6 Most Remote Places That Aren’t Islands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRIP TRIVIA)

 

6 Most Remote Places That Aren’t Islands

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all? Whether it’s a crazy workload or just the desire for some real peace and quiet, it’s only natural that occasionally you’ll want to escape. And sometimes you want to go somewhere remote where you aren’t likely to run into anyone you know. If you’re dying for an escape, these six places are so remote you’ll wonder how you even get there.

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Siwa Oasis, Egypt

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Giza and Cairo might get all the attention when you mention Egypt, but the country is home to one of the most remote places in the world—Siwa Oasis. The Siwa Oasis is located within the Great Sand Sea and is full of lush olive and palm trees, along with mud-baked structures. But before you get any ideas that this place is abandoned, it’s not. Siwa Oasis is a thriving small town that is one of the most eastern areas to encapsulate the North African Amazigh Berber culture. To reach Siwa Oasis, the best option is to catch an eight- to 10-hour bus ride from surrounding cities like Cairo or Alexandria.

Changtang, Tibet

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Some regions just sound remote by default, and Tibet is the perfect example. In addition to being remote, the Changtang Plateau is home to the world’s second largest nature preserve. The preserve protects snow leopards, brown bears and black necked cranes along with other wildlife species. The locale is known as “The Roof of the World” because it is two and a half miles above sea level. The inhabitants of this region are nomadic and known as Changpa. According to a 1989 census, roughly half a million Changpa live in this area. However, if you’re thinking of braving the elements to get here, come prepared. Changtang is extremely remote and you’ll have to bring everything you need.

Supai Village, Arizona

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You don’t have to go abroad if you’re looking for a remote escape. Just head to the Grand Canyon. This might seem counterintuitive because of the park’s popularity, but the Havasupai Reservation is located within the canyon and includes the Supai Village. Supai Village can be reached if you’re up to the challenge of an 8-mile hike below the Grand Canyon rim. Note that while the village and the reservation are located within the Grand Canyon, they are not controlled by the National Park system, but rather by their tribal government.

To plan a trip to Supai Village, book a reservation through their tribal website. You can opt for a campground or lodge reservation. The campground allows you to camp anywhere along designated camping areas while the lodge is for those who don’t like “roughing it.” You can’t drive to Supai Village. Even the mail is delivered via pack mule. To access this remote town, either hike, take a helicopter to Hualapai Hilltop, or rent a pack horse or mule.

Longyearbyen, Norway

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Did you know that the world’s northernmost city is in Norway? If you’re up for the challenge, the isolated town of Longyearbyen is the perfect vacation spot. The town was founded by an American, John Longyear, in 1906 as a mining encampment. Between October 25 and March 8, the town experiences perpetual darkness because of its northern location.

You might be surprised to find that this Norwegian town is quite diverse. Longyearbyen is a popular haven for nature enthusiasts and scientists from around the world. Unlike other places in Norway—or even on this list—Longyearbyen “residents” are transient. People stay to complete work projects for a few years or even just months before returning to their permanent homes. To reach Longyearbyen, you can catch a flight from other locations directly to their local airport.

La Rinconada, Peru

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Longyearbyen isn’t the only remote mining town. La Rinconada is one of the highest elevation cities in the world, sitting 16,728 feet above sea level. This city of 50,000 people saw a massive population boom in the last decade because of gold prospecting. But its population growth exploded beyond their infrastructure means, so inhabitants often don’t have access to running water, paved roads or electricity. Of all of the locales on this list, La Rinconada is one of the hardest to reach. Because it’s high in the Andes, visitors risk altitude sickness to reach La Rinconada. And since there’s no consistent transit access, tourists must reach the town on their own.

Oymyakon, Russia

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Do you like cold weather? Have you ever wanted to visit a place so cold it makes your eyelashes freeze? If you’re thinking “sign me up!” then Oymyakon is the perfect place to plant your flag. We’re really not kidding when we say it gets cold: Temperatures can drop to as low as 88 degrees below Fahrenheit. The cold is such a concern that residents often leave their cars running to prevent the batteries from dying.

Oymyakon is a small settlement of 500 people located in the Yakutia region of Russia. This freezing town does get at least three hours of daylight in the winter. Still, if you’re planning on visiting this inhospitable land, dress warmly as frostbite is a serious concern here. Traveling to Oymyakon is a test of your patience. After a seven-hour flight from Moscow, you must somehow find a connecting ride on your own to reach the remote town.

