M.V. Explorer

M.V. Explorer

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Incredible India!

India is the most amazing place I have been in my life.

Before every country we visit, we have “Pre-Port”. At pre-ports the various different departments cover basic information regarding safety, money, trips, and other random factoids. At this particular pre-port, our Executive Dean said it best, “For most of you, India will be the farthest away from home you’ll ever be. Most of you are 12 hours away from your homes, you can never be further away from home then you’ll be when you’re in India. India will change your lives.” And he was dead on.

For India we had signed up for the Delhi/Agra/Taj trip. We got all the warnings about the poverty and dirt and garbage we’d see everywhere. I didn’t think that it could possibly be as bad as it was. From the second we left the gangway it was apparent that India was not the place that Bollywood movies showed. The poor and destitute were literally everywhere. As soon as our buses left the port area, we could see poverty everywhere we turned. There were no modern buildings or homes, rather make-shift tents and shacks. Garbage lined the streets and farm animals overran the streets. Mind you Chennai is one of the biggest cities in India. There were cows all over the place (in case you didn’t know, cows are sacred in the India culture). It was apparent to us right off of the bat that India was a completely different world then the one we lived in.

We boarded the plane that afternoon and took off for Delhi. We landed in Delhi at about 10 p.m. and went right to the hotel. Me and Kimmy stayed in probably the sketchiest room I’ve ever seen that night, but we had a 4 a.m. wake up call anyways, so it all didn’t really matter too much. That morning (at 4 a.m.) we got on a train bound for Agra which is where the Taj Mahal is located. When we arrived in Agra and left the train station, we were surrounded by beggar children. These children were covered with dirt from head to toe and couldn’t have been older then 4 or 5. They would hold out their hands and say “hungry, hungry”. It was absolutely heart breaking and everyone gave them a little something. Then these children turned right around and gave the money to adults who were standing watching them. These people basically force children to look sad and emaciated and beg for money. Then they keep the money they earn! It’s unbelievable and something that we witnessed everywhere we went in India. Many of the beggar children are missing limbs or are deformed and this is because their parents deliberately maim them in order to make more money. It’s just terrible.

For the rest of that day we ventured around Agra and visited an ancient fortress outside the city. We did a little shopping, bought some souvenirs, then checked into our hotel. This second hotel’s room was much nicer then the first. We heard that there was a pizza hut outside the hotel so we ventured outside the gates to check it out. We were immediately bombarded by a group of children who were fascinated with us. Pizza hut is expensive for the average Indian so they don’t ever get to eat it. Me and Kimmy feeling sorry for them bought them a cheese pizza. They seemed to enjoy it, but then again there were other kids who didn’t get any who were miserable. There are just so many hungry children in India, it’s so sad.
The next day we got up early and set out for the Taj Mahal. Let it just be said that the Taj Mahal is 100% as amazing as it looks in pictures. It’s sooooo big and made entirely of marble. It is without a doubt the world’s most beautiful mausoleum. I can’t believe that we’ve already been to two of the world’s seven wonders, and as of next week we’ll have been to three! Our trip is going so fast, I can’t believe that in a month and a half we’ll be home! Bittersweet I guess….but anyways I’m getting off topic, back to India!

Later that day, our tour guides informed us that we’d be visiting Mother Theresa’s Ashram. We all figured that it was a shrine or some kind of museum. Everyone in the group (there were about 50 of us) walked through the gates and into a dilapidated sort of courtyard. We began tentatively wandering around and noticed that there were people kept in these sort of cages. We all didn’t know what to do so we stood around very uncomfortable, trying to get a look inside. What we saw was absolutely horrifying…there were mentally disabled people just locked away. It was just heartbreaking to see. I mean I suppose they’re locked in their for their own safety, but still it was just so vastly different from anything that we have in the United States.

