DCYSC Winner Liz Baker
From Liz Baker relative to her DYSC won trip to Florida, July 2002 What is it like to watch the birth of a dolphin?
What do the feathers of a penguin feel like?
What is it like to wake up next to a manatee?
These are just a few of the questions that I was able to answer for myself on my DYSC trip to Orlando, Florida this past July.
When my team won the special teamwork prize last October at the 2001 DYSC Finals, we had no idea what our trip would entail. We were just so excited at the prospect of meeting each other again and getting to work together as a team one more time. While others were saying a tearful good-bye to their new-found friends, we were planning our next adventure and looked forward to it the entire school year. If we stopped to think about it, we knew we would be going behind the scenes at Sea World and Busch Gardens, but we had no concept of the experiences that would follow. And so, the trip was full of surprises the entire time.
The first, and probably the best, surprise was finding out that Jill Cole, our fabulous team leader would be joining us! It was her leadership that created and maintained a great team spirit so it was fitting that she be here as well. When we all met up that first night in the hotel lobby, it was just like we had never been separated. We walked to dinner, talking the entire time. At the elegant Italian restaurant, we were entertained by opera singing wait staff who brought our food with a song.
The next morning we awoke to the start of a very exciting day. Discovery Cove is a fairly new type of adventure park. With a very limited number of admissions each day, this simulated sea cove promised to be a unique snorkeling experience. Equipped with dive suits for warmth, snorkel and mask, we headed towards the education center, where we would find out what we needed to know before swimming with dolphins. And then it was time. We waded into the cold waters of the dolphin cove where we met "Coral" our young but enthusiastic dolphin. After about a half-hour of taking Coral through her training routine, she gave us a "lift" back to shore. I was worried that the dolphins might be too taxed by the interactions but if Coral was any indication, the dolphins seemed to have as much fun as we did. I later discovered that Coral's mother was "working" just 20' away and usually makes little trips over to make sure her daughter is doing alright. We never saw her so she must have thought we were a pretty harmless group of kids.
The rest of the day was spent discovering the cove. It had several areas to explore. The largest and deepest cove contained tropical fish of every color and type. Accustomed to visitors they swarmed by, sometimes making me feel like rush hour on a L.A. freeway. As I was swimming toward a lagoon, I heard a lot of screaming. Curious, I swam towards to commotion, only to be greeted by a lot of hysterical young people alternately screaming and laughing as they charged by me. The designers of the cove were very clever. They built several smaller coves adjacent to this one and separated them from us by a mere, thin sheet of clear plexiglass. On the other side swam…"Sharks!" The effect of swimming right next to a shark would make anyone's heart beat faster and it did mine. But it was just about then that a manta ray of enormous proportions swam right underneath me. I could feel the powerful beat of its "wings" as the water pulled from under me. This thing was huge! Measuring at about 6 feet across, it was a magnificent animal to swim with. And the cove was full of rays of varying ages and sizes. There was even a special wading "nursery" cove that was teeming with small rays, ranging from 1 to 2 feet across, that tickled my calves as they swam by. I could not get enough.
While in this lagoon, a little girl swam over to me and gave me some leftover lettuce that she had received from a staff member. She said the fish loved it but I was a bit skeptical. However, once I started tearing off the lettuce leaves, I was bombarded with fish, swimming around me, under me, over me, eating everything in sight, including my hair! It was incredible and a bit overwhelming, too!
After all that exploring, it was natural to be tired. So I headed for "Lazy River" which provided a pleasant, relaxing ride on a current that leads in a circular path around the cove. This proved a great spot to just float along while watching for some of the exotic birds that were half-hidden in the trees. But just as I returned to the start of the river something hit me on the head. Could it be? RAIN! Now this may not sound that exciting but after a 138-day drought in Tucson, rain was probably the most unexpected thing about the entire day! And even though we were already totally wet, we got soaked. Wet and soggy, we returned to our hotel room to pack up for camp, which began the next day.
The camp was to include a behind the scenes look at Sea World and Busch Gardens. We would be staying there for three days and two nights. I was very curious to see what went on before the park opened and even more interested in how the staff cared for the needs of their animals. My goal was to come out knowing a great deal more. I was anxious to meet our two camp counselors and find out if they would be able to answer our many questions. They turned out to be very knowledgeable and, as an extra bonus, great fun!
At Sea World, we were able to do all of the things you would expect of an educational summer camp. But the one thing that I did not expect was to be in the right place at the right time late that night. On the way to our sleeping area by the manatee tanks, we just happened to be walking quietly by a dolphin tank. There was a staff member who noticed us and called us over. He said that although too many observers would prove stressful for the birthing mother dolphin, we could come see how her labor was progressing. I could not believe what I was seeing. As the tail flukes emerged I realized that I was observing something that only a handful of people ever see in their life time, the birth of a dolphin. The next day as I observed the mother and baby "doing fine" as they swam together in their tank, my heart was full.
As we hurried through the park, a whirl of memories formed. One moment we were jogging through the Florida humidity and dying of the heat and the next we were in an ice-cold room, petting a penguin. I learned that the most important thing about petting a penguin is not how you pet but where you stand. They tend to not want to soil their own nests so they are equipped with the ability to make sure "it" lands quite far away, sometimes as far as six feet...and sometimes on their visitors. Our guide explained that penguins mate for life and that unfortunately this little guy had selected her for a mate early on and now could not be convinced that she was not "his". Consequently, he followed her everywhere and was very jealous if she paid any attention to the others.
I fed every animal there was at Sea World, from the gentle manta rays that softly whispered up the fish from the palm of my hand, to the sea lions that barked with a deafening roar, demanding attention and food. The dolphins were the most fun to feed. They were smart enough to know that if I gave them their fish, first, they could move quickly on to the next visitor. So, instead, I learned to pet and talk first and feed later.
At Busch Gardens, the highlight for me had to be a visit to the chimpanzee enclosure. Although Jane Goodall is my hero, and I work at her ChimpanZoo data gathering facility in Tucson, I have never seen a real live chimpanzee in my life. Now, I was nervous. What if the conditions I saw angered me instead of inspiring me? What if their enclosure was too crowded and cruel? Could I stand it? Fortunately, Busch Gardens did everything well. The chimpanzee enclosure allowed a great deal of room for the chimps to brachiate and allowed them room for privacy. The very natural setting was up to my tough standards for any chimp that must be held in captivity.
Upon returning to civilization, out team returned to our hotel for a hot shower and some real food. And then, what did we do with our day off? We returned to Sea World! We just had to take advantage of our week-long free pass, so we returned to do all the things we never had time to do, including riding the roller coasters! It was a great free day in every sense of the word.
The next day took us to a whole new dimension, so to speak. Our team traveled to DisneyQuest, a virtual reality center filled with five floors of adventure. Although it would have been fine to go by myself, going as a team made the whole day even more incredible as we challenged each other to duels, fought off pirates together and virtually rafted down a river rapids. We saw the future and it was fun.
Saying good-bye was the hardest part of the trip. Always before we had the thought of our pending team trip to soften the good byes. This time we knew it was really over. How could 5 kids from across the country ever have a chance to meet again? The chances were slim and none. Unless of course, we could meet at Intel, the International Science and Engineering Fair for high school students! We began to plot, immediately. We decided that this could not be good-bye, it was merely a passing on from our middle school successes to our future high school challenges. And so we parted, the winning team of DYSC off to become the winning individuals in life.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible.