Knights Impact exploratory trip day 6: Departure from Amber Cove—6 January 2017

This is a sad day, friends. The Dominican Republic is behind me (for now). I am looking forward to getting home—and I’m already happy to be back on the open ocean—but it was surprisingly hard to leave Amber Cove this afternoon.

Most of my colleagues either had impact activities this morning or went out on their own. I was feeling too nervous about getting back to the ship on time as we’d been told very sternly that they would take up the gangway at 11:45. So I limited my adventuring to Amber Cove: cappuccino at El Cibao, people-watching by the pool, picking out souvenirs for Daniel, and studying today’s neighbor, the Carnival Pride. At lunchtime I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who was very surprised I’d never cruised before. “I thought everyone had been on a cruise by now,” he said. “Well, now I have,” I told him. He confirmed something I suspected: that the Adonia is enjoyable in part because it actually feels like a ship. As he put it, the larger ships like the Pride feel like New York hotels. I can only imagine! I’ve also learned that it’s unusual for ships to stay in port for more than one night, or two at the most. Our neighbor yesterday arrived around 10 a.m. and was sailing away by 6:30 p.m. The Pride arrived at 7:00 and people were already getting back on board by the time we sailed (although they may just have been going back for lunch).

As it happened, our sailing was delayed about 90 minutes due to a medical emergency. I’m not sure exactly what happened but a passenger was evaluated by the ship’s doctors and they decided to admit him to hospital in Puerto Plata rather than having him sail back with us. An ambulance sat on the dock for quite a while and finally left followed by a security cart with the passenger’s luggage. I hope he is okay.  That’s a daunting prospect but I know the medical care on the ship is pretty comprehensive, so the problem must have been serious if they couldn’t treat it on board.

As soon as the ambulance pulled away, the gangway was removed and the signal given to undo the ropes that tied us to the dock. We moved away backwards—I was not entirely sure ships could back up, but neither did I think a tugboat could budge us—and everyone waved goodbye to the Pride passengers, the employees on the dock, and Amber Cove. I watched our departure from my balcony and probably got more sunburned doing that than I have on any of the impact activities! Once we got beyond the cove we turned (slightly weird feeling) and were off into the Atlantic, still on course for an on-time arrival in Miami on Sunday morning. I’d like to say I immediately headed to an educational and enlightening activity but in fact I took a nap!

Tonight we meet with Katie, Fathom’s programming manager, to discuss the student program in May. I’ve been working on and off all day on the program documentation and I am increasingly excited to start promoting everything to students while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Blog break for now. The computer screen in front of me and the ocean out the window to my right are getting my inner ear a little confused.


. . . Back after dinner with a steadier head now that we’ve been sailing a bit longer. Our meeting with Katie was excellent. She gave us some good suggestions about how to structure our program so that it meshes well with Fathom’s setup and about the best ways to get specific requests fulfilled. I’m sure we’ll be in constant contact with Fathom for the next couple of months as we finalize everything. Meanwhile we already have our disembarkation instructions for Sunday morning. Because we arrive into port so early, we have to put our luggage out for pickup tomorrow evening by 9 p.m. at the latest. Then we disembark in groups. Our group goes at 10:00 a.m., then we get the shuttle van back to our parking lot and on to Macon. Tomorrow we’ll attend a last activity or two and spend the rest of the day completing the program documentation so that we are ready to start promotions with a splash on Monday.

Speaking of a splash, I took pictures in Amber Cove and of our departure this afternoon:

I sit in the cheap seats at the pool!

I sit in the cheap seats at the pool!

I'm pretty proud of this photo.

I’m pretty proud of this photo.

 

Getting that last bit of pool time.

Getting that last bit of pool time.

Casting off lines...

Casting off lines…

Adios to the pilot and we are out to sea!

Adios to the pilot and we are out to sea!

The view from my balcony as we sailed.

The view from my balcony as we sailed.

Part of Amber Cove from the port side observation deck.

Part of Amber Cove from the port side observation deck.

How to slack off when you work on a ship--this Carnival Pride employee found a hiding place.

How to slack off when you work on a ship–this Carnival Pride employee found a hiding place.

From the starboard side observation deck while still in port.

From the starboard side observation deck while still in port.

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 5: Cultural excursion—5 January 2017

I spent the morning today in Amber Cove working on the program documentation and inflicting my Spanish on innocent Dominicans who deserve better. One drawback of this type of travel is that it isn’t an immersive language experience unless you go out of your way to make it more immersive. But I figured out that if I told the Dominican employees at Amber Cove (and elsewhere) that I was practicing my Spanish, they would help me by speaking Spanish to me, slowing down, and also seeing when I didn’t understand and going back to English. As always, people are grateful when we make even a small effort to speak their language. Today I learned how to say “I am learning” (Estoy aprendida) and I learned what rum that isn’t white is called: dorado (golden). I figured café (brown) couldn’t possibly be right! I also learned the word for “ice cubes” but I have forgotten it. Luckily I rarely use ice cubes, so no great loss. Most of all I am proud of myself for successfully asking “Do you have an espresso machine?” which is an important inquiry to be able to make. Tienes una maquina de espresso? (Note to self: learn how to type the upside-down question mark before a sentence and learn what it is called.)

My afternoon today was the “Caribbean Culture” excursion, a visit to a few important sites in Puerto Plata with a guide who taught us some basic cultural and historical information along the way. We began in the town square, which features some Victorian architecture, a cathedral, and statues of two heroes from Dominican history, Juan Pablo Duarte and General Gregorio Luperon. Facing the square is the bright-yellow Neoclassical-style town hall featuring the arms of the city. On the coat of arms appear an F and a Y for Ferdinand and Isabella, a reference to this island’s history as a Spanish colony.

The gazebo in the town square

The gazebo in the town square

The city hall

The city hall

The square from across the street

The square from across the street

The cathedral, San Felipe, is of course vastly different from the elaborate stone edifices seen in Europe but it fits the architecture of the square and the reality of the climate. Our guide mentioned that the cathedral was restored and improved most recently in 2010, including the addition of air conditioning for Sundays when everyone comes to Mass. Today, a Thursday, the A/C was off and the windows and doors were wide open. I did not get to follow my usual practice of lighting a candle at the Sacred Heart shrine (I am not Catholic but I have cultivated a habit of doing this when I visit cathedrals) because this cathedral did not have candles available in exchange for donations. BYOC: Bring Your Own Candle. I will know for next time and proceed accordingly.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Sacred Heart altar

Sacred Heart altar

Leaving the square we crossed the street to a vendor’s cart; he had fresh coconuts, a machete, and straws and we all got to have fresh coconut water. That was a minor revelation to me: I have had packaged coconut water a few times and don’t care for it because it always tastes, well, packaged. This coconut water had a very mild taste that combined sweetness and a sort of vegetable freshness. I enjoyed it and am convinced that it helped keep me from getting dehydrated during the tour.

Intimidatingly large!

Intimidatingly large!

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Next step: souvenirs! We visited a large souvenir shop that was about 1/3 jewelry made from amber and larimar. The DR produces a lot of amber and they are very proud of their amber production. We learned that real amber will float in saltwater whereas fake amber will sink. Good to know, right? Larimar is a blue stone that is apparently found only in the DR. I had never heard of it but had noticed it even in the gift shops here on the ship. It is pale blue to deep aqua blue veined with white and the story goes that the person who discovered it named it for his daughter’s name plus “mar” for the sea. To me it really does look like some of the colors I saw in the water as the ship was sailing along.

With souvenirs in hand we went on to Fort San Felipe. The fort is on the coast and was built in the 16th century to protect the entrance to the city and its sugar refineries. It was also used in the 19th century as a jail and Juan Pablo Duarte was imprisoned there at one time. I was struck by how broadly similar the construction was to that of William the Conqueror’s castle in Normandy and Cahir Castle in Ireland, though those structures are not really close chronologically. Maybe there are only so many ways to build a fort if you’re a European? One room inside the fort held a series of placards announcing “firsts” in the Americas that belong to the Dominican Republic: first cities to be awarded a coat of arms, first book written in Castilian, first university. One could argue that those firsts are problematic as they all belong to the country’s Spanish colonial background, but it’s clear that the country is proud of them.

Fort San Felipe

Fort San Felipe

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

The final stop was a fascinating place called Mares that houses a restaurant, art gallery, gift shop, and a small botanical garden growing beautiful orchids. After a few days’ exposure to more disadvantaged areas it was interesting to see that there is more economic diversity in Puerto Plata than I realized—the area around Mares is more residential and established, with paved streets and larger houses. And after a warm day and a fair amount of walking and looking, it was nice to spend some time in this unexpected oasis. We had fresh fruit and chips with fresh salsa between photographing the orchids and chatting with the artist whose work was on display. It was a pleasant way to end the day.

