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Top 10 Moments From My Quest to the Seven Continents

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I began and ended this quest in ice…

…from the Arctic north of Alaska to the frozen continent of Antarctica. In between the two poles, I largely ventured in warm, subtropical climates. From the East to the West, the journey from the oceanic islands of the South Pacific all the way through across the Atlantic to the eastern coast of South America was enlightening, spur-of-the-moment, and the most adventurous of all my tales.

After a little more than a year and a half of constant travel, I successfully completed my Quest to the Seven Continents: North America, Oceania (Australia), Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, & Antarctica.

These are the TOP 10 Greatest Moments from that journey around the world. 

 From August 2016—February 2018

#11. Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro  (Honorable Mention).

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I had to include this as an honorable mention because it was just so damn special. Attending New Year’s Eve on the exotic beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been on my ATLAS (bucket list) for years and for good reason; it was truly something remarkable. Coming off the worst hangover of my life (lasting two days!) with a bunch of party-hard backpackers and insane Brazilian locals—I donned in mostly white attire and got silly again with them on on the eve of the New Year. I stood in the shimmering ocean as fireworks were booming and each jump over an incoming wave signaled all the best luck heading into 2018. I was sandy, soaking wet, and buzzed, but on a personal high I haven’t experienced in a long while. Rio delivered to the quest.

(I have yet to publish a post about this moment. Look out for it soon!)

#10. The Gift on the Great Ocean Road

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Some of the best moments are the unexpected ones. A few years ago while backpacking through Laos, I met an Australian traveler by the name of Alison who taught me how to ride a motorbike for the first time. Fast forward to November 2017, I still haven’t seen her since. Knowing she lived on the East Coast of Australia, I contacted her and asked if she was around to reunite for a bit. Unfortunately, she was working on assignment in the Middle East.

However.

Completely out of nowhere, she offered her entire home to me while she was away and encouraged me to bring my friends. It was a vacation style house, an utterly perfect luxury abode sitting right at the start of Australia’s Great Ocean Road. I graciously accepted her generous offer, heeded her advice, and invited a handpicked selection of trusted friends who were around the area along. To say our weekend there was a blast would be an understatement. Even more amazing, was the fact that this woman, Alison, whom I’ve only met once in a random country years ago, trusted me with her home. I took great care of it and still plan to one day return the very generous favor to her in some way. This was a very unexpected, yet appreciated compliment to my quest.

 

#9. Diving With Bull Sharks

Bull Sharks in Beqa Island, Fiji while Scuba Diving

The only thing I wanted to do in Fiji was scuba dive with bull sharks. I got the opportunity on my first day there when a group of scuba divers at a beach house I was staying at randomly asked if I wanted to join on a shark dive the next day. What luck! You would think seeing a gang of ferocious sharks underwater, just a few meters away from you would be terrifying, but not in this case. It was thoroughly mesmerizing in every way. I did three more shark dives in Fiji after that one. One of my most desired travel dreams was accomplished very early in the quest.

 

#8. Finding A Needle In a Haystack (My Lost Passport in Ukraine)

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This can also count as one of my most tense moments during the quest. The lengths I went through to find my lost passport to get out of Ukraine is nothing I will ever just shrug off. The complete language barrier, the bizarre police rides, the mysterious messages from Russian women, the apartment complex puzzle-solving, and of course, the shady man in the trench coat who tried to kidnap me in his alleyway vehicle…I still give myself a gratifying pat on the back for a triumphant ending. When I nearly gave up hope, I miraculously found my passport and was able to leave Ukraine in the nick of time. This quest was not without its trials and this is one unforgettable example of that.

 

#7. Summiting Annapurna Basecamp

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The Himalayas are perhaps the most fearsome mountain range in the world and I wanted to trek it. Not Mount Everest though, I’m not ready for that yet. Instead, I opted for its smaller-scale neighbor, Annapurna Basecamp. A buddy and I trekked up through vivid scenery for nine days until we peaked at 4,190 meters in the cool snow with relative ease. Annapurna Basecamp is the second highest climb I’ve ever done (Kilimanjaro is the first) and the highest summit I’ve conquered on this particular quest.

