Animals and Adventures in South Africa

Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!

[Originally posted November 10, 2013]

Hi Readers!

How are you all? I am doing pretty well! I have been very busy during this long, oceanic stretch, but have also had plenty of time for fun and relaxation. We have been at sea for 11 days now. We are two days from arriving in Argentina, and I cannot wait to be there. During the crossing on the Atlantic, I haven’t seen much land. It will be a pleasant sight when I do spot it, and the image comes to mind of a pirate in the lookout region on the ship, yelling out “Land Ho!’ and the excited buzz of crew members. That is what it is like for us. Even so, being out in the middle of the ocean has been amazing. The sunsets have been breathtaking and I have enjoyed the views. The ocean itself has been both calm and rocky, depending on the day. Right now we are sailing through a rainstorm, so the waves are a bit choppy, but nothing major. Weather is not a good indicator of ocean swells, though. Earlier this week it was clear outside, the sun was shining, but the swells were giant and it was hard to get around.

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I can’t believe that my time in Africa is over. I have to say that my favorite port thus far has been South Africa. I had an amazing experience there. It was not the most intense experience I have had, but I found value in it through the fun and connections I made. It was not as challenging as Ghana was for me. Cape Town could easily be mistaken for a city in my home state. The weather when we arrived was temperate and amazing. It was sunny, in the mid 60s, with a light breeze. I got to watch the sunrise the day we arrived, which was spectacular. What makes Cape Town special, in my opinion is the presence of giant mountains behind a city. It was kind of like Denver, but much more pronounced. I loved it immediately and was fascinated by the clouds that seemed to creep down from Table Mountain and disappear, as it got lower to the ground. Cape Town is also unique in that it has the largest noticeable and pronounced gap between the rich and poor. As we drove to our field lab, one side of the road had beautiful affluent looking homes with high walls and barbed wire, overlooking the white sand and turquoise water. On the other side of the road was a township. The homes were very different there and appeared to be more ramshackle. If I have one regret from South Africa, it is that I did not get the chance to visit a township. I guess it just gives me reason to return, and soon!

I cannot talk about South Africa without mentioning the food. I have to say that it is some of the best I have had this whole trip. I loved it! I didn’t know what to expect but I was happily surprised the whole time. The first food I had was bobotie pie, which is like Shepherd’s pie but with an egg layer instead of mashed potatoes. It was really delicious and I loved it. It was sweet from the thin custard and from the meat itself. The pie was served alongside yellow rice and was accompanied by a thin crisp. It was a very balanced and composed dish. The second food experience I had that is worth mentioning was when I tasted a passion fruit Popsicle. For those who do not know me, I have this obsession with passion fruit. I love it! When I saw this Popsicle in the ice cream case I could not resist. It was so delicious and refreshing and I had five throughout my trip on the safari! I really wish we had these in the US. The next experience I had was tasting ostrich! I decided to be adventurous at a lodge and try some of the wild game. My favorite was the ostrich. It tasted like steak, but much richer. Ostrich is a healthy alternative to beef because it has low amounts of saturated fat. I loved the sear on it! I think we can learn a lot from South Africans about a healthy diet. Most of the other meals I had were full of variety and everything I tried was delicious. The only problem I had with the food was the eating times. Lunch is usually very light. Dinner was a lot later than I was used to and several times we ate around 7:30 or 8 PM. On the ship I have been eating dinner at 5:30, so you can see why that would be a problem for me. Luckily, I had plenty of snacks with me 🙂 Also, while I was in South Africa, I had two pizzas! One of them was from a mall, but it was far from typical mall fare I am used to in the US. It was fresh, hot and delicious! My tummy was very happy!

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We also had the opportunity to spend time with elephants at a special sanctuary. This experience might be my favorite of all the others I had.This sanctuary housed elephants that had been orphaned because of poaching or because they were caught in snares as infants and their mothers left them. The leader of the elephant herd was Marula, and I interacted with her the most. First, we walked hand in trunk with the elephants. When my turn came, I was assigned to the boss lady. You had to put your hand in a C shape and hold it behind you. The elephant would then place its trunk in your hand and you would walk along with them. Marula decided she would be the leader by sort of shoving my hand and indicating she wanted me to go faster. She had the best personality, and I had to laugh. After that, my hand was a bit snotty and dusty, but it was a unique experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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The handlers then let us touch the elephants and feel the different parts like the skin, ears, tail, tusk and feet. I think the coolest thing besides the rough skin was the tail. The bristles on it felt like the bristles on a plastic broom. It was not what I was expecting! The skin was also interesting. It was rough but much thinner than I expected. I liked the feet because they were squishy to the touch. It was super fun to get up close and personal with the elephants. We also got to see inside their mouths!

