Lexi Welch I still wake up and can’t believe I am here. Every morning I wake up and see the ocean outside of my window and it doesn’t seem real. I have been here at The Island School on Cape Eleuthera in the Bahamas for a whole week and I have learned more than I ever could have imagined. In the past week, I have met new people and made new friends, explored the island of Eleuthera, went night snorkeling, watched the sunrise over the ocean, took a three day kayak trip, listened to local people tell their stories, taken risks, challenged myself, and looked at the moon and the stars in a night sky that wasn’t disturbed by city lights. On our three day kayak trip, which we just returned from today, a black tipped shark swam under my kayak, we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the rain, we snorkeled and explored blue holes, I tried lionfish for the first time, and for the first time in my life I laid on my back in the cool sand and looked up at the clearest night sky I had ever seen. It took my breath away and I found it was hard to pull myself away from looking up at the sky. All the stars looked like perfect little twinkling diamonds in the black sky. It made me feel so small, so little in the world we live in. All of the sudden, everything seemed so much bigger, like the possibilities in this life were completely endless, like some of the blue holes that we explored on our kayak trip. It seemed as if life’s opportunities spun deeper and deeper every time I looked up at the sky. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I could see the Milky Way, all the constellations, and every time I turned my head I saw something new, and I have never experienced that before. It was such a surreal but beautiful feeling that I had never had and I know I will never forget it. The moon was bright and illuminated the calm water that lapped up on the beach of our camp as the fire from dinner died down and the smoke billowed up towards the bright sky. I was wearing long pants and a black raincoat to keep off the bugs and I know that I will never forget that experience of being able to see the night sky so clearly, and making me realize how small we actually are, but how big of an impact and difference we can make in life. I know now that not many kids my age get to experience that feeling, or look up at the sky like I did last night. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life and I look forward to learning how to preserve the earth we have at the IslandSchool, so that not only myself, but also others, can have the same experience I did.
I have never been camping or kayaking before so I was extremely nervous but excited to go on my first trip. As we hopped in our kayaks to get paddling I had no idea what was ahead of me. Before each morning we talked about weather, sea state, and the terrain of the day. Every morning for the weather section we would look up into the sky and describe the clouds. The clouds were always a bit puffy but we predicted a sunny, beautiful day ahead of us. As we left campus our first day I was extremely excited to start my first camping experience. As we kayaked along the clouds became darker which made me much more nervous than excited. In the distance you could see an ominous patch of gray slowly moving towards us. Next, a bright yellow streak of lightening flashed in our eyes as if someone had just taken twenty pictures of us. All of our faces turned from big smiles into frowns of fear.
We quickly arrived at our campsite. First we grabbed our pfd’s and ran onto the beach to attempt to use a tree as shelter. To shield ourselves from the lightening we sat on the pfds. A few of the girls decided we should count between the thunder and lightening to see how far away it was. As we saw the lightening we said, “ 1…” before we could even get two out of our mouths the loudest thundered grumbled right above us. You could see the lightening strike the tree next to us. It began to shake and we all looked at each other with faces of fear. Eventually Grey and Sam., our group leaders, set up a tarp for us to sit under. I was very cold and couldn’t stop shaking. We all sat in a clump trying to use each other for warm but we all kept shaking. I had never been so scared of thunder and lightening before. It was definitely a new feeling of fear. The island is pretty skinny so in about a half hour the storm flew over us. The craziest thing I have ever seen was watching the storm approach us. As the gray rectangle under a big cloud slowing moved along the shoreline. It began drizzling, then harder rain drops, then lightening in the distance, and then it was right on top of us. Camping was a whole new idea for me and my first camping experience is definitely one I will never forget.
