Wednesday, June 15, 2005
At , I wake up after a restless night. Believe it or not, I unpack all my things and pack them again.
At , I leave my boat, walk to the shore, and stop for awhile to watch the sunrise. It’s the last tour of the harbor. I look toward the hut, but all my colleagues are sleeping. I take a last look at the ladies’ window and wave my hand goodbye before I have to decide to leave this world. I spend a few minutes walking the 30 meters (100 feet) to the harbor gate and 10 minutes to decide to take the definitive step outside. It breaks my soul when I take this step…I hope death is not as bad.
A voice freezes my tears. It’s Kirk. He’s packing his stuff in his car, preparing to go. He’s lucky, because he gets to spend another day visiting OrcaIsland. What does he mean when he says, “You made this experience different?” Brendan arrives on time, and I say goodbye to Kirk. I hate this part!
I explain to Brendan that I need a photo of a water lily from a special lake. He smiles. We stop at the lake, and for a few minutes I try to get a good photo. The light and position are bad, so I only get bad pictures. I will have to find something else!
We meet Jane and Alexia in FridayHarbor. The car is in line for loading on the ferry. I spend the ferry trip speaking with the two women, but my mind returns to the past 10 days. I follow the landscape with the sunshine in my eyes. A dream remains behind, and I have to wake up.
I tell Jane all that she wants to know about my country, family, and lifestyle. She invites me to Florida next year! I am very thankful, but it’s almost impossible. I don’t think the embassy would allow this.
We arrive at the airport at From the highway, I see Seattle, the Space Needle, and the Boeing factory, but nothing can compare to an orca breaching in the ocean! I say goodbye to Jane and Alexia at the airport.
I try to go home today, but the airplane is overbooked. I go to search for a hotel room, and I again meet Jane and Alexia. I spend my day walking to the town and visiting the mall, a large toy store, and my favorite restaurant. Here, I order Buffalo wings (fried chicken wings coated in hot sauce) because it was the first food that I ate when I was in the United States four years ago.
I buy some toys for Ramona and go back to the hotel room. The shuttle driver was a funny guy, but I am so tired and sad....
I leave the Seattle airport the next day. Before I leave, I ask the woman at the ticket counter if I could get into trouble with my crabs. Another weird look, but she assures me that I won’t get into trouble. A fine stink comes out from my knapsack.
Before boarding, I hear my name called over the loudspeakers, but for what I don’t know. I check twice at the information desk, but they can’t give me an answer. It will remain a mystery for my entire life!
It’s a long flight. I watch cartoons and make sure I don’t miss the amazing landscape of Greenland. It was Amsterdam after that, and another flight to Bucharest. I sleep almost the entire time!
At the Bucharest airport, I go like the wind through customs. “Are you sure you don’t want to check my baggage?” I ask the officer. “No!” is the answer I receive. “Goodbye!”
I get a taxi, and I begin a crazy trip to the train station. Surprise—Romanian railways are on strike since last week. I reach the train station at , and at I am on the only train that goes to Timisoara. The train leaves at 2.30!
I reach my home at 11 p.m. The next day, I reunite with my entire family. Ramona gets her orca. It’s love at first sight!
Matilda goes in my garden for aromatherapy. Like in a horror movie, she is full of worms! My hedgehog shells are okay. George needs some facial reconstruction because he was very damaged. I lost two of the seven crabs—including George—that I brought home. I also lost a big part of my heart in this experience!
I suppose now I will have to write an end to this story! First of all, I am sure that God really loves me. It’s amazing that Alcoa and Earthwatch have this program, and I will be forever thankful that I was selected.
Orca are amazing creatures, with complex relationships inside the group and the family. My opinion is that humans, even if they only watch orca, are too aggressive! Also, we have to know that these magical creatures are, in fact, very helpless when they have to fight against pollution, human intrusion, and economical factors. More detailed information about this can be found at the various websites listed on the orca expedition page. You can also search the Internet for orca, and you will get a lot of information. Maybe one day you will love them and adopt one.
At this moment, I have the feeling that I didn’t help the orca cause very much. But if love can be considered real support, then I have helped a lot and have enough love to share for all.
Spend each day like the last day of your life!
Note: One of the questions I got the most when I returned home from my trip was if I had touched an orca. I didn’t, even though Captain Tom was convinced I would jump from the boat to do so and repeatedly warned me not to. I checked all the rules, and I knew that Tom would get into a lot of trouble if somebody jumped or accidentally fell into the water during an encounter. I was tempted, but I would never do something that would cause trouble for others. I believe things happen at the right time, and I know that one day I will touch an orca.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
At , I wake up for my early daily shower. Everybody is asleep, and I meet only a seal playing in the water. It will be a nice, soft, and silent morning.
I go to recover Matilda (she is very stinky!) and pack her in a plastic box. I try to seal the box as best I can using adhesive tape. I put the box in a paper bag, then in two plastic bags, and then I seal them. I also pack Ramona’s orca, George (the red-spotted crab), my oysters, the stones, and all the things that I collected here. When I check the knapsack, I find inside the keychain from my apartment. It was the last drop of my sadness. How can somebody be so sad when he is returning home?
At , I give up packing. Packing my things is like building a brick wall, behind which are all of my memories of the time spent here. I don’t want this! Each second that I lose, a new brick is placed in the wall.
I go to the shore. The sun is reflected in the water as in a foggy mirror, and it’s so calm. The seagulls are in the harbor but so quiet today. I make my last morning tour of the harbor. I visit each corner, admiring each stone and each shell. I smell the salted wind…it feels like it’s the last day of my life.
I go for breakfast and observe the activities of my colleagues. Ha and Mel are happily laughing on the balcony. Dorothy takes a nap. Yasuki drinks coffee in the corner. Kirk is out paddling in his kayak. I am happy that I have my sunglasses!
But…what’s this smell? My brain starts to race, and I ask “What’s this smell? Matilda is packed and safe!” All recognize that the smell does really exist. I start to complain: “You have had this smell here for a few days, and I have to bury Matilda! Matilda is my first crab love, and she dies an innocent death!” I’m so sad, so I have to say something funny!
We go to the center at and write on the flipchart our departure times. I will be the first to leave— tomorrow. It’s okay. I will miss everyone, but sometimes it’s better to be alone. I will want one stop on the way (nobody knows that it’s for the water lily). My weird request helps me for the first time!
Ha and Mel enter the data while Dorothy and Yasuki select pictures for the CDs. I am desperate! The story from high school is repeating itself! I suppose I will never lose my chemistry teacher and my colleagues, but now I realize again that time goes on and I cannot stop it! My teacher told me then: “You never think that all will have an end sometime?” Again, I’m powerless!
I want a picture from Evelyn, but I want her doing something funny!
The flow of time is killing me. Okay, I’ll go for a swim! My announcement is like a bucket of cold water.
Things are moving fast. I go downstairs to the shore for the first time today. I wear my swimsuit and T-shirt, and without any hesitation I jump in the water. Wow! I will miss feeling this sensation for the rest of my life…together with another thousand things. The water is cold but not frozen, and I feel it flowing around my body. I swim very slowly and easily. I take a look around and realize the immensity of the ocean.
There are some stones in front of the shore when the tide is low and where the seals enjoy the sun. I start to swim in that direction. I like the water’s taste, and I have to be careful not to get my head wet. Suddenly, I see something moving in front of me. It’s a seal! She looks at me curiously. I stop swimming, and I clap the water with my hand. She raises her head out the water. I do the same!
After a few moments, another seal appears. Both are swimming around me and are coming closer. At one moment, one is so close that I can see his big black eyes, small ears that are moving, and nostrils that are opening. They smell me, and I can hear their breath. I try to imitate their sounds, and they look at me like I’m an alien creature! We play this game for a few minutes, with me trying to swim closer. I also try to watch them underwater. Finally, the seals give up. Maybe they don’t like that I won’t go underwater!
I swim back to the shore. What a great experience! I’m happy that I could swim with this cute creature and share a friendly encounter. But what’s next is weird und unexpected. I go quickly to take a shower, and I cannot stop my teeth from chattering. I don’t feel cold. I spent almost 20 minutes in the water, and after that I ran almost two miles. I do a lot of exercises to warm back up. In spite of this, I would do it all again without complaint!
We leave to go out on the ocean at I cannot think this is the last trip! I have the behavior log in my knapsack, so I’ll be sure to complete it.
The orca are sad today. It’s like they feel that I will miss them forever. For the first time, I see two back breaches. I watch them with love and passion for perhaps the last time in my life.
We meet the orca at and follow them till . I lose my voice, my stomach is in my throat, and my heart stops! I stretch out each second as long as possible. We lose the orca. Time is out, and we have to turn back.
Today, Tom takes us on a tour of all the nice sights—the falcon nest and the seal colony. He also goes close to the seals from the center. I think that my two swimming partners are in the group, and somebody asks which are the two seals. I will never know! I steal small pieces from that other time to keep for a next life.
