Travel Life and the After Life – Surviving After Life on the Road

Deciding to Trade In Life for Travel Life

You know when you’re a kid and you can’t wait to grow up and have control over your own life. You envision a vast amount of freedom, the ability to do whatever you want. Now as a kid, your notions are fairly naïve, lacking the inevitable responsibilities that come with adulthood. Then, as we all do, we grow up. A world of responsibility and expectation surrounds us and ironically we just want to be kids again. This is a quintessential anecdote that we all know.

I, of course, followed the same prescription in life. After high school, I went straight into college and graduate school and then onto work. I settled into adult life just fine, owning homes, paying bills, saving for retirement… swimming well in that world of responsibility and expectation. And then, as you know, I decided to take a break to travel.  I was fortunate enough to make that dream of going back to a life of little to no responsibility a reality for a short time. I’ll never be a kid a again, but that’s about as close as it gets I guess – few responsibilities and a mind ready to soak up a world of new knowledge. And just so we’re clear, quitting your job to chill on your parent’s couch all day does not make for a beneficial re-kidding experience.


(Beautiful Madre de Dios river in Peru… I was so geared up for all the months of adventures I had lying ahead of me.)

Where Can It Take You

Many people are taking time out of their life for long-term travel these days. I was away for 14 months. All I owned was what I carried on my back. There is something so simple and refreshing about this life. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s not experienced it. Travel life is full of new and exciting adventures and beautiful things to see around every corner. But there’s so much more to it. You see the world as a whole, the privilege and peril, the ease and the hard ships. You can really gauge the value of things, with a solid well-rounded footing.

Anyone who has the ability to travel comes from some level of privilege – a wealthy family, the ability to have a lucrative job that allows you to save enough to travel, etc. I was lucky enough to do well on a real estate investment that left me with some savings. Travel is a luxury and I never lost sight of how fortunate I was to be able to take myself on my journey. But when you travel light and on a budget, inevitably you remove yourself from this life of privilege and immerse yourself into a different world. Not only do you remove your personal luxuries from your daily routine by carrying a pack with basic necessities, you typically travel to more affordable locations where life is not so easy.


(Easter Island… such a highlight.)

I thoroughly enjoyed these new experiences, I’ve slept on floors, and in the dirt, I’ve not showered for days, but that’s ok. People live this way, and there’s no shame in that. This is especially true when you find that they live happier lives than you might back home.


(Some of the best times were had in Madagascar… sweaty and gross and full of smiles. I wasn’t the most athletic, but I enjoyed my time in the forest and I miss it every day.)

When you’re on the road, you get to see, experience, understand lives and cultures that are so vastly different from your own. These places and this life start to feel like home and your original home starts to feel a little less so. The problem I find, is that your heart ends up settling somewhere in between. You’ve uprooted part of yourself from what you’ve always known and then go around replanting it wherever your journey takes you. In the end, when you return home, you’re left feeling fulfilled and satisfied while simultaneously feeling scattered and uncertain.

So What Now…

Returning home can be tough. I can’t sugar coat this. There is a theme park of emotional rollercoasters awaiting your return home and you have no choice but to buy your ticket and stand in line. Make no mistake, my dear, you are tall enough to ride this ride.


(Tennessee is always home… I’m not sure I’ll ever live here again, but it certainly holds a piece of my heart.)

I’ve spoken to several people who’ve traveled long periods overseas for various reasons, be it Peace Corps, study abroad, or like me a mix of travel and other volunteer work. A running theme of the adjustment to back home is not understanding the abundance that we have here in the US (or Canada, Australia, the UK, etc…). I remember going into the grocery store with mom soon after my return and thinking, “Why so many types of peanut butter?! Is this really so necessary… surely this can’t make life better or more peaceful or easier? It’s just peanut butter.” (There were more choice words running through my head but you get the idea.) Life back home becomes the foreign land, and it leaves you wondering.

