one night in Rondebosch.

While getting caught up in the dance fever at Mizoli’s I realized it had been a while since I’d seen anyone from my entourage. I broke off from the dance and scoured Mizoli’s to no avail. I called Katie, my new UCT friend, and the call didn’t go through. I went outside into the street and couldn’t find anyone. It looked like I had been ditched and that I was going to have to take a cab back to the ship by myself. Just as I gave up hope, like a scene from a movie, a white van with obnoxiously loud music and bone-rattling bass rolled in front of me. The sliding door swung open and inside were my friends yelling, “get in!” I hopped into the “mini bus” as they’re called in South Africa. Everyone was there except for Grant, who had gone back into Mizoli’s to find me. A few seconds later Grant resurfaced from the masses in Mizoli’s, saw that I was in the van, jumped in, and we were on our way. The van cleared the crowded street in front of the restaurant and then sped off. There we were, cruising down the highway, windows down in the South African summer sun, 19 Americans bumping to a house remix of Rihanna’s “Only Girl.” Eventually we arrived at the leafy UCT campus. The ride cost only 20 ZAR. We went first to one house and then another, when I received a text message from Rebecca saying that they were back in town but tired and not going to Kirstenbosch. I immediately called her back and told her where I was. We agreed to meet at the local supermarket right up the street.

I couldn’t believe it. Here I was in South Africa and I was actually going to meet up with friends from the University of Connecticut. What a globalized world we’re living in. I plopped down in a chair at a cafe in front of the supermarket and waited for the girls to arrive. My eyes were heavy and these packed days in Cape Town were taking their toll on me. I could’ve fallen asleep but I don’t think that would’ve been safe so instead I forced myself to watch the comings and goings of this South African street corner. I think doing just that is probably a fairly good way of assessing whether one should live in a certain place. Just sit for an hour and watch the world unfold from that vantage point and see if it is to your liking. I could live in Cape Town. Eventually Becca and Kimmi arrived. I enthusiastically pounced on them. Kimmi enjoyed it, Becca thought I was making a scene. Even in the Southern hemisphere things between us were unchanged. We decided to go out to dinner and I told them I was happy to go anywhere. They took me to a Thai restaurant. For a while I told them tales from semester at sea but then I asked them about their study abroad experience. The UConn program is Cape Town is hard work! They’re not there at exchange students. They have their own UConn-prescribed program. They have internships in addition to their coursework and they have activities planned on the weekend. It’s a far-cry from your average study abroad program. After dinner we walked back to house where almost all of the UConn study abroad students live. We were sure to time our movement to occur before sundown. Apparently they feel the area isn’t safe at night, even in a group.

The house that UConn leases for the Cape Town program is pretty awesome. It’s a big house with two students per bedroom. There are plenty of common areas, it is stately decorated and there is even a swimming pool. Too bad they have neighbors and they don’t integrate with the UCT students because I definitely saw great party potential in the estate. When we walked in, Becca was heralded my arrival, as is house custom for all guests to be announced. We went upstairs and I was surrounded with more UConn students. It was the most “normal” I felt in months. For once we were not either in transit or having some glorious moment that we must be sure to remember forever and recount to our children. Instead it was just a handful of UConn kids hanging out in one of their bedrooms. They barraged me with questions about Semester at Sea, which I was more than happy to answer; a moment that made me further realize how fortunate I am and what an amazing opportunity I’ve been given. After the Q&A we headed downstairs and life in the house carried on as normal, plus one. Some were cooking dinner, others working on homework, two girls argued about their housing selection for next year. It was a refreshingly normal evening. I only had the slightest pang of guilt that a night spent hanging around was a night in Cape Town squandered. But I easily put that thought out of my mind. It had been another unexpectedly wonderful day. I thought i would be gone for a few hours to church and I’d been out all day with the most wonderful people. It was awesome talking with Becca and Kimmi, being able to talk about shared friends back home and about UConn. Some of the other housemates also seemed pretty cool and I’m going to make an effort to see them again when we’re all back in Storrs next semester, especially Samantha and Brandie. I even was able to see my fraternity brother Maria when she finally came home from a concert. It had been another busy day though, and I still hadn’t recovered sleep-wise, so they called me a cab and I headed back to the ship. Originally I had been skeptical that I’d be able to meet the Cape Town Crew while I was there and I was so glad that in the end it happened almost effortlessly.

