Fun Runs

You know its been a long time since you updated your blog when you’ve forgotten both your password AND your username! But I’ve been a lot more active with my running than I have with my blogging!

As most of you know, I was offshore FOREVER (ok, four months, end of august until right before Christmas, but it FELT like forever) so getting back into running again was tough. I had tried to keep up with some workouts on the boat and had a good P90X routine going, but my cardio was sadly lacking. My first few runs back on land were in Canada, where I was home for Christmas with family. Running in the snow was exciting, fun, and kinda brutal. It was also pretty discouraging to see how “slow” I felt I had become.

RFB Canada

Representin’ my RFB crew up in the Motherland, sporting some new winter running clothes, the jacket a Christmas gift from my sister and her husband. Sweet!

To further complicate matters, my crazy work schedule combined with the ridiculous journey home and jumping from equator to Canada to Florida left me with a horrible dose of the plague that lasted about two weeks. It was especially discouraging to finally be back on land and still unable to log any miles.

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Three days after arriving in FL from Canada, NYE, and the plague strikes. This was my last public appearance for about ten days! But still a fun night ūüôā

Fortunately, the best cure for me for the discouragement is costumes and company! So in between putting in my time rebuilding my stamina, I piled my remaining days home full of group runs with the RFB crowd and themed races. Knowing that it would be my last day to run in a few days, as I had a trip planned to Jamaica the next morning, I crammed one Saturday full of silly races. I started out with a scavenger hunt put on by Running for Brews, costumes encouraged, where participants raced between bars (some pausing for a beer at each bar) and answering questions about Burg landmarks along the way. The clues to lead you to the landmarks were hilarious and often really tricky. When you figured out the answer you had to get a pic of yourself with that landmark. Fun!

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Getting my pic with the “landmark that looks the way it does because the architect read the plans upside down”

We completed the last of the clues and returned to Ale for a quick celebratory beer, but no time to linger because The Glow RunIMG_20130111_175652 was beginning in less than two hours and it was time to go swap the wig and “Drunk 1” shirt for some glow gear!

For this run I had a great group of some of my closest friends participating and everyone was decked out in costume. The boys were especially good sports about the costumes we had picked out for them!

Sean and David

Sean and David

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The glow crew, ready to run!

The race itself was less “race” then “giant pile of people shuffling in one direction” and it would have been really hard to actually RUN this event but I had a fantastic time just being out on the course surrounded by so many people whose preferred activity on a Saturday night was to race/run/walk/dance a 5k! And not to brag (ok, maybe bragging a little), is there any other city with such awesome race scenery??

The starting line down by Mahaffey Theatre

The starting line down by Mahaffey Theatre

And the finish line and after party!

And the finish line and after party!

Race festivities wrapped up around 10pm and by 10:30 we were on the road, Fort Lauderdale bound for our flight to Montego Bay first thing the next morning.

One of three swim-up bars

One of three swim-up bars

Good thing I had squeezed in quite a few runs, cause there was not much (ok, any) of that going on at the resort! I did, however, made good use of the swim up bar..¬†It was like spring break, which we don’t really do in the same way it is done in the U.S. My first experience was a bit of an eye-opener! It was kind of a relief that the first bar did not open until 10:00am.

After five days of bliss, it was back to reality, descending into Miami in the middle of a cold snap, temperatures below 60 F. I was headed back to work in Peru in two days, first thing Monday morning, but first we have all day sunday.. what should we do?

The Clearwater Running Festival 5mile! Confession: while it is true that I really wanted to run one more time before going back to work where I knew there would be no running (same boat, same problems), my main motivation for doing this race was that I really wanted the bad-ass starfish medal you got for finishing!!

Bad-ass starfish medal

Bad-ass starfish medal

Approaching the finish and feeing great!

Approaching the finish and feeing great!

This was the longest race I had completed to date AND had two big bridges to run over so I was ready for it to feel a little challenging, especially coming off of five days at the all-inclusive resort.

I was really pleasantly surprised by how good I felt all race- gorgeous scenery, nice temperature, and I ran at a fast pace, for myself. Good thing, cause at the finish line I discovered that medals only went to the halfathon and marathon runners. DOH!!

Clearly this means that it is time for me to start training for a halfathon!

But first, back to work for another six weeks…

Coming back to shore at the beginning of March I felt much stronger as I resumed running and biking. It helped that I had been away for less time, but I also tried to be more positive and less down on myself. As I prepare to go back out in a a few days, I can look back and see that my mile split has come down from over 10 minutes to just over 9 minutes on a average 5k run and that I have even managed to run some miles in less than 8 minutes, which is pretty fast for me! In fact, I even had an 8 minutes mile during the Oldsmar Taphouse run which I completed in a fleece onesie!!

A few of the crazy costumes running in this "pj 5k"

A few of the crazy costumes running in this “pj 5k”

One of my favorite new motivations has also come from my new toy and my inner (or not-so-inner) nerd. I got over my self-conscious I-am-not-fast-enough-to-own-a-fancy-training-toy and bought myself a Garmin forerunner 910XT for Christmas/Birthday/Worked 4 Months Offshore Without a Break. The data that this baby spits back after each work-out entertains and educates me for HOURS! Best purchase since my bike!

The RFB Monday night route from Ale & the Witch

The RFB Monday night route from Ale & the Witch

Having said all that, there is still on other highly motivating factor for me- beer at the finish line! Running for Brews, races with a beer tent like the Grand Prix 5k (we got to run on the race track!!)… Amazing how deserving I feel of the extra calories after just 30 minutes!

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The gang enjoying some “Blueberry bombs” following the Grand Prix 5k

On that note, the rain appears to be lessening. Time to put down the computer, put on the running shoes, and go for a run!

 

 

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Race Against Christmas

As most of you may know, I am officially on land! Yup, 118 days after I first set foot offshore, I touched down back on land and began my own private version of the Amazing Race in an attempt to get from just south of the Equator to The Capital of Winter (aka Ottawa) in 36 hours..

Three countries, five flights, 36 hours- GO!

Three countries, five flights, 36 hours- GO!

To set the scene, let me just say that when all of this madness began at 4pm on the 19th I had already been awake for 24 hours, having just missed my entire “night” (day) of sleep to hand-over this project to my replacement.

First up was hopping the “big” boat to the boat transfering us to shore, then hopping that boat to a little motorized rowboat to the fishing pier ¬†in a little port (port is generous, lets call it a pier) where I was verrrrrry grateful to be on tierra firma!

After four months, I had no problem kissing the ground!

After four months, I had no problem kissing the ground!

Tumbes to Lima

Tumbes airport is not exactly an international travel hub. Knowing that my connection time in Lima was pretty short, less than two hours, I was really hoping to be able to check my bag at least as far as the US to save a little time. So I asked the guy behind the counter, first in english, then in spanish, then another couple of times in a garbled mix of the two, and he assured me that my bag would indeed go all the way to Miami and I need not set eyes on it again until then… There must have been some kind of aminous music playing throughout this interaction that I somehow missed..

Lima

Skipping ahead past an otherwise uneventful flight, we touch down in Lima, I say adios to all of my peruvian traveling companions and breeze through immigration and security, congratulating myself on this smooth transition when, over the loud speaker “Stephanie Milne, report to National Customs to see an LAN agent”. Crap. In my experience, being paged over an airport loudspeaker is never a good thing. This was no exception.

I found an LAN (the national airline I had flown with from Tumbes) Customer service desk. Turns out the gentleman in Tumbes who had assured me that my bag could make the trip to Miami without me was mistaken. So sorry (he did not sound sorry at all). I was told that I would have to exit through security and immigration, go back to the other side of the airport and transfre my bag. They handed me a pass that would get me through immigration again. My flight was boarding in 30 minutes. Their advice? “You should hurry”. Gracias.