The next part of our interaction included a 10-minute ride on their backs. I was super excited for this portion! I didn’t know what to expect. When it was my turn, I had difficulty getting on Marula, especially since I have short legs. It was an amusing struggle. The ride itself was like riding a horse, but you had a wider stance and you could feel the backbone underneath you. It was such a cool moment to think that I was riding an elephant, in Africa. Marula stopped several times and even started to jog at one point. That was disconcerting, but overall it was a great time. Another experience I will always remember. Throughout the day, I found myself loving elephants even more!

We also got to feed the elephants as a thank you for letting us interact with them. Our guide told us that if you give Marula only a few apple pieces, she would hold out her trunk until you give her as much as she thinks she deserves. Like I said, quite the personality! I thought it was hilarious! J The last thing we did was have an anatomy lesson in an outdoor-classroom. It was pretty fun and I learned a lot. One thing I appreciated about the experience was that the handler’s loved the elephants, and it was evident that the elephants were happy and well taken care of. If the elephants did not want to do something, they did not have to. It was clear that free choice was present, and I think it is extremely admirable. The elephant needs come first, and their happiness does as well. It is a sanctuary after all. I loved my time there, and it was truly special!

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The last cool thing that I did that is worth its own section is our trip to see the cheetahs and the reptiles at Garden Route. The lodge has a cheetah sanctuary area within the vicinity of the resort. There were five cheetahs total and each had their own cage, save for two. I was lucky enough to film and witness the two cheetahs playing with each other. They really are powerful and beautiful creatures and they run fast!! Another cheetah was sleepy, and I got some cute pictures of him sleeping. It was really fun and I was excited to see the cheetahs. I did not know that we would get to see them. They are in the sanctuary to prevent inbreeding. We spent about 15 minutes there and then walked up to the Reptile Center. There, I got to see several crocodiles, a giant turtle, a baby turtle and some lizards. I also saw a python, boa constrictor, a green mamba and the deadly black mamba. It was definitely cool, and I enjoyed it.

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The Finest Walk in the World

Brian Merewitz is a senior Natural Resources Management major and is currently studying abroad in New Zealand.

[Originally posted September 18, 2013. To see more from Brian, check out her blog directly here.]

McKinnon Pass

McKinnon Pass

So, exams are done (finally!), and now it was time to travel. After a rough goodbye with some good friends, my mate from Colorado State who is in New Zealand (Lisa) and I headed off to the bus to Te Anau for the Milford Track, dubbed the “finest walk in the world.”

The bus left Sunday afternoon, but we wouldn’t start tramping until Monday morning. However, our bus broke down, but after a short delay, we were on the road and made it to Te Anau. Lisa has used couchsurfing many times before, which is a social network for travelers, where you can meet people to travel with, host them in your place, or found hosts to stay with, all for free. I had never used it, but she organised it to stay with a guy in Te Anau and it was an amazing experience! He was 53, semi-retired, and full of information. He has hosted over 50 people and has heaps of fascinating stories, pictures, and gifts (including a rock from Antarctica), but he even met us at the bus stop, walked us to the DOC office, and really made us feel at home. There was also a German kid, 20 I believe, there who was really friendly. Des, the host, knew the area like the back of his hand and was Maori, so he told us a lot about their culture. Anyway, we spent Sunday night at his house, then were to catch a bus to Te Anau Downs, where we would catch a ferry to the track–it’s quite the trek before you even begin!