We say goodbye to Tom, and I try to get him to promise that Sonia will write back.
I get a complaint and a proposal. The first was about my jumping in the harbor water yesterday, and the second is to travel to Seattle by car instead of the bus. The offer comes from Jane, a friend of Astrid’s and grandmother of Alexia (Tom’s niece). I accept without condition. I also explain that the water was very clean according to my standards and that the ocean creatures must live in these conditions every day.
The afternoon is spent at the center. We enjoy the sun while on the stones near the shore. Ha and Yasuki try to kayak for some time, and I realize that teamwork means…hard work. I lose my sunglasses, but I find some sea hedgehog shells (guess what I do with them!). Yasuki and Dorothy take a dip in the ocean. I try to keep the tears from flowing.
The evening is worse. I hate to lose anything, especially friends! Maybe I survive the evening because Dorothy keeps me active preparing food (the results are bad, but everyone politely tries to eat). I peel all the onions from the center (onions make people sad, don’t they?), wash dishes, and wash dishes again.
Yasuki sings “O Solo Mio” in Italian and with passion. Kirk tells some jokes. I wash all the dishes and prepare my “worry onion.”
Ken is surprised when he hears that I went swimming again. “In the harbor?” he asks Evelyn. “No, here in the gulf,” she says. I see on his face that he thinks “This guy is crazy….”
I talk with Astrid about a nice orca behavior. Many times during the encounters, the orca approached a boat that pulled a small boat behind it. This happened three times in the past week, and I observed the same situation today. Do the orca think the small boat is a child? I will miss Astrid!
Melanie sings while she and Kristen play on the piano a song requiring four hands. Melanie is amazing. How many talents and secrets does she hide?
For a few minutes, we watch a movie showing orca following a speedboat while underwater. Orca swim so gracefully and easily, without any visible effort. It was great.
Adam gives a presentation on a skiing expedition. It was a nice adventure, and all of this reminds me of my country.
The entire evening is torture for me. I want somebody to come and announce that it’s just a joke and we can stay here forever. It’s not necessary to leave!
Evelyn is the first to come and say goodbye. I have no words. A little bit later, we say goodbye to the staff. I kiss Astrid’s hand and give her a hug from all my heart because my tears stop me from saying thank you and goodbye.
We turn back to SnugHarbor in silence. I say goodbye to Yasuki and Kirk. I try to do the same for the ladies, but it’s impossible to find all the words that I want to say while having tears in my eyes!
I get back to my boat and to the “shower.” When I return, I find all the lights are off. Okay, the power is out. Better for me! But I get the most beautiful and painful surprise of my life: all of my colleagues are inside for a last goodbye!
This experience was a full human life concentrated in 10 days. I was born, I grew up, I learned, I loved, I made mistakes, I was happy and sad, I enjoyed a new world, I discovered the amazing orca, I got older with each second, and now it is time to die. My tears wet all my things when I pack my knapsack. Note One day when I was sad and Dorothy tried to trade for my sunglasses, I told her that I have my reasons to be sad. “I feel my time here ticking and slowly running out,” I said. “Your time runs out all the time, every moment!” she tells me. Yes, I said, but I don’t know when my time will end on this earth. But here I know very clearly when all of this will end.
Maybe this is the reason God doesn’t let people know in advance the moment of their death. People would be sad their entire life, thinking only of what they will lose and how much less they can do in the time remaining. This means that my motto is now “Spend each day like the last day in your life!”
Monday, June 13, 2005
I wake up at because I need a shower, which takes almost one hour.
It’s , and the sky is black like the tears of my soul! I have only 48 hours left until everything will be over and just memories. I will see my daughter again, but I regret that I cannot be sure if one or both of us will have the chance to see this wonder again. If we will enjoy the dorsal fin appearing from the water. If we will feel the thrill in the soul when the orca come close to the boat and we don’t know which button to push to immortalize the moment…or push the button a few times and realize later that the camera is off. If we will keep the notepad in one hand, the pen in the mouth, and the camera in the other hand and try to decide—do I write in the log, or do I take a picture? If at the end of the encounter, Astrid or Adam will come at us very fast with a list: J, K, L, “one oi one.” If we will write this information down and at the end realize that one orca is dead and another one is not yet born!
I think of how my colleagues get desperate when they see my camera locking on them. I want to have as many memories as possible of them all, but I realize now that it’s too late to ask for apologies.
I like to take pictures of Ha; she laughs all the time and is so nice and happy. I like to ask Dorothy to “translate” things for me; she’s so friendly. I like to ask Kirk questions because he knows a lot of things and has the patience to explain them to me. He also loves the ocean so much, as do I (but I will be far away from the ocean). I like Yasuki; he’s so occupied, serious, and efficient! I think of him singing opera in Italian, with passion from his soul, but I don’t understand any of the words. I’m sure it’s mean to work slowly and type wrong numbers only because I like Melanie’s voice and this is the only way to spend more time with her (I will have at least 5,000 years in purgatory, but I deserve this! I will not regret it! ).
I like to spend time with Sonia and her father, Tom. I like Tom’s jumping and dancing when orca are close. I also feel my soul in heaven when orca come closer! I like hearing Astrid “meowing” like the orca, and I like to feel her enthusiasm. She has so much that she can fill an ocean with it. I also like to feel the connection between Astrid and the orca; they are connected with an invisible line, and they will search for each other until the end of this world. Fortunately, they will have a new encounter each year! Many people may not believe this, but when Astrid accompanies us, the orca are closer. This is true love for both the orca and Astrid!
I like to listen to orca sounds using the hydrophones. Nobody knows what they mean, but you can feel the joy or the sadness inside them.
Someday, I will see and meet orca again.
I like to wake up in the middle of the night, to watch the sea, and to walk on the shore only because my time is short and I want to get as much as possible from each moment! I have to wear sunglasses again. My eyes are red—is it due to lack of sleep or sadness?
I now have only 46 hours and so many things to do! I try to see the sunrise, but the sky is too dark. I save the life of a jellyfish (he doesn’t say anything, even though I expected a thank you), and I ignore the worms. We’re all in time for our morning meeting: the “unk” bird, seagulls, and worms. I see the boss from the SnugHarbor store, and I refuse his offer of coffee. I don’t think it’s impolite to refuse coffee.
It’s , and I’m in the cabana where we have breakfast. Dorothy is happy today, and Ha and Melanie are missing from the balcony. I drink a lot of milk with coffee in a corner, and Yasuki eats eggs with ham prepared by Dorothy. For the first time, I see the mountains behind the island! Ha comments that his worry stones collected from the shore are cold.
At , we go to the center. Yasuki, Dorothy, and I try to select the best photos from this season to put on one CD. I also want some photos of sick orca or those wounded by boats for my future presentation. Astrid and I discuss orca sickness, pollution, and the whales’ instinct for survival in such conditions. It’s hard for people to believe that these great creatures can be so helpless when they have to fight human intrusion, pollution, the effects of PCBs, and other factors.
Ha and Melanie enter the data from the last encounter. At , we learn that the orca are here. I leave the center and watch them from the big bench in the backyard. It’s the last time I will watch orca from here, and I need to be alone.
I ask my colleagues and staff members to write something in my diary. Another weird request!
Until , I document from Kirk’s map the places where we encountered the orca each day. Looking inside the center, I find one sheet that gives the sense of all our work here. It shows the connection between the logs that we do during every encounter, the reports, the GPS information, that databases, and the orca. It shows the places where orca often feed, the matriarchal line, and the orca population throughout time. I’m sad because I feel I didn’t do enough!
At we go out on the ocean, and Astrid comes with us. Melanie and I will share the behavior log today. She will fill out the first page, and I will continue with the next one.
We meet the calf again. He or she (I like to suppose it’s a she) is very happy, and we see her a lot today. Astrid is ecstatic again, as am I. I ask Melanie to help me write down the correct orca names. I respect Astrid too much to make a mistake again. The rule “I keep the behavior log, you get the breaches” was true. We see five breaches during the time I keep the log. Of course, I cannot capture any of them with the camera, but I enjoy the show! I love these creatures!
During this time, J and K pods do a lot of spy hops and tail lobs. Finally, the day becomes nice and sunny. We turn back at
I’m the last to leave the boat, and I ask Dorothy to wait for me. When most of my colleagues are far from the boat, I show Dorothy how my video camera works. I push the start button and run the 10 meters (33 feet) to the end of the harbor and…I jump into the ocean! I have to do this. It was one of my dreams to swim in this ocean. When I come out from the water, I hear Dorothy screaming. She didn’t expect that I would really jump! I was afraid she forgot to get the movie. I come out to thank her, and I jump in again. I take a tour of the harbor so I could enjoy the same landscape as the water creatures from this part of the world.
