Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Teaching Photography

Last week I was in Florida for a conference and spent a few extra days in Orlando visiting my family. My cousin Debbie set up a photo class for her friends that I taught. We spent the day at her house and I taught the students how to use their SLR cameras. In the morning we explored aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. Then in the afternoon we focused on various components of composition.

my cousin Debbie shooting from a worms-eye view

It was a fun day and I think the students learned a lot about using their cameras. If you are interested in me teaching a class for a group of your friends just let me know. Learn to use that fancy camera you have!

Here is the class description:

Photography: Moving beyond point and shoot

In this full-day class we will explore the technical and aesthetic sides of photography. Take your photography to a new level as you begin to understand composition, lighting, color, and how to adjust your camera to get the image you want. Learn how to move beyond the auto settings on your camera and control aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and more. Student will have time for hands-on practice and experimenting followed by critique, feedback, and troubleshooting of photos.

Course requirements: Digital SLR camera or other digital camera with manual controls

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Habitat for Humanity in Ghana, Day 2

The second day in Ghana Julie and I joined Semester at Sea faculty and students for a Habitat for Humanity service project. We piled into a bus and drove from Takoradi to Assan Fuso to help with a build involving five houses in various stages of completion.

There is something so intriguing about gazing out the bus window and seeing a new country, a new culture. Along the way I took lots of photos. The road traveled along the coast and we saw this group pulling in a fishing net.

Fisherman pulling out nets along Ghana's coast

Many of the houses in Ghana are painted by the local cell phone companies. The companies pay the owners a fee in exchange for using their house as a billboard. The companies include Vodofone, MTN, Tigo, and Airtel.

Village with electricity. Notice the red and white cell phone ad on the front house.

As you drive by various villages the houses look rather shabby with tin roofs some being held down by tires or haphazardly constructed plywood walls. However, Ghana is growing fast and the guides explained that one big improvement is that many houses now had electricity, evident by the many tv antennas sticking up out of the villages. In front of the villages the buildings along the road were shops selling food, hardware items, or fabric or beauty salons and repair shops. Behind that were the smaller houses and as you went further back into the villages the houses often got bigger and nicer. Really, not all that different from a U.S. neighborhood where the nicer homes are off the busy street and the shops line the main drag.

After a two-hour bus ride we arrived at the Habitat build site. It took a little while for them to get us divided and working, but eventually I was part of a crew of about 10 women who were responsible for moving bricks all day. There were large concrete/mud bricks that had been drying in the sun and needed to be moved to make space for the next house. We stacked a few hundred bricks for hours. It was hard, hot work, but we took occasional breaks to play with the kids, take photos, and drink lots of water.

Two students transporting bricks

Two students carrying water to be mixed to make mud for walls

Julie took a strong liking to one particular girl who was probably about 5 years old. She didn’t speak English and was a little shy, but she liked Julie. Julie kept asking me if we could take her home. I think her mom would have been very sad.

Julie's favorite kiddo

Julie with girl

By the end of the day our group had moved all the bricks and other groups had helped mud walls, dig trenches, mix mud, etc. It was a rewarding day of hard, sweaty work.

Our group in front of our pile of bricks

Takoradi, Ghana

As is often the case, in Ghana we docked in an industrial port. Once we left the ship we had to walk about 20 minutes to the port gate. We passed large warehouses that housed the cocoa processing plant. The most notable part was the smell. Cocoa stinks! It has a sickly sweet smell that reminded me of dumpsters.

Daniel and Julie walking out of the port

On our first day in port we walked to the gate with a group of other staff. During the walk our group seemed to grow to about 15 people including faculty, staff, and lifelong learners (older, non-student passengers). Once we passed through the security at the port’s gate we were surrounded by taxi drivers all haggling to get our business. It was a bit overwhelming, but we divided up into small groups, negotiated prices, and headed to the central market.