Now, Des warned us that a few days ago he had two Aussies stay at his house and they were required to pay a helicopter deposit because avalanche danger was high, but we didn’t have to pay when we got there! The track is fully booked (40 people/day) from now until March 27th and on the ferry, we already made some friends–a Dutch kid travelling around the world called Robin and a German named Christian. So, once we finally got to the trail head, Lisa and I, along with our new mates headed off! Unfortunately, they regulate the track heavily during peak season, so you’re required to stay at the first hut, which is a mere 1 hour walk from the trail head. Once we got there, though, we went down by the river and were going to swim, until we got our toes wet and decided laying on rocks in the sun sounded more fun. I was a little uneasy about sharing a hut with 40 people–so far, I’d had nearly every hut to myself, but as the time went on, I really grew to like it. Part of what made the trip fun was the social aspect. That night at the hut, we met an Aussie (Otto), who was there with his dad as a college graduation gift and a group of 3 Australian couples in their 50s, who were super friendly! Throughout our 3 nights together, we got to know nearly everyone, but Otto, Robin, Christian, and the Aussies were the best! There were people from all over the world–America (us, a couple from Cleveland, and a couple from San Diego), France, Aussie, NZ, Germany, South Korea, and Holland. Back to the day though, once the sand flies (NZ’s mosquito) got bad, we retreated from the river back to the hut to eat dinner and socialize.

Me on McKinnon Pass

Me on McKinnon Pass

The second day was slightly harder, but still not too bad. The hut warden told us that if the weather is nice when we get to the hut, we should continue up to the pass–the highest part of the track because it’d be a pity if we didn’t go then the weather was bad on day three. This day’s walk was fairly easy through the bush with a few very scenic openings, and then a bit of an incline towards the end. When we woke up, there was a great deal of cloud cover, but by midday, the sun broke through. So now, we’ve had two days of sunshine in a row. This area is notorious for its rain–the ranger told us 28 rainy days/month isn’t unrealistic! So, we arrived at the second hut around 3pm and, since we’re in summer and at low latitude we have long days (light until 9:30pm), so we took a short break. Afterwards, the sun was still shining strong, so Lisa, Otto, Robin, Christian, and myself walked up the pass, which was about an hour from the hut (without packs it felt great!). The views were unreal. Even after 5 months here, I was speechless. We were surrounded by peaks in every direction and most of them have waterfalls running off of them, not to mention two of them had avalanches coming down while we were there. I’ll let the pictures do the talking! After trying to climb a little side peak (and getting about halfway up) and relaxing on the rocks a bit, we headed back down. Same kind of routine–dinner and socializing before bed!

Now day three is a special one. 1-it’s my birthday! 2-it’s when you are “supposed” to go over the pass. 3-you go to Sutherland Falls–NZ’s highest waterfall. After waking up, and getting a few birthday wishes from Otto, Robin, Christian, and Lisa, we were going to head off. The keas (one of my new favourite animals), the world’s only mountain parrot, were out in full force picking our scraps off the picnic tables and hanging in the trees! They caused a brief delay, but eventually we started and going up the pass was much worse with a pack on, but the sun was shining again and the views made it all worth it, even for the second time. At the top of the pass, I had my first birthday task–a friend had given me a beer and told me to chug it at the most scenic place I go on my birthday, so it got skulled on top of McKinnon Pass. That was, however, the only beer I drank on my entire 21st! We continued on a wee bit further and got to a little shelter at the junction to Sutherland Falls. First of all, they had tea and coffee in the shelter, so that was satisfying, but the falls, NZ’s highest at 580m were stunning! And, since by this point we had worked up a sweat, we were able to walk behind the falls, which was really thrilling. The water, of course was chilly, and is splashing and blowing, so you can’t really see as you walk on slippery rocks, but there are mini-rainbows everywhere from the splashing of the water off the rocks and the sun hitting it! By the time we got back to the shelter, the 3 Aussie couples had gotten word that it was my birthday, so I got my first wee serenade there (and reminded how young I really was still)! After singing, they reminded me how young I was (the youngest on the track in our group), and how as you grow, life changes, but there are always new adventures to keep it interesting! They continued to joke with me the rest of the day about my knees hurting and back hurting and so on, but once again, we finally made it to the hut. This one was covered in more sand flies than the others, so we stayed inside and cooked and socialized some more. Now, I did run back to my bunk to grab something from my bag and had a surprise when I got back! Lisa had carried a brownie and candle with her and, while I was gone, lit it and told everyone to sing, so once I got back I had 40 people singing to me with a brownie and candle!! I’m not sure how she carried a brownie 2 days without eating–certainly a feat I’d be incapable of–but it was much appreciated! And that’s how my 21st birthday was spent.

