Sunday, May 20, 2007



Here is the blog I intend to keep to help you follow us on our journey through Central and South America this summer ('07). (Click on any picture to enlarge)

Semester at Sea strikes me as somewhat akin to skydiving. That is, you think it's a good idea, you pay your money, make a date, and then at some point you find yourself staring at a large hole a mile above the earth with someone behind you encouraging you to JUMP! The weeks running up to the day we fly to San Diego to get on the ship feel very much like like that JUMP moment! But jump we did.

June 14: Nobody believed me..... Faculty and family all arrived safely yesterday, and there was much awe expressed about the gorgeous ship. It is indeed gorgeous, comfortable, and serviceable. We've had our initial meetings, and will now engage in several days' worth of orientation meetings.

Here's a picture of the faculty: it's an amazing and talented collection of individuals (read more about them at We have taken off!
June 15: Arrived in Ensenada, Mexico, where we tripped on a municipal celebration (marching band down the center of town). Meetings continue (intense).
June 17: The students arrive today! The excitement level is high, and the organization of all of this dazzles. Here's what we saw last night as we returned to the ship.

19 June. Today is the first day of class. The Executive Dean, John Burkoff, and I (the Academic Dean) greeted each student and lifelong learner as they arrived and the ISE staff got everyone checked in with impressive efficiency. The students can't believe how beautiful the facility is (neither can I, frankly)! We went through the obligatory orientation meetings again (safety, student life, faculty intros, housekeeping details). Ben Cooper, the Chair of the UVa Honor Committee, gave two superb power-point introductions to the Honor System and then Brian Owensby, the teacher of the major course, "Latin America Today" (this is the "glue" course that binds all of our academic work together, the one required course for all participants) delivered a highly original lecture on the concept of "America/Americans/the Americas" designed to provoke thought about how we see, integrate, and "discover" the countries we are about to visit. He assigned the film "The Motorcycle Diaries" as the first activity for all participants; it was discussed today in the four discussion sections led by him, Chris Dunlap, Trisha Regan, and Augstín Reyes-Torres. My discussion section was lively, engaged, and excited about the new configuration of the course. The seas are smooth, and the gentle rocking of the ship has a calming effect on everyone.
What classes we’re having!!! Here’s a list:

Immigration in Comparative Perspective
Plants and Peoles of Latin America
Latin American Art
Urbanism and Culture in Latin America
Natural Hazards
Engineering Wonders of the Aztec, Maya and Inca Civilizations
Foundations of International Business
Emerging Markets in Latin America
History of Musical Theater
Contemporary Latin American Theater: A Director’s Eye
Intro to Development Economics
Poverty and Inequality in Latin America
Economic Growth and Reform
International Economics: Markets and Finance
Transamerican Encounters
Intro to the Literature of the Americas
Weather and Climate
Climate Change, Past and Future
Latin America Today: Between Global and Local
Intro to Music With a Latin Twist
Amrican Music: The Music of Latin America
Intro to Computers and Music: Latin American Soundscapes
Neighboorhoods, Community, and Regions
Land, Law, and the Environment
International Relations
Latin America in the International System
Cultural Geography of Latin America
Reading Images Culturally
History and the Novel in Latin America
1492 and the Aftermath
Beginning Spanish Conversation
Intermediate Spanish Conversation
Advanced Spanish Conversation

Tell me you don’t want to take ALL of them!!

24 June. Leaving Acapulco. We arrived safely into Acapulco on Thursday morning, June 21. People took off in all directions; Janna and I just wandered around the town taking in the exquisite Mask Museum before joining the Dicksteins (Business) and Chapels (Theater) for dinner in one of the most gorgeous places we've ever seen, El Olvido, right on Acapulco Bay.

I was trip leader for the three-day-two-night trip to Mexico City with 23 participants. We got an early start, and stopped for lunch in Cuernavaca, where we saw Hernán Cortés's palace (build in the 1520s) decorated with a striking Diego Rivera mural. Cuernavaca is a lovely Colonial town, and the students were impressed with the architecture and lively central square From there to Mexico City, where we first went to the Zocalo then to the cathedral and the Palacio Nacional. In the Zocalo, we were treated to dancers and the daily ceremony to take down the flag. Our hotel was spectacular, a 5-star Nikko, with wonderful views over the city.
Everyone was tired, and we all slept soundly after first-rate dinners.

