Across the Drake Passage!

Hello from the Drake Passage! As I write, I am sitting in the ship’s library surrounded by windows looking out over the open water. Seabirds are swooping in and out of my line of vision, and the water is relatively calm, although we can definitely feel the swells and the occasional white-capped wave. Unfortunately, I keep finding that if I sit down, I immediately start to fall asleep thanks to the gentle rocking of the ship. In order to avoid snoozing my way to Antarctica, I’ve spent most of the day running up and down between decks exploring all the nooks and crannies of the ship, and I haven’t really stopped moving until now. As my students know from our virtual tour, it’s a big ship, and there’s so much to see!

I didn’t go to sleep until about 11:30 last night because I was sitting on the ship’s bow (front) fascinated by the glow of the sun just beginning to set around 11pm (see photo below). We entered the Drake Passage just before midnight (as I was trying to fall asleep!), and the seas were fairly rough for a few hours during the night – lots of creaking in our cabin and opening and slamming of cabinet and closet doors as the ship pitched with the swells. We woke up to calmer seas, though, and – at least among the three teachers aboard the ship – no seasickness! It was 47º F this morning, which, for us hearty New Englanders, is a cool fall morning. It’s definitely getting chillier as we move farther south, and I’ve put on my hat and gloves now. I’m hoping to spend some more time outside tonight to take some photos of the progressively later sunset.

Sunset in the Southern Hemisphere off the coast of Argentina.

I spent much of today exploring the ship and finding open decks on which to practice my wildlife photography on the albatrosses flying overhead. With 12 foot wingspans (7th graders – remember our demonstration – 2.5 X your armspan for most of you?!), albatrosses make great subjects for novice photographers like myself – they’re pretty hard to miss! I took some video of different parts of the ship for my students, and I’ll post that when I’m able – or share it when I get back if the internet signal isn’t strong enough to post it here. It’s an amazing – and also somewhat eerie – feeling to be on a deck with no land in sight and no other people.

Check out some of my wildlife sightings from today and my first attempt at photographing the unique wildlife of the Antarctic region. Below, there’s a picture of a Black-Browed Albatross (white bird with black wings), and I’ll be putting up more pictures as our internet access allows. I went to workshops on identifying seabirds and Antarctic wildlife photography with the National Geographic naturalists and photographers today, so it’s been a day full of learning at sea for me.

Black-browed albatross flying above the Southern Ocean.

12am Update: I just sat in the Bridge (room with the radar equipment) with the Second Officer and one of the other GTF teachers as we crossed the latitude of 60ºS. This latitude is significant, as it indicates our official entrance into the Antarctic Convergence – a biodiversity boundary that is marked by a clear separation of different species living on each side. Amazingly, just as we crossed over to 60ºS, we observed three Fin Whales blow their characteristic vertical pillars of water just beyond our ship. We are expected to arrive off the Aitcho Islands late tomorrow morning (Wednesday) and aim to land on Barrientos Island, an island on the Aitcho archipelago that is home to Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin colonies, along with Wedell seals and elephant seal babies!

Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires!

After nearly ten hours and more than 5,000 miles, I arrived in Buenos Aires at 10:15am local time this morning! At a latitude of 35° S, Buenos Aires is currently in late spring/early summer, and so we enjoyed a sunny 75°F day today. Check out our flight path from “Nueva York” to Buenos Aires (below).

Flight map from Nueva York to Buenos Aires.

Once at the hotel, I met up with the other two Grosvenor Teacher Fellows (GTFs), and we took a bus tour of the city this afternoon with some of our fellow travelers. Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, is a fascinating city with a complex political and social history. We visited “La Boca”, a colorful neighborhood of Buenos Aires with strong Italian influences. The streets are filled with accordion players, beautiful street art (legal and even encouraged throughout the city with a permit), and busy street markets.

A beautiful display made of bicycles entitled “Forever”. The installation advocates for freedom of movement.

We also visited Plaza de Mayo, the square that has been the political center of Buenos Aires since it was founded in 1580. The square is regularly filled with political demonstrators, as Casa Rosada – the Argentinian President’s office – sits prominently alongside the square.

Speaking of protesters and political activism, our plans for tomorrow have been slightly altered by an anticipated city-wide strike in response to an expected decision about potential changes to Argentina’s retirement and pension program. We will be flying out of the city a few hours earlier than planned to head down to Ushuaia, considered to be the southernmost city in the world. For my students who are following along, I’ll be at a latitude of 55°S! Because of our unexpected early departure, we’re going to be able to make a surprise stop at Tierra del Fuego National Park before a planned visit to the Beagle Channel.

And then… we’ll board the National Geographic Explorer and begin our journey over the Drake Passage toward the Antarctic Peninsula! Seas are projected to be fairly rough (current predictions indicate a peak of 27 foot swells during the beginning of our journey tomorrow night), so fingers crossed that we manage to avoid seasickness and enjoy the experience. It’s likely that our internet access will be quite limited after today, so I’ll update as I am able.

Buenas noches!

On My Way…

One year after applying to the National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship Program and ten months after learning that I’d been selected, I depart from JFK this evening to fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina where I will meet the other two GTFs and our fellow travelers!

Our planned route to the peninsula!

If you are interested in following our expedition, check out this itinerary which outlines our day-to-day travels. I plan to update this blog when I am able with photos and videos of our adventures, but, given that I am headed to the only continent with no permanent human settlements, internet access is likely to be quite limited for a few days.

My 7th grade students have been actively involved in preparing for “our” expedition. Through their thoughtful questions and research, I’ve learned a great deal about all that I am likely to encounter on the unique continent of Antarctica. I leave with a list of student questions for the naturalists and other experts aboard my ship, a decorated travel journal presented to me yesterday by my students (see above), and a number of materials that I will use to involve the entire Portland community in my experience. I’m very grateful to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for this incredible opportunity and to the students, teachers, and administrators  in the Portland Schools community for their support!

Travel log packed and ready!

​Nos vemos en Argentina!