University of Southern California

North Pond Expedition


Auf Wiedersehen

Events of the past couple of days have kept us very busy and unable to post, for reasons that will become clear shortly. Finally, at last, I am writing again, and for the final time before heading home. Get ready for this story -- it has been another North Pond wild ride.

It was all going so well. The night before we arrived in Dakar, we had our last science meeting. We all commended our captain and chief scientist for making this a great and highly successful cruise, and presented to each other some of our most salient results. This was followed by a celebration in the "hanger," where we once we split our cores and later ontemplated and debated the large maps of North Pond that hang on the wall.

Ah, success... how could anything go wrong now? Easy enough: port call.

Port calls anywhere usually come with hassles, and you can probably imagine that Dakar, Senegal is no exception. Bottom line is that you have to manage to get all of your equipment, all of your samples, and yourself back home somehow. This is always risky business.

For our samples, we'd been planning for potential problems by "diversifying our portfolio" -- coming up with plans for splitting our samples into batches and shipping them home by every available global sea, ground and air route. We started things early in the day with a bang -- the container with equipment going back to Bremen was loaded and sent off right away, followed by the USC air freight shipment, which also went off without a hitch.

Then word came down that our dry ice shipment -- which enables samples to be kept at minus 70C or so, was in some kind of shipping hold-up. Thus began a day that turned out like a really bad movie -- Dak-horror, or something of the like.

Personal travel woes were next: vaccinations. We had checked on vaccination requirements for Senegal when transferring from ship to airport, and all information we found indicated that no short-term vaccinations were required. There are several recommended for extended stays, however, such as yellow fever vaccine.

Well, this became a problem. Specifically, Dakar's authorities were not going to let us leave the ship without vaccinations. So 10 of us, including six Americans, were informed around 10 a.m. that we would be rounded up and taken to a hospital for vaccinations.

If you think about it, it's pretty ridiculous as the incubation time for the vaccination to become effective is about 10 days, and we were leaving that evening.

We spent the rest of the day pacing: waiting to be picked up for our vaccines, waiting for word on what would happen with our sensitive shipments. Pacing, pacing, pacing -- wearing out the hangar floor. We had to be at the airport at 10 p.m., so we had time. We thought.

Late afternoon, we learned that some of our samples would be able to be shipped on dry ice the next day. This means that the science party would have to leave the packaging and securing of these precious samples to a third party, which is okay, but not what any scientist would prefer.

As evening rolled around we became increasingly agitated over the vaccination situation -- why did we have to do this in the first place, and why was it taking so long!?!?

At about 5 p.m. they finally arrived to take us away -- to the airport, ironically. We were shuttled into a little dimly lit closet of a room, where a doctor joined us about a half hour later. Luckily, we had our ship doctor along to inspect all of the vaccination materials -- assuring single-dose syringes and the like.

In truth, the situation was pretty sketchy in my view, but we really didn't have a choice if we wanted to leave the country. And believe me, every one of us really, really did.

So we lined up assembly-line fashion and got our dosages, with the assurance from our ship doctor that this was really all okay: the vaccines were internationally certified and we would all be fine. Thus we were duly poked.

We left for the ship again much more relaxed. We were out of there and we would even make it back to the ship in time to scramble for dinner leftovers before going back to the airport for our flight.

Then one of the scientists began to experience a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine: swelling of the arm, soreness, dizziness, racing heart. No good. Immediate monitoring began at the ship hospital, and for the next four hours it was touch-and-go as to whether they would be forced to miss their flight.

As 10 p.m. approached, with some pleading and assistance from fellow scientists who promised assistance getting through check-in and security and onto the plane, the patient was finally released.

We loaded in vans and took off all for the airport. We managed to get everyone checked in and through security -- all of us again together, as we all had very similar flight departure times and it's a small airport with exactly one terminal.

It was bittersweet to be still all together, the whole science party, wearing out the airport floors as we paced and waited for our flights to be called. Many sad goodbyes took place there in the Dakar airport.

Note: Our vaccination records were not required at the airport. Nobody looked at any of them, period.

Now, about 35,000 feet in the sky, aboard South African Airlines with compatriots Jen Biddle and Wiebke Ziebis, I sit here simply blasted tired.

Decorated in bruises from head to toe, stuck with a vaccination to yellow fever in my arm, a few pounds lighter, overwhelmed with the collective experiences of the past month, I wonder how in the world I'm going to get recalibrated to non-sea life again.

But undeniably I'm also very, very happy, and very sad at the same time. Elated at the success of the cruise, and most importantly, about the great team we had out there and with whom I'll work with for years to come.

As for the sadness, I think Wolfgang Bach said it best, en route to the airport (for the second time), when he noted that though he was excited about going home, he was mourning that it was "already" over, and that the unique scientific group that had come together was dispersing so soon.

The North Pond journey has begun -- danke for your interest in this research cruise and stay tuned to news about North Pond, a deep, dark place that will set a new standard for research on the intraterrestrial inhabitants of the earth's crust.

To North Pond!