Month: November 2011

Everglades USA Exped – Day 13

Friday, November 25

Day at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida

By Ann-Kathrin

Today our motivation behind getting up, after another night of the anchor watch was the day trip to the turtle rehabilitation center in Marathon on the Florida Keys. We were all looking forward to being informed and to learn more about those endangered creatures. When we arrived with the dingy at a little marina called Burdines. From there we walked along the street for some minutes to arrive at the Turtle Hospital. It was good to touch the earth again, but when we walked towards our destination we crossed a really poor part of the city. We all were moved by the images of the poor people because it was unexpected. On the way through the dirty and damaged mobilehomes and trailers something Martin said popped up in my head. We all– especially the Young Explorers–  who have the chance to be on this unique trip should really be thankful for what we have. We have not only this rare opportunity, but we also are free, we can run, jump, sing, speak, listen, think, love, decide and swim. We have a huge amount of possibilities we must appreciate even more than we do. Those people we saw try to make the best of what they have, but we are blessed with what we have and only those moments in which we see the difference, raise the awareness. It is so important to think about it from time to time. We should be more than thankful for what we have everyday.

We arrived early for our 10 AM workshop at the hospital so we had more than 30 minutes to inform ourselves in the decorated waiting room about the six species of sea turtles found in U.S. Waters: the Hawksbill, the Leatherback, the Green, the Loggerhead, the Olive Ridley and the very rare Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. All of them are inhabitants of the area around Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. We read on the many information boards more about the Turtle Hospital, its foundation 25 years ago, its history, its aim and purpose – the three Rs: Rehab, Research and Release.

At 10 AM, Jeanette, a marine biologist and our staff guide for the day called us out and we received an informational seminar about sea turtles and a tour of the facility. She showed us the turtle emergency room and told us stories about the turtles who have found their way onto the operating table — like Sara, the sea turtle rescued on August 3, with a 4-foot  barbed spear in her head shot purposefully (and illegally) by a fisherman. Hospital staff, Dr. Doug Mader of Marathon Veterinary Clinic, and Monroe County Fire Rescue performed surgery to push the barbed spear through Sara's head and she was rehabbed and successfully released back into the wild this September! 

As soon as the guided tour started everyone was eager to see the real turtles and to experience their behavior. We learned more about the turtles and the threats they are exposed to (like lobster traps, commercial fishing lines, powerboats, toxic pollutants especially plastics) and the way the Turtle Hospital helps, analyze, learn about and improve the treatment of turtles especially the endangered ones.

Finally we got to see the 23 turtles resident in the tanks of the hospital. We all held our breath when we saw the majestic animals gliding through the blue water as if they were flying. Seeing some of those unique creatures in such bad shape, tortured by tumors, with amputated flippers and shells deformed by careless boaters really drove the tears into our eyes.

After our workshop, we went for lunch at a nearby authentic Mexican cantina. During lunch a wild discussion developed whether saving those turtles positively impacts the eco-system as much as intended, or if one could spend the money more efficiently for other purposes. [Although the hospital upkeep, operating room equipment and general care of the turtles must be costly, it should be noted that the Turtle Hospital (Hidden Harbor Marine Environmental Project, Inc.) is a certified 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable corporation.] It was a interesting discussion in which I felt misunderstood when I declared that I feel strongly about rescuing and helping animals, nevermind the costs. Christian, as a specialist for marine life then spoke right out of my heart. Every challenge you feel worth working for is worth the money and time you spend. Every project you put your lifeblood in is as important as you feel about it. Everyone knows what is important for themselves and that is what we should spend our time on and put our effort into. No matter if it is to save a hundred turtles each year, making a relatively small difference but reaching a huge group of people each day, or taking young people out to see the world so that they can share their message and their experiences with others – everyone is making a difference in their own way.

