Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sustainable student (and teacher, at times)

Coming from Hawaii, sustainability, or at least the push for sustainability, is the status quo. We have banned plastic bags. We have readily available water fountains for using refillable bottles. Most of our single-use plastics have been replaced by biodegradable alternatives, and using your own metal straw is all the rage. 

Although Europe may be thought of as safe haven of progressive and liberal ideals, it isn’t on the same sustainable wavelength as Hawaii quite yet. Recycling bins are easy to find, which is an awesome place to start, but I found that many other eco-friendly lifestyle habits were not a social norm yet. 

For example, here I have “Exhibit A”: bananas put in a cardboard box thoroughly coated in plastic wrap (as if the natural coating of the fruit wasn’t good enough). 

Options like these felt absolutely repulsive to me, but to many European consumers it was something completely ordinary. 

At first, it was quite disheartening to know that the positive changes happening in Hawaii were so minuscule in comparison to the larger trends of consumption across the globe. The more I considered the issue though, I realized that this was merely an opportunity. Europe had shared so much with me—how to properly make coffee, the efficiency of public transportation, the Spanish language, the intricacies of fine art—and now it was my turn to share something with them. Even though I stood out, I did what was sustainably friendly, and when people asked me what I was doing, I shared with them why. 

And now I’ll share what I said with you too:

  • Bring your own bag to the grocery store! This isn’t as normal in some parts of Europe (especially Spain) as it is in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean it should stop you. I would always leave a small cloth bag in my backpack that way I always had one for quick grocery store runs after class. 
  • Stick the sticker directly on the produce! Some European grocery stores may function differently than in the US. Sometimes you are supposed to weigh your produce at a special scale that prints off a sticker barcode for you to bring to the cashier. Normally, people will put their apples in a small plastic bag, and then weigh it, and then stick the sticker on the bag. To save plastic, skip the bags and weight your apples directly on the scale. When you have your sticker, stick it directly on one of the bunch, and go to check out like that. Problem solved. 
  • Don’t buy the plastic wrapped bananas! Even if they are cheaper, fight with your wallet and buy the more eco-friendly option. 
  • Bring your own water bottle! Warning: this can be a dangerous task sometimes. During my time abroad, I encountered several restaurants and cafes that were not a fan of my Hydroflask (even though I had already paid for something else from their menu). Most food establishments in Europe will not bring you tap water in a glass, or if they do they will bring it quite hesitantly. They REALLY want you to buy bottled water, which is not exactly the greatest option in terms of waste production. In the few instances that I encountered some rudeness, I would simply explain my point of view and they would usually simmer down…. but be prepared. 
  • Bring your own reusable container for take out! You will definitely get weird looks, but it’s worth it nonetheless. 
  • Keep a set of silverware on you & use it for your take out!
  • Ask for NO straw every time!

Every day we make choices that can make an impact. The more people we can convince to make these same choices, then the better off we are as a world. 

Always stay conscious, my friends! 

Brooke Gottmeier
Comillas University
Spring 2019

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

First Sighting of Land

After spending almost 5 weeks at sea, we finally got closer to our destination, the Caribbean. About 24 hours before arriving at land, there is a little tradition on the ship where everyone onboard gets to guess at what time and distance we’ll have our first sighting of land. The winner got to disembark the ship before everyone else and got treated to ice cream by the captain. I sadly lost the competition by a LARGE amount, almost embarrassingly so (my sense of distance is apparently way off), so I had to wait an extra day before exploring Carriacou, which was our first stop. Carriacou was a beautiful little island very different from other Caribbean islands since it is not particularly touristy. The locals there were so warm and welcoming. They happily answered all our questions about the island and even invited us to their pre-Christmas celebrations.  The island had plenty of white sand beaches and opportunities for swimming and snorkeling, which was highly appreciated by the entire crew since neither of us had been swimming in the ocean for the past five weeks.
After a few days in Carriacou, we set sail one last time towards Grenada! Grenada was very different from Carriacou, it was a lively island with plenty of people and lots of tourists and things to do. Here we got to explore the city and several historical landmarks. So, we not only got to sail the Atlantic Ocean, but we also got to experience and learn about new cultures.






Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Erawan National Park, Thailand

Erawan National Park was quite a trek to reach, but once we did it was so worth it. The main hike has seven levels to it, and it is one of the hottest and most humid hikes out there!
Surrounded by the gorgeous foliage and breathtaking water color (this photo is unfiltered, it was really that cool!!), we hiked all the way up, past some quick sand (quick sand!!!) and some crazy looking monitor lizards, spiders, and monkeys. 

We saw the amazing water fall the entire time, and when we got to the top we put our feet in! The pools were filled with fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet to clean them. This was one of the weirdest feelings ever, but hey, people pay lots of money at spas to get this done so you have to try it! It was refreshing and relaxing since we sweated for an hour to get all the way to the top!

Just your typical sturdy Thai bridge....

Phi Phi Islands-I love Southeast Asian Islands!

The Phi Phi Islands are tiny and right off the large island of Phuket. These two islands are incredible! They are tiny but beautiful and full of nightlife and amazing views. As we ferried to the islands, we could not believe the amazing rock formations. 

Once we arrived, we were in awe of the perfect water color with all of the long-tail boats. The locals were friendly and spoke enough english to get around. Though things here were a little more expensive than Bangkok, it was still cheaper than America! These two islands provided us with one of the best weekend getaways we had this semester. 

We took a cruise around the two islands and enjoyed all the famous locations, lunch, snorkelling, music and new people, and finally a gorgeous sunset. It was incredible! (Blanco Boat party for anyone who wants to know!)

We made new friends and had such a blast. I will return to the islands of southeast Asia because they are pristine!

Loy Krathong Festival-Chiang Mai, Thailand 2018

The Festival of a Lifetime:
Loy Krathong is a festival in Thailand which means to "float a Krathong" (the objects we are holding made of banana tree stump and leaves, flowers, incense, and candles). One floats a krathong in order to pay homage to the river for all the water provides, as well as to apologize for polluting. It was such a unique experience to learn to make these out of the traditional materials from our hostel owner, Nam (Pictured on the far left). He explained why they make Krathongs and showed us how his mother taught him when he was young. 
We bought lanterns off the street (3 for 100 baht = 3 for $3). We took the lanterns to the designated releasing area and found a spot in the crowd (there were so many people there!). Once we found a spot, it was like we were in the movie Tangled! We each released lanterns into the night sky and watched as everyone else's lanterns started to look like stars. 

After releasing the lanterns, there was an amazing parade marching down the street, and all the floats were gorgeous and traditional. I would highly recommend visiting Thailand for this festival!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Sailing The North Atlantic

After 6 weeks of classes in Woods Hole, it was finally time to set sails aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer!!
For my program, we sailed from Woods Hole to Grenada, which means we spent about 5 weeks on the open ocean without any stops, and then the last week was spent docked in Carriacou and Grenada. In my opinion, if you want to learn how to sail, this is the perfect program! Because you get 5 weeks of uninterrupted sailing experience!
The first week on the Cramer is very intense with a lot of safety training, seasickness, learning a new language, and learning how to stow your bunk so you don’t fall out when the swells pick up (and trust me, they DID). And when I say a new language, I mean learning what all parts of the boat is called, because boat folks have decided that kitchen is called galley, bathroom is head, floor is deck, walls are bulkheads, stairs are ladders, etc., and let’s not forget that each individual line has a different name! So, the first week is very confusing before knowing what everything is! But we used these terms every day, so I get into it super quickly. I learned more the first week on the ship than I have ever done before.
When embarking on the ship, you’re not a student anymore, you’re a part of the crew. This means you’ll do everything the professional crew does. Which entails standing watch, being at the helm, raising sails, and preparing food in the galley.
It might sound like a lot of work, but it's really worth it. While standing at the helm and/or lookout, I got to see some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises I've ever seen, and during the night the skies very so clear you could see the entire Milkyway. Oh and let's not forget the dolphins that frequently came to visit!!

Standing at the helm

Standing at the Helm

Standing at the helm

Music on the quarter deck

Furling the mains'l

Celebrating Halloween onboard the ship