picture of a chunk of tree with the word "log" on it
April 21-27
La Guira to
Fort Lauderdale
Fred Hansen, Winter, 2005

Thursday, April 21
Just when I got through with the Ancient Mariner's song flap, something new. Late in last night's variety show, one of the acts did an apparently-tasteless song all about me. Probably they were upset because I am the only one enforcing the rule about no students in the Faculty-Staff lounge. And I blew my top the other day. I was already asleep and didn't hear it, but apparently it is so nasty that no one will tell me what it was. I am trying to get a copy for this log. Offensive as it may be, it is part of my voyage and needs to be in this log.

The song thing made for an emotional morning; once again I have walked into a situation where I an unpleasant guy instead of the nice guy I should like to have been.

My day was scheduled to be a tour originally called "Grand Introduction to Cararcas," but security concerns had rerouted it so it is now better called "Grand Introduction to Caracas's Suburbs." I didn't really want to go on any more tours, but I thought I might as well get a llok at Caracas. At the bus, however, Diana (oldest passenger) was waiting to get a ticket, so I gave her mine.  

Returning to the ship, I hit the treadmill, which wasn't busy for a change. I had forgotten its drawback: blisters. One on each big toe. {They went away soon enough.)

Exercise: treadmill, 4 km in 60 mi.

I played computer games till 4:00 and am about to really start on Cambodia/Vietnam.  There are twenty-four pages of written notes. Ouch. Six PM: One page done. (This page was notes. Most of the other pages are full text.)

More insect bites. Dr. Mike says there are over a dozen passengers with this problem from Brazil. I knew I wanted to fly from Cape Town.

Friday, April 22

Of the three tours I had bought for Venezuela, today's sounded the most interesting and I decided to go:

LAG12 RANCHO GRANDE CLOUD FOREST EXCURSION – GROUP A (0800-1800 Friday, 22 April) Minimum 30/Maximum 46 (PRICE: $59.00)
Travel from La Guaira to the valleys for Aragua. During the ride, the mountains surrounding the capital, sugar cane plantation and sites that have played an important part in the Venezuelan independence epic will be seen. After a three-hour ride, arrive at the city of Maracay and then begin the ascent to Rancho Grande Cloud Forest which was renamed Henri Pittier National Park in 1953 to honor the Swiss botanist who classified 30,000 Venezuelan plants and promoted that national park system. The park’s astonishing biodiversity results from varied topography which nurtures a variety of ecosystems ranging from mangrove swamps to cloud forest. It is one of the tropical sites most visited by scientists due to its great variety of plant and animal life. The drive takes you from the sunlit savanna into the dark, moist forest. Once in the cool environment of the cloud forest, you arrive at the 50-year-old building used by naturalists in their studies. This is the beginning of the interpretive visit to the park. During the walk on the jungle path, you will closely examine the dominant tree species, the Gyranthera caribensis, with its buttresses and long trunks that reach up to 60 meters. The myriad of plants and insects, combined with the lights and colors of the rain forest, will make an unforgettable impression. After your walk, lunch will be served in an open air section. Lunch will consist of typical Venezuelan food, including a lot of tropical fruit. During your stay at the station, scientists from the nearby natural science and veterinary schools of the university in Maracay will explain in detail the workings of this ecosystem. {Italics added.} The return to the ship is via the same road. Please note: The tour agent strongly suggests comfortable hiking shoes, insect repellent and rain gear. This location is not equipped to welcome physically challenged guests.

The correct description is:
Sit six boring hours on a bus, eat lunch, and take a short nature hike.
The rest of the unitalicized palaver isn't really wrong, it just wildly overstates the merits. The "typical Venezuelan food" was chicken. The italic sentence is a flat-out lie. It was the one factor that attracted me to this tour.  And yet, my guide was only a well-meaning amateur ornithologist who was ill-prepared to discuss plants, let alone the "workings of the ecosystem." Moreover, he announced a policy of refusing to talk about religion and politics, which pretty much eliminated any chance of interesting information. More bad news, the "walk on the jungle path" turned out to be pretty much a repeat of my Manaus trip.

The park is 266,000 acres and has 578 species of birds, about the same number as all of North America. There are indeed big trees, as advertised. We were on the Andrew Fielding trail, named for a guy who was studying the big trees when his platform broke, dropping him into an early grave. Another tree appeared similar, but was not. It was a fig tree that had parasitized a cedar. It starts at the top and eats down. When it reaches ground it spreads roots and enfolds its host/victim. Both the fig and the gyranthera trees had the big knees. One explanation was that they catch water and nutrients that run downhill after a rain. We saw one howler monkey on the road and heard a bunch of them hooting as the rain started. (Yeah, it rained. It's a rain forest. My rain gear was effective at separating the outside rain from my sweat-drenched t-shirt.) Saw russet-backed oropendula birds. Their nests hang down almost a meter from the tree branch. Pretty bird.

There were a couple of interesting bits on the trip. Most exciting to our guide was when he found a scytlopus caracae. One more tick mark in his bird list. Not really a very pretty bird, though it had a nice call. Then on the ride home traffic came to a standstill. Our bus driver maneuvered us forward until we were right behind the blockage and could see the underside of the chicken truck that spanned all three lanes. Passersby were assisting in off-loading the crates of chickens. Eventually two trucks came and tried three or four stabs at righting the truck. The frame twisted, rather than righting. At one point, the crowd got some sort of signal. They all dived in, grabbed chickens, and lit out for the hills. Jerry (voyage videographer) got video of the escapade, including some posing for us with booty in hand. Eventually they just dragged one end of the truck to clear a lane of traffic and we slogged on to La Guira and the ship.