4 Reasons to Spend Your Summer in Montana

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4 Reasons to Spend Your Summer in Montana

Montana is Big Sky Country, a state blessed with wide open landscapes that range from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Also known as the Treasure State, this lesser-known and sparsely-populated northwestern state is a place to discover fertile prairies home to Native Americans, spectacular national parks teeming with wildlife and world-class adventure sports. Here are four reasons why you should be visiting Montana in summertime.

Adventure Sports at Big Sky Resort

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While Big Sky Resort bills itself as offering the “Biggest Skiing in America,” the mountain resort is making a name for itself in summer. Travel at speed on the Adventure Zipline while suspended 150 feet above the treetops and enjoy some family fun on the Nature Zipline. Bring your mountain bike and tackle over 40 miles of biking trails, all accessible via three bike-friendly chairlifts. For something more relaxed, gaze in awe at the far-reaching views from Montana’s highest scenic overlook. Get back to the active lifestyle by following mile upon mile of trail around Gallatin National Forest and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Golf enthusiasts can even play 18 holes at an Arnold Palmer-designed course.

Attend a Music Festival

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An authentic slice of Americana music awaits at statewide summertime festivals. Head to Lewiston in August for the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous. The second-oldest cowboy poetry festival in the U.S. is a celebration of the cowboy heritage of the Rocky Mountains. Expect performers dressed in 10-gallon hats and Western attire to treat you to a lyrical journey of the American cowboy. In Butte in July, the Montana Folk Festival is a free three-day event with artists from as far as Belize, Iran and Nepal in addition to homegrown talent. Band of Horses and Nathaniel Rateliff are among the names to grace the stage at the Under the Big Sky Fest, at Big Mountain Ranch.

Visit the National Parks

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Predominantly situated in Wyoming but extending into both Idaho and Montana, Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first national park in 1872. Hiking trails lead to emblematic waterfalls and huge granite peaks, and no visit is complete without watching the iconic Old Faithful geyser shoot water into the sky. Meanwhile, bison, elk, grizzly bears and moose wander amid the park’s wilderness.

Presenting a magnificent contrast to Yellowstone is Glacier National Park, where thousands-feet-tall peaks tower above vast placid lakes. Traversed by over 700 miles of trails, the park is a hiker’s paradise, many of whom choose to stay overnight at the 13 campgrounds. Among the many highlights are the peaks and pinnacles of the Ptarmigan Wall, St. Mary’s Falls and Quartz Lake. Consider coming by bike or car and cruise the impossibly scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Whitewater Rafting on the Rivers

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The thrill of paddling down rushing rivers and crashing through rapids is a memory that will last a lifetime. Get the adrenaline pumping on rafting excursions on the Flathead River while remembering to enjoy the beauty of Glacier National Park at the same time. In the south of the state, Stillwater River is anything but what its name suggests and you’ll be avoiding large boulders as the swift current pulls you along. Adventure Whitewater and Glacier Raft Company are options for arranging half, full and multi-day rafting tours.

4 Italian Towns You’ve (probably) Never Heard of But Need to Visit

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4 Italian Towns You’ve Never Heard of But Need to Visit

For good reason, cities such as Florence, Milan, and Rome always make the headlines in Italy for their superb art, architecture, museums, and shopping. But you’ll often find an even more authentic Italy hidden away in its small countryside and coastal towns. So if you are longing for a vacation filled with old-world romance, where medieval houses frame cobblestone lanes and locals sip coffee at cafes overlooking the piazza, then give these stunning Italian towns a try.

Castelluccio di Norcia, Umbria

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From afar, Castelluccio di Norcia resembles an ancient fairytale-like citadel set atop a plateau in the Apennine Mountains. Castelluccio lies within the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and is famed for the spectacular natural beauty of undulating hills and the flora of its encompassing meadows. Once a Roman settlement, the present hamlet dates back to around the 13th century. Today, you can stroll along winding streets that lead to pretty squares and afford uninterrupted views.

Come between May and July for the Florita of Castelluccio di Norica, which sees the plateau burst into a thousand colors. Clovers, poppies, violets, and more wildflower flourish and create a mosaic of vivid red, violet, white, and yellow hues. Drink in the scenery while relaxing at the squares or get active on hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking excursions.