Putting on my “in a very big hurry” face I ran through immigration waving my paper, but this strategy didn’t pan out in security where several people gathered to read my letter and discuss. It seemed that I could not be allowed to exit using a LAN letter because I was traveling onward with American Airlines. And I could go to try to get an exit letter from American, but since it was LAN holding my bag, and not American, American would have no reason to write me such a letter.. The time was now T-20 to boarding. Phone calls were made to LAN in the main terminal where we passed the phone around amongst my security entourage and myself, at one point me speaking spanish to the lady on the other end and the Peruvian head of security speaking english. Eventually the consesus was that I needed to go back to the LAN Customer Service desk and INSIST that they transfer my bag.

I had my doubts about this plan,¬†but after a pep talk from one of the security lades, agreed to try. The LAN man looked very unimpressed to see me again, and when I finally forced him to acknowledge my presence, his helpful response was “This is not my problem”.

I don’t make a habit of this, but at this point, as I looked at my watch and saw that my flight was now boarding without me, I opened my mouth to deliver an eloquent and convincing¬†argument and instead burst into tears. Not dainty ones either. There was a lot of keening noises and snot.

Turns out, this was a highly effective strategy (all part of my plan). The Mean Guy’s boss ( a tiny asian lady) showed up and told him he was an ass (ok, maybe not, but she was definitely pissed). She jumped on her radio and now things started to HAPPEN. We RAN (this was very impressive, as she was in huge heels and still only came to my shoulder) to the American Airlines gate where we discovered my flight was delayed. Negotiations began regarding how long the counter could stay open to accept my bag, should I be able to get to it, and she finessed me 15 mins. Now we RAN to immigration, badges were flashed all over and the hunt for my tiny white slip of exit paper began. Finally located and stamped, with 5 mins to go before my bag deadline, she handed me off to the tallest peruvian she could find, instructing him to run alongside me and carry my luggage. We hurdled through security, back across the airport and back to the baggage area where Rodrigue (we were buddies by this point) vanished into a secret door and re-appeared moments later with MY BAG!! Sprinting back across the airport, we turned up at American to discover the flight was delayed again and they would be happy to check my bag. Rodrigue and I dialed it back to a jog and hit security again, I paid the exit tax, again, and landed back in immigration…. where we discover that somehow the first time I left the country (1 hour before) the guy failed to note that I had over-stayed my business visa by 2 months. Ok, fine, no problem.. what do I need to pay to get out of here? Well, its 150 soles. And I only had 118 (this was including my one american dollar and the handful of coins I emptied onto his desk).

By this point I have sputtered out an abreviated version of “my story” to Rodrigue: the boat, the project, our half-joking-half-serious belief that potentially there was a curse, my mission to get home for Christmas… When I ask if I can pay to leave using visa and am told no, Rodrigue turns to me and says “There really is a curse!!”

Rodrigue asks the guy if we can leave my passport as a guarantee and he can run me in to an ATM and the guy takes pity and agrees! Exit fee paid, and I arrived panting at the gate as the flight was just finished boarding!

I celebrated Flight #2’s success with a mimosa,- my first drink in 4 months!

Tastes like heaven!

Tastes like heaven!

Miami

As you may recall, I am ending this journey in much the same way as I began it- disorganized chaos. Come to think of it.. that has sorta been our theme throughout.. So I managed to leave the country without my Green Card. Since I had a temporary one in my passport when I left, this did not seem like a problem. However, I never anticipated being offshore four months and that visa expired at the end of Sept.

As I approached the immigration officer, standing in the Residents line for the first time, I rehearsed my crazy explanationIMG_20121220_065427 of leaving without my brand new¬†card, trying to out-run a hurricane, over-staying on a project that wouldn’t end and it sounded nuts even to me.

I got part way through though, when the guy interupted me kindly to say “Stop shaking. It is fine. You aren’t in any trouble at all.” He was right. It was no big deal really, and after they hadc verified that I was in fact myself, I cruised on through to my first proper meal on land- smoked salmon bagels!

My eyes actually rolled back in my head in sheer bliss with the first bite

My eyes actually rolled back in my head in sheer bliss with the first bite

Unfortunately, my late flight out of Lima meant I missed my connection to Tampa and my already short layover there had now dwindled to 3 hours- not enough time to go home. But, fortunately for me, I have amazing friends who called me on speaker phone and I sipped a mimosa while talking them through packing me a bag of winter clothing.

I even got to meet Santa as I waited for my next flight..

Starting to get into the spirit now!

Starting to get into the spirit now!

Tampa

The aforementioned fabulous friends met me in TPA where I swapped coveralls for boots and sweaters then enjoyed a super brief catch-up time. This was by far the most enjoyable part of my whole trip. I love you guys!!

Tampa to Toronto

I somehow managed to give myself a ridiculously short connection time in Toronto before moving on to Ottaw- 45 mins to get my luggage, clear customs and immigration and get my next flight. I did another airport sprint dash and made it to the gate to discover that massive storms out east had bought me some time.. another travel miracle

Ottawa!

Ottawa got a foot of snow the night I arrived and until we touched down (to spontaneous applause from all) I honestly didn’t fully believe I would make it all this way. Seeing my sister, and her awesome twin bump, waiting for me literally brought tears to my eyes.

A very large overnight delivery of the white stuff

A very large overnight delivery of the white stuff

Now, from the other side of a Chrismtas that I got to spend with my whole family, I am just so grateful that I made it. And I want to end on a note of thanking the enormous list of people that helped me get here (most of whom will never see this, but hey):

  • The clients who insisted that I be crew changed before Chrismtas and my entire office who, I am sure, busted ass to make that possible
  • My replacement, who came all the way from Ukraine, begged a visa, and pretty much did my Incredible Journey, but in reverse, and with work waiting for him on the other end, instead of family and holidays
  • My awesome boat crew, who all wished me well leaving even though they had to stay on board throughout the holiday, who watched out for me as we traveled south to Lima including the PC who arranged to have an agent make sure I made my connection and be ready to help me if I didn’t

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  • Security Lady, my Asian¬†LAN Airport Angel and¬†Rodrigue who quite literally saved the day
  • Miami Immigration Officer who chose not be to super scary and went with super nice instead
  • Lisa and Sean. Thanks to you guys I am coming home with presents instead of pneumonia
  • My family, of course. Sappy as it is, I would do it all again. Just can’t beat being home for the holidays

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Meryy Christmas Everyone!

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Countdown: Take 2

It feels like seismic Groundhog Day out here (for those not familar with the movie, Bill Murray is forced to repeat the same day, Groundhod Day, over and over in order to learn a life lesson. Its a classic and oh-so-applicable to anyone who works in seismic). My dad commented in an email awhile ago that he had been checking my blog (this is quite amazing because my dad is not the hugest technology fan) but that I didn’t seem to have written anything recently. So I sat down tonight thinking that maybe it was time for some “last words” and tried to clarify my theme in my head. The obvious thought that sprang to mind was that I appear to be coming down to my last days on board.. but I have already covered that theme. On my 80th day out here I wrote a piece entitled Let the Countdown Begin!¬†where I talked about wrapping up the project and how excited I was to come home…. that was exactly 30 days ago. And I am still here. See what I mean about Groundhog Day? (ok, had to include the link cause this is one of my top ten fave movies of all time and Bill Murray is an absolute GENIUUS)

But today I had the “exciting” news that I will probably be getting a replacement, and soon: maybe one week from today. I would no longer be dependent on this never-ending project wrapping up, someone would come out here on a fixed date and just take it from there!

So why am I not more excited?