Inside the botanical garden

Inside the botanical garden

Our route back to Amber Cove took us along a 7-kilometer stretch of beach and past a statue of Neptune that stands on a small island offshore. It also took us through a gas station and past a tire shop because our bus had a tire that was leaking air. Not to worry, though: we got back with no problem in time to have dinner and talk about our adventures. Tomorrow the ship sails at noon and I can’t believe this adventure is nearly over.

One final note: today I tore one of my contact lenses as I was cleaning them! In thirty years wearing lenses this is only the second time I’ve torn a lens. Because I never tear lenses and I was only going to be gone a week, I did not bring an extra pair. To my chagrin I am stuck wearing my battered 8-year-old glasses for the rest of the trip. Be prepared, dear readers! Bring the extra lenses!

Don't let this happen to you!

Don’t let this happen to you!

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 4: Full day in the DR—4 January 2017

This morning I woke up because it got dark rather than because it was getting light: another, bigger cruise ship—Holland America’s Eurodam—docked next to us around 7:30 a.m. They were only here for the day and were gone en route to their next port of call by the time we returned from impact activities this afternoon. It seems like the Adonia’s function as a floating hotel in one place is comparatively rare. Must admit that I love sailing, but the ship in port just seems like a building. As the saying goes, safe in port is not what ships are for!

My colleagues had activities scheduled in both the morning and afternoon today but I had the morning free to work on the documentation for the Knights Impact program, answer a few emails, and inflict my Spanish on unsuspecting Amber Cove employees. At Café El Cibao I managed two entire, mostly correct exchanges with staff members and ended up with exactly what I wanted: a cappuccino and the wi-fi code. Unfortunately, El Cibao doesn’t allow people to connect laptops to their wi-fi, but Coco Cana (restaurant/bar next to the pool) does. At Coco Cana my Spanish was less successful: I could not learn from the waiter what the Spanish for “sparkling water” is, and I fear the problem is that I could not ask the question correctly. But I did get connected to their wi-fi in turn, so, yes, it was from a poolside bar that I posted the last three blog entries and will probably post this one tomorrow.

Today’s impact activity was an afternoon at a paper-recycling business called RePapel. RePapel is a small business that employs about a dozen women making two main products: handmade paper out of used paper from offices and classrooms, and jewelry made of paper beads rolled from magazine pages. The work not only provides income for the employees but also enables them to work close to home so that they can take care of their kids. Many women here are single mothers; the women at RePapel were previously working at a recycling business in a town over an hour away but now they can get their kids off to school in the morning, take a break at noon to fix them lunch, etc. Plus they are just really cool ladies: welcoming, friendly, enthusiastic to the point of rowdiness.

The activity was well organized so that we got to try out nearly everything RePapel does. I was particularly interested in the recycled paper since I teach about paper-making in History of Print. To begin the recycling process we hand-tore the used paper into small pieces, separating pieces with ink on them from pieces that are solid white. (Someone asked why they don’t use scissors: it’s because tearing the paper follows its existing grain and makes the pulp hold up better.) The pieces are washed in a regular top-loading washing machine for 15 minutes and then processed in a blender to create the pulp—these steps were the only ones we didn’t do. We then cast individual sheets of paper, roughly 8½ by 11, on a mould from tubs of pulp, turned them out on drying sheets, and laid them in a rack to dry.

Adding water to the washing machine to wash the paper scraps

Adding water to the washing machine to wash the paper scraps

Running the blender to make the pulp

Running the blender to make the pulp

Casting a sheet of green paper

Casting a sheet of green paper

The lovely Altagracia smiles while holding a paper mould

The lovely Altagracia smiles while holding a paper mould

I could probably have done just the paper-casting part for the whole visit but we had other tasks. The dried paper is bumpy from the wire mesh of the mould and has to be smoothed. In an industrial paper factory, metal rollers polish the paper smooth, but at RePapel we smoothed paper one sheet at a time by rubbing them with (get this) the bottoms of empty Avon roll-on deodorant bottles. I found out later that 2 of the RePapel employees are also Avon reps and they ask their customers to return the empty bottles when they finish them. Smoothing paper this way takes elbow grease but it works surprisingly well!

