My curiosity of the world has taken me through 57 countries and 6 continents. The breath of this perspective is even hard for me to comprehend at times. For sure some experiences have gone the way of forgotten moments, but the overall arch and theme still burns within me.
Sunset near Kimball NE.
The theme would be a desire to deepen my appreciation of the world and celebrate the gift of life that has been bestowed upon me. I was not created to just pay bills and pass away. I dared to dream, and now often use this perspective to challenge others, in particular school kids, to do the same.
It is with this foundation of curiosity and passion that I set out to explore Nebraska. A project I am calling: Explore with Dean-Your Nebraska. There are so many distractions and worthless time grabbing noises in our culture, and I sense we have forgotten how to appreciate or celebrate what we have right in our backyards.
I don’t see this as a summer project, but a life long project to capture and experience the magic of Nebraska. To deepen my appreciation of: from where we came, who we are and what we aim to be. Nebraska is not a random place, the weather cycle here does not allow one to casually go through the motions and land here. Countless people have passed through Nebraska over wagon trails, dirt roads and rails, most determined to find something better.
A few stayed.
These columns will be dedicated to those who stayed, who came before and found a home. And to those who have followed afterwards, whether by birth or choice. There are more comfortable places to live in the United States, warmer places in the winter or cooler in the summer. I know, I have lived in some of those places. But there is something special here that is hard at times to explain.
I have felt we have nothing to prove here in Nebraska, and don’t feel compelled to convince anyone who attempts to make the joke that it is a drive through or fly over state.
People are free to think what they wish.
But those who understand the value of honesty, are willing to look you in the eye when you talk, or authentically wish you a good day, I have time.
My life style still has me traveling abroad, seeking new experiences, new sights, and new friendships. But I always find my way home back to Nebraska. A good friend in South America once shared with me about the numerous people she had met from the United States, and how often many of them were apologetic about where they came from.
“You are different,” she said, “you always proudly declared you were from Nebraska, not from a place of arrogance, but from a place of gratitude.”
It is with this foundation of gratitude that I set out to explore our Nebraska, to rediscover our history, uncover hidden treasures, make new friends and deepen my appreciation of home.
Three weeks sounded like a considerable amount of time to see a country, but Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world. It is very roomy here, lots of extra space. However, my allotted time would only allow me to scratch the surface.
Before even landing in the country, I had already made up my mind to return to Argentina. This decision took the pressure off trying to see and do everything. The idea was to make this more of a reconnaissance trip to get a feel for Argentina.
Dating back to my climbing days in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Washington), I had dreamed of seeing the Patagonia Mountains in Argentina. It was time to fulfill a piece of that dream.
I have to be honest, my knowledge of Argentina was limited. About the only thing I knew was its location at the bottom of South America. So when I declared that I was on my way to see the Patagonia Mountains, I had no idea that it would take me another 24 hours by bus to get from the top of Patagonia to the bottom. This was like saying I am going to see New York City and take a little side bus trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona while I am in the country.
Buses are a cheap mode of transportation and allowed me to see the scenery. Except after 24 hours of the same landscape, a long ride does get a little tiresome.
“Don’t tell anyone. Keep it a secret,” the bus driver said to me.
Long-distance buses have different classes of seats. The upper deck is crammed with seats that have little extra room; the lower deck has a few spacious seats, similar to first class in an airplane.
The bus drivers had become my friends, and one of them invited me to take an open seat on the lower deck. It pays to be nice to people.
I gratefully accepted his kind offer. The ride to El Calafate just got a little easier.
The constant hum of the bus tires was like a lullaby that attempted to lull me back to sleep.
Outside the window, there was a sea of black for the entire night and rarely punctuated with any kind of light. When the morning sun pushed away the darkness, as far as the eye could see was endless scrub.
No towns, no farmhouses, nothing but a fence line running parallel to the road and brown short scrubby bushes. It reminded me of eastern Colorado or Wyoming, except it was more open, less populated and flatter.
Eastern Argentina sits in the rain shadow created by the Andean Mountains. The fertile pampas found further inland escaped me as I headed straight south along the Atlantic coast.
I was happy the 18-hour bus ride had come to an end.
As I stepped off the bus in the city of Puerto Madryn, a voice in the crowd said, “Dean Jacobs.”
I wasn’t expecting to be picked up; my instructions were to go to an office and ask for Claudia Hume.
“Yes, my work finished early, so I decided to meet you at the bus station,” she said. Hume was a relative of my friend, Peter Duggan, with whom I had just spent the last week in Buenos Aires. Duggan had contacted Hume and told her I was traveling to Puerto Madryn.
