The time is 10 p.m. The sky is hazy from a sun that is still an hour from setting and Jenn and I are writing from the ship’s library, located in the uppermost deck of the vessel. As we sail through the Beagle Channel, I am mesmerized by the mist floating down over the southernmost part of the Andes Mountains juxtaposed against the ripples of waves sent out by our ship.
My daydreaming pauses with the sounds of our Jewish shipmates lighting a menorah and singing a Chanukkah song. In a land so foreign and so far from home, I am warmly reminded of the holidays. I feel a deep connection to my family and friends and smile as I think of them busily making preparations for their celebrations. This year we will celebrate both Christmas and my birthday across thousands of miles and three time zones – I, from the most remote place on Earth.
For a moment I become lost in thought about my upcoming birthday and my life’s path. Could this all be real? What sequence of events led me to this point? And where will I go from here?
Travel will do that to you. Good travel, mind-opening travel, gives you deep glimpses into the infinite possibilities that surround us at any moment. When given the freedom to simply BE and to experience life outside of our daily routines, we are capable of dreaming big dreams -- dreams that may someday become our realities.
My dream is to travel the world and learn everything that I can about our lives on this planet we call Earth. I want to take these experiences and use them to teach others, to inspire people to be their best selves and to live life to the fullest, to help them find balance and live in harmony with our natural world.
What better place to study balance with our natural world than a trip to Patagonia, and the Tierra del Fuego National Park? Upon landing here in Ushuaia, we boarded a bus that took us through the park to admire the landscape and learn about the flora and fauna of this unique region.
Due to the chilly, but stable, climate in Patagonia (Patagonia refers to this region of the world, Tierra del Fuego is the province, and Ushuaia is the city where the park is located), there is low bacterial growth in the soil. This means that when trees fall, their decomposition is slow. Slow decomposition means that the nutrients in the soil are recycled very slowly, which affects tree growth and sustainability. We noticed evidence of this in several downed trees and few saplings.
Fortunately, for the forest ecosystem, a parasitic mushroom has taken to growing on trees, which aids in the decomposition. Our guide noted that these mushrooms are edible but that they lack flavor.
Not only do the mushrooms feast on the trees, beavers take their toll on them as well. Originally introduced so that people could use their pelts for wear and trading, the beavers quickly became an invasive species. Their fur did not grow as thick as it did on beavers living in more extreme climates, which rendered them useless to people. Then, with no natural predators in this environment, the beaver population grew quickly, which led to some challenges in the ecosystem as large families of beavers cut down trees and create dams to destroy the forest and reroute rivers and streams. Government officials have looked for innovative ways to solve this problem, but it persists.
After the park tour, we had a scenic lunch aboard a catamaran cruise of the Beagle Channel. We conversed about the naturalist Charles Darwin’s survey work all over this region and how his studies in the Galapagos Islands continue to be relevant today. Again, we were reminded of the power of global studies, as this quest for knowledge through scientific investigations led Darwin to develop the theory of evolution.
From there, we finally boarded the National Geographic Explorer! Climbing the steps to board the ship was so exciting and the best way to describe the experience thus far is “surreal.” Jenn, Mariam, and I are beyond thrilled to have been selected to represent educators aboard this expedition. Everywhere we go, we are greeted with a friendly, “Hello, Teacher!” by the staff, and we are enjoying our conversations with guests on the ship. Everyone is interested in hearing more about our fellowship and we are looking forward to introducing ourselves to the whole group tomorrow morning in the commons area.
Speaking of tomorrow, we are scheduled to enter the Drake Passage around 1 a.m. All signs point to very fair travel – something called the “Drake Lake,” as the waves, so far, are very low. Perhaps we will celebrate the summer solstice with smooth sailing through the Drake Passage!
For now, we are off to our cabins to get some sleep. Tomorrow we wake up to completely open water and no sign of shore.
|Tierra del Fuego National Park|
|View of the Beagle Channel from Tierra del Fuego National Park|
|We saw an entire island of sea lions! View from the catamaran tour.|