Here are my top 5 posts:

  1. The palm oil dilemma: will a boycott help or hurt the environment?: Claire is back again with a great and a thoughtful blog post. People are calling for a complete ban on palm oil based on the controversial ban of the Iceland Christmas advert, but real environmentalists know it’s not always that simple. I was thinking on doing a post on the subject, but Claire has said everything.
  2. 4 ways to be productive when you’re having a low energy day: With SAD, I’ve been having a lot of these recently and it’s nice to see a fellow blogger have realistic tips that aren’t “just get out of bed.”
  3. When you don’t love a city: To me, it takes a lot of courage to make posts like these. People expect travel bloggers to gush over everywhere they’ve been when in reality, when you’ve been around enough, there are some places you wouldn’t exactly rush back to.
  4. Reading habits tag: Now that I’m reading more, I’d be interested in doing one of these for myself!
  5. Top things to do in Kuala Lumpar: I posted earlier this month about how my brother and I are taking a trip to southeast Asia in June and these posts make me even more excited. I can’t wait!

Science, sustainability and veganism

General travel and study abroad

Travel destinations

Lifestyle

Blogging

Photo by Andrew Knechel.

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I’m starting a new bit once a month where I share species with interesting conservation stories or facts about animals I just think rule and hopefully you learn a thing or two along the way. One of my all-time favorite professors in my undergraduate opened class daily with a species of the day segment that really connected the dots between conservation in theory and conservation in action. I was also inspired by this blogs’ Species of the Month and my desire to keep sharp on conservation topics even though I’m finished with university and looking for the right career.

I will try to spread out stories between taxa1 and parts of the world, but first we start close to home with the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)2

The California condor is the only living New World vulture and one of the largest birds of prey3 native to the southwest United States (California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah).

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Photo by: Heather Paul

The species started to rapidly decline in the 20th century, ultimately leading the to become extinct in the wild (meaning, all 22 remaining individuals were in captivity). The life history of the species combine with threats made it hard for the population to remain afloat in the wild: condors live very long lives (about 60 years), take a while to reach sexual maturity and only raise a chick or two every couple of years. Threats such as lead poisoning (condors will feed on carcasses shot and left by hunters with lead bullets), poaching (or illegal hunting) and habitat destruction4.

To replenish the population, a captive breeding program was put in place, the main strategy being taking the chick away from their moms and hand-raising them so the mom would lay a replacement egg4. Can I say, the pictures of the condor chicks with the mommy puppets are absolute adorable.

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Photo by: Ron Garrison

After a bit of training, the condors were released back into their native range, including into the Grand Canyon National Park in my home state of Arizona. Their population is now over 200 individuals in the wild and still increasing5, despite the continued threats of egg collecting and power-line collisions4.

This goes to show that even in the grimmest of cases, there is still hope and people can do some really amazing things for wildlife.

Bonus fun facts

  • Ever wonder why vultures are bald? Lack of feathers makes it so that rotting food doesn’t get stuck in their feather when they’re neck deep in a carcass4
  • It is often thought that condors and other scavenging birds will circle the air when something is dead or dying, waiting for their chance to feed. This usually isn’t the case. When they’re circling, they’ve caught a “wave” of rising warm air that allows them to glide through the skies with little effort while they look for food6

Notes and sources

1 taxa: referring to taxonomoy, or the way species are grouped. E.g., since I did a bird species this month, I will do perhaps a mammal next month (fish the following time, insect, etc.).

2 Every living thing has a unique binomial Latin name of the genus followed by the species (and sometimes followed by a third name which is the subspecies). In this case, Gymnogyps is the genus and californianus is the species. This provides a universal nomenclature across different languages as well as the same language that might have different common names.

3 Science Focus, “Top 10: what are the largest birds of prey?”

4 San Diego Zoo, “California Condor”

5 IUCN Red List assessment, California Condor

6 Forbes, “Why do buzzards circle endlessly above carrion?”

Photo by Madison Roberts

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Before you locas start talking about Christmas, everyone seems to forget my favorite holiday of the season.

Remember, remember the 5th of November. 

