Category Archives: family and friends

First few days in Yap

Almost 72 hours on Yap, or “on island” as the locals say.  We live in the city of Colonia, or technically, about ½ a mile from Colonia in a village called Worwoo.  Because nobody really lives in Colonia, it’s just a complex of small businesses, a handful of restaurants, some dive shops, a thatched information booth that I have yet to see open, two banks, and a large post office for Yap, Caroline Islands, zip code 96943.

houseOur home is a 2-room cement building, with one large open space of about 30′ x 35′, and then a kitchen off of it.  It used to be a Head Start day care, but now seems to be used by visiting groups like ours. There are 15 of us: 2 faculty from Queens, 12 students (6 men, 6 women), and myself.  We all share the one large room.  Fifteen cots, our assorted luggage and diving gear, a long plastic table and chairs, and 7 or 8 fans, placed strategically around the room with snaked extension cords stretched to inconveniently placed outlets.  All around the walls are 6’ tall windows, covered in louvers and screens. Doors lead out to a large porch that wraps around two sides of the building, and from the porch is access to a bathroom with two toilets and a shower.

The kitchen has a regular fridge/freezer, an electric hot plate with 2 burners, and counters with bags of both our “common” food and our personal food collections.  Any food item not marked with someone’s name on it is fair game, on the counter or in the fridge.  Group food is mostly breakfast items:  small bunches of native bananas that folks are bringing us, eggs, bags of fruity loops.  My current personal stock includes one box of raisins, one box of Maria cookies, two (cold, fridge) cans of milky sweet coffee, and one small watermelon.  Sharpie magic markers work on watermelons too!

Activities of Yapese Daily Life that have taken place in the last three days, in no particular order:

  • shopping for groceries, fans, magic markers, clothes line,
  • walking the 50’ across our back yard to step directly into the Pacific Ocean to snorkel (see pic of view to ocean);
  • learning to ID tropical fish that live in the waters off of our backyard;
  • watching students trying to set up  ‘chore charts’ to keep our communal household organized;
  • walking along stone pathways many centuries old;
  • several meetings with the Yapese directors of the Divisions of Marine Resources, and the Division of Land Resources, and the Division of Forestry and Agriculture, all about the different mapping projects that we begin on Monday;
  • learning to prepare, chew, and spit betel nuts (and their juice);
  • waking up at 4am to walk into “town” in order to use the entirety of Yap’s wifi capacity to upload a 12 mb file to the online class I’m currently teaching for Redlands;
  • taking 2-3 cold showers daily to soothe my sweaty body;
  • getting to know the students as we share meals, walks, meetings, outings, sleeping, etc;
  • buying a beer mug from the Stone Money Brewing Company (part of the Manta Ray Bay Hotel here), sipping a Hammerhead Amber while we sat on the top deck of an old Dutch (?) ship while watching underwater diving movies projected onto a 10’ x 15’ screen hanging from the ship’s mast.  My mug will stay safely at the ship’s bar until we’re ready to leave Yap in a few weeks, until then ready for me to enjoy drinking from it whenever I stop by (since it’s been tagged with my name, just like at our house).  The microbrewery’s motto:  drink, pee, repeat.

Today I completed the first part of my open-water scuba diving certification, learning all the steps but in a pool.  So far, so good!  I’ve mastered how to control my buoyancy with my buoyancy control device; how to share my breathing regulator with a buddy; how to clear my mask and balance my ears.  In addition to learning these skills, I’ve spent about 45 minutes “diving” so far, with a full set of scuba equipment, all underwater in a pool that’s only 6’ deep and 25’ long.  Isn’t that a scene from The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman?

Meanwhile, everyone else in the group either completed this pool part earlier in the States, or they’ve been certified divers for years.  FINALLY, tomorrow I join them for my first open-water dive in the ocean.  Still, it’s all been great fun so far.  And as the Yapese say, “lo wiki wangin.”  Which means “better than nothing.”

one of the original public "highways" that stretch across parts of the island.

one of the original public “highways” that stretch across parts of the island.

abundant vegetation


the sunrise view from our back porch


innovative students manage to hang multiple stories of hammocks

en route to Yap

During this month of May, I’ll turn this blog over to observations on our trip to Yap.  Yup, Yap.  One small island among others within the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).  I’ll be there for 3 weeks, part of a class from Queens University (Charlotte, North Carolina). I’m accompanying my grad-school friend Reed Perkins, an environmental science faculty member. And his colleague Greg Pillar, and their 12 undergraduate students.  Reed takes a group of students *every* May term to Yap; this is his 11th trip.  They do a range of different environmentally-oriented projects, often focusing on watershed dynamics and sustainable agriculture. This year in particular they’re beginning a GIS-based project that aims to mitigate issues of sea-level rise affecting the outer Yapese islands.

