Sunday, February 21, 2016

Back to another winter…...

Settled in to the north of 60 home and life is good. It's a clear, sunny day with temperature of -34c, skidoos out on the sea ice and the usual activities of a northern community. Sunrise is officially just before 10 am and sunset at 5:30 pm but there's a lot of light on the horizon both before and after. A week down already and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the time flies in my working life. 

The six days at home were as expected, full of tasks and then complicated by a snow storm. Since I hadn't opted to put snow tires on my little car for just a week, I headed down to the city on Friday, stored the car with my classmate and overnighted twice. Had a nice supper with two daughters and a son in law on the final night which is a great send off and snuck away for an early flight the following morning. 

The commute is becoming fairly routine and thankfully there were no glitches. One of these days the positive influences I travel under will rebel but heading for four years and no major hiccups yet with connections. This time I took a page from my job share partner's book and stored two nonperishable filled bags at the Edmonton airport. Well worth the $7 each to not have to drag them to the shuttle, into hotel and reverse the process in the early hours again, especially as they're never opened. Did my grocery procurement in Edmonton as those six days post vacation at home were fun filled with snowy roads, plus who wants to schlep an extra box 3/4 of the way across Canada? Canadian Tire for a new action packer and duct tape and then Walmart for groceries. No scale so jammed the food into the tote, fastened it and sent it off to the hotel cooler. Supper, phone catch up with a Cuban Edmonton friend and an early night - miss the sleepovers of the western daughters who are now eastern daughters though, made the stopover funner. The 5:20 am shuttle to the airport and travelling as far as Yellowknife with an agency nurse heading to Kitikmeot…the north is large geographically but small people wise. Retrieval of bags, check in at Canadian North with a very accommodating clerk as in…the scale for my grocery action packer read 72 lb, we both looked at the number and she said "that says 70 lb doesn't it?" and I quickly agreed because that is the maximum allowable and she wrote 70 lb on the tag. It really did average out with the other bags but could've been a pain to shuffle at that point. Seat selection and she said "you need a nice perk today, how about row 3?" so I nodded (row 3 was leg room so deep you couldn't reach the chair back table and the row all to myself :) Quick flight to Yellowknife, picked up 60+ student athletes there and on to Inuvik directly (no station stop in Norman Wells) so in early, very painless. Aklak Air however only guarantees 60 lb (including carryon) will be delivered with you on the flight so the action packer had to be opened, reshuffled and resealed. And of course…..everything came with me anyway. The only calamity of that being a sugar puncture in the duffle resulting in vacuuming. Warmly greeted at the airport by my job share partner as she exited and various community members who said "welcome home". 

Sorting through the emails and discovered one from the clerk in housing who insisted that in order to receive a rent rebate the nurse in charge had to confirm the job share partner and I were sharing the apartment last fall. My counterpart had left that for me to deal with being that for either of us to sign was clearly a conflict of interest but….hey who am I to question? I duly acknowledged that we shared and hit send. Bureaucracy never ceases to amaze me, even at my age! Spent a couple of hours getting stuff put away. Not much of a job to retransition to the apartment as it's very cozy now. Put the food away, found my pyjamas, ate a lobster sandwich and crawled into bed. 

The work week was one of catching up on various paperwork issues, helping the casual CHN understand northern nursing and greeting community members. The manager was away for the week so good timing as for extra tasks etc. being on hold. Easier when you start to know the players and processes. 

A few personal technology glitches including a two hour phone call with Apple support to get my FaceTime working again and a test with a nite owl in the home time zone. Treated myself to Bushnell instavision binoculars at the fishing supply store as the shore captain has a nice pair which we used on the cruise. Discovered when I looked for polar bears and saw two flags at the RCMP detachment that the prism must be out of line as there is double vision when looking through both lenses. Was relieved to find that I wasn't having a stroke, it was truly the 'noclars' as my kids used to say, but annoyed as I'll now have to return them at home. Googled and noted "unfortunately double vision is common with these binoculars". arggh My heating pad power supply had a broken wire so will have to search online for a replacement - it is so cozy for the sofa in the winter. sigh. And the discovery that I brought whole wheat flour and red river cereal (birdseed as the kids used to call it) to make bread, having not checked there were bread pans here….on the list for next time. And yes I fully realize, all first world problems. I shall console myself by eating the dark chocolate covered mangoes I was gifted for Christmas. 