It’s always nice to be welcomed to an unfamiliar place. It takes away a little of the tension of trying to figure out the most basic things, like which way to walk out of the bus station.
“Let’s go. I’m going to teach you how to use the bus system,” Hume said as she handed me a bus ticket.
“You can either stay at a hostel or stay with me. I have a little garden shack that has a bed. It’s not much, but you are welcome to it.”
“I’ll gladly accept your offer,” I replied.
Hume’s home would become my base for the next week. A big gift is that she speaks fluent English, works as a tourist guide and would be able to offer suggestions on what to do. More importantly, it was a chance to share a moment of daily life with an Argentinian.
Hume’s life is worthy of a book. She was a former flight attendant, had a commercial pilot’s license and had taken in 10 street children to raise on her own. I enjoyed listening to her stories as much as creating my own.
“I suggest you go swim with the southern sea lions,” Hume said.
Argentina is a place that had escaped my wandering spirit, until now.
In Ecuador, I am limited to 90 days a year to visit in the country. So I must use the time wisely if I am going to take school materials to Achuar villages, lead group trips into the Amazon Rainforest and spend time with friends.
Therefore, I left for Argentina so I wouldn’t use up all my Ecuadorian visa days.
As long as I can remember, I have dreamed of going to the Patagonia region of Argentina. Just the name stirs up adventure in my heart. There is something magical about seeing mountains on the other side of the world.
On one of my trips to Ecuador, I met a couple who invited me to visit Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was time to accept their invitation. Argentina is a large country, and the three weeks I had to explore would only scratch the surface.
I arrived in the capital city of Buenos Aires and my friends, Peter and Lupe Duggan, welcomed me; their home became my base. From their house, a 20-minute train ride would take me to the city center.
Buenos Aires is a special city. Built during the economic boom in Argentina, it feels more like Europe than South America. The city has many tall buildings with French architecture, expensive boutique shops, busy streets and great food – all woven together with Latin American flavor.
My plans to head toward another Achuar village in the Amazon Rainforest had to be postponed. The pace of life over the last few months had caught up with me. I was exhausted and felt sick. It was going to take more than aspirin and a good night’s sleep to catch up on rest.
Heading into the rain forest is challenging enough without being sick on top of it. The next village visit would have to wait. There’s too much to accomplish and operating on half batteries wasn’t going to get it done.
So, I decided to push back the next trip into the rain forest for a month. Keeping my promises with the Achuar is important. This is how I have built their trust over time.
Instead, I would be with friends waiting in southern Ecuador in the city of Cuenca. A perfect place to rest and spend some of the holidays.
As we walked down the path through the Amazon Rainforest, we came upon a large kapok tree.
The trunk was gigantic, as large as some of the redwoods I’ve seen in northern California. My neck strained, as I bent it backwards in an attempt to look for the top of the grand tree.
The kapok is a giant in the rain forest. The tree can reach up to 200 feet in height, sometimes growing as much as 13 feet per year.
The majestic kapok tree has many uses for humans. Its wood is lightweight and porous; it’s good for making carvings, coffins and dugout canoes. The silky fibers that disperse the seeds are too small for weaving but make great stuffing for bedding. Soap can be made from the oils in the seeds. Other parts of the giant tree are used as medicines.
Scientists estimate a kapok tree can live up to 200 years.
The early morning fog started to lift from the winding highway. This made me happy.
Several times I’ve been a passenger on this road in buses or taxis, but I had never driven it. My frequent visits in Ecuador gave me the courage to attempt driving on the roads.
The fog was an extra challenge, along with the winding roads and crazy drivers. Some Ecuadorian drivers have this desire to pass on uphill curves, a habit that I am still trying to get used to.
In spite of all this, the drive to Puyo, Ecuador was a beautiful one through the cloud forest. The highway connects to the eastern part of the country where it meets the Amazon basin.
Close to Puyo is the small community of Shell and the location for the regional airport. This is where I would take a small plane into the Amazon Rainforest to one of the remote villages of the Achuar people.
The cloud forest of Ecuador is like walking into a scene from a J.R.R. Tolkien book – mysterious, intriguing and plush with life.
These tropical or subtropical forests are positioned to grab moisture from the sky. They are located in places where moist air that bumps into these elevated landmasses creates persistent low-level clouds.
Even though they are found in the tropics, because of their elevation, they tend to be a cool place with an average temperature between 46 and 68 degrees.
According to scientists, only 1 percent of the global woodland consists of cloud forests. In other words, they are very special places in the scheme of things.
They are also home to a diversified bird life and specifically one of my favorite species, the hummingbird.