Sunday, December 11, 2011

12/10/11 Roatan, Honduras

OUR LAST PORT!  It is bitter-sweet to write those words. I think most people are feeling the way I do; sad about leaving this wonderful little community we have formed, but excited to see our families and friends and to return to the comfort of our homes. It will be fun to give Christmas gifts from all around the world, and I can't wait to be able to bake in my very own kitchen again!

The initial itinerary had Cuba (with an asterisk behind it) listed as our last port, IF we could get permission from the US Department of State. After that fell through - causing large amounts of disappointment - plan B was to go to Guatemala. Shortly after we had gotten used to that idea, the US government sent out an advisory not to travel to Guatemala due to the increasing levels of crime and violence that are currently an issue there. We were told that trying to find other options in Central America that were not equally worrisome was difficult. That's how we ended up on the resort island of Roatan.

Our first day I was not on call and excited about a lazy day in the sun without the chance of being called back to the ship. We hooked up with some friends (the Baker family from CA has a son Reade's age and a daughter Tate's age, and we've all become great friends) and headed to the beach. We got there in time to have fabulous fish tacos on the beach and catch about one hour worth of sun rays before it started raining. When it rains in Honduras, it POURS!  We huddled around a table with a thatched umbrella roof for a couple of hours, hoping the storm would pass. The kids were unfazed by the rain, and ran back and forth between the ocean and the resort pool where we were allowed access. As the rain water flooded the whole resort area and it became clear that we would not be seeing the sun again that day, we packed up our stuff and left. We wasted some time in a gift shop and then had a very early dinner before returning to the ship. We asked our cab driver what the locals do when it rains, and he told us that they just stay home.

I was on-call our second day and we woke to... you guessed it! Rain! Lots of cold rain, this time accompanied by wind. We went back to the same fabulous fish taco restaurant and had more fabulous food for lunch and then wasted more time in touristy gift shops. At about 2:30 pm I got called back to the ship to deal with an injury, but none of us were too sad to have to call it a day and return to our dry ship/home. After a long night working in the clinic, I'm writing this blog as the ship sets sail towards the USA where we will dock in two short days!

12/7/11 Panama Canal

Today we sailed through the locks of the Panama Canal. It was very interesting seeing how the brilliant engineers of this canal managed to raise us up 65 feet and then back down 85 feet once we had crossed the land. It takes about 9 hours and we spent much of the day sitting around outside watching the whole process. If you would like to see us going through the canal in about 5 minutes of time-lapse photography, go to Jeff's website at: and click on the December 7th posting. That's probably the best way to get a feel for how it works. I'm glad I got to experience it.

12/5/11 Costa Rica

Wow!  Costa Rica is such a cool place!  In addition to being warm, green and gorgeous, Costa Ricans have decided to protect their natural environment by setting aside huge amounts of land as National Parks, thereby protecting their impressive biodiversity. They've also chosen to invest in their people by providing free education to all persons instead of funding a military. As a result, 96% of the population is literate, a much higher rate than is seen in the USA. Unfortunately, poverty does still exist in Costa Rica, but is much less prevalent than in many of it's neighboring Central American nations. 

We went to a cloud forest one day, and hiked up to the crater of an active volcano named Poas. Unfortunately, it was raining and very cloudy (duh!), so we were not able to see into the volcano crater. We did see many coffee farms and learned about the arduous process of producing coffee. The scenery that day was just gorgeous. Another day we hired a cab driver to show us around. He took us to the property of a lady who feeds the multitude of monkeys that live on her property. Therefore, they are accustomed to people, and allowed us to hand feed them and touch them. Some had tiny infants on their backs who did not fall off (miraculously) when their mothers abruptly leaped between trees. We bought both cookies and banana slices to give them, and some were picky. Some preferred bananas and would squawk at us impatiently if we tried to feed them crackers, unless crackers were all we had. It was great fun. Then we went to a bridge where we saw about a dozen crocodiles hanging out in the river right below us. They are such freaky, prehistoric looking creatures.

About that time, I got called back to the ship to care for a shipmate who had fallen off a horse and broken her arm. The fracture was of a type that needs surgical fixation, so I went with the patient and her husband to a hospital in San Jose, about 1+ hours away. She had surgery that night. Luckily she was able to return to the ship the next day and did not need to fly home to deal with her situation. I was able to return to the ship as soon as I got her all settled in at the hospital that evening.  Costa Rica has become a big medical tourism destination and the health care in San Jose is excellent and much less expensive than in the USA. If you have to have surgery while circling the globe, Costa Rica is a lucky spot to get injured. 