 

#6. Lost in Indian Mountains During Christmas

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I was sitting in a hostel in Mumbai minding my own business until a local Indian man came up to me and asked if I wanted to hike Fort Torne with him and his friend on Christmas Eve, which was just a day later. I gave an immediate “yes”. Fort Torne was a small mountain range just a few hours bus-ride east of Mumbai where tourists don’t usually go. We left late in the evening and had to sleep on the concrete floor in a small temple at the base of the mountain to avoid wild leopards during their primal hours. We got lost in the pitch black during the hike up which resulted in us sleeping on a random villager’s stack of hay we stumbled across, alongside a stray dog who kept us company the entire night; all while keeping watch of any looming leopards. The next morning, we found our way through Fort Torne. I wanted to do something unique for Christmas, but never could I have expected this. This would have been my favorite Christmas ever, but the Christmas of 1998 still reigns supreme—the year I received a Nintendo 64.

 

#5. Sparking The Most Colorful War On Sarangkot Mountain

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I just so happened to be in Nepal during their Holi Festival. A holiday where everyone celebrates life by throwing colored powder at each other among other traditions like shooting water guns and lobbing water balloons at everyone. Once I found this out, the child in me came all out. I bought a ridiculous amount of colors and water guns, bazookas, balloons, and even silly string and snow spray. I was completely ready to wreak the most colorful havoc on my village and they were prepared as well. It was me versus nearly the entire lot of kids in the area in what was the most polychromatic, rainbow war that I’ll ever participate in…at least until next time when I exact revenge. They completely destroyed me. On that day, Holi Festival became one of my new favorite holidays I was fortunate to experience for the first time ever during this quest.

 

#4. Walking 500 Miles Across Spain

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A friend in Manchester told me about El Camino de Santiago; an 800-kilometer pilgrimage from the France border across most of northern Spain. Many do it for religious reasons. Others do it to find themselves. I did it solely for the challenge. On the way, I met an eclectic range of personalities while walking through whatever the camino threw at me: villages, mountains, highways, forests, cities, farms, grasslands, and the nefarious Meseta region, a hot and dry portion that required all of my mental prowess all while eating rock-hard bocadillos every single day. I completed the camino in 32 days along with the group I met along the way. It was a gracious feeling knowing I could achieve such a major accomplishment to close out the European portion of the quest.

 

#3. Creating The League of Extraordinary Events

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The idea of removing three of my American friends from their normal everyday lives and throwing them into one of the biggest unexpected twists of their lives sounded like complete brilliance. For months, they were certain I was taking them on a special road trip down to Florida. Instead, I pulled the rug right from under their feet by flying them out to Alaska and then immediately to Hawaii to participate in eight extraordinary events and activities I’ve been planning for months. Little did they know that the unknown events involved sharks, icebergs, mountains, booze, ATV’s, rapids, oceans, and so much more. This extraordinary feat kicked off my quest around the world.

 

#2. Voyage To Antarctica

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Learning how to sail the Europa, a tall Dutch ship across the infamous Drake’s Passage into the icy wonderland that is Antarctica is arguably my greatest adventure of all time! I’ll never forget stepping foot onto the continent for the very first time, completing the short, yet arduous list of the world’s seven. Over the span of 22 days, I learned the basics of sailing and became a crew member for the Bark Europa vessel. Add on the abundance of wildlife, mountainous glaciers, icebergs taller than skyscrapers, the nights of unavoidable sea seasickness, and the natural beauty beheld…the voyage to Antarctica was truly the ultimate pinnacle of my entire quest.

(I have yet to publish a post about this moment. Look out for it soon!)

 

#1. Nepal

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It was the most heartwarming decision I made on this quest.

The only reason I went back was to fulfill a promise I made two years ago to the class nine students; to take them on a field trip, fully funded by me. If it weren’t for that sole purpose, I probably would have never returned, but I’m so glad I did.

I kept that promise and took that same class, plus a couple other classes on a special trip, but what I didn’t expect was to gain a family while I stayed in the villages in Sarangkot Mountain. I got to know my host families much better this time around and in the process created an unbreakable bond with the people there. I gained a few new “brothers” and never once did I feel like a tourist. I stayed for three months, much longer than I anticipated, and even returned for two more months, just a short time later. I felt completely at peace.

The family foremost culture in Nepal is something I don’t really have back home, I hate to admit.  I always think about the country and how it’s now one of my absolute most favorite places in the world. I already am looking forward to my near future trips to see my “family” and friends there once again. My newfound love for Nepal was the best gift this quest presented me.


