We quite often get asked a lot of questions around our business:
- How we got into it?
- What we did before?
- How do we find the projects?
- What do we actually do?
So each week, I’m going to pull out an old photo to give you an idea of our journey, understand what we do behind the scenes and why we do it.
This first photo was taken on 5th August 2014.
We’d heard of some cool elephant projects in Sri Lanka and back then it wasn’t a very popular country. This appealed to us as we prefer places that haven’t yet been ruined by mass tourism, which is becoming increasingly hard. We’d built our entire trip around the Kandy Perahera, The festival of the Tooth, in which the sacred tooth relic of Buddha is paraded through the streets. When first planning the trip, it looked incredible, artists and guards parading in full armour and beautiful costumes, fire poi and elephants but little did we know what was going on behind the scenes and the conditions that these elephants were exposed to.
We started in Negombo and checked out the small fishing villages before hopping on several public buses, which can be quite challenging as a traveller with a huge backpack. They were quite small to navigate through, small seats and low shelves with narrow walkways, and always packed like crazy. The next leg of our journey was by train, we certainly didn’t expect much but knew there would be a little more room to breath. We were also out in the middle of nowhere, away from the busy tourist routes and it was idyllic, so peaceful, calm and quiet.
There was a lot of uncertainty as rarely knew if we were on the right train or heading the right way but asked about and got ‘some’ kind of clarity with a head shake that I still struggle to figure out if it's yes or no. (’m sure many of you will be familiar with the Indian/Sri Lankan headshake).
"Thinking back to that moment evokes a lot of emotions, freedom, fear, uncertainty, failure, excitement. I’m always excited when I travel, excited to meet new people, excited to see new places, excited to try new food and excited to learn more. It’s these new environments where we grow the most."
I remember our hosts dropping us off at the station, cramped in the back of his tuk-tuk hidden underneath our bags. We said our goodbyes and walked into the station. It was a hot but dry day, auburn-reddish dust covered almost everything I owned, including my feet, as well as everything else from buildings to cars. It was completely baron, not a person in sight, just the odd bird song, monkey rustling up above and lizard scurrying across the path.
We dumped our bags, looked around and laughed...No signs, no posters, no timetables...no-one. All we could do was wait.
There’s something really special about waiting that we rarely experience today. Due to our constant connection to the digital world we’ve never been more disconnected from the natural world. This means our sympathetic nervous system is constantly firing our fight or flight response, increasing our blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels. Hence, we’re a stressed-out nation with less time to play and more mental health issues than ever before.
Did you know that the NHS spends over £12billion a year on mental health but the wider cost to the national economy is nearly £80billion due to welfare benefits and loss of productivity at work?
What do you think would happen if we invested more of this into ‘The Nature Fix’? Especially, considering there is only a 2 point difference between placebos and antidepressants on the 52-point Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) - Kirch et al 2002.
Ian and I are great at going off on tangents, so I’ll try not to divert too much but the point is, as discussed in The Nature Fix by Florence Williams:
"Good shit happens to your brain"
Back to the story...
What we couldn’t work out was, why was there only one track? What about trains that go the other way? How does this work? What side do we need to be on?
With our maps and books at hand, we managed to work out the towns that we needed to aim for and as the trains pulled in (few and far between) the conductor would lean out shouting where they were heading. We didn’t have long, from the time it took us to understand what he was saying to consulting our maps and books and realising it wasn’t us.
When our call came, the name sounded familiar (from scouring through maps for hours) and as we shouted: "YES", the whole train shook as he applied the brakes to bring the rusty and old, yet charming, train to a halt. In a lot of these smaller towns, they only stop if they need to, saving energy and fuel and money but also more sustainable :)
We jumped on, found some seats, and sat by the window, trying to cool down. The excitement caused quite the panic and after lugging our bags on and working through the carriages to find a good spot, we broke out in quite the sweat.
It doesn’t take much out there or me generally, which is why Ian has lovingly given me my own Latin name, Sweaty Piggus, charming. Sitting by the window doesn’t do much either as feels more like a hot hair dryer blowing in your face than a cool refreshing breeze. The carriage was quite empty with just a few faces staring at us top to bottom. They were intrigued! Years ago I would have been intimidated but after all my travels I learnt that it was just that...curiosity and fascination!
After a smile offered and a smile received we settled into our carriage. It wasn’t long before the traders came walking through, knowing new clients (westerners at that) had boarded the train. From cold cans of ginger beer to local delicacies we gave most things a try. Including the ice cream, which was a necessity of course.
Pastry snacks were very popular, from sweetcorn and chilli bites to vegetable samosas and fresh mango with chilli salt. Odd at first but we grew to love it as it was so unbelievably refreshing. Sweetcorn and chunks of weird cheese were also a common snack. The corn kernels are much bigger than the small yellow ones I'm used to, easily four times the size, a lot paler but certainly juicer.
After a few hours and a few new friends, we slowed into a station, where we saw a local guide waiting with our name scribbled on a sign. We’d arrived!
It’s been a long time since I travelled like this. The unknown’s, the uncertainty, the excitement, the fear. So many things could happen, so many outcomes. You don’t know who you’re going to meet, where you’re going to end up.
Time is no barrier, there’s little agenda, compared to the busy lives that we usually follow. We spend more time in nature, taking notice and appreciating what’s around us. We have no phones, no computers, no digital connection. Just us, our friends and our thoughts.
"We become more connected to the natural world. We don’t do this enough!"
What started as a conservation travel company has become a platform to create change. Our programmes are designed to:
Enable people to reconnect with themselves and their environments,
Understand their social and environmental impact
Acknowledge the importance of nature for their own health and wellbeing, and
Appreciate the space and clarity that nature gives us for our own growth and development.