They eventually unlocked the cages and let us interact with the people inside who were so happy to see us. It was a great experience. After they put them back into the cages, me and Kimmy wandered away from the group to try and find the chapel. We found an old sister who spoke English and she took us to the chapel. It was just a small room, with about eight mismatched chairs inside of it. It was an amazing sight since this was a room that Mother Theresa had actually once said her daily prayers in. Kimmy and I both said a prayer and gave a donation for the orphanage to the sister. It was a very surreal experience.

After that we found the rest of the group and ventured into the children’s wing. It was incredible to interact with these children. Most of them were between 1 and 3 and they were absolutely delighted to be receiving so much attention. The children were especially drawn to the girls, being that they themselves have no mothers. All they wanted to do was to be held and touched. It was the saddest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever had the privilege to do. I was able to play with a one year old baby boy who was mentally handicapped. When I got there he was in a dirty crib in the dark, towards the back of the orphanage. As soon as I picked him up he perked right up! He would smile and giggle, and of course snuggle. But if I ever tried to put him down, he would start crying hysterically. It was awful and I felt so bad. Eventually one of the workers came and took him to give him his bottle. He just sat there and cried and cried until I eventually came back and picked him up. After that he sipped on his bottle and was much happier.

While I was playing with my little boy, Kimmy had a ten day old newborn girl. Someone had just left her in the street the night before. This is the case for many of these children. Their parents cannot afford children so they just leave them for dead or drop them off at the orphanage. As for the disabled children, they were culturally shunned, thus most of them end up dead or at similar orphanages. It was unbelievable to see so much suffering in children so young. At home we are so wasteful and materialistic when there are children starving to death every night. I know that we hear about these kinds of things all the time, but seeing it up close made it real. Visiting that orphanage was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life so far.

Before we left the orphanage, me and Kimmy handed out stickers to all the children that we had bought at Target before the trip. Of course they absolutely loved them and it was great to make all the kids smile one more time before we had to leave. Of course I finally had to let my little boy go and when I put him down he started to bawl. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do to leave him there crying knowing that there was no one else to comfort him or show him love.

The whole experience was so bittersweet.

The next day we visited a Sikh temple. I don’t really know much about the religion, but it was an interesting experience. We all had to take our shoes and socks off and put veils on (boys included) before we could go in. I got to leave my left sock on being that it is still nice and gross seeing that the stitches came out only a few days ago. But back to the story, we went into the temple to observe the worshipers. The whole building was really just once giant room with a sort of alter in the middle. India music was playing loudly and people just sat Indian style on the floor silently listening. We stuck around for a few minutes and then went outside the temple and into a side building.

A major part of any Sikh temple is the kitchen. In the Sikh faith every person is considered to be equal in the eyes of God. So it is in the kitchen that the rich Sikhs come and prepare food for the poor Sikhs. We got to sit down beside the rich Sikhs and help them to prepare pita bread for the poor members of the temple. It was an amazing experience to see these rich Indians covered from head to toe in flour go out and feed their counterparts. It was fun to do.

For the rest of the evening we went shopping at a Bazaar and then shuttled over to the airport for our flight back to Delhi. We of course got delayed and ended up sitting in the airport for an hour talking to our trip leader, RD Michelle. She’s convinced me to try and become an RA at Scranton when I get back, it would look good on the transcript for Law School so I guess we’ll see!

We didn’t get back to the ship until almost 3 am. So our last day in India me and Kimmy slept in and then just went out shopping to pick up some last minute souvenirs for everyone. Our cab drivers were brothers and got a kick out of the fact that me and Kimmy are sisters. Then of course they dragged us to our relatives stores before they would take us anywhere else, but this is typical of the cab drivers in these impoverished nations…always looking to make an extra buck,. Of course these employees at the stores were convincing and Kimmy and I were gullible so we bought all kinds of crap for everyone. You all better be planning on getting us some amazing Christmas presents!!!

