It is dark. No one seems to pay attention to the sea when the sun goes down and the world is cast into the shadows.
But I do.
Gripping the gate posts and standing on the rather thin piece of wood that is holding the gate together, I peer through the gaps of the old wooden posts, desperately trying to see one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen in my whole life. The sun has long left her place in the sky and has cast the boldest of red lines between the navy blue, nearly black sea and the even darker sky. The moon hovers slightly above the horizon, the whole of it visible and outlined with just a crescent of light. Only a few shy stars have appeared, keeping close to the moon. With the wind in my hair and my eyes wide open, I am in awe. This is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, and I continue to grip the gate posts as if letting them go means losing this moment. My breath is gone, but my sense of life is fully present.
Nothing could have prepared me for this trip. Nothing.
The beauty, the struggles, the different culture, all of it. Even the preview trip that I came on never fully prepared me for what I would experience when I traveled alone to Chile. And the funny thing was, I felt so prepared. I thought I was prepared. I had everything I needed, mental preparation included, but none of it quite readied me.
The thing is, though, I don't think you ever can be prepared to travel abroad. You can never tell what might happen, you just have to prepare yourself for both the best case scenarios and the worst and be flexible enough to ride either, something I desperately need to work on.
I had a shaky arrival. My transportation didn't quite work out the way it was supposed to, and I arrived very upset and frightened. I had also been so strong for the past year and a half about coming down to Chile and being here for seven weeks, away from home, family, and the comfort of things I knew, but the last few weeks leading up to it, I crumbled. I was terrified, of what could happen to me, if I would be a good scientist, if my research would pan out, if I would ever actually get a moment to myself. I was struggling, and traveling alone wasn't helping. Don't get me wrong, I have always wanted to travel alone. Just not to a third world country where English isn't the native language. There are so many things that could go wrong, and even though my Spanish isn't terrible, it's certainly not fluent. The other student in the program wouldn't be arriving until later, so there was no help there. But, I had put way too much into this for fear to kill me at the beginning. I had to do this, I just had to.
I've mustered up more courage and determination than I ever have before, I've pushed through and accomplished things I never thought possible. My research has been moving, slower than I expected, but all due to circumstances out of my control. At first, I was very upset about it and felt as though I had really let a lot of people down. A lot of people put time, effort, and a lot of money into this, and I wanted it to go perfectly, and the fact was it just wasn't. I felt like I had truly let them down. A conversation with someone I greatly admire made me feel a little more at ease. "You haven't let anybody down. Research takes time, I mean there are things that are out of your control. But, if you are having problems, that just means that there is progress." Those were some of the most encouraging words I have heard in a long time and they truly encouraged me to breathe and just keep going with the knowledge that everything will turn out.
One of the more challenging aspects of my research involves 24-hour behavior monitors, meaning that once an hour every hour for 24 hours, I have to monitor and record the behavior of my animals. It is a long, arduous process. No one pretends to like it. Once 3 AM hits, it's been dark for hours, it's cold, you've been monitoring for what feels like an eternity, and all you can think of is sleep. The first time my socks were sopping wet and there was just no point in changing them because they would once again become soaking wet. So, you grit your teeth and push through all the exhaustion. I stayed awake (well, I took a few catnaps) and continued on, for everything I had worked hard for, for all the people who supported me. When I saw the sunrise that morning alone with just myself and the sea, I felt something in me that I hadn't felt in a long time: I was so very proud of myself. I had done it. Something about working that hard gives you something in return; a sense of purpose, an inertia of sorts. I was able to look back on those difficult 24+ hours and think to myself, "I did that." It was not an easy feat, and at times it was downright miserable, but I made it. I'm in the process of doing another one as I type this, but this time, I have my chin a little bit higher (and thankfully socks that are a little bit drier).
Recently I learned how to take long exposure shots. As a matter of fact, I learned how to take them by accident. I had heard about them beforehand and had a general idea about how to do them, but I had never actually gotten around to taking a long exposure shot and didn't have a tripod until this trip. One evening while I was out photographing, it was becoming too dark to shoot anything, so out of curiosity I began fiddling with the shutter speed to see how low my camera could go. I noticed that it went all the way down to seconds, so I figured why not have a go and play with it? That was all it took to hook me.
Long exposures are relatively easy to take but have a beauty about them that makes them feel like they took so much more effort. I am enchanted by their soft appearance, making rushing water look like a soft fog hugging the nearby rocks. I have absolutely become enthralled with creating them and don't foresee myself stopping any time soon.
I am also very and truly addicted to photographing/observing sunset. It is my favorite time of day: everything is cast in a golden-yellow haze and the sky itself seems to burst with color. I always have an irresistible itch to be among these views when the sun goes down, and I feel most invigorated when I am there in the midst, trying my best to capture at least a small portion of what I see. I have seen some of the most beautiful sights of my entire life. They have left me breathless, starring with wide-eyed wonder. It's all so surreal to me, sometimes it just renders me absolutely dumbfounded as to how I even got here in the first place and was granted the ability to witness such beauty. It makes me feel quite blessed, but also so happy and alive. Traversing through winding rocky beaches searching for the best places to shoot has become one of my favorite parts of this experience, and I know it will be something that I will dearly miss when I depart. I cannot even begin to impart to you just how really and honestly happy and full I feel when standing by the powerful, swelling ocean, my hair whipping across my cheeks and the sound of the waves crashing and birds calling to one another mixing together in a rush of sound. Being somewhere you love with something that invigorates you is a feeling unlike any other, and you never have to question if it's the real thing, you just know. The things that are supposed to happen to you in life will come, and when they do, it will feel like you are right where you are supposed to be.
I have so much more to say about my experience, and so much that I could never say or never really convey. But, I am going to try. I'll continue to make blog posts on my experience, and hopefully I can share with you a little of what I've seen, what I've experienced, and what I've learned. And of course, more shots from my photography adventures.
Thanks for tagging along.