Ring of Kerry Tour: Now with 100% more sunshine!

Avid readers may recall (probably not) that on last year’s visit to the Ring of Kerry we had some of the worst weather of our entire program. Although Ireland can be atmospheric on a gloomy day, the Ring loses a lot when you can’t see the scenic vistas and beautiful landscapes that are its main attractions. The Ring is a 176km/111-mile circular tourist route in County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. It takes you through medieval towns, historic landmarks, and some of the most beautiful scenery in this generally beautiful country. And this time around we could actually see it all, thanks to blue skies and so much sunshine that several of us got sunburned.

Our home base was the Castlerosse Hotel, where we arrived Thursday afternoon/evening for dinner and some time to relax before setting off Friday morning. I love the Castlerosse. The rooms are comfy, the food is good, and the view can’t be beat:

The view from the Castlerosse, which has a golf course. One of our students actually brought his clubs!

The hotel’s dining rooms and bar look out on that gorgeous view, as do several of the bedrooms–including mine this year (lucky me).

Driving the Ring of Kerry makes me laugh a little because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d have hated as a kid. I’m a little sorry my parents will never get to see it. They were always interested in a “scenic drive.” Our first stop was the Kerry Bog Village, a recreation of an 19th-century village of turf-cutters:

Kerry Bog Village

The remains of an 18th-century cottage whose inhabitants were evicted during the famine of 1845-52.

Irish wolfhounds. The picture does not quite do justice to how enormous they are.

Inside one of the replica village dwellings

The little horse on the right is a Kerry bog pony.

Alongside the Bog Village is a pub that serves hundreds of Irish coffees a day. It’s impressive just to watch the staff make them.

How to make a lot of Irish coffee in a hurry.

 

We went on to visit and revel in all the most gorgeous places on the Ring. Along the way we got to meet some extremely cute animals. Enterprising locals have figured out that the only thing better than a scenic view is a scenic view where you can pet a goat or hold a baby lamb. Our students took every opportunity. [Even I held a puppy for a minute–but only because it was about to run out into a parking lot.]

I am not going to remember the names of all these places. This might be Cahirsiveen?

This is Waterville, where Charlie Chaplin once lived and the Chaplin family still owns property:

This is the place I only know as the “Viewing Point.” On a day like yesterday you could see to the Skelligs and look for Luke Skywalker on Skellig Michael:

It’s the right-hand island waaaaay in the distance.

More animals to pet.

In fairness, the puppy was extremely cute.

The real name of the Viewing Point.

Our next stop was Darrynane, where Daniel O’Connell was born. O’Connell is a major figure in Irish history: he was a campaigner for Catholic emancipation and Irish independence. One of the main streets in Dublin is now named after him. He also lived next to a gorgeous beach. You only have to look at this country to understand why the Irish wanted to govern it independently.

Experiential learning: we learned that the sun may be warm, but the water is not!

The O’Connell house, seen from the path to the beach.

Our last stop of the day was the Ladies’ View, so called because Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting decided that it was the highlight of the Ring of Kerry. I do not feel prepared to differ with Her Majesty.

When I write it out this all seems a little abbreviated or rushed. The Ring of Kerry is definitely something to see for yourself. There’s more than is possible to photograph and it’s even a little hard to describe. Being immersed in it is the best way to go.

Today (Saturday) we made our way back to Waterford via Blarney Castle. I am a fan of the outside of Blarney Castle. I’ve never been inside and never kissed the Blarney Stone. It just photographs so well:

Giant alliums. I love these flowers.

And here’s why I’ve never been inside the castle.

Foxglove is everywhere in Co. Kerry, including in the Poison Garden at Blarney Castle.

If I had gone into the castle I might have learned why there are granny squares over some of the windows!

I’m pretty proud of this shot.

We are now back in Waterford to catch our breath, wash our clothes, and go to our classes for a couple of days before we head out again. We’ll leave for Dublin on Tuesday afternoon.