I really want to go home. There is no question about that. But somehow this is not how I imagined it. In my perfect scenario, I stayed on to the end of the job (which happened about two weeks ago), packed up the gear, took the boat to the dock, had some beers (ok, several beers) with the crew toasting the end of a crazy project and then jumped on a plane home.

It sounds crazy even to me, but this feels a little bit like I am giving up. I want Christmas at home with my family, especially because in the four months that I have been out here, I leared first that I was going to be an auntie, then that I was going to be an auntie to TWINS and finally yesterday, I learned that its twin girls that are on the way!

Babies

But in my perfect “end-of-job” scenario, I stay on until the last shot is fired (which happens about two weeks ago), I pack up the system, write a kick-ass final report, take the boat into port, drink a few beers with the crew (ok, several beers) toasting the end of the project and then jump on a plane home!

Being replaced when we are so close to the end, especially after how long I have been here and how much I have been through, seems anti-climactic.

And this has been such an amazing project in so many ways:

  • I’ve had a ton of acoustic detections (#368 just an hour ago, dolphins)
  • I heard my first humpback whale… and my second… and my 252nd (once those boys started singing, they didn’t shut up for three months!)
  • I learned to use the software in lots of new ways and feel even more competent and confident
  • My spanish is practically perfect at this point (HA! Kidding.. but I do know a bunch of new bad words!)

Most of all, I made some great friends that it will be hard to leave, especially since some of them have been here much longer than me and will not be replaced. Makes me feel kind of spoiled.

There’s the crazy Observer with whom I have had an escalating practical joke war. He makes me laugh pretty much every single day… except when he is accidentally telling me what happens in the next Dexter episode that I have not yet seen.

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I made him a new mouse pad to replace the topless aussie babes

And there is the gun mechanic, who after learning that I like to read, started sharing with me all sorts of great inspirational stories that have help keep my ever-increasing irritableness in check. It is likely thanks to him that i have not chucked myself (or, more likely, someone else) over the side!

And the lovely party chief, who began sharing his specially ordered food with me, knowing how difficult it is to eat healthily on the night shift. And then rather than simply saving me a plate, began waiting to eat with me on my weird schedule so I had some company.

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Dinner is served!

I will definitely miss all of these guys!

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Me and some of the gang

So I guess that while I am really excited at the thought of Christmas at home with friends and family, I am also recognizing that a project I have really enjoyed is coming to an end..

And who knows what might be next…. ?

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Let the Countdown Begin!

I have been offshore for 2 and a half months. 80 days.. but who is counting? Ok, Me! I am counting!

One of the hardest things about working an entire project is not having a “hard” end date. You don’t get to go home when crew change comes and your replacement shows up. You go home when the job is done. So every delay, every problem literally adds hours, days, WEEKS to the time you will spend on board. And I have been fighting the mental frustration at al the delays we have experienced since I arrived back in August.

But here it is, coming up on the middle of November, and we still seem to be on track to finish by the end of this month.. or so they tell me. And all of a sudden, all the things I have tried not to think about because I was missing it, has turned into things I can excitedly anticipate.

So here’s my Top Ten,

Most Exciting Things About Soon to be Setting Foot on Dry Land

10. Going running again. General exercise- anything other than sitting in this chair all night and then lying in my little rack all day. My running shoes¬†made the trek all the way down here and have since been gathering dust inside their cubbyhole in my room. I will be starting from scratch after all of this inactivity but I can’t wait to be in motion again! Bikes, paddleboards n Running for Brews, here I come!

09. Sleeping in my own bed. No low ceiling to smack my head into everytime I sit up, plenty of room to starfish or sleep sideways. And I can admit it, my hippo. I miss the little guy. He’s the closest thing I have ever had to an actual pet, but has been getting up there in years and these days, declines to make the longer journeys with me, prefering to stay at home and mind the place.