Of course, people have concerns about my actions. Most of them were about the dirtiness of the water and the pollution in the harbor. Yes, I agree, but 1) creatures are living in this dirty water; and 2) rivers and water are a lot more polluted in my country (this harbor is like a swimming pool compared to my rivers). I’d be happy to use this water hole again! Astrid tells me that I will have to be mentioned in the mammals log for my bath.
Melanie, Ha, and Kirk went to the center to swim. I have to decide between going to the center and having a new encounter on the ocean. I decide on the orca.
Astrid and Yasuki study some songs. At this time (), they are singing together. I enjoy the moment and eat something because I’m hungry. I can’t believe it!
Only Dorothy comes on the next boat trip. The staff decides that we don’t have to record the logs this afternoon. I love this: a trip to the orca only to enjoy them! I enjoy this trip like a gift from God. No pictures, no logs, nothing! I am there only to watch and enjoy the orca. During the trip, I move quickly around the boat shouting the names of the orca and meowing like Astrid. Some of the tourists probably think I’m weird, but two of them are real orca freaks from the whale museum. They just smile because they understand me.
I enjoy the encounters, the landscape, the clouds, and the sun like it’s the last day of my life! It was amazing! I return to my favorite place—the front of the boat.
At , we are back for dinner. Astrid had planned a presentation for today but something isn’t working properly. After some time, I ask Katie if we would have the presentation, and she says maybe not. I am too sad to stay with my colleagues, so I decide to walk to a lake where Melanie saw a water lily a couple evenings ago when we were in town with Sonia. We tried to get pictures then, but it was too dark. I suppose I have time to take the photo today, but I’m not sure about the distance.
At the top of the hill, I meet Ken, who is going to RocheHarbor in his car (this is in another direction). I don’t have the courage to ask him for a ride to the lake, and I will regret this for a long time! I like the landscape, the trees, and the forest. What I don’t like here? I identify the source of some weird sounds that I hear in the night sometimes. It’s a farm, and I suppose they have deer or peacocks inside.
I walk until the sun goes down, and I know that I cannot get the pictures today. Unfortunately, I have to turn back.
It’s dark when I reach SnugHarbor. Nobody is there! Even worse, I don’t have the water lily pictures and for sure I missed Astrid’s presentation or something else.
Sad, I eat a lot of ice cream and some bacon with bread under the tree. After that, I turn up the radio and go on the roof of the boat where I try to design my orca presentation. Finally, I go to sleep. I wake up at , and the music is too loud. I have tears in my eyes like a child. I have only 30 hours left!
Sunday, June 12, 2005
I am lazy today, waking up at I don’t even remember when I went to sleep last evening.
It is very quiet, with everyone asleep. I again find some worms on the sand exhibiting the same behavior as yesterday. Because I read about them in the books, I give up my rescue efforts.
The seagulls are on time for our daily meeting. At about , I meet a big gray bird named…unk. Maybe somebody will recognize this bird from a picture. We are on very familiar terms, so the bird is almost fearless. I watch it catching fish by compressing its neck like a bow, extending the neck quickly, and catching the fish.
I check George and Matilda. They stink! I again try to get photos of anemones but have bad results. I spend the next hour watching the sunrise. One entire hour.…
Melanie made French toast this morning. I eat it with the fish from last evening, cheese, and raw bacon (don’t be scared). I like French toast with cheese, Tabasco sauce, ketchup, and bacon, and I like ice cream with chocolate sauce for breakfast. While here, I also learn to drink coffee with a lot of milk. Dorothy says that I am crazy but manageable. You can get crazy if you try to manage me!
I remember that I have only two days left to spend with Ha, Dorothy, Mel, and the orca.
I check my clothes from yesterday, and they are soft, wet, and have black patches and mold.
At , we go to the center. Here, I copy the behavior log from yesterday on a clean sheet and ask permission to keep the original one. It was a great day yesterday, and I am proud to have this log.
I start to document what my colleagues do. Evelyn listens to music and works on her brand new laptop. Ha and Mel enter the encounter data into the computer. Kristen works on the other computer. I take the coral from the bathroom because I want a photo of it. Kirk watches a DVD while Yasuki and Dorothy try to identify the orca from yesterday (tough task). I try to download my pictures from the camera, but it takes time and somebody interrupts the transfer.
At , we go to FridayHarbor. I lose the group and spend two hours alone in an American town. I check out all the stores. I see a very nice store with gardening stuff, and I talk with the lady in the store about what some of it is used for. I enter a flower shop, which has a very soft and nice smell and lots of flowers! The woman working there understands my passion and allows me plenty of time. I also visited a very different store where a woman sings to a drum, the smell is psychedelic, and a girl with a lot of piercings talks to a customer. This store is not for me!
I see close to the harbor another store called Hot Shop. Not knowing what to expect, I hesitate to enter but find, to my surprise, a lot of hot spices for food! I want Tabasco, but the price is too high.
While at the harbor, I buy myself two T-shirts and a necklace with two orca for Ramona. I meet a woman from Hungary, and we happily speak for a bit. The world is small—only the boundaries are too high.
I meet Dorothy at 1:40 p.m. She suggests I eat some food made from crabs. This makes me curious. I go to my old friends, the fajita team, to try crab pancakes. The lady from the restaurant wants to be sure that I want crab pancakes, and I answer yes. You want my opinion? Matilda smells almost the same. But in the name of science, I try them. They taste like chicken and are expensive.
After this, we visit RocheHarbor (I don’t know what “Roche” means, but “Riche” would be a better name). We visit a boat donated to the center, and I very quickly realize this boat is not for me. The electronic equipment alone (amplifier, DVD, television, etc.) is more valuable than my entire apartment in Romania. Sometimes life is not fair!
I take a short tour of the harbor (this means I rotate on my axis 360 degrees!), and I decide to disappear. I take a lot of pictures of flowers, and Melanie tells me that some are from Australia.
I surprise an elderly man and woman by asking them for a photo. I like their calm attitude, the serenity on their faces, and the fact that they are holding hands. It’s a magical moment and a dream for a full life. They will never now how they, this harbor, the orca and a person who patiently supports all my stupid ideas will inspire my actions in the future.
I return with my soul like the sky before the storm. Some of my colleagues are not on the afternoon trip to see the orca, only realizing this after the boat leaves the harbor.
Today, Yasuki will keep the behavior log. I will keep the boat log, but this isn’t as fun. You must document direction, position, time, tide, etc.
Because we don’t have information on the whereabouts of the orca, we visit a falcon nest on the rocks and a seal colony. I think I see two small falcons, and I’ll be able to prove this with my pictures. The seals are cute and, at this moment, lazy, staying on some rocks above the surface of the water.
The ocean is very rough (yesterday was like a calm lake), so I go to the front of the boat to enjoy the waves. The wave rollercoaster gives the same joy like the day before. I don’t move from this until we encounter the orca, and I am completely wet…again. The bow of this boat will be my favorite place in the next days until the end of the expedition.
Today the orca are very…sad. We listen to their sounds using the hydrophone, and they are like tears flowing from a broken heart. I try to trade the logs with Yasuki. Okay! I will keep both logs, but I really want the behavior log. Not a chance! We make a trade. I get the behavior log and everyone else gets to photograph the breaches. I only get the log almost at the end of the encounter.
We get a couple half breaches. The orca and I are really connected! I love this creature. In 300 years, I will be almost as good as Astrid, and maybe I will touch an orca one day.
During the encounter, I see a really big jellyfish that’s almost 35 centimeters (14 inches) in diameter and colored red on the inside. I try to get some landscape photos, but this doesn’t work. I see some lovely madrona trees on the shore.
During the way back, I get another portion of joy and water on the bow of the boat. Tom just smiles, and I feel that he understands what’s in my soul. Seawater is a good way to hide feelings.
The evening was again spent at Astrid’s friend’s house. Astrid promises us a presentation, but the equipment doesn’t work. One guest explains to me that he saw an orca in the ocean in front of the house. He is so enthusiastic.
I eat something (pizza, potatoes, and meat), and I go downstairs to the shore. This is a nice place, full of logs carried by the tide. Behind these logs and under a tree is a snug place, like a chair. I spend the next two hours there alone. It’s raining outside and in my soul the entire time! We leave at , and I am happy to get back to my boat….
I use adhesive tape on half a hole in the roof over my bed to redirect the rainwater in another direction. This means I will have a dry bed. I go to bed and fall asleep like a log.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
At , I’m walking on the shore. There are a lot of seagulls on the harbor again.
I find a few mussel worms on the shore. Because I want some clear pictures, I take a worm very carefully and wash it in the ocean. I put it back on the sand, and suddenly it begins to release a white liquid. The worm then splits into four parts, each moving independently. Curious! I get another one, and the same thing happens. Maybe it’s a way to protect itself, like a lizard that loses its tail when it’s in danger.
