Monica Catalano ‘02: Setting sail Part 3

Over the course of the next 90 days we experienced some of the most unique and vastly different cultures and destinations I could have ever imagined. Leaving from Cairns, Australia in mid-September we made our way up the east coast of Australia and rounded the Northeastern tip, heading west across the Northern territory. Monica Catalano, photo 10By early October we arrived in Bathurst Island, one of two islands in the Tiwi group, about 80 km north of Darwin, Australia. Bathurst Island is occupied by indigenous Australians that have inhabited the islands since before European settlement. The history of these people is fascinating and we were introduced to many locals who shared their stories, dances, and experiences with us. Our guides painted their faces to signify the animal that represented their family and each animal had a ceremonial song and dance to honor them.

For an entire month we did not set foot in the ocean. In the Northern Territory swimming is strongly discouraged due to the large number of saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the area! After a quick stop in Bali, the next destination was Banjarmasin, Borneo. I could probably write this entire blog about Borneo alone, as it was probably the most unforgettable place I have ever been. Monica Catalano, photo 9Banjarmasin is the “Venice of the East.” The entire city rests on a river that winds its way through the villages, cityscapes, and jungles. It is not unlikely to see children bathing, mothers washing clothes, and people brushing their teeth from their “front porches” or small docks that stand out over the water. Monica Catalano, photo 7We were able to visit the city of Banjarmasin, where we visited the “floating market” and I met some unforgettable people, including a Muslim schoolteacher who took me under her wing. We also took a trip to Kumai and ventured into the jungle to a place called Camp Leakey – an orangutan reserve in the heart of the jungle that can only be reached by boat. We spent two days watching orangutans roam in their natural habitat and had close encounters with many, one of which weighed in at 350 pounds!

Our next stop could not have been more different from the lush jungles of Borneo. After crossing the equator we arrived in Singapore – population 4.86 million. Singapore is classified as one of the cleanest cities in the world, and I believe it. You can receive a fine of thousands of dollars or hours of community service for throwing a cigarette butt on the street – smokers beware! Monica Catalano, photo 8However, Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and the students spent their days roaming the streets, visiting temples, and eating some of the best food in the world! After Singapore we made our way up the west coast of Malaysia to our final destination in Phuket, Thailand. I’ve run out of time, but other highlights from this journey included celebrating the King’s birthday in Thailand and winning second place in the King’s Cup sailing regatta, celebrating our equator-crossing at 1 a.m. in the morning, surfing in Bali, and playing with Muslim school children in Borneo. For more information on my journey or to follow current programs, you can visit


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