13 June 2010

I am Home

The end has come. I flew home last Monday after five months of being abroad, after traveling through six countries, after over 20,000 kilometers without a plane, over 250 hours on buses, after countless hostels, beautiful waterfalls, foreign friends, and too few empanadas. I am home.

Anyways, I said goodbye to my host in Cusco, the same New Yorker who got stung by a freshwater ray in Paraguay, and got on a 18 hour bus to the Chilean border. After almost getting my trail mix taken away, I crossed into Chile and onto another 18 hour bus to a small beach town in Northern Chile. La Serena was a small town with a beautiful square and tons of churches. I used it to recover from Peru and prepare for Santiago.

My host in Santiago is a guitarist, an amazing one. I met him in Southern Chile as we got off a ferry onto a bus, amidst the Andes, beside the Futeleufu. He was playing the guitar, adding music to match the mood. After coming around and contacting him, he remembered me and offered a place to stay with him and his father.

I arrived in Santiago after a short six hours on my last bus in South America, the same bus which broke the shoulder strap on my backpack. With the directions Alvaro gave me, I came to his house with only his father home. After a broken conversation and an amazing meal, I took off to meet Alvaro, who I found in a jam session with a cute drummer. I sat in on these two as they played a collection of American Rock, Chilean Folk, and everything in between.

After a relaxed night, I was up early to see the city. I started in Museo Bellas Artes, Chile's National Museum of Art. It was a beautiful building, loaded with beautiful art, though portions were still closed off because of the earthquake. Same problem as always, it's an old building celebrating 100 years this year and it was a tremendously strong earthquake. Next was Cerro Santa Lucia, a garden with a view. I was able to take various paths to the top of a hill, then back down to a statue of a dog and a huge fountain.

Deciding on the central market for lunch, I needed to walk a ways to get there. The central Plaza de Armas lay in my path, and I enjoyed its eccentricities immensely; the standard tourist knicknacks, the beautiful Catedral Nacional, a man painting an excellent portrait of a completely nude woman (life size, out in the open, unfortunately from a photograph), and a group of comedic street performers, whose Chilean accents were lost on me. Lunch turned out to be delicious.

The afternoon was spent ascending the ascensors to the peak of Parque Metropolitano, giving a smoggy view of the city; LA is a lot worse though. The hike down was very pleasant, with a tree covered trail to the river followed by a crowded subway to Alvaro's. After a recharge, we head out to watch some Jazz at a club with some amazing harmonica. My host and the drummer from the day before were friends with the group and played on stage during the second set; again, they were incredible, she even stayed up for an extra song. A party followed that lasted till 5am, when I ended my last night in South America.

The next day, I woke up (relatively) early in order to be tired for the plane home. I had breakfast in a random cafe, and tried to visit another museum and was thwarted by closures due to the earthquake. I made it home to hang out with Alvaro and his father until leaving.

I spent my last Chilean Pesos on a yogurt, got on a plane, and came back to the United States of America.

Somethings Interesting:
--Things I missed include friends and family (obviously), flushing toilet paper, successfully eavesdropping, not carrying my passport with me, Mexican Food, Peanut butter, Sushi, Cayucos, my dog, news and information, and going to the Cinema. This list, however, is far from exhaustive.

--Things I did not miss include having a cell phone, schedules, obligations, waiting for the crosswalk guy, most of popular culture, and having a general feeling of security. Again, far from exhaustive.

--The entire process of coming home took 15 hours; my record for a single bus trip is 51 hours.

27 May 2010

My Inca Trail

Cusco and Machu Pichu were the two main points of interest for me in Peru, and I have experienced both. My Peruvian experience, however, started with Puno on Lago Titicaca.

I crossed the border and arrived in Puno late at night, expecting to spend only one night and day there. After a very cheap room, I enjoyed some fruit salad for breakfast and a naval museum; it is interesting really, because Lake Titicaca is large enough and straddles two countries, it has active navies for both Bolivia and Peru.

A short boat ride took me out on Lake Titicaca, and onto the floating islands Uros. While the indigenous tribe who lives on the islands has become a tourist destination, they have their roots in a society which subsisted entirely on fish, eggs, and that which they could grow. During my visit, I enjoyed their incredible views and started the process of purchasing all the souvenirs, etc. I need to represent 5 months of travel.

A night bus to Cusco followed, with a day of rest and planning for Machu Pichu. Cusco is incredible, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas (I believe), and it shows. The city itself is built on foundations of beautifully pieced together blocks, the roads are cobblestone, and the churches, markets, and archways all have that thick layer of oldness to them. Just outside, and actually everywhere in this region, is a couple of ruins which provided an interesting day trip during that day of planning; Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay were thus enjoyed.

The next day, My Inca Trail began. I chose to go to Machu Pichu guideless, by local buses, with some hiking, saving and allowing my own time schedules and exploration. The buses include a 7hr ride to Santa Maria, a 2 hour taxi to Santa Teresa and a different half hour taxi to the trail head, all traveling through high altitude rain forests and stopping for lunch and dinner along the way. The trail head actually consists of a cable car, or rather a single cable where a hanging car gets guided across with myself and backpack. A three and half hour hike later and I arrived at Aguas Calientes at 930pm, the staging point for Machu Pichu.

The first day in Aguas Calientes, I chose to rest with a visit to the museum and a freezing cold waterfall. I enjoyed both, but was a little cold during the latter. An early night led to an earlier morning, with a grueling uphill climb to start the day. It truly is a race, because only the first 200 people get a ticket for the Waynu Pichu mountain. I made it, and stood at the gate of the historical site of Machu Pichu.

The gates opened just before sunrise, and the mob spread out to find a locale to enjoy the coming warmth. The first thing I noticed was the incredible size; there were areas where I could enjoy with little to no interruption from the perhaps 2000 people who visitied the same day as me. I chose the pedestal at the center of the park, and got an incredible sunrise over the mountains to the east. I was a month short from the Solstice and shortest day of the year (remember, Southern Hemisphere), and the sun, pedestal, and carvings were almost aligned in the incredible way the Incas built their city so long ago.

A short nap on a precarious ledge later, and my time slot for Waynu Pichu was upon me. I made some friends with a brother/sister combination from India, and enjoyed the hike with them. It gave us the uninterrupted views of the park seen so often in pictures and postcards, as well as some neat caves to get stuck in (Incas were short).

I spent the late afternoon finishing my book (the science fiction thriller Dune, if you're wondering) and watching two female chess champions battle it out at one of the vistas. The same hike as that morning, but down followed with a very relaxing night. Another day of travel and I reached Cuzco once more, where I still am.

Since Machu Pichu, I have met up with a friend who began an apartment in Cuzco for one month. I enjoyed an incredible night of sleep in his new place and then a crazy night of dancing. I am now making plans to move on right now.

Somethings Interesting:

--Things people are not just selling, but have interrupted my stride or meal to try and sell: sunglasses (while wearing some), band aids, pens, tours, printed out pictures to fill in with colors, to take a picture with the person, drugs, soup, any article of clothing, massages, gum, shoeshines (while I wear sandals), and string bracelets.

--Machu Pichu is actually (about) 1500 meters lower in elevation than Cuzco.

--The hippie community San Blas represents the local draft dodgers who never left. I had a delicious vegetarian meal here.

20 May 2010

The Peace, Bolivia

After Uyuni, came La Paz, truly a city of extremes. Most of our time was spent recovering from the tiresome three day tour of the Salt Flats. There were, of course, some adventures around the city.

