinner are well-balanced with salads, fresh fruit, soups, several varieties of fish and meat, always pasta and often rice and potatoes. I never pass up desserts (ouch!). We have a choice of ice tea or various fruit juices with every meal and there are huge containers of peanut butter and jelly by the toaster. I have already finished reading three murder mysteries and knitted two scarves. We Lifelong Learners volunteer to “adopt” students with whom we enjoy meals every third day so they know they have a shoulder to lean on. My extended family includes Betsy, a sophomore from Wilmette, Illinois; Sierra, a junior from Boise; Brendan, a senior from Texas; and Juan from Mexico City. All are curious and sharp with dreams of successful careers in business, the arts or communications. We get together at 4 pm every other day and share experiences or listen to a professor speak on various subjects. English Literature Professor John Miller spoke to us about Moby-Dick on a very stormy day, a perfect setting. Psychology Professor Charles Morris taught us techniques to remember names and faces and told us to get physical exercise if we want to avoid Alzheimer’s. Environmental Science Professor Ed Sobey showed us photos of various ocean creatures and birds and discussed his research work


in Antarctica. He and his wife have crossed the Pacific from Japan to Seattle in a 57-foot sailboat. The faculty and staff lounge is on the bow of the ship on Deck 7, which is off-limits for students. We usually enjoy a glass of wine and conversation before dinner. Sixty-eight percent of the students on board are female. Both the girls and guys come from all corners of the world, including South America, China, Pakistan, and Africa. Thirty-five percent have received partial scholarships, and many are in work-study programs, especially in the computer lab. Every evening there is a lecture on the environment or the culture we will experience next. There are interesting documentaries or movies shown on TV every night, but I am amazed at how tired we get by 9 pm. We are gently rocked to sleep after a few minutes of reading, as we look forward to what the next day brings.

Wednesday, January 30 Kyoto, Japan

Kobe and

After spending two days in Yokohama and Tokyo, we sailed to Kobe (population 1.5 million people), Japan's second-largest port. It is west of Tokyo, near Osaka, and is the country's fifth-largest city, having had thousands of residents migrate to other parts of Japan after an earthquake in 1995. Tokyo has 12 million residents; Yokohama 3 million; Osaka 2.6 million; Kyoto 1.7 million. All the big cities on the Island of Honshu can be reached within a few hours, thanks to bullet trains. Kobe is a narrow city, just 15 miles from east to west, and Mount Rokko rises 1,000 feet to the north beyond which are the Arima hot springs. Kobe’s underground water supply is very good (some call it sacred), resulting in a good crop of rice. This means abundant sake production. 


Kyoto, an hour and a half north of Kobe, was the capital of Japan until 1868 when Tokyo took that title. This historic and picturesque city has three rivers running through its center, and several mountains surround it. A castle built in 1603, several shrines (both Buddhist and Shinto), the four-story gold-leaf-covered Golden Pavilion, and serene and beautifully landscaped gardens with ponds and waterfalls make Kyoto a visitors' paradise. The carmaker Toyota's headquarters and 20 universities make Kyoto a vibrant commercial center as well. We learned from our tour guide that historically, the emperor was the highestranking individual in Japanese society, but the Shogun, the top Samurai warriors, were more powerful. In the old caste system, farmers came next, since they were in charge of growing rice and feeding the population. Artisans and manufacturers followed, and merchants were the lowest of them all. Our guide was quick to tell us that today, the mercantile class has climbed up from the lowest rungs, possessing the technical and business savvy to become the country's richest class. Â Our ship left Kobe to the sounds of American favorites played by a band dressed in red and white as people waved huge placards in the shape of hands, open palms or V-signs. This was the first time Semester at Sea had returned to the Port of Kobe since the 1995 earthquake.


Golden Pavillion

Sunday, February 3

Shanghai, China

I was shocked to see how much Shanghai had expanded since my first visit there 20 years ago. You think the Chicago skyline changes with a few new skyscrapers, but nothing comes close to Shanghai.Â


In 1991, I walked on the Bund, the street along the waterfront, and looked across the Huangpu River at acres and acres of farmland. The only way to get to the other side was by ferry. At that time, the population of Shanghai was 11 million. There were no subways and only a few hundred cars. People took buses or rode their bikes. With its Western style of architecture, Shanghai’s Puxi (pronounced: poohshee) district looked like a European city. The Park Hotel was the tallest structure at 24 stories, built by the British during what the Chinese call their “Concession,” between 1920 and 1930. The French were also there after World War I and built smaller structures, occupied by retail shops and residences. There was no indoor plumbing or heat in those homes, which were to be razed within a few years to make way for more park space. Fast forward to 2013. Shanghai’s population is now 23 million. Pudong, the financial district, has replaced the farmland where the Chinese built 8,000 high rises in 12 years, two of which are taller than Chicago’s Hancock Building and one that will be the second-tallest in the world when it is completed. There are seven suspension bridges over the river, nine tunnels, and 13 subway lines. There are thousands of cars, paying no attention to pedestrians or traffic signals.


One of the most enjoyable experiences of my visit was attending a 90-minute acrobatic performance, one of the best traveling shows out of China. The ERA Acrobats is one of China’s most famous troupes. We were wowed by the show that included ballet moves, gymnastics, motorcycle and bicycle tricks, handstands, high jumps, and magic tricks. The audience literally gasped at times. They performed to live music that was specially composed for the show, with dramatic computerized lighting effects.


Notes from the Deck

There has been a lot of excitement on board, including some bad behavior by the students, who drank too much while in port and disturbed the peace. Students get disciplined and may lose college credit if they misbehave. Passengers have seen some theft, surprising for Japan, which has such a low crime rate. Most unfortunately, I was among those who witnessed the fatal heart attack of Professor Wade Lancaster. Even with a doctor and a nurse performing CPR, he died by the time the ambulance arrived in Shanghai. He was 70 years old. The English Lit professor has become a friend. His students have finished reading and discussing Melville's Moby-Dick and have moved on to Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Because we are sailing, he has picked classics about the seas to study. I sit in on several classes, and every evening there is a discussion in the auditorium and documentaries running in a loop that we can watch on TV in our cabins. Several professors are kind enough to lecture just us Lifelong Learners. The Psychology professor gave us tips on how to improve our memory and is doing memory testing and research among volunteers from toddlers to those of us in our 70s. Physical activities include basketball. Can you imagine? On the high seas? A female student jumped for a hook shot as the ship swayed in the opposite direction. She fell and broke her ankle. The medical clinic put her in a temporary cast and provided a wheelchair. There are fitness classes such as yoga, Pilates, Zumba and other cardiovascular opportunities in addition to a treadmill, bikes, StairMasters and more. But walking from class to cabin to cafeteria is exercise onto itself, especially when the seas are rough.  I have not yet taken advantage of the steam room or sauna, but intend to do so today or tomorrow, followed by a massage. Life on the MV Explorer is good. 19

Thursday, February 7

Hong Kong

We pulled into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor before 7 am, awed by the skyline. The traffic in the harbor reminded me of Istanbul, where ferries carry people, and freighters, barges and cruise ships pass each other. Our ship docked at Ocean Terminal on the Kowloon side.  The temperature was in the 70s, a pleasant surprise after Shanghai, but there was no sunshine.   The activities desk of Semester at Sea offered several side trips, and I chose the historic tour of Hong Kong. Since I had a couple of hours before our minivan left, I walked off the ship into a huge mall, several stories high and as modern as any in the United States. Hundreds of shops sold such items as children’s clothes, high-fashion clothing, Gucci purses and expensive chocolates. You walk out of one mall and into another and another one after that. I found a 7-Eleven and bought some stamps for the postcards I wanted to mail. I also took advantage of the free Wi-Fi and Skyped Joe (in D.C. before bedtime); Ayla (in Istanbul before noon) and John (in Hannover in the early morning).  We cannot use Skype on board the ship because of satellite limitations. During our tour, we crossed, via tunnel, from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and visited Aberdeen, the old area called Little Hong Kong, where a sampan, or water taxi, took us on a tour. The waterways were filled with fishing boats and fancy yachts barely avoiding each other. This area is the home of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Streets have names such as Queens Way, Gloucester, Jaffe, and Kennedy as well as Chinese ones. Everyone drives on the left side of the street. As part of our tour we went to a tea museum, tea being at the center of Chinese culture, and we had lunch in beautifully landscaped Hong Kong Park, rich with evergreens, colorful flowers, 20

waterfalls, and a pond with lots of fish and turtles. We took the world’s longest escalator up one of Hong Kong’s hills, climbed up and down streets, explored the farmers’ market, indulged in some Cantonese pastries, and rode the tram 400 feet above sea level to Victoria’s Peak (although the fog stopped us from enjoying the view.) Exhausted, we returned to the ship at 6 pm. After dinner, we enjoyed a spectacular light show: the Hong Kong skyline.   



