My Spain-cation + #BlogYourWayToSpain Giveaway!

To say travel is addicting is an understatement.  I began late, not going abroad until 2012 during my third year at university, but once I started I could not get enough!  I booked a plane ticket without much knowledge of layovers or transfer times, but the full day’s journey from Buffalo to Detroit to Amsterdam to Norwich was an adventure that I would not soon tire from.

Now, four years later, I find myself living abroad in England and am in the process of buying a house with my partner!  With all the stress of our daily lives (teaching, studying, cohabiting..) it is always a treat to get away for either a few days or if we are feeling really luxurious, a week.  As fabulous as it feels to go off jetsetting, it is not always a simple occasion.  I am a planner, and not having the most substantial bank balance, we have to choose every detail carefully.  From the where to the how, everything needs to be considered.  But fear not!  My ultra-organized (or as my partner says, ‘travel hysteria’ :P) thought process can help you sort your trip whether it is a short stay-cation or a longer holiday away!

First things first (I’m the realist): choosing a location.
Think about what you want from your journey.  Relaxation?  Adventure?  Culinary delights? What sort of weather?  Do you want a country escape or the bustle of the city?  Does it matter if your first language is not widely spoken?

Since I love sun and sea (that is what you get for having grown up nearly eight hours from the nearest trickle of salt water!) and have a decent grasp at the Spanish language, we decided to finally pack our bags for Spain.  I have a long standing curiosity about islands, and we both live in the city, albeit a small one, so we figured one of the quieter Canary Islands would be ideal for a visit.  After a bit of research (okay, maybe a few hours worth!), I finally settled on…

Lanzarote!: an island of volcanoes, beaches, and sunshine.  I could not wish for a destination more different from the green farmlands of my hometown back in Western New York.

After choosing a location, it is important to know your budget.  This will partially dictate how long your trip is and what kind of holiday it is going to be.  If you want a week-long stay in a villa right in the center of a capital city, your budget needs to reflect that.  Luckily, even a sad looking bank statement can get you a decent place these days.

My partner and I try to put a little away every month for emergencies and excursions (priorities, right!), so we settled on a healthy figure as a treat: £1500 for a seven night stay.  That would include our accommodation, transportation, meals, and fun-fare.

Once the cash situation is figured, picking a place to sleep and store your bags is a cinch!  We scoured the apartments, country homes, and villas on Clickstay and easily found our perfect digs: a three bedroom Cannarian finca that is 200 years old!  We love a place with character, and this most definitely has it.  Not only does it have a private pool and hot tub to soak in after a long day’s hike, but has beautiful stone walls on the terrace and original features that make you feel like you are stepping through time.  Just the sort of place we would want to call home for a week!

Finca in Spain, Guime: Heated pool and terrace

While the villa exudes privacy, it is still in walking distance of bars, supermarkets, and the beach, so we can go for a stroll in search of refreshment without any problems.  And with a fully fitted kitchen, a trip or two to the store will definitely be happening!  Paella anyone!?

Normally we do not like downtime on a holiday as we feel like we are wasting what precious time we have, but this villa’s charms would make any spare time so special.  Space is a problem in English living, so just the idea of terraces and private pools sounds like a dream.  Imaging myself sunbathing on the lounge chairs soaking up the rays in the view of island mountains (coated in SPF 10000 of course) is beyond peaceful, and I know it will restore both my mind and body to tip top shape.  Who knows, maybe a spot of yoga will even be in the works!

A location is picked, a budget sorted, and dates in the works, so all that is left is to plan what activities to do or sights to see.  Right now I am all about landscape views, so we will definitely be checking out the moon-like views in Timanfaya National Park.  As an added bonus, we can go via camel!  Once we have warmed our feet on the volcanic rocks near the lava fields, we can cool down by taking a splash in the sea, or if we are feeling especially adventurous (and by that I mean if I can convince my partner!) we could dive down deep in the Yellow Submarine.  No matter which we choose, this is going to be a natural wonders type of trip rather than our typical city explorations.  However, one thing in our schedule is for sure — drinks by the pool.