You’re wondering if you made a difference in your life or in the lives of others. You’re wondering how long until you get to go back, or where the next place you can or will go. But mostly you’re left wondering why you would prefer a life of less over a life of abundance. There’s a lot to learn about your self in the months following a long trip. And it’s very important to pay close attention as you experience each emotion and answer each question that comes up. These notions will tell you a lot about where to steer your future.

For me, I took things day by day, as cliché as that is. I essentially came back to the life I had before – same location, similar job, etc. At times, it almost seems like my travels were a dream. All of my friends have, thankfully, welcomed me back with huge open arms, but, I’m not the same. I’m definitely left wanting so much more in my day-to-day. I’m still adjusting and trying to live the beautiful duality of responsibility and wanderlust.


(Having this sweet boy back makes things brighter. I’m so lucky he didn’t completely write me off for leaving him to globe trot for 14 months!)

But for now, I’ll just simply take ground up peanuts and call it a day on the peanut butter front.

Vegan Eats in Southeast Asia

The end of my trip brought me to nearly 3 months touring through Southeast Asia. At home Asian food is always a go to for good vegan options. Rice, stir-fried vegetables, and tofu always make for an awesome easy meal. However, in Southeast Asia, it’s not always so easy. The language barriers can be challenging and restaurants tend to use animal products in everything – mainly fish sauce. All that said, my journey brought me to a few beautiful places where vegan food is easy to find.

Thailand

I spent 7 weeks in Thailand, 4 of these I was in Surin doing volunteer work where I was catered for. The other three weeks I toured Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Krabi.


(This was written out for me and it explains that I’m vegan and what I can’t eat. Print this and take it with you!)

Being a big city, Bangkok is inevitable to have options. The street food isn’t necessarily trustworthy unless it’s fruit. Although, in the train station I found some amazing fried pumpkin sold by a small vendor. If you’re looking for good soup and salad, head to Dressed in the food court of the Paragon Siam shopping mall. They do a great vegan spiced carrot soup and I went back for it 3 times while there!

Chiang Mai is the place to go for vegans traveling to Thailand. It is a very touristed city with lots of fun things to do but still holds great culture and a small town feel in the city center. Within the small streets of the city center you can find many restaurants offering vegan options. But if you’re looking for something different and more mainstream, check out The Salad Concept. This restaurant offers many fresh ingredients and vegan options from tofu salads to veggie quinoa wraps.


(Fresh tofu salad from The Salad Concept)

Though touristy, Krabi wasn’t overflowing with options. However, I was able to get a few places to cater using my handy sign. In any event, I survived just fine, and you can too so go see those beautiful beaches!

 

Malaysia

Malaysia included some time in the George Town, Penang, Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, and Malaka. I didn’t spend a lot of time in any one place in Malaysia but as English is widely spoken, it’s easy to relay your dietary needs. Generally speaking your best bet in Malaysia is to find an Indian restaurant. Indian food offers a wide range of vegan options and they’re in abundance in Malaysia.

The Cameron Highlands is a beautiful place to visit with vast tea plantations and cooler weather. The scenery is very green and lush. While you’re there check out the Cameron Curry House. It is a Mediterranean restaurant where you can find decent falafel and hummus.

Kuala Lumpur is the capitol of Malaysia, thus boasting lots of food options. If you’re looking for a cheap easy meal, check out the KLCC shopping mall food court. There’s a vegetarian restaurant with many options, most of which are vegan. You can get a full meal for about $4!


(The all veg/mostly vegan restaurant in the food court at KLCC)

Indonesia

Indonesia is a very diverse country. Cultures and food change from island to island. I did an overland tour across Java and then onto Bali for a few days, ending my 13 month travel journey. Bali, being very touristed, offers many options with little trouble finding something to plant-based to eat.


(Expressing your dietary needs in Indonesia)

Throughout Java you can find really great tempeh, this was so refreshing because it’s one of my favorite protein sources back home. The best city to visit in Java is Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta reminded me Chiang Mai, there is lots to do and lots of great food options including Il Tempo del Gelato which has some delicious dairy free sorbet! But one of the best things I had there was breakfast at ViaVia. After eating mainly dry toast for weeks on end in the morning, it was refreshing to have some hearty oatmeal and a big bowl of fruit. I fully recommend visiting this city if in Java.


