Monday, March 26, 2012

Intrepid Woman Traveler: Savannah Watkins

Before meeting Savannah, I met her family first. Parents Brandon and Maggie, and brother Ammon visited Vigan, February of 2010. Their epic story of a family traveling together still wows me up to now.

It was only in 2011, on my one-month backpacking in Europe did I come face to face with this bubbly lady. Having seen most of the world already, she amazes me when she still gets exhilarated showing me around Holland like she is a "tourist" herself.

As of this writing, she is cooking up a memoir of her early years traveling with her family, being transformed from a bratty Canadian teenage girl into a full-blown woman. Do keep an eye out for the release of Sihpromatum, the first series entitled "I Grew My Boobs in China"! Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, you may look back at their adventures here. Yeah you can send them some love also. Just don't flood Savannah's fan mail. ;)

Watkins Family backpacking in Afghanistan
(from L - R: Savannah, Maggie, Breanna, Ammon)
Sorry for being cliche-ish, but: last but definitely not the least, help me welcome Canadian Savannah Watkins:

A: Age you made your first international trip 
Age 14 and I was very resistant to go! I just wanted to stay home! If USA counts (I’m half American but never lived there) then age of first international trip would be 0. Age 6 for the first trip I can remember.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where? 
I am not and never have been a beer drinker but if I have to choose I will say Heineken with the traditional two finger foam in Amsterdam (or anywhere in Holland). But that is a purely biased answer.

C: Cuisine (Favourite)
Definitely my favourite cuisine is sushi! Surprisingly, I have never been to Japan even though it was probably the only place I wanted to travel since I have many childhood friends from there. Vancouver is exceptional for the best, cheapest, biggest, tastiest, freshest sushi in the world that I’ve ever tried. After India I was a complete curry convert and love spicy.

D: Destinations. Favourite. Least Favourite. Why?
People always ask me what my favourite place was but I have never been able to answer this question. With so much natural beauty in this world it is hard to pick just one. How do you choose between deserts and jungles, mountains and beaches, historical sites and natural wonders? Some of my top destinations would be Nepal’s gorgeous mountains trekking and people, Mongolia’s outback for its horses and extremely friendly people, Surinam jungles and multicultural atmosphere, Switzerland villages and skiing, Canadas amazing nature with waterfalls, mountains and lakes, China’s beautiful authenticity and villages (my favourite was Yangshuo, one of the very first places I ever travelled so maybe I was easily impressed, but I still think it was amazing), Italys amazing history and artwork, Maldives priceless islands, blue waters and white beaches, India’s bright, lively culture and food plus many, many more!


Yangshuo, China


My least favourite is easy, it is Egypt. I found, being there five months travelling by local transport, interacting with locals daily and staying in very, very low budget hostels that it was a very difficult place to be as a westerner, especially a woman. I felt constantly harassed physically and mentally in ways much worse than anywhere else in the entire world. From my experiences I found the people, both men and women, to be very racist and sexist.

E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’
There are so many incidents that I must’ve said “wow” to that I feel a bit guilty not being able to give credit to them all. A few I can name off the top of my head are riding elephants bareback and swimming with them in a crocodile infested river in Nepal, being lifted into the air by two dolphins in Jamaica, gazing at the stars in Kyrgyzstan shining like a trillion pieces of shattered glass in the sky, and watching the sunrise up over the world’s greatest Mount Everest after an eight day trek!

Mt Everest

riding elephants bareback!