All of my required blog entries are dedicated to any and all those who know or have known hunger, fear, desperation, and loneliness. Returning from the three day kayak trip has giving me a new definition of what it is to be without luxuries. Although at IslandSchool we have minimal amenities including limited electricity navy showers and no cooling system what so ever, kayak trips take it to a whole new level. I have done a lot of camping in the mountains and alpine environment but there is no comparison. First off all the people who shall remain unnamed who choose the campsites seem to have an uncanny knack for selecting beaches that have festering stinking marshland in behind them. Ergo every time it isn’t blisteringly hot or slathered with DEET you are constantly bombarded by the insect equivalent of the Luftwaffe. Another problem is that it has been raining and electrical storming on and off for the last three days. Since I have backwoods experience I think I am the only one who can get a fire going without a lighter after a day of straight rain. Another major issue is that sand likes nothing better than to cling tenaciously to your feet in legs and wont come off until you are in your tent and sleeping bag that eventually grinds your skin like a rotary sander, not to mention the constant tiny whine of the mosquitos buzzing about your face. But over all it is very satisfying to know that the fire I built and was able to stoke up in the morning cooked all our food and coffee. Sea kayaking out here is a powerful experience, the immense vastness and physical exhaustion remind me of my insignificance off all man’s insignificance even in a relatively puny spit of ocean. In the end I am can count off three more days till my return home.
My first challenge that The Island School presented began before August 27th. The typical fear of flying has impacted my travel career for years now; every time I fly, I make sure that I am cuddled next to my mom, seated in a window seat, and placed at most two rows away from my twin sister. August 27th was the big day where I would fly by myself, take that aisle seat with confidence, and sit next to a stranger on a flight for the first time. By the time I boarded my first flight, I didn’t feel so alone. In fact, I had met almost ten of my future classmates. My anxiety mitigated throughout the day, and in some miraculous way, I had made it to last flight. The size of the little island jumper plane and the fact that a tropical storm was affecting the wind patterns nearby did not help my initial fear of flying, but as soon as I set foot on that flight, I couldn’t have been more relaxed. I looked around and saw my future classmates all talking and laughing as I sat in my aisle seat next to a person that I would soon spend three long days with kayaking. We introduced ourselves and talked about how we were both nervous about different aspects of school. A few minutes (literally) later, I found myself on a magical island, surrounded by intresting people and a breathtaking sunset.
My fear of flying has held me back from traveling peacefully, and I am proud to say that I believe it is over. It took one day to discover a side of traveling that I had never been aware of- fun. I learned so many stories and met so many people within a few hours just because I was sitting next to them on a flight. Then I realized where I had landed, and that begins a new chapter of fun.
I’ve never felt so frustrated in my life before. We had kayaked through a rainstorm, huddled under a tarp for not only warmth but also lighting protection, and bugs were viciously attacking our sun kissed skin. I had blisters on my tired feet from picking up boats constantly and trekking through spidery mangroves searching for firewood. Finally at camp, amidst a sunset, we started cooking dinner after many varied attempts of digging fire holes in the grainy sand. As dinner food was sizzling, I found a moment to go to my dry bag and take out my film camera. I was a very unhappy camper at this point in the day as we had experienced so many feelings. The feelings fluctuated constantly between being homesick, happy, hot, freezing, exhausted and hungry etc. As I pulled out my camera, the feeling of frustration really shined through. I had tinkered with it previously a lot before we left on our kayak trip and it still wasn’t taking pictures. Usually I have my Mom to help me figure the camera out but obviously being on a tiny, deserted island in the Caribbean with little food, lots of bugs, some tents and fourteen other kayakers, she was not there. I was messing around with it when Grey, an IslandSchool teacher and a kayak trip leader, asked if he could help. Grey tinkered around with it and we discovered the problem. The film wasn’t catching inside the camera but the problem was easily fixed with a little more guiding. As the film wound and the first picture clicked, the frustration I had been feeling of that day almost spilled out of me from within. It was a huge moment of relief because I felt I could now better capture all the vast things I was seeing and experiencing throughout my days at the IslandSchool. Since it is a film camera, I will not be able to look at the pictures until I arrive home in December. I think that when I develop the pictures and look back, it will be flashes into the tremendous amounts of self-discoveries and memories captured here at the Island School. I was temporarily content with my working camera and felt I could move on to the next challenge which included trying to dash to our tents before another huge rainstorm hit.
For nearly the past seven years I have heard countless stories about Cape Eleuthera and The Island School. For so long they seemed to be fairytales; incredible yet almost unbelievable fantasies and recounts of adventures from a place that seemed so far away, yet was also a place that somehow I knew I would be a part of someday. It is amazing how all of these stories and experiences can come from somewhere that I’m sure many people don’t even know exists. Even having been here for just one short week, I have already begun to understand why this place is so magical. It seems that here in the Bahamas, even the smallest event can be individually magnified into an incredibly moving, emotional, and even life changing experience. Being in such an unusually beautiful place for some reason gives people the opportunity and ability to truly reflect. Just a few hours ago we returned from a long, wet, buggy, and exhausting kayak trip down the coast of Eleuthera. I could describe the constant feeling of itchy bug bites, damp rash guards and sore arms. Or, I could also describe seeing a giant sting ray, watching the sunrise over the water, and swimming to the bottom of a blue hole to watch the tropical fish. Though all of these things, good and bad, were essential parts of our trip that made it worthwhile, there was one moment that, for me, defines my experience so far, and made all of the paddling, itching, and tossing and turning in a wet sleeping bag worthwhile. After arriving at a beach hidden in a cove surrounded by cliffs and perfect snorkeling waters after our second day of paddling, we were in the process of cooking a dinner of tortillas and refried beans when we noticed someone in our kayak group peering into the water at the shoreline. Naturally our curiosity was too strong to ignore and we were all drawn in to see yet another foreign marine creature. I was expecting maybe another starfish, baby barracuda, or maybe even another giant jellyfish. When I got to the waters edge, to my surprise, I saw a small orangey colored glob rolling around in the small waves. With another look I noticed the glob had eight tentacles and a big round head. The glob was, in fact, a tiny octopus. This, among many other things, was another first-time experience for me here at the Island School. It is not everyday that you see an octopus leisurely bouncing around in the water right at your feet. Just standing there at the waters edge, watching the octopus crawling along, completely oblivious to our staring eyes, was a feeling that I will never forget. It was another example of the spectacular environment we are surrounded by. The fact that I was looking at something so unique that I have only ever seen in pictures, and also something that I may never have the chance to see again, was overwhelming. It made me realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity, and how lucky I am to be in such a stunningly beautiful place. I think it was a moment for all of us to appreciate the fact that we are all simply visitors, and though it is our privilege to observe and admire the home of these animals, it is not within our rights to change it for our own convenience. Changing it for our own personal gain and comfort is not just a selfish act, but an act that is ultimately depriving us in the sense that we are ridding ourselves of the chance to actually see and experience the incredible natural world we live in. This is something that I have come to acknowledge within only seven days here. Knowing that, I can’t imagine how much I will learn over the next three month, both about the world around me and myself as an individual. Each day has brought with it new stories that all hold meaning and importance in my own personal IslandSchool experience so far. When these three and half months are over, my stories and adventures will hopefully become fairytales such as the ones I heard for future students aspiring to be a part of the Island School, who can one day come to this place and create their own. To inspire ourselves and others to continue to learn through the world around them and the discoveries that ensue, exploration is so far my created interpretation of the legacy of the IslandSchool, and hopefully it is a legacy that I will be able to uphold and carry with me for the rest of my life.
Reilly Simmons The first days at The Island School were crazy and hectic to say the least, but through it, there were some very memorable moments to look back on. With the beginning of the kayak trip several days into the semester, we all found ourselves almost lost in what lay ahead of us, not knowing what to expect in the upcoming days. A moment towards the end of the kayak trip that stuck out to me in particular was the visit to one of the two blue holes we saw. A blue hole is essentially a sinkhole in the ocean that has formed over thousands of years. They are a hotspot for all types of marine life as well as a great place to practice free diving. We stopped at one of these holes on our last day before lunch. As we swam out, the ground began to slowly get deeper and deeper until it seemed to stop, beyond that only deep water was below us. With Sam as our instructor, we all practiced free diving into the hole to watch the abundance of marine life that lived and swam within it. Some of us began to reach depths of thirty-five or forty feet, feeling the cool water that lay beyond the surface. After a few practice dives we were able to swim under deep overhangs in the hole and see even more aquatic life that lived beneath the rocky cliffs. Floating above the whole was an experience all its own, being able to watch the marine life as it dove into the depths of the water.
