Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween!

Ok wow where has time gone. Actually I know exactly where it’s gone....... flown by! So, I had 3 days at home after Hawaii. I got home at 2.30 in the morning on the Tuesday to be greeted by the news that my car had leaked petrol everywhere, and shouldn’t be driven. Then I realised that both the tax and the MOT were due to expire that week, just as I was leaving the country to go back to Bermuda. Fortunately there is a garage just at the end of my road, so I was able to dump the car with them, and get on with sorting everything out for Bermuda. Made all the more difficult by the fact that my room is currently rented out to someone for a month, as I’m away such a lot. But, all of my stuff is still there, and this person I swear has brought ALL their stuff and put it in my room. I swear she has more stuff than me!! So that was a little bit stressful trying to get everything ready in time. Oh, and just the small matter of me doing my upgrade presentation, and upgrade meeting to get out of the way before I went to Bermuda. But, that all went fine thankfully, so I am now officially a proper registered DPhil student rather than an MPhil. Whoop! Carefully planned to arrive in BDA in time for BIOS international sports day (UK & Commonwealth against US and rest of the world).

So back off to Bermuda, this time for a month’s teaching contract. I’m co-teaching a course on Introduction to Biological Oceanography, to 9 foreign postgrad students. None of them have English as a first language...... they come from Turkey, Cote D’Ivoire, India, Iran, Ecuador, Venezuela, Russia, Vietnam and Brazil, with varying levels of interest, knowledge and English abilities! Trying to get them to do a lot of hands-on practical work too as that's part of the objective of the Nippon Foundation POGO course.....

Basically to cut a long story short, it has been an extremely stressful experience, and I am so so glad that Sarah was co-teaching with me, otherwise I would have drowned in stress and probably not slept for 3 weeks. The first two weeks we were averaging around 16-18 hour days.... eurgh. But, it’s all over now, save for some (quite a lot of) marking, and their feedback. I know it's been a great experience for me, and I'm sure that if I was to teach the same module again next year it would be infinitely easier, given that we've actually written lecture material, summary tests, problem sets etc. already. But no, not again.

Took a very brief trip home for the weekend after the first 3 weeks in Bermuda (first week was prep, then two weeks of teaching) for one of my friends’ wedding. They sent out the date ages ago, before I agreed to do this, and I desperately wanted to go. What with buying the flight home etc it means I pretty much just broke even with the teaching, but I can cope with that. I desperately needed a break from being on station and around work all the time. Had a wonderful weekend, the wedding in Cheltenham was lovely, and it was so nice to see Adam and Anna so happy :) Then a drive back to Gatwick from Cheltenham the next morning (via a quick detour around Cheltenham to find a MacDonald’s breakfast!) and back on the plane to BDA! Non-stop lifestyle.

Finished off the week with the annual BIOS underwater pumpkin carving contest for certified divers on station. One pumpkin per buddy team, no cuts allowed until you were in the water with your pumpkin. They are amazingly buoyant, and we had to cut into ours at the surface to let the air out before we could sink with it. Even then we had to put dive weights in him to make sure he didn’t float away! The current was very strong and the visibility was pretty poor, as we were diving straight off the dock into Ferry Reach. We were supposed to be taking the boat round to Whalebone bay to dive, but thanks to Tropical Storm Shary coming through, that idea was abandoned!

In the end we (myself and Becky) won scariest pumpkin, for our anglerfish :) we did have a coat hanger to attach the lure (an orange with a face carved in it) onto the top of the fish (pumpkin) but somehow we lost it in the struggle to get the pumpkin down onto the seabed. Hilarious.

Then, dressing up for the Halloween party at the wind. I went as a pumpkin. So orange!!! Am still finding orange in my ears and elbows and fingers etc, even after 3 showers!!! It was a genuinely hilarious evening, and a brilliant way to end a very stressful few weeks. The best bit was that a lot of people didn't recognise me for a while (mainly till I opened my mouth and started talking!!)