Hanging out with my UConn friends was nothing like being at home, but it was a reminder of what I had left back there in Connecticut. It was an awesome reality check, it came at the perfect time, and it will make the rest of my journey all the more meaningful.

sunday in south africa

Sunday in South Africa was a wonderful but strange day. I woke up at 8 so that I could go to church in a township. That’s right, I went to church, in South Africa, in an all-black community that was created during apartheid. Why? Well, I wanted to visit a township while in South Africa. It’s a cultural experience because believe it or not, beyond the sparkling streets of Cape Town, South Africa actually does have some poverty and non-Western culture. You don’t go into a township by yourself if you’re a tourist but there are plenty of tours that lead you through them. SAS has this little shoebox called the “angel box” where a person can leave a ticket for a field trip if for some reason they’re not able to go. The ticket is already paid for, so the idea is someone else gets to use it. I found a ticket in this box for a visit to a church and a luncheon in a township. I decided that I’d take the opportunity for the township and the churchin’ wouldn’t hurt me either. We boarded a bus and headed out of the city. I always think it must be a funny sight when an SAS field trip rolls into some settlement in Ghana or South Africa. These people are all black and most of them are not in cars, on foot, in fact, barefoot. Here comes a big ol’ tour bus full of white people, gawking out the window, snapping pictures. We soon arrived at the Khanyisa Church Centre. Turns out church there is contemporary in nature. I immediately regretted my decision to wear a collared dress shirt and long pants out of respect even though it was dang hot. The church was a “charismatic” church which I was told is close to America’s pentecostal church. The church member who was our guide told us that they even speak in tongues sometime. This I was interested to see.

I don’t know what got into me but I was actually really moved by the church service. The hymns were in one of the local languages but they were projected onto a screen so that I could sing along even though I had no idea what I was saying. We sang for an hour and then afterwards a member of the church gave a sermon I believe. I hate to say it but I’m not sure if it was a sermon because I slept through most of it. I think that as soon as I sat down my energy from singing evaporated and I just wanted to lay on the floor and close my eyes. After the service ended there was your typical coffee fellowship. After standing around for a little while a guy in a yankees jersey (52: CC Sabathia) spoke to me. What friendly people those associated with New York tend to be. The guy was from Zimbabwe. He’s an economic refugee who just finished his mechanical engineering degree but currently can only find work as a day laborer. He hasn’t been on the job hunt for more than a month so he still has hope. It’s tough though because just like in the United States, there’s informal labor that pays less than the minimum wage and it isn’t easy work. After a while we parted ways and I wished him luck. It was time for my SAS group to head to lunch.

Lunch was at a local restaurant in the township. We walked there so instead of being on a conspicuous tour bus we were just a herd of conspicuous white people. The streets were pretty empty. My guess is most people were still in church. I was insanely thirsty so I popped into a convenience store and bought a stoney ginger beer. I felt a little uncomfortable when the rest of the group was still walking on ahead and I was left in the township a block or two behind the group, but soda in hand I jogged up and rejoined the white mass. We crossed the train tracks to another part of town, walked a few blocks and we were at Mizoli’s. Mizoli’s is a pretty bizarre and insanely popular restaurant. One stands in line and selects meat from a butchery. This meat is then all barbecued for you and brought to your table in a giant metal pan. No one gets any forks or knives; you simply dig in with your dirty fingers and chow down. There are no vegetables either. There’s some sort of white starch that resembles mashed potatoes but is stickier and tastier, and white bread is passed around so you can sop up the grease and barbecue sauce. It was delicious and primal. Besides the food, the experience is what draws people to Mizoli’s. Mizoli’s is an outdoor restaurant with lots of card tables and plastic deck furniture covered under a large, corrugated iron roof. The place is big, probably only a little smaller than your neighborhood Applebee’s. I’m not sure if this is the case every day or only on Sundays, but there was both a live band and a DJ. The DJ played local South African pop music. The band was a traditional band with drums and wooden xylophones. The place was packed and everyone was eating, talking, and getting their drink on. That’s the irony of it. In America, after church, you go to Waffle House, Dennys, or IHOP for some pancakes. In Cape Town, you come to Mizoli’s, six pack in hand, and get ready for a barbecue.