Friendly Kea

Friendly Kea

The fourth and final day is a long, but easy walk back through the bush to be picked up by the boat. Pretty uneventful on this day. Just had to say goodbye to our new friends and Lisa and I went back to Des’s house for the night before catching our buses and going separate ways, so now I’m back here in Dunedin to pack up before heading on my last adventure.

Milford Track was the very first thing I had booked in New Zealand and it was everything I had hoped for and more. I was skeptical of the “crowded-ness” of it, but grew to love the socializing aspect. As I mentioned, the weather here tends to be pretty awful–28 days/month of rain with rain coming as fast as 6 inches/hr at times. We, however, had 4 straight sunny days with temperatures reaching 28 degrees (that’s upper 80s, Americans)! What an incredible trip to wind down my time in this amazing place and I can only hope my final roadtrip will be just as good!

Thank you all for the birthday wishes! I don’t know when my next blog will be–depends on internet access, but I will definitely post one, hopefully two, before coming back to the stars and stripes. See yall soon!!

A happenstance meeting with a sea lion

Brian Merewitz is a senior Natural Resources Management major and is currently studying abroad in New Zealand.

[Originally posted September 18, 2013]

So here’s a rare mid-week blog post! I started playing touch rugby last week and we got our first win this week, but let’s back up to 9am. Yes, on my day off, I got up at 9am. If that’s not exciting enough, my friend Will and I went scuba diving at Aramoana Mole, about 30 minutes from town where the harbour meets the ocean. I did bring my camera, but forgot my sandwich that I made and left on the counter.

All suited up and going down!

All suited up and going down!



Will is a dive master (the highest certification besides instructor), so I felt comfortable going out alone with him. We went and picked up our gear and headed out and were all dressed and ready to go in the water by 10:30am. It was pretty sunny out, so it was all good. There are 3 wrecks, two of which are dive-able, out there. The water was a brisk 11 (50) degrees, but we were all suited up in a two piece wet suit with boots and a hood! So, I’ll summarize the first 2 dives together. The first two were both on the same wreck, but different areas. I was a little unsure what it would be like after diving the Great Barrier Reef, but it was incredible! Not nearly as many fish (and really no colorful ones), but there is so much stuff growing on the rocks and ship parts. It was covered in nudibranchs, nudibranch eggs, some blue things that I’m not sure what they were, we saw a Conger eel, heaps of starfish of all different sizes and colours, kelp and corals. It was amazing! One part in particular was like a cage, almost, of boat pieces. They were large enough to swim through but it was just poles covered in plants and things all around you! Kind of claustrophobic, but not as bad as kelp forests!

Now, dive three. The infamous one. We were really enjoying the day and it was really nice out, so we went in to the new (and closer) wreck and planned to swim back. I had the camera, so we dropped down, all good. We were swimming around, just as planned, and I was happily taking pictures of the side of the boat. Then it happened. I saw it coming right at me, at full speed, jaws wide open! This sounds unreal, but trust me, it was real. Surreal, but real! No, it was not a shark, though, but enough to scare me. Instead, as I turned my head, maybe 10ft to my left was a full grown sea lion coming straight at me, maybe 20ft underwater. In case you weren’t sure, it was bigger and a faster swimmer than me. And yes, its mouth really was wide open. So, just like you’re taught to do, I panicked! The sea lion quickly shot straight up to the surface then back down, circled me twice, and left. Will is from California and has over 200 dives, so he is kind of familiar to these ferocious creatures, but not me. I yelled, or at least, the best yell you can do with a regulator in your mouth and went straight to the surface and on the rocks. Not sure what that was going to do because sea lions can climb on rocks way faster than me, especially with fins, but I did it. However, he was gone, or so I thought. Will couldn’t find me under water, so he came to the surface, all excited and yelled, “Did you see that sea lion?!” Of course I told him my dramatic story and he had a similar one and then I saw it swim right along the rocks just in front of me, then stop, pick its head out of the water, give me a 5 second stare down, then it was gone. This time for good. It was incredible. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture.

