The wandering gypsy returns…

After a most enjoyable two months with family in Northern California, following a three month cruise ship entertainment contract that ventured halfway around the world, I am pleased to report that this rambunxious redhead is returning to New York City.

Considering I haven’t experienced truly cold weather since last winter, I am pretty nervous about the trek from the aiport to Astoria in a sweatshirt and my Dad’s old leather jacket. (Currently on the plane as I type.) I clearly wasn’t thinking about packing my full length “sleeping bag” coat that I normally don in below-freezing weather. I barely rememered to pack gloves and a beanie for this trip. I mean, can I really expect to survive the next couple weeks of real winter?

“Couple weeks?” you might ask…

Well, yes. At the end of the month, I return to California, this time to the mountain town of Sonora, for a three month run of Mary Poppins at Sierra Repertory Theatre. I’m thrilled! However, it seems that I cannot commit to one home for more than three months at a time. Is this my destiny?

In 2014, my “home” went something like this: one week at sea, two weeks in NorCal, three months in NYC, two weeks in England, nine days at sea, three months in NYC, three months at sea, two nights in NYC, two months in NorCal… (sigh)

It seems silly, really. And yet the question I seem to be answering more and more these days is:

“Where do you want to live? New York or California?”

or

“Are you going to stay in NYC now that you’re not doing any more ship contracts?”

6a00e54fb3acaa883400e550025a408833-800wiI have to admit that this is better than the questions about when I would move back to the Bay Area and find a man with whom I could procreate. But the honest truth is… I have no idea how to answer. How I wish I could give a tidy response, all tucked up with glitter in colorful cellophane with a big fucking bow. These days I respond with a blanket statement that soon I’ll be super duper rich and can live everywhere. That’s plausible, right? I think I’d make Santa Barbara my primary home… a nice townhouse in the West Village, private yacht in the Mediterranean, a sensible time share in Kauai…

I digress. Luckily I can always come home to my awesome apartment in Astoria. I doubt I’ll ever move out of that place.

Looking at my life in the arts – it doesn’t truly seem possible to predict or have any certainty of where I might live. I will return to New York in the Spring when Mary Poppins ends its run – but I am sure that my next project will take me out of town. (I have my hopes as to which ones pan out.) It used to confound me that this was a subject of such uncertainty, but I believe that the last few years I have spent living at sea – hopping from country to country and witnessing the remarkable minisculity of the world – have alleviated any sort of fears that this very uncertainly could exist my entire life. In fact, that, almost spinning of the globe and placing a finger, somewhat frees my spirit and excites my soul. If only my amazing kitty Marcel could always come along…

Look at the great artists of the past.Frederick-the-Great-at-his-retreat-Sanssouci Composers, painters, sculptors, poets – for them to survive in certain times, they were taken on by a patron who would house them, feed them, nourish their art and soul. In the theater world, the modern equivalent might potentially be an equity national tour with a weekly minimum and per diem. (Here’s hoping!)

It’s all very romantic and exciting. With a milestone birthday last year and my final cruise ship contract with Choozi Entertainment and Silversea coming to a close – there was a lot of anxiety and tense nerves surrounding my inner-thoughts on my future. But something must have snapped along the way. Maybe in a trip to St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Musuem at the Winter Palace? Or was it the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City? That last snorkeling trip at the Baths in Virgin Gorda? Maybe it was dinner and bowling with my family last night in Danville. Everything will be okay. I’m on the right path. I will honor my creative impulses and keep taking these risks. Because so far it’s paying off. And while I may not know where I’ll be this summer – I guarantee I’ll be having a hell of a time being my authentic artist self.

Update: I made it home just fine and am now nice and warm in my delightful apartment. Props to Hoyt Limo and my fantastic driver Giuseppe for the awesome service as usual.

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Monaco in the Robin’s Egg

Monte Carlo, Monaco

March 16, 2012

One of the most breathtaking views I experienced in my time on the ship was simply looking our at the ships and yachts in the Port of Monaco. This port was high on my list of ‘ports to be excited about’ – mostly because our previous hotel director on the ship, Bertrand, lives in Monaco and agreed to show us around.  He met us on the pier and we all (Kathleen, Krystle, Jeff and myself) happily piled into his robin’s egg blue Renault for a drive and tour around the principality.  We couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide.  First we visited the famous casinos of Monte Carlo, which was a trip in itself because Bertrand is technically not allowed to go into the casino as Monaco citizens are not allowed to gamble, so we snuck our way in to Le Grand Casino for a nice view, then redirected ourselves to one of the casinos with slot machines. I firmly decided I would spend no more than 5 Euro, but I just HAD to take my chance in a Monaco casino.  One spin on the machine and I won 17 Euro!  Cash out, walk away, keep that smile on your face. We then got to walk around the very beautiful Hôtel Hermitage, where Bertrand ignored velvet ropes barricading private rooms and showed us every nook and cranny of this GORGEOUS establishment. I could happily spend the rest of my life on the patio of this hotel, overlooking the Port of Monaco.  But time waits for no one!  Next stop in the Robin’s Egg was the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, where we lounged at L’Orange Verte – and I took my winnings to indulge in a nice afternoon Viognier. What a beautiful place to spend the afternoon.  Our last visit was across the principality, so we raced along the Formula One track in our Robin’s Egg, and then saw the government buildings of Monaco, as well as the old cathedral where the royalty of Monaco are buried (including Princess Grace).  It was a thrilling day – so spectacular to see Bertrand again, and the five of us really had such a wonderful time in the beautiful principality of Monaco.

