Recently I participated in a work exchange at the Concordia Eco Resort on St John in the US Virgin Islands. Though I didn’t stay long, I got a chance to look around the area and spent some time at the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my life. While the volunteer work was simple, the heat and hundreds of stairs to climb made the days feel long and swimming in the sea after a hard day’s work was an incredible luxury. I’ve posted many times about the different experiences I’ve had while traveling, and here is just one more thing to fuel your fire for travel and give you some ideas about what kind of experiences are out there.
I went to St John with a friend I’d met while doing a work exchange at a retreat center in Hawaii. The retreat center, Kalani, had been set up to be very volunteer friendly with a great community environment, and we were expecting something similar-ish at Concordia. Concordia turned out to be its own unique entity with its own set of pros and cons. Getting there was more of a puzzle: we had to take a plane to St Thomas, a taxi to a ferry station, a ferry to St John, and finally a taxi to the resort. It was a long day of travel. The taxi was kind of fun though because it was open-air, although I was pretty car sick by the end of it. The roads are incredibly winding.
When we finally arrived at Concordia, my friend (Michelle) and I checked in for duty and were briefed about the property and our schedule: we would have the evening and the next day off to get settled in before work. We lugged our bags to our eco-tent, but since we had been told we would need to switch to a new tent in a few days, we didn’t unpack. The tents weren’t what you would normally imagine tents to look like– they were more like tree forts with vinyl walls and screens for windows. Each unit contained a few beds, a kitchenette with cookware, and an unattached toilet and shower. Some rooms were split-level, adding to the tree house feel, and each had a small porch. From ours we could see the ocean and feel the nice sea breeze. Unfortunately ours was one of the tents without potable water and with no electrical outlets (although it did have a mini fridge), so we had to lug heavy containers of water up many flights of stairs and store them in our refrigerator.
We were eager to see the beach and told that we could take the hiking trail down (a fifteen minute hike) even in the dark, as long as we brought flashlights. About a minute into the hike though, Michelle and I stopped in our tracks when we saw an enormous shelled sand crab right in the middle of the path, about as big as two fists. We decided our first hike should probably wait until daylight. Who knows what other kinds of wildlife were hiding in the woods?
Our frist night was uncomfortable. We didn’t have much food to eat and I cooked some plain pasta (no sauce), and despite being covered in sweat and grime we were unable to figure out how to use the shower. Our room was very windy, so much so that every few minutes we would be woken up to what sounded like someone violently breaking in to the room, but which was actually just the vinyl walls flapping against the frame of the tent. (Later we learned that we were extremely lucky to have one of the only rooms with such a strong cross winds, because despite the noise, our tent was dramatically cooler than most of the others.)
On our second day, which was our first time waking up at Concordia, we knew we had to go shopping for food before heading to the beach. The one bus to town charged a $1 ride fee, so we hopped on with a really sweet couple we had met the day before. We had been warned that the grocery store looked like a place you would want to stay away from– run down and off the beaten path– but that it was actually perfectly safe and had the biggest selection on this side of the island. So we loaded up on food and waited for the bus back (which never showed up, by the way. Apparently that just happens sometimes. We debated hitchhiking but ended up taking a taxi) and as we waited, a whole bunch of clucking chickens and a pack of donkeys wandered by. The donkeys looked at us, but the chickens didn’t care that we were there.
When we finally had to move from our first eco tent to our second, we realized sadly that it was a bit of a downgrade. I was excited at first to find that a cute orange kitty lived near our new home, and he decided to invite himself in. I pet him for a few minutes and shooed him out eventually, but the second time we let him in he nearly bit me when I tried to get him out, so that was the last time he was invited over. Luckily as soon as Michelle picked up the broom he knew he was unwelcome and got the heck outta there.
Concordia also had two architecture interns around our age, who let me photograph some of their beautiful drawings to put on my site. I think they are more fun to look at then some of the photographs I took:
Another fun thing about the tents were the many sand crabs who lived under and around it: we quickly found out that the enormous one we saw on our first night was one of thousands. They are nothing to fear: they are slow moving and stay out of your way for the most part. There are many of them on the hiking trail, but they curl into their shells when people walk by. So many of them tumble as they curl up though, that it sounds like rain as you walk by. But the best part? If you have leftover food, throw it on the ground outside of your tent and watch as one crab comes to eat, then five more, then ten… at first it is cute, but by the time a hundred crabs are scampering over each other trying to eat your leftovers, it gets kind of gross.
Back at our eco tent, we prepared for the hike to the beach. I packed my snorkel and mask and we began walking. The hike was actually a lot tougher than I expected: the path was roundabout and turned back uphill before descending all the way to the beach. In “normal” weather it wouldn’t have been so bad, but ninety-degree heat made it difficult. Of course, the beach was absolutely worth it.
I’ve never been to a beach like that one, and I couldn’t have imagined it any better. Dream up your ideal beach, then double its beauty, and you’ll have Salt Pond Bay. I suddenly became grateful for the 15-minute hike down, because I imagined it severely limited visitors to the beach and kept it from over crowding.
The beach was a long, curved stretch of sand with shaded picnic areas under the trees. The water was a perfect sea green, surrounded on three sides by deep green hills and the other by open ocean. There was actually a small rock island right outside of the inlet which supposedly had excellent coral life for snorkelers to explore, but I never went out that far myself for fear of being carried away into the sea. You never know when those rip tides will get you.
Michelle swam and tanned and I was really excited to do some snorkeling. (Without fins though, because they feel to restrictive.) The water was as warm as bath water and perfectly still. The sea life was most abundant along the rocky sides of the beach, the leftmost side especially (when you are facing the ocean). I got up close with tons of colorful fish and some coral and some painful-looking sea urchins. Oddly enough my favorite fish were the little minnows. They traveled in huge schools and I tried my best to get caught in the middle of them, so that no matter what direction I turned, all I saw was tons of sparkling fish that looked like little stars. It felt like I was in the night sky, but underwater.
After a long time I thought I would head back in, so I swam back out toward the beach.
In the middle of the inlet, where there was sand as far as you could see and nothing growing in it, I found a huge stingray. It was really exciting and I debated getting closer to it. I know that stingrays are pretty harmless, but that stinger just looks like a weapon waiting to be wielded. So before I got any closer I decided to spin around and make sure I had a quick escape route to the beach, but what I saw made my decision much harder.
Directly on my opposite side was an enormous sea turtle! It was about as big as both of my arms fully spread, and it was munching a small patch of grass on the ocean floor. The two amazing creatures were moving apart from each other and I was stuck in indecision. Which is cooler, a stingray or a sea turtle?
The sea turtle won out. I hovered almost directly over him and watched him eat for a few minutes. Finally he needed to come up for air and began to rise to the surface very slowly, so I swam along beside him. I could have reached out and touched him. It felt more like flying than swimming… I was flying with a sea turtle!
He took a breath of air and went back down for more food. I knew he’d have to breathe again eventually, so I waited for five or ten more minutes, and this time when he resurfaced I reached out and felt his shell. It was a little scary petting a turtle that was nearly as big as me, but very fun. He got his air and went back down again. I waited with him and flew with him for about five more breaths before I decided to go lay on the beach.
This was how Michelle and I spent nearly all of our afternoons. After that first day we usually brought my bright pink inner tube too. Michelle discovered that if you plant your face in the center of the tube, it’s nearly as good as snorkeling– you can see right down to the bottom of the water without having to breathe through the snorkel.
There are other great beaches in the area, which all are appealing for different reasons. Salt Pond Bay, however, was said to have the best snorkeling. Volunteers also had the option of island-hopping during their days off, though that can get expensive and defeat the purpose of volunteering as a means to travel cheaply.