(Best breakfast at ViaVia!)

Cambodia

I didn’t spend much time in Cambodia, but if you head to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, then you must visit Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant. This is a nice quiet restaurant with a lot of outdoor seating and the best vegetable rolls I’ve ever had. The whole menu is vegetarian with many vegan options including vegan eggplant tempura and vegetable curry.


(Best vegetable rolls at Banlle!)

All in all Southeast Asia is do-able for vegans. Fish sauce is the biggest concern, but just be patient about requesting your needs.

 

 

Southeast Asia – The Land of the Cover Band

So… here I am, after a year of travel, sitting in lovely Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. I had many goals for this year, and as I’m sure you’ve all gathered, a big one was to volunteer with different conservation and animal welfare groups across the globe. Just over a week ago, I summed up the last of these efforts at an elephant village in Surin, Thailand. It has been so enlightening and inspiring, both in the struggles we face as a planet and the good people out there trying to make a difference. 


(My Merrell boots… they were with me for a long time, many hikes over 5 continents. But I finally had to let them go in Asia.)

So now what? Well I’m about a week in to a 28 day tour of South East Asia. I found this G Adventures tour though my amazing STA travel agent, Amber. I knew I wanted to see more of Asia, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I’d been traveling solo(ish) this whole year so I figured a group tour might be a nice option. The tour is essentially Bangkok, Thailand to Bali, Indonesia via Malaysia and Singapore – trains, planes, and automobiles abound! 


(Pretty Thai islands…)


(This is what a dive boat in Thailand looks like.)

So far, it’s been pretty great. I mean, what’s not to love about 15 or so jet-lagged people crammed together on various modes of transportation to see the sights?! I enjoy everyone on the tour immensely, but after traveling solo(ish) for a year, it is a bit of an adjustment. But adjustments are what make life exciting! 



(Some of the beautiful street art in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. The cats are my favorite and there’s 101 around the city!)


(George Town has an owl shop… I got these two for me and Steve)

As the title suggest, so far everywhere in Southeast Asia is obsessed with cover bands. From malls to restaurants and Taylor Swift to Billy Joel – cover music is the rage. I will admit though, sometimes the cover is better than the original! It’s an amusing quirk of the area. We’re half way through our Malaysian adventure and I’m happy to say I don’t see this trend slowing down. Rock on cover Taylor, rock on!


(A beautiful tea plantation in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. The altitude and cool temperatures make this place ideal for tea growing.)


(The mossy forest in Cameron Highlands. This ecosystem is very ancient and unique in this part of the world.)

After this tour I’m pretty much done with this little globe trot. I have a few weeks in London before finally going home in May. I’m very sad to see it all come to an end. There’s certainly so much more I want to do and see, and I will – in due time. But the time is coming to return to a big girl job and find new exciting adventures there! 

A Year Gone By… Volunteering and Traveling for Twelve Months

A year ago today, I walked out of the office of my big girl job in Washington DC. My goal was to take some time to travel the world and see many of the places I had always dreamed of seeing. However, that wasn’t my only goal… I also had plans to volunteer on each continent in programs geared towards environmental and animal welfare, two things that are very important to me and define many of my passions. 


(A year as taken me to some amazing destination… but there’s so much more to see out there!)

Over the last 12 months I’ve done just that. I’ve traveled from South America to Europe, then onto Africa, and now I’m in Asia. I have seen amazing places, met some amazing people, and learned a great deal about the environmental issues we are facing as a planet. I’ve rescued and researched animals, some on the brink of extinction, learning how our treatment of the environment affects their innocent lives. 


(I miss my little coati friend in Peru!)

All of the volunteering I’ve done (about 6 months total) has been very different – as one would expect – depending on the location. In Peru, it was about building up biodiversity in a protected area of the jungle while in Italy it was more about working the only real green space the city has and teaching children the importance of nature and being kind to animals. It has been a phenomenal ride and I’m so thankful for everything I’ve learned, especially about myself. 