Julie and I ended up in a taxi with a professor and two lifelong learners. During the taxi ride, the comments from the other three were so embarrassing we both wanted to melt into our seats. They were speculating about the people in Ghana as if our driver wasn’t there. Hello! Ghanaians speak English! None of us in the cab had been to Ghana so it’s not as if they knew what they were talking about. Julie and I just looked at each other and decided we needed to head off with some other folks once we got to the market.

Semester at Sea is vigilant about encouraging people to travel in groups. However, sometimes it gets out of hand. By the time we gotten to the market our group had grown to about 15 people. This is not a good way to travel. It’s cumbersome to keep track of so many people and makes you more of a target too. Julie and I decided to split off with two other people, who were less inclined to speak down about the locals. The four of us wondered around the market for a while, which was fascinating.

Market in Takoradi

The market is where the farmers and others bring their goods to sell. Some have stalls they set them up on, but most just lay our a blanket or small crates and display there wares in there. On one side of the street was all the food – carrots, tomatoes, salted fish, peas, etc. The produce was gorgeous. I’ve never seen such red, bright tomatoes and enormous carrots. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really safe for us to eat, so we could just look.

On the other side of the street was everything else – flip flops, belts, plastic storage containers, clothes, kitchen utensils, towels, cell phones, etc. The market was crowded and busy with so many locals buying what they needed. Many people walked around with their goods on a large bowl on their head. First, they would roll up a small towel and shape it into a circle and place that on their head. Then, they would get help from someone else to lift the large bowl or crate onto their head. They’d walk around balancing that on their head and selling their goods. A common product sold this way were buckets of coal chunks, which I assume were used for their cooking stoves, because they certainly didn’t need any heat in their homes.

After wandering around the market a bit we went back to the ship for lunch. We asked our taxi driver which beach he would go to. He told us about Africa Beach. After lunch nine of us took a taxi to Africa Beach. It was beautiful and the water was so warm, like bath water.

L to R: Bianca, Mark, Faith, Julie, Annie, Wei-man, and Dustin

Julie at Africa Beach

Walking to dinner shortly before sunset

L to R: Me, Wei-man, Julie, Annie, and Faith

We played around on the beach for a couple of hours swimming, sitting in the sand, and talking to some locals. It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon. Then, we decided to go to dinner. We asked a local where he’d recommend and he suggested the African Beach Hotel. Our taxi driver had dropped us off there and it looked nice so we headed over. As we walked into the backyard restaurant everything looked quite normal. There were a couple dozen tables with umbrellas scattered around the grass, a soccer game was playing on a tv, and the place was about half full which seemed like a good sign. The swimming pool and the trampoline situated amongst the tables didn’t even seem that odd at first. The wait staff pulled two tables together for our group of nine and we settled in.

Then, things got weird. Since we had been swimming I went to the bathroom to change my clothes and our friend Bianca came in a few minutes after me. While I was in my stall I could hear Bianca talking to someone, but I couldn’t hear what the other person was saying. Bianca was answering questions about our trip, but something in her tone seemed a bit off, as if she were uncomfortable. By the time I finished Bianca had left and the other woman was in her own stall.

I returned to the table to hear Bianca tell the group that this lady came into the bathroom and was blocking the door and started asking her lots of questions. She had on large fake eyelashes and a tight, short skirt. My first thought was that she was just a little off and not really an issue. We dismissed it as an anomaly and returned to the menus. Our waitress came over and we ordered drinks. I asked her if we could jump on the trampoline and she said yes. That made my day! Dustin, Bianca and I kicked off our shoes and scrambled on.

Me, Bianca, and Dustin on the trampoline

After our bouncing we all returned to the table and the woman Bianca met in the bathroom approached our group and started talking to Bianca. She was very flirtatious and walked around our whole table introducing herself to each of us. Felicia was clearly high and we were getting uncomfortable. We asked her to leave and finally she did. We all kind of looked at each other like “what was that all about?!” Some of us wanted to leave and some of us figured things were fine now that she had left. We tried to relax and enjoy ourselves. But then, another woman came over and the process was repeated again. To make a long story short, we paid for our drinks, canceled our food order and left. We had somehow ended up in a brothel.