For more information about the Marathon Turtle Hospital click here

Pangaea moves south to Marathon

Pangaea sails south during her discovery of the Florida Keys and stops at the City of Marathon in Monroe County, Florida. Here the Mike Horn Team and Young explorers visit the Marathon Turtle Hospital. The team learn about the effects that the Gulf oil spill had on turtles in 2010 and the sequels on the populatoiion ever since.

Everglades USA Exped – Day 12

Thursday, November 24

Wreck Dive, Dolphin Spotting and American Thanksgiving

By Livio Knöri

After a great breakfast of Dan’s leftover birthday cake, we sailed a few miles along the cost of Key Largo to a ship wreck. The 160m long wreck called “USS Spiegel Grove” sank to the ocean floor in 2002. After Christian, the PADI expert dive instructor onboard delivered a safety briefing, we were prepared for our dive to a depth of 30 meters. We were all quite excited because for most of us is it the first deep-dive. After a few meters decent the giant wreck appeared under us. Eventually we arrived on the deck and the exploration in buddy teams could start. We dove through the vessel until we reached the other end of the boat. A wreck dive feels like flying through a boat — what an absolutely amazing feeling it is.

The shipwreck was covered by corals and was full of life. After only nine years the nature changed a metal ship to a living space for many species. The dive ended much to soon as there was just so much to explore beneath the surface. This dive was for me was absolute impressive. Sitting back aboard PANGAEA, I could start to realize completely what I have seen. It was a wonder.

I learned that diving is something very mental. Naturally, you are excited, but you should stay calm. To stay calm is one of the most important things for safe diving and this can you only achieve with mental control over the body.

A few hours later on the gentle sail to Marathon, Florida, Aya, Mary and Theresa were keeping watch sitting outside on the tip of the bow. Suddenly, inside the boat, we heard Rick calling us come out. They had spotted a pod of dolphins swimming all around the boat! The dolphins followed us for several minutes jumping alongside PANGAEA and flipping up as if to get our attention.  This was an awesome moment for all of us. We could really see how they enjoyed to play around the boat and in the waves.

This night, we also enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving dinner cooked by Mary who shared with us about the American tradition of the holiday. We ate fresh bread, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes and other Autumn vegetables. I’m going now to bed to be ready for my anchor watch this evening and looking forward to our visit of the turtle rehabilitation center tomorrow.

Everglades USA Exped – Day 11

Blog written by Theresa Kaiser

Today, Wednesday, I had to wake up quite early because of my anchor watch from 2 – 3 AM. It is really important for the safety of everyone and so a big responsibility for me but this time I wasn’t as nervous as I was at the last time.

After my watch I went back to bed for a couple of hours to sleep before breakfast at 8 am. It was the first breakfast on board of Pangaea after the Kayak-trip and it tasted really good; the perfect start into an intense day.

Before we started with our exercises we got a lot of information from Mike and the team about the next few days.  He said we would continue to be diving, and we’d have a party for Dan’s 20th birthday today and tomorrow, Mary and Luke (the two Americans on Mike’s staff) would teach us about their Thanksgiving holiday traditions and celebrations. We all got really excited and looked forward to the day. After this briefing we said goodbye to Mike as he had to go to a meeting in Germany so would have to fly there, attend the meeting and join us right away on Friday. 

Next, we were ready to jump into the water. In the water we did some interesting snorkeling. We dove with the snorkel 5-meters down to the ground, beneath PANGAEA and swam in the Atlantic Ocean. The exercises for our lungs and water-skills were really helpful and they were also a lot of fun.

In the afternoon we jumped into the water again, for a second dive that was quite different from our first one yesterday. We got ready for the dive then piled into the dinghy to ride to the place where we would dive from. This time it wasn’t possible to dive directly from PANGAEA because we had strong currents around. I haven’t too much diving experience that’s why I was quite nervous at the beginning about how it would be like and I hoped that I could manage it without any problems. When we went down to the ground I got more and more relaxed because I realized that the current between the corals was much less in the new location Christian selected for us and I start to enjoy the dive. It was just amazing to dive trough the corals and to explore the underwater world. The time flew by and when we got back to the surface almost one hour later I would have wished to stay under water for longer.

