Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.9.09

King George Island and Pre-Race Banquet

I got up early to see if we had come in sight of land yet, but, when I got to the bridge, it was really hazy. After about a half hour, Gary spotted a rocky outcropping and then I saw some snow-covered rocks. It was all very exciting, except that it looked nothing like the Antarctica I’d expected.

After breakfast, I went up to the top deck to watch the crew load ATVs into the zodiacs. It was much colder than it had been and extremely windy (16 m/s) and I started to worry about race-day conditions. Being so close to land brought the birds closer to the ship and it was fun trying to guess which they were. We were supposed to go on a zodiac cruise of Maxwell Bay at 10 am, but it was too windy and the waves were too high, so we were invited to watch BBC’s Planet Earth: Ice, instead. I was exhausted after the movie (I hadn’t been sleeping well with the rocking back and forth (head to foot) all night long and hoped that I could take a nap, now that we had dropped anchor.

At 12:30, the lunch announcement came over the loudspeaker and I descended to the dining room to find beef barley soup, salad and quiche waiting for me. I turned down the cherry cobbler dessert. At lunch, it was announced that the winds had abated sufficiently (hooray!) and that we could leave postcards with the ship for mailing from Antarctica (double hooray!). I made a beeline for the lounge and started writing.

At 2:30, we lined up for the zodiacs and I maneuvered myself into position to be in the same zodiac as the photography instructor, because, according to the class schedule, we’d be getting more instruction in the zodiacs. I think she said 2 things. Total waste of money! The first time going down the gangway over open water was pretty exciting, though. Rob, our zodiac guide, took us in to the Russian base (we saw penguins sunning on the way) then around to the Chilean base, where we could look at Collins glacier and panic a little about getting up it twice during the race. We then headed over to Great Wall, the China base, to get an idea about how far away it was. We couldn’t get too close because of a sand bar (the Great Wall?) blocking the way.

We cruised a little more around the bay, then headed back to the ship. I grabbed my postcards and started writing again. I stayed in the bar so I’d be there for afternoon cookies (chocolate with white chocolate chips and peanut butter ship) and spoke with Linda about 7on7. She advised me not to worry about dropping Gatorade (Thom had warned us during the reception in BA that we were not to leave even a drop of Gatorade on the ground) and to take the fuel I normally do, but be careful about it. She and her husband left and Elizabeth and her dad joined me. We chatted a bit, then Rod headed off and Elizabeth and I stayed talking until dinner was called.

Dinner was served buffet style (this was our past party/carb load), so each deck was called in separately, to avoid congestion. My deck was called first and I gorged on salad, couscous, green beans almondine, lasagna, and penne arrabbiata. Dessert was tropical fruit sorbet, so I skipped it.

Rupert and Thom addressed us over dessert, giving us the final race instructions. There was a significant course change, because the glacier was solid ice and to dangerous to run along the normal course. They found an alternate route around the back of the glacier with a shallower incline, but it was a shorter climb, too, because the Chinese base didn’t want us not to come to their base for the marathon. The new course became an 8+-mile out (instead of 7) and back and a 4+-mile (instead of 6) out-and-back. They also decided to start the two ships out of different bays. Our ship started at the official start at Bellingshausen, the Russian base, but the other ship started 2 miles into the course at the Uruguayan base. I wonder if Thom will have 2 winners, since he has 2 courses.

After dinner, I came back to the room, got my race day gear set and went to bed.

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615667198221/

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.8.09

The Drake Passage – Day 2

It was a really rocky night. I was sliding in my bed from feet to head. Needless to say, not much sleep. I got up a little early and took some pictures from the deck. After a pancake breakfast, I did another bird check, then headed to the Presentation room for Thom’s lecture on the history of the Antarctica Marathon1. He ran over, hurrying through the end, and we had just enough time to get to the dining hall for the penguin lecture2.

After the penguin lecture, I had the second session of the camera class3. It was just as bad as the first. I want to complain, but am concerned about how the rest of my trip will go, if I do.

Lunch immediately followed. I skipped the broccoli soup and just had a small salad, followed by Guinness stew. Dessert was bread pudding, out of which I picked the raisins, but was otherwise pretty tasty. I should have taken a nap after lunch, but went shopping in the gift shop instead. I picked up postcards and a t-shirt for myself. It was the last excursion of the season, so the pickings were pretty slim.

I had just enough time to head up to the top deck to watch for birds before heading back down to the presentation room to learn about seals4. I hope we get to see some! Between lectures, I went to my room to grab some stuff I’d need later, then did some more bird watching (on deck and from the bridge), before going to the bar for Afternoon Tea (aka cookie-time) for yummy chocolate chunk cookies. Heather helped me stamp and organize my postcards, then it was time to go to the dining hall to learn about Scott’s and Amundson’s race for the South Pole. I don’t understand why people reviled Amundson for getting there safely and without any casualties when Scott, who was hailed a hero, made numerous, compounding mistakes that ultimately lost 8 men their lives, including Scott!