Bertrand and I outside Le Grand Casino

Us with the Robin’s Egg!

Next up: Livorno, Italy (including Florence and Pisa!)

Beautiful South Africa

Today marks three months on the ship, and it’s hard to believe that we are already approaching the halfway mark through our contract.  By the way, new update: we are leaving the ship a few weeks early, now our end date is May 21st in Athens, Greece. For the last month now, our ship has been frequenting the ports of South Africa.  We return to Cape Town for the last time on Monday, and then we will continue on up the west coast of Africa, stopping in Namibia, Ghana, Senegal, Cape Verde and ending that cruise in the Canary Islands.  The following cruise will lead us in to the highly anticipated stretch of our contract in the Mediterranean Sea!

Just to remark a bit on South Africa – I really love it here.  True, the ports have not been fantastic, and the shuttle buses provided by the ship take us to… shopping malls… but the countryside is absolutely gorgeous and the people are very friendly.  For instance, in the port of Richards Bay, we found a great little restaurant in the mall, and when I returned a second time (20 days later), my waitress commented on my hair color (I had just re-dyed it) and said it was great to see me again!  More than a few people have stopped me in the mall and asked me where I’m from upon hearing my accent, and have responded with the question, “Why are you visiting South Africa?”  I don’t want to write too much on this topic because I feel I am ill informed, but I’ve noticed that a lot of people living here very much love their country, but are absolutely heartsick with the state of affairs.  The people I have talked to seem almost apologetic, yet are clearly proud of their beautiful country and the progress that has been made in the last couple decades.  Healing takes time, and this country has such fantastic potential for positive change.  The raw elements of success are prevalent in this beautiful land – new industries are developing and quickly booming, and a younger generation of South Africans seems to want positive change and new direction.  But the sad reality is a corrupt government and a raw, violent environment.  I very much hope to learn more about this beautiful place, and to hopefully return at some point to revisit some of the amazing sights I’ve seen.  And I do hope that the state of affairs is improved and that the morale of this country is lifted.

On that note, I’d like to share some notes of some of the highlights of my traveling through South Africa.  I have been lucky enough to accompany guests on more than a few nature tours and so I just might contribute an actual travel-themed blog this afternoon!

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

I had the pleasure of escorting a group of our guests on a two-hour boat ride through Lake St. Lucia to view crocodiles and hippopotamus. Hippopotami?  I don’t know the plural version – but damn, we saw a lot of them.  My first mistake upon boarding our flat bottom boat was swatting away a huge ‘hippo fly’ and then deciding to pull out my bug spray and start going to town on my legs and arms.  Our skipper FREAKED out, screaming, “That is absolutely the WORST thing you could do!  What are you doing?!”  The astonishment on my face was probably photo-worthy.  Sorry skip, I didn’t mean to scare away the wildlife.  He claimed that the bug spray actually attracts the flies, so a word from the wise: don’t bust out the Off! on one of these boat rides.  Instead, the skipper’s assistant handed out floppy leather fly swatters to kill those pesky insects.  In all honestly, once we got moving, the flies weren’t a problem at all.  So anyhow… the tour of the lake was great.  Very relaxing, quiet, peaceful – a nice change from some of the other game drives in the area if one is looking for something to contrast a bouncy 4×4 drive.  We saw several groups of hippo, though they were sleeping in the water (they only come out of the water at night) and so they were at times hard to spot.  We saw only one crocodile, a little baby one, and loads of birds.  It was a nice time – though I couldn’t help but giggle when I thought about the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland… “When they wiggle their ears, they might attack!”  That was for you, Travis and Kyle.

The Hippos at St. Lucia

TALA Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

This was my favorite game drive in South Africa.  Yes, it’s privately owned, so of course they can be selective in what animals they have and how they run things, but… wow.  We saw scores of zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, antelope, rhino, kudu, hippo, warthogs, ostrich and birds and abundant, gorgeous plant life.  The scenery alone could have been sufficient for an enjoyable drive.  The scents of wild sage, aloe and euphorbia filled the air and the weather could not have been more perfect for our day.  The highlight for me was seeing so many baby animals!  We were blessed to see a one-week old zebra, dozens of baby wildebeest, giraffes, zebra, ostrich and warthogs.  Warthogs and wildebeest are ridiculously ugly, but those little ones are simply gorgeous!  I was just a little disappointed that we saw Pumba, but not Timon.  Everything must relate back to Disney, yeah?  The animals in Tala were less afraid of the presence of our vehicle, which could possibly be related to the fact there are very little predators in this reserve.  It was startling to see how close we came to the rhino and giraffe, who just looked curiously through sleepy eyes at our snapping cameras.  I was having a good time describing how delicious ostrich meat is to some of the others in my vehicle (all of whom were from New York) – and really hit a nerve with one of the ladies when we saw three baby ostrich and I said, “Mmm… I love sliders.”  I concluded the drive by buying some ostrich jerky from the gift shop – mmm.