 

Here are some other interesting numbers:

-I visited 26 countries during this quest. Not including airport layovers and transfers. 8 of them are ones I’ve been to before.

-I spent the most time in Nepal (5 months total), which also means I spent the longest time in Asia out of all the continents.

-Not counting being home, I spent the shortest amount of time in North America out of all the continents.

-The longest consecutive time I went without any internet is 22 days.

-I flew on 36 different flights around the world (not yet counting the ones taking me back to Michigan)

-I spent 35 consecutive days without eating meat.

-Out of all of my travels, I’ve been sick the least amount of times during this trip. Only a 24 hour flu and a brief stomach bug. Both occurring in Nepal.

-The absolute worst hangover in my life occurred in Brazil. (Lasted for two days.)

-I learned to say basic phrases in 6 new languages. (Hello, Thank you, Please, Excuse me, etc)

-I held 6 different phone numbers total during this quest.

-I’ve driven a vehicle in 6 countries during the quest. Only one of them was on the right side of the road.

-Around month number 9 is when I first began to feel travel fatigue.

-I always accidentally receive some sort of semi-permanent scar on my body from a trip. With this quest, I came out unscathed.

-I stayed in a total of 104 different hostels, hotels, lodges, and airbnbs. A bulk of this is from the camino in Spain. This doesn’t include homestays, volunteer houses, and friends homes.

-I vomited in 3 different countries during this quest: Poland (intoxicated), Brazil (very intoxicated), and Antarctica (seasickness) (I’m also counting that as a country).

-“Despacito” and “Shape of You” are by far the two most popular songs I’ve heard during most of the quest in many countries.

-The highest altitude (without flying) during this quest was 4,190m (Annapurna).


 

And now my watch quest has ended.

What could possibly be next? I have no clue. But, I still have a bucket list to complete…

 

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What To Do When Your Travel Buddy Sucks At Taking Photos

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If you have a budding eye for photography, then this post is for you. 

This usually happens.

I’m often the one in my group of traveling comrades that is the one taking all the photos. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I’d say I have an eye for taking some sick shots of people. All using my expensive camera no less.

Rarely will I ever get someone who is more adept or on par with taking pictures. And when it does happen, man is it such a blessing! Especially when I don’t have to ask. I hate asking for photos of me to be taken. I don’t want to put the burden on others to take five seconds out of their lives to take a photo of stupid me. I’m not worthy.

But sometimes, I have no choice. I MUST get my photo taken by someone else when it absolutely calls for it. Let’s say I want a picture of just myself with the Eiffel Tower in the background. First, I’ll willingly offer or basically tell my travel companions to pose for a shot in front of it. Then right afterward, I’ll ask them if they could get a shot of me doing the same. I could give a crap about their photo. It was all a ploy so I wouldn’t feel as bad for asking of one of me to be taken. I don’t do this often though.

But do you know what grinds my gears more than a crappy photo?

It’s when people ask me for all of my photos at the end of a trip when they haven’t been taking photos at all! I don’t mind sharing, but it’s a two-way street.

If I don’t have a camera savvy friend nearby, then here is how I cope when my travel buddies suck at taking photos:

camera-icon-hi Never Hand Your Camera To An Old Person…

Unless they are rocking one of those gigantic, real fancy DSLR’s around their neck with the zoom lens longer than your arm! Then they obviously know how to work a camera. But in most cases from my experience, many (not all) old folks just aren’t tech savvy like the younger generations. Your photo is probably going to come out of focus or disproportioned.

Take this photo for example…

I took a group shot of my friends in Fiji for this beach scene.

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Easy. Focused. Clean. Closeup. 

Then afterward, I mistakenly asked the elderly (but ever so lovely) woman to the far right to take another photo, except with me in it this time.

The result…

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Ehhh… Too far away. No worries, yet. Maybe I can crop it to get rid of all the unneeded scene?

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Blurry. No Bueno. You get an ‘A’ for effort Karen.