(And my sweet rooster friend in Italy…)


(Some of the cutest faces and banana munching noises are made by lemurs. I miss them too!)

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here in Asia working on this elephant project. I have been here 3 weeks now and I’m realizing, my contribution is more about the money I paid, and less about the work I’m doing. Very little of the physical work I’m doing is really a selfless contribution to the project. For instance, we water and cut bamboo so we have the experience of feeding the elephants. However, I understand that that may be the best case scenario given the circumstances.


(But I’m loving my time with this beautiful lady, Mohn. Her name means magic and she’s all that and more!)

These elephants are still owned by their mahouts. The Thai initiative is not to change that, but to provide assistance in keeping their elephants out of mentally and physically harmful situations. But the government assistance is never enough. So the money volunteers provide goes to further support these families, allowing their elephants a life without riding or walking through crowded or noisy city streets as tourist attractions. While I still feel like more of a tourist here than a volunteer, I can come to terms with the fact that maybe, this is the best way to help for now. I’m certainly not complaining about having time with these beautiful creatures. 


(Obligatory baby elephant face… cue heart eye emoji. PC: Volunteer, Jamie D.)

I have one more week on this project and I’m going to try and make the best of it. The elephants are beautiful and the people are kind and friendly. I can’t ask for much more than that, though I do wish our work and not just our money went more towards helping the community achieve larger goals. 

Next week I set off on my last big hoorah of this amazing trip – a 4 week/4 country group tour from Bangkok to Bali. I’ve not done a group tour like this yet so it should be interesting and fun! I will be back home in exactly 2 months and I’m starting to get serious about entering the work force again. This means I need to make these last few weeks amazing and get the most out of this 14 month experience. I’m sure that won’t be hard to do!


(Asian temple architecture is just cool and kinda makes me wish I went into archeology.)

Volunteering with Elephants in Thailand

Thailand is known for its elephants. The history in using elephants for purposes such as logging is rather bleak at the best of times. Wild elephants were captured and broken in order to domesticate them for work. In recent history, due to drastic deforestation of the country, logging has been outlawed. So what does this mean… 

Elephants that were captured, broken, and bred over generations have little purpose. Without logging and other work, mahouts (elephant owners) are left with little to no income to feed their domesticated animals. This has led to the elephant tourism industry that runs rampant through Thailand and other parts of South East Asia. 

Elephants eat approximately 500 pounds of food every day. To afford to feed them, the mahouts would take their elephants to the streets offering rides and photo opportunities to tourists in exchange for money. Studies show riding elephants is extremely cruel. Even though they are massive animals, they are not built to carry large platforms full of tourists. So what’s the solution?


(Harvesting bamboo to feed elephants.)

The Queen of Thailand recognized this problem and wanted to alleviate it to the best of her ability. In Surin there now exists a huge elephant village community. Here, mahouts can live with their elephants peacefully. They are provided housing, a monthly stipend, and food for their elephants in exchange for keeping them off the streets and out of the mainstream tourism industry. 


(Making elephant poo paper. The sales of this product go directly to feed elephants and make more poo! Recycling at its finest!)

This solution is not perfect but it’s a good start. Elephants are still chained when not being walked and the stipend rarely covers the required expenses. But, they are not being ridden by tourists, they are not walking through busy and frightening city streets, and they get the care they need. 

So, in steps programs like Bamboo. Bamboo is a voluntourism program dedicated to giving back. Volunteers spend time in the village helping with the elephants by walking them, bathing them (they love the water!), and helping grow and harvest food for them. The fees paid by volunteers is distributed to the mahouts that work with the program. 


(Sharing a vegan bond over leafy greens!)

In some respect, the elephants are still in the tourism industry. However, this is the best case scenario that can happen given the circumstances. Bamboo only works with mahouts that abide by their strict humane handling requirements. Volunteers provide money to have an appropriate, humane, and kind interaction with elephants that could never be released and this money goes to their direct care. 