Giraffe at Tala
Mama Zebra and one-week old baby
Zebra in front of a backdrop of waterlilies
White Rhino
These guys make the tastiest burgers.... 😉

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi was absolutely gorgeous.  First of all, it feels like an accomplishment to even try to say the damn name (sounds something like “shlooshlooee-oomfolozi”).  Our morning started off a little rough as our bus lacked an air-conditioner, so we instead waited about thirty minutes for a new bus to arrive.  Isn’t it funny when you are wearing an official looking shirt and a nametag – you suddenly become the ‘person in charge,’ responsible for all unfortunate circumstances? More on that later… So anyhow, we arrived to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi after a 90-minute drive from our port at Richards Bay, and quickly loaded into the 4×4’s for our first game drive of three hours.  I was angry with myself for having a too-late night (no, not drinking… reading) and I found myself with weary eyes and low blood sugar after only two hours.  The scenery was fantastic, and I of course began to make mental comparisons [for the umpteenth time] between South Africa and California. There were moments on the drive when I truly felt I was driving through parts of California.  And though the flora and fauna is completely different, from a distance, everything looks the same.  Rolling hills with greenery, shrubs, small trees, bright soil and endless horizons.  And if you think about it, so much could be distantly related: lions vs. mountain lions, warthogs vs. wild boar, kudu and antelope vs. deer, black mambas vs. rattlesnakes… the destructive and all consuming, wildly aggressive black rhino and… Lindsay Lohan.  You get the idea.  But really, this park and so many other settings throughout South Africa have reminded me of my home state.  Hot guys, surfing and corrupt politics!  Wait; let’s really get Dan Brown on this… S-O-U-T-H-A-F-R-I-C-A could almost be re-arranged into C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A… just reshape the U into an L and the T into an N, and use the I twice… and you got it!  (Side note: I just finished “The Lost Symbol” last night.  How trashily awesome are those books?)  Anyhow, our two drives through Hluhluwe-Umfolozi (three hours in the morning and two hours after lunch) were really great.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and was able to track us in to see a huge family of elephants crossing through our path and then bathing.  There was even a tiny little guy, probably just a few months old, who couldn’t quite get a hold of managing his trunk and was wobbling around and running.  So cute.  Have I mentioned that I am obsessed with baby animals?  Between the two drives we had a spectacular buffet at the Hilltop Restaurant in the park, featuring some great African salads and curries.  And after a much-needed Red Bull and coffee, I was much more alive for the second game drive!  So all in all, a great day.  But how best to finish things off?  How about getting stuck on the bus for an extra 25 minutes after we arrived at the ship, because the door wouldn’t open?  It eventually took seven guys with three crowbars to pry it open.  And of course people were staring me down, telling me they wanted refunds, angry they were missing cocktail hour.  Again: I am just a soprano.  Please come to my shows.  Do you need a Band-Aid or a hand sanitizer wipe?  That is my purpose as an escort!  Yes, the ending of the day was a let down, but the drives were wonderful, the scenery spectacular, the animals captivating, and the food terrific. My only regret was that we didn’t have a sunrise tour, during which we might have had a chance seeing the cat population here: lion, leopard and cheetah.  Oh well!

View from the Hilltop Restaurant
Giraffe in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi
Hungry hungry warthogs
Elephant family playing in the water
Baby elephant!
Zebra and Buffalo enjoying the afternoon

Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Have you seen the flightless dung beetle?  If so, you’ve probably visited Addo.  Have you ever seen anyone stick a flightless dung beetle in his or her mouth?  If so, you have met Ryan.  So one thing that comes with a large population of elephant is a large amount of elephant dung, which is managed by these little creatures.  Our group visited Addo just after a good amount of rain had hit Port Elizabeth and the surrounding areas, so according to our guide (Ryan), the elephants were hiding in the bush.  And this “bush,” by the way, is enormously effective at hiding the elephant, the largest animal of “The Big Five” (elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and leopard).  Addo Park, by the way, is the only park in the world to house the so-called “Big 7” (Big Five plus the whale and great white shark) in their natural habitat.  As expected, we were not lucky enough to see any cats on our game drive, but we saw LOADS of dung beetles and tortoises!  Our guide corralled us around the park in search of elephants in the open, but traversing around a 630 square mile park looking for some of their over 400 elephants is a little difficult!  We finally hit the jackpot when we came across a family of elephants crossing the road, including the biggest bull in the park, “John,” which was an exciting sight to see.  Our guide actually snapped at everyone to be absolutely quiet when we saw John, because he had apparently attacked a vehicle just the previous day.  We happily walked away unscathed, thrilled to have seen these beautiful creatures.  One last thing worth mentioning: the Addo Park has an excellent curio shop!  Normally, I can’t stand these touristy shops with the same ‘artisan crafts’ as the next vendor, but I actually found some great things in this store.  I ended up buying a hand-embroidered pillowcase, which was made as a part of the Kaross Workers Project from the Letsitele District of the Limpopo province, which has over 700 embroiders that work from home to create these hand-crafted arts and return them for payment.  Mine is even embroidered with the signature of its creator, a woman named Selina.

Elephant crossing!
That's "John" in the back
View of Addo Park
My new pillowcase!