Invited to supper last evening with the RCMP family who will be posted March 3rd so trying to eat up their freezer of food. Lovely ribs and I took cranberry pudding for dessert - walked carefully and didn't have any mishaps. Over to sewing after supper and the on call phone rang as soon as I settled myself. Winter gear and up over the hill in the sharp cold for a  quick, routine call but not worth heading back down afterwards so crocheted and headed to bed with a book. Reading Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail which is (as expected) well written and certainly apt in my present setting. 

Awaiting a FaceTime chat with the home folks so will sign off. Technology is my umbilical cord. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

To the bottom of the earth and back

Wow! Exciting times….I am updating the blog! Yes, I have thought of doing so multiple times over the past six weeks but… got in the way. And now, grab a cup of tea as I'm going to fill you in. And, no I am not going to fix the alignment on several of the gaps, it's late and you're interested in content not formatting. 

As was obvious from the posting of last year, I was heading out of my northern home for my southern abode to celebrate a belated Christmas holiday at New Years. The three day commute went very smoothly considering the holiday volume of travellers, weather and age of this writer. Social time at the airport where I was introduced to one of the newest community members returning from Inuvik. A quick flight via Ulukhaktuk to Inuvik accompanied by the relief RCMP and his wife who were returning to Fort Good Hope and through their kindness I was dropped off at the hotel (circumventing the $30 taxi fee). Catch up online, sleep in, hotel breakfast and readying to the return to the airport. Discovered the desk clerk was from Florenceville NB, the small town a friend inhabits, another of those 'small world' moments. Deposited at the airport by a Sudanese cab driver (told him of the Sudanese family being sponsored locally) and he provided his contact info for them "the first days are tough" he said. Uneventful commute from Inuvik, through Norman Wells, only deplaning in Yellowknife as mandatory to go through security at that point, back on the plane to Edmonton. Check in, supper and bed, sleep in and over to the airport for brunch and a bit of Christmas shopping. 

Only crisis of the day was when I looked at the check in gate and realized the flight was not direct to Halifax but through Toronto. Sigh. Uneventful flight, watched The Intern (good flick) and then into Pearson. The usual dog and pony show there, late departure as the flight continued to pick up connecting passengers (many cancelled flights the previous day). The flight attendant suggested that the station stop would be brief and passengers should remain on board, myself and perhaps four others complied. As I sat wearily waiting a (in my nurse opinion) freaked out passenger with wild eyes stopped in the aisle and said anxiously "where are we?" I replied calmly "in Toronto" followed by "why did we stop?" as I've worked a LOT of Emerg another calm reply "to let passengers off the plane" a frantic "why are we still here?" avoidance of eye contact and calmer reply "so passengers can get on" followed by "where are we going?" reply "Halifax" and "when are we leaving?" reply "no idea" and turning back to my book. I felt his intense stare for several minutes (not seconds) and he finally moved forward up the aisle. When the flight attendant strolled by I casually inquired as the mental status of my visitor who was clearly disorientated to person, place and time. She assured me that he was "different and not dangerous" and I said "well I've worked a lot of ER and I think he's stoned or psychotic and her smile faltered. Clearly she was used to dealing with the inebriated traveller not more exotic situations. I considered how little I wished to be enclosed in a flying metal tube with a deranged individual and sighed. She watched the front of the plane where a male flight attendant and the copilot were now interacting with my visitor (I could clearly hear the passenger shouting) and said "oh there's pushing and shoving and security is here". A ha! We took off a short while later and I assume minus one passenger as he did not return up the aisle. Lots of turbulence, into Halifax late and met by my faithful Pakistani airport taxi driver. Pick up of the car, stop for tea and clear roads home, arriving by 4 am. 

New Years Eve was celebrated with family, games and friends and a toast at midnight. New Years Day brought all our children (and most of their significant others) together for 'Christmas dinner' and it was a wonderfully unexpected event. When those kiddos grow up and move on with their lives it doesn't always translate to large get togethers for the holidays. The usual post holiday busyness and an overnight in the city. A lovely supper invitation to our German chef's place (we supplied the seafood) and good social catch up visit. Last minute packing and it was time to leave on vacation. 