F: Favourite mode of transportation
I would have to say trains. I really enjoy them because you have the freedom to walk around, go to the bathroom, eat something and watch the scenery go by. I am really scared of flying but somehow I still manage to keep stepping onto airplanes... I also really love being a passenger in my own car and just setting out on a road trip, having the freedom to decide where you want to go and when you want to stop.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling
I would say the best part is experiencing hospitality and being welcomed as if a friend or family by complete strangers or when people go out of their way to help. It makes you feel, despite all of the suffering and chaos we hear about happening in the world, that there is still love and hope. And strangely enough I find that the people who have the least are capable of sharing the most.


lunch with friendly locals
small village in Afghanistan

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to
The hottest I remember being was in Peshawar, Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan and that whole area. My goodness!! We were there in the hottest month of the year and temperatures reached 50C. Even at night it didn’t get any colder. My skin was seared off just sitting in the shade. It was impossible to sleep with a blanket, pillow or even touch skin on skin without sweating to death. I just had to sleep starfish style though I don’t think I got even a wink of rest. Oh and not to mention you HAVE to be fully clothed with a headscarf and all. Other places where the temperatures ranged from 40-50 C were crossing the desert of Turkmenistan and the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. I was constantly afraid that if I inhaled too hard through my nose that my nostril hairs would ignite!

with brother Ammon, in Afghanistan

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
It’s hard to say service...makes me feel like I’m being  served like I’m snobby royalty or something....don’t like the word service...

J: Journey that took you the longest
Although I’d say my longest journey on transport was 52 hours from the south of India to Delhi by train it didn’t FEEL like the longest. I would say being trapped in an over packed bus for 32 hours in Africa was one of the worst/longest. Another was 12 hours in an open coal train through the desert of Mauritania, West Africa that seemed endless, being far too hot in the day and freezing cold in the night, sand getting in your eyes, between your teeth and somehow even in your butt crack!

Another time, an expected two day stop turned into 3 weeks waiting for a boat from Monrovia, Liberia to the border of Cote d’Ivoire/Ivory Coast. That was a very challenging time.

with sister Breanna

K: Keepsake from your travels
My Dutch lover that I took home from Ghana, West Africa...ok, let’s be honest, he took ME home to Holland.

with Dutch lover ;)
sorry guys, this girl's taken.

L: Let down sight. 
Why and where? 
I’m sure there have been a few but Brussels, Belgium’s peeing fountain boy is just pathetic. I mean, c’mon of all the amazing statues in Europe they choose that tiny little thing hiding in the corner!? Maybe I missed something but I was very underwhelmed by him. The square in Brussels is something much more worth talking about. 

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel
Love? I’d call it more of an addiction, so if you call smoking or drinking coffee love... Travel for me started off as an ongoing battle of resistance but somewhere along the way, skipping love, it crossed into an addiction.... I just can’t seem to stop myself now. When that exactly happened I do not know.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in
Hmmm, mostly I always stayed in really grungy places but as of late I have been getting very spoilt. One of the nicest places I have been must’ve been just a week ago for its amazing hot spring pools in Leukerbad, Switzerland in the snowy mountains. Stunning.

Another place would be the all inclusive resort in Jamaica where everyone was getting married on the beach. The palm trees, sparkly ocean, blue sky and sands were gorgeous.


Leukerbad, Switzerland


O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling? 

As you can probably tell by half my answers, I have an eye for nature. Some people focus on architecture, people, culture or food but I am definitely a nature person. I love capturing sunsets, landscapes, animals, trees... But my absolutely obsession is over clouds. I have a collection of cloud photos which almost seems a shame since they look the same almost anywhere in the world. But I LOVE them!! Big puffy white ones like cotton candy floating in a brilliant blue sky. Perfection.


P: Passport stamps. 
How many and from where?
Oh, well this is going to be a long answer, but I’ll write it out anyway, just for the fun of it. Luckily I have all three passports with me so I can actually answer this question in full.

Passport  #1 =52,  #2=99 , #3=50 so a total of 201 stamps (give or take if I messed up my count, my second passport got wet so a lot of the end pages are smudged). Thank you Shawi, that was actually a fun one because I never did it before!  Now I’m wishing they gave you stamps in Europe when travelling by road.

Passport #1 - Hong Kong, Macau, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Sikkim, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijian, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Poland.