Traveling to Ireland

Dear readers, I left Macon, Georgia almost exactly 24 hours ago and have arrived in Waterford, Ireland by means of:

  1. Car ride from home to Groome Transportation depot
  2. Groome shuttle bus from depot to Atlanta airport
  3. Airbus A-330 from Atlanta airport to Dublin airport
  4. JJ Kavanagh bus from Dublin airport to Waterford

All the travel went quite smoothly. When I got to Atlanta–3 hours before my flight, as directed–the security lines were moving fast and there was hardly anyone at my gate. The weather looked very interesting:

But by the time we took off, it was much less threatening. We were late taking off but made up the time along the way on a flight that, incredibly, was not full. I was crossing my fingers as boarding went on and on and no one sat down next to me. Sure enough, I wound up with an aisle seat and a window seat to enjoy. Perfect for sleeping against the window, piling excess pillows and blankets on the other seat, and getting up as often as I needed to. Sometimes the air travel deities smile on me. I ordered a vegetarian meal and was surprised to discover that Delta has finally stopped serving the lentil loaf I’d eaten on my last half-dozen international flights. Now they are serving a “corn risotto” that is actually pretty good. Even more surprising: Delta flight attendants have started wearing purple uniforms after so many years in red and navy! Is it a shout-out to MGA?

Getting ready to descend into Dublin.

We landed in Dublin at 9:00 a.m. and I got a little nervous knowing my bus ticket was for 11:00. My anxiety increased when I saw the jam-packed passport control area. 4 flights from the U.S. had landed between 8:30 and 9:10 and the “Non-EU Passports” side was thronging. But the staff kept us moving and the baggage handlers had all our luggage out by the time I got through the passport line. I had time to buy a coffee, my favorite Irish bottled water (Ballygowan sparkling), and a banana before heading to board my bus.

Kavanagh Bus has a route that goes through 3-4 stops in Dublin and then straight on to 3-4 stops in Waterford including WIT. Kavanagh buses also have wi-fi and according to their website, 90% of their buses have toilets. (According to my field research, 0% of their buses have toilet paper. Bring tissues.)  Both of those amenities come in handy on a 2.5-hour bus ride! It was great to see Dublin again–even if only out the bus window–take in some Irish countryside, and finally be welcomed back to WIT by my colleagues here.

Ireland is gorgeous. Believe the hype.

I am all checked in at the dorm now, have been to the grocery store and made some dinner, and it is almost time for bed. The first day in Europe is always a white-knuckle fight against the desire to doze off (I will admit to a very small nap on the bus!) but then the first night’s sleep is magical. Tomorrow, planning meetings with colleagues and a visit downtown for SIM cards.

Tour consultant Jonathan and I went to get coffee and go over the calendar. All planning meetings should involve a Bakewell tart.

Packing for Ireland

By popular demand (a.k.a. “2 people asked me”), I present my packing for the 2018 European Council Ireland study abroad program. I’ll be in Waterford, Ireland for 5 weeks (departing tomorrow) with day trips around the southeast of Ireland and weekend trips to Dublin and Kerry. 58 students and 7 faculty will be joining me for this fantastic learning experience. I am excited! And as many of my friends know, I am an enthusiast about travel logistics and thus pleased to have an opportunity to flex my packing skills in a specific and interesting situation.

Here are the parameters: we are based at Waterford Institute of Technology and staying in dorms there. I will have my own room and bathroom with pretty good storage for clothes but not many convenient places to put things in the bathroom. Irish summer weather ranges from warmish (mid-70s Fahrenheit/low 20s Celsius) to chilly with rain almost always possible. We will be in a tour bus about every other day and have only one occasion in five weeks that will call for a dressy outfit. WIT has laundry service (magical) for €8 per load. Ireland uses 220V electricity and the same enormous-looking plugs as the UK. I am flying Delta which allows one checked bag free of charge on international flights with a weight limit of 50 pounds, plus one carry-on and one “personal item.”

And here’s what I’m taking/how I’m arranging it. Click on the pictures to embiggen* them.

All you REALLY need on a trip: money and ID! (I am taking cards as well, obviously, just not showing them to the Internet.)

 

Carry-on toiletries. The little pink box is a contact lens case.

 

Electronics:
Tablet, camera, headphones, card reader, portable charger, watch (which I’ll wear), outlet adapters (Not pictured: my phone, because I used it to take the photos, and the chargers for the phone and watch, because I have to use them tonight).

It’s hard to photograph a fully loaded backpack! My tablet, some paperwork, one spare outfit, carry-on toiletries, passport, wallet, phone, and Duke ride in here. This backpack is my carry-on and my overnight bag for our Dublin and Kerry visits.

The backpack has a pocket for a portable charger with an integrated USB cable and port so I can place my charger inside the backpack, plug the cable in, and charge my phone with my backpack. Neat trick!