Swimming back to PANGAEA was quite challenging because of the strong currents. The team took our dive-equipment on the dingy and told us to swim back to the boat but after a couple of minutes we realized that we weren’t able to come closer to the boat… we actually drifted more and more far away! The only thing us Young Explorers could do was stay as close together as possible in a team. Doing this I felt safe. While swimming back, we got caught in a swarm of what seemed like a hundred jellyfish!  The swim was really hard and we were all happy when the team came picking us up with the dingy and brought us back to the boat.

After having washed our diving equipment in fresh water and having eaten dinner we had a great party for Dan’s birthday.  We decorated the boat with balloons, Martin made a champagne toast and Christian baked chocolate cake. We played music, sang along with Dan who brought his small guitar on this expedition and we laughed a lot. Finally, went to bed looking forward to all the next days in the Florida Keys will bring to us. Happy Birthday Dan! 


Mike’s blog 22.10.2011

Early birds catch the biggest worms. Are you the worm or the bird? We woke up at 5am and started paddling into the narrow channels of the Everglades. Your heart starts beating faster when you approach these Alligators at eye level in a small kayak. We all had a trip of a lifetime full of emotions and physical fatigue covering more than 200km in 5 days.

Everglades USA Exped – Day 10

USA Expedition Blog: Key Largo, Florida | YEPs first dive with Christian Miller

by Jule Holland and Ann-Kathrin

After a short night sleeping outside in the open air (no tents) on a dock in Key Largo we woke up with the sunrise early Tuesday morning. The air was nice, fresh and everyone enjoyed the sleep under clear sky, it gave us a feeling of freedom after all the nights in the narrow tents seeking cover from the rain and insects.

After waking up, we had to wait some time until Mike and Tristan came to pick us up at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park with the dingy to bring us back to PANGAEA which was anchored out about 20 minutes from Key Largo. Apart from the slight sadness to leave the green paradise of canals and islands we were happy to get back on the boat. Arriving all together one could feel the happiness of resuming life aboard together after the life-changing experiences shared in Everglades National Park . We settled our equipment back in our rooms and met at the conference room to publish the blogs about the last six days, our experiences, developments and emotions. After getting used to the ship’s movement again, Mike announced the first dive of the expedition would be today. Everyone was filled with excitement for the tour to the bottom of the blue ocean. But first, we did a short dive safety briefing on the deck where Christian Miller (a PADI Staff Instructor for over 10 years) explained and repeated with us the most important diving skills and precautions.

Once we got all the gear organized we did a buddy check and went into the water. The sight under the water (about 25-30 meters deep) was awesome. Arriving at a sandy spot we practiced the “out of air” situations with our buddy. This showed us how important safety and organization is while diving

During the 30-minute dive we discovered an incredibly beautiful world with many, many different kinds of corals and fish in every single color of the rainbow. We even got to see a shark and a sea turtle! I love this calm, almost untouched environment, it opens my heart wide and puts a big smile on my face!

After the dive we quickly rinsed all the gear with fresh water and tidied up the boat.

We are looking forward to more dives in the days to come here in the beautiful Florida Keys — home of the only living coral feel in the United States of America.

Everglades USA Exped – Day 9

Monday, November 21th
USA Expedition Blog: Everglades kayak Mormon Key to Chokoloskee Island
by Dan Cullum

That is one of the incredible things about being on an expedition with Mike Horn:

Plans are only there to be changed.

After already having traveled some 160 kilometers by kayak for the past five days, our goal today was to venture deeper into the Everglades and camp out for one more night as the distance was too far to make it to our final destination (Everglades City) in one day

However we found out just before bed that we must all be awake at 5 AM to set out before sunrise from our campsite on Mormon Key to utilize the incoming tide to take us through the final 40 kms to our destination, in one day, not two.