After talking to Will, some people on shore, and the folks at the dive shop all said that it’s common for them to come up and play with you. Also, they are very curious, so they will sometimes even put their teeth on you to see what you are, but not actually bite. Guess I know for next time to stay calm and video it–just like you’re taught. Anyway, we went back down and finished our dive and had an incredible time. We also saw Paua, which is an edible, big shellfish, but we it’s illegal to take them with scuba gear on and you need a knife. Moral of the day–I, in fact, CAN survive from 9am-5pm without eating (although I desperately missed my sandwich)!

One of the sea stars

One of the sea stars

Ireland and a Wicklow County Adventure

Dani Langevin grew up Summit County, Colorado. Currently she is a junior at Colorado State University. Now it’s time for her to embark on my study abroad adventure with Semester at Sea for a four month journey around the world.

[Originally posted September 23, 2013]

This was by far the best day of Semester at Sea so far! It was time for me to get away from all of the cities and people, so I peaced out to a little town called Glendalough (pronounced Glendalock) in Wicklow County by myself for the day/night. I took a 100-year-old bus service out there and ended up in a town that consisted of a hotel, hostel, restaurant, and 2 sweater shops. I ended up seeing some of the Schuchardt family (a family on the ship that consists of a professor with his wife and 7 of their 8 children) on the bus on the way there – it’s impossible to fully escape, but it was good to know that I was going in the right direction. The town was perfect! I walked 5 minutes up the road to the hostel which is tucked back in the trees. After dropping off my bag I wandered through an area with the “Round Tower” back to town. Once in town I ended up talking to this Irish man who was watching a sweater shop for his friend. We talked for at least half an hour about his life story and my adventures thus far. It was interesting to find out that our paths could have crossed at some point in time! He had been to Aspen, Colorado and he has a friend that lives in Breckenridge. It’s a much smaller world than anyone could imagine! I was also surprised to find out that he knew so much about what was going on in Colorado with the floods. It’s amazing how much other people know about the United States compared to how little the general American population knows about the world. After talking to him for a while he told me about a few good hiking spots and sent me on my way.

"Glendalough" meaning "Valley of two lakes"  is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park with its world famous Round Tower was one of my favorite places to visit in Ireland. Image obtained from the following URL: http://www.nolancoaches.ie/visit-beautiful-glendalough/

“Glendalough” meaning “Valley of two lakes” is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park with its world famous Round Tower was one of my favorite places to visit in Ireland.

Image obtained from the following URL: http://www.nolancoaches.ie/visit-beautiful-glendalough/



A few minutes later I found myself at a map. Too bad I couldn’t read it. So I took a picture of it just in case and started to walk in the direction of the mountains. Turns out I began on a relatively popular path through an “enchanted forest.” That defeated the point of having time to myself, so I found someone with another map. Basically I told her that I wanted the hardest, longest and least populated path. So there I found myself following the “red hiker” on the Spinc path. After about 3km I was out of the populated area. Then it was just me and nature. I hiked over mountains, through forests, around valleys, by lakes, and down 600+ wooden stairs. There were sheep everywhere at the top and a few deer, although they didn’t look like the typical Colorado deer.

I did come across a few people, mostly locals. All of the locals were incredibly friendly and, like the Irish man at the sweater shop, they all wanted to know about me just as much as I know about them. One group of people sticks out most to me. A group of three people was biking up behind me and stopped at the top for a snack. When I got to the top they started asking me all about myself and I ended up talking to them for a while. Like the Irish man I had met earlier, they also asked about the floods in Colorado. The lady gave me a granola bar and they shared their gummy bears with me after telling me that I still had a ways to go – that saved me because I did not prepare properly for the length of the hike. When we parted ways they pointed me in the right direction and I was off again.

There was one point during my hike where I got to the summit of one of the mountains and crossed a marshy area via a boardwalk. Then the boardwalk ended and I found myself in an area without a trail. Luckily I have hiked enough to have the skills to find my way back to some sort of trail. As I descended I began to see more and more people that had done the shorter hikes and eventually I ran into the Schuchardt family again. I was talking to Rachel (the mom) as her kids and husband laid in the freezing cold waterfall stream below. After an incident with the youngest one falling, I walked back to the town with them.