The blue hole was a part of nature that I have never had the experience of seeing. Also, never having been an avid free diver I was able to experience the depths of the ocean in an entirely different way. It was an amazing way to end the kayak trip. Having seen an amazing array of wildlife and foliage throughout the trip, I was only more impressed when we visited the hole. It created a lasting impression on me, seeing the way the ocean seemed to fall off into the darkness and watching Lionfish, Stingrays, and Grouper go about their lives as we hovered above. It was an experience that changed my view on the ocean and is something that will always resonate with me.
On the second day of our three-day kayak trip, we took a moment to pause from traveling down the coast of Eleuthera to explore a beautiful snorkeling spot. We tied up our kayaks close to a nearby mangrove bush, and swam out to a dark blue hole that contrasted the surrounding light green color of the sea. We learned that the hole had most likely formed from the collapsing of a cave. The origins of the cave came from fresh water erosion when the sea level had been much lower. The result of this was an amazing habitat for fish and other organisms that called the blue hole their home.
We put on our snorkels and masks and dove down into the chasm. At first, it was a frightening experience for some of us who had never free dove before, but after a few tries and tips, we were frequently diving down to explore the expanse of the underwater world. Once underneath the surface, the number of fish within fifty feet of swimming was astonishing. We dove deeper and deeper to discover even more of the ecosystem that had developed over time. When looking up at the distance between me and the surface, and realizing the amount of water that was above, it was frightening to consider how far I had traveled. After getting used to this feeling, it was amazing how at peace I felt in this underwater world. Relaxing underneath the surface and enjoying the amazing views of different fish and coral gave us a first person perspective on the flow of life in the ocean. By pausing at a depth and becoming motionless, fish swam right past our faces in schools of amazing size. The deep blue water gave an eerie but interesting composure to all the matter in the underwater hole that gave the environment a new and foreign feeling. This was an amazing experience in the second week of Island School, and I’m sure we all expect to encounter similar events all throughout the semester.
On the second night of our three-day kayak trip we were sleeping in beautiful little cove with a white sand beach and shallow teal colored water. Unfortunately the shelter of the cove did not allow for much wind, letting the mosquitos and noisome extremely bad. I was sleeping in my bug net hammock, which I was extremely confident in up until the past 24 hours. I tried in vane to fall asleep for about an hour with the mosquitos constantly wining in my ears and biting me through my hammock. I then resolved to put on my rain jacket so the bugs could not bite me through my hammock, after a few minutes back in my hammock this proved to be relatively effective and I was finally able to fall asleep, I did not wake up again until five a.m.
At 5:13 I decided that the bugs in my hammock were too unbearable because the noise. Some had found a way into the hammock. I got out of the hammock and then realized that I had no clue where I was going, at this point bugs were clouded around every exposed part of my body and I needed a plan fast. I unclipped my hammock from the trees and made a break for the shoreline thinking that there might be a stronger wind to keep the bugs at bay. I’m sure the reality was very different but to me, my historic reverse storming of the beach is best represented by the first nineteen minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” the .50 caliber sized mosquitos ripped me apart from every direction while the constant cloud of noisome was a relentless reminder of the bug spray I should have packed. When I reached the water curled up into a tight ball with the hammock draped around me begging the bugs to leave me alone, as the seconds crawled by I began to realize that the sun should have started to rise but the moon was still the only light. I took a closer look at my watch horrified to see that in fact it had been switched to the wrong time zone, making the real time closer to one a.m. The happy ending to the story was that I went into the tent, which had no bugs and slept well the rest of the night.
The first day of our kayaking trip started off as a beautiful sunny day of Cape Eleuthera. During this trip, we noticed a dark cloud form a far. Under this cloud, we noticed that there was rain coming down and it was coming our way fast. Before we knew it, we were directly under the cloud and we were getting rained on. Shortly after we were hit by the first few rain drops, it quickly became a thunder and lighting storm so we had to make our way to the closest land as soon as possible. This is where we all set up a tarp under the trees so we could wait out the storm. Luckily the lighting was still pretty far away while we were setting up. Right as we got settled in, the climax of the storm started and there was a massive bolt of lightning followed by a bone-rattling crack of thunder. Every body jumped in fear and then we all looked around at each other and started to laugh as if some one had told a very funny joke. This happened several times until the storm passed over and we could here rumblings in the distance ever so often so we got back in our boats were we continued for another 10 minutes or so to our camp site.