The Odyssey
Base Camp
Trek Connect
Time Machine
Multimedia and Special Guests

Monica Dispatch

Trying to sail the ocean blue!

 We picked this dispatch as today's "Best."
 Click here to have future picks e-mailed to you!

The port city of Dakar, Senegal
I've always loved the ocean. The mighty power of the frothy waves, the salty water that turns your hair crunchy and wrinkles up your fingers and toes, the immense expanse of that wild blue yonder that covers 70% of our planet. Water is life, and I think in my life, the sea has a special connection. This might be because I am Filipino by heritage. Because of that island ancestry, I think a love of the ocean courses in my veins and in my spirit, and I was reminded of this just two days ago at the docks in Dakar, Senegal.

Click image for larger view
Let's go find a ship to take us to Morocco!
Kevin, Abeja and I went to the Dakar docks searching for leads on a way up north. You see, we need to get to Morocco! So, we figured we've tried the planes, trains and automobile route, it is time to change our direction! Let's try via boat! A Chinese sailor carrying supplies like cookies and magazines led us to where all the ships drop anchor. We couldn't communicate very well, except for "ni-how ma?"- how are you in Chinese. He explained that his ship, a fishing trawler, would stop by the Canaries, where most of these ships are going.

Click image for larger view
How about this one?
Unfortunately, the docks did not look very promising.

Three helpful men offered to exchange Spanish "pesetas" (coins) with Kevin, and gave him some unhelpful tips about travelling by sea, but after repeated inquiries, that didn't work out either.

We had heard there might be passenger ferries, but after two hours of constant querying, we were starting to get discouraged. Abeja stopped by the public washhouse, and Kevin and I waited for a bit, starting to sweat in the midday sun.
Are you American enough?

According to the U.S. census, there are approximately 9 million people living in America who are of Asian descent. Twenty-three persent of that are of Chinese ancestry; 20% are Filipino; 12% are Asian Indian; and Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese each represent about 10%. In San Diego County, where I live, Filipino Americans are the largest Asian-Pacific Islander group, and by some estimates, in the year 2000, Filipinos will be the largest Asian/Pacific Islander group in the country. Being Filipina-American has created a lot of confusion on the trek for people we meet who don't believe we're all Americans. Americans come in many colors and cultures, but too often in mainstream society, which is exported abroad, you don't see multiethnic representation. Be it books, magazines, television, or the radio, you might think that everyone in America looks like the people on Baywatch, which is the most highly watched TV show in the world.

A Korean exchange-student group once passed up my family because they said we weren't "American" enough. That group later said that they would consider a stay with an African-American family to be a true American experience, but not a stay with a Mexican-American family, even though all of the southwestern United States was once a part of Mexico.

What do you think? Are some people more "American" than others? Maybe, maybe not. It's a complicated question, isn't it?

On a hunch, I thought we should stick around a little longer... and we encountered the sparkling-clean Ice Express, docked near a Senegalese fisheries warehouse. Two sailors standing by the side offered to ask the captain for us, and eventually, they asked us to just come up the gangplank and visit with the captain ourselves. He turned out to be Filipino, just like me!! "Kababayan (countrymate)," I said. "Kumusta ka yo? (How are you?)" I asked. If you pronounce that, it sounds very close to the "como estas" greeting in Spanish. That's because of the Spanish influence in the Tagalog language: about 12% of the words in this official language of the Philippines are Spanish. Captain Catimbang invited us inside, offered us sodas, and proceeded to sit down with us for 45 minutes telling us the stories of his time on the ocean. Since 1973, when he was 19, he has been sailing and he has slowly worked his way up from being just a deck hand to being captain of his own ship. He had just come from the Netherlands, and before that he had docked all around the world, in port cities in Venezuela, the United States (Port Canaveral, Florida), Rome, Canada (Prince Edward Island), Panama, Nigeria and Argentina, carrying cargoes as diverse as chicken legs and plastic toys. The Ice Express would be leaving with its shipment of tuna in three days to the south coast of Spain, coincidentally where WE want to go. Ka-ching!!!! I asked him, very politely, if perhaps he would accept a few world trekkers in exchange for work around the ship. However, he seemed hesitant. Under international maritime laws, the ship's owner can lose their license if a cargo ship knowingly carries anyone more than the 15 sailors of the crew. Captain Catimbang basically told us no. Shot down!!