08. Sleeping in. I have not slept in past 05:30pm (pretty much the equivalent of a 0530 am for night shfit) for over two months. I cannot wait to bury the alarm clock and just wake up when I am ready

07. Girly stuff!! Trading in the coveralls for a sundress. Perhaps adding a little mascara to my on-board make-up regime of chapstick. Nice underwear. Fewer fart jokes- apparently this is humour for men in ALL languages. I am tired of being one of the guys!

06. Dogs in my lap! The only love critters on board are not the kind you want to be cuddling up to. I miss all my neighbours awesome dogs. Porch time. Pretty much goes hand in hand with the dog lap time. The weather is finally cool enough in the Burg to enjoy sitting outside and watching the neighbourhood, music, friends..

05. Cooking my own meals. Shopping for meals that I plan, eating what I am in the mood for, cooking in my own kitchen.. there will be vegetables and fresh ingredients and no oil and if I never see another rib again, it will be too soon.

04. My lovely clean bathroom, with a toilet that always flushes DOWN and not up, and out.. with a clean toilet seat, that is always in th downward position.. A shower, also clean, with room to turn around, and water pressure from an actual shower head rather than two streams jetting out in completely opposite directions.

03. RED WINE. Beer. Cocktails. Adult beverages in general… hell, I will even throw coffee in this category too because that first cup of ground, then fresh pressed coffee will be sheer heaven.

02. Human Contact. .. ahem. No, not just THAT. I miss all my friends, my girlfriends!¬†I miss interacting with people face to face, instead of just on facebook, talking about things other than seismic,¬†speaking in my native language, where I am actually somewhat funny, and don’t always sound like a 5 year old child with a limited vocabulary and no ability to speak in any other tense but the present.¬† Wouldn’t¬†say no to¬†a few hugs and a foot massage either.

My Burg people!

And the Number One “Most Exciting Thing About Soon to be Setting Foot on Dry Land” is…….

01.  DAYLIGHT. Three months straight on the vampire shift skulking around at night and I have reached an unprecedented sickly pallor. I need to commune with the sun already!

So I am crossing my fingers that the seismic gods smile on us and we finish up down here.. because I have broken the seal on ‘home’ . And there is no space left on my wall for a December calendar!

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I Speak Whale

In the continuing theme of ‘Taking Stock from The Half-Way Point‘, I realized I needed an entire post devoted to how incredible this project has been so far from a PAM stand point.

I have been on the acoustic side of the MMO/seismic industry for nearly four years. Or 200o hours. That is a lot of time to spend wearing a set of headphones. It has definitely had it’s pluses, but in retrospect, ¬†I think I was starting to feel a little burned out on it as I came in to this job. I had heard my share of dolphins and sperm whales and while I would still get excited to have detections, it wasn’t quite enough to make up for the bad night food, interrupted day sleep and stress over malfunctioning software and tangled hydrophone cable dreams.

The last five weeks have completely re-energized me, like a new beginning for me n PAM. I have a pretty decent deployment set-up that causes me minimal stress  (and even as I write this, I have the powerful urge to knock on wood, proving that there is a constant deep-rooted fear for the equipment associated with being a PAM Op!) and a nice little office to monitor from.

Where the magic happens

And the the wildlife has been phenomenal! There is the standard dolphin action..

Dolphin whistles on the spectrogram (aka ‘picture of what the ocean sounds like’)

… where all the scribbly stuff is dolphin chatter, basically. And another one of the programs just shows the position of the dolphin echolocation clicks in relation to my hydrophones. This one is from a dolphin vesion of the drive-by..

The big pile of dots in the middle with all the pink dots is dolphins

But the¬†really exciting part has been making acoustic detections of the humpback whales on the system for the first time. I spent 8 weeks in Alaska on a project last summer. We had ¬†a couple hundred sightings of fin and sei whales, as well as lots of humpbacks too, and had the PAM running 24 hours a day¬†but not a single acoustic detection of a baleen whale. Poop.¬†Whether the whales weren’t vocalizing much, which is possible since Alaska is feeding grounds, not mating grounds, or whether the system wasn’t/isn’t capable or wasn’t set up properly to detect the calls.. it was very discouraging.

