World traveler: Waterloo teen visits four continents, three more left on her list

Seventeen-year-old Katie Albert has had some amazing experiences.

Kayaking down the Strait of Magellan.

“It was freezing,” Katie recalled. “I fell in trying to get out (of the kayak). It was very cold.”

Walking alongside penguins and their babies on Magdalena Island.

“They made these weird noises. They would lean their head back and yell,” she said. Other times, they would make “purring noises to warn you away.”

Seeing Albert Einstein’s former apartment in Bern, Switzerland.

“It was astonishing to be in a place where he lived. It had a very German-Swiss atmosphere.”

Hiking the Blue Mountains of Katoomba in Australia.

And Katie isn’t finished traveling the world. She has visited three continents so far — four counting North America — but hopes to travel to all seven before she graduates. She is a junior at Waterloo High School.

Her adventures are made possible through her participation in Girl Scouts, and Katie’s willingness to apply to take part in Girl Scouts Destination — travel opportunities designed to help girls ages 11 to 17 see the world, meet diverse people and learn about different cultures and ideas.

Most recently, Katie traveled to Patagonia in South America with seven other Girl Scouts over winter break. They visited Punta Arenas, Chile, the southernmost continental city of the Americas, and Cabo San Isidro, the southernmost lighthouse in the world. The girls also traveled to Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, and walked on a path where they were surrounded by hundreds of penguins and their babies.

“They were so cute,” Katie said of the baby penguins, but the adult penguins would “puff up a little bit if you got too close to their nests.” The nests were big holes in the ground.

They also got to see the Serrano Glacier in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.

Katie used some of the Spanish she learned in high school to navigate and ask for directions during her trip to Chile.

“I got to talk to a lot of people and try and speak their language,” she said.

Katie has been interested in traveling since she was 10 years old, when she went on a road trip to Canada with her mother Karla Albert, an administrative assistant for Jacobs Engineering.

“I wanted to go to more countries, because there’s so much more to explore,” Katie said. “While we are at it, why not go to all the continents as well?”

Katie was 15 years old when she visited Switzerland.

“It was amazing. It was the first time I went on a trip by myself. It was the first time I left the continent,” she said.

Katie enjoyed seeing the mountains and getting to rappel over a river and gorge. “It was like a mountain going into the ground instead of going out,” Katie said. But she wasn’t scared, because she’s been rappelling since the fourth or fifth grade. She landed on a bridge overlooking a waterfall. “It was beautiful,” she said.

Next stops were Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.

Her favorite part of that trip — seeing the Maori villages in New Zealand. Katie had the chance to experience two Maori villages — a more modern one and a traditional one.

In the modern village, people lived in small two-room houses, she explained. Each had a living room and a bedroom. Villagers shared a bathroom facility and cooked outside using the geothermal spring.

Katie also got to meet some of the villagers. “It was very hard to keep a brave face while they were screaming in your face,” she said, but that is part of their custom. “If you don’t accept their screams, you are considered an enemy.”

From each of her trips, Katie has treasured souvenirs — a traditional Maori tiki from New Zealand, a cannibal fork from Fiji, a black opal necklace from Australia and a sculpted penguin from Chile.

“I really like the tiki. It was handmade. It’s really special,” Katie said. The wooden tiki is 4 inches tall and symbolizes a soldier/warrior to protect the village.

For a Christmas present, Karla put together two photo books of her daughter’s first two trips and plans to make more photo books.

Karla said Katie has “much more courage” than she had at her age. “She is very adventurous.”

Katie has become more mature and confident throughout her world travels, Karla said.

“She has a greater understanding of other cultures and different kinds of people. She has come to understand our way is not the only way of doing things.”

Katie’s adventures will continue this summer when she gets to cross the fifth continent off her list. On another Girl Scouts Destination trip, she will visit China, where she will volunteer at a panda research center. Then she wants to go to Africa and Antarctica.

Karla said trip prices vary, depending on locations. The most expensive trip so far was Chile, Karla said. The airfare was $2,100.

“She has been very generous,” Katie said of her mother, who funds the trips.

Katie encourages other Girl Scouts to go on destination trips, even if it might be “kind of scary. The memories will last forever and the fear will only last a plane ride,” she said.

Katie entered Girl Scouts as a Daisy in kindergarten. She is a member of Troop 387, which meets in Waterloo. She earned her Girl Scout Gold Award last summer. Katie said she hopes to continue to stay involved with the organization into adulthood.

“I would like to work at some of the Girl Scouts world centers,” she said. “I think that would be really, really neat to get to experience another culture for more than just a couple of weeks.”

Katie also wants to spend more time in Europe.

“There’s so much history there,” she said. “It’s just an interesting part of the world to me.”