Terrence Trasatti’s Diary

Friday, August 12, 2005 Thursday, August 11, 2005
Wednesday, August 10, 2005 Tuesday, August 9, 2005
Monday, August 8, 2005 Sunday, August 7, 2005
Saturday, August 6, 2005 Friday, August 5, 2005
Thursday, August 4, 2005 Wednesday, August 3, 2005
Tuesday, August 2, 2005 Monday, August 1, 2005
Sunday, July 31, 2005 Saturday, July 30, 2005
Friday, July 29, 2005 Thursday, July 28, 2005
Monday, July 18, 2005 Friday, July 8, 2005
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 May 2005
Thursday, March 24, 2005 Saturday, March 12, 2005
Monday, February 7, 2005  

Friday, August 12, 2005 Final thoughts:
  • Spain really needs to institute a breakfast policy. Toast juice and coffee is not breakfast.
  • The siesta is a really good thing. The rest of the world needs to institute a siesta into its policies.
  • For women looking for an older man, Orce is the place for you.  It’s hard to find men older than 1.6 million years.
  • It surely was a wonderful experience to work with these folks and meet all of the volunteers.  I would return to Spain tomorrow if I could.  What’s next—the Pantanal in Brazil, the Huntley Mine in Australia?  Bring it on!

Thursday, August 11, 2005 The morning comes very quickly. We make it without going to sleep at all.  A nice hot shower helps keep vital organs alive, as I am just about to fall asleep standing up.
The cab ride is swift, and the airport is just about empty when we get there.  The small airport makes for a smooth pass through security and on to the gate.  Sitting and waiting for the plane is another trial, as I keep falling asleep in the chair.  Jair has to wake me for boarding, and I find the only way to stay awake is to stand.
I don’t remember much of any of the flights home, as I am awake only long enough to eat whatever meals/snacks they are serving. I go right back to sleep.
The JFK airport is crazy! I am definitely not in Kansas anymore. I hope to avoid this facility during any future excursions.
I’m back in Pittsburgh now, and it all just seems so unusual.  I can’t believe how accustomed I became to the south of Spain in such a short time. If only I were fluent in Spanish, I’d have felt completely at home there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 Today is my last full day in Spain. Tomorrow, Jair and I board a 7 a.m. flight to Madrid and then on to los Estados Unidos. The whole house is buzzing like never before with people and luggage flying all over. Some luggage has formed a raft in the middle of the common area, causing huge traffic problems for others trying to finish packing and grab breakfast. The vans are jammed with luggage and people so tightly that I can’t imagine we all fit. In just a few minutes, we’re off on a three-hour ride to Granada. Alfredo has other plans and cannot continue on with us. We say goodbye now. He says to visit him sometime when I can return to the country.
Once in Granada, we check directly into our hotel. Jair and I decide to room together because we’re on the same flight and would not have to worry about waking anyone up when we leave for the airport at 5:30 a.m.
I am starving, so I look for all the other hungry folks to go for lunch. After a simple lunch, we elect to skip siesta today and go sightseeing in Granada. The tickets for the Alhambra (one of Granada’s most visited places) are sold out, so we walk around the perimeter on our way to the city.
The city is great. This is more what I expected Europe to be like: narrow allies, scooters and small cars, and great architecture. We wander around churches, shops, fountains, and cafés until we stumble upon a cathedral. Outside, there are gypsies reading palms and selling herbs. I’ve never seen a cathedral, so we decide to take a tour of the place. Wow, it’s huge. Having assisted a photographer with wedding shoots, I have been in my share of churches, but this is amazing inside and out. 
After this, we stop in the town square for some cold drinks and a place to rest. We meet up with two more from our group who spent their time in the shops. The clothing and décor is so influenced with the Arabic culture that almost all the stores look like bazaars. I pick up a few things for gifts and then go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.
At 9 p.m., the whole group assembles at a restaurant for the first time during the trip. Until now, all our meals have been provided by the owners of the house where we stayed.  Dinner is nice, but ordering for 18 people when language is often a hurdle adds humor to the situation. Everyone is dressed quite nicely and seem like completely different people from the ones digging next to me in the cave.
It’s my daughter’s birthday today, so I look for a phone to call her. Wendy insists that I use her cell phone for the call. That turns out to be a great idea, since the pay phones are in very noisy places.  Hearing her voice, I miss my daughter even more during the conversation and wish I could have brought her along to see and do all that I have in the past two weeks.
Next on the agenda is flamenco (a style of music and dancing identified with the southern region of Spain). The first club we go to has a band playing and singing flamenco. The second just has recorded music. Both places have very small rooms, creating intimate settings. This is so different from U.S.-style venues with large open rooms and high ceilings. 
The night was spent listening to good music and good conversation, giving us the opportunity to get to know each other a little better before saying goodbye. Since Jair and I are the earliest to leave the group, we have to say all of our goodbyes now as one-by-one folks are dropping off to go back to their hotel rooms.
Jair and I have very little time to get ready for the taxi at 5:30 a.m. It does not feel right to leave now. I almost feel a part of the landscape here. I wonder if all of Europe is as captivating. I hear that the north of Spain seems like a completely different country, and I daydream of what it must be like. Alfredo is from Galicia—maybe he can be my tour guide.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 The last day in the cave.  The last day for the beach. The last day….
Work goes on normally, but we finish a bit early in order to go to a mine museum. There we watch a 3-D movie about the history of the mine and how it works. The movie has no sound, but a museum employee narrates along the way.
The beach is a lot of fun. I will definitely miss this.
Alfredo and others are examining his battle scars—scratches received from our game of keep-away. This is quite funny and makes me remember many of our group’s funny antics.
I go to sleep with most of my things arranged for quick packing in the morning. Do we really have to go?

