The relativity of time
Wednesday | August 24, 2005
Things go wrong in the tropics. They always do. If it is not the rain it is the heat or the humidity. Or mechanical problems on a charter plane. This is what happened to some of our colleagues in this expedition. They left paradise to be stranded in a paradise lost.
Palmyra is about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, and there are only two ways to come here, by boat or by plane. The lagoon is well protected and offers good anchorage. In addition, there is a landing strip near the Palmyra research station. Scientists from a number of different institutions come regularly to Palmyra by plane to conduct scientific research. Heavy cargo such as scientific gear comes on a barge typically once a year.
Because most of us have crazily busy schedules, some could not stay for the entire five weeks of the expedition. Thus we sent a few people home from Palmyra and brought more colleagues to participate in the expedition using a small plane. It is a nice turbo propeller plane chartered by The Nature Conservancy several times a year that can carry 18 passengers and a reduced volume of personal gear.
Gustav, Kim, Kristina and Jordan had to fly from Palmyra to Honolulu on August 17. The plane was delayed because of bad weather. Palmyra�s landing strip is well maintained by the Palmyra station staff, but heavy rain does not allow the plane to land safely. And it rains a lot in Palmyra. It rains so much that we renamed the runway as rainway. Jordan decided to stay a few more days in Palmyra, whereas the others had to come back to the US immediately because of their academic responsibilities. Jordan could not know how wise his decision was.
The plane arrived one day later. Our friends boarded the plane but instead of flying back to Honolulu they were diverted to Kiritimati because of mechanical problems. Back to square one. We received a message from Matt Lang, the station manager, informing us of the situation. From that moment we lived in an atmosphere of uncertainty and gossip. Twice a day we received breaking news, of planes flying back and forth from Honolulu to Kiritimati, with and without people, with and without the parts needed to fix the mechanical problems. We heard that the plane sent to assist the stranded plane also had problems and had to return to Honolulu. We heard of a pilot quitting the job and the owner of the plane flying to Honolulu to fly the plane himself. The only certainty was that our friends were stranded in Kiritimati, the beginning of our transect, for who knows how long, with no gear or extra clothes, and nothing to do but to pray for the beer stock in hot Kiritimati not to run dry. Nevertheless, we all could imagine Gustav spending countless hours in the intertidal searching for new species of reef creatures, praying that the stock of sample containers would not run out.
This type of situation is typical of working in remote places. After more than two weeks subject to a schedule where we no longer know what day of the week it is, where the only temporal references are today and tomorrow, delays like this are, to a point, irrelevant. Time is relative. We are living on island mood.