Front pocket: toothbrush, wipes, tissues, floss, deodorant, lens case, headphones, wallet, pen.

Outermost pocket: clear bag of carry-on liquids; passport

Pro tip: Don’t take your clear bag of liquids out of your carry-on unless the TSA agents are asking everyone to do so. As often as not, you won’t be asked, and that’s one less thing to fiddle with as you go through the security checkpoint.

Pro tip #2: If you travel more than a couple times a year, consider applying for TSA Pre-Check. You get to go through a dedicated security line without removing your shoes or taking your liquids and computer out of your bag.

My suitcase: 26″ x 18.5″ x 10″ (66cm x 47cm x 25cm). 5.5 lbs. (2.5kg) empty. It’s a Samsonite I got on clearance at Walmart and it has served me well.

Slippers are in my carry-on; black sneakers will be on my feet; the wingtips, running shoes, and flip-flops go in the suitcase.

I’m taking a total of 4 pants, 6 t-shirts/tank tops, 3 button-down shirts, 2 long-sleeve t-shirts.

As you can see, I have a defined color palette. I’d like to say that’s for convenience of mixing and matching clothes when traveling, but in fact I pretty much wear these colors all the time at home too.

Plus a small amount of workout clothes, 2 pullover sweaters, and my Waterford pullover.

The Waterford pullover is a souvenir from my training visit to Waterford in 2016. I have worn it a ton both here and in Ireland, where it caused me to be mistaken for an Irish person last year at the Guinness Storehouse. The only other person I’ve seen wearing one was a 12-year-old girl.

Travel yoga mat (new experiment for this year) and additional toiletries. Celestial Seasonings tin full of OTC meds, because I am my mother’s daughter.

Dr. Laura Trenchcoat rides again. Orla Kiely (Irish designer!) cross-body bag.

All in! Contact lens solution is the only full-size toiletry item I take along instead of buying on-site. Camera in its padded bag is in top middle of the suitcase.

Special thanks to Vicki for the packing cubes! Anything you don’t see in the photo is already cubed up and tucked away. A lady doesn’t show her underwear on the Internet, after all.

Pro tip #3: Tucked away on the side are two washcloths. European lodgings generally don’t provide washcloths, so bring your own.

That’s everything except a couple of small items I have to use tonight, e.g., my eyeglasses, which will go in my carry-on. Oh, and I am taking a pashmina-type shawl/scarf and a neck pillow with a Velcro strap to attach to my backpack.

Moment of truth: 35 pounds (16kg).

I usually come in under 30 lbs. on the outbound trip, so 35 pounds is making me nervous! My exercise gear accounts for the additional weight. Hoping to run in the mornings and/or do a little yoga at night. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll leave those things out next year. My favorite part of packing is that there’s always another chance to perfect my system.

Tune in later this week for updates from the Emerald Isle!

*It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

Buongiorno Siena: All’s well that ends well

It’s 8:40 p.m. in Siena where I am ensconced in my hotel after a big day. Or day and a half? I left Atlanta at 4:30 p.m. EDT yesterday (Monday) afternoon, landed in Paris at 6:00 CET (Central European Time) this morning (Tuesday), missed my connection to Florence and had to be rebooked, and finally made it to Florence at 11:30 a.m. only to discover that my suitcase did not make the trip to Florence along with me. At least I feel validated in my decision to put a change of clothes in my carry-on!

I had to file a claim at the Florence airport for the suitcase, which will hopefully be delivered tomorrow. After that was done, I met up with Dr. Jim Anderson (former Director of International Education at Armstrong State University, now consultant to the Dante Alighieri Institute here in Florence) and Dr. Dorothée Mertz-Weigel (Director of International Education at Georgia Southern University) for the drive from Florence to Siena. We dropped off our stuff at the hotel, where we were met by Luca Bonomi and Sonia di Centa from the Dante Alighieri Institute, and headed straight to lunch at a small restaurant that Luca knows. Need I specify that the food was delicious? I had “pici”–sort of fat spaghetti with a garlic tomato sauce–and shared in the antipasti ordered for the table: bruschetta (always good; extra good when made with super-fresh olive oil), and wedges of aged Pecorino Romano drizzled with honey and a little pepper (you should eat this right now!). I’m so glad the meal ended with a double espresso or I’d have needed a nap right then and there.