Mizoli’s is BYOB. Semester at Sea doesn’t prohibit drinking so I asked one of my fellow group mates if he’d be interested in splitting a six-pack with me. He agreed, so after we were settled at our table, I went out in the street to search for the source of all Mizoli’s beer. The smart thing would have been to simply ask someone. Instead, I just walked off, alone, to search. I made it about half a block away from Mizoli’s before a young black guy in a polo shirt left the stoop where he was relaxing with a friend and started walking with me. This has already happened to me countless times on this trip. Usually they either want to sell you something or for you to straight up give you money. My policy is to acknowledge their presence but continue moving. Sometimes they let me pass. Most of the time they walk alongside me. Naturally this guy introduced himself and started to follow me. I told him I’m looking for some place to buy beer and he offered to guide me. I told him he shouldn’t abandon his friends; just tell me which way to go and I’ll be fine. He decided to accompany me anyway. Although I was in unfamiliar territory, it was Sunday in broad daylight so I followed him. We started walking and a minute or two later I noticed that there were no longer any white people around me. I felt slightly nervous and told my companion that this place was too far and I was going to walk back to the restaurant. He pointed to a building only a few yards further, so I continued. We arrived at what I believe was a liquor store. It was a building that had a small, parking lot in front of it. A wall surrounded the parking lot, connecting it to the building. There was a large metal gate into the parking lot. A man and a woman on the inside were selling liquor bottles to customers through the metal gate. The man and woman were speaking the local language so I told my companion I wanted a six-pack of castle beer. He relayed the message and I was asked for 35 ZAR. I agreed to the price and waited for the beer to appear. The beer didn’t appear. My accomplice told me I needed to pay first and then I’d get my beer. This felt shady. I wasn’t in a store, but clearly this was a place where alcohol was sold. I took out my 35 ZAR but held onto it and asked to see the beer. The lady and my business partner insisted that I give the money first, and then the beer would appear. I said no, that I wanted to see the beer. The lady persisted and I insisted; we reached a stalemate. I told my cling-on that I agreed to the price, I have the money in my hand, why can’t she show me the beer? He told me that’s not how they do it. I decided to take my business elsewhere. What was going on, I did not know. Would the beer have appeared if I gave the money? Maybe. Would I have been ripped off? Maybe. I mean, there’s no Better Business Bureau in a South African slum. I walked back towards the restaurant. The polo guy followed me and was upset. Why wouldn’t i just give the money? “Why wouldn’t she just show the beer?” Then, his true intentions showed through. He whined to me that now he wasn’t even going to get a beer. Aha! The motivation is revealed. Byron buys a six-pack and he gets a finder’s fee of one cold brew, eh? I walk back to Mizolis and ask the first patron I see where they bought their beer. They said the red shack immediately to the left of Mizoli’s. I, on chance, had originally walked out of Mizoli’s to the right. I departed a second time, and right there was a place selling beer. I asked for the six-pack of castle and was quoted 50 ZAR. I showed the 50 ZAR and she pulled a six pack out of an icy cooler. There was an even exchange and I was delighted; more than happy to pay the higher price, the equivalent of an extra $2 USD.

I reclaimed my seat at the big table around which the entire SAS group was seated. The food had just arrived and the styrofoam plates were being passed around. My drinking buddy told me he didn’t want any beer because the Dean who put him in the drunk tank was watching.

And now, a brief word on “the drunk tank.” SAS permits drinking on shore, however, when you come back to the ship you cannot be a danger or a menace to yourself or others. If you are perceived of being either, you can be pulled aside and subject to a field sobriety test that involves balancing on one foot. If you fail or refuse to cooperate, you’re seen by the ship nurse, breathalized, and then relegated to a conference room that serves as the drunk tank. Here in the drunk tank you will sit under supervision until you are deemed sober enough to rejoin society. Your punishment is not simply a boring conference room, though. You must meet with the dean of conduct at a later date to determine what further consequences await you. Everyone who gets tanked ultimately gets points. If one accrues enough points for naughty behavior during the voyage, they are redeemed for a one-way early ticket home.

I didn’t see the problem with drinking in front of the Dean. As I said, drinking is not forbidden; problem drinking is. But I kept my opinion to myself. I could drink the six beers if we were there for long enough, or I could donate the remainder to some fortunate soul if I couldn’t.

A few moments later while we were all eating, a girl from SAS who was not a part of our field trip appeared at the table. She was here at Mizoli’s with a couple of others and also friends from her home institution who are in Cape Town for the semester studying abroad. After I finished eating I walked over to their table, greeted the other SAS kids and introduced myself to the expatriates. I don’t know why, but I got a kick out of meeting Americans that weren’t SAS-affiliated for once. We spoke for a while and they told me that their plans post-Mizoli’s were to return to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and then head to the botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch for the Sunday night live concert in the park. Two of my good friends from UConn, Rebecca and Kimmi are studying abroad at UCT and although they were gone all weekend at a human rights conference, I knew they were planning on heading to Kirstenbosch. I told the expatriates at Mizoli’s that I would come with them to Kirstenbosch and hopefully find my friends. We agreed we would leave Mizoli’s together in a couple of hours and we exchanged South African phone numbers just in case. I returned to the SAS table and they were all ready to return to the ship. I signed a form stating that I understood if I didn’t want to come back that I was on my own, and not SAS’s problem or liability and took off into the crowd to mingle. We had a great time hanging out, dancing to the local music, finishing my six-pack. At one point a little dance circle formed in front of the band and certain brave souls jumped into the middle for a few moments to showcase their moves before blending back into the crowd. I tried jumping in and despite my slight fear of being mocked for being a white American trying to dance to traditional South African music performed on drums, I received applause and shouts of encouragement. It was a somewhat profound moment of racial harmony. When I was in Ghana I oftentimes felt that my presence was viewed by the locals as exploitive. They seemed to feel that the fact that we were there for a brief time meant that we came not to walk a mile in their shoes but rather just to gawk at them like animals in the zoo. That day in the township I felt completely welcome.


longest day ever cont.