After some more birdwatching (I finally got a fairly decent shot of an albatross), I went to the lounge for happy hour. No snacks for me (they served chips and salsa). I sat with Kevin, who is filming Linda Quirk’s Run 7 on 7 Dream Big challenge (this is her last marathon of the challenge) and we chatted about this, that and the other. He said he’d send me some of his pictures after the trip and I gave him my flickr name so he could see my stuff, too.

The dinner announcement came at 7:30 and Kevin and I went in together. We sat with Mike and Connie*, who looks way too young to be a surgeon and the mother of a 20-year-old! I had a small bowl of navy bean soup and some salad for starters, then had chicken breast stuffed with herbed cheese, with rice pilaf and snap peas. Dessert was supposed to be chocolate chocolate cake, but the cake was vanilla with chocolate frosting.

At the end of dinner, we were told that we’d have an early start tomorrow, so I came upstairs to my room to write some postcards and do a little reading before going to sleep.

*I won’t be naming all of my meal companions, but I will say that I tried to find different people to sit with every time. It seemed to me that the type of people who would do something like this must be very interesting and I wanted to hear more of their stories. I learned what I’d suspected before I even signed up – I was way out of my league in this crowd. I heard stories of Kilimanjaro and Everest and the Great Wall of China and many other extreme events. Chuck was on his third time (accidentally) around the 50 states. Dale and Cathy were running this marathon as their first ever marathon! Cecile was running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 80 days. Many were gaining entry into the 7 Continents Club. I was an imposter, pretending I belonged in this group of illustrious runners. The winner trained in the mountains of Kenya to prepare. Patrick, who is from Tahiti, trained in a freezer at -18° with a fan on to simulate the wind. There are a lot more stories like this. If I hadn’t had Elizabeth’s training plan, I wouldn’t have been nearly as prepared as I was and it was only the worry of disappointing her that kept me on track! (You all know how lazy I am and that I’m not a fan of hard work!)

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615664936463/

1 History of the Antarctica Marathon
• John did not interview Thom excessively for the book. The book does not include the underbelly of the event
• MT started in 1979
• 1991 Antarctica Treaty covers tourism
• August ’93 – article brings Antarctica to runners’ attention
• Arctowski (Polish base) – trial run too muddy, a lot of attacking Skuas
• King George Island – course okay, but 4 countries created a lot of politics
• Esperanza – Hope Bay – base commander happy about the race, but the Argentine Foreign Minister said no
• King George Island base commanders were very helpful
• Course change because of quicksand
• Implied that race on boat was his idea, though the book indicates that it was Winkler’s idea

2 Penguins

• 17 species – wingless diver, brush-tailed, true diver, little true diver, little wedge
• Largest – Emperor Penguin - 1.1m, 40k
• Smallest – Little Penguin – 40cm, 1k
• 100°C birds – temperature range of climate
• feathered fish, spindle shape to ease transition between land and sea
• solid bones – helps overcome buoyancy
• all penguins have dark backs and white bellies for camouflage
• no teeth, raspy hooks that point backwards
• thin layer of fat, feathered survival suits, hooks on ends of feathers act as an insulator when penguins are in water
• penguin feathers are all the same size
• heat stress when warm in Antarctica
• warm-blooded egg layer, do not travel great distances, no flight
• breeding – males are “passive pawns” – female drives the breeding season, male nests – serially monogamous, female will not stay with an ineffective male
• fatter males are more desirable
• some females have affairs
• prostitution – females will offer copulation in exchange for good nesting stones
• males – will copulate very often w/female to ensure that they inseminated the female and will also try to be the last one
• nests made of stones – high enough to keep the nest about water
• some nests are thousands of years old
• 2 eggs from Gentoo and Adelie
• incubation lasts 31-39 days
• food chasers - chicks follow adult on a search for food ensuring that each chick gets fed
• creched for 23-30 days
• fledgling for 48-82 days
• high mortality rate up to 80%
• penguins moult once a year over 3-5 weeks
• birds fast during moult
• moult feather by feather – high stress period
• predators – leopard seals, seals peel penguins before eating them
• Gentoo – 76-81cm, 5.5kg, dives to 100m, brush-tail, white band across brow, 3rd tallest penguin, eat krill, nest on open beaches, good rock scramblers
• Chinstrap – 68-77cm, 5kg, dives to 70m, brush-tail, large colonies away from beach
• Adelie – 46-75cm, 5kg, dives to 175m, brush-tail, breeds farthest south of all birds, 2-day limit for last year’s partner to find the female
• Penguins as far north as the Galapagos
• Penguins do not migrate
• Emperor penguin stays on Antarctic mainland

Rules for penguin encounter
• Must stay at least 5m away
• Do not approach, but if they come close, don’t move
• If a group walks up and stares, you’re in their way and should step aside

3 Camera Class 2

• EV compensation – higher-lighter, lower equals darker
• Shutter speed – cannot adjust on Pentax
• Aperature priority – long lens = shallow depth of field, short lens = longer depth of field
• Waterproof case
• Flash fill?
• Composition – for landscapes, go with 2/3 for the more important subject and 1/3 for the rest
• Reflections are okay to have as a double