Monday, August 8, 2005 Although I love it here, I find that I am missing a certain brand of bottled water, cranberry juice, going to church/Bible study, and, of course, my daughter. I wonder how my friends and family would like visiting here. I wonder if they would be as enamored with it as I am.

Sunday, August 7, 2005 Morning work was cut short today so we could go to a market. This is the U.S. equivalent of a swap or flea market.  There are many rows of cheap merchandise, booths selling produce, used goods vendors, and clothes (for women mostly). The booths and the people are like what I’d see back home, although the people aren’t speaking English. When I do walk past some speaking English, it is almost shocking, but I just keep on walking.
Boy, is it hot today! A warm front is crossing the Mediterranean from Africa, bringing high heat and humidity. It may reach 45° Celsius (113° Fahrenheit) tomorrow, but more than likely the highest temperatures will be farther west of our location.
An after-dinner lecture by Jose on human migrations and skeletal differences wraps up our night.

Saturday, August 6, 2005 There are only a few more days until my daughter Antonia’s birthday. I hate to miss it.
We are skipping work today, and the whole crew is going to the Orce research site. This is the place that launched Jose’s project by finding the controversial human skull fragment. Orce is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from where we are staying, and the drive is long and hot. The countryside is wonderful, and many places remind me of the western United States. Orce itself is quite a small town and surrounded by a dry, sunbaked landscape. Many of the houses and even a hotel are dug into the hillsides to make “cave houses.” This is remarkably cooler than outside. Near the research area, we have the chance to visit three different cave homes. I would never have thought it would look so normal inside.
We visit a museum in Orce and see the bones that made our guides famous. The concentration of fossils in some of these areas seems impossible. It almost looks like a garbage dump of animals. In one square meter of dirt, there are nine partial skulls or jaw bones. These are almost complete jaws of large animals, such as rhinos and elephants.  Pretty impressive.
For lunch, we stop at a public pool that was built on a natural stream. The stream flows in one side of the pool and out the other. The sides are cement, like you’d expect, but the bottom is gravel. The water is quite chilly. Here’s the funny part—there are fish everywhere! It’s like swimming in a goldfish pond, but the fish aren’t gold. Jair, Alfredo, Gary, and I clown around with our synchronized cannonballs, flips, and an organized attack on one of our group members who unwittingly swims too close to our horseplay.  This venue also has a snack bar and a small café, where we have refreshments and afterwards lunch.
We then travel to Castillo de Velez Blanco, a castle that has been gutted and abandoned by its owner. It’s atop a hill overlooking a quaint town where all the buildings are painted white. Another first for me today—I’ve never been in a real castle. As usual, the view from everywhere is nice and almost impossible to capture accurately using my camera.
On the way home and in the dark, we get stuck in this small town since the roads are closed and cars are everywhere because there is some sort of festival going on. We are now stuck on very narrow streets and can’t back up. Luis, the one driving the van I am in, leaves us in the van to walk ahead to talk to Jose, his father and the driver of the other van in our group, about what they can do at this point. Before he returns, fireworks begin to fill the sky, so we all get out of the van, stand in the street, and watch the show. It’s a nice way to end the day.
We cannot pack any more activity into this day.  Everyone seems quite happy for a wonderful day of varied activities.

