At Sea, South Atlantic Ocean

Mar 07, 2020 - National Geographic Explorer


Teatime is at its most delicious on sea days. And today our galley team outdid themselves with crepes, ice-cream, and a ridiculous assortment of nuts, chocolate, and other toppings. Of course, all this deliciousness is also well-accompanied by good coffee or tea!

We are nearing the end of an incredible expedition. These moments are filled with a number of thoughts and feelings which often clash with each other. On the one hand we don’t want the trip to end and on the other we may well want to get back to our loved ones. And what a story we have to tell: there was the ice, in all its wondrous forms; the penguins, so many species, all equally enthralling; the seabirds, which make the Southern Ocean their home; the whales, which have accompanied us every step of the way; the land and icescapes; the camaraderie; and so much more. Then there is the responsibility for us to become more committed to caring for this unique planet and the duty we have to tell others to do likewise.

This last day at sea has treated us very kindly, despite the swirling winds, clouds, and rain that have followed us most of the day. The early morning was an excellent time to spot seabirds and marine mammals; this included some uncommon species, and many kept us company well into the Beagle Channel. By midmorning, we were sailing around the Cape of Good Success at the entrance to the Beagle Channel. It was around here that Charles Darwin wrote home and shared that he had decided to dedicate his life to natural history and that he “hoped to make some small contribution to it.”

During the day we were kept busy with a number of presentations, returning our gear, handing in our contributions to the guest slideshow, and of course packing. We learned about the discovery and the conservation of the hooded grebe bird, which was followed by a polar diving extravaganza. Lunch offered us a brief respite with beef burgers and French fries, always a favorite, before we headed for the afternoon presentations: the voyage of HMS Beagle and a poignant and personal look at the Falklands Conflict.

The Captain then welcomed us to a farewell cocktail and dinner. By 8 p.m., the lights of Ushuaia, our final destination, could be seen ahead off to starboard. By 9:30 p.m. we were safely alongside the city, and a quiet night lay ahead of us. It has been a fantastic expedition and we have been privileged to have had some quite extraordinary experiences in some of the remotest and wildest places on the planet.

There are no words to properly convey all that we have lived, and therefore it may be best to close with a poem by Pablo Neruda, entitled “Penguin.”

 

Neither fool nor child nor black

nor white but upright

with curious innocence

dressed in night and snow.

 

The mother laughs at the mariner,

the fisherman at the astronaut,

but the infant child doesn’t laugh

as he gazes at the bird-child

and from the chaotic ocean

immaculate traveler

emerges in snowy sackcloth.

 

I was without doubt that bird-child

in the distant frozen archipelagos:

when he looked at me with those eyes,

with the old eyes of the sea:

those were not arms nor were they wings

but little sturdy oars

which were carried at his sides:

he was as old as the salt,

he was as old as the moving waters

and he gazed at me from his antiquity:

since that encounter I know that I no longer exist,

I am but a worm in the sand.

 

The causes of my respect

have remained in the sand:

that sacred bird

does not need to fly,

does not need to sing

and though its form is visible

its soul bled salt

as if it had pierced

a vein from the bitter sea

 

Penguin, static traveler,

slow priest from the cold:

I salute your upright salt

and envy your feathered pride.

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About the Author

Edward Shaw

Naturalist

Edward Shaw has travelled widely as a naturalist and guide. For the past 29 years he has lived with his family in northwestern Patagonia, initially working as a teacher and subsequently working in community projects before returning to expedition ships. Edward is deeply committed to the principles behind sustainable development. He is happily married and the father of five children.

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