Tuesday, May 29, 2012

There's Nothing Casual About Penguins

I took a couple of days to settle in and get acquainted with the area before I went into the museum. On Monday Steve, the museum's taxidermist/handyman, took me to see some of the sites outside Stanley. He drove the the museum's 4x4 across some rather treacherous terrain out to Cape Pembroke, the most eastern point int the Falkland Islands. There were tracks through the rolling grass/peat/rocks, but many had filled with water and it was a challenge to figure out the best path without getting stuck. For five pounds, the museum lends out the key to the Cape Pembroke lighthouse, which no longer works as its mechanism was damaged in 1982. However, you can climb all the way to the top and out on the walkway of this prefab cast-iron Victorian structure.
You can just make out the lighthouse beyond the dunes.
I'm pretty sure neither the National Trust nor the National Park Service would let anyone up there as the last two ladders are a bit tricky and it's easy to loose your footing on the walkway in the smallest wind.  If I'd let it, the wind would have blown me around the top a few times. Back on the ground, we walked past the memorial for the Atlantic Conveyor, a ship sunk in 1982, to a small spot covered in the native Tussac grass. This grass appeals so much to the wildlife that it has disappeared from much of the Islands. However, mine clearing operations are helping to bring it back as clean areas are being replanted with Tussac. Farther to the west, we spied some Gentoo penguins enjoying white sand beaches made private by the presence of more mines. Don't worry, the penguins aren't big enough to set the mines off (if they're even there).
Barbed wire and the risk of death separate me from the penguins.
Continuing west, we stopped again at two of the most popular wildlife spots in the summer. Yorke Bay and Gypsy Cove spend months crawling with Magellanic penguins and other creatures, but they have vacated for the winter. Instead of making nests, the Magellanic penguins dig burrows where they lay their eggs. Visiting the Falkland Islands, you're much more likely to trip over one of these than tread on a mine. However, the resulting infestation of penguin fleas may make you wish for the mine. Our adventures left plenty of time for Steve to drop me at the library before it closed. The Community Library occupies part of the Community School/Leisure Center complex and lends books to visitors and residents alike. I was pleasantly surprised by both their excellent selection and the availability of DVDs to rent. It looks like I'll be catching up on my new releases when I'm not devouring their local interest section
A typical Stanley day - snow one minute, sunshine the next.
 The museum's manager, Leona, was out on Tuesday, but I still got to look around the museum. For a small operation, their collection is fairly impressive. Unfortunately, they just don't have the space to display everything properly and most of the exhibitions have been assembled rather haphazardly over the years. The artifacts are grouped somewhat thematically/chronologically, but there's no overarching interpretation or story and text is restricted to small object labels. Within the next year and a half, the museum is planning to move from its current location to a historic building closer to the center of town. This should increase both their space and visitation. Currently, most visitors have to walk a mile from the jetty where their cruise ships drop them off and not all tourists are up for the walk. I'll try to take some pictures at the museum next week. On Wednesday, Leona was in and she handed over what oral history materials she could find.

The museum is in chaos preparing for an exhibition on 1982 they're opening in town next Wednesday, so I took my box of CDs and assorted paperwork back to the house. After isolating the clocks behind the closed office door (they were ticking and I hate ticking clocks), I've set up shop on the dining room table. Most of the recordings were done in 2009, but there are plenty of others and there's no central location for documentation or recordings. The archives has a fairly complete spreadsheet, but the head archivist used to be in broadcasting so she doesn't distinguish between Oral Histories and other recorded primary sources. I've now finished rough transcriptions of two interviews from the 2009 collection. In class at NMSU, I also advocated for the inclusion of all "um"s, "uhs"s, "you know"s, and pauses in oral history transcripts. I TAKE IT BACK. I'm so glad the museum is letting me leave those out. However, I am rapidly forming a rather negative opinion of the gentleman who did these interviews. He doesn't begin the recordings by introducing himself/the interviewee/date/location, he's constantly interrupting, and asks a lot of leading questions. In general, he just talks far too much. On one of the recordings it was quite entertaining to listen to his interviewee getting more and more irritated.

