Ricardo in Africa

Ricardo is a graduate student in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College. In summer 2011, he traveled with researchers to Mozambique in southeastern Africa to collect vertebrate fossils. A recipient of the prestigious Fulbright fellowship, Ricardo also conducted research during summer 2010 in Angola and Mozambique.

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The philosophy of adventure

It was with great disappointment that I read the first paragraph of Darwin’s report on the voyage of the Beagle:

“After having been twice driven back by heavy south-western gales, Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition was to complete the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under captain King in 1826 to 1830 – to survey the shores of Chile, Peru and some islands in the Pacific – and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the World.”

My disappointment gets bigger when I read further on … a mere compilation of factual descriptions of places and species collected, and random notes of the natural history of the places the Beagle cruised. What was I expecting, then? Ideas and fears anticipating a long trip? Thoughts about von Humboldt and other South American sailors and explorers? Literary descriptions of luxurious forests and rare colorful birds using unusual adjectives? No, Darwin was concise, dry and objective. It is simply impossible to understand what Darwin was feeling before and during his trip. He played the role of an observer determined to register, otherwise unnoticed, details about Nature.

The unexpected beginning of Darwin’s journal gave me a great deal to think about. Darwin’s role and expectations were not to write a romance. Instead, he had a MISSION. The mission of accompanying Captain Fitz Roy to South America and report on its Natural History. Simple. This spirit of mission serves a greater goal than his own existence, perhaps, his own commiseration.

The idea of individual is diluted when ahead of us there is the entire coast of South America to cartograph. There is no time and energy for self-contemplation, for ambiguous feelings, for metaphysical considerations of the Faust paradox of life, for Cartesian dualities between thought and existence, and all that nauseating bogus…

Mission is an action that transcends individuality; goes beyond people and events and politics. A mission serves a common goal in which the individual is crucial in its development, but he cannot grasp its repercussions. It is true that Einstein derived the equations of Relativity Theory, but he did not anticipate that that knowledge is the physics base allowing laser surgeries to our myopic eyes? Just like the ACTION of Einstein ended up serving a grand common goal beyond his own frivolous and – most certainly – idiosyncratic, condition as a human; also Darwin’s factual and dry observations about the South American flora and fauna served the common grand goal beyond his fears and thoughts before embarking in the Beagle. More people benefit of observations of South American flora, than understanding Darwin’s feelings on the windy night before embarking.

And all of a sudden, the car breaks down … we are at the southernmost tip of Mozambique near Zululand, and to go back to the closest town, we have to go over several kilometers of bad road and cross the Maputo River by boat. The old 300,000-km Nissan pickup can still wobble some miles, but the car driver insists it is not going to make it. When you are out adventuring, you just wish to be safe at home … someone said.

We inspect the car up and down, we see the engine, and we inquisitively look at each other searching for answers. All we realize is what is already known: the unusual proclivity of the car is the indication something is not right. The majesty of the African skies quickly gives rise to the dark night, helplessly illuminated by the jeep lights… and we keep going… we keep going to the next adventure, but convinced it is just a means to something else!

Read about our research here.

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