Antarctic Inspirations

Breakdown the word ‘inspiration.’

I’ve come to understand in the early days of 2018, that this capacious word embodies the simple act of inhaling, the source of creativity, and ultimately guidance from a divine power.

In the literal sense ‘inspiration’ means to breathe in – an inspiration and an expiration occurring in each cycle of breath. In the modern figurative sense it refers to someone or something that inspires us. But Merriam Webster says, “before inspiration was used to refer to breath it had a distinctly theological meaning…referring to a divine influence upon a person, from a divine entity….” This is the original meaning of the word from the early 14th century.

The word ‘inspiration’ strikes me as significant.

Its definitions ricochet from my right brain to my left and back again leaving me wondering how a word that I’ve been offhandedly tossing around all these years could hold such gravitas.

One solid year of dedicated meditation since my dad was diagnosed with incurable cancer has imbedded in me a profound respect for the simple necessity of inspirations and the rhythm of breathing.

My analytical, science-attuned left-brain understands ‘inspiration’ and breath as a life force. In particular, the need to uptake air, to draw in a cocktail of chemicals including oxygen that literally feeds our bodies and sustains life.

And the cleanest air on earth to imbibe? I’ve just returned from the Circumpolar Current-insulated continent that is Antarctica. Surely that southern air is the most nourishing I’ve been lucky enough to sample thus far. Its purity is unmistakable and it’s salty, chilled aftertaste smacks of vitality.

Turn to the artistic right-brain and ‘inspiration’ becomes something that cultivates our creative spirit. The ice, mountain peaks, profusion of wildlife, kindred spirit of fellow travelers, and encounters with ghosts of intrepid heroic explorers who long ago dressed in scratchy wool and frozen leather to trek the length and breath of Terra Australis – those too are ‘inspirations.’

In the Lemaire Channel with fellow traveler and dear friend Di Patterson. It was a joy to voyage together again!

The features of Antarctica are at once legendary and legends of geography, geology, biology and history that viscerally inspire me to keep reading and learning and teaching. It becomes obvious at the bottom of the world that there is always more to know and share.

Breaking ground with the Silversea Expeditions Training Academy.

I want to dole out the best bits of knowledge like bait on so many hooks, string them into a lifetime of study and exploration, and keep my audiences hooked as I reel in the line. 

Tiny penguins in the foreground are engulfed by their ‘berg in the distance.

I am also inspired to write, to paint, to create, and sing the praises of one of the most threatened places on the planet. The beauty I have been lucky enough to see over the last nine weeks is ephemeral, and changing in front of my generation’s eyes.

Deviations in climate, like trusses, now build a long tunnel with the clear light of finality shinning at the far end.

People and penguins in red, black and white stretch along the beach.

Finally, together let’s ponder the oldest meaning of the word ‘inspiration’ and come to understand independently how critically important it is to respect our differences in comprehension of the third and distinctly godly definition of the word.

For the divine definition of inspiration:

How does one discover and know divine influence?

Where does each person’s divine entity reside?

How profoundly does the divine influence each of us?

What form does your divinity take?

Are the steep, jagged, black, snow blasted slopes of Antarctic shores and the steel-blues of continental icebergs celestial enough for this brand of inspiration?

For me they are.

 

Sending everyone much love and hopes for an inspirational 2018.

New Eyes on the Galapagos

In a last minute flurry of opportunity I took my 13-year old niece to the Galapagos last month.  What a joy to be back in the islands unlike any others on the planet, and to see it all unfold in front of new eyes without the burden of expectation. 

We took advantage of every opportunity to snorkel, hike, kayak, and land ashore.  We took in sunsets over cold drinks (one virgin Piña Colada and a skinny Margarita please) and aboard a Zodiac cruising through twisted waterways of sheltered mangrove forest. 

One early morning chilly snorkel paid us back for the commitment of entering the cold ocean with a single playful sea lion that cavorted and dove and somersaulted with us for a solid length of time. And sometimes we saw flocks of penguins “flying” by in the blue sea as we swam along. 