Finca in Spain, Guime: Heated pool and terrace

Now you have seen my process, why not get started on your own dream-cation?  Or, even better, why not try your luck at winning a your own villa voucher to use in Spain and an instant camera to capture all your holiday memories?  Simply head over to Clickstay, check out their selection of properties, and comment on their competition page with your favourite!

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The Travel Basics

You book your flights, hop your plane, and arrive at your destination without knowing how in the world you are meant to get around.  Exploring a new city can be intimidating, let alone adventuring around an entirely new country.  I have put together a quick and easy crash course on the various options that are available, so all you need to do is get a ticket and test your limits!

By Rail

England has a well connected train network, with over 2,500 stations spread over the country.  There are seven main inter-regional lines with regular timetables, and more localized lines that often run less frequently. Each station will have an easy to read departure and arrival board, similar to those found in airports.  When you arrive, just check the journey panel for the name of your trip, note down the platform number, grab a coffee, and head to your train.

Tickets for a regional trip may be booked at the station or online prior to the journey via TheTrainLine or National Rail. While TheTrainLine allows payment with PayPal, National Rail tends to charge an average of £3 less due to less added expenses.  Whichever mode of buying your tickets, try to buy early to avoid high costs.  Advance bookings can be up to 47% discounted in comparison with on the day fares.

If in a real pinch, most trains will allow purchases on board. Keep in mind that on board tickets cost much more than when pre-booked, and if the service is unavailable you may be in danger of a fine.

If you are going across the English Channel, check out the EuroStar, but make sure to book several weeks ahead of time to guarantee the rail service’s £69 round trip deal.  Otherwise, you will be surprised by triple digit fares and be disappointed when you have to rearrange your itinerary or budget.

By Road

There are three options for road travel: coach, bus, or car.

Driving can be a low cost travel solution, as rentals can be personalized to fit anyone’s needs.  There are dozens of operators, meaning many offer competitive services.  Shop around, find what suits you, and call up the company.  Just don’t forget to check up on your insurance and to read the small print before signing!

If renting is not your cup of tea, look into low cost short term car shares with sites like ZipCar, free or cheap rideshares such as CarPooling, or splurging by hiring a driver guide through a company like The Driver-Guides Association.

The second way to hit the open road is to use the coach or bus.  Like the rail network, England has a strong coach (long distance) and bus (short distance) presence. Though much slower than taking the train, both offer a solution to those with a need to travel on a budget.  There are two national and six large regional coach operators, and each offer their own pricings and discounts.  I suggest trying Megabus or National Express, as both provide fairly reliable service all around the country at a very low cost.  Megabus even offers cross-country services, traveling between England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg, and Italy.  The long hours spent dozing and ogling the views pass quickly, and the money saved easily outweighs the extra time spent.

By Air

Although this is technically an option, I strongly advise against flying within Great Britain.  The trip may seem fast, but the unnecessary expense will take a toll on your wallet, experience, and environment.  When you need to fly, use Google Flight‘s intuitive program to find the cheapest days, times, and lines to travel on.  Make sure to also check SkyScanner, as
their flight search engine checks even the lesser known, discount airlines.  If you are feeling especially adventurous, test out their “Everywhere” option and see where you end up!
By Sea

Okay, so this might be a bit misleading as you will most likely need to use one of the other options alongside this one, but many do not know they can get around by boat!  England is surrounded by water, so it makes sense that sea services are a valid travel choice.  Ferries make regular trips to and from England, Holland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, France, Spain, surrounding islands, and more.  Finding a port is simple with AFerry‘s search function, and booking may be done with any of the operators, including P&O, Sea France, Brittany Ferries, or Stena Line.  Surf the waves from aboard a ship, pretend you’re a pirate, and enjoy the ‘road’ less traveled that will make for some awesome pictures and stories.