Anyone who has seen the film V for Vendetta is probably familiar with this phrase. But what exactly is Bonfire Night? What is the purpose of all the different societies? How did it become so popular in Lewes, an unassuming town in the south east? Let’s break it down…

I last attended Bonfire Night in 2015 on my year abroad. I remember it was really wet, muddy, cold and loud. I particularly hated being hit with firecrackers by cheeky society members. Nonetheless, it was amazing to see the procession and, of course, the David Cameron effigy blown to kingdom come. I didn’t go to Bonfire Night last year because my friend gave me a free ticket to see Rise Against in London. No regrets.

This year, Diego and my old housemate Alex braved the crowds for a night to remember.

What is it?

Bonfire Night is a U.K. holiday in memory of The Gunpowder Plot (1605), organized by Guy Fawkes. Fawkes and his associates wanted to get rid of King James I and his Protestant government to make England Catholic again. However, Parliament was tipped off and the plotters were caught and executed. Bonfires were lit across London to celebrate the failure of the Plot and life of King James I.

Why Lewes?

Throughout the years, the holiday became a focus of anti-Catholic sentiment, burning effigies of hate-figures such as the Pope. Lewes saw particularly violent confrontations as disdain between opposing sides was exacerbated by the relatively recent Marian Persecutions, where seventeen Protestant martyrs were burnt at the stake. Protests were becoming more random, frequent and violent until the police got involved in the mid-17th century. From then on, the celebrations have been largely what they are like today: organized by societies with a procession on High Street followed by bonfires and fireworks at various locations around the perimeter of town.

Lewes, a town of 17,000, hosts about 30,000 people a year for this tradition, making it the largest in the countries, attracting bonfire societies as well as spectators from all over Sussex and beyond.

Different societies

Bonfire Night in Lewes actually isn’t a single event, but rather six. Different societies host different events across Lewes and offer different “flavors” of Bonfire Night if you will: modern or traditional, adult or juvenile, different pioneer fronts and costumes… representing different parts of town each with their own bonfire.

Procession

All societies march in the procession with costumes, fire and crackers a’plenty and music around High Street as early as 5:30PM. Luckily, Diego and I got good spots first on top of a small staircase and then in the very first row of the procession.

Photo credit: Toby Melville

Bonfires

Different societies host their own Bonfires. Go to the procession to see whose effigy you like best and refer to a map for their Bonfire location. Fires are lit about 9:30PM. I opted for the Waterloo Society Bonfire again, mainly because it’s where I went last time, their field is particularly massive and I knew they had food trucks there.

What to bring

  • Cash: food places and bonfire tickets don’t take card. Bring cash with you to avoid madly searching for a cash machine at Lewes.
  • Coins: to make donations if you desire.
  • All the layers: when you’re in the front row of the bonfire surrounded by people, it gets bloody hot. But when you’re standing in the queue for the bus, it can get quite cold. Bring loads of layers and prepare for rain with a portable poncho, even if the forecast is clear. I suggest wearing shoes you aren’t crazy about as between the smoke, mud and spilled beer, they’ll never be the same.
  • Portable charger: maybe it’s just me, but I never leave home for more than a few hours without it. You never know!
  • Bandana: if you’re sensitive to smoke, wearing a bandana or scarf over your face will help keep it out.
  • Water: it gets very crowded and smokey, stay hydrated!

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Other bits and tips

  • Of course with a lot of festivities comes a wide variety of food and drink. Go a block away from High Street in any direction and you’ll find plenty of food trucks and alcohol (bars won’t usually admit people into the building but rather serve alcohol in plastic cups to carry around in the street). Note that vegetarian and vegan food options are very limited.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for maps for the evening to tell you where each bonfire and street closures are.
  • Find a pamphlet with information of the Bonfire Societies, including where their fire is and how to get tickets.
  • That being said, a few societies require you book tickets for the bonfire ahead of time. Either get to Lewes early to buy tickets (finding Tourist Information during the procession is not possible) or go to a Bonfire that sells tickets at the gate. They will cost about £5 each.
  • Between the countryside location and loads of crowds, for some providers, there will be no cell phone service. Make sure you stay with your group and have a plan if you get separated.
  • It goes unsaid that this event is largely unsuitable for children, especially strollers, and most certainly unsuitable for pets.

