Semester at Sea, Spring 1999
Arrived in Nassau about 1100. Got a cab to the hotel, it cost about 18 dollars. Couldn't check in until 1500 so I walked around the island a bit. Not really much to see. Checked in about 1415. Nice room but the safe didn't work. Went for a swim about 1600. I did see the ship for the first time. It's big but compared to the other cruise ships that were there it looked puny. I wish I could have gotten on today, that would have saved me a lot of trouble. Oh well . . . Ate and called home. After that I went home and slept. I was nervous about not having my money in a safe.
Got on the ship today. I didn't have to wait long to get everything done. I took the biggest closet since I was the first on there. I took the bottom drawers and the bed under the bunk. I thought that if people came into our room they would more than likely sit on the one without the bunk. The room mates are both cool. One is very talkative (Jimmy) and the other reminds me of Justin (Andy). Jimmy seems like a bit of a flake. He comes in the room at around 1145 (check in time for A - M ended about an hour ago) throws his stuff on the bed and says "Hi, I'm Jim. I've got to go, I'm really late." He seems extremely intelligent and very friendly, he's a cool guy. Strangely enough all of us go to Pitt. I wonder how that happened. Jimmy, Crystal, and I went up to the observation deck to watch the ship leave. I met a girl from Pitt, she had had Dr. Moreland's Psychology of Personality but I had never seen her before. As we left this guy played this bongo-like instrument. It was neat. Soon enough the lighthouse at the port was out of sight and we were truly on our way. The Road Rules helicopter circled around us for a while. One of them was up on deck with us dancing with the bongo guy. We had a meeting at 2000. Nothing big just rules. The rocking doesn't seem to be a problem. I slept fine.
A whole day of crap. They had us sit in meetings all day. From 0900 to 2300 we were hearing crap. It was just basic stuff that we should already know about Cuba. Many dumb questions. The food has been great so far. It's better than any thing I've ever had at Pitt.
Today was fantastic. The beginning was sort of lame. We walked around Old Havana first off. We did see some things like the Capitol, Post Office, and other buildings that we had no idea about. I did something stupid and ethnocentric almost as soon as I got off. I saw this white woman in a building selling maps. Being white I assumed that she spoke English. She didn't understand a word of what I said. I won't make that mistake again. The group I was walking with was going back to the ship so I split off. This guy came up to me and started talking. I knew it was a hustle but I was OK with that. We walked down the street, he pointed some things out. These two guys were singing for me. I knew they would want money but that was fine. I gave them two bucks. They sang Guantanamera. I was going one way and the guy wanted me to go the other. I said no and he wanted money. He wanted 10 or 15 USD, I gave him 5 then 2 more. Seven was too much but to take a cab would have been about 5, so it wasn't that bad. I'd say he was worth about a cab ride. After that I walked up the Malecon (sea wall). I actually went to sleep on it for a while. Then I walked around Old Havana. It wasn't good, but it was safe. I ended up about a mile away from the ship. I was worried then but I was fine. I could tell I was dehydrated so I wanted to get a soda. I got what I thought was one but then I opened it up it was beer. I hadn't had anything to drink and only had a muffin for breakfast so it hit me hard. But I got back so it was fine. That night we went out with these two Cubans. That was the best! We talked about life in Cuba, politics, life. It was the bomb. Then he showed us around Old Havana. I learned so much more than I had before. We saw the boat Castro took from Mexico, planes, and a missile from the crisis. He would have done more but the others I was with wanted to go back. Cuba is great.