Food is expensive on the island so most days we had pretty bland meals: pasta, rice, and cream of wheat with some kind of flavoring mixed in. We had juice instead of real fruit most of the time. About a fifteen minute walk from our tent was a place called the “Tourist Trap,” a tiny restaurant/bar that gets rave reviews from everyone at Concordia who visits it. In my opinion, the reviews aren’t really warranted: the small selection of food isn’t that great, but the place just happens to be dramatically closer and easier to get to from Concordia then any other place but Concordia’s own cafe, which has odd hours. Regardless, I did enjoy their nachos (not something I’d normally eat if there was a healthy option available), and they had a good selection of tropical drinks, including a favorite of many tourists, the “BBC.” For a while I couldn’t understand why there was a drink named after a television network, but then I discovered it stands for Bailey’s Banana Colada. Now if you know anything about tropical drinks you probably already knew that… but I did not.
The main town on St John, which is where the ferry terminal is, is a long drive from Concordia. We took a bus in one day just to see what the town was like, but I wouldn’t go back a second time. There wasn’t much to do and the beach area was full of boats (and ferries). There were a few decent places to eat, including a smoothie shack where me and Michelle got our first fresh fruit since we’d arrived. I went back to that shack a second time when I was leaving the island.
The town and most of its stores (except for the uber-touristy ones) looked pretty run down, but I think that is something that comes with most tropical islands. It is difficult to build things that will stand up to the rain and heat, especially when importing is made so difficult because of geographic isolation. All in all, the town wasn’t too exciting and I think it was a better hangout for the other volunteers who liked to drink a lot in their downtime.
The Volunteer Work
And I suppose I should mention the actual volunteer work, as I’ve made volunteer life seem like a giant vacation. It was far from it. The work, while in any other setting would be perfectly easy, was made very difficult by the heat. Volunteers were split up into groups, but were often split into pairs with the people they came to the island with… meaning Michelle and I worked together most days. We did a lot of housework and took inventory a bunch of times. The coordinators seemed to think taking inventory should last us the full six hour day (seven if you count the lunch half-hour and two fifteen-minute breaks), but we accomplished it in an hour and a half, tops. When we asked for more work there really wasn’t anything for us to do… I actually forget what we ended up doing that day. But what I want to drill home is that despite the fact that the work was simple, we were dead tired every day by the time we headed down to the beach.
And the men had it worse: even those who had never built a thing in their lives (like our friend who had a comfy office job back home), were put on the construction team and helped to build a new eco-tent. Michelle and I passed them a couple of times throughout the day, standing on top of the framework of the structure in the hot sun. It made our job seem a lot easier.
Work began early in the day and ended at 2:pm, except for the two female volunteers who worked as waitresses in the cafe at night. Each volunteer received two days off per week, but usually the only other person who would have off on the same days as you would be the partner you came to Concordia with (if you came with one), so it made it a little more difficult to hang out with people, and nearly impossible to plan group trips. Getting away from Concordia to see other places turned out to be a lot more difficult in general than I expected it to be, so we spent most of the time on campus and at the beach.
There are some really beautiful hiking trails in the area: one of the most notable is the Ram’s Head Trail, mostly because it is right off of Salt Pond Bay and therefore extremely easy to get to. Michelle and I hiked that one evening (hiking during the heat of day isn’t the most fun thing to do), and it was really spectacular. I don’t remember exactly but I’m going to ballpark estimate that the entire round trip would take an hour and a half. We didn’t make it quite to the end because the sun set and we didn’t want to hike all the way back in the dark, but near the end of the trail were some really beautiful views. My favorites were an opening in the cliffside where you could see down onto big waves crashing over rocks, and a huge sloping field full of round little Thurk’s Head cacti.
I thought these cacti were pretty incredible because they bare edible fruit that looks like tiny neon pink peppers, which you can pull from their own little burrow-like holes in the top of the cactus. I gathered a bunch and (after making absolutely certain that they were edible) tasted a few. The flavor, unfortunately, was pretty boring and mild, but they were cool looking on the inside too, with white pulp and lots of tiny black seeds.
On the topic of fruit, there are also wild mango trees around so if you come in the right season you might be able to snatch a few before they are all picked by people and animals. And on one of my bus rides, a nice older man in front of my gave me some Spanish Lime (thank you xchell for the correction). It was nice to get to try them but they too were pretty boring-flavored. However, if you’re interested, it is easy to find these fruits growing wildly in bushes lining the beaches all over the island.
The hike down from Concordia to the beach, while not nearly as exciting or picturesque, in kind of nice. About halfway there is a little architectural ruin where I found a few pieces of an animal’s skeleton that looked pretty cool.
Here are some things you might want to know if you are considering working at Concordia:
There is no cell service. There is wifi, but only around the pool area and at a bench outside the main office. Occasionally you can get wifi at the cafe, which is nice because there are tables and chairs and a roof over your head.
Meals are not included. You pay for your own food, whether you buy it at the cafe or at a grocery store. There are kitchenettes in the eco tents, with a refrigerators, stove, sink, and cookware.
There are washers and dryers on premises, but you need to pay to use them. I just did my laundry in the sink.
Each eco tent comes with an unattached bathroom/shower area. Luxury level of the bathrooms is low (and so is the water pressure) so this may not be the place for you if you like to feel very fresh and clean every day. I suppose the experience is like “glamping.”
The people are friendly: Concordia’s employees will be very nice to you, despite the fact that they meet tons of new volunteers who come and go constantly and probably all ask the same stupid questions. The other volunteers were all very nice too, and of all the places I’ve been they seemed to be the most “grown up” acting and well-rounded. Though to be fair, the sample size was very small. There were probably about ten volunteers in total including me and Michelle, or maybe even fewer.
The beach is a great place to watch meteor showers if you can plan to be there at dark with flashlights. You’ll be able to see meteors most days of they year, but during the biggest meteor showers of the year you’ll be able to see many more (August 12, for example, is one of the best meteor nights of the year.)
This is a guest post by Andrea Hempel.
I caught the travel bug early on in life. Growing up, my parents used to load us up into the car for spontaneous road trips to the beach, out into West Texas, or sometimes just to a place close to our home in Austin, but far enough that it felt like a new, different experience. From then on, I was hooked.
I spent most of my college years studying abroad. My degree states that I went to TCU in Fort Worth Texas, but I feel like the majority of my education was spent at various institutions abroad. In fact, I’d say that over half of my degree was comprised of study abroad programs. Needless to say, when I finally graduated my days of study abroad were over. Desperate to find a way to continue traveling, I announced to friends and family that the year of 2005 would be Andrea’s Year of Solo Travels. My parents agreed to my proposal because I was an adult now with a college degree under my belt and could make these kinds of decisions if I wanted to. However, they also stipulated that if this is what I wanted to do, I would have to fund it myself. Because I was an adult now.
So, I started saving up every penny I earned at my job as a museum gallery attendant. I knew this was not going to be enough to support me for a whole year of travels, but it would be enough to get me going. Meanwhile I began looking for ways I could make money while traveling.
I found many options, some turned out to be great while others not all they were cracked up to be. In the end, the best way I found to support myself, and the one which funded most of my travels that year, was becoming an Au Pair.
I had spent much of my youth babysitting and continued to babysit on the side whenever I needed extra cash. So, while looking for jobs abroad, I naturally gravitated towards childcare. I had heard that being an Au Pair, which is pretty much synonymous to a nanny, was a great way to immerse yourself into a different culture and also a great way to earn money. Families that hire Au Pairs are looking for help with childcare, but also would like to have a cultural exchange between their children and you. A lot of families want to hire English speaking Au Pairs to help their children learn English, so if you happen to speak it as your native language that is a plus.
I began my Au Pair experience by joining a couple of placement websites. At the time, the two most popular were GreatAuPairs.com and Nannyjob.co.uk. I set up my profile upon registering for each of them. The profile included information like childcare experience, age, country of origin, some references (I got mine from people I for whom I had babysat) and a photo or two.