4 Marine Mammals – Seals
• Southern seals – 4 species – year-round Antarctic dwellers
• True seals – slow-moving
• Eared seals – can run on all four legs
• Fur seals (eared seals) – subAntarctic summer visitors– can’t cope with Antarctic cold – harem breeders, fearless and mean, nearly as fast as dogs, cannot eat while breeding, because of having to protect harem, lose up to 40% of their body weight
• Elephant seal – summer visitor – sexual dimorphism, female: 800-900 kg, bulls: 3 ½ to 4 tons, pup weaned at 12 days
• Antarctic seals have a catastrophic moult
• Ross seal – blubber for insulation, very rarely seen
• Weddell seal – lazy – nicknamed the “Antarctic Blubber Slug” – smiley-faced, no neck, nostrils block salt water from entering lungs (relaxed position is closed) spotted, teeth are sharp, breathing holes in ice, no land-based predators, Weddell seal can hold his breath for 180 minutes – counter-current heat exchange (venous blood is warmed as it goes back to the core and arterial blood is cooled via capillaries), feed on fish and squid, most efficient at digesting fat, live up to 40 years, Weddells take their babies hunting, breed in water, give birth on land
• Leopard seal – similar to Weddells, but bigger mouth, sleeker head, obvious neck, spotted, curious, long flippers, waist, hips, shoulders, single-pup births,
• Crabeater seal – golden body, longer nose, independent breeder, social animals, scarring (mostly caused by male-to-male combat), males turn silvery with age, do not eat crabs, eat krill
• Researching marine animals is difficult, cannot anesthetize until secured because of inability to breathe, not easy to count (10-70 million), attached satellite transmitters moult off in 12 months
• Only predator is orca whale
• Strong muscles
• Not sure about global warning
• Hearing and eyesight are the primary sense for hunting, at one meter distance, whiskers take over

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.7.09 (sorry about the formatting - I typed this in Word)

The Drake Passage – Day 1

The ship was rolling pretty strongly during the night. At one point, there was a series of little crashes, as everything that wasn’t battened down flew across the room. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I mistimed it and got up when the ship was rolling towards the bathroom, so I hurtled right past it and hit the cabin door. Luckily, I didn’t wake my roommate.

After breakfast, we had two mandatory lectures. The first was on the Antarctica Treaty1 and the second was about zodiac safety2. In the hour before lunch, I did some bird watching, took some pictures (I tried to take pictures that showed the rocking of the ship) and took a nap.

At lunch, I had a salad from the salad bar, wild rice soup, chef salad and pound cake drizzled with dulce de leche and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. During the announcements, we were told that the photo class was starting at 1:45 and would last until 3. The next announcement was that the gift shop would be opening at 2 for an hour. There were lectures at 3 and 5, as well, so I was going to miss the shopping hour and I’d already found several items in the catalog that I wanted to buy. The photo class3 was over twice as large as we’d been told (“limited to 10”) and a lot of time was spent on individual instruction for people who didn’t know how their cameras worked. It took 20 minutes just to get through ISO, so, when the instructor, Ellen, started helping people figure out their flashes, I ran across the ship to the gift shop and picked up the fleece I’d noticed in the catalog.

Ellen was still working on flash, so I didn’t miss anything. I’m more than a little disappointed about how the class started. There are too many people (especially since I only signed up because it was going to be a 10-person class) and we covered only ¼ of the material she’d expected to teach in a 2-hour session. We’re also going to have to fight over who gets to sit in her zodiac during the excursions.

The 3pm lecture was about the birds of Antarctica4 and then we got fresh, hot peanut-butter cookies at Afternoon Tea. The 5 pm lecture was about Shackleton’s 1914 expedition, but I didn’t learn anything that I hadn’t already known. More bird-watching until Happy Hour, but, by the time I got there, the lounge and bar were full, so I did some prep work on my running shoes (we had to clean them thoroughly before stepping foot on Antarctica) and rested in my room.

Dinner started with salad bar and pumpkin soup, which was pretty good. I had the pork entrée and dessert was a total disappointment – rhubarb tart. The ship was really rocking and rolling and the portholes were getting splashed. I tried to get pictures and vide, but wasn’t very successful. Ellen saw me taking pictures and asked me what I thought of the class. So I told her. She asked me to sit down and tried to show me my camera’s settings in more detail, but the battery died at that moment (3rd time in 3 days!), so she showed me on my old Casio. Not that it did much good. After dinner I was going to hang out in the lounge, but it was really crowded and noisy, so, after a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit questions, I went to bed.