In a perfect world, all wild animals would be in the wild, living their lives. But a perfect world we do not have. Bamboo takes on the responsibility to ensure these elephants are provided the best care possible with long term goals of getting elephants off chains if possible. 


(Spending time in the water with this 32 year old beauty. I enjoy my walks to the river with her!)

Over the past week I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the elephants interact with each other, feeding them sloppy watermelons, and learning their personalities. They are funny and intelligent beings that deserve our utmost respect and kindness.

Hello Asia – A Rendezvous Story

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted so get ready for a novel… Since my last post, I made my way from Africa to Asia to hit the last continent on this long journey. Steve and I rendezvoused in Siem Reap, Cambodia and spent the last 3 weeks traveling Cambodia and Thailand. 

Siem Reap is home to the famous Angkor Wat temple. It’s the largest religious building in the world. While no longer utilized, it is certainly a site to behold! We made it to the temple in time to watch the sunrise. It was really spectacular, although there were a ton of Chinese tourists there and they don’t quite have the same sense of personal space that I do. 


(Angkor Wat at sunrise)


(Temples!)

We had a tour guide for the day to take us around to the temples in the city on a tuk tuk all for about $18. It was a great way see everything. We were only in Cambodia for a few days before making our way by bus to Bangkok, Thailand.

The bus ride to Bangkok took about 9 hours, 3 of which were spent in a line at the border crossing getting into Thailand. It was an interesting but fairly uneventful journey. Bangkok served as a stop over place for the weekend as we made our way to Chiang Mai. 


(Temple of the Dawn – Bangkok)

Steve was so kind to treat me to a swanky hotel. We stayed at the Sheraton on the river and we were able to get an updated room on the 24th floor with a great view of the city. It’s a drastic change from the type of accommodation I’m used to on this trip and in all honesty, I just wanted to lay in that comfortable bed the whole time we were there! 


(View from the room)

We spent one day hitting up the Temple of the Dawn and The Grand Palace. Thai people lost their beloved king in October 2016. The mourning period is a year and there were many citizens lined up in black clothing to pay their respects to the king. It was a very humbling experience. 



(Grand Palace – Everything was decorated so beautifully…)

The next day, we hit up Lupini Park. It is a famous park with walking paths and a small lake with paddle boats. Afterwards we made our way to catch the overnight train up north to Chiang Mai. 


(Paddle Boating!!)

The train was great. We had plenty of room and we were able to go to sleep pretty quickly. I had a few people warn me about it, but honestly, things could be much worse. 


(Sleeper train time!)

Chiang Mai was where we spent most of our time together. It’s a nice city with friendly people and everything you could want or need. Tons of nice guest houses to choose from. We stayed at Vida Guest House for the first 7 nights. 


(The boy having in depth conversations with pigeons of Chiang Mai)

The big thing we did in Chiang Mai was a 3 day trek through the mountains. We walked about 13 miles the first 2 days and each night we stayed in a small village. All of our hosts were very nice and accomodating.


(We stopped at a bat cave along the way…)


(Sunset at the first village we stayed in.)


(Thailand knows how to do waterfalls!)


(Standard village toilet…)

On the last day we went to visit an elephant camp to visit the elephants and bathe them in the river. We also had a small bamboo rafting trip down the river. 


(Steve being adorable with the elephants)

Some other must-dos in Chiang Mai (or anywhere in Thailand for that matter) are:

  • Thai cooking class – this was my valentines present from Steve and we learned to cook all kinds of vegan Thai dishes! It was a lot of fun!
  • Day trip to Chiang Rai – this is the city where you can see the famous white temple. The day trip was awesome and included several stops in northern Thailand.
  • Buddhist Full Moon Festival – this is a stunning traditional ceremony of chanting and candle lighting by Buddhist monks.
  • Ladyboy Cabaret Show – the Thai people are very open and accepting of their transgender population. The show was super campy and very entertaining! 
  • Muay Thai Boxing – self explanatory and lots of fun.
  • ATVing in the mountains – we did this the last day of our trip and it was a lot of fun. 