My biggest regret about Costa Rica was that we did not have nearly enough time to explore that amazing place. It is on the top of my list of places to which I hope to return.

Monday, November 28, 2011

11/24/11 Thanksgiving Day in Hilo, Hawaii

I was on-call today, so I got up early to provide the early morning in-port clinic. Upon arriving at the clinic I found Dr. Sloane and one of the students already there. The student was experiencing severe abdominal pain and Dr. Sloane had already called the ambulance to take him to the hospital in Hilo. Since I was on-call, it meant that I would be accompanying the student to the emergency room that day instead of hanging out on the beach with my family. Since we only had one day to spend in Hawaii, I was more than a little disappointed.  I decided that feeling sorry for myself all day didn't sound like much fun and told myself that this would be a grand adventure in which I got the opportunity to help someone in need.

After getting to the ER, getting the patient settled and the testing started, I got a chance to call one of my friends from back home since our cell phones work in this country. I also got to text friends and check email. It was great! I'd forgotten how much I love my iPhone, since I haven't been able to use it much at all over the last 3 months. My patient was sleeping peacefully in morphine-induced la-la land, so I asked the nurses if there was a place I could get a cup of coffee while I waited for something to happen. One of the ER docs and 2 of the nurses quickly decided I needed to go explore the island rather than sit in the ER all day. They promised to call me right away once they knew something about my patient and then provided me with a list of places I should go and things I should see. Then one of the nurses handed me her car keys and insisted that I use her jeep for the day!!! I tried to protest, but she (Cindy) marched me out to her yellow jeep and sent me on my way. I could not believe it! I called Jeff, picked up him and the boys from the beach, and we all went to a lunch of greasy American food (burgers, fries, onion rings, and the best Mahi Mahi sandwich I've ever had). Then we found a Safeway full of food we recognized (for a change) and stocked up on snacks for our second Pacific Ocean crossing. Upon seeing the macaroni and cheese aisle, Reade exclaimed, "I'm so happy I could cry!" I dropped Jeff, the boys and the snacks back at the ship, and stopped for a quick look at Rainbow Falls (BEAUTIFUL) on my way back to the hospital. I thanked Cindy with a full gas tank and a box of chocolates, and checked in on my patient, who was just receiving the news that all his tests had come back negative and that his pain had not been caused by anything serious. After getting back to the ship, my family and I went for a walk down the coast before I had to be back on the ship for afternoon clinic. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of nurse Cindy, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day that I will never forget. The world is full of amazing people, and for that I am very thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Today has been a wonderful day. We docked in Honolulu for about 6 hours to get fuel. Even though the powers that be didn't let us get off the ship, the scenery was wonderful and the collective mood was giddy because we knew we only have to wait a few more hours until we can get off in Hilo, Hawaii tomorrow morning. We will only be in Hilo for a day, and it's more of a mental health break than anything. We hope to stock up on snacks for the next leg of our journey across the Pacific Ocean and spend some time at the beach. I'm on call at this port, so I can't go too far away from the ship.

I have a feeling that large numbers of students skipped class today. It is a gorgeous, sunny, warm day, and most of the shipboard community seems to be up here on the pool deck sunning themselves, playing in the pool, or playing ping-pong. A few of the more studious kids look like they are trying to do something productive. I have to leave in a few minutes to go work our afternoon clinic, but after that we will be served a Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room. I found out yesterday that our dependent care coordinator, Kristin Hanna, is Daryl Hannah's sister (yes, of "Splash" fame). We've been invited to a birthday party for Kristin tonight which means birthday cake :). After that party I will teach my Baha'i' Class, and will then end the day with our cultural and logistical pre-port lecture for Hawaii. There is never a dull moment, although some moments are better than others (see my 11/19/11 post). 

I got the chance to talk to my parents and both sisters today because I can use my cell phone here without having to take out another mortgage on the house. It's so fun to hear their voices and know that it won't be long before I get to see them again. I'm hoping to catch up with some friends tomorrow.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope it's a wonderful day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

11/19/11 November 19th, (the first) 2011

As we circumnavigate the globe on the MV. Explorer, we turn our clocks ahead and lose an hour of sleep 24 times in these almost 4 months. That means that at some point we've lost a whole day and need to gain it back. That point is now.  So, tomorrow will be November 19th again. Weird, huh?

