A look back at 2004, by Dave Barry. “But no question, 2004 was bad. Consider: We somehow managed to hold a presidential election campaign that for several months was devoted almost entirely to the burning issue of: Vietnam.”
After a harrowing apartment search that included the world’s skinniest studio (probably seven feet wide) and the world’s most lopsided studio (I would have been an earthquake casualty waiting to happen) I finally found a new place to live. It’s up in the hills in Lafayette, and for once in my life it’s actually somewhere I really like — a separate cottage with deer that come by in the morning, an owl who visits in the evening, and a bunch of squirrels to fill in the hours in between. When being pooped on by wild animals gets old it’s only a five minute drive to the nearest Starbucks and a twenty minute shot into San Francisco. I’m still unpacking so the photos below are a bit of a mess, although they do show off the big manly fireplace fairly well.
Not that anything will change, or that it will make much difference, but here’s another among many, many examples of the current administration’s “sound science” policy (from http://www.shepherd-express.com/):
“Look for national parks’ geology to be written more in the image of creationists over the next four years in the continuing effort to create “faith-based parks.” An ongoing dispute at Grand Canyon National Park bookstores is that Grand Canyon, a Different View was ordered to stay on the bookshelves by top NPS brass. The book says that the Grand Canyon is 4,500 years old and was formed by Noah’s flood. Conventional scientific wisdom has the canyon more around 6 million years old, still rather young compared to the age of the Earth. Despite protests from scientists and the Grand Canyon Park superintendent, the book has stayed on the shelves. The Bush administration said it would review the policy, but the review hasn’t even been started since the February complaint. NPS has also ordered bronze plaques with verses from Psalms placed at canyon overlooks, truly emphasizing what a Judeo-Christian religious experience the view can be.”
It’s one thing to advocate a belief system; it’s quite another to promote that belief system as fact. I can’t help but feel like the country is slowly turning into some bizzaro world in which facts don’t matter and can be dismissed, but anything that has no proof behind it at all can be held up as an “alternative view”. Sadly, for at least the next four years this bizzaro world is the reality within America, and I don’t understand how the majority of the country allowed it to happen.
- The final details of the May 2006 Galapagos trip are being worked out with Thalia & Greg. I’ve been collecting the names of people who have said they might want to come, but if you’re at all interested please drop me an email so that I can make sure I keep you in the loop. Costs (not including the flight to Quito) will be in the $3000 range for a two week trip, although you’re welcome to stay longer. Scuba diving at Darwin and Wolf should also be a possibility.
- The apartment search is ongoing — hopefully I’ll have a place in the Bay Area soon, after which a road trip may be needed.
- I’m not planning on working a regular job for a while. There have been several ideas rattling around in my head for a few years that I’d like to play with, so it won’t be until after I fail miserably with those that I’ll start thinking of what to do next.
- I’ve started running again, but at the moment I’m moving about as fast as a 160 pound sack of crap. Despite that I need to avenge my loss in the San Diego marathon to that 66 year old woman — the next time I run a marathon there will be no old ladies crossing the line in front of me. Old men, maybe — 26 miles is a long way to run, and those old dudes are wily little bastards.
Lastly, since this journal is slightly less boring when pictures are posted, here’s one from one of the rare sunny days while on South Georgia:
Despite a few bumps along the way I’m slowly readjusting to “normal” life. Trying to figure out where to live, taking care of errands, and other mundane details have been filling the last few days. Sadly the sense of wonder and possibility that has permeated the past two months feels like it is slipping away, so another extended disappearance may be on the horizon.
After a night of limited sleep on a bench in the airport I took a taxi into Santiago early this morning and roamed a bit. I wasn’t quite prepared for a big city, and the combination of the drunks, goths, and others who were finishing off their nights out (“Hey yankee! Look over here yankee!”) and my total lack of comprehension of Spanish was a bit overwhelming. As the day wore on and the street performers and stalls set up it was a bit nicer — the city has a very European feel to it.
Now I’m back in the airport waiting for the plane to take me home. For the first time in nearly two months, instead of a list of animals to see or a list of places to hike to I’ve got a list of tasks to complete — it may not be long before I need to head out on the road again. The first item on the list was to get all of the trip photos uploaded, so hopefully everything is working now. I’m pretty pleased with how the stuff from the Falklands came out, especially from Saunders, although a photographer with any skill would have come away with images that did more justice to the place than what I’ve got. Still, some of them aren’t bad.
The journey home continues, with the evening likely to be spent sleeping on the floor of the Santiago airport. I stayed at Kay McCallum’s bed & breakfast again last night, and having heard from lots of people about her “world famous” gnome garden I peeked over a fence and was greeted by at least fifty ceramic garden gnomes, as well as two pink flamingoes. I was advised to ask Kay about Grumpy, the traveling gnome, who was taken by two Brits who felt Grumpy was a bit young to retire to the Falklands — “the blokes nicked my gnome” is how Kay describes it. Since his abduction he has been on a world tour, with photos appearing in the Falklands newspaper on a regular basis. Word on the street is that Grumpy’s celebrity status has become equal to that of the Falklands governor, which is most impressive for a ceramic garden ornament.