Today’s next task is tending to my crabs on the roof. The entire team complained last evening that the smell from my crabs is very bad. I have been suspicious of Matilda for a long time, and I go check to see if it’s true. It is—Matilda stinks! I gather all the crabs, select three of them (including Matilda, of course), take the necessary pictures, and return to the ocean what I took from it. Matilda gets placed on the shore, and the other crabs go on the boat with George, my red spotted crab. I now realize that Matilda was actually a dead crab instead of a molt (shell) like the others.
I get from Kirk some books about marine life, and I use this opportunity to document some things (photos are easy to take and look at when I have time). In the books, I find all the creatures and plants that I have seen in the past days.
At breakfast, I show my colleagues photos from Matilda’s “funeral.” It was funny, but I do regret taking this big dead crab.
I go to the center to enter the data in the computer. Melanie comes to help me, and suddenly I have two left hands! The others do identification downstairs, but I find it more pleasant to enter data.
At , we leave the harbor with the brave captain Tom and Elmer, the whale-watching dog that is my big, fat brother. Sonia, who is Tom’s daughter, helps perform the duties of a naturalist on the boat in Katie’s absence. This was the last day I’d see Sonia, and she promises me her mother’s apple crisp recipe.
Astrid has an appointment today, so this is the first time that Adam comes with us. He’s a real orca freak and is almost as enthusiastic as Astrid.
I very much want to keep the behavior log today. This log is the essence of my life, and I would like a copy of it when I leave the center. On the boat, a colleague “convinces” me to give the log to somebody else. I get the log back from Melanie to supposedly erase my name, and I’m gone with log in hand.
It was an amazing, wet day. The ocean is very rough, giving me the ride of my life. The orca are also very active. We see 19 breaches, with one calf breaching five times in a row. I don’t know about the rest of the team, but at this moment, I have the pen in my mouth, the log in my left hand, and the camera in my right hand. Brendan taps my shoulder, and I begin to write down all the behavior that we can see. After that, Adam approaches me and speaks very fast: L88, L86, K20, L22, unk. Hey! What does “unk” mean? Unk means unknown! And “oi oi?” Zero zero. Cute!
I’ll keep the original log as a souvenir, copying its contents on an empty sheet tomorrow. For now, it’s one of my favorite souvenirs! I don’t get any complaints when I ask for the log.
Dorothy photographs a whale breaching today. She deserves it. All of us want to photograph a breach, but it’s almost impossible to capture the moment on film. I see many breaches, but I always forget to use my camera since it’s such an intense moment. I forget to do anything but take pleasure in what I’m seeing.
The return trip is enjoyable, with the ocean remaining rough the entire way. I am completely wet, so I go in the front the boat and enjoy all the waves that spray on me. I am happy, happy, happy. I didn’t photograph any breaches today, but I have the log that proves I did see 19 of them today!
Only Kristen remains in the front of the boat, and she tries to keep from getting seasick.
We reach SnugHarbor at First stop is my room, where I pour fresh water on the clothes I’m wearing. This is the first time I’ve ever had the feeling that I could do this. I change all my clothes (everything was wet), and I hang most of them outside on the boat.
I see that my two crabs on the boat are broken into pieces because of the sun and heat. When I drop them in the ocean, the shells almost dissolve in the water. I run and find Matilda. She’s in one piece, and I hide her far enough away so her aroma doesn’t disturb anyone.
We go to the center in time to see the orca as they pass going north. Kirk gives a presentation on the connection between the moon phases and the tide. After that, I watch the movie “Orca” for the first time. Since I now know some things about orca, this movie looks silly.
I walk back to SnugHarbor for dinner with Melanie. I check my clothes, and they are wet and moldy, possibly because of the salt water. While my colleagues go to dinner, I head to Yasuki’s bathroom to take a shower. I’m full of salt and very tired! I wash my clothes again.
A new lady cooks for us this evening—a garlic sauce and fish. Melanie has me try sorbet, which is a fruit-flavored ice. In the evening, the entire team is together, and we all spin stories. All of us there are so happy. I realize that I cannot follow the discussion, so I go to a corner to write my diary and dream with open eyes. My time here runs out so slowly.
I leave the room very quietly and free my soul in the darkness of the night.
Friday, June 10, 2005
I wake up at Because I found the worms last evening, I decide that today I will not hurry. At , I am almost finished doing my laundry in this part of the world. I stretch the rope on the boat and hang the clothes to dry. The boat looks funny now….
I go to the shore, and guess what? A lot of the worms that I tried to catch during the past nights are swimming now in the daylight.
I collect some sand, shells, snail shells, and barnacles in a plastic bottle, which I fill up with water. After a half hour, I realize that some of the snails are alive and climbing up the sides of the bottle. I remember Melanie’s words, and I release them.
I next visit with the seagulls. Because we meet almost every morning, they are very friendly now. If I stay still, they land very close to me. I try to get some pictures, but I suppose they don’t trust me too much.
I wear my sunglasses this morning, and everybody wants to know why. I tell them it’s because it’s Friday and I am so sad. Dorothy tries to trade my sunglasses for a picture of her foot. I take two pictures, but I keep my glasses. I tell them about Dracula and make up a story about how in Romania, we drink blood during the night between Thursday and Friday. If we drink too much, our eyes turn red and we have to wear sunglasses to not scare the children. I drank to much blood last night!
After nine, we are at the center where we meet some deer in the backyard. I want pictures….
The atmosphere at the center is very relaxed. Ken takes care of some improvements. Astrid focuses on the orca. Brandon and Kristen prepare their studies. Evelyn, a very funny lady, works here for pleasure only. Katie has worked for five years with Astrid and the orca, and she’s very good. Adam is an orca freak like me, but I cannot quit my job and move here.
In the office, I find on the desk a DVD labeled “DeeDee—Orca Behavior.” I jump around, taking care to not destroy the roof. I don’t stop until I check to see if the DVD works. It does, and I am so happy.
Melanie, Ha, and Dorothy are downstairs identifying the orca seen yesterday. At , the alarm sounds. Transients are here! Okay! Okay! But they are boring. They don’t do anything! We head out.
Astrid joins us today. I continue to admire her for her enthusiasm, which is amazing and contagious, and that she has so much passion for what she does.
We encounter the transients at Whoa! This was unexpected, crazy, scary, fast, and amazing! I write only a half page in the behavior log, but these orca are thunder in action. They are like a submarine—pure power! You can feel the power and danger swimming in the water.
Their dorsal fins are sharp and pointy, and they move unexpectedly and very fast. They look like me—they search, check, and, I suppose, finally attack cleanly and in silence. (Okay, I am not dangerous, but these orca seem like restless creatures.)
I enjoy this encounter with all my soul, as I would a horror movie. Tom puts the hydrophone in the water, but we can only see the transients. There are no sounds; only a deep silence. You can feel and touch Death coming! Transients are almost always traveling fast, milling, doing some back fin slaps, and changing direction quickly. They look so efficient.
I switch to my video camera since pictures are flat and without feeling. Just when I think a male orca (we can tell because of the large size of the dorsal fin) will go away, he changes direction and comes at the boat so fast that I think we will be hit! It’s a deadly silence. That was great!
We meet the transients twice, only for 20 minutes each time, but it was so intense. All of us are very busy taking pictures and watching the orca.
Transients are different than the other orca. They eat mammals, seals, and porpoises. They can also stay underwater for a long time.
We finally lose them. I will think twice before I consider swimming with them.
Tom hears on the radio that a humpback whale has been seen. We look around for some time (a half hour almost), but we see only a few funny porpoises (I hope they are not ready for dinner) and nice seals that eat fish floating on the surface of the water. Some of us look around for the transients, but I suppose they are far away. Seals and porpoises are like sausages for transients!
We turn back, and at we go to FridayHarbor for shopping. All that I buy from the whale museum and other stores, except a big orca for Ramona, goes into a plastic bag. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough souvenirs for everyone. I take a picture with the “fajita team.”
It’s back to SnugHarbor, and dinner is ready. It’s Sonia’s last day cooking, and she is so sad. She tries to explain that a new girl will come to prepare dinner for us, and she will miss us a lot. I remind her of her promise of a trip into town. I insist, because I want to know when we will go to town to maybe dance or do karaoke (I cannot dance, and even in the army I wasn’t allowed to sing). We exchange some more words, and then we all laugh.
We next discuss the transients, and slowly the discussion moves to my stupid pictures of shoes, legs, and toes. Kirk brings out his laptop to play some music, and we all get crazy listening to my favorite songs, including Joan Osborne’s “What if God Were One of Us.” I would be so happy to have God close to me now so I could convince Him to give me more time. I wish so much for more time.
Thursday, June 9, 2005
Last night on my way back to the boat, I again watched some creatures swimming under the harbor light. Some of them, like snakes or big worms, seem to be blind, because often they hit the plants floating on the water surface. All are too far away to catch.
I was happy to see that my bed was not floating in water. I went to sleep late (showers take too much time) and woke up at The night was wet and I am feeling bad, so I have to find something fun to do. But if life was a rose everyday, what would be the adventurous part of this story?
