It is so hard to believe that this adventure has come to an end. In just a month, I have done so many things that I never, ever thought I could imagine. I climbed and slid down white, crystallized glacier caps. I fell countless times as my feet sank to my thighs in the snow. I befriended thousands of penguins as they marched along living their lives oblivious to my presence – and I loved every one of them! I saw seals with kind eyes pop their heads out of the water like a dog greeting his owner. Then, there were the whales. First, there were the Killer Whales circling my penguin friends with a group-like determination to ravage their prey. And then, the Humpbacks – flopping their great tails with a monstrous enthusiasm yet being playful at the same time. Buenos Aires is where I first lost my Spanish and gained it back. The food, people and streets of life are tremendous. I love the colors of the streets, music, the history, Recoletta Cemetery and the passion of the country! Then, we went on to Rio – the sun, the beaches, the people! Never have I seen such a beautiful sunset in all of my life. It was a proper display of appreciation as the thousands of people applauded the sun as it blew a final kiss for the night to us and promised to rise the next day. And lastly Iguazu Falls – truly a great wonder of the world. You could spend days upon days there and see something different each time you go. The magnificence of the pure power of each vein of the falls is mind-blowing. You see a different perspective with each step you take and angle of the sun against the water. Or, perhaps you are walking the trails away from the falls and a new creature or plant appears. Iguazu is life, and this is what this adventure was for me – living!
There are so many people that I have to thank for this adventure of a lifetime. In order for all of this to have happened, permission was bestowed upon me in countless ways. Permission to live, permission to try, permission to go, permission to share, and permission to make mistakes were all given to me in every second of this journey. Because of this permission, I say, “thank you” – from the bottom of my heart.
And so the list of gratitude for permission begins…
My Grandmother – She was the first world traveler that I knew. She lived and enjoyed life like no other. She traveled places at every age – as a child, teenager and octogenarian. She traveled places that seemed so obscure and many times alone – as a young woman in the world. She gave me the permission to even dream of Antarctica – and every place I have been or will go.
National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions – Not one part of this would ever have been possible without them. It is humbling to think that they chose me to be a member of the Grosvenor Teaching Fellow family. Amy Berquest and Nina Page were the lifeblood of this connection. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And, of course, all of my friends from the expedition. You made every breathe and sight worth sharing; I am proud to call you friends!
My Mom and Family – Nobody argued with me when I said I would not be home for the holidays. It was accepted and supported. And, my mom has continued to be an extension of my adventurous grandmother. She has traveled more than anyone I know and continues to do so. I live by her example – and look forward to more traveling because of her!
Dr. Hagstrom and Walt Disney Magnet School Family – From the moment that I found out that I would be on this wild ride, I was met with excitement and support at every turn. Words cannot describe the appreciation I have for the support and permission to be gone from school during this time. To my first grade team, to staff and every part of the Disney community, I have eternal thanks.
My Penguins and Their Families – Thank you for allowing me to leave you for the two weeks in December. I adore each and every one of you and love that you followed me along this way. I can’t even tell you how much I missed you and wished that every single one of you were here at every juncture of this trip. When you posted something, it made me so happy to know that you were connected me from across the planet. You made me so very proud.
Mr. Sanders – My partner in all of this. We share a bond like no other. You gave me permission without even knowing it. You chose to join me beyond our original expedition to the white continent. We extended our adventure together and pushed our limits of cultural comfort, language and social understanding. We changed our lives together; I will be forever grateful to be transformed by this, together with you.
So with that list of thanks, my journey comes to a close. Things begin with excitement and come to a close often with bitter sweetness. It will be wonderful to see my friends, family and kids. I will miss the adventure and will be planning my next travel voyage soon.
Lastly, thank you for following my blog. I give to you something that was given to me through all of this. I give you permission. Permission to run, laugh, play and enjoy. Dream of the places you never thought you could go. Do the things you never imagined possible. When you question if something can be done, do it! A wise, youthful friend once told me, “Book that trip now! If you don’t book it, it will never happen!.” She was very right. If you want live a life of adventure, endless possibilities and dreams, make it happen this very moment.
I extend the permission right now! Go!
It is hard to imagine topping our day yesterday. In fact, we are not even going to try it! We began our day with a plan. We first went back to Iguazu National Park to see a little bit more before our plane took off to bring us to Buenos Aires for the last time. Gustavo was there for us in the morning as usual.
We made our way through the similar paths that we walked from the day before. I was praying that we could avoid the rain. You have no idea how difficult it is to take photos of any kind when it is pouring. At this point, I am thrilled that my camera still works!
We only had a few hours to spend in the park and agreed that going back to “La Garganta” would be a little risky with the time it takes to get there (2 trains, lines and then the mile long walk) and a flight that we have to catch. So, the Lower Trail was our path. We also wanted to do some shopping in the gift shops – priorities!
The air was very still this morning – almost unsettling. The various sounds of nature were there – but different. There wasn’t much of a breeze and the humidity was so heavy. In my mind it could only mean one thing; we were going to get blasted by a major storm. What was wonderful about this morning is that there was a myriad of different birds flirting with my camera, a lone deer forging for his meal, spinning spiders waiting in a stealth-like fashion for their next victim and living things presenting themselves to us. I was so excited to see the deer; I had to work very hard to get the photo you see here.
Shopping was even more interesting. It was HOT. It was HUMID. It was GROSS. And there we were… looking at winter, wool sweaters for ourselves. I am please to report that Mr. Szymanski was able to find a very cool sweater unlike any he has ever seen. Mr. Sanders was not so lucky.
