Mary Cook, December 28, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: December 28, 2004

Question of the Day

What type of mountains are the Andes mountains?

Positive Quote of the Day

“I not only use the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” Woodrow Wilson

A Special Edition Log

This afternoon concluded my shore leave for Christmas. I have returned to the NOAA ship, RONALD H. BROWN. It felt good to walk across the gangplank-almost like home. Well, maybe not as good as home, but still I’m happy to be back. It’s going to be different because my mentor, Diane and all the scientists that I worked with have returned home. I already miss them. But the ship’s crew welcomed me aboard with smiles and inquiries about what I did on shore leave. I’ve met the co-chief scientists of the new science crew onboard, Kevin and Julio. They’ll be conducting CTD casts, sediment core samples and water sediment samples. I look forward to observing and helping out with these new science research projects.

My days in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar were wonderful. What an interesting and beautiful place. The cities are wedged in between the mountains and the ocean. The colorfully painted homes are built on the steep slopes and seemed to be stacked on top of each other. The streets are very steep and narrow. Every nook and cranny has something built in it-a doorway, a walkway, a stairway, a little garden or maybe a parking place. It’s seems that there is no space left unused. And I must say, the canine population is alive and well here, too. Everyone has a dog or two or three. Valparaiso and Viña del Mar have funiculars that carry pedestrians up and down the steep hillsides. The Chileans call them ascensors. A funicular is like a short railway that keeps the passengers in an upright position as it moves up or down the slope. The arrangement is two parallel tracks with a rail-car on each track. The two cars are connected by a cable and when one ascends the other descends. These funiculars are old. I saw 1887 engraved on the entrance of the Concepción funicular. They are also small with a maximum capacity of seven passengers! We searched out and rode three different funiculars, each being brightly painted with its own special design. The ride takes about three minutes. These really are short railways!

At night, it’s amazing to see all those city lights twinkling across the slopes and frankly, it’s mind-boggling to me to think about how many people live in such a congested area.

But the Valparaisians do it with finesse and great style. I’ve come to discover that the Chileans are very proud of their country, both their diverse culture and beautiful landscapes. As a result, they are a hospitable and courteous people who love to share and help others experience the depth of Chile’s wonders.

Christmas Day was a special day for me. It was definitely not the traditional Christmas with family, turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, and gift-giving. For which, I have to admit, I felt a little reminiscent. I’ve realized that one of my favorite Christmas memories is seeing the pleasure in my mother’s face as she hugs all her kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and the one great-great! Plus, I missed her famous fruit and nut roll made with vanilla wafers. (Mom, save some back for me until I get home.)

Well, on to my Christmas Day. It was very special to me because Diane, Jeff, Jason and I went hiking in the Andes Mountains across the border into Argentina. At over 10,000 feet, it was breathtaking in more ways than one. Having spent most of my life at about 200 feet elevation, hiking in these mountains was a shock to my system, to put it mildly. I was sucking in air like a vacuum cleaner! But I loved every minute of it. I think the sky is bluer, the snow is whiter and the mountains are more magnificent when the oxygen is thinner. We were following a dirt road up Santa Elena Mount (approx. 12,000 feet) in hopes of reaching the top where the “Christo Redentor” statue of Jesus with outstretched arms is overlooking the two countries of Chile and Argentina. We were just about to abandon our quest due the lateness of the day, when Diane rounded the corner of a switchback and gasped. There it was! We cheered and hugged and wished each “Merry Christmas”. Diane burst forth into song. Even though my body was relentlessly demanding more air, my fatigue had mysteriously left me. It was great to be on top and look out across the mighty expanse of the Andean mountains and valleys. We even caught a glimpse of Acongagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. Beautiful. Magnificent. Glorious. You know, sometimes there just isn’t a word to convey the feeling. As I reflected on what Christmas means to me, I thought how appropriate to be on a journey on Christmas Day in search of the symbol of peace and goodwill to all men.

As we began our descent, a beautiful blue-eyed, thick-furred dog took up with us. We thought he was hungry so we fed him some beef jerky sticks. That sealed our friendship and he was our constant companion for the next six miles to the border crossing. We tried to get him to go back but he was persistent and wouldn’t leave our side. I named him “Balto” after the famous sled dog from Alaska. “Balto” was a pleasure. When we sat down to rest, he’d sit down to rest and snuggle right up next to one of us with this look of contentment on his face. Sometimes he’d put his wet nose right up to ours. When we came to a waterfall he detoured to get a quick drink and then ran to catch up with us.

We knew “Balto” was someone’s pet because he was well-fed and such a gentle creature.

When we got to the border crossing and presented our papers to the officials, “Balto” was also met by the obviously self-appointed “canine border patrol” – a band of five not-so-friendly dogs. Did he back down? No way. “Balto” is definitely an alpha-male. Before we knew it “Balto” had trotted into the customs building like he owned the place!

We stopped in a nearby hostel for something warm to drink and then loaded into the car and headed back for the Hotel O’Higgins in Viña del Mar. As the full moon continued its path across the darkened sky, we trudged into the hotel, dusty, sunburned and exhausted, ready for a peaceful sleep on that Christmas night in central Chile.

Happy Holidays!

Until tomorrow,


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