Our Home at Sea I am amazed at how smoothly everything runs on the 590-foot-long, 25,000-ton MV Explorer. There are 875 passengers, including students, faculty, Lifelong Learners, guests who come and go from port to port, and 230 crew members. The interior and the exterior are spick-and-span. To avoid outbreaks of contagious diseases, the cleaning crew works around the clock to disinfect handrails, elevator buttons, doorknobs, computer keyboards, and all public spaces. Hand sanitizers are everywhere. There are two cafeteria-style dining rooms. In addition, a fast-food counter on the top deck serves burgers, hot dogs, and pizza; there is also a cafe where you can get lattes, cappuccinos, candy, and fruit. A private dining room caters to small groups where diners can enjoy champagne and other drinks and order from a menu of steaks, lobster, and fancy desserts for $29.95. 

cases of beer and 3,060 bottles of wine. The night before we arrive at a port, we enjoy hors d'oeuvres specific to the county we will be visiting. The MV Explorer has seven decks, nine classrooms, a student union, fitness center, medical clinic, a spa, and a beauty salon. The biggest concern on board ship is water usage. Apparently we use as much as 90 gallons per person (almost 80 times as much as a Cambodian family uses). Our next port to take fuel and water is Mauritius, so we are reminded to conserve water. The ship is capable of desalination, but it is an expensive procedure, requiring a lot of energy. There are 418 cabins, each stocked with plenty of shampoo, hand cream, soap and toilet paper (116 rolls a day, to be precise). Every two days we get clean towels; the sheets are changed every four days.

To get an idea of how much food is consumed during a 107-day trip, I talked to John Knaggs, the Hotel Director. We eat 150,268 pounds of beef, pork, ham, lamb, bacon, hotdogs, burgers, poultry and fish. For our omelets, 10,874 dozen fresh eggs and 2,265 pounds of frozen eggs are used. Fresh fruits and vegetables weigh in at 66,399 and 86,735 pounds, respectively. At breakfast, we eat 21,134 individual pots of yogurt. The list goes on and on: pasta, oils, nuts, spices, cheese, flour, juices, cereals, coffee, and tea. The most interesting is peanut butter: some 2,030 pounds of it, along with 1,124 pounds of strawberry jam, are consumed, mostly by the students and young children. The spacious faculty and staff lounge, off-limits to the students, is at the bow of the ship and is conducive to reading, writing and meditating until 5 pm. Then it's happy hour. The bartenders mix any kind of cocktail you'd like. In addition to hard liquor, there are 500 23

Tuesday, February 12

Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Six of us chose to take a half-day tour that included a visit to the home of former UPI photographer Hoang Van Cuong, 58. He worked for my old news agency from 1968 to 1974 side-by-side with American photographers and reporters, some of whom lost their lives there. After the war, he refused to join the Communist Party, so he had to find a way to support his family, which includes his 97-year-old mother. Cuong owns a narrow four-story home; on the ground floor is a convenience store. The upper levels include a dining room, kitchen, and bedrooms filled with 18th century antiques, including ceramic vases, wooden furniture, masks, and weapons. Hoang says it is the personal collection of several

generations of his family. After looking at some of his albums and enjoying a nice visit, we went to Ho Chi Minh City's War Remnants Museum or simply, the War Museum. What an emotional experience! "The American War" is what the Vietnamese call the conflict with the United States that raged for almost 20 years before ending in 1975. The museum has thousands of photographs, including those the western world saw not only on television but in Life magazine and the daily newspapers. The exhibitions tell the story of the bombings, the destruction, the killings, and the after-effects of Agent Orange and napalm, the chemical defoliants used by the U.S. military. 

Above is the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture taken by AP photographer Nick Ut in 1972. The girl in the center is Phan Thi Kim Phúc at the age of 9 after she was burned by napalm dropped by South Vietnamese planes. She survived and later sought political asylum in Canada. She eventually became a Good Will Ambassador for UNESCO. 24

Our second day in Vietnam started with a 90-minute speedboat ride up the Saigon River during which our gregarious young guide, Hui, served us croissants, coffee, and exotic fruit. Traffic on the river has to be mindful of twice-daily tides, and homes in the area are built on stilts. Thirty-year old Hui told me his grandfather fought for the US-allied South where people revered him as a hero. “However, he was considered an 'asshole' by the Communists who took him as a prisoner of war,” Hui said. His grandfather was a tall and handsome man who had five wives and 57 children. I wrote down the number and showed it to him to make sure I did not misunderstand. He said that was the right figure: an average of 11 children per wife.  

Our group of 28 visited the Cu Chi Tunnels that stretch 200 kilometers, some of them three stories underground, enabling as many as 30,000 Viet Cong to live for months so that they could stage daily attacks on American troops. They survived by eating a plant that grows on trees and tastes like sweet potatoes, and the Saigon River was their water source. The narrow entrance to the tunnels were well hidden under leaves and the exhaust from the cooking vented through ant hills. They used soap to disguise any odors that would give them away. As many as 10,000 died of diseases, scorpion attacks, or starvation; their bodies were buried in the third level below the entrance. Viet Cong also found a way to entice Americans into chambers that held sharp spikes or traps.   25

Before crossing into Cambodia, we visited the Cao Dai temple, built in 1926. Unifying ecumenical faiths, the followers combine Buddhist, Christian and Confucian beliefs, dress in white flowing robes, and pray and sing at the temple four times a day. Women kneel, pray and sing on the left, and men stay on the right, while monks and elders lead the way. Some devotees attend four services a day. The ceiling is three stories high and is painted blue with white stars and the columns are colorfully decorated, giving the temple a cheerful yet serene atmosphere. 26

Friday, February 15


Visiting Cambodia broke my heart while amazing me with its ancient splendor. I kept asking myself, “How could such an advanced civilization (way ahead of Europe a thousand years ago) could become so destitute?” The answer became clear when we visited the Killing Fields in Cheung Ek, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, and Khmer Rouge Prison S-1, where suspected intellectuals and professionals were tortured and hanged by Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge regime. War with its neighbors, occupation by foreigners, civil war, and despotic leaderships have all played devastating roles in Cambodia's present circumstances. Phnom Penh is trying hard to recover from the violence that ended as recently as 30 years ago.

Bou Meng was one of seven surviving prisoners of war captured by the Khmer Rouge. Only two are still alive. He autographed a copy of his memoirs for me. 27

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Our six-hour drive northwest to Siem Reap, the provincial capital and gateway to the Angkor region, meant we saw up close the country’s poor living conditions in the rural areas. Despite the deprivation, the temples at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Benteay Srei (the Woman's Citadel) and hundreds of statues carved from limestone in the 8th-12th centuries, are architectural and artistic marvels. Still standing majestically near Siem Reap, they are a valuable source of tourist income, giving locals a sense of pride and a means to subsist. More than 2 million visitors come to see the temples and pay $40 each for a pass that is valid for three days. The guides claim the money goes toward restoration, but I did not see much evidence of that. 28


A boat ride on Ton Le Sap Lake (the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a vital source of fish) exposed us to life lived on the water. Hundreds of shacks on bamboo rafts float on the Mekong River and Sap Lake until the rainy season, when they are pulled onto high, dry land to avoid the floods. There is a souvenir shop in the middle of the lake where tourists can spend their money on tea, snacks, knickknacks, and snakeskin or crocodile wallets and purses. Small children draped with snakes around their necks pose for pictures and hustle for tips. Four or five crocodiles are held captive in a cage underneath, possibly for food or leather. Back at Siem Reap, I had the best 90-minute massage (a combination of deep tissue and Thai) at our hotel for the princely sum of $16. After dinner at a huge restaurant where we saw some elegant dancers in native costume, many of us went to the open-air night market to hunt for bargains and spend our dollars. I bought a pair of loose, cool black pants and a cotton blouse for $13 after bringing my Turkish bargaining skills into play. All in all, Cambodia was a great, albeit bittersweet, experience.

