What a Water World
file under … water? No, we’re very much on the surface…how about BLUE?
October 11, 2013 – It might be hard to believe, but for a week or more, I almost forgot this voyage is about the ocean.
The Explorer functions as a campus. Just like students so focused, scurrying from one class to another, that they forget to look at the sky or patterned flower gardens, our recent on-ship days have been especially busy ones. The mid-point of the voyage approaches. Thus, mid-terms, too. Papers are coming due and my Writing Center stays a busy place. The windows in Classroom 5 are mostly blocked by the presence of several large lifeboats, so the ocean is not much of a presence there. And after seven weeks of travel, the daily rocking of the Explorer is quite familiar to all of us now.
(Sea swells today, off the coast of west Africa, measure a soft three feet. That’s from the peak of the crest to the trough–challenging for a row boat, but not our 590-foot home.)
When we ported in Casablanca last week, I left the ship the first day and headed inland to Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. Within 24 hours we had left our usual sea level (thanks to a small motor coach and a train that was anything but a Marrakech Express.) The following day our feet, three donkeys and a mule helped transport us into the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains; we climbed even higher the next day, overnighting as before in a Berber village guest home. Simple foam pads, pillows and rough blankets were provided. The donkeys carried the dozens of bottled waters we used for drinking, as well as what extra clothing the 12 of us needed for the three days of hiking. Our hosts provided our meals–sumptuous displays of lamb tangine and couscous, bread baked in their wood-fired kitchen ovens, olives, seasonal fruits (think pomegranates!) and always topped off with plenty of sweet mint tea.
Bill Buford, editor of the travel writing text I am using with my writing class, suggests that a travel writers’ mantra could be: “I ate this, you didn’t” — or the inverse: “I ate this, you shouldn’t.”
(The inverse certainly applies to my Moroccan experience, too, though we have yet to figure out WHAT we shouldn’t have eaten. We were all safely back on the ship before our Moroccan Miseries took hold, thank goodness. Whether it was the scanty sanitation in the non-plumbed, squat indoor toilets of our hosts, using their tap water to brush our teeth, or eating fresh salads in Casablanca made from vegetables washed in local water, SOMETHING took hold of our GI tracts. Within 36 hours, 10 of the 12 of us were not traveling far from our own cabins, and eating the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. I kept it even simpler: ginger ale and antibiotics.)
Back to my thesis, the ocean.
Today finally I am outside again. The air temperature is 72, the water temperature is the same. The African sun overhead makes it feels even warmer, as there is little breeze aft on Deck 6, where professors are holding office hours and International Marketing texts compete with laptops, water bottles and bathing beauties. (Have I mentioned yet that our voyage demographics chart a student population that is 75% female? Though to be fair, the young men are good looking, too; they just don’t cultivate the look the way their female counterparts do.)
See how easily I am distracted? Back to the ocean.
This is my second voyage with Semester at Sea. (The fourth or fifth voyage of my lifetime, depending on how I count travel on a military vessel between Oahu and The Big Island when I was six, or my month-long trip in a 15-foot Boston Whaler up the Inside Passage of British Columbia when I was 24.)
I am stunned that I have almost come to take my blue and gray surroundings as commonplace.
Six and seven stories above the waves you can barely smell the sea salt. Miles from land, there are few gulls. And though the water below me at times is more than a mile deep and home to thousands of living creatures, we rarely see more than a dolphin’s fin. Inside an air-conditioned classroom, cabin or dining hall, it’s easy to forget that water covers three-quarters of the planet’s surface and we are traveling over just a smidgeon of it.
Last night I stood at the rail and watched the sunset over the water, and let my gaze melt into the pinkish-orange slices of color merging with the deep purple and blue shadows of near and distant waves. Today, after a round of paper proofing and a tentative lunch of peanut butter toast, I ventured onto the open deck again to marvel at where we are, three and a half days’ sail south of Morocco, four and a half days’ away still from our next port of Takoradi, Ghana.
Surrounded by ocean is where we are, and where we will be, for much of the rest of our voyage.
Nine of our 14 port countries were crowded into the first half of the itinerary. After Ghana, only four remain, but a full eight weeks of travel and classes will be on the calendar still. Europe is like that: tightly clustered countries, highly developed ports and elaborate infrastructure; rich histories; storied and romantic reputations. Morocco threw us only a hint of what lies ahead in Ghana and South Africa. Then comes the Atlantic crossing.
Four months, three continents, 115 days. At least 62 of them will be spent on the ocean. I hope not to take this watery world for granted again.