Sea turtles on shore and in the water kept us company and hundreds, if not thousands of marine iguanas decorated the shores we explored with our excellent group of informed and informative guides.  

I’m grateful for this spontaneous trip to the equator before I journey south to the Antarctic Peninsula next week.  The sun and familiar surroundings were as comforting as the luxury of the ship and the special attention of all the crew. 

Being back in the Galapagos felt like being home.

A Hiatus Explained…

I’m sitting on a park bench in the south of France on the outskirts of the city of Monaco. The motivation to explore this new city is eluding me. I’m more attracted to the slow enjoyment of a café au lait on a small street corner, and to this shaded, quiet spot on a back street, half-way up a flight of steep steps rising from one twisted and narrow street to another above me.

My drive to explore has been temporarily dampened. I suspect this is not permanent, but rather a side effect of the terrible loss I’ve endured this year.

In mid-December 2016, while happily floating across the Indian Ocean from east to west – from Burma to Zanzibar – I got the news from home that you never, ever want to hear; “There’s something wrong with Dad.”

I flew home right away, rising above the Maldives’ endless shades of blues and greens, into the grey twilight of the unknown and onwards to my family’s home in the frigid, stark white of a New Hampshire winter. It was here, and after two tortuous biopsies, that we found out my father had Stage IV brain cancer.

Brain Cancer.

Let those words soak in for a moment. Think of the devastation and the sorrow and the heartbreak they carry. Think of the uncertainty, the fear, and the unknown consequences that they rain down onto a family.

And it did rain. It was a monsoon of stress and worry wrapped up in the management of time, and radiation treatments, and chemotherapy drugs, and patient care, and doctor’s visits, and eventually long-term nursing homes. And all this for a 72-year old man, the anchor of our family, who was riding 50 miles on his bicycle without batting an eye, who went to the gym without fail every morning at 5:30 am, and who hiked with the dog every weekend.

There was no apparent explanation for this torrent of raining misery, and no reason for the deluge, but it robbed me of my father in a slow, tortuous way that left us with nothing more than a shell of a man, half paralyzed in a hospital bed, unable to form sentences or follow his thoughts, unable to reflect on his life and his loves, and fixated on his last enjoyment in this world – food – namely ice cream and smoothies delivered by his doting adult children.

The experience of caring for my dad and watching him leave us, side-by-side with my family and close friends, has changed me forever. It’s brought me closer to my siblings and extended family, and it’s dragged me to the edge of my own capabilities.

Before this happened, I thought my strengths and abilities were near limitless. I take away from this experience the knowledge that strength is an illusion and ‘grace under fire’ is the ultimate resilience. It is courageous and human to ask for help, and bold and admirable to accept it when offered. I know intimately now that even the most fortified of walls will crumble.

And so now you know, dear reader, why I have been negligent in writing and have abandoned my travel posts and photos for some time. It’s taken me these four long months since my Dad slipped away in April, with a final whispered exhale, to find the space in my rain-soaked heart to write about his passing.

I owe him so much. He is the main reason I find joy in discovery and travel. From an early age he led me to understand that our lives are acted out on a stage that stretches beyond what we can see, to the far corners of the globe. Always growing up he told me, “Expand your horizons my girl.”

He is the main reason I depend without hesitation on my inner moral compass, and find confidence in my gut feelings, and resilience to changes in my life. In large part it’s because he always trusted me, always knew I’d find my way, and never hesitated to give me every assurance that things play out the way they are meant to.

It is frankly strange to travel without him now.

Who do I share my stories with when I come home? Who will sit with me and watch the videos of wildlife encounters and far-flung cultural performances? Who will laugh with me about the sagas that played out on board the microcosm of the ship and the colorful characters involved? Who will be that unfailing, reliable landmark in my life?

Of course, it will always be my dad.

The conversations just take place in my heart now.

And I will continue to make him proud, and bring him stories, and he will know that my horizons are broad and only getting wider.