A live tarantula climbs towards Matthew's neck. Matt, a student from the University of Michigan, tasted the tarantula and said it was like eating crab legs 30

Wednesday, February 20

Singapore Singapore is a small island country (3 times the size of Washington DC) with a population of 5.2 million, 2.2 million of whom are foreign residents. English is the official language, with Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil also widely spoken. The ethnic composition of this young country is 75% Chinese, 15% Malaysian, 9% Indian, and 3% Eurasian. Singapore was established as a trading post in 1891 by Thomas Stanford Raffles of Britain (who abolished slavery in Southeast Asia), even though Portuguese were using the island to trade spices as early as the 1600s. The British left during WW II and in 1942, Japan occupied this swampy island. Singapore became part of the Malaysian Federation in 1945 and was kicked out in 1965.

With Chicago friend, Lynn Baker, who now lives in Singapore

Sailing with us for a few days were Mike and Shelli Dee from Texas who first came to Singapore with JP Morgan in the early 1990s. They have given 10 scholarships to SAS students. Shelly serves on the board of the Institute for Shipboard Education, an umbrella organization for SAS.


Monday, February 25


Of the six countries we have visited so far, I found Myanmar to be the most fascinating. The people are genuine, friendly, and content. There is much poverty, but Myanmar's people seemed resigned to that fact. Education is lacking, unemployment is high, healthcare non-existent, but I saw serenity and harmony in people's faces. They are devout in their religious beliefs and determined to do good on this Earth. They believe in Nirvana. You can sense their pride in their ancient past and their optimism and hope for a better future. There were 32 in our group, including several children. Our guide, whose "international" name is Martin, spoke good but hesitant English, often apologizing for its limitations. He spoke Burmese as well as the dialect of his own region. A family man, he was a perfect example of a professional guide: calm, patient, soft-spoken, accommodating, and respectful. He did not hesitate to answer questions -- even personal ones -- and thanked us for coming to Myanmar, not only because he got a job out of it but because the


people of Myanmar benefited from our visit, monetarily as well as through personal contact. This visit was one with a lot of variety, appealing to all the senses. We visited pagodas, temples, and shrines; we visited a school where we gave out books and supplies; we had a pony ride; we took a sunset cruise and climbed a magnificent shrine for breathtaking views; we ate a catered dinner under the stars; we attended a puppet theater; and we shopped in local markets. We saw a golden sun setting and a full moon rising. Martin arranged for special dishes for us and always explained in detail what we were seeing, smelling, and tasting. Since my usual white wine was not available, I tried Myanmar beer; it comes in big bottles and is 6 percent alcohol but tastes light. I really liked it! Now that this wonderful country has opened itself to the outside world, I hope it maintains its uniqueness.

Swangun Pagoda in Yangon is 99 meters high, covered by layers of gold leaf. The tip has precious jewels, including a 65-carat diamond. Sixty-eight smaller pagodas surround it.

Columns holding up prayer areas are decorated with cut glass.


We spent a wonderful afternoon with these beautiful children.


We enjoyed various modes of Burmese transport.

Sailing the Seas

The computer lab, open until 11 pm with a techie on duty and assisted by work study students, is usually full of students and faculty. All of us try to go green and avoid printing materials. We have access to many sites (without having to go online) for research. Professors put their homework assignment in the Public Folder and we are encouraged to place our photographs and impressions in the same file. The Dean sends us a memo every afternoon at sea, with announcements for the day and important information, including our location, water and air temperature (usually in the 80s F), and the water usage on board. We are conserving as much water as possible since we take in water only from the ports where we know we can get a clean supply. Most of us LLLs (Lifelong Learners) were asked to participate in an extended-family arrangement. I have two young men (one from Texas and one from Mexico) and two young ladies (from Idaho and Illinois), with whom I have dinner or lunch every third or fourth day. Sometimes I treat them to hamburgers on Deck 7 or smoothies. It is a way for us to give them sound advice or a shoulder to cry on, though my charges have been trouble-free. 

Topy (second from left) with our “adopted” students 35

Wednesday, March 6


O lands! O all so dear to me – what you are, I become part of that, whatever it is. – Walt Whitman I wish I could do what Walt Whitman suggests. Visiting a country for a week obviously does not give one an in-depth picture. We pulled into harbor at Cochin (also known as Kochi), the capital of the state of Kerala, which has a diverse population of 5 million (56% Hindu, 25% Muslim, 20% Christian). There is a Jewish quarter in the market visited by tourists hunting for bargains, but only eight Jews survive in Cochin. There is a strong Communist influence in Kerala, and the government is Socialist. It is one of the wealthiest states in India, with a highly educated citizenry. India, with its 1.2 billion citizens, is the second-most populated country in the world, soon to overtake China.  Its economy is the world's ninth-biggest, and economic growth is clocking in at almost 8 percent. Area-wise, it is the seventh largest, with 28 states, very different in every way, and seven territories. More than 20 languages are spoken. Eighty percent of the population is Hindu. Overall the literacy rate is 61%. Delhi, the capital, has 22 million residents, and is tucked away in the north. Mumbai, formerly called Bombay, is on the northwest coast and has 20 million inhabitants.  Old Delhi was the capital of the Muslim Mughal Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries and has many mosques, monuments, and forts. New Delhi is the Imperial City, created as the capital of India by the British. Unfortunately we arrived in Delhi at night and left early the next morning for Agra, so we did not see much of the capital. I will quote Donald, a frequent traveler to India: "It took me two days to deal with the crowds, the noise, the smells that assault you in this huge, frenetic place. The traffic-clogged streets are dirty and dusty, much more so than my first visit eight years ago. There are cycle rickshaws, motorized tuk tuks, scooters, motorcycles, trucks, buses, cows, oxen carts, and dogs -- all competing for space with the incredible crush of humanity dodging the above in a strange choreography that somehow seems to function under the constant blare of horns ... There is an excellent new Metro, which works well if you are not too sensitive to being crushed in close intimacy with other sweaty and often pungent fellow travelers. Pushing and being pushed is the only way to get on and off, but everyone takes it in stride." We left the five-star Crown Plaza Hotel in Delhi at 4:45 a.m. to catch a train that took us to Agra in two hours; the motor coach would have taken five hours. We had assigned seats on the train that had at least 10 wagons. We were given bottled water and a snack.


Cochin 37

Two great Mughal monarchs, Akbar and Shah Jahan, transformed the little village of Agra into a befitting second capital of the Mughal Empire during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, Agra is full of contrasting buildings of red sandstone and white marble, including the Taj Mahal. Commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj was designed and planned by Persian architect Ustad Isa, and it took 22 years to complete. Apart from its stunning design balance and perfect symmetry, the Taj is noted for its elegant domes (the major one stands 115 feet), intricately carved screens, and some of the best inlay work ever made. Today, Agra is a city of 1.6 million people and is the most-visited city in India.


Amber Fort

Amber Fort, high up in the hills, is a opulent mix of red sandstone and marble buildings that forms a complex of chambers, hallways, and a palace, built in 1744. There is an imposing gateway painted with the images of the elephant god, Ganesh. The merging of  Rajput Mughal architectural styles is captured in the Sukh Niwas and Jas Mandir apartments, and the Charbagh Gardens. Some 5,000 tourists each year visit the premonitory above Maota Lake near Amber village.


Our next stop was Agra Fort. Predominantly red sandstone, it was built in 1565 by Mughal Emperor Akbar, and is surrounded by walls. We had a buffet lunch at a hotel in Agra and got on our bus with 30 other Semester at Sea travelers to get to Jaipur, which took a longer-than-usual 6.5 hours. The Ramada Hotel was a welcome sight with a pool on its roof, offering me a cold but refreshing swim. Hotels in India charge for the use of Internet but I was happy to speak to two of my children. Knowing we were to leave at 6 am, we tried to get some sleep.

