This week. Meet the Travel Bloggers interviews wildlife travel bloggers zoologist Cristina Garcia and wildlife photographer Hal Brindley, of Travel For Wildlife, who travel with a purpose, meeting animals in the wild.
When, why and how did you start Travel For Wildlife?
We started Travel For Wildlife in January 2012. We wanted to teach people how to see amazing wildlife through entertaining videos, in-depth articles, and fun facts about animals. We also wanted to promote conservation through responsible wildlife tourism.
How did you get the name and what does the name mean to you?
When we travel, we always choose destinations based on what animals we can see there. So we thought the name Travel For Wildlife pretty well summed it up.
When and how did you meet?
Ahh… long story! To cut it short: I was working in Dublin and he was living in Raleigh, NC. One day while at work I was kind of bored and glanced at the daily newspaper. There was an incredible photo of a leopard killing a crocodile in Kruger Park, South Africa. In the caption, they named the photographer, Hal. I did a Google search (yeah, I am a stalker), found his website which had a photo of him. I was surprised as he was pretty cute! So I emailed him and he emailed me back. After a few months of email exchanges we decided to go to Africa for seven months together. We met in Cape Town in 2009, bought an old Toyota 4×4 and set off on an adventure!
Was there any hint of romance when you were emailing?
Romance? We both had terrible breakups just before that and romance was always a possibility, although as we know things are not always that easy. Two broken people are not good relationship material. It was pretty bad when we met. But spending 24 hours a day for seven months did it. That had to change when we fell in love!
You’re writing a book, Dual Nature, together as a result of the trip. Tell us a bit about it.
Before our trip started we agreed that we would each keep an online journal about our adventure and that neither of us was allowed to look at the other’s journal. After the trip we put the journals together into a dual narrative with alternate voices. Putting it all together has been very labor intensive but we are almost there. It is not published yet as we are trying to get an agent. But you can get a sneak peak at a draft of the first chapter.
What are the best and worst things about traveling and blogging as a couple?
I don’t think there is a worst list. We complement each other and work great together. I guess the best thing is that it allows us to do what we love most and to do it together.
What keeps you the most jazzed about blogging?
The more I write about traveling and seeing animals, the more I want to go on another trip. It keeps my motivation up to organize another trip.
Cristina, you’re a zoologist. Do you work for a zoo or other organization?
Ah no, I specialized in behavior of wild canids (the name given to the group of wild dogs, including foxes, jackasl, coyotes, wolves). When I worked as a zoologist I did field research on the ecology and behavior of wild canids and cats. I have worked with wolves in Romania, jackals in Namibia and leopards and cheetahs in South Africa.
Do you mostly camp out in the wild when you travel or do more upscale experiences occasionally sneak in?
We’d rather camp in the wild where we feel like part of the environment, just like the other animals. The excitement of having hyenas or a pack of wolves walk by our tent far surpasses the luxury of a hot bath. Though, we don’t complain when we manage to get a stay in a luxury lodge.
What excites you the most about travel?
Seeing species I’ve never seen before in the wild, and new wild places.
What is your favorite place on earth?
Cristina: The Kalahari Desert. I love everything about the place. The remoteness, the smell, the amazing wildlife that live there, and the stars that shine above it.
Hal: Hey, Cristina stole mine. It was my favorite place first. Lucky for me she loves it now, too. Hopefully we’ll get to spend a lot more time there together.
What are the most important things to you on a trip?
We avoid cities and crowded spaces; we mainly seek nature and isolation.
It’s clear from the viral video, Leopard Attacking and Killing a Crocodile, that Hal has a wide comfort zone. Cristina, How far are you willing to go?
Hal was actually sitting in a car and was shooting with his 600mm lens from super far away, so that was really a pretty safe sighting! I think that my comfort zone is pretty wide, but it stops when a lion is staring at me at eye level from a few feet away. That, I cannot take.
What does it mean to have a viral video?
Even though that video got released years ago, people in South Africa still recognize Hal’s name. It’s a great icebreaker when talking to people in the safari industry, which works to our advantage. Plus, it has created many publishing and television opportunities for Hal, which has of course improved our exposure.
You were recently in Costa Rica. What was the most exciting thing about the trip?
Going for a hike in Corcovado National Park. Knowing that the path you are walking is also being used by jaguars and pumas is pretty exciting. They could be spying on you and you would never know.
What’s your most memorable travel experience or favorite trip ever?
Cristina: It’s gotta be the night we had a leopard spying on us. We were camping in this amazing mountain, Spitzkoppe, in Namibia. There is no electricity in the campground, and the sites are just a barren spot by a tree with a pit toilet. Our site was right next to a huge boulder, a great spot to walk up and watch the Namibian sunset. We only had our headlamps as a light source and we normally used only one during dinner. It was already dark when we sat down on our camping chairs to eat our instant noodles under the Milky Way. Half way into dinner I looked up and I saw a pair of glowing eyes on the boulder above us. It was a beautiful leopard and she was staring at us from a distance of about 30 feet. We freaked out. But then we heard the call of another leopard coming from the darkness behind us. There were two, one on each side! It was exhilarating and scary, but mainly the former, and it took me a while to come down from that high and to fall asleep that night.
This is why I travel, to live moments like this one.
Hal: My entire 7-month trip through southern Africa with Cristina was my best trip ever, but since she already referred to that one, I’ll choose another. My journey to Antarctica right after that was amazing because I got to see one of the world’s most inaccessible places for almost nothing. I helped crew a sailboat with five South Africans and only had to pay my share of the fuel and food. $400! We spent almost a month down there, hopping between islands and the mainland of the peninsula. At each stop I jumped in a tiny inflatable kayak and went ashore, wandering alone in the vast Antarctic wilderness. Sitting in the center of a noisy penguin colony and being accepted as one of them, with virtually no human beings around for hundreds of miles in every direction, was one of my great life experiences. The bad part was that Cristina couldn’t come. So now we’ll have to do it again together.
Where are you off to next?
We are doing a bear and wolf tour of the US and Canada! In July we are spending a week in the North Carolina Outer Banks to see black bears and the endangered red wolf (and of course for some beach time!). After that we are driving all the way to Manitoba to see polar bears and gray wolves and to swim with beluga whales. Then, we are off to Yellowstone for a backcountry wolf and grizzly bear tour! We will then take a 3-week break and will fly to British Columbia to see the coastal wolf and the spirit bear in the Great Bear Rainforest. This and Yellowstone are two of my dream trips so I am pretty excited!
Zoologist Cristina Garcia and wildlife photographer Hal Brindley founded Travel For Wildlife with the goal of creating a travel blog and a resource for adventure wildlife travelers. Through their site they provide inside tips about how to see the world’s most amazing wild animals. They hope to share their passion for nature and to promote conservation through responsible wildlife tourism.You can connect with them through Facebook and Twitter