Spain was never a country I fancied visiting, mostly because my wife Emma—a Brit— wasn’t keen on the idea. The Mediterranean coast is a major tourist destination for much of Europe, infamous for its stag parties, assorted belligerence and an odd absence of anything authentically local.
But, after spending three months working in Andalusia, Spain, we discovered that— as with many mass tourism hotspots— there’s a lot more to it. This was in large part due to the way we traveled around Andalusia: We volunteered on farms.
Rather than loitering along Spain’s coastline, we explored its interior, where we discovered a network of agricultural communities working towards sustainable living ideals such as renewable energy and small-scale farming. Rather than posh resorts, we stayed in small villages in the mountains that surrounded culturally rich cities such as Malaga (Picasso’s birthplace), Granada and Seville.
(The following is a guest post from Justin Carmack of True Nomads, which focuses on his diving adventures around the world. You can follow Justin on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. If you’re a blogger interested in guest posting, please email us at [email protected])
As a Responsible Scuba Diving addict, I’m always searching for the best, most serene and untouched dive sites in the world. I prefer those that offer plenty of flora and fauna, especially when they’re completely unique to the rest of the world.
Of course it’s always important to dive responsibly, so we can keep these out-of-this-world dive locations pristine.
It’s hard to compare my favorite sites, as each one offers something a little different. But if you only have a limited amount of travel time (and budget), these are my picks for the world’s 10 Best Places to Scuba Dive.
South Padre Island is hardly the sort of place we typically prefer to travel. Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas less than 10 miles from the Mexico border, SPI is a tourist-driven resort town best known for raucous Spring Break celebrations and crowded summer vacations.
The fact that we were sent there on a freelance assignment DURING Spring Break did not help matters any: College students partying loudly until 2 AM and drunkenly knocking on our hotel room door at all hours of the morning is not our idea of a good time. Especially when we had to be up at 8AM to explore the eco-friendly side of South Padre Island.
We’ve always prided ourselves on “finding green” options even in the most unlikely places, and this trip was no exception. From kayaking the Laguna Madre and taking a dolphin-watching cruise to rescuing injured sea turtles with Sea Turtle Inc, getting back to nature on SPI proved surprisingly easy. But our day at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center was easily among our favorite experiences there.
The Center is one of nine established by the World Birding Center, which was created by Texas Parks & Wildlife and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services to showcase the Rio Grande Valley as a world-class birdwatching destination. As a barrier island, South Padre Island’s coastal wetlands are a crucial first landfall for birds, providing a safe haven for migratory species making their way north from Central and South America.
The SPI Birding and Nature Center is situated on a slender stretch of land dividing the Laguna Madre from the Gulf of Mexico. But its 50 acres provide an impressive array of habitats and biodiversity (including alligators, turtles, fish and more). Dune meadows, salt marsh and intertidal flats are dotted with thick grasses, native shrubs and trees that provide safe nesting grounds, as well as plentiful food sources.
We saw statuesque Great Blue Herons and various Ducks wading in the shallow pond right off the deck. Red Wing Blackbirds and a Ringed Kingfisher sat atop the railing, with the former chattering noisily as the latter hunted for a quick bite to eat. Huge flocks of White Ibis and Brown Pelicans soared directly overhead, crossing from the bay side to the gulf, and a lone osprey hovered in search of fish.
Sitting quietly in one of their five bird blinds provided opportunities to photograph a wide range of wildlife up close. Blind #3, overlooking lovely Laguna Madre Bay, brought views of Cormorants, Skimmers, Brown Boobies and Little Blue Herons grabbing their morning meal.
But my favorite sighting of the day was a flock of 8-10 Roseate Spoonbills we found resting nearby. These beautiful birds are easily identified by their pink color and spoon-shaped bills that allow them to sift through mud for crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs and newts. And though we’ve seen them many times in Costa Rica and Sanibel Island, Florida, we’ve never gotten so close as we did in SPI.
We enjoyed our morning visit to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center so much that we returned that night, and were treated to a spectacular sunset reflected in the center’s still waters. It felt like a world away from the chaos and cacophony of Spring Break, serving as a reminder that EVERY destination offers off-the-beaten-path adventures… if you know where to find them. –Bret Love; photo by Mary Gabbett
If you enjoyed our post on Roseate Spoonbills at SPI Birding & Nature Center, you might also like:
PHOTO GALLERY: Costa Rican Wildlife
PHOTO GALLERY: Galapagos Islands Birds
PHOTO GALLERY: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
In conjunction with leading our Branding for Bloggers workshop at TBEX Costa Brava, Mary and I were asked to speak about the importance of journalism skills and research in establishing yourself as an expert.
It’s a topic we’re extremely passionate about, not only because it’s the driving force behind Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media, but also because it’s how I’ve supported my family for the last 20 years. Even now, Mary and I freelance for outlets like Yahoo Travel and dozens of airline, hotel and lifestyle magazines, which provides good income and great benefits for our sites.
We were paired with Natalie Holmes of Context Travel, which offers small-group, in-depth walking tours in 30 destinations across the world. Like us, Natalie has an extensive background in the travel industry and journalism, and she’s responsible for product development, marketing and storytelling at Context.
Together, the three of us co-wrote this 45-minute session, which was billed by TBEX as “Think Like An Expert: Using Research to Stand Out From The Crowd.” We’ve edited the presentation slightly, to read more like a story told in one voice…
This secluded wilderness features historic ruins, sweeping bays, isolated beaches and rugged mountains, but no shops or cars. So it’s perfect for anyone seeking an escape from civilization and an opportunity to reconnect with nature. It’s also a wildlife sanctuary filled with a diverse range of native Australian species.
But Maria Island is best known for offering visitors a chance to see the endangered Tasmanian Devils that call the remote island home. Introduced to the island in 2012 and 2013, Tasmanian Devils are easy to find here. They’re often seen interacting with tourists, frequenting camp sites and cabins in search of hiking boots and other material to complete their dens.
With its now-thriving population of Tasmanian Devils, Maria Island is a haven for nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike.