Vanuatu was a great time!

The island of Santo in Vanuatu has an amazing history related to WW II. It was home to up to 500,000 US troops during the war as a staging ground for the fight in the Pacific. In 1942, the luxury liner Calvin Coolidge was conscripted to be a troop carrier, and it was packed with 5000 troops and 300 crew as it approached Santo on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Suddenly one of the ships in the area called Segond Channel noticed the liner heading towards the area where mines had been laid out the week before, and franticly signaled “STOP, STOP, STOP” to the captain, who had not been notified of the mines. He immediately ordered full reverse on the engines. However, the forward momentum was still propelling the ship into the mines,  and two explosions rocked the ship as it approached the shore. The captain realized the damage was catastrophic, and immediately ordered full speed ahead to try to beach the ship before it sank. He was able to run in aground on the reef, just short of the shoreline, and in the end only 2 lives were lost. The ship quickly took on water and within an hour was tilted completely on its port side. Shortly afterwards it slipped down the angled slope of the reef back into the water, and finally came to a rest with the bow at 62 feet and the stern at a 240 foot depth. It’s easy to access the wreck from the shore with scuba equipment to see and swim around the intact liner, which is now a thriving artificial reef.

The other draw for tourism is Million Dollar Point, just a half mile from the wreck of the Calvin Coolidge. It is where the US dumped millions of dollars of jeeps, tanks, bulldozers and the rest of the military hardware left over from the war rather than let the French and British have it for free. They offered to sell it for 2% of it’s value, but when that offer was refused they spitefully dumped it in the ocean. It is easily accessible from the shore for a good snorkel or scuba excursion.

I spent the last 3 days of my time in Vanuatu on a nearby island called Aore, and rented an “off the grid” house along the shore. I had use of a bike and enjoyed a few days of pedaling around the island as well as enjoying the reef at my doorstep.

A tracked tank that was dumped in the ocean

A submerged forklift at Million Dollar Point on the island of Santos

The off the grid beach house on Aore in Vanuatu

Sitting area at the beach house I rented for a few days

Photo of the Calvin Coolidge as 5000+ troops abandoned ship an hour before it slipped back under the waves

Ocean view from Freshwater Plantation on the island of Aore

Close and personal to Mt Yasur volcano

Click to see movie of Explosive lava reaches for the sky

 

A visit to the Island of Tanna in Vanuatu is worth the trip for the chance to get on the rim of Mt Yasur, a thundering, magma spewing volcano that never disappoints. It seems like I signed a waiver that said standing on the rim of a volcano belching hot lava every five minutes might be dangerous but I don’t think there is a lawyer within 1500 miles of here anyway. There were three vantage points from the rim that were all upwind of the toxic sulfur gases, and the constant rumblings and fiery explosions were mesmerizing. We were also advised that if a cascade of rocketing two thousand degree lava was arcing in our direction, to keep an eye on the trajectory and calmly step aside instead of running like a screaming banshee. We stayed as is got dark enough to contrast the red explosions against the night sky, and then were herded back to the trucks to return to our unscorched habitats. Truly an unforgettable setting and experience.

The thundering crater as seen from the rim

The west side of the volcano has an ash plain that extends for miles

Another fiery explosion gets our attention

 

 

Vanuatu

I got out of McMurdo with only a 24 hour delay, which is as good as “on time” for most airlines. The next morning in Christchurch was spent sending most of my worldly possessions home from the US post office next to the Antarctic office. That left me with just some carry on bags to take a trip to someplace warm. I spent the next few hours with a helpful travel agent named Josie, and by the early afternoon I was booked to fly out to Vanuatu the next day. It’s a South Pacific nation of 83 islands, with the promise of warm beaches, good diving and an active volcano. Air New Zealand took me to Auckland, and then Air Vanuatu for the 3 hour flight to the main island called Efate. I had booked a nice resort on the beach for the first 5 days, and the rest was going to be figuring it out along the way. After 6 years working in Antarctica without a helicopter ride, I decided Vanuatu was the place to check that off my bucket list. It was wonderful to see the island from the air and take off and land on the floating raft. So far so good, and I’m off to another island called Tanna this afternoon to see the volcano up close and personal.