An ungodly amount of hiking today — I was out of bed at 5:15 and pretty much covered every bit of the eastern half of the island. Upon returning home I discovered that Jacqui had cooked up an entire steak pie just for me — I easily must have eaten a pound and a half of food for dinner, and it was damn good. I assumed that today was basically the last day of the trip, but the plane back to Stanley won’t arrive until 2:30 tomorrow, which leaves practically another full day. Whether the body can handle another full day or not should be interesting to find out…
The brain had planned to get up at about five this morning, photograph the birds for a bit, and then head out to the west side of the island for some hiking. The body had other plans, so I crawled out of bed at nearly six, spent a few hours utterly failing to get decent photos of the birds, then took a nap for a while before heading out again in the afternoon. Since tomorrow is my last full day here I’m hoping that the brain will be more successful in persuading the body to follow plans.
Much of the evening was spent in the lounge with Alan, Jacqui, and a few of the other lodge guests telling stories, many of which were about Jerome and his sailing exploits. During the conversation it occurred to me that Jerome will probably be one of the ten most interesting people I will meet in my life, which is saying a lot given some of my acquaintances. Alan had more than his fair share of tales and also noted that Jerome’s son Dion has been known to windsurf in hurricane-force winds, while his other son once set off on a day-trip in his kayak and along the way decided Forrest-Gump style to circumnavigate the Falklands, covering as much as seventy-five kilometers per day.
Alan drove me to the far west side of the island today, and after dropping me off at a rockhopper colony pointed out an erect-crested penguin in the middle of the colony. Apparently the bird is supposed to be found only in New Zealand, so this one obviously made a huge wrong turn. During the hike back to the settlement I saw four additional types of penguins, five dolphins, a large number of raptors, and a sea lion who was being harassed by an albatross and a petrel. My feet are sore and my legs hurt, but if I can manage it will be more of the same tomorrow.
I set off hiking early this morning with no real destination in mind, and about fifteen miles later returned to the lodge having visited most of the eastern half of the island. The lodge owners don’t seem to be used to having guests wandering aimlessly, and Alan sheepishly asked me to take a radio and call at 5:00 just to verify I was still alive. Jacqui was running a wildlife tour this afternoon, and I think I actually startled her when she drove up and found me in the midst of a rockhopper colony seven miles from the lodge. More of the same is planned for tomorrow.
The trip is in its final stage now, and I tried to book things so that I could take it easy at the end — the hospitality, accomodation, and most importantly the food at the lodge here has me convinced that I chose well. The wildlife isn’t as spectacular on this island, but the hiking is good and there is still a lot to see. The only other folks at the lodge right now are an older group of British bird watchers — they explained to me that Venice Beach is apparently the best spot in LA for bird watching; tremendous confusion, some of which involved the word “grotty”, followed that comment.
Last day on Saunders, and I’ll be sad to go, although after three days of self-catering it will be very nice to eat something other than tuna sandwiches again. While here my alarm clock has been a caracaras who arrives shortly after sunrise and then loudly patrols the tin roof, the dolphins have reappeared each day in greater numbers (twenty-one this morning), there have been at least a dozen times where a black-browed albatross flew in for a landing within feet of me, and the rockhopper penguins have adopted an annoyed expression any time they have to hop around the very clumsy human who is in their path. I’ve done enough hiking to realize I’m hugely out of shape, taken enough photos that it will take ages to sort through them all, and in general enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Perfect weather, lots of hiking, and lots of photography — next to Steeple Jason I think this is my favorite island in the Falklands. I’m not much of a writer, so hopefully a couple of photos will at least begin to do the place justice.
Not only is Saunders Island an even more amazing place than Sea Lion Island, but the sun reappeared this afternoon — I was beginning to fear it had burnt out. The FIGAS flight was again scenic, although I had my seatbelt fastened as tightly as possible due to the high winds. The several stops included two grass airstrips, one of which had three small hills on it — takeoffs are a bouncy enough affair normally, but doing it on a roller-coaster airstrip adds a whole new element to the event.
Once the plane arrived at Saunders I was met by David Pole-Evans, the very nice owner of the island. He reminded me a bit of John Goodman, and has been living on the farm long enough that he can make an expression like “righty-o” sound quite natural. It took an hour by Landrover to drive out to the cabin on the Neck, and now that I’m here I’ve got the place to myself for two nights. The landscape outside is a spit of land between two mountains that is loaded with wildlife and bordered by large white-sand beaches. While hiking the black-browed albatross were flying by so close I thought one might hit me, rockhopper penguins roamed past me as if I wasn’t there, gulls followed me in flocks, and a pod of dolphins was swimming about ten meters offshore. Life is indeed very good right now.
I stayed up most of the night checking election results, and despite the fact that Kerry led exit polls for total vote, Ohio vote, and Florida vote by two-to-three percent he appears to have lost all three by a similar margin. I don’t know much about exit polls, but statistically the result seems a bit sketchy. The prospect of four more years of Bush doing whatever he wants without consequence (since he doesn’t need to worry about re-election) is a very scary one.
The day’s weather matched my mood, with clouds and occasional rain for most of the day. It’s a photographer’s nightmare — an incredible amount to photograph, but no light to do so. Still, just walking around is nice, and getting an occasional orca sighting is a thrill. Tomorrow it’s off to Saunders Island and, with luck, better weather.