Of course I have already acquainted myself with several of the local pubs. My favorite, known locally as "the Vic," even has a cat! I went in there on Wednesday for Steak Night and didn't get home until about 4 in the morning. It was so crowded that I didn't have anywhere to eat my steak until a group of relatively young guys made room for me at their table. Since then, I've hung out with them (and others of the 20/30-something expat community) a couple of times and I'm even going to a birthday party this weekend. It seems strange to use the word "expat" since many of them are Brits, but there are also Canadians, Chileans, and people from all over. It's a little terrifying how many people I've met here who came on a short contract and years later still haven't left.

The mysterious pub cat, waiting to be served. I've heard several strange stories 
about his identity. One person told me he had a twin, another that his name was 
"Bacardi." I think the most likely story was that his name is "Smoky." How original...
My house does have a car I can use, but I'm staying far away from that adventure as I can't drive a manual transmission, I've never driven on the left, and I'm much more comfortable in my Fiesta than a hulking 4x4. This means that I walk pretty much everywhere. As the center of town is about a mile away, I'm walking 2-4 miles everyday. On Friday I'm pretty sure I walked 6 as I went into town twice and wandered around quite a bit. Today, I tested grocery shopping for the first time. I took a reusable shopping bag from the house and walked to the supermarket at the center of town (after making stops at the museum, the archives, and the library). I discovered that the very sturdy and affordable bag safely holds a basket's worth of groceries. Perfect! It got a bit heavy on the way home, but the cold kept anything from spoiling and I made it.
The ever so convenient and sturdy shopping bag. Why
don't they make them this well in the US?
MK will appreciate this: On Friday night, after the pubs closed, the party continued at the apartment of one of the Brits. He explained to me that I was freaking out rather unnecessarily when Patrick Wolf's "The Magic Position" came on somewhere between the Top 40 and the Chilean dance music as it was perfectly logical for a Brit to have a song by a British artist. However, I do believe this was the first time I have ever heard this song played by someone who was not MK or myself. For the rest of you: Enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Live From Stanley!

Well, I'm here. Friday seemed like it would never end. After briefly snagging enough internet to post, I never managed to find another connection. I did, however, get my chai. I ordered an "alto te chai latte con...raspberry" and the barista figured it out. She also figured out that I did not speak Spanish. For the rest of the night, I alternated between sleeping at various gates and hunting for internet. This leg of the journey (Santiago to Punta Arenas) was a domestic Chilean flight, making for a rather different experience. First security was a breeze; everything stayed in my backs and my boots stayed on my feet. In fact, I did not remove my boots at all from about 2:30 pm Thursday (MST) to 3 pm on Saturday. My feet were stinky. The hours in Santiago lent themselves to several observations. First, as I listened to the baristas clean up at Starbucks, that girl power is the same in every language. Even they listened to the Spice Girls. Surprisingly, the 3G on my Kindle worked in Chile - points to Amazon.com - but I haven't tested it in Stanley, yet. All the announcements for my flight were in Spanish, providing me with an idea of what it's like for non-English speakers to travel domestically in the USA. Difficult.
I'm fairly certain that this sign in Punta Arenas is warning me about Cholera. Huh.
Three hours later, I found myself in the tiny Punta Arenas airport, with three gates and only one designated for international departures. The sun had not risen yet and my fellow travelers quickly left the terminal to claim their bags. I spent about 5 hours alone in this empty airport, waiting for a flight that only comes once a week. I should probably write something up for the travel agency in New Mexico just in case anyone else ever tries to go to the Falklands. It would appear that the later flight to Punta Arenas from Santiago that morning continues directly to Mount Pleasant, allowing the passengers a long enough layover in Santiago to get a shower and sleep in a bed. The influx of British tongues was a relief after hours spent alone in the empty airport, but I envied their clean and well-rested appearances. What surprised me greatly was the mass of Russians who followed the Brits off their flight from Santiago. How do they always find me???
The eerily empty Punta Arenas airport.
The flight from Punta Arenas to Mount Pleasant was the shortest of my long journey, but landing was downright otherworldly. After viewing large expanses of the Atlantic Ocean, clouds blocked the ground from view. We descended through layers and layers until the Falklands finally appeared below. The tiny Mount Pleasant airport is part of the Royal Marines' base, necessitating restrictions against photography and other behaviors. I had thought that El Paso had harsh winds, but at Mount Pleasant we all felt the plane shifting back and forth, then had to keep a tight hold on the railing to keep from blowing away as we descended the stairs down to the tarmac. Once inside, chaos descended. Those new to the islands rushed to get carts and blocked the small space as they waited for their luggage, which hadn't even begun to be unloaded. I followed those who knew what they were about into the immigration line, received my stamps, got my bag, and went through customs before most people had realized what was going on. What a relief!

