Tuesday 12 June 2012
Charlotte and I have agreed that today could be considered just about the perfect day. It might surprise a few of y’all to hear that, at the conclusion of a perfect day, I sit propped up in a hotel bed with every joint and muscle aching, a few lacerations still (possibly) bleeding, and a throat raw with swallowing sea water…but I just consider this the price of fun. I may be hobbling for a few more days, and I’m not totally sure how long it’ll take for the skin to grow back on the tops of my knees, but it was totally worth it.
We started our day relatively early, donning swim gear and flip flops and packing up towels and wetsuits for the quick trip up the coast to Mission Beach. Charlotte signed us up for surf lessons with a shop called Surfer Girls at 9.00, but we got there early so we could have a bite to eat at the bakery next door. We split a delicious cinnamon roll the size of my head and downed a cup of coffee, while we nervously chatted about what the morning had in store for us. Unfortunately, the weather was not totally ideal…I was hoping for hot and sunny so I could come back to England with a convincing sun burn. Instead it was overcast and cool, but still warm enough to get away with the “shortie” wetsuits we both already own. When the time came for our lesson, we headed over to the beach where we met our instructor, Brian, and one other student. Brian went to fetch our longboards while we struggled into our suits (I swear I’ve put mine on a thousand times and it never gets more graceful than a lot of hopping up and down and yanking stubborn neoprene that seems to mysteriously shrink the second it touches skin). I got a bright pink foam board that weighed a ton, and he had us don company rash guards over our suits so the lifeguards could identify our bodies as students when we washed up on shore half-drowned.
We lined our surfboards up on the beach and had a little bit of out-of-the-water instruction on technique. Brian showed us how to lie on our boards and paddle, and then we practiced the “pop-up” over and over and over again. It seemed so easy on solid ground. He tried to get us psyched up and asked if we were ready to hit the water, but all he got was some nervous laughs and a half-hearted “Sure!” in reply. With that, we picked our heavy boards up by the noses and dragged them rather unceremoniously down the beach. There were several other surfers already in the water, mostly students, so we found a spot on the edge of the pack to get started. No sooner had we started to wade out to the nearby sandbar, then we started to realise this was a bad spot. There was a deceptively strong undertow, and before I knew it, we were all getting sucked out past where we could touch bottom. Brian called to us to head back in, and I found myself paddling for my life against the drag of the current. Luckily, we were all pretty smart about not trying to fight it head-on and swimming diagonally and all that, so we made it back to the beach after a brief but very intense swim. This time, we dragged our boards down to the other end of the surfer pack and headed back into the surf for another try. This turned out to be a good spot. The waves were absolutely perfect for beginners, not terrifyingly big, but with enough power to carry us pretty far. The sandbar meant that we had a very shallow (only about 2 ft deep) spot to stand on right in front of the breakers, and we could catch the whitewater of the waves just after they broke to ride in.
Brian started by working with each of us in turn. He’d look for a good wave, then have us jump up on our board and lie down facing the shore. When the wave was right behind us, he’d give us a shove (kinda like sending a kid off on a bike when he’s learning to ride), and then yell at us to “Pop up! POP UP!!” The first couple of waves, all I could manage was to rise about halfway to my knees before I fell off one side or the other. It was frustrating, but also really exhilarating to feel the board catching the momentum of the wave. Charlotte had already tried some surfing in Hawaii, so she was managing a lot better than me right from the start. Eventually, when Brian was pretty confident that we had the hang of catching the wave, he had us try it on our own. We’d hop on our boards and wait as we heard the wave roaring closer and closer behind us. When it was about 10 feet away he’d yell “PADDLE!” and we’d start to get ourselves moving. I was slowly getting the hang of waiting to pick up speed, and then pushing myself up as I brought my knees under me. I could ride all the way in my knees, but my terrible sense of balance was betraying me every time when I tried the next step of bringing my front foot up and standing up. Finally, though, I got it…sort of. I stood for about two seconds as the last dying dregs of a wavelet propelled me toward shore. Once I got that, though, there was no stopping me.
