Tuesday, April 23, 2013


We first saw Gibraltar yesterday morning at breakast, but it was covered with clouds.  We must have just been sailing around, because we saw it again in the afternoon.  The top was still a little cloud bound, but the shape was easily recognizable.  We stayed just offshore the rest of the day to refuel.  The straits of Gibraltar are the passage between the Altantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Kind of foggy but you'll recognize the shape!
We had a final party for the Lifelong Learners with hors d'hoerves, champagne, and ice cream cake.  It is strange that I have been with these people for over three months.   There are some amazing people in this group.  The students promise to be even more amazing.

Karen Burns and Sharon Hostler
Field Coordinator and Academic Dean for Spring 2013

Phyllis from Boulder and Jackie from New Jersey

Ed and Barbara Sobie

Today are the last final exams.  I am glad Lifelong Learners don't have to take the tests!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Our final day in Morocco.  This is a progressive country of 360 million people.  The first transexual operation was done here in 1990, turning an Italian man into a woman.  

Hassan II minaret-60 stories high
Only 46% of the people are Arab, while most of the rest are Berber.  French and other Europeans are a decided minority.  The official languages are Arab and French.   Berber was added recently, though it was not even a written language until 12 years ago.  Unemployment is 15%, and illiteracy 28%.  The French did not invest in public education for their colonies, and the present government is trying to overcome this.

Casablanca is the largest city and 67% of the economy.  Today I went to the Hassan II Mosque to see it in the daytime.  It was lovely at night with the lights, but more impressive in the day.  Built between 1987 and 1993 at a cost of $280 million, the massive buildings surround a huge courtyard which holds 80,000 people.   Overlooking it is the highest religious tower in the world.  The three spheres on top represent the three major religions:  Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  A laser light on top points to Mecca.  Inside, the mosque accommodates 25,000 worshippers and has a movable roof.  A huge car park is underground.  It is all very modern, but with its size, luxury, and beauty, it holds its own against the ancient wonders.

Afterwards I visited the ancient Medina, or old town, built in the 12th century but destroyed by Portuguese pirates in 1468 and 1515.  It was rebuilt by Mohammed I, who was also the first world leader to recognize the new United States of America.
Tajine (clay pot) cooking
We walked through the local food market.  The fruits and vegetables looked especially fresh.  They had unusual things like live turtles and snails, which is probably a French thing.  The we went to a cooking class at La Toque Blanche.  We learned how to make basic Moroccan food, including appetizers, tajine chicken (cooked in a clay pot), and a rice and raisin dessert.  It was a demonstration, not hands on, but afterwards we got to eat the food.  There was also a demonstration of how to make Moroccan tea.  You wash the tea leaves in hot water, pour onto mint leaves, add sugar and boiled water, then put on a low flame to boil.  The water is poured on somewhat dramatically, with the stream of water held as high as possible while avoiding splashing.  It takes practice.

Pouring tea

Friday, April 19, 2013


We arrived in Casablanca, the largest city and commercial center of Morocco, in the morning and I immediately set off with a small group on a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.  The road was a very good divided highway that our guide said was seven years old.  He talked almost the whole way about the history and culture of the country.

Morocco was initially settled by the Berbers 5000 years ago and they still make up the majority of the population.  The Arabs came in the 7th Century and introduced Islam, which is followed by 99% of the population.  Morocco was the first country to recognize the new United States of America.  

The French came in 1912 and bought land instead of taking it by force, but still claimed sovereignty.  The country became independent in 1956 and nationalized the land but bought it back from the French.  The population has been growing 8.5% a year, with many foreigners moving in.  Education is free through university, but unemployment is high.  Many Moroccans work overseas and send remittances home, much as the Mexicans do in North America, and that is an important part of the economy.  They have no oil or gas, but phosphate and fish are important exports.  There is an ongoing dispute over the Western Sahara (which does have oil) between Morocco and Algeria.  

There appears to be a lot of wealth in Casablanca and Marrakech, with huge buildings and lots of new condo construction.  Our guide said Marrakech has 250,000 beds for tourists.  They had a million tourists last year and the number has been increasing due to the proximity to Europe and publicity from the Arab Spring.  The guide says most of the people are very poor and live in the countryside.  Although education is free, it is easily accessible only in the cities.

