Wednesday, January 12, 2011

German Colony, Jerusalem, 13 January 2011 (never fly Aerosvit)

Oh my god. I don't know where to begin. It's has been a crazy crazy past days. I'm so behind. We'll have to go in order from the last thing notable, which was the hiking trip to the Negev that Paul and I did.

The Negev and Jerusalem:

Everyone got about 4 days off because a small part on the drill rig broke and they had to wait for it to be shipped from the states, but it was a weekend, and it's international and they actually still haven't started drilling again. So last Friday was our last shift and Paul and I went on the night shift because they needed two scientists just in case they cored, but it took 3 hours to get 30 cm with the broken part so they decided to close operations. The next day was supposed to start my days off before leaving on Tuesday, but we had a field trip with all the students, my dad and Moti to look at the local geology and formations around the Dead Sea that we are drilling. So instead of beginning our hiking trip and having two nights in the Negev, we ended up staying in Ein Gedi that night. The next morning my dad drove us to Mitzpe Ramon where we began our overnight hike. We hiked down the big crater (maktesh ramon), across some cool old volcanoes, sandstone and carbonates, an awesome fold and fault and into some other dry streams. We ended up camping in a spot that isn't officially accepted and unofficially had a fire, but it was totally worth it. It was a clear and beautiful night.

Then the next morning it was surprisingly wet everywhere. My sleeping bag was totally covered with drops of water. We hiked out in a couple of hours and then hitchhiked from the road up to Mitzpe Ramon. We were picked up by an Army guy and his dog in a pick up truck. He ended up taking us all the way to Be'er Sheva, where we caught a bus to Jerusalem. He was great, he told us all about the Bedouin culture, local cool valleys, the desert and his time in the army. We arrived in Jerusalem in the afternoon and walked into the downtown. We were a site. We were covered in desert dust and dirt, probably stinky, with our huge backpacks. We had three goals: 1. Get some falafel, 2. Paul wanted to buy a poyke (a cast iron pot/goblet, what I'd call a dutch oven), 3. find a phone somewhere to call Moti and tell him we were coming. We were successful on all fronts and even got to finish off the night with a walk around the Old City of Jerusalem with Jason.

Flight Adventure:

The next morning I went to the Tel Aviv airport to fly back to New York via Kiev. First of all, I almost missed my shuttle because I set my alarm for an 4:30am rather than 3:30 am like an idiot. Moti rushed into the room yelling "Emily! You will miss your shuttle! You must get up!" and I made it but my driver wasn't happy. Then in the airport I went through a lot of security, and extra security, and checked in, more security and finally got to the flight and on the plane.

I should have noticed things were weird because originally my flight to New York was supposed to leave Kiev at 12:55pm, but our boarding passes now sad at 3:30pm. Then when I arrived to the tiny, horrible airport in Kiev, the flight wasn't listed because they only had listings going up to 2:30pm. Then over the intercom they said all New York passengers should come to the information desk, they herded us to a lounge with couches upstairs and told us that our flight would be leaving at 1am and they would give us food in an hour. This was all in Russian though, and they didn't explain anything in English, once all the other passengers (who were Russian, Kazakhstan and Georgian) calmed down some of them told me in English what was going on. It was horrible. There was no information, no reason, no internet and no way to get information. They gave us a cell phone to take turns to call our families and whoever to let them know.

At around 4pm they told us that we wouldn't be leaving until 7pm the next day. This is when big unrest began. The passengers united and all went down to the information desk and started yelling at the young girls working there. They demanded information, a reason, a flight, whatever. At this point I started to make friends with these Kazakhstan guys who spoke English pretty well. I asked them to keep me updated with whatever was being said since no one was speaking English, only Russian. Then they started to book everyone on flights to Istanbul and Stockholm for the next morning, but still with no prospect of making it to New York within the next day, it would be a day or two it seemed, possibly three. I was totally miserable at the prospect, although I was ready to go to Istanbul, where it was at least a bigger airport and had more flights back eventually. The problem really was that Aerosvit has no sway in flights. They have almost no ability to make anything work or better for the passenger if something goes wrong.

So I decided it would probably be better if I just fly back to Tel Aviv (they had a lot of flights for that) than to go to Istanbul or New York. I was missing my connecting flight to Texas the next day regardless, and who knew when I'd get to New York. My Kazakhstan friend helped me ask the women working on the flights to get me back to Tel Aviv and I managed to fly out on the last flight at 10:35pm. I arrived in Tel Aviv at 2:00am, had my luggage lost and ended up getting a place to sleep with a guy I met on the plane. I started talking to him when we were boarding and sat next to him. He was really nice and he offered that I have a bed to sleep in because he lived with his parents and they had extra rooms, plus he was half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and would drop me off at a bus the next morning. It worked out great, I have been very lucky this entire trip with the people that I meet. I have a lot of built up generosity to share based on what I have received. I think that is important and one of the best things about traveling and life. This trip has definitely been marked by these interactions.