Table Mountain National Park, Western Cape, South Africa

I can’t say too much about this park as I feel there is still much for me to explore – but I did have the great fortune to hike to the top of Lion’s Head Mountain with Peter, Krystle and two guests from the ship.  I mentioned this in my previous post.  To date, this hike was the absolute highlight of my travels with the ship.  It was a simple taxi ride to the trail head, and then about 45-60 minutes to hike up to the tip-top.  We had the most beautiful view of Cape Town and Table Mountain, and it was a lovely workout to start our morning.  I have read a bit about some of the other hiking opportunities throughout Table Mountain Park, and it absolutely seems like the kind of place I’d love to come back to visit and try some more adventuring. The Hoerikwaggo Trails are four hiking trails on Table Mountain ranging from two to six days, and you can even abseil off the top of Table Mountain.  Not for the faint of heart – and definitely something I’d love to try eventually.  Check out my video from the top of Lion’s Head:

South Africa is a beautiful place.  I feel so lucky to have visited these amazing parks and seen some splendid sights.  I wonder when I will come back?

Ash sells seashells on the Seychelles shore

For me, the most eagerly anticipated stretch of my seven months at sea was undoubtedly the Seychelles, an archipelago country made up of over 100 granite and coral islands.  The name of the country actually turned into a running mantra between Peter and myself as we reminded each other to eat healthy and workout (to look good in a swimsuit).  “Seychelles, Ashley!” “Shells!”  Get it?

So I did my best, completing workouts and trying to avoid second portions of lasagna in the officer’s mess.  Have I mentioned lately how amazing the pasta is on this ship?  I guess that’s what happens when Italians run a cruise line.  I don’t know how much a difference two weeks of dedication made, but I certainly felt comfortable putting on my bikini and running around the islands without a care.

I last left you, my dedicated readers, as we sailed in to the Baie Ste Anne of Praslin.  I do have a slight regret that instead of being out on the deck taking pictures, I instead sat here in the observation lounge (where I am now) writing this here account of travels.  But let’s face it; my Canon Powershot cannot do justice against the wonders of Google Image searching (and that kind of a photo is a lot quicker to upload to the blog).

The Seychelles, courtesy of Google Images

Regardless of whether or not I took enough landscape photos of the islands on that beautiful first day, the images are seared into my memory. The source of my regret comes from the fact that our first two days in the Seychelles were absolutely beautiful, but I stayed on the ship.  Our first day in Praslin, I only went off the ship for about 30 minutes (had to get back for a rehearsal and then ABBA show), and then the second day when we went to both Curieuse and La Digue, I was stuck on the ship with IPM duty.  The next day, as we sailed into Port Victoria, the capital of the country, on the island of Mahe, the rain started.  December and January are actually the two rainy months of the year in the Seychelles, so it was miraculous we had had the first two beautiful days of sun.  I don’t want to discount my entire visit, but I was pretty damn angry that I missed out on that.  Because, honestly, when am I ever coming back here again?

So anyhow, those first two days were a wash, but one the third day, in Mahe, I went out as an escort with a tour group that had a full-day tour of the island.  We started in the main marketplace of the town of Victoria, which was bustling with an unusual number of locals running around town to do their Christmas shopping.  Our guide explained that the town was not normally very busy, but it was very much a holiday tradition to come into the main market to complete holiday errands.  To put things into perspective on the size of this country’s capital – the entire city of Victoria felt like downtown Danville, California.  No joke.  I was seriously expecting to find myself lunching at Pete’s Brass Rail or running into neighbors at Trader Joe’s.  Quite a charming little city, though I much preferred the more remote areas of the islands. The island of Mahe reminded me very much of Kauai in it’s landscape and the friendly attitude of locals.  We visited the Botanical Garden; where we viewed some Coco de Mer palms (more on that later), saw tortoises, fruit bats, and dozens of beautiful plant species that populate the Seychelles.  After leaving the garden, our group of about twenty drove up into the hills of Mahe, as we learned about the very interesting history of the islands and the ethnic backgrounds of its inhabitants.  I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to learn such an in-depth history of each place I am visiting as our ship sails along on this seven-month itinerary.  I never thought I would be learning so much, and it’s absolutely fascinating to me. Our guide in Mahe explained to us that though the Seychelles were first settled by the French (and then under English rule), the population was never very much or the islands very “settled” until a ship on course from Africa to Asia was intercepted by the British Navy and found to be carrying over 100 African men, women and children who had been abducted as slaves.  As slavery had been abolished at this time, the Navy released these people to the nearest bit of land, which happened to be the Seychelles.  And as time went along on these islands, the area continued to grow with a mix of European, Asian and African settlers.  Today, the population of the Seychelles is a physically beautiful and culturally diverse mix.  The language spoken there is Kreole, basically a slang variation of French, and not at all related to the Creole language of Louisiana.  It was actually fascinating to hear our guide speaking English with us, and then turning to the driver and his intern as they spoke Kreole.  Our next stops in Mahe along our tour was the old schoolhouse that was built for the freed slave children, and then to a teahouse that brewed locals teas harvested from the tea plants growing on the lush mountains of the island.  This was all fantastic, but the highlight of this tour was undeniably our Kreole lunch buffet.  Yummmmmm.