The whole time we were working on the steps of the recycling process, the RePapel employees were singing, chanting, laughing, teasing each other, and encouraging us. They were very sweet and patient as we made some pretty terrible-looking sheets of paper. One woman, Yolanda, led us all in a dance break while everybody sang “La Bamba.” There were hand motions involved: “Yo no soy marinero” [make waves with your hands], “Soy capitan” [shade your eyes with your hand as if peering out to sea]. It was fun for us and I hope it was fun for the employees too. Paper-making on this non-industrial scale is pretty hard and repetitious work so you might as well try to enjoy it.

After a break for snacks we traded places with the other half of our group to work on jewelry-making: winding wedge-shaped strips of magazine paper around a dowel to create beads and then, later, stringing the beads to make necklaces and bracelets. I must confess that I was terrible at making beads. In half an hour I might have made three good ones. I did, however, manage to pose an intelligible question in Spanish and understand most of the answer. The beads are very striking when well created (i.e., not by me). Magazine pages are colorful and winding the strips makes interesting patterns. I didn’t fare a lot better at making a necklace. Obviously I can string beads, but can I do it in a way anyone would want to look at, much less purchase? Answers on a postcard. Nevertheless, both activities were a lot of fun and we had good conversations while working on them. I met the Fathom employee who coordinates with the NGOs here in the Dominican Republic; he’s a Peace Corps returnee whose academic background is in economics, so he is well placed to work with organizations like RePapel who can benefit from microfinance, sponsorships, and the support of people like Fathom travelers. I also met one of the Adonia’s nurses—she was rotating off the ship and had never had a chance to try the activities, so she was doing them on her way out.

Once again the activity time seemed to go much too fast—if I have a quibble with this program it is that the whole thing is too short! Before leaving we had an opportunity to buy some of RePapel’s products; I bought a pair of paper-bead earrings that I am wearing even now, as well as a little set of recycled paper note cards stamped with designs of birds and flowers native to the DR. The cards are almost too pretty to use, I’m afraid! I should say here that I felt no pressure to buy anything. Both RePapel and Chocal (the chocolate cooperative that hosts another impact activity) sells the products that they make to the impact travelers but it’s not an awkward hard-sell situation, which frankly is nice. Then back on the bus toward Amber Cove we learned that as a group we made 205 sheets of paper today. Pretty good for a bunch of beginners! Will someone buy the necklace I made? The world may never know.

The narrow street that houses RePapel

The narrow street that houses RePapel

The exterior of RePapel

The exterior of RePapel

Tonight’s dinner was the scene of a lively discussion about the details of making this program available to students, because we’ll start recruiting as soon as we get back to our campuses on January 9 (just 5 days from now!). We are almost ready and really excited. I suspect the return trip to Miami will consist of nonstop meetings and conversations to get everything finalized. Bring it on!

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 3: Dominican Republic arrival and first impact activities—3 January 2017

This morning I woke up around 7:30 thinking I had lots of time, but the ship’s clocks had moved forward an hour overnight. I knew this change was happening but missed it because the time on my phone didn’t change till we got closer to the Dominican Republic and my phone connected to their cell network. So, note to self: adjust alarm accordingly before bed on day 2.

I did get ready and breakfasted in time for my second cohort meeting at 10:15, where we learned some basic history of the Dominican Republic, some cultural tips, and some general information about the area where we’d be traveling. The closest city is called Puerto Plata; the port is called Amber Cove and it belongs to the Carnival corporation on a long-term lease. The DR has a long history of conquest, revolution, and dictatorships and has only been holding free and fair elections for about 40 years if I remember correctly. As we were taking in these facts we were well in sight of land and sailing toward the port. It’s easy to see why so many people fought over this land for so long: the landscape is incredibly beautiful and lush. This is my first time in a tropical destination and I was completely blown away by the sight of it. By the time the cohort meeting was over, we were in port and allowed to disembark, so I ate lunch quickly and got right off the ship to take a walk around Amber Cove before my afternoon impact activity. Amber Cove is purely commercial and touristy, of course, since it was built to cater to cruise customers, but the shops are varied (local crafts, souvenirs, fine jewelry, a pharmacy, etc.) and the pool area is really pleasant with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. It’s also possible to rent private cabanas of various sizes as well as pool floats, zipline rides, paddleboards, and other good stuff. I spoke to a few of the shop employees and had a café worker explain to me in Spanish how to operate a particular coffee-making contraption that works like an upside-down Moka pot. I am proud to say I followed most of the explanation! I also learned to play a sort of 3-dimensional tic-tac-toe game—might go back and get one of those for my dad.