The most striking feature of the city, partly because of its location relative to our hostel (directly across the street) was the market. I have been impressed by markets before in Bolivia, the Sucre Market took up a four story building, even flooding into the streets surrounding. The market in La Paz, however, 5-6 square blocks. Enough to find anything you would need, but then get lost trying to get out. This market contained most of our adventures.

There was "tienditas" (small shops) of every greasy street food imaginable, handbags, earrings, pork, etc. Their was a street devoted to fish, one to fruit salads, another to electronics, even another to jeans. The most interesting street, however, was one called the Witches Market. Here one could purchase totems which improve fertility or cure illnesses, various herbs which can do the same, and of course, the lovely llama fetus. I still don't know how they get said fetuses, but they are put under the foundations of new houses in order to ensure good health and luck.

Various museums were enjoyed as well during our time in La Paz; I use "our" because I was still with the British Couple and Aussies. The first museum was just off the main plaza, in Cathedral San Francisco, and gave an account of religion in La Paz. The coolest part was the ability to get to the top of this magnificent cathedral, looking down on the market below. Another museum enjoyed by us Gringos was the Museum of Musical Instruments. Standard old artifacts (obviously music related), all behind glass. The real treat came at the end, where sample instruments were available for play, and play we did.

All these daytime adventures were surrounded by a couple of exciting nights in the city; drinking, dancing, and comparing countries occurred in force. After the last night, I awoke early to catch a bus to Copacabana, a town on Lake Titicaca and the last one before crossing into Peru. I hiked to the top of a hill overlooking both the town and the Lake and simply caught up on Journaling; at this point, my journal was still back in Santa Cruz. I am caught up now though.

After enjoying the sunset from atop my hill, I crossed into Peru.

Somethings Interesting;

--At one point, the monks of Cathedral San Francisco made fabulous wine.

--The main purchase from the Witches Market for us was some legal psychedelic tea. It is made from the San Pedro cactus, similar to Peyote. We indulged, used twice the suggested amount, and felt nothing.

--In our excitement to find said tea, we believed a woman who told us her potato-like roots were what we were looking for. She was later nowhere to be found, but we used the roots in a curry that was delicious.

--Two and half weeks left! I don't know what to feel.

15 May 2010

Otherwordly Uyuni

The area now known as Uyuni used to be a large bay of the Atlantic Ocean; the same geologic shift that created the Andes saw to the split. This, however, left a collection of incredible terrain including unending salt flats, large rock formations, hot springs, geysers, multicolored lakes, and flamingos. The geologic shift didn't exactly cause the flamingos, but they were a neat part of our adventure in Uyuni.

We arrived at night, with minimal adventures because of Bolivian water issues. After collecting our group together--two Aussies, a British Couple, a Dutch Girl, and a Californian, we took off the following morning. Our SUV also held our driver and our cook. Adventures were fast and furious on this three day tour of the largest salt flats in the world, with plenty of road trip games in between.

The cool (but not super cool) adventures included a railroad graveyard, a (small) series of caves, three separate but similar rock outcroppings, and the multicolored lakes. The railroad graveyard is a throwback to when Uyuni and Bolivia saw times of great prosperity; they are now rusting piles of scrap metal inviting exploration and climbing. Algal blooms caused the various colored lakes; two in red, one in pink, and one in green. The caves and rocks saw some excellent scrambling and climbing; one of the caves, too, held pre-Incan tombs with creepy skulls.

One of the super cool adventures was had out on the salt flats, but requires a little explanation of what the salt flats are. As the salt flats rose, their water supply was cut off allowing the water to evaporate over time. The result is a perfectly flat, white, barren landscape in every direction, messing with our senses. It felt like flying in the SUV as we zipped along at 70mph. During a hike on an island in the middle, our depth perception was tested. And finally, at sunset over the flats, colors changed every-which-way. This terrain is the main draw of the salt flat tour, and for obvious reason.

Another high point came morning of the last day. We awoke at 5am to get to some hot springs for sunrise. Our SUV got there first and we broke the surface on the naturally piping hot water. Sunrise came and went, giving beautiful coloration to the sky. Breakfast was served, allowing time for our suits to freeze rather than dry in the early morning cold. It was a great way to loosen up before beng cramped in the SUV for the 8 hour return journey to Uyuni, and then the overnight bus journey to La Paz, where I am now.

Between all this, we realized how lucky we were to be with friends we had made before the tour. Time between stops was spent testing movie trivia, discussing life stories and future plans, and plenty of road trip games. During the nights, we drank, hackey-sacked, and played cards. You meet amazing people while traveling, and get to do amazing things with them.

Somethings Interesting

--The salt has an average depth of 15 meters, and covers an area of 10,582 km. They have recently discovered an entire network of valleys, ridges, and mountains in the Salar, with variations on the order of millimeters.

--That second morning, I sat in hotsprings above 5000 meters. That is higher than any point in the Continental States.

--We were all under 25 and made up a rather hodgepodge collection of professions (all of which are hopefull at this point); professional musician, educational reformer, tourism operator, nutritionist, teacher, and oceanographer.

10 May 2010

Dinosaurs and Mines

The over night bus from Samaipata to Sucre was a little much. A combination of the altitude, the windy roads, and the chickens lining the overhead luggage holders kept us awake all night. We arrived, however, no worse for wear; I am now with a Dutch girl and an English couple.

Sucre is a pretty standard city. I started my adventures with dinosaur footprints found just outside of town. It was a pretty standard Museum, and then a viewing area for the uplifted footprints across the way. A siesta followed, with some hanging in the plaza for the afternoon; the pleasantness was broken by children trying to shine my sandals, women selling bits of string, and general beggars. I unloaded some of my currency from other countries (i.e. pesos, Guaranis, etc) on the children. Despite the altitude (about 9000 feet) I was able to get some excellent sleep that night.

The next day only saw some early morning market-going, a siesta, and some more fighting off panhandlers in the plaza. A nice view of the city was found for the sunset, and we met up with some Aussies to party in the night. The next morning, I fought off a hangover with a giant Chipotle sausage, alongside locals enjoying soup, etc. A bus ride followed to Potosi, the highest city in the world.

Potosi entire economy is based on a giant mining complex looking for lead, silver, and zinc, and is arguably the most dangerous in the world. The dust and other is supposed to kill miners in 15 years, if they survive the frequent cave-ins, fall-outs, runaway carts.

I took a tour of the mine, and it was truly something else. A combination of the dust, altitude, and heat made the scrambling, ducking, and crawling very difficult. An hour and a half later, and we were ready to leave; people spend up to 20 hours a day there. Outside, we got to blow some dynamite up, which was AWESOME. Don't worry though, I still have all my limbs.

Next is Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world. I get on a bus in an hour.

Somethings Interesting:

--An estimated 8 million people have died in the Potosi mines.

--The area I am in now, with the highest city in the world, the dinosaur footprints, and the salt flats, used to be connected to the Atlantic Ocean. The creation of the Andies saw to the split.

--I thought it would be smart to slowly drink the water, to let myself become acclamated to the bacteria in Bolivian tap water. I was sadly mistaken, and am paying for it dearly now.

05 May 2010

Leaving Paraguay, Entering Bolivia

Filadelfia and Loma Plata were the last pieces of Paraguay for me before Bolivia, and were truly a surreal experience to have in South America. After leaving the small town of Puerto Casado, a place with only sporadic running water (6-8am, 5:30-9pm), we arrived in a bustling city filled with blond-haired, blue-eyed Germans. To make it even crazier, we ran into the only person we knew in the town, 2 minutes after getting off the bus in Loma Plata. This man became our tour guide for the city, and we enjoyed a few terere sessions with him.

The most interesting part about these areas is the social commune the members have formed. They are Mennonites displaced from various regions (primarily Canada for Loma Plata and Russia for Filadelfia). When they arrived in Paraguay, the government gave them a section of essentially desert that appeared unfarmable. In the tradition of hard work, they built their community up, realizing that working together was the only way to survive. They have now a central "collective", with 10% of each person's salary going towards everything that is required; roads, health care, schools, etc. These two communities, especially Loma Plata, are easily the most built up part of Paraguay we experienced.

Anyways, after some small adventures primarily involving terere or the GIANT supermarket, we got on a bus and crossed into Bolivia. The borders were incredibly efficient, even in Bolivia where I needed to file for and purchase a Visa, but were what you would expect after traveling on a dirt road for 6 hours, with another 8 to go. This crossing, perhaps between the two poorest countries in South America, is marked by open air migration offices and dilapidated buildings.

Santa Cruz was the first city in Bolivia for us, and it also happens to be the richest. Vegan restaurants satisfied my travel buddy, and we used the cities opulence as a chance to do laundry, Internet, and recharge. We showed up on a holiday weekend (we still don't know what for, but it involves early morning fireworks), so everything was closed. Most of our time was spent in the plaza, reading and challenging the locals to chess. Samaipata was next, and is where I currently am.

The region of Samaipata is known for its opportunities for jungle trekking and waterfalls. We did a little of everything, with various adventures followed always by a siesta. The first was El Fuerte, a pre-Incan (they believe) establishment on a hill overlooking the valley. The Incans were simply the last indigenous people in the region, and gained fame because they "greeted" the Spanish upon arrival; there were many peoples before the Incans with comparable wealth and this Fort is proof positive of that.

The next adventure, yesterday's adventure, was a series of waterfalls. It is sad, what happens when you travel; I have grown callous towards new places. I mean seriously, I couldn't even swim at this waterfall. It still, however, was beautiful and was enjoyed in the presence of an English couple, a Swiss, an Israeli couple, and us two Statesman. This same group enjoyed drinks later, with the addition of a few more nations.

Today I head to Sucre, but don't know how long I will spend there. I am running out of time. I have the rest of Bolivia, Peru (though I have narrowed it down to simply the Cuzco region), Northern Chile, and Santiago in one month!! I have had too much fun for too much time at each new place I visit.

Somethings Interesting

--Supposedly there is a lost city, similar to Machu Pichu, believed to be somewhere in Bolivia. It is overgrown and unviewable by air, leaving it still undiscovered (thus the lost city title).

--They have estimated that there are more uncontacted tribes in the Amazon Basin than everywhere else in the world put together. It was news to me that uncontacted tribes still exist.

--I am growing tired. Every day is a something completely new, and that is amazing. I miss, however, regularity. If this trip were longer, and I wish it was, I would settle down in a city for at least a month, if for no other reason than to have a few days which were the same. Most likely, Puerto Varas, Chile, or anywhere in Paraguay.

29 April 2010

Another Boat and a Homestay in Paraguay

Finally, after four days of waiting, the boat came to Vallemi. This is the main and transport for the area and the only (we discovered) when it rains. It was the Aquidaban, a larger, double decker boat than our first, similarly loaded down with everything from fruits, to live chickens, to furniture.

We had two nights and a very lazy day in which we traveled up the river. One night, we saw a lightning storm and were dually impressed until we realized that it was dumping on the very roads we needed. Sights of note along the boat trip include a very beautiful but modernly out of place church, the Alto Paraguay state capital of Fuerte Olimpo, and other, nicer riverboats we guessed from Brazil.

Arriving in Bahia Negra, brought us immediately in contact with Amilcar. We asked him where the bus station was and he ended up giving us a ride for about 200km, hosting us for four nights in the house of his family, and then giving us a gift when we left. I am telling you, Paraguayan hospitality is borderline painful.
We left Bahia Negra in the late afternoon loaded with our stuff in the back of Amilcar's pickup, after hanging with some Peace Corps colunteers during siesta. The cab was full, so we took the first four hours in the bed at the mercy of his impeccable driving. He maintained a solid 40 mph on a dangerously muddy road, spending more time fishtailing than not. It was an experience I am glad I have, though would not repeat.

After dropping us at a small dispensa in Toro Pompa (basically a grocery store for the smaller villages), he promised to return that night and take us the rest of the way. We sat down to dinner of delicious wild boar with a family there, and played with their one month old puppy. Amilcar failed to return that night, so we slept in various jimmy-rigged cots and hammocks, and woke up to more meals with the family.

When we finally left (Amilcar had gotten stuck about 15 minutes outside of town the night before), the family refused payment and gave us wishes of good luck in our travels. Finally able to enjoy the drive, rather than fear for our lives, we witnessed an incredible amount of birds; emu-like runners, large raptors, huge storks, smaller green ones, a giant brown one which made a noise like a cow, etc.

Arriving in Amilcar's hometown of Puerto Casado, we began the search which would last four days for a ride out of town. His family insisted on taking us in, and consisted of his mother, 11yo daughter, 10yo son, and an adopted 18yo. During our four day stay with the family where we were given food and drink, we caught a baby chick with the 11yo to feel how soft its feathers were, went adventuring in an abandoned factory with the 18yo, let the 10yo show me off to his friends at night in the adjoining plaza, and helped the mother with her cake-making job (though mainly in an eating-leftovers capacity).

When we finally left after giving the family a collection of gifts and food, we took the bus to Loma Plata. It is a German, Socialist Community, one of three in the area, and will probably have to wait for another blog post to receive the description it deserves. Right now I am in Filadelfia (one of the other two communities) and am about to get on a bus to Bolivia.

Somethings Interesting:

--Amilcar is actually a driver for the governor of Alto Paraguay, who we met because he owns a store in Puerto Casado. Driving on muddy dirt roads is the only way to get around besides the weekly boat, and because of his job, we could not have chosen a better person to ask for directions than Amilcar.

--My travel partner and I both recently finished 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. We decided that Puerto Casado is actually Macondo from the book, and that our hostess is actually Ursula. We were simply one of the many visitors received throughout the story.

--Puerto Casado was actually the place where I helped unload the boat on our first trip (see two blog posts back). While in the town, people would frequently shout-out to me "Fuerte, Fuerte!!", the name they had given to me that night.

--It has been surreal to be in a city of blond-haired, blue-eyed people who speak mainly German in Central Paraguay. We still somehow manage to stick out and continue to be stared at openly. While sitting here, for example, the clerk took a picture of me.

21 April 2010

Adventures and Siestas in Vallemí

So I have decided to write another blog about Vallemi, expanding on some of the points from before, because the boat has taken almost a week to pick us up.

The first night was spent on the old boat still, the Cacique II. We were able to set ourselves up on the mattresses they were bringing, and fall asleep above and below a blanket of stars; the stars' reflection in the perfectly calm water provided those below us.

After awakening, and finding a nice Brazilian owned hotel, we adventured out into this town. Some friends adopted us at our request for some beer, and took us to a river nearby to enjoy it. The knee deep water separated us from Brazil, and I took my first steps in that country (note: I don't have the $100 Visa; please don't tell your local Brazillian embassy). Some food and more beer followed at our friends house, making plans to party that night. After a siesta, we took in the local discoteca, dancing with the locals.

The days since have been less productive, mainly focused around a single event, preceded and followed by siestas and reading; the heat will only allow us to do so much. One such day again, took us to the river. This time, however, my friend found a freshwater ray. He described the most pain he had ever felt in his life, and sped off on a motorcycle in pursuit of medicine. I followed on the bed of a truck to find him writhing back in bed at the hotel. He is fine now, but the foot does swell up in the intense heat.

The following day, we got a private tour of the cement factory. Again, there is no tourist industry, so we simply walked in, announced ourselves, and they gave us a young engineer to show us around. It was my first cement factory, so I was impressed by the size, noise, heat, and dust. Reading and siestas saved us from the intense 9am heat which followed the tour.

Yesterday, our adventure was underground, giving us respite from the heat. We went to some local caves with our "guide" showing us the way; he was really just our neighbor who had been there once before, and simply shouted instructions down from the surface. Once inside, it was pretty straight forward, with a series of tunnels which all came back to a central walkway. there were some giant roots hanging from the surface, and a couple of rooms with a large enough skylight to be allow ferns growing 40 feet below the surface. Despite attempts, we did not get lost and made it back to the surface in one piece. Reading and siestas followed.

Sometime between 3 and 7pm, the boat is coming to pick us up. While it is nice to move on, it has been a real restful couple of days here in Vallemi, Paraguay.

Somethings Interesting:

--There are more donkey carts than cars in Vallemi, though motorcycles rule. Everyone zips around on one, even to ages of 11 or 12.

--The cement factory employs 500 people in a town of 15,000. The Austrian machinist we are with describes similar factories in the states with barely 50-70 people doing the same work.

--At about 40cents each, empanadas are my main form of sustenance. My vegetarian travel partner is not so lucky. I have been taught how to make them and WILL be bringing them back to the states.

19 April 2010

Rio Paraguay to Vallemí

I am now traveling with a New Yorker as we both wanted to float up the river. He speaks fluent Spanish, which is nice when traveling in rural areas. After our bus to Concepcion, we prepared for the first leg of the boat trip, a 30 hour journey to Vallemí.

This boat followed the same theme I have experienced so far in Paraguay; this is not a tourist country. The people around me are not making money off of me. I do not get fed the expensive, watered down version of a country.

For example, the cargo boat was loaded with bananas, onions, eggs, people, mattresses, refridegerators, desks, motorcycles, flour, sugar, peppers, gasoline, and some other stuff. Actually, it was two boats which were tied together, so as they could use both engines to push the same stuff. At each town, locals of all ages would come on the boat and take their alloted goods. Once the sun went down the second day, I helped out to see how difficult it was; the locals cheered me on, but I was glad it was dark and cool.

The river itself was gorgeous, and went through various transformations as the day went on. The night saw incredible stars, with perfect reflections in the glassy water. Dawn saw a fiery sky, and eerie mist floating up from the river. The day was bright and hot, but still perfectly calm and glassy. Dusk saw amazing sunsets before the bugs started attacking; these bugs included the countless mosquitos, moths, and some hand-sized version of houseflies I thought only existed in my nightmares.

Since then, we have left the boat, made friends with locals, played in the river, had days of reading, siestas, and a tour of the cement factory which employs the better part of Vallemi. All the while, the locals have been incredibly sharing, genuinely interested in where we come from, and excited to show us their country.

Somethings Interesting:

--Hammocks offer very little insulation. You have air all around you, with not but a thin piece of cloth. During the night, I require my sleeping bag.

--Their exists fresh water rays. My travel partner found this out while crossing the river to Brasil. Yes, he got stung, and yes, the only thing separating the two countries is a knee-deep river (and yes, smuggling occurs).

--The country of Paraguay is one of the only which has two national languages, Spanish and the indigenate Guarini. Spanish is stronger in the Capitol and (relatively) larger cities, while Guarini prevails in those small and remote areas.

--I continue to be openly stared at, especially by children. In the town where I helped them unload, I was resting with the adults and a pack of kids was staring at me from no more than four feet away. I barked at them, causing them to run off giggling.

15 April 2010

Iguazu Falls, Scripps, and Paraguay

First and foremost, I got accepted to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, my number one choice for Graduate School. I have wanted to attend Scripps since I first heard about it and chose Oceanography as my career path. Even with the distractions afforded to me with traveling, I have had many a sleepless night worrying about this acceptance. I will be in San Diego for the next 5 years as I pursue my Ph.D in Physical Oceanography.

Anyways, other than that, I have been to Iguazu Falls, and crossed in to Paraguay. The falls were incredible, gigantic, powerful, and even scary. My first witness of them as of the Devil's Throat, the largest of the series of falls. It was quite an experience to walk along the platforms and get to a lookout where, because of the thundering water, you had to scream to the person next to you. The mist was incredible, drenching everything.

After the initial adrenalin high, we settled in to a day of amazing waterfall vista after vista. There was a boat ride, too, that took me into and underneath the falls; incredible experience as well. The day ended with a pleasant hike to the only location in the park where you can swim beneath a waterfall.

Since then, I have passed into Paraguay, a country which is the epitome of how I pictured South America; very kind people living happily in small houses built on dusty roads. I spent a night in Asuncion, taking care of some visa stuff and breathing in the sites. From there, I came north to Concepcion and am about to board a boat to spend a few days on Rio Paraguay. I don't expect internet again for awhile.

Somethings Interesting:

--In honor of being accepted to Scripps, I have shaved my goatee into a handlebar moustache. While I believe it will grow on me, my initial reaction has been disgust.

--I am far from the standard travel itinerary of backpackers in South America. Here in Paraguay, I have been openly stared at, probably because of my height and clear foreign appearance.

--Traveling for six hours in Paraguay on a bus, I was witness to two separate, very large brush fires. The bus did nothing but keep on driving.

08 April 2010

Buenos Aires

After a trip to the local Parque Nacional, I boarded my bus early and left Ushuaia. The first 24 hours weren’t bad, but at about hour 28, three babies sat down within two seats of me. I was surrounded by laughing, crying, jumping, and poking. 10 hours later, alter they got off, I had a set of seats to myself and settled in for the last 12 or so hours until arriving in Buenos Aires.

It is difficult to describe the time spent in Buenos Aires, because while doing so much, you accomplish nothing. I have to admit, it was a bit of a culture shock at first. Coming from Patagonia, I recently know early nights and mornings, very few people, and lots of nature. BA is very beautiful, but in an obviously different way than for example, Torres del Paine

The main thing that Buenos Aires has been for me is meeting tons of people. It is a major starting or ending point, so everyone has interesting stories of travel or are excited and anxious for the travels to come. It has been standard for me to converse until the early morning. So far, I've been to a couple bars, one discoteca, and hosted an asado (BBQ) at the hostel.

Adventures during the day have mainly been constrained to failed attempts at getting a visa for Paraguay. The Consulado has had 4 different addresses in the last 5 years, though this has made for some excellent selfguided tours of the city. Walking around it feels like San Francisco, but different and warmer.

There are plazas everywhere celebrating various people; Christopher Columbus has one, as does Louis Braille, and many people whose names and likenesses I don't recognize. One of the nicest places I have been is the Cementerio de la Recoleta, a huge cemetary with exquisite tombs beneath incredible angels. The tombs are all above ground, making the whole place some sort of morbid maze.

I got my Visa today for Paraguay, and will get on an overnight bus this evening. I plan to cross near Iguazu, the waterfalls which Niagara almost rivals.

Somethings Interesting

--From Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, I had 3 sunrises, 2 sunsets, 7 meals, 2 books, 5 movies, and 51 hours, 33 minutes.

--I have been told my Spanish is very good. The secret, I think, is to have the same conversations over and over (i.e. "Soy de California", "un estudiante", etc), get good at them, and then talk really fast.