Jerusalem again:

The next day I managed to make it to Moti's house, where Paul was still hanging out because drilling has still not resumed in Ein Gedi. So Paul and I went to the Hebrew Museum and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, the archaeological section and the fine arts section. Then we bought a bunch of ingredients to make Moti's family dinner that night, to say thanks for letting us stay and taking care of us. We made sweet potato gnocchi from scratch, with two different sauces. Obviously it was mainly by Paul's guidance since I've never made gnocchi before, but it was quite easy and I would be able to do it again (and I plan to). It was a nice dinner, then we rented a movie and fell asleep watching it and went to bed.

Today we toured the old city of Jerusalem again, this time in the daytime. Paul had already done it the day I was stuck in Kiev, but he did it again anyway. We started from Mt. Olive, walked down through churches and cemeteries and into the old city where we walked through some underground aqueduct systems and then into the Austrian Hostel where we could go to the roof and see a view over the old city. Then we went to the western wall, past temple mound where the line was too long to get in, and then through the Jewish Quarter and out. We walked to this market that we found on the first day through Jerusalem where there is all the food you could want and just bought whatever looked good. Fresh breads with cheese and spinach, chocolate croissants and cookies, dried fruits and finally a falafel sandwich. I was stuffed. I still am stuffed. Now we are waiting for a couple of hours to go to Ein Gedi, where we should be on the day shift tomorrow (hopefully there are the parts necessary to make everything work again). I do hope to get in some shifts before I leave.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

8th January, 2010

We had visited the small maktesh, (maktesh being the name for the craters here that I couldn't remember before). It was awesome. Jason, Paul and I joined a field mapping course that was being led by one of the principal scientists on the drilling project. He is a geologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and overall a super awesome guy. He has his mapping course with this best friend (also a geologist of the same age and equally badass) at a primitive campsite in the desert, going over some intense terrain. The students really enjoy it, but it's not traditional.

We received the most amazing treatment and time there. We arrived haphazardly, without food, with only our packs and our clothes. The faculty on the trip very graciously gave us food, wine, coffee, and sleeping bags. It was incredible. Then they set us up on some great hikes around the area that they said we couldn't leave without seeing, so we didn't even do the mapping course with them in the end. We also were lucky enough to meet this guy named Micky who does all the trail maintenance work in the natural reserves across Israel, so he knew all of the trails by heart and told us of good places to go.

It was wonderful to be back in the desert, sleeping outside under the stars, waking up to sunrise and so forth. Now the Negev and the Mojave are two of my favorite barren deserts, although the Sonoran and Colorado deserts are also beautiful, they just have more plants.

Monday, January 3, 2011

4-Jan-2010, Ein Gedi to the small crater

I haven't figured out the name of the small crater that we are going to, but I have it written down on a piece of paper in my coat in my room.

Today Jason, Paul and I are going to join a field mapping course that is going on in the south of Israel, in the Negev Desert, at the small crater (there are big craters too). Amotz is a geologist at the university in Tel Aviv and he leads a week long field mapping course for 2nd year geology students, and we will join them for a day or two to check out the geology.

Otherwise, they are moving the drilling platform from the middle of the Dead Sea to offshore by the kibbutz. There have simply been a lot of weather problems preventing the team from drilling at an efficient capacity, so they hope to bring it closer to the shore in order to bypass bad winds and waves as much as possible.

Originally the team wanted to get the deepest core possible at the deepest part of the Sea, then when they were unable to penetrate deeper than 450m, they wanted to start a new hole to try to fill in the gaps missing from the first hole (you don't recover 100% of the sediment when you drill), and potentially go deeper. This is where they hit problems and we moved from Hole A to B to C...until we finally ended with Hole H and it started working again. We've drilled 40m or so in Hole H and now they want to move to onshore in order to correlate the layers they find in the middle of the Sea with their stratigraphic counterparts close to shore. Today they are moving the platform and setting up, so we are not missing any work as we go for our field trip.