Today is a low point of this journey for me. The seas are rough, I'm seasick, and we're in the middle of a very long stretch of nothing but ocean. I did not get seasick on my first SAS journey in 1988, so did not really understand what it meant. For me it means nausea, fatigue, headaches, decreased appetite, and bad mood. Doing most anything but sleeping or eating saltine crackers seems to make it worse. I survived my work in the clinic this morning and then went back to sleep for the rest of the morning. The medications for seasickness do help, but they make me more fatigued and zombie-like.

I guess if you never feel bad, you can't appreciate how wonderful it is to feel good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

11/15/11 Japan

We are just about to set sail from the port of Yokohama, to begin our long journey across the Pacific Ocean. We spent our final 2 days here, after 1 day in transit on the ship, and our first 2 days in the port of Kobe.  Over the last 5 days, I've developed very conflicted feelings about Japan:

1) Japan is amazing!  It is clean, safe, efficient and very modern. The food is wonderful, and you can find any type of cuisine your taste buds desire. The people are incredibly nice and helpful. If you hold up a map, someone will quickly show up and ask if they can help you. There seems to be zero animosity towards Americans, despite the fact that we decimated huge numbers of their people with our bombs not all that long ago. There is no reason to own a car here. Of the countries I have visited, the public transportation in Japan is unrivaled. If you tried to use the excuse of getting caught in a traffic jam to explain your lateness, you would get laughed out of the room. The parks and monuments are beautiful and well-maintained. And then there are the toilets! I think our best belly-laughs in Japan came after using the bidets and directional sprayers strategically located to clean any part of your bum you would like cleaned. There were also "powerful deodorizer" buttons and seat-warmer buttons. Someone please tell me why we don't use these in the USA?!

2) Japan is oppressive. Things are SOOOO expensive in Japan! A small cup of Starbucks coffee that costs $1.60 in the USA, costs about 320 Yen (~ $4.00) in Japan. A $15 Mac brand lipstick in the USA costs $37 in Japan.  We spent $20 on four soft-serve ice cream cones. In general, clothing and food is two-to-three times more costly in Japan than in the USA. We tried to be frugal in Japan, eating only one meal per day off the ship, and doing very little traveling. We still spent much more money than we have spent anywhere else, and for the first time, have nothing to show for it. Japan seems to be one big megalopolis, with each densely populated city running into the next. There are so many buildings and people that it is hard to see the sky. Conformity is valued, and people try to look alike. The business suit industry must do very well here, as that seems to be the uniform for working men. The young men all look totally hip in cool jeans and fancy shoes. The young women wear tights, tall boots, and short skirts or shorts. They can walk miles and miles in very high heels. I could maybe last one block in some of the heels they were wearing before my feet disintegrated or I broke an ankle. The school-age kids wear matching uniforms. There is almost no ethnic diversity in Japan and almost no immigration to Japan. If you are born in Japan but one parent is not Japanese, you are not considered to be Japanese. You may not maintain dual citizenship in Japan and another country; you must choose one or the other. Japan has such a low birth rate currently, that soon they aren't going to have enough young people to support the elderly. We've dealt with that problem in the USA by allowing lots of immigration. Since Japan really doesn't want immigrants, they're finding themselves in a bit of a pickle. In sharp contrast to the rest of the world, the Japanese are actually trying to provide incentives for their women to have more children, but their best efforts are not working very well. The women have discovered that is is very difficult to have a career and children, so are giving up the children. It will be fascinating to see what happens there over the next few decades.

My favorite experience in Japan was the day I traveled from Kobe to the Osaka Castle. I went by myself because I was on-call and could not go as far from the ship as Jeff and the kids were going to be on their pre-scheduled trip to see some wild monkeys. When I got off the train in Osaka, I walked past a beautiful, peaceful, wooded area and towards a hill. As I approached the hill, I got to a huge, tall, stone wall. This wall turned out to be the outer side of a wide moat, which I crossed by bridge. Then there was another huge stone wall encasing another moat, which I again crossed by bridge. On top of the hill was an amazing 16th century castle surrounded by many old out-buildings.  Inside the castle was a museum chronicling the history ot the castle.  I just loved it and it really got my imagination going.

My grandfather (Donald) just loved the Japanese, and tried to spend as much time there as possible. Although I can certainly see the draw, Japan will likely not make it on my list of places to revisit anytime soon, at least not before I make my first million.