We only had our lesson for an hour and a half, but then they let students keep their boards for another hour or so to continue surfing. Brian left us to get his board and go have fun in the bigger waves a little further out, but Charlotte and I doggedly launched ourselves back in the surf on the Mission Beach equivalent of the “bunny slopes.” Though we were having a lot of fun, we were also realising the toll that surfing takes on the body. Besides the drag on limbs and joints of fighting your way back out into the waves each time, there’s also the burn of the foam board on the arms and knees as you drag yourself up over and over again. Not to mention the layers of skin lost to getting bounced and rolled on the sandy bottom every time you fall off or get knocked off your feet by a particularly powerful wave. It was draining and exhausting and I cannot think of a better workout…as long as you don’t plan on using your joints for very long. We did, however, manage to stay out there for another hour or so before deciding we were too tired to continue. I managed a few more very awkward but triumphant stands on my board, along with many arm-wheeling graceless falls…one of which was the most spectacular belly-flop I’ve done in a long time. When we finally dragged our boards back up the beach and retrieved our gear, we were not surprised to see that Charlotte was gushing blood from one knee like a trauma patient, and I have what I suspect are second-degree burns on my knees from the board. Two and a half hours and I’m completely hooked. Charlotte’s now been instructed to buy a “guest” longboard so I can surf to my heart’s content when I come visit her.
We limped back into the hotel, still covered in sand and wearing our dripping wetsuits, and cleaned up a bit. After all that activity, we were both, naturally, starving, so we went back out to a place that Charlotte wanted to go in her new neighborhood called Hash House a Go Go. We sat at the bar with the Poland/Russia football (soccer) game on the TV and ordered a couple of Coronas and lunch. I got a corned beef and potato hash, and Charlotte got a Hash House favourite, the sage chicken benedict. Our meals were absolutely enormous, and we couldn’t finish even half, but they were delicious, and the leftovers are making tasty dinner for this evening. Back at the hotel, we both quickly settled into a food coma. I wasn’t inclined to leave the room again, but Charlotte was getting restless by early evening, so she talked me into a nice sedate trip to the bookstore. Since all of the good bookstores in Bristol have closed, I’ve been a bit deprived, so I agreed to a trip to Barnes & Noble. Oh. My. Goodness. I forgot how giddy the sight of all those books can make one. And then I remembered why I haven’t let myself go within 50 ft of a bookstore in a long time. I came out with a stack of books higher than my head and a noticeably lighter wallet. I just hope I can fit them all in my duffel.
But, sadly, this trip has come to an end. I get up very early tomorrow to start my two-day return trip back to England. Charlotte will drop me off at the crack of dawn at the San Diego airport, where I will spend most of the day flying to Washington DC. From there, I’ll board a late-night Air France flight to Paris, and then catch a short hop to Bristol on Thursday afternoon. I’ll be spending over 24 hrs in airplanes and airports, so I fully expect to do a face plant when I get back to my little English flat. If the trip proves interesting, I might write one more blog post, but, otherwise, this will have to be the conclusion of another Pittman adventure. It’s been fun journaling all of this from the road, and thanks to everybody who’s stuck with the long narratives and commented back to me. I’m sure there’ll be another adventure soon to come!
Monday 11 June 2012
Poor Rocky has had to work very hard for the last half of the trip. We left Abilene, Kansas on Friday morning for another 700-mile day across most of Kansas and Colorado. Really not much interesting to report for that leg of the trip. My cold kicked into high gear, and I spent most of the time doped up on Dayquil, sniffling and coughing and trying to stay awake while we listened to back-to-back episodes of This American Life. It was almost a relief when we finally reached the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado. We were still on Interstate 70, but it soon became anything but monotonous as we started a steep climb toward the Great Divide. By the time we reached Denver, we were at over 5,000 ft above sea level, and, not long after that, we realised we were at over 10,000 ft. The air is certainly noticeably thinner up there. Just getting out of the car and walking into a gas station felt like running a sprint. Neither of us could tell, though, how much of our dizziness was from the altitude and how much was from the long hours in the car.