Ambling Antiques

Walking into the shop is like shoving your nose into a yellow stained page, musty and still as captured time. Rather than the expected unique South African antiques, I am met by an Empire. British memorabilia spatters the shelves, extending the monarchs tyranny centuries after his body has turned back to earth. Yet, the pieces do not shout. They do not stamp and demand attention. They sit, unnoticed, unclaimed, on shelves and desks. Abandoned far from home, they gather dust and rust and crust over in disuse. One cup cries for company, begs to be taken back to the chemically cleaned cupboards at the Norfolk Hotel. Whining, he promises he can be polished. The liver spot petina that speckles his body will fade with a rub down. The copper stain down his no longer proud lion and unicorn East Anglia crest, left from years of leaning sideways along a forgotten shelf, may be removed. He pleads, “Please, I can change!” He yearns for the heat of arabica, the blanket of tea leaf resin, the cold slosh of cream. Lips on lips on lips. “Please. Please.” But I can see his dented metal, the small handle that risks cut fingers, and the rainbow splashed bottom of a material too cheap to even grace my parched tongue without worrying it may turn green. “You are too cold, too old,” I mumble, backing away into the labyrinth of wishful thinking.

Antique shop in Mosselbaai, SA

Antique shop in Mosselbaai, SA

From East Anglia to South Africa

        From East Anglia to South Africa

Trailblazing through the waters of Wilderness

Driving over the bridge, surrounded by emerald foliage rolling down the mountainous hills, one would never imagine the adventure carrying out below. For under the concrete and mortar, a canoe crew skims along the Touw River, plunging paddles into the skin-numbing water and pumping underdeveloped muscles to pull the vessels forward.

Field specialist Amanda Robbins arranged the half hour trek to Wilderness to put her five Africa Media journalist interns’ thrill seeking writing skills to the test. As one of those Big Five, I can attest to the adrenalin surge Eden Adventures’ abseiling along the Kaaimans Waterfall caused, and the welcome journey back down to water where four canoes lay waiting at the river’s embankment.

Abseiling

Abseiling down Kaaimans Waterfall, 2014

Making my way down to the edge, my bare feet work to maneuver over gravel and stones until the chill liquid greets my toes to soothe the aches away. Our guide, Steve, flashes a cheeky grin and asks if anyone needs a brief lesson on canoe etiquette, safety, or paddling, and as he explains how to scoop ice cream to move forward, I become lost in the beauty of the contrasting views.

The rumbling of vehicles hums in eardrums as drivers zoom by with thoughts of dates and deadlines, but cormorants and king fishers croon and sunbathe detached from human cares of temporality. Nature coexists with man, separate, yet entwined through a shared surrounding.

Steve’s voice cuts through the spiderweb strands of my wandering mind, and he urges us to all board our boats. “Front steadies, back steers,” he reminds us. Megan, my canoe companion, clambers in and plops down onto the seat then waits patiently for her paddle. I wade out into the algae-tinged river, stepping gingerly as my skin prickles from the frigid water. I drag the craft further out until the bottom no longer drags, then climb in, push off, and begin to pull the water with the curved edge of the plastic.

The ride is smooth, and beneath the boats, eels and fish flit unseen. Each stroke slices into the glassy surface and propels our bodies further into the indigenous forest that hides histories and houses mysterious shapes and sounds. Leopards, baboons, and bushmen could be camouflaged in the brush, tracking our antics and pondering our erratic comments. Our rhythmic movement is abbreviated with bursts of chatter and giggles as our pants become damp from the drips that slide down our poles and one canoe careens into a clump of vines near the shoreline.

Kayaking down Kaaimans River, 2014

Kayaking and canoeing Kaaimans River, 2014

It is not a race,” I cry as the boys, John and Surya, zip past in an attempt to reach a narrow pass first, but all I receive as answer is a splash and a laugh.  Synchronizing our sweeps, we push our muscles with a smirk past the competition, then come to a landing against the riverbank, ending our bold and venturous crusade into the wild waters of Wilderness for the moment. We mount the shore, and my bare feet bound onto the warm stones.

I briefly regret my decision not to keep my shoes on, but the anticipation of jungle possibilities drown out the pain in my cautious steps.  Leopards may be lurking in the gloom.  Wild elephants, tucked away from prying eyes, could come crashing out through the trees.  My nightmare, the baboon, might be watching.  I hungrily scan the forest, searching for any hint of movement or glint of glassy eyes.  Nothing.