At the top of the mountains in Mahe

Our last stop on the tour was a little craft village where local artisans make and sell little creations like carved wood tortoises, coco de mer seeds and model ships.  All in all, it was a lovely day learning about the culture of the Seychelles, and though we didn’t get any beach time, I knew I still had three days ahead of me that would offer some hopeful beach and sunning time.

Woke up the next day to torrential downpour and lightning.  Okay, okay, it’s all right, I’m here in the Seychelles, don’t complain.  That was basically my running internal monologue for the day.  After taking on new passengers on the ship in Victoria, we had sailed back to Praslin, and my plan was to obviously lay out all day long on the Cote d’Or beach, where Prince William and Kate honeymooned earlier this year.  But the weather changed my plans, and I decided to instead head for the hills and visit the Vallée de Mai, a lush rainforest in the middle of the island that boasts the only indigenous population of the Coco de Mer palm (the largest coconut in the world!).  As almost all our ports in the Seychelles are without a harbor for the ship, we anchored off the coast of Praslin and took tender boats ashore.  On the tender, I was chatting with one of the other crew members, who told me she was meeting up with some local fishermen for a boat tour of the island.  I told her I was headed to the park, and she said she would ask the fishermen if they could give me a ride in their boat to the nearest local bus stop.  We arrived at the jetty, and sure enough, her newfound friend (actually only one fisherman) said he could drive me over to the bus stop.  So I sat there on the side of his motorboat and cruised along through the rain until we arrived at another jetty further into the village, where some other local fishermen pulled me out of the boat and next to stack of freshly caught fish.  Definitely an interesting mode of transportation, if you ask me.  The fishermen pointed me to the bus stop and I headed on my way, wishing my best luck to my friend as she cruised off with her barefoot companion in his boat.  One thing I learned in my time on the Seychelles is that the local population is extremely considerate, hospitable and generous.  Nearly everyone I passed while hiking around these islands would smile, say hello, offer samples of fruit – I first passed it off as a scheme to ask for money, as I’ve been on guard for that sort of activity since being in Asia, but the people of the Seychelles are truly kind and sincere in their actions.  I waited at the bus stop for nearly an hour, and when it finally arrived, I boarded an insanely crowded bus for the price of five rupees (less than 50 cents).  People of New York City: trust me, the MTA is nothing to complain compared to the ride I had.  The buses come about once an hour, and they are PACKED.  Standing the entire ride, I was thrown around as we swerved corners and, well… I got to know my neighbors really well.  I finally made it to the Vallée de Mai, paid the entrance fee and joined in on an organized tour of the rainforest.  It was the perfect day to be under the lush canopy of palms.  I had a fantastic time wandering through the trails, staying with the guide until the end of her tour, and then exploring on my own for another hour or so.

The Coco de Mer Palm

The Coco de Mer palms, which are only found in the Seychelles, boast an enormous and funnily shaped seed that has become the informal icon of the nation.  It was wonderful to see so many of these palms growing freely, surrounded by an impressive variety of other palm species and ferns, inhabited by birds, geckos, lizards, spiders, snails and a peculiar breed of hedgehog-type creatures.  The visit was well worth my time and money, and it also provided a much needed sense of departure from ship life and the people I’ve been living and working with for the last month and a half.  I love everyone on the ship, but sometimes you need that alone time!

A friendly snail
A feathered friend

After leaving the park, and waiting at the bus stop for 45 minutes, the city bus finally came into view, zooming around the corner, flashing it’s headlights and honking the horn, and… drove right by without stopping.  Myself and a few of the people who had all been waiting for the bus went into the shop outside the Vallée de Mai, and the shopkeeper explained that the bus was probably just full and another one would come in an hour.  Yeah, no.  So I instead decided to rough it and just walked the six kilometers back to the ship!  It was a great walk and a hilarious experience.  I was beat after my day of exploration but I felt fantastic.

Our next day, we were back in La Digue, so I was happy to be able to get off the ship.  I had originally been booked as a tour escort for a morning excursion snorkeling on Coco Island, but the ship revoked that privilege when they decided to throw in mandatory safety training at 9:30am.  Thanks guys, really.  So no snorkeling unfortunately. After the training was over, I quicklydeparted the ship on a tender boat to get to the island.  Kathleen and I left together and when we got to the jetty, decided to rent bicycles to ride around the island.  We had the most wonderful time!  The entire island is mostly transported by bike, though tourists can often be found riding the traditional transportation method of oxcarts. The only tricky thing was remembering to ride the bike on the left side of the road! We followed the road signs, as well as advice from some locals we met, and entered a more private beachside excursion area for the price of 100 Seychelles rupees (less than ten dollars).  Inside the area, we freely rode bikes between a vanilla plantation, a coconut oil producer, roadside stands selling spices and coconut products, a seaside restaurant, and, of course, a GORGEOUS beach.  According to everyone I met, both on and off the ship, La Digue boasts the most famous and most photographed beaches in the world. As a granite island, the beach is a beautiful mix of ivory white sands, lush green palms and gorgeous rocky accents along the coastline.  Simply beautiful.  Our afternoon was quite wonderful: eating freshly cracked coconut from a vendor, tasting local fruits from a man selling fruit platters on the beach, feeding massive tortoises their lunch of crunchy green leaves, wading in the shallow salt water and the inevitable afternoon nap on the sand.  To finish it off, we had fantastic grilled fish at a seaside restaurant right on the beach. It was a fantastic, much-needed, break from the reality of ship-life, and the clouds even parted for about an hour of uninterrupted sunshine.  Thanks for that, Seychelles!