Hooked up with a free tour of the city this morning. We went through the old stock exchange. He showed the renovations of the old structure. The old tiles in the from were kept but the inside was changed radically. Then we went to the top to get a good view of the city. You could get a good view of the Plaza de San Francisco, the Capital, and the Plaza of the Revolution. From there we went through the city. There were kids playing baseball in one of the plazas we walked through. We walked into one of the houses along the street. This was the first time I had been in one and I was shocked at the decay inside. The place was literally falling down. It reminded me of my Granny's basement except worse. These buildings get waterlogged in the rain and many collapse. No one should been there but it was very overcrowded. We also had a problem with some children. This mindless blonde starts to give away change to some kids that were hanging around. Suddenly we are swarmed with kids wanting to grab everything off us. Professor Ginsburg chased them away though. We went on to an abandoned hotel. Only the first two floors were used, the rest was falling down. We got a ladder to climb over a huge amount of rubble in the stairway. At the top we had another vie of the Capitol, this time very close up. Tiles were falling off, the place was falling down, it wasn't good. They said the top floors couldn't be used but that prostitutes and squatters could use the upper floors before the stairs collapsed. On the way down I was picking through some rubble (it was too dangerous to all be on the steps at one time) and found an old doll and a ticket t the hotel when it was open. Next I had to go back to the shop to go on my cigar factory trip. It was hard to hear the guide but it was fine. We saw the separation of the tobacco leaves, rolling the papers, forming the cigars, and the ringing and boxing of the final product. We got two free ones at the end. One was a Cohiba, so that was good. I picked up some cigars and some things for my friends. I walked around for a bit more, then went back to the ship. I met some people to go out to eat with. We went to a small family place. I ordered Calimare, which looking back was a bad idea. It took forever to get served. We waited for over an hour to get our food. The squid was whole, lungs ad everything. The sauce it was in was kind of gross. We also got black beans and rice and fried bananas. It was neat going but it was 12 USD, plus we missed going to the theater. So we finish and leave and as we are walking down the street a guy comes over and tells us he saw us on the cigar factory tour. He wanted to sell us some cigars. So seven of us pile into this guys one room apartment. He showed us all types of things, all stolen of course. Once he broke out the monster Cohibas I was sold. The box had a humidor in it too. We paid 40 USD for a 300 USD box of cigars. My box has a scratch on the front cover, which sucks but I still wanted them. My roommate and I both got a box. There was a Santeria alter in the corner, the TV was on, and there were about 10-13 people in the room at a time. It was so shady. I was afraid going through Cuban customs but they don't care. Jim and I both got our pictures taken with our boxes and a big stogie. Then at around 1030 we met some people to go over to some night club near the lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor. We fit 13 people into the back of a minivan taxi to go over. It was packed! The lighthouse/fort was so impressive that we didn't go to any clubs. We walked down a huge thing of crumbling steps to get to the bottom of the forts walls. Then we climbed a rock face. Once we got up there they turned the lights out on us, which turned out to be great. We could see the stars as huge waves crashed 15 feet from us. We stayed there for quite some time before we got down, it was that impressive. Me and three others then broke off from the group. We walked around the rest of the fort. The views of Havana were spectacular. We climbed out where the canon face out into the ocean and took all that in. The view of the city and lighthouse were great, while dance music played in the background. We finally walked back to where the main group was. They were having a good time but we wanted to leave. We got an old 1948 Chevrolet taxi back to the El Floridia hotel. The bar was closed so we went to the Hotel Ingleterra. They were closed to but we got some good views of the square. Unfortunately some SAS kids screwed it up. They were very drunk and almost got hit by some cars. One kid jumped onto one of the cars bumpers and was yelling like a fool. So we left there and walked to the Malecon. By the time we got there we were all tired and wanted to go home. We walked on the edge of the harbor until we got back. There were some more drunk SAS kids but they weren't too bad. I went to sleep at around 0300.
I heard that the two Cuban guys we met the other day were looking for me. But we never got together again. I wanted to get to the other side of the harbor today. I didn't have to be anywhere until 1330 so I decided to walk all the way around it. Bad move. I as out of the tourist areas fairly quickly. No more taxis and students, this was hard-core poverty. There were prostitutes near the boats, kids playing in the filthiest water I have ever seen, and homeless people living in garbage dumps. There were cows and goats grazing in the road, it was rough. I would get strange looks from people. They would look and go back to what they were doing then look again to see if I was a tourist then look back down, then they would look again with this look that said "What is a tourist doing out here?!?" It looked like the US and Cuba had went to war and this was all that was left. Huge rusty old ship parts, garbage, filth, and misery were everywhere. How committed to the revolution are they? I was lucky I didn't get robbed. There would have been no one to help me. I was lucky. The worst part was that I couldn't make it to where I was hoping to go. It was roped off so I had to turn around. I was afraid to look soft or tired so I walked briskly for about 3 ¼ hours. But the time I got back I was dead tired. I got lunch and went to meet someone, but their trip had been delayed to I went by myself again. I walked to the Museum of the Revolution. I paid 3 USD to get in. It was a little hard to find my way through but it wasn't bad. Most things had subtitles in English. Lots of paintings of the conquest, many things on US intervention, and quite a bit on Che and Castro. They had pieces of the U2 spy plane that the Cubans shot down. There were also tanks and cars used in the Revolution. It was worth going to. After that I was going to try and get to the farewell reception with some friends but the location was changed. We hung out with some SAS students at a restaurant for a while but Jim, two other girls and myself went off on our own for a while. We sat at the castle for a while but were hassled away. We slowly made our way back to the ship by 1930. We had to wait a while to leave. This girl (Jennifer Davis) hadn't checked in and no one knew where she was. They kept calling her name over the intercom but she didn't answer. We thought we were going to leave here but she turned up. She was on board but didn't hear the announcements. We pulled away at about 2000. Everyone shouted as we pulled away from the dock. Everyone broke out the cigars they had bought as we were leaving. It was windy and the seas were a bit choppy. I wasn't feeling great so I slept at 2130. I was tired and needed sleep. Cuba was a great place.