I am not sure if we were in the African Beach Hotel or not. But, we all felt a little squeamish and were glad to get back to the ship. Julie ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner explaining that she just needed some comfort food.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Leaving Manaus via the Amazon River

We spend the last day in Brazil wondering around the streets of Manaus and doing a little last minute shopping, mostly stocking up on snacks for our 9-day trip to Ghana. The supermarket we went to was enormous. It had two stories and was like a grocery store, Target, and Walgreens mixed into one. They even sold bikes.

We spent the next two days sailing back down the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean. I loved the villages, little colorful boxes on a hill. They reminded me of Julie’s artwork.

A village on the Amazon River

On to Ghana!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Amazon Jungle, Day 3

Our third day in the Amazon Jungle started with a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple, oranges, sweet bread, and bananas. It was more food then the 3 of us could possibly eat. Francisco threw the extra into the woods to be eaten by the monkeys. There's not exactly a Leave No Trace ethic here, but I'm sure the monkeys loved it.

Our breakfast buffet

After breakfast we packed up our hammocks and started our hike back to the lodge. Francisco led the way and in a few feet he stopped abruptly and jumped back. He was surprised by an injured bird sitting in the middle of the trail. It was so well camouflaged and hissed at him. The birds mouth looked like the inside of a snake’s mouth. An animal probably attacked it in the middle of the night. He poked at the bird so that it hissed and we saw it’s mouth. We left it there for nature to do her thing.

The injured bird

As we continued on we passed a tree with a large nest in the side. Our guide cut an “X” across the nest with his machete and then put his hand on the nest. In seconds his hand was covered in small ants. He slapped at them to kill them then rubbed them around. Natural mosquito repellant, he said. It did smell good, but I wasn’t game to try it.

A nest of ants that when crushed create a natural mosquito repellent

There actually weren’t really any mosquitoes around. Of course, we had heard horror stories about the mosquitoes in the Amazon Jungle, but we were on the Rio Urubu and due to the high acidity of the water the mosquito eggs can’t survive in it. Therefore, there weren’t many mosquitoes. It was great! We had insect repellent with us, but we barely used it. I did find two ticks on me though so long pants were important.

We continued on and Francisco stopped again and walked off the trail to a large vine. He cut a section of the vine and showed us how to drink water out of it. I was skeptical, but the water was delicious. It tasted so pure. It also sounded like a quiet rain stick when the water ran down. The vine acts as a filter and cleans the water. He said it’s a common source of water when you need it for survival.

Julie drinking water from a vine

We continued walking further and then got to swing from a vine. This made me very happy. Of course, it is the classic jungle thing to do and I love swinging on things.

Julie swinging on the vine

We continued on and suddenly Francisco just veered off the path to a pile of red wood. We watched as he picked up a piece and started hacking away with his machete. We had no idea what he was doing. Soon we saw a spoon-like shape emerging from the wood. We thought he was making a spoon for the chef back at the lodge. Then he came back, handed the spoon to Julie and said he’d carve it a little nicer for her back at the lodge. We were shocked at his generosity. Later, he did shape it into a gorgeous, large stirring spoon for Julie. She was very excited and appreciative.

Francisco doing the rough cut for Julie's spoon

As we got close to the lodge Francisco showed us how the roofs of the buildings are made from the palm fronds. The leaves are bent and then the fronds are layered together overlapping each other. Simple and genius.

Bending the green fronds to form the roof

The underside of the thatched roof

We arrived back to the lodge safely, sweaty, and very happy. We showered, ate lunch, repacked our bags and headed back to Manaus via boat and bus.

We had a wonderful trip and Francisco was an excellent guide – professional, knowledgeable, intelligent, and funny. We are very thankful to have worked with him and the other staff of Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours. I would highly recommend them to anyone traveling to that area.

South African Homestay

My Resident Assistant, Candace Stone, wrote a great article for the Semester at Sea Blog discussing her experience during a South African homestay. Click here to go to the SAS blog. She's a great writer. I'm so proud of her!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Amazon Jungle, Day 2

Francisco woke us early for a sunrise paddle to look for dolphins. It was a gorgeous morning even though we never did see dolphins. The water was a little choppy which made it harder to spot their fins cresting the water. Their fins don’t come out as much as saltwater dolphins like the Atlantic Bottlenose. These are freshwater species called Pink Dolphins or Grey Dolphins. You can probably guess their color.

