Considering Travel, Sleep and Dreaming at Sea

You can travel around the world moving at a leisurely 15 miles per hour pace (often  slower), with the wind blowing in your face, but not too hard, as you look all around and see nothing but the sun and sea,  winking at you conspirationally across the waves,  and miles of beautiful, perfect, balanced horizon. This is the epitome of peace. Or isolation, depending on your mood and emotional inclination on any given day.

Now, bear with me as this leads me to a related tangential thought about sleep and dreams. They say that we spend 1/3 of our lives asleep. On Semester At Sea you travel while you sleep (and sometimes a professor will actually talk in your sleep, but that’s a different story). Anyway, 1/3 of a life asleep is a considerable amount of time.  If you live to be 80 years old that’s about 26.6 years of sleep.  And even more interesting  various sources, such as Discover Magazine assert that during the course of a lifetime, the average person spends more than six years dreaming. Six years of dreaming! Let that sink in.

I have a whole other life in my dreams. In my dreams I smoke on a regular basis (I’ve never actually had a cigarette, but in my dreams I will likely perish from lung cancer), I get tragic and regrettable tattoos of Disney characters, I walk miles holding babies, have reindeer in my kitchen, I reprise a recurring role as a German soldier, I’ve swam the entire length of the Mississippi River and I fly. I fly everywhere, taking epic journeys over Latin America and Africa wearing red shoes and a blue dress, swooping low over rooftops and up out of the atmosphere. And in one dream I traveled the whole world on a wrought iron bed only to crash land under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

I never know what dreams will come at night, but each one is a gift. Anyway, my rather vague point is, there is something sublime about being able to travel while you sleep, especially over the seas. The seas are like dreams anyway — the way they move, the way that they are implied metaphors for the subconscious. I am not sure exactly where the magic is in this connection between travel, the sea and dreams but I know it is in there somewhere.

The ship, our beloved MV Explorer, is a magical place in that it exists in a dimension all its own. Life is simultaneously accelerated and slowed down here, the sea moves under you, timeless, as you stand still on deck watching, and the world unfolds before you day by day, port by port, in glimpses and bursts, beautiful and horrific, kind and volatile all at once. On the ship there are all levels of travelers — the students, wide-eyed with single word superlatives sailing from their lips, floating skywards like bright novelty filled balloons (their real voices will come later as insight unfolds for many years to come) ; there are those like me, I have done it a few times, the experience has greater depth with each voyage, and I finally know that there is always more to discover, that there will always be unfathomable depths to explore; And then there are the ones who do this for life, the sailors and the truly untethered dreamers, who have an ancient hunger and a thousand sunsets in their eyes, their souls move like the waves, they no longer bring their cameras ashore because their hearts already belong fully to the world and the moment they are in.

You can go back to the places that you have visited, and you can come back to the ship but you can never return to this moment that is right now — this 3 month span will come to an end with people jostling through the hallways, announcements overhead calling out the decks to disembark. Hugs, and “see you laters!” abound, a bright burst of sunlight as you walk out on deck, swipe out, the ship engine still humming behind you as you clamber down the gangway, a familiar fading sound as you make your way towards your waiting bags.

It’s only later, maybe at the airport or in the familiar shower of your childhood home, that you start to wake up again, and wonder “What just happened? What was that?” and the Semester At Sea experience begins its ascension into the realm of The Best Dreams Ever, departing summer memories already surfing between reality and dreamscape.

And with that I will conclude this rambling series of Semester At Sea voyage musings with the words of Dr.Who:

“There are worlds out there where skies are burning, where the seas are asleep and rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. C’mon Ace, we’ve got work to do.”









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