Saturday, December 20, 2008

Two Alaskan girls in the South

Internship = done. Last day was December 12. I had a great official "performance review" with my supervisor. We formed a great relationship these past four months, and I enjoyed my time at the Fish & Wildlife Service. I finished up all my major projects (look for some neat Native American-related podcasts to go up soon at http://www.fws.gov/) and after packing up all my stuff (how did I accumulate so many things in just four months here??), saying goodbye to my fellow interns (very sad), I hopped on an Amtrak train for the 9 hour ride down to Charleston, South Carolina to visit a friend from back home in Sitka - Alana. She has gone to college down in Charleston for the past three years, and after hearing her rave about it, I had to come visit. I've never been further south than Virginia, so I had no idea what to expect.

Immediately after arriving, I realized that I was a world away from D.C. People were much calmer and relaxed, and much friendlier (people actually got annoyed if you didn't say hello to them when you walked by), and the weather was a good 40 degrees warmer. The Christmas decorations and lights placed among the palm trees seemed a little out of place. I was a little disheartened when the first few people I met did not have southern accents (to Alana's great amusement, I about had a heart attack when I heard the first "y'all").

My second morning in Charleston, I wet for a run in a nearby state nature reserve. It was foggy and a bit eerie that day, but not too hot. The trail was a nice paved loop through the convoluted branches, moss, and bushes that characterize the forests there. I felt pretty safe, despite being the only person around, until I saw that the lake in the middle of the park had a sign that said "Do not feed the alligators." Hm... Also, when I got back to the apartment, Alana told me that there are usually huge spiders living in between the trees, and she recently had a contest with her friend Joe to see who could count the most during a walk. She told me he counted over 50. Great. No more running in the Charlestonian forest for me. (Although, yes, I realize the irony that in Nicaragua there will be snakes and spiders and freaky animals as well.... Baby steps, baby steps).

Alana and I filled our four days together with a lot of outdoor activities (and salsa dancing our last night). We toured Charles Town Landing, one of the area's first defensive structures. It even had a mini-zoo with a black bear, bison, turkeys, shorebirds, elk and deer. We were practically the only people there besides the workers-so we enjoyed walking around the grounds and being in the sun. We also rented kayaks one day, but fog started rolling in right when we started off on our paddle, and by the time we were out in the channel, we could barely see the boats surrounding us. We also rented bikes and biked across the new Charleston bridge. We went out for wine at a downtown social event we were randomly invited to-and although it was filled with people that were old enough to be our parents, and made more money than we probably ever would, we had a fun time mingling, and because it was held at a jewelry store, I felt compelled to buy something. I purchased probably the cheapest thing in the store-although I really needed it: a Swiss army knife. We also took a boat cruise out to historic Fort Sumter National Monument, where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. This tour was more crowded than the other activities we had been doing- Alana told me the Fort is a big draw for tourism, and most of the other folks on the tour were retired military.

My last night there, we went to James Island in the evening to see the beach. So beautiful. Charleston reminded me of a cross between Maine, Florida, the deep south, and Hawaii. In some areas, I felt like I was in an east coast community-with all their seafood and old buildings, but then we'd cross a bridge and go to another little community that was more "hippie" and free-spirited, on the beach, with beach bungalows, swimsuit shops, and margarita lounges. Then we'd be in on an old Plantation-which reminded me of the old movie, "Gone With the Wind." Charleston was such an eclectic mix- I can see how Alana really likes it there. If you grow tired of one area: just jump in your car (you have to drive everywhere) and go to another nearby island, or suburb, and the vibe is completely different.

Charleston was much more relaxed than Washington, D.C., and this, combined with the warmth, really made me feel like we were on summer vacation. The long train ride back to D.C. yesterday, and the 35F weather right now are jolting me back to reality. I'd better get used to it, since I go back home to Alaska tomorrow for Christmas.

I leave for Nicaragua in a little under a month. I just received e-mails from Peace Corps with the details of my upcoming deployment. We'll meet in Miami, Florida in January, and our group of Health Care volunteers will take off together for Managua. It's becoming real! I'm making my travel arrangements to Miami on Monday... Although Charleston was in the low 80s F and sunny, I know that was just a taster of what's to come. For the next two years I don't think I'll see weather much colder than 70F. Who hoo! Now I just have to conquer my fear of humongous spiders...

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1 comment:

Alana Peterson said...

by far my favorite blog on The Penny Post
*mwah