On her Costa Rica expedition, National Geographic Explorer Erika Bergman gained a newfound appreciation for her adventure-filled life, strengthening her commitment to always explore and share her experiences with others. Coors Light and National Geographic are on a mission to build a community of like-minded adventurers—so is Bergman. In the final installment of four photo essays, follow Bergman as she reflects on her epic journey, shares what’s next, and encourages anyone who’s felt that rush of adventure and exploration to always push boundaries and elevate expectations.
Costa Rica is a place that engages all of your senses. The smells of the jungle, the yammering monkeys, the wet droplets on my skin in the cloud forest—I felt so alive, so connected to this planet Earth that I love. I learned a lot, too, because I was on land in Costa Rica and I am a sea creature. The territory was as unfamiliar to me as the deep ocean is to most people. It was a whirlwind of experiences above the surface that I’m usually underneath.
The greatest lesson I took away from the expedition, though, was realizing that I took my adventurous lifestyle for granted. Before I made the trip to Costa Rica with my sister, I figured that anybody could do what I do. Now, I realize that’s not true.
Arianna faced situations and physical challenges in Costa Rica that were normal for me but completely foreign to her. She was homesick. She missed her son. She wasn’t used to being so dirty and sweaty. Parts of the trip were a real struggle for her emotionally and athletically. When I invited her to take this journey with me, I never thought about how she might react.
As a National Geographic Explorer, submarine pilot, and storyteller, I go on amazing adventures and bring others along with me by sharing my stories. Every time I see something incredible on planet Earth—like the glass sponge deep in the ocean or the ficus tree in the tropical Costa Rican rainforest—I want to share it. I realize now how important it is for me to keep doing what I am doing.
Jacques Cousteau said something that has always resonated with me, so I adapted the quote and it’s my credo: “When one woman has the opportunity to live an extraordinary life, she doesn’t have any right to keep it to herself.”
I abide by this credo because I know how valuable it is to push yourself further than you think you can go. When you push yourself, you can achieve much more than you thought you ever could.
The Next Generation of Explorers
That’s what happens to the girls who attend our Girls Underwater Robot Camps. We host boot camps that teach them how to build robots and realize that engineering is creative and fun. The experience changes lives, but it also goes forward to change the lives of their classmates, colleagues, and people they encounter because they share what they learn. They share their stories. They inspire others.
I love that we are creating a new culture of young people who place the greatest value on discovery, experiences, and conservation rather than on acquiring material things. I believe the whole world is moving in that same direction, which will make our planet more culturally diverse and sustainable. Encouraging young people to ask questions and to never stop exploring and wondering can help us find answers.
Most people have a bucket list. I have a bucket book, a physical book filled with all the places I want to see and things I want to do in my lifetime. So, when Coors Light and National Geographic initially asked me, “What’s Next?” on your bucket list, I had a book filled with ideas.
Achieving my dream of climbing as high as I could in the tree canopy naturally leads to another “next” for me: going to space. That is something I am going to achieve in my lifetime. I’ve wanted to be an astronaut since I was a little kid. Being in space gives you this insanely cool perspective on our planet. When you view the Earth from space, you can see how ocean circulation works and see the effects of climate change. I want to look down on the planet from the outside and watch it grow smaller and smaller. Now, that I have gone from the deep ocean to the top of a tree canopy, the only way is up.
Beyond, going to space, I want to live for 500 years, just to see what happens to the planet. Maybe I’ll go so deep into space that I won’t age and I’ll be able to come back in 500 years.