We returned to the ship by around 2AM. Seeing as I was going shark diving in less than two hours, there didn’t seem to be any point in going to bed. I went to the piano lounge to hangout with people. The piano lounge is always an interesting scene on nights in port. During days in port this place is absolutely dead. Why would anyone be on the ship while you’re in port is one question. But even worse, why would you be in the piano lounge? However, from about 1-4AM this place becomes habitable again. It’s the only spot on the ship where you can buy food 24 hours a day and its generally everyone’s first stop when they bring their tired/drunken selves back to the ship. Everyone swaps stories and gossip; who went home with who, who got robbed. To make a Wedding Crashers reference, the piano lounge is also a spot for extra innings. Just in case the service and the reception wasn’t sufficient to close the deal, the piano lounge is your third swing. It’s an interesting sight and probably the only time when I don’t feel bad for the poor crew members who have to man this station 24 hours a day.

I told everyone that I was going shark diving in another couple of hours so thats why I wasn’t bothering with sleep. A handful of people asked if they could come too and I told them the answer was most likely yes. What originally was supposed to be a full trip was probably going to have about ten free spots. I don’t know how these shark diving companies make money. They start their trips before first light (aka heavy “I was too drunk” “I slept through my alarm” risk) and no one pays in advance. Throughout our time in SA people were bouncing around from trip to trip. There was a group of kids I wanted to go with. First, they were going with one company, then they switched to another that gave them a better price. Then, the night before we supposed to leave they told me their switching to another company that would give them their money back in the event they didn’t see any sharks. I switched the first time but the second I decided not to. None of these kids even bothered to let the companies know they weren’t going anymore.

So, I let the piano lounge know that I was going and that they were free to come along because there would be open spots. Seven kids took me up on my offer. Bob cracks me up. I told him that he could come but that we were leaving in half an hour. He said he was going to go get ready and leaves. I come back half an hour later and Bob is reclined in a lounge chair, talking to some people. Bob looks at me and smiles and doesn’t realize a thing. “Bob, it’s time to go.” He gives me a puzzled look. “Time to go shark diving?” He jumps out of his chair and takes off in a sprint towards his cabin. Soon we were off. We met the shark diving crew in front of the port. Greg, a handsome stocky South African man of about thirty thanks us for actually being on time. There are three vans in front of the dock and so far there’s only about enough people for one van. We wait around for ten minutes and no one else joins us. It’s decided that one van will head off and the others will go if and when they fill. Again, I don’t know how there’s any money in an enterprise like this. We head off into the deserted Cape Town streets. Greg seems like he’s still a bit buzzed from wherever he spent his evening partying. Bob and Adam, too, seem to still be riding last night’s wave. The van is about divided half and half between just wanting to go to sleep and still wanting to party. Greg decides that we should make a detour. We stop in front of a night club and Greg goes inside so that he can get a bottle of “tee-kee-lah” Five minutes go by and everyone thinks this is hilarious. We’re in South Africa, at 4AM, on the way to dive with great white sharks, but first we’re getting a bottle of hard liquor. Ten minutes go by and now we’re wondering where Greg is. Fifteen minutes go by and now we’re pissed because we just want to go shark diving and don’t care about the stupid tequila. Finally, Greg comes out, Jose Cuervo in hand, and we’re off to the races. They pass the bottle back and fourth between the willing participants. The bottle is passed towards me and I give it back. I’m about to go swimming with great white sharks, my interest in tequila shots is less than zero. Still, it was all in good fun and after a little heckling they accepted I wasn’t having any. I did get a kick out of it though when the sun crept up behind table mountain. Here in South Africa, a true tequila sunrise.

The van swiftly passed through the outer suburbs, the streets completely deserted, and up a mountain (not Table) towards Gansbaai, the great white capital of the world. The view of Cape Town sleeping below was almost as pronounced as it is from an airplane as all the orange street lamps outline the city streets. Once we finally passed over the summit and away from the city, the lights on the country road ended and above us was a clear, starlit sky. By this time everyone had passed out except for Bob. I told him to open his window and take a look above us. It was another moment I’ll remember.

Inertia woke me up when I felt the van stop. We were at a gas station. Everyone was using the bathroom. But where was Bob? Out behind the gas station puking in the bushes, of course. That Jose Cuervo. He’ll getcha. Bob got it all out of his system and bought a recovery snack and drink and we were back on our way. We were nearly to Gansbaii. Everytime Greg would give our black driver some direction he would call him “nigga.” I thought to myself, “wow, racism is really obvious here.” I later, on the return trip, asked Greg why he was calling our driver that and he explained that in South Africa the word is not discriminatory in any sense. I was surprised by this but it did make sense considering our driver never seemed to take any offense to it. Still, I wasn’t about to start calling people nigga. “The further away from home one is, the better one ought to behave.”

Soon we arrived at the beach in Gansbaii and were rushed through breakfast on account of the quickly receding tide. We were late and had to board quickly or else we wouldn’t be able to get off the shore. It was still early morning and the air was cold. The ocean water was probably the last place I wanted to be. We boarded our boat. It was about twenty feet long with twin outboard motors. It was special fitted with all sorts of beams and winches for this giant steel cage we were lugging out to sea. Once we were ready they opened up the throttle and sent us out into the breakers. The boat jumped over the waves like an oversized jet ski. It was fast and it was fun. After a ten minute boat ride we were out in the deep but still close to shore. The crew dropped the giant steel box into the water and swung it around the side of the boat. This whole time another crew member had been pouring fish gut water into the sea. The sharks were coming. We were instructed to get our wetsuits on. The wetsuits were damp and cold. Putting them on was miserable but within a few minutes mine started retaining my body heat and then it felt rather toasty. I was outfitted with a weight belt to keep me from bobbing up to the surface of the water. The captain called for the first group of brave souls to approach the cage. We would dive in three groups of seven. I was scared and I wanted someone else to go first so I could see how its done, but at the same time I wanted to face my fear and lead the group. I volunteered to go first. The instructor told us how to enter the cage, where to position our feet, where to position our hands, and where not to position them if we wanted to retain them. I was confused because the cage by this point was in the water and I couldn’t picture all these bars, ropes, and positions he was mentioning. My body was shaking as I plopped into the cold waters of the Atlantic. The instructor helped me assume the proper position. I was ready to dive.

We clung to the yellow bar and waited for the command to submerge. The buoys attached to cage prevented me from seeing the activity occurring on the surface of the water, but I knew we were close. “DIVERS DOWN!” he yelled, as I took my knees off the bar and ducked beneath the water. At first I saw nothing and then a shark the size of a cow passed in front of the cage. It was awesome. We hung out in the cage for about half an hour as this procedure repeated itself. We got some better views from the front and from the side. Then it was time to switch out. Sharks swim near the surface of the water, so the experience out of the cage was almost as cool as the experience in it. I was, however, envious of the third group that had one smack up against the cage. “I TOUCHED IT!” one person said as he returned to the surface.

They cast off the cage, leaving it floating on the surface for the next group they would bring out to this spot later today. We started jetting towards the shore. It was only nine in the morning. How weird it was that we had traveled so far and accomplished so much and yet it was still 9 am on saturday morning, a time we’d normally still be asleep. Carpe diem. We had some warm homemade soup and bought some souvenirs and then piled back into the van and headed back towards Cape Town. On the way back we stopped at a few scenic points. I snoozed on the way back, which was delightful because legitimate sleep was still a long way off. We got back to the ship and felt strangely sad to part with Greg and our driver. Even though we had been together for only five hours it seemed like far longer. Bob and I had some burgers on deck seven, I called home, and then I was ready for my next thrill.

That afternoon that was supposed to be a rugby game and then later that night a soccer game. I met up with a couple of friends who were trying to go to the rugby game, which started in about an hour. Everyone was saying that this game was going to sell out and I was pessimistic about showing up less than an hour before kickoff and trying to get tickets, not to mention the stadium was a good 20 minute drive from the port. I suggested we try for the soccer game but I was overruled, and in the end, thank goodness I was. We made it to the stadium and headed straight for the ticket window. There were still seats together for sale. We each bought a ticket for 120 ZAR and then split up. A couple people left the stadium area to grab some food and three of us went out to this lawn area where everyone was having beers, listening to music and enjoying the saturday afternoon sun. After fighting our way to the front of the crowd and securing a couple of beers, we sat down at a picnic table and chatted with a very friendly, slightly intoxicated South African guy. We took our time and made our way into the stadium slightly after the game’s start.

I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that our seats were center-field field-level. We got a great view of the action, which I must say was very impressive. I’ve never been to a professional rugby game before, or an amateur one for that matter, but it’s intense. They don’t wear pads but they’re still just as physical and brutish as in American football. I think the only difference is that they’re more tactful about their physical contact and don’t just slam into each other willy-nilly. They also display an impressive amount of finesse. For example, in order to catch a ball high in the air, they’ll toss one another high above the ground like a cheer leading squad. It’s a very fast-paced, impressive game. The home team’s colors are blue and white, which are two colors I’m rather fond of clothing-wise, so I was sure to pick up a jersey on my way out.