I make the decision to delete the photos from the camera’s memory card. I have to take the risk. This means up to 1,000 pictures left—a new nightmare for everybody!
I take my daily walk on the shore, checking the condition of the crabs. I see a very big white anemone almost one meter (three feet) long at a depth of almost two meters (six feet). It looks cute and interesting, and I am curious to touch it. I find a smaller one that’s closer and attached under the bridge. When my hand gets near, it closes very quickly. When I touch what remains, it feels like…an anemone!
At , only Ha is awake, and I go for breakfast. Everyone is sad and quiet this morning. Ha eats yogurt with watermelon. I take warm tea with lemon and start to document what kind of shoes everybody brings on the expedition. This morning, Ha wears black shoes with a high heel; Melanie, white light sandals; Kirk, rubber boots; Dorothy, only socks; and Yasuki, light brown shoes. I hate my shoes, but they dry out quickly. My colleagues think I am crazy.
Kirk goes to paddle on the ocean. He is very lucky to have all his own stuff here. It’s the first time I want to have my car or at least my bike.
I take a picture of my crabs on the roof. They are so cute there.
Brendan brings me a message from my wife (Adriana), daughter (Romana), and my office colleagues, who jokingly say they want to demonstrate in the streets for my “release.” I think they would look funny carrying signs that say “Free DeeDee,” or “Dear orca, please don’t eat DeeDee.”
We move to the center at in time to meet the orca at . The hydrophone is on, and I enjoy the sounds of the orca—they are so happy today. I don’t know how many there are, but their songs are filling the entire room and my soul, too. Melanie and Yasuki record the sounds (Melanie is using her camera), and I try to imagine what’s happening underwater and what’s the reason for so much happiness. Maybe it was the silence in the water because no ship was at sea.
At , we are on the sea again. Yippee! Astrid comes with us today. I take the behavior log and am very nervous because I am sure Astrid will indicate at the end of each encounter the name of the orca we see and that she recognizes. I check with Astrid about what I have written and realize that I mistakenly wrote that one of the orca was dead and another one was not yet born. I promise Astrid that I will be here when the unborn orca comes into the world.
The orca are not too active. We meet K pod, and we spend almost all the time with them. It was warm and nice outside, and the sea was calm, so I’m enjoying everything.
I think very seriously about how I will communicate about my experience when I return home. Maybe I will try to use the behavior logs to document our activity better. I love to do the behavior logs.
I check my photos and am surprised that I have a lot of pictures with orca. Today, we see only two breaches and a lot of tail lobs.
Tom, the captain of StellarSea, is a very funny guy. He dances when he sees the orca! I want to capture this “Kodak moment,” and I try to make Tom dance again. He doesn’t understand what I want from him, so I show him. Tom laughs, but finally he does his moves again. It was so funny! I later show the movie to Sonja, his daughter, and she says that I am crazy. Nobody sees her father dancing. Alexia, Sonja’s cousin, was also delighted!
I will miss a lot of people when the expedition is over. The end will be very sad!
Astrid tells me that June is the best month for orca encounters. We also discuss some economic issues and the differences between the countries. I want to know if it’s possible to return to this project, and she just smiles. I think of my daughter Ramona. She must enjoy all of this sometime as well!
I take a lot of pictures today—orca, flowers, snakes, landscapes. Something starts ticking, and I realize that my time here slowly runs out!
We return to the center in the afternoon. Everybody has something to do except me, so I input the data from the behavior log into the database, answer the email from Adriana, Romana, and my colleagues, and try to get a copy of the orca behavior DVD. After a long time (almost two hours), I find the proper software to make a copy. The copying process starts, and the computer stops at 98% right before we go to dinner. I leave the computer running….
This evening, we are invited to dinner by a friend of Astrid’s. The good thing is that I am starting to lose my pants because they’ve become too large, and I need new holes in my belt. I suppose it’s the temperature.
The friend’s house is very nice, right on the shore with great landscape. For the first time, I walk in the ocean and, after that, discover what “kelping” means (collecting seaweed). Brendan wants to know more about Romania, and I try to satisfy his curiosity. It’s the first time I’m reminded that I will be returning to my busy work life while my expedition colleagues get to go to other places in the world for vacations. How can I not be envious of them? So, I am enjoying every moment of my expedition as much as possible.
While at the house, Astrid meets an old friend, researcher Dr. Ingrid N. Visser from New Zealand. Her presentation captivates all of us. We learn about Australian orca behavior, which is different from our orca’s behavior. The Australian orca have a high rate of getting beached, and they are friendly, grateful, and look for contact after the rescue. Often they are hit by boats, and the group relations are amazing. We get lots of information, and much of it can be found on her website.
Ingrid provides me with the most important information about orca: when you touch them, they feel like a warm, hard-boiled egg without the shell. I was really satisfied!
We return late. In the harbor, I again see the creatures in the water and, after a few minutes, it was possible to catch one. It’s not a snake but a long worm (mussel worm, I suppose) with a lot of legs used for swimming.
I spend a long time enjoying the night landscape and remembering the events from this very full day. I can’t go to sleep yet since I have to do my laundry and be a plumber again!
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
It’s and raining. I have to solve some vital things. First, I need to get a shower!
Issue number one: the boat equipment that pulls water from a water tank is too loud. Countermeasure: get a hose from the harbor (it’s —nobody will see what I do!), connect one end of the hose to the pipe (remember, I have two restrooms behind the store), disassemble the shower, connect the other end of the hose to the shower, and voila, I get a shower! Because I don’t get any complaints in the following days, I believe that I didn’t damage anything. I get only a few complaints indirectly. Somebody complained that the water is not warm enough during the night.
Issue number two: it takes some time to get this all arranged! When I go to the bathroom, I see a lot of creatures in the ocean, most of them close to the light from the harbor. I plan to catch some. At when I finish putting all the items back, the creatures are gone.
My new home is sinking! Somewhere, water has come in and wet my bed. I apply the regular cleaning solution, and I hope the bed will dry out by the afternoon.
I begin to clean the inside of the boat. Ken will have to send an email if he wants to find his stuff again!
Kirk tries to download my pictures from the camera. We “destroy” two CDs before it was possible to complete them. I decide to wait and delete the pictures from the camera later. This was a wise decision, because when I arrived home, both CDs were damaged by the sand.
I talk with Kirk about sharks and the different creatures in the sea. He has a lot of books (I can only dream of them), and I use the occasion to check some information in them. I find one about transient orca. Transients look cruel, dangerous, and different.
At , we get a big surprise. We are going to town to visit the whale museum. It’s a fun trip. My colleagues are amused with my musical taste: Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” Until now, I didn’t care about the lyrics of this song. The line is cute and funny. I explain to Dorothy what we did in high school, especially the chemistry lab, when we listened to this song. Dorothy prompts my knowledge of English, and for the first time in my life, I concentrate on the lyrics. I am happy to discover that the child has survived in this old body.
Dorothy and I visit some stores in FridayHarbor to check for souvenirs. I again meet my first “contact” here—the fajita team. The ladies go to the laundromat, and I put only my nose inside. It’s not for me! (According to movies, a laundromat must be a funny place.)
We meet at the whale museum at . Here, I get in trouble! There’s too much information, and I want to have it all. First, I run to follow a little girl dressed in an orca outfit to get a picture…impossible!
The museum offers information about the orca captured in the past, the pods, the story of Luna the lone orca in Canada , K1 Taku—a lot of things, but too much to get all in one hour. I use the camera to get the information, which I will read later.
The museum offers two “laboratories” where you can listen to orca sounds, look at pictures, and read books. Melanie discovers a big television screen. We watch some video clips, with one of them filmed underwater. Orca are very graceful! Most of us watch the clips, completely fascinated.
At , we go to the ocean, which is a little rougher. My camera is full, so I especially want to take the behavior log today. Astrid is not with us today, so Kathie will help us identify the orca. She is very good.
I complete the behavior log—only two pages. The orca are not so active, but I hope I do something useful for them. I enjoy the encounter, as sometimes the orca are close to the boat, usually milling. I admire the graceful swim. I think that we humans are too insistent in mixing in with their lives.
At one point we lose the orca, and we have to turn back. I like this rough ocean. The boat is jumping on the waves, and I spend the trip back at the front of the boat. I am so lucky to be here!
We go to the center and input the data in the computers. I use this occasion to copy my pictures on two CDs. Evelyn helps me with this task. I admire how these people manage things with limited software tools!
The ladies are doing the identification and, based on the noise from downstairs, it’s funny. I ask permission from Ken to read the orca behavior material from the center. I also get from Kathie the real story of Keiko from the movie “Free Willy.” Sad! She also tells me about Luna, the lone orca. This creature led a very complex life.
In the evening, I talk with Astrid (she’s back!) about the relationship inside the pod. Males are very attached to their mothers and often die very soon after the mother does. When the male looses his mother, he often has problems integrating into a group.