--I think it has to do with the "Argentinian time" (e.g. late), but the time spent in lines is absurd. Sometimes, 20 minutes for an ATM, over an hour for a human at the bank, the consulado was the worst. Makes for good reading though.

30 March 2010

End of the World

The bus from Punta Arencas was incredible. It followed the Strait of Magellen and finally boarded a ferry to cross it. I took a boat across the same East-West Passage that helped prove the Earth is round. Hours later, I arrived in the "Southern Most City in the World", Ushuaia.

After completing the standard tourist adventures in this city include stamping the passport 8-10 times, going on boat rides, and short day hikes, I planned a longer trek with some friends from Torres del Paine. We gave ourselves three days, two nights for a very easy trek with possible side trips. The plan was through a valley, up the side to a couple of lakes the first day. The second, back down in to the valley, up and over a pass. Then a leisurely stroll down and back to civilization.

The taxi driver dropped us off near the trail head, but not at it. We figured this out soon enough, and found the stream we needed to be close to. At this point, a pack of five dogs found us and decided to come along for the adventure. We made it back to the trail head, though without keeping our feet dry. Crossing the valley led us to our first lake, a chilly, glacial bowl for lunch. The nine of us (four humans, five dogs) then backtracked and up the other side to our second lake and first camp. Because we were not in the park yet, we were able to have a warm fire and dry our shoes.

The second day started well, we made good time out of the valley, the dogs leading the way. We made it back to the central valley, and even to the park entrance. After some hiking in the park, we came to a lake/bog that wasn't on the map. The dead trees located throughout gave us the impression it was rather new. We decided to go around, and ended up scaling down some cliffs, wading through rivers, etc. We found what we believed to be the trail, it even had logs cut of out the way. This eventually ended, and we tried to use the compass and map to find our way.

The dogs, at this point, were no longer leading, but following us. We were definitely lost, off trail, and it was getting dark. We backtracked, and eventually found out that we circumnavigated the entire bog lake from before, also discovering the reason for this unmapped lake. Beavers had built a series of damns which completely flooded the valley and trail. We found our way back to the park limits, camping on the outside once again to allow for a fire to dry our things.

The dogs followed us out and left us when we passed their home. We kept on, enjoying an all-you-can-eat dinner and a warm shower that night. Today, I took my muddy things to a lavaropa and bought my ticket north. At 5am tomorrow, I will begin traveling, and will not stop until 8am two days later. That is 12 hours, a 3 hour layover, then 36 hours.

Some photos:

Somethings Interesting
--As big as this continent is, all travelers are going to the same cities and same destinations. I have run into the same people multiple times. This fascinates me.

--I was expecting more violence and bloodshed in Lord of the Flies.

--25 breeding pairs of beavers were introduced here in the 40s in an attempt by the Argentine government to develop trade with Europe. Epic fail. Turns out, beaver pelts were popular pre-Industrial Revolution, not post-WWII. Also, without any natural predators, they have flourished and are destroying Patagonia, literally.

25 March 2010

Patagonia is Cold

It has been awhile since the last post, mainly due to the fact that I have kept so busy. I have been to two Parque Nacionales, experienced a 25+ hour bus ride, trekked for four days, and lost my debit card to a cajero automatico.

After crossing the Argentine border, I got my first of the two PN with Parque Nacional Los Alerces. It is a beautiful park in Northern Patagonia with several lakes and the South American equivalent of the Sequoias we have in California. After a glassy boat ride between peaks and glaciers, we got to the old forest with our guide. He spoke only in Spanish, but my abilities have progressed so that I could at least understand what plant or animal he was talking about, and sometimes what was interesting about it. Boat ride back, and a bus ride back to town ended a long day the night before an even longer bus ride.

25 hours is a long time on a bus, but I got through it with the help of lots of food and surprisingly good movies (personal favorite was a ripped copy of Sherlock Holmes). I arrived in Esquel, leaving myself only enough time to let an automatico eat my card before traveling back in to Chile to prepare for a trek in Torres del Paine. I made this trek with Ben Birnbaum, a friend of a friend from the Melville, and our base camp was Puerto Natales, where we enjoyed a night of partying with some locals met through Couchsurfing before taking off into the Parque.

The Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is arguably the Yosemite of South America. It has incredible views, challenging and rewarding hikes, and lots of people. We completed the "W" a hike which doubles back on itself three separate times, forming the shape of a "W" on the terrain. We took our time, completing the entire trek in four nights, and ended with a spectacular sunrise giving amazing color to the Torres. Some happenings of note include several moustaches meeting up, Ben's backpack being chewed into by mice, possibly a dead man in the drinking water, and amazing dinners (salmon with rice, pasta with red sauce and hot dogs, ravioli soup, and macaroni with three types of meet).

Returning to the "real" world, we enjoyed some amazing lamb and chicken barbecue that was near impossible to find. We took the weekend to recover, with laundry and personal cleansings. A second night of partying with the Couchsurfers saw us getting VIP access to a club opening. We shared the night with only locals as we danced and stared from our lounge on the second floor. The next day, I said my goodbye to Ben and got on a bus to Punta Arenas, where I am now.

Somethings Interesting:

--Patagonia is Freezing cold.

--While the continent is large, all travelers are heading in the same direction, going to the same attractions. I run into friends previous all the time.

--Penguins are too expensive to see, sometimes costing $70. Hopefully I can get some cheaper up north.

11 March 2010

Chiloe, etc

I had the chance to explore Parque Nacional Chiloe, my first of hopefully many Parque Nacionales during my travels down here. I walked along the main road, enjoying small loop trails to dunes and lookouts on either side. I eventually found a GIANT secluded beach for lunch; about 200-300 yards wide, and miles long in either direction. Nobody within sight, I saw a truck a ways down, but it turned the other direction. Otherwordly almost, to be that alone on such a big beach.

That night, I made my way down Chiloe Island to get to Quellon, the takeoff point of my ferry to the mainland. The ferry left at midnight, and arrived in Chaiten at 7am. In between, I got to watch a terrible States movie, picnic, sleep, and have a sunrise over the mountains that flanked us as we traveled through the volcanic spires in this area.

Chaiten is a very small town, with little to offer since the volcanic explosions in back to back years recently. The place where I had breakfast didn’t have electricity. I read as I waited for the bus to Cara del Indio, a campground where the Rafting Festival I had heard about was being held.

The Futaleufu is world renowned for kayaking, rafting, etc. and this festival draws the best kayakers from around the world to enjoy the FU. Here I am, never seriously kayaked before in my life, random backpacker, heard about it a few days before. Needless to say, I had a great time. I swam and watched the kayakers go by during the day (my campground was above “Magic Carpet,” one of the more trecherous stretches on the FU), and partied with the best of them at night.

The second night, I figured out the sauna in the campground and took it easy in preparation of my border crossing the next day. I am now in Argentina, with little confusion at the border concerning my shore pass and letter given to me by the Melville. I plan on spending tomorrow in PN Los Alerces which contains the South American equivalent of the Sequioa, and then to head south.

Somethings Intersting

--It is good to enjoy, but not exploit the “free food” bin at hostels, etc. Never use it to create your meal, simply to enhance it (i.e. a potatoe for hashbrowns with your eggs, pasta for your salad) . In return, leave anything that you can´t take with you.

--The term “American” for somebody from the States is considered insulting for those not from there. It is another way us United Statesers assume we are the only important people around, in this case more important than the rest of North and South America.