My first detection of humpbacks on the second night monitoring nearly knocked me out of my chair. It was unmistakeable! That guy pretty much grabbed the hydrophones and shouted into them.

And it hasn’t stopped since! I usually have between 5 and 10 detections a night, lasting as long as three hours at a time¬†(totally have to ‘fess up that after a couple¬†of hours I am slightly less enthused and wondering what the hell can possibly take sooo long to say in whalespeak).

Experimenting with the different system modules during all these detections has been such an amazing learning experience. And teaching the crew, the local MMOs and various government and company representatives about the system has given me new appreciation for how freakin’ cool this stuff is!

The initial reaction is always the same- everyone excepts it to sound like the Songs of the Humpbacks¬†cds you can buy in the airport and they’re surprised how quiet the animals actually sound.. and no panpipes. And inevitably there is a comment about ‘Is that the boat?? You have to listen to the propellers ALL NIGHT? Can’t you just block¬†that part out?” Um, nope.

What amazes me is both the precise repetition of the same sound over and over for seconds, minutes, or hours and conversely, the incredible variation in the kinds of calls they are making.

There’s these little short, low frequency grunt like noises….

And the ones that start low but then end on a higher note, sounding like a question being repeated over and over.. or some weird kind of car alarm

The long, low frequency ones that last several seconds… very foghorn

And some with harmonics- my fave!

Then there are the high-pitched (at least for whales) calls that sound like the equivalent of a pre-teen voice breaking.. poor fellas

I have done a lot of reading in the past about humpback whale vocalizations (some more scientific than other- Fluke by Christopher Moore is one of my fave books of all time and there is all sorts of fantastic stuff in that novel about humpbacks, not all of it entirely factual..), but this trip has made me more interested than ever. I mean seriously, What are they saying down there??

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Taking Stock from The Half-Way Point

Ok, so that is a lie.. I have no idea if this is the half-way point, but that is partly why I need to write. As of today, I have been on board for six weeks. If this was a normal trip, I would be going home now. But this is no normal trip. As everyone in the Burg knows (or anyone who spoke to me the last six months!), I waited for this job for a looong time, so now that I am here, I am not leaving until it is over! But not having an end date to look forward to on a job does something to your head. And since I woke up this evening to the sounds of silence, delayed again, I have been fighting a mental funk. And it didn’t help that my whole family got together yesterday for food and company to celebrate Thanksgiving, leaving me a little homesick.

So time for a little progress assessment.. not so much seismically speaking, as this is not my turf, more like a mental health check….

My assessment of the crew in my first days on board has held true- they are really great. A hard working, friendly bunch who have taken all the crap that has come our way and kept smiling and joking around. My first partner and only other female on board has come and gone, but her replacement is a friend from the first phase of the project, so all is well.

I still sometimes struggle a bit with the language barrier- sarcasm in spanish is well beyond my ability level! And since I am working on a wonky schedule of sleep- during-the-day and awake all night, I often stumble into a galley full of spanish dinner-time chatter first thing in my morning when I am barely mentally equipped to operate the instant coffee.

The food has been the usual night time fend for yourself challenge, where cup-o-noodles frequently supplement but we get lots of fresh fruit and veggies, including avocados, which I have been able to integrate into just about everything. We had a batch of passion fruit that lasted two nights and I must have had at least 40 myself. The chef continues to put together pretty good meals including this peruvian specialty that is like a stir-fried beef but with french fries thrown into the mix! I haven’t been brave enough to touch the warm mayonnaise in a bag though..