Instead, look for younger people. Couples are a good target because they have experience taking photos of each other all the time.

 camera-icon-hi Take An Example Shot First

What I mean by this is, say I want a shot of me doing something silly somewhere cool. The composition is key, so I need the background to be in a specific position. So first, I’ll take a photo of exactly how I would like the settings, framing, and composition to be and then I will show my friend the photo so they get an idea of how I want it. This usually works out better than not giving them any idea at all.

 camera-icon-hi Set Them Up For Success

Get the camera settings correct before you hand off your camera to someone else. Odds are, they point and click on one automatic setting all the time which is my absolute nightmare. Get the settings straight and make sure they know how to focus on a subject (I’m always baffled when people don’t know how to focus and zoom). It’s pretty straight-forward.

camera-icon-hi Temporarily Switch Cameras

There would be cases where there are two of us taking photos of each other and we won’t have time at the end to exchange photos. So instead, we swap cameras so that way, their camera will be filled with photos of mainly themselves and vice-versa.

camera-icon-hi Don’t Make Them Feel Bad For Taking A Bad Photo…

Unless they are a friend, then I tell them how bad they suck at life. If time permits, I’ll give them a free generic mini-lesson of the basics. Don’t fault kids and elderly folk, or anyone kind enough to take photos for you. Just find someone else.

Take in point, my friend Veronica. She doesn’t get offended by anything I say.

I took a photo of her standing on the edge of this mountain.

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“Alright, Veronica. Can you get one of me in the same way?” I thought that me holding a beer high above the city would be so cool!

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“Veronica, this is shit. You can’t even see the ocean! This is NOT how I showed you.” So she laughed and tried again.

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“Still shit, Veronica. I’m out of focus.”

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“Better!”

All it takes is a little training.

camera-icon-hi Get Them In The Mood

To get people in your travel group in the mood to take photos, you can inspire them. Sometimes, once they see the lengths I go through to get that quality photo and then they see for themselves how awesome the photo is, they will inspire to do the same. It has happened for me on many occasions and it’s also a great method for them to get experience.

camera-icon-hi What About The Ones Who Do Take Lots of Photos On Their Own, But The Photos Are Never Good?

Well, all you can do is hope is they don’t post them on any social media. I suppose you can just untag yourself?

I’m talking about the unflattering ones like this for example…

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I’m a big fan of candid shots, but Jesus I look like a Goomba.

In cases like this where you do have a travel buddy who takes lots of photos albeit hideous ones, try to inspire them by showing them your own amazing shots. I’ve met loads of professional photographers during my trips who put my own photos to shame. All it did was motivate me to become better at the game.

camera-icon-hi Do It Yourself

Sometimes when there is no one around or when you just don’t trust your travel partner’s photography skills or you also want them in the picture, then find ways to do it yourself. Most cameras have timer modes on them. Some cameras even have features where you can connect your phone to a DSLR as a remote option.

Take here for example…

There was no one around to claim witness to Hamish and I conquering Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. Of course, we both needed to be in the photo. So, I set my camera on a safe patch of snow and connected my iPhone to my Canon wirelessly. And so, I was able to control how the photo looked and was able to shoot with my phone as a remote. You can see the phone in my right hand if you take a closer look.

If you want things done right, then you have to do it yourself.


 

And there you have it! My advice on how to manage when your travel buddies suck at taking photos. 🙂

If anyone has any input or other pieces of useful tips, please share with me!


For more posts like these and everything related to ADVENTURE TRAVEL, please subscribe by clicking the Follow button on this page and also follow along on Instagram and Facebook! I’d love to hear from you.  🙂

All The Reasons Why South Africa Is The Perfect Place To Wine

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Western Cape, South Africa is the Shangri-La of all things wine. The Garden of Eden of wine.  The absolute nirvana of wine ecstasy.

Not to discredit world-renowned wine capitals such as France, Italy, Spain or any others, but everyone already knows how distinguished and prized they are, unlike the hidden gem and severely underrated wine region of Western Cape, specifically in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.  South Africa is the underdog in the world of all things wine and now, more and more people are discovering just how impressive it truly is. If you’re a complete wine enthusiast or love wine even just a little bit, treat yourself and get down to Western Cape for a truly pleasurable experience.

Here’s why:

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South Africa is one of my favorite countries because of how stunning it is. Oceans, mountains, rivers, valleys, lakes, forests, deserts, vineyards–it’s all here in one relatively small pocket of the world. Each winery I visited in Western Cape (I lost count) was complemented by mother nature during her finest.

