This is the first of a collection of stories from people I have met on my travels who have done the most extraordinary things. Claudia has worked with me and is the reason I am called Clouds – so that people on the team knew who was being referred to. Claudia and her husband, Iggy, have travelled the world and guided people everywhere from the Amazon to the Antarctic.
Claudia Roedel – Driving boats in the Antarctic
My name is Claudia Roedel. I was born and live in Brazil, South America. Clouds has asked me to write a few words about what inspired me to become what I am today, so I think it’s better to start by the end.
I studied Biology at the University of São Paulo, and after graduation I moved to the Amazon where I studied Tropical Ecology – the science that studies the inter-relationships between plants and animals in the tropical zone. A tropical rainforest is about the most complex ecosystem there is. In a way I am glad I started the studies with a complex system – it makes all others easier to understand.
I like to paint watercolors, to read and watch movies. I have an insatiable curiosity to understand how things work, how they are done and what makes them tick.I dive, I climb, I love to take long walks in nature, and I ride a motorcycle. I built the cabinets in my house, painted walls and made clothes and costumes for myself and for others.
Currently I work on board cruise ships that focus on nature trips. As we visit wonders of the natural world, I try to explain to passengers a bit of what they are seeing. What are the animals and plants we see, what the relationship to each other is. What is their biology – how they grow, where they live, what they feed on. My work gives me unique opportunities to visit remote corners of the world, and although it’s very intense, it’s also very rewarding.
So, how did I get here?
When I was growing up I had a huge curiosity, and I was blessed to have parents that also loved to read, so they had answers to most of my questions. When they didn’t, they knew where to find it – a book, or an encyclopedia.
I was an avid reader, and would go through books so fast that my mother soon made me a card to the local library – before I bankrupted her by buying so many books! I read everything that I could lay my hands on – classical novels, mystery books, even encyclopedias. I loved to travel to different worlds, explore maps, learn about animals.
I was specially inspired by Jules Vernes, he was my favorite author for a long time. I would picture myself riding a hot air balloon around the world, or visiting the depths of the ocean on the submarine Nautilus. I pondered how I would react in this or that circumstances… and the lack of women on those books always bothered me. Sometimes I would invent a female character for myself, that would allow me to take part in those adventures.
My parents gave me further incentive to read – my father would read to me, making different voices to the different characters.
One day visiting a family friend, I found a drawer full of pulp spy books. The main character was a knock-out beauty named Brigitte Montfort and she was a spy for CIA…. Not any spy, she was CIA’s top spy. She could speak several languages fluently, was an expert in martial arts and in handling any weapon. She could drive or pilot any vehicle that moved over land, water or air. She was a master of disguise and infiltrated any base. I sat on the floor and read as many of those as I could, then had to work really hard to convince my parents to keep buying books. Lucky for me, my father was of the opinion that ANY reading was edifying, and eventually obliged!
I was only 4 years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon. I watched it with fascination. My father bought every single magazine that came out on the time – he said we had just experienced history happening. I have these magazines until today and for a long while I, like so many kids, wanted to be an astronaut.
TV in my time was very different than today. Where I lived there were only 4 TV channels, and most houses had only one black and white TV. So everybody watched the same programs. You might not like it, but that’s what’s on.
However, I guess I was a rebel from the early days, because I chased some programs that showed in funny times, where not many people were watching. I loved to watch animal documentaries and movies, like Born Free,WildKingdom, Daktari. Especially I loved to watch the documentaries by Jacques Cousteau and Ron and Valerie Taylor, who focused on underwater photography.
Then came Star Trek! I did not watch it on the first run as I was too small. I caught it on the second run, during the seventies. I felt that show was significantly different. I think for the first time I could relate to some of the characters. First of all, they were traveling through SPACE, THE FINAL FRONTIER! They were going where no man had ever gone, exploring new life, new civilizations. Every new show took place on a different planet, and the crew, under the command of brash Captain Kirk had to establish relations, patch wars, do biological surveys, and work together to achieve their goals.