And speaking of the lovely people on board, the steward (same guy who set aside a pink towel with a dolphin on it for me on the first day) has apparently decided that I am not eating enough. His remedy? He fixes me a plate every evening! There’s usually a happy face, sometimes an exclamation point.. always a fork.¬†The fork is key. After getting tired of asking people to wash their dishes at night so he would not be confronted by a pile of dirty stuff to wash at 0430 am, the start of his day, he gave up and now takes all the cutlery with him into his room at night, leaving us with plastic spoons. Except me, I get a fork ūüôā It’s the little things…

One of my biggest irritations and stresses so far has been the bathroom situation. Sounds silly, right? Well, here is a list of very real fears that I have associated with this boat’s facilities:

  1. Overflowing. Contents backing up all over our bathroom and room floor. Which is carpeted. No steam cleaners out here. Yeah, disdusting. This has happened four times, all within ten days. Fortunately it seems to have stopped now that people have stopped flushing bars of soap and oranges (seriously people?!)
  2. In the same family as the overflowing, there is the spitting. The valve system is, um, imperfect. There is a knack to be developed for getting your, ah, timing right, shall we say. So as not to be doused with the contents of the beast before you can get up and flush. Invigorating.
  3. Running out of toilet paper. More problematic for the ladies on board, than the men. Oh wait, that’s just me! And when the paper goes, which it has once already, it is on to paper towels. They can’t (or shouldn’t) be flushed (see #1) and the non-flushing is kinda gross.
  4. “Public” bathrooms. While I am at work, my roommate is asleep in our room and vice versa. No one wants their sleep interrupted for someone traipsing through to use the head, so shared bathrooms inside the house it is. ¬†I knock before entering, but that has not prevented me from walking in on people fresh out of the shower three times, or from being walked in on mid-pee myself multiple times, since the doors to the stalls come up to about armpit height. Awkward.
  5. Cleanliness, or lack there-of. Should be everyone’s responsibility, blah blah blah. Anyone who has ever had a roommate knows how this goes. Everyone takes wonderful care to be clean and respectful. But then there are these GREMLINS that come in and throw the bathmat in a wet heap on the ground, pee on the toilet seat, sprinkle toothpaste globs in the sink and on the mirror and then hide all the spare toilet paper rolls. Fucking gremlins.

Just when this seemed as though it would start occupying far too much head space, rescue came in the form of two new bathroom “roommates”, Ecuadorian navymen who, as it turns out, are all all about the cleanliness and …. Mr Musculo! This peruvian Mr Clean is my new fave superhero, hands down. A few stashed bottles and I am pretty sure I can escape this project without any major communicable diseases.

Oh yeah, and we got a toilet paper delivery too! Score!

Minor and not-so-minor irritations of the day aside, what has really done the most for my mental health in a positive way is all the wildlife we have all around us. It is a wonder! Working the night shift as PAM has meant that I usually do not get to enjoy watching the animals out there anymore but out here, we are literally surrounded!

At the end of my night shift, I take a cup of tea up top to enjoy the sunrise (sunrises are even better when they come at the END of your day!)……

And in an hour or so, while listening to a podcast, I can usually count on at least a couple of marine mammals making an appearance. Most common are the humpback whales. We are working in one of their mating areas and the season typically ends towards the end of summer but definitely seems to be extended this year!

A trio (mom, baby and boyfriend?) right off the bow

I love the stubby little dorsal and the humps

And these are not just cruising along at the surface whales; ¬†there is a major amount of fin slapping, tail slapping and spectacular breaching going on. ‘Los machos’ showing off for the ladies, says my MMO.

They can make a surprisingly large splash with one of these fins!

Bit better of a splash with the tail though..

HELL YEAH I wish I could do this!!

But nothing beats the splash made by the whole whale!

I have also been able to see (and hear) a lot of one of my favorite dolphins, the common dolphin (Delphis delphis). I have always liked these guys because they have that pretty yellowish stripe along the side, they’re pretty active and fast swimming and tend to form huge pods, sometimes super-pods, with hundreds of animals, which is amazing to see.

So while it is hard sometimes not to be able to ‘count down’ to an end date, I am actually pretty happy to be out here. Mental health check? Thumbs up.

Now the only question is, will my Starbucks instant coffees last long enough…

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