Friday, August 5, 2005 Our crew finds lots of flint and a few bones today. This alerts Alfredo that we are entering the archeological level. This would be the surface of the ground those many years ago where early humans would have been living. We have to dig more carefully now, as we do not want to chance ruining anything we unearth.
The crew working in the cave has good success today. They find an unidentified tooth (possible monkey). It’s great to find different types of fossils—it keeps up your desire to “see what’s next.”
I find and use an automated teller machine for the first time on this trip. I have been borrowing soft drinks for days. I can finally pay everyone back (in euros).  My debt is less than $10 spread over three people, so nobody seems too concerned about it, but I want a clean slate.
This evening we go to a different beach. Very picturesque.  To the right is a high hill dropping sharply into the water. To the left is a large, flat area covered in heavily eroded rock that makes interesting shapes and shadows. This is not comfortable to walk on without sandals, so I’m definitely glad to have mine.

Thursday, August 4, 2005 The cave gives us very nice fossils today. Luis finds a large cat claw, and I find a very small one (I am using the micro sieve today, looking for all that falls through the larger sieves).
Lunch is shrimp “fideua.”  It looks like paella but has a bed of small ramen-like noodles instead of rice. 
Before our swim in the Mediterranean, we make a short detour to a guard tower overlooking our beach. The stairways inside are very narrow, and the vistas from on top are gorgeous.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005 We find some flint chips on the dig today. They are bunched so closely together that Alfredo (now affectionately called “Fettuccini”) thinks the grouping important enough to get the exact coordinates with the surveying equipment.
Whenever you are outside during the day, there is a constant hum of cicadas. They are a bit smaller than the ones in the Pittsburgh area but seem to be louder. The noise is not disturbing, but it is much too obvious to ignore. These insects are definitely a characteristic of the area to be remembered, as is the pale scenery and hot temperatures.
We have rabbit for lunch today. This does not sit well with some in our group. Some folks will not eat it. I have no problem with this, as it is not my first time eating rabbit.  After lunch, the owner of the house invites me back to his place to chat with him and his wife. Since I am not very good with Spanish, he invites Isela, who is fluent, to come along, too.
Conversation is very nice, and I am so glad Isela is there to interpret. We talk about the great wine and cheese of Spain and all the wonderful travel there is to do in the many regions of his country. During conversation, I find he is having trouble with his computer. Since I work in the computer department at Alcoa, I think I can try to help.  Wow, I forgot that the screens would be in a different language. I know Windows XP but not technical words in Spanish. Isela knows Spanish but nothing about computers. A funny bunch we are, but in about 15minutes I get him squared away.
After dinner, Alfredo gives a presentation about the progression of different species of humans and the evolution of the tools they used and made.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005 Today has been a great fossil day for the crew! I am supposed to work at the outside dig today, but because of some crew size changes, I volunteer to work with the cave crew. A bit later it starts raining, and the outdoor crew moves in to work together with us—17 people all digging, carrying bags of dirt, sieving, and getting dusty. The crew finds large leg bones, large teeth, and a jaw (these are probably from a horse).
Since the whole team is together, we get a chance to tour other parts of the cave. Although the cave is natural, miners excavated it while digging for manganese deposits.  We notice these deposits while digging for fossils and even see black manganese on some of the fossils themselves. The cave has many tunnels and many more that are man-made.  Some of these tunnels are quite small, as it was common practice to have children in the workforce.
No afternoon work today. Instead, we are going to Cartegena for some sightseeing and to sample local culture.  Cartegena is rich with history of great wars, and the cultural mixing is evident in the architecture. We see an old fort, a Roman amphitheater, and the remains of a thirteenth century church. We get a history lesson from Alfredo and Jair (I didn’t know he was a history fanatic) about the colorful past and have a nice walk through town.  We then relax for refreshment and conversation at a restaurant with outdoor seating. I have “horchata,” a drink made from the root of the chufa plant. It is very sweet and served nice and cold.
I am missing my family and friends but don’t want to leave this place. Thank you, Alcoa, for giving me this opportunity.