Corricella, Naples

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You may not have heard of the Neapolitan island of Procida, let alone it’s pièce de résistance Corricella. At this romantic port town, an ensemble of pastel-colored cubic buildings form an amphitheater of mismatched towers that tumble down towards the glistening Gulf of Naples. With washing hung out to dry from shutter windows, cafes lined up along a promenade, and colorful fishing boats moored at the water’s edge, the town paints a quintessential Italian seaside image.

Walk up to the Santa Margherita Nuova monastery to capture the beauty of the town and island from above and then visit the Benedictine Abbey of San Michele. At the end of the day, order pizza and pasta at Bar Graziella and appreciate why movie directors chose Corricella for classics such as Il Postino and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Sperlonga, Lazio

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Looking for a coastal escape from Rome or Naples? Then look no further than Sperlonga, a resort on the Tyrrhenian Sea that lured Roman emperor Tiberius in the 1st century, and later the Hollywood elite of the 1950s and 1960s. Here, elegant white buildings perch on a headland that spills down to soft golden sands and perfect-blue waters. Time stands still in the Centro Storico (Old Town) and there’s great pleasure to be taken from stumbling upon hidden squares after taking a wrong turn along an alleyway or stone staircase. Soak up the nonchalant seaside vibe at the resort’s two beaches, Rivièra di Levante and Rivièra di Ponènte. Before taking your seat to watch the sunset, get a cultural fix at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which protects the ruins of the villa and grotto of Emperor Tiberius.

Treviso, Veneto

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Wouldn’t it be great to experience Venice without the throngs of tourists? Well, just 25 miles north of the world-famous canal city is the delightful city of Treviso. A canal and defensive wall surround the Centro Storico, which shelters a dazzling collection of Venetian-style palaces, gracious colonnades, and medieval churches. Cobblestone streets and canals weave their way between the sights, passing beneath archways and tiny gardens along the way.

Art is rife, and not just timeworn frescoes that decorate the facades of private homes. Admire work by Titan at Treviso Cathedral, close to the cafe-lined Piazza dei Signori. Witness the action of the Pescheria Buranelli floating fish market and browse the chic boutiques on Via Calmaggiore. For wine lovers, a glass of Treviso Prosecco is the perfect cap to a day of sightseeing.

3 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Myanmar

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3 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Myanmar

Myanmar is a beautiful country with a rich history that you could spend years exploring. Many of its people belong to the Buddhist religion, and almost every aspect of their culture reflects this. While most people from Myanmar are warm and welcoming to travelers, there are certain things that tourists should and shouldn’t do if they don’t want to seem disrespectful. Here are three things you must know before visiting Myanmar so that you and everyone else will have a calm, enjoyable time.

The Fork Is Not Your Friend

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In America, we eat pretty much everything but soup with a fork. In Myanmar, though, forks are not usedfor the bulk of the eating. They are used, but not in a way that is familiar to us. Forks are held in the left hand and used to push food onto a spoon held in the right, which you then eat with. Knives are also largely absent in Myanmar, but this is a bit easier to get used to. Luckily, eating with a fork isn’t as serious as some other faux pas you could make, but it is always best to appear polite and observe the local customs whenever possible.

Money Exchange Can Be Complicated

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Myanmar has a closed money economy, meaning that the Kyat, its official currency, can’t be bought outside of the country. This means that you have to exchange your U.S. dollars inside Myanmar itself, but there are a few catches. The first is that the higher the value on your bill ($20, $50, $100, etc.), the more favorable your exchange rate will be, so the best course of action is to exchange high-value cash if you can. Also, your cash must be pristine. According to the Myanmar government, any marks, stains, or rips on your bills make them useless and worth nothing, so they will not accept them in an exchange.  To make things even more complicated, the U.S. dollars you are exchanging must also have been printed after 2003, and can’t feature serial numbers with CB, BC, or AB because of a counterfeiting scheme carried out by North Korea several years ago. The one good thing, though, is that most trains, boats, planes, etc. accept the U.S. dollar as currency, so you don’t have to exchange everything.