-- The self-help book I found turned out to be a Christian self-help book. While it was certainly thought provoking, I definitely enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five more. So it goes. I also found No Country for Old Men and am halfway through a John Grisham.

04 March 2010

Saltos, Onces, and Ferries

The day following the barbecue at my friends house, I went on an adventure to see Petrohue. First was Los Saltos, some very gorgeous waterfalls curving and shooting through a small lava field. I guess Puerto Montt is a very large port for Cruise Ships, and Los Saltos is a very accesible local sight to bus tourists up to. Still, however, I was able to find some respite on a small nature hike nearby with informational signs in Spanish.

I then hoofed it up to the town of Petrohue with its lake situated beneath Vulcan Osorno. I took a pleasant boat ride around the lake and barely made the bus to get back to Puerto Varas. The evening saw some reading, a pasta/tomato/steak/avocado/red pepper salad, and Snatch with my P. Varas friends. The next day, I finally finished Aztec and got lucky with the book exchange. I now am reading Vonnegut´s Slaughterhouse Five and a self-help book about a guy asking a bunch of people about the meaning of life (I got two because of Aztec´s length; thank you Thomas Decloedt from the Melville).

Meanwhile, I switched into a friend´s place so I can enjoy a benefit concert for Concepcion, the city hardest hit by the earthquake. Some dancing, mingling, and piscolas saw my last night in Puerto Varas off well before I found my way home and slept on my buddy´s couch. The next morning, I cooked soft boiled eggs in his hot water pot, said my goodbyes, and headed to Calbuco by way of Puerto Montt.

Calbuco was amazing, with another Couch with which to Surf on. It was with a traditional Chilean family, which was nice because I was coming down with a small cold. A good nap, Onces (sort of a high tea but for dinner), a good nights sleep, and an Almuerzo (lunch, but with hot dinner-like dishes) all aided in my recovery. It was what I needed to have a mom and big sister look out for me again. I of course miss my family back in the states.

Today, I got back on a bus to Puerto Montt, where I needed to figure out how to get to Futaleufu and a possible rafting festival. I had no idea the schedule, but just assumed it would work itself out. It has, and I am now in Castro, halfway down Chiloe Island. My method involves buses, ferries, and possibly penguins.

Somethings Interesting:

--I´ve complained about dull knives before in hostal kitchens. I have since learned a way to sharpen them; use the bottom of a porcelain cup or plate as a sharpening stone (the part which touches the table). Works perfectly.

--Where there is a heat source, there is breakfast. I used a hot water pitcher for some delicious soft boiled eggs.

--Couchsurfing continues to provide me with an experience I would not otherwise have.

28 February 2010


Valdivia is a small, German, coastal town surrounded by beautiful rivers. I came in mid-afternoon, stayed a night, and left the next day. For the night, I enjoyed a picnic by Rio Pichoy, or perhaps Rio Callecalle; there are a few rivers cutting through the city. I then enjoyed a quiet night in to prepare for a bike ride the next day.

For the bike ride, I skirted along the main river in order to make it to the coast. The town there was Niebla, with little more than a couple of restaurants and a small dock for ferries. I hopped on one of the ferries that was heading just across the mouth of the river, the first boat I´ve been on since the Melville. Another short bike ride, and lunch on a secluded beach, before I got back on the ferry to jump back across. The ride home was broken by Ceveceria Kunstmann, a delicious German brewery. I then barely made my next bus to Puerto Varas, a lakeside town where I have now been for several days.

That night in Puerto Varas saw little, but the next day would see a TERREMOTO. I started the day with a three egg omelett and a nice bikeride to a town just up the lake. I enjoyed some real nice views of the volcano across the way, and got lucky with a microbrewery open along the way. There was no bar or giftshop as in Ceveceria Kunstmann, instead I bought a bottle of beer from the same gentlemen who were turning the knobs and switching the pipes on the giant kettles.

That night, an earthquake happened. First though, I went to a concert in the backyard of a hostal. I mentioned that I played rugby with some of the bigger guys there, who also happened to play rugby. They adopted me as their Cali Friend, and we listened to this real small local band until late into the night. I went back to my hostel, barely making the 2am curfew (Ellenhaus Hostal policy), and proceeded to sleep through the 5th strongest earthquake in recorded history. Really though, I have been sleeping on the Melville for over a month, so the magnitude 5.3 earthquake (measured locally) was nothing.

The next day, besides a lot of stuff being closed, there was no real sign that an earthquake had happened. There has been no damage in my area, I am not near the coast and in no danger of tsunamis, power got turned on the next morning, essentially everything returned to normal. More out of respect than anything else, the town was closed the next night. I was then forced to instead enjoy a BBQ with a couchsurfing friend as we overlooked the full moon rise over the lake. That was last night, and I am still safe and sound in Puerto Varas.

Somethings Interesting:

--I took a picture of a sign I found funny warning of tsunamis. This was the day before the earthquake hit and a tsunami ravaged the area.

--Ferries in Chile can often break down, take on water, or otherwise be unsafe. I miss the Melville.

--Chilean BBQs are awesome. You throw all the meat on at once, and with the different cooking times, you take them off one at a time, cut them up, and share them with everyone there. We enjoyed beaf ribs, steak, pork ribs, chicken, and some other types of meat.

25 February 2010

Bicicletas, Termas, etc.

Villarica with it´s sister city Pucon are small mountain communities based mainly around the various outdoor activites availiable to visitors. While here, I have taken full advantage of these said activities, and hesistate to leave even after almost a week.

We bussed in the evening of the 18th, with a fellow shipmate awaiting our arrival; the slow moving bars provided us with the opportunity to hear of her adventures around the area, while we filled her in on Pichilemu.

The next day saw terrible weather and amazing biking. We were determined to complete one of the self-guided bike tours our Swiss hostal patrons provided us with, and enjoyed rain-soaked, gravel roads beside misty, green cow pastures. I say "enjoy" because while the second downpour was a little frustrating, the rain really was part of the experience. We made it back to the hostal, and pan-fried some pork, baked some zuchini, and enjoyed some risotto made by the Italian we shared the bike ride with. The night saw a very low key walk around the town where we found a chill poolhall with creepy faceless paintings on the wall.

I soon said goodbye to all Melville Seapersons, and moved 30 minutes east to Pucon. I experienced Las Termas with the Italian, followed by a hike through a protected forest; we realized that this was the wrong order of things, yearning for the hotsprings as we enjoyed homemade banana ice cream from the lady at the forest entrance. That night was the first night I had without anyone from the boat, and the first night I cooked for myself. This cullinary tradition has since been and will continue to be repeated as groceries are excceedingly cheap and hostal kitchens are well provisioned with pots and pans. For the most part, it has been chicken with a small tomatoe salad (in season), and a starch such as mashed potatoes or cold pasta salad.

My remaining days in Pucon have been very relaxing and warm, sharing beers with fellow hostal members at the beach in the afternoon and more homemade dinner at night. One really nice morning, I rode a bike to a gorgeous set of waterfalls. Here, about four or five cascades fall into a single, deep, clear pool; the water temperature, however, prevented all but me from actually swimming. After my 20 second dip, I took a nap above the falls and continued on to have lunch beside a lake. The ride home was very pleasant, downhill the entire way. That night, more relaxing by the beach preceded a small dinner party at the hostal.

The next day, I moved on to Valdivia.

Things I Have Learned:
--A shoe can offer great protection to a bottle of wine, which could possibly burst in one´s backpack.

--Everywhere I go in Chile, there seems to be some sort of festival. Normally this is simply small street markets and music, but there has been fireworks, dangerously cliche carnaval rides, and a contest to see which of Pucon´s restaurants has a wait staff who can carry and serve wine with the most class (at least that is what I interpreted).