We walk on, the group chatting and laughing and driving the wild away with their civilized shoes and upright gaits.  The moment is gone, the dream of connection chased away by skipping stones.  Soon we will clamber back into our man-made contraptions, paddle back upstream in a lurching race, and squelch back up the path to Fairy Knowe Lodge.  Then, maybe, the jungle will come alive.

The 411: My Journey to Nottingham

In my last post, I gave some tips to starting your search for a postgraduate degree program in England.  For some, even starting a list may seem daunting, so I have a pre-application treat for you!  I am posting my very own process! Use it, abuse it, do whatever you wish.  My wish is that seeing the finished product will help get you started!  So here it is, in all its glory:

Step 1: Potential Choices

Roehampton
Cambridge
UEA
Essex
King’s College London
University College London
Queen Mary, University of London
Oxford
Southhampton
Kent
Sussex
Reading
Royal Holloway, University of London
Nottingham
Leicester

Step 2: Decide What is Important to You

Location: East Midlands, East England, London, South East
Student:Staff Ratio: smaller classroom setting
Program: Stylistics, Literature (preferably 19th century)
Green Campus: Yes
Atmosphere: Strong sense of community, Slightly artsy

Step 3: Eliminate Through Preliminary Research

Essex:
Ranking: 39
Admissions Requirement: 2i or higher
Cost: £13,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Low/Med
M-F: 50:50
Green: Average

King’s College London
Ranking: 19
Admissions Requirement: 2i or higher
Cost: £16,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Average
M-F: 40:60
Green: Average

Oxford
Ranking: 2
Admissions Requirement: 2i or higher
Cost: £16,000
Funding: Limited
Crime: Very Low
M-F: 55:45
Green: Low/Med

  • Early Modern Studies
  • Medieval Literature
  • Eighteenth-century Literature
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Literature
  • American Literature
  • English Language and Linguistics
  • Romanticism
  • Nineteenth Century and the Fin de Siècle
  • Critical Theory
  • Gender Studies
  • Film Studies

Kent
Ranking: 28
Admissions Requirement: 2ii or higher
Cost: £12,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Very Low
M-F: 48:52
Green: Average

  • Creative Writing
  • Dickens and Victorian Culture
  • Eighteenth-Century Studies
  • English and American Literature
  • Linguistics
  • Postcolonial Studies
  • The Contemporary

Sussex
Ranking: 31
Admissions Requirement: 2ii or higher
Cost: £13,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Very Low
M-F: 45:55
Green: Average

Royal Holloway, University of London
Ranking: 30
Admissions Requirement: 2i or higher
Cost: £12,500
Funding: Limited
Crime: Very Low
M-F: 44:56
Green: Low/Med

Nottingham
Ranking: 24
Admissions Requirement: 2i or higher
Cost: £13,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Very Low
M-F: 49:51
Green: Average

Leicester
Ranking: 16
Admissions Requirement: 2i or higher
Cost: £12,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Very Low
M-F: 49:51
Green: Low/Med

Step 4: Pick Top 5

Royal Holloway
Cambridge
Leicester
Nottingham
Kent

+1 Safety: Essex

Step 5: Have Non-UK Backups

University of Toronto:
Ranking: 1
Admissions Requirement: 3.3 GPA or higher
Cost: $18,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Average
M:F: 44:56
Green: Average

  • General English Literature MA — Select course of study

UBC:
Ranking: 3
Admissions Requirement: 3.3 GPA or higher
Cost: $8,000
Funding: Yes
Crime: Low
M:F: 46:54
Green: Very high

  • General English Literature MA — Select course of study

Step 6: Apply and Cross Your Fingers

Step 7: Apply for Every Scholarship You Possibly Can

– Marshall Scholarship – Full 1 year (due Oct 1st)

– Butex Scholarship – £500 (available to apply end of Sept)

– Erasmus???

– Fulbright Grant – Full 1 year (due Oct 1st)

– Rhodes scholarship – Full 1 year (due Oct 1st)

So there you have it! My journey led me to Nottingham, and once my MA was completed, onwards to UEA.  Was the process long?  Yes. It was also more than worth the time and effort I put into the decision.  Nottingham, as a top 1% world university, has given me many opportunities, and I got to work with one of the leaders of my field (literary linguistics).  I can only hope you are all as lucky as I have been!

