Sunday, November 24, 2013

the road to rio

On October 17, our first full day at sea after Buenos Aires, an announcement was made requesting all the Life Long Learners to attend a meeting, dependents traveling with faculty and staff to attend another meeting, and to check email for details. I didn't catch the room numbers and wasn't sure if the dependent meeting was only for parents who were traveling with children, or if it included people like me as well, so had a look at my email, saw I had not received the email, so assumed my attendance wasn't required. Following this meeting, there was a knock at our cabin door. Two of my buddies, also spouses of faculty, had come by to tell me that Life Long Learners and dependents of faculty and staff had just learned we would not be able to get off the ship in Cuba.

To make a long story short - it turned out the reason I didn't get the email about the meeting is because I am not actually affected by this situation as I am traveling on a Canadian passport. Semester at Sea applied a long time ago for a license to include Cuba in the program for this voyage and for others before it. The license was granted through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) (, a branch of the Department of the Treasury in the United States, shortly before our trip started in August. It isn't clear how many lawyers have had their hands on this license since it was issued, or whom they represent, but apparently they have determined that the license to disembark in Cuba applies, in the case of US citizens, only to degree seeking students and the faculty and staff directly involved in their programs. For me and a a handful of others with foreign passports, the license isn't necessary at all since we are not bound by the US sanctions in Cuba.

Needless to say, the shipboard community has been very disappointed by this news. Emotions have run high, meetings have been held, emails have flown. Appeals were made to OFAC by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), but the final decision has been made. Not only will these groups of travelers not be allowed to disembark in Cuba, they will not be allowed to stay on the ship either, so we will be making a side trip to Freeport in the Bahamas to drop them off before going to Cuba. We will then proceed to Cuba and return to pick them up afterward. This has put a bit of a damper on the last several days. I am sad that so many of my friends won't be able to join us for this part of the journey, a place all of us had been looking forward to visiting.

The US sanctions against Cuba have been in effect since 1961, more than 50 years (

buenos aires

After 13 (or 12, depending on how you count) days at sea, we were excited to arrive in Buenos Aires ( on November 12. The port in Buenos Aires is a busy container port with lots of large moving equipment, so we were not allowed to walk within it. There were shuttle buses that took us to the port gate, and we got off the ship and out of the port as quickly as we could. It was wonderful to see the sun after having had so many hazy, cloudy and foggy days at sea. Buenos Aires was beautiful and green with lots of areas set aside for parks. There were blue flowering trees all around - I have decided they were jacaranda (; we also saw lots of varieties of huge ficus trees. We sat for a couple of hours in a coffee shop, just enjoying the weather and watching people go about their activities before we headed back to the ship. We had plans to move to a hotel on the second day, and spend a couple of days in the city, so packed our bags.

Buenos Aires has 48 barrios, or neighbourhoods, and we visited three of them. Our hotel was near the Plaza San Martín ( in the Retiro district (,_Buenos_Aires). John and I walked in the area and beyond, enjoying our time in the city. Whitelock family members might be interested to know that when the British tried to wrest Buenos Aires from the Spanish, they sent General John Whitelocke (, no doubt one of our ancestors. He was defeated in 1807 in the attempt. On the third day in Buenos Aires, we went to lunch with friends from the ship in the Recoleta district (,_Buenos_Aires). We arrived a little early so we would have some time to walk here as well. We were both finding the heat to be a little challenging, but there was always a breeze in the shade.

On the last day I went with a group from the ship for a walking tour in the La Boca neighbourhood ( of the city. We had a great guide, Matías, who took us to a city bus for the trip across the city. Once there we met with a long time resident of the area, an accordion player who first entertained us with his music. This man's parents had arrived from Italy in the early 1920's and he had lived in the area his whole life, so answered lots of questions about the neighbourhood and its history. Much of it was very tourist oriented, with tango dancers every few steps. It's a great mystery how those women manage their stilettos on cobblestones, but they weren't doing much dancing, mainly posing for photographs. We did visit two museums that I enjoyed. One was the former home of Benito Quinquela Martín ( and housed much of his art, mainly marine vessels and port scenes. The other was Proa, a museum of contemporary art (, with an exhibition by Ron Mueck ( that I found very interesting and just a little bit creepy.

After the tour in La Boca we got back on the city bus where we found a restaurant in the barrio of San Telmo (,_Buenos_Aires). It was a wonderful experience with a great waitress who spoke English very well, but who was willing to play along with anyone in our party who wanted to try out their Spanish. After lunch we made our way back to the ship to get ready for our trip to Rio de Janeiro.

atlantic crossing

Still working on some of the details for this posting. Please check back!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

cape town - kirstenbosch and tutu

On October 29 I visited Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden as planned. I went alone, and was so happy to be there. It was a bright and sunny day and the garden was in beautiful bloom with lush green lawns. It wasn't crowded and people were quiet, walking and picnicking on the grounds. I enjoyed a long walk through the garden, though it would take much longer than the two hours I was there to cover all there is. There was an art exhibit to see and I enjoyed wandering through the plants in the Botanical Society Conservatory.