The next day, Saturday the 23rd, we headed into the Palacio Nacional to see Diego Rivera's masterwork, the mural depicting Mexico's history from the pre-conquest until today. Then we drove out to Teotihuacán, whose huge pyramids rival those in Egypt. It's a long climb up to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun (and at 6000+ feet above sea level!), but well worth the gasping. A fun native dance performance over lunch led us into the afternoon at what is by any standard the world's most spectacular anthropology museum chocablock with treasures from all of the many indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica. Several of us had dinner at Patricia Quintana's excellent restaurant, El Izote before returning to the hotel to crash. Many of the students went out with a group of kids their age (a contact from one of the student's mothers). Today, on the way back to the ship, we stopped to see Cortés's summer home (built in 1529), now a gorgeous hotel. We watched the US vs. Mexico soccer match! (US won, 2-1). Tonight at 11 we set sail for Panama.
25 June. Exciting "Latin America Today" class dealing with arrival of populations to the Americas; good participation by Owensby, Jeff Blick, and several students. The students have been assigned their groups for work on the common blog/journal they'll be keeping on Collab.
29 June. The trip to Panama was uneventful, even pleasant. Classes are going well; the students are stressed with the amount of reading we've piled on, but they are a good group, and are learning how to manage their time on the ship (a challenge, with all the distractions, people to meet, activities, etc.). I'm impressed with the quality of the students on board, and most of them are in fact living up to our expectations. All have expressed delight with the quality of their professors and classes. Our digs on the ship are luxurious (the Academic Dean and the Executive Dean get the best suites, of course!).The Captain and crew are also extraordinary, real professionals focused on the safety and security of everyone on board.Our arrival in Panama was bumpy. Wind and rain kept the ship rocking the morning we arrived, and the plan to send the various excursion groups into shore on tenders got delayed until the swells calmed down. Janna's and my first Panama excursion was a sunset cruise through two of the three locks of the Canal (Miraflores Locks and Gatun Locks), a seven-hour voyage in which the guides explained the history, economics, and functioning of this World Marvel. I went into it with a rather ho-hum attitude (another boat trip, some engineering structures, big deal....) but -- as were the students -- was blown away by the whole thing. It really is everything you've ever heard about it: impossible, brilliant, exciting, incomprehensible. The trip included dinner, too, which was a great bonus. Before arriving at the first lock (on the Pacific side), we went under the gigantic Bridge of the Americas. We got back to the dock at 11, waited a long time for the tender, and crawled aboard the MV Explorer at midnight. Zzzzzzzzzz.
We dedicated Saturday to exploring the Casco Viejo -- the original old town of Panama City -- now a recovering historical center surrounded by a scuzzy area; the people were extremely friendly and accommodating, and one can see the elegance that once marked the area and might yet again as they develop their tourist industry.Panama City itself was a surprise: a jumble of high rise buildings all competing for space along the promenade that faces out to the Pacific.Another first-rate dinner, this time with Judith Shatin, Michael Kubovy, John and Nancy Burkoff (with the owner of Limoncillo on the right) topped the evening before we took the tender back to the ship.Before dinner, Janna magically turned $20 into $95 at a neat store called Casino.
Today (1 July) we took a tram ride through the top of the rain forest. Gamboa (at the halfway point up the Canal) has the second eco hotel in Central America, and they offer rides up to the top of the canopywhere the flora and fauna are rich and varied. We even saw a "lazy" (a "perezoso"), or, as we say in English, a sloth, hanging from a branch over 100 feet up in a tree.A pregnant caiman was also hanging about.Tonight at 11, once all the students are back and accounted for, we head south across the Equator to Ecuador. On route, the Interport Lecturer, Mary Ann Andrei (History Department, UVa), will give two lectures about Darwin, the rise of evolutionary science, and the Galapagos.
3-4 July. Crossing the Equator and the Fourth of July! We held full classes both days, but once the classes were done, we celebrated Crossing the Equator with Neptune Day (in our case, Neptune Two Hours), which consists of the following ceremony, based (supposedly) on festivities that Darwin encountered on his Voyage of the Beagle: neophytes are doused with spurious fish guts and gunk, dipped in the pool for a ritual cleansing, forced to kiss a fish and Neptune's ring, then are initiated into the company of Shellbacks (ie, people who have crossed the Equator on a ship). The final "act" is having your head shaved. Can you recognize these people?(Hint: Karen Frazier, Agustín Reyes-Torres, Trisha Reagan.....)

NOTE: There won't be any blog news for 10 days -- I'm flying from Guayaquil to Paris and returning to Santiago (I'm Treasurer of the International Association of Hispanists, which is having its triennial conference there)-- although there will be great pix of Janna's Galapagos trip when I return.

16 July. Sorry for my silence; it's been a busy ten days. Dan Bryant, one of my UVa students, came down from Quito to visit us in Guayaquil, which is recovering its riverfront with a lovely long walkway called the Malecón.

I know... this doesn't look like Latin America. As I mentioned, Janna went to the Galapagos Islands and I went to Paris to attend the XVI triennial meeting of the International Association of Hispanists (I have served as Treasurer for six years). Weird week, and I can't say I had much fun because the work was so intense. We did, however, get treated to a private reception by the Dukes of Soria (she's the King of Spain's sister), another by the Spanish ambassadorand a final one at the French Senate building in the Luxemborg Gardens I confess that I missed the ship a great deal (this is obviously habit forming). It was worth it, though, as you'll see in the pictures below; one pleasing touch was that I was elected, nearly unanimously, as Vice President of the AIH. My colleague Michael Gerli was elected Treasurer.