Instead of a nap (remember: no naps on your first day in Europe!), we walked over to the Piazza Publico (public square), popularly called “el Campo,” and toured the city museum. I am glad I am already learning at least a tiny bit about this city’s history, but there’s so much more to learn. Italy is a young country but an old culture, which is interesting: the museum is housed in a building that’s over 600 years old and features 14th-century frescoes but also contains a room from the 19th century celebrating Italy’s unification. I took some pictures:

This building houses the city museum. Tomorrow I will work on finding out what it’s called.

Here’s Luca telling us about the 15th-century fresco depicting an allegory of good government.

Another 15C fresco–Mary and Jesus surrounded by saints as Mary gives a message to the city of Siena.

I photographed this espresso machine so that my espresso machine would have something to aspire to.

In the late afternoon we met for an hour with the 7 students from Georgia Southern who are spending their spring semester here. They were fantastic! Meeting students is always my favorite part of these visits. It’s clear that this group has become expert travelers and gained a lot of confidence and self-awareness by participating in this program. I am looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow evening when we get to join in their cooking class and then eat dinner (i.e., the dinner we will have cooked) with them.

This year’s students with Dr. Jim Anderson

By the time we were done with the students it was too early for dinner by Italian standards, and we’d had a late lunch, so we ended the day with a glass of wine and some appetizers at a patio bar on the Campo. We discussed the 2019 program a little bit this afternoon and evening  but tomorrow we’ll be meeting with Luca and Sonia to really start working out details. Luca is also going to tell us more about the contrade (the neighborhoods that form individual cultural identities within Siena) and take us to the museum celebrating his contrada, Tower. I do not quite understand the contrada phenomenon yet, so tune in tomorrow.

More soon–hoping to do some more Facebook Live or an Instagram video during the cooking class. Everybody hold a good thought for the arrival of my suitcase, please!

Packing For Italy

My friends and students know that I am obsessed with packing and that I am a member of what one student memorably called “the elitist culture of packing light.” Guilty as charged. I like to spend as little time and effort as possible on moving my stuff around during a trip–and I definitely do not want to spend actual money on overweight luggage fees or on checking extra bags. I’m always trying to see how little I can bring and not go crazy or feel deprived. On study abroad programs where I’ll be at the destination for several weeks and can wash clothes and buy toiletries, it’s surprisingly easy to pack light. Shorter trips are paradoxically more challenging. This trip to Italy will be a bare 7 days (leaving Monday, returning Sunday, only 5 full days in country) but I still have to wash my hair and wear pajamas and put my contact lenses in every day–and it’s not yet really warm weather there (or here), so I need layers. In addition to basic stuff (socks, underwear, PJs), I am taking:

  • 1 pair of grey jeans and 1 pair of black dress pants
  • 4 long-sleeve pullover tops: grey, red, black, and black & white stripe
  • 2 sweaters (black, red)
  • 1 button-front shirt (black with a flower print)
  • 1 pair of Clarks oxfords
  • 1 scarf
  • London Fog trench coat
  • Basic toiletries, especially contact lens solution, which I always bring from home–it’s expensive in other countries and sometimes you can only get it from pharmacies.

All of the above except the trench coat is in my suitcase–packing cubes courtesy of my bestie Vicki (thank you, Twinky!). The cubes are not strictly necessary in such a small suitcase but it was my first chance to try them out!

 

The suitcase is carry-on size but I’m going to check it.

My Orla Kiely cross-body purse is going inside the suitcase but I’ll carry it once I get there. Inside the backpack will be my computer, Bullet Journal, guidebook, phone, headphones, passport, wallet, glasses, toiletries for the flight (face wipes, lip balm, lotion, toothbrush & paste, deodorant), makeup, and a change of clothes in case my suitcase is lost.

[Confession: on a nonstop flight I usually don’t bother with the extra clothes in the carry-on, but on this trip I have to change planes. The few times I’ve lost a suitcase it’s been in this type of situation.]

On the plane I’ll be wearing blue jeans, a black sweater over a white long-sleeve top, a scarf or pashmina, and my Skechers sneakers. Obviously I’ll end up wearing all my pants and sweaters and one or two of the tops more than once. A nice thing about Europeans is that they’re much more blasé than Americans about re-wearing clothes, even on consecutive days and even in professional situations. I am taking a small bottle of Febreze in case anything needs freshening up.