The Kiwi pilot never missed his postage sized landing zone

Helicopter view of the reef

The resort on the left and the island I kayaked to on the right

The 4 seat chopper on it’s landing raft

A neighboring island that I kayaked to one afternoon

 

View from my room

 

 

 

 

Outdoor fun in Chile

Laguna Azul in Torres del Paines park, Chile

Magellanic Penguins in southern Chile

King Penguin colony in southern Chile

King Penguin with an incubating egg under his belly

My niece, Leandra hiked 11 miles with me to Laguna Torre and back

Shipwrecks arranged in Punta Arenas, Chile as a tourist site

Los Cuernos peaks in Torres del Paines National Park

A lesser rhea, a relative of the ostrich,  in the park

Guanacos, which look like llamas lounging around in Chileo

Palmer and beyond

Mirror like conditions along the Antarctic peninsula on the way to Palmer

 

 

 

Seals basking in the sun on a small iceberg

Commersons dolphin playing off the wake of the boat

The Moreno Glacier calves off into Lake Argentina outside the town of El Calafate

An Andean Condor soars in front of the glacier

The Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina moves 6 feet a day and is constantly calving off ice into the bay

A Cara Cara in Argentina

Continue reading

Palmer Station experiences

Hi Glacier fans,

I’m wrapping up a week at this beautiful place with amazing people, many of whom have clean teeth. I saw 25 folks in the dental corner of the medical office, and everyone left with a smile. In between I got to do some hikes to the face of the glacier, and was rewarded with some spectacular ice crashing into the bay with a thundering sound and a pressure wave generated over the surface. Add to that the hot tub overlooking the whole scene and you get the idea that life isn’t too harsh in this part of the world.

I also enjoyed some rousing ping pong matches with the locals, some of whom were better sports than others. At one point my coveted paddle went missing and in its place was a ransom note, but through some clever negotiations I was able to retrieve it and keep it under wraps until we departed.

Pete the doc was a fast learner and my able bodied assistant, and even graduated with a certificate after successfully placing a filling on a willing participant. He has a few more months to go with his contract, but seems very at home in this close knit community. The rest of us are scheduled to depart in a few short hours for the 5 day trip back to Chile, all the while hoping for some calm seas through the Drake Passage.

Station manager Bob after his successful dental treatment

Hanging out by the glacier waiting for some calving to splash down

Palmer hot tub overlooking the glacier

The brash ice is finally moving away from the base to reveal some open water

Pete the doc gets his dental certificate

Pete and Cody decided to take some revenge out on my ping pong paddle

Sailing south to Palmer Station in Antarctica

The 230 foot research icebreaker Laurence M Gould at the pier in Punta Arenas in southern Chile

Hello Northerners,

      Back in May, I signed up to return to Antarctica with the hope of going to a research station south of Chile called Palmer that has never had a dentist. After patiently waiting a month with no word, I checked in with Jim, the medical director of the Antarctic program, and he glibly said “Oh yeah, you’ve been approved.” After a few months of juggling times and dates it was finally determined that I would be going in late November, and then continue on to McMurdo and the South Pole in January.

       So I packed up to depart the day after Thanksgiving with a turkey leftover sandwich for lunch that afternoon. I had enough time on the layover in Dallas to enjoy some wonderful Texas bar-b-que with my brother, and it held me over for the 9 hour overnight flight to Santiago, Chile. One more flight south to Punta Arenas brought me close to the bottom of South America, and from there I met some fellow passengers on the ship that would take us further south. They call the journey a “cruise”, but with the prospect of high rolling, stormy waves it’s no picnic on the high seas. We were relatively lucky with the multi day crossing of the Drake Passage, and we arrived at Palmer station after a 2 day stop to unload cargo for a field camp that left 5 souls behind to enjoy the peace and quiet of a remote island in the Antarctic peninsula.

      We also got to see some science along the way, like the deployment of some gliders that are really mini subs that collect data for a number of months while they scoot round under the ice. The food has been amazing and it’s easy to put ion a few pounds, so walking around on the deck is a good idea when the weather is nice.

Once we arrived at the station, the ship was secured sturdy enough to dampen the usual pitching and rolling, and since we are considered “turn around” passengers, we still sleep on board for the week we are at the pier. I spent a few hours setting up the dental equipment, and by the next day I was open for business with a waiting list of folks happy to get a free check-up and cleaning.

A submersible glider is prepped for a 3 month project of data collection

The bunk bed makes up the bulk of the state room aboard the Gould

Ashore on Livingston Island to unload supplies for Camp Sherriff

A gentoo penguin came strolling out of the ocean to see what all the activity was

A few chin strap penguins join the gentoos ashore on Livingston Island

An Antartic fur seal checks out the activity on Livingston Island

A hundred foot tall half pipe shaped iceberg on the way to Palmer

Calm water, bergy bits, and penguins and whales along the route

Welcome sign at Palmer next to the boat ramp

Palmer Station from the pier

 

 

 

 

 

 

