Kalesea Invading Europe
The day before I left for my birthday, I left the SACNAS conference, hopped on a flight to Manchester Wales, and I turned 26 over the mid-Atlantic. That exact same day was the kick off of the International Seagrass Biology Workshop in Nant Gwethryn, Wales.I presented my science to other seagrass biologists, strengthened my previous friendships with colleagues, built new collaborations and friendships in the seagrass science community. Even visited the eel grass beds in Porthdinllean, Wales, getting wet, looking for sharks, and I learned a lot about the seagrass flowering parts-- each plant has both male and female parts. After eating english breakfasts for a whole week, I learned more about seagrass than I ever could from a textbook! With my new knowledge and love for seagrass, I set off to Cyprus to collect me some seagrass Halophila stipulacea.
But before Cyprus, I decided to go to London, England for a couple of days to see the Natural History museum where the statue of Charles Darwin resigns. I learned so much about our neanderthal ancestors, noted to myself that there is no mention of seagrass anywhere nor their story about reinvading into the ocean from a terrestrial environment. Interestingly, there was a brief discussion about cephlapods, specifically how cuttlefish-- cute animals related to squids and octopuses-- half of the haplotypes in the population are from cheater males. Since a dominant male protects a harem, the cheater male pretends he is a female until the dominant male leaves, and then the cheater male quickly mates with the female, making it a successful tactic. After the Natural History Museum I was off to Cyprus. Note to self, Thomason Airlines is super cheap, but every passenger had at least one child. Even the safety video had children co-stars.
After London, I set off to Cyprus and was welcomed by Demetris the Director of the Marine Environmental Research (MER) Lab. I stayed with an intern at MER Lab, Loretta, and we instantly became good friends. She made me breakfast every morning, we made fun of angry bus drivers, drank Frappes, worked in the lab, rented a car, drove on the left hand side of the road, hiked 12 kilometers to the Blue Lagoon and Aphrodites bathe, and played the Flume: "Never be Like You" and "Vivir mi Vida" by Marc Anthony on constant repeat. We came up with the name of my future cat name: Hameekee. The story goes that Aphrodite went to Cyprus and found so many snakes, she left, and when she returned she brought a million cats with her to eat the snakes and came up with a random name, Hameekee, to call my fated kitten and bring it home with me. But unfortunately I couldn't find one, but I did find a hedgehog, and I accomplished the most important task, which was to collect and clean some Vader grass. This Vader seagrass was found in the Caribbean in 2002 and has been aggressively outcompeting other endemic seagrasses in the Caribbean, even though their invasive to the Mediterranean their affects are not so dramatic. Like many lessesspian migrants (invasive species from Red Sea), this Vader grass was introduced to the Mediterranean Sea during the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Because I'm interested in studying the genetic diversity among in its native and invasive range and figure out where this Caribbean strain came from and why its doing so well, I needed to collect Vader grass from all over world. So my first stop was Limassol, Cyprus where Demetris, Haralampos, Perelicthyes, and Loretta all helped me collect. We snorkeled for the first couple of hours, and then finally went scuba diving. It was amazing! I couldn't have done it without the the help of others!
After Cyprus, I flew to Greece and my brother, Eric, met me inside the Greece Airport. We stayed at the worst hostel ever, don't stay in the "Les Amis" despite the hostelworld reviews. It was Eric's first time ever going abroad so I felt it was my duty to show him what I study. So we took a ferry across to a Greek Island, Paphos. It was beautiful. We stayed in a nice hostel that had a balcony and the first day we got there, we went sampling for seagrass! I was able to find it near all the boats and I can't tell you how happy I was to find it. After I collected all my samples, we cleaned them in a hotel room with regular cups and bowls and then took a ferry back to Athens. In Athens, we went scuba diving, visited all the historical sites, like the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Arch of Hadrian, and we ate a lot of souvlaki!
Eric and left on the same day, while he went back to USA, I continued my travel to Italy to meet up with Bucaccesso and her friends. I met my Bucaccesso on Catalina Island where we were on the same grant working on a project together. She also visited UCLA to finish up some laboratory prep work, so I decided to visit her while I was in Europe. She showed the most beautiful sites across Naples and presented me with the best food I've ever eaten. I visited museums, the local pubs, and even learned some Italian. Which helped when I visited Rome for a couple hours. I took a private tour in the Museum of the Vatican and saw the Sistine Chapels. And boy was I amazed. Overall this trip transformed me and gave me the motivation to continue to pursue science.
And then finally my last stop was a layover in Copenhagen, Denmark. I took the metro and met my friend Kristine, and she showed me a blitzed version of Copenhagen in just an hour and a half! It was quite stressful, since it was such a short time, but I got to see saw the lab where she worked, a meteorite, the botanical garden, a church, 2 castles, the wharf, the touristy spots where H.C. Andersen lives, the author who wrote about the lil mermaid, I then took the metro back to the airport, got a danish hot dog and flew home. It was a fantastic adventure and I would do again in a heartbeat. The women next to me on the plane told me that I was "really brave" because I travelled across Europe by myself, but luckily I had some wonderful people supporting me at each node or "leaf" of my epic trip.