Janna, in the meantime, led the three-day excursion to Galapagos. It's a two-hour flight from Guayaquil to what she reports to be a stunning archipelago, full of animals of the kind Darwin discovered on his Voyage of the Beagle. I'm sorry I missed it, but I'm really glad that Janna got a chance to go. Here are a few pix of the amazing fauna she saw.
A rebellion brewed and exploded on the ship during my absence. Everyone was tired, crabby, overworked and stressed, and all of that came to a head but I understand this is normal for these intense voyages. Ricardo Padrón, who took charge in my absence, did a wonderful job quelling the riots and keeping the peasants in line. The students actually made a few points and we've made a few adjustments, so all seems well.
I flew from Paris to Miami to Santiago, then had a driver take me to Viña del Mar, a resort town near Valparaíso. I was on the dock at 7:15 am as the ship came in this morning, with everyone waving from the deck. Dramatic, and even moving. It is great to get back and hear the all the shouts of "Welcome back, Dean David!" from the group.18 July. Yesterday a small group of us had a two-hour meeting in Santiago with Mr. Ricardo Lagos, Chile's president from 2000 to 2006, He has served as ambassador, in various ministries, and at the UN, and is a true inspiration, a man committed to democracy and world peace. He spoke about his achievements as president and his goals for the future (he might run for president again), and then took questions from the students before offering us all tea, juice, and cookies. Altogether inspiring. Later that evening, we went to a mixer with students and faculty from the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, located in a castle-like building overlooking Valparaíso bay. A terrific indigenous rock band called Huaica and the Folklore Dance Group from Viña del Mar treated us to a fabulous music and dance show before cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.20 July. We're docked practically in downtown Valparaíso!We spent a long day in Santiago yesterday, first to do some tourist stuff —La Moneda (where Salvador Allende was murdered in 1973; it's their equivalent of the White House) then to meet with the playwright Alejandro Sievking and his wife, Bélgica Castro, two artists whose careers have spanned more than fifty years in theater and film, and then to attend an electronic music concert by Judith Shatin at ARCIS University. The panel discussion with Sievking and Castro (she won Chile's National Arts Prize a couple of years ago) was thrilling, and the students were particularly moved when they recounted the difficulties of their years in exile during the Pinochet dictatorship. Judith's performance was stunning, with a range and depth of music that you had to hear to believe.A delicious (if somewhat subdued, given that Chile lost to Argentina in the World Cup match as we were eating) dinner followed before we joined the rest of the group for the 90 minute bus ride back to Valparaíso. Chile provides a lot of the produce consumed in the US; below is a "normal" celery spotted on the metro.
Today was another extraordinary day (how can this get more interesting every day?): a group of us went to Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda's (Nobel Prize 1971) home on the coast south of here.We read his poetry, in Spanish and in English, on the bus on the way down, then read his "Ode to Wine" over lunch. Nice. In the afternoon we toured La Sebastiana, his home here in Valpo. At 11:00 this evening we head north toward Peru.

The academic program is developing brilliantly. Even the "I hate history" crowd (the leaders of the uprising) have come to understand how integrally connected Latin America's past is to its present because they are seeing it live at each port. History here seeps into the cracks and crevices of the present in ways that it doesn't in the US (or at least, not so obviously). The students love their individual classes and have raved about the care, preparation, and knowledge of their profs. There was much complaining about the workload at the beginning (and our experiment to move everything to a paperless module didn't work as well as we had hoped; apparently, it's much harder to read on a computer screen when the computer is rocking and rolling with the waves of the sea!), but they have settled into the rhythm of the ship and are managing their time better so the work is getting done. I'm pleased with the students, and credit the overwhelming majority of them with moving along this continuum with us as we try to develop a curriculum that better reflects UVa's academic goals.

25 July. We sailed into gray, overcast Lima (that's the permanent winter weather) to find Kirk and Libby waiting on the dock for us. After a short rest, we piled them into a bus and took them around the great colonial city of Lima. Below are pictures of the Plaza Dos de Mayothe Palacio del Gobiernoand the Plaza de ArmasWe then went to the Franciscan Monastery, which at its height of power in the 17th century had 225 friars in residenceFrom there to the Museo de Oroand dinner at an astonishing restaurant located on the grounds of a pre-Columbian (ie, 1500 years old) adobe pyramid (that's PJ Podesta and Dan Bryant, two UVa students doing independent research with Harrison Awards).And I couldn't resist buying a llama rug, similar to the one I bought in 1962 that slowly disintegrated over the years; my guess is that this one will last me for the next forty!