Watch Your Feet

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In America, we don’t tend to think much about where we point our feet. We just walk or stand and that’s about it. In Myanmar, though, it is considered to be extremely rude to point your feet at a person, a statue, or other object, because feet are considered to be “the most disrespectful part of the body.” Be mindful to point your feet in a neutral direction when you are talking to a person (especially a local), so as not to offend anyone. On this same topic, it is also important to remove both your shoes and your socks before entering one of Myanmar’s many breathtaking temples or pagodas. The Myanmarese fought very hard for their right to worship their religion in the way they feel is best and most respectful, so it is only right to follow their rules.

What was named the happiest country in 2019? Hint: It Definitely Not The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

What was named the happiest country in 2019?

Finland

48%

Sweden

33%

United States

2%

New Zealand

16%

Source: CNN | Date Updated: June 11, 2019

Learn More: While it’s obviously not an easy thing to nail down, the world’s happiest country is Finland, according to the World Happiness Report. The Finns must be doing something right, as this is the second year in a row that they’ve claimed the title. In fact, happiness seems to be common in the Nordic countries, as Denmark and Norway placed second and third, respectively. The rankings take into consideration factors such as income, trust, healthy life expectancy, generosity, social support, and freedom.

Top 5 Reasons to Add Norway to Your Bucket List

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

Top 5 Reasons to Add Norway to Your Bucket List

Norway offers visitors the best of several worlds. It has beautiful icy glaciers, tall, majestic mountains and wide, rolling green fields, not to mention tons of museums and a history that would make most other countries jealous. But these are all things that any casual observer of Norway could tell you – there is much more to discover about this great country. The following are the top five reasons you need to add Norway to your bucket list right away.

You Can Walk Right up to the Gates of Hell

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Norwegians are known for their kindness and their hospitality, but not everything in this country is heavenly. Norway is home to a city called Hell, where one thousand Norwegians live and enjoy visits by travelers from all over the world who come to snap photos next to the city sign. This town is more than just a tourist destination, though: It is also home to some rock carvings that date all the way back to the Stone Age.

You Can Thank Norway for Salmon Sushi

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Up until the 1980s, Japan was very self-sufficient when it came to their seafood industry. They didn’t import any fish from anywhere else in the world, as they had plenty of their own fish to use and export. Eventually, though, overfishing led to a decline in the number of fish available to use for sushi and other dishes. So, a visiting delegate from Norway suggested that their country could sell Japan some salmon. This led to the introduction of salmon sushi, which caught on like wildfire and is now known as one of Norway’s “greatest export successes in the last 20 years.” Visiting the country that is responsible for salmon sushi would be a dream of many sushi fans!

Midnight Sun and Polar Night

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In the northern part of Norway is in the Arctic Circle. This means (among other things) that it is one of the few places that experiences two phenomena known as Midnight Sun and Polar Night. Midnight Sun occurs during the summer, when the sun stays out all day and all night and is still visible at midnight. For a few weeks, the sun never sets here, which might sound like fun to people who love nothing more than being out in the sun. Unfortunately, though, you pay for this in the winter, when the opposite happens. The sun doesn’t rise for weeks at a time, resulting in what is called Polar Night.

Norway Is Home to the World’s Longest Road Tunnel

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If your car radio goes out when you go through tunnels, you will be in for a long, quiet, spooky ride in Norway’s Laerdal Tunnel. This road tunnel is 15 miles long and links Laerdal to Aurland in a project that took $113 million to build. This isn’t just a plain old boring tunnel, though. It is specially engineered to help reduce mental strain on drivers as they go through it, with different light features to look at in different areas and caves to break up the sections of road and keep you alert.

It’s Also Home to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony

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While most Nobel Prizes are awarded in Sweden, the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize is held in Oslo, Norway. The reason behind this is a bit of a mystery. No one knows exactly why Alfred Nobel wanted the peace prize in particular to be handed out by a committee of Norwegian judges while the others were handed out in Sweden, but he was very clear about this when he laid out the parameters for his awards. Some speculate that it was because he knew that Norway was a very peaceful and democratic country, but either way, being able to host the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is just as much of a privilege as winning the award.

