22 hours of travel: one car, three planes, one taxi, one hike, one boat trip.
4 whacks to the head on my hatch.
1 face plant on the deck.
At least 10 cups of coffee.
1 amazing fish stew.
So here I am, on the Tara Expedition. When I started this blog it was 7pm last night and the crew was returning from some much needed shore leave and exercise. They have been at sea for two weeks straight so it’s not surprising they want to stretch their legs. The flights here were mostly easy – many, but easy. My first flight was PDX-Dallas, and we were delayed, leaving me only minutes to pee and buy food before boarding onto the new flight to Santiago. That flight was long but a redeye, so I got at least 4 hours of sleep and got to watch two Marvel movies. Um the X-men movie kind of sucked. How is that even possible?
Bad movies about mutants aside, Chile was a brief but pleasant stop over. I’ve been to Chile before on holiday with Andrew when we toured the southern Torres del Paine National Park and volcano district. Even the two-hour layover reminded how nice and laid back the Chilean people were. The airport was lovely and easy to navigate even with my super crappy Spanish. I longed to spend more time in Chile but that will have to wait till another day.
The flight to Easter Island was surprisingly long – almost six hours; a good reminder how remote this place it. The flight was also remarkably rough. I’ve crossed the Pacific numerous times, and each time there is some turbulence, but that had to be the most intense and sustained turbulence I’ve experienced in a long time. It actually got a bit frightening at one point but the calm of the flight attendants made it seem pretty standard.
Once we arrived into Easter Island / Isla de Pascua / Rapa Nui, I met up with another Taranaut Calixte from Brittany, France, who will be working on the plankton side of the work. He is a young plankton researcher who will be doing a bulk of the water filtering with Guillaume B (there are two Taranauts named Guillaume). One of Tara’s main missions is to catalogue the various plankton communities across the sea. Guillaume told me they have already sampled over 60 sites on his watch. We waited for Calixte’s bag in vain, as his connection was so close from Miami to Santiago that his luggage did not make it. Neither did Chris Voolstra, another Tara PI and our collaborator from the Red Sea, who was delayed overnight in Frankfurt due to a whole airport shutting down due to a security breach. But we were given the bags of two other Tara folk who missed their luggage earlier in the week, so it was win win.
A Polynesian island like no other
Landing in Easter Island, I was immediately struck how different it is than the rest of Polynesia. It is not tall like the Hawaiian Islands or Tahiti or Moorea. It is rather flat with oddly short and squat cinder cones of the volcanos jutting out at the corners. Also, hearing Spanish being spoken in Polynesia is rather disarming, albeit comforting for this non-French speaker. Polynesia’s sordid history is clearly displayed when you realize that in all the islands there are many different languages spoken: English in the Hawaiian Islands, Samoa and New Zealand, French in the Southern French Islands, and Spanish here. The history of this island is strange, mysterious, and also rife with the colonial conquest issues of the past. Chile acquired Easter Island in the late 1880’s but not before many of the locals were either killed or expatriated. It was even run by Mooreans at some point, and also offered up to the British who oddly passed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see any of the Moai statues for which Easter Island is famous, but we we will be here a few more days and hopefully get off the boat to see some of the sites.
To get to the boat we hired a cab, and when we told him where we were he had never heard of it but figured it out from our description. Also, I had seen Tara from the air so we knew where she was moored. We had to walk our luggage down a steep ravine but it was pleasant outside and another boat was moored alongside Tara. The crew of that ship was at the dock and agreed to buzz our boat and let them know we were waiting ashore. We got picked up at the same time as many of the crew were leaving to spend the afternoon in town. I quickly and sheepishly said hello and gave the required 2-cheek kisses. But then we were rushed off to the boat.
Once on board I wasn’t sure what to do with myself (I still don’t, which is why I am writing this). I image I will feel like for some time until I get my bearings and some directed science tasks. I did meet the captain, Sam, and keeper of the house Marion, immediately. Marion showed me my room, and I hastily unpacked my seasick meds and took 2 before I could succumb. My room is quite sizable and my decision to pack lightly was unnecessary really as there is quite a bit of free storage space.
The boat is really large but the seas here are quite rough, and so we are rocking pretty good. I hung out with another scientist, Emilie Boisson, on the back deck for a few hours, and we talked about the project and some logistics while occasionally laying down on the sea pads to feel better (she was slightly sea sick, too). The air is quite cool and that is nice. I was evening wearing my sweater and pants to stay warm most of the night.
After a while I realized how tired I was (only got about 5 hours of sleep and in a plane, so not good sleep), and so I took a short 1-hour nap. I felt remarkably well after that and even began this blog in the cabin without getting seasick (knock on wood). Dinner was started by Marion and Sam and when I asked if I could help they told me to start drinking beers. Now that’s a task I can do. Dinner was served quite late, around 8 (how European), and really excellent, ling cod (I think based on her description of the fish and its taste and texture) and vegetable curry stew with brown rice and salad. I ate just a little for fear of getting sick (no one wants to barf curry, much alone fish curry), but I wanted like three humongous plates of that stew. I hope all the meals are as amazing.
After dinner I was briefed on some of my duties. As all members of the crew, I am responsible for lunch and dinner duties as well as night watch. Tasks for meals include service (setting the table and serving people), dishes (self-explanatory), and cleaning up. ‘Watch’ is an hour long duty everyone does each night. This essential job requires that you scan the instruments for issues like coming off our safe mooring site (not good), the dinghies or lines on the deck getting screwed up (bad), water in the instruments (very bad), and fire (really really bad). If any of these things happen then I relinquish any responsibility to someone else. For example, if our boat comes off its anchor or drifts too far into a danger zone I wake up Nico, who by my understanding is the second in command. If the wind speeds get above 25 knots (it was around 17-21 during my watch) then I wake up Nico. If there are any water or fire alarms, then I… you guessed it… wake up Nico. The only thing I can do on my own is close the hatches if it begins to rain. All in all, not a bad job, and the hour went quickly, but thank god I took that nap ‘cause I was pretty knackered. I got an early watch, so luckily I could sleep all night after 11pm. I think that was pretty kind of them. In retrospect, I wish I had brought my sweatshirt to watch and also peed beforehand. The only incident during my watch was me eating it on the deck when I tripped over a line while I was checking out a strange noise which ended up being two crew fixing something at the bow. I guess it was a good early lesson to learn… always look at where you are stepping on the deck cause there is a ton of things on it to make you fall down.