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615663206027/

1 IAATO Presentation (Mandatory)
• Ioffe is Russian
• IAATO – International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators
• IAATO guidelines were adopted by the UN as the Antarctic Treaty
• Keep Antarctica pristine
• Antarctica is the largest wilderness on earth
• Do not drop or litter anything overboard
• Stow belongings securely to avoid being blown away
• Avoid freshwater lakes and streams to avoid polluting
• Avoid introducing new organisms to Antarctica
• Inspect and clean clothing and equipment before going ashore
• No food ashore
• Take photos, but nothing else
• Leave no evidence of visit (graffiti, etc.)
• Protect Antarctic wildlife
• All species are protected
• Antarctica wildlife shows no fear of people
• Do not disturb wildlife at sea
• Animals have right of way
• Do not feed, touch or handle wildlife
• Stay a minimum of 5 meters (15 feet) from Antarctic wildlife
• Avoid slopes, which may contain burrowed nests
• Avoid rookeries
• Birds will attack if you get too close
• The moulting period is dangerous for the birds; they are stressed
• Seals can be dangerous; show strong front
• Avoid walking on plants
• Protected areas
• Do not remove or damage historical remnants
• No smoking
• Do not enter buildings unless invited
• Respect scientific research
• Emergency refuges are only for emergencies
• Safety – severe and changeable weather
• Dress properly – water- and windproof clothing
• Glaciers and icefields can be crevassed and dangerous
• Hands-free when getting in and out of zodiacs
• Terrain is slippery and uneven
• Be sure to stop and reflect
• Buddy system – stay in sight of the group
• Heed advice of leaders
• We are ambassadors to the last great wilderness

2 Zodiac Safety Presentation

• 7 compartments of air, difficult to puncture, a punction in any of the 7 compartments won’t cause it to sink
• 10-12 passengers, max is 15 passengers
• Waterproof clothing is helpful for landings
• Rubber boots only in zodiacs
• Hands-free embarking and disembarking
• Mandatory life-jacket on zodiac, but not on land
• Gangway is most dangerous part of excursions
• Step onto pontoon, then enter zodiac, sit down right away. Stay seated
• Man overboard – all remaining passengers turn to kneel on floor and try to locate the person
• Zodiac driver is captain and must be obeyed
• Limit drinking and eating prior to going ashore (no port-a-potties on shore)
• No intoxicated person is allowed in the zodiac
• Horn blasts from ship signal time to depart
• Landings last about 3 hours and occur twice a day
• Someone will be at the zodiac, if we want to leave early, need the bathroom, forgot something
• Boots – choose now and place in a particular place in the mud room – no boots in rooms
• Line for zodiacs is along starboard decks on the 3rd floor
• Bring Yak Trax in case you want to walk on ice

3 Camera Class 1

• Basic camera functions
• People are vertical
• Always fill frame
• ISO – light sensitivity of the camera – ASA is same – higher ISO number for darker scenes, lower for lighter
• Flash
• White balance – for photos in bright light
• Camera settings – turn digital zoom off
• Composition – penguin on iceberg, focus on penguin, press button halfway, recomposes photo and complete the shutter
• Macro

4 Birds of the Southern Ocean

• enclosed nostrils on bill, poor eyesight, good sense of smell
• weigh 20g to 10kg, oceanic, single/double tube, surface feeders
• monogamous, late sexual maturity, single egg each season, shared parenting
• chicks are semi-precocial (already prepared to survive at hatching)
• long incubation and brooding, rich stomach oil
• projectile vomiting to protect themselves and nests, live in colonies of 100-10,000 birds
• natal philopatry – adult birds return to their birthplace to breed
• navigation – birds migrate to places with a lot of food, built-in salt factory

• 21 species – 19 threatened – 4 seriously endangered
• can live 50-60 years
• scavenge food from surface
• two tubes
• can circumnavigate the globe without landing – can glide for days
• one was tracked at 30,000 km in 9 days without setting down
• dynamic soaring – on lower wind currents
• slope soaring – upwind, low soaring
• rarely flap wings – not designed for flapping
• wingspan of the Wandering Albatross is 3 1/2m - the longest of any bird
• energy efficient – peach spot behing eye, get whiter with age, 28,000 pairs worldwide
• elaborate breeding rituals
• longest incubation – care for chicks for over a year, breed in alternate years
• Black-browed Albatross – 2.4m wingspan
• Gray-headed Albatross – gray head and orange-banded bill
• Light-mantled Sooty Albatross (Michael’s favorite) – 2.1m wing span

Petrils and Prions
• diverse group, scavengers and predators, less graceful than albatross – 2.1m wingspan
• Northern Giant Petril – tip of bill is pinkish
• Southern Fulmar – 1.2m wingspan, bull-necked, silvery gray top
• White-chinned petrels – 1.5m wingspan, brownish-black plumage, yellow bill, wings flap
• Cape Petrel – 90cm wingspan, distinctive checkerboard plumage
• Snow petrel – at Peninsula, pure white, 85 cm wingspan, not gliders, Furious Fifties
• Antarctic Prion – wingspan contains a broad dark M (like McDonald’s), black spot on tail
• Blue Petrel – similar M marking – white tail
• Wilson’s Storm Petrel – sooty with white butt, can walk on water, 42cm wingspan
• Terns – Antarctic tern, black cap, red bill
• Skuas – large and gull-like, females larger than males, pale color, scavengers, predators, kleptoparasitism (steal food from other birds)
• Kelp gull – white body, yellow bill w/red spot, black wings
• Snow Sheathbill – pigeon-like, no webs on feet, rarely fly, scavengers, kleptoparasites
• Antarctic Shag (cormorant) – black-head, blue eyes, orange bulb on bill, can dive to 100m, wettable plumage

Friday, March 27, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.6.09

BA to Ushuaia to Embarkation on the Akademik Ioffe

Another early morning. Heather had to have her bags downstairs by 5, but I just wished her a good trip and went back to sleep until my 6 am wake-up call. I showered, dressed and went to breakfast, taking care of last-minute errands on the way. The bus to the airport left at 8 and check-in went smoothly. My money turned up, too. I had put it in my passport for safekeeping and when I handed my passport to the agent, she handed the money back. We’d been warned that one of the earlier busloads had had to pay for overweight bags, but I wasn’t charged, even though my duffle weighed 20.2 kilos. For some reason, we weren’t allowed through security until it was time to board, so, of course, we left and arrived late.