Among the characters, although I loved Dr McCoy, and tough the captain was quite “hammy”, I related in special to Lieutenant Uhura and First Officer Spock.Many have criticized the show’s female miniskirt uniforms, but most people today don’t understand how liberating showing one’s legs was in the 60! It was a sign of affirmation of your sexually, a way of saying that you are a woman and proud of it. On the pilot, the women wore pants, just like the men, but the female cast members asked the producers to be dressed on more feminine clothes. What I really loved about Uhura is the fact that she was a very competent professional, an officer on the bridge, and at the same time, she was very feminine: she was always made up, her hair was neatly styled and she wore her miniskirt like she would a suit. The fact that she did not have to behave like a man to be on what was at the time considered a man’s job was very important to me.
Many people like to belittle her job, saying she was just a glorified operator, but I work on board ships, so I know that the communications officer is much more than this. They must know all codes and protocols for different kinds of communication, which frequencies to use, how to operate the different equipment, and very importantly, how to repair and maintain all equipment under their care.
Spock was a different matter. All very quiet and very professional, incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable. But what really spoke to me was that, because he was a hybrid between a human and a Vulcan, the Vulcan children would tease him, and bully him. He grew alone and never fully integrated into Vulcan society, and now, on a human ship, he never fully integrated into the humans either. His Vulcan discipline of suppressing his emotions kept him apart from the crew, but we would see he cared about them, and they cared about him too.
I related to him because like the character, I was also bullied at school. I was too nerdy, too clever, too Ms. Smartypants knows-it-all… I had an answer for everything, from the books I read, and I made the alphas of the school uncomfortable – so they picked on me. It bothered me in one level, but on the other level I knew they were just envious. Spock was also bullied as a kid, but he turned out alright. He had the job he wanted, on an exploring vessel, doing the science he loved, surrounded by crewmembers that respected him – even a couple of real friends. So I found hope for me as well. If Spock had been bullied, and turned out alright, I would also turn out alright when I grew up.
I started learning English when I was only 7 years old (and I always thank my parents who put me in language school when I was at the perfect age for learning a foreign language. Today English is my second language, and it allowed me access to a wider range of information and opportunities. Later I learned French and Spanish, and studied German, Bahasa Indonesian and Hindi (these three with VERY limited success!). Like my heroin, Brigitte Monfort, I tried to learn as many languages as I could.Inspired by her, I learned to drive cars, trucks, motorcycles and boats. I hope one day to learn how to fly a plane or a helicopter.
When my aunt decided I needed to practice some physical activity, she took me to ballet classes – that’s what girls did for exercise back then. Lucky for me, the school was taught by a couple. She taught ballet – he taught Judo! Of course I chose judo over ballet, and later I took classes on karate, self defense, capoeira and ballroom dance. I learned how to shoot with revolvers, pistols and shotguns (hope to learn rifle one of these days).
Inspired by Jacques Cousteau and the Taylors, I convinced my mother to enroll me on diving classes as soon as I was old enough, at 14. I am glad I inspired a girl friend to enroll with me, and the two of us were the only teens – and female to boot! – among all the grown men doing the course.
Because of them I decided to study Biology. I thought I could became a researcher and travel the world discovering new and exciting things. Little did I knew that Jacques Cousteau was not a biologist. Instead, he was a naval officer and an engineer, who helped improve the Aqua-Lung and gave birth to the open circuit breathers used by divers today. He also improved the design of inflatable rubber boats. He was not a scientist, but a man who loved nature and wanted to share this passion with the world, making documentaries about it.
It turned that I am more similar to him than I though – today I travel the world on board cruise ships, drive rubber boats and share my passion for nature and those amazing places with the passengers.
Spock was a science officer on board an exploratory vessel – today I am a science lecturer on board expedition cruise ships!
So, all those things, and many others shaped me – who I am today.