My first official travel as a naturalist was during my first year studying biology in 1993.
We went abroad to Puerto Madryn for two weeks in an organized tour by the Student Center. The fresh air of the South and the number of animals I saw for the first time made this journey an unforgettable experience.
I saw Magellanic penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, guanacos, albatrosses and of course Southern right whales, which got close to the boat and jumped out of the water to do their marvelous show. My traveling companion, Cecilia, shared my enthusiasm and we didn’t lose any more seconds and started walking on the beach or in other parks and museums always observing anything we saw; there were birds, snails or sea lions’ skeletons.
Such a wonderful experience opened doors to the world of traveling and the wonder of discovering new places and their natural environment. And this is what I kept doing for the last 20 years.
However, we weren’t born with the qualities we wish for. Sometimes, we do have weaknesses that we didn’t ask for. I really don’t have any sense of direction and have travel sickness, two problems that really handicap a person who wishes to travel the world! In any case, this doesn’t discourage me at all.
Despite my limitations, I manage to find other solutions. When it comes to orientation (it’s so bad that I earned the nickname of “Helena Compass”), I always travel with maps and notes on the directions to follow and I always ask for them as well. My record was spending a whole day in Mexico City and asking 50 times for directions! And language barriers do not stop me, including in Japan, where I said “Sumimasen”, which means “excuse me”, and pointed on the map where I wanted to go.
There were so many nice ladies who took the time to explain even though I didn’t speak their language and was lost. They grabbed my arm and brought me to the temple I wanted to visit. They even lent me some coins to make an offering. Sometimes, I was completely lost, but it didn’t take too long before someone passed by or I saw something that would show me the way.
And with this travel sickness of mine, what was I to do? Endure it. Although on some boats I felt so bad that I thought it would be the end of me. But it wasn’t. I survived and continued my journey. It didn’t happen often, lucky for me.
The positive experiences during my travels always surpass the negative part. To reach a location and wonder where I am on the map really excites me. Sometimes, I end up really far away from my native Argentina!
And let’s not forget about all the incredible people I know, the wild animals I succeeded in seeing in their natural environment after spending a big part of my life watching them in zoos or reading about them, the different landscapes and more than anything, the feeling of freedom and adventure that I love so much.
That is why I’m not afraid of what awaits me and I don’t hesitate in getting myself in odd situations in hopes of seeing something unique.
I have already been traveling for 20 years at every opportunity I can get and in all possible ways: in the most classic way, by plane, bus or boat but also on a horse, dromedary, bicycle and motorcycle. In some occasions, I hitchhiked and traveled by car, in an ambulance, tractors, moving trucks, police cars, animal transport trucks, car trunks, sealed containers, etc. I walked as well of course. All means of transportation are acceptable!
I don’t know how long I will be able to continue traveling around like this, perhaps until I’m in my eighties and decide to do cruises and organized excursions. What I’m sure of is that as long as I’m still alive and well, I don’t think I will stop.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa