This weeks travel inspiration comes from Margarita from The Wildlife Diaries. Margarita is on a solo mission travelling to see wildlife in their natural habitat, more specifically she aims to see all 40 species of big cats! This means travelling to some pretty isolated locations across the world so it’s fair to say she’s been on a fair few adventures. We found out what inspired her to leave her home country and listened to a few words of wisdom from this wildlife adventurer.
What first inspired you to travel?
I started travelling before I knew I wanted to. I moved between a few countries before finally setting in Australia. But my first independent trip was to India to see the tigers in the wild. Ever since then I have been travelling mostly to the remote and wild places to see wildlife in its natural habitat.
A few years ago, I set myself on an ambitious quest – to see all 40 species of wild cats in the wild. Now all of my travel is focused on the destinations where wild cats are found, which is practically everywhere apart from Australia and Antarctica.
How long have you been travelling for?
I left Russia, where I grew up, in 1986. So effectively I have been travelling for 22 years. Most of my early travel was long term: a few years in China, another few years in Thailand. Now I try to make a couple of trips a year and dream of a time when I can pack up and go away with a one-way ticket again.
What do you do when you’re not travelling?
In between my travels, I explore the natural areas around Sydney. Hiking, camping, photographing local wildlife – anything that allows me to escape the city.
I write my blog posts between the trips, which I find to be a great way to re-live the journeys. And of course, I plan my next adventures.
’Dream as if you’ll live forever; Live as if you’ll die today’ – James Dean
What has been your most memorable big cat encounter?
It’s tough to pick one. I would say that the most memorable encounter was the most unexpected one. My friends and I were hiking in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. Our guide assured us that our chances of spotting a wildcat in Corcovado were virtually non-existent. Yet, when we walked into the area known as the Puma Valley, our guide froze in his steps and pointed into the jungle.
I looked in the direction he was pointing and met an intent stare of a puma. She was no further than 5 meters away from us. She considered us for a while and then continued on her way. As she walked into the open, we saw two almost-grown cubs following on her heels. The whole family was very relaxed. They did not show any signs of being uncomfortable in our presence. They just walked through the forest in front of us, until they disappeared in the thick undergrowth.
If you could give one piece of advice to a first-time traveller, what would it be?
I would say ‘Just go out there’. Find a destination that you are passionate about and go explore. Let the passion carry you over the anxiety. And always remember that failures (getting lost or jumping on a wrong bus) often lead to the best and most authentic encounters and experiences which make for the best stories.
Do you have any budgeting tips for those looking to begin long-term travel?
In my experience, finding volunteering opportunities is a great way to experience a place without breaking the budget. Not only do you get an opportunity to contribute to a good cause, you also, for a brief time, become part of life in that destination, rather than a passing visitor. Many lower profile places that offer volunteering opportunities will provide accommodation and some meals.
What can’t you travel without?
My camera gear. As an avid wildlife photographer, my carry-on luggage is always filled to the brim with camera equipment. It limits the number of creature comforts I can take with me on the plane and adds significant weight to my bag, but the images I am often able to take make it all worth it.
What still scares you whilst on the road?
I find the idea of losing my passport quite frightening, so I always have copies of it tucked in different pockets in my bags and my clothes.
Who would be your ideal travel partner?
David Attenborough! But in the real world, it is my two friends from Canada. We are all passionate about wildlife and have similar attitudes towards travel and being on the road.
Where is your favourite place and why?
My all-time favourite destination is the Tibetan Plateau. It is the last stronghold of the Tibetan nomadic culture. The landscape of the plateau is as vast as it is dramatic and because it is so sparsely populated, it feels like the final frontier. This remote part of the world is not frequently visited by foreign tourists and exploring it feels like a real journey of discovery.
What’s your all-time favourite travel picture, does it have a story behind it?
Late last year I was looking for wild cats in Borneo’s Deramakot Forest Reserve. One night at dinner we were told by another group of wildlife watchers that they spotted a rare Marbled cat climbing up a tree in a well-known area of the forest. We rushed to get there, but just as we were approaching the right spot, the sky opened up and the rain came down so heavy we couldn’t keep our eyes open.
When the rain finally eased about 40 minutes later, we were soaked to the bone. We looked up and saw the cat curled up on a branch about 40 meters above our heads. It was so cosy on its perch that it let us stay with it for over half an hour.
As I was photographing the cat, a layer of mist moved in – it was a very atmospheric scene. The cat adjusted its position on the branch and ended up using its long bushy tail as a pillow. That shot, of one of the rarest wild cats sleeping on a tree branch after a torrential downpour, using its tail as a pillow is my all-time favourite travel picture.
If you could give travel advice to the past you, what would it be?
With me, it’s the other way around. I hear the past me telling me ‘Don’t grow up & stay on the road’.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced whilst travelling’
Looking for animals in the wild, the biggest challenge is finding them. I find that the trick is to manage expectations. So I do my best during the planning stages and then relax completely when I get to the destination and just soak up the experience. And if I see the animal I am looking for, it becomes the cherry on top. If not, I still have an amazing trip.
Have you had to make any sacrifices for your travel?
My trips are quite specialized and they tend to be quite expensive. So I have to prioritise travel over most pricey entertainment options. The trouble is, there have been so many interesting talkers, thinkers and scientists visiting Sydney lately, that the temptation to splurge on an event ticket is always there. So it is a constant sacrifice to make these trips a reality.
This year I have a big trip coming up to Brazil and Argentina. I have not seen any of South America’s wild cats yet, so I am very excited. I am heading to the Pantanal to look for jaguars and ocelots and to a National Park just outside of Buenos Aires, called El Palmar to look for a small Geoffroy’s cat
If you want to follow Margarita’s mission to see all the magnificent big cats don’t forget to check out her website www.thewildlifediaries.com to follow her wild travel mission. Her awesome work can also be found on twitter @wilddiaries
Our next travel inspiration comes from Teacher, Travel Blogger and Solo Traveller Ashely. Having travelled the Americas, Asia and even the Carribean Ashley has a few wise words to share with us next week!
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