Waitom Glowworm caves…

Kia Ora! Piling into our coach bus we embarked on a 2 1/2 hour drive to the Waitomi Caves, home of the glow worms. Along with the commentary of Terry and captivating views of the countryside out of our window, we were well prepared for our road trip. Try playing “I spy something white” with a population of 35 million sheep. Pulling up to the site around noon, we divided between juniors and seniors for tubing through the caves. Want a taste of the ICGL Antartica trip? Take a swim through the glow worm caves. Temperatures of 30 degrees Fahrenheit and below could not be stopped by a wet suit. Flipping on the flashlights on our helmets we embraced the adventure with numb hands. Climbing on top of rocks, swimming through currents, jumping from water falls as much as 65 feet underground, we fumbled our way through. It was especially hilarious to watch Wendell squeeze his way between cramped rocks. Making faces that resembled “The Scream” painting, the trip was filled with plenty of memorable pictures. But the most surreal moment was lying on our backs in a line of tubes, grasping at each other’s feet and looking up at the walls of the cave. Headlights off, masked in darkness, the glow worms illuminated the sky with their green fluorescent light. The guides explained the science behind it, but it felt like true magic. Damp and frozen we climbed out of the caves and flocked towards warm showers. Then a 3 hour drive back due to Auckland’s laughable “traffic.” Still recovering from jet lag, the group wearily rallied for some Mexican dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss Willy’s. Birthday churros were passed around as we serenaded Donice with early birthday songs and shoved our faces with chips & salsa. It’s a rainy, brisk winter here down under but we’re finding the bright side to each day.

Day 1 in Auckland 

Despite the palpable excitement from the group that morning, stepping off a 15 hour flight was anything but glamorous. weary eyed and slightly groggy we shuffled through customs towards the exit where our jolly guide Terry awaited us. For 7 am, Terry said our group looked pretty “bright eyed and bushy tailed,” ironic considering most of us had not seen a mirror in almost a full day. Yet New Zealand and its people greeted us with open arms. It was close to 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside but plans of kayaking, zip lining, or sightseeing were already weaving their way through the group. But first was Auckland. Overlooking the harbor, we took in the entire city from the peak of Bastion Park, a memorial for the former New Zealand Prime Minister, Australian Michael Joseph Savage. Nevertheless it wasn’t until we made our way into downtown Auckland that we came face-to-face with the true Kiwi culture. People packed the streets along with signs in languages from Chinese to New Zealand slang. And this New Zealand English sharply contrasts anything from America. With their thick accents and unique sayings, the people stared at us with wild eyes when we spoke even though we struggled to decipher half of their sentences. Splitting up in small groups we explored the city in search of food, feeling comfortable in the urban setting. But the bungee attractions at every corner were anything but the norm for us. The people here breathe adventure and spontaneity which they balance with an aura of nonchalance. Picking up on the laid back atmosphere of New Zealand, we retreated to our hotel for a much needed shower and nap. Jet lag can be quite a burden on the tourist spirit, but we’re not letting the 16 hour difference hold us back. It was a great day to be a Kiwi!

Ocean Safari

Today was a remarkable, special day: an ICGL awe-filled, wholehearted, learning day. After a full night’s rest at Oceans House, a research facility in Mossel Bay (a four hour drive from Cape Town), we began helping the field specialists and interns with their ocean research.

We helped the Oceans Team complete research in tide pools by counting the number of individual species we saw within a specific tide pool. Tide pools are a habitat for sea life. The health and biodiversity of tide pools is symbolic of the health of the total ocean system as it withstands changes to our world and the environment. We also learned about invasive species that threaten the aquatic ecosystem here in South Africa, such as the Mediterranean Blue mussels. Invasive species threaten healthy ecosystems around the planet. In Atlanta, we have an opportunity to learn how Kudzo, the African Honey Bee,the Ambrosia beetle, and the Boll Weevil threaten the many species in the our local ecosystem.