As I’m writing I’m realizing I still need to throw in an umbrella, my travel slippers (packing light is well and good but I have never regretted having something to put on my feet in my room at night), and 3 different electronics chargers. But then I’ll be ready to go!

Finishing up packing for a trip is a good time to remind ourselves that all we really need is a passport and a credit card. Keep your passport close at hand and don’t forget to call your bank to tell them you’ll be traveling internationally.

27 May 2017: Knights Impact sailing for home

I can’t believe it’s almost over! Today has been a mellow day—luckily, because tomorrow morning will be a bit of a rush. We had Fathom cohort meetings in the morning where we learned about the total impact of our activities this past week and the overall total since Fathom started sailing last April. That was exciting. It’s easy to feel like one person can only do so much, but seeing the totals tells you that the effect of all those small individual efforts is cumulative in a powerful way. The only big question mark is the future of Fathom.

My students had lots of comments and opinions about Fathom’s marketing and decision-making when we got together for our final MGA cohort meeting just a couple of hours ago. I had prepared some traditional reflection questions—“what did you learn,” etc.—and got good answers to those, as expected, but also a more freewheeling discussion. Students know other students; they understand how to reach their peers and what’s needed to create student buy-in. They gave me detailed feedback about where they felt Fathom had fallen short and about what I and my colleagues could do to keep Knights Impact successful and growing. I have my marching orders for the fall semester for sure!

As for the impact travel experience, they were most impressed by the openness and welcoming attitude of the Dominican people. That topic came up over and over again in our discussion. Yesterday I told someone I met (a faculty member at another university) that I like to have a grand unifying theory of everything. My grand unifying theory about my students’ experience in the DR is that it’s all too easy to fear and mistrust the wider world. Because so many of them are working hard and spreading themselves thin to meet daily needs and advance their goals, having resources (of any kind) left over to extend to others can be difficult. And because Americans do tend to be very private (at least by Dominican standards), it’s unsurprising that they’d assume everyone is similar. As a private person, I was hesitant to enter strangers’ homes, not because I was afraid but because doing so felt disrespectful. I tried not to gawk around, take tons of pictures, or wander from room to room uninvited. Some of my fellow travelers did not share that approach; some also (I learned from the students today) were frank to the point of insult about the neighborhoods where we were working in Puerto Plata—that is, the word “ghetto” was used. One student said she’d never have gone into those neighborhoods if she’d had to decide to do so based on the feedback from some of the people we talked to. But the residents were willing to invite us in, let us use their bathrooms, share the fruit they’d grown, and work next to us (Fathom value: alongsidedness!) to improve their lives. And luckily my student is methodical about trying everything for herself and making up her own mind. I am glad they are learning about the diversity of the world and, just as importantly, about its openness. Learning to be careful is good but it can turn into a kind of paranoia if you are constantly told to be careful but never exposed to anything new to be careful about. Finding out firsthand that it is possible to be too careful, then, is a great lesson.

At the end of the meeting, the students were sweet enough to thank me for organizing the program and giving them the opportunity, but I told them to give themselves the credit. I’m an experienced traveler now; I grew up believing that travel was possible and desirable for me; I flew on a plane for the first time at 9 months, spent 3 weeks away from home when I was 13 and loved it, and went overseas for the first time at 22. I didn’t go through what some of them are going through now, getting their first taste of travel after (in some cases) nearly 3 decades of life and a background that never encouraged them to go far from home. Just boarding the ship is a breakthrough for them in a way that no travel has ever quite been for me.

The end of our meeting signaled the end of our official activities. The students probably went off for an afternoon beverage and I am having a “mango fizz” (mango juice, ginger ale, lime, and mint: delicious, try one) in my favorite spot, the Crow’s Nest. I need to pack my bag but I’m waiting till after dinner when my cabin will be cooler.

By this time tomorrow we will be almost back to Macon. Is it possible?