About the only thing that happened today was CORE, and CORE sucks. You don't learn anything. It's too short and too stupid. The only thing that was cool in it was that someone brought up the point that this trip had been very sanitized. The students we were aloud to talk to were hand picked. It was no wonder they supported Castro so much. What was the real story? Did we really get it? After CORE everyone went to get books but me. There was no way I was waiting in a line like that. Putzed around most of the day. Played a little ping pong with Andy. Went to a lecture on the Lesser Antilles. It was cool, the professor was my Geology guy so that should be cool. Jim and I had a discussion about Cuba with one of the Political Science teachers. They opened the bar tonight so it was disgusting. People were drunk all over the place. We sat outside for a while, but I was starting to feel bad. I was looking at the ocean the whole time. I think I was getting a little sea sick.
First day of class. Al seems well. Fessler seems like a cool guy, his classes seem like they should be interesting. There are a lot of things I need to do. Trip sign ups are due tomorrow. So I've got to find trips that work well with my classes. I bought books but it was a real pain. There were only about eleven people ahead of me but it took over an hour. But at least I got them. Played Monopoly tonight. I lost but it was cool. We had a good time.
Have had all of my classes now. Geology should be real cool, the professor is funny. I got caught up on CORE readings and planned my trips. I signed up for four. Two FDP's and two cool ones. We'll see what happens. I signed up for a service type thing tonight at the activities fair. The Community College thing was cool tonight, it was on protest on US, Cuba policy. I talked to him for a bit. I kind of would like to set up a discussion time but we already had something like that (which I didn't know about). Had some food, hung out, and finished the back log on this journal. I can't figure out if I support the embargo or not. It is almost too close to call.
Took Larium for the first time today. I feel so carsick when I try to read in this room. But I've got to catch up on readings. I don't want to fall to far behind. Played ping pong for a while but my room mate is just too good.
I got all the trips I signed up for. It's probably maxed out my credit card. I just couldn't pass up China. I read outside today, it was much better. Still, it's slower than usual. I can't get back into the school groove.
I've never had classes on a Saturday before, but all the days here seem to run together. Jimmy's laundry got back today after five days. We had to fill out a massive amount of forms today for some of the countries we are going to. The line wasn't bad you just have to know when to go. We got our assigned class today for Vicarious Voyage. It's a 1st grade class in California. Vicarious Voyage should not be hard. We played a strange version of Balderdash today. It had all types of different categories. CORE class sucks, it's a waste of time. They were freaking us out about the bugs in the Amazon today. I hate bugs.
I slept through Neptune day (actually everyone in our room did). I kind of regret not going but what can you do. It was strange to have a day off. I got some reading done that I needed to do. So I guess it was a productive day.
We crossed the equator today at 0452. The water now goes backwards in the sink. It was a rainy day, really cloudy. Put laundry to get done today. More class more reading. I have an exam Wednesday in Geology. Played cards with some people I met today. We are also trying to get a ping pong tournament going.
Studies for Geology, also went to a review session. It sucked but he did show us the Southern Cross. We had a meeting about Brazil today but it was a big waste of time. People ask the stupidest things. "Are there any good places to shop" -what a retard. Are you just going to shop?!? Did the cards thing again tonight. There was land off the starboard side this afternoon. Someone told me it was a city called Natal. Watched the sun sit for the first time today. It wasn't the best, there were some clouds in the way. The ocean has been very calm lately. I guess it's because of the doldrums. Today was nice.
We were in a stupid pre-port meeting about Brazil when the Captain said there had been a problem with Neptune day. None of the faculty had gotten their heads shaved. So the brought up the Doctor to be auctioned off. The captain was loving it. He ended up bringing both Deans and the CORE beast, Elaine Leeder, up too. People were bidding until it got to be 400 dollars. So that person got to shave the heads of all of them. Everyone was going crazy, it was so cool. I had a Geology exam earlier in the day. I didn't think it was too hard but there were a few tricky ones. I've got a CORE exam and a Psychology one right after Salvador. I wanted to go to sleep but there were people in my room. That made me a little mad, hopefully it won't happen too many more times. I got a note from the pursers office today telling me that my credit card had been declined. I know I'm not over my limit so it has to be a security check type of thing (I hope). I was really stressed for a while but meditation worked wonders.