September 27, 2004 – After
six busy days in Japan, our ship left Kobe and began the long
journey back to the United States. It would take the Explorer almost
two weeks to reach Seattle, our final port. Upon arrival we would
say tearful goodbyes to all the wonderful friends we'd made, gather
and scatter to our various homes all across the country. Leaving would
be difficult. Over the past two months a strong sense of community
had developed among
staff and crew. We had experienced something
very special together and we had grown in the process. Returning to
our previous lives would be a challenge.
When it came
time to walk down the gangway for the very last time, I didn't want
want to leave the comfort of the ship and more importantly, I didn't
want to leave the wonderful people who had so quickly become an important
part of my
daily life. But the voyage had ended and staying behind was not an
While we were traveling, many visitors to this web site expressed
concern about our nine-year-old Great Dane, Merlin. Comments were
posted asking where he was, who was looking after him, did I miss
him, etc. Dear old Merlin was well-cared for in our absence. Our veterinarian,
Dr. Nori Warren, and her husband, Will, kept Merlin
at their home. Nori has looked after Merlin ever since he was a puppy
and she is the best veterinarian we've ever had. Her generous offer
to keep him for
was a huge relief. I knew he could
not be in better hands.
A week before we left town,
Merlin moved in with Nori, Will, and their 11-year-old
lab, Belle. We moved him early because we wanted to make sure he settled
in without any problems before we actually set sail. When Merlin arrived,
poor Belle was still grieving the loss of three of her elderly companions.
had shrunk from four dogs to one in a very short period of time. Belle
had outlived them all. She was lonely and depressed. At first Belle
simply tolerated Merlin, but before long they became good friends
and Belle's mood improved. I know Merlin enjoyed having another dog
to hang around with all day. He also enjoyed sleeping in the master
bedroom every night, something he is not allowed to do at our house.
He quickly became a neighborhood celebrity, too,
due to his large size. He got plenty of exercise and often traveled
to the Warren's lake house on weekends. Spending the summer at "Camp
Warren" was a great experience for Merlin. I think his presence also
helped the Warrens, and especially Belle, adjust to life without the
other three dogs.
Did I miss Merlin? Actually,
not at all, although I expected to. I knew he was comfortable,
happy, and living under the care of a superb veterinarian. I didn't
worry about him. I didn't worry about anything at home. I was elsewhere,
living in a glorious bubble, traveling the world on a remarkable ship
remarkable people, and stopping at remarkable places.
Our arrival home was low key. I still wanted to be on the
ship. I was also very tired and had a sore throat.
left the house tidy, so that was a relief. Merlin was still at Nori's.
Our three cats, who had remained behind, looked healthy. So did the
houseplants. The grass needed
mowing, and badly.
There were huge piles of mail to go through, numerous bills to
pay. We needed groceries, we needed
to unpack, and most of all, we needed to sleep. I slept a lot that
first week and tried to get used to being back in the States. Merlin
and picked up where he left off, cheerful as ever. It was good to
have him back. I felt like I was moving in
slow motion for awhile. Part of me was still on that ship. It took
a couple of weeks to settle into my former life.
often asked to describe my favorite port. I tell people it was the
ship. The Explorer
definitely my favorite
"port." All the stops we made in all the countries were indeed wonderful
and I would be hard-pressed to pronounce one port superior to another.
Each was different and taught me different things. Each presented
its own challenges and rewards. I would not have wanted to forego
any of them. The one constant source of sheer pleasure, however, was
ship. I loved the people. I loved the discussions. I loved the classes.
I loved the faculty. I loved the students. (Some of them, anyway.)
I loved the staff. I loved the crew. And perhaps
sea. I thoroughly enjoyed
the twelve uninterrupted days at sea when we were steaming our way
from Kobe to Seattle – the ever-changing sky, light and
water; the endless procession of seabirds, dolphins and whales.
I was never bored on the Explorer.
The biggest frustration was the fact that there were so many options
quality things to do. If there were several good programs offered concurrently
in the evening (which was often the case) it
was hard to choose just one without feeling a sense of loss for those
missed. Ditto for special
films that were regularly shown. The same was true for the
people. There just wasn't enough time to get to know everybody you
know, and most of the people aboard the ship were so smart, so interesting,
and so very nice. I am sure we could travel with that same group of
people for a solid year and never tire of them.
There was just ONE thing
I didn't like. It was the frequent drunkenness of so many
of the Semester at Sea students. And I'm not talking about just a
few drinks, that wouldn't bother me a bit. I'm talking
about total inebriation. It usually occurred when
we were in port,
but I also saw it on the ship, despite strict rules against having
alcohol in the cabins. From what I was told,
it will probably continue
future. It's the one thing that I feel diminished the quality of the
voyage, not just for the students involved, but for everyone who came
into contact with them. There were several serious incidents during
our voyage, but the most infamous incident occurred back in 1999.
It was well documented by one of the professors who was aboard at
student went overboard in the middle of the night, in the Red Sea,
after attempting to rappel down the hull of the ship wearing a life
wanted to see what the
like. (He found out, alright!) The incredible story was written up here.
I would urge you to read it. (The author was on the ship again this
summer and his cabin was right next to ours. We heard the story directly
from him, and then he gave me the link to his old journal.)
I don't want to end on a sour
note, though, because a majority of the students were good kids, really
good kids. They were serious about their studying and
serious about their travels. Of course they were interested in having
a good time, but they partied in moderation.
Over the summer they learned a lot about the
countries they visited and,
importantly for some, they learned a lot about themselves. They boarded
the ship in June as a "just a bunch of college kids" and disembarked
sixty-five days later as mature young adults.
at Sea gave me the
best summer of my life. I am grateful we had the opportunity to participate.
I wish everyone else could, too. Each voyage offers a number
passenger cabins, so if you are an adult traveler who wants to
experience an SAS adventure, take a look at the adult
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