Jaipur, the “City of Victory" was commissioned by Maharaja Jai Singh II, a warrior, astronomer and politician who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1699 to 1743. Today's Jaipur is known as the Pink City, partly because the walls of the city are red sandstone, but mostly because the buildings were painted pink in 1876 to coincide with the visit of Prince of Wales, King Edward VII. 40

We proceeded to Dera Amber on rough, dirt roads in Kukas, in the middle of nowhere, a delightful change from the crowded streets. We had a homecooked meal at this lovely sanctuary, which sometimes holds elephant polo (something I had never heard of it before) where we fed the elephants bananas, painted their bodies and washed them with a hose. The elephants helped by filling their trunks with water and splashing on their backs and then scratching themselves on the nearby trees. The children in our group loved the experience. A young lady from town painted beautiful henna designs on the arms of legs of those willing to pay $10 (half of which probably went to the guide). Some of the students later found out that they could have had it done for $1 in town. Still, I have to give this lady credit; she was a true artist.


In the afternoon we visited Jantar Mantar, the largest and best-preserved of the five observatories built by Jai Singh II in different parts of India. The observatory, consisting of outsized astronomical instruments, is still in use. We also visited the City Palace, a delightful blend of Mughal and traditional Rajasthan architecture. It sprawls over one-seventh of the area in the walled city and houses the Chandra Mahal, Shri Govind Dev Temple and the palace with the Maharaja's private collection of textiles and armory. The highlight of our visit to Jaipur was the cycle rickshaw ride in the old city, through the small lanes where we saw a flurry of colors and beautiful architecture, including the Hawa Muhal, the Palace of Winds. Our flight back to Kochi via Mumbai took most of the day. I was glad to get back to the Explorer's air conditioning and the quiet of our cabin. We spent another day in Kochi, seeing Hindu temples, mosques, and a couple of churches. The open market is always fun to visit, and the Taj Hotel near the port was splendid with its Victorian elegance and the beautiful views from its outdoor garden. I was glad to be able to Skype with Ayla, knowing we will be at sea and away from a port for at least six days.


Tuesday, March 12 There is so much potential, intelligence, ambition, and determination among today's youth to solve global problems. We notice this in each classroom, at fireside chats, and over the dinner table every evening on board the Explorer. It is very exciting as well, to witness such mature reflection from high school students. The note below is from two students at GCE (Global Citizens Experience) High School in Chicago, my "adopted" school as part of the Vicarious Voyage program administered  by Semester at Sea. There are two dozen Lifelong Learners corresponding with classrooms throughout the United States in an effort to link the students with the world. I chose GCE because it "pioneers a student-centered model of education that unites the classroom with the real world -- and technology with collaborative learning -- for students who want to think for themselves and make meaningful change in the world."  Dear Sel, We so appreciate the opportunity to share in your experience. To travel the world as you are is just amazing. Your in-depth connection to this journey is told in your writing; not only do you live each culture and environment you visit, but you take great interest in the life on the ship (e.g. how much food is consumed). It is interesting that your favorite course is psychology. We found the piece on strengthening memory very useful. But most interesting is how you write about evolution. In our philosophy class, evolution comes up a lot, more than just Darwin. This past week we taught a mini-lesson on Kant and had a class debate about senses vs. reason. Thus far you have made 7 major stops. We have a couple questions to ask you: When you visit a new place, how do you choose on what to focus your time / energy? What tends to be most interesting to you (e.g. food, architecture, history)? I have chosen to travel to areas I have not been, more as a tourist. However, the students make field trips in connection with their courses, they have service projects. Some visit orphanages, others learn about water purification, many visit factories, etc.  During visits, are you thinking of ways you could help make a difference? Not only during visits but in classes and during discussions, we pledge to do something about water conservation, poverty eradication, human rights, etc. We look forward to keeping in touch during your journey. To have the opportunity you are having is amazing, it is not just sightseeing but more like learning at sea. Yes, students earn a semester of course credit, part of which is through field trips in certain countries. Thank you so much for corresponding with us. We look forward to hearing more and hopefully meeting you when you return to Chicago after your additional month in Turkey with your grandson and family. Warm regards, Gervonne and Ari I am happy to meet up with you at the end of May. Namaste. 43

Life Aboard the MV Explorer


Thursday, March 14 Poverty Banquet We recently had a "poverty banquet" at which we drew numbers and were given either a real banquet or meager pickings (rice and beans). One of the professors provided the information below. It uses simple statistics to illustrate how fortunate we are. If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of 100 people, with all existing ratios remaining the same, it would look like this: 57 Asians 21 Europeans 14 people from the Western Hemisphere, both North and South 8 Africans 52 would be female 48 would be male 70 would be non-white 30 would be white 89 would be heterosexual 11 would be gay 80 would live in substandard housing 70 would be unable to read 50 would suffer from malnutrition 1 would be near death 1 would be near birth 1 would have a college education 1 would own a computer When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent. The following is also something to ponder. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more fortunate than the 1 million who will not survive the week. If you never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can choose to attend, or choose not to attend, a religious meeting of your choice without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, or spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy. If you can read this, you are luckier than more than 2 billion people in the world who cannot read at all.  45

An Interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Retired Episcopalian archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, sat down with me on board the MV Explorer for a wideranging conversation about South Africa's emergence from apartheid, his criticism of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, eradicating poverty, and the "dehumanizing" effect that two years of civil war in Syria is having on the wider world. Q. How did South African people, after the 1994 election that ended apartheid, avoid bloodshed? D.T.: By the skin of our teeth. Frederik Willem de Klerk [the seventh and last president of apartheid-era South Africa], did a courageous thing and negotiated a peaceful solution, even though he had no idea what would happen to white people. But we knew any uprising by us would be crushed by the soldiers and police. Q.  What was the mission of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? D.T.: The Commission enabled offenders to come forward, admit their guilt and receive amnesty. Nelson Mandela had the moral authority to say to people, 'Let's forgive, there's no need for revenge.' For 37 years, Mandela had been at the helm, and having served 21 years in prison made him even more credible. We did not want retributive justice. We chose restorative justice. There were three parts to the commission's work.  The first phase enabled victims to tell their story. Second, offenders confessed their politically motivated crimes and were granted amnesty. Third, the victims, for the sake of living in a peaceful country, learned to forgive. We knew our justice system would be overloaded. We did not choose compensation or reparation. Q.  How would you resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? D.T.: Israel does not want another Holocaust so the world keeps reassuring them. I have visited Gaza several times; the situation there is unacceptable. I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-injustice. The tragedy is that Israelis are dehumanizing themselves by acting the way they are. These young, armed Israeli soldiers at  checkpoints have the power of life and death. I am not going to keep quiet when I see injustice. I learned from the Bible that our God tells us to help the downtrodden. A two-state solution, guaranteed by a global unit, is the only solution. 


Q. How about poverty such as we saw in Burma? D.T.: We all need heroes and heroines. Aung San Suu Kyi has played a great role in appeasing the military.  Her father founded the democratic movement. I am deeply concerned about poverty. In the capitalist system, competition and rivalry are the keys. You not only want to beat your rival, you want to wipe the floor with him. Such behavior brings out the worst in us. Societies such as in the Nordic countries are increasingly egalitarian, moving in the right direction. They are saying, 'We are compassionate, we care for one another,' unlike [former U.S. Republican presidential nominee] Mr. Romney who said he did not care about 47 percent of the population, calling them 'sponges.' Q. What can be done about the situation in Syria?  D.T.: How is it possible for a leader to bomb his own people? To have snipers on rooftops picking out children to kill? The situation is abominable. The U.N. is the only government of the world, but is not doing enough. Kofi Annan gave up trying. We, the citizens of the world, are being dehumanized with what is happening in Syria. They are part of our family. Q.  What do you think of the newly elected Roman Catholic pope? D.T.: I have only two points of advice for the Catholic Church. One, make celibacy a voluntary requirement for ordination. Two, allow women to become priests. Q.  What advice do you have for the young people on board this ship? D.T.:  Form an anti-war organization. Tell the leaders of the world to act in a peace-loving manner. Work toward a world without nuclear power.