I find it irritating that the moment when we spot the orca, a lot of boats go out to watch them. It’s amazing that the kayakers also disturb the orca. When orca approach in a concentrated group, the kayakers enter the pod at a lot of points to follow them better. We disturb the orca too much! The day before, I listened to the noise of a big ship on the hydrophone. Imagine if you spent your life close to the railways or on the runway of an airport!
Maybe it’s better that nobody knows where orca go in the winter. I propose a solution for following them to Astrid, but it’s too expensive. Maybe it’s better to give the orca a chance for peace and quiet.
Later that evening, I listen to my colleagues’ orca stories. Everybody has a favorite except me—all are my favorite!
I go back to my boat to check the level of water in my bed….
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
I wake up at with a loud noise and a weird pain in my left knee. I forget that I’m on the boat and try to jump out of the bed. It looks to be another nice day.
Using the lavatory on the boat is too noisy, so I have to look for another place. I find two bathrooms behind the store, and they are perfect for my needs. Finally, I start to feel like I’m on an expedition. Until now, it was too comfy.
I start to clean the inside of the boat because nobody has been inside for a long time. I go back to the shore, and I enjoy the sunrise. I collect a lot of small crab shells and some pieces of wood from the forest. I watch a flock of Canadian geese. They are friendly enough to swim close to me. I eat something for breakfast, which is weird because I never eat breakfast at home.
Ken picks up the ladies at the center, and Kirk, Yasuki, and I start to do some boat maintenance. We wash the boat first and then remove and replace a damaged seal. Kirk knows a lot about boats and marine life because of his profession. He had applied for a different Earthwatch project, but that was canceled at the last moment. The reasons why people apply for these projects are different and interesting to me.
We “work” until when we decide to take a break. This is good for me, because it’s low tide. I take my camera and go straight through the mud to the island in the middle of the harbor. There I find a lot of oysters, big barnacles, and anemones. A lot of small crabs are hidden behind the rocks, and some big crabs are walking and feeding on the ground. I find two crab shells: a red one and a big heavy one code named “Matilda”—the next nightmare for my colleagues. Matilda is really heavy. I suppose, wrongly, that she is full of mud. The red one goes to the boat (outside, of course), and Matilda enjoys her empty friends. I put the seven crab shells in a line on the roof of Yasuki’s hut because I found a dog playing with them in the morning.
In the afternoon, we go to the research center. Kristen shows the guys (the ladies learned this in the morning ) the logs, how to input the data into the system, and the reason for this. The system is easy to maintain, but first you must get comfortable with it.
I am still fascinated by the orca skull. It’s huge compared to the others, but they don’t look dangerous.
From the shore, we watch the orca moving north. Ken uses a new camera to film the orca. I try to get some pictures, but the orca are too far away for my camera. All of us enjoy the moment. I see some boats close to the orca, and I am envious of them.
At , we are ready for a trip. A few tourists are also on the boat.
The encounter with the orca is fantastic. I watch them from the front of the boat. At one moment, an orca breaches a few meters away on the left side. It was a dream. I see it rising up from the water, and I see every drop of water flowing from its body. She is so beautiful! I so deeply enjoy this moment that I forget to use my camera. The splash ends the dream. “I want a replay,” I think in my mind. God listened to me, as I get one in almost the same place but a little bit to the right. I see the surface of the water inflating, and another orca rises up to the sky. He is so close that I have the feeling I can touch him. I see the head, and I try to look in his big black eye in front of the white patch. It’s amazing! It’s a mixture of power and grace—a black angel that’s imprisoned by the water. The splash comes like thunder! Melanie gets the moment on film. I feel my finger pushing a useless button—I forget to lift the camera! All of the volunteers and tourists are delighted!
The orca are very active today. We see a lot of different behaviors (behavior names are still an enigma for me). For the first time, we encounter a newborn. You can imagine how happy Astrid is. I feel that she will be very sad at the end of her time. She goes home with the hope that next year all the orca will be present and maybe some new calves as well.
My obsession to photograph a breach must stop now. I feel so useless that I have to do something else. For the experienced people, it’s also hard to catch that very magical moment with the camera.
Today, we were in Canadian waters. This means I was a happy illegal immigrant for a couple minutes!
On the way back—too soon today—we pass close to the lighthouse. Sometimes people come here, sit on the rocks, and watch the orca swimming close to the shore. It’s a lovely place, and the rock wall is one of my favorite places here. Unfortunately, the trip is finished, and we have to turn back.
On the way back, I take the best picture from the entire expedition.
We get dinner and spend the evening together. I trade a copy of Melanie’s shot of the breach (in case I don’t get one for myself) for my video of the orca from yesterday and a spy hop.
It’s funny. Each of us has a different view of life based on our background and culture. Some of my views and actions are weird for my colleagues, but if they consider that I am 100 years old, maybe they will understand!
My mind returns often to the picture. I steal a moment in time and small pieces of heaven!
Monday, June 6, 2005
I wake up at because I slept enough and am curious where the sun will rise in the morning. I go out so quickly that I almost forget to brush my teeth!
The level of the ocean is different—we don’t have a tide back home. I watch two seals playing in the water close to the shore. They are so funny! I don’t know where they come from, but I watch them for a long time. In the background, a lot of seagulls are eating breakfast. The noise is very loud, and the seagulls quickly follow something on the surface of the water. The noise is a cute part of the landscape. I watch a white bird (unk— it’s Adam’s word!) on the shore, and I check the island map to see where we are.
In Romania, my colleagues are going home from work about now. I love being here! I try to reset the time on my camera because I plan to use photographs to document the entire expedition (bad idea). I find four crab shells in good condition, and I put them in a safe place.
At , I hear the familiar sound of an alarm clock that somebody had set. When I left the cabin, I didn’t close the door. Now, the alarm is sounding throughout the entire place. Oops! At , Dorothy comes to prepare the meal. Before , I go back to the cabin and prepare today’s lunch: yogurt, sandwiches, and oranges.
We start at I want a picture of myself before I die of seasickness! I was really scared, because this is my first trip on a boat! Before I die, I want to get a last picture with my colleagues, who are all so relaxed.
Onboard the boat, I meet Tom, the brave captain, and Elmer, the whale watcher (maybe he can hear the sound generated by the whales?). I decide that Elmer is my big brother!
In a few minutes, we leave the harbor. The landscape stops my heart! Goodbye seasickness! It’s impossible that all of this is real, and that I will have this same feeling for the next nine days.
Very soon, we see the first orca. All of us are in the seventh heaven (okay, I was). At , I get my first picture of an orca—a small dot far away. But it was the first! After that, we see some breaches, and I decide I will capture one on film.
Astrid is like the mother of the orca—she calls each by name (for me, they are all the same), and her enthusiasm is so contagious. I take almost 70 or 80 pictures of the water, sky, shoes, waves, splashes, and, finally…“Somebody must keep these creatures still! I cannot take pictures!”
I decide to take no more photos and instead switch on the video camera. It was a lucky decision, as two orca come close and I follow them swimming under the boat. Jump or stay—decide! I feel the heat spreading in my soul. It was like a dream seeing these magical creatures coming out from the water, all quiet, calm, powerful, and majestic. They go down, and I follow the black and white patches under the water, getting the moment on film! It’s the moment that I have dreamed of for half a year! Astrid is also ecstatic. I have a feeling all of the orca are her children.
The first contact with the orca changes my entire plan for the future: Ramona will come here and see all this things. Maybe she will also love them.
It has felt like a long day, but we spent just a few hours with the orca. We turn back after , seeing a falcon on the rocks in the middle of the harbor. Ha got seasick, but I hope she enjoyed this first trip like the rest of us did.
Because we get some free time, we go to walk on the shore. Under the stones are a lot of crabs. I especially love the spotted crabs, but, like the orca, these creatures are not good for photo sessions. Kirk finds a small snake about 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) long in a small hole. I want to take a crab in my hand, but Melanie says “It’s a life inside!”, so I give up. Crabs are cute!
The plants from the rocks sound very funny when we step on them. These kinds of plants—rockweed—have a form of airbag that helps them float. Melanie also showed me the kelp plants. I found this kind of plant yesterday on the shore, and I hung it in a tree to see what would happen (it dried out but the tail remained strong). We find some crab shells, and of course I collect them all!
We go to the research center in the afternoon. Astrid presents the history of the whale research, stories about orca, details about the orca’s internal group relations (I love this matriarchal structure), and the effect of PCBs. I get new information about different kinds of orca: residents, transients, and open sea orca. All of the stories were interesting, and I enjoyed my “ability” to understand Astrid’s words.
The center is being renovated, and I was impressed to see an orca skull laying on a piano. Close to it was a dorsal fin. I ask Ken what it feels like when you touch an orca, but the answer doesn’t satisfy me. He says it’s like warm, wet rubber—it can’t be true! We watch a video on orca behavior. For me, it was all confusing: fin slap, dorsal slap, spy hop (clear), breach (very clear), bubbles (I love this). There are a lot, and I must ask for a copy of this video.