 

26 May 2017: Knights Impact goes to RePapel; departure from Amber Cove

Today was not an easy day. My group did the recycled paper activity at RePapel this morning: we were the last Fathom group to do so, because Fathom is disbanding (as is widely known) and RePapel is closing. When I was here in January, one of the NGO liaisons expressed worry about RePapel as being the project that would be most difficult to continue in Fathom’s absence. But I kept hoping something would come through to save it. It’s genuinely hard to think about: we will go home and go on with our regular middle-class lives but for the women who had come to rely on RePapel for employment and income, the future is bound to be uncertain. I have to admit that I always took the full-throated cheer and warm welcome of the RePapel ladies with a grain of salt. Was it genuine or were they putting on a show for us tourists? I still wonder a little but today it dawned on me that they got to come to work every day and feel special and valuable as well as useful and productive. There aren’t many jobs for women in Puerto Plata other than in the tourism industry, which requires more education than these women probably have, as well as access to transportation and child care. So RePapel was filling a gap on several levels. They really tried to put on a brave face for us, and it almost worked. At the end of our morning there—we made paper, smoothed dried sheets, rolled beads out of recycled magazines, and made jewelry out of our beads—Juanita, the most loud and cheerful of the group, led everyone in singing and dancing to “La Bamba” as they always do, and then the ladies sang another song that I recognized but couldn’t identify. All of a sudden I noticed that Altagracia, the quiet but smiling woman I remembered from last time, was crying, and then I was crying too. Most of us cried before we left. I hugged Altagracia and even though I know she didn’t understand me, I said “Don’t cry! You’re making me cry!” And now we are on the ship and the ladies are…who knows?

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Jasmine put a smile on for paper-making even though she does not like mornings.

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Jamia lifting out a fresh sheet of paper

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Stevanie and Garrett smoothing the sheets

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Juanita (white outfit & headband) leads the singing and dancing

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Garrett is getting into the groove

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One last song

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Me & Altagracia!

We did have an experience this afternoon that put a little balm on the pain of departure. Early in the week, the Fathom executives on board had mentioned that they wanted to meet with the university groups on board (Tuskeegee U. has 14 students here in addition to our 24). The idea disappeared after that initial mention and I assumed it wouldn’t happen after all. But in today’s Soundings appeared an invitation to an open meeting for all university students and educators. The meeting was led by Katie Dow—I think her title is “Fathom experience manager”—and a recent college grad turned impact guide, Paige. Middle Georgia State University showed up in force and I have rarely been prouder. The students got emotional as they talked about their experiences and how valuable this program has been to them. It was so validating of our work in offering the program but equally, it spoke well of their sincerity and open-heartedness in approaching the activities. I am excited for my last meeting with them tomorrow when I will ask them to talk about what they learned; I’m expecting some excellent reflections. I also met my counterpart from Tuskeegee and it is a little funny how similar we are professionally: both Associate Professors of English who have been Directors of International Programs for 2 years as one-person offices. She is eager to collaborate with MGA, which is awesome. So it’s not clear right now what will happen to the “Fathom experience” but it’s clear that Carnival Plc is not planning to abandon it. I’m still hopeful that it will evolve into something that can continue to be as transformative to future groups of students as this week has been to our current group.

So now we are sailing; everyone made it back on the ship on time and did not have their names called in the Roll Call of Shame before departure. The program is winding down. Tomorrow we have Fathom cohort meetings in the morning and meetings with our MGA cohorts in the afternoon. By voice vote my cohort decided they’d rather have a midafternoon meeting and then be at liberty till we disembark Sunday morning. A few people’s thoughts are turning toward home but I think most of us are determined to live in this moment a while longer.

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I was there!

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Still my favorite ship

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Casting off the lines

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Adios, Amber Cove

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Sailing away

25 May 2017: Knights Impact does Concrete Floors & Caribbean Culture

As promised, today was a big day! My cohort had wanted to do the “Concrete Floors in Community Homes” activity as a group but it filled up quickly. By chance, I was the only one who got a spot in it. So at 8:00 this morning I was back in my grubby clothes from Reforestation and rolling out on the bus toward a tiny neighborhood called San Marcos. To reach San Marcos we had to get off the bus on the side of the highway, more or less, and cross a swaying wooden footbridge to reach a dirt road lined with at most a dozen houses. We were working in 3 houses: two that had just one room each needing a floor, and a third that was getting concrete put in throughout the house. I ended up working in the third house. The facilitators introduced us to the owners of the houses, who were incredibly nice but a bit shy. One facilitator mentioned that San Marcos had never had such large groups of visitors before. I am sure they did not know what to make of us. But the owner of the house I worked in warmed up enough to want to show me a picture of his family on the wall, as well as the pigs he was raising in the back yard. I asked the facilitator how people in San Marcos provide for themselves and she said they might work in town but they also raise their own livestock, fruits, and vegetables. We saw cows, chickens, ducks, and a donkey during our morning there as well as the pigs.