Our first stop was the Majorelle Gardens, designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920's and 30's.  It is a peaceful site that has lots of bamboo, cacti, fountains, birds, and an art deco house.  Yves St. Laurent, a famous French designer who bought the site in 1980, was buried there after his death in 2008.  The painter is known for a vivid blue color, "majorelle blue," which is I saw many times as I travelled the country.

Palace Shaharaman Restaurant
By this time we were starving, so we went to lunch at at the Palace Shaharaman Restaurant in the median.  The inside really did look like a palace, with tiled floors and walls, carpets, moroccan lamps, etc.  Our meal started with about ten kinds of vegetable dishes, then chicken baked in a clay tajine, or cone shaped pottery.  Next came couscous with a center tower of beef topped with vegetables.  The dessert was oranges and bananas followed by almond biscotti and mint tea.  We had musicians playing moroccan music through the meal and a belly dancer at the end.  It was a fun and satisfying meal.

Ceiling detail, Bahia Palace

 After lunch we took a short walk through the old neighborhood to Bahia Palace, built by the Grand Vizier to the Sultan in the 19th century.  The multiple harems look onto a central courtyard with fountains.  Per our guide, he had four wives and rooms for 24 concubines.  The main room has a ceiling about 50 feet high, which seems to make it very cool.  The huge wooden doors and intricate tile work make the place very impressive

Fiinally we went to the souk (market) and walked through the narrow passages to the plaza, where we could see snake charmers, acrobats, dancers in drag, food booths, and many other things going on.

The souk
Market Square

After a night at the Royal Majator Hotel we drove to the Ourika Valley and the Atlas Mountains, which rise over 13,000 feet above the desert.  The valley was surprisingly green and lovely.  The snow on the mountain peaks contrasted with the orange and olive groves in the valley.

Ourika Valley

You can't go to Morocco without seeing camels!

We had lunch at the home of a Berber family and enjoyed typical Moroccan food with couscous, vegetables, and tajine chicken.  The woman of the house showed us how to make proper Moroccan tea, which includes fresh mint, lots of sugar, and pouring the hot tea into the glass from several feet above.
In the Berber kitchen

On our way back to the ship, we stopped to see the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.  It is the third largest mosque in the world and beautifully lit up at night.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Our last day in Ghana, I took a tour to Tangorme Village to visit the Ehweh tribe, one of 45 main tribes in the country, with each having its own language and dialects.  In 1844 the British captured several of the chiefs and had them sign a bond for 100 years.  That ended in 1944, when the world was at war, so the status quo remained until 1960, when Ghana, then named the Gold Coast, became the first African country to gain independence from a colonial power.  Kwame Nkruhmah, who believed in African unity and Karl Marx, was the first Prime Minister.

Ceremonies were overseen by the king
We went past Kpong Dam, built by the USA to provide cheap hydroelectric power for Kaiser aluminum.  The village we visited is just down the road.  The dam created a lot of environmental problems, but also jobs and training.  It is now run by a Ghanaian company.

The village consists of several stone block buildings, including a school.  The first thing we did in the village was greet all the elders.  They had folding chairs set up for us so we didn't have to sit on the ground.  Then we had a naming ceremony.  Our names were based on our birth dates and the day of the week we were born.  Mine is Delali, which they said means "saved by God."  All the names had religious meanings, but whether they are Christian I am not sure.  When our names were called everyone clapped and we went up front to get a pottery bowl with our old and new names on it, plus a bead bracelet.  The beads are very colorful and the area is known for them.  Then there was lots of singing and dancing.
...and the Prince.  Elders are in the background
Jim learns the Ghanian boogie
After the ceremony, which lasted a couple of hours(!), we went to see their pottery making.  They make the pots by hand and dry them in the sun.  They use a natural dye for glazing.  During this time the kids were trying to sit with us and hold our hands.  They didn't ask us to buy anything, although they had a small table selling ugly statues.  We did pay for the tour, though, and it was all a tad too commercial for me, especially knowing that another SAS group had been there the previous day.  Do they do this every day?  Twice a day?

Making pots.  Backache???
Village schoolgirls

Monday, April 8, 2013


The next day we headed to Elmina Castle (aka St George's Castle), the oldest European building in the tropical world.   The Portuguese first came to the area in 1471 looking for a route to the Indies, then built the Castle in 1632, ten years before Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage.  In 1637 it was captured by the Dutch and was under control of the Dutch East Indies Company until it was sold to the British in 1872.

