Editor's Note: University of Southern California geobiologist Katrina Edwards is taking part in a three-week drilling project at the Atlantic's North Pond—a sediment-filled valley on the ocean floor—designed to locate and study what she calls the “intraterrestrials”: the myriad microbial life-forms living inside Earth's crust. This is her nineteenth blog post. To track her research ship's current position, click here. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in North Pond."
DAKAR, SENEGAL (March 13, 2009)—It was all going so well. The night before we arrived in Dakar, we had our last science meeting. We all commended our captain and chief scientist for making this a great and highly successful cruise, and presented to each other some of our most salient results. This was followed by a celebration in the "hanger," where we once we split our cores and later contemplated and debated the large maps of North Pond that hang on the wall.
Ah, success.... How could anything go wrong now? Easy enough: port call.
Port calls anywhere usually come with hassles, and you can probably imagine that Dakar, Senegal, is no exception. Bottom line is that you have to manage to get all of your equipment, all of your samples, and yourself back home somehow. This is always risky business.
For our samples, we'd been planning for potential problems by "diversifying our portfolio"—coming up with plans for splitting our samples into batches and shipping them home by every available global sea, ground and air route. We started things early in the day with a bang—the container with equipment going back to Bremen was loaded and sent off right away, followed by the U.S.C. air freight shipment, which also went off without a hitch.
Then word came down that our dry ice shipment—which enables samples to be kept at –70 degrees Celsius (–94 degrees Fahrenheit) or so—was in some kind of shipping holdup. Thus began a day that turned out like a really bad movie—Dak-horror, or something of the like.
Personal travel woes were next: vaccinations. We had checked on vaccination requirements for Senegal when transferring from ship to airport, and all information we found indicated that no short-term vaccinations were required. There are several recommended for extended stays, however, such as yellow fever vaccine.
Well, this became a problem. Specifically, Senegalese authorities were not going to let us leave the ship without vaccinations. So 10 of us, including six Americans, were informed around 10 A.M local time. that we would be rounded up and taken to a hospital for vaccinations.
If you think about it, it's pretty ridiculous, as the incubation time for the vaccination to become effective is about 10 days, and we were leaving that evening.
We spent the rest of the day pacing: waiting to be picked up for our vaccines, waiting for word on what would happen with our sensitive shipments. Pacing, pacing, pacing—wearing out the hangar floor. We had to be at the airport at 10 P.M., so we had time—we thought.
Late afternoon, we learned that some of our samples would be able to be shipped on dry ice the next day. This means that the science party would have to leave the packaging and securing of these precious samples to a third party, which is okay, but not what any scientist would prefer.
As evening rolled around we became increasingly agitated over the vaccination situation—Why did we have to do this in the first place, and why was it taking so long!?!?
At about 5 P.M. they finally arrived to take us away—to the airport, ironically. We were shuttled into a little dimly lit closet of a room where a doctor joined us about a half hour later. Luckily, we had our ship doctor along to inspect all of the vaccination materials—assuring single-dose syringes and the like.
In truth, the situation was pretty sketchy in my view, but we really didn't have a choice if we wanted to leave the country. And believe me, every one of us really, really did.
So we lined up assembly-line fashion and got our dosages, with the assurance from our ship doctor that this was really all okay: The vaccines were internationally certified and we would all be fine. Thus, we were duly poked.
We left for the ship again much more relaxed. We were out of there and we would even make it back to the ship in time to scramble for dinner leftovers before going back to the airport for our flight.
Then one of the scientists began to experience a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine: swelling of the arm, soreness, dizziness, racing heart. No good. Immediate monitoring began at the ship hospital, and for the next four hours it was touch-and-go as to whether the scientist would be forced to miss the next flight.
As 10 P.M. approached, with some pleading with the ship's doctor, and assistance from fellow scientists who promised assistance getting through check-in and security and onto the plane, the patient was finally released by the ship hospital.
We loaded in vans and took off for the airport. We managed to get everyone checked in and through security—all of us again together, as we all had very similar flight departure times and it's a small airport with exactly one terminal.
It was bittersweet to be still all together, the whole science party, wearing out the airport floors as we paced and waited for our flights to be called. Many sad good-byes took place there in the Dakar airport.
No one, however, ever looked at our vaccination records.