Today was a day at sea; it was also a day for storytelling on the ship. With the Drake Passage again unnaturally calm, we were able to sit fairly comfortably in the lounge as our naturalists used their photographs, videos, and sound recordings to tell us about their lifes’ adventures.
The ship doctor, Dean, began the day with the story of his adventures on the continental mainland studying Emperor penguins and being attacked by a leopard seal. He showed us breathtaking images of these giant birds as they marched single file to the sea to go foraging for food. Typical of penguins, the lead penguin usually scopes out the scene looking for potential threats in the water. Sometimes they are the first to take the plunge, and sometimes, they trick their fellow penguins into jumping first so they can see if it really is safe. In the video Dean showed us, the lead penguin did just that—looked around, went to jump in, reconsidered the decision, and slid off to the side to let the others go first. Later in the expedition, the doctor learned first-hand just how dangerous it is to stand close to an opening in the ice as a leopard seal leapt out and attacked him while he was standing on the ice. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale, but frightening, nonetheless.
The next person to share his adventures was Eric. Nicknamed the “Ice Man” (or “Snowflake,” depending on who’s introducing him), Eric spends a lot of his time investigating glaciers and caves found under the ice. His video showed us his hiking and camping in Refugio del Viento in Argentina exploring ice caves and making beautiful images of light in the ice. He says, “The history, the story of ice, is a pretty intriguing one.”
At dinner, Alberto shared his stories of traveling through the Amazon leading an expedition of English-speaking tourists into an indigenous town where he was able to make arrangements with the women of the area, who are not accustomed to feeling empowered or valued, to teach the tourists how to make handmade textiles. His bilingual and multicultural skills, he says, were imperative to being able to facilitate this experience of cultural exchange between the two groups of people. Later, he kindly retold the story as I recorded an interview with him to show my students about the power of being bilingual.
Next up was Gabriela, who taught us about the First Nations people of Tierra del Fuego – the Yahgan people. Referred to locally as the Yamana people (Yamana meaning “I am alive/I am a human being”), these people evolved from nomadic people around 9000 years ago and were discovered in the mid-1800’s when the explorer Magellan found the area now known as the Strait of Magellan. The Yahgan people were native to the area of Ushuaia, and traveled around via canoe in search of seals to eat and places to stay. Afraid of the peoples living further inland, the Yahgan would build wigwams on the shores relocating frequently. The captivating fact about these people’s lifestyle is that they wore very little clothing. This is amazing mainly because the weather in Ushuaia can be variable and often cold. The chose to do this, however, as a means of self-protection—so that they wouldn’t drown if they fell in the water and so that they could avoid being chilled by water splashing up in the canoes and soaking into their clothing In the absence of modern water-proof outerwear, being naked was the only alternative.
The presentations ended with Andy, who has spent the past several years investigating humpback whales in Alaska. Through images and sound recordings, he painted a picture in our minds about the unique cultural attributes of these immense sea creatures. His research involves learning more about these behaviors as well as the feeding and migratory patterns of whales. The Alaska Whale Foundation, his non-profit organization, is charged with analyzing and providing input on how we can create systems for maintaining a healthy balance of whales in our ecosystem.
The night ended with a viewing of the show “Chasing Shackleton,” documenting the adventures of a group of British men who attempted to recreate the famous Shackleton expedition and survival.
Tomorrow we are scheduled to dock in Ushuaia, visit a museum and tour the town. If we are lucky, we will have some time for socializing at the local establishments there!
Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share today. Saving the best for last, I guess!