Adonia in port at Amber Cove

Adonia in port at Amber Cove

The pool area at Amber Cove

The pool area at Amber Cove

Soon it was time to board buses for our impact activities. My activity today was Community English: tutoring English learners one-on-one in their homes. About 20 of us went with our facilitator Danna to a neighborhood called Monte Rico and then split into smaller groups to go to particular houses depending on how many people would be there. Five of us went to one house and taught a group of about 7 kids ranging in age from 9 to 15. I wasn’t expecting kids in Community English since there is also an activity called “Student English” but learning a language is easier the earlier you start, so the youngest ones will have the greatest advantage. My student, Zoith, was a very smart girl of 9 who already knew the lesson material almost perfectly. We worked mostly on pronunciation and a few difficult words; she took notes and had me write down some words she didn’t know. I learned that she likes chicken, cake, and pizza, she drinks chocolate for breakfast, and her favorite color is the same as mine: red. At first I was not sure she liked me but after the lesson, when we were getting ready to leave, she went out of her way to come back to me and point out her father after he stopped to talk to her on his way home (in a big Toyota Tundra!). I think maybe we got along okay after all.

Zoith and me at the end of our English lesson

Zoith and me at the end of our English lesson

To be honest, this experience will take me some time to process. The environment in Monte Rico is like nothing I’ve ever seen: narrow, rocky dirt roads, stray animals roaming, motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) and lottery ticket counters and tiny barbershops and vegetable stands everywhere. It’s tempting to see nothing but poverty and disorder and be patronizing about it, but these people obviously care about each other, stick together, and are willing to welcome strangers into their homes week after week in hopes of improving their future. With some English they have a better chance of being able to work in the tourism industry, which is the DR’s largest. I’ve heard that there are particularly few jobs in Puerto Plata for women, and I noticed that everyone who came to our lesson today was female. So hopefully we helped create a little better future for girls in particular.

Along the way I discovered that my A2 Spanish level is a pretty good match for the A2 level of the Community English course and for prompting a 9-year-old. I’m definitely going to encourage our students to brush up their Spanish, because a little goes a really long way. Zoith had a hard time differentiating the pronunciations of soup and soap (probably in part because “soup” in Spanish is sopa) so I was really glad I could remember the Spanish word for “soap” and tell her soap is jabon and we don’t want to eat jabon.

We returned early since Monte Rico is not as far away as some of the Community English sites, so I had a little time to sit by the pool, relax, and think about all I saw today. It seems like the time we spent in Monte Rico went by in a blink; I wish I could go back and meet some other people. I did not take any pictures around the neighborhood because it seemed a little disrespectful—there were a lot of people around and I am very obviously a tourist. I’ll try my best to remember it all, summed up in this moment: A rooster walked in front of the house and I exclaimed “I saw a chicken!” Zoith, of course, looked completely unimpressed. Perspective is everything.

My student Zoith

My student Zoith

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 2: Sea Day—A full day of formative activities

I went to sleep with my curtains open and woke up around 6:30; the sky was just getting light and a ship was passing.

Ships passing in the night?

Ships passing in the night?

Got up, closed the curtains, went back to sleep and slept right through my alarm! Lesson 1: turn up the volume on your phone’s alarm because the background noise of the ship will drown it right out. Managed to be up, showered, and dressed for 9:30 a.m. yoga class but I was thwarted because the class was full! Lesson 2: Show up early if you want to do yoga. This is what I mean when I say travel is full of learning experiences. Instead of yoga I went to a basic Spanish class, which was fun. I learned to say “I am a vegetarian” (Soy vegetariana) and “Is there wi-fi?” (Hay wifi?) and “I like to buy shoes” (Me gusta comprar zapatos). I discovered that in 5 minutes I can write down 33 Spanish words that I know, but at least one of them will be wrong (“socks” is “calcetines,” not “calcinetes”). DULY NOTED.

My second stop was the initial meeting of my impact cohort with our impact guide. Fathom divides its travelers into small groups called “cohorts” to learn about impact travel and the history of the destination and then to discuss and reflect at the end of the program. We met our cohort mates and discussed the following questions:

  • What was the last time you were bold?
  • What is the most interesting fact about you?
  • What is the secret to happiness?

I met a great 14-year-old young man named Alex from Los Angeles who said that coming on this cruise, which he didn’t know much about, was his most recent boldness. He is very sporty and social and well spoken. I was impressed at his openness to the experience. His attitude set a tone for me by reminding me that we get out of our experiences what we put into them. The more you offer, the more you receive. The presentation went on with our impact guide Katie discussing Fathom’s values and goals. I learned a new word, eudaimonia, which means “human flourishing,” and which Fathom tries to develop in people by encouraging us to pursue our personal best, learn new skills and insights, and doing what we believe in. I love this idea and I think it’s a great way to talk about the different forms of growth that we achieve through different experiences.