A Poem by Semester at Sea Student Stephen Brown


There’s a kind of simple            ness A kind of simple             mess Things are not boggled             down, not mixed and             matched in wires                         In towers                         In complications It’s disconcerting             disconnecting We wave from a boat             to strangers Us three            We strange grouping             Bangladeshi            American            Keralian We drift            rock            pitch down the                       river with a sawed off ashtray between us How do we think of            Home? How do I think of Indiana?            Ohio? There’s no answer. Maybe this one doesn’t have one. But,            I look towards the banks                       And think maybe, the trees                       got it Through roots            stems and branches That’s how we stay connected, reminded            of our intricate            interweavings of an            interlocking, interpersonal world Interlaced and            entwined           

We, we strange three           We queer group of                       friends look towards            The banks People smack clothes against rocks with            wet slaps            Cutting open, dividing A stingray in half We three This trinity of            Holy people Hindu Muslim Catholic Here, disconnected            from our worries            in cities Now, disconnected            from blood-borne feuds We stand connected Well, We sit connected Our feet crossed Our toes spread            roots drop down deep. Exposing the core of things Exposing the beauty of this Eyes close we drift away But,            not that far away We may be separated by continents May be separated by time zones But,            Our hearts reach through the ground We can’t hug around            a globe, Our arms are too small But we drop roots            They link us together We have found such a simple-mess in this simple-ness.

Friday, March 15

Pollywog to Shellback

Today, we welcomed a visit by the Roman god of water and the sea on the ship’s Neptune Day. The event is a take on the line-crossing ceremony of Pollywog to Shellback in the US Navy, when those who cross the equator for the first time, the pollywogs, become shellbacks.   Passengers were asked to show up on deck wearing bathing suits and clothes and warned they may get a bit dirty. Festivities began at 7 am when the faculty and the Captain performed a Neptune Day ceremony as we crossed the Equator. Kool-aid was poured over students who then jumped into the pool, kissed a dead fish as they climbed out, and ran a ring around King Neptune. Next week we will have an Olympics competition, pitting LLLs, faculty and dependent children against groups of students. I am helping to design a flag for our “Lunasea” group, competing in building two-story house of cards, stringing Cheerios on a piece of yarn, and playing musical chairs.


Monday, March 18


From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius. Another one tells you that this is an exaggeration. – Mark Twain Mauritius is a beautiful volcanic island in the Indian Ocean. It is as big as Rhode Island with a population of 1.2 million. The island's capital, Port Louis, has been bustling with foreign investment during the last few years, which has resulted in the construction of shopping malls, technology centers, banks, and hotels. Mauritius welcomed 1 million tourists in 2012 and hopes to double that number in 2013. Mauritius is a melting pot, and a harmonious one at that. Its delicious cuisine reflects the mixture of several cultures. The island considers itself part of Africa, and is not far from the island of Madagascar. 51% percent of the people are Hindu, 25% are Christian (mostly Catholic), 21% are Muslim, and 3% are Buddhist. Our guide, Eddy V. Babajie, exemplifies the diverse population of Mauritius. Knowledgeable and handsome, he told us that his grandfather was German and his grandmother was Hindu. He is Catholic and is married to a Muslim.


We SAS travelers are lucky when an American diplomat comes on board the Explorer to tell us about the country in which he or she represents the US. We were especially impressed to have Shari Villarosa talk to us before we disembarked in Port Louis. Ms. Villarosa came aboard the MV Explorer when we pulled into harbor and gave us a brief history of relations with the United States, as well as an overview of the country's economy.  "The first U.S. consulate was established here in 1794," she said. "Mauritius' second-largest export is textiles to the United States, then jewelry. The island is participating in the Las Vegas jewelry show in May. The island sells most of its sugar to Europe." 

Ambassador Shari Villarosa

She described a country that is environmentally conscientious and active at the United Nations in promoting climate change awareness. "Since 1998, Mauritius has been cultivating new ways of protecting its coral reefs and protecting marine life," Ms. Villarosa said.   Ms. Villarosa was confirmed as ambassador to the Republic of Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles in September 2012. She has served in a variety of jobs in Washington and overseas over the course of her Foreign Service career. Previously she was deputy coordinator for regional affairs for the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the Department of State. She also served as Chief of Mission in Rangoon, Burma. Prior to that assignment she served as Director of Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore Affairs in the Department of State’s East Asia and Pacific Bureau; Economic Counselor of the US. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia; and Chargé d’Affaires in Dili, East Timor.

The amazing seven colored earth of Chamarel.

Ms. Villarosa graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in International Studies. She also has a law degree from William and Mary. She speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and Indonesian. 51

Thursday, March 21

Sea Olympics

The Explorer staff provides plenty of fun events to give students a break from their studies. One of these is the Sea Olympics, when everyone gets into the competitive spirit. The Olympics are comprised of events such as sporting competitions, a tug-of-war, and a backwards spelling bee. The 675 students, 43 faculty, 38 Lifelong Learners and 32 children on board are divided into nine groups, organized according to the location of their cabins. Each group has a Residential Director who keeps the students informed and lends them a shoulder to cry on, should the need arise. These groups are each named after a sea: the Adriatic, Aegean, Baltic, Bering, Caribbean, Mediterranean etc. The name of the Arabian Sea was changed to Persian Gulf after three Iranian students requested the change. For the Sea Olympics, which had nearly 50 events, each Sea had to choose a color and make a flag to carry during the opening ceremonies. In order for Lifelong Learners, faculty, and dependent children to compete in these Olympics, we had to come up with a color (gray) to wear and the name of a sea (Luna). Our sound was howling at the moon. Our banner was designed by the art teacher and we each added our own version of a moon or crescent. Wrappers saved from candy bars made an illuminated border around the moon. I helped carry our banner throughout the ship during opening night ceremonies. We won first place! We also came in first in the Eastern-Style Toilet squat. Rachel Bassett, 43, was able to stay 45 minutes in that position. She also did well howling at the moon. And 35 push-ups by Barbara Sobey, who is in her 50s, got us a blue ribbon. Her husband, Professor Ed Sobey, came in second in pull-ups (23, I believe). We had a team of four doing synchronized swimming, but on land because the 52

seas were too choppy and the pool was closed. With goggles and swim suits, the four 40-something guys were quite graceful. And very funny. 

Sunday, March 24

A Final Word from Desmond Tutu

I last visited South Africa more than a decade ago, and it was one of the friendliest, most interesting countries I had ever seen. I brought my family and we toured townships and wineries, ate at upscale restaurants, and swam at public beaches. We were aware then that there was a crime problem, but we always felt safe and secure. The frightening safety warning that we read from our executive dean would indicate that things have gotten worse in Africa's biggest economy. Archbishop Tutu says it is the most unequal country in the world. I find it difficult to comprehend this after all these years since apartheid ended.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu held Palm Sunday services on board the Explorer, dispensing bread and wine. Later I asked him to bless a photograph of my grandson Leander who will be 2 in April.

Do your little bit of good where you are: it's those little bits put together that overwhelm the world.- Desmond Tutu Q.: We are approaching South Africa, your country. Describe your feelings of elation when apartheid ended. D.T.:   Finally, we were free.  It is impossible to describe how we felt. It's like asking a deaf person to describe the music of a classical orchestra. Yes, we are free.  We thought paradise would come, we knew it would not come fast. But it would come. We knew that a world where people are free is more likely to prosper. Free people would be creative and take initiative. Freedom is cheaper than oppression. Q.: How are things now? D.T.: I am sad to say South Africa is the most unequal country in the world.  There is too much disparity in this most beautiful country of all. There is too much corruption. There are many millionaires but the majority of South Africans still live in shacks packed together with no sanitation or running water.  Few Africans have access to education or health care. Q.: What kind of rights do women have in South Africa? What's your opinion of women? D.T.: In South Africa, women are more likely to be raped than to learn to read.  South Africa is the murder capital of the world.  I am a preacher.  I tell my followers "God created Adam and put him in paradise, he had lions, tigers, snakes and other animals around him but he was lonely until God created Eve."  Wow, what a creature!  A human being cannot live in isolation. Men tend to be loners.  Women are the connectors. They are compassionate, they are the nurturers. We owe so much to our mothers. Q.: What advice do you have for women? D.T.:  I say, "Any woman who wants to be equal to men has low ambition." I say, "Go for it. Aim high."  We need women leaders. 53

Monday, March 25 South Africa The Republic of South Africa is a multi-ethnic nation of 51 million people at the southern tip of Africa. Eleven official languages are recognized in the Constitution. Two of these are of European origin: English and Afrikaans, a language which originated mainly from Dutch that is spoken by the majority of white and colored (or mixed race) South Africans. Though English is commonly used in public and commercial life, it is only the fifth most-spoken home language. This is my third visit to Cape Town, famous for its Table Mountain, formed by a volcanic thrust but flattened by water millions of years ago. Hiking to the top takes four hours, while a cable car ride is 20 minutes. Because of strong winds, the cable cars


were out of service the first and the last day we were in Cape Town. South Africa is rich in natural beauty and natural resources. Boulders Beach, outside of Cape Town on the coast of False Bay, is the only penguin-breeding colony on the African mainland. It is within the Table Mountain National Park. The breeding season kicks off in March and lasts until May. The highly endangered African penguin is monogamous and returns to the same breeding spot each year. Victoria Harbor is within a 10-minute walk from where our ship docked. It is filled with boats, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and night clubs. It is where the rich and tourists gather. Chicago is 13,662 km from this spot.