We finally reached our Friday night destination, Palisade, Colorado, in the early evening. We checked in at the Wine Country Inn, a place Charlotte had already booked, which is an excellent hotel in the heart of Colorado wine country. We were told at check-in that we only had ten minutes or so left of the evening reception which offered a free glass of wine, but we decided to skip that and dump our gear first. Once settled, we wandered down to the lounge to try a glass of their wine before dinner. I ordered a Cabernet Franc with a rather boring-sounding name on label, which was very good (I don’t know much about wine, so I’m usually pretty happy with anything that’s not cheap plonk). Charlotte, who knows just as little about wine, ordered merely on the basis of name, so hers was also good but with the intriguing name of Infinite Monkey Theorem on the label. Dinner was outside next to the vineyards with live music by a cowboy band called the Hillbilly Healers (don’t ask me to explain that name) and had all the trapping of a good old Colorado barbecue, but with posh food instead of burgers and fries. Both of us got the lamb gyro, which was delicious. We sat for a bit and listened to the music and sipped our wine, but were ready to turn in well before 10pm.
Saturday was a day spent almost entirely off the highway. We headed out of Palisade going south toward Durango, threading our way through the Rockies. I put on my album of C W McCall so we could listen to “Convoy” and “Wolf Creek Pass” as we negotiated mile after mile of switchbacks and hairpin turns. It was fun for the passenger (as long as you didn’t make yourself carsick scrolling through the iPod playlist), but nerve-wracking for the driver. We had agreed to make it all the way to Durango for lunch and a rest stop, so we didn’t make any stops, even though we passed Silverton and saw the sign for Black Bear Pass (one of the roads mentioned in one of the songs on the album). When Charlotte and were about 5, our family lived in Colorado Springs, and we took a family trip with our grandmother to see the Grand Canyon. We saw a few other things on that trip like the Four Corners (the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado all meet) and the Silverton train. I still remember that train trip. The Silverton was a steam engine locomotive set on a narrow-gauge rail from Durango to Silverton, and at that time, it ran on a loop out and back for tourists. I remember looking out the window of this old train as we snaked along the side of the mountain and being simultaneously terrified and thrilled at the sight of a 400-ft drop right below us.
When we got to Durango, Colorado, we happily abandoned Rocky in the downtown historic area to go in search of a good place for lunch. We found a local microbrewery called Carver Brewery and chowed down. Since we’re taking turns driving, we could only get a half pint each, but we chose two different varieties of their local brew…both were predictably excellent. After lunch, we had one more stop to make in Durango. Charlotte had been toying with the idea of getting some cowboy boots or ropers to take to San Diego with her, so we wanted to find a Western wear shop, and we figured Durango was as good a place as any to find that. After a quick internet search, we found a place right off the highway that looked suitably non-touristy. On our way there, I started to think about the possibility of getting a hat. I bought Charlotte a black cowboy hat ages ago when I lived in Texas. I had always meant to get myself one at the same time, but never got around to it. So, when we walked into Kelly’s, I started looking at hats and Charlotte started looking at boots. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to have any ladies boots that were just sort of plain every-day boots, so Charlotte gave up on the boot idea. I, however, found a black Resistol that suited perfectly, and a few minutes later found myself walking out the door with an absolutely enormous hat box under my arm. I have no idea how I’ll get this thing back to the UK on the plane, but I now finally have a black cowboy hat. It’ll go perfectly with my cassock.
The rest of Saturday was a long haul on state roads through the rest of Colorado, through the Four Corners, and down into Flagstaff, Arizona. Since it was close to the Grand Canyon, a Saturday, and summer, most of the hotels were booked solid. Not having made reservations ahead of time, we found ourselves trying several places before we finally found a vacancy. I was on the verge of a low-blood sugar grumpy attack by the time we checked in, so Charlotte hauled me out to get a quick burrito at a nearby fast-food place. She’s now quite used to my sudden Jekyll-and-Hyde routine when I’m hungry enough to gnaw my leg off.