Click image for larger view
The captain is friendly enough
However, he did have a terrific story about another cargo ship where he worked as captain, and they UN-knowingly DID carry a passenger. It was a hot day in July, and the ship was leaving Lagos, Nigeria; he was in command. The second day at sea, someone heard movement in Hatch #1, and, he laughed, "It turned out to be a stowaway!" This Nigerian man, fleeing the ravaged economy and state of civil unrest in Lagos, had crept aboard the ship and hidden, only coming out now because of hunger and boredom. Captain Catimbang was surprised... what could he do??? He alerted their next stop, Buenos Aires, that they were holding a stowaway, then offered the man a cabin. Since the man couldn't be meandering about above the decks, they decided to lock him in the cabin. They let him out for meals and occasional films on the VCR. Once in Buenos Aires, police and immigration met the ship, refusing to allow the man to set foot on Argentinean soil (then it would become their problem, rather than the captain's), but they did offer him a direct line to the Nigerian embassy. They couldn't work anything out, and he wasn't granted entrance to the country. After dropping cargo and picking up the next shipment, the captain, ready to leave, was instructed by authorities to continue onwards with the stowaway! As soon as they pulled away, the stowaway broke the glass of the cabin, jumped out, and swam to shore!! At that point, the Argentinean police had to take him. After he explained his case, they offered him 90 days probation. During those 90 days he behaved like a model citizen and he was allowed refugee status and eventually became an Argentinean citizen. The captain said the case was publicized on television, and that the new Nigerian-Argentinean became overwhelmed with joy when granted formal entrance to the country. The captain added, "On his application form, this man put down for his occupation...stevedore (someone who unloads cargo)."

Click image for larger view
But alas, he can't take us
The captain grinned broadly, obviously proud of his tale. An agent came into the mess hall where we were talking and brought an express-mailed package of letters for the crew from the last two months, as well as a cell phone. So, we wrapped up our little visit and had to say goodbye. "Maraming salamat, po," I thanked him in Tagalog, and he said he'd put the word out that we were looking for passage north and email us any responses.

Setting Sail, Filipino style

Filipinos have always sailed the seas, spreading out over the more than 150 islands in the Philippines and keeping their 87 native dialects. An article by the Filipino American National Historical Society claims that from 1565 to 1815, during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, Filipinos were forced to work as sailors and navigators on board Spanish Galleons. In 1763, Filipinos made their first permanent settlement in Louisiana. As sailors and navigators on board Spanish galleons, Filipinos--also known as "Manilamen" or Spanish-speaking Filipinos--jumped ship to escape the brutality of their Spanish masters. They built houses on stilts in the bayous and marshes along the gulf ports of New Orleans. In the Treaty of Paris (April 11, 1899), Spain sold the Philippines to the United States for a cool $20 million. I'll bet you didn't know that the United States was a colonizing power, like France was here in West Africa. Unhappy with the deal, the Filipinos rose up, and The Philippine Insurrection, as it is known, was America's first true overseas war. It lasted from 1898 to 1902, and in those three years as many as 70,000 Americans died and close to 2 million Filipinos were killed, struggling for independence. Because of U.S. influence, you'll currently find many Filipinos-Americans who serve in the U.S. Navy as sailors and stewards.

The next day, Abeja and I stopped by the Dakar yacht club to ask yachties if they were heading north. Abeja said it seemed an exact repeat of her time spent looking for yachts to cross the Darien Gap, from Panama to Colombia where the jungle makes the overland route almost impassable. One Belgian yachtie told us, "It's not the right time of year for yachts. They go north later on, in October or November." When we thanked him, he said, "De rien! It's nothing!" and we started to giggle because it sounded like "Darien!" Abeja said it was the "Darien, take two," and sighed with exasperation.

No luck with the 'yachties' but we had a good laugh at our stories.

We are not giving up on our dreams to sail the high seas. Perhaps the reason I love the ocean so much is because it's always been in my blood. Although we've already traveled by ship during this world trek, it would be great to reach Morocco by sea, but prospects don't look too good. Check in next time to see what happens to the world trekkers as they continue in their search for passage to the north!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - You think you've got problems? Try getting across the Sahara Desert sometime!
Team - Kevin Gets a Souvenir from Africa: Malaria
Jasmine - Lac Rose
Kavitha - Jammin'.Groovin'.Diggin' the tunes!
Monica - The Ingredients of crossing the Sahara desert: Sand, Water and Landmines???
Monica - The People on the Bus Go Up and Down, Part II
Team - Bittersweet Recollections: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Mali
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- she's Making a Difference

Meet Monica | Monica's Archive

Base Camp | Trek Connect
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests

Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info

Meet Monica