Thursday, May 12, 2016

If it’s too good to be true…

maybe, for once, it isn’t?!?


Over the past 5 trips to the Galapagos, I’ve come to accept the reality that it is inevitable that something will go wrong (and more likely many things).   Like with weddings, all you can do is hope the problem is not a show stopper.

For instance on our first trip, they refused to let us on the plane with all of our field gear and we had to send it via a cargo plane from Quito, delaying our trip by a week and causing us to start the planning and paperwork from scratch (and cancel our return flights home for an unknown future date, not knowing when our gear would actually arrive).  Fortunately, our bags eventually arrived and we carried on with our “plan B”.   I navigated the language barrier through the pile of paperwork, logistics and quarantine completely naïve to the many subtleties of the process (signatures, stamps, formalities). In retrospect, it is nothing short of a miracle that it all got done.  The wonderful people at the Charles Darwin Research Station were entirely to thank for that.

Our gear in quarantine

Then there was the second trip, when I naively thought that things would go smoothly since I knew the process. HAH.  After the luggage snafu of the first trip (and since we would be drilling coral cores using a hydraulic drill) we sent all of our gear from the states…6 months in advance!! That should be plenty of time, we thought.  Wrong again.  We arrived in the Galapagos without our gear, and once again had to play the waiting game…

And then there was the trip where we didn’t get our permit or transuéntes (which allow us to enter the Galapagos as scientists) in time for our trip.  So we had to leave our passports at the airport…

And that other time when the director of the Galapagos National Park threatened to take away our permit (due to a mistake with the paperwork)…

You get the point—it’s always something.  And usually a show stopper.  Someone here summed it up well recently: “They think that by making things more difficult, they’re being efficient.”

It always felt like you were cruising along jumping the known hurdles, only to find out that they had moved 6 inches from last year, and you trip and fall on your face.


But not this time!  Maybe the 6th time is the charm, but this trip has gone shockingly smoothly.

The trip started out on the wrong foot, when (as per usual) they called us to the back of the airport within minutes of our flight’s departure to check the bags containing our equipment.  The extra large duffels full of electronics, metal rods, and other assorted equipment always draw their attention.  It isn’t clear to me why they ALWAYS wait until the last minute to check, but it never fails.  Once again, we find ourselves sprinting back to the gate behind the gate agent, arriving 5 minutes before our departure…

But our bags were not as fortunate.

Our pile 'O gear

As our bags were being inspected, they had filled the rest of the luggage space with cargo for the islands—including someone’s new, widescreen TV.  By the time our bags arrived, there was no more space, and our bags were left behind.

Then, and only then, they decided our bags were dangerous (after the opportunity to look again).  Fortunately, after a bit of negotiating by our Ecuadorian student volunteer, I signed off on an agreement that there was nothing dangerous in our bags and we were told they’d be on tomorrow’s flight.

A day delay? That’s nothing in this game.  As long as they come tomorrow, as they had nearly all of our gear!  We wouldn’t get very far without them!

The next day we finished our paperwork, met with the director of the GNP (who ALWAYS finds some sort of problem), and did quarantine-- and it all went swimmingly.  There were NO issues.  And he even said I could do my talk in English (thank goodness!).  Those of you who know my fluency in Spanish know how painful that would’ve been for the audience…  I can get by in conversational Spanish, but I certainly can’t give a science talk!!!
Our gear being inspected before quarantine


May be I jinxed it, as I woke up this morning feeling the start of a bad cold.

Hopefully I'm not breaking our new rule of field work: (6) No Zika.

After our gear finishes in quarantine in this morning, we head to Genovesa and Bainbridge on the Pirata to collect our samples from the 2015-2016 El Nino event.  The locals have all given reports of a “weird” El Nino, in which there wasn’t as much rain as expected.  In March, they say that the water temperatures also rapidly cooled, suggesting that the upwelling has recommenced in the region.

I’m anxious to see what we’ll find…

(to be continued)

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number (NSF AGS-1561121). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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