I was really irritated because I was only going to have an hour in Ushuaia (Thom said it would be two, but he hadn’t factored in the time change), and I wanted as much time as I could get (I already knew that I was on the first plane out on the way back and would have no other opportunity to spend time here)! As soon as they let us go, I hurried to the first shop I saw and bought, wrote and sent postcards. I also bought some empanadas, which were delicious! I took some pictures and went back to the bus (in order to board the ship, we had to be driven onto the pier and unloaded at the gangway), where we were kept waiting until we were cleared to enter the dock and board our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, handing over our passports as we crossed the threshold.

When I got upstairs, my roommate, Kathy, was already unpacking. We had been told to bring collapsible duffles that could be emptied and then stowed under the bunks, but the bunks had drawers underneath, so the brand-new duffle, bought especially for this trip, had to be stowed under the chair. I didn’t bother unpacking the top of it; I used it as my dresser drawer. Kathy stowed hers across the counter and the top of the chair. As soon as I’d stowed my gear, I headed off to explore the ship. There was a reception at about 6, with appetizers, cookies and drinks. During the reception, we learned the lifeboat drill, which came in handy. After the reception, I went up onto the top deck and was there when the alarm sounded (7 short blasts and 1 long). I hurried to my room, put on my warmest clothes and coat, and went out to the lifeboat, carrying my life-jacket (you don’t put the life-jacket on until you’re on deck). We’re competitive runners, so, of course, we all cheered when Rupert, our expedition leader, told us we’d mustered in the fastest time this season, and, possibly, ever for this ship – 109 passengers hit the deck in their winter gear and life vests in under 10 minutes!

After the drill, we gathered on deck to watch the cast-off and see Ushuaia disappear into the distance, then moved forward to watch the Beagle Channel disappear beneath us.

Dinner was served at 7. I sat with Heather, Cathy, Susan and Lisa. We were served wild rice soup along with the salad bar and, for my main course, I ordered the steak with no mushroom gravy. I also substituted a cheese plate for the mandarin orange tart. As we ate, we passed the southernmost settlement (on the coast of Chile) and after we finished, I went back up on deck to watch the channel and the straits. I’ll be asleep when we pass Cape Horn, unfortunately.

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615741104714/

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.5.09

Bean to Bar Chocolate in Buenos Aires!

I stayed up late again and couldn’t get up for my run. My legs are tired and stiff, anyway, so, hopefully, the rest will do some good.

I ate a little more at breakfast today. When I saw Heather come in, I went upstairs to brush my teeth and picked her up on my way back out. We walked across the plaza to General San Martin’s memorial to where the Buddy Bears were set up and walked thorugh them on our way to Recoleto Cemetery. Daniel had suggested we walk up via Quintana and back via Alvear, so we took that route. It was very Upper East Side. At the cemetery, we admired another of the Ombu trees and the cemetery entrance before buying a map and going in. We followed the route in the map as far as the Peron site. Recoleta is an old European-style cemetery with mausoleums, some of which are haunting, like the statue of a young girl at a doorway and the statue of a young girl and her dog. There was quite a lot of stained glass, most interesting because the picture is on the inside of the mausoleum. Presumably, the visiting families enjoy the view, since the occupants certainly can’t.

After admiring the plaques commemorating Evita, I had to head back and Heather decided to go back as well, so we walked down to Alvear (more UES) until we hit Arroyo, where I detoured us to visit the Israeli Embassy Plaza, which is a memorial to the 29 victims of the 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy. The memorial is stunning. The wall of the building beside the embassy site holds an imprint of the building that was there and there’s an avenue of trees (either 21 or 29). A little farther along, we passed Plaza Cataluña. The old-fashioned fountain caught our attention and the plaque indicated that it’s a replica of a fountain in Barcelona. As we turned to leave, Heather noted that the building edging the Plaza had trompe l’oiel windows. We got back to the hotel with enough time for me to grab a snack, brush my teeth and repack my bag.

Daniel got there a little after 1 and came bearing empanadas from Tatu, his favorite empanada restaurant. We drove out to Chocolates Fenix (the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in BA, if not in all of Argentina) and had lunch with Rodrigo Salgado, whose family started the factory nearly 100 years ago. The factory is on the street level and the Salgados live above it in a beautiful, Spanish-style home. We ate lunch on the terrace and it felt like home to me. There was even a poster from the Seville bullring where we used to see bullfights when I was a little girl. Lunch was followed by another nostalgic moment, when we met their yellow lab, Captain Hook, on the way up to the rooftop greenhouse to see the cocoa trees. There were in flower, but no pods. Two appeared last year, but didn’t last long.

