On Deck

Friday, September 25th        21:17              0° 53’ 53” S; 89° 37’ 06” W

Wreck Bay, San Cristobal Island

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One week and six hundred miles later, we have arrived at our final destination: Wreck Bay off the Island of San Cristobal. The dim light of the Galapagos capital, Puerto Baquirezo Moreno, dances lazily atop the surface of the sea and the southeast winds curl along the ship’s contours as they follow the Humboldt currents toward San Cristobal. There are Zodiacs at the ready to take us with the wind into town tonight, but Mike and I choose to stay aboard the Endeavor. We will be back on land soon enough. There are notes to take, photo and video files to swap, bags to pack, a blog to update, and lessons to plan. But there is also an open sky and the need for some final moments on deck before we step off the Endeavor for our last time tomorrow. There is a balance to be struck between the busy and the still.

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The Busy- A day on the National Geographic Endeavor

No day has been the same since boarding the Endeavor, yet there are natural rhythms that nudge you toward your own routines. More times than not, I wake at 6:00, rub the sleep from my eyes, organize my things for the day, and grab a cup of coffee on my way to the bridge to take in our new position. Breakfast is available at 7:00 and our first excursion is generally at 8:00 (though occasionally has been as early as 6:30). The mornings have usually been for venturing onto land with naturalists to learn about the ecology, geology, and history of the islands. We have investigated the recent geologic uplift of Urbina Bay on Isabella Island, learned about failed attempts to mine salt on Isla de Santiago, and tracked the efforts to stem the tide of invasive species on the Island of Santa Cruz. Today we climbed to an open ridge on San Cristobal Island called Punta Pitt, a nesting site for all three species of boobies (birds), Blue-footed, Red-footed, and Nazca. On our return to the olivine sand beach below Punta Pitt, we were overcome by the surreal only in Galapagos delight that is swimming with sea lions (something I will never forget or even fully believe).

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After lunch, I’ve been attending photography or biological illustration workshops, or occasionally setting out on a sea kayak to look for sea lions and sea birds along the rocky shoals rimming the islands. Nearly everyday the late afternoon has meant deep-water snorkeling, which, for someone who has very little experience with the sea, has been eye opening and otherworldly. Yesterday we explored a dark grotto filled with fish, sea lions and a handful of sleeping (harmless) reef sharks. Today while snorkeling along the steep cliffs of Kicker Rock, we encountered something truly astonishing: a teeming school of black striped selemas packed tightly in an undulating orb nearly one hundred feet in diameter. Around this mass of fish swam half a dozen sea lions and over a dozen sharks each of whom took their turn slicing through the shimmering fish ball in hopes of picking off a less synchronized selema for their supper. We watched this feeding frenzy for nearly an hour before returning to the ship for our own evening meal…ever aware of how nice it is that we neither had to hunt for our dinner or fear becoming the dinner of someone else.

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Before eating, we all gather together to share stories and photos from the day and to discusses plans for tomorrow’s adventures. Following dinner there is usually a relevant Galapagos-based lecture or a film. More times than not Mike and I have stayed up late into the night either in our cabin or in the ship’s library debriefing the day, organizing our photos and videos and recharging and sorting the ridiculous amount of camera and video gear that we either brought with us or had provided for us by National Geographic.

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The primary mission of our work is to develop meaningful ways to share the experiences we’ve had and lessons we’ve learned during our expedition with our students and with more far-reaching educational communities. In these final days of the expeditions, we have been busy interviewing naturalists, creating our own “narrative spheres” (using the Ricoh Theta), putting together a presentation for the guests on board the ship, and making plans on how we can work together in the months to come. Our goal is to develop curriculum that we and other teachers can use to communicate the power of geographic perspective, the value of conservation, and the connection that all people, regardless of locale and ability to travel, can have to a place as unique and significant as the Galapagos.

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The Still – Finding Calm in the Restless Sea

Last night, just before 2:00am, I found myself at the bow of the ship—the only one on deck aside from the crewman watching over the bridge. I had been so lost in the flow of writing and in the novel business of photo editing that I had not realized the time. Neither had I fully realized the motion of the ship until, on standing up, I was pressed back by the swells into my seat. Amusingly, I rose and wobbled from my cabin on the waterline up to the deck, the whole time leaning against the changing power of the sea. Once I found my place at the bow, I held on to the rails and peered over the edge as the ship crested and fell into the rolling waters. The waxing gibbous moon lit the froth of the waves. Three swallow-tailed gulls, with their eyes faintly ringed with bright red, surfed the winds just beyond my reach. There was symmetry between the smooth rhythms of the ship as it cut through the sea and in the gliding of the gulls drifting unbothered in the fluid air above. It was a moment that I will not soon forget and one that I will carry as a lesson on the power of calm in the face of uncertainty. Equanimity is the word and is a worthy goal on this adventure and in all to come.

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