Monday, August 1, 2005 The humidity rose during the night, making sleep hard for me. I am quite tired this morning.
Today’s work for my crew is in the cave, so there’s no need for sunblock. The cave is cool, like natural air conditioning, but it’s warm enough that we can work in shorts and short-sleeved shirts.
We dig through the “brecha” to find the fossils. The brecha is a layer of deposits in the cave that appear reddish when compared to other soils in the cave. This material was more recently deposited in the cave and is much looser than other dirt or rock there. Some folks loosen brecha from an area, put it in woven bags, and carry it to large sieves to be scoured for fossils. The sieves are meter-wide frames made of wood with hardware cloth on the bottom to let the small items fall through.
I find fossils doing the sieve and digging job functions. This is a lot of fun and makes you want to keep going to see what will fall out of the dirt next.
Just before lunch, I catch a small lizard near the house. The type is not known to me, but hopefully the photos I took will provide enough to identify it later.
I give up sorting through the kitty-litter substrate to scrub dirty fossils as my evening duties. The bones our two crews have collected are great. We’ve got horse teeth, horse bones, hyena teeth, rabbit jaw, bird bones, and a small cat skull. Not bad for amateurs.

Sunday, July 31, 2005 My crew works at the above-ground site today. The area is marked off in one-meter squares, and each is excavated by loosening dirt from the top with a small pick or trowel. The dirt is then carried away and sieved so to be sure we didn’t miss anything of importance. 
The types of items we are looking for are flecks of flint, quartz, bones, and any other items that do not seem to fit in the soil. I find quartz and flint in my section, and another person finds a bone just under a foot long. Insignificant finds or finds that the exact location is not known are simply put in a marked bag for inventory. Significant finds are coordinated using surveyor’s equipment. Alfredo and Jose are the leads on all of this outdoor activity, while Luis is the leader of the cave excavations.
After siesta, we look for more micro fossils and scrub larger ones.
At the beach this evening, one of the women gets sea urchin spines in her toe and stays on the beach for the rest of the time.
Sardines are the main attraction for dinner. This is another first for me, but others seem to be excited for them. The salad and fruit are becoming my favorite, not because I don’t like the other food, but because the peaches and melons are delicious. The peaches seem to be picked ripe right off the tree, and the melons look like watermelon on the outside and honeydew on the inside. They are so soft and sweet. When I ask what they are called, they say only “melon.” Watermelon is melon de agua, but the other is just “melon.”

Saturday, July 30, 2005 Our first day includes a brief tour of the two worksites. One site is in a cave (Cueva Victoria), and the other is about a half mile away at an above-ground excavation. The cave is great, with some areas having so many fossils that you can see them on the walls even before you dig.
A short time later, we’re in an Internet café for refreshments and to send email. The computers are old and slow, but for those anxious to touch base, the waiting in line is worth it. 
It’s back to the house for lunch, a quick dip in the small pool, and then my first official siesta (which doesn’t mean party—that’s fiesta).
After our nap, some worked at tables cleaning fossils with water and toothbrushes while I and others looked through dirt resembling kitty litter for very small fossils.
Work’s over for the day, and it’s off to go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea! How great this is. Splashing around turns into playing catch, which turns into playing “monkey in the middle” with a volleyball. With about a dozen people in the water, there are three people in the middle of a very large circle, where goofing off rules over any serious sport. It’s great fun.
Dinner is good, and sleep is welcome.