But anyways, I digress. India as you can tell was amazing. I’ve never had more mixed feelings about a place all at the same time. I can say now that I love India and that I hope in the years to come the world will find a way to help the people of these nations we’ve been visiting. The world is a very, VERY different place then I’d thought. Everyone reading this right now is so incredibly lucky to be able to afford to sit at a computer at read this. Nearly 100% of the people we saw in India can’t even afford a piece of bread or a cup of water….that really puts life in the West into perspective.

At any rate, half of our trip has gone by so far! We only have four more ports left, I really cannot believe it’s flying by so fast. I’m sad we’re missing fall, but glad we’ll be back for snow….see you all in December! eThe s

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ooooh Thailand


So Thailand….ahhhh what a port! Let’s start from the beginning….

So we had big plans for Thailand. I organized a group of us together to head down to Phuket. In case you don’t know what Phuket is, it’s the beach town in Thailand famous for its beautiful beaches, also famous because it was hit dead on in the Tsunami. It’s mostly rebuilt now and everyone was looking forward to relaxing on a beach and sipping on some pina coladas. Unfortunately, Thai customs needed to go through everyone’s passport individually. When this happens it takes literally hours to get off the ship. Once we found out, we started getting nervous since we had a 4:00 p.m. flight to catch and we were 2 hours away from the airport. I was down in my cabin freaking out so I started to clean up a bit, to ease my nerves. I went to move our coffee table over and some how I managed to swing it over the top of my foot, successfully slicing my big toe open. Blood everywhere, I started to cry. Kimmy called the doctor and I hobbled downstairs to the hospital wing. Five stitches later, I gimped my way upstairs and met the rest of the group. The trip was off to a great start à no saltwater, no chlorine water, no sand, just what I needed for a beach vacation! I was disappointed, but nevertheless eager to still not miss our flight!

We positioned ourselves right outside the faculty lounge so that as soon as the ship cleared we could grab our passports and run. The way this usually works is that they call you up by trip or sea (‘sea’ is the hallway you live in, me and Kimmy are the Yellow Sea). Of course the Student Life team didn’t call our sea first, so Ryan tore into the lounge, grabbed his passport and sprinted out to the Taxi desk in the port terminal to secure us a van. Conor ran out next with everyone else, leaving me, Kimmy, and Cole to gimp as fast as possible. Luckily we got one of the only 2 vans that were out front and our driver drove like a mad man to get us to the airport on time. We made it to the airport with ONE minute left to check in. We actually made it! I’m still amazed that we made it; I thought for sure our drive was going to flip the van over. The Thai highway we traveled down was under construction and far from safe. There were just random holes in the middle of the road that our driver navigated like a pro. It was a small miracle that we actually made it to the airport in once piece.

Our flight went well and we got to Phuket safe and sound. We went to check into the resort that we’d booked on Expedia and found that it had no electricity. We then proceeded to fight with the front desk for a good three hours. We demanded our money back, they refused. We had to call Expedia and beg for help and finally they gave us full refunds AND $25 dollar Expedia coupons. To further aid in our rescue were Mom and Dad who booked us at the Sheraton Resort. Thanks Mom and Dad!

The resort was very nice and just what I needed. They even had their own official resort elephants named Lilly and Yum Yum. Lilly was a baby and Yum Yum was full grown. Ryan and Yum Yum developed a special relationship and he rode her around the beach everyday. It was hilarious. Ryan looks like Tarzan to begin with, so it was so funny to seem him riding around on an elephant.

An interesting Thailand factoid: It is the transvestite capital of the world. All around the bars are prostitutes, go-go girls and of course the transvestites. Amazingly enough, once you make it clear that you’re not interested in what they’re selling, they’re very nice. At the one bar we went to, the Thai girl dancing on the bar in front of us talked to us for awhile. She, like most of the others, spoke very good English and was very interested in travels. She got a kick out of me and Kimmy. For some reason she liked me better and would come and pull on my sweatshirt strings every 5 minutes to try and get me to dance with her. Bloody foot aside, there was no way I was climbing up there. Alec and Ryan got up and danced instead. As soon as I have unrestricted internet use I will get those pictures up! It was an experience I definitely won’t forget any time soon! Another one for the books!