No longer a pod cast virgin

Autumn greetings,
      Last month I got to do my first podcast with a dentist named Howard Farran who does a lot on social media, and it was more fun than I had imagined. He called me a while back and set it up with Skype, which meant I had to come up with my password, which is always a challenge for an account that hasn’t been used in a while. The link is below, but be warned it’s over an hour long so it might be a good insomnia treatment.
Dr. Robert Alan Koff DMD, the Frozen Dentist of Antarctica https://youtu.be/GEQkukA8ZFQ
      I have one more short week of work and am then heading down to Chile to board a research icebreaker to work at the research station called Palmer. The vessel is named after Laurence McKinley Gould, an American scientist who had explored both the Arctic and Antarctic. Wikipedia (control/click on this link to read more about the ship). I’ll then return to Chile in late December to goof off for a few weeks before flying to New Zealand in early January to do my usual 6 week contract at McMurdo and the South Pole.
     I’m been enjoying the relative warmth of Colorado for the past few weeks, and appreciating fresh raspberries and bananas among other “freshies” which I’m not likely to see for a few months. I’ll get some home cooked turkey and dressing before some long plane rides and six days at sea. I should have email access most of the time and always appreciate news from home, so sharpen your keyboard.
     Have a great holiday season as we enter the futurist sounding year of 2020.
Cheers,
    Bob the podster

An early Colorado snow made for a scenic hike at 11 Mile Reservoir

Georgia on my mind, and under my skin

A centuries old castle in Georgia

Gamarjoba,

That means “hello” in Georgian, the former Soviet Republic, not the peach state. I ventured there for a few weeks with some Colorado hiking comrades in September, with our own personal guide, Sean, the son of one of our hikers who had done a Peace Corps project there in the past and liked it enough to return and marry a sweet Georgian lady. We flew through Doha, Qatar, and I was unexpectedly upgraded to business class for the last 4 hour flight to Tbilisi, much  to the chagrin of my companions back in steerage despite my promise to share some left over caviar from my meal- go figure!

     We started in the capital of Tbilisi, which is a mix of old and new, from a main boulevard  of prosperous shops, hotels and restaurants, to centuries old castles and crumbling Soviet era buildings. One morning we ventured to the Turkish baths, which included a massage on a marble slab next to the steaming waters. I was one of the few who signed up for that, imagining a nice young woman masseuse with a firm but gentle touch. Instead I was rewarded with Gregor, a large hairy man of considerable girth who barked orders and wore a mitt made of what felt like steel wool which he proceeded to rub vigorously all over my body in an effort to exfoliate a few layers. The ensuing derm-abrasion was not what I had in mind, and the best part was when it was over, much like the end of a bad movie.
      Our group of six plus a driver then ventured around the mountains called the Caucasus for 10 days crammed in a 4 wheel drive Toyota, and we hiked and ate our way through wonderful Airbnb hosts in a half dozen towns. The people and dogs are friendly all over, and we managed to avoid any confrontations with the occupying Russian solders in the north that have effectively kept Georgia from joining NATO. One memorable visit was to Gori, where Stalin is revered as a home town boy. The impressive museum behind his preserved childhood home boasts of all his achievements but fails to mention how he tortured and killed an estimated 20 million people during his 30 years in power. The most interesting trivia we learned was that Putin’s (the current thug running Russia) grandfather was one of Stalin’s chefs, and his son, Putin’s father, was a food taster to make sure Stalin wasn’t being poisoned- quite a den of thieves.
      We also spent a few days in the scenic wine region, and enjoyed great meals with local wines. One day we were invited to a wine tasting by a restaurant owner, and were humbled by a large bellied fellow who as he led us through the selection of wines he casually mentioned that he drinks 6 liters of wine daily with no sign of being inebriated in the least.
     Our final day in Tbilisi found us at a wonderful French café with fresh croissants and delicious entrees which fueled us to explore a new museum and funicular cable car to the top of the hills overlooking the city. In an effort to experience the public transport mini buses swarming around the city, I asked for help from a lady standing on the corner. She provided great assistance to us, and I asked her where she learned to speak English so well. She mentioned that some years ago she had met and married an American who was stationed at a base called Fort Carson and lived in Colorado Springs for two years- small world!
     Another great adventure with friends that will provide a plethora of fond memories for rocking chair stories on the porch someday if my cognitive powers remain intact. And if not, living for those moments were sweet enough.
     Snow is forecast to return tomorrow, so hope you’re enjoying some sun and warmth with friends as we accelerate into the holiday season.
Cheers,
    Skin abraded Bob

Climbing the rail-less steps of the Tbilisi fortress

The Peace bridge and tubular unfinished concert hall in Tbilisi

Buying walnuts for $1 a pound in the market

Hiking in the Caucasus offered some spectacular views

A travertine hillside of mineral deposits from springs in the rock

Buildings made from dry stacked rocks in Mutso, near Shatili

A house reserved for plague victims to go to for their final days

Homes carved from the cliffs in the cave city of Vardzia

Typical farm to table food for dinner

A vendor spiral cuts a potato, then deep fries it for fresh chips on a stick

The Tbilisi metro descends hundreds of feet below the city

Celebrating with raspberry banana smoothies to the end of a great trip