The most spectacular moment of the whole expedition was this morning. In Everglades National Park the sun rises majestically behind the mangroves. Everyone had a story to share about their experience with that sunrise this morning– almost all of them about being grateful for being alive and blessed to experience that moment together.

Today was also the first day that we ran into the trademark wildlife of the Everglades: the American Alligator.

Found in the blend of salt and fresh water, this specie is the quintessential spokesman of this unique region. Aya and I took our kayak within ten meters of the first alligator, but I was still a little apprehensive about being so close to such an infamous predator.

However, the second alligator that we saw really opened my eyes to what we were here to experience: a chance to get as close as possible to nature, to let it be, and to appreciate it on a whole new level. We maneuvered our kayak until I was only two meters away from it and I could look it in the eye. It was never going to attack me, it was curious just as I was and as we respected each other, I believe we both learned a little more about another world that is not our own.

The final six hours of paddling were the toughest of the whole trip for me. I could barely unwrap my fingers from my paddle or get them out of my gloves. My lower body which had been locked in the same position for the last six days was screaming out for some land to walk on! It took the support of my fellow Young Explorers to enable me to lift that paddle again and again and push them through the water for the final stretch through the winding channels and intricate inner waterways of Florida's "10,000 Islands".

Once we reached our final landing dock on Chokoloskee Island (just down the road from Everglades City), I rinsed myself off quick with a hose pipe and fell asleep almost immediately on the pavement of the marina parking lot. We had made it.

We picked up our kayaks and carried them over the road for a quick paddle to Chokoloskee Island Park where the kind manager Lynda welcomed us visitors and pointed us towards the campground’s warm showers: heaven!  Mary and Luke hitched a ride into Everglades City with Kevin (one of the Park’s kind staff members) and came back sandwiches for all of us. Real food! No more daypacks!

Covering almost 200 kms (120 miles) in five days, over open ocean, beside the mangroves, through the wet rain, hot afternoons, cold storms and swarms of mosquitos. I had some serious doubts on the first day whether or not I would be cut out for this expedition, but I said a prayer that lasted for the rest of the expedition, and with the inspirational Young Explorers fueling our unwavering determination, we put one paddle in front of the other and reached our goal.

The day ended with a van shuttle drive back to Key Largo (our initial point of departure and where the kayaks had to be returned to Florida Bay Outfitters). Some complications with the dinghy that was to take us back to Pangaea resulted in a night camped out on a wharf, falling asleep looking up at the stars, and an overwhelming sense of gratefulness

Such a journey teaches you many things, about how far you can push yourself, how important it is to do things as a team, how little you actually need to survive and be happy, how important family and loved ones are. Being so isolated and pushed to the extremities of what you can handle brings perspective, clarity and yet again, gratefulness.

Distance traveled Monday: Mormon Key to Chokoloskee Island via Pavillion Key 10,000 Islands inner waterways – 4.5 + 7 + 3.5 + 6 + 4 = 25
TOTAL distance traveled (5 1/2 day total) = 120.5



Everglades USA Exped – Day 8

Sunday, November 20th
USA Expedition Blog: Everglades kayak Graveyard Greek to Mormon Key
by Rick Kotze

We woke up this morning and set straight into our morning routine of cooking breakfast, cleaning up the campsite and getting ready for the days paddle. Mike informed us that today would be especially strenuous to ensure that no future setbacks would result in an inability to reach our final destination on time. Personally I was not very happy to hear this, because I had had a really bad night’s sleep, and my back was still aching from yesterday’s long paddle. Luckily, my negative feelings dissolved as we set out into the beautiful wilderness and I fell back into the now familiar trance-like state of paddling. Stroke, after stroke, after stroke.

Our first stop came after two and a half hours of intense paddling. We had already covered nine miles and it was only half past ten in the morning. After exchanging snacks from our day packs and stretching our back and legs, we got into our kayaks and headed for New Turkey Key.

New Turkey Key is a postcard-perfect white-sand island covered in beautiful shells of all shapes and sizes. We made the most of this mosquito-free paradise and had a well-deserved rest. The girls collected and compared shells while the guys were more interested in a washed up alligator skeleton.