The big bad news is that my roommate, Elitsa, had her computer bag stolen from out front of our room. She has had a string of bad luck. She was using my dad's camera in the lab to take photos of the core and document everything. That camera went missing last week and it seems that it must have been stolen. Then my dad asked that I give her my camera so she could continue to work, so I did two days ago and yesterday she had her camera, my camera and her computer in her briefcase when it was stolen. She set it outside our room on our front table, was in the room for 10 minutes and when she came out it was gone. She's been really torn up about it. At the hotel they have very little that they can do. So I won't have a camera to take photos for the rest of the time I think, but I will be with people with cameras, so no problem. I just feel really bad for her.

The past couple days I have gone out on the day shift. It would have been nice if we could core, but somehow the weather decided to change and get windy during the day as well. Steve the driller didn't drill while the winds were very strong because they are on to their last drilling tools and can't afford to break anything. So two days ago all we did all day was watch movies, waiting for the wind to go down. There were three drillers, me and Jason, all stuffed in the drillers cabin around a laptop--needless to say, a cozy situation. Cozy, stuffy and dark. But it was fine, just lazy and kind of a bummer because the winds never let up so we didn't get anything accomplished. Then yesterday the morning was pretty windy, but by the afternoon it was nice and we were able to core a little bit. Mainly salt, but some mud. It's very slow to core through the salt because the tools have a hard time cutting through and retaining it all.

On another note, I'd say that emotionally and socially I've been doing well. I'm overall being quite outgoing and keeping in a good mood. When I got here everyone was pretty burnt out and within my first week I'd say it only got worse. Things weren't working well, everyone had differing opinions and plans were changed all the time. It was a stressed out and negative atmosphere a lot of the time. I was still fresh and happy and just glad to be here so I did my best to just go around an be happy and smile a lot and talk to people. That's what I've managed to keep up for the most part and I like to think it helps a little. More recently I've gotten frustrated at times and I'm tired of hearing people complain and be negative. But when that happens it is usually short lived.

It's crazy to think that I've been here for 2 weeks already. I only have one week left. The project is continuing later than originally expected, so I might end up leaving the project early in order to travel a bit, but a part of me feels like I should stay and help as much as possible. I definitely plan to come back to Israel, so if I don't get to see everything I want to see then I will have opportunities later. It's great. I'm a fan.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1 Jan, 2010

Happy New Year! Everyone has been telling me about the superstition that your new year is decided by how well New Year's Eve and New Year's day go. I think that's a load, but even if it were true, I'd say I have a good feeling about 2011. I think mainly because I've been thinking about it for the past 4 years, but I no matter what, I think it will be a good year.

It's been a few days since I've updated. I honestly have no recollection of the 29th of December. I'm pretty sure that I got off the rig at 5pm after being stuck out there for 24 hours. So the 29th ended with a beer and sleep. I know that on the 30th I had a night shift with Jason and the night drill team. We actually got core! It was unclear when we arrived whether it would be a successful night or if we'd just continue to track how the rig was moving via GPS. But for whatever reason everything finally just went totally to plan and we had a successful, busy and no-sleep night. The best kind. We felt so great, everyone was in such a good mood, joking around and working hard. I also got semi-addicted to hearts solitaire on the computer in the down time. Overall, great night. We didn't retrieve much core, but it was the first bit since I've been here.

During the day on the 30th I went swimming in the Dead Sea for the first time. It was great. I was really careful to not get anything in my eyes, but some splashed on my face and burnt my chapped lips pretty badly. I was talking with some of the drillers and they were saying that to set up the rig they had to spend the better part of a day in the water to put things together. That would be miserable. My 20 minute dip was well worth it though.

So jumping back, we got back to the kibbutz the morning of the 31st. I spent most of my day in a daze because I hadn't slept in close to 24 hours. I took a 3 hour nap in the afternoon, but I woke up to not miss lunch. I decided to go for the boat ride out to the rig with the night shift, but I had the night off so I didn't stay. We said hi to everyone, and I rode back with the day shift. My roommate and I have been on pretty opposite schedules and it's been a bummer because I really like her. So last night we hung out, got a beer at the bar and eventually other people joined us as we approached midnight. Then there was free champagne, strawberries and a few fireworks by the lobby. I crashed pretty close to 1am though, I was still running on very little sleep.

Then today Jason and I planned to do a hike since we weren't working. Moti showed us a good half-day loop. We were able to climb half way to the top of the mountains and then go up a canyon a bit and back down by several waterfalls. It was fantastic. The weather has cooled a bit so it's not too hot, just right for shorts and a tshirt while hiking. We saw tons of animals, it's all the same three-- capras, hyraxes and foxes. Then we stopped at the ancient synagogue, which dates back to the 1st century A.D. Unfortunately everything was in Hebrew so I don't really have a story to go with it, but photos are up on facebook.