Sunday was our last day on the road, and it couldn’t have come too soon. Both of us have had about our limit of boring highway and sitting in a cramped car. We rolled through the Arizona desert at a good speed, since we’d made it back on the highway. We were waved through the periodic vehicle inspection stations (the second half of the day was spent within sight of the Mexican border). It hovered around 100F (38C) all day, and I felt sorry for the vehicle inspectors who were standing in the broiling sun in what looked like quite heavy uniforms with long sleeves and long trousers. We made it to San Diego in good time, and checked in to the long-stay hotel that’ll be Charlotte’s home for the next week and a half. She already has a house lined up to move into, but first she has to go to Mobile, Alabama for six or seven weeks to have a refresher course in how to fly her helicopter (flying a desk for a few years can make your actual flying skills a bit rusty), hence the hotel for now. In the evening, she took me on a drive around what will be her new neighborhood, Hillcrest, and pointed out her house, which looks great. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant that Shana and Scott recommended in that neighborhood, Celedon (I might have spelled that wrong, but it’s close). It was amazing. At their suggestion, we tried the duck salad, and I don’t have enough superlative adjectives to describe what that was like. We left there stuffed and happy and fully aware that Charlotte is going to become well-known at that restaurant.
This morning is a slow one. Charlotte had to get up early and reluctantly drag her Coast Guard uniform out of the suitcase to go to the air station and report in and do paperwork. I slept in and am spending the morning catching up on work back in the UK and catching up with this blog. Later, we’ll do some more touring around the city and try to take in some sights. We’re going to drop by her new house this evening so she can show me what it’s like. Tomorrow is my last day here before heading home, but Charlotte’s signed us up for a treat that I’ve been looking forward to since I landed in DC…a half-day surf camp. We’re headed to Mission Beach for a 1.5 hr lesson in surfing, and then another hour of surfboard rental to try it out. I’ve got my wetsuit and sunblock all ready to go! Hopefully, I’ll have time for one more post tomorrow night to tell y’all all about that before I board a plane Wednesday morning for the two-day trip back to England…that’s assuming the sharks don’t get me.
Thursday 7 June 2012
This may be a really obvious statement, but driving through the Midwest is unbelievably boring. My apologies to those who live here and love it and all, but there’s just no way around that fact. Charlotte and I drove about 680 miles today (for my UK friends, that’s roughly the distance from London to, say, the Orkney Islands), and the most interesting thing we saw was a truck stop where you can buy a handgun, get a shave in an old-fashioned barber shop, and watch the latest feature film, all while your laundry is on the spin cycle. We just checked into our hotel in Abilene, Kansas a few minutes ago, and Charlotte texted to her friend that the US is like a supermarket…one should just stick to the edges. Now this is likely to get me howls of protest from my Midwestern friends, but I’m too highway-numb to care right now.
But first, let me back up and fill y’all in on yesterday. After an evening of sushi and drinks and a hilarious card game with some of Charlotte’s best friends, we woke early to pack the car and hit the road. Shana and the wonder kids, Madie and Max, bid us a sad farewell in the driveway, and we waved until we had lost sight of them. Then it was a slow and frustrating crawl out of DC in morning rush hour traffic. Our transport, Rocky, is still fairly shiny and new and Charlotte is still figuring out some of the fancier technology and trying to teach me at the same time, so there was a protracted period of fumbling with iPod and satnav and whatnot as we tried to get everything settled for the long cross-country haul. Eventually, though, we got out of the city, had a good playlist queued up on the iPod, and settled into the road trip groove.
This wasn’t to last long. Charlotte and I seem to have a combination of extraordinarily bad luck and a naïve faith in the wisdom of satnav route choices that some might say borders on suicidal. I will reference long-term followers of our adventures to the videos of our Scotland trip in which we find ourselves more than once bouncing down a rutted gravel goat track to certain doom which the satnav labeled simply as a “B-road.” It came as no surprise to us, then, when we found ourselves committed to an unbelievably tricky and laborious transit of the Appalachians in the middle of West Virginia, when a quick detour to the interstate south of us might have proved not only faster, but also better for our blood pressure. Add to that the sudden on-set of a rapid succession of apocalyptic downpours, and we knew we were in for a wearying day. We spent hours winding our way through the mountains, engine straining up each steep upgrade and then racing back down again. When we finally dropped onto the interstate west into Kentucky, we could only muster a feeble whoop of relief.