Our Conservation Cohort also learned how action research works: we collected Great White Shark research with The Oceans Team. We embarked on a boat and chummed for sharks. Chumming is the practice of throwing small bits of mashed up sardines mixed with ocean water right over the boat. The purpose of chumming is to attract the sharks with the scent. The chum makes an oily pathway throughout the water and the sharks follow the pathway to the boat. The purpose is not to feed the sharks but to attract them with the scent so that when they come close to the boat. We can identify them and record their markings to discover the migration patterns and eventually calculate the total number of sharks in the bay.

While we were out on the boat, we saw seven sharks, multiple pods of dolphins, one whale, and thousands of seals all who live on one tiny island, Seal Island. We watched the sun set over Seal Island:a spectacular way to end our Pacetastic day.
@Mrs5er @KSandlinITRT @MEBnow #loveourschool #pdchacha

Long Walk to South Africa

If one person can make a difference, imagine what 400+ Pace Lower School Eco-Knights could do!

We landed in Cape Town after 20+ hours of flying time. We then woke this morning tired and unready to face the day, but were excited to explore. After delicious South African coffee, thanks to the Commodore Hotel, we met the energetic and passionate Michelle from Two Oceans Aquarium. Her energy gave us the power to face the day! Michelle gave us the behind scenes tour of the aquarium, named after the junction where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Michelle is an aquarist at the aquarium who got her start because she was passionate about conservation and aquatic life. Throughout the aquarium tour, we were able to see the forever system of recycling oceanic water into and out of the aquarium. We are forever thankful for Michelle and our aquarium experience. (Especially meeting the African & Rockhopper penguins)

While in Cape Town we discovered that South Africa is in a drought. That means that every household and every hotel has to measure the amount of water they use. We discovered, through the aquarium, tips on how to conserve water. Michelle said, “You don’t think about it, until you have no more.” In South Africa, no longer is it a choice. They MUST conserve water.

After the aquarium, we then took a ferry to Robben Island, a place for political prisoners, during Apartheid. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island for 18 of his 27 year sentence because of his desire for social equality. It was a moving experience for all of us, hearing the details from a former prisoner.

On the way back to Cape Town from Robben Island, we watched the sunset from the ferry, a beautiful ending to our first day in South Africa.

Such beauty here now
Good friends in South Africa
It’s all about Pace

Saying Goodbye

Our Habitat journey has come to an end. On Friday, we finished sanding and spackling, painting and varnishing, hammering and hanging, and turned the house over to Alba, Elisa, Vicente and Christopher.

There’s still some work to be done, but our Habitat colleagues assure us that they’ll be back to Paredones in two weeks to finish tiling and electrical work so the Martinez family can move in… and Christopher can come home.

Our closing ceremony was a bittersweet time. We sang songs, shared stories and well wishes and exchanged gifts–official Habitat Chile T-shirts and hats for our group, and Pace apparel for the family and the Habitat team. We’re proud to say that there are now 12 new Knights fans in Chile! We were so honored to be a part of this special family’s life, and so grateful for the hospitality and love they showed us. Truly, we were family for the week, and we’ll carry them with us as we return home.

We were up early Saturday morning to make the drive to Santiago and catch a flight to Temuco, a city in southern Chile just outside of Villarica National Park. The region in which the park is located is home to the Mapuche people, an indigenous group currently engaged in a fight with the Chilean and Argentine governments for greater autonomy and rights to ancestral lands. We spent 24 hours learning from individuals within the Mapuche people about their beliefs and traditions–Mapuche families even welcomed us into their homes for the evening.

Today’s activities included a hike up to a beautiful vista overlooking the Trancura Valley and its volcanoes (some of which are active!) and rivers, as well as an amazing Mapuche lunch and workshops in traditional Mapuche crafts. We’re now enjoying a low-key evening at the Gran Pucon Hotel. Tomorrow, our last full day in Chile, we’ll hike to thermal springs and explore the city of Pucon a bit more. It’s hard to believe our trip is almost over… it’s been an amazing journey!