Next stop: “Empowering English” training session to get ready for community English teaching tomorrow, which I am incredibly excited about. We learned about “language empathy”—how challenging and frustrating a language barrier is—and were reminded to be encouraging, outgoing, and (when necessary) silly in order to communicate with the people we’ll be tutoring. The trainer started the session by asking us to think of an animal and then represent that animal without using any words or sounds. So we all had to act like our chosen animals. I convincingly impersonated a cat and filed that information away for later use. We got to see the curriculum we’ll be using and learn about the situations in which we’ll be teaching (probably one-on-one in people’s homes). Still a little nervous about teaching someone English one-on-one but also really eager to try it.

After lunch with our group I went to one more session, called “The Story of You.” This workshop was focused on storytelling and how to tune up a personal story to create a more compelling and concise message. To a retired teacher named Anne I told a story from my study abroad program as a student; then I wrote an outline, noted details, and re-told the improved story to Andrea, an IT consultant. She told me a great story about quitting her job to start her own business; Anne told me a similarly compelling tale of learning that she did not (thank goodness) have pancreatic cancer but changing her life because it was suspected. The exercise required a good bit of work and thought but the results were impressive. More good evidence for the validity of the writing process and for the value of drafting and peer feedback. I could definitely see using this model to teach narrative writing in a composition class.

Finally I had time for a little nap, which was blissful. The motion of the ship makes for good sleeping! We reconvened for dinner in the Pacific Restaurant where I ate a delicious papaya salad with arugula, a cauliflower tikka, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I am trying not to go crazy eating a lot but it’s a challenge—the food is delicious. I have been really impressed by the veggie options so far; looking at my friends’ plates, the meats look great too. Lamb chops and chicken were both available tonight; last night there was steak; overall I can promise that you will not go hungry even if you are particular. I won’t name names but one of our group is a very picky eater and this person has been enjoying the meals too.

As I hustled to and fro today I took almost no pictures! Tomorrow we’ll dock in Amber Cove around noon (I think) and I will set off to Community English as soon as we leave the ship. Will definitely take pics tomorrow; in fact, I must remember to charge my camera tomorrow (just been using my phone so far). On tap tomorrow morning: yoga at 7:30, an introduction to the DR at 10:15, and then we start the next phase of this adventure.

Something new to geek out about: nautical flags!

Something new to geek out about: nautical flags!

Knights Impact exploratory trip, day 1: Boarding and Departure from Miami—1 January 2017

This has been a busy and full day! By the time you read this entry it may be a couple of days in the past. I haven’t yet decided about buying wi-fi, which is pricey on the ship. But for me, a big part of the excitement of the trip is being on a cruise for the first time so I wanted to write down my first impressions—especially for students who may also be new to this type of travel.

The four of us who drove down from Orlando arrived and parked in Miami with plenty of time to board the Adonia before its 4:00 scheduled departure. At the port, we met up with the rest of our group (seven total) and dropped off our luggage—luggage is delivered to the cabins, which is handy. After a security screening process similar to that practiced at airports, we checked in. At check-in, an agent takes your picture and places a $100 hold on your credit/debit card against which your on-board purchases (if any) are debited. We received our “ship cards,” which function as the room key, identification, and quasi credit card for charging purchases to the on-board account.

Although we boarded the ship around 12:30, cabins were not yet ready. We were directed to lunch in the Conservatory, a buffet-style restaurant where I had a salad and a vegetable tagine over rice. It was a little hot and crowded, especially with everyone’s carry-on luggage around, but still very exciting and the food was tasty! I rushed through lunch because I was eager to take a look around the ship, take a few pictures, and send a few final text messages before we set off and I went out of cell range. I had time to walk around the various observation decks, get my photos, and then relax on a deck chair and watch the action around the pool for a little while before going to check out my cabin.

