When I started writing this post, I couldn’t decide whether to begin with the good, or with the bad. It’s the age-old question – do you want the good news first or the bad news? But I decided to start this post with how every new year should start: with the good. 2016 was a pretty great year for me, even if it didn’t seem like it for the rest of the world (obvious reasons aside, 2016 had some fantastic stories and breakthroughs, something I’d like to cover in another post at some point). I visited 7 countries, had my first job in my chosen career field and came home to Ireland for the first time in almost two years. But there were lows as well as highs; I’m sure you can relate. Here are my best and worst experiences of 2016:
5 Bests of 2016:
Mulu National Park
Despite the fact that the worst thing to happen in 2016 occurred the night before I travelled to Gunung Mulu in Malaysian Borneo, I still completely loved my time there. And as I wrote in this post, I will forever be grateful to this incredible place of gigantic caves, rainforests and hordes of bats for the distraction it was from what was possibly the most painful moment of my life.
Wildlife health checks in Malawi
When I was still in school, I toyed with the idea of becoming a vet. In the end, I chose to go another way because I felt I wouldn’t be able to cope with the pain of saying goodbye over and over, or even simpler things like injecting an animal. While I’m still not certain about the former, this year I learned that not only could I handle the latter, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole aspect of performing health checks on wild animals. I never imagined that (without qualifications) I would get the chance to learn some of the veterinary side of wildlife rehabilitation. But as my boss explained, in poorer countries there are often no vets on hand, so working in rehabilitation means picking up some of the necessary skills to look after the animals in your care in a clinical capacity. As such, I found myself helping out with health checks and veterinary procedures on many of the animals I worked with in Malawi. A particular highlight was helping with Simba’s health check, one of the two resident lions at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. Read the full post about my time in Malawi.
Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi
Before this year, I had only ever been to one music festival in my life (I know!) and it wasn’t even a very good one at that. So when I had the chance to go to a festival in Malawi a couple of months ago, how could I say no? Besides, how many times would I be at a music festival in Africa, my favourite continent? With the car packed, we drove the 4 hours to Nkhata Bay, a stunning location on Lake Malawi. Lake of Stars is a small festival by many standards, but I don’t believe there are many that could top it. Set on a white sand beach, the air was constantly filled with the sounds of African, dance, rock and pop music. Something for everyone. This was a festival where days were spent lying on the grass watching yoga or a chilled-out band, and nights were spent dancing barefoot in the sand. Then there was the spectacular sunrise at 5am each morning. Almost worth the plane ticket to Malawi alone, I think.
Komodo Dragons in Indonesia
As I’ve said many times before, native wildlife is one of the biggest draws for me when I travel. I have a bucket list of species, and I can only tick them off if I see them in the wild (don’t get me started on zoos…). As such, finding Komodo Dragons was the number 1 reason I booked a flight to Flores, the jumping off point for Komodo National Park, home of the dragons. I was very surprised by the fact that many of the dragons hang around the rangers’ camp and was therefore pleased we were able to find more in the surrounding jungle (a bit more wild!).
Making friends on my travels
I am a loner. It’s always been a big part of who I am, and probably the main reason I’ve been able to travel solo as much as I have. I’ve never been very comfortable with meeting strangers or generally making new friends. However, this year, likely due in part to my work as a street fundraiser for an environmental charity in Western Australia, I came out of my shell a bit and surprised myself by finding travel buddies for a large part of my time in Asia. I also made some really close friends in Malawi, people I’m so grateful to for making my time there completely amazing. Although what I wrote in October 2015 still applies in some ways, I know I’m more confident and outgoing now than I was before.
4 Worsts of 2016:
As I said above, the night before flying to Gunung Mulu, I experienced the most painful moment of my life. My beloved dog Topper, whom I had had since I was 8 years old, was put down. I was half a world away and not being there for him is something I will always be sorry for. However, I was lucky enough to be able to Skype my parents and say goodbye to him. I spent three days crying, then a long time after feeling numb about it. It’s been almost a year and I still don’t feel completely myself. Not everyone will understand the bond that can develop between a human and an animal, but I know many of you do. He was my best friend and I still miss him everyday, especially now that I’m home and he’s not here. If any creature deserves to rest in peace, it’s him.
Awkward drive in Brunei
My recent post about my awkward few hours in Brunei gives a more detailed account of the over-friendly man who had me demanding to be taken back to the airport after less than two hours. I was so annoyed that he had prevented me from experiencing this rich little country more fully. It was also the first time I had ever felt that uncomfortable around someone in all my travels. Although I never once felt in danger, it just goes to show that there are still men out there who feel entitled to a girl’s attention.
Journey to Donsol Bay
Although the end result (almost?) made up for this horrendous journey, I think I’d do things a little differently if I were ever to go back to the Philippines. The first place I went to after arriving in Manila was Donsol Bay, in order to swim with Whale Sharks and tick another species off that bucket list of mine. I chose Donsol Bay over the more popular (and easier to get to) Oslob because of my concerns over the animal welfare in the latter, something that’s very important to me. I knew it would be an incredibly long bus journey, but as I had travelled long-distance overland several times in Malaysia and Indonesia before that, I thought it would be fine. It started with a taxi taking me to the wrong bus, then being unable to find the right one so having to take the wrong one. The bus took several hours longer than it should have (a common occurrence, I find), then suddenly I was being told to get off the bus early because it wasn’t actually going to where it was supposed to go. This was followed by getting two jeepneys, then walking with another girl forced from the bus to the station on the other side of the town, then being squeezed into a minibus for an hour down a stomach-wrenching, windy road, before finally taking a tuk-tuk out to the accommodation I had booked. I have never been so happy to reach a destination in my life.
Hospital visit in Flores
It’s ironic that one of my best experiences in 2016 was followed only an hour or so later by one of my worst. After seeing the Komodo Dragons, our boat took us snorkelling on the journey home. Thinking the water was deeper than it actually was + an over-enthusiastic jump from the boat = abroken leg for my poor travel companion. She stayed calmer than any of the rest of the us did, even through a seemingly-never-ending boat ride through a rising storm back to the main town. What followed was a crazy mash-up of empty hospitals, minor celebrity among the staff, a lack of necessary machinery, several more ambulance journeys and a fit of giggles that lasted a number of hours. All I can say is, Flores was not built with crutches in mind. Coupled with a cancelled flight back to Bali and a complimentary night in the fanciest resort in town, it was an insane few days. Sorry R!
So that was my 2016. How was yours? Any crazy or amazing stories?
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.