Of course things were going to well for our own good at this point, thus it rained the entire next day. Me and Kimmy wandered around the resort and got some reading for school done. It slowed down later in the afternoon and Conor came and met us. We watched some T.V., ordered some room service and just hung out. We wandered over to the hotel’s shopping village and found a little Italian restaurant for dinner. We were all in our bathing suits so we went back to the room to change where we found Lauren on the floor of the bathroom. She had developed some sort of bacterial parasite in the last port we were in and I guess it never went away. She wanted to go to the hospital and so we took her there. This successfully ruined another full night in Thailand. They ran a bunch of tests and we stayed there until the early hours of morning before heading back to the resort. She stayed overnight though she was able to leave the next day.

Our last day in Thailand thankfully ended up being beautiful. We hung out on the beach some more, I went in the pool for the first time, and we played with the elephants some more. We grabbed some dinner at the resort before heading back to the airport for our return flight to Bangkok. Conor and Ryan both came down with ear infections as we waited in the airport and by the time we landed in Bangkok, Ryan was pretty sick. We were all just happy to get back to the ship and sleep off Thailand. It’s a beautiful country with great beaches and I’d like to come back one day.

All in all it was a memorable trip to say the least. I had a great time traveling with Alec and Ryan for the first time and hopefully our future travels will be uneventful!

Until next time….


P.S. I know I never put up Japan or China, hopefully I’ll get to do that soon. I have a million tests this week…stay tuned

Good Morning Vietnam!


I went into Vietnam thinking that I was going to I hate it. We didn’t have any real plans, nor did we have any SAS trips booked. I planned on doing a lot of sleep and catching up on school work. I figured that I could wander around the city, maybe do some shopping, see a museum or two. I really thought it would be quite similar to China which I was greatly unimpressed with. This all said, I was completely wrong. I absolutely loved Vietnam, and for reasons still unknown to me, it was my favorite port by far.

The first day it took forever to get off the ship as usual. Me, Kimmy, and Conor just ended up wandering around the city. We went to the big market in the center of the city and picked up some souvenirs for everyone. We also stumbled upon a little spa and ended up spending 3 hours there getting massages and our nails done. Me and Kimmy had our massages done by gay Vietnamese men and it can best be described as an interesting experience! It’s funny looking back on it now!

After we finished up at the spa we wandered back to the ship, still largely unimpressed with Saigon. We met up with Alex, Lily, Lysette, and a few other people to go out to dinner. Lily and Lysette picked a restaurant called Skewers out of the guide book which said it had the best lamb in the world. It was a Mediterranean restaurant and had the best food EVER!!! We had all kinds of humus, pita, and gyros. It was absolutely delicious! We hung out at the restaurant for a few hours; everyone drank wine and enjoyed the good food. We then headed outside to walk to the bar where everyone from the ship was. It started to rain and there were rats running around the streets. Needless to say, moods started to slip and by the time we actually made it to the bar (called ‘Apocalypse Now’ after the movie) it was closed. This really didn’t help our first impressions of Saigon. On top of that, we got ripped off for our cab ride back to the ship. Everyone was irritated and not enjoying Vietnam thus we just went back to our cabins and passed out.

The next morning we woke up and it was pouring out. This was probably the worst storm I’ve ever seen. Lighting, thunder, lots of rain. Needless to say I wasn’t happy. Almost everyone was on their Cambodia trips so there was no one around the ship. I didn’t want to go outside in the monsoon, but at the same time I didn’t want to just sit around the ship. I mean how many times are you actually in Vietnam? So me, Kimmy, and Conor put on our rain jackets and started to walk down to the gangway. On our way out we ran into Clara. We had traveled with her on our Beijing trip and she is the funniest, craziest girl I’ve ever met. We all headed outside, the security staff laughing at us for braving the weather. Within 5 seconds we were soaked. Amazingly enough, this is when everything really started to turn around. We walked all around Saigon in the pouring rain jumping in puddles and talking to locals. We watched some young Vietnamese boys play soccer in a park for awhile and eventually made it out to the War Remnants Museum.