After heading back to the ship we decided to get dinner at V&A waterfront. It was a warm Saturday night. The sounds of live music coming from different restaurants mingled. The mild din of hundreds of diners chatting over dinner complimented the gentle glow of candles of tables everywhere. I wanted to hit the mall food court because I realized how much money I had already managed to spend in South Africa. Bob and Melissa didn’t agree with me so we compromised on a Joe’s Crab shack type of restaurant called “Seabasket” I had a big variety of fried seafood and it was all reasonably priced I suppose. Our only complaint was how slow the service was. On one hand I was sympathetic because it was a Saturday night and the restaurant was packed, but at the same time , there’s no one forcing them to seat that many tables. Anyways, after dinner I was debating whether to go out tonight or not. I could have been easily swayed into rocking through another night in a caffeine-fueled euphoria, but neither Bob nor Melissa agreed and I didn’t want to have to regroup again, so I went back to the ship and actually slept for once.

Long street and the longest day ever

After a light lunch at Rocca we had to head back towards the ship because some people had FDPs. I wandered about the ship for a while, looking for my next activity. I ran into my friend Jenni and we decided to head back into town. This time we went towards the city center. Cape Town can be rather deceptive. The city is so clean and there are many well organized, tall buildings, with wide streets and good flowing traffic. You wouldn’t imagine the amount of crime that takes place here. There are police everywhere but regardless, numerous people from the ship were mugged. I try to keep my wits about me and I haven’t had any problems, so far.

Anyways, we walked into town, down Long Street where all the bars and restaurants are. We checked out the Grandaddy Hotel, which has a airstream trailer park on its roof. We then passed down into Green Market Square and decided to settle down for a breather at a restaurant called Capo I believe. Multiple SASers passed by the square. I told Jenni that my feelings about seeing other SAS kids has changed since we started the journey. Originally when the semester began I took comfort in finding other Semester at Sea students. It made each country feel less threatening, knowing that there are other students in the same boat all around me. As we pass from port to port, though, I find myself needing that safety net less and less. By the time we got to Ghana I felt repelled by areas that I knew would be swarming with kids from the ship. I have nothing against them, but in each of these countries I want to have as authentic an experience as possible. When you cling to the known, to the comfort of other Americans, you lose that.

After our beers we perused the market. I was delighted that here the vendors were far more courteous than elsewhere. Yes, they offered “a special price. just for you,” but when you expressed disinterest and moved along, they took no for an answer. It was great feeling that you were free to explore the market stalls without feeling pressured to buy. I didn’t make any purchases because I’ve developed a routine of souvenir shopping on my last day so that I can use up my remaining foreign currency. After the market, we continued walking around the city and returned to the ship feeling that we had thoroughly examined the center of the city.

Once I felt freshened up and had put on my evening clothes it was time for dinner, this time with a third group of people. Five of us piled into a cab, an old diesel mercedes, and headed back towards long street. Our cab driver gave us his speech, telling us that even though we were quoted 70 rand outside of the cab that he would take us for 50 rand, the official price, and that we were not to tell the other cab drivers, because he is an honest man and the rest are there to cheat you, and that if he came to our country, he would expect to be treated with respect, and thus he is treating us with respect. I sensed something was rotten. This was our first cab ride in the country so I wasn’t experienced yet but when I made the same journey in a legitimate cab with a meter it only ran us 30 rand. In fact, this whole cab problem is actually more than just about being ripped off.

My friends living in South Africa called me a cab one night from a reputable company called Elite. The cab driver told me that in South Africa there’s a problem with “pirate cabs,” people buying yellow “taxi” signs for the roof of their car and buying counterfeit taxi permits that are really just photocopies. These drivers can rip you off, or worse. My friend Dave is 6’ 3″ and weighs a ton. How much? I don’t know. He played D-1 football for UC Boulder and was a linebacker so I’ll let you just imagine. He was at a nightclub in Cape Town one night and felt like heading back to the ship. He piled into a cab in front of the nightclub with two other people he didn’t know. A few minutes later, while the cab was in motion, the driver turned around and pointed a gun at them. The two other passengers bailed out. Dave put his hands in the air and was robbed of his wallet and his digital camera. If it can happen to Dave it can happen to anyone.

Anyways, back to the story. Our pseudo-Robin Hood cab driver dropped us of at Mama Africa, one of the most popular restaurant in town. Mama Africa is an authentic african culture restaurant. The decor is all bushland style. There’s a live band featuring drums, wooden xylophones, and a brass section. For food I had an African mixed grill consisting of alligator, ostrich, warthog, springbok, and kudu. Some were delicious, others not so much, and sadly I was not able to keep track of what was what therefore the next time I see warthog on the menu in Connecticut I won’t know whether to order it or not. But, it was a lovely experience, and if I couldn’t go on safari in South Africa, at least I got to eat as though I had been hunting in South Africa. Towards the end of dinner three more girls showed up. These were friends of the girls I had come to dinner with. They were all obviously intoxicated and it was not clear what they had done or where they were coming from. Regardless, they were with us now. We finished up dinner as quickly as possible to avoid making any more of a scene. It was Friday night and the restaurant was full and now we had three drunk girls standing around our table because there were no extra chairs to be found.After settling the bill the girls went over towards the band and started jamming out with them. I shrunk back and listened from the bar. I loved the music. For those who know me, I’m pretty eclectic in my selection. But it had been a long day and I was far too sober to be dancing around in front of the african jam band. The men, of course, got a kick out of my friends’ enthusiasm so it was all kosher.