The museum's taxidermist picked me up and drove me the 45 minute trip into Stanley. Once we left the military base, the smooth road turned into gravel and potholes, making for quite a bumpy road. And this is the main road in the Falklands, mind you. Imagine what the others are like. Due to such poor road conditions most people drive 4x4s and you don't need to ask them where their mud is - most of the vehicles I've seen are covered in it. Surveying the landscape, the only similar scenery I could bring to mind were parts of New Zealand's south island. The combination of grass and rocks reminded me of the area outside Christchurch where Peter Jackson placed Edoras and Deer Park Heights outside Queenstown. The Falklands have a fairly unique geological feature called the stone run, which manifests as rivers of stone running throughout the countryside. There are certainly theories, mostly involving glaciers, but no one knows quite how they formed. Besides these stone rivers, I also saw sheep, birds, horses, and well marked minefields along the roadside. Apparently it's at the locals' request that the minefields have not all been cleared yet. The minefields here have caused no human casualties, are well marked, and only occasionally take out a cow or a sheep. Therefore, the locals believe that the mine clearers' efforts are much better spent in places where mines end or damage human lives. It makes sense to me.

The fruits of my victorious shopping trip!
 We drove the long way through the center of town to my cute little house on the waterfront, then returned to the center of town to pick up some groceries. Since the Falklands are so isolated, the best fresh food comes from local sources. I picked up a fresh loaf of bread and some locally made sausage among my purchases. However, this does mean that the only dairy commercially available is the dreaded box-milk. Apparently, if you know someone with a cow you can get fresh milk, but it's not sold in the store. I still delighted in wonderfully British commodities such as Hobnobs,Jaffa Cakes, and Fanta Lemon. The wide variety of Indian sauces was also quite exciting, but made me realize that I don't know how to cook rice without my ricebot. I pretty much passed out after dinner last night. The trip wore me out and I couldn't bring myself to stay up any later, either to read or to write up my travels.

This morning I had a delicious breakfast of porridge with raspberry jam and set off to explore the town. I walked into Stanley's center along the water, then ventured up the hill into more residential areas. I also located the library at the Stanley Leisure Center. It'll be open tomorrow. Around 1:30 pm, I wandered into the Victory Bar, where I ended up spending most of the afternoon talking to locals and drinking Strongbow. Very fun! I even got into an argument about the causes of the Civil War. Walking back home after dark, I couldn't believe how bright the stars were. I'm not even sure I believe I'm actually here.

The view out my bedroom window.
Throughout this journey I've felt a bit like Lyra Belacqua on her way to the North. Too bad I don't have a panserbjorne to cuddle with.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Seven Down, One to Go

UPDATE: Now with pictures, thanks to free wifi at the Punta Arenas Airport.

I have now officially visited seven of eight continents. The only one I'm missing is Antarctica - if I were visiting the Falklands in the summer, then I'd knock that one out on this trip, too. However, as it is currently too cold to undertake the passage to Antarctica, I'll have to make another trip. Oh, darn.