My part in all of this? Being another “adult” on the trip, contributing GIS expertise, learning to scuba dive, and some weeks of off-work time.

To travel from Ithaca (NY) to Colonia (Yap, FSM) required me first to pass through EWR to CLT on day one.  Then about 27 hrs ago we left CLT for IAH, then HNL (where I’d never been before, but an hour in the airport doesn’t count for crossing the state off my list), and now Guam (GUM).


Guam, enough part of the US to still have my cell phone plan work, but still 15 hrs of combined flight time from Texas.  The touristy part of “downtown” of Guam City (?) looks like one gigantic Duty Free shop. All neon, all luxury stores. Cartier, Tiffany, Rolex, Louis Vuitton. Not where the Guamese hang out. But with our 5-hr layover, close enough to find a sushi restaurant for dinner (breakfast, EDT).  Dee-licious.

Almost time for the short flight over to Yap.  We found a wall of free wifi leaking through from the United Club. Fifteen people, thirsty for their internet stream after a dry day of travel.  wifiguam

statistics of dual career academic couples

Does anyone else out there have stories to share of  managing a lifetime of dual academic careers?  Here are some statistics about our phenomenon in a study by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford (pdf). Not too surprising that the proportion of academic marrying other academics is high. We’re meeting each other during the years most likely to be seeking mates and the years mostly likely to be in grad school.

I’ve been an exception to the trend of men’s jobs coming first. We’re just doing a tango. It takes two.

roaming children, roaming cats

The LA Times hosted a health chat with Richard Louv last week, known for describing “nature deficit disorder.”  I’m a big fan of his ideas.  It’s an ongoing challenge to keep nature, in all its forms, an active part of the lives of our teenagers.  We’re in the midst of one success story: the 13- and 14-yr-old are hiking for a week with their grandparents, at the Grand Canyon and in southern Utah (Zion NP, and elsewhere).  We didn’t force them to leave their phones here, and my daughter stays remarkably aware of wi-fi zones in the hotels where they stay. But I know that at least their days are spent hiking and phone-free, and this journey with John and Wendy will certainly be a life-long memory for them.  If they just survive the 24-hrs/day they’re spending with each other right now…

And look, even cats know the fun of roaming outdoors.

Stop reading this blog. Go outside and walk around the block, or if you’re lucky, up in the woods.

Thanks, Janet, for the hat tip on Louv’s interview.


For any of you still paying attention to this blog, stay tuned for its transformation into something more mapping focused in the next few weeks. When that happens, I’ll retire the Argentina posts, so for those of you who want to keep those stories (that’s you, Mom), plan accordingly.

Argentina 2, come and gone

Sorry to have left you hanging. We spent our last days in City Bell with extended goodbyes, parties at the children’s school (they were selected as the ones to lower the flag in the end-of-the-day ceremony), marveling at the amount of stuff that we’d accumulated in just 12 weeks, packing it up to give to Mari or return with us, walking around town to see things one last time, and all the while shivering because it had just turned frigid.
Eventually we did indeed make it home to California, all in one piece (or many pieces, of luggage). I have never loved living in Redlands as much as I did last Sunday afternoon, with some friends meeting us at the airport and others waiting for us at home with a lunch to share. It was warm and sunny in every meaning of the words. My most common response to the “How was Argentina?” question is, “Wonderful, with a current of inconveniences running throughout.”
Meanwhile, I can’t believe how quickly our calendars have been filling and how much mail we accumulated. Each day we must try and remember how nice it was to have simplified things for a while. For three months there we managed to go without a car. While we were away, gasoline prices here have soared to $4.35/gallon and they’re pennies higher EVERY DAY. We will change our habits. We must change our habits.
One highlight of the week has been the short phrases and sentences in Spanish that the children have been using. Even the kid who was most resistant to being there from Day 1!
Thanks for reading. This blog is likely to be re-purposed for topics more related to mapping, but I’ll be sure to let you know when the next extended trip will occur. However probably not Argentina 3…