Kirstenbosch is on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Platteklip Gorge that we hiked a few days earlier, is on the north face. (At the risk of confusing everyone by switching the topic for a second, I did find an interesting story of Platteklip Gorge, although it makes the hike sound very easy. See The land where Kirstenbosch is, was owned and donated by Cecil Rhodes of Rhodes Scholarship and Rhodes University fame (

I had taken a bus that followed much of the same route that Maggie and George Thomas and I drove the last time we were in Cape Town ( Lots of it was familiar to me: Signal Hill, or the Lion's Rump ( Lion's Head ('s_Head_(Cape_Town)) on the way to the Garden, then Hout Bay(, Camps Bay ( and views of other craggy coasts and sandy beaches on the way back to the port. One place that was new to me was the Imizamo Yethu Township (, and although I didn't get off to walk through the area, I was intrigued by a sign I saw concerning Original T-Bag Designs. If you don't read another link I post in this blog, have a look at this one: I was lucky enough to find a booth right in the port after I got back where the crafts of the people from Imizamo Yethu are sold. If you'd like to get involved and send your used tea bags, details are at

On our last day in Cape Town, we wandered around the Victoria and Alfred waterfront ( for the last time, had lunch, then returned to the ship for the reception with Desmond Tutu. There is an excellent story here:, written by our Communications Coordinator, Lucille Renwick with photos by our voyage photographer Bryan Koop. There is also a video at was nothing organized in terms of a receiving line, so meeting him was hit or miss, but I did manage to shake hands with him. It was certainly an exciting visit for all of us.

Friday, November 8, 2013

cape town - table mountain

It's hard to believe it's been over a week since we left Cape Town ( We had a very nice stay there and it remains one of our favourite places. Last time we went ( it was very windy and we were not able to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain ( because it had been shut down, so one of my priorities on this trip was to get to the top. I had also visited Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden ( last time, but then it was the end of summer, beginning of fall, and not much was in bloom. Since it is now spring in the Southern Hemisphere, Kirstenbosch was on my list as well. We also knew Desmond Tutu ( was coming on the ship. We were to be at a reception with him at 2:00pm on the last day, and we didn't want to be caught in the lineup of people returning to the ship at the last minute.

I had spoken with a group of shipmates about the possibility of hiking Table Mountain to the top, and four of us decided to do that. One of the women had communicated with a guide, Margaret Curran, who could pick an appropriate trail (she picked Platteklip Gorge) and go with us to the top, and we all agreed to pay her asking price which was very reasonable for transportation to and from Table Mountain, water, snacks and safe hiking. Our plan was to hike to the top and take the cable car down on our first day in Cape Town, meeting Margaret in the port around noon. The person in our group who had found our guide received an email that morning from Margaret saying the wind had come up and the cable car had been shut down, so if we were going to do the hike, it meant we would be walking down as well. We decided to go ahead - after days at sea we were all looking forward to having some physical activity so we didn't mind doing some extra hiking. It was only 3 km (1.86 miles) up the mountain and the elevation gain was something just over 620 meters (2000 feet), so a demanding hike but nothing we couldn't do.

We met Margaret at the assigned location and found that she had added two other hikers to the group, which was fine with us. They were vacationers from elsewhere in South Africa and we were pleased to meet them. After making our way to the trail head, Margaret told us how difficult this trail would be and emphasized that if anyone felt in the early going that they wouldn't be able to make it, or if there was anything that made us unhappy, we should let her know right away. There were definitely times during this hike that I felt I should speak up, but just couldn't do it. The surface of the path was boulders. I have told others, it was like climbing a 3 km stairway with 18 inch risers. It is easily the most challenging hike I have ever done. Although I have climbed that distance and steepness, the surface was so challenging, and the day was so warm, that I began to doubt that I could finish. At some point the sun gave way to the cloud and mist that can so often appear on Table Mountain, and I was relieved that the heat at least would not be a factor for me. The others felt the challenge as well, but I really was the slowest (of course I kept telling myself I am twice the age of the next oldest person on the hike, not counting the guide). The others insisted I was not holding them back; we kept running into our SAS students, and we all encouraged each other. We did lose the other two hikers when they asked Margaret about going ahead on their own. In the end they went down on their own as well. At one point I began to really worry about getting back down again, but then reminded myself that I had to focus on the next step, not the whole climb and descent. And we all made it! We spent quite a lot of time at the top. The mist and cloud had cleared some, but moved around and made for some very interesting and spectacular views. I was so happy to be there and could not believe we had just sailed halfway around the world to see the beauty in this country, and that I have been fortunate enough to do it twice! We saw some beautiful birds and a dassie or rock hyrax (, probably waiting around for someone to feed it. We spent about an hour, enjoyed the fabulous views, took lots of photos, ate some snacks, drank some water. We expressed our hopes that the cable car would open since the wind had died down a bit, but Margaret assured us that because of the time of day, it was not likely to do that. So we gathered our reserves and headed down.

The trip down, while daunting, was not a surprise for us. We just put one foot in front of the other and did it. I fell behind again, and walked alone much of the time, but about three quarters of the way down Margaret fell back and walked the rest of the way with me. It was helpful to be able to chat with her as my knees and hips were starting to feel the strain. I was afraid if I slowed down I wouldn't make it the rest of the way, but of course I did make it down and was thrilled to have finished. We made our way back to the ship feeling most triumphant. I was meeting John and one of the other faculty in the area around the port for dinner, and they had already gone. I didn't even go back to the ship for a shower because I thought if I did I would never make it out again. We had a great dinner - the best burger I ever ate in my life I think, and came back for a great night's sleep. I was sore for a couple of days, but recovered quickly. John and I again stayed in a hotel in town, actually quite near one of the beaches, and enjoyed exploring Cape Town. More on Kirstenbosch and Tutu in the next posting.