The museum was heartbreaking. It had innumerable pictures of war atrocities. A lot of them had children in them. It was overwhelmingly sad. The one that I remember most vividly was a pile of bodies with a lifeless toddler and infant just thrown on top. It was horrible. What I’m starting to learn is that the world isn’t what I thought it would it be. The people I’ve met are really just the same as I am; just trying to live a good life. Too many times we’ve seen how our own country has disrupted that. It’s an eye opening experience to say the least.

After that sobering experience, we caught motorbikes back to the ship. Now let me explain motorbikes. In the good ‘ol USA there are cars everywhere. The same is not true of the rest of the world. In developing cities people get around on these mini-motorcycles. The roads are all clogged with hundreds of motorbikes and their drivers navigate like madmen. They fly up on curbs, dodge food carts, swerve around busses, blow red lights, the works. It’s insane to watch and AMAZING to try!! I had the most fun ever just cursing around Saigon on these bikes. It’s so much fun! The best part is probably the drivers of these bikes. They were all so kind and interested in what we were doing in Saigon. Most of them would tell me about their families or girlfriends. It was great. I absolutely love motorbikes (sorry SAS, they were too fun to resist)!!!

Anyways we forced Clara to go with us to Skewers again which was amazing again as expected. The next day we got up early and went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an intricate system of underground tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong during the War to travel throughout the jungles and hide from American forces. Some people stayed underground for years and once you see these tunnels its hard to imagine how they managed to do it. They’re probably three feet by three feet and pitch dark. At the complex there was also an area where you could shoot guns for a dollar a bullet. I didn’t partake in this, but one of our friends Cole spent well over a hundred dollars and had the time of his life doing so. Before we left the Cu Chi Tunnels we got to watch an old Viet Cong propaganda video which was very disturbing. It showed the torture traps the Vietnamese made to trap and kill soldiers, as well as the training of woman and children to take part in these murders. It really put the war into perspective for me. There were atrocities on both sides, but it’s really just a sad fact that things had to come to that. We were destroying so much of the Vietnamese countryside that innocent children and families were forced to arm themselves out of fear. I’ve seen the pictures and the dead children in them. It’s a sad fact that America took the lives of many children. This was all the justification they needed to seek out the American G.I.s and kill them. I don’t necessarily think its right, but I now understand why.

I didn’t go out again once we got back to the ship since I wasn’t feeling well, but Kimmy and Conor headed out with an Irish couple we had met on our tour. They had a good time and I got a good night’s sleep. The next day me and Kimmy booked ourselves a private tour out to the Mekong Delta. It was just the two of us and our tour guide. His name was Pho and he was about 30. He was so nice! He took us all around the Delta for the day, discussing history and facts the entire time. We got to go in real little canoes around the canals of the island. They wove through orchards which grew all kinds of fruit. Me and Kimmy sampled mango, pineapple, dragon fruit, and a few others that I can’t remember. We knew we probably shouldn’t have eaten them, but they were too good to resist. Luckily we didn’t get sick and no Mom, we won’t ever eat fresh fruit or vegetables again! Pho also took us to a coconut candy factory located on one of the islands and we got to eat some fresh. It was the best thing I ever tasted. We bought a bunch to bring home, but whether or not we’ll be able to not eat before we get home remains to be known!

When we got back to the ship that evening we just so happened to run into Alec. Alec had been in Cambodia so we hadn’t seen him for a few days. He had gotten a new suit tailored for himself, as did a lot of other people on the ship, and he was dying to wear it. So though we were all exhausted, we got all dressed up and headed over to Skewers one last time!

The three of us enjoyed our last night in Vietnam. We had some great food and drinks and shared our various experiences of Vietnam. We all agreed that Vietnam was the most amazing port thus far. Alec told us about Cambodia and the killing fields – an absolutely heartbreaking piece of history. If you’re not familiar with Cambodia’s past, I urge you to research it. Alec, like the rest of us, had an amazing trip.