The beach on La Digue
A graveyard near the beach in La Digue
Feeding the tortoises

Creepy abandoned ship

That evening, after a quick trip back to the ship for a rehearsal, Peter and I went together back to La Digue for an evening cocktail at one of the high-end resorts on the beach.  We sat right on the deck overlooking the water, viewing our ship in its evening splendor and enjoying the wonders of a tropical lightning storm.  I tried local rum with fresh fruits from the island – so yummy!  Our evening on land was yet another reminder of our great fortune to have this opportunity.  I mean, who would expect to find oneself sipping a local cocktail on the beach of the Seychelles?  Not me.

Our last day in the Seychelles was a major disappointment.  It was Christmas Eve, we were excited for a last day of enjoyment in Eden, but… the waves were too much for our tender operations.  So the main officers on board made the controversial decision to not allow crew off the ship – just guests.  “Merry fucking Christmas!” was the first thing out of my mouth on Saturday morning.  I was seriously depressed and anxious all day.  I tried to distract myself with a trip to the gym, but couldn’t help feeling jealous and angry as I watched from my aerial post a constant stream of mostly empty tender boats making their trips from the ship to the shore all day.  Really?  REALLY?  The day was gorgeous and I should have felt great, but the stress of not being able to leave the ship, combined with the homesickness of being stuck on our mini-island for the holidays, quickly accelerated my mood from bad to worse. The entire day was a test in patience, which I basically failed.  And our last duty of the day, singing Christmas carols around the ship, was a complete personal disaster.  There were about twenty of us total, singing four (ultra happy) Christmas songs in various parts of the ship.  Our first stop was the Panorama Lounge, on the eighth deck, which (lucky for me) has terrible lighting.  For some reason, as soon as we started to sing “Jingle Bells,” the waterworks began.  Now, I am not normally a huge crier.  I think I discovered a new emotional level in myself by joining an acting studio in NYC (thanks Matt), but this was ridiculous.  As we were singing the most ridiculously cheerful lyrics ever: “laughing all the way” and “with a corncob pipe and a button nose” and “you’ll go down in history,” I could do nothing but spew a constant flow of tears from my eyes.  And so I was making that very unattractive face between crying and trying to smile.  While also trying to sing. With a Santa hat on.  And little kids looking at me.  Oh yes, did I mention that there are little kids on this particular cruise?  Who the hell would think bringing kids on this ship is a good idea?  So anyhow – yes, Christmas caroling was disastrous and not fun.  After the caroling incident, I confined myself to solitary time in the cabin and watched Pirates of the Caribbean (I was getting in the mood for yet another period of Somali pirate watch here on the ship).  My last ditch attempt at a happy Christmas Eve was by attending the midnight mass service offered on the ship.  I was happy to be there, and it honestly did lift my spirits somewhat, but being this far away from your home and your loved ones is just not sane on Christmas.  The ship luckily aided my sorrows by providing a constant stream of comfort foods on Christmas Day, and then we performed our Christmas show and gift exchange amongst the cast.  (I got spices from the Seychelles!)  So yeah, it wasn’t the best Christmas I’ve ever had, but I was able to quickly FaceTime the family in Alamo, send some Facebook messages and hang out with friends on the ship.  Next year will hopefully be a different holiday for me – that’s all I’m saying.  Regardless, the pressure of the holidays is over and now we are sitting in port in Mombasa, Kenya – I’ve been blessed with the very special duty of IPM, so I can’t leave the ship.  Hakuna Matata, there’s always tomorrow.  The next few days should be interesting: we’re in Mombasa again tomorrow, then Zanzibar the following day, followed by Madagascar, Reunion Island and Mauritius. And by that point, we’ll be in the clear away from pirates – yahoo!  So hopefully our portholes will open at that point and remain open until the end of our contract.  Our next cruise will take us down to South Africa, where we will remain cruising until mid-February.  So I need to work on my tan and my Afrikaans.  What I really would love is being placed as an escort on a safari tour group.  So cross your fingers I get that opportunity!  Would also like the chance to surf if possible, so I’m keeping my eye out for board rentals.

Yes, I’m battling homesickness, I’m tired, I miss friends and family, I miss New York, my cat, my apartment… everything.  But when am I honestly going to do this again?  Rock on, Africa!

Touring the UAE

If I’ve said it once I’ve thought it a million times.  Ship time (aka “circus time”) is absolutely bizarre.  I feel like it’s been decades since I last posted, and yet it feels like only hours ago.  Time seems to fly by and yet last forever.  I get so much done and then there time to spare, yet I can never manage certain small tasks.  It’s living in an entirely different way.  So strange!

So the last week was our voyage between Dubai and Dubai, by way of Abu Dhabi, Khasab, Muscat and Doha.  Because this voyage was so short in comparison to our first (17 days, Athens to Dubai), we had much less time to put up all our shows and also meet all the guests.