411 on PG UK

You’ve finished your undergraduate, want adventure, are thinking of continuing on to a new degree, are ready for the next step..  but where to start?

It is a daunting process, starting the search for a postgraduate degree program abroad.  I know because I have run the gauntlet myself, scouring the internet trying to find my ideal university, creeping through Facebook pictures of campuses, writing list upon list upon list of facts and figures.  If I didn’t find a strange pleasure in research and planning, I would have been completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that bombarded me at every click of my mouse.   So, for your comfort and ease my dear friends, I have created a series to help guide you on your search for your perfect program.

Start with Google

Yes, I know it sounds basic, but it works.  You know you want to study in England, so start with a simple search: “Top universities in England.”  The handy dandy internet should lead you to The Complete University Guide UK, a site that is the perfect stepping stone towards finding your new home.  Not only does it provide a comprehensive (and customizable) list of every university in England, it also offers lesser thought of statistics such as crime rates, student to staff ratios, and a Green score.

If you are not satisfied with the League Tables, check out another top hit, Top Universities.  The QS is a yearly publication which offers rankings for universities around the world, but also allows for a quick browse of what is on offer in each country.  Dreaming of London?  The website lists the world rankings of each of the capital’s institutions and links each to a short and sweet summary that spits facts about the student population, campus location, and recent investments.

Lists on Lists on Lists

Now, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I swear by it.  You cram your head full of information, but when it comes time to recall what universities offered what, you are at a loss.  Was it Kent that had the European partnerships, or Leicester?  Did Royal Holloway have three bars on campus, or was that UEA?  Writing it all down will save you a lot of stress.

What should you write down?  Well, this is up to you, but I recommend at least the following basics:
cost, potential programs, location, scholarship opportunities, ranking

Totally anal retentive like me?  Jot down these details as well:
entry requirements, student satisfaction ranking, Green score, number of clubs/societies, average class sizes, flexibility in choosing classes, age of university, distance from city centre, male/female ratio, number of international students, number of libraries, teaching/research standards

Another fun one to check out is past alumni!  Keep in mind, this is a lengthy process, but also keep in mind that starting a degree at a new university in a foreign country is an investment of time and money, so making sure you are completely happy with your selection is crucial.

Cut Back

You have your lists.  You have your lists about lists.  Now it is time to start to make some decisions.  By now, you should have a much firmer grasp of what you are looking for.  You have seen what you dislike about certain universities and realized what is a must through others.  The first step to eliminating the unwanted is choosing what is most important to you.  Don’t want to spend over £20,000 per year?  Cut all of the universities that go over that budget.  Want an institution that shares your environmental concerns?  Cut those that have weak Green scores.  Thinking you want to join the equestrian society?  Cut the ones that do not have horse friends.  Love the sea?  Cut the landlocked prisons.  Knowing what you want will quickly cut down your choices and should leave you with just a handful left to ponder over.

Apply

Luckily for you, most universities in the UK do not have application fees.  That means you can (and should) apply to multiple!  Leave nothing to chance, and have at least three applications submitted ahead of their deadlines.  Apply for any and all scholarships available to you as well (most of which will be listed on the institution’s International Student Office page).  Hopefully in a few weeks you will have both an offer and a hefty scholarship to help you make your final decision.

This is just a starting guide to get you started on your search, so make sure to keep posted for the 411 on PG UK!

Blaizing Trails in Mosselbaai: The Dassie Dilemma

Do not let the scenic beauty camouflage what is lying in plain sight.

Do not let the scenic beauty camouflage what is lying in plain sight.

 

Hiking to me means mildly hilly woodland trails, so my surprise upon arriving at Mosselbaai’s most popular spot was mixed with an anxiety that the mountainous terrain would prove to be too much for my Western New York legs. However, two hours later, any sweat from the climb had been soothed away by brine mists that danced up the sheer drops of the jagged rock face and I was convinced the five day Saint Blaize Trail lives up to its reputation as a must for avid hikers and adventure seekers all over the globe.

