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Who comes first – the people or the animals?

Jess our Rethink Ambassador (Marketing & Business Development Management), recently returned from a two month sabbatical in Africa and South America and has shared some of her amazing experiences in a blog for you 

Author: Jessica Shuwalow

As BJ (our safari guide from Africa) would say – ‘WOW’!!! I’ve now seen some pretty incredible things on my travels through Africa and South America.

During our last night on the ‘Flamingo’ (the boat we rocked around Galapagos on and affectionately called the very humble pride of the fleet) we had well in excess of 50 six foot plus black tip Galapagos sharks circling the boat. I have a bit of an obsession with sharks, I think it’s their power, mystery and strength… These sharks were chasing sea lions, which were chasing a school of sizeable fish that ran across the water to escape and those fish were chasing a school of smaller fish. Occasionally a helpless baby turtle would skim across the water in the boat’s light (I can’t image that they got much further). For me this was a massive BJ ‘WOW’ moment that I will hold onto forever knowing that particular magical experience I had can never be replicated.

There is something that has started to perplex me though… (Insert quick back story) My passion is people. This trip however has been very animal focused with the places we’ve chosen to visit. What I’ve experienced though, is that on many occasions it’s the animals that have given me the deeper people connection I thrive for. When you are on a tour with someone from the other side of the world, that you’ve never met before and with who you can only converse through broken dialects, and you both see a unique animal for the first time, you share this immediate bond and overwhelming moment. You look at each other and smile to validate that the moment is really happening and that you are in fact witnessing this amazing creature.

Now what has began to perplex me is – through Africa on safaris and on our tour in Galapagos, the gorgeous guides explained to us a beautiful wealth of information about the evolution of these amazing creatures; which really is mind boggling. They tell you stories of the animals creation, their near extinction, their survival, how lucky you are to see them, how humans have almost destroyed them and now how humans are going to such great lengths to protect them and succeeding. You learn or hear a lot about the love, passion and investment that goes into saving and protecting these animals. Yet, when I step back and look around at the country I’m in visiting these animals, many of the people of these countries are in dire need of education and health care. Times when my inquisitiveness gets the better of me and I ask our guide a few personal questions. Then I hear their story and how far a little bit of love, passion and investment would go in their life, their family’s life and their community, there’s a true reality. You only need to take a drive down a road out of town to see the number of shrines on the side of the road commemorating those that have died in car accidents to realise how cheap life is in some of these countries. Or, ask your local driver a few questions until he starts sharing with you about the gang wars plague his home city.

I’m in no way saying that these countries aren’t sending, love, passion and investment to their people, it’s just people are my passion and sometimes I find it hard to digest the struggle of others. Maybe the animals are what will support these people and nations to improve their quality of life; or maybe it’s prioritising the people and their wellbeing that will save the animals? Hmmmmm… These are just my thoughts that I’d like to share as I’m travelling and trying to understand and be a part of these countries. I hope that we, as the beautiful world that we are, will one day develop an equilibrium that provides a prosperous abundance of healthy happy animals and people.

Look at these amazing creatures I’ve seen!!!

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Look at these people I’ve met and shared lifetime moments with!!!

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On an additional note, for anyone interested in planning a trip soon, I absolutely loved Africa and can’t stop thinking about it. Africa is completely under my skin. And finally, Ecuador has got my heart too in South America now. We spent a few nights in Quito either side of our Galapagos trip (I highly recommend staying in the old part of Quito and hitting up La Rhonda Street on a Friday or Saturday night) and we loved it. The old part of Quito just oozes South America; the buildings, the people and the culture. Ecuador gives you the real South American experience and access to almost all of the best parts of South America: great traditional food (I’m yelling ceviche), the Inca people, Latin culture (great music, passion, colour and the infamous poncho), affordable travel ($2.50 USD budget meals and $6 USD for 3 large beers), the Galápagos Islands, the Andes, the Amazon, volcanoes, beaches and so much more.

Sending love, passion and investment to all of the animals and people of our beautiful world, Jess/Yeti.

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