Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Return to Costa Rica (Puerto Limon)

Today was another fine day in Costa Rica, only this time we were on the Caribbean side. My roommates Devon and Ryan, Denora and myself all ventured into Puerto Limon to eat. We found a great local restaurant called Soda Panimimi, it was authentic Costa Rican food. Their specialty is soups. They let us try a melody stew called “Sopa De Mandinga”. Sopa de Mandinga was composed of cowfoot, tripe, dumplings and carrots. It was a particularly interesting but I did enjoy it. my friends Ethiopia and her daughter Kaia, who joined us were not particular fans of it. I told Ryan, who had been getting a little homesick, that I’d show him what travelling and experiencing the world was all about. Yet he was very critical of the establishment, pointing to ants that ran across the walls and such. I joked to him that it’s all about the experience and because that he’d never had such an experience that I guaranteed it would prove worth it. By the meals end I was right. We’d ordered the spectrum of the menu, including Plantain, sopa, rice and beans; I had a spicy noodle and beans dish, which I docked up even more with whatever atomic chili sauce that stood on the table. After the great meal we left back for the port, but after arriving and window-shopping Devon, Denora, and I decided to hire a tour guide to see more of the city by going to Playa Bonita. Though it was raining we sat at the Quimbamba Bar off the beach. Devon and I decided that despite the weather we wanted to swim. So that’s exactly what we did. At one point I stopped noticing that it was raining. The waves were huge, I learned the art of body surfing. In a panic our tour guide came to the beach to warn us not to go to far right-shore because of the hard coral, just after I’d stepped on the coral and cut my foot. I limped back into the sea off the rock and continued body surfing until I’d had my fill. We got out, got dressed and had a couple Cervazas, watched a bull fight on TV and had the most delicious plantains. A fellow shipgoer and her dad approached us and inquired about our day, we recanted and then her Dad, Dan, and I walked over to a small wooded area to take pictures of the sloths. Dan told me about his trip to the sloth forest, he pointed out how slow they moved and shook the tree to illustrated their delayed reaction. Soon after we returned to he ship, once again impressed by Costa Rica

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Today we visited the SOS Orphanage in Cristobal, Panama. SOS has homes worldwide which cares for orphaned and neglected children in over 130 countries. From the moment we left the ship, it rained. Streets were flooded and many stores were closed. The van driver told us that this weather was peculiar, usually it would be warm and sunny this time of the year but it was about 70 degrees and wet. When we arrived at the SOS Childrens Village, we were shown a brief film about SOS. SOS Children's Villages focuses on family-based, long-term care of children who can not live with their biological families for whatever reason. The facility is set up like a village in that in each house there is an SOS aunt, or mother figure, with approx 6-10 children in each home. The children keep their rooms spotless and are given chores in which they keep them selves strictly disciplined toward doing. We visited about 4 houses, played with the kids and spoke with the parents. Many of us brought our cameras, however something struck ill with me when I watched one of our group members treating the experience like we were at a zoo. She would snap candids of the kids on the couch watching TV, at the table, position the children to hold things they owned. It was disgusting. I mentioned to her and others I was with that we were there to meet and learn not to fill up a photo album. I let the kids play with my camera and they really enjoyed it. I met one little boy named Alman who loved getting hugs. My friend Denora, who’s fluent in Spanish, said that when she hugged him he said that “getting hugs is so cool, I don’t get them that often”. We were pretty much brought to tears. For the rest of our time visiting Alman home he was wrapped in someones arms. One group member, Neil from USC, gave Alman his Trojans windbreaker and hat. We were all speechless to the altruism shown by our peer. We donated about two boxes of games to SOS, but later realized that clothes would’ve been a better contribution seeing as, many of those kids grow so fast and had limited wardrobes. After the visit, Denora, some friends and myself ventured off into the flooded streets of Panama in search of lunch. We were guided to a stand that served alligator, plantains, rice and beans. There we stood in the pouring rain under the makeshift canopy above the stand eating Panamanian food. Though it was a great experience, the thought of hugging Alman never left out minds, even as we re-boarded the ship.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Costa Rican high Jump