We then made our way to the airport. If you can understand that when I said the air was gross, the airport was even more so! Sitting still meant having a drenched shirt full of your own perspiration. We thought about changing our shirts but that would have been a temporary solution. We would just be sweating through the new clothes in moments.
And then it came – the rain. It wasn’t just any rain. Before it came, you could see airplanes on the tarmac, people moving luggage and trucks going by. Suddenly, the windows became WHITE. It wasn’t from the steam of the humidity. It was because the rain was falling so hard. It was a complete RAIN OUT. We wondered if this was what it looked like when we got hit in the monsoon the day before – probably. Our flight was delayed because of this – and all we could do was sit. Eventually, our flight was ready and we made our way back to Buenos Aires.
We found our hotel and got ready for some fun New Years Eve celebration! Mr. Sanders has been very handy with his iPhone map skills. We made our way 2 blocks from the hotel and found a great outdoor restaurant with a fixed menu for the evening. We made friends with the people around us and reflected on what an awesome trip this has been. As midnight came, people took to the streets. Fireworks lit up the sky and there was a magical feeling of happiness emanating from the crowd.
Wishing all of you – my friends, family, my penguins in Room 108 and readers a most healthy and happy 2015!
Our tour began with a jeep ride through the jungle. The tour guide was very nice and she pointed out all of the possible things we might see while in Iguazu: Jaguars, various cockatoo, the coatimunids and much more. The sounds of the forest were amazing. Cicadas sang their humming chirps, birds would call to each other with sweet songs and the leaves would bustle in the breeze. Everywhere you looked, there were vines hanging down and across the trees; leaves of all the hues of green wove together to paint a colossal landscape. Giant vultures flew overhead scanning the world around them for food.
We planned a long hiking day through the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls. Little did we know what we were in for today! If you thought we were wet yesterday, hold on to your horses!
We woke up and were greeted by our driver from yesterday, Gustavo. It was a nice, half-hour drive to the falls. When we got to the park, Gustavo showed us the ropes; it was then when I told him that I saw these amazing boats charging right up to the falls. We wanted to do it! He brought us to the kiosk for the adventure rides where we signed up for a jeep tour followed by the “shower” session.
Then, we walked down this long stone-carved stairway down to the river to our fantastical boat adventure. We strapped ourselves in to our lifejackets and off we went. We were allowed to take photos of the falls up close as we felt their thunder booming down into the river. It was still hard, though. I was amazed at the amount of people so brave to take their photos with their iPhones and fancy cameras. As the boat climbed its way closer to the falls, the tour operator motioned for EVERYBODY to put ALL electronic equipment away. NOW! And then it came, a downpour of rain unlike any other as the driver plunged the entire boat into the “mist” of the bottom of the falls – but it was NO mist. Think of the hardest, strongest hose being sprayed into your face with a sprinkler that is the size of a building! Then, you have it! My sunglasses practically were thrown off my face. I prayed that my waterproof bag was closed tight. And, Tyler and I just looked at each other in awe. Awe of the water. Awe of the force. Awe of the silliness. Awe of the experience! And were we wet – feet, hair (don’t laugh), mouths, clothes. There wasn’t a pore on our body that was dry.
After that, we explored the parks. The sounds of the forest came back. I hoped to see a cockatoo – nothing. I didn’t want to see a jaguar – nothing again! Lots of birds and various veins of the falls were there for us to walk through with the various catwalks weaving through the forests. There are several trails in Iguazu – the Upper Trail, the Lower Trail, the Green Trail and perhaps many different parts we didn’t even get to! In order to get to “The Throat of the Devil,” you have to take two trains. This became comical because we didn’t know you had to make a transfer – so perhaps Mr. S. and Mr. Sanders had to make a couple slow chugging train rides to get to this devilish larynx.
When you get to the final destination of “La Garganta del Diablo,” there seems like a mile of weaving metal catwalks 20 to 30 feet above the river. We went and slipped the whole way because we were still wet from earlier. Photos have been very difficult because of the rainy season. At any moment, the sky seems to want to sprinkle us with a tropical rain – reminding us that we are not in Chicago.
It was probably 5 p.m. as we made our way. On and on… down the metal planks moving past the lines of tourists trying to see this impressive sight. As we made our way to the final landing spot, the sky seemed to come to life. The rain started again. First, it was a sprinkle. Then, it became a rain. I tried to be bold and take video of the monumental natural beauty before me. The rain then turned to buckets. Suddenly, there were cats, and then dogs, flying past us – as this was no longer a rain. It was a full on monsoon. Thunder cracked. Lighting crashed through the clouds and perhaps there was a cow flying by. BECAUSE IT WAS THAT BAD! The rain was no longer rain. It felt like hail crashing against us. I had to hold my hands up to my head and neck because it felt like a million nails pummeling into us.
I finally looked at Mr. Sanders after about 15 minutes of this and said, “This is amazing but I am no longer having any fun.” He agreed and we made our way against the wind, against the nails of rain now spraying us in our faces.... back down the mile of catwalks to get back to the train. Photos just were impossible.
As we finally got back to our taxi, Gustavo was nowhere to be found. We were late. No idea on how we were getting back, we just hoped that he would be there eventually. He came. We luckily had towels to, at least, keep us warm. And, this adventure was EPIC!
Mr. Szymanski is a 7th Grade Math, Reading and Writing Teacher at Gary Elementary school in Chicago, IL He is bringing the world to his classroom with the help of National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Here, he chronicles his adventures to Antarctica and South America in December 2014.