The Ten Least Populated States In The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

10 Least Populated States

10

Least Populated States

With its big cities, sprawling suburbs and congested roadways, the U.S. can feel crowded in many places. But despite the fact that there are over 300 million people living in the United States, there are still some areas that remain relatively unpopulated. The U.S. Census Bureau made population estimates for each state in 2018, and their results may surprise you. Read on to discover the 10 least populated states in the U.S.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire

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Population: 1,356,458

With a population of 1.35 million residents, the state of New Hampshire doesn’t have an issue with overcrowding. This scenic state’s many lakes and mountains are a strong draw for tourists in the summer and winter months. Plus, New Hampshire’s historical sites are appealing to visitors and residents alike.

Maine

Maine

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Population: 1,338,404

In more recent years, Maine has grown in popularity, with more people moving to the state than leaving it, according to the Portland Press Herald. But while Maine’s larger cities, such as Portland and Lewiston, are showing a greater increase in population, Maine’s more remote areas, like Aroostook County, remain relatively uncongested.

Montana

Montana

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Population: 1,062,305

Often called “The Last Best Place,” Montana is known for its tall mountains, open country and big sky. And with a population of just over a million people, it’s one of the least densely populated states in the country, with 7.1 people per square mile. The state is vast and wild, and when traveling on a backroad in Montana, don’t be surprised if a cattle herd blocks your way.

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Rhode Island

Rhode Island

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Population: 1,057,315

Rhode Island is only slightly less populated than Montana but far smaller in terms of land mass. As the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island is only 1,121 square miles. That’s 48 miles from north to south and 47 miles from east to west, according to RI.gov. Don’t let its small stature fool you, though. “The Ocean State” boasts some of the most incredible beaches and has wicked good surfing, too.

Delaware

Delaware

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Population: 967,171

The first state on our list with under one million residents, Delaware’s small population is due to its square mileage. At only 96 miles long, Delaware is the second smallest state in the U.S., after Rhode Island. Its close proximity to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are making it more popular, however, and it’s one of the fastest growing states in the U.S., according to U.S. News.

South Dakota

South Dakota

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Population: 822,235

With only 822,235 residents, South Dakota’s population is sparse. But the impressive beauty of the state makes up for its lack of people. From the iconic Mount Rushmore to the jaw-dropping Badlands, the state’s land and rock formations are stunning. The best part about cruising on South Dakota’s Interstate 90? No traffic jams in sight.

North Dakota

North Dakota

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Population: 760,077

When you’re driving through North Dakota, the state’s open plains and prairie fields are virtually empty. And with a population of 760,077 people, it’s no wonder why. While the state is often considered a thoroughfare for trucks and travelers, North Dakota’s beautiful national parks and fascinating historic sites make it a worthy destination.

Alaska

Alaska

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Population: 737,428

Although Alaska is almost twice the size of Texas, it has only a fraction of the residents. With a population of 737,428, Alaska boasts 1.3 people per square mile. In fact, residents of Alaska are just as apt to see wild animals in their backyard as they are human neighbors. With over 40,000 grizzly bears and 100,000 black bears, according to Alaska Trekker, this state is truly “The Last Frontier.”

Vermont

Vermont

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Population: 626,299

Between hiking in the summer, leaf peeping in the fall and skiing in the winter, the mountains of Vermont are a draw for tourists all year long. With only 626,299 residents, Vermont remains relatively unpopulated, especially when compared to its heavily inhabited New York neighbor.

Wyoming

Wyoming

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Population: 577,737

With 577,737 residents, Wyoming remains the least populated state in the U.S. Why does Wyoming have so few people? Maybe it’s the harsh weather or the cyclical nature of its seasonal industries. Perhaps, with nearly half the state belonging to public lands, there is not much room for development. Regardless, we’re pretty sure the people of Wyoming don’t mind its small population. In fact, they probably prefer it that way.

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What I Learnt Volunteering on a Remote Island in Cuba.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHIVYA NATH AT THE SHOOTING STAR.COM)

 

What I Learnt Volunteering on a Remote Island in Cuba.

Cuban reggae music played on repeat as I rode on a bright yellow truck from the 1940s, along a bumpy, heavily forested road. While the driver – an engineer by education – and I chatted in Spanish, he casually pointed out iguana lizards chilling by the road, vultures flying low in search of food, deer at the edge of the forest, huge crabs running helter-skelter and an enormous snake that brought us to a screeching halt.

