A group of Harvard-Westlake students, accompanied by chaplain Fr. J. Young, are testing the waters of the Semester at Sea program, which is opening up to high school students. The group is part of an inaugural two-week Panama Canal cruise over winter break. Usually, students would spend an entire semester at sea. The group left on Wednesday, Dec. 15.
Chloe Lister ’12 and Vivien Mao ’12 are two of the Harvard-Westlake students who are trying out a two-week version of the Semester at Sea, which is going to be opened to high school students for the first time. They are blogging for the Chronicle about their trip.
Friday, Dec. 17
Today, the pre-college program disembarked the boat in the beautiful port town of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. All 32 of us were to snorkel in the clear blue waters.
When we first descended, the weather stunned us all. Bright and sunny, the temperature seemed more fitting for a beach day in July than a wintry December morning. After splitting off into groups with our new friends from different schools, Chloe Lister ’12 and I explored the Arts and Crafts flea market.
Saleswomen and salesmen called out to us as we passed, each claiming to have a more authentic item to sell than the next. It was overwhelming; the ponchos and toys and artifacts seemed to be screaming for our money. Quickly, we learned the art of haggling.
“Five dollars for two bracelets!” one woman called to us.
“Eighteen for an authentic Mexican Poncho!” another yelled.
Our Spanish-speaking friend Claire easily emerged as our haggling leader.
“It’s too much,” she would say. “I got that same offer for $15 at the other stall.”
Claire reminded us that you must always sound interested, but claim you are not. That way, the prices will drop. Speaking Spanish was always easier.
We left the market with our hands full of bags filled with ponchos, drinks, bracelets and more. As we continued down the main boulevard, people carrying iguanas to take pictures with, tamales to eat and trying to sell drinks to all waved their hands at us and asked for our money. We searched every street for the real Mexican experience.
Soon enough, it was time to go snorkeling. Everyone from our program and many other adults and college students boarded the diving boat, Cabo Escape, and sailed out to sea. On the top deck, a group of us started basking in the sun. Music blasted from the speakers as the DJ on board played the Black Eyed Peas and more. Many students lay down on the cushioned benches and began tanning.
We passed El Arco, the famous naturally sculpted arch in the sea, and the boat stopped to let us take photos. The sea was as blue as could be and the waters were calm. We approached a beach and anchored about 20 feet away. Most of the passengers rushed to the edge of the boat with their life-jackets, grabbed masks and snorkels and dove right into the water. A few of us, including Chloe and me, waited behind for the next round.
This round wouldn’t need life-jackets and could therefore could dive down with the fish. As we waited around on the top deck, I asked a crew member if I could jump off the second story of the boat. I had expected a no. Amazingly, the crew member, Pancho, laughed and said “Of course!”
It was so frightening. Standing on the rail of the boat, I looked down 25 feet of nothing before I would hit the water. As the boat started a countdown of “UNO! DOS! TRES!”, I started to back down. Somehow, at tres, I forced myself to jump and fell down, down, down and hit the water screaming. As the boat cheered, the rest of the brave students lined up to jump. From flips to dives, passenger after passenger leapt from the boat.
It was like a scene from a movie I used to watch where I would think “I’ll never get to do that.” Yet, here I was, watching the excitement from the clear waters of Cabo San Lucas. It was awe-inspiring.
After a double jump for Chloe and me into the blue depths, we decided it was time to snorkel. Our friend Kaylen, Chloe and I all got in line to take the next round of masks and snorkels. As Chloe fitted on a life jacket, Kaylen and I submerged ourselves into the water.
“On the count of three,” Kaylen said. “One… two…. THREE!”
We both faced down. Within 10 seconds, we both shot up and yelled at each other in excitement. Underneath us, the water was teeming with fish. Hundreds swam close enough for us to touch. As we moved our flippers around, we would accidentally kick little schools of fish around. We floated every which way, staring down at the stunningly clear waters so filled with life.
The currents pushed us around, moving the fish towards or away from us. At one point I looked down to see a bright blue, spotted puffer fish floating towards me. All different fish swam about, from rays at the bottom to brightly green and purple fish near the top.
When it was time to leave, we swam back to the boat for lunch. The upper deck was even more filled. Entertainment was provided with dance contests, drunken competitions for adults and college students on board and drinks. Boats passing by us heard our laughter and come out to watch.
It was a day filled with experiences I will never forget. Cabo San Lucas is known as a party city and our whole program absolutely understands why.
The people I shared it with and the things that I did were completely new to me, and I would do it again as many times as I could.
I can’t believe this is only the beginning.