I thought I had found a quiet place to escape and be alone, but with 600 Semester at Sea students in Ireland that was nearly impossible. While looking out of the Schuchardt’s hotel window I saw Ryan, Shiloh, and Dana (friends from the ship) and ended up having dinner with them. 9pm rolled around and somehow I managed to make it back to the hostel in literally the pitch black night.

The next morning I had to catch an early shuttle back to Dublin. Glendalough did not disappoint and I will definitely be back someday.

I guess Colorado has had a huge impact on me. I love nature and the mountains especially. Throughout the past few ports I have discovered that city life is not for me. From here on out I am going to try to get out of the city as much as possible to see the true natural beauties of each country.

Portugal: Food, Folklore, and Moorish Influence Galore!

Jessica Zaksek is a senior Psychology student at Colorado State University. She is currently partaking in a Semester at Sea and will visit ports in various countries such as Russia, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco and many more. Stay tuned to hear about all her adventures!

[Originally posted October 1, 2013]

I hope this entry finds you all healthy and happy! I am doing quite well! I had some free time and I thought I would write the entry for Portugal, instead of combining it with my experience in Spain. I only had two days in each country, so it was a whirlwind! I think that the time constraint also made me hyper-vigilant to my surroundings and experiences. Portugal was really amazing! I plan to go back very soon so I can see more of the country. I honestly had no idea what to expect, and I must admit that I found myself ignorant of the country’s history and culture. It made the entire experience so much more exciting and surprising. It may be small, with a population of around 10 million, but it has had a powerful influence on world history. You can find Portuguese culture and language in places such as Brazil, and even China!

During my stay in Portugal I traveled to Sintra and spent time in Lisbon, our port city, as well. In Portuguese, Lisbon is actually called Lisboa. Lisbon is the oldest city in Europe, which explains why it is such a cultural hub. The city has seven steep hills and trolleys. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco. They even have a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge! Most of the buildings were pretty old, and had fantastic iron work around the windows. The lamps were also a unique and fun feature of the streets in Lisbon. The sidewalk stones were shaped in a very distinctive manner, and I learned that they were created by pounding the stones into the ground with a wooden mallet. Apparently, this is a pretty laborious process! My favorite aspect of the city was the tile. On several buildings you could see walls filled with beautiful, old tile. Each building had it’s own unique tile design. It was unexpected because I did not know the Portuguese used tile. I loved how old the city looked. It gave it so much character and told such a rich story of times long past.

Strolling through the city, I realized quickly that the Lisbon itself as well as the surrounding areas were heavily influenced by the Moors. They brought their tile to the city and created city quarter names in Arabic.

Strolling through the city, I realized quickly that the Lisbon itself as well as the surrounding areas were heavily influenced by the Moors. They brought their tile to the city and created city quarter names in Arabic.

I was happy to discover that the food in Portugal is quite delectable and there is plenty to go around! Food has its own unique culture. I quickly learned that the Portuguese live to eat. Meals usually lasted several hours, which allowed for intimate conversation and enjoyment. I enjoyed getting to know some of my shipmates and eating delicious food. I had this amazing pastry during my cooking experience, which was covered in cinnamon sugar and filled with a tasty vanilla cream. The pastry dough was so flaky! The closest thing I can compare it to is a churro, but with filling. Another wonderful dessert item I enjoyed was a pastry filled with walnuts and apples. The outside of this pastry was coated in sugar and added just the right amount of sweetness.

The Portuguese also love their wine! Every meal I had was served with a glass of wine, specifically red. I learned that the Portuguese prefer red wine, because they feel it goes with everything. In restaurants we were often given bottles of wine and they were replenished throughout the meal. It made it very difficult to keep track of how much you had enjoyed already! Another great thing about Portuguese food was the cheese! It was so yummy! I had three different kinds of cheese. One was a hard cheese that consisted of a combination of goat and cow milk. The second was a softer cheese and the third was a goat cheese that was very spreadable. Bread was also served in abundance with every meal. I definitely enjoyed that!!