A world away from the photogenic streets and tourist traps of Havana, we were heading to Cocodrilo, a remote, forgotten fishing village on Isla de la Juventud (Isle of the Youth), a remote, forgotten island in Cuba. My plan was to volunteer at a coral reef restoration project set up by IOI Adventures in collaboration with the island community.

volunteering in cuba, cocodrilo cuba, cuba travel

My yellow vintage ride to Cocodrilo!

I had no idea then, that living in a time warp on Cocodrilo, home to only 320 inhabitants, cut off from the outside world by a dense forest and the Caribbean Sea, was going to change everything. Everything I thought I knew about travelling, our consumption patterns, our dietary choices and how climate change is impacting the world.

Here’s what I learnt along the way:

Now is the best and worst time to travel

cocodrilo cuba, responsible travel cuba, cuba off the beaten track

Sunset, serenity and solitude in Cocodrilo.

During my recent travel meetup in Hyderabad, I met someone who had explored Ladakh and Kashmir in the late 80s – and said he would never go back because he treasured his vivid memories of their unspoilt beauty. Looking back on my own travels, I often feel the same way about places like Spiti, Georgia, Kumaon and Guatemala.

Unfortunately we can’t turn back time, but we can travel meaningfully and choose to explore places that aren’t yet plagued by mass tourism. Places that are yet to become Instagram hotspots.

Cocodrilo was one of those places in Cuba. Every evening at sunset, as the sky turned many shades of orange, locals poured out on the only street, drinking rum and playing music, heartily sharing both. Mama Yeni, the island’s second oldest resident, reminisced how she had journeyed across the Atlantic on a fishing boat, from Cayman Islands to Cocodrilo in search of a better life – and hers became one of the earliest families to settle here. She remembered the days when there were no roads, no cars, no doctor, no pharmacy, not even a grocery shop on the island. Her family would make a long list of things they needed, and do their grocery run to the nearest big town by boat, leaving early morning to reach the grocery store by evening!

cuba people, cuba culture, responsible travel cuba, cocodrilo cuba

Mama Yeni, the second oldest resident of Cocodrilo.

Getting into island mode on Cocodrilo assured me that these might not be the best years to travel, but they aren’t the worst either.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

No matter how far we live from the ocean, the plastic we consume ultimately lands up there

volunteering in cuba, cuba volunteer trip, cuba diving

Collecting cans from the sea bed off Cocodrilo. Photo: Anna Berestova

If you can close your eyes and picture yourself on a tiny idyllic island village, with nothing but dense forest, deep blue sea and clear blue skies stretching out around you, perhaps you can picture yourself on Cocodrilo. At a small sparse island shop, the only things one can buy are local rum in a glass bottle, shampoo sachets, basic groceries and the Cuban version of coca cola.

Yet when I snorkelled – with my host on the island and a long-term volunteer – into the deep blue sea that surrounds the island, I discovered a different story. The seabed was littered with plastic bags, beer cans of international brands, shampoo bottles, cigarette buts, plastic straws and menstrual pads. Diving freestyle, we retrieved this plastic trash – only to see more of it appear a couple of days later. You probably know that our planet is 70% water, and most of what we consume these days comes in plastic. Turns out, only 9% of all plastic is recycled. Where does the rest go? Unfortunately, into our oceans.

Aesthetics aside, the plastic trash often gets lodged in corals, spreading harmful bacteria and damaging coral tissue. Worse still, swallowing this plastic has caused the death of many dolphins, whales and other marine creatures; a sea turtle even choked to death when a plastic straw got stuck in its nostril.

Swimming in the deep blue sea off Cocodrilo was evidence that no matter where in the world we live, no matter how from the sea, the plastic we choose to consume in our everyday lives is directly responsible for destroying our oceans.

Also read: Cuba Tourist Visa for Indians: Requirements and Tips

Conversation-focused deep sea diving can help save corals

cuba diving, responsible travel cuba, cuba off the beaten track

The underwater world. Photo: NOAA’s National Ocean Service (CC)

Here’s a confession: The first time I went scuba diving was in the Philippines – and the experience left me disappointed. Sure, the underwater life was incredibly beautiful, but to carry an oxygen cylinder and deep dive while my ears protested, felt like the most unnatural way to experience the ocean. It made me think of humans as an invasive species, who for their own entertainment, will go to depths (literally) that we obviously aren’t meant to.