PortMiami behind us as we sailed

PortMiami behind us as we sailed

Looking off the aft end of the ship

Looking off the aft end of the ship

Looking down at the Lido Deck from the observation deck

Looking down at the Lido Deck from the observation deck

Since this sailing wasn’t full, we were fortunate to get balcony cabins with single occupancy. My cabin looks like a tiny hotel room with a queen bed, desk, small sofa, and quite a bit of storage. I packed light because (a) that’s my style and (b) the laundry, which is free, is down the hall. But there is room for a pretty extensive wardrobe if you want one. However, because of the nature of its programming, Fathom does not have a dress code—there’s no “formal night” and casual dress is accepted everywhere (although the Ocean Grill requests “smart casual” dress). The balcony is tiny, as everyone told me to expect, but it is exciting to always be able to hear and see the ocean, as well as to get a little solo chill-out time when needed. I unpacked and put my suitcase away, browsed the TV channels, and then heard a knock on my door. My cabin steward, Zenda, had come to introduce herself. I’m learning that cruise ship service, even on a ship like this one that doesn’t advertise “luxury,” is very attentive. There are tons of staff and everyone is incredibly courteous. Zenda is from the Phillipines; she says she likes Americans because we are friendly and we say what’s on our minds and not everyone is like that. Hopefully we can live up to Zenda’s impression of us.

My cabin

My cabin

Zenda also told me that a safety exercise was coming up; I was glad for the warning because I knew to expect the exercise but didn’t know how it would work. It was announced over the intercom (which is called a “tannoy” on the ship; is this a nautical word?) with instructions and then an alarm sounding. The exercise requires that everyone bring their life vests to a designated “muster station,” practice putting them on (and then taking them off), and listen to a briefing from the captain. Easy schmeezy and did not take too long. Let the record show that I refrained from blowing the whistle on my life vest, but some others did not.

Within about a half-hour of the safety briefing we got under way, sailing out of PortMiami with a beautiful sunset and view of Miami Beach. The wind on the observation deck was incredibly strong but I stayed for a long time, looking around and taking pictures. Then Fathom’s impact guides announced our first activity: visiting multiple areas around the deck to do certain things and collect stamps on a “passport.” I tied a bowline hitch (I will be very useful in a nautical emergency), placed a Polaroid of myself on a map of the world to show where I’d come from, added my answer to a question written on a window (“Who’s your muse?” Daniel!), and wrote a note for a fellow passenger to receive. These activities were a nice way to start thinking about the purposes of this trip: not just to help others but also to learn about ourselves and our place in the world.

Sailing away from Miami Beach as the sun set

Sailing away from Miami Beach as the sun set

The sun setting into the ocean as we sailed

The sun setting into the ocean as we sailed

Before I knew it, it was dinner time and I met up with our group in the Pacific Restaurant. This restaurant looks elegant (white tablecloths and multiple silverware) and serves elegant food, but somehow is not intimidating. I ate an endive salad, a vegetable omelet, and a chocolate pot de crème. Most interestingly, the waiter asked if I was a vegetarian and later sent the head waiter over to allow me to pre-order tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. A person could get used to this service! Over dinner we had a fantastic, lively and productive discussion about how best to make this program work for students. I am so happy to have such a great group of collaborators—we all listen, reflect, and learn from each other, which is exactly what collaboration should be.

This first afternoon/evening on the ship has been incredible. I’m not used to seeing the ocean around me in all directions, nor to how dark it is at night: our wake and some whitecaps are just visible in the ship’s lights. The rocking of the ship occasionally makes it hard to walk perfectly and I will admit (full disclosure) to one sudden onset of seasickness toward the end of dinner. It surprised me, as I assumed the motion of the ship would bother me right away if it was going to. But my dessert was rich; the restaurant is aft where there’s more movement; and the room had gotten hot and stuffy as it filled up with people. All at once I felt terrible and had to walk out, but as soon as I got fresh air I started to feel better. I walked around the pool deck, came back to my cabin and put my acupressure wristbands on (couldn’t hurt; might help), and eventually met back up with one of our group for a ginger ale (also couldn’t hurt; might help) and some further discussion. I’m sure I will adjust better once I’ve been on board a bit longer.

Tomorrow is a full day at sea with preparatory workshops and educational activities. It’s past 11 p.m. and I am planning to go to yoga at 9:30, so it’s time to turn in and be lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean.

Knights Impact Dominican Republic Exploratory Trip–Travel Day

Quick post from Orlando, FL where 4 of us from Middle Georgia State are spending the night en route to Miami. In Miami tomorrow we’ll board the Fathom Adonia for an impact travel cruise to the Dominican Republic. If all goes well we will take students on this same program at the end of May as a first step toward incorporating international service learning into our offerings to students. This trip will be my first cruise and my first time in the DR and I have already taken my first Uber ride. Travel is a constant learning experience which is why I love it!