Our first destination last night was Louisville, Kentucky, where Charlotte had already booked us a room in a nice hotel. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel on our way into town so that I could have the thrill of once more eating food that you have to be Southern to appreciate…in this case catfish and okra. When we finally checked in around 8pm, the friendly guy at the desk cheerfully informed us that we were booked in for a room with a king-sized bed. We simultaneously spoke up, “No, no…two beds!” He shook his head. “Nope. Your reservation’s for a single.” Of course it is. “Can we switch?” “Nope, it’s all booked up.” Of course it is. Charlotte and I haven’t had to share a hotel bed since we were eight. There’s a reason for that: while Charlotte can lie perfectly still all night, I’m a restless sleeper and kick like a mule. Charlotte carefully built a barrier of pillows and retired to the farthest edge of the bed.
I woke up this morning with a sore throat and stuffy head. I’m blaming recycled airplane air. Luckily, I’m in the land of the twin wonders of Nyquil/Dayquil, so one of our first stops this morning was to a drug store to stock up. I also had made it very clear that I expected breakfast at a Waffle House before we made it west of the Mississippi, so I happily tucked into an all-star special while I waited for the cold medicine to kick in. My morning complete, we once more pointed Rocky’s nose west and rolled onto the interstate. The rest of the day has been a blur of rolling hills, cows, and very few bends in the road. Charlotte and I have become an old married couple on car trips: we spend hours without saying a word as we listen to NPR, we read billboards out loud to each other unnecessarily, and we have little squabbles over inane things that often involve elaborate reenactments of an annoying habit. At one point Charlotte was angrily asking me to hand her a Cheez-it so she could demonstrate to me how unutterably annoying my particularly unique way of consuming this cheesy snack quite obviously was.
But we finally made it to Kansas and found ourselves another choice hotel in Abilene. I have discovered another power that Charlotte has of which I am unbelievably jealous…it’s called the government discount. We asked for a room (this time being VERY specific about the number of beds) and were quoted a not-unreasonable price. Then Charlotte casually asked if there was a government discount. The lady at the desk affirmed that they had one for retired military. Charlotte pressed the point, “Well, I’m active-duty military.” The lady hesitated a second, then, “Are you on orders?” “As a matter of fact, I am.” We got an almost 40% discount.
We rounded the evening off with an excellent meal at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I’m now propped up on my bed and quickly headed toward a food coma, having consumed a quesadilla roughly the size of a Texas watermelon, so I will wrap up this lengthy post and go hit the Nyquil. More from the Rockies (I hope).
Tuesday 5 June 2012
Here’s a piece of advice for those of you about to embark on a trip: do your packing before engaging in a long evening of wine and conversation…and more wine. I opened my duffel this morning to find the items necessary to scrub the grime of two continents and several aircraft off of me, only to discover that half of those necessary items are still sitting carefully marshalled together on my table back in England. It seems I wasn’t fully conscious when I jumped out of bed at 03.00 yesterday and started throwing things in my bag…hardly surprising, given that I only managed two hours of sleep. “But hey,” I thought to myself when I stumbled in at midnight, “I’ll just sleep on the plane…good for the jet lag anyway.” Great for the jet lag, not so good for being a prepared traveler. Luckily, my twin sister is hauling everything but the kitchen sink in her car, so she’s got me covered.
So, if you hadn’t already guessed, this is the start of another Pittman twin road trip/adventure. Some of y’all may remember our last American road trip back in 2006, when I rescued Charlotte from her two-year assignment in Alaska, and we drove the 15,000 miles back to the East Coast in her old Xterra named Falcor. This time, we heading the opposite direction, from Washington DC back to the West Coast to San Diego…her next Coast Guard assignment. This time, there’s also a new vehicle to get us there, a black Subaru Outback named Rocky. She’s had Rocky for 10 months, and it’s still fairly clean and smells like “new car.” That will change. We’re hitting the road tomorrow with plans for a five-day drive through the Midwest and Rockies before dropping south through the desert to San Diego. Charlotte hasn’t set up a special blog for this one as she’s done in the past for some of our more adventurous journeys, but I’m going to attempt to keep up this time here on my own blog.