Argentina 2, Day 76 – one more to go

Yesterday was the 29th of the month, the “Día de los Ñoquis” – or Day of the Gnocchis, if you prefer. In this part of the world, it’s a long-standing tradition to eat the doughy potato lumps on the 29th of every month, a cheap meal in anticipation of pay-day on the 30th. Or it’s a hyped scam by GMSA (Gnocchi Makers of South America), like Hallmark coming up with more ideas for holidays to celebrate. Either way, I waited in line with others to purchase from the new pasta place in town (Mamma Julia’s). Good marketing ploy on their part to have their grand opening on the 29th of a month! And a disappointment on our part that they’ve opened just as we’re leaving. Their noodles look wonderful.
Today is the last day of school for Eric and Julia and they got a goodbye hug from their bus driver. After lunch I’ll drop off a cake in each of their classrooms as a contribution to the goodbyes. They’ll be thoroughly sugared up by bedtime since Julia will go to yet ANOTHER birthday party after school and Eric’s friends have planned a (surprise) party for him at one of their houses. No shortage of social opportunities here.


Off to pack a bag or two…

last cold trip to Buenos Aires

A busy week of packing and despedidas (goodbyes).


To complicate (or perhaps simplify?) matters, we seemed to fly from extended summer weather to bitter winter. It was -3 degrees Celcius (28-ish F?) when we woke this morning. This drafty, uninsulated house is best suited to summer rentals: the vent over the stove in the kitchen is just a hole in the wall with a small fan inserted. As I stirred Emily’s oatmeal this morning I could see my own breath. Heating that part of the house is futile, so I’ve closed it off and we’ll stick close to the living room heater today. At least by lunch time the sun will be up.


On Wednesday I took a quick trip up to Buenos Aires to see friends one last time. Elvi was able to get away from work in late afternoon and we sat in a coffee shop for a couple of hours. She’s in a deep funk about her situation in life (doesn’t want to keep working in Argentina; wishes she could land a position doing cleaning/childcare for a family in Europe (as did her sister, in Italy) or the States; knows the chances of that are slim to nil; would have to return to Peru to await a visa in any case and work options in Peru are tiny and pay a fraction of what she earns here, which is nothing anyway). I couldn’t say much other than my usual platitudes about how much her family appreciates her sending some money every month for her younger brother’s university tuition, and that he only has 2 years to go, and that she’s working for a good family and finally has temporary “working papers” here so she’s not at risk of deportation to Peru (without being able to return to Argentina), etc. Valid points on some level, but ultimately trivial responses to a profoundly complicated social and economic situation. She joked about not returning to work that afternoon, about just staying with me, or getting on the train and just keeping going. She’s reached that level of despair and hopelessness. But eventually I had to leave, and so did she, and we walked around a little and I bought her a winter coat and gave her the little money I’d gotten out of the bank earlier for her and hugged her a lot and said goodbye again.


Quick train over to Rachel’s house and arrived in time to help bathe Luca and Max. Splashing toddlers in a state of constant motion and oblivious to the concerns of the world. Dinner conversation with 17-yr-old daughter Jessica revolved around teenage issues: rock music concerts, body piercings, tattooes, instant messaging, reluctance to complete homework. Adolescent issues that cross all global boundaries. Their lovely cat Leonardo curled next to me all night and we kept each other warm. Hope it won’t be another five years before I see Rachel and family again, but we’ve managed at least that much since 1989 and still fall into the same close conversations when we’re together.
When we left Argentina in June of 2003, I also didn’t think we’d ever see Elvi again then. Maybe this won’t be the last time ever. Quien sabe.

Yet another trip to La Plata by: Julia

Guest Post by Julia I. Sinton
On Saturday we went to La Plata to go sight seeing. We saw lots of cats, interesting trees including a tree on top of another tree and a tree covered in branches, a weird, white and lumpy building, a playground and animals at the zoo. The cats really live in the zoo but they usually hang out in an abandoned area. In the zoo we saw lots and lots of animals including a condor, a toucan, a lion, an elephant, lots of monkeys and a giraffe.

the meat man

Chris’s brother, Alex Sinton, is visiting for a week. Tonight he and Chris are cooking LOTS of beef on the parilla. Alex is in his element.