We were within an hour’s paddle of our campsite for the evening and as we left we had our first encounter with two other kayakers. This made us realize just how quiet the past few days had been. We discussed how sad it was that so few people made the effort to explore the beautiful public wilderness that we had been so privileged to have the opportunity to survey over the past few days.

The camp site for the night was a long thin stretch of sand so we made two fires – one at each end – to keep the mosquitos at bay. Mike celebrated our days triumph by cooking potato soup, mixed vegetables, scrambled eggs and chocolate mousse (all powdered Trek’n Eat packets, of course). This feast was enjoyed by all the young explorers as well as a few of the Florida Keys many  island raccoons that helped themselves to our leftovers any time we turned our backs.

This night wound-down around the fire sharing stories of the past few days. One of the favorite conversations was discussing all the thoughts and musings that jogged through our minds while we were in our trance-like state of paddling for hours on end. Some of us thought of food, friends and family whilst others confessed to having ridiculous songs playing on repeat in their minds (Row Row Row Your Boat seemed to be a common occurrence). Others yet, confessed to practicing their times tables to get their minds off of the aches and pains caused by the unfamiliar exercise.

After our fire-side story-telling, we crawled into our tents ready to wake up early for our final paddle, and fell asleep to the sound of the waves breaking less than five meters away from our feet.

Distance traveled Sunday: 25 miles
Total distance traveled so far (4 1/2 day total): 95.5 miles

Everglades USA Exped – Day 7

Saturday, November 19th
USA Expedition blog: Everglades kayak Middle Cape to Graveyard Creek
by Aya

The fourth day of our kayak expedition began bright and early so that we could get a good start to what would be a long day. The previous night was the first time I made use of my brand new Quechua sleeping bag, as I was chilly after being drenched from the day’s rain. I slept like a baby all wrapped up and away from those pesky mosquitos.

We began our day with our daily dose of brown sugar and cinnamon oatmeal prepared by us young explorers. As we set off and paddling that morning, every stroke of my paddle felt so effortless with the refreshingly calm conditions we were happy to be kayaking in. Moments such as this, in the salty breeze we were able to truly appreciate the birds flying overhead and perched above in the mangrove trees

The aches in our arms were almost nonexistent when we glided over the glassy water this early morning.

The sun began to shine and we kayaked hard until we reached the entrance Lake Ingraham. We took a tour around the lake and into nearby channels in an attempt to explore some very windy and narrow mangrove passages. Eventually we pulled up to a beach for an afternoon rest. There, Mike mentioned that he had spotted an alligator a little earlier, and we then decided that the seven of us would go exploring on land, bush-wacking in search of one of these incredible creatures. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, however, we did discover many neat looking crabs and insects along the way. After a quick snack and a gulp of water, we set off once again in open water. The wind really started to kick in and paddling became much more physically challenging on the other side of Northwest Cape. The wind resulted in very taxing and wet conditions for the day. My kayak partner was Dan, and I definitely got to know him even better after spending countless hours on the water together discussing anything and everything that was on our minds.

During the final stretch of the day, the wind picked up even more speed and we all had to push fiercely and persevere past Shark River Island and across Ponce de Leon Bay. When we finally made it to our final destination at Graveyard Creek campsite, our group was very happy to have made it. Everyone was looking forward to diggin’ into some delicious Trek’n Eat to recuperate from a long day and gear up for the amazing things to discover in the days to come.

Saturday's Kayak Excursion Log:
Middle Cape into Lake Ingraham – 4 miles
Lake Ingraham to Northwest Cape – 5 miles
Northwest Cape into Ponce de Leon Bay – 8 miles
Destination Graveyard Creek campsite – 4 miles
Saturday’s total distance traveled –  21 miles
Total distance travled so far (3 ½ day total) – 70.5 miles

Mike is in a constant state of travel and adventure , so keep up to date on all his expeditions !