We headed down the night before and stayed over at the airport hotel because a large dumping of snow was predicted (and received) in the city. Our flight was after lunch and by then the runways had been cleared and planes were moving. We had very little extra time built into our itinerary and were lucky to avoid glitches. Halifax to Philadelphia, on to Miami via American then transfer to LAN (Chile) for the overnight flight to Santiago. I sat next to a young fellow who either had ADHD or was on amphetamines! Scratching, jumping up and down, talking to himself and at one point he was conducting the music on the entertainment system. I slept perhaps 20 minutes. Not impressed. Dawn landing in Santiago de Chile, through baggage, customs and out to find a cab to the bus station. The express to Valpairsao was boarding and we stowed luggage and climbed into the air conditioned bus. Lovely view of the valley, wineries and villages along the way. Deposited in the very authentic city centre and a cab over to the Fauna Hotel. Cute boutique hotel where we were offered coffee/tea as the room was unavailable for a few hours. Wandered the streets of this artistic port city with markets, shops, cafes, and multiple photo ops, found some queso y camerones (shrimp and cheese) empanadas for lunch with a glass of Chilean wine so after check in a nap was in order. Opted for the roof top terrace for supper and that was a great choice we repeated the next evening as well - why mess with a good thing? Wandered the streets, visited the
Valparaiso funicular
markets and harbour took the funicular to the
Wine tasting
top of a hill to see the port and generally enjoyed being tourists. In the afternoon we hired the hotel recommended Kristian to drive us out to winery country and enjoyed a tour and two tastings. Saturday we spent relaxing and headed over to meet the ship at lunchtime. The embarkation process was chaos, no system at all and it took a looonnnggg time to fill out the health questionnaire, have our passports, documents for Chile and Argentina examined, be issued a sticker and finally called to join a lengthy line for the bus. Yes, you heard me correctly…the bus to the ship as the terminal and port are quite a distance apart. Another long line up on the Norwegian Sun and we were finally checked in and our passports surrendered. 

Checked out our digs - balcony on the port side was a good choice for the various ports of call - found some lunch and a drink, met the cabin steward Emerson and our bags were shortly delivered so we unpacked. The obligatory muster drill and a late sail away out of Valparisao on our eastbound journey. We visited the Brazilian steak house which was wonderful and very uncrowded - we've learned that if you arrive a day or two early and unwind you are not toast on embarkation day and have the speciality restaurants mostly to ourselves. 

The next day was a sea day which is always a good way to start the relaxing so we ordered room service breakfast, enjoyed the balcony, visited the library, self toured the ship and generally chilled out. We visited one of the dining rooms for supper and it was (as expected) great! Puerto Montt was the first stop and although new to me, the shore captain had visited in 1994 when we were l in South America on an industry / trade mission. We shopped the 
Puerto Montt, Chile
 markets, visited the port and saw the local supply boats readying for a run down the coast, checked out the fish markets and picked up some local crafts. A good day. The next port of call was Puerto Chachabuco which was a picturesque coastal town. We hired a local taxi who took us on a tour through Aysen over to Coyhaique stopping at Virgin falls, past valley farms, mountain peaks, wonderful spots for photos. With my rudimentary Spanish we managed to find out the answers to questions such as "how much snow here in the mountains in the winter" which was measured in feet in June, July and August she explained. We stopped for a sandwich and wonderful hot chocolate at a very nice cafe before heading back. Great way to discover the countryside. Two days of cruising the Patagonian Channel
Beagle channel glaciers
and Straits of Magellan - very scenic fiords and coast, followed by a stop in Puntas Arenas which is the most southerly city in Chile, very windswept and scruffy but interesting. We visited the maritime museum there and shopped the markets, found a cafe for wi-fi and made our way back fairly early to the ship. Although it was their summer….it was chilly. Had the winter jacket, gloves, and hat out for the balcony viewing of the glaciers in the Beagle Channel - stunning. The views reminded us of the Norwegian fiords. We crossed over the boundary to Argentina and the following day found us in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world. Some flurries, windy and a really touristy dusty spot where lots of Antarctic cruises leave from. We wandered the shops, visited the End of the World Museum (not post apocalyptic but rather most southern and headed back to the ship. The following day we rounded Cape Horn in "best weather possible" as described by our Swedish captain. It was just a rock and rather anti climactic as we'd heard horror stories about the perilous weather there. The next 
Cape Horn
day took us in to the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas for our Argentine friends) and it was a wonderful day. We'd booked an excursion to see the rockhopper penguins and we were not disappointed. We were met at the port, driven through the very British capital of Stanley and taken to Murrell Farm where we transferred to Land Rovers and bounced out across the peat moors to the cliffs. The drivers were very knowledgeable and chatty so we learned a lot about 'the conflict' in 1982 (still lots of land mines) the British way of life there and the penguins. The colony was feeding chicks and were great fun to watch - an item ticked off the
Rockhopper penguins
bucket list! A small building housed home made treats and a local lady to serve the tea. After bouncing back to town we explored the shops a bit, purchased an internet card and finally joined the line for the tender back to the ship. Wonderful day, needed the next day to be a sea day to recover from the Land Rovers. Getting warmer, the next port of call was Puerto Madryn which was quite a developed city with lots of tourist amenities. We took a shuttle to the Eco Centre which had lots of information on the southern right whales and visited the maritime museum in a beautifully restored classic home. Did not swim in the algae covered beaches. A sea day where we made our way past Mar Del Plata (more on that city later) and the final port of call was Punte del Este in Uruguay which is the playground of the rich and famous. Not really our style with expensive power boats, overpriced restaurants and shops but we did visit the fish market and the fishing boats rigging gear. It was warm and a large sea lion lazed on the haul out. We made our way back to the ship in a timely manner. The next morning saw us docked in Buenos Aires and we were efficiently disembarked from the ship and onto a tour we'd arranged to avoid wandering the streets with luggage
Gaucho dance
until our 8:30 pm flight to Mar del Plata to visit our friend. A city tour with lots of history, a stop in La Boca for some shopping, photos and off to a gaucho ranch in the pampas. A great display of horsemanship, dancing and a  wonderful meal. Deposited at the terminal, found our luggage and had it x-rayed, located a cab (rip off artists who double charged for the fare) to the airport and checked in for our flight. 