Friday, July 29, 2005 We arrive in Barcelona, and it’s as humid as Pittsburgh (not quite what I was expecting).
I now have to leave the airport, walk down the sidewalk to another terminal, and get a new boarding pass for my continuation to Granada. This is a bit strange, as we can get boarding passes at the gates in the U.S. No problem—I have plenty of time for the connection. Another difference is that at the gate, you board a bus that takes you out to the plane, where there are ramps in the front and back to allow boarding. No jetway for us.
At the airport, we meet more Earthwatch volunteers and our project leaders, Luis and Alfredo. Alfredo waits behind for the next wave of travelers to arrive in a few hours, and we head off to our base camp with Luis. Along the way, Luis complains about unusually high traffic and says it could be due to an accident. An hour later, we find the real truth—the farmers in the region have organized a protest and have tractors, buses, and semi-trucks blocking highway exits and stopping traffic. Our three-hour trip from the airport to our new home has now increased to about four and a half hours.
Along our journey, we stop for refreshments at a store. While taking some time to stand and chat outside, a funeral passes by. This consists of only one car decorated with flowers and a trail of walkers behind.
Finally, we arrive in what will be our home for the next two weeks. It’s a long ranch-style home in which they manage to find room for 15 people to sleep. Most rooms have two single beds, while one had three beds and another four. It’s a nice place.
The rest of the group arrives from the airport with Alfredo, and we have dinner at about 10:30 p.m. It turns out that the owner and his wife are the ones who will be feeding us for the duration of our stay. Dinner was simple, but the sangria seemed to be a big hit.
After dinner, I searched around the house with my flashlight looking for critters. I found only small moths and a gecko that looks to be the same type that has been naturalized to Florida.

Thursday, July 28, 2005 There are only a few hours left before the flight. I’ve got to drop off my feather-plucking parrot at the pet store for birdie day care, and then I’m off to the airport.
The first flight from Pittsburgh is to JFK in New York. This is a short flight, only one hour, and I meet a 14-year-old girl from Turkey traveling back home alone. My daughter is 13 now, and I don’t think I’d be too happy with her flying halfway around the world by herself. The girl says this is her second time doing this flight, and she is ready for anything since she missed two connections on her last flight.
At the gate in JFK, I meet Alcoan and fellow Earthwatch participant Jair Furnas from the state of Washington.
The flight from JFK to Barcelona is quite long (eight hours). Here, I meet a physicist who formerly worked developing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In conversation, our common ground was food and travel, so we stuck to that before it was time to watch movies and sleep.

Monday, July 18, 2005 The trip is just over a week away, and I feel so…unsettled. My first trip to Europe, and it’s a science expedition!  I wish my daughter could go with me.
As a biologist, I worked on endangered species projects for five years. I thought I’d have seen another country by now.  
I’m now working in computer support and would have never thought information technology would take me to a fossil-filled cave in the south of Spain. Funny how things work.

Friday, July 8, 2005 Jair Furnas (another Alcoa employee on this trip) just sent me a change to the itinerary. This looks even better. We’re going to be excavating caves only three kilometers (1.9 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea! A brief introduction of the altered project is as follows:
Cueva Victoria is a large cave with an interesting geological, paleontological, and mining history. This site is important because of the large amount of fossil fauna (54 vertebrate species) and the presence of human remains of 1.2 million years old. Of particular interest is the presence between the fauna of some species of African origin (especially a big ape called Theropithecus cf oswaldi), which could indicate a migration from Africa to Europe in the early Quaternary—probably across the straits of Gibraltar.
I am even more excited than before.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 I finally got my tickets thanks to Betsy Butler, last year’s Earthwatch fellow. It’s more than 4,000 miles each way.

May 2005 Spanish on CD is a bit harder than I expected.

Thursday, March 24, 2005 I attended a conference call last night with the Alcoa sponsor, folks from Earthwatch, former fellows, and newly selected fellows.  It’s getting closer and more real now.

Saturday, March 12, 2005 The annual tax returns are in the mail, so now I can start making a list for my trip:
  • Get a digital camera.
  • Learn Spanish (Spanish—I’m going to SPAIN!).
  • Dust off the backpack and reload.
  • Learn more about the task ahead of me.

Monday, February 7, 2005 I just got the email that says I am selected to go to Spain! It seems impossible. So many things are running through my mind right now—start practicing Spanish, what am I going to need, who do I call first to share the good news…. Yaaaahoooo!

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