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World Adventure . . . Put On Hold
Jill Rennicke, Alumni Coordinator

The last time 2007 Conserve School graduate (four-year program) David Sisak visited us at Conserve School, his eyes were filled with hope. For years, he had planned, saved, researched, and dreamed of a year-long, worldwide adventure. Now, it was time to go. What he could not have planned for, what none of us could have foreseen, was the coming of a pandemic that would put our world, and David's dream trip, on hold. Here, in his own words, David shares his dream, the reality, and his continuing hope that his adventure is simply on hold and not defeated.

"After graduating from Conserve School in 2007, I continued my education at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where I graduated with a B.S. in Geosciences in 2011. After college, I spent eight years working as an environmental geologist for an environmental engineering firm in San Francisco, California as part of several projects around California and the western United States including environmental remediation, environmental compliance, and environmental health and safety. A few years ago, I also began working in sustainability by auditing California vineyards and wineries on sustainable business strategy for a non-profit sustainable wine growing organization (including energy efficiency, water conservation, air quality, ecosystem management, waste reduction, and other sustainability topics).

One year ago, I started making plans to spend 2020 traveling around the world. I then spent the majority of last year preparing for the trip of a lifetime. I left my job earlier this year and set off on that dream trip, a year of traveling the world, eager, excited, and toes tingling for what was ahead.

A highlight of my (very) abbreviated world trip was fulfilling the geologist bucket list item of seeing an active volcano erupt up close and personal (about 1,500 feet from the peak) in Guatemala. This involved hiking 8,000 vertical feet and summiting the inactive Volcán de Acatenango at over 13,000 feet, sleeping on the slopes of Acatenango at 12,000 feet in 20 degree howling windy weather, then hiking up the aptly-named Volcán de Fuego to just about as close as one wants to get to an erupting volcano. An unexpected part of this was being surprised by an eerie booming sound coming from the volcano as it erupted (similar to loud thunder) that could be heard for miles around the volcano. I also had a great view of the erupting Fuego straight from the tent.

I was just getting started. The trip was off to a good start. My plan was to spend a few months each in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Nepal/India, and Southeast Asia (seeing all the natural sights and experiencing the cultures along the way). But, it all came to a screeching halt due to Coronavirus. At first, it only affected my newsfeeds and worried messages from my Mom. But all of that was about to change.

I was in Colombia and planning to cross into Ecuador when Ecuador completely closed all its borders. So I booked a flight to Peru,  and then Peru closed all its airports and that flight was rendered useless. Chile, Argentina, and most other countries across South America enacted similar measures including mandatory quarantines and various other restrictions. Brazil was a relatively accessible option, but my Brazilian friend had unfortunately been cooped up in a hospital, so not the right time for Brazil either.

Most of South America had enacted some sort of lockdown often with heavily-armed military personnel roaming the streets. In Colombia, I was harassed at a bus stop for not having my passport (it was in a locker where I was staying) to prove I had been out of the States for a reasonable time (not sure what would have happened if I just got there). There was talk everywhere about foreigners getting deported. Everything was starting to shut down, including the hostel where I was staying. This was becoming the opposite of the experience I wanted to be having.

So, instead of facing being stuck somewhere in South America on lockdown and unable to do anything indefinitely, with a heavy heart, I booked a flight back to the States, one of the last flights out of Colombia the day the country went into lock-down. Now, after 35 hours of traveling, I am home to wait it out until things get better. It was absolutely surreal getting back to the States so early, knowing I was planning to be away until 2021.

This is not what I had planned on doing but I think coming back was the right decision based on being a responsible citizen of this planet. My plan is to spend time with my family, lay low and try to not drain my trip funds in the interim, then hopefully reconvene the trip once things get better. All things considered, I learned so much even in just my short time traveling and definitely can use this as an opportunity to make the rest of my trip even better whenever it continues."

We at Conserve wish David well. We are glad that he is safe and confident that his dream is not over. It is simply on hold.
 

Photos submitted by David Sisak