(White Temple – Chiang Rai)


(Full Moon Festival)


(Muay Thai boxing!)

Steve is back home now and I’m on my way to my elephant volunteer project in Surin, Thailand. We had a great 2.5 weeks together. This was the last trip he will make to come see me. My trip is coming to a close and I will be home in May. 


(Second night of our trek)

Road Trip – Madagascar Style!

So the last week has been a whirl wind! I finished up my Malagasy travels with a quick 5 day road trip to both Morondava in the west and Andasibe in the east. Madagascar doesn’t rent cars, but through Drive Mada I was able to hire a driver for about $35/day plus fuel ($4/gal). In the 5 days I was on the road we covered over 1000 miles. Now normally that wouldn’t be so hard, but nothing is normal, or easy,  in Madagascar.


(Sunset view in Miandrivazo)

Day 1 started a bit late due to some confusion. But I was picked up at 11 from my hotel in Antananarivo and we set off. It was 242 miles to our first stop in Miandrivazo. Due to road conditions this mere 242 miles took a total of 7.5 hours and we arrived right before sunset. 

Miandrivazo is merely a place to stay for the night as roads are too dangerous to drive over night with a small car. There are many potholes which will blow a tire quick! The hotel accommodations were cheap and a bit run down but they did the trick and they were able to make me a vegan dinner of rice and vegetables. The next morning we set off early for Morondava. 


(Baobabs!)


(Trecocgne Hotel balcony view in Morondava – a very typical Madagascar scene.)

Day 2’s drive was just about 4.5 hours but we only covered 170 miles. Nothing moves fast here in Madagascar but we reached destination number 1. Morondava is where you can find the Ally of the Baobabs. This is an iconic place for the country. Baobab trees are very interesting and are protected in the country as sacred trees. Seeing them with the storm clouds in the backdrop was stunning. I spent about an hour at the park in total and it was breathtaking. The trees are close to 1000 years old and massive. It started to rain hard, and getting out of the park without a 4X4 was an adventure. So yes… I rode over 2 days to spend about an hour among some really cool trees. 


(Lover Baobabs)


(They’re just so cool!)

Day 3 had us going back eastward for about 8 hours. We traveled from Morondava past Miandrivazo and onto Antsirabe, a whopping 305 miles.  Antsirabe, like Miandrivazo, is just a stop over point on the way to Andasibe. However, Antsirabe is a nice active city. My driver suggested I stay at Hasina. It was a good hotel and I got a private room and bath next to a nice cafe for just $15. 


(Palace turned hotel in Antsirabe, Madagascar’s second largest city.)

Driving in Madagascar is an adventure for sure. The roads are riddled with pot holes and everywhere travels through small villages where people walk in the middle of the road. This country has some of the most beautifully diverse landscape in such a small area. On the west side it is very arid and deserty. However as you drive eastward the view becomes more a jungle. And as you’ve seen, some gorgeous beaches!


(Beautiful rice fields in central Madagascar. I think this was my favorite view. It’s indescribably beautiful.)

Day 4 took us on a 7 hour drive from Antsirabe, back through Antananarivo, and on to Andasibe (185 miles). This road has fewer obstacles but more traffic as it leads to and from the country’s largest port. Andasibe, destination 2, is beautiful and has a national park where you can find the famous Indri lemurs. The Indri are the largest lemurs and the second loudest primate in the world. My driver organized a guide to take me through the park the next day. This was very handy as I wanted to start early and see as much as possible. So the guide and I decided to start our hike at 6:30am. 

The hotel I chose was rather swanky at $22 for the night. The Feon’ny Ala offers private bungalows nestled right next to the forest. They also offer nice food options as well for vegetarians. 


(Indri! They have tiny little tails. The sun made it hard to get quality pictures.)


(My excellent guide, John, taking me into the forest)

Day 5, my last day, began with the early morning hike through the forest in Andasibe. Here we saw the Indri, the beautiful golden lemur, and common brown lemurs. We were lucky to hear their calls and see them being so active in the morning. After my 2ish hour hike, I got my things together and we headed back to Antananarivo. 