Indian Ocean

It’s been a long hiatus since I set off on a lengthy journey…and that’s all about to change as today I leave for Singapore to begin eight weeks of travel through the Indian Ocean. The four back-to-back voyages I’m joining — plus one scouting trip — will take me to Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Andaman Islands of India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Tanzania and Mozambique (the country whose name always makes me think of Bob Dylan’s song).

indian-ocean-map

The Indian Ocean is my next destination!

The first voyage starts in Singapore and then swings north and west over to northern Sumatra and Banda Aceh (where I will hop off for a few days to scout the region for future expeditions). The ship then visits some of Myanmar’s offshore islands known as the Mergui Archipelago, a chain of roughly 800 islands in the Andaman Sea, before arriving in Phuket, Thailand where I will rejoin the ship, after having flown there at the end of my scouting trip in Indonesia.

Starting and ending in Phuket, the second voyage will take me to the Andaman Islands of India, to Yangon to explore Myanmar’s inland realms, as well as to the Lampi Group of the Mergui Islands. The Mergui are home to nomadic fisherman and a rich biodiversity of mangroves and coral reefs, not to mention monkeys and hornbills in the crowded, verdant, green forests, and sea eagles in the vast blue skies.

Voyage 2

A rough itinerary for the second voyage of my upcoming season.

The final two voyages will see the ship moving from east to west across the Indian Ocean.  The third voyage begins in Phuket and ends in the Maldives over 1,500 nautical miles to the west. On this trip, the ship will in part retrace her steps into Myanmar and the Andaman Islands, and then sets a course for Sri Lanka.

I’m incredibly excited to visit Sri Lanka, and our first stop will be Galle, an ancient Muslim port influenced by traders from around the world including the Moors, Portuguese, Dutch and British. I look forward to seeing the historic Dutch-colonial architecture and narrow streets and experiencing the intense culture of the place. From Kirinda we will visit Yala National Park known to hold Sri Lankan elephants and one of the highest densities of leopards in the world.

Voyage 3

Heading west over at least 1500 nautical miles from Phuket to the Maldives on voyage #3.

The fourth and final voyage of this contract will take me through the Maldives, further west still, to the Seychelles, and on to Mozambique and Tanzania. The jewel in the crown of my final voyage will be a chance to visit Aldabra in the Seychelles. Aldabra is recognized as the second largest atoll in the world and is sanctuary to thousands upon thousands of seabirds, with an inner lagoon that supports reef fish, rays and turtles, as well as beaches harboring the giant Aldabra tortoise, similar only to those found in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

Voyage 4

The game plan for my fourth and final voyage of the season.

With so many sights, sensations, smells, tastes, animals and people to experience, I will be taking notes and snapping photos with hopes of translating the inundation of information into some meaningful and concise travel posts for you, dear reader, to enjoy.

Stay tuned and happy holidays!

I’m back in the cold Northeast of the US in January. (And what a reality warp that will be!)

The Life of an Ocean Adventurer

I was thrilled to have an interview published recently with the Women’s Adventure Expo in Bristol, UK.  Hope you enjoy reading about my day-to-day work as an Expedition Leader for Silversea Expeditions, and know that I’m proud to be a part of an endeavor dedicated to supporting wild women exploring the world! (Click on the iguana below to read more…)

The Life of an Ocean Adventurer

Welcome to the Women’s Adventure Expo!

We are the first adventure and travel expo in the UK dedicated to women. We are also a pioneering social enterprise empowering women who are interested in, or engaged in, adventure and exploration. We are commited to the growth of a positive global platform which celebrates and inspires women through adventure. We believe in making adventure accessible and inclusive to all women no matter what age, ability and stage of life. By connecting people, supporting one another and encouraging women to challenge themselves, we aim to raise awareness for, and collaborate with, projects that harness ethical purpose and create opportunities to expand our social value. Keep reading to find out more.

The ABCs of West African Roadsides

In West Africa, commerce thrives on the side of the road.  For 4 weeks now I have spent many hours driving along hundreds of miles of these roads in all their various states of repair and disarray, and I can safely say that almost everywhere there is a road, there is a market.

Africa - Roadsides-4

In West Africa, you can buy just about anything you want or need on the side of the road.

Thanks to the markets, hundreds of people are coming and going by bus, car, taxi, moped, or donkey-drawn cart at all hours of the day.

To entertain myself on these long drives along the Africa coasts, I made an incomplete list of some of the goodies for sale.

Enjoy the virtual shopping trip…

A:

Avocados

Air conditioner fans

B:

Blankets

Briefcases

Barrels

Beer

Belts

Bras

Bureaus

Beads

Baskets

Brooms

Bread

Buckets

Blenders

Bed frames

Students walking home on the Sierra Leone roadside as piles of trash smolder on the riverbank behind them.

Students walk home on the Sierra Leone roadside as piles of trash smolder on the riverbank behind them.

C:

Chairs (wooden, plastic, metal, children’s & full size)

Coffee tables

Cinder blocks

Car seat covers

Computers

Coconuts

Carpets

Cellphones

Cement

Clay pots

Cisterns

Curtains

Caskets

Coca Cola

Market woman in Ghana

Woman in a market in Ghana

D:

Dishes

Donuts

Drums

Doors (both house and garage)

E:

Electrical Wire

Eggs

F:

Floor fans

Flip-flops

Fly swatters

Floor tiles

Fabric

Fake flowers

Fridges

Africa - Roadsides 5

Apparently God is in control of the refrigeration business…

G:

Gravel

Goats

Gasoline

Gates

H:

Hubcaps

High heels

Hoses

Hair cuts

I:

Irons

J:

Jeans

Africa - Roadsides-1

Most clothes for sale in West Africa are second hand. No doubt donations from the first world.

K:

Kettles

Kilns

Koliko (fried yams in Togo)

Kitchen sinks

L:

Limes

Lattice

Linoleum

M:

Mirrors

Mattresses

Music

Meat

N:

Nuts

Nets (fishing and mosquito)

Nescafe

O:

Original art

Opinions

Africa - Roadsides-6

Not sure what is being sold out of this store front in Ghana.

P:

Propane

Paint brushes

Phone calls

Pillows

Pork

PVC pipe

Pineapple

Plucked chickens

Q:

Quilts

Quik (as in Nestle)

R:

Religion

Rebar

Roof panels (corrugated metal, woven, thatch)

S:

Shovels

Seafood

Sex

Sodas

Scooters

Solar panels

Sofas

Sugar cane

Shoes

Africa - Roadsides-3

Sampling of the brilliant fabrics and clothes for sale.

T:

Tank Tops

Toilets

Turines

Tires (scooter, bicycle, car)

Tricycles

Televisions (flat screen and not)

U:

Unprocessed wooden logs

V:

Veggies

Africa - Roadsides-2

Woman selling cabbage, squash, and yams in Angola.

W:

Wooden boards

Watermelon

Washing detergent

Water

Wash basins

X:

X-Tigi Mobile (service in Togo)

Y:

Yams

Z:

Zippers

A man walks a roadside of Angola.

A man walks a roadside in Angola.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namibia!

Namibia –

On the lush southwestern coast of the African Continent, the German influenced country of Namibia is an anomaly. Two thousand kilometers of dry, uninhabited, dune-laden Skeleton Coast is neighbor to one of the world’s most productive and nutrient rich stretches of ocean on the planet.

1 Skeleton Coasta

The Skeleton Coast where desert meets cold Atlantic

Here the cold Atlantic is fed by Antarctic currents and keeps the landscape at a steady, cool temperature through most of the year. Thanks to cold and nutrient-rich currents, the sea boils with just shy of two million Cape Fur Seals, farmed oysters, dolphins, and whales of almost every imaginable variety. Meanwhile, the land offers visitors the unambiguous contrast of rolling barren sand dunes, low stony mountains and dry riverbeds.