Our theater, the "Parisian Lounge"

But the experience of our first cruise entirely prepared us for the next, and I think we really pulled it out for a great series of shows.  We were extremely motivated by the fact we received our first set of customer ratings, and they were the HIGHEST the ship had EVERRRRRR received for the singer/dancer entertainers!  Yes, the extras “RRR’s” were necessary to help emphasize our absolute joy at this truth.  We let energy propel us forward, and I truly feel that our second cruise had much better shows than the first, as well as more positive social interaction with the guests.  It’s really strange that in just seven days you can get to know some of this people as new friends, then you have to abruptly say goodbye and start all over again.  I met some really fantastic people on this last cruise, and they made a tremendously positive impact on me and my current outlook on performance.  So many genuine people: the New York couple (B and L) that offered to meet up when I’m back in the city; the hilarious Chicago couple (B and P) that kept us laughing with them at some hilarious moments; the lovely W who was perplexed by the color of my eyes; A and J who were celebrating J’s 80th birthday and asked the ship’s captain over dinner to give me a raise (!); and the nineteen Norwegians who kept their blonde/white heads bobbing from the front row during all our shows.  And we even have a few single cruisers who are continuing on to the Seychelles: L from Texas who has the loudest but most honest sense of fun and adventure, and D who is a lovely conversationalist with great advice on sightseeing.  All these people, and so many more that I didn’t name, opened themselves up to honest interaction with myself and the other artists, and really make this experience what it is.

The ladies of the Silver Wind - in colors for National Day in the UAE!

That’s not to say I haven’t been taking advantage of what’s to offer outside the ship.  This last voyage was a great tour around the United Arab Emirates and surrounding areas.  After we left Dubai last week, we sailed for Abu Dhabi, and I was able to actually get off the ship and enjoy some sight-seeing.  We were insanely lucky to get off (as crew members) when we did, because apparently the crew that tried to get off later in the day were unable to leave the ship!  I headed into the city with some of the other cast and a guest lecturer/artist from Jordan who knows all about Arabic art.  We arranged with a taxi driver to take us to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and upon arrival, we were blown away by the beauty of the architecture.  I truly had not expected such a grand and beautiful building!  We, along with thousands of other visiting females, were asked to put on long black gowns and head scarves, removed our shoes, and toured around the grounds of the mosque.  A tour guide asked us to join in her tour, so we haphazardly arrived in the middle of an interesting lecture on the mosque.  The art and design was so truly beautiful and inspiring.  I really loved it most because the designs that were featured were primarily floral, rather than depicting portraits or text as in so many other religious institutions.  The beauty in this place was so connected to nature – absolutely gorgeous.  After visiting the mosque, we went to the main mall in town, and well.. I do have to say that malls in the UAE rival malls of the American Southwest.  Air-conditioned shopping in desert-like conditions just makes sense, right people?

At the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Bare feet required

Our next port visit was to Khasab, Oman, which really didn’t have much to offer unless you arranged a private tour of the mountains and forts.  Instead, I headed into port with Krystle and Kathleen, convinced we could create a fun day in this small seaside village, but… nope.  There’s nothing there.  I did get some great pictures of the mountains as we left the port, however.  The views from the ship as we set sail are like nothing I’ve ever seen.  So completely breath-taking.

Looking back at Khasab, Oman

Our next port was a return to Muscat, Oman.  As I was assigned to IPM that day, I was unable to get off the ship and instead enjoyed some gym-action and sun-tanning.  I’m starting to realize that I need to treat the entire ship more like my own home.  I discovered last week that my favorite part of the ship is unquestionably the “observation lounge” – basically the very top deck on the front of the ship.  No one is ever really up there, there are windows surrounding the room, a telescope for gazing into the distance, board games for play, travel books for reading, hot coffee, and PEACE AND QUIET.  I’ve taken to sitting up there with my iPad to read books and get my caffeine on.  It’s a lovely place for thinking and relaxing.

Muscat, Oman

After leaving Muscat, we headed back through the Persian Gulf to the small country of Qatar.  We ported in the main city, Doha, but didn’t leave the ship as it would have cost each of us $44 to pay our Visa.  No thanks, Qatar.  I actually was very intriqued by the beautiful city skyline and the fact it is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, but I simply couldn’t part with my $44, especially on a Friday afternoon (holy day and everything is closed).  But I enjoyed Qatar from the deck of the ship, practiced guitar into the sunset, and snapped some nice pictures for all you lovely folks.

Doha, Qatar
Sunset from back deck on the ship, looking out at Doha

Leaving Qatar, we sailed back to beautiful Dubai and arrived early Saturday morning.  After closing a very successful run of shows on Friday night, I was ready for an adventure on foot!  Peter, Kathleen and I shared a cab with our new friends from NYC (B and L) and went to the Dubai Mall.  I managed to not spend much money at all, just picking up a few essentials.  From there, we visited the Madinat Jumeirah (upon recommendation from the MAC make-up store in the Dubai Mall) and had some lunch at Trader Vic’s.  Kathleen then left to visit the beach and Peter and I went to the Mall of Emirates to go skiing and snowboarding at Ski Dubai.  That’s right.  Skiing.  In a mall.

