How Much Does an Elephant Eat?

An elephant takes in a meal at Elephant’s World, Thailand. PHOTO: Jay Simpson

An elephant takes in a meal at Elephant’s World, Thailand. PHOTO: Jay Simpson

Our love for pachyderms has found multiple expressions on this blog. With us now journeying with Asian Oasis in Thailand and Kerala as home, this love links our efforts in both these lands, serving as common ground for all that we hope to do in tandem with nature. For all that we’ve penned on elephants, we’ve not stopped to think what or rather how much food keeps their giant souls (and stomachs) happy.

Both captive and wild elephants eat a lot, but what else would you expect from one of the largest land animals on the planet? Wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) can spend an average of 16-18 hours of every day eating. In the wild they forage for food, constantly searching for roots, small trees, bamboo, grasses, and any other edible plants.

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Hiking for E-mail

mahabir pun

For six years, Mahabir Pun trekked long distances to check emails in Nepal. Until he brought the Internet home to his remote village. PHOTO: Hiking for Emails, Vimeo

In India, there exists this dwindling practice of writing letters to the Editor. Of publications. Most people write on current affairs, some write to highlight issues that range from a lack of streetlights to dissent. Some write in to commend actions, public campaigns. A handpicked bunch of these are published in a column titled Letters to the Editor. Mahabir Pun of a remote village in the mountainous country of Nepal wrote to BBC, asking for help to bring the Internet home.

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Flying Between Pages


“There is no such thing as a stooped or a graceless bird”, writes Krishnan. PHOTO: Scroll


“Chugging out of New Delhi Railway Station on an early morning train, I’ve often amused myself by looking out for the “telefauna,” or birds perched on telegraph wires.” Bird lovers on here, there’s a new word for you right there. Of Birds and Birdsong, penned by Indian writer Krishna, is all at once a journal and a tribute. To him, it’s a record of winged creatures sighted around, while to his reader the names of these beauties bring to heart a familiar nostalgia.

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Can GPS Be Replaced?

A new geolocation system is helping people get around in places where the streets have no name. PHOTO: Mapcode

A new geolocation system is helping people get around in places where the streets have no name. PHOTO: Mapcode

Rely on numbers to get around the neighbourhood? Then this one’s for you. A nonprofit called the Mapcode Foundation, has designed a system that assigns a unique and easily remembered address to any spot on the planet, without reference to landmarks or street names. Mapcodes consist of between four and nine digits and letters, which correspond to a five-square-metre patch on land or sea. Vowels have been eliminated from the system—so that mapcodes would not look like words, and because “O”s and “I”s cause confusion—but the remaining Latin consonants can be replaced with characters from the alphabets of most major languages. And the addresses are largely sequential: take a few steps in any direction and you’re in another square with a similar mapcode.

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Speaking from the Roof of the World

New research challenges stereotypical views of Tibet as an isolated and inward-looking society before the British and Chinese arrived. PHOTO: Maxi Science

New research challenges stereotypical views of Tibet as an isolated and inward-looking society before the British and Chinese arrived. PHOTO: Maxi Science

Tibet. It’s called the ‘Roof of the World’ with good reason — the Tibetan Plateau stands over 3 miles above sea level and is surrounded by imposing mountain ranges that harbor the world’s two highest summits, Mount Everest and K2. While the world’s mountaineers regularly attempt to summit the forbidding peaks, the remote area is home to a rich variety of cultures. Less well-known is the story of how the Tibetan Plateau and the craggy peaks that surround it formed. The geologic tale is familiar to many schoolchildren: About 50 million years ago, the Indian subcontinent began to collide with Eurasia, and as it slammed into the bigger landmass, the plateau and the Karakoram and Himalaya ranges were born.

Only recently did Tibetan scholar Lobsang Yongdan revisit a long-ignored section of a historic text to reveal how Tibetans were engaging with western scientific knowledge two centuries ago.  His research into a geography of the world, first published by a lama (Buddhist spiritual leader) in 1830, challenges stereotypical views of Tibet as an isolated and inward-looking society.

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Introduction & Upcoming posts

I would like to take a quick moment to introduce myself, my goals for the next few months and what I will be posting in this blog. I am a recent graduate from the University of Central Florida, Rosen School of Hospitality Management and I was born in Costa Rica.

I am excited to be interning at Marari Pearl (Kerala, India) starting this January. I don’t believe there will be a lack of material for me to write about in Kerala with its unique culture, customs, spicy foods and amazing animals! This will be my first time to Asia and I am quite sure it will be a great and rewarding culture shock and I want to convey my observations and thoughts about something totally new to me. Continue reading

Seeing in the Dark


Full moon shot Kayal Villa. Photo: Milo Inman

That traveling state of mind woke up a part of my brain that’s been sleeping for a while. I’ve been feeling my grey matter stretch as a fellow Raxa friend put it. An idea I’ve been thinking about started while on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage when a man told my friend and me not to walk the Camino at night. He said, “If God wanted us to walk the Camino at night, he would have put a light in the sky so we could see the Camino’s beauty”.

We were confused- why didn’t he see beauty in walking at night under the full moon and stars? After that, my friend and I began to contemplate how darkness has been associated in both sacred and secular literature with the lack of spiritual enlightenment, lack of awareness; in our language, to say something is dark has bad connotations. We felt more motivated than ever to walk at night.

We began to question how a society’s aversion to darkness could inform everything. We considered how the aversion to darkness could be a deeper layer to the resistance to female equality and even environmental understanding of the interdependency of nature and cycles of dark and light.

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Camino de Santiago Part 1


There are good signs everywhere along the Camino. Photo Credit: Kayleigh Levitt

Before coming