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We got organized into a bucket brigade pretty quickly while a few volunteers mixed and shoveled the concrete in the middle of the dirt road (N. B.: This arrangement requires work to halt briefly when cows are coming through). Full buckets went in, empty buckets went out, and the few professional construction workers on the site spread and leveled the concrete as well as adding a layer of colored pigment over the smoothed concrete. This gentleman will have a great-looking yellow floor—in fact, probably already has it, by now, because another group was coming through in the afternoon to complete the work that we did not have time to finish. It was hard work passing the buckets and I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it is really rewarding to think that in just one day we hugely improved someone’s quality of life. Imagine how hard it would be to clean up after a flood—flooding happens here, and San Marcos is right up against a river—if you had dirt floors in your house. For that matter, how much harder is it to keep a clean house from day to day if floors are dirt? All the owners were very pleased as well as a little disbelieving. One woman said she didn’t believe she was really getting a concrete floor until the supplies started showing up. She said that politicians sometimes come to their neighborhood and make promises, and then nothing ever happens. That touched me as much as anything because I pride myself on living up to what I say I’m going to do. I’d like to meet the politician who could make an empty promise to a soft-spoken woman and her baby daughter living in a cinderblock house with a dirt floor—but that politician probably doesn’t want to meet me.

One downside to doing concrete floors is that one gets incredibly dirty. 50% sweat, 50% concrete smudges, and I even got some yellow coloring powder on the strap of my bag. Luckily I had time to shower, change, and eat lunch before reporting back to Amber Cove to leave for the Caribbean Culture tour. True confession about Caribbean Culture: when I did it in January I enjoyed it, but felt like the tour guide’s talk was not as in-depth as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, I recommended it to my students as the cultural activity for our group because it offered the most cultural/historical content in a fairly short timeframe. I ended up glad I stuck with it because we had an excellent tour guide today (shout out to Mr. Oscar Rodriguez!): funny, knowledgeable, open to questions, obviously enjoyed his work. We went to the San Felipe Fortress first but cut that a bit short because it was incredibly windy (the fort is right on the coast). I kept having to hold my dress down because I’m not ready for Puerto Plata to know me quite that well yet. Second stop was the town square and San Felipe cathedral, which I love. It came back to me in a flash that the last time I was here, the Christmas decorations were still up. We drank coconut water, bought souvenirs, and got to see a cigar-making demonstration (fun cigar fact: some of the best cigar wrapper leaves come from Connecticut). Then the last stop was at the gorgeous botanical garden owned by Rafy Vasquez, a Dominican-born, Canadian-educated artist whose family has owned his property for three generations. It was great to see everything again and hear about it from Oscar, who was agreeably critical of (1) Catholicism as a state religion, (2) people’s misunderstandings about voodoo, (3) Christopher Columbus, (4) corrupt bureaucracy, (5) Dominican drivers.

(N. B.: My experience suggests that sensible people in general should be critical of Dominican drivers.)

On the way back to the port we drove along Ocean View Avenue, known locally as the Malecon. Oscar called an audible and let us stop for pictures of the statue of Neptune that stands on a rock out in the water. That was cool enough, but the sunset was incredible and the beach is gorgeous. I almost didn’t get out and now I’m really glad I did.

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Puerto Plata central square–Plaza Independencia

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San Felipe Cathedral

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Fresh coconut water

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Last time I saw this gazebo it had Christmas lights on it.

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Look closely. Ice cream shop takes Bitcoin?

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Cigar-rolling demonstration

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Fort San Felipe

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Students at the fort

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Outside the fort (inside the bus)

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DR’s flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it.

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Sunset at the beach

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

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Students on the beach

 

Now it is after 10 p.m. and I am waiting on my laundry to dry while watching a Top Gear episode before bed. Tomorrow is our last activity; we sail around noon. Our time here goes so fast. I shed a few tears when we sailed away last time and I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow.

22¬-23 May 2017: Knights Impact At Sea & Arrival in the Dominican Republic

Yesterday on the ship flew by—or maybe sailed by? I started the day both yesterday and today meeting with my group of 9 students, who heroically got up on time for our 8:30 meeting both days. We followed that by meeting with our designated Fathom cohorts—a great experience for the students because they got to meet other people on the ship. There are people on board from all over and the students were particularly amazed by the variety of ages, nationalities, and professions. One student reported excitedly that she’d met a couple who were both doctors—a nephrologist and a pulmonologist. One of the highlights for me of leading these programs with students is that I never know what they’re going to find interesting or noteworthy. They started learning before we ever left home that the world—and even just the ship—is much more diverse than they realized.