It took a couple of weeks until I started hearing from potential families. I started getting many requests and by the end of the week I had the option of choosing which family sounded like the right fit for me. Some families wanted an Au Pair semi-permanently, others wanted one for a specific period of time, usually over summer vacation. I was able to arrange my Au Pair experiences so that I did one for 2 months then had 2 weeks off to travel around before my next Au Pair experience began, which lasted 3 months.It is also important to work out your schedule with the family you chose before you arrive. Many families will work out arrangements such as working with the children from 8-4, Monday through Friday then you may have the evenings off and weekends. Or, if you are lucky, some families really want you to experience the place where they live and will give you ample time off each day and on weekends to explore. Just make sure you know what kind of working schedule you are signing up for.
My first experience was in a tiny town (TINY!) outside of Liege, Belgium. It was beautiful there and I really enjoyed going on hikes around the village and in the country. The family lived in an tiny, old farmhouse and it was just the dad and his two kids. They had a garden of fresh herbs and vegetables in the backyard and collected eggs from a chicken coop. They made every meal from scratch. It was a quaint, idyllic situation.
However, the hours that I had agreed to started to feel like a lot. Unfortunately, this was my very first Au Pair experience so I didn’t do a good job of making sure the hours worked for me beforehand (hence my advice of arranging this ahead of time). I wound up waking up at the crack of dawn, doing general cleaning duties, preparing breakfast for the kids, taking the kids to school (while also learning how to drive a stick shift), working the garden, preparing lunch, picking the kids up from school, having lunch, taking them back to school, practicing my French so I could speak to the baker about what kind of bread we needed, free time activity of my choice, picking the kids back up at school (did I mention they went to two different schools?) having English lessons, going to do some kind of outdoor activity, getting dinner ready, preparing for bed, then finding my way to my bedroom so that I could crash. This experience was difficult for me, perhaps not for others who are full time nannies already. I enjoyed very much my free time activities, which mainly included going for hikes in the scenic countryside, but the work was exhausting. I left this experience wanting to feel a little more prepared for my next. I spent the next two weeks traveling, but mostly traveling for the sake of relaxation.
My next experience was so different from the first. The family for whom I worked was amazing from the get go. They had three children and were on summer vacation at their beach home in Italy (a coastal resort town near Venice). My duties were 4 hours a day with the kids then the rest of it was my own free time. Weekends I also had off. I got along so well with this family, that most of my free time was just spent with them anyway. The only cleaning duty I had was making the beds and I didn’t have to cook meals, unless I chose to. I ended up introducing them to fajitas, tacos and salsa (didn’t taste quite as authentic since I only had Italian ingredients to cook with, but they still got the point). I introduced the mom to margaritas, which she ended up liking a little too much! Did I mention this was their beach home? So, my four hours a day consisted of taking the kids to the beach or the pool or both. I have no complaints about getting paid to go hang out at a beach or pool. Plus the kids were the sweetest in the world. By the end of our time together we were crying as we said our goodbyes. I came back a few years later to pay them a visit and it was just like visiting family. I still keep in touch with them to this day and hope to visit them again soon.
Me with two of the children I took care of in Italy
The benefits of Au Pairing are many. Getting to immerse yourself in a new culture, learning a new language, sharing your own language and culture, making new friends, becoming part of a family, not having to pay for room or board and getting paid well. Most all of the money you make there is saved. I used the money I made in each experience to support me for the rest of my travels. The pay is usually not tremendous (I was paid between $150 – $200 Euros per week, but sometimes got more if I did anything above the agreed upon work schedule). It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you figure in that you will not pay for anything else and will save all that, it adds up quickly.
There are now several more websites that offer assistance in placement for Au Pairs. (I recently discovered a placement service through STA Travel). If you are interested in this type of experience I highly recommend researching placement sites, getting your profile set up and going for it! If you are wanting to do long term travel, it is a great way to break up your travels with a steady form of pay as well as room and board. As long as you are good with kids and don’t mind giving up a little bit of privacy and independence in the short term (you are living with the family after all) it’s the perfect way to finance your journey.
Post by Andrea Hempel
Samuel Tanenbaum, a fun-loving traveler from Maine, tells us about his recent experience living and working on the beautiful pacific island of Saipan.
How did you first become interested in going to Saipan and how did you go about looking for a job there?
I saw an advertisement to work as an activities staff/lifeguard at a resort on an island that I had never heard of in the middle of the pacific ocean. I did research on the island and resort and decided to apply.
When you first arrived on the island, what were a few of the things that stood out to you the most?
The first thing that stood out to me was the temperature and the different vegetation compared to what I have been accustomed to. The next thing that stood out to me was the amount of Asian tourists, and the how family oriented the locals are here.
What are the people like on Saipan?
Saipan is a beautiful tropical island. Because of this it attracts many tourists, which is why there are so many resorts on the island. The amount of tourists on the island is astounding. There are still many more locals on the island than tourists.
What might a typical workday look like for you?
To start a typical day I would open one of the areas of the waterpark around 9am. Throughout the day I will spend each hour working at a different area in the park. Some of the different activity areas for the guest including: several pools, lazy river, several beach activities in and out of the water, flow riding machine, wall climbing, archery, tennis, etc. Most of the work consists of activities, lifeguarding, and handing out equipment to guests. Work days vary in hours from 4 hrs to 11 hrs. Each week is different.
What has been one of your favorite experiences on the island?
I have grown fond of interacting with guests from Korea, Japan, and Russia. Every day there are new guests who come for vacation. Each guest has a story of their own, and I get great satisfaction from talking with them and learning about them.
What is the most difficult thing about island life?
Spending 10 months on the island I have been able to see many different things. Growing up in Maine I was able to experience all four seasons, and get excited for the next season to come. Saipan is one of the most consistant temperature areas in the world. All year the temp says between 75-85, because of this there are only two seasons, summer, and 1 month of rain, The most difficult thing for me has been adapting to the lack the four seasons.
Do you have a favorite spot on the island?
My favorite spot is on top of the highest mountain on the island, that allows me to see all around the island. It has an amazing view of the vegetation, buildings, and surrounding islands.
Experiencing a new culture in a new location is part of what makes traveling such a wonderful experience.
Working in a new place and taking seasonal jobs in various locations are great ways to travel at a slow pace. Seasonal jobs often come with housing, and sometimes with food, making the planning and transition phases between travels easy. Spending a few months in one location lets you transform from a tourist into a local, develop strong friendships, and learn about a new culture, all things that are difficult to do on a short vacation.
Want to live your own travel adventures? Check out the Adventure Job board or browse this great List of Resources for Free Travel! You don’t need to be super-experienced to begin your adventures. There are positions (both volunteer and paid) for all types of people, from a volunteer position at a Buddhist Retreat Center, to trip leader positions around the world. Best of all, there are still plenty of positions to snatch up for the summer!
By Jacqueline Boss
This is a guest post by Chambrey Willis.
I wasn’t ready to settle into the 9-5 after college, but I still wanted to learn and use my degree. So I found an amazing organization in Guatemala that fulfilled those requirements: Trama Textiles. (Here is a list of other similar organizations that are free to intern with.) Trama Textiles is a 100% women owned weaving co-op located in the western highlands of Guatemala. It was formed after Guatemala’s Civil War in 1988 where many of the women’s fathers, brothers, husbands and children “disappeared” due to the guerrilla army. The women had to figure out a way to replace the income that was now gone, and weaving was the answer.
While we were there we worked on filming a documentary: A Day in the Life of a Weaver, spotlighting the plight of women living in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, the struggles the women face daily, and how we can help.
Below: Weaving on a loom.
Because these families don’t make a lot of money they are forced to stop their children’s education so the children can help bring in income. The girls weave and the boys do field work. A lot of girls as young as 6 and 7 start weaving when their families aren’t bringing in enough money. Through the documentary we aimed to raise awareness of this issue so the children could get funded to go to school and relieve their parents of this financial burden. I was astounded at how much I took education for granted and how badly these children wanted it.
They realized at a young age what I didn’t realize until now: education is an equalizer. If you have an education you can be anything you want to be.
Empowering women through weaving empowers the whole community. Women can provide food, shelter, and education for their children through this avenue.
Below: Everyone loves seeing themselves on camera!
Learning about the weaving process
Weavers make the thread from plants, dye it with berries and colored plants, and eventually put it all onto a weaving loom where they weave intricate patterns indigenous to the area they live. Every village has its own unique pattern so you can tell what area the piece you have is from. Weaving is a part of their culture, it is their heritage they are keeping alive, so being able to do that while making money to provide for their families is wonderful.
Below: Some weavers of the Maam village that allowed us into their homes wear their indigenous weaving patterns.
Below: A meal of tortillas and hot water. While we were filming they waited for us to get there before they ate, and shared everything they had with us. They even taught us how to make tortillas! It was amazing to be able to capture and spread awareness of these incredibly strong women trying to do what is best for their families.
Spending a month working in your field in another country is so helpful career-wise especially if you want to do anything international. Don’t worry about money getting in the way of wanting to do a summer internship abroad, check out my How to Fund Your Humanitarian Travel Tips. On my website you can also find these beautiful indigenous women’s weavings so we can all work together to break this vicious cycle of poverty.
This is a guest post by Sean Lords.
My decision to leave the United States and teach abroad was not something I had really considered when I thought about my future. My plans after graduation involved some vague idea of being a public school teacher or perhaps subbing part-time and continuing on in my education. But during my last block of student teaching, all of that changed. The high school I was student teaching at was the same school I had graduated from some four years earlier, except it was nothing as I remembered it. The students in my class seemed about as far removed from me as possible. No matter how dynamic I made my lessons, how involved I tried to make the students, nothing seemed to click. I slowly became discouraged and upset with an education system that had shown these students that this type of behavior was acceptable.
A few weeks later, during one of the last classes of my capstone class, a board of previous English graduates came into our classroom to speak with us about their experiences after graduating.One woman was pursuing a degree in library sciences. Another had landed a job at a local newspaper as an editor, while another was heading into an MFA program at a nearby University. The last individual stated that he had just returned from a year overseas teaching English in South Korea. This immediately caught my attention. He spoke of students who not only excelled in his classrooms but actually expressed their enjoyment of being there. I distinctly remember writing down, “teach English. Korea,” in my notebook at the close of the panel.
Fast forward: a few Craigslist inquiries and a graduation later, I found myself on an airplane, flying over the Pacific Ocean on my way to a small town in South Korea where I was informed that I would be the first native English speaker the town ever had. This should have been cause for concern but in my imagination I would be a pioneer, going where no English speaker had gone before.
My lodging was pretty modest. I was put up in a room above the small town’s only convenience store. The owners of this establishment greeted me with the biggest smiles every day when I passed the checkout counter on the way up to my room. The public school I worked at was about a thirty second walk across the street. The English wing of the school was recently retro-fitted for my arrival and was equipped with more fancy electronics and craftsman-style wall paneling than any house I had ever lived in back in the states.
I was 6,000 miles away from everything I was familiar with, at the time I didn’t speak a lick of Korean, and though my recruiter had promised there was a Costco about a thirty minute drive away, it was more like three hours away. Even with all of this, I didn’t care. I was ecstatic in fact. Every single day, every single moment, would be a new experience. A new way to impact someone’s life and a new memory to be recalled later on.
I spent a year at that job. Working at a reform school for high school boys who were expelled from traditional schools certainly had its challenges. There were days when I spent more time breaking up fights than I did teaching English, but then there were days when one of my students would approach me in the hall asking me, “how’s your day?”, and suddenly, it was all worth it.
No amount of preparation or planning could have prepared me for how my life would play out that year. You cannot read in a book what it feels like to be the six foot two white guy at a supermarket garnering stares and gawks from everyone in the vicinity. No book teaches you how to empathize with a 16 year old boy who has been told he won’t succeed and that he’s better off at a trade school, perhaps maybe landing a job as a road paver, someday.
My time abroad encompassed so much more than just teaching, and, when thinking back, it is this that I am most grateful for. I was given the chance to escape my hometown bubble, a community where most have never had the experience of being the minority or the odd one out. My year living in that small town in South Korea opened me up to prejudices that I was never even aware I had, until the tables were turned on me.
I realize that everyone’s experiences while teaching abroad are different. Depending on where you end up teaching things could be vastly dissimilar to the environment I was in. Sure, if I had been in a bigger town I probably would have had more friends, access to more familiar foods and perhaps a different demographic of students, but I would have missed out on so much more. I would have missed out on the chance to be exposed to one of the most unique adventures of my life and one that I will carry with me well into the future.
By Sean Lords. After obtaining degrees in English Literature and English Secondary Education, Sean packed up his bags and left to Seoul, South Korea where he lived for three years teaching English abroad. Sean has since returned to the States and is currently at work on his Master’s degree.
I wrote this story a few years ago and I just found it on my computer. I thought it would be interesting to share.
I took my seat on the plane to Norway. It was my first international flight and I was alone. Overhead there were a few advertisements written in Norwegian, and I did a double-take when I realized I was able to read them. The words were so similar to German that I understood the entire advertisement without knowing a word of Norwegian. And despite being alone, I was comforted that my German was with me.
It was around this time that I really began to see how much German I had learned so quickly. I remembered just two years ago when it had suddenly dawned on me that German was the most beautiful language in the world and that what I wanted more than anything was to be able to understand it. I remembered the day I signed up for my first German class and immediately bought Rosetta Stone, despite the fact that my mom would have given it to me as a Christmas present if I had waited another few months. It was expensive, but I couldn’t wait.
The first phrases I learned were “Guten Tag,” and “Nett, Sie kennenzulernen.” I skipped around my house saying them to each of my family members in turn, ending my greetings by saying “I know German!” Every new word I learned was beautiful and because I loved the language so much, it stuck with me far more than high school Spanish ever had.
My college German classes were my favorite classes of all, and one of the only classes I looked forward to. Things I hated in other subjects became fun- I looked forward to tests because the night before I would memorize the glossary at the end of the chapter and learn about 30 new words, about half of which would stick with me long-term.
It didn’t stop in school or in America. Instead of watching TV at night I would watch German movies subtitled in English. When I went to Thailand to teach English for two weeks, I brought a copy of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and one of Harry Potter und Der Stein der Weisen, and I read them along side one another. I was able to catch the differences in translations- I would read a paragraph in German, and then one in English, and think, “Aha! That’s not what that means!”
I collected my favorite German words. These were usually the long ones, or the ones with a lot of hard sounds. On my list were selbstverstaendlich (which means “it goes without saying” or “obviously”, Geschwindigkeitsbechraenkung, Abendsonnenschein, and Apoteke. I also had a blacklist of words that I never wanted to hear again- these were words that seemed like they belonged to the wrong language, and confused me with their sounds and spellings. “Tragen,” which means “to carry” in German, always made me mix up Spanish with German and start thinking in the wrong language. “Restaurant,” annoyed me because it is the same in German and English but I can’t spell it in either language. “Genau,” was my least favorite word of all because it sounded French and had no business being a part of such a rough-sounding language as German.