Of course, the first part of my adventure started yesterday with my travels from the UK. Luckily, I managed to find both of my passports (couldn’t find my US one for a bit, causing minor panic), and I didn’t forget to pack the really essential stuff like iPod and wet suit (gotta have your priorities). I was up at 03.00 because I had ordered a taxi for 04.00 to get me to Bristol airport in time for a 06.00 flight. It was the start of 20 hours of sitting in planes and sitting in terminals and trying not to be bored out of my mind. The first leg was Bristol to Amsterdam (Schiphol) on KLM. Easy journey, good food (for a plane), nobody sitting next to me (bonus!)…and I’m still pleasantly surprised by the courtesy and efficiency of English and Dutch airport security. People actually smiled at me and waited patiently while I fumbled with shoes and laptop.
Once at Schiphol, I had a couple of hours to kill, so I withdrew a few Euro from the cashpoint and went in search of a second breakfast. My limited repertoire of Dutch phrases (please, thank you, see you later) is often a good way to get a friendly smile from the bored cashiers, but is also a good way to get rapid-fire Dutch thrown at me in response, to which I have to throw up my hands and admit defeat. I carefully negotiated the handing over of a sandwich and some fruit and wandered off in search of my gate. Schiphol is a good place for people-watching, and the new books I had loaded up on my Kindle were mostly forgotten as I spent most of my gate time trying to figure out why a little kid was having a full-blown meltdown over a shoe and whether or not the old bearded Army vet across from me had actually traveled to all of the places that were advertised by the stickers covering his old-fashioned trunk case.
The transatlantic haul was on Delta to Atlanta. Having spent some time in my distant past working as a baggage handler for Delta, I was dubious about our chances of making it to the States less than two hours late and with both wings still attached, but, remarkably, the flight was uneventful. I was squeezed into a window seat next to a very large Dutch woman, who (mercifully) spoke no English so was unlikely to try to engage me in nine hours of awkward seat-partner conversation. Instead, I promptly closed the blind, stuffed the tiny pillow up against the window, and fell into a head-bobbing, drooling half-sleep broken only by the occasional clink of a trolley as the flight attendants came around serving food or drinks.
Atlanta was another pleasant surprise. I’ve always liked the Atlanta airport for it’s underground train and easy terminal layout, but I was dreading the long haul through immigration, customs, and more security. I was bracing myself for the rabid, snarling wall of TSA agents waiting to pounce on me once I made my way out of the international terminal. Instead, as I emerged from customs still tired and rumpled, I was met by a pleasant TSA lady at the beginning of the security line who joked with me a bit while I was waiting to take my turn through the scanner. Meanwhile, a cheerful scanner guy was repeating over and over again how necessary it was to remove everything from your pockets, punctuating his warnings with funny anecdotes about what will happen if you don’t. “What’s going on?” I thought to myself. “Where am I? This can’t possibly be the US…why am I not being automatically treated as a potential terrorist?” It was very disorienting. Once at my gate, though, still bemused, I received all the confirmation I needed of my whereabouts. Just before boarding, the gate attendant announced a gate change to the other distant end of the terminal, and the despair in the groans of a few dozen supersized Americans was palpable. Then I knew I was back.
So, Charlotte and I are now spending a relaxing day in Alexandria, Virginia with our friends Scott and Shana (who I first met on the Alaska trip). I’ve managed a tricky negotiation with Lloyds bank after I realised I forgot to inform them of my travels and an attempt to withdraw money in Atlanta tripped a security check and froze my card. She’s just packed most of her gear into Rocky, and we’re getting ready to head out to Trader Joes to buy snacks for the trip. This evening we’ll have a few more friends join us for dinner, and then it’ll be an early morning start for the first leg of our journey. Tomorrow night should be a stop in a very nice hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Our itinerary gets a little hazy after that. The next night will probably be somewhere west of Topeka, Kansas. Then Palisade, Colorado at a wine vineyard. Then a trip south to Flagstaff, Arizona, before finally heading west to San Diego. We should get there Sunday night. Charlotte has to check in at her air station on Monday morning, but she’s arranging for us to do a half-day surf camp on Tuesday so I have a chance to get some beach time before I head home. I’ll try to update regularly, so watch this space for more from the road!