The trek offers eye catching views for casual walkers as well, with photo ops of seal bounding through foaming waves that crash onto bronze cliffs, a variety of vivid pink, white, red, and yellow wildflowers that help make Mosselbaai a mecca for herbology enthusiasts; gentle fluttering butterflies, glimpses back in time with seashells left behind by ancient natives, and a gradual erosion of rocks to smooth sand. However, the trail’s Oystercatcher Path has more secrets than just stone-scratched caves and untold histories hiding in its hills.

Wildflowers and time smoothed shells are not the only things that lie along the Oystercatcher Path.

Wildflowers and time smoothed shells are not the only things that lie along the Oystercatcher Path.

My first initiation with South African wildlife was not the big five in a game reserve, but the elephants’ beaver meets guinea pig meets squirrel relative, the dassie, an oddball that frequents the area. The experience begins in the parking lot when the skittering rock rat stops to give a memorable welcome, zipping back and forth across the worn tar pavement, dashing under green paint chipped park benches, and hiding behind oblivious sneakers. These goofy critters are more than willing to pose for a glamour shot, but the taciturn and trusting attitude of the animal is anything but ordinary. Dassies are natural foragers and due to regular feedings by hikers and uncovered trash cans, the creatures have started to associate humans with an easy meal and are no longer bothered by the close proximity of curious tourists.

South Africa has strict trash and recycling policies in place, and most receptacles are not easily accessible to animals. Mosselbaai requires residents to sort their refuse and dispose of plastics, paper products, and glass properly in the blue bags given to each household by the municipality. With sites like My Waste, finding a center is never an issue, and the city has also set up bins to manage the daily out and about waste. Tourists, however, are not always ready to adapt ritual habits like tossing trash on the ground, picking up dropped items, or feeding wildlife.

South Africa has policies in place, so why all the litter?

South Africa has policies in place, so why all the litter?

Walking the trail, it is easy to overlook innocuous litter while soaking in the scenery, but unfortunately the dassies are not as oblivious. Ice cream containers, snack wrappers, soda bottles: much of this tossed trash offers a tasty treat to the hungry dassie.

Why is feeding the adorable dassie an issue? Studies have shown that feeding wild animals, even those as small as this rock rat, can make the creature lose their fear of people and cause them to become a nuisance as they begin to actively seek out sustenance. Another problem with panhandling meals to wildlife, especially in areas like the Saint Blaize Trail which begins on the edge of a public area filled with restaurants like Big Blue and snack shacks such as The Waffle Hut, is that the creatures put themselves and others into dangerous situations.

This cute little critter climbs into open bins and shows no fear of cars.

This cute little critter climbs into open bins and shows no fear of cars.

A recent example of the effects of introducing human delicacies into wild animals’ diets in South Africa can be seen in the Knysna baboon crisis. What started as a seasonal occurrence has turned into a full scale invasion. Knysna turned into a war zone, with baboons facing off with adult males and killing domestic pets to gain access to a much needed supply of food. Luckily, instead of destroying the dangerous new inhabitants, locals started efforts to coexist with the animals, rendering appetizing items inaccessible and placing locks on bins.  The Action Group began to understand the situation, realizing that humans had unintentionally created the problem through the provision of tasty treats to the hungry baboons.

The Saint Blaize Trail dassies, like the Knysna baboons, have begun to evolve into a local dilemma due to the creatures search for grub. The vegetation surrounding the area is minimal, yet the dassie population continues to grow due to the meals of chips and french fries provided. This association with food has already started to cause problems. There have not been instances of dassies stowing away in vehicles near Oystercatcher Path, but there have been several surprised hikers who arrived hoping for sun and scenic views and left with souvenir bites.  The animals also have begun to attempt to seek sanctuary beside automobile wheels. Though cute, the dassie can carry diseases like rabies, making what should be an enjoyable experience dangerous for unsuspecting walkers.  Also, despite the population growth, the species is at risk of dying out in Mosselbaai due to their new artificial diets, a death that would leave Hyraceum perfume makers scrambling for ingredients and the Saint Blaize Trail lacking its delightful welcome committee.

