A review of Majahuitas Resort, an eco-resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Eco Love at Majahuitas Resort

A review of Majahuitas Resort, an eco-resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
We wait down the hill in Boca de Tomatlan. It’s humid, but a fan blows gently on us, cooling me down … and my french fries. Icy cold Corona placed on the wooden table in front of me, I look off into the distance, squinting for signs of a little motor boat coming to whisk me and my friend away for three days of bliss at the Majahuitas Resort, an eco-friendly property tucked into a private cove south of Puerto Vallarta.

At 4 p.m., as scheduled, our boat arrives and the driver grabs our suitcases and drops them in the boat, then takes my hand and guides me down into our transport as it bobs ever so gently on the water. Once my friend, Mike, is in, our journey begins.

Destinations Resorts Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Reviews
The Gift Guide for Travelers featuring only sustainable gifts and gifts which give back to local communities. For more, visit www.dtravelsround.com

The Best Gifts for Travelers

The Gift Guide for Travelers featuring only sustainable gifts and gifts which give back to local communities. For more, visit www.dtravelsround.com

There are so many gifts for travelers on the market, and will soon be an onslaught of online gift guides for travelers. But, this guide is different.Welcome to the second edition of The Feel Good Gift Guide, which highlights some of the best gifts for travelers in your life.

Why?

Below, you will find only sustainable gifts that are either locally sourced or give back to communities. So, keep that special traveler (or travelers) in mind and get shopping for the holiday season today and give the travelers in your life something special! And, people who know me, these are ALL excellent gifts for a certain person you know.

Enjoy!

Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured
The reality of elephant tourism in SE Asia. An in-depth post on the truth about riding elephants, shows and more in Southeast Asia.

The Truth About Riding Elephants

The reality of elephant tourism in SE Asia. An in-depth post on the truth about riding elephants, shows and more in Southeast Asia.

I watch, happy tears swelling in my eyes, as the first of two rescued ex-trekking elephants walks off of the truck, backing out slowly and cautiously placing her hind legs, one-at-a-time, on the ground.

It’s pitch black, save for a few flashlights and one camera light. Around us, cicadas, frogs and crickets all compete to pierce the oh-so-still night.

She walks softly, crunching dried grass, as we follow behind her. Slowly, slowly she walks. To freedom. At the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.

From this moment forward, she will never have to strap a 200-pound bench to her back. From this moment forward, she will never have ropes cutting into her. A bull hook threatening to slash her ear, forehead or neck. She will never have the weight of a person on her. But, most importantly, she will never again be exploited for a human’s need to cross “riding an elephant” off of some bucket list or posing atop her back for a selfie.

Even though I no longer live in Thailand, I receive emails from readers regularly who ask: Should I ride an elephant? What’s the truth about riding elephants in Thailand and the rest of the world?

Asia Blog Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Thailand

Questions to ask about volunteer vacations

Questions to ask about volunteer vacations

Editor’s Note: I recently contributed to a book about volunteer vacations and how to be responsible when choosing one. Details are at the end of this post.

I remember when I first booked my volunteer “vacation” to Thailand. My friends thought I was nuts.

“Who takes time off of work to go and work in a foreign country?” they had all asked me when I announced I was spending one week of my 12-day holiday as a volunteer at Elephant Nature Park (ENP).

I’ve never been one to take conventional vacations, so while everyone else questioned what I was doing, it made sense to me. After learning about ENP and Save Elephant Foundation, and the vital role travelers play in keeping both the foundation and the park alive, I felt it was important to go and give back.

Asia Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Thailand

Are tourists ruining Venice?

Asking the question are tourists ruining Venice?

In front of me, a sea of people spans in all directions, even as the gray clouds above us threaten to burst.

Deep in the heart of San Marco Square, and what I deem the heart of the touristic center of the main island which makes up the step-back-in-time Venice, the tourists are unavoidable. In fact, here they are more in my face than any other place I have visited (and I am counting the mass of people gaping at Mona Lisa at the Louvre). It is shoulder-to-shoulder packed and puts me into the throes of those tense, pre-anxiety attack moments where all I want to do is throw elbows and make my way from where my packed water taxi has deposited myself along with the other throngs of tourists, through the massive square, and down into the veins of the town where my hotel is.

But, I can’t.