In the afternoons we attended a training session on “creating retellable stories” (yesterday) and one on visual storytelling (today). Both had in common an emphasis on emotional impact. We learned a few simple guidelines that will make it easier to tell better stories and take better pictures. I always think it’s worth going to an hour-long session if I walk away with just one or two things I can remember and apply. Both of these sessions fit the bill; plus I got a free copy of the storytelling trainer’s book. Yay, swag!

Last night’s dinner in the Pacific Restaurant was more animated than Sunday’s as everyone is getting to know each other a little better and shaking off the fatigue of the trip to Miami. We had one student who got badly seasick Sunday night but was feeling better by noon yesterday. Everyone was happy to see her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dinner, although she did say she’d decided that cruise travel was not for her. In fact, most agreed they were ready to get off the ship and get into the next phase of the program. Incidentally, that student’s roommate is a hero for looking out for her when she was ill. Another upside to these programs is seeing the relationships that form among the students and how they look out for each other. They are so generous and compassionate and it’s great to see.

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(Fancy food from Pacific!)

Those who were tired of the ship last night only had a few more hours to wait as we arrived at Amber Cove around 11:00 this morning and they started letting people off at noon. Amber Cove is just as I left it; I even recognize a couple of the wait staff in Coco Caña (the poolside restaurant/bar). Only the weather is a little different: today it’s a little overcast and hazy, which I did not expect. But neither am I complaining. A bit of cloud cover keeps the heat down, even if there is still plenty of heat to go around. I have the afternoon “off” (i.e. I am catching up on email and blogging) and might even catch a little pool time while the sun is not absolutely blazing.

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Duke loves the ocean!

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Sunset at sea

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Amber Cove

21 May 2017: Knights Impact departure day

Today is the day! Last fall, my colleague Dr. John Girard first told me and Prof. Chris Tsavatewa about Fathom Impact Travel and the prospect of taking students on an international service-learning experience in the Dominican Republic. In January, I traveled with the Girards, Prof. T., and Drs. Keith and Melinda Moffett aboard the Fathom Adonia to explore the possibility firsthand. Today, 24 Middle Georgia State University students boarded Adonia to become the inaugural Knights Impact participants.

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Enjoying the Sail Away party

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Miami

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My favorite ship!

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Bye bye, USA!

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As I write we’ve been sailing for about 45 minutes, leaving PortMiami behind. I drove to Miami yesterday with Sheron Smith from Marketing & Communications. She will be documenting our activities to share with the university and the community. We arrived at the port at about 11:45 along with 6 students who had stayed at the same hotel we did. Yesterday, 4 of those 6 actually passed us on the highway and we all waved to each other. That was the highlight of our driving day! The highlight of today was seeing the last student through the check-in line and onto the ship. Departure day is challenging because so many things could go wrong: car trouble, flight delays, miscommunication…. The travel gods smiled and there were only a couple of minor hiccups.

We boarded with time to spare, everyone got lunch, and we were allowed into our cabins by about 2:00. I have an amazing cabin on this sailing: it’s a balcony cabin right on the front of the ship. So this is my view right now:IMG_7701

Not for the first time I have to say that as a work assignment, this is just not terrible.

I walked around the ship after lunch checking that everything was where I left it and taking some pictures for our social media. Only a few students have been up on deck this afternoon. I suspect many of them left for Miami in the wee small hours and have been taking a much-deserved nap. I’m eager to see everyone at dinner and find out their impressions so far. Now that everyone is safely on board I am excited too. It’s gratifying to see this project come to fruition. Hopefully this group will be the first of many, although after this time we will have to change to a different ship and itinerary. Fathom is changing its structure and the Adonia will no longer be doing dedicated impact travel cruises. That’s disappointing because this program is so good—and I really dig this ship! But we already have some plans for the next iteration. And because this is the last sailing to the DR, there is some extra excitement on board. The positive definitely outweighs the negative.

Almost time to get ready for dinner. We have to take a group picture this evening in our MGA shirts. I hope I do not look too sunburned and windblown from standing on the deck as we sailed away.