Check back this coming week for more posts and photos about the cruise experience, the impact and cultural activities, and the Dominican Republic. I am excited! What a great way to kick off 2017. Happy New Year and a shout out to my sweet husband Daniel who is spending this NYE solo.  Je t’aime, mon amour! 

I’ve got my passport and I’m ready to go!

Waterford training visit 2016: Travel & arrival day

I’m away from home on the 4th of July–again! This year I’m in Waterford, Ireland visiting the European Council study abroad program here in preparation for taking over as program director in 2017. I arrived yesterday after leaving Georgia on Saturday evening. The trip went smoothly yet some unusual things happened: on my flight, there was a medical emergency (the passenger was fine, thank goodness) and I got to hear the flight attendants ask over the intercom if a doctor was on board. I thought that only happened in the movies! We flew from Atlanta to Waterford on an Airbus A330, which was spectacular. Huge and powerful. Then by bus from Dublin to Waterford and a short cab ride to Waterford Institute of Technology where the program is housed. Ireland is beautiful and green and bucolic and Waterford is unexpectedly gorgeous. The sky was bright blue yesterday afternoon and the current program director took advantage by showing me all around the city center, where there are good museums and sights to explore as well as (of course) shops and pubs. The program classes are held in the Travel & Leisure building; I haven’t been in yet but it looks very cool and modern from the outside. Everyone is housed in a set of suite-style dorms called College Fields. I have a room with private bath in a 4-room suite that has its own full kitchen/living room, as do all the students. The kitchens are stocked with pots and pans and dishes so that’s extremely handy!

Today I am going to breakfast with the group and then will probably go back to the city center to visit the Medieval Museum and the Bishop’s . . . er . . . House? Palace? I should have taken notes. The director has recommended that I take a bus out to Tramore, a seaside town, in the afternoon. And somewhere along the line it appears that I will have to buy a charging cord for my laptop. Mine has either demised in transit or really does not like 220 voltage. Stay tuned.

Travel tips #2: the return flight from Europe

[written on board DL0029 LHR –> ATL, 18 Feb. 2016]

The best and worst thing about the flight back from Europe is that it takes place in a permanent afternoon. You take off in the afternoon and somehow (i.e., flying west) it is still afternoon when you land. And yet, the return flight takes at least an hour longer because it goes against the jet stream. So the length of the flight is tiresome: I can’t deny it. It’s also not as neatly timed as the “overnight” flight to Europe that proceeds through departure, dinner, bedtime, and breakfast. Today I left Heathrow at 12:30 p.m. and will land in Atlanta at about 5:30 p.m. having flown for about 9 hours.  If you think that’s weird, on some Asian routes that cross the date line, it’s possible to arrive before you left!

I don’t have such a good system for managing the return flight but here are my best tips so far:
— Some people will tell you to try not to sleep at all. I’d say don’t sleep through the whole flight, but don’t worry about passing the time by taking a couple of naps, especially at the beginning of the flight when it’s early morning at your destination. I’m planning to stay awake through the last couple hours of this flight and the shuttle ride home, then go to bed at my usual time.
— 9 hours is 4 movies plus your naps, or 2 movies, naps, and a book. Bring a book. (I’m an English professor; did you think I wasn’t going to say “Bring a book”?) Get a non-U.S. newspaper from your departure point or from the flight attendant. It also makes a good souvenir.
— Don’t drink alcohol; do drink water. Some airlines offer it around regularly. Drink all they give you. Some will leave the water & soft drinks out for passengers to help themselves. Help yourself. I also drink a lot of coffee on these flights. The dry air gives me a slight headache but water, coffee, and Tylenol keep it at bay. 
— Eastbound beauty tips continue to apply. Moisturizer & lip balm till about an hour before landing, then clean face & do makeup. Brush your teeth whenever they start to feel unsavory. It’s refreshing and gives you something to do.
— Been thinking about this one since I wrote my last post, and I’ve decided: on long flights in general, wear comfortable shoes and then don’t take them off. Your feet will swell so it’s good to have shoes you can loosen, but I have had it happen that I’ve taken off my shoes & barely gotten them back on! 

All in all, the return flight is a tougher flying experience but an easier arrival experience. You’re coming home to a familiar environment and hopefully you can ease back into your regular life rather than hitting the ground running as we do on trips. 

Finally, to all you Fitbit wearers out there, sorry. You’re not getting your 10,000 steps today.