The real treat came next – a top-to-bottom tour of the chocolate factory, which was in full production, with the exception of the roaster, which had been shut down so they’d cool by nighttime. I saw the roasting ovens and buckets of fresh-roasted beans. The winnower was going with nibs and hulls going to separate sides of the machine. The nibs drop down a chute into the melanger. I happened to be there right as the cocoa butter press was activated, so I got to see the cocoa butter being separated. There were piles of cocoa mass in various sections of the factory, waiting to be ground into powder or blended with sugar for chocolate production. The temperer was active, too, so I got to see the bars (large commercial blocks, really) being poured, too. Then we returned to the office and talked chocolate and food until it was time to leave. Rodrigo very generously gave me bars of chocolate to take home to my tasting group and I can’t wait to share them.

Daniel wanted to train that night, but graciously agreed to stop at his shop on the way back to the hotel. I bought some truffles (with some argument, because he wanted to give me everything, but he’d been so generous already that I insisted) and then we drove back.

I scrambled around, buying postcards, doing a quick (15-minute) e-mail check, grabbing food to eat in my room and then wrote out my postcards, to make sure I got them out before I left. I completely emptied all of my bags and repacked, with Antarctica in mind this time. I was a bit concerned about going over weight (we were going to be on a domestic flight with tighter weight restrictions) especially with all the chocolate I’d been given. I also couldn’t find my monty. I’d separated my dollars, so I wasn’t carrying all of my cash around (especially after all of the warnings about pickpockets) but it wasn’t anywhere I thought it would be. Instead of going to bed early, I ended up staying up late yet again, this time, lying down, then jumping up to check more places to see if it would turn up. No luck. I was still up when Heather got back from the tango show and she helped me look a bit. All she found was a wrapped box under her bed. We’d already had issues with the hotel and this was the last straw. We’re both going to file complaints. The issues included late housekeeping (the room was never made up before 3), dampness (no mold, but everything was damp, including the things we brought in), ineffective housekeeping (on the last day, the housekeeper had left a bag of trash on Heather’s bed) and, now, we’d found the present under the bed, which means vacuuming was spotty at best. At a $300/night Marriott, our room should have been spotless and thoroughly cleaned by the time we returned from our morning excursions.

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615735833766/

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.4.09

Buenos Aires and the Antarctica Marathon Reception!

After talking late into the night (Heather made the innocent mistake of asking me about chocolate), it was a shock when the alarm went off. We reset it for another half hour of sleep, then I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for the day. Breakfast was a buffet in the hotel with tables for 8 scattered around the room. Inevitably, the conversation centered on marathons – when, where, how bad, how good, etc.

The city tour started at 9:30, but it was pouring rain, so we only got out of the bus at two stops: the Metropolitan Cathedral and Caminito Street in La Boca, where the tango dancers danced and took pictures with us for donations. The guide was good, though, and told us some interesting tidbits about BA and its people.*

Back at the hotel, I cashed in the free gift coupon the guide gave us to use at H. Stern for a nice silver pendant and learned about the Inca Rose (rodocrosita), the national stone of Argentina. The clerk told me that the stone is only found in Argentina, but my own research doesn’t bear that out.

I called Daniel and we arranged to meet at 3, so I went to a local café for lunch on the recommendation of a fellow marathoner and ordered the lomo, which is, supposedly, a specialty cut in BA. The food came and I realized that I hadn’t told the waiter that I wanted it well-done. I was afraid to send it back, though, so I asked for some lemon. The fries were delicious and Spanish-style and I doused them with lemon, too. After lunch, I wandered around Plaza San Martin and took pictures of the Buddy Bear exhibit, General San Martin’s monument and the amazing ombu tree in the center of the park.

Daniel picked me up at 3 and we retraced part of the morning’s tour, giving me a chance to see it without the rain and also giving more information about various points of interest that hadn’t been mentioned on the tour. We also stopped at a couple of chocolate shops. Vasalissa was a beautiful shop, but the truffle we had was old. El Viejo Oso wasn’t as impressive to look at, but the chocolates were much better, although the alcohol truffles were very strong. We stopped for ice-cream (for me) at a Freddo shop, too. It was very good, but the dulce de leche was a bit much after a couple of bites.

On the way back to the hotel, Daniel stopped at the Barbie store for me, but they didn’t have anything that said Buenos Aires, so I just took pictures. By then, I was late for the marathon reception, so we hurried back, with plans for me to meet him at 1 the next day.

At the hotel, the reception was in full swing, so I went in and picked up my bib. I talked to some people here and there as I made my way over to the race memorabilia table, where I succumbed and bought a t-shirt and 2 patches (1 for me and 1 for ShakeAway). I went back up to the room to drop off my stuff and when I got back, the dining room doors had been opened. Heather had saved a seat for me and we all traded names and info. Lisa started a round of “what was your scariest moment” (mine was the moment I was talking on the phone in college and saw that my doorknob was slowly turning back and forth as some man tried to get in) which was an interesting conversation starter. Dinner started with chicken Caesar salad (real anchovies in the dressing) and the main course was salmon with some sort of mashed vegetables. As dessert was being served, Thom gave his presentation, explaining all of the difficulties he’d encountered setting up this year’s race, breaking down the race day logistics and a slide show of photos from previous year’s races (including a trilogy which culminated in a seal eating a penguin). Dessert was a passable chocolate cake, but they hadn’t heated it so the ganache filling was solid, rather than liquid. I left the raspberry ice-cream melting on the plate.