Getting there and back

Transportation varies year by year, but here were the options this year:

  • Train: although I took the train to and from Lewes in 2015, Lewes station and a few stations in both directions were closed. Not a possibility for Bonfire Night.
  • Car: again, entirely impossible. Roads are closed and there are no parking facilities.
  • Bike: there are several bike trains to Lewes from Brighton that ride from various parts of town to the edge of Lewes and back.
  • Bus: the 28/29 bus ran to the edge of Lewes as usual from Brighton, but it was packed. The bus back from Bonfire Night was even crazier, with a queue of several hundred, but it went quicker than I expected, with buses constantly at the ready after the festivities. I recommend taking the bus there, but catch the bus from town so you’ll be one of the first to board and arrive early. The worst that can happen is you get there with not much to do but eat, drink and get a sneak peak at the effigies.
  • Coach: Big Lemon offered coach rides to and from Lewes with a reserved ticket (I wish I was quicker to this).
  • Pre-booked ride share: This is what I recommend most, particularly coming home. After a hectic evening, I was over dealing with drunk arseholes pushing their way into the bus queue.
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It has been a heavy few months in my world for music. With the lead singer of one of my favorite teenage-era bands passing away and several bands breaking up, if not taking an indefinite, vague break, the music industry has lost some great ones.

I would like to start this post by stating the obvious: a life lost is way more horrible than a band breaking up and my heart goes out to anyone effected by the death of Kyle Pavone.

I have been a fan of We Came as Romans since about 2011, seeing them live for the first time with my brother Ryan in 2012 and meeting them then as well. At that meeting, I had the guitarist and lyricist Joshua write out some of their words for me which I got tattooed in 2013. Although I’m not a fan of the style/ placing now and will probably get a cover-up of the same words in different writing, I don’t regret it.

Also in 2013, I won an eBay bid to go bowling for charity with the band amidst their Warped Tour run. Although Kyle wasn’t there, I had a great time with the band and Ryan, even if I did only score 40 points, landing me a horse’s ass trophy. At the end of the night, Ryan and I were chatting with (then) drummer Eric and singer Dave when they gave us guest list for Warped Tour the following week. At Warped Tour, we saw a few bands, including We Came as Romans, and went to their signing. They all greeted us excitedly and Kyle was left confused as he hadn’t met us before and had no idea why his bandmates were happy to see us, I’ll never forget the look on his face.

Since then, I haven’t been following We Came as Romans as closely. I don’t actively dislike them, I’ve just drifted towards other bands more. I was gobsmacked when I heard the news about Kyle a few months ago. Obviously, with the chance I got to spend time with them so personally and my tattoo, the band and its members will always mean a lot to me. What a tragic loss.

Now, on to the less serious losses. The hardest hitting one was Arcane Roots. I’ve seen them live three times: first when the opened for Enter Shikari in 2016 at Alexandra Palace. For myself and a lot of fans, that show will be immortalized as Enter Shikari’s best performance ever and I’m so glad I was there (especially since it was all recorded onto an album). I was also what seemed like one of the only ones who knew Arcane Roots at the time. I knew about half the songs they played that night thanks to my friend Ryan who showed me “If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves” to get me into them.

The second time I saw them live was a headliner show in Brighton in 2017 with Diego. They played a great set, but I had to be careful as I just got my nipples pierced a day or two prior and was still really sensitive.

I bought tickets to see them live for a third time in late July in Tunbridge Wells (of all places), but their show had to be rescheduled because there was a big England World Cup match on for that night and they were afraid nobody would go to their show. The show was rescheduled to early September.

During that time, they announced their break-up. I was heartbroken, but feeling lucky that the Tunbridge Wells show would be their last, full rock performance. Meaning, they were heading to a few final festivals to play a short set as well as one final small tour playing their more mellow, electronic work. The show was good, but if I must say, not as good as the Brighton show. It was very emotional for the fans as well as the band. However, the band seems like they will be doing their own music, with the lead singer Andrew Groves already having a few shows opening up for massive Scottish band Biffy Clyro under his belt. I am excited to see their new work, even if it won’t be together as Arcane Roots.

