Up the River

This entry is out of order.  I will write up my stories from Amapa and post soon.

I am going up the Amazon with the Semester at Sea, a university sponsored by the University of Virginia course aboard a boat.  About 600 students take a semester of credit courses, while the boat sails around the world. Among the places it goes in Manaus. The Amazon is navigable by ocean ship to Manaus. This is a very fast ship, but it still takes two days and nights to arrive. Gives an idea of the size of the Amazon.

The courses are like ordinary university courses, but with emphasis on the places they visit. The students all have to read the book “1493” which I read as part of my routine reading list, but now I can claim to have done as homework. Sweet. I get to go for free. Well I have to pay for my trip by giving lectures, which I like to do so it is better than free. I have a good job. 

The job is a big part of the lectures.  I am trying to get these smart kids interested in careers in the FS or in the Federal government in general.  This is not hard to do. I just tell them what I have been doing for the last couple of days and everybody wants to sign up.  This is not entirely representative.  My job is more fun than most and the last few days have been more eventful than usual, but I think the overall picture is right.  There are a couple of my more junior colleagues who fill them in about life nearer the beginning of the careers, still very good.   I am also trying to create awareness of the Brazilian Science w/o Borders program and also President Obama’s 100,000 Strong initiatives to encourage Americans to study in South America.  All I care about is Brazil, so I try to encourage Portuguese language study and Brazilian specialization.  We need more Americans who know this place.

The ship is very comfortable. It is like a floating hotel, different from most of the U.S. Navy vessels I have visited, not gray for one thing. Food is good on the ship. It is much like that on a big Navy ship or my Anbar chow hall, which I know does sound like it should be good to those who have not had it, but actually is.  I like cafeteria type food. My cabin is very nice. They are treating me very well. The ship rocks a little, but not much and is generally very smooth.   

It is very cool to watch the Amazon forest from out of the windows or off the decks, but it gets to be a lot like a long flight.  The scenery does not change much that you can really tell from the distance.  It is an unbroken green. When you go around a bend in the river, there is more of the same.  Sometimes the river widens out and there is a marshy area.  Other times the forest comes right to the shore.  I sat on my little balcony (yes I have one) last night for a long time, looking at the moon and thinking about the vastness. If I jumped off the boat and could swim to the shore, I would be in that proverbial middle of nowhere. There is no way I could get back.  It would be like one of those episodes of “I survived” except that I wouldn’t.  I don’t recall ever being in a place like this before, so empty, vast & hostile to survival.  It would be scary, if I was not aboard a luxury boat, bringing civilization with me up the river.