Chocolates were served with the coffee and tea and I was able to correctly identify them as El Viejo Oso chocolates from my earlier visit to their store. After the banquet, Heather and I stayed up late again, talking until 1 am. Heather was planning to go for a run outside, but I wanted so skip the heat and humidity and run on the treadmill, so we made plans to meet at breakfast after her run.

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615705164660/

*My notes from the tour:
• The British Tower was renamed Torre Monumental after the Falkland Islands War. The Falkland Islands War Memorial was installed directly opposite the Tower.

• Retiro Station – more people travel by bus than by train to save time, e.g., the 19-hour bus trip to Iguasu Falls takes 40 hours by train

• Floralis Generica – a huge flower sculpture that opens in the morning and closes at dusk

• Eva Peron’s remains were moved 3 times – there was an offer to move her a fourth time, but the Duarte family declined

• Very green – lots of parks, sculptures and monuments

• In the late 19th century, there was a yellow fever epidemic – 500 people died each day. The rich moved to summer houses in the north

• Café Tortoni – oldest in the city

• La Bombonera – soccer stadium

• La Boca - founded by immigrants, colorful houses, Caminito Street, tango

• Tram - US$50,000,000 – 15 blocks, no connections, always empty – we counted the people in the one that went past us and there were only 5, including 2 crew members

• Puerto Madero – used to be the main port of the city, but is now full of nice restaurants and places to shop

Monday, March 23, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.1-3.09

The Preamble

On Sunday, March 1st, I received an automated phone call from American, telling me that my direct flight on Monday had been cancelled and that I was booked on a connecting flight on Tuesday instead. In a panic, I called American and spoke to one agent who told me that the Monday flight to BA from Miami was full and that she couldn’t guarantee a seat for me, but that she could get me on a flight to Miami. I insisted on speaking with a supervisor and I’d either misunderstood or the first agent hadn’t been clear. I had a seat, but no assignment. I lost about an hour of my last minute packing time and ended up staying up until about 12:30 trying to get everything done. I absolutely did not pack everything I needed and absolutely did pack things I did not need!

On My Way

Freak-out day – everything was delayed, moving slowly, bugging me. Up at 5, got my cat ready for my absence, threw some last minute items in the bags (though not all that I’d meant to bring) and went to work. B&H opened at 9, so I hit the post office at 9, then B&H. When my sock dampened, then got soaked through, I realized that my right shoe had a hole straight through to my foot and I added buying a new pair of shoes to my morning errands ($10 at K-Mart). I guess the heavy snow that had cancelled my flight did me some good, after all. I couldn’t get out of work on time, because of problems with voice-mail, but my boss agreed to fix it for me so I could leave. The LIRR train stopped outside of Jamaica for over 10 minutes. The AirTrain waited at Jamiaca for over 10 minutes. The priority line at the airport was held up by stupid passengers, including someone paying cash for a first class ticket, who found out that he didn’t have enough, so he ran off to get some more money. The agent just waited, while we stood there seething.

I got through security with just enough time to get to my gate after general boarding had been called, but, luckily, American has priority boarding, so I was settled in my seat pretty quickly. For no reason. We were delayed waiting for baggage to be loaded (why wait until after departure time to start loading the luggage?) and for 10 passengers to connect from a Milan flight. I asked if my connecting flight would be held for me and was told there was no guarantee. When we were finally ready to take off, we were held again for deicing (not that I minded that delay, but it wouldn’t have been necessary if we’d taken off on time).

Once in the air, we learned that there was no in-flight entertainment. So, not only was I stuck on a connecting flight, but I wasn’t going to get the food and movies that I would have had on my original flight. Grrr About an hour out of Miami, the flight attendant I’d spoken with earlier came by to tell me he’d checked on my flight and it wasn’t until 8:30 and I’d definitely make it. (In my journal, I wrote that I was going to send a commendation to American for him. I did.)

We got to Miami late and then got stuck on the tarmac waiting for a plane to get out of the way. I had a pass for the Admiral’s Club, so I hurried through the very long concourses. I was able to send an e-mail to my friend, Daniel, to tell him not to pick me up at the airport. I filled a water bottle with lemon water and got 2 bottles of water with my drink vouchers, so I was set for the hotel in BA. I hurried to the plane and got settled again. My seatmate guessed that I was 22, which made my day! Unfortunately for him, he was on my flight and, carrying through with the theme for my day, the first mate found a problem and the mechanics had to be called out, delaying the flight for over half an hour for a 5-minute repair.

I Have Arrived!

I slept okay on the plane. Lots of tossing and turning, but no insomnia. Over breakfast, my seatmate gave me tips about where to go and not to go in BA. After clearing passport control and collecting my bag, I found the Marathon Tours group and boarded the bus to town. Thom Gilligan, the tour company owner and founder of the Antarctica Marathon, greeted us with a tale of taxi-cab counterfeit-pesos-for-change-of-American-dollars scams and then Laura, the local guide, talked about various other pickpocket and taxi scams. Not an encouraging welcome to BA, especially because it concluded with the news that we would not be checking in immediately, but would have to leave our bags at the hotel and amuse ourselves until 3 pm when our rooms would be ready. I had been looking forward to a nice, hot shower and getting out of my NY-appropriate sweater. It’s over 60 degrees warmer here.