After a while I was ready to move on with the evening and hit a bar or a club. The drunk girls were becoming progressively more obnoxious (one randomly ran into traffic off by herself. The other one acquired a “boyfriend,” a black guy less than five feet tall that was more than happy to be the recipient of a drunk American girl’s affection. I obviously did not envy their lack of grace but I was thirsting for a drink. The Mama Africa experience had a price tag to match the quality experience so I had drank only tap water (That’s right, guys. Tap water in Africa. I did it.) We made our way down Long Street, which at this point in the evening was slowly warming up. In front of a loud and crowded place we noticed a bunch of SASers so the crowd entered that venue and I went across the street somewhere a little bit quieter, alleviated of any burden to babysit drunk chicks.

Here across the street I found a few friends. We discussed the day’s events as they finished their pizza dinner. The night was young and I needed to rally so I saddled up to the bar to find something that would compensate for my lack of sleep. Everything in South Africa was inexpensive, but I ended up spending more extravagantly than a normally would, resulting in a net zero effect. I ordered a triple shot of vodka and red bull for 65 ZAR ($8.75 USD). Normally this drink in the US would probably run at least $20 but then again back in the US I would’ve ordered just a couple of beers, so there ya go. Net zero effect. Anyways, the drink had its desired effect and now I was ready to brave the masses back at bob’s bar. Back at Bob’s everyone was having a good time. The drunk runaway had now reached a new level of intoxication. I watched as she tumbled over onto the floor, falling flat on her back. Instead of lifting herself up and playing it off like nothing happened, she decided she’d just hang out on the floor and proceeded to engage in some cross between dancing and snow angel making. The bar’s bouncer had to come scoop her up and get her back on her feet. I could take this occasion to explain why this level of drinking is a) bad for you b)dangerous in a foreign country and c) an embarrassment to our country/ the SAS program, but I won’t because it’s obvious.

Anyhow, Bobs was overcrowded and not that interesting so a few of us decided to roll down the street and see what else Long Street had to offer. By this point in the night, Long Street felt like I imagine Bourbon Street feels like. There were throngs of people of all walks of life; blacks, whites, indians, teenagers, adults, the drunk, the less-drunk, the rich, the begging; all types. There were bars for every type. The space-themed club, the irish bar, the jazz spot, everything. We decided to stroll down till we found a place that struck our fancy. Looking up, I noticed my Resident Director standing on a balcony. We decided to join him, and proceeded up a flight of stairs to a place with a DJ and a great balcony overlooking all the action on the street below, but most importantly, it wasn’t overcrowded. There was a comfortable crowd. Everyone wanted to stay here. We talked, drank, danced. I interacted with a few locals, the crowd pleaser, a man less than 5 feet tall, head of hair and mustache like einstein, probably 80 years old with a case of disco fever like it was still 1968. I also debated with one guy my age over whether Cape Town was like Sydney, I felt myself dragging again by about 130 in the morning so I tried the same spell and the magic worked just as well. We had been in the same spot for over an hour though and I knew there were other cool spots to check out so I convinced the group to continue our pub crawl. Walking down the street I slipped into a convenience store and tried to chug a liter of water to make up for my dehydration all night long. I soon felt terrible and decided I should head back to the ship as soon as possible. We slipped into a restaurant that was open all night where a table full of SASers were finishing up fourth meal. Some of them wanted to go home and some wanted to stay so we regrouped and went our separate ways. This is one of the moments where the abundance of familiar faces is a good thing. We made it back in a taxi without incident.

Although Monday night blended into Tuesday morning because I went shark diving the next day at 3;45AM and literally got zero sleep, this point of the evening was the break in the action and thus the natural pause in my story of what is otherwise a 36 hour day….

Status report and South Africa beginnings

Right now the ship is in midterm time as everyone is having a test in each of their classes. We’re also reeling and a rockin’ as the ship flirts with “inclement weather.” We’re not sure where the bad weather is in relation to the ship, but we know its somehow causing us to go slowly. I wish we knew more, but we don’t. The rumors on this ship spread like wildfire and I’ve learned not to trust anything until I read it in writing or hear it from the dean during the daily announcements.