Table Mountain


Victoria Falls, is also called Mosi-oaTunya, meaning the Smoke that Thunders. It is perhaps the world's largest waterfall, located on the Zambezi River right at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We walked under this rainbow. Our clothes got soaked even with ponchos that went down to our ankles. I was pleasantly surprised that my camera continued to work. 

Saturday, March 30 Zimbabwe Zimbabwe has 14 million people. It was called Rhodesia until 1965, when it gained its independence. It was once among the richest countries in Africa, with gold and diamond mines and plenty of agricultural crops. Now it is one of the poorest. Unemployment is 70 percent. Life expectancy for women is 45; for men it is 41. Robert Mugabe has been President for more than 30 years. “His first 10 years as President were pretty good," said our guide, Douglas. However, during the last two decades, the economy tanked. One reason was the so-called land reform where Mugabe gave people their own plots, even though these people had no

experience in farming. The other reason is widespread corruption. (Mugabe became one of the richest men in Africa.) English is the official language even though many natives speak their tribal dialect. Harare is the capital with 4 million residents. Zimbabweans have little education and no healthcare. The HIV pandemic is one of the worst in Africa. Mugabe claimed the HIV threat was a myth, a conspiracy put forth by the West.  Zimbabwe tries to survive through its mining industry and tourism. Thousands of visitors flock to Victoria Falls each year. We stayed at the Kingdom Resort, five minutes from the falls.


Dr. David Livingstone was the first white person to see the spectacular waterfalls situated at the border of today's Zambia and Zimbabwe. Considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the falls were named by Livingstone in honor of Queen Victoria in 1855. The falls were created by a volcanic explosion more than 150 million years ago. They stretch for a mile and are 300 feet deep at their highest point. Today Livingstone's statue has a commanding place overlooking the falls. Born in 1813 in Glasgow, Scotland to a poor family, he became a physician in 1838, before coming to Africa to do missionary work. He married in 1845 and was widowed 15 years later when his wife Mary, following him to Africa, contracted malaria in 1860. After her death, Livingstone roamed around southwest Africa, and no one knew where he was until the early 1870s when Sir Henry Morton Stanley found him and uttered the famous phrase, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?"  By then, Livingstone had also contracted malaria. He died in 1873.


The Zambezi River that separates Zambia from Zimbabwe flows into the Indian Ocean on the east coast of Africa.


Sunday, March 31 Botswana


The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country surrounded by Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa. The citizens refer to themselves as "Batswana," though many English-language sources use "Botswanan" instead. The country is the size of France with 2 million citizens. Compared to its neighbors, Botswana has its act together. It has a solid economy, mostly based on mining for gold and diamonds, as well as agriculture. Tourism accounts for 12 percent of gross domestic product, and visitors can undertake safaris (Swahili for "long journey") for excellent game and bird viewing in several wildlife parks. Botswana's currency is stronger than the South African Rand.  It’s government is a parliamentary republic with a beloved president, Ian Khama. There is freedom of speech, and free health care and education, which is mandatory until age 16. There are two universities that provide education with a modest loan. Government workers make about $300 a month, rather high compared to other African countries.  Medication to combat HIV is readily available free of charge with the aim of eradicating the killer disease. Botswana has the second-highest rate of HIV infection in the world after Swaziland, and the epidemic threatens the strides the country has made in social and economic development. Despite the high HIV/AIDS rate, life expectancy is 65 years. Our driver and guide in Chobe National Park was Bob, who spoke excellent English. During the safari he kept in touch with the other Jeeps to make sure we saw all that they did. He is 29 years old and ready to propose to his girlfriend when she finishes college this summer. The government gave Bob two parcels of land in a remote part of northern Botswana, which he developed so he can sell lots to people to settle there. He is a mechanic as well as a certified guide. Besides the well-preserved Chobe National Park, points of interests include Okavango Delta, the only inland river delta in the world, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Tsodilo and Nxai Pan National Park. Botswana has prohibited poaching for nearly three decades, but the problem persists and some reports say the country's wildlife could be wiped out by 2017. 63

This photo was taken by our driver, from the right side of our jeep. These specially modified off-road vehicles have no side windows and just a tarp for a roof. The windshield folds down for a better view. The steering wheel is on the right, a British legacy. Toyotas are preferred over Land Rovers because they are easier to maintain. There were six other passengers in ours, so I was lucky to have the front seat next to our driver/guide. 64

Safety at Sea According to the Semester at Sea website, the MV Explorer is known for its safety record (touch wood). "Our excellence in emergency response procedures, such as fire or lifeboat drills, is continuously evaluated by the US Coast Guard and we receive excellent ratings," the website reads.  We have had four fire drills so far; they are held at the beginning of each month on what the administration calls "study days," so there is no interruption of classes. The crew have their own fire drills. People who come on at different times have fire drills. Our life jackets tell us which deck to report to. There is a roll call after we line up, four deep, to make sure everyone is where he should be. Everyone has to be at assigned locations, organized according to cabin numbers. The April drill took longer than expected because one student had overslept and a crew member had to go rouse him. 

Here, Topy and I are wearing our life jackets in our cabin, waiting for the announcement to head up to Deck 5. 65

Saturday, April 6


We were in Takoradi, Ghana, this week and visited Elmina castle (built by the Portuguese in 1482) and Cape Coast castle (built by the British in 1664), two hours away on the coast. At one time, there were 19 castles that were used as slave dungeons on what is now the Ghanaian coast, and most have crumbled into disrepair. The two we visited were grim. Worse than what you can ever imagine. I've seen dungeons and concentration camps before, but the horrific conditions in these "holding" dungeons supersede anything I've seen anywhere. The dead either were dumped into the sea or buried under the cobbles in the courtyards where large, unmarked graves still exist. The anthropologist on board said at least 15 million people from the 16th through to the 19th centuries were transported to the New World via the Middle Passage, with Brazil receiving the most. In addition, at least 7 million people died during the voyage or while waiting for transport. Africans selling Africans; Portuguese, Dutch and British selling Africans; Arabs selling Africans. 66

In today's Ghana, the living conditions are severely substandard. Where to begin? Fifty-four countries in Africa, and this is supposed to be one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa. Broiled rats are sold for food in the market, and open sewers carry everything -- and I mean everything -- out of the markets into an open area near a lake used for washing and drinking. Vendors are very aggressive, and they continually touch you, putting bracelets on your arms, stopping you from moving ahead in narrow passageways, etc. Lots of pregnant young girls. Lots of people crowded into villages with mud huts and storage bins for housing. Lots of red earth. Lots of dust. Lots of women carrying heavy loads on their heads while swaddling infants on their backs. Lots of everything, including a new kind of servitude, economic as well, as oil companies and foreign investors reap profits from this mineral-rich country, leaving little behind. Even crew members say they don't like this port. Still, our tour guide was optimistic about the future and says that life today is better than it was 30 years ago. And today the temperature was over 105 degrees. ~ By Topy Fiske

We face neither East nor West; we face Forward. -Kwame Nkrumah First President of the Republic of Ghana

of Ghana and saw the museum and magnificent memorial to honor Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of the Republic and a friend of DuBois. Later, we stopped at a market where we were swamped by insistent merchants eager to sell their handicrafts.