Passport #2 – Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova, Macedonia, Albania, Switzerland Jordan, Egypt, Belgium, Morocco, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Malta, Mauritania, Timbuktu, Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, DRC,  Angola, Namibia, Batswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa,

Passport #3 – South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, USA, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Jamaica, Turkey,  Suriname.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

Riding an ostrich had been on my “to do” list ever since I heard it was possible, but I never thought I’d actually do it! That was definitely one of the odder experiences, South Africa in Oudtshoorn. Another which really blows your mind is the rat temple, Karni Mata just outside of Bikaner in Rajasthan province, India. This temple is not an easy place to find as it is not (or at least not when I was there in 2006) advertised as a tourist destination. It is truly a holy location where people go in worship of the rats which are among various other animals (cows, snakes, monkeys etc) holy creatures. There are thousands of them and there is definitely no searching required to see the little rodents! Bowls of milk and food are left out for them. It is a must see if you’re into quirky.

Rat Temple. Rajasthan, India


R: Recommended sight, event, or experience
Italy for history, comfort and good sites. Nepal for trekking and friendly people. Canada for comfort and gorgeous nature. China for little more adventurous off track and gorgeous landscape. Kyrgyzstan horseback riding for those willing to go way out of their way (visa, transport, communication) who want a remote destination. Pakistan if you want hospitality and are willing to embrace a new culture. Uzbekistan if you want to feel you’ve gone back to a very historic point in time.





S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while travelling

Anything animal related. Ie. Ostrich riding, holding baby tiger etc.

South Africa


cuddling a Tiger

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

Taj Mahal, India. Pyramids, Egypt. Great Wall, China. Riding dolphins in Jamaica. Great White Shark cage diving, South Africa. Eiffel tower, France. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy.

Great Wall of China

Taj Mahal in India

U: Unforgettable travel memory
Almost running over a hippo in Uganda when it came flying out of the bushes, sleeping on the roof of our truck waiting for the hyenas to come for the meat we left hanging in a tree, Catching a camel with a tow rope in The Gobi, Mongolia when we got stranded with a broken car. Lights going out while inside the Giza Pyramids, Egypt SCARY! A camel at a camel market in Egypt got electrocuted and then the locals slit its throat... and I will never forget the drastic change crossing from Afghanistan into Tajikistan...two completely different worlds!!!

Electrocuted camel in Egypt

V: Visas. How many of them and for where
#1= 14
#2= 23
#3=  9 (+ 2 holland verblijf stickers)
=46 (+2)

#1 = China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia,

#2 = Jordan, Moldova, Macedonia, Mali, Guinea, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Congo, Cameroon, DRC, Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mauritania, Senegal

#3 = South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Holland Work Visa, Suriname, Turkey, (+2 Holland staying visa/permit).

W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where
Again, not much of a drinker so can not answer. Most romantic wine experience was in Alkmaar, Holland at Burger Meester at a five course meal, a different wine for each dish...ask me what they were I have NO idea!

X: Excellent view and from where
View from the Galata Tower in Istanbul, Turkey. Mount Everest Nepal. British Properties Vancouver Canada. Somewhere in Croatia but I forget  the name +++

British Properties, Vancouver, Canada.

Kathmandu, Nepal.

Y: Years spent travelling
Spent 3.5 years on the road from age 14-18. After that I have continued to travel but on few day to few week trips. So far that makes a total of 97 countries at age 21.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where
I am not much of a sports fan myself but travelling made me very pro world cup and soccer/football. I was surprised how many keen followers there were in 2006 while travelling through Eastern Europe. I was in Holland for the 2010 world cup and got to experience the rush of reaching second place. The final game was a real turn out! It was so amazing when helicopters flew over and showered the entire crowd with a gazillion orange (REAL) flowers!

2010 World Cup. Holland.

being tourists in Zaanse Schans, Holland.
with Savannah and mom Maggie.


It has been an awesome March! I hope you dear followers have enjoyed reading this series on Intrepid Women Travelers. I am a happy woman if at the end of this series, we have somehow sparked a longing in you to travel. But not just to want to travel, we hope it inspires you so much that you actually buy your ticket to your dream destination now! 
Kudos go out to the four lovely ladies in this series. Thank you Bianca, Kat, Trace, and Sav! You are the greatest. Thanks for making my birthday a special one.


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