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Even my Airbnb in Franschhoek was surrounded by acres of beautiful vineyards and mountainous backdrops.

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What did I do to deserve all of this?

imagesMore Accessible Than Ever

Western Cape presents to you more options than ever to get your wine game going strong. Private shuttles, Ubers, cabs, trains, trams, wine buses, bicycles, and even Segways are at your service when it comes to getting around. My favorite option was the trams and wine trains in Franschhoek which normally requires a reservation.

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In many cases, you don’t have to book a tour in advance. On two occasions, we walked right up to a tourist information center in Stellenbosch and enquired about a wine tour to go on there and now. Soon enough, a knowledgeable driver arrived to chauffeur us around. On another occasion, we simply had different Uber’s take us around to the random wineries we chose on our maps. On another occasion, we took a series of Hop-on, Hop-off buses in Franschhoek to a few wineries. Getting around safely and responsibly was never an issue.

imagesThe Unbeatable Pairings

Sure, wines are known to be carefully paired with select cheeses and chocolates, but where else in the world can you have your wine paired with biltong?

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Biltong is basically South Africa’s unique version of beef jerky. Though the biltong here can be made up of some of the most interesting game meats–from springbok to kudu and even ostrich. They all pair quite well with your reds.

Besides the biltong, you have your go-to pairings of favored cheeses, chocolates, sweets, and other nicknacks all available to your liking.

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imagesYou Will Meet Some Fantastic People

Wine tours attract thirsty people from all around the world who enjoy divulging in the finer things in life. In this case, wine. And in my experience, wine people are happy people. You’re bound to meet others who share in your wine commonality. I met a group of frat-like Dutch dudes who joined in on a custom tour and on another occasion, I accompanied a group of beautiful ladies on a special birthday wine tour that they thoroughly enjoyed.

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imagesThere’s No Better Place To Discover Pinotage

Did you know South Africa has their own varietal of red wine they invented? It’s called Pinotage and there is no better place in the world to try it. It’s a red blend: Pinot noir and Hermitage, hence PINO TAGE. Western Cape offers that and every other varietal you can imagine. As a special bonus, South Africa also offers some of the finest selection of Brandy in the world!

 

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imagesIt’s Conveniently Affordable

I’ve been to South Africa a handful of times over the past five years and have been able to go on SO many wine excursions because of how affordable they are. At one of my favorite vendors, Muratie, I even shipped a few bottles back home to Michigan right there on the spot. As of this post, the US dollar is doing well in South Africa, which means more to spend on your favorite Cabernet or Sauvignon blanc.

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I found a tour that shuttled you roundtrip from Cape Town and included six different wineries with five tastings at each winery and lunch included for R800 which translates to about $65 USD. Quality pricing!

imagesThere’s More Than Just Wine

Another thing that’s great about the wine region here is that there is an abundance of other things to do during your wine day. There are tons of exceptional restaurants and bars, shops and cafe’s, malls and theaters. There was even an instance where a friend and I went to a champagne tasting at the House of J.C. LeROUX and then immediately after went to go play with monkeys in a conservation outreach nearby!

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imagesTips To Make The Best of Your Wine Excursion

  • The wineries in Western Cape are open year round but the best time to visit is during the late spring and summer when the weather is ideal. Remember that the summer in South Africa is in the December to February months.
  • Many wineries, especially in Stellenbosch, close earlier on Saturdays for some reason. Some as early as noon! For that reason, Fridays are the most popular days for wine tours.
  • However, there are a couple exceptional outdoor food markets in Stellenbosch that are only open on Saturdays. Root 44 and the Slow Market in Stellenbosch are the two most popular. There they serve lots of fresh and delicious food in addition to great wines. Beginning there on a Saturday morning is never a bad idea!
  • The birthday girl in one of my wine groups got lots of free samples and larger pours when she told our wine hosts it was her birthday. Hint hint 🙂
  • Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are home to an insane amount of different wineries and I have yet been to a bad one. You should have no trouble finding any as they are all relatively in close proximity to each other.
  • Pace yourself. You’ll be surprised just how fast the wine creeps up on you.
  • There are many other wineries outside of the neighboring towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but these two places have the most wineries by far.
  • There are loads of accommodation in Cape Town that cater to wine tours, along with hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Many companies offer direct pickups and returns.