(Golden Lemurs)


(Giraffe necked weevil. Madagascar is full of weird things!)

Seeing Madagascar properly is certainly done by car. But that means it’s a lot of driving for just a bit of time in each location. That said there are heaps of national parks on this giant island and someone could spend weeks with a driver seeing them all. I got a tiny taste of this… perhaps one day I’ll come back to see more! 


(Me and my awesome driver, Mihaaj – thanks for the great road trip!)

So Long MRCI – Volunteering With You Has been Great! 

So today I leave the MRCI camp. I have been volunteering here for the last 9 weeks and it has been a blast! MRCI on Nosy Komba is a great place to settle in for a while and experience Madagascar while giving back to a local community and the world of conservation. 


(Helping the construction crew carry sand bags to build a school in a nearby village)

As I’ve said before I’ve spent many days hiking the island and collecting data on endemic species. I’ve also been able to help as a part time social media intern, writing blog posts and keeping the world informed with what’s going on at camp. I will still be aiding their efforts from afar as I continue to facilitate a partnership between MRCI and ETSU. I’m hoping this will propel MRCI further into the conservation community, as there are a lot of beautiful things to conserve in Madagascar. 


(The church where I slept on an overnight survey to the top of Nosy Komba)


(Dinner at the church walk, prepared by locals. Best food ever! Learn more here.)

Over the last 9 weeks I’ve also been able to further my diving. I received my Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver qualifications from the MRCI dive god, Kyle. This has been a dream and the diving in Madagascar is second to none. I hope to pursue Dive Master and Tech Diving when I get home!

(Mermaids! Georgia and me on a dive. Really need a GoPro…)

Madagascar is the 4th poorest country in the world and I’ve learned so many things since being here. Mainly things like flies touching your food is not the end of the world. People live and thrive here and it’s a lesson to respect everyone and be empathetic to one’s circumstances. The government here doesn’t have means to do much for its citizens but people are happy. 


(A view of Lokobe National Park from my last boat ride from camp)

So many people back home are currently questioning environmental regulations and wishing to have fewer. However, having been in a country (a few countries now, actually) with essentially none, I hope our leaders and citizens see the value in preserving our environment. It’s not an easy life here for sure. 

(Lemurs love bananas!)

After nearly 4 months of travel in Africa, my final week in Madagascar will take me to 2 national parks. First, I’m headed to Morandava where the baobabs live, and second, to Andisible to see more lemurs and wildlife. Afterwards I start the long trek onto Cambodia to start my Asian Adventures. Viva Madagascar! 


(My Madagascar Ride-or-Die crew minus Lara! Thank you girls for making it wonderful!)

Still Going Strong in Madagascar 

So the past few weeks have been busy and not busy all at the same time. We’ve been light on forest volunteers and everyone has come together nicely to get the essentials taken care of. Also, it’s been the holidays – Christmas and New Year. We had nice breaks to enjoy both but are now back to the grind with a load of new volunteers arriving last weekend. I’m really enjoying the multitude of things I’m doing her between forest walks and social media tasks. 


(My normal state… sweaty and in the forest!)

Some other things I’ve done recently have been more on the personal achievements side. I completed my PADI Advanced Open Water certification. I’m now able to go deeper, navigate with a compass, and other essential diving skills. As I’ve fallen in love with this sport, I just enrolled to do my Rescue Diver certification in my remaining weeks at MRCI. A long term goal will be to get my Dive Master when I return home. 


(Who doesn’t love a chameleon?!)

I also went on a proper whale shark expedition. After seeing them to and from Nosy Iranja, I knew I needed to spend a day with them. I wanted to do it right and went with Les Baleines Rand’eau. This company is all about whale shark conservation and they ensure an experience that does not compromise the animals. The whole day was worth it and thankful to Nicole for letting me take her GoPro!

We started with snorkeling with gigantic green turtles. I’ve decided they’re my new spirit animal. They’re big and slow and at the age of 2, they go vegetarian for the rest of their life. 