At , Yasuki from Japan arrives. I remain at the center because I am curious about the kind of data they put into the computer. We have to follow three logs: behavior log, boat log, and marine mammal log. I have to learn to do the first two. The terms are new for me, and I don’t know many things about navigation and boats. I learn that data are checked twice, first by volunteers and then by the staff. I also learn how to identify the orca using photos of the dorsal fin and saddle. Astrid is a great teacher.
I arrive in SnugHarbor at the same time as the group. Food again! Because there are now three men and only two available beds, Ken suggests flipping a coin to see who will use the beds. I remind Ken about the boat called Sea Hunt that was mentioned in the expedition briefing. It’s possible to sleep there, but I want to see it first. In a half hour, I have my own old boat! Nice! I’m in the United States for two days, and I have my own boat!
I suppose everybody is happy about my choice. I am here for an expedition and not a holiday, and I have never slept in a boat before. I have some issues, but these will create some other funny stories! For the future, this will be my home. We decide that we will share the showers (if it will be necessary). I move onto the boat.
I spend the evening talking with Yasuki. Like me, he works a lot but the results are different. He’s a nice guy, and I try to make him understand that the boat is perfect for me.
For the first time in my life, I see what a yen looks like. We “trade” some money, but I only accept a coin worth 100 yen. My leu (lion) is not so powerful.
I try to erase the bad pictures from the camera, but the boat’s soft sway from the waves makes me fall asleep quickly.
Sunday, June 5, 2005
I wake up at and go back to sleep. I next wake up at with the thought of drinking some coffee. It takes me a half hour to remember that the coffee and filter are stored in the same place. I start to make the coffee, take another shower, and check the ferry schedule for the first departure ().
My cell phone doesn’t work here. Nice! At , I call a taxi and then eat some cookies with blackberries. Oops! I forget to drink the coffee!
The taxi arrives at This means another day of running, but I make it in time for the ferry’s departure. Like almost every time so far, I am the last passenger.
Anacortes is a nice and quiet town (maybe because it’s Sunday ). I try to get more information about the area’s economic situation, industrial plants, and environmental issues. I find that the refinery is the only one in the area.
I take a lot of photos on the ferry trip, as the landscape is different and almost magical. I missed going to Subway—it was my plan to arrive early yesterday and eat this fast food restaurant’s sandwiches again. I also missed going to the store where I wanted to buy an orca pillow for my daughter Ramona.
I have my first strange feeling when breathing the salty air. It’s one of the smells that I will remember my entire life. I experience the quiet, the silence in my soul, and the sensation that my eyes are too small to capture all the sights I am seeing. Taking photos is like a ballet without music, but I try to get as many pictures as I can. It’s raining, and the wind is cold and sharp, but I cannot give up! I’m sure it’s the last time I will get to see this landscape.
While on the ferry, I meet a husband and wife who are photographers.They are the first people curious to see pictures from my country. I’m envious of them for the possibilities to travel without limits.
I arrive in FridayHarbor at I eat fajitas (chicken with green peppers), and I talk with the first people I see on this island. My English is weird, and everybody is curious when they hear about Romania.
I visit the harbor and dock before I call the research center. Ken Balcomb, head of the center, answers, and we set a 1 p.m. meeting time. He comes with a surprise—Ha, a volunteer from Vietnam. I try to communicate with her, and she says she’s dying of cold since the temperature is too low for her. We buy something to eat from the grocery store, and after that we go to SnugHarbor. One of my ideas was to buy a real American flag, but I find only ones made in Taiwan!
The interior of the island consists of a big green forest that is untouched. I cannot believe that somewhere there are these kinds of trees! The area also has lots of lakes.
We leave our bags. I brought Ken a book with pictures from my country, but at this moment I compare what I see here with what’s inside the book. It’s like the difference between color and black and white pictures.
I help unload the food from the car. I meet one dog, we eat soup and salad, and then we go to see the shore. Ha is amused because I want to smell and taste everything. The water is salty, just like the seawater in my country. It’s also clean! I find a crab and a lot of shells. I save all of this in a hidden place.
At , we meet our volunteer colleagues: Norman Melanie from Alcoa in Australia and Dorothy Hancock, a chemistry teacher from Milwaukee. This brought back some bad feelings, maybe because of the punishments I received for my escapades in high school chemistry classes!
It’s hard for me to understand Melanie. She has a different way of pronouncing words with “ie”. I am fascinated, but my English is the worst. I have luck with Dorothy, and she translates for me.
Melanie gives me a boomerang (yippee, a real one!) and a box with seeds from the Australian bush (the aroma is so exotic). I give her the carved wooden box and a leather bracelet from Piatra Scrisa, but her gift is awesome. I keep the boomerang in my knapsack at all times to be sure I don’t lose it. Am I crazy?
We make a short trip to where the road to SnugHarbor intersects. Ha is tired and takes a nap. We see one deer, and I wonder why she is so fearless. Melanie is amazing and Dorothy is the teacher I would have wished for every time.
We turn back for dinner (salmon), and we meet the other members of the staff and the fifth volunteer, Kirk from California. Kirk came with a car, two kayaks, a bike, a laptop computer, and a lot of other stuff.
Ken wants to try the boomerang, and I use a very polite Romanian way of refusing, called “raining”.
Astrid van Ginneken, who is part of the research team, is a lady in every sense of the word. I start to regret my level of English. I understand her very well—she’s from the Netherlands and has a different accent—but I cannot clearly ask my questions. Okay, I will just listen!
All of my colleagues consider me maniacal with the photos, but I have had bad experiences in the past. During my last trip to the United States, I lost four of seven rolls of film! Maybe I can get better at being calm (no way!).
All of the people are friendly. I like Ken’s beard. Kathie and Adam have been involved with this project for a long time, so they have lot knowledge about orca. Brandon and Kristen are interns for the summer at the center. I don’t know exactly what this means, but they are a nice couple.
In the evening, I check some movement on the sea. It was a seal. I again toured the harbor, and I spend the time until enjoying the landscape.
My conclusions for the first day:
Don’t forget where I hid the crab shells!
I am okay with sleeping but I cannot eat (I eat salad with a soda).
One day, even if it will be in another life, I will have my own place here.
The camera’s batteries are dead (again!).
Saturday, June 4, 2005
I wake up at , take a long shower, check out of the hotel at , and head to the airport. The check-in process is relatively fast, and I was lucky to get a window seat for the entire trip. I next go to customs, and here I’m asked the same questions—who are you, what is the reason for your trip, what does orca mean, what does Alcoa mean, what’s the connection between Alcoa and Earthwatch? I pass, and I again can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The departure gate—number two—is the same one I left from four years ago for my first trip to the United States, but something didn’t match. An elderly lady takes a picture of me waiting. I then realize that the airplane is not there!
After a half hour—at —the crew announces that the airplane has mechanical problems, and we will have a four-hour delay. Nice beginning! I look outside and see the dock number—A13!
In 10 minutes, we get a new announcement: all connections for today are lost, the afternoon airplanes are overbooked, and anyone who wants to can cancel their trip until tomorrow. Everything becomes very chaotic, and I have in my mind only Greenland and my window seat.
I decide to continue my trip today. Instead of another night in Bucharest, I prefer a night in Amsterdam. The problem is that I only have my toothbrush, some clothes to change into, and the expedition briefing. My shaving items are in the checked bag, and two days without shaving will be a nightmare.
Up until , the gate keeps changing until finally we go via bus to the airplane. Another announcement indicates that all connections before are lost.
Once in the air, I take some pictures of the Carpathians, VidraruLake, Budapest, and Wien. We arrive in Amsterdam at , and I run directly to the transfer desk. I was happy to see I was the second person in line.
The lady at the desk asks if I want to continue the trip today, and I agree. After 20 minutes, I get new connecting flights to Minneapolis and Seattle, but I don’t get seat assignments. I run to gate E09. Here, I am again asked a series of questions—who are you, where do you come from, why are you traveling, who packed your bags, are you carrying bags from another person, who packed the bags (again!), how many bags do you have, do you speak German (Ja!), where is Otelu Rosu ( my birthplace), do you speak Hungarian (Nem!)?
In the middle of the interrogation (in my mind, I see Greenland disappearing in the fog and orca becoming a dream), another officer comes and asks if this is my first trip to the United States. I say no, I was there four years ago, and I explain where I’m going and what I will do there. At the end, he tells me "Multumesc" (thanks) in very clear Romanian. We smile at one another, and I answer "Cu placere" (you’re welcome). I again run to the boarding gate. Yippee! I am lucky. I get seat 28J, which is a window seat over the wing. I have only 55 minutes to get the next connection once I land in Minneapolis, but who cares. I am on my way to the orcas! We depart at
I wait five hours to look out the window and see Greenland. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, and I get only a few photos. The food was good, but my stomach is on strike. I don’t need anything to eat. I have chocolate bars in my bag.