We entered the Castle and came to a huge courtyard.  On one end is what was the oldest Catholic church in Africa.  When the Dutch came, they removed the tower.  It later became an Anglican church, ironically sitting above the male slave dungeon.  It now serves as a museum.

St George's Castle moat

We wandered into a smaller courtyard on the side.  They used to keep 400 female slaves in the adjacent area, chained to each other.  All feces, urine and vomit were left on the floor.  Comely slaves were taken to the courtyard.  The governor had a balcony overlooking it and could have his pick of slaves.  The ones who refused to be raped were tied to a cannonball in the courtyard and given no food or water.  Pregnant slaves were taken to houses in town and used as domestic slaves.

Male slaves were kept in an area on the other side of the main courtyard.  There were small cells with little light or air.  European soldiers would be kept in there for punishment for an hour or two.  Condemned black men were kept in there with no food or water until they died.

Those who survived the hellish conditions were taken 300 at a time down a narrow passage to the "roof of no return"  and loaded onto ships.

We then proceeded to Cape Coast Castle on the other side of the bay.  This was built by the British in 1663 to handle the ivory and captured slaves.  It was the administrative center of the British colony until moved to Accra in 1877.

The captured slaves were chained and shackled together in a stone room with one small high window and fed twice a day.  A small trough in the floor captured the flow of urine.  Piles of human waste were kept on one end of the room.  Those who died had their bodies thrown off the ramparts into the sea.  Condemned slaves were put in an airless room that held up to 50 slaves. shackled together.  When they all died the whole group was disposed of.

Female slaves were kept in another area chained so they lay head to toe.  The pretty ones were put in a front room and used by the soldiers.  After a minimum of six weeks the survivors went to the "gates of no return" to be loaded onto slave ships.

 A plaque was placed on the walls of both castles by the Pan African Council in 1992.  It reads:
"In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors.  May those who died rest in peace.  May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against them.  We the living vow to uphold this."

After lunch, we drove to the port of Tema to find our ship.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Canopy walkway

Our second day in Ghana I took a tour to Kakum National Park, one of the few remaining areas of tropical rainforest in the country.  There are supposed to be 40 large mammal and 400 bird species here, but I didn't see more than a few birds and a strangely colored lizard.  The main attraction here is the canopy walkway, constructed with boards, rope and pipe high in the treetops.  You put one foot in front of the other so you don't swing wildly side to side as you walk.  It gets kind of crazy when there are several people at once on the same section you are on.  I had been on something similar in the Peruvian Amazon, but there were a lot of birds and monkeys there.  Here I just saw trees.

We had lunch at Han's Cottage, a restaurant with a large crocodile pond in front of it.  We only saw the snouts coming up out of the water.

An interesting thing about Ghana is that you don't see anyone smoking.  Per our guide, smoking became unfashionable in the 1970's when there was a big campaign by the government, churches and schools to make it socially unacceptable for fathers and mothers to smoke in homes with children.  That was expanded to cars and workplaces.  Eventually the tobacco companies left and now you only see public smoking in bars.  This social pressure seems to work for HIV, also, since the rate is less than 3%, very low for Africa.

Cocoanut Grove Hotel
We reached our hotel for the night, Cocoanut Grove, around 3 p.m.  The place is right on a gorgeous rocky beach and has pretty lawns and cottages.  I was a little upset to find they have wifi here, since I don't have my laptop with me.  I haven't been able to send my blog since Capetown due to lack of internet.  My roommate is Susan again, who I shared with in India.  She arranged to have a massage before dinner.  The masseuse was a black American from New Jersey who had come to Ghana as a missionary ten years ago.

There was another group of 21 SAS faculty here on an independent tour so we had plenty of people to socialize with.  Beer was cheap and the buffet dinner  outdoors overlooking the ocean was upscale typical Ghanaian.  I was surprised not to see the sunset, but the Ghanaian coast faces South.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


We reached Ghana ahead of schedule and just hung around offshore until the pilot boat could take us in the next morning.  They were supposed to meet us at 8 a.m. but didn't show up till about 9:30 because they couldn't get their boat to run.  Very reassuring!  A least we didn't have to go through face to face immigration, just get off the ship.

I took a city tour of the port city, Takoradi, and the historic capital, Sekondi.  Takoradi is not as important a port as Tema, near the current capital city of Accra, but carries cargo to and from neighboring countries like Ivory Coast that do not have their own ports.  It is also important for the oil and gas industries.  That must be where the good jobs are, because we passed several schools highlighting training in those fields.  The port has huge piles of manganese and bauxite waiting to be loaded.  Gold is the number one export.  The country was called the Gold Coast before independence.  Cocoa, forestry products, and tourism are the next most important industries.  Our guide said that Ghanian chocolate is the best in the world.  I tried some, but can't tell for sure.  I think my taste buds are used to a higher fat and sugar content.

Washing day

A lot of the stores have crazy names like "Jesus is Alive Electronics," "Hands of God Market," "By His Grace Fashion," and "God's Blessing Furniture."  The missionaries apparently really did a number on these people.  There are a lot of churches of all faiths here, including Jehovah's Witness and Latter Day Saints.

Former British headquarters

Sekondi is the old British colonial headquarters.  We passed the old British administration building, post office, and train station.  They look like they were abandoned hundreds of years ago, but independence was only in 1957.  People drive on the right side of the road, and I originally thought the Ghanaians did what the Burmese did in changing to driving on the right side of the road after independence in protest against colonialism.  I was told that when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was organized only 5 of the 17 member countries were former British colonies, so they went with the majority and changed to driving on the right side in 1974.  I feel more comfortable with that, but it must have been very confusing at the time.  Most of the cars here are used cars from Europe and the USA and at least ten years old.  I didn't see any left hand drive cars, unlike Burma.

We went to a fishing village.  The housing consists mostly of mud walls and tin roofs.  We saw some fish grilling and boat building.  The village is very poor and has open sewers running through it.  A lot of the kids have distended bellies and missing teeth.  The people were very friendly, though.  The little kids and the adults all seemed to enjoy talking to us.   I expected Ghana to have a fairly good standard of living, but this is much worse than the South African townships.  There are very few nice modern buildings or houses in the area.

We drove by the "European" area, where only whites used to live.  They still have a nice sports club with golf course and a few decent looking hotels.   My guide says they do get a lot of tourists here.  There is not really a lot to see, though, since there is no "downtown" or historic buildings that aren't ruins.  We had lunch at a decent restaurant.  It was a buffet of white rice, spicy rice, plantains, chicken stew, ribs, and fish.  For dessert we had ice cream.  We had been warned against dairy and I hope I don't regret eating it.  Time will tell.

Our last stop was at the main market.  It is a lot of stalls over a big area.  There were a lot of narrow paths through it and we just wandered around for awhile till we found our way out.  There is not really anything you would want to buy.  A lot of vegetables, fish, lengths of material, pots and pans, etc.

Back at the ship I visited the nearby duty free warehouse area and bought some beers for $1 each.  Better than paying $3.50 in our faculty lounge.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Today we passed the intersection of the Prime Meridian and the equator, or zero degrees latitude and zero degrees longitude.  It doesn't really mean anything, but everyone was pretty excited about it.  They tell us that only 1% of the population of the world has travelled outside of their home countries.  How many of that number have passed this point?  There is even a name for those who have passed Sea Zero: "Golden Shellbacks."

We have had a lot of neat programs on the ship during this leg of the voyage from Capetown to Ghana: 

  • A Saudi prince, Fahad al Saud, told us about his job working for Facebook and setting up the first Arabic page, which had a role in the "Arab Spring" and is instrumental in letting many Arab women set up and advertise their own home based businesses.
  • A lecture on current day vampires by a professor who is an acknowledged expert and wrote a book about them.
  • A lecture on the Dalai Lamas by an art professor who lives in Bhutan
  • A presentation on "How To Be a Clown" by a lifelong learner who went to clown school
  • A presentation on the replica of an ancient Hawaiian boat that a lifelong learner is preparing to join in a voyage around the world, using only the ancient navigation techniques that they used to sail millions of miles of ocean in the past.  The navigators, who study it all their lives, were a dying breed until they imported one from Yap Island to teach at the University of Hawaii twenty years ago.
  • Presentations on slavery, human trafficking, and pirates
  • My presentation on volunteering in Africa!
    Jackie the clown
     We have such a breadth of knowledge and experience on this ship.  Three ports and less than three weeks left.  I am excited to move back into my home after two years of wandering, but I feel like I could go on like this forever.  My budget won't stand for it, though.