(Another usual state… not so sweaty and in the water.)


Next, the hunt wason to find the whale sharks. I was preparing to not see them as the season was winding to a close. They migrate… but alas a known gorgeous whale shark, fondly named Michel, made an appearance. Baleines is well skilled in getting customers the ultimate experience without harming or scaring the animals. They would get in from of the shark and patrons would gently slide off the boat with snorkel and fins donned. Michel would gracefully swim towards us and we were free to snorkel along side him. He’s beautiful. The Malagasy name for Whale Sharks translates to “starry night”. I was in love! 



(He was just so beautiful. He was also tagged for research purposes.)

After getting in with Michel about 7-8 times we got wind that there were some giant manta rays near by. We sped over to where they were spotted and made our way into the water. I, unfortunately, didn’t take the camera this trip in… but that said I was blown away by their beauty and enjoyed just being with them. We saw 6 giant mantas and about 40 smaller mobula rays. This was an amazing day in the water and it didn’t even require a tank and regulator. Totally worth every bit of the $75 I spent to go. Also, lunch was included – bonus!


(Mobula rays – pictures captured from the boat.

Aside from that, things have been pretty quiet the last few weeks. Just enjoying my time at camp with the MRCI family. I only have about 3 weeks left and I hope to make the most of it! 


(With camp cat, Zombie. Don’t let that sweet face fool you, he was barly tolerating this!)

Vegan Travels in Africa 

Over the past 3 months I’ve been traveling in Africa. I started on the main continent in the south east and then moved over to Madagascar, where I’ve now been for 6 weeks. I can say, without a doubt, Africa is not easy for vegans and there are several reasons why. 

Now before I go into those reasons, I will say South Africa wasn’t so bad. South Africa is essentially a European Africa and  the beautiful Cape Town epitomizes this. I could easily find a variety of food and vegan options everywhere I went. When I volunteered at Kwantu, they easily catered for a variety of dietary needs including vegan and when I traveled to Cape Town there were lots of restaurants boasting vegetarian and vegan options. 


(A beautiful salad at Knead Bakery in Cape Town)

Now the hard part comes. I traveled into Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. These countries were beautiful and all you’d hope for for an African experience. However, the curlture doesn’t really understand vegetarian diet requirements and requests like other parts of the world.   I constantly got asked, “why don’t you eat meat?!” To Africans it was natural and expected and in some places that’s all they had to eat. It’s hard to appeal to a culture to make choices they really don’t have and I tried to be as sensitive to this.  

I was generally able to find something to eat somewhere but it didn’t prove as easy as it had been before to find something substantial and somewhat balanced. As it had been through a lot of my trip, bread was an unwanted staple due to being readily available and safe. Normally in situations like these I would have gone to the market and picked up some fresh vegetables to make a healthy meal at the hostel, but a lot of places we stayed in didn’t have common kitchens. Also, we quickly found out eating raw vegetables was a no-no!

I would, however, get thick skinned fruit, like oranges, to eat as well as picking up some nuts, packaged dry fruit, and other prepackaged junky stuff. These things helped to fill the voids and I certainly didn’t go hungry. However, I was wanting for more of a balanced meal. 


(Delicious vegan tacos at El Burro Taqueria in Cape Town. The guacamole is nice too!)

Moving on to Madagascar and on to more volunteering I was hopeful for a little more options. While bread is still a staple in my current diet, I do get a bigger variety of rice, beans, and vegetables. Also the margarine contains no dairy as refrigeration is hard to come by. That said, while everything I’m eating is vegetarian, I can’t say it’s 100% vegan. The cooks like to add egg and mayo to many things. I prepared myself for this possibility when I set out on my journey and just vowed to do the best I could. At this point, with as much activity as I have to do, more calorie and nutrition deficits are just not an option. 

It’s been a tricky few months for sure and I’m doing what I can do, while still trying to meet my needs. Africa is beautiful and it’s definitely worth a visit regardless of dietary constraints. Do the best you can, wherever you are and whatever you have to work with! I’m hopeful for better luck when I get to Asia in a month.