During the cooking experience I learned that the Portuguese pride themselves on food that is flavorful. When I tasted the olive oil I was pleasantly surprised by the volume of flavor it had compared to what I am used to. Dipping the bread in the olive oil created a fantastic culinary experience! The sausages I tried were also jam-packed with aggressive flavors. My palate was definitely pleased in Portugal!

At one of the last restaurants I dined in, they served kebabs(sliced meat grilled on a skewer), further reinforcing the Moorish influence on Portuguese cuisine. One funny aspect of this meal was the accompaniment of French Fries to the kebabs, which was definitely an interesting combination. I have noticed that a lot of meals in Europe are served with fries, no matter what the dish is.

At one of the last restaurants I dined in, they served kebabs(sliced meat grilled on a skewer), further reinforcing the Moorish influence on Portuguese cuisine. One funny aspect of this meal was the accompaniment of French Fries to the kebabs, which was definitely an interesting combination. I have noticed that a lot of meals in Europe are served with fries, no matter what the dish is.

In addition to the cuisine, I was also able to enjoy some traditional Portuguese dance known as Fado, which incorporates folklore into its music. It was my favorite cultural experience so far in regards to dancing/ singing. I had a minimal understanding of it from cultural pre-port on the ship, but it wasn’t enough. Our tour guide explained that the primary theme of this style is “saudade,” which does not have a direct translation into English. The closest translation would be nostalgia or an intense longing for the past, and better times. Fado is the national style of music. The saudade in the music can be directed towards a variety of different things. You could have saudade for your grandmother’s pie or for someone who has recently passed. In many songs, the longing is for the times when Portugal was a wealthy, influential and powerful country. The other primary object of saudade is unrequited love.

There are two styles of fado. The first originated among the poor classes and marginalized individuals in Lisbon. Marginalized individuals included prostitutes, sailors and coachmen. Lisbon fado is usually sung in a very raspy sort of way and focuses on a longing for better days and times. The elite, for obvious reasons, rejected this form of fado. The second style of fado originated at Coimbra University. Men usually sing in this style and wear black capes, traditional to the uniforms at the University. The primary theme of Coimbra fado is love, whether it be unrequited or reciprocated. It is also much more lyrical and light compared to the Lisbon form. Classic guitars and a special Portuguese guitar are used to accompany the singing. The Portuguese guitar is in the shape of a teardrop, which I believe is very appropriate.

During our meal we got to listen to both styles of fado.  It was very unique and unlike anything I have ever heard. Normally, music in America rhymes and flows but fado sounds more disjointed and seems to tell a story. Their costumes were true to the period and were very intricate and beautiful. One of my favorite dances was the one using the special noisemakers. The women were spinning so fast, their skirts were billowing, and they were a blur on stage.

During our meal we got to listen to both styles of fado. It was very unique and unlike anything I have ever heard. Normally, music in America rhymes and flows but fado sounds more disjointed and seems to tell a story. Their costumes were true to the period and were very intricate and beautiful. One of my favorite dances was the one using the special noisemakers. The women were spinning so fast, their skirts were billowing, and they were a blur on stage.

New Delhi: Everything I feared and hoped India would be

Jennie Maydew is a junior Art major and is spending one semester in Hyderabad, India.

[Originally posted August 23, 2013]

New Delhi is an area in the city of Delhi and the capital of India. With 22 million residents, Delhi is the fourth-largest city in the world and the largest in India in terms of area. It’s a modern metropolitan city with a punctual metro system and a bustling, busy population. Its architecture and city layout is heavily influenced by the British and the city as a whole differs from Hyderabad greatly. Ambitiously we chose our destinations, and in three days we did Delhi!

In sum, New Delhi was the manifestation of the image of India I had before coming here. It was everything I feared and hoped India would be. Tight and crowded streets lined with shops and homes above them, markets overflowing with people and goods, bicycle rickshaws whipping through the streets. Dirt and dust, color and texture, noise and odor. From spending a few days there the only conclusion that I could draw is that Delhi is a fascinating place.