Yes, I know…I’m not keeping up with this the way I should. The last few days of archaeology are easy to sum up, though: dig the sand, dig the sand, dig the sand. There you go. From Saturday to Tuesday weren’t very productive in terms of archaeology…actually quite disappointing. Tuesday to yesterday were a bit better, but most of what we found confirmed our findings from last year, so nothing earth-shattering. I’ve had some really aggravating “mum and dad fighting” moments with Mark on the edge of the trench. We’re still having a tug-of-war over doing it the American way vs. doing it the British way. I keep trying to explain to him that just because he thinks the American way is stupid doesn’t make it any less necessary in order to produce a comprehensible American site report! The last couple of days, though, we’ve managed to compromise on most things and peace and tranquility rules the trench edge now.
Other than the archaeology, we’ve been having a splendid time. The return UK students (who dug with us last year) are staying up the road and quite happy with a pool table and hot tub (Jo [one of this gang and who is reading over my shoulder] says “hey y’all”). Plus, they’re all old enough to legally buy their own alcohol. The gang in my house (basically “headquarters”) have been having just as much fun with a big, comfortable space to spread out in and a beach just down the road. The noise level most evenings is unbelievable…it’s like being perpetually immersed in a big slumber party…but everyone’s getting along famously. I think I shall just have to resign myself to the intense level of chatty excitement for the whole of the two weeks, and then just spend three days lying very still in a quiet, dark room when I get back to England.
I’m really enjoying being a Southerner again for awhile. My accent has changed dramatically since I got back here and I find myself saying things like “puppy DAWG” (of the giant, fat yellow Lab next door) and “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” Those of you back in England would be highly amused if you could hear me. I’ve been amusing myself by playing country music for the gang on the way to and from the site and singing along enthusiastically. There have been introductions to new types of food like hush puppies, grits, and American biscuits (if you’re British and have no idea what I’m talking about, maybe I’ll make some for you some time). We haven’t yet rounded out our Southern experience with a snake sighting yet, but there have already been a couple of brown recluses (poisonous spiders) and quite a few ticks. I think all of the students will go back to England with a whole new appreciation for the mild, harmless countryside there.
Despite the new stuff, the students have been adapting surprisingly well. Many of them can already do a passable “Hi, y’all” and they’ve learned that a forecast for rain doesn’t mean a light English sprinkling. We had some storms pass through a few days ago, but it was the typical southeast storms with sudden squalls, gale-force winds, and apocalyptic downpours. As usual, Mark and I argued about going out and working until it hit. Obviously, I was against the idea, but Mark won and we managed about 20 mins of work before the first few heavy drops saw him running for the car yelling “Pull stumps!” I just gave my best “I told you so” eye roll and joined the general rush in the sudden downpour to get everyone to safety before the lightning started up. Needless to say, we stayed safe and dry in the house after that until the skies cleared.
The one continuing surprise is that Mark has managed to remain a perfectly law-abiding citizen…going the speed limit through town, even though it’s 25mph on a main road where it’s easy to unintentionally go faster. We haven’t had a single brush with the law this week, which I can only say has me absolutely baffled. Now, if only we can all manage to make it off the island at our intended time next week without a hurricane, volcano, or other natural disaster trapping us here, we will have pulled off a startlingly normal bit of fieldwork. I know, shocking. However, our American portion of the team have already taken bets on what strange circumstance will trap us here this time, and I’m guessing their predictions range from freak blizzard to plague of locusts.
Right, that’s all the time I’ve got for this post. My parents are making a brief visit tomorrow to see their daughter in action. I’m really looking forward to this, since they rarely get to see either of us twins at work. My mum has promised not to tell any embarrassing stories from my childhood and has even gone as far as to check that her intended wardrobe is appropriately field-savvy. I will be sure to send along an update after their visit to let y’all know how it goes. For now, though, there is a lovely breakfast waiting downstairs and I need another cup of coffee to get me jump-started for the day.