Blog Europe Italy Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured

Responsible tourism twitter chat: what you need to know

“Responsible tourism” isn’t just the latest catch phrase in the travel universe. These two words are slowly changing the way people travel. With more attention being placed on the environment, people and animals, a shift is beginning to be made towards a more responsible, more ethical way to see the world.

Lucky elephant

Lucky, a blind elephant rescued from the circus in Thailand, takes her first steps toward freedom at Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for pachyderms outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Recently, both STA and Intrepid announced they would no longer offer elephant rides as a part of their tour packages — a major coup for people like me whose goal is to help protect these majestic creatures, but also to educate people on the truth about elephant (and other animals) involved in tourism. But, responsible tourism stretches far beyond just elephants. It is everywhere, and now, each week, there will be a chat on Twitter to help educate others regarding how to be more responsible, but also to share their stories and more.

Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured

Tourists behaving badly: how to be PC in Thailand

Tourists behaving badly. It happens everywhere. I’m sure you’ve seen it: drunken bar fights with locals over a bill. Tagging an historic landmark. Taking smiling group photos in places which are disrespectful (like Auschwitz).

Living as an expat in Thailand, I am treated to this display of very non PC behavior/stuff to make Thais blush daily. It ranges from the minor no-nos (like ladies not covering your shoulders/knees at a temple) to the obscene (like men not taking “no” for an answer at a bar with bar girls). It really bothers me because a) visitors either don’t bother to read up on etiquette before visiting this amazing country and opt for a “head in the sand” or possess the “what works in my home country surely works here” assumption; or b) they know better but choose to disregard cultural norms, simply justifying their holiday as their holiday, which allows them to act however they deem fit (or unfit).

For those planning a trip to Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, here are some important things to keep in mind:

Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Travel Tips

The “Get F*cked Up Lifestyle” of a traveler: more harm than good?

I’m no angel. Hell, I don’t even come close. I’ve done my fair share of partying all over the world. But, today I saw the new Matador book that was released “101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die” and it made me think about the stereotypes of backpackers and travelers.

I’ve written for Matador. I have friends who have been editors there. I love the site and most of the articles, but the idea behind this book struck a chord with me.

View this post on Instagram

Beer.

A post shared by Diana (@dtravelsround) on

“101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die is the only travel guide that could possibly help adventure seekers and world-trekking party-goers take their experience to a whole new high (or low). So, raise a glass, hop a flight, and join 101 Places’ professional party-crashers as they breach security, ride ill-recommended ferries, and hike miles into the wilderness all in search of the best parties in the world.”

Encouraging breaching security? Putting lives in jeopardy? Hiking into the wilderness to a party (which makes me think of all of the environmental damage something like that does)?

What kind of message is being sent to travelers? What kind of message is being sent to locals who often welcome visitors with open arms?

View this post on Instagram

#sunset over Koh Samui.

A post shared by Diana (@dtravelsround) on

As I have grown and traveled, I have seen a lot of things. Beautiful things. Gorgeous places. And then, there is the dirty, sleazy side of travel.

Drunken fights. Sloppy hookups. Pissed pants. Vomit-covered shirts. ODs. Obnoxious, arrogant behavior that is disrespectful to the places being visited.

Living in Chiang Mai, I am witness to grotesque displays of partying. Partying that would humiliate the people guilty … if they could remember it. I’ve seen bottle breaks, abuse, falling-over-drunk people who think nothing of it. Let me say this: it gives the entire lot of backpackers a horrific stereotype. It furthers the idea that we are only interested in getting wasted. That we all are irresponsible. And, that really bothers me.

During my long-term travels, I cannot count how many times I was ashamed to be associated with other people who had no idea what was considerate, no idea what was appropriate. People who were all-out dicks.

I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on its innards, and I am sure the writing is spectacular, but the title alone suggests to me that the sole idea of traveling to far off places isn’t to see but to be so drunk, so drugged, that the days are spent laying in bed with an all-mighty hangover.

Like I stated, I’m no angel. I’ve done St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. I’ve explored the nightlife in Budapest. I’ve hung in the coffee shops in Amsterdam. But, my goal in visiting these places wasn’t to get crunked, it was because I wanted to experience the cities. Sure, some of that comes with a party … but not all of it. I don’t encourage people to go and explore the world with the goal of partying their asses off.