After the weekend I have until Wednesday to chill out (mostly do some marking), and maybe meet with people here about my own research, and then I am finally flying back home. Hoorah!!!! I am so excited, because apart from very flying visits in-between my crazy schedule, I feel like I haven’t really been home since the beginning of September, and even then I was only home for 3 weeks. Cannot wait for English winter (I know I won’t be saying this in a week or two, but for now, I’m looking forward to it!!) and proper roast dinners, and having the fire and heating on. Yes!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Hello Hawaii

Why did I not notice on my flight itinerary that my flight from London to LA was going to be TEN AND A HALF HOURS LONG! Seriously did not know this before I got on the plane and they announced flying time. Not happy. Already got up at 5.30, and been travelling since 6am. Time for a coffee and buy a book before getting on the plane. Needless to say, I read the entire book on the flight, and still had a few hours at the end in which to try and entertain myself. Eventually I found Sudoku on the “in-flight games” section on the little entertainment screens. That kept me amused for a while. Didn’t have long in LA, just an hour and a half or so, during which time I managed to spill a Starbucks frappucino all over myself (and the hallway floor in the airport). Error. LA to Honolulu was another 5 and a half hour flight, and then a shuttle bus to the hotel. By this time it was about 9pm Hawaii time, or 10am the next day UK time, and hadn’t really slept at all. Kept falling asleep on the shuttle bus and was fairly worried I was going to miss my stop, until I realised that our hotel was at the “end of the line” for the shuttle bus. 27 hours of travelling in total.

Bus pickup at 8am the next day for the first day of the conference – 4 cups of coffee consumed by 10.30am. Actually a very useful conference/workshop as it turns out which was good. Conference dinner on the first night, at which I fell asleep at the table. Not cool. Extremely jetlagged. Went out for sushi the next night, I had garlic Ahi yum yum yum. Conference finished on the Thursday, with enough time for me to do a 50minute run before dinnertime. Walked down into Waikiki to get a coffee and then back to the hotel to do some work for my upgrade presentation when I got back to the UK.

Managed to wangle a few days extra, so had Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning as holiday time. Spent Friday morning working, and then went to the Honolulu Zoo :) and whilst I was there of course I took tonnes of photos. It’s actually quite a good zoo, the only thing I didn’t like was the smallness of the tiger enclosure. Big cats should have big enclosures so they can run around and stretch their legs. (Oh, and shave-ice is the best thing ever - shaved ice, with syrup on it..... mmmmmmmm)

After that I spent an hour or so on the beach outside the hotel, went for a swim a few times, and generally just chilled out. Little bit more work after that, and then out for dinner with a friend in Hawaii. Unfortunately was so tired that I was very antisocial and didn’t really make the most of the night! Another friend was staying too, so in the morning we caught a cab back into Waikiki and did the Diamond Head crater hike. Awesome views from the top, although it was already getting pretty busy when we were there.

Afternoon was a trip to the North shore with our friend John and his lovely lady friend Abby for them to do some surfing, and for Sarah and I to soak up some sun :) then to a party in Waimea Bay once John had dropped Sarah at the airport, just the most amazing sunset I think I’ve ever seen, and such a perfect place – pool, hammock between trees, pagoda-type thingy with a bench under it, and waves rolling in past the rocks into the bay.

Sunday morning we mainly spent plebbing around the house, did a bit more work, then went out to a sushi bar for some lunch, before they took me to the airport. Then began the long haul home, 8 and a half hour flight to Chicago, 3 hours in Chicago O’Hare airport, and then a 7 and a half hour flight back to Heathrow, a two hour wait for my National Express coach, and then a 80minute coach journey back to Southampton. Greeted by the news (at 2.30am) that my car was leaking petrol everywhere, and I needed to catch a taxi home from the bus station instead of being collected. I have never been so pleased to crawl into my own bed.

