I was able to climb Kilimanjaro first and that deserves its own blog post, but for those of you trekking out there anytime soon who are concerned with hiring local people and giving back to the local communities – I highly recommend Eligius Minja as a guide (you can connect with him via my Facebook page or just search him on Facebook as a travel guide in Tanzania (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293750-i11370-k6225647-Climb_Kilimanjaro_with_local_operator-Kilimanjaro_National_Park_Kilimanjaro_Region.html).
Eligius is a member of the Chagga tribe in Tanzania. He was born and raised in Tanzania and you can’t get any more local. He guided me up and down the mountain with a team of locals and my experience was wonderful. I also recommend Mango Safaris over the more expensive (Abercrombie, etc.) - http://www.mangoafricansafaris.com - because they work with locals and are committed to protecting and preserving the environments they go to.
THE MALDIVES – Really, Really Expensive and Really, Really Worth It
I decided it was time for the Maldives in May 2015.
I traveled Africa on a budget of sorts (it was actually much less expensive to hire locals than it would have been to use a company in the U.S. to arrange the treks) however I spent an absurd amount of money traveling in the Maldives…and I am completely happy about it. After doing a ton of research, my significant other and I chose to spend our time at in the Maldives’ Baa Atoll island archipelago and on the doorstep of Hanifaru Bay, in Anantara Kihavah Villa. Kihavah Huravalhi, is marketed as one of the most pristine Maldivian islands (now that I’ve been there, I can confirm – it is!). I stayed in a little villa on stilts poised over the water in within a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, encircled by reefs housing reef sharks, rays, turtles, eels, spinner dolphins, coral, and so much more.
Protecting and Preserving the Local Environment – Eco-Tourism
Climbing Kilimanjaro, you are supposed to carry all your trash with you and bring it back down the mountain. Eligius and I and our group absolutely did that but a lot of people didn’t and one of my worst memories of Africa was trying to free a bird tangled in that plastic netting that holds soda cans together that some wretched tourists had left littered all over the mountain. I wasn’t able to free the bird, both of whose ankles were trapped in plastic wrapped multiple times around. So, when I went to the Maldives, I was in dread of seeing tourists abusing the marine life, kicking the corals and taking shells from the ocean (I actually shot a film while there on why you should not take shells from the ocean or beach. Ever!). I found out that Anantara Kihavah Villas implements its commitment to protecting the environment and preserving local culture through “education, innovation and empowerment” in adherence to the requirements of Green Globe standards. More at http://anantara-news.com/~devanantara-news/download/akm/akm_environmentpolicy.pdf. Although, there were a few bad egg travelers I met (dumping their cigarette butts into the pristine Indian Ocean – ahhhhhh!!!), I was really impressed with Anantara Kihavah’s efforts. They have a coral reef program, where you can help build and repair the reefs there; they use glass water bottles that are re-filled instead of plastic water bottles; they use refillable (and adorable) ceramic jars of shampoo, soap and conditioner, and lotion in the villas instead of the terrible tiny plastic bottles almost every other hotel/resort uses. There’s a lot more and it’s all in their environmental policy, above.
Soccer with the Locals
The staff was also awesome. They primarily employ locals and they were beyond welcoming. Soccer is huge in the area and the Maldivians have different teams and the staff play almost every night. My significant other happens to be a soccer player and, when two of the men who worked there found that out, they invited us to come watch their games and him to play in them! He played soccer almost every night and it was so much fun to meet the locals in their personal capacity (as opposed to when they were working) and to even get to learn a little Maldivian!
Pretty much every single person we met – without exception – was kind and considerate of the environment and appreciative of the fact they were in such an incredible place. I even “proposed” to my friend Jerry in the hopes he would allow me to stay and live on the archipelago – in jest! In jest!
I also met a wonderful Maldivian artist named Nash, who gifted me with some of her lovely original artwork, which will now have a place of honor in my home in the U.S.
So Worth It
In sum, it was costly but absolutely worth every penny. It was not only the experience of a lifetime – diving nearly every day in open water and seeing wild dolphins, eels, rays, sharks, and mantas – but I was able to experience the unreal and extreme beauty in an environmentally responsible manner that supported the local economy. Win-win.