The drive into town was interesting. We moved through suburbs, then tall Soviet-like apartment buildings. As we got closer to the center of town, little gems started appearing among the gray blocks - beautiful mansions with gorgeous architectural details – worn and not particularly well-cared for. Even closer to the center, the ratio inverted and the ugly block buildings gradually disappeared and were replaced by big modern buildings. Big is a relative term, here. Most of the buildings are less than 20 stories tall.

When I checked in, I was happy to learn that my room was ready and that Heather, with whom I’d been communicating on Facebook about the race, was my roommate. There was also a lovely bag of chocolates from Daniel and a SIM card, which, unfortunately, I couldn’t use because my phone isn’t unlocked. After showering and getting settled in the room, I wandered out for a walk. I found a little shop with sandwiches and headed back to the hotel to eat. I called Daniel from a pay phone and he told me he’d pick me up in half an hour. Heather was in the room so we chatted while I ate.

Daniel was right on time and he took me on a driving tour of BA, highlighting areas where he’d trained to run Cruce de los Andes (100km trail run across the Andes). On our way back into town, we passed the big polo field and there was a free match on, so we stopped and watched for a bit. Daniel even asked for a polo ball for me. After the match, we headed to his shop, where he gave me an extensive tour of his laboratorie and I was able to taste lots of ingredients and chocolate. He showed me the pictures from his Andes ultra and then it was time to head back for the afternoon training run.

I scrambled to get ready and was able to catch up to the group for the 6 pm training run. It was really hot and humid. We ran from the hotel to the park (which I found out later was an ecological reserve), then plotted a course through the park. I ended up running with different groups of people as I warmed up and got up to speed. It was very hot and humid. We ended up missing a turn, exiting the park before we were supposed to, and had to run back along the streets, including Puerto Madero, the old port of BA, for awhile. We passed Luna Park, where a long line of (mostly) giggly teenage girls waited to the Back Street Boys. When we got to Florida Street, a pedestrian road leading back to our hotel, it was too crowded, so we had to stop and walk. Heather and I had dinner together at a local café.

Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157615607243337/

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Coogan's Salsa, Blues and Shamrock 5k 3.1.09

Hi all,

Race number 6 (5th 2010 marathon-qualifying race) was Coogan’s Salsa, Blues and Shamrock 5k. The course was changed this year (ostensibly for safety), so we ran from 173rd Street up to Fort Tryon Park, looped the Park (instead of turning around for the out-and-back), then ran back to 173rd Street.

Goals: to run between water stations and to finish in under 28 minutes, with every mile run in under 9 minutes.

I had planned originally to run down to the race and run home afterwards, but it was too cold and I didn’t feel like wearing a backpack all the way down. So, I took the train, wandered around trying to find baggage and ended up walking 5 blocks out of my way, which meant I had to walk 5 blocks back. I had already decided that I should just run this, rather than race it, because of my speed workout on Thursday. Just a half mile in, I knew I’d made the right decision, because my legs felt really tired. I had been skeptical about the new race course, but it turned out to be a really nice addition. If I’d been paying attention, I could have seen my apartment as we ran around the Cloisters! We had a much longer view of the Palisades and a lovely shot of the George Washington Bridge as we came back around to head back out of the park. It was hillier, because of the loop, but I’m looking forward to trying again next year.

After the race, I went to Coogan’s, for the first time (this is my 5th or 6th time running this race). It was very crowded, but I got in fairly quickly and was amazed! Coogan’s puts on a really nice post-race spread, including shepherd’s pie, scrambled eggs, pastrami sandwiches with cole slaw and pickles on the side, and an assortment of mini breakfast pastries. There were also trays of Guinness beers going around, along with juice and soda and coffee. And it was free! I talked to one of the waitresses and thanked her and was embarrassed when she told me that I was the only one who had thanked her. There were hundreds of runners in there and I hope most of them were thanking Coogan’s staff for a great post-race event.

Official stats: my official time was 27:54, for an average pace of 9:00. My splits were 9:04, 8:59, 9:02 and :53 for the final tenth of a mile. I was 2516 out of 4696 total runners, putting me in the 46th percentile. It was 30°F with 74% humidity 10 mph winds.

Consolation treats: a chocolate brownie made from Columbian chocolate (made by a friend) and a Porcelana chocolate tasting in the afternoon.

Next up: The Colon Cancer Challenge has already filled up, so I’m out of that one and the next NYRR race that I have scheduled is the Wall Street Run 5k in May, but I’m sure I’ll sign up for others in the meantime.

Race pictures are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157614542219607/.

If you’re interested, here are pictures from a Walker’s Crisps tasting: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157614617333360/.

Here are pictures from the chocolate tasting, but I haven’t had time to edit them yet, so there’s a bunch of junk in there, along with the regular pictures.: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157614648747710/.