Happy WINEing 🙂

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First You Play With The Ostrich, Then You Eat The Ostrich!

Along the southern coastal region of South Africa’s Western Cape, lies a stretch of parallel routes originating from Cape Town and bleeding into the Eastern Cape. It’s referred to as the Garden Route–a ridiculously scenic drive encompassing a myriad of activities to partake in along the way including but not limited to whale watching, cave exploration, game drives, surfing, bungee jumping, and a visit to an ostrich farm or two.

I had the pleasure to show two of my friends around the Garden Route, being this was my third time experiencing such a wondrous opportunity. One of the particular highlights I was looking forward to, besides the highest bungee in the world, was introducing them to the peculiar world of ostriches.

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You see, ostriches are absolutely terrifying creatures.

They are bitey and ultra curious birds that can easily wreck your s#1T if you get too close to them. They’re also fast as heck and can kill you with their giant legs if they wanted to.

At the Cango Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world, we had the privilege of being shown around the farm on a private tour, along with everything an ostrich is capable of. They really are bizarre creatures!

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I informed my friends of a thing called an “ostrich massage” that I’ve gotten here before, but I didn’t tell them exactly what it was. They had all sorts of guesses, including a version where they thought an ostrich would give them a back massage by stepping on their backsides. THAT would be the death of us!

But, no. An ostrich massage was much less horrible than being stepped on. Instead, you were simply given a bucket of pellets to hold close to your chest as an ostrich or two or three came and went to town on the pellets from around your neck. It was a kooky experience, but the unpredictable nature of the ostriches showed on all our faces.

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We learned quite a few things about the ostrich bird that day, including how their feathers were used as a form of currency back in the olden South African times. Weird. Also, cannot forget the fact that their abnormally large eggs are strong enough for a human to stand on without them cracking.

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Enough with the play. Time to eat!

On the menu? Ostriches!

Served right here at this very farm.

I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing ostrich meat for the first time at this very place a few years ago and it did not disappoint. I implored Veronica and Will to try it as well and they were more than down for it. Even after learning to love the ostrich, we still didn’t mind devouring one!

Take a look at this delicious ostrich-kabob that I ordered.

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If you’ve never eaten ostrich meat before and are wondering how it tastes, know that it resembles and tastes more similar to beef than that of chicken. It’s also lean and full of flavor. The others ordered an ostrich burger and an ostrich steak, both great options as well.

The Cango Ostrich Farm is situated in Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape of South Africa. It is one of two main farms along the Garden Route. I do recommend a visit during your Garden Route trip as it doesn’t take up much time and it IS in the ostrich capital of the world after all.


Cango Ostrich Show Farm

Oudtshoorn 6620,
South Africa

+27 44 272 4623


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Angering the God of Education

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I’ve spent the past eleven months, hopping all over the world. I’ve been having fun, but…

I hit a wall right around Ukraine and haven’t fully recovered to form. I’m mentally exhausted. You would think, walking across an entire country (Spain) would give me time to return back to my adventurous flair, but it wasn’t enough. If anything, it made me antsy to return home. But not home home, but rather to Pokhara, Nepal. I can’t say it enough—Nepal has occupied a giant chunk of my heart. That’s why I felt the desire to go back there for a while, before I continue on this quest to the seven continents.

Once I arrived in Kathmandu, my people in Sarangkot were messaging me like crazy! I swear I only told a couple of individuals that I was coming back, but it just goes to show how fast word spreads in the villages of Sarangkot Hill. I took a bus the next day to Pokhara where I was greeted by my “son” Samir and his fellow classmate Bishal. They came all the way down the mountain just to welcome me. I’ve trained them well.

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To celebrate, I took them out for milkshakes and then to my local favorite reggae restaurant, Buzz Cafe. Later on, one of my Nepali brothers, UK, came down to welcome me. It’s only been three months since I last saw them, but as soon as I did, I knew I made the right decision in returning. I felt at home.