After a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple and sweet bread we went out for another paddle with the UK couple. They have a great sense of humor and loved to tease Francisco about all sorts of things and he dished it right back. It was fun.

After lunch we had a nice siesta then packed our bags and Julie, Francisco and I headed out for an overnight hike in the jungle. Another guide drove us down the river to our starting point. We hopped out of the boat with our backpacks and he sped away. The only way back to the lodge was to walk. There didn’t appear to be a trail, but Francisco was confident in where we were going. Eventually you could see a faint trail, but I was glad to be with him. We would have been in a heap of trouble without a guide. It’s not like going hiking in a U.S. National Park or somewhere with nice marked signs or trail cairns along the way. This seemed to be more remote than most places in the lower 48. We carried our hammocks, food, and a soot covered cooking pot. Francisco carried a machete and we soon saw how adept he was with using it as he cleared large leaves out of our way and chopped at vines. Later I was carrying it and realized it’s not as easy as it looks.

As we hiked he taught us about many of the plants we passed. We saw the trees that make Vick’s Vapor Rub and Tiger Balm, quinine for tonic water, the natural malaria prophylactic, the medicine for rheumatism, and many more. It’s amazing what’s growing in there. I imagine there are many benefits from the plants that no one knows about yet.

As we passed a small hole in the ground Francisco stopped us and picked a palm tree frond. With his machete he shaved it off except for a few little fronds on the end. He stuck the frond in the hole and wiggled. In a moment a huge tarantula crawled out!

Francisco holding the tarantula

He expertly picked it up from the back so he didn’t get bitten, like picking up a lobster. He said a drop of the poison would kill you and held up the spider so we could see the poison dripping out. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, I didn’t realize they were actually poisonous. I just thought they were big, hairy, and ugly. I guess since people have them as pets I had gotten the wrong impression. Now I know better!

We arrived to our campsite in the late afternoon. We gathered firewood, set up our hammocks, and Francisco cooked us an enormous meal of rice, potatoes, sausage, and veggies. I think he forgot it was just us three. He cooked enough for at least six people!

Our dinner cooking over the fire

We used large leaves for plates and Francisco cut spoons out of wood with his machete. He’s amazingly adept at using that thing.

Dinner with our machete-cut spoons and leaf plates

I was a little nervous about sleeping well in a hammock, but it was surprisingly comfortable. I just missed having a pillow.

Julie in her hammock

Francisco forgot the ropes to tie up his hammock so he used his machete to strip some bark from a tree and used that as rope. It was quite impressive. I think he was a little nervous about it's strength, but it didn't break in the middle of the night. He was very happy about that!

There were candles set up around our camp. They added a nice touch.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Cape Town Blues

Cape Town, South Africa

I’m way behind in posting about my travels, but I’m jumping ahead in order to share what’s been happening in the last 24 hours here. Yesterday morning we arrived in South Africa in time to see a gorgeous sunrise over the continent. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the day. The winds were too high and the sees too rough for us to dock. We paced back and forth along the coast at Cape Town all day long. At first we thought things would die down by noon, but they didn’t, they actually seemed to pick up. Then they thought maybe by the late afternoon, but no. Then they said by 8pm, but same story – no. Finally, we went to bed sure we’d be on shore by early morning. Unfortunately, we woke this morning still at sea. It was a very disappointing day. We could see Cape Town, but couldn’t get there. The waves weren’t that bad, maybe 2-4 feet, but the winds were at around 40-50 knots yesterday.

Our path during the last 24 hours

Me with Cape Town in the background

Here’s how it works when we get to a port. As we arrive a small boat comes out to greet our ship and comes along side us, our crew opens up a little platform and a local expert jumps on our ship while we are still moving. This person is called the pilot. The pilot steers our ship into the dock. Apparently, the harbor at Cape Town is very narrow and rocky so they have to be more cautious then usual when landing.