Costa Rica… today’s port was the best yet. From the moment I stepped off the ship, I felt back in true travel mode. I was low on funds but thirsty for adventure. The plan was originally to go zip lining but what we later learned was that it would be outside of our budget from our side of the country. The sun was shining and it was very hot. We waited at the terminal to be transported to the taxi area. While there I recognized one a lady that had voyaged with me in Spring 2010. I hadn’t quite seen everyone who was on the ship but she was working as Semester at Sea staff. Cindy, who was my Dean of Students and my On-Ship mother, also had returned. The three of us stood and recanted a few memories from Brasil. A story that I shared was about my Brasilian wish bracelet that I got in Salvador Bahia.
In Bahia, Brasil many of my fellow adventurers received a cloth bracelet that was tied around the wrist in three knots, with each knot one is to make a wish. It is said that when the bracelet falls off your three wishes come true.
My bracelet was a little different. Not only did I have a wish bracelet but I was also given a tweed bracelet, 2 months prior, in India that wards off evil spirits. After about a month of wearing both they eventually became one bracelet from washing, wear, etc. So I thought it would never fall off and my wishes would never come true. Strange enough, while standing in line to exchange USD to Guatemalan Quetzals my bracelet fell off. Mind you, this was the first time I’d been out the country since getting it, simply amazing.
After sharing this story with them, the lady went in her bag and pulled out a wish bracelet and adorned me with it. New Beginnings and new wishes. She tied it in its traditional fashion and I made my three wishes. I thanked her, we all exchanged hugs and I met up with Ulato and my roommate Devon to plan out our day. A group of us decided to ride to Jaco and explore. On the way we saw huge crocodiles in the river. We stopped took pictures and grabbed some local brews and bean patties and drove for another 30minutes into Jaco, passing signs advertising Bungee Jumping, Zip lining and snorkeling.
When we arrived in Jaco, it was between beach bumming, Bungee jumping, or Zip lining. Because zip lining was overpriced where we were, and beach bumming would be uneventful, Bungee Jumping was the plan.
The benefit of traveling with a small likeminded group is that they require little to no convincing. After paying our money and signing the waivers we readied to jump from almost 200 feet. We took the elevator to the top of a large steel apparatus. While on the lift the safety instructor asked who wanted to go first, without hesitation I jumped at it. I strapped up! Double Velcroed harness across the shoulders, metal hooks across the chest and waist and around the ankles. The instructor led me to the edge, unhooked my safety cord and threw my bungee cord off the side. I looked down into the pool of water that would somewhat break my fall. The cord was fixed to dip me waist deep at the most extended point.
The instructor began the countdown; I looked to my right and saw Ulato filming me, and Devon anxious for me. The anticipation built to the point of excitement, raised my hands and dove off the edge. As I raced toward the ground all I thought about was how great life is, how I really live out my dreams, and how I hope I wasn’t about to die. Before I knew it I was deep in water before being pulled half way back up, and then spinning around until I leveled off and was guided to safety. The experience was absolutely exhilarating. Dizzy and dazed I watched Devon and Ulato jump. Ulato yelled “Damn you Cameron Thomas-Shah, before he jumped. His fall was equally footed as far as the spinning only he chose not to hit the water. Next they convinced me to rocket launch. Essentially, they launched you from a base into the sky, and because you’re strapped to elastic bands you bounce to and fro. So that’s exactly what we did. I did 7 flips in the air on the way up. I will soon upload the videos. After our aerodynamic activities, we hung out on the beach for a half an hour before heading back to the ship

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The next port was Corinto, Nicaragua. Luke, Sulongteh, Matt Vaughn, myself and some other friends ventured into the port to find a bank, we spoke to some locals about good places to eat and were pointed toward a spot called “Espigon”. They were said to have the best lobster in the country. Without hesitation we took a bike taxi to the beach. After avoiding hagglers, curb workers, and the like we arrived at Espigon and ate freshly caught lobster and shrimp. Many people complained about the speed of the service but I gently reminded that not only were we not in a hurry but not to expect the same kind of service we receive in the states. After a few cervezas and 2 hours of waiting and an amazing meal we spoke to some locals about things they enjoyed doing. The group of us paraded through the back streets of Corinto speaking and playing with children. It was a wondrous site to see my Morehouse brothers traveling with me and experiencing the world. I really enjoyed the bonding that happened with the people of Nicaragua and with my brethren.

Service Trip in Guatemala

Today we had a service trip, we traveled to the Guatemalan Pediatric Oncology Hospital. The experience was very emotional. The hospital we visited was financed by foreign investment, however the hospital only had about 35 beds. The ward serviced families who children had diseases like cancer, but the degree to which the kids were affected were perplexing. We learned that a large amount of these children had come over 10 hours to visit the hospital for 2-3 hours of treatment. The hospital paid for everything except food, but it was becoming problematic because many cases were cited where families were too poor to feed their child. Children were malnourished to the point that they could not be treated. The ward was peppered with children who were ill from treatment, crying babies, but there were also some kids who were very alert and happy to engage with us. We read inspirational notes to the children and played with them and gave them gifts. After about an hour and a half we met with the administration and they educated us on the background of the treatment center. We each gave our individual donations and made our way back to the ship. This experience truly illustrated the disparity in medicine between the developed and developing world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Getting to Guatemala

By 5:00AM I’d cleared security for my 6:25AM flight from Washington Reagan for Miami International Airport. One large orange suitcase, 44lbs, and a backpack which contained the newest issue of The Economist, my Mac, ipod, chargers, and The Memoirs of Condoleezza Rice. I sat in the terminal flabbergast from the fact that in less that 12 hours I would re board the MV Explorer, the floating campus that had taken me to 12 counties, through every timezone ,and brought my life’s most meaningful experiences. 2 hourd later I arrived in MIA, dumbfounded with how I’d get to the Ship I turned off an inhibitions and decided that once arriving in Guatemala, I’d somehow figure it out. Which is exactly what I did, 2.5 hours later I arrived in Guatemala City at 12:30, having exchanged currency, found my luggage and finding a taxi to drive me almost 2 hours to Puerto Quetzal.

I know that I have become a savvy traveler for the sheer fact that I hopped a flight to Guatemala with no for sight and got to where I need to in a timely manner.

Let me preface the rest of this blog by stating that I have no knowledge of Spanish, I have studied Latin America and the Caribbean only to a limited extent.

My taxi drive was almost 2 hours; totally quiet my driver spoke no English, French, or Chinese. Once we arrived at the port the anticipation, I walked up the entry way and saw the “Big Mother” a phrase used to describe the sentiment felt by SAS alum after a hellish experience in a country. I couldn’t believe the way I felt by returning to the place that I’d called home for several months less than a year ago.

I recognized a handful of crew and the faces of all my Morehouse brothers; there was a deep duality to the sense of home I felt.