Life At Sea: South America & Antarctica
The inspiration for this blog is a direct result of a YoungArts event. On March 10, I attended Tony Yazbeck’s master class for pop and musical theater winners. Tony is an Outer Critics Circle Award nominee and fellow alumnus of the organization. I felt so privileged to observe and also very grateful to the organization for providing settings that motivate and continue the education of its students and advisors.
After class, I attended the alumni luncheon and shared what I gained from Young Arts. I stressed that this organization is all about cultivating relationships and opening doors. For example, if YoungArts didn’t have a relationship with the Utah Shakespearean Festival, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to act in my first Shakespearean play. There are so many prospects and venues all across the country—and out at sea!
From late October through January 2012, I embarked on Holland America’s Veendam on a journey to South America and Antarctica as an entertainer in the Showroom at Sea! (Check out Part 1, Life At Sea: Bermuda Style).
I turned my back on my beloved New York City for three full months. The unknown felt somewhat scary but mostly exhilarating. Friends and family asked, “Will your shows change when you do South American voyages?” I was no longer on the seven-day Bermuda rotation like the majority of the working world. Instead, our voyages ranged in length from 16 to 37 days. My cast performed our repertoire of five different shows per voyage and our theater became richly supplemented with guest entertainers including comedians, singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians and musicians.
Inspired by new performers, my cast worked on an original cabaret. This new show was very liberating because we were able to chose our own material and collaborate as a full team. It was also incredibly rewarding to hear from guests that our cabaret show was an audience favorite!
Besides finding new performance opportunities, I was eager to go onshore and experience the culture, history and geography of South America. This, of course, was the premier perk and main reason for taking the job!
Passing the equator was a pretty big deal onboard with the fun-filled ritual of the King Neptune party. Friends dressed as Pollywogs, while getting slimed and kissing a fish were all hilarious sights.
Arriving in each Central and South American port was fabuloso! I was excited to be immersed in the Spanish language once again because my 6 years of Spanish studies felt pretty rusty. Regardless, my friends and I helped one another other make purchases, read menus/signs and communicate with natives.
Colombia, San Blas Islands and the Panama Canal were all fascinating in their unique ways. In Manta, Ecuador I assisted on my first passenger shore excursion (another perk) where we visited a Panama hat ranch. I saw the step-by-step process of making these hats and then bought a pink and tan one. Que bonita!
My adventures continued on a tour of the Guayaquil National Park in Ecuador. This park was a multi-experience zoo packed full of fascinating animals and flora and fauna of the region.
Peru was hands-down one of the major highlights of my travels. I left the ship for two days and nights and participated in a private staff tour of the ancient ruins of Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Our first stop was in the outskirts of Cusco at the maze-like Incan ruin called Saqsaywaman (get it? Like “sAxy woman.”) The site is 12,000 feet in elevation so to reduce altitude sickness, most of us drank “mate de coca” (coca tea) while others bought leaves or coca toffee.
Machu Picchu is only (only!) 9,000 feet so going down from Cusco felt great! Often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas,” it was discovered in 1911 by American Hiram Bingham. Three miles or 3,000 steps later we were exhausted! While I never visited the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids in Egypt, I imagine any traveler would have the same sense of wonderment I felt at Machu Picchu. The experience made me reflect on how much I take for granted when a browser takes forever to load. Most questions in my life are answered by the click of a button or a simple Google search. When I look back and think about what this ancient civilization accomplished without today’s technology, I am simply stunned at man’s fortitude.
Next Stop: Buenos Aires, Argentina! BA is a huge city rich with culture and quickly became one of my most favorite places. This city has one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, and one Friday I attended my first Hebrew-Spanish Shabbat service!
I saw two beautiful tango shows and was so inspired that I took private tango lessons with the onboard tango dancers. I toured La Boca, the birthplace of tango and Teatro Colón, the world-renowned opera house. While inside, I even caught a glimpse of a photo shoot with the famous Argentinian ballerina and principal ABT dancer, Paloma Herera!
My favorite experience in the city, however, was the tour “Walking Through Evita’s Footsteps.” I would love to play the role of Evita Peron one day and this tour certainly offered in-depth research for the part. The highlight was Casa Rosada, the location of Evita’s final speech. I learned how to sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” in Spanish and even posted a video of “No llores por mi Argentina” in front of this historic landmark.
Next we cruised to Antarctica, which was unreal with its serene white glaciers and some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen! Even though it is considered the coldest place on earth, I was able to take photos in a long-sleeve shirt but no jacket without freezing! I also thought it was incredible that in our consecutive days of scenic cruising, it would remain light until 10 or 11pm. Although there are research stations and animal and plant life, there are no permanent residents of Antarctica.
It was fascinating to learn that the International Maritime Organization is implementing a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oils commonly burned by big ships in Antarctica. The oil has lead to spillage, which is now considered too much of a risk for the continent. It is unclear whether or not voyages such as the one I took will cease in the future. I consider myself lucky to have seen a part of the world most people will never visit.
Back in New York, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my incredible journey. I never studied abroad in college so I feel very humbled that my career has enabled me to see so many foreign countries. My job as an entertainer in Showroom at Sea was an excellent way to travel, perform, save money and make plans for my future.
by Mara Jill Herman, 2003 YoungArts Winner in Theater