Our friend (who we met on our first trip to Argentina when she was young and single) and her husband met us at the airport and dropped us at the Hotel Iruna and we were tired so just flopped. As we explored the next day it turned out to be a good choice in location, staff and food. We had a fantastic week of visiting, eating, beach going, and generally being spoiled. A good time was had by all. Our final afternoon was the only one with rain and we visited till late with our friends. And I mean late by our standards as when our friends retrieved their five and ten year old from the playroom at 1 am they were still going strong. What do you expect from a country with supper at 11 pm? Ahh to be Latin. 

On the last morning we grabbed an early breakfast and caught a cab to the airport for the 40 minute flight to Buenos Aires. We managed to store our luggage, discover there was a free shuttle for Aerolineas Argentina passengers between airports so booked the 6:30 pm run and called a cab to explore the city. Our friend had advised Recoleta which had lots of shops, cafes and the artist market. We weren't disappointed. Had a great lunch at Las Ramblas cafe and the people watching was supreme, not to mention the Jack Russell terrier who thought he was a pit bull! Shopped the market which has some pretty amazing talent and picked up a great leather journal cover and a glass fish
Buenos Aires tango
plate. Enjoyed the shade of another cafe and an impromptu tango display before wandering off to hail a cab. Avoided pick pockets completely. Over to the international airport, shuttle across the city past cathedrals, slums, mansions and motor vehicle accidents. Made our way through parking lots and into the terminal to negotiate an extensive check in and bag drop process. Time for some final empanadas and wine then through security, customs and to the gate where our carry on luggage was hand searched taking an hour in total as the 777 is a big plane full of passengers. Lots of families going to Miami and on to Disney World which is a BIG attraction from Argentina. The eight hour flight was a great sleep and then we landed in Miami for a four hour layover, flight to Toronto (another nap) and then the dog and pony show at Pearson which is completely embarrassing - could someone please show those people how to organize themselves? Thank goodness for Nexus so we did make our connection but really NO NEED! Turbulent flight to Halifax and in a few minutes late but greeted by children and soon on the road. Arrived at 1 am to find that no one had stolen the cats and all was well. 

This week is the usual frantic of appointments, shopping, packing and wrapping up of last minute details because ….I head back to work with an early morning flight on Sunday. Not sure of the travel agenda due to a predicted snowstorm for Saturday and Sunday. I am thinking I will get my little car to the city and in to storage even if it means an extra night in transit. The joys of winter travel. Surely I won't have this problem from Toronto onwards in April! The next update from north of north.