Sunday, August 29, 2010

From Alaska to India

Locals often claim that Kaktovik is the foggiest place on earth. In the little room that serves as an office for the local airline, some witty fellow has scratched "Barter Island" off the map on the wall and replaced it with "Foggy Island". I believe it. For 5 days the coast was gray and totally socked in, with visibility less than a couple hundred meters; not good conditions to land a small plane on a gravel spit runway. So I fretted in the bunkhouse, getting ever more irritable as my window for reaching India on time narrowed (check out the foggy bunkhouse in the picture). The fog finally cleared on Friday, and when I reached Fairbanks, US Airways told me that if I wanted to get back to Virginia without spending $1400, then I would have to wait until Monday.

So no orientation for me. However I did get to spend an extra couple of days with my parents in Virginia. I finally got to New Delhi on Wednesday night, a full 8 days after my originally scheduled arrival time. After a few days engaged in paperwork and a mini-orientation, I jumped on a plane up to Dehra Dun, the capital of Uttarrakhand state. From there a taxi took me up, up, up into a cloud, to the town of Mussourie, a British-Raj era hill station, where I will be studying Hindi at the Landour Language School for the next three months. After 2 days here, I've concluded that Mussourie is perpetually encased in a cloud. Walking through the busy town center, the blare of horns and chatter of honeymooning couples is muffled by the dense fog hanging between the buildings. Occasionally there's an opening in the white bank, and glorious views down the hillsides are visible. Dense trees cover the slopes, and gray languor monkeys and a whole variety of unidentified birds fill the branches. Rhesus macaques sit on walls along the roads, staring balefully at passersby, hoping to spy some food to snatch. I'll upload some photos as soon as I take some! Classes start tomorrow!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Season wrap-up

I'm currently back in Kaktovik, my season of Alaskan field work wrapped up, and waiting for the fog to lift so I can get back to Fairbanks. The daily flight from Kaktovik to Fairbanks has been canceled for the last two days in a row due to poor visibility. I'm really hoping tomorrow will be clearer; as it is I will have only 1.5 days back in Virginia to repack before flying to India! If I get delayed another day, things are going to get ugly...

My last few weeks at the Jago delta camp were great - we had good weather and got lots done. The short arctic summer is drawing to a close, and the sun set for the first time a few days ago. Now we get prolonged and spectacular sunsets each evening around 11pm (look at my last post for a photo).

We've had some adventures with our boat, I've learned a lot about shorebirds and mudflat invertebrates, and on my last day in the field I finally got my greatest wish and saw a polar bear! We were out in the boat surveying the barrier islands just offshore looking for a good place to catch birds when what we thought was a chunk of white driftwood suddenly turned into a bear. We were in the boat at the time, so it wasn't as scary as it would have been had we been wandering around the island on foot! It was a young male, maybe 4-6 years old, and was curious about us, standing up on his hind legs for a better look. We kept a respectful distance to avoid bothering it, but I was able to get some good pictures with my new camera. What an amazing beastie! Now I'm content and can leave the Arctic happy. It would have been a huge disappointment to go without seeing one.

Later that same day, we celebrated the polar bear, someone's birthday, and my departure by jumping in the Arctic ocean. A little chilly, but totally fun!