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I taxi’d up the always-horrible roads up to Pandeli, one of the many villages in Sarangkot. It was now the rainy season and the roads were more beat up and muddier than before. Nearly impossible to drive through. My driver had to drop me off about half a kilometer early, because it was impossible to drive any further. As I walked down with my bags in tow, a little boy shouted out from a distance, “Give me sweet!”. I cringed. I recognized the boy from the school in Pandeli I taught at before. He’s the same kid who always and only asks me for sweets and nothing else. Not even a single polite ‘namaste’. I take a little blame for that. I may have bribed the younger classes a little too much with sweets in order to get them to calm the heck down. But I swear that one day, I will give him that “sweet” he consistently demands from me, except I’ll wrap a piece of cow poop in a candy wrapper and give it to him. If that doesn’t stop him from asking me, then I don’t know what will.

I walked down the muddy paths into Pandeli, with kids and random villagers saying hello and wishing me welcome upon my return. I walked half of the way basically in a small stream. This exact path was completely dry just three months ago! Not only that, this mountain was a lot more jungly. So wet. So humid. So muddy. Everything, taken over by green. Below, Phewa Lake was larger and darker than before. This version of Sarangkot felt more alive. It was a welcoming sight.

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I normally stay with Aatma and his family, but this time I opted to stay with his brother Yam and his family; just for a little change, even though they are just a seven-minute walk from each other. Bindu, Yam’s wife, came to welcome me along with my other Nepali brother, DJ. Yam came a little later and helped settle me in. I then explained my prospects to them.

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Yam and his wife, Bindu.

I usually come to Nepal with an agenda. The first time, almost three years ago, I came as a naive volunteer to help teach English at a primary school. The second time, in January 2017, I came back to fulfill a promise I made to the older classes. That promise was to take them on a field trip that they wouldn’t have to pay for. We did that and we had a lot of fun. This time however, I came with the purpose of just absorbing the culture even more and of course helping out at the school. Only I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore field trips. I took the students on a boatload of big and little trips last time, which my bank account showed for. Not this time.

Soon after settling in, I went down to Aatma’s to visit and noticed he expanded his place even more! He’s now built another kitchen and he made my old room even bigger! Where is he getting the funds to do all of this? The whole family was there: Aatma, Mina, Amish, and little Aakash. All except for Aatma’s teenage daughter, Amisha. “Where’s Amisha?” I asked. “She’s staying down with our uncle because she’s menstruating,” said Amish.

Oh, let me explain this.

So, if you’re a female on your period in Nepal, you are considered “unclean” and must be away from the rest of your family members. You can’t touch them, can’t even be more than a few meters away at all times. It’s especially worse when it’s their first time on their period. They are cast aside, essentially locked inside another room, far away from where the family resides. Like in a shed or something. They can’t even read or study while menstruating or otherwise they will upset the god of education among their many, many other gods. It’s totally superstitious, just like many other zany Nepali superstitions I’ve encountered here over the years. I’ve heard about this the very first time I came to Nepal, but I’ve never witness it happen, until now.

I visited Aatma’s neighbor, the home of Abishek, one of the class ten boys who lives just a couple minutes away.

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Abishek and his classmate, Bhuvan.

As usual, I was greeted warmly and with black tea by his family. Normally Abishek’s mother or sister are the ones who serve me tea, but since they were on their menstrual cycle, they weren’t allowed to be anywhere near the kitchen. I found it amusing and rolled with it as Abishek did all the kitchen handling while the females kept their distance. Amused by what was happening, I casually began to whistle random tunes without thinking, and as I did, the two women of the household began speaking to him in Nepalese. I could tell they were speaking something about me.

“Dan, they are saying not to whistle,” Abishek told me.

“Why?”

He just smiled and it seemed like he couldn’t explain. That’s when I remembered someone telling me that whistling attracts ghosts or something like that.

“Oh, the ghosts,” I said, with a slight hint of mockery.

I began to whistle even more, just to see how they would react. All they did was attack me with smiles and laughs whenever I did.

Abishek lived just below my good friend, and fellow teacher, Shree Krishna (Caesar). I wanted to pay him a visit. As a matter of fact I would have seen him by now, but he’s been MIA. According to some of the talk of the villagers, the reason I haven’t seen Caesar yet is because of a plague of bad fortunes, accidentally committed by his mother and sister-in-law.

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Shree Krishna (Caesar) and me during my birthday celebration last February.

“Did you hear, [Caesar’s] mother and sister crashed their car into a cow some days ago?” they would tell me.

“Ummm no?” I said

“It’s very bad.”