This deserves its own paragraph actually.  So here’s how Ski Dubai works.  You give them $50.  They give you snowpants, a jacket, ski boots (or snowboard), skis and poles.  And a pass that’s good for two hours on the lift.  The lift is unbelievably slow and takes you to the top of the INDOOR ski run.  It took me a few runs to get back into the hang of skiing, but by the third or fourth time I was totally enjoying it!  By the fifth or sixth time, Peter and I were over it and stopped.  Something about sitting on the lift for five minutes without gloves and then zooming down a hill in about 20 seconds that just doesn’t make much sense.

After we warmed up, we got our real cardio in by taking advantage of all the mall had to offer!  I officially found my new favorite clothing store, a Turkish place called Koton.  Unfortunately, there aren’t too many world locations, so I don’t get to go there again until we are in Istanbul next spring.  By then I’ll actually have money to spend and might even just buy a new wardrobe to ship back to NYC.  This place was seriously amazing.  The people in New York would go ape-shit crazy over these clothes.  But all good things (or shopping trips) must come to an end, and so Peter and I bid adieu to our lovely mall (did I mention that it had a SHAKE SHACK?) and hired a taxi to take us to the Emirates Tower for a final cocktail at a place called Vu.  It was a great day, and it was lovely to make the most of our free time and see the sights.  Who knows who often we will have the luxury of an entire day off?

Shake Shack Dubai!

This morning, I was up early for a new embarkation day.  200+ people have now boarded the ship and are anxiously awaiting our departure toward Fujairah, UAE.  Our final port on this voyage is Mahe, Seychelles.  Check out the itinerary:

Dec 05   Fujairah, UAE
Dec 06   Muscat, Oman
Dec 07   Day at Sea
Dec 08   Day at Sea
Dec 09   Mumbai, India
Dec 10   Day at Sea
Dec 11   Cochin, India
Dec 12   Day at Sea
Dec 13   Colombo, Sri Lanka
Dec 14   Day at Sea
Dec 15   Male, Maldives
Dec 16   Day at Sea
Dec 17   Day at Sea
Dec 18   Curieuse, Seychelles
Dec 19   Curieuse, Seychelles
La Digue, Seychelles
Praslin, Seychelles
Dec 20   Praslin, Seychelles
Mahe, Seychelles
Dec 21   Mahe, Seychelles

I’m absolutely looking forward to our visit in the Seychelles.  I think right now the biggest thing on my mind is hitting the gym so I look good on the beach!  Okay, off now to head back towards the ship for our safety drill and welcome to the new guests.

It starts all over again.

Stomach ache remedies

166 days of travel.

49,485 miles traveled (approximately).  Roughly equivalent to circling the earth 2 times.

Thirty-two countries (only two of which I have been to before), including: Cape Verde, Croatia, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives Republic, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Oman, Qatar, Reunion, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.

Stay tuned!  Day 1 of 166 is tomorrow.

It’s really starting

To say that I’m “excited” right now would be a bit of an understatement. I’m feeling so many things right now… excitement, nervous energy, fear, anticipation, EVERYTHING! At the time I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my flight between Oakland and Las Vegas. It was surprisingly simple to throw my things together this morning, after the most epic “Christmas” in September last night. It was not so simple to say goodbye to family and to Marcel (the obese cat). But our celebration yesterday made the transition a little smoother. We celebrated with a traditional holiday dinner, complete with a 21 pound organic turkey that we got for FREE from the amazing meat department at Whole Foods in Walnut Creek. Our ordered turkey wasn’t delivered, so they gave us a much larger, organic bird, on the house. Oma and Opa came in from Napa, Travis drove up from LA, Kyle and Amy braved the long journey from Berkeley, and even Gloria was able to make it from San Mateo. We had quite a night, and Santa even came early to me this year, delivering a brand new iPad! (He also said Happy Birthday for 2012.) What a fun night we had.

I definitely feel a great relief leaving Marcel safely in the able hands of Randy, Linda, and of course, Cal (the three month old golden retriever). But there is still an uneasy feeling in my stomach, a nice little character flaw I’ve maintained since childhood. Oh, thanks flight attendant, yes I would love pretzels and a ginger ale. Ah… That helps.

So upon my arrival in Sin City, I will be greeted by the people that hired me to sing aboard the Silver Wind for seven months. After being hired from my video submission, I hope that I make a decent first impression! I’m paired up to share a hotel room for the next month with a gal I’ve never met – it feels like I’m preparing to enter college dorm life again. I couldn’t help but make the comparison, especially with it being that time of year. Shout out to Hannah Strotman, locking it up as a new Gaucho at UCSB! We’re staying at an extended stay hotel off the strip, but somewhat near The Palms and The Rio. Not that I’m planning on doing any gambling (sorry, Dad).

Tomorrow we jump into music rehearsals. I don’t know what to expect, but I love learning and rehearsing new music, so I’m eager to get started. The company also asked me to play guitar on the ship, so I’ve got my guitar in tow and have been working to try and get those fingers calloused and back into shape. This is definitely going to be a musical boot camp for me. There are a few songs I’m interested in accompanying myself with the piano as well, so I’m looking forward to working with our musical director to come up with the best presentation we can achieve.

Peter gets in later tonight and I’m looking forward to having a celebratory glass of bubbly to mark this exciting career milestone for us. My vision of the future has changed drastically in the last two months. I would never have imagined myself in this place, it was a lucky happenstance. The right time, the right opportunity, the right people. This couldn’t be more perfect and I couldn’t be more grateful.