I left El Paso Thursday afternoon, beginning my epic journey. Surprisingly, my bag full of technology and my winter attire did not faze the TSA…but they did have to pat down my head. That's the last time I travel with pins in my hair. While waiting for my flight to Dallas, I noticed that the departure sign did not say "Dallas - Fort Worth," "DFW," or any of the more common phrases. Instead, it said "Dallas -FTW," leaving me asking "is Dallas really for the win?" I think not. That flight was short and decently comfortable as my neighbors managed to engage me in conversation about air travel and A Song of Ice and Fire.  At DFW, the boards were not showing the correct time or number for my flight to Santiago, so I had a moment of panic before confirming at the gate that my flight would proceed as planned.

And so began the longest leg of my trip. I lucked out big time. The plane had seats grouped in 2/4/2 and I had a window (as usual). My neighbor abandoned his aisle seat for an empty row before we even took off, giving me an extra seat to stretch out on. Wrapped in my dorky purple coat, using my furry hat as a pillow, I fell asleep in no time. I woke up around 4am in time to see morning arrive over the Pacific Ocean.  Based on this flight, though, American Airlines seems pretty junky. We spent almost ten hours in the air, but our seats didn't have the personal screens I've come to expect from lengthy international flights. There was a space on the back of each seat where a screen would fit perfectly, but nothing was there but upholstery. 
See what I mean? The screen should be right there!
Flying in over the mountains was incredible and a thick layer of fog covered the city as we descended. Waiting in line at immigration and customs always makes me wish for my diplomatic passport. Back in the day, all I had to do was flash that black cover and walk on by.
Morning in South America.
I made a mistake after customs. I needed to find a place to check my bags for the day, so I shot out of the secure area and past the mob of chauffeurs and gypsy cabs. Unfortunately, one of the more persistent ones followed me about 20 feet out of the crowd, when it became obvious that I had no idea where I was going. He actually proved rather helpful as he led me to the baggage storage and translated for the attendant and I. Free of my backpack and suitcase, I went to change some money. I generally do not change money at airports, but I knew I'd need it to get into the city, the rate was decent, and I'd rather change once at an OK rate, then keep changing money all day. I almost evaded the eager taxi-man as I left the exchange office, but he caught up to me. Before I knew it, I had agreed to pay 25,000 pesos for a ride to the funicular station in a private taxi. Oops. My brain caught up with me in the backseat of the car as I plotted fleeing the vehicle at a stoplight if I smelled anything fishy. When I arrived safely at the Funicular station I paid the driver 20,000 pesos. This was still almost double what the trip was worth, but he didn't have the English to argue with me and I didn't have the guts to pay him any less. However, I did not tip airport taxi-man for ripping me off.

I think my boots are even more out of place in Santiago than in Texas. Then again, my Spanish is nonexistent and I'm only here for a day, so I've given up my usual struggle not to look like a tourist. The purple dork coat definitely doesn't help, but after I took it off I was apparently convincing enough to be yammered at in Spanish a couple of times. Santiago, surprisingly enough, reminded me strongly of Eastern Europe…but with friendlier people, who were very forgiving of my Spanish throughout the day. It really doesn't help that when my brain is in foreign language mode it goes automatically to Russian. I caught myself saying "да" more than once.  I do know some basic Spanish words, but not the basics I would want to get around (I swear, in Russian you could manage with just можно, сколько, где, and a few pleasantries). In fact, the only full sentence I know in Spanish is "mi pantalones en fuego por Jesus" - not really a useful phrase when navigating a new city, if ever.

I arrived at the funicular station 15 minutes before it opened, perfect timing for me to catch my breath and the second tram up to the top of Cerro San Christobel. I opted not to stop at the zoo (though it was recommended several times), but took in the incredible panoramic views of the city and mountain.  The funicular itself is a rickety old thing running on a track that looks like it was carved into an old stone staircase. As I was waiting to board a large group of American adolescents arrived at the station. They looked like middle-schoolers and they just kept shouting in English. One of them was even wearing a Tony Romo jersey. Was I that annoying as an adolescent in foreign countries?
Santiago from above.
I climbed further up the mountain to the giant statue of the Virgin Mary and the Sanctuario of the Immaculate Conception. After all, what is a trip to South America without enormous religious statuary? I also took some time to peruse my guidebook and plan my next move. I had already decided that I wanted to visit the Plaza de Arms, but wasn't sure how to get there. Somehow I came to the conclusion that I hadn't done enough climbing and set off on foot. Almost immediately, I was hopelessly lost, but I enjoyed my stroll through winding streets near the university and even came upon an art class meeting al fresco. Further wanderings found a couple of metro stations, but brought me no closer to the Plaza. Eventually, I gave up, studied the map, and descended into the nearest station. I must have looked so pathetic as a tried to buy a ticket. The lady at the counter almost immediately said "ticket" holding one up to show me. I handed her my pesos, ashamed that I couldn't manage even this simple transaction. The route involved two train changes, but I made it to the plaza! It was lovely, but very crowded with people, dogs, and pigeons.
Can Giant Virgin Mary see her son in Rio?
After orienting myself, I found the National Museum of History and set off. Again, I turned into a three-legged kitten as a very well-dressed security guard greeted me in Spanish, then explained to me in English that the museum had free admission today. I still have no idea why. The main exhibition tells the story of Chile's history using a wonderful collection of artifacts. I only wish I'd been able to read the text accompanying them. A smaller gallery housed an exhibition of 19th artwork depicting Santiago and other places in Chile. These pieces were really wonderful, but again I wished there was some kind of supplementary guide in English.

Sitting back out at the Plaza, it was 1:10 pm and I was pooped. My legs were so exhausted that I couldn't stand still without them shaking. Nothing else in my guidebook really grabbed me, so I just wandered around the area for a while. Finally, I resolved that I was ready to go back to the airport and embarked on a mission to find one of the buses that offers affordable transport between the city and the airport. I ended up at the central train station. I didn't find the buses, but I did find a рынок, which only added to the feeling that I was in Eastern Europe. Realizing that I had walked all the way to the next metro stop in search of the elusive bus, I gave up and hailed a cab. A REAL cab this time. He had a meter and everything. The trip back to the airport cost less than 10,000 pesos. Damn, I really did get ripped off this morning.

At the airport, I retrieved my luggage with a plan in mind. I would check in for my flight, clear security, then splurge for the VIP lounge to enjoy wifi, food, and a shower. Like most of my plans in Santiago, this one didn't exactly come together either. After repeating about a dozen times that my flight left tomorrow, the girl at the check-in desk informed me that she couldn't accept my suitcase until 6 hours prior to departure. Girl, if my flight leaves at 1:45 am, I don't have a hotel room, and I don't get to sleep, then for all intents and purposes my flight leaves tonight.  Seeing as how I couldn't check my bag until 7:45 pm, I now had almost 5 hours to kill pre-security in the Santiago airport. Delightful. After a brief transformation into my alter-ego, Madame du Cranky Pants, I grabbed some food and took a nap outside domestic departures. Better-rested, fed, and changed into a clean shirt, I feel much better. Still no wifi, though.

Today I travelled on 5 different forms of transportation: airplane, taxi, funicular, foot, and metro. Doesn't break my mom's record*, but still respectable.

8pm: Through security, but still hunting for Wifi. I'm so early that my flight isn't even on the board yet, but there's a Starbucks with a wireless network. Maybe if I order something, they'll give me the password. How do you say "tall raspberry chai" in Spanish?


*My mom set the transportation record during out 2008 trip to Istanbul, when she managed to get us on 7 different forms of transportation in one day: tram, foot, taxi, ferry, funicular, metro, and trolley.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Time Travel

My semester concluded yesterday. The assignments are turned in, classes completed, and final exams graded. I spent a large part of my semester involved in time travel, through both my living history course and my public history seminar. While experiencing the technique myself, I also worked on planning the 2013 Bridging Ages Conference which will be held in Las Cruces next April. We concluded out time travels weeks ago, but the Las Cruces Sun-News published a piece on us today:

The video features a few snippets of an interview I did about my character and you can read the accompanying article here.