--Often, my pocket knife will be the sharpest knife in a hostal kitchen.

22 February 2010

With Melville finale, South America begins

We landed in Valparaiso, Chile, on the 10th, ending the epic trip that was the Melville´s 2010, transect of CLIVAR P6.

I have to honestly say the time spent on the boat was incredible. While during the trip, the days seemed slow and at time monotonous, I look back and can barely believe that we left Tahiti, on January 4th. With a full 12 hours off each day, and only sporadic work during the shift, there is plenty of time to work out, relax, discuss anything and everything with others, and eat delicious food; I read for fun more on the Melville than I did in all of college (remember, Math Major), but still have to finish Aztec. I can honestly say I learned a lot from my time on the Melville, not simply in my future career of oceanography, but in human nature and personal reflection.

Thats not to say I did not want it to end; making port in Valparaiso was anticipated and enjoyed. Among other things missing from the cruise, alcohol was consumed that first night and many times since. Dancing occured, as was some excellent sleep without the constant noise and motion associated with a boat. We all partied in Valparaiso for a few nights, then headed down the coast to Pichilemu, a small surfing town.

We stayed at Hostal Marres, a gorgeous beachfront property owned by Chilean Surf God Diego Medina. While there was some confusion about overbooking the first night, we figured it out; we had a couple of tents, and I slept in mine beneath the same southern-hemi stars I had stared at the whole trip. We woke up within site of Punto Lobos and prospects of some adventures and a discoteca that day and night. The next day was very restful, and included mainly the beach and a delicious barbecue.

People started leaving the next day, but there were still enough of us to enjoy some wine overlooking the break at Punto Lobos during sunset. We had one more night in Pichilemu, again with dinner and drink in the main town. The next day, I said goodbye to most from the ship, and made my way south to Villarica. I am still here now.

Things I´ve learned:

--Tons of Spanish. Most importantly, ¨Mas lente, por favor¨ (slower, please). Chileans speak very quickly.

--As shipmates, we enjoyed eachother´s company sober. Once off the boat, we realized that we are all real fun people to party with as well.

--In the USA, we use foreign language to make businesses and such sound exotic. Down here, English is often used (i.e. Sports House). While this should not shock me, I simply don´t think of English as exotic.

11 February 2010

Student Writeup

As a student watchstander on this cruise, I was required to make a writeup about my experience. Enjoy.

My name is Sam Wilson and I am a recent graduate from UCLA with a degree in Math/Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. In order to postpone any real world obligations while gaining real world experience in my desired field of Oceanography, I jumped at the opportunity to be a CTD Watchstander onboard the R/V Melville during CLIVAR P6, Leg 2. I arrived in Tahiti on New Year’s, 2010, wide-eyed and excited for the adventure that was before me.

After the first few awkward days of adjusting to life at sea and becoming acquainted with the console, I realized both the simplicity and importance of my job. As console operators, we control when the CTD goes into the water, converse with the winch operators regarding package speeds and depths , remotely trip Niskin Bottles on the up-cast of the package, and command samplers during the Rosette Dance. It was soon understood that not only was it important to complete these tasks, we needed to complete these tasks quickly; a five or ten minute loss on each cast could mean entire days when compounded. As a team, the console operators performed admirably and had cast times comparable and even quicker than CLIVAR averages; we destroyed Leg 1 cast times.

I have gained an immense amount of experience and learned many things about myself and the field of observational oceanography. One of the greatest accomplishments I will take away from this cruise is the fact that I spent a full 36 days on a boat. I was able to eat, work, read, write, and play on a boat enough to keep myself entertained, all without getting seasick or going insane. I learned how to sample from Niskin Bottles, interpret water column profiles, and run taglines while deploying and recovering. I learned to use lifejackets to tilt my bunk to prevent rolling with the ship. I learned that research vessels are fully stocked with provisions enough to satiate even my hunger. I was able to make some great friends in the field of Marine Sciences who I will travel around Chile with and keep in contact with later. Most of all, however, I reaffirmed that I love the ocean and have picked the correct field for me.

08 February 2010

Free time

Free Time

As I’ve said before, the R/V Melville is extremely kush, providing ample opportunity to waste time, and there is plenty of time that needs wasting. With 12 hours off every day, food taken care of, and five or so hours of transit time during my shift, I have done everything in my power not to go insane.

This includes, continuing to work on my bubble paper, applications, movies, reading, card games, ping pong, foosball, cribbage, movies, board games, solitaire, arts and crafts, work out, etc.

Also, there is a hot tub on board. A hot tub!! They use salt water to cool the engines and the engineer decided to put that water to good use (rather than just dump it over board). The salt water hot tub on board this ship is fully heat controlled, with bubbles, clothing optional. I go out there all times during the day and night, to watch the sunset/sunrise, to stargaze, to recover from a workout, to read, to smoke cigars, or whatevs. It has made the boat trip infinitely more enjoyable.

Anyways, to sum up, here are some facts which encapsulate how I spend my time.

Movies watched: 16ish (including Casablanca, Star Trek, Milk, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop)

Books Read: 2 ½ (remember, I was a Math Major and can barely read)
--Catch 22, Children of the Mind, and currently on Aztec

Green Flashes during Sunset: 8 (one was even PURPLE)

Green Flashes during Sunrise: 1

Card games learned: Upwards of 9

Hot Tub Record: 2 ½ hours straight, averaging over an hour a day

Sleeping record: 4 hours straight. I need uninterrupted sleep.

Rowing record: 30 minutes, 7500 meters. This is the only cardio available, really.

Worse foosball defeat: 2-10. I am truly terrible at this game.

Whales Spotted: 1 blue whale. Check that off the bucket list.

30 January 2010


I am a big, hungry dude, and as such was worried about the provisions. My odd hours of work and 12 hour shift only compounded my fears. Thankfully, though, I have not left the galley hungry after a meal, and there are always leftovers and snacks available off hours.

Breakfasts are easily my favorite, mainly due to timing; I work midnight to noon, and breakfast isn’t until 730. I obviously snack on the leftovers, yogurts, and self-made sandwiches available, but am still very ready for the eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, and pancakes/waffles/French toast when it is served at 730. A collection of pineapple, grapes, grapefruit, mango, apples, oranges, melon etc, also presents itself at breakfast. My favorite morning so far saw an excellent huevos rancheros; I consumed four of these egg/bean/tortilla combinations.

My shift continues rather quickly after breakfast, and comes to a stop at lunchtime. This timing allows me to enter a food coma before passing out for the “night.” A standard lunch includes a various sandwich style--French dip, grilled cheese, warm turkey wraps, or even hot dogs, sloppy joes, hamburgers-- and a starch of some kind including stuffed potatoes skins, mac and cheese, or potato/pasta salad. If we are lucky, fish is available either in stick form, or freshly caught the previous day by a shipmate. A navy bean, chicken noodle, or minestrone soup or perhaps even crab bisque often compliments the sandwich of the day. Also, the salad bar makes its first appearance, with an impressive selection still after three weeks at sea.

Dinner is interesting. I have personally made it a point to wake up for dinner, a goal that I share with none of my fellow night-shifters. I have yet to be disappointed. While the salad bar is always present, there is no general theme for dinner, as the cooks simply show off their prowess. Standard examples include a delicious stir fry, chicken in various forms, and lasagna. Some of the more adventurous dishes exhibit themselves at dinner, for example pork tenderloins, lamb chops, scallops, and steak night on Sundays. Desserts are common in the evening, with cakes, éclairs, bread puddings, or chocolate everything tempting us until late into the night.