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Although I never got a chance to get hugely into them, Minus the Bear have also broken up recently. They are often my go-to chill music and their self-titled is one of my top ten “perfect” albums. I was one the edge of seeing them twice: once in Brighton and once in Phoenix. Moral of the story? If you’re on the fence about going to a gig and money isn’t much of a problem: do it. Make it work. 

Last but not least: Creeper. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what happened that night, but here it goes.

I only started listening to them recently and like them quite a bit. With Minus the Bear breaking up making me extra cautious not to miss bands if I can help it and not many gigs this season, I got tickets to their show in Camden, London at KOKO on November 1st.

First of all, the venue was fantastic. It was like a theater with all the seats ripped out for a GA pit at on the ground floor and comfortable sofas on the upper levels. I opted for a spot on the top level as I was feeling a bit ill, but that didn’t stop me from having a great time. Their energy is amazing and they sounded phenomenal.

I told myself I would leave halfway through the encore to beat the crowds to the coat check and get a reasonable train home. Plus, their typical closing song isn’t my favorite of theirs. As they were wrapping up the set, the lead singer said something along the lines of, “This is our last song of the night, and last song ever.” I thought surely I misheard and headed for the coat check.

But heading down and seeing the looks on peoples’ faces and murmurs in the crowd, something wasn’t right. I was starting to think perhaps I did hear correctly and the band was breaking up. I waited through the last song to get an obscured view of a video montage they played of them on tour as they hung up their iconic jackets, ending with a black screen that said, “even eternity ends” (a call back to their most recent album Eternity in Your Arms) before the house lights abruptly came up again.

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Photo credit: Jenn Five

After desperately scouring Twitter for answers, a lot of people think that this is just a publicity stunt and they will come back re-branded with new music at some point in the next few years. Their “brand” is a large part of their on-stage presence and music sound, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with next, but I hope to hear more from (now ex-) Creeper musicians.

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Thailand has been at the top of my travel wishlist for as long as I can remember and in June 2019, it’s finally happening… and more!

My brother Ryan visited me in the U.K. (with my other brother Kyle) in May and I think he caught the travel bug… he wanted to return to Europe (Berlin and Prague) and travel together in December. However, with my flight back on December 19th and his finals not ending until December 13th, he decided it wasn’t enough time to do all he wanted, and I agree. If you’re going to come so far, you might as well have all the time you need (within reason).

With the disappointment of not being able to visit me while I was still living abroad, we promptly started planning another trip to southeast Asia, mainly Thailand. Now that I’ve been scuba certified for a year or so, that opens a whole new world of travel and the Indian ocean is quite famous for some of the best in the world, so I was more keen than ever to go.

Ryan let me take the lead in planning and this is was our first draft plan:

  • Spend 4D/5N in Bangkok, Thailand (day one being recover from jetlag, leaving in the morning on day 5)
  • Bangkok to Phuket, remainder of the day to explore Phuket
  • LiveAboard (3D/2N) from Phuket
  • Upon returning from the LiveAboard some days later at 4PM, depart the following evening
  • Phuket to Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia
  • Spend 4D/3N in Kuala Lumpar before departing to Singapore
  • Spend 3D/3N in Singapore

Upon initial research, I calculated out a cost of $2,750 each including a 10% contingency, which has come in handy since I forgot about travel/ dive insurance.

Yesterday, I’ve officially put down a 50% deposit for our LiveAboard: The Junk. It looks a lot nicer than it sounds. The outside of the boat looks spectacular and the inside looks cozy. I mean, it’s no Blue Horizon but after a day of diving, I could sleep fine on a slab of stone.

the-junk-similans

I have also put down a small deposit to visit an elephant sanctuary for a day outside of Phuket the day before our LiveAboard (don’t worry, these places are animal- and eco-friendly). Hopefully I don’t get charged at like on my South African safari last year.

Obviously, this far out, our plans are subject to a lot of change, but the trip will revolve around our LiveAboard, sanctuary visit and likely the massive Full Moon Party a few days prior.

I will keep you all posted probably with three-monthly posts until the trip in mid-June. I can’t bloody wait! It doesn’t feel real.

If you have any tips for any of the places listed above, please let me know!

Photo by Scott Taylor.

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