I spent two months in Germany- a month in Berlin and a month in Kassel- in the summer of 2010. That’s when I was able to match the German language with the German culture and see the way the “hardness” in the language was present in everyday life. I saw it everywhere, from the color and style of the buildings to the quiet demeanor of the people. I lived with a local family and visited the local playground- even this was a monument that represented the German culture. Playgrounds in America are small, safe, and padded; everything has rounded edges and is not too high above the ground. Americans are over-protective of their children. German playgrounds were massive and thrilling with enormous swings and structures towering overhead and spinning, swinging contraptions that I only ever could have dreamed of as a kid. So although the sign read, “5 years and up,” I’m sure I had more fun on that playground then any kid ever had.
I was lucky enough to be in Germany for the World Cup. And despite not being a soccer fan myself, the mood was infectious. It was like the quiet, reserved German people would come out of their hiding places during the games and become loud, rowdy mobs of excitement. In one Biergarten where I watched a game, they would burst into song after every goal. By the 4th goal I had pieced together most of the words and was able to sing along with them.
I haven’t practiced my German in a long time, but I still want to learn more- just like when I started studying German, there seems to be so much I don’t know. But now I look back on those first days, when I knew one word, two words, a sentence- and think “Wow, I really know German.” I had wanted to learn, and I had learned. Although I still have quite a long way to go if I want to become fluent, the language is no longer a mystery to me and what was once a beautiful mess of sounds has changed into a beautiful new form of communication.
I’m back down in my home-away-from-home, Alabama, for a few weeks. The town I’m staying in is pretty small and there isn’t much to do except hike. It’s getting a little too cold now for hiking (in my opinion) but on a few of the warmer days my boyfriend, who is an expert in survival techniques (check out his new blog, Survive-Prepare), taught me a few outdoorsy tricks. I’ve done some of the more basic shelter-building, rope-making, and fire-starting type stuff in the girl scouts, but it is always fun to learn something new.
I’m a huge fan of loose-leaf tea; I drink about 2 cups each day. I’ve known for a while that you can make tea from ingredients you find growing wild in nature, but I’ve never actually seen it done or learned how to do it. So today was the day! We searched for a pine tree in the forest and used a knife to cut off a small branch to bring back to the kitchen. The branches were very prickly so I could only gather a tiny bit of pine needles.
We boiled some water with the pine needles in them- it made some foggy looking green liquid. I made my boyfriend try it first. He claimed to like it, so I tried it…but I think I’ll stick to fruit and nut teas. I don’t recommend “wild pine” unless you are really desperate for tea.
I also learned that you can cut into moss to form a hollowed out space to keep food refrigerated. The moss keeps the dirt held pretty firmly in place and it is easy to carve out a cavity beneath it, stick some food in there, place the moss back on top, and nobody is the wiser.
The third thing I learned isn’t really a survival technique- actually it’s pretty much the opposite: using river rocks as spa hot rocks. It was pretty easy to make our way through the woods down to the creek which had recently flooded with rain, but a little more difficult to find a spot that wasn’t so flooded that it would be hard to gather rocks from the bottom. But we collected a bunch, took them back, cleaned them off, heated them in a pot on the stove, and voila!
A few days later we went for a hike in a really nice spot nearby. We came to a bridge over a mostly dried-out creek with some water still trickling through and I wanted to go off trail and hike down that instead. I love climbing over rocks! We went down quite a long way till we came to a drop in the rock face and sat down to look at the landscape for a while. By the time we started hiking back, it looked like it was near sunset and we decided to take the trail back.
We made a wrong turn (apparently I mistook a creek bed for a trail) but decided to continue in that direction. It soon became apparent that we were in a race against the sun, as it was getting darker and darker as we pushed through some very dense thickets to try to get back to the car. The trees and bushes and vines were so thick in some places that we had to go back to find a different way to go forward.
Eventually we heard cars on the road and followed the sounds until we made it back to a main trail that led right out of the woods and to the car.
It was only when we got home that I realized I’d lost my favorite scarf that my boyfriend had given me. So we went back the next day to search for it.
We tried to backtrack the same ridiculously winding path we’d created the night before, but it was next to impossible. We probably were off of the path about 50% of the time. My boyfriend climbed a tree to see if he could recognize where we’d been the night before, and then of course I had to climb the tree because climbing trees is awesomely fun. It’s always been one of my favorite activities, as long as there are no bugs around.
Alas, after about two hours of hiking and searching, we had to admit that the scarf was lost to the forest. (It probably didn’t help that it was a camouflage print.) Oh well. The hiking was fun. Maybe next week the weather will be nice enough to go exploring in the caves…
For the first time since my travel saga started, I have decided to end an adventure early. I booked my flight home for Christmas a few weeks ago and about one week ago made the final decision to not come back.
Steamboat Springs is not the right place for me. I had in my head images of a majestic mountain landscape and a wonderland of snow, and highly motivated, intelligent, and well-mannered people. The landscape of my dreams is literally right outside my window; any time of day I can look out and see the sun or the street lamps reflecting off of the snowy mountain where I could spend the entire winter skiing. But what makes a place special is the people, and I have had an extremely hard time making friends here. Those who are my friends know it, and am very thankful to them for the happiness they brought into what was otherwise honestly quite a depressing month. There is too much of a nothing-matters, let’s smoke weed and drink and speak in slang that doesn’t even sound like English, lack of emphasis on tending to your appearance and using good manners type of attitude that I really can’t wrap my head around, and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. As my good friend Bill once said to me in Germany (I get to see Bill today after not seeing him for 3 years! He is in Denver!) I don’t want to waste any time hanging out with people I don’t like. I second that, Bill. Life is too short, and I’m getting out of here sooner than later.
So that is that, but on the upside I am extremely excited about all of the projects I have lined up in the next few months. My ultimate goal is to have a fully mobile online income by April, so that I am free to travel when and where I want without necessarily needing to search for a new job.
I have mentioned before that I want to be making $500 per month from my blog by April; my blog income has been rapidly increasing and I think that I can achieve even more than that. I am going to completely re-do my eBook and create an updated and improved 2013 edition.
I plan to get an online writing job to supplement what I make from my blog. One of my lovely best friends has helped get through parts 1 and 2 of the interview process for a writing job within the company she works for, so I am crossing my fingers that that turns out well. If not, I still won’t be discouraged. It will be harder to find a job on my own than to secure one I when I have an employee recommendation, but it is an important goal to me and I will do it.
I also would like to finally work on publishing a children’s book I wrote, called “Seafrost.” Another wonderful best friend of mine took the time to edit it for me (a job she is professionally trained to do), and I have avoided working on it since then because the task of finding a publisher seemed extremely daunting and difficult. However, I finally decided that I would prefer to self-publish this book, so I have a lot of work to do illustrating it and figuring out how to create a digital children’s picture eBook.
There are plenty of more little things on my to-do list but they are mostly blog maintenance and promotion so I won’t bore you with them. But it is such a long list that I am finding it difficult to motivate myself to start. I have tried many things to try to motivate myself in the past, including writing things down on calendars, creating a picture-frame white board, trying to form consistent work habits, following schedules, allowing myself a break to do something fun between every task- and nothing really helps for more than a few days or so. So I’m going to try a new method: the reward system. I’m going to try to think of a few things I can do or buy for myself that would make me really happy and give them to myself as gifts when I’ve accomplished a certain goal. Hopefully this turns out well; I imagine it will because I’m already excited to get these rewards even though I have no idea what they are yet.
So I’m not sure what my next travel adventure will be; I know I will be back in Alabama often to visit my boyfriend and my friends there, but to be honest I am getting a little tired. Traveling is a lot of work and it is constant change, and if you want to travel you need to re-adjust and learn constantly. There is always a huge influx of new information, and that is a good thing- that is why I and so many people travel, but I want old information for a while. I want to be in a familiar and comfortable place with my family and friends to recharge and reach my income goals. Once I do that, I’m not sure what I will do. It is possible I will want to find more jobs in exotic places, or I might stick to shorter trips like the one I took with my Poppy to Africa. If that were the case, I could see some wonderful places like the Amazon rainforest, Machu Picchu, Lake Tahoe, and the US National Parks without having to become employed at these places.