Cape Fur Seals on Pelican Point -- approximately 2 million of these fur seals live and feast on the Skeleton Coast.

Cape Fur Seals on Pelican Point — approximately 2 million of these fur seals live and feast on the Skeleton Coast.

The desert is stunning in its own right. The soft curves of the sand dunes piled one upon another as far as the eye can see, and the brilliant contrasts of blue sky, amber sand, dark shadows, and a spattering of green plants all pile together up against the slate grey waves of the cold Atlantic. Fog rolls in and out as a soft, gray vapor and blots the harsh light of the sun for a few hours each morning.

3 desert

Fabulous dunes in the morning light

In Luderitz, on the southern Namibian coast, our ship docked early in the day and we disembarked in the requisite mist to explore the abandoned diamond mining community of Kolmanskop. A cautionary road sign simply reading, “SAND” met us as the coach turned off the main road and into the ghost town.

SAND reads the warning sign in the middle of the desert...

SAND reads the warning sign in the middle of the desert…

Never has there been a more accurate warning issued in a place where desert sand is swallowing up the remnants of greed-fueled human endeavor, and encroaching into old buildings and polishing the wooden floor boards of those still in use. It’s hard to imagine that people tried to live here with their water shipped in, packed inside wooden barrels and carted across the expanses to fill old bathtubs that are now abandoned on the sand dunes like claw-footed toboggans.

5 Kolmanskop

Abandoned Kolmanskop diamond mine

In Luderitz, I was equally enthralled with the colorfully painted German built houses, and the patches of watermelon growing in the desert. While the European architecture seems a tad out of place, so do the melons.

6 LuderitzA

The German town of Luderitz

The Kelly green vegetation and mid-sized melons are the last things I expected to find growing in the rocky soil, but there they were, turning sunlight and what little water is around into bitter fruit historically used by Bushmen as a water source. The kudu, gemsbok, ostrich, and springbok of the region apparently prefer to find their water elsewhere, ruling the fruit too sour for their tastes.

7 melonA

Tsama melon in the desert

Further north, in Walvis Bay and the surrounding National Park I found hiking up steep dunes to be a difficult and tiring undertaking. Steps must be taken in parallel with the grade and the awkward diagonal trek upwards is impeded by sections of soft, slippery sand in abrupt contrast to packed, dense, firm sections where I could not dig the long edge of my boot into the dune wall, and found there was suddenly little purchase at all. I found speed helped in these situations, and passing quickly over the difficult spots I reached the ridge of the dune where I unknowingly upset the tenuously balanced sand on the inward edge of the dune’s crescent and caused a small avalanche to cascade down on the back side of the dune.

8 Dune

Soaking it all in from the ridge of a Skeleton Coast dune

Finally perched on the sandy crest, I paused a moment to take in the crashing waves to the west and the rising sun over the rows of dunes to the east. A Cape Fur Seal swimming like a porpoise cruised up the coast just beyond the breakers and out of sight of my companions and our row of 4×4 vehicles down at eye level on the beach.

9 Dune

The 4×4 convoy

That night we had dinner in a maze of inland desert canyons. Arriving just before sunset I scaled a low rocky outcrop to get out of the canyon’s belly and gain a heady view around the area. The low rocky peaks stretch out around me like cresting waves on the ocean and the low, auburn sun lit up the landscape bathing everything in warm, incandescent light.

10 Sunset3

Sunset in the interior

I did not want to come back down, but was rewarded upon my return with a fantastic feast and a choir of surreal singers. Later the Milky Way erupted as a horizontal streak in the sky – the clarity of which I’ve not seen even under sail on a schooner in the middle of the Atlantic.

11 Sunset dinner

Dinner in a desert canyon

Namibia is a place I hope to return to for its unparalleled and expansive desert that is home to desert elephants and wild horses, and its coasts promising great surf and loaded with marine life, flamingos and giant white pelicans. It was a pleasure to become acquainted – even briefly – with such a special land.

Namibia Pelican-1