This morning when I went out I was surprised we were still at sea because the waves and wind seems rather calm to me. Of course, what do I know about steering a ship? Anyway, it’s always to the pilot’s discretion if we can land or not. From what we heard our captain was getting impatient and trying to convince them to take us in. The latest news is the pilot is coming on board that we should be landed in a couple of hours. The biggest bummer about all this is that we miss a day and a half in South Africa, which for me it was one of the ports I was most excited about. I doubt we’ll get to make up the time on the other end due to costs. We have to pay for the berth space even if we can’t get there and apparently, it costs a fortune. I just learned yesterday that it costs a half a million dollars just to fill up our gas tank!

Staring out the window, wishing we were on land

Since yesterday was an unexpected free day I took two naps, played Apples to Apples with some students, tried to repair my broken camera (with no luck), wrote on my blog, took photos (with my functional camera), and generally lazed around. Everyone was doing the same thing. I’ve never seen so many card games and board games happening at once. I think everyone had at least one nap. For the most part the students were very patient and understanding about everything. However, if we don’t get off today I think there might be a mutiny. I might even participate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Amazon Jungle, Day 1

The Urubu River

We spent three days exploring the Amazon and didn’t see an American the entire time! It was great! It’s one of the challenges when traveling with Semester at Sea. When 700 Americans embark in a city at once you’re bound to run into each other, so we were excited to find a place where no one else was at.

We started the morning early rushing around to pack last minute items for a 3-day excursion in the Amazon Jungle. We met a driver from Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours at 7am for a quick ride to the bus station. There we boarded a public, intercity bus for a 3-hour ride to Lindoa. The bus was one of the nicest I’ve ever been on and was so comfortable, not what you’d think of for a public bus in Brazil. We were especially appreciative, because we were so tired. By the time we arrived in the tiny town of Lindoa we were well rested and ready for a 40 minutes boat ride upriver to our lodge.

A fruit stand in Lindoa (notice the young boy with a coconut)

When we arrived we were introduced to Francisco our guide. He showed us to our room in the tower. We had a nice view of the Urubu River, a tributary of the Amazon River. Our accommodations were simple, but clean and adequate. We had a private bath with a toilet and sink and a shared shower downstairs. They pump water right out of the river. It goes through a filter system to remove any particles, but it’s not potable. There’s no hot water it just sits in tanks in the sun and warms up a little, but not much. The good thing about having swam in Lake Superior and living in Wisconsin is that your concept of cold water shifts drastically. It was quite hot out so when we did take showers the cool water felt great.

The tower we slept in

In the afternoon we went out canoeing with our guide and an English couple who was also visiting. They were great fun. All the canoe paddles were handmade and quite heavy. I was surprised at how heavy they were. Later our guide told us they keep them thick and heavy because the tourists break them if they don’t. Made me miss my nice lightweight canoe paddle at home! Fortunately, our guide was such a strong paddler we could slack from time to time and take photos of the gorgeous trees growing out of the water. The water was about 2 meters deep and would get up to 8 meters during the rainy season making the trees look like little bushes sticking out of the water. It would be cool if you could scuba dive under there and see all the trees trunks under the water with fish swimming through the leaves.

Strong, heavy, hand carved paddles

On the way back to the lodge we stopped for some piranha fishing. It’s a very simple process, just a hook, a line, and raw chicken. No pole or reel needed. The toughest part is snapping the line when the piranha bites to secure the hook in it's mouth. When we put our lines in Julie and I both caught a fish almost immediately.

The piranha's sharp teeth (shown with a leaf in it's mouth)

Julie and Amy with our piranhas

I though, wow, this is going to be fun. Well sadly, my luck ended there. I couldn’t seem to get the snap just right again. Julie, however, proved to be quite the fisher and brought in at least 7 fish. The English couple we were with caught a few as did the guide. We took them all back to the lodge and we ate them for dinner. They were great! Who woulda thought piranha would be so tasty.

