Thursday, July 28, 2011

Toronto - Reykjavik, Iceland

Apologies blog readers, if you are getting this a couple of days later. It's been... hectic, to say the least. But it wouldn't be an SOI expedition if it wasn't! Saturday was travel day for almost all students and staff. My role was on the Meet and Greet team (an awesome team, if any of you read this later) at Pearson International, greeting all the students arriving by plane. All told, about 25 students flew in between 3pm Friday and 4:30pm Saturday and I'm happy to say I was one of the first SOI faces they met when they arrived... well, those that DID arrive, anyway. Despite all attempts to make everything go smoothly, delays, lost luggage, and scheduling issues make things interesting. Happily thought, all but two students (from Tennessee) arrived on time for the early evening group check-in. (UPDATE: both are now here, having arrived on later flights!)

The flight was uneventful, and most people slept, or chatted quietly with the people in their rows.

As with my previous expeditions, it was fascinating to see how quickly this diverse group of teenagers can bond together so quickly.By the time we arrived in Reykjavik, it was like some of them had known each other for years.

Sadly, I'm going to end things off here. Sorry, it wasn't an interesting update - I promise I'll do better next time! But just wanted to let everyone know I've arrived safe and sound, and expect to see more in the next day or so!

Photos by Lee Narraway / Students on Ice

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A whirlwind of activity

Hi everyone.

My apologies, blog readers. As I mentioned to a few of you, I had fully intended to send out a blog entry every day of the expedition. Well, my best intentions have quickly fallen to the wayside through the whirlwind of activity that is a typical SOI adventure.

Saturday the 23rd was the arrival day for most of the students. As a member of the meet and greet team, I was tasked with greeting all of the students arriving by plane at Pearson International Airport. As you might imagine, getting 70-some teenagers and 50-some adult staff to the airport at one scheduled departure time is not an easy task. But there we were, at 6pm all gathered at the Icelandic Air counter, checking in. Well, minus two students from Tennessee who were re-routed due to flash floods in Chicago. (UPDATE: they both caught flights and have joined us safe and sound!)

The flight to Reykjavik, Iceland was relatively quiet (except we never really seemed to fly through darkness) and we arrived early Sunday morning. Admittedly, it was my first time in a foreign country (other than the US) in a LONG time, and it didn't take long for culture shock to set in. Different style washrooms, different traffic signs, different daily habits - it all took getting used to. And if I had trouble, I can only imagine what it felt like for some of the students who were travelling out of their home town for the very first time!

We got through Customs easily enough, and stepped outside into the cool Icelandic air (a balmy 12 degrees, although the strong wind made it feel much colder!). Strangely enough, even though it was 8:30am (3:30am Winnipeg time), we headed for the Blue Lagoon spa - a geothermally-heated outdoor mineral spa. This was a strange experience to say the least. Even though it was a chilly day, the temperature of the water was beautifully warm. But the winds were so strong, they actually created whitecaps on the water! And there was something slightly unnerving about the lifeguard wearing a full-body haz-mat suit while patrolling. You can check out a picture of me in the spa on the Daily Journey Updates on the SOI website.

After breakfast, we headed to the Keflavik Viking Museum for lunch and an overview of Viking history. They had a replica of a Viking longboat that sailed on a recreation of the Viking expeditions across the Atlantic. It reminded me (in some ways) of the Nonsuch at my Museum. The smell of the pine tar was like a soothing reminder of home. The Museum itself was fascinating, and definitely worth the visit.

With our first Museum visit behind us, we headed to the main part of Reykjavik, capital of Iceland. Our hotel was sparse, but comfortable (communal showers and toilets). Since we were given some free time, some of the students asked to walk to the center of Reykjavik. I came along as a chaperone plus the chance to check out the city.

Following our informal tour, the group got back together for some more presentations and talks before heading to bed for some much needed sleep.

And that ended Day One in Iceland. Obviously more has happened since then, but the hour is late and it's time for me to catch up on sleep. If I do some more updates, they'll be coming from our ship, the Clipper Adventurer!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Once more unto the breach, dear friends...

When does “once-in-a-lifetime” become… routine?

Two years ago in the summer of 2009, I was given a great opportunity to go along with an organization called Students On Ice, taking 60 students to remote Canadian Arctic locations aboard a refurbished Russian icebreaker to learn about the effects of climate change on that region.

It sounds so clinical to sum it up like that, yet its effects on me (and the students who went) were far from that. It truly was a life-changing experience and opened my mind to a new-found passion for the environment and environmental education.

It was… once-in-a-lifetime.

Then, in 2010, I was given a second chance to participate. Although very much different from ’09, Arctic ’10 was no less of an experience. Not many people could consider themselves similarly lucky. It furthered my passion for the environment, and sent me on a life path that has made me happier than I have been in a long time. Surely, for those reasons, I could still call it “once-in-a-lifetime”.

And now, here I am. About to embark on my THIRD expedition with the amazing staff of Students On Ice, merely 36 hours away from meeting a whole new set of 70 young people who I’d have the pleasure of getting to know over the course of 18 days. Like last year, I go into this journey with no expectations, no preconceptions of how things will go.

But how will this expedition… feel? Will I fall into familiar habits of previous years, overlook things because I’ve seen them before, or not be surprised by anything because it has become… routine? How long can “once-in-a-lifetime” last?

Well, one thing’s for sure, the itinerary will be different. Some of you may recall the ship we travelled on for the past two years, the Lyubov Orlova. Well, sadly, sometime after Arctic 2010, she was impounded for some financial reasons and her crew sent home. As far as I know, she sits empty in St. John’s harbour.

So, SOI had to find a new vessel for this year, and they found her in the Orlova’s sister ship, the Clipper Adventurer. With somewhat newer refurbishing, the Adventurer also has a different itinerary – departing from Iceland, travelling along the southern tip of Greenland and over to Labrador and the northern Quebec coast.

And of course, other than travelling outside Canada, the other difference will be the students. In both ’09 and ’10 we had a few students from the U.S. and Monaco joining us Canadians. But this year, we’ve got people joining us from 13 countries, including South Korea, Viet Nam, New Zealand and Russia. All told, over 12 languages will be spoken by our participants. And we have a burgeoning staff – over 53 scientists, educators, chaperones and explorers.

Over the next two weeks, I hope to introduce you to some of them, as well as the sights we will see. And no doubt, you’ll get a bit of insight into what I’m thinking – these expeditions tend to make me even more verbose than usual. I even get into icky things, like emotions and crap like that.

So it shouldn’t be boring. But will it be another “once-in-a-lifetime” experience? Time will tell. No expectations, right?

The adventure… continues.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stay Tuned for Arctic Adventure 2011

Hello everyone!

Thanks for choosing to follow my blog. I hope to update it everyday, starting tomorrow (July 21st) but in the meantime, you can look back at my PREVIOUS blogs for Arctic 2009 and 2010!

Blog you soon! In the expedition spirit,