I loved Vietnam and wasn’t expecting to have such strong feelings for it. It is somewhere I definitely want to return to. I hope to come back one day, maybe with my family if I can convince them. There’s just so much to see and do in Vietnam. The people are so kind and interested in Westerners, unlike the majority of Beijing’s citizens…Thailand next….then India!

Miss everyone…..

Friday, September 7, 2007

Aloha from Hawaii!!!

Alright, so Hawaii…we came, we saw, we conquered! Well…we were actually only there for about 12 hours, but it was an awesome half day! Let me give you a brief run down of our day.

The morning started for us at 6 a.m. when we awoke to go through the fantastic process of American customs. We have 9/11 to thank for the strict security measures we had to go through. It took more then 3 hours for customs to clear the ship and it was torture being pent up in our cabins waiting to get off and hit the beach. Needless to say by the time we did march down the gangway, nerves were already strained. Myself, Kimmy, and Conor were agitated to begin with and then long line for a cab didn’t make matters any better. We got into a slight scuffle before we all reluctantly decided to head over to Pearl Harbor first which wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Don’t get me wrong, Pearl Harbor was a nice place, but I was expecting to find a solemn memorial and informative museums. What we really got was a very touristy, commercialized experience. There were souvenir photo booths (which by the way they convinced Conor to buy…you’ll see it when we get home) as well as little concession stands and themed eateries. As for the museums they were okay, but I really expected more from the experience. What was really cool though, was the free audio tours that you got with your admission fee. It was neat having a narration to guide us around.

So all in all, I guess Pearl Harbor was ok.

The next stop on our great tour of Hawaii was actually The Cheesecake Factory. Yes we’re fatties. The ship’s food SUCKS and we were starving. We all got the biggest, greasiest, most American burgers on the menu and wolfed them down. Feeling attractively bloated after our 5 star meal, we headed down to Waikiki beach which although filled with tourists, was pretty nice. We relaxed and went swimming for a few hours and Conor headed off to hike a local waterfall. We spent the rest of the evening wandering around Waikiki shopping and picking out souvenirs for everyone.

It sucks that we only had just the one day in Hawaii, but better 12 hours then none! Next on our itinerary is Japan and we are all SO excited! We plan on heading out to Tokyo, exploring Hiroshima, Yokohama, Kobe, and loads of other places I’m sure. We have Japan rail passes and we plan on using them to the fullest advantage. We have 4 more days to go before we’re in Japan! You’ll hear all about it once we’re done!

<3 Kristen

P.S. Yesterday was Thursday September 6 for us, and today is Saturday, September 8..we crossed the International Date Line and lost a whole day! So our 2007 only has 364 days…riddle me that!

P.P.S. Stay strong Castle!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Semester at Sea...Here We Come!

Look out world...

So in case you've been living under a rock for the last six months, me, Kimmy, and Conor will be circumnavigating the globe this lovely fall semester on a ship called the M.V. Explorer. The program is called Semester at Sea....google it. In the off chance that you're a random stranger who has stumbled upon our blog, let me fill you in. I'm Kristen and I just turned 21. My sister Kimmy (19) and her boyfriend Conor (soon to be 20) are also joining me on what will surely be a hell of a trip. We leave out of Ensenada, Mexico and then head to the following ports of call: Hawaii, Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Egypt, Turkey, Croatia, and Spain! It's sure to be a whirlwind trip and we plan to experience everything the world has to offer (literally). Stay tuned for the crazy adventures that will likely be ensuing....but for now, let's get back on topic.

Okay kids, here's the deal. We're out of here in just under a week! Thus, I have created this blog so that everyone we're leaving behind can keep in touch. I predict that Kimmy and Conor will likely be contributing their own thoughts on occasion.

So make sure to bookmark our blog and check up on us from time to time. No cell phones so you better make sure you email us! Remember, no contact, no souvenirs!

See you in December!