That’s my plan. I feel like this is a turning point in my life adventure, and if I can accomplish all the tasks I set out to within the next few months, I will be well set up to travel in the future and at some point, if I can make a good passive income, I will be well set up to spend a whole lot of time with my future family.
Wish me luck. Although I think I made the right choice leaving, I am still sad to leave behind the mountain and the few friends I’ve made, and to miss the opportunity to learn how to snowboard. Alas, there will be another time for that.
Its now been a little over two weeks since the lonely Thanksgiving night I spent alone in a hotel room in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
My apartment is fine, not great and not terrible, and the surrounding area is really pretty. There is a little creek out back and some frozen-over ponds, and of course a small layer of snow. It’s especially pretty at sunrise and sunset, and when there are storm clouds.
I’ve gone through a week of ski-instructor training and orientation and now I’m working on “shadowing,” following other ski instructors around with their teams to learn the ropes. Tomorrow is my last day of shadowing before I actually have my first team in a week.
After the awesome training experience at Space Camp, ski instructor training kind of felt like a dud. The team bonding experience wasn’t as strong, and there was little time for inter-team bonding. Of course I learned how to be a ski instructor, which meant a lot of time on the bunny hill, but that wasn’t bad. It was cool to be outside on the mountain pretending to be a kid all day.
All the teams took a required goofy team picture, and each instructor-in-training had to do a few mini lessons. I did one on photography- mainly so that I could sneak a picture of my group to show you guys on my blog :) I’m in the bottom picture way on the right.
Making friends here was a slower process than I’d hoped; I had heard and still hear nearly every day that Steamboat Springs has the nicest people in the world, but I feel that people are confusing the word “nice” with the word “outgoing,” and even then, I’m not sure I agree. Not that the people are mean, but there is sure an enormous population of ski-bum pot-heads that don’t aspire to be anything more than ski-bum pot-heads. And I have never heard so much swearing in my life; scarcely a person can get through a sentence without cursing twice. It literally has gotten to the point, multiple times, where people use so many curse words to replace actual nouns that I don’t understand what the conversation is actually about. I wasn’t exactly expecting that, after hearing that this town had the nicest people in the world. And to the people who say that, I say: take a trip to Huntsville, Alabama, and then talk to me about nice.
Of course there are some nice people, my roommate and her boyfriend being two of them. And a couple others who I’ve made a point to hang out with. Luckily the setting is very beautiful, and just yesterday we had our first day of snow. Now the mountain is white and my roommate, her boyfriend, and I went up to the top of the mountain today to take some pictures. Annnnd here they are!
The snow is great but it’s too light and fluffy now to make snowmen, which I plan on doing eventually.
As it snows more, more trails will open and the skiing will get better and better. I’m looking forward to some real skiing all over these mountains. And hopefully some snowboarding. More updates to come! Any requests?
I left for my new home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on Thanksgiving morning. That’s right. There was no other possible move in day, so instead of eating delicious food with my family I got to sit on an airplane, ride a shuttle van, and stay alone in a hotel room in a place I’ve never been and don’t know anybody. But that is the price I pay for traveling.
The first night was pretty bad; the hotel room was nice, and I had expected to feel excited, but somehow I always forget that the first few nights in a new place are incredibly lonely. I was able to skype my boyfriend and call my family, so I wasn’t completely isolated as I had been on my first night in Germany. But I still felt lonely and nervous.
The next day I checked into my apartment, expecting my roommates to arrive shortly after me; but I will be alone until Monday, when my first roommate of 3 arrives. I don’t know anything about her.
The good thing about being the first one to move in to my apartment is that I got my choice of beds- I will have to share a room- so I picked the better room and the better bed. I ran errands on my first day; I went food shopping and got supplies to make a fort around my bed. I had been trying to figure out the best and least expensive way to get it done, and I finally decided to use bedsheets, thumbtacks, and string. I think my fort turned out pretty well; I can open it during the day and close it completely at night for some privacy.
I also went to get my season pass at the mountain (free for employees), which I know I will be using all the time to ski, and I really want to learn how to snowboard! Now that I am living by the mountain, I won’t feel like it is a waste of my time to spend a few days falling on my butt trying to learn a new sport. I’ll be a pro by April!
The apartment is pretty nice, or nice enough at least. The kitchen has plenty of counter space to cook and we’ve got lots of TV channels, which is always good. The rent is very low and utilities are included, and I am right next to the bus stop. The busses run every 20 minutes and they are free. Yay!
Though I can walk to town or the store if I want since it is only a mile away; I haven’t walked to the mountain yet but I might try it today since (I think) it is much closer.
The first day I woke up in my new apartment I felt very lonely and nervous, but it helped to remember that not only did I feel lonely and nervous when I went to Germany and Hawaii (not so much Alabama, if I remember correctly) but I felt MUCH more lonely and nervous, and I was able to get over it and have a great time. I guess I just have to wait until training starts on Monday and I meet my first roommate. That should help a lot.
It also helps that I am in my favorite state, Colorado. I’ve wanted to live here for years, and the dream has finally come true. I know that once I make friends here this will be a great experience, and just looking out my living room window on my first lonely morning helped to confirm that this will be a great 5 months.
So tomorrow I will be skiing and meeting my coworkers. Wish me luck! And friends.
Our last drive was fairly uneventful- “uneventful” of course being relative. The two new women were snapping pictures of far-away impalas and elephants as me and Poppy, the veterans, sat in the back and waited for some excitement. Mo agreed “it’s a slow day,” and the two women were amazed that anyone could consider seeing all these exotic animals as a slow day, but I guess that will happen no matter where you go if you stay long enough.
We did get to see some birds, which I had “put in an order for” with enough days advance notice that Mo had time to find some for me. The “bird party” consisted of a large number of pelicans resting on the water.
We got back to camp with time to pack, shower, have lunch, and say goodbyes.
On the 45 minute drive to the airport we learned to appreciate the term “eat my dust” even more than we had through the entire trip, as we followed another rover closely. It kicked up a huge amount of dirt, an “acquired taste of Botswana,” according to people who have spent time there.
We actually ended up stopping for about 5 minutes halfway to the air strip because there was a leopard on the path. Of course it would be there just as we were leaving- but it was a cool last thing to see.
Our last charter flight was on a larger 14-person plane, which I really enjoyed, and it was air-conditioned. We landed at Mauna airport and flew to Johannesburg, where we are now. The airport is huge and modern and beautiful but I’d still rather head to JFK now rather than wait here for 4 hours.
Me and Poppy are very ready to go home. It was a fun trip, but we both want to get back to our normal lives, eat our own food, talk to our friends and family, and maybe watch some TV. I really want to get on the internet, but I’m not sure Poppy even knows what “the google” is.
There has been a lot of talk of travel on this trip; naturally most of the people paying so much to go on a luxury trip to Africa have been to some very exotic places. I’ve gotten some good advice on applying to be a volunteer at the Rio Olympics and met a couple whose daughter is about my age and also has Antarctica at the very top of her travel list. I thought I was the only one! I was excited to find out how she planned to go there on a college student budget, but her plan was to convince her parents to take an expensive charter cruise with her. Unfortunately I can’t afford to spend 10K on a cruise right now, so I”ll have to get creative and find another way.
We’ve met many people who have been to Machu Picchu, a place that both me and Poppy really want to go to. Every time Poppy brings it up to people we meet, he invariably calls it “Moochi Poochi.”
Poppy talks a lot about the fishing trips he’s been on and the national parks he wants to visit. I might try to make my way over to Zion while I’m in Colorado.
