It was nice to arrive at our beachfront hotel in La Pedrera—our headquarters for the next few weeks. Once we arrived at Posada del Barco and settled in, we finalized everyone’s roles on the team and chose a narrative storyline for the main documentary. We also refined our production schedule and determined some essential shots. This helped us focus. We become even more motivated to document key images of nature and culture along the way – and to share the story of OCC and The Route of the Whale with others.
Spending time in Montevideo and talking to some of the locals had given us some confidence to conduct interviews in Spanish, but the group still needed a brush-up. At Seaside English Center in La Paloma, director Mariana Blengini gave us some essential Spanish lessons. We learned how to properly introduce ourselves to strangers and how to ask questions related to our work as environmental journalists. We learned that some words here are pronounced softer than most Spanish, almost like Brazilian Portuguese. We even listened to the lyrics of some Uruguayan rock music.
After class we also got a surprise. Rodrigo, director of OCC and the principle consultant for our Study Abroad Program, had arranged a whale watching trip. We pulled on our wetsuits to go out in Zodiacs – small motor-powered rafts that fit about five people. Half our team went on the first run Rodrigo and a few members of the Uruguayan Coast Guard. Beyond the harbor, sea lions danced around our boat and peered at us with curiosity. Then something large and dark appeared—two whales. Even from a distance, the sheer size and grace of these creatures was awe-inspiring. At first we thought we saw a mother and her calf, but it was actually two whales mating! The most exciting part, though, occurred when a whale came close…and closer…until it swam directly beneath our Zodiac. Talk about a close encounter! We finally had the first footage of what we’d come here to document—las ballenas.
Rodrigo had also arranged an evening course for us on sustainable tourism and responsible development. We learned about tourism dedicated to making a low impact on the environment while still allowing local communities to profit. We also learned how to be sustainable tourists ourselves—our production crew really identified with the idea of fitting into and supporting local cultures, along with the classic practices of reducing, reusing, and recycling.