Jonas, my seat colleague, is back from Germany, where he studied piano with a particular teacher. He had a concert in Oradea, Romania, so he knows some things about my country. Before I leave the flight, I give him my business card, and he promises to write soon.
I enjoy this trip—Bucharest to Amsterdam over Greenland to Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, I go through the last immigration office with all the explanations about Earthwatch and Alcoa. In a desperate moment, I get the expedition briefing from my baggage and hand it to the immigration officer. He smiles and drops my passport on the table. I have passed the customs procedure. The officers are now wondering how fast I can go to catch my connecting flight. I run to gate F13 and am almost the last passenger to board the plane.
The view from the air is awesome. I spend the next three hours with a funny guy named T.J., who’s returning from vacation with his wife and three girls. I give my last chocolate bars to the girls, and they were really excited. Maybe we get better chocolate in Romania!
I arrive in Seattle in time to…miss the shuttle to Anacortes! While waiting for the next one, I write my diary entry for the day and talk with a woman from Hawaii who looks very relaxed and carries a lot of baggage and a guitar.
I get the bus to Anacortes. Seattle is wonderful at night, but all the pictures I take are bad. The driver, a nice lady, gives some details about Anacortes, the area’s industries, and the environment. I see a big refinery, and I think that maybe people here really care about the environment!
I reach the inn at I check in, take a shower and...I am out!
Friday, June 3, 2005
I was ready to go early in the morning. Ramona wakes up, gives me a long kiss goodbye, and hides in the bed under the blanket. She was crying before I left, and I could see only a hand coming out from the blanket and waving goodbye.
I had to get a train to Bucharest in the morning. I plan to sleep there because this is the only way I can get to the airport on time.
I got on the train at , and my seat was occupied. I asked for another, and I’m put into a different compartment where I was alone the entire time. The trip was long—almost eight hours—and I spent the time taking photos for my new colleagues to show them some places from my country. The windows in the train were dirty, so the results are not the best. The landscape through the valley is beautiful. The power plant Portile de Fier (this means The Iron Gates) is shared with our neighboring country of Yugoslavia. I again read the expedition briefing, for the first time in silence!
I arrive in Bucharest at After a short negotiation for a taxi, I go to the hotel close to the airport where I have booked a room. There’s nothing to see there, so I spend my time talking on the phone with family and friends. I am so excited, and the time passes so slowly! I split my baggage, and I again check my schedule. I go to sleep early, and I wake the next morning at 3 a.m. Why?!!
Thursday, June 2, 2005
I went with my daughter to her school, and I made a trip to Otelu Rosu to leave my car and see my mother before I left. The visit was short, and I hitchhiked back home. I bought my last necessary items, but I don’t know why I had fixed in my mind that I needed a bottle of water from Romania! It was really funny, because later I bought this same bottled water on San JuanIsland in the US!
The rest of the day was spent with the family, playing with my daughter. She was very sad. Before she went to sleep, I promised her a kiss goodbye before I left in the case she didn’t wake up in the morning.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
My last day at work involved daily tasks, meetings, reports, and other preparations so I didn’t forget anything and had everything properly set. Time rushes by like a mountain river, and the evening comes too soon. It’s all okay, though. My last task—write a goodbye message for my colleagues and set the “out of office” automated reply for emails. Yippee! I now go to the orca!
In the last few days, I made contact with my Alcoa colleague Melanie Norman from Perth, Australia. We decided to bring each other something from our countries. In Romania, handmade items can only be found in some special places. Because it was almost evening, I decided to drive to a holy place named Piatra Scrisa that was close to work.
This place can be found under a train bridge on the shore of the TimisRiver. The story of this place is interesting. While building the bridge, the workers had to blow up the rocks using dynamite. One day after an explosion, the workers found human faces on the surface of the stone. The leaders decided to destroy the place and the pictures, but it was not possible to drill into the stone. After many unsuccessful tries, the bridge was moved some meters away, and the villagers built a small church on the spot. It’s now a monastery where people come to pray and where you can find some handmade items. It was tough deciding what to get, but I listened to my feelings and thought that maybe Melanie would like what I got for her.
I spent the evening with my family, especially my daughter Ramona. She is very sad about my leaving, so I will spend all of tomorrow with her.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
I got my U.S. visa on May 17. To get it, I had to prepare a lot of documents on various topics (job, properties, family, etc.) and also answer too many questions. A big help for me was the expedition briefing, because one question required an explanation of the reason for this trip. When I showed the lady the briefing, she understood and told me to return at for my visa. I asked her three times if it was really true that I would have a U.S. visa!
I scheduled my train and airplane tickets (very important!), hotels, and shuttle. The main issue is that from Romania, it’s difficult to complete the online reservation form for tickets. It took two days to find a good flight connection between Romania and the United States. I will have to go by the night train to Bucharest, and from there I will fly to Amsterdam and Seattle. I also tried to reserve a room in the United States for the first day. I get an automatic confirmation, but here in Romania, it’s necessary to pay in advance! I am now at the point where my patience is almost zero before leaving.
Monday, April 25, 2005
On Friday, April 22, I get a pack containing the expedition briefing, T-shirts, and forms. Curiously, the pack traveled 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles) in three days and 100 kilometers (62 miles) in four days because the pack arrived in Romania on April 18. I was very curious to look inside. The good news—the extra large T-shirt almost fits me (I am a little bigger).
I spent the last two days reading the expedition briefing and buying the necessary items (interesting and exciting). This week, I will complete the forms and send them back to Earthwatch. I also checked the list from the U.S. embassy in Bucharest, and I see I am scheduled for the tourist visa interview on May 17 at 8.30 a.m. Until then, I will prepare my other necessary forms because, as we say here in Romania, all papers must be "beton" (perfect). There are a lot of forms. Wish me luck!
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
I received via email a letter from the Earthwatch contact to support my visa request. She also indicated that the original letter and expedition briefing are on the way.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for me to go to the bank to pay my taxes for the visa interview until April 19 (this unique bank is not in my town). It wasn’t a nice trip because it had been raining a lot the last few days and the roads were flooded in some places.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
I think it’s time to start this diary. There are many things to do. My daughter is sad, because I will be gone for two weeks. I am afraid, because I think it’s possible to get a new message and this dream would be lost. Who knows. I can write a diary about how a dream can come true!
I check to see that my fellow Alcoa expedition colleague is Melanie Norman from Australia. I am proud to see my name and country on the list of 2005 Alcoa expeditioners. How many people know something about Romania?
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
I look for other information about the Orca project, and I find some orca surveys from past years. The expedition is still only a dream. I have to get my passport (easy!) and a U.S. tourist entry visa (hard job!), but maybe I will have good luck here also.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Last week, I get the first email from Earthwatch. I ask my boss if I could have a half day to renew my travel documents. Two days ago, the police officer told me I had to bring the renewal papers on Monday at I was in front of the office at I was lucky, because they only work from until One very nice woman accepts my paper at this late time and makes the photos for my new passport. I have to wait almost 20 day to get a new one.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
I spend three hours and I use two computers (these are Romanian Internet connections—do not ask me about the phone bills!) to download the Orca expedition briefing and the 2004 Deborah Cronin diaries from Alcoa’s Earthwatch Diaries page on alcoa.com. Afterward, I search in my old world atlas to find where Pugent Sound in Washington is. Half of the night is gone.
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
I turn on my computer and wait until Windows is loaded. Outlook starts, and I see some new messages in the inbox. I quickly scroll down and see one message from EHS. I want to open it, but at this exact moment my colleague comes to check if I got an important email. I have no time to say something, because she clicks the mouse, and the EHS message is marked as “Read” and then is gone. I lost some time after that trying to find the email. When I did, I read:
Dear Dietmar, Congratulations! I am truly pleased to be able to advise that your application to participate in the 2005 Alcoa Earthwatch program has been successful and you will be heading off to the USA to work on Orca between June 5, 2005 - June 15, 2005.
Because the rest of the message was too difficult to understand, I could only say “Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m going to Orca!” For a few minutes, my colleague thinks I have lost my mind.
The first hours were like living a dream. I called my wife, my friends, my parents. I kept thinking maybe this was a mistake. I read the email a few more times, but the text was still there:
Dear Dietmar, Congratulations! I am truly pleased to be able to advise….
Friday, January 6, 2005
A regular end to the first workweek for this year. Nothing abnormal except one email that was forwarded to me from Alcoa’s Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) group that invites employees to apply for the Earthwatch fellowship project. All of us are very excited when we read the email, but the final line was not good: we have to apply in a few minutes because the deadline is today. I sent the application email to my home even as I initially had thoughts of giving up. On the way home, I remembered that there were a few hours time difference between Romania and the United States, so I think that I have nothing to lose.
I send my application email via my home computer at Romanian time. Good luck, or perhaps it’s better to hope that somebody up there loves me. In a few weeks, I get an email confirming that my application letter was received.