A plate of grilled piranha and the rest of our meal (rice, pasta, veggies, chicken)

After dinner we grabbed flashlights and went out again to look for caiman (alligators). This time is was just Julie, me, and Francisco. It was a beautiful clear night and the trees were reflecting in the water. We sped along in the little boat as Francisco shined the light along the base of the trees. He was looking for the reflective eyes of the caiman. After a while we saw some. I couldn’t see them as clearly, but he was so well trained to spot them. We motored into the trees to the shallow spot where the eyes were. He stopped the motor, pushed the boat along with the paddle, then stepped over us to the front of the boat, and hopped barefoot into the water. He slowly and sneakily crept up to the caiman then WAM! He reached in and grabbed it around the neck, yanking up a young, two foot caiman. He carried it back to our boat and sat down with us to show us the little guy. With Francisco’s hand around his neck he was very still, didn’t struggle at all. He figured the cayman was about a year and a half old. They grow to be several feet long. We each got to hold it and feel it’s smooth belly and rough back.

Amy holding the young caiman

Francisco and Julie with the caiman

Then Julie gently released him back into the water.

Swim caiman, swim!

We went back to the lodge and quickly fell asleep. It was a long, but wonderful day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Manaus, Brazil

Today we arrived in Manaus, Brazil a bustling city of 2-3 million people that is Brazil’s gateway to the Amazon Jungle. Before arriving we were bombarded with information about how dangerous Brazil can be. Violent crime on tourists is rare, but muggings and theft is common. It has been drilled into our heads to travel in groups. So, we headed out with a group of 12. Before we were even out of the port it seemed like a bad idea. Within the first 500 yards we stopped four to six times for photos, someone peaking into a store, the group getting too spread out, etc. This was definitely not making us safer. If anything we were now a more obvious target. We soon found a bank with 15-20 ATMs inside a lobby. While some people were getting money we decided to split into two groups and meet up later at the Opera House. That worked really well and the six of us who already had money left.

We headed to the Amazon Teatro or the Opera House. It’s the most beautiful building in the town. As we stepped inside we saw other people were filling the seats. We followed the crowd and in about 20 minutes a beautiful classical performance started. Wow, were we surprised! What great timing! We had no idea. The conductor was wonderful to watch. He was really a dancer with a baton and all the musicians responded to his moves. Manaus is considered the classical capitol of Brazil and they are very proud of their beautiful building.

The balcony in Amazon Teatro

After the performance Julie and I split off from the group because we wanted to go to the Manaus Hostel to inquire about another hostel in the jungle. We wanted to sign up for a tour and we had found the place online. There are a lot of tourist scams and everything we read about Manaus and Amazon jungle tours says to book tours in person at a hotel or the tour office. We were glad we followed that advice because apparently the place was fake. Hostels generally know about each other and they had never heard of the place. We went to three tour operators and ended up booking with the one located in the hostel called Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours. Our trip goes up north a couple hours from Manaus up the Rio Urubu. This river is more acidic which means fewer mosquitoes, which will be particularly nice in malaria country. We leave in the morning for 3 days and two nights in the Amazon jungle.

We came back to the ship for dinner because there is not much open on Sunday in Manaus and I am not feeling well. I picked up a cold from Julie last night. She’s fine now, but I’m stuffy and tired. She went out Samba dancing with some other friends, but I’m staying in tonight and hoping to rest up and feel better before our jungle tour.

The Amazon River

We spent the last three days sailing up the Amazon River. It’s a wide, mellow, brown, muddy river. It’s the largest freshwater river in the world flowing through the largest tropical rainforest in the world. The Amazon River has a flow ten times the size of the Mississippi with a watershed almost the size of the continental U.S! Every day it dumps 1.3 trillion gallons of water into the ocean. We are going 1,000 miles inland to Manaus, Brazil where we will get to explore the Amazon.

Shortly after we entered the Amazon from the Atlantic some Brazilian dignitaries and U.S. Ambassadors came aboard and sailed with us to Manaus. They gave talks and panel discussions about the Brazilian economy and other things. To be honest, it was pretty boring so I didn’t listen to most of it. The best part was the night before port the two U.S. Ambassadors to Brazil joined us for a game of Mafia in the faculty/staff lounge. Now, that’s good stuff.