More insect bites. Karl (physicians assistant) says they look like fleas. This would explain the new bites. The seemed to be concentrated where my socks were tight, so I took off my socks. I fear, however, that fleas are somewhere in our room.

Got a nice letter of apology from the guys who wrote/sang the song about me.

Saturday, April 23

Exercise: 3.27 mi in 45 min.

Mostly played computer games. Did some reading of a Dean Koontz book. Watched a bit of Die Another Day, a Bond flick. I had remembered it as not as much fun as the earlier Bond flicks and had blamed Brosnan. But the whole opening credits are played over Bond getting tortured. Not your usual fun escapist stuff.

Wrote a note asking the song-writers to give me the lyrics.

Sunday, April 24

Lots of computer games in the morning. Wrote the above two entries.

We are in a water shortage. A pipe has broken so we cannot on-load water. And we are being asked to conserve water. This is a clear signal of the wrong sort. When people hear this, they figure that water is going away so they should take a shower immediately, before it runs out. In the two hours between the first and second announcement, we used seven tons of water. It might help if we had a greater sense of community. The alcohol policy and smoking areas are other places where greater community-unity is needed.

The prevailing executive philosophy is to achieve unity by demanding that everyone attend global studies. This does a poor job of building unity since it sets the enforcers against the enforced. I wonder: Could we build community by having a student policy committee? This group would be elected and would have the power to set policy in several areas: Global Studies attendance, alcohol policy, smoking policy, water rationing, and whatever else might arise.The administration would have to have veto powers, but if the plan is to  be effective, these powers would have to be exercised sparingly.

Now to finish another page of notes.

3:10 PM - Air circulation fans have cut out. Water shortage?  Anyway, it is really nice to have the quiet.
3:12 - Fans on again. Cooler, but noisy.
3:41 -Finished entering the bridge tour notes page.

Monday, April 25

8 AM - 80 hours to go (assuming we don't get off until 4PM)

Many annoying announcements last evening. Early on it was the persistent calls for saving water. We apparently did not run out; there was water at breakfast. Later on the announcements were for varous people to get their paperwork done so we could clear port and sail; and start making water again.

S had a good trip, but a lot of hard traveling. After plane and bus there was two hours in an open motorboat to get to the camp. Her sunblock performed spectacularly; she isn't red at all.

8:06 - Announcement: Water usage can go back to normal.

I did do some writing on the Cambodia trip.

11 AM - meeting with Mary Bardone and the two guys who did the song about me. They let me scan in their journal page with the song. It is somewhat offensive, but not really terrible. I have seen a video clip of the performance and it was more offensive in its presentation than on paper. Thye apologized. They invited me to appear on stage with them in some upcoming event. If I could trust them, I might go. Trust is not ever something I am good at.

The Ambassador's Ball was this evening. Atg lunch time some of the RDs were discussing the event and the fact that they interacted little with the RD in charge of the Ball. They wondered how it would come off. The dinner was good; I had the roast beef. S had a good time despite having been sick in the afternoon. After dinner there were supposed to be various events. That's when things fell apart. Champagne toast and dessert were scheduled for 9:30. At 9:30 Kenn announced both would defer to 10:30. Apparently people didn't finish dinner fast enough on the second seating. The kitchen staff were pretty upset and allowed no one into the Garden Lounge for the desserts. Students just milled about the vessel. S went down for dessert while I stayed in bed and read.

Various paper sheets have been posted with questions at the top and blank below for graffiti. The first I saw was "What will you miss?" After some thought it seemed the most incongruous remark I could write was, "homesickness." Another asked what I had learned. Nothing seemed appropriate. On reflection, I surprised myself by drawing lessons.

What I have learned more thoroughly is the futility of improving the world. When young I was idealistic. Then a realist. Now a pessimist. In country after country there are desperately poor people and enormously rich ones in power. The rich will do whatever it takes to remain rich and in power. This especially includes cynical support of religious movements that can help people through the pain being inflicted upon them. Marx was right, religion is the opiate of the people. Even the Communists in Russia recognized this, so they created religious services based on Communist doctrine. What they failed to do was to invent life-after-death, AKA reincarnation. This is the ultimate deferral of gratification and salve for the downtrodden. Curiously, I find myself thinking that Pol Pot was not too bad on this dimension. He seemed not to be after riches but to have a plan for his people. An evil plan, exclusionary and murderous, but not a greedy plan.

Tuesday, April 26

8 AM - 56 hours to go

Weighed myself this morning. Amazingly, I have lost ten pounds (now 243). So why aren't my clothes looser? Perhaps I've lost overall muscle mass and gained in the belly. I went to the climic since my insect bites are not better. The physicians asst. says to just wait. They will go away. Some look like scabies and could have been gotten from the bed in the Lake Salvador Lodge. The PA supposes that the insect will not last too long in the Pittsburgh climate.

This morning I finally made progress in entering Cambodia notes. Only two pages more of Cambodia notes. Then there are twelve pages of notes from one day in Vietnam. Egad.

departure arrangements:
Luggage to be readied by two PM Wednesday, with purple tags.
Thursday around 3PM we get off and go through customs with admin team (last off).
Clear our luggage and take it to a "trailer."
Reboard the ship. Disembark. Dinner at 6:30, Bimini Boatyard Restaurant.
Reboard ship. Sleep.
Friday: Arise. Breakfast.
At an unknown time we disembark yet again.
At some later time, pick up luggage from "trailer."
Schlep luggage to airport.
Friday flight 6:15 PM

5:30 I am ready to send everything to the web:
       512s and thumbs for Africa (1306-1418)
            and South America (1423-1495)

    recent files from images/
    all files in log/
    all top level  files except GoDemo.ppt

Wednesday, April 27

8 AM 32 hours to go