We stayed four nights in Delhi on the topmost floor of a hotel tucked behind a series of alleyways. Travel publications accurately labeled the area around our hotel a ‘tourist ghetto.’ One of the strangest things about Delhi was to see tourists everywhere (Hyderabad isn’t frequented by many outsiders). Seeing another foreigner is like looking in a mirror, and it really puts my image in perspective. Because New Delhi is a popular destination for tourists, the locals are determined on pushing tourist scams. I’m proud to say never once did we fall for any, but these acts were much more apparent than they are in Hyderabad, and became irritating quickly.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple

Our first day in Delhi we arrived early in the afternoon and took the clean and efficient metro to the Baha’i House of Worship. Also called the Lotus Temple, this non-denominational place of worship offers a silent interior space for meditation or prayer, and was nestled around greenery and tranquil pools. Its architecture reminds me of the Sydney Opera House. Afterward we took the public bus to Dilli Haat, a crafts and cultural market. Bargaining at Dilli Haat is critical, especially because tourists are notorious for succumbing to bloated prices. We’ve learned a lot from bargaining at markets in Hyderabad, and regularly get items for less than half of the original offer. But because New Delhi’s markets have so many tourists, the vendors are reluctant to lower their prices, knowing another tourist will come along and pay the price the vendor wants. You never know how far your bargaining skills will get you, but there’s usually another shop down the way selling the exact same product if you don’t get the price you hoped for.

Dried fruits piled high in Khari Baoli; the numbers are the price per kilogram in rupees

Dried fruits piled high in Khari Baoli; the numbers are the price per kilogram in rupees

While in New Delhi we visited the Crafts Museum, a destination I couldn’t leave without visiting. The textiles there were stunning—ikat, brocade, bandhani (tie-and-dye), block prints, embroideries, and kalamkari tapestries that lined entire walls. It was all so beautiful that I took a hundred photos until the staff told me it wasn’t allowed. Oops! Although it was amazing to purely look, almost nothing in the museum was labeled, so it’s difficult to put into context most of what I saw. I’ll be researching Indian textiles for my independent study, so I hope to learn more about the pieces I saw in the museum.

One of the oldest markets in India, Chandni Chowk was a must-see for our Kate, Rhia, Romi, and I. This market has smaller, more specific markets within it that separate off into alleyways. Khari Baoli, the spice market within Chandni Chowk, is a fragrant and vibrant row of spices, herbs, teas, dried fruits, nuts, and specialty foods. It lends itself to some of the most picturesque images of abundant piles of herbs and spices. We rode in a cycle rickshaw around the marketplace to truly experience Chandni Chowk’s colorful and chaotic glory.

On our last full day in Delhi we visited Humayun’s Tomb, a major landmark of the city and one that Obama visited during his stay in New Delhi in 2010. I had difficulty seeing its grandeur, however. Compared to the well-preserved monuments of Agra, the monuments in Delhi appear in much worse condition. Though beautiful from a distance, Humayun’s Tomb was dirty and dilapidated, especially in the interior. There appeared to be some restoration project going on where laborers on scaffolding were casually repainting the building, which seemed sacrilegious and controversial to me. While in Delhi we also toured the Red Fort, which was in a similar state of decay. Some buildings in the complex appeared neglected and in the process of deteriorating, and there didn’t appear to be any plan to remedy this. The condition of these monuments was a sharp contrast to the protected and pristine conditions in which we view historical monuments and artifacts in America. Seeing Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort was an uncomfortable area for me to navigate knowing the amazing history behind these sorry structures.

Romi, Rhia, Kate, and me at Humayun’s Tomb

Romi, Rhia, Kate, and me at Humayun’s Tomb

In addition to the above places, we also visited a Tibetan area and a Muslim area situated within Delhi. It was interesting to see the mix of cultures in one city, and how these two places could differ so greatly. The Tibetan area was an oasis in the midst of the bustling city, with quiet shops and calm people. The Muslim area, also called Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin, was a series of narrow alleys winding among tall buildings. We toured this neighborhood with the Hope Project, a nonprofit that provides resources for families and individuals who live in this extreme poverty area.

Some things make more sense after visiting Delhi; I gained a lot of perspective, mostly about India but also about the world and the people in it. I gained a lot of questions, too. We’ll actually be returning to Delhi the first weekend in October with CIEE. There are a few places in Delhi I’d still like to see (like Qutb Minar) so I look forward to returning to this vibrant and intriguing city.