Mountain Madness and Marrakech Mayhem

So once I got back from racing in Amsterdam, I had 4 days at work before the August bank holiday weekend (gotta love three-day weekends!) in which to prepare a talk for a conference. Went home for the bank holiday weekend, saw the fam, and went to a friend’s house for dinner and drinks. Faded pretty quickly so called in the parentals for a taxi home, and curled up in my own bed. Straight down to Cambridge the next day, for a friend’s 30th, complete with bouncy castle in the garden. Felt really guilt because I was so tired that I snuck off back to my tent at about midnight!! Then the haul back to Southampton on the Monday lunchtime, and then conference Tuesday through Thursday.

Then comes the fun part. Caught the train up to Gatwick on Friday morning, and met up with my friend Steph. We did our undergraduate and masters degrees together, but we haven’t managed to meet up with each other since we graduated over two years ago. Every time she comes to Southampton I seem to be in a different country! Royal Air Maroc flight, all was fine apart from some pretty alarming rattles on take-off, and some HORRIFIC turbulence about 15 minutes before landing. Not a fan. Taxi from the airport into the centre of Marrakech, and then the joy of trying to find our hostel in unmarked streets. Took an afternoon walk around Djeema el-Fna and the souks, and just tried to take in some of the amazing amount of sounds and sights. We landed on the Friday that was Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan, so when we came back out for dinner later, the whole square was packed, total chaotic business everywhere! Met up with my other friend Steff and her friends, as they happened to be in Marrakech at the same time, and were just coming to the end of their holidays. It was actually quite useful because it meant that they’d already had a chance to do some shopping, and could tell us decent prices etc (I’m not a fan of the whole haggling for purchases malarkey, I’m always scared that I’m going to get ripped off).

Walked to the new city the next day with our massive backpacks, in the 38degree heat! We were trying to be respectful, as is suggested in all the guides, so we made sure that we had our shoulders and backs always covered, but there were a huge number of women tourists who obviously didn’t care about that..... Anyway, we finally found the hotel we were staying in to meet our hiking group, and best of all, the hotel had a swimming pool!!!!! Whooot! Instant afternoon by the pool :)

Set off the next day up into the Atlas mountains, with a group of 14 of us, from all over the world which was quite fun. Drove as far as Imlil, and then walked up to Aremd which was where we would be based for the next few days. Had some lunch, and then a few of us went for a gentle potter around before we did a couple of hours walking later in the afternoon to see the nearest village etc.

We stayed in Aremd for 4 nights, and did some fabulous days of walking. The group was a really good, friendly group, we played a lot of cards, insulted each other a lot, and generally had a fab time. Weather was fab, hot and dry during the day (such a nice change to Bermuda!) and then cooling down quite considerably at night which was lovely. We had 2 more nights at the hotel in Marrakech when we came back, and on one of the days we had a proper guide to take us around Marrakech and see some of the sights which was actually really useful. Went to a couple of cool places, some cool areas of the souks, and also to a traditional Berber pharmacy. I bought daddy some Moroccan spices :) yum yum.

Basically spent the next two days walking around Marrakech, shopping, playing cards, trying to talk French (and mostly succeeding!), and then had one last night in a hostel (with a pool!!!) before our flight home. Found a maggot in a date that I was eating and nearly threw up on Steph. Eurgh. Same horrible turbulence about 15 minutes out of the airport, but apart from us leaving an hour and a half late, not too bad. Had to drive back to Southampton from Gatwick as the boy had come to collect me, but actually probably shouldn’t have been driving, considering he’d dislocated his shoulder earlier on in the week........ eventually got back to Southampton at about midnight, unpacked my bags, repacked my bags, sorted my laundry, and set my alarm for 5.30am the following morning so that I could catch my 6am National Express coach to Heathrow, to fly to Hawaii.........

Time to travel

Haven’t been managing very well to keep up with this blog, but at least it’s still running (even if it’s more like a slow shuffle instead). I’ve barely had time to stop and breathe in the last few months, and I get the impression that won’t really stop until mid November when I get back to the UK. For now anyway, I’m going to try and keep more up to date, starting with some of the places I’ve been in the last month or so. I seriously need to plant a small forest soon, my carbon footprint this year is horrific (although I am building up a steady amount of air miles!!!)

So, first stop, Morocco.........