Last week I shared my worst travel moments of the year, so now it’s time to share my best travel moments of 2015, and as you can see the good far outweigh the bad.
1. Upping my dive certification to Rescue diver
Since getting certified back in 2012, I have wanting to keep moving up in the ranks of scuba diving. I never had the time to take another course in LA, so when I found out I could get my rescue diver cert while volunteering at TRACC, I jumped on the opportunity!
Going through the course opened my eyes to so many things. I certainly didn’t think I knew it all, but I didn’t realize how many mistakes I was making during dives. Getting my rescue diver cert is one of the best decisions I could have made as a diver. Now I am much more confident and aware in the water.
2. Seeing improvements in the coral first hand
Before volunteering at TRACC, I had no idea there was even a way to restore the coral, but I soon learned differently.
One of our jobs was to collect the loose soft coral and transplant it to another area. This would create a ground cover to stop landslides of the coral rubble and create a stable area for the hard coral to regrow. We transplanted our first batch of soft coral during the morning shift and went back to finish to job in the afternoon.
When we went back down in the afternoon a huge change had occurred!
Small fish and sea creatures had already started moving into the area. They were exploring the new coral plants and setting up their home. It was amazing to see the difference that was made in just a few hours. I can’t even imagine what it must look like now!
3. Morning dives with my friend
My last 2 weeks on Pom Pom Island were pretty eventful. I realized that I only needed a small number of dives to reach 100, so my friend Grace and I began heading out as many times as we could each day. I was determined to hit 100 before I left, and Grace was there to support and cheer me on.
We started our days with an early sunrise dive around 6:30-7am, and these were my favorite dives. All of the animals were just waking up for the day and getting started. There was so much movement going on under the surface. The cuttlefish was out of his normal spot exploring. Schools of fish were moving along the slope, and here’s the best part……
We had only been able to see the school of Bumphead Parrotfish up close once while I was there. Every other time they were swimming off in the distance, but in the mornings, Grace and I found that they liked to hang out near one of the artificial reefs not too far from our jetty. We swam up on the whole school and got pretty close before they decided to swim off into the open ocean.
The next morning they were right back at the same spot. It was incredible to see them all together and so close!
4. Watching one of the first nests of turtle hatchlings make their way to the ocean
My 3rd day at Tasikoki was a very exciting one. A group of volunteers went to the turtle hatchery on the beach about 2 hours from the rescue center. 4 different sea turtles lay their eggs on that beach, and all 4 are endangered.
Tasikoki built a small turtle conservation center and hatchery to help save the populations. Every day the men working there patrol the beach to look for newly laid eggs and poachers. Once they find a new nest, they carefully move the eggs to their hatchery to keep them protected.
The night we were there one of the first nests of Hawksbill turtles hatched. It was so exciting!
All of us jumped in to help these little hatchlings make their way to the water. I helped 3 little hatchlings get to the ocean before we had to head back to the rescue center.
This was one of the best nights I have ever had!
5. Working with the animal at Tasikoki
Being on the bear team was one of the highlights of my time at Tasikoki. I really enjoyed watching them search for all of the enrichments we had made for them. The new bear Jelly was very standoffish when we first started working with him, but as the weeks went on, he started to calm down. It gave me hope that one day he will not be so aggressive, and then he can live with the other 2 bears.
When I was in Northern Australia, I wanted so badly to see a cassowary in the wild, but it never happened. I finally got to see not just one but many of them at Tasikoki. Every day I would walk past their enclosure and stop to watch them. They are such interesting birds, and I couldn’t believe the deep grunt that would come out of them when they were giving us a warning.
Spending time with the orangutans gave me so much insight to how incredibly smart these animals are. They are truly remarkable, and I really hope we can figure out a way to save them in the wild. If they go, the world will have lost an amazing creature.
6. My 33rd birthday on Pom Pom Island
When you’re surrounded by great people, you will never have a bad time. I happened to have my birthday while I was volunteering with TRACC, and everyone went above and beyond to make the day great.
Special food was cooked for me, a nice bottle of Tanduay was my big treat, and a couple of the guys put on a nice show for me (and everyone else) in their boxers.
This birthday will not be forgotten.
7. Enjoying the festivals of Budapest
Alan and I picked the perfect time to visit Budapest because there were so many festivals going on.
St Stephen’s Day was so much fun! Tons of booths were set up along the river with local food and drink. Bands were playing in front of Buda castle, and we were able to try out the special cake of the year.
At the same time as St Stephen’s Day, the Folk Arts Festival was taking place near the top of Buda castle. Needless to say we ate our way through both!
We were lucky enough to attend Budapest wine festival just before we left. This one was my favorite!
So many good wines try try! I had never had Hungarian wine before visiting Budapest, but I fell in love with it by the time we left. And just like any wine festival when there is good wine, there is good food too. It was a very gluttonous day but well worth it!
8. Our perfect rainy day in Eger
We found a few places to visit outside of Budapest, and Eger was the one that jumped out. I made the mistake of not checking the weather beforehand, so we ended up visiting this adorable little city on a rainy day.
It didn’t ruin our plans though. Alan and I made the most of it and had an amazing time together. We were still able to explore most of the city during intermittent rain breaks and went to a really good wine tasting while it was pouring.
The day was a lot of fun and really romantic!
9. Meeting up with my sister and brother-in-law in Europe
When you are on the road, you miss your family terribly. I was so excited when my sister and brother-in-law said that they would come meet Alan and I in Europe.
We explored so many great places. We all made it though the not so great experience of Oktoberfest. We toured the Alsace countryside and tasted some delicious wines. After Alan left for the US, Sara and Derek took me to the fairytale city Heidelberg, and I got to see one of the most outstanding castles that I have ever seen.
And after all that, we headed north to explore Amsterdam where my friend Grace from Pom Pom Island met up with us. I left for Thailand right after, so this was a great way to end my stay in Europe.
10. Volunteering at the Surin Project
Since I volunteered at Elephant Nature Park 4 years ago, ENP has introduced a few other volunteer programs around Thailand and Cambodia. This year I decided to work with the elephants at the Surin Project, and it’s one of the best decisions I could have made.
My time spent there was incredible. I wasn’t sure how I would handle what I saw since most of the elephants in the village are not in the program and were still being used for rides and shows. To say it was sad is an understatement, but working with the program gave me hope that more and more of the mahouts will sign up for the Surin Project and give their elephant a better life.
11. Volunteering with Alan at Elephant Nature Park Dogs
As you can see, I can’t get enough of ENP. Everything Lek and all the workers at the park do for animals is very inspiring to me.
Every time I have volunteered before, I was alone. I would see couples volunteering together and want so badly to one day be able to volunteer with my partner. Well 2015 was my year!
Alan has heard me talk about the different programs so much, so he finally agreed to go with me to ENP’s dog program. We spent the week of Christmas working with the 450+ dogs that have been rescued. I feel like our time spent there has strengthened us not only as a couple but as individuals too.
Alan hasn’t stopped talking about Lek’s talk regarding elephant abuse, and he now too wants to do more to spread the word. This makes me so happy!
In 3 days, 2015 will be done. Right now I don’t know what 2016 has in store for me, but life just keeps getting better and better, so all I can say is “Bring it on!”