When I first saw Machu Picchu in 1962 I thought "This is another planet." It still is. Same thing now, only with more touristsMany of the students are taking Vallejo's "The Engineering Wonders of the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayas," so seeing Machu Picchu is one of the highlights of the whole trip for them; this was a perfect convergence of in- and out-of-class workThe images continue to dazzle, and it is impossible to convey the wonder of that sacred space in words; it's clear why the Incas built their city where they didTextile making, a nearly lost art, is being recuperated via memory, passed down through generations, and supported by a non-profit organization in Cuzco; the textiles are breathtakingly beautifulWe all came back tired, but elated, and wishing we had more time in country. And this is what happens when hostile students buy woven masks and surround the Dean!
30 July. Last night was the Auction -- individuals donated various items and services which were then bid on by the shipboard community. Paella dinner for 6 at our house went for $300 (thanks, Peter), but the important fact is that the auction raised . . . $10,000 for local charities!
Classes continue during this three-day journey between Perú and Costa Rica; it's getting more intense as the shipboard days dwindle between portsThe second assignment was due today in "Latin America Today," so the students are focused on writing that paperWe did some ecotourism today -- ziplining, an exciting and terrifying adventure that had us flying from platform to platform (13 platforms) down some steep mountains in the rainforestSeveral of the students spelled out "Costa Rica" (if you can see it)Last night I took a group up to Villa Caletas for dinner, the extraordinary resort where Janna and I stayed in December when we came to Michael Gerli's wedding; it's perhaps one of the most beautiful places we've ever been in.The last stop for us in Costa Rica was an excursion into San José (two hours + from the port) to see "Changos o nada" ("The Full Monty") at the Teatro Molière. We met with a professor from the Universidad Heredia first, then drove over to the theater. The play was a riot (full of Costa Rican slang and allusions to contemporary issues), and even the students who speak little or no Spanish thought it was great fun6 August. We docked in Corinto, Nicaragua, a tiny port town that served as our starting point for trips around the countryNicaragua is divided by a chain of active volcanos that runs from north to south (there is no road that connects the western part of the country from the eastern part). One of the best convergences of classroom work and in-field experience came in Nicaragua. In Ricardo Padrón's class we read an award-winning novel called "Margarita, está bonita la mar," by Sergio Ramírez, which deals with the national poet Rubén Darío and the Somoza dynasty of dictators, who ruled Nicaragua from the mid-1930s until 1979Ramírez himself knows something about Nicaraguan politics since he served as the Vice President of Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega (who has returned, and is the current democratically-elected president). The novel takes place in the colonial city of León. Well, we arranged for Mr. Ramírez to meet us, take us around the city to the places mentioned in the book (for example, the cathedral where Darío is buried and the house where Somoza was assassinated)then join us for lunch at a restaurant in one of the indigenous neighborhoods. As a bonus, we read Darío poems in the bus on the way to meet him. Brilliant. The students returned to Corinto while Ricardo, Janna and I drove on to Granada, one of the first colonial cities in the Americas; it's a charming place on the verge of a new tourist boom, although they will have to do something about the nightly three-hour electric black-outs firstWe expected some anti-Americanism, because of the politics, but got none; the people were friendly and welcoming. In fact, at lunch a waiter asked us where we were visiting from; when we told him, he promptly produced a centerpiece with the Nicaraguan and US flags in it¡Viva Nicaragua!
Monday, 13 August. We arrived in Puerto Quetzal (Plumed God of the Maya) on Saturday morning, and the troops dispersed. Janna and I laid low on the ship, gearing up for the trip to the Mayan site Tikal on Monday morning. It's a long way, but we had a chartered plane from a nearby airstrip that took us to Flores and back with no hassle (this is the way to fly!).From there, the bus (with guide) took us to Tikal itself (see this month's "National Geographic" for a splendid report on this amazing site), where we stayed -- in torrential rain (after all, it IS rainy season in the rain forest)-- until about 5:00. Tikal is everything you've heard it is: massive, gorgeous, inconceivable.That night we stayed in a lovely rural hotelthen spent the morning exploring the town of Flores, the large lake that surrounds it, and the zoo (spider monkeys, ocelots, a jaguar, crocodiles, etc.)Guatemala is rightly famed for its textiles.Antigua, a colonial town that served as one of the former capitals of the country, got leveled by an earthquake in the 18th century, but it's been reclaimed as a delightful tourist center, chock full of charming hotels, restaurants and shops.We spent an enjoyable day there and then celebrated our last off-ship dinner with the same group of friends that joined us for the Acapulco dinner (which now seems so many months ago!)
On to San Diego tonight, arriving in five days that will be crazy -- papers due, final exams, commencement, Ambassadors' Ball. It's been an incredibly good summer.