Saturday, March 17, 2007

Logbook: Deja Vu-ish

Dejavuish1The past three days have been "deja vu-ish" -- very similar to other recent experiences, but with enough of a twist to make them different and memorable in their own right. With this in mind, I describe them as follows: I woke up Friday morning in time to witness our approach to Ushuaia and observe the docking procedure. This was "deja vu-ish" to my arrival on Discovery in that the process was similar and the town looked the same, but the pier was completely empty and Polar Star docked alone with very little ado. After breakfast the passengers disembarked, gathered on the pier for farewells and dispersed which, too, was similar except that with comparatively so few passengers the scene was more like the simple breaking up of a meeting than the ending of an expedition cruise. My walk into town was the same, except I had only my Mac pack -- the rest of my gear was still on board Polar Star -- and I knew where I was going. With only the day to work my plan, I went straight to the Canal Beagle Hotel, had coffee and a little chit chat with my friends there from my recent two week stay then got busy on line.

As usual, the internet connection was slow -- very familiar -- but for some reason it kept crashing and interrupting my website update. Even though I had been careful not to backlog too much stuff into my update, I still could not maintain a connection long enough to make a clean upload. After almost four hours -- and I don't remember how many attempts -- I decided to try elsewhere but was unable to get good connections at any of my other three familiar places. I was getting pretty bummed out because in addition to not getting my update posted, my many failed attempts had created a hash of the website. Finally, after reducing the data load by removing all the large video files from the update, I was able to get a clean update of the Logbook and the new Photos page. By then I was running out of time, so I decided the video Reports would just have to wait until the next update then hustled around town to pick up some supplies and say "hi-bye" to a few of my Ushuaia friends.

As I headed back to the pier, it was "deja vu-ish" again except that I passed through a deserted customs building and walked down a deserted dock toward the Polar Star where -- as you can see in the photo -- not a creature was stirring except a garbage truck. When I got to the ship, I waved to one of the crewmen and walked up the gangway. I checked in at "Reception" and met Rita (the "hotel manager" who had just arrived to replace Natasha) then went to my room. Again, it was all "deja vu-ish" to my last boarding but different in that there was no security, no boarding hype and no formality. This casual air actually matched my expectation pretty well in that I anticipated being the sole "ride along passenger" for the repositioning sprint north, but I was destined for a few surprises.

First, on the door to my room I found a daily program that listed an "Introductory Briefing" to be held in a few minutes. Puzzled as to what that might be about, I went to the observation lounge and met the following cast of characters: Gary the "expedition leader" and his wife Joyce, John an ornithologist/staff member, and Betty who is another passenger from England, who just loves cruising Polar Star and will be on board until the ship reaches the UK. So, rather than just being another body on board for the ride, I'm actually one of two "official expedition passengers" in the company of two staff and a spouse. That makes five of us plus a skeleton crew of twenty or so on an "expedition." Go figure.

Dejavuish2_2Anyway, we cast off lines and headed down the Beagle Channel while I enjoyed the view from the deck -- a very familiar sight and experience made different by the fact that I was entirely alone on the deck. Shortly, the ship's alarm bell rang to indicate our "lifeboat drill" so I put on my life jacket and went to my muster station on the starboard side. The drill was the same as usual except that I was the only non-crew person at the muster station -- the others all had cabins on the port side of the ship and went to the port muster station instead. After a few minutes of checking lists, etc., we dispersed and I went back to my cabin. A short while later, Rita -- in her lovely Hungarian accent -- announced dinner was served and I went to the dining room. In this otherwise familiar milieu, full tables and long lines at the buffet were replaced by a single table set for seven -- the five of us plus Rita and Captain Adam -- with Chef Paul asking us individually if we preferred steak or salmon, and how we would like it cooked. Kinda spooky. During our first dinner together we got to know each other a bit more and Gary reviewed our schedule for the next day which basically included three meals, two lectures (geology and ornithology of the Falkland Islands) and a movie. The relevance of the Falklands lectures was a mystery to me, and upon inquiry I was informed that we would be "stopping by the Falklands since they are on our way north." That was news to me, but -- since I go where the ship goes -- I was headed back to the Falklands. Okay!

Yesterday was a day at sea that I used to sort my gear, do some chores, edit a Report, attend the lectures, eat three meals in my more-or-less private dining room and wander around a mostly empty ship. At about dawn this morning I proceeded with my ritual of going up to get a cup of coffee and take a look around. You may imagine the double take I did in my pre-coffee stupor when I looked out and saw the same settlement on Carcass Island that I had seen from the same spot on the same ship only four days earlier. I laughed out loud at the irony: I've never been to the Falkland Islands in my life, but I've now been to the same remote out-island twice in the same week! I've probably belabored the "deja vu-ish" thing, but going ashore, having coffee with the folks at the settlement and visiting with their dog -- whose name I found out is "Brock" and who just loves the boss lady's tea cakes! -- was eerily like my experience a few days earlier but different because the previous crowd of almost 100 visitors was reduced to the five of us plus a handful of the crew. I have to admit that the theme song from "The Twilight Zone" popped into my brain more than once.

After our visit, we came back to the ship and had lunch while the captain moved us to Steeple Jason Island where we were to visit a very large Black-Browed Albatross colony. Once again, the landing process was entirely familiar except that there were only four of us in one Zodiac -- Betty stayed on board due to her limited mobility -- and thus only four humans on the island. The landing was fabulous and I was fascinated to sit on a bluff among and above thousands of nesting young albatross as their parents soared over and around me. We got back on board just in time for dinner during which the captain announced we would be sailing for a couple of hours to clear the islands then set course to 032 and sail on that heading for "days and days" until we reach Recife. Alas, my three "deja vu-ish" days have come to an end and what happens next will be entirely different. I think.

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