The impact of this slow going is that we’re going to arrive to Mauritius late. How late? I don’t know. Again, everyone’s an expert. But they’re not going to let us off the ship. We’re going to stop there to refuel and then make our way to India without getting off in Mauritius. A lot of people are frustrated by this because we’re going to be right there at the dock anyway, so why can’t they just let us get off for a couple of hours and experience Port Louis? I know, that would mean going through immigration which takes time, but Mauritius is a very remote country. Ask everyone you know and I’ll be surprised if you know someone who has been there. For them to just entirely take it off the list is upsetting. Thus, we did what sensible people do when they’re upset on a ship. We mutinied started a petition. Or, to be specific, I wrote a resolution paper Model United Nations-style. Then, I went upstairs and there was a crowd of 8-10 people in Tymitz square talking about their frustration and joking that they were going to nonviolently non cooperate, Nelson Mandela style. I read them my petition and they were moved. It invigorated them and made them thirst for justice, so we marched to the piano lounge, where much of the student body hangs out on any given night. I called the room to attention and repeated my speech. The masses were moved, the audience cried out, the Mauritius Movement was born. I spent the next couple hours circulating my silly petition helplessly hoping that it might amount to something. Plenty of people have put me in back in touch with reality and told me how fruitless my effort was. I told them I didn’t care; that I would try and that if nothing else it would be an exercise in democracy. Anyways, we’ll see. If it doesn’t work I guess I’ll just have 11 days at sea nonstop to write to you about South Africa.

Ah yes, South Africa. As is becoming tradition on this trip, I arose at 6AM in order to see us come ashore in South Africa. The experience was even more rewarding in Capetown than in Tema. Instead of a misty morning and a host of container ships, we were greeted with an orange sunrise shining over Table Mountain. Table Mountain is rather imposing. Capetown is a big city with a number of tall buildings but right behind the city skyline stands this tall plateauing mountain. I believe a more accurate name would be Kitchen Counter Mountain because it is certainly higher and more striking than a simple table. As we pulled in I was talking to those around me, asking them what their plans were for South Africa. I had yet to make any real plans. In many aspects, if one fails to plan, then they plan to fail, but so far I’ve experienced every port to the fullest and had done little planning beforehand. However, this was a new low for me. This time we were pulling into the country and I did not have a single plan.

A few hours later we disembarked. It was a temperately warm and clear day. I was grateful for the contrast to the oppressive heat and humidity that we had much of in the Tropics. I left with my next-door neighbors to explore the city for a few hours. As usual, the first stop is the ATM. Converting prices in South Africa was the weirdest because unlike Reals or Cidis, Rands have a strange exchange rate with USD. For every dollar, you get 7.48 ZAR. That means that when I went to the ATM and took out $1500 I felt like a big spender, mister moneybags, when in reality I was withdrawing only $200 USD. We walked through V&A waterfront which is the commercial district right by the water, featuring a giant shopping mall and a different restaurant for every type of cuisine you could possibly desire. It was strange seeing a Bath and Bodyworks, an apple store, a Hurley. It felt like we weren’t in Africa, but rather had been somehow ended up in San Francisco. This feeling was further reinforced when we left the mall and passed by an Aston Martin dealer and a Ducati dealer. This certainly didn’t feel like a still developing country.

I was also surprised by how obvious the racial divide in South Africa was. In our Global Studies class, we learned about how Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu championed against apartheid. The reality, though, is that all around town you see black people serving white people. Everyone says it’s a lot better now than it was then, but clearly they have a lot of progress to be made.

Regardless, despite the surprise that we felt entering Capetown we were still happy to be there. For the first few hours whenever we saw white people we mentally assumed they were Semester at Sea affiliated. It took a conscious mental effort to remember that this wasn’t Ghana or Brazil anymore, and there is actually diversity in this country. Walking into town we soon passed by a mall, and naturally all the girls wanted to go inside for a look around. Being the token male I was powerless to overcome the majority so I settled down at Cafe Rocca, a chic restaurant with outdoor couches. I ordered a bloody mary and took advantage of the free wi-fi. It was another beautiful moment, except this one wasn’t as surreal. I appreciated the privilege of my position, recognizing that I was in Capetown, South Africa, hanging out in the summer sun. However, by this point I was in touch with the fact that this was my reality. This bothers me. Here comes another tangent.

A couple of days ago a friend from UConn emailed me. Her email basically entailed what her day had been like. I found myself unable to relate. After so much time at sea, I’ve adapted to the lifestyle here. I’ve adapted to living on a ship, traveling around the world. I’ve adapted to seeing these amazing sights that so few people get to experience. I’ve adapted to bloody Marys on the terrace at noon on Friday. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them any more. I most certainly do! But I’ve grown accustom to it all. I feel like a spoiled brat who has just come to expect the finer things so that anything less is a disappointment. I don’t like it. If I had a genie I would wish to return home to Connecticut for a week as an intermission in my semester abroad. I’d like to remember again what “the daily grind” was like, what it was like to be bored, what it was like to sit around my dorm room on a snowy night or be stressed out from having too much schoolwork. That way I could return to my semester at sea and be fully in-touch with the remarkable position I find myself in.

I need to try to remember hard what life at home is like because otherwise I’m going to take this all for granted and then be a total mess when I have to snap back to reality in May.

to be continued…