Mon, Sep 19, 2005
We awaken after our first night sleeping on the boat. The boat rocks (and rolls) fairly well, but we had the foresight to get some of them fancy new sea sickness patches. It must be good, because we had to see a doctor to get it.
(Interestingly enough, one of the potential side effects is nausea, which raises the question: if you get sick is it a side effect or because the patch isn't working?)
No traces of sea sickness, although Laura didn't much like being tossed and turned by the boat (she prefers to do her own tossing and turning).
We're pretty much the only ones awake at this hour, so we head to the bar (okay, now that sounds worse than it really is...). The bar is where they keep the hot coffee, and it's there and it's hot, and it's a Canadian approximation of coffee.
"It's not bad coffee, it's not good coffee, it's just--weird," says Laura.
"Unh," says Robert as he quaffs a few pints to get going.
Our cabin on this trip is a traditional "cabin" on a boat—meaning that you need to step out in the hallway to change your mind. It requires a fair degree of coordinated activity for two people to co-exist in this cabin.
"Okay, I'll step into the bathroom, you open the cabinet door and get our your coat, then step backwards. I'll exit the bathroom, close the cabinet door, and move over to the beds. Then you can go into the bathroom, while I get my coat down."
On the 3TAC Mediterranean trip, we had a balcony. Here, we have a port hole, which doesn't open. The shower is a "Navy shower," meaning it turns off after about 30 seconds to keep you from hogging all the hot water.
We are headed out on our first excursion! To, um, pretty much a desolate stretch of territory ("What? No gift shops!?!" exclaims Robert).
The deal is that the big boat ("Explorer") has six Zodiac rubber rafts ("Just like James Bond uses!" exclaims GuessWho). We pile into these 10 at a time, and then the maniac driver revs them up to 8,000 MPH (over 50 liters per decimeter) and you bounce like crazy until you finally hit something.
In our case, we hit what was optimistically referred to as a "beach." (Robert grew up in Hawaii, so if it ain't 200 foot wide, pure white fine sand, it ain't a beach.) In this case, "beach" meant "collection of gravel-size rocks mixed with some sand."
It's called the "Wunderstrand," and is supposed to be described in the Nordic Sagas (the stories the Vikings put together when they got really, really drunk). The whole "Wunderstrand" part comes because when they finally saw something that wasn't totally rocky, desolate sea shore, they exclaimed "What a wunder!"
Of course, it's just a pebbly, desolate sea shore, which is why they didn't set up any Nordic malls (or Viking Sewing Centers) here.
After the pebbly beach, the vegetation turns to a spongy mixture of berries, shore plants, and lichen. Every few hundred yards, there's a bush that dares to grow two foot high, but everywhere else, the vegetation is at ground level.
And they got yer berries: red berries, black berries, crow berries, porcupine berries. In fact, the naturalist says that you can eat any berry you can find here.
Robert has to try them all, of course, because, well you HAVE to. He tries the historically significant red berry and immediately understands why it's made into jams and jellies. "Needs sugar. A LOT of sugar."
The wind is blowing relentlessly, about 20 MPH, and makes us very glad that we have on our long johns and wind-resistant pants.
We walk around and discover that, well, it's ALL desolate, and once you seen one patch of lichen, you've pretty much seen them all. It *is* amazing to see all the berries--like a couple hundred in a square foot (oval centihectare).
Walking is like walking on a very sandy beach--every step you take, you sink into the vegetation, so walking gets tiring pretty quickly.
We head for the beach, hail a Zodiac and get a bumpy wet ride back to the boat, where we are in plenty of time for lunch.
Somehow along the five time zones, four plane trips, a bus ride, and now a boat ride, we've ended up a tad sleep deprived. But, it's nothing that a two-hour nap can't fix.
The ship stopped near another island, but as nearly as we could tell from the lectures, it was a case of "same lichen, different island" so we figured our time would be better invested in sleeping.
Once we wake up, we head to the bar (look, we're not alcholics, it's just they have nice seats and tables where we can work) and order up some drinks (okay, granted, it also serves alcohol, but we'd be just as happy in the lecture room if they served drinks).
Laura breaks out her autoharp and plays for the entertainment of our fellow passengers.
We all assemble in the bar (see, it's not just us!) for the "Captain's Cocktail" before the "Captain's Dinner" (if they end up announcing a "Captains Tuck-in," we're swimming).
We get a recap of the day ("we saw many types of berries and some lichen"). Apparently, the area we're in is called the "sub-arctic" which is a lush tropical rain forest compared to the arctic (which is where the boat had been before we got on). So, the crew is all "Woo Hoo! Lichen!"
We also get to meet (in a general way) the Captain and crew. It turns out that the Captain is Swedish, even though he sounds French. They introduce the Captain, the doctor, and a bunch of other guys all clumped together in the back looking warily at us landlubbers.
After the introductions, one person asks "Well, if all the officers are here, eh?, who's driving the boat?"
The Captain assures us that "Hans" is driving and he's an officer. (Which means, of course, that we are in Good Hans).
The Captain then gets a Hockey jersey which has some Swedish hockey player's name on it, and causes a great deal of hilarity among the mostly Canadian audience. (EVERYbody we've talked to, old/young, male/female, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian hockey teams and a favorite team.)
We sit here like a couple of dumb Americans.
Memorable Quote: "This is quite interesting to those who are interested in this sort of thing."
(Said by the naturalist as he passed around an entire hawk's wing they had found on the beach.)
The cruise has hired an actual local musician (from Labrador) to entertain folks. His name is "Tony" and he sings folk songs and songs of the "socio-economic situation" (he's like the Bruce Springsteen of Labrador).
He somehow found out that Laura plays (possibly because she tends to spend her off time in the bar playing her autoharp) and asks her to do some songs. He even manages to get Robert to play a few pieces on their somewhat tuned piano.
He does know how to sing, though (in case you, like we, were thinking, "So, this guy's musical talent is finding other people to play?"). And, as advertised, most of them have none-too-subtle messages about the economic conditions of Labrador ("Oh, ye corporations / your time will soon be done / Once we've revived the economy / And restored our place in the sun!").
Still, he knows some real songs ("I'm My Own Granpaw") and it's great fun. The Captain, his wife, and first officer are still there grooving to the meaningful messages of Tony when we stagger out around 10:30 pm.
The first officer says he quite liked Robert's pieces (Gershwin and Ellington) and says he's "looking forward to hearing more of the same."
Which is good, thinks Robert, because those are pretty much all the songs I know and if I play again, you will hear more of the same. In fact, you'll hear exactly the same.
Time for the "Robert & Laura Tuck-in!"
Robert & Laura