Things I have learned:

-Be adventurous with your early AM meal; for example, a potato salad sandwich or Cheerios in your yogurt.

-With the work on a ship, you daily earn without receiving a cold beer. A beer that on the glass collects tiny, shiny droplets as you wait for the head to settle down before the first sip. A beer that as you gulp it down leaves white, foamy rings opposite where you drank from. A crisp, hopsy IPA, that’s smooth going down and tasty beyond belief. The boat, however, is dry.

-A ships cookbook, while I’ve been told by the cooks exists only in their minds, is perhaps the best cookbook to own. You waist nothing as you turn the extra chicken into a pasta salad, mix the steak into the scrambled eggs, or the leftover, homemade bread into a bread budding.

24 January 2010


The idea of this cruise is to repeat P6, a transect last measured in 2003. We are moving East along the 32° 30” parallel, dropping a CTD in the water every 30 nautical miles. CTD stands for Conductivity (read: salinity), Temperature, and Depth, the three most important values it measures. My job is to control this $1 million plus instrument as it travels to the sea floor and back up.

Because of the collaboration between so many institutions in this project (including Scripps, WHOI and UW, my three top choice grad schools), there are various other instruments attached; flourometer measures bio-content, ADCP measures minute current iterations, O2 measures O2, and a transmisometer (spelling) measures the Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Matter (biology related, I think).

Also on this huge package we drop in the water are 36 Niskin Bottles, which are rigged to “trip” and collect water when I press a button. We trap water from various depths, bring it to the surface, and various groups will sample it for different quantities or values; to give you a list, Freon, Helium, Oxygen, Dissolved Inorganic Carbon, Dissolved Organic Carbon, various Carbon Isotopes, Tritium, Nutrients, Alkalinity, Bacteria, PH, CDOM, POC, and D15. Once the package is up, I get to play “sample cop” where I control who samples from what bottle, a power which quickly went to my head.

To sum up, we are traveling across the Pacific at about 12 mph, stopping every three hours for a four hour cast. We’re on day 19 of about 38 days, half way there.

Things I learned:

--How to sample from Niskin Bottles.

--The world’s tritium supply was created as we were conducting nuclear weapons testing, and is used to this day to follow water types, a proxy for sediment dating, among other things.

--Radio etiquette (i.e. “Roger”, “Over and Out”, “Breaker Breaker, one…nine”, etc.)

17 January 2010

Sam, Why are you on a Boat in the South Pacific?

Good question, but really good series of questions.

Why is there a boat?

There has been an ongoing, international effort to create a single catalog about the World’s Oceans since the early 1990s. This is part of a research endeavor known as CLIVAR which was created in order to study CLImate VARiability and Predictability.

One of the main facets of this project is periodic oceanic transects where along with temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, countless other measurements take place. Various institutions piggyback on the transect (hiring vessels is expensive), and can measure anything from biological productivity to CFCs to sunlight intensity.

Why is it in the South Pacific?


The original plan for this vessel and this cruise was through the Indian Ocean perilously close, and even within the regions frequented by pirates. US Research Vessels are required to be unarmed, so our only defenses would be high powered hoses and thrown projectiles. While an amazing plot to a possible action/comedy, the plan was changed to the South Pacific.

Why are you on it?

There is a website where all the US Research Vessels have to catalogue their yearly plan. This last summer while interning at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, I noticed that the Chief Scientist of this particular cruise worked down the hall from me. In the same conversation where I introduced myself, she brought up the cruise and invited me along.

Here is the link to the 2010 Schedules.
They are constantly in need of young people for these vessels, so check it out. At the very least, they pay for flights and a few days at either end of the cruise.

14 January 2010

On a Rocking Ship, Small Steps are Necessary

The Boat, First thoughts

My shift is midnight to noon, but that would only be after the 3 day full steam transit to the first station. For now, I get to practice generally being at sea before the real work starts.

The boat is pretty swank as research vessels go, or so I’ve been regaled with comparisons. I do believe it is a good first cruise for me because of the size of the rooms and opportunities for wasting time. We have a full library, a full DVD library (I’ve noticed some repeats though), ping-pong and foosball tables, and reliable internet when the boat is facing the correct direction (southwards during transit is not the correct direction).

Each day will begin to be the exact same, except for the various movies I will have watch. The posts, therefore, will most likely be organized by theme-- for example meals, downtime, work time, and maybe even the science. I will eventually run out of the various possible writing topics, as I will eventually run out of things to do.

Things I’ve learned:

--In less navigable harbor entrances, the harbor-master drives large vessels out and then leaves via rope ladder once in deep water.

--Subtitles make me queasy. I’ve been lucky so far though.

--Small steps are the best to not get caught off balance, pun intended.

12 January 2010

Sharks are most Frightening when Swimming directly at You

Tahiti continued

The next day primarily circled around two more dives. The first was a shark dive, with dozens of 1-2m black-tip reef sharks circling around us. The largest was a 3m Lemon shark that really looked as though it could do some damage. The next was a wreck dive through an old wooden ship and a sea plane. There were tons of fish, and even a turtle appeared during our safety stop.

The night was mellower than previous, and mainly used as an opportunity to spend the remaining Francs we had accumulated.

We decided to go to the waterfalls our final morning, this time with prospects of swimming. While asking directions with a single word destination was difficult (“Uh… No Francais.”), we were able to find a bus which dropped us 5km short of the same waterfalls two days previous. Swimming was possible and spectacular, leaving only enough time to fail at changing our last few Francs in town before boarding and leaving Tahiti.

Things I’ve learned:

-The local legend of waterfalls always involves a beautiful girl, her angry father, and a gentleman caller.

-Sharks are not that bad when diving. Think about it, you are the same size as them, making tons of noise, and have bubbles everywhere. Though, sharks are frightening when swimming directly at you.

-Fish are conditioned to respond to divers waving food in little clouds. While I did not feed any, I could wave sand around to elicit the fish to come in closer. Keep the fingers in, though, while sharks are around.

-Working on a boat happens at all hours of the day and night, though this should have been obvious to me.

NOTE: I am having trouble posting pictures because of the unreliable internet on the boat. Stay tuned for some good ones though.

10 January 2010

The only Factory on Tahiti makes Beer

I saw three nights four days in Tahiti.
I flew out of LAX the evening of New Years sitting in emergency row seating aboard Air France. We touched down at 5am and after dropping the bags at the hotel (couldn’t check in), I explored Papeete with my soon-to-be British bunkmate who was on the same flight. We found others who would be aboard the ship with us and traveled the market; I got a pareo and of course a refrigerator magnet (I collect).

After a mid-morning tour of the Melville, beer was enjoyed; all US Vessels are strictly dry, so we needed to get our kicks in while still in port. This was the first of three nights that featured Hinano, the beer of Tahiti.
After a rain-filled night, five of us figured out a rental car with which to do some waterfalling. A beautiful coast road later and we found Les Tres Cascades, three huge waterfalls made even larger by the consistent rain. While swimming was too dangerous due to that rain, the hike was through gorgeous jungle terrain.

That afternoon saw the first of three dives I completed while in Tahiti. It was a good first dive to get me comfortable after my two year dive hiatus since Barbados. Partying ensued back in Papeete that night, this time with karaoke, dancing, and poorly-fitted, club-provided, close-toed shoes.
Things I’ve learned:
-Air France provides unlimited Baguettes and Wine.
-The only factory on Tahiti makes beer.
-Tahiti is beautiful, but damned expensive.