Yes, I encourage living. Yes, I encourage experiencing. But, I don’t cheer people on to drop that tab of acid at a Full Moon Party or drink the “exotic” cocktails on Koh Phi Phi (where, coincidentally, two girls were getting f*cked up and later died because of it). I don’t condone being so intoxicated you wake up on a street somewhere, stripped of your belongings, because, hey, if you are that hammered, there is always a chance of that.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not slamming Matador — but it makes me wonder: does a book like this perpetuate the idea that backpackers are irresponsible travelers? Partiers who take in a city based on shots and nightlife instead of visiting a place for all of the other things it has to offer? Does it do more harm than good to suggest that the way to see a place is through beer goggles?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please, weigh in below.

Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured

Up-close with elephants: a photo essay of life with a herd

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js // <![CDATA[

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

// ]]>

Thick, leathery gray legs covered with a layer of thick, wet, chocolate-colored dirt, surround me.

At first, I am apprehensive.

On all sides of me are six-ton elephants. Capable of plowing me over.

I look over to Lek, the founder of Elephant Nature Park, with my eyebrows raised.

We’ve learned we’re not supposed to be in the path of these giants, and here I am. Not only keeping step with them, but flanked by them.

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” Lek assures Pam and I as we keep our eyes fixed on the animals around us. “We are a part of the herd right now. They won’t hurt us.”

In normal, volunteer park life, we are not part of the herd. But, this afternoon is special. Lek has invited Pam and I to walk with her through the elephant’s habitat, an experience most don’t have while here.

We’re shadowing Lek as she makes her afternoon rounds with the main elephant families. Two babies, loads of aunties, nanas and moms.

The afternoon happened on a whim.

“Do you want to come with me on my walk?” Lek asks Pam and me following a presentation she has given to our group about the atrocities of training elephants to pain. The two of us have hung back, discussing our frustrations with the tourists down the road riding elephants as we speak and trying to figure out how we can help educate visitors to Thailand set on enjoying these magnificent creatures.

I look at Pam and our eyes light up.

How in the world could we ever say no to such an opportunity to walk the park with Lek?

My mind drifts back to the first time I saw Lek, earlier in the week.

Under a thin mist of rain, she had walked out into the field and kept step with the Faa Mai, the pudgy baby elephant she’s bonded with.

The two look like an odd-coupling, but behave like old friends out for an afternoon stroll.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Lek and Faa Mai, the first baby to be born from the Elephant Nature Park herd.

Lek walks with her hands on her hips, dwarfed by the baby, who reaches around to touch her with her trunk.

Today, I get to witness the beauty of Lek’s friendship with these elephants first-hand.

As we begin our journey into the elephant’s habitat, we’re trailed by about 10 dogs who are Lek’s shadows. It’s clear — these adopted dogs love Lek as much as the elephants love her. I follow after Lek the same way they do — hanging at her heels. My heart is full of admiration for a woman who is nearly single-handedly taking on the elephant tourism industry in a country where it is one of the biggest selling points.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

The families hang out under a tree, waiting for fruit.

The three of us head out into the elephant’s habitat — a grassy field with thick brown puddles from the rainy season that is causing flooding in other parts of the country. We quietly stroll up to the family, which is snacking on fruit a mahout shakes from a tree. None of them are related, except mommies and children, but an entire make-shift family has blossomed.

The beauty of elephants embracing the inherent structure of family and adapting to create their own.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Chang Yim and mom, Dok Ngern

Pam and I stand back at first, unsure of what to do or how to behave. Jack’s warnings of standing in front of them echo in my mind, so I try to sidestep their bodies. But, with so many of them, it’s nearly impossible not to stand in front of one of them.

Lek produces a bag of bread, and suddenly, we’re surrounded. Trunks come from every angle as they grapple for a piece of the fluffy snack. Talking to them softly and scratching their searching speckled trunks one-at-a-time, she delivers the pieces  to them.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Baby elephant Faa Mai and her family surround Lek.

This is unreal.

When the bread is gone, the three of us sit among the long blades of grass for awhile as Lek talks about the park. Then, we hear commotion from a mahout.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

The baby elephant, Faa Mai, waddles away from her mahout, wrapped in the garden hose.