Very bad indeed. A cow is considered their sacred god…and they rammed into one that was standing on the road (which is actually pretty normal in this country)! From what I gathered, a string of bad luck was on its way to the family of those involved…which meant Caesar himself. Caesar’s brother, Arjun, took a motorbike to Kathmandu to follow respected Hindu figures…or something like that, to relieve their family of guilt, perhaps? Since then, Caesar’s mother has been suffering greatly from a serious lung cancer and since he is the only available one in the family, he has been escorting her back and forth to the most capable doctors all around the central lands of Nepal. After a couple weeks, I finally met up with Caesar at his home, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from Yam’s. But unfortunately, it was brief. While I was there, he received a phone call from Kathmandu telling him that his brother Arjun and his wife were involved in a near-fatal motorbike crash. Caesar, who JUST got back home to settle, had to rush all the way back to Kathmandu, to tend to his brother and his wife. While at the same time, Caesar’s mother still had pending operations where she needed Caesar to escort her. She was too old and fragile of doing it on her own.

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Caesar constantly traveled back and forth about six hours each time between Pokhara and Kathmandu to tend to his brother and mother. Photo courtesy of Caesar.

I’m not superstitious in the slightest, but it is all a bit strange how all of these unfortunate events are happening right after they hit that cow in the street. By the way, Caesar’s family extends into Yam’s. Bindu is Caesar’s and Arjun’s sister, which means my brothers, UK and DJ, are their nephews. I don’t expect anyone reading this to actually follow the family trees of this village. It’s mostly for my own admission. Poor Caesar couldn’t catch a break. He had to leave his position at Bal Prativa Boarding School in order to support his ailing family.

Caesar was the maths and science teacher at the school. He also spoke English the best out of all the teachers. Sarmila, the usual English teacher I followed, was on maternity leave. It seems I came at a time where there were many gaps to fill at the school until Aatma could replace their two most qualified teachers.

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A photo of most of the staff at Bal Prativa Boarding School, the school I help out at, taken last February. Three of the teachers have left, leaving a major hole in the student’s education.

I always enjoy having my own classes, but sometimes it can be a bit overbearing with the language barrier. The students generally understand me when I speak slowly enough, but then there was always a handful of students, forever lost in the cosmos. Also, I’m calling them out right now, Bal Prativa is full of sneaky little cheaters! It’s examination time (again) and it’s my role to act as a class officer to make sure everyone keeps quiet and doesn’t cheat. It’s way more difficult than it sounds. I had to pretend to record them on my phone and show it to principal Aatma if they continued talking.

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I came to the conclusion that the majority of these students cheat, some more than others, and there was very little I could do to stop it. The other teachers weren’t too persistent about it. Once I came to that realization, I just let them be. It’s Nepal.

I didn’t realize how daunting the school situation was going to be this time around. Class ten will be studying for their major exams soon and they were without three of their teachers. The third one took up a job in South Korea doing God knows what. Aatma and Ashok (another teacher) relied heavily on me to continue where they left off from their books, not just with class ten but also with class nine, eight, seven, six, and sometimes five, four, and three, teaching English and Social Studies mostly. Then sometimes they’ll have me dabble in Science and Accounting. What the heck would they have done if I decided not to come back to Nepal so soon?! I gave it my all.

At this point, I still have not seen Amisha nor Caesar, though I have been in contact with Caesar at least. He has been busy, staying bedside at the hospital in Kathmandu, taking care of his brother and sister-in-law, because they were unable to do so themselves. They couldn’t even walk! That’s how bad it was, but Caesar remained diligent in handling the tasks between them and his ailing mother.

Whoever this “god of education” was, he or she put a massive workload on me, which I wasn’t expecting. Now, I don’t believe in any of this stuff but while in Nepal, I roll with it out of respect to everyone there. When I brought it up in class, one student told me that maybe the god of education sent me to Nepal to help while there are no other teachers.

“Maybe…”, I began. “But I think it’s just pure luck.” 

She along with others began to snicker and say things to each other I couldn’t comprehend. It’s no secret to them that I don’t practice Hinduism, like most foreigners who visit this country, but it’s important for me to remain respectful and go along with it.

If anything, the god of education and all the lore that goes with it certainly does make life in Nepal interesting for me. Even the cattle have gone mad.

For better or for worse…