But speaking to a long-term volunteer in Cocodrilo, who was doing a field report on the correlation between deep sea diving and island communities, changed some of my perspective. I learnt from her that there are two ways of diving. The first, regular scuba diving, is what I experienced in the Philippines; this is diving purely for entertainment, and depending on who you do it with, could end up spoiling the corals and threatening fish (remember: touching the corals or feeding any marine creatures is a BIG no-no). The second, conservation-focused scuba diving, is where you dive for a purpose.

Outfits that offer this responsible form of deep sea diving don’t just teach you how to dive, but also talk about coral cleaning, fish count, invasive species, coral restoration and other conservation activities. You then scuba dive, not just to admire the underwater world, but to help conserve it by participating in a cleaning or counting drive. In Cocodrilo for instance, the broken coral reef is being restored through a tedious process: broken bits of coral are picked up from the sea floor, hung on an underwater stand and cleaned of excess algae and plastic every few days. When over a year old and strong enough, they are replanted between existing corals. And diving to support efforts like that can not only help save corals but also compel us to change our everyday choices.

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable: These Travel Companies are Changing the Way You Experience India

We need to say no to single-use plastic on our travels and in daily life

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Saying no to single-use plastic straws.

As I took off my snorkeling mask after a hot afternoon spent collecting plastic trash from a small section of the Caribbean seabed, I pledged to do more to cut down my single-use plastic consumption. I’ve long said no to plastic bottled water – choosing to carry and refill a steel bottle or use a Lifestraw filter – and already replaced plastic bags, toothbrush and straws with eco-friendly alternatives. And yet, when I got home to take a shower, I felt immense guilt at most of my toiletries – shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, hair serum, face wash, deodorant, toothpaste, sunscreen, razor, menstrual pads – which were still plastic. It was time to make some inconvenient choices.

After I left Cuba, I switched to:

  • Soap and shampoo bars: There are plenty of choices, but I prefer LushHast KraftsVeganology and other handmade vegan bars at local markets which don’t come wrapped in plastic. The idea of using a bar to wash my hair was strange at first, but I’ve totally grown into it.
  • Hair conditioner: Lush is the only brand I’ve found yet that does an amazing conditioner bar but it’s not available in India. Body Shop in India is soon switching to using recycled plastic bottles.
  • Menstrual cup: After months of procrastination, I’ve finally mastered the art of using a menstrual cup (coupled with cloth pads) – and it’s a life changer!
  • Bamboo razor: The Eco Trunk now stocks bamboo razors.
  • Body mist in a glass bottle: I love Body Shop’s body mist – and luckily it comes in a glass bottle which I hope to be able to recycle.
  • I’m still looking for eco-friendly alternatives to my toothpaste, face wash, hair serum and sunscreen.

In all honesty, choosing some of these alternatives requires extra work. I can’t walk into any supermarket and expect to replace a shampoo / conditioner bar when I run out, for instance. But each time I feel inconvenienced, I think of the majestic corals littered with plastic, dying a slow death. I think of the fish, turtles and dolphins choking to death because of our consumption. And I know that it’s worth going that extra mile to make more sustainable choices.

Also read: How I Fit All My Life Possessions in Two Bags as I Travel the World

What we choose to eat impacts the underwater world

“Here [in the seas], life is collapsing even faster than on land. The main cause, the UN biodiversity report makes clear, is not plastic. It is not pollution, not climate breakdown, not even the acidification of the ocean. It is fishing.”
The Guardian, May 2019

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A vegan feast in Cuba.

On a warm evening, we drove in a vintage car to a deserted beach along the Caribbean Sea, to join a night ranger to monitor turtle hatchings. Much to my surprise, the pristine beach was covered in mounds of brown algae, and the ranger lamented that each year, the algae has been growing and turtles declining. Though it was the peak of the egg-laying season, we spotted no turtles as we patrolled the beach under the moonlit sky.

It took me a long time to understand how this algae maybe the direct consequence of our choice to eat seafood. Turns out, the world’s oceans are plagued by overfishing. For every 1 pound of fish caught for food, nearly 5 pounds of marine life is killed accidentally. This imbalance in the marine food chain causes unchecked growth of algae, which tend to crowd out corals and spread disease-causing bacteria.

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Algae mounds on a deserted beach near Cocodrilo.