Also at the top of my list, second right now only to Antarctica, is Lake Tahoe. Two couples we met have raved about it and made me want to go even more- they seem to think it is close to Colorado so I’ll need to check a map when I get back. If it is close, then hopefully I can stop by in the next 6 months.
Two other places that keep coming up in conversation are the Amazon rainforest, somewhere I’ve wanted to go since I was in elementary school, and the Galapagos, which I’m even more interested in since I’ve been reading Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” on this trip. Poppy is also very interested in these places and would love to see the wildlife. It would probably be a similar feel to this trip. Everyone we talked to who has been to these places recommends boating through them- I guess some sort of charter ship- to get the most of your time there. One day I certainly will.
But for now we say goodbye to Africa and its exotic animals and return home to our gray sparrows and black squirrels. Maybe one day I will be back in Africa to see the red sands of the Kalahari or the ornate architecture and rich colors of Morocco.
But it will have to wait until after the ski season is over. Next stop, Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
This is part of a series called “Safari Journals”. You can read the rest of the journals here:
I thought today would be our last day but it looks like we are going to fit in one more drive tomorrow morning.
This morning again it was just me, Poppy, and Mo in the land rover.
For a long time there were no animals so I just stared into the distance and daydreamed as we drove along. Eventually we came to a herd of 300 or so buffalo walking along, looking around, and grazing, with white birds around to collect the bugs that came up from the ground as the buffalo walked.
Although it is cool to see such a large herd together, the buffalo didn’t do all that much so we didn’t stay long.
Our next stop a while later was by a herd of the extremely common impala, called “nature’s breadbasket” because all the predator animals eat them. They are more common than squirrels back home so we don’t normally stop to look at every herd we see, but one of this group was white and it was interesting. Mo was excited- he said it is the only albino impala he’s see in 18 years. I wasn’t convinced that it was albino- just pale- but I got some pictures.
Next we came across a nearly complete set of giraffe bones scattered in an opening. I was surprised that the little knobs on his head were actually made of bones. I would have guessed they were some sort of soft tissues.
I’ve been wanting to take a bone home but every time we come across a skeleton I have missed the opportunity to find a small bone and pocket it before the guide sees (you aren’t supposed to take anything from the environment: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.) So I talked with Mo about the giraffe’s teeth hoping I could pull one out and sneak it off, but pulling it out was as far as I could get because Mo didn’t turn his back. So alas, I placed the tooth on top of the skull and we were off again in the rover.
We came across our first group of hippos that were actually walking on land instead of laying in water, and we stopped to take pictures as they met their friends in the water. We got out of the rover and had our morning coffee break right there by the hippos, and after a while I took the opportunity to walk off and look for bones. I didn’t find any, but Poppy found a bunch of feathers.
Pretty soon after we had gotten going again, Mo heard a leak in one of the tires so he stopped to change it. I looked for bones again (didn’t find any) and Mo had changed the tire in only five minutes. Later at lunch we learned that the other group had popped 2 tires that day, and that Mo’s record was 5 bursted tires on one drive.
On the way back we also saw a giraffe up close and some zebras and we got some nice pictures.
We also learned one of the other guide’s horror story about the time his rover got stuck in a ditch- a few guests were in the rover with him when 2 lions and a buffalo came running toward him in a chase.
The buffalo was chasing the lions and one lion leapt over the hood of the rover and the other slid underneath, while the buffalo ran headfirst into the car and got his front legs stuck in the ditch. The lions took the opportunity to come back around the rover and attack the buffalo right up against the rover. Naturally the guests were screaming and the guide himself was scared.
Somehow the buffalo managed to get out of the ditch, but the lions killed him a few feet away. When the drama was over, the guide looked back and all the guests were hiding in the space underneath their seats.
After lunch, when we got back to the room, Poppy said “I have something for you,” and he pulled out of his pocket the same giraffe tooth I had put back at the scene a few hours ago. I don’t know how he managed to be so sneaky- I have been trying for days- but now I have an awesome souvenir to put on my bookshelf at home, along with the porcupine quills Mo gave me yesterday. (I’m not sure what the logic is in being allowed to keep quills and bird feathers but not bones.)
I read a copy of National Geographic during afternoon tea, and then we were off for our last evening drive. Two new women joined our group. There is nothing much to report from the outing though. The only new pictures are the ones that Mo took of me and Poppy.
So now we are packing and getting ready to leave tomorrow. After we go on our last game drive in the morning, we will begin the long and unpleasant process of traveling via 3 planes through 6 time zones with long layovers, plane food, and no room to move for nearly a full day until we finally arrive back at JFK at 5:00 am, at which point I can’t imagine if we will be tired or awake. I hope it is easy to get back on New York time.
This is part of a series called “Safari Journals”. You can read the rest of the journals here:
Today I was awakened in the middle of a dream, which always makes me grumpy. And tired. Luckily we saw next to no animals all morning so I had a good nap in the land rover.
We did eventually get to see giraffes, which had been high on my to-find list. I finally got a decent picture of one.
I am really looking forward to playing with these photos and making them look as nice as possible. All of the photos I post here have been slightly enhanced. Creative liberty!
Later we were almost rampaged by a herd of over-protective elephants. Not really, but it seemed like it to me. We were about 15 feet away from a group of 8 or so with a baby and a pregnant mother. The mother got pretty angry at us and stomped and stared us down for a few long minutes. She finally walked away and when we started to leave, the entire herd turned to face us menacingly and moved toward us, but they let us leave in peace.
We made it back to camp alive, luckily for the managers, who had forgotten to get us to sign the liability waivers until now.
The highlight for the morning- again- lions. This time we watched for maybe a full hour as two females played red-light-green-light with a couple of zebras. I dozed off a few times for maybe ten minute naps- each time I woke up I expected to see the lions off in the distance, but they had never moved more than a few feet. The stalking game is very slow.
When the lions were just a few steps away from attack distance after an hour of patiently sneaking up a step at a time, another land rover came from behind the zebras and scared them away. The lions and their families didn’t seem to care much and decided it was nap time.
We get a very long break today- 4 hours before our next drive. I finally had time to shower during the day and catch up on writing. Although this has been a fun trip, I will be glad to go home because I am feeling internet-deprived and disconnected. I feel like the internet is an extension of my brain- I can know anything almost instantly. Here the topics of conversation, the environment, the art, and the books, are pretty much exclusively centered around African wildlife and travel. It is certainly cool to learn about Africa, but I am on overload and excited to work on my blog, talk to my boyfriend and my family, and head out on my next adventure to Colorado.
Just a side note- the mango I picked almost ten days ago at Victoria Falls still hasn’t ripened. Tomorrow is our last day in Africa so if it is not good by then I guess I’ll throw it out to the little white monkeys that like to play in the trees by our tent.
The evening drive was very quiet. The English couple had left camp so it was only me, Poppy, and Mo in the car, and there were few animals to be seen. I was happy that we did get to see some smaller, unusual animals, like a little armadillo-like thing waddling along in the dirt, and what I thought was a baby impala. Mo said the animal was fully grown, not an impala, and I thought he was kidding. But he got out his guidebook and showed me the steenbok, which looks like a little baby deer. We also got to see a tree full of uglybirds. (Not their real name.)
And of course, we said goodnight to our sleepy lion friends who were slowly waking up from their afternoon naps to try another round of hunting.
The lions are really cute and cuddly with each other. As they were waking up they petted and hugged each other for minutes at a time. It was very cute. So what did I learn in Africa? Lions are cute and cuddly and elephants are scary demons.
This is part of a series called “Safari Journals”. You can read the rest of the journals here:
It is getting tougher to wake up at 5:00 every morning. Today we had a light breakfast as usual and then headed out on our game drive, and I took a nap in the rover while sitting up- a skill I am getting pretty good at.
