looking back, i see that i haven’t really described where i’ve been living for the past month.  since i have ample time for meditating on my surroundings now that the sampling is finished (actually, with a week to go before we arrive at port, ‘excessive’ time might be more truthful), here’s a bit of info about our digs.
i share a cabin, about 3x6m, with a benthic biologist from uruguay.  we get along famously, having startlingly similar senses of humor and each eagerly studying the other’s language.  i can’t actually imagine being randomly thrown into co-habitation with someone more compatible, and i’m well aware that not everyone on the ship has been quite so lucky.  one of the other biologists, who has his own room, shares a bathroom with a russian guy we have informally christened ‘senor enojado’ (mr. angry) – among ourselves only, of course, so shh – because he never smiles, and in fact meets any attempt at pleasantries with a heavy scowl.  apparently, he also mutters to himself constantly in a low, semi-threatening tone, when using the shared bathroom.  did i mention that i love my roommate?
but i digress.  the cabin is a little like a shared twin college dorm room, with furnishings in shades of blond wood and a nice dusty blue.  there are two twin berths, each at normal height but with raised sides (for sleeping security during heavy swell), and drawers underneath.  there’s a desk under the porthole and a dangerously comfy sofa (site of many a siesta, some unintentional).  there are several small bookshelves affixed to the walls, each with a bar across the front to prevent sudden avalanches, and the three tall cupboards all have similar bars across their shelves, plus locking doors.   one corner of the room is cut out by our 1.5x2m bathroom, a true ‘water closet,’ which contains a compact sink, toilet and shower.  the floor is recessed a little so that the water from the shower runs freely over it but not into the main part of the room; the ship’s movement eventually herds the slosh into the corner with the drain.  mercifully, the bathroom is also well ventilated – the floor is dry within about two hours after a shower and laundry hung in there also dries quickly.
this ship, designed in part for acoustic work, is unusually stable and quiet – we can’t always tell without looking outside whether we’re moving forward or not.  its normally gentle roll, perpendicular to the beds, is actually rather soothing, and apart from the occasionally noisy maintenance work during daylight hours, peaceful sleep is possible at any time of day (and believe me, i’ve tried them all.  the only time i couldn’t sleep was when a strange, rhythmic thumping started up nearly exactly above my head – i figured it was some kind of maintenance thing, as usual, but in fact senor enojado was on the top deck jumping rope.  go figure).  we’ve had to address a couple of small creaking issues in our room – carpentry, right-angle corners and constant swaying don’t seem to go together very well – but through the cunning use of paper wads, bandanas and occasional blunt force, we’ve won nearly every time.
and so we’ve spent four weeks in our little cubby in the sixth deck, about 9m above the sea surface (on average).  in our gently rocking sleep, i think we’ve traveled about 2000km, which is kind of a strange thought (plus another ~5000 during waking hours).  we have floated anywhere from a dozen meters to five kilometers above the seafloor and doubtless passed by many unseen strange creatures, and we’ve traveled over about 45° of latitude. (the chilly weather now certainly drives home how far we’ve come from the tropics.)  it’s also odd to realize that for four weeks, we’ve lived entirely within a 110m-long steel box, and haven’t seen trees, or cars, or dogs, or a newspaper.  (our newsless bubble was burst  briefly when the pebbles slyly fed me a rumor about michael jackson’s death being a publicity stunt… my credibility on board was shot for a few days after that.)  it’s odder to realize that we haven’t actively missed most of these things, apart from our respective important people onshore (news hoaxes notwithstanding).
i remember the culture shock of returning from my previous voyage in 2004 – suddenly on land, there were street lights, shoe shops, tall buildings.  we had just lived for three weeks without any of this; was it really necessary? gradually we got used to city life again, and bought cups of coffee and high-heeled boots and electronic gadgets, but i think one of the things i like the most about time at sea is the stepping back from these things for a while.  for a few weeks, i don’t need any of them (well, ok, i confess, my music player has been extremely useful during whale-watches); on future trips (if any), i think i would only extend my packing list to include many more books and several kilos of chocolate.  it’s a good life out here, and while i will be very ready to be home by the end of six more days without any work to speak of, i know that i will also look back on the weeks spent in our little floating world as happy ones.