Although I turned vegan because I couldn’t bear to support animal abuse, I learnt early on that the incredibly high carbon footprint of meat and dairy is raising water temperatures and increasing CO2 in the air, which in turn causes the bleaching of corals. But patrolling the beach that night, surrounded by mounds of algae, made the link between our dietary choices and life in the ocean much stronger.

Also read: How to Travel as a Vegan and Find Delicious Food Anywhere in the World

Individual actions matter

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Nene, the islander heading the coral restoration project with IOI Adventures.

I’ve met plenty of naysayers who think that one person’s choices don’t matter. They’ll tell you that we need government action, policy change, media attention, dedicated organisations or something bigger. And while we do need each of those, we’ll never demand or create them until we start caring on a deep personal level. We’ll never make environmental degradation an election issue and we’ll never raise our voice (or pen) against our consumption or food choices – until we take individual action.

In Cocodrilo for instance, the coral reef restoration and sea clean-up project came about because Nene, a Cuban islander, wanted to conserve the seas in his backyard. He’s been mesmerized by the underwater world since his first dive in 1988 (which he did with a friend but without any training), and many years later, started this one-of-a-kind project in Cuba with IOI Adventures.

Closer home in India, lawyer Afroz Shah’s disciplined efforts to work with the local community and clean up Versova beach in Mumbai every Sunday, brought back Olive Ridley turtles to the beach after just two years! I’ve met and heard of people who now live in climate resilient homes that don’t need air conditioning even in the hot Indian summer, who’ve embraced zero-waste living, and who choose to be vegan – not just for the animals and their own health but for the environment.

Ultimately, the choice is ours. We can wait around for the government or media to do something to save our oceans. Or we can take responsibility for the choices we make everyday.

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Living in a time warp on Cocodrilo changed everything.

Have you learnt any interesting lessons on your travels lately? Have you chosen to make any inconvenient choices?

*Note: I’m really grateful to IOI Adventures for hosting me in Cocodrilo. Opinions on this blog, as you know, are always mine.

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The Great Wall Of China’s Repair Work Is Called “Brutal And Ugly” By Locals

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)

Chinese outrage over ‘ugly’ restoration of Great Wall

中国”最美野长城”被抹平引发众怒

CHINESE social media users were in an uproar Friday over restoration of a 700-year-old section of the Great Wall that has been covered in concrete, turning it into a smooth, flat-topped path.
Known as one of the most beautiful portions of the “wild”, restored wall, the eight-kilometer (five-mile) Xiaohekou stretch in northeast Liaoning province was built-in 1381 during the Ming Dynasty.
Photos posted online showed that its uneven, crumbling steps and plant growth had been replaced as far as the eye could see with a white, concrete-like cap.
“This looks like the work of a group of people who didn’t even graduate from elementary school,” said one user of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform. “If this is the result, you might as well have just blown it up.”
“Such brutal treatment of the monuments left behind by our ancestors! How is it that people with low levels of cultural awareness can take on leadership positions?” asked another. “Why don’t we just raise the Forbidden City in Beijing, too?”
Even the deputy director of Liaoning’s department of culture Ding Hui admitted: “The repairs really are quite ugly,” according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The Great Wall is not a single unbroken structure but stretches for thousands of kilometres in sections from China’s east coast to the edge of the Gobi desert.
In places it is so dilapidated that estimates of its total length vary from 9,000 to 21,000 kilometers, depending on whether missing sections are included. Despite its length it is not, as is sometimes claimed, visible from space.
Emergency maintenance was ordered for Xiaohekou in 2012 to “avoid further damage and dissolution” caused by “serious structural problems and issues due to flooding” and was completed in 2014, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said in a statement on its website in response to public and media outcry.
The government body has begun an investigation into the approval, implementation and outcome of the maintenance work, stating that it would deal with work units and personnel found to be at fault severely, “without justifying their mistakes”.
Around 30 percent of China’s Ming-era Great Wall has disappeared over time as adverse natural conditions and reckless human activities — including stealing the bricks to build houses — erode the UNESCO World Heritage site, state media reports said last summer.
Under Chinese regulations people who take bricks from the Great Wall can be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($750), but plant growth on the wall continues to accelerate decay, and tourism, especially to undeveloped sections, continues to severely damage the world’s longest human construction.

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