This morning looked very different than the others because the sky was covered in clouds and there was a layer of white mist blanketing the area. Although we saw a whole lot of nothing for a long time, when we did spot animals we had the dramatic backdrop of a gloomy sky.
I was a little disappointed to learn that we were going to visit the lions again- that has been the focus of almost every day- but we saw two male lions sitting regally in the grass with the ominous sky above, and it was the greatest lionscape we have seen so far. For some reason in my head all adult male lions are named “Alex,” and these were very handsome Alexes. I must have gotten this from some book or movie.
Back at camp we finished packing, ate, said our goodbyes, and head out to the air strip. We ended up waiting there for an extra hour because our scheduled charter plane had vaguely “broken,” not really something you want to hear about a tiny charter plane in the middle of nowhereville, Africa. But a new plane came and we arrived at Chitabe Lediba camp safely and in tie for an evening drive. We saw some cool bones and birds this evening.
Again the special for the evening was lions- this time featuring two cute little cubs playing with one another. Lions are so cuddly looking. We all just wanted to pet them and bring them home with us. Alas, the guides said we were not allowed.
Every evening on the way back to camp we stop for tea and coffee and snacks and watch the sunset in a cleared patch of land. With us today, along with our guide Mo (short for Molemi, just so we know he isn’t one of the three stooges) is a nice couple from south of London. The woman had been a volunteer during the 2012 Olympics, which is something I was very intereseted in learning about because I am interested in being a volunteer at the Rio Olympics.
She told me some of the cool stuff she had gotten to do, including attending a full dress rehersal for the opening ceremonies, which made me want to volunteer even more. I have been checking the Rio website every so often to see if they are accepting applications- they are not yet, but they say they will make it abundantly clear when they are. Anyone want to volunteer at the 2016 Olympics with me?
That night, back at the camp, we ate dinner by the campfire around a table with glowing lanterns and colorful LED candles. It was very pretty, unfortunately no one had warned us to bring our cameras. We were treated to a really fun and funny song and dance number during dessert.
One of the men at camp was encouraging me to continue traveling and not conform to the get-a-job-immediately mold that so many college graduates try so hard to fit into. I assured him I would be traveling until I make up my own mind that I am done.
Our room as usual is beautiful and I love all of the different colors and textures of the furniture and decorations. Everything looks simple, clean, high quality, and low maintenance.
Tonight is our first night in our last camp. Our grand adventure is slowly coming to a close.
This is part of a series called “Safari Journals”. You can read the rest of the journals here:
Today we checked on the two male lions who hadn’t been brave enough to answer the female, but they were just walking around. We left quickly and hopped on a small boat to get to an island where we would safari until the afternoon. It would have been a fun boat ride if we hadn’t gotten stuck in one section for about 15 minutes when the engine overheated.
The water in the channel was very shallow, for what I thought was a very interesting reason- it was hippos that had made the channel. Hippos are so heavy that after a while, when they walk from place to place single file on the same route over and over, they dig a little lowered pathway out of the landscape, much like the elephants clear elephant paths. The paths fill with water and connect to larger bodies of water, creating many narrow and shallow hippo channels which can then be used by many animals.
It was also interesting to see what effects other animals had on their environment and what effects humans had. For example, the elephants destroy a ton of trees, eating the bark and leaving large areas wrecked and barren. One particular tree they like to peel the bark from is the Baobab.
I find it interesting that this area is a wildlife preserve, and it is not ok to bring in new species, to take anything from the landscape, or to interfere when animals hunt each other, but it is ok to put fences around all the baobab trees to protect them from elephants. I realize it is supposed to be a conservation initiative, but it seems kind of like a double standard: if human interference is unnatural and bad, shouldn’t people let the baobabs die to make room for more resilient trees? And if not, then shouldn’t people be equally justified in rescuing animals from being hunted, starting a garden so they don’t have to import so much food, or killing animals for food? I find society’s idea that humans aren’t a part of nature to be a strange one. We are a part of nature. Whether the cute polar bears in the Arctic go extinct or not is not really something we can control, and I’m not even convinced what we should try to. If the environment is changing, maybe we should just let plants and animals try to survive on their own- they’ve been doing it since long before we got here. That is my rant for the day.
When we finally got the motor running properly and got to the island, we saw some zebras, which had been high on my list of things to see. Unfortunately Simon, unlike Ona, doesn’t like to leave the road very much so we rarely get closer than 40-50 feet to an animal, which is kind of lame after getting right up next to them at Duma Tau. It makes it harder for me to take good pictures, but Whitney has a much better camera and she says she will put her photos in a Dropbox account so maybe I will be able to post some of those later.
We saw another leopard- this one was stalking impala. It was mid day, when leopards usually rest in the shade, but it was cloudy and she was hungry so we watched her sneak from bush to bush for half an hour before she decided it wasn’t worth the effort to hunt and quit for the afternoon.
Later we came across an enormous family of ostriches. The female was brown; she is camouflaged to incubate eggs during the day, and the black male sits on them at night.
We also came across a large area of land that had burned a few days ago- a small part of it was still alight. This happens all the time apparently, especially during thunderstorms it is the lightning that starts the fires.
The boat trip back was better, and we rode right by a group of huge hippos. They poked their eyes and ears out of the water and all turned to stare at us. Some squirted water upwards. They looked menacing. Any one of them could easily have turned the boat over and caused serious damage if they felt threatened. They are an intimidating animal, second only to the elephant, as Whitney can attest to.
We’d come across a group of elephants on our return trip who were cooling themselves in the mud.
They didn’t seem to notice us, except for one large male who broke away form the group and did what Simon called “show-offs”. He did 7 show-offs, little gestures to assert his dominance and scare us away, like stomping and spreading his ears and walking toward us. It worked on me and Whitney and we wanted to leave, but Simon said the elephant was only doing a mock charge and wouldn’t come at us. He was right, good thing.
For meals, all the guests and managers and guides eat together- today it was just me and Poppy’s group and the managers, and lunch was very good. I tried my first guava, which was as delicious as I had expected it to be, and I had some bacon. I have been eating bacon in Africa every chance I get because I just started to like it. All pig meat has grossed me out since I was a kid, but bacon always smelled good so I’m happy that I can finally enjoy it without feeling sick.
A common topic around the table is “what did you see at the other camps you went to?” Whitney and Fred really want to see wild dogs, so Poppy told them “Oh we saw plenty of them over at our other camp! There were hundreds!” He’s told this story a few times before and I think it is funny because when we were there, Ona counted the dogs and there were exactly 25. So I guess Poppy must have counted too and come up with the same number, giver or take 200.
The evening safari was far less eventful. The plan was to do a boat safari in the same boat we used earlier, so we all sat in the boat as it put-putted through some hippo channels lined with thick reeds that kept hitting us as we went by. It was clear that we could not do the tour and get back before sundown, so we turned around fairly quickly and just watched the sunset over the water and the fields. Poppy picked me a pretty water lilly.
On the way back we stopped in the water by some hippos, and this time was even scarier than the last because one came pretty far toward us after spotting us. But he was only curious of us, like all the hippos are, and he gave us a big yawn for our cameras before we moved on.
We got back to camp early and got to see the elephants walking right around the deck. It felt much safer viewing them from above, and it was very exciting to see them in the dark, so close by.
After dinner tonight we will spend our last night in our room in Kwetsani with our two roommates, a pair of bats. I found them hanging between the logs that make up the framework of our tent, right next to the toilet as I was about to use it last night. I decided I could wait till morning.
I might have been a little more worried to sleep in the room with them (the bathroom has no ceiling so they could just fly into the bedroom) but we have mosquito netting- so I just made myself believe that if they flew into it by accident they would go away.
Tomorrow we do our last game drive at Kwetsani and take another charter flight to the last leg of our journey at Chitabe Lediba camp.