One of the baby elephants is tangled in a green hose, as if she has taken it and spun in a circle, lacing it around her legs. She waddles with it for a moment, playing, and then her trunk wraps around the part still attached to the house and pulls it from the spout, causing a slow trickle of water to hit the ground.

I can only imagine, this is how a delighted and happy elephant looks as she speeds away from her owner.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

She waddles around for a moment, hose wrapped around her pudgy legs, before the mahout can sneak in and remove it from her body.

Then, it’s bath time. The entire family heads to the banks of the rushing brown river.

This is the moment we become a part of the family.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

The family begins its walk to the river bank.

Looking around, in between legs, trunks swaying within centimeters of my hands, the gushes of wind from the flapping of the ears … it evokes this happiness I have never felt before.

I can’t help but realize how incredibly lucky I am to be keeping step with these creatures.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

One dirty (and cool) elephant.

In the moment, walking with the herd, I am incredibly fulfilled and it stretches from my toes to the tips of the hair on my head.

This is, quite possibly, one of the most amazing moments of my life.

Lek, Pam and I stand back a few feet as the family heads into the water to rinse off. Some of the elephants wade out a bit and just stand in the water, letting it rush over them. Others seem to enjoy it more, plunging their heads and then entire bodies under the water and letting the current carry them down stream a little bit.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

An elephant enjoys the refreshing bath.

And, of course, the babies play, splashing their trunks in the water.

 Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

It’s not just bath time, it’s play time!

Mommy and baby come out of the water, headed straight for us. Instinctively, Pam and I dart out of their path as they rumble past.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

A baby elephant plays as another leaves the water.

“Where are they going?” I ask.

As we turn to follow, their end point is obvious. The huge dirt hill a few feet away where a group of volunteers are digging and making sand bags for a sick elephant.

The baby walks up to the truck where the rust-colored dirt is first, flinging a boot into the back of it. Then, she grabs dirt and sprays it on her.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Lek and volunteers look on as elephants enjoy dirtying up again.

Within minutes, the elephants are once again covered in dirt. They are laying in the pile. Rolling in it like dogs.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Rolling in the mud keeps these elephants cool in the tropical heat and humidity.

It’s one of the most adorable displays of animals enjoying themselves I have ever seen.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

While one lays in the dirt, another elephant finds more to play with in the trailer.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Rain doesn’t stop these elephants from enjoying the dirt pile.

I almost feel guilty when Pam and I head off with Lek again, leaving the other volunteers to continue shoveling.

But, as we walk with the herd, those feelings vanish and are replaced with one of the most exhilarating feelings of elation and bliss.

This trip to Thailand is life-changing, there is no doubt.

As we continue, and the elephants stop to scratch their now dirty bodies against posts and logs to get at itches.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

They find an old log to get those hard-to-scratch places.

They slide their enormous bodies against the wood, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, until they move on to the next post, where they once again rub and scratch.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Elephants display satisfaction at quieting their itches.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

 As we make our way back to the family shelter where all of the volunteers will meet to sit with Faa Mai as Lek sings her lullabies to for her afternoon siesta, we encounter Medo, in her 20s, and her best friend.

She has been sadly disfigured from both logging and forced breeding injuries. At a young age, Medo was forced into illegal logging, and was the victim of a serious logging accident, breaking her right ankle badly. The bone was unable to set and today her ankle is enlarged and irregularly shaped.

After this injury, she was unable to work in the industry and sold to a new owner as a breeding elephant. She was chained to a tree and a bull in musth was chained next to her. According to Elephant Nature Park, under normal conditions he might not have taken an interest in her, but in this case, he attacked her and mounted her. Medo collapsed under his aggression and laid there for two days, until the bull was able to be removed.

But, the damage was already done.

The teenage elephant had a dislocated spine and broken pelvis.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

Medo has lasting effects from life before Elephant Nature Park. Photo: Pam Brace

Today, it is impossible to miss her gait and how she can hardly place weight on one of her legs.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from dtravelsround.com

But, she is beautiful.

As we walk by Medo, I can’t take my eyes off of her. Her history and abuse run through my mind, and I smile, comforted by her being so close to me, knowing she is no longer going to face any harm.

When we finish our walk, I return to my room, speechless, breathless.

Enamored.

 

Asia Blog Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Thailand