Also known as the Gold Coast, Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957, becoming the first Sub-Saharan African nation to do so. During the next 35 years, the military staged four coups. The political situation has been stable since 1992, but Ghana faces many economic and health problems. It has 24 million people of which 4 million live in Accra, the capital. There are 10 regions, 81 ethnic groups and 65% of the population is literate. Average life expectancy is 60 years, infant mortality is 51 per 1000 births, and the fertility rate is 4 children per woman. Attempts to improve the healthcare system are hampered by a high rate of corruption within Ghana’s Ministry of Health and other organizations. Ghana is a beautiful tropical country with a long coastline. Among its natural wonders are Mole National Park, Paga Crocodile Pond, and Kakna National Park. The country is rich in gold, cocoa, and other agricultural goods. The government is allowing an American company to drill off shore for oil. Hopefully this will reduce the unemployment rate, which officially stands at 50%. Unfortunately, Ghana has a long way to go forward. We first stopped in Takoradi, a port used for exporting goods. This is where 12 million to 15 million slaves were transported to the New World (see Topy's impressions.) Tema, which is close to Accra, is a port for the import of goods. It is lined with thousands of containers that have to be transported on narrow and congested roads. Going 20 km took us 30 minutes in the morning but two hours on the return. In Accra, we visited the grave of American/African historian W.E.B. DuBois. We drove through the beautiful grounds of the University 67

Thursday, April 18 Morocco

“Here’s looking at you, Kid.”

Do you remember that line from the movie Casablanca? Well, not only did we see the movie again and again (on a loop in our rooms) but we had dinner last night at Rick's Cafe (a lovely restaurant in an old renovated building created by an American woman in the style of Humphrey Bogart's cafe).  For the last nine years, tourists have been flocking here more for the ambiance than the food (though the Moroccan specialties are pretty well prepared.) The piano music, lanterns, columns and antique furniture with tables in various cubicles bring out nostalgic longings in us all. Hitler's troops never reached Morocco in WW II, but the 1942 movie tells a great story of courage, compassion, romance and more. Of course, there is so much more to Casablanca and Morocco. Because I visited all the Imperial Capitals (Fes, Marrakech and Rabat) 15 years ago, I decided to explore Casablanca this time.   I was pleasantly surprised that this country is on the right track with improvements in education, health care, and economic incentives.  Forty-six  year old Muhammed VI, king since 1999, is the spiritual leader of the country. He is progressive, popular, and eloquent  His reforms may have avoided the Arab spring spreading here. His wife, seen in public often, is trendy and wellliked.  Tourism is thriving because Morocco offers a lot of variety in its four imperial cities.  With the recently built Hassan II Mosque (third largest in the world) the port city of Casablanca is full of new construction and late model cars.   The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has a lot of influence on society according to Prof. Mejeda Bergash who works at the University of Virginia but brings students back to her native country on study abroad programs. "I am not happy about the tendency toward 68

more conservative ideas and dress. My mother and I never covered our hair, but I see more of a trend now," she said. She also said there are a lot of human rights violations and corruption in Morocco.  The educational system needs to be improved. There are 25 cities with universities that are free, provided graduates serve their communities for a couple of years after finishing school. I was happy to participate in Professor Joe Laycock’s Religions of the World class exploring and comparing the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). We visited the Hassan II Mosque, Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church, and the Museum of Moroccan Judaism to gain a greater understanding of the three faiths and how they have integrated in Northern Africa.

Hassan II Mosque Casablanca 69

Interview with Captain Jeremy Kingston Master of the MV Explorer

Captain Jeremy Kingston is from the UK. It was at the age of 12 that he first decided he wanted to go to sea, inspired by a dramatic photo of a warship in heavy weather, which was advertising careers in the Royal Navy. He joked that it must have been temporary insanity! At the age of 15 he applied for a scholarship to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, but being a shy child “I failed to make the grade,” he said. Two years later he applied to join the Merchant Navy and has been at sea ever since, becoming captain of a cruise ship before he was 40. The Institute for Shipboard Education, a not-for-profit organization, first acquired the Explorer in 2004 on charter, after the original owners went bankrupt, and purchased it from the banks in 2007 below market price. The ship is owned by ISE, but the operation and management of the ship is contracted out to V Ships, a ship management company. The company is responsible for all aspects of the operation, including supplying the crew, purchasing food, fuel, and spare parts, and undertaking maintenance. Q. How did you acquire this job? How long have you been Captain of the Explorer? In 2005 I was working for another of V Ships’ clients, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. The ship I was in command of was about to be sold, and there was no place for me in their fleet. At the time Explorer had suffered its “wave incident” and the captain who had been on board needed a break, so I was asked if I would like to take over from him. Having asked what other alternatives for employment there were, I was told that there were none, so I happily agreed to join the program. (The ‘wave incident’ damaged the bridge and other parts of the ship during a bad storm.) Q. What is the normal speed of the Explorer, and what is the fastest that we have gone? Ideally, for the reasons of fuel economy, we travel at relatively slow speeds, on average about 14.5 knots, which requires only one engine in service, which we rotate, to ensure equal usage. During this semester, we reached a speed of 26 knots shortly after departing Singapore. 70

Q. What was the worst storm you experienced? The worst storm that I experienced was in 1986, whilst crossing the North Atlantic on a refrigerated cargo ship. The second worst was probably the storm we experienced the day before we arrived in Yokohama. On our crossing from Honolulu to Yokohama, we had stayed south of the regular route, and successfully avoided a series of storm systems. However, on the last couple of days before Yokohama, there was one more storm system. We tried to pass safely to the west of it, but unfortunately the storm did not move as fast as was forecast, and it was also much more intense than forecast. As a result, we had to put up with waves of up to 30 feet and winds that were gusting to 65 mph. Q. What about piracy on the seas? What is your form of defense? In this part of the World, Somalia and the Gulf of Aden are considered to be the “hot spots� for piracy, but due to the concentration of international naval forces in that area, the pirates have moved their operations further afield and the risk now extends all the way to the west coast of India and Sri Lanka and as far south as 10 degrees south of the equator. Before and during our passage across the Indian Ocean, we have been receiving intelligence reports on the level of piracy activities. We were also registered with the British Naval Forces who were monitoring our progress as we crossed the area. Before sailing from Cochin, there had been no reported incidents for several weeks. Our principle defense from pirates consists of staying out of any area where there is a risk of contact, and also our speed. During the passage, we had additional security staff and lookouts posted, and high pressure water hoses prepared, which would prevent pirates from getting close to the ship and boarding, and would probably sink their boats. Q. Where does most of your staff come from? Do you have much of a turnover? The majority of our crew is from the Philippines and India, with a few from Europe. We have very good retention rates, so there is little turnover. They are recruited by V Ships, which has a chain of regional recruitment offices around the world. Whilst on board, the crew has various facilities available to them, as the ship is their home for several months. These include a gym, a lounge and bar, dining area and reasonably well appointed cabins. Due to the nature of the program, they all have the opportunity to go ashore in various ports. They go on vacation on a rotational basis. The crew works 6-8 months on board, and will then ideally have two or more months off. The officers work four months on board and have two months of vacation. Myself, I work a semester on the ship and have a semester off the ship, so on average I work six months a year. Q. Why do you wear whites? What was your favorite moment/memory with SAS? Wearing whites cuts down on wardrobe planning. Traditionally, in hot climates a white uniform is cooler than the heavier blue uniform with a jacket. My favorite and most amusing memory would have to be a night out in Saigon with the Hotel Director. We were having a quiet drink at a small table in one of the better-known nightspots in the city. At the next table was a noisy group of expatriate guys who presumably were living and working in Saigon. As the evening progressed, every couple of minutes a student would walk past, recognize me and ask if they could have a picture taken with me. After about an hour of this routine, the guys at the next table were clearly wondering who this celebrity was! It made my evening! 71

Administrators, Staff, and Crew of the Explorer The day-to-day activities for the voyagers are sponsored, conducted, and supervised by several deans. Tom Jelke is Executive Dean; Sharon Hostler, a pediatrician from the University of Virginia’s medical school, is Academic Dean. Craig Hauser and Jim van Arsdel are Assistant Deans, and Maggie Harden is Registrar. There are additional administrative personnel including a librarian, technical staff and residential directors, or RDs, for every 60 or 70 students. The medical clinic is managed by Dr. Micah Rosenfield, a physician's assistant and several nurses. MV Explorer has been traveling the world this semester under the direction of Captain Jeremy Kingston, Staff Captain Korniff Polikarpov, Chief Engineer Rumen Fudolov, and Hotel Director Stefan Heuser. The purser's desk is open 24 hours a day. The ship's personnel are friendly and helpful, hailing from 21 countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Nepal, the Netherlands, Panama, the Philippines, Romania, South Africa, St. Lucia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States. 72

Executive Dean Tom Jelke with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Semester at Sea: A Brief History “Nearly 100 years ago, the idea for a floating university that would travel the world became the passionate pursuit of James Edwin Lough, a psychology professor at New York University. He believed changes needed to be made to traditional teaching methods of American universities and soon became a leader in a new educational movement. Travel and first-hand experience, he felt, must be part of every scholar's education, and he set out to find others who shared this vision," starts an article on the history of SAS. Because of two world wars and a global financial crisis, Lough's ambitions were not realized until the 1960s when Bill Hughes, a California businessman, resurrected the idea as the University of the Seven Seas. Affiliated with Chapman College in Orange, California, World Campus Afloat assured students that their credits would be transferable to the schools in which they were enrolled. During the past 50 years, several universities, including the Universities of Colorado and Pittsburgh, sponsored this program, which is now under the academic control of the University of Virginia. Until six years ago, SAS chartered four ships, which became home to students, faculty, and staff for three semesters a year, including summer session. In 2007, UVA bought the MV Explorer, a beautiful, fast, majestic vessel built by a Greek shipping company that had fallen on hard financial times.  The crew of 200 (including the Captain and his staff, cabin stewards, cooks, waiters and janitors) is hired by a sea management company. The crew members hail from 21 countries. They serve on a rotating basis with at least six weeks of vacation in their home countries. There is very little turnover. "It beats working on a cruise ship with 3,000 passengers that come and go every week," said Akin Akargul, a Turkish citizen who is in charge of the kitchen and wait staff. "We become friends with the students and adults and hope to see them onboard the ship again," he said.  MV Explorer runs shorter enrichment trips between semesters that are open to anyone who likes the idea of learning while traveling. 


Wednesday, April 24


Forty-four students from 31 institutions in the US and abroad completed their senior studies at Semester at Sea by the University of Virginia and received their diplomas at convocation on April 24, 2013, the day before we arrived at Barcelona.

When David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, was asked why he was optimistic about the future, he said: “I have met the young people of the world and they have made a commitment to change the status quo and they have the tools and skills to do it. They are the leaders of tomorrow and their tomorrow is not far away.”

The processional of 45 faculty members and the graduating seniors began to the music of "Pomp and Circumstance" played by brothers Adam and Geoffrey Ullerich. Welcoming remarks by Academic Dean Sharon Hostler, MD were followed by a student greeting by Abraham Wapner.

You are those students that David Brooks is talking about. You have seen the results of leadership at its worst in the War Museum at Ho Chi Minh City, in the killing fields of Cambodia and in the townships of South Africa. You have also seen leadership at its best in the resurgence of Burma, led by Aung San Su Ky and we all have been inspired and motivated by the words and deeds of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You have also met the future leaders of many other countries in your classrooms and in their homes, schools, clinics and workshops. Hopefully you can build on these friendships and work with them to solve the many problems you have witnessed over the past four months.

We Lifelong Learners nominated Tom Cunningham, an adventurous soul originally from Massachusetts and transplanted to California, to be our spokesman at the convocation. Tom has travelled from Hawaii to Tahiti in a canoe, brought fresh water to villagers in Micronesia and Nicaragua for a dozen years with help from volunteers and natives and, with his wife Linda, travelled to all seven continents and around the world twice. Here is what Tom told those gathered in the Union of the Explorer: I am honored to represent the Lifelong Learners on this special occasion. We are a diverse group made up of doctors, nurses, lawyers, educators, scientists, authors and journalists. We are also backpackers, sailors, adventurers, skydivers and bungee jumpers.

The time has come for you to throw your hat over the wall. In a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Steve Jobs told the story of his life from being adopted to dropping out of college to being fired by Apple Corporation, a company he founded, to his battle with cancer which took his life a few years later. Steve Jobs concluded his speech by saying, “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life so I had to trust in something and I knew that the dots would connect in the future. Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life and have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Tomorrow it will be time for us to part, and we Lifelong Learners would like to offer you an Irish Blessing.

There may be snow on our roofs but there are also fires in our furnaces and you students have rekindled those fires in our journey around the world. We have been your classmates and shipmates and you have become our extended family.

May the road rise up to meet you May the wind be always at your back May the sun shine warm upon your face And rains fall soft upon your fields And until we meet again May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

We are not pleased with the world we are turning over to you. We wish we could have done better.

Thank you.


Saturday, April 27 Barcelona, Spain Last time I was in Barcelona was in 1962 when three of my sorority sisters joined me on a three-month college graduation trip through Europe. Barcelona was an industrial port-town where we visited a friend. What a difference 51 years make!  From what I hear, it was the 1992 Olympics that boosted the image, economy, and lifestyle of Barcelona, now the busiest tourist town in Spain. As was the custom of the Explorer, we pulled into port early morning when we spotted numerous friends and family members of the students and staff with banners welcoming us to civilization-European civilization, that is.  It took most of us an hour or two to say goodbye to those we would probably not see again...though we will keep in touch, thanks to the Internet. Topy and I had made reservations for two nights at a boutique hotel downtown and made plans to meet up and tour the city with a few friends. "It never rains in Barcelona" is a joke repeated by hotel managers, tour guides, merchants, and bus drivers as they


remind us to take our umbrellas (it rained several times a day). Barcelona is a scenic port city of 1.2 million residents with great architecture, a good transportation system, numerous museums, an opera house, and tourist-friendly promenades shaded by sycamore trees. There are 400,000 scooters registered here (second highest number after Rome). Even though Spain is struggling with 25% unemployment, Barcelona seems to be thriving, thanks to the tourist trade (unemployment is around 10% here). We were told to be watchful of purse snatchers and petty theft but did not encounter poverty. A few of us shipmates took advantage of the 5-hour Barcelona Highlights tour which included seeing the facades of several houses by Antonio Gaudi (the famous modernist architect born in 1852). We also visited the Arc of Triumph, Old Port, Columbus Monument, World Trade Center, Miramar Lookout, Olympic Ring and saw Poble Espanyol (a miniature Spain, highlighting the uniqueness of its 16 regions).

Gaudi's Holy Family Church (Sagrada Familia), with its 60-meter high steeple (180 feet) is still a work in progress. Gaudi was a meticulous architect who left behind plaster models of his vision, knowing it would take decades to complete the construction.  His mentor, oil billionaire Eusebio Guell, financed the original project and 14 architects are working hard to finish it by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.   77


Barcelona was the perfect place to end our fourmonth Semester at Sea voyage. As I said goodbye to my roommate, Topy Fiske, and flew to Istanbul to visit with my daughter and her family, my heart was full, with sadness that our remarkable adventure was at an end, but with gratitude for all that I had seen and the wonderful people with whom I had shared this amazing journey.

Farewell, Explorer!


SPRING 2013 Semester at Sea Around the World Start: January 09, 2013 End: April 25, 2013 110 Days, 16 Countries Embark: Ensenada, Mexico Hilo, Hawaii, United States Yokohama, Japan Kobe, Japan Shanghai, China Hong Kong, China Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Singapore, Singapore Rangoon, Burma Cochin, India Port Louis, Mauritius Cape Town, South Africa Takoradi, Ghana Tema (Accra), Ghana Casablanca, Morocco Debark: Barcelona, Spain 80



A blog written by Sel Yackley during her four month trip around the world with Semester at Sea, January 8 ~ April 27, 2013. Blog and photos Š Sel Erder Yackley.

Book created by Susan Hanes 2013 82

Sel at sea 2013  

A blog written by Sel Yackley during her four month trip around the world with Semester at Sea aboard the MV Explorer

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