Day 26

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Dec 25, 2007

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Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Today there were no classes; it was "port prep" day and we just had a few meetings. I got up really early and was able to post what blogs I had written but I was still behind on the writing part. I didn't write because I had finally been shown how to use my instant messengers through's web browser and Mom, Dad, and Heather were online. I talked to them for a long time, and it curbed the cabin fever a little. Thanks guys! We had a safety drill before lunch that I thought was going to be about the anchoring and tendering arrangement we'd have in Panama. It turned out to be a reminder about what to do if someone fell overboard. A good reminder, to be sure, but I had hoped for some information on how we'd be getting on and off the boat when we finally did stop. That communication breach tends to apply to everything around here; I feel like I'm pretty good at going with the flow and rolling with the punches and all that but couldn't they at least give us a hint now and then which way the flow might be going?

Lunch wasn't very good - the quality of the food's been getting steadily worse as we've been at sea, which gives me yet another reason to want off this boat asap. After lunch we had meetings for our AFP to talk about schedules and logistics. There are six of us going, which is strange considering our learning circle is only 7 now. Two people changed circles because ours was too small (and where does that leave the rest of us guys, thanks) and we gained one who boarded in Portugal. That just means the Sidney and Shanghai AFPs will be really really small. Our itinerary looks amazing: staying with a local family, learning their arts, mask-making, dancing, and helping to plan next year's folkloric festival. We'll be with them for three nights and four days, and on the fifth day we visit the village of the Embera Indians and share in their crafts. I think I heard there may be a canoe ride and some traditional henna-style body painting involved. The sixth day in port is the free day, but I have a shore excursion planned. I would have liked to have a day in the city, but some of these shore excursions are just way too amazing. I'd never forgive myself if I missed out on some of these.

I'm going into the Cloud Forest, the highest (elevation-wise) part of the rainforest and I think the wettest. It's a hike but the part of the description that hooked me was the promise of wild orchids. I would pay the money just for that! After our walk through the cloud forest we're going to a craft market to see some more local artisans and maybe have a chance at purchasing souvenirs. It's going to be a fantastic day as well. Oy I'm so excited!!!

The meeting lasted quite a long time but it got us all really excited. After the meeting some of us were just wandering around and ended up in Vanessa's room. Gabriel put on the Spice Girls (of course) and Vanessa knew all the words and who was singing but I had no clue. I'd never heard any of their music. (I think the Spice Girls were something of a coolness taboo in America weren't they? Am I right about that?) I was feeling kind of left out and I needed to go back to my room and get some work done and get online to see if Mom and Dad were there so I got up to leave. Gabriel kept saying "one more song one more song!" and I was starting to think the Spice Girls couldn't possibly have any songs left and then they put on "Part of Your World" instead and we sang into brushes and water bottles at the top of our lungs and by the end of it had a little audience in the hallway. It was pretty funny.

I got to talk to Mom and Dad some more and I even got a little nap in before dinner. Dinner was bad too, but not as bad as lunch. I really like mealtimes on this ship, even if the food is bad. I always sit with different people, which would never happen at Western (or any other institution for that matter). Everybody's always in the same groups and even at the same tables. But on the Scholar Ship everybody has that mentality and we all sit with different people all the time. People still sit down with me at breakfast that I hardly know and we get a chance to talk a little, even if it's just about the food. It's so hard to find people on this ship - you'd think it would be easy but believe me it's not - that mealtime is the primary social time too.

We had our safety and security briefing about Panama in the evening, and learned that there are some very active anti-American groups on the campuses and American students were "advised to avoid all college campus areas." I decided it's a good thing I was going to the country where they might be a little more forgiving. I thought about using an accent (I really considered it fairly seriously) but realized my Spanish would give me away. I have a hard enough time with Spanish as it is without trying to hide my American accent in something else in Spanish! The briefing was okay; it turned into debate like most things usually do when communication is not as good as it could be, but at least this time it was about semi-reasonable concerns. For instance, we've been told that our ship's ID is acceptable official identification in place of our passports. Even I don't buy that! The ID says MV Oceanic II, our name and our student ID number for TSS. None of which is much good to a police officer. They won't give us our passports and insist that it isn't a good idea to take them, which I can appreciate - Gabriel got stabbed and mugged in Bulgaria and his was stolen - but people are getting on planes and things; you can't tell me that laminated card with a crappy picture that doesn't really look like me is going to negate my need for a passport! Luckily I'll be with a TSS group; I would not be happy about that if I was doing independent travel, like Alaine, who's going to Peru to see her boyfriend. I'm still not too happy about them having my passport; I'd almost rather go through an hour of immigration at each port just for my own peace of mind.

After the briefing was the Latin Extravaganza, the cultural café for Panama that some of the students had spiced up a little. They had gone through the channels and secured some margaritas and mojitos for everyone (well not everyone since we had a limited number but we had some left at the end of the night so I don't know what everyone was concerned about) and played salsa and meringue music all night long. I had a mojito but it wasn't very good, and I've been told I have to try them again somewhere that actually makes drinks. It was a lot of fun; we had a mini meringue lesson and danced a lot and it turned out to be okay that I cold lead because there were lots of girls without partners and this way I didn't have to be one of them. Lucía gave a little Spanish lesson and Emma showed some pictures from when she lived in Panama after college. It definitely made me even more excited.

I went to bed before almost everybody else. The party moved to the bar (of course) and the music changed from salsa and meringue to club music in Spanish and I went to bed. This way I could be the first one up to watch the Canal Transit.
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