Dassies have no qualms about getting up close and personal with human visitors, and in time the minor inconveniences may escalate into a much bigger dilemma. While it’s tempting to  share a bit of your burger or step over the abandoned bits of rubbish while snapping a panoramic view of the bay to show off on Facebook, take a moment think of the dassie.  This creature that made you squeal in childish wonder when you pulled up to Saint Blaize Trail, whose very nature is changing with each human decision that is made, is counting on us to fight for its continued existence.

Think of the dassie before tossing your trash or feeding your furry friends.  Their lives may depend on your actions.

Think of the dassie before tossing your trash or feeding your furry friends. Their lives may depend on your actions.

Reeling for Spring Break

Spring Break is the student’s dream: sand, sun, and no homework or responsibilities for days.  I do not typically take part in the trek down to Myrtle Beach, the Keys, or the Bahamas, but I do live vicariously through the Facebook updates of those who do.

I was recently navigating through the waves of information on my newsfeed, when I was stopped by a disturbing image.  The mouth of a shark was being pried open to show its teeth, which shined bright against the blood, and an old classmate of mine was kneeling beside it, pole in one hand and a smirk on his newly tanned face.

1450905_10202574732276262_1541724197_n.jpg

Now let me stop there for a moment.  I am no stranger to gore.  I grew up in Western New York in a family that hunts and I have watched Game of Thrones.  So why did this death horrify me?

It was not the smiles of those who crowded around the shark.  This I have seen in pictures of my family posing with a freshly caught deer.  And it was not the blood that speckled the white jaws.  I think it was the sheer shock of seeing a creature I watched reverently on Shark Week splayed out on the sand, dominated by a man that had been the high school class clown.

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The picture was a slap in the face, one that continued to mock me with similar updates over the next few days.  So why did I not just delete these guys who were clearly making me uncomfortable?  Because if I had, they would have continued to ruin much more than my silly attempts to sunbathe via Facebook.

Over half our planet is covered in water, so many believe that the ocean’s resources are unlimited.  We can splash all we want to, boat all we want to, and fish all we want to, right?

The NOAA Fisheries claim that in 2011, nearly 2.7 million sharks were caught recreationally by anglers in the U.S.  Of these captured, about 96% were released back into the oceans.  However, that tiny 4% adds up to be over 100,000 sharks.  When you begin piling up the world’s catches, the number of dead quickly grows.

Reports show that the Oceanic White Tip, once one of the most common sharks in the world, is nearly extinct in the Gulf of Mexico, a population crash of almost 99%.  Similar destruction is seen in the Atlantic hammerheads (a drop of 89%) and the Gulf’s silky sharks (90%).

So why are people casting out for sharks?  Big game fishing has a strong pull, with contests advertised along popular beaches and celebrities flaunting their catches.  One man, Peter Burban, recently made headlines after catching a 1,000lb hammerhead during a Florida competition.  During an interview, Burban states, “If you catch one huge fish, it’s like a drug, you cannot stop. It’s like motivation to catch bigger and bigger fish.”

Big fish! A Florida angler reeled in the catch of his life as he fished off the South Florida cost

Burban proudly stated that he was able to safely relocate the shark back into the ocean because he had used a circle hook, a tactic many fishermen are using to ensure a successful catch and release.  But is there more to this “safe” release than meets the eye?

The University of Miami has recently discovered that the tactic can prove deadly to certain species of shark, including the hammerhead.  Austin Gallagher, head author of the project, says, “Our results show that while some species, like tiger sharks, can sustain and even recover from minimal catch and release fishing, other sharks, such as hammerheads are more sensitive. Our study also revealed that just because a shark swims away after it is released, doesn’t mean that it will survive the encounter.”

Figure credit: A. Gallagher, et al.

Sharks do not give you steak.  They are not running into cars on the highway or tearing up your garden.  There is not a surplus population and the DEC has not issued a control on the animals.  The only reward you receive is bragging rights, and who really wants to gloat about annihilating a species over Spring Break?  I for one would rather get some sun.

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Long Distance Love Story

The people you meet while abroad become more than friends; they become your family. These are the people you spend your time partying, studying, and relaxing with. These are the people who will support you and eat Chinese for breakfast with you. They will jump at the chance to go somewhere new, and will be the ones convincing you to do that thing you are just too afraid to try on your own. These will be the people you travel the world with and travel the world for.