We spent two days on the beautiful island of Dominica. Dominica is nestled in the Caribbean and most Americans have never heard of it. This is probably because there are no resorts on the island or direct flights from the U.S. It’s a more popular travel destination for Europeans and we did meet two Swedes while we were there.

Middleham Falls, Dominica
The two-day stop was much too quick and we only saw a tiny bit of this fascinating country. The first day we hired a taxi driver to take four of us, me, Julie, Bianca and Dustin - 2 other LLCs, to a large waterfall called Middleham Falls. I think it was about 150 feet high and beautiful. One of the women with us, Bianca, has never seen a waterfall. She said ever since she was a little kid she’s wanted to see a waterfall and a unicorn. I hope I get to be there when she sees the unicorn too.

Bianca, Dustin, Julie, and me in front of Middleham Falls

When we arrived at the parking lot the driver told us he would wait since it was only about 45 min hike each way. There were four of us and we were a bit slow so the round trip hike took us four hours. We stayed at the falls for a bit and I jumped into the pool in my clothes. No one else wanted to – I can’t imagine why. We took lots of photos, but the forest created a dark canopy that made photos difficult, even with the ISO set to 800.

Julie hoping on some rocks to keep her feet dry

When we returned our driver Charles seemed perfectly content that it had taken us so long. This style of waiting for clients is apparently quite common. On the drive home we stopped at a view over the city and Charles talked with us about Dominica and recent changes that are happening with the Caribbean as the Chinese get more involved in their economy. See Julie's blog for more on that topic.

Champaign Reef, Dominica

On Monday we went to Champaign Reef about 30 minutes south of Roseau near Point Michel. We were going to take the city bus, but Charles agreed to drive us there for the same price, $2/each. He dropped us off at Irie Safaris where we rented snorkeling gear for $12/set. There were five of us, but we just rented three sets to save a little money. The tourist office in town told us it was $4/set so we were a little surprised, plus one person wasn’t sure she was going to snorkel. We listened to a short orientation then walked down to the beach. The beaches in Dominica are covered in gray and black rocks so shoes are a must. It rained most of the morning so we nestled into a little cave-like overhang on the beach to stay dry. Julie, Alyssa, and I put on the snorkeling gear and waded in. Like my dad always says – it doesn’t rain underwater! The reef was amazing! We saw lots of fish and beautiful coral. There was one brain coral that was at least three feet in diameter. It must have been very old.

The brain coral

My favorite part was diving down to get closer to the coral. When you get closer the colors are much more vibrant and interesting. From the surface things look more blue and green, but when you get up close you see more variation. This fan coral was huge, about 2 feet high and swayed back and forth with the waves.

The fan coral

Me diving down to check out the reef up close

Our friend Raja had never snorkeled before and he did great. There was a funny moment though. At one point I got stung by something on my ankle. We were told there was something called sea lice that floats in the water and you can’t see it. It can sting if it’s touched, but isn’t very common. The sting was very minor and felt like an ant bite, but nevertheless I uttered a four letter word and Raja immediately wanted to know what happened. I reluctantly told him, reluctant because I knew he would want to get out. Sure enough he was swimming to shore so fast. For someone who wasn’t a good swimmer and had never snorkeled before he zoomed to shore so fast I couldn’t keep up. It was so funny. Needless to say he was snorkeling pretty well by then. The pain from the sting went away in a few minutes and I went back in for round three.

Julie & I snorkeling

We left after a couple of hours, but I really would have been perfectly fine staying for several more. I love snorkeling and diving. When I was a kid we had a pool in our backyard and I can remember snorkeling in circles around the pool for hours looking at every little variation in the tile. For me, it’s so peaceful and relaxing being underwater.

Our ship docked in Dominica

I look forward to the opportunity to go back to Dominica someday. Preferably to stay longer. It's a wonderful, beautiful place with kind, generous people.