Date: September 29, 1996
From: Lori Ross, Palmer Station
(Lori Ross is one of Carol Vleck's research team, studying the reproductive success of Adelie penguins on Torgersen and other nearby islands. These Journal entries come from a series of letters home to family and friends.)
Well I finally made it to the most pristine place on earth. What a trip! As most of you know I flew to Denver on Saturday the 14th of September, and I just arrived at Palmer today, the 29th. That is 15 days of travelling. Granted there were some down times in those days, but I can't tell you how good it felt to unpack today. I was getting very tired of living out of a suitcase. The plane ride from Miami to Santiago was 8 hours long. It was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I was not worth much the next day. From Santiago, we flew to Puerta Montt. The Andes are an incredible sight, especially from above.
It was like March, so the mountains still had snow on them and you could smell the thaw in the air. I was thinking that I had already done spring this year. I guess I get 2 springs and no Fall... an even trade? I don't know, I will really miss the smell of leaves burning and the chill of a Fall evening.
I had a 2 day lay over in Puerto Montt. I stayed at a residencia, which is like a bed and breakfast. However, it is not as posh as those in the US. A family rents rooms out of its house and serves a breakfast of tea and toast. It was cold and rainy the 2 days I was there, a climate similar to Washington State in March. I did some shopping at the market and walked around the fish market. The fish market was very interesting. People were cooking outside these little rooms. They tried to talk you into coming into their room to eat what they were cooking. Of course, they were all cooking the same thing so I am not sure what distinguished them from each other. Of course I don't know much Spanish so maybe they were cooking slightly different things. David Vleck tried some barnacle, but I was not as brave. Our host at the residencia wanted us to bring back some tunicate for him to cook for us, but we passed on that. I also went to these water falls (saltos in espanol) that flowed over lava beds created by Orsono.
Orsono is an active volcano that last erupted in 1920. We drove by an area that was destroyed by this eruption. The road that we took was rebuilt as the old road was in the path of the lava flow. The waterfalls reminded me of Johnson's Shut-Ins, only not as steep. The water was this beautiful emerald color. It also helped that it was cold and rainy here just as it was when I visited the Shut-Ins.
It is very difficult to bird watch in the rain, but we did our best. We say a few species including a beautiful Ringed Kingfisher. The bus ride back to the city was very interesting. At first it was just a few tourists from the falls, then the driver let on a very large family. The buses here are only the size of a large van, maybe a little bigger. This was crowded, but the driver let on another extended family and then another! Both Asrun and I were suffering from claustrophobia by the time we got back to the city.
The next day we were off to Punta Arenas. Yes, another plane trip! I have never had so much airplane food in all of my life. This trip was very interesting also. We flew over the Torres del Pine (sp?). This is a beautiful area of lakes and mountains and a national park. The view was incredible from the plane. We could not have asked for a clearer day. The only problem is that you can only see the sights from one side of the plane. So everyone was leaning in the aisle and over people to see. I think the stewards and stewardesses were getting a little upset with the enthusiastic passengers. I don't think anyone on the right side of the plane was in their seat. Finally the pilot tipped the plane so everyone could get a good look. I am glad he did, because I think the plane might have eventually tipped due to the passengers!
I was very impressed with P.A. It is a bustling metropolis right next to the Pacific Ocean. You can also see the Andes from the beach (not a typical sandy beach, but very rocky). We also went bird watching here. We had a taxi driver drive us 15 kilometers out of the city and told him to pick us up in 4 hours. This was amusing in itself. Trying to make sure we were saying the right things in Spanish to make sure that he came back for us. Thank goodness Asrun can speak Spanish relatively well! We saw a lot of very beautiful birds including lapwings, ruffed collared wrens, cara caras, seagulls, oyster catchers, cormorants, ibises, and most impressively, 3 Andean Condors. This was worth the money for the taxi in itself.
I went shopping in P.A. also, but did not buy much as it was much more expensive than Puerta Montt. I was really amazed by the number of stray dogs in both of these cities. I guess that dogs do not have the same social status here as they do in the US. In addition, I don't think they try to control the population. It was a little depressing to see dogs limping through the streets. I'm sure many get hit by all the cars that zip through the city.
We finally got on the ship on Tuesday. Asrun and I were roomed together in the "hospital". This meant that we got our own private bath, but we had no place to put out stuff because all of the cabinets were full of equipment. So our things were strewn on the floor and slid around as the boat moved through the swells. It is also in the front of the ship which meant that we could feel every bob and it was very noisy! When we went through the ice it was unbearable!
Right after we casted off, we had a fire drill. We had to "muster" or gather on the deck by this crane with our life jackets and our survival suits. A survival suit is something that is supposed to protect you from the cold waters in case you have to go in. People call it the "Gumby suit". They made us try ours on to make sure they fit. If the boat were sinking and I had to get into one of these in a hurry I think I would drown. The suits are big and cover all of you except for your eyes. Claustrophobia again! We all looked funny trying to get these awkward things on. Most of them were too big for people which made us look even goofier. Ah, what we do for safety.
The first night out was great. I watched the most incredible sunset of my life. I have never seen a sunset over an ocean. The sky was brilliant with oranges, pinks, and purples. Added to this was the majestic sea. The clouds actually cast shadows on the water. The water was blue in some places and a green in another. I also saw my first wild penguin that night. There were some Magellanic penguins swimming by us. I was really impressed with the entire experience.
That was before we entered the Drake (or as I now call it the evil, evil Drake). There is no airstrip at Palmer and none very close, so the only way in is by ship. Too bad! Yes I did get seasick. I don't recommend it to anyone. Getting sick in a moving ship is really difficult. I told you that my stuff was sliding all over the room, so I had to climb over that to get to the bathroom. My only thought the whole time was "Please let the ship stop moving for just 5 minutes" I had to be sick and weak and hold on for dear life at the same time.
Even when I wasn't sick it was impossible to sleep. The noise and the movement were just too much. People recommended going up on the bridge to watch the horizon, but most of the crew smoked and the air was very heavy. This of course made it worse. These were very long days for me. To make it worse, we actually got to Palmer Saturday around 4:30, but because of winds we could not dock. So I had to spend another night on that stupid boat with Palmer in sight! And of course because of the winds the swells were high and it was not a restful night. We docked at 9 this morning. I am so glad to be on land. I could actually eat a meal without feeling queasy. However, I can still feel the movement of the ship. I hope this goes away soon. I want to get a good night's sleep for once. I am roomed with Asrun again.
We are in GWR (this stands for Garage, Warehouse, Recreation building). This is the smaller building that used to be all male, but they just put in a new bathroom for us ladies. This building has the TV lounge, the store, the bar, and the gym in it. I may lose some sleep due to parties. In fact there is one going on right now and these people have to get up early and work. I will now know what dorm life is like.
The other building has the kitchen and galley in it as well as the labs and more "dorm rooms". The view from the galley is really nice. We can see the ship (she leaves in the morning) and some of the islands we will be working on. There are a few penguins there already, but not many. I don't think we will go out tomorrow. We have to set up our lab yet and get a few more things straightened out. In addition, the weather has been really bad all week. They have been having really bad winds here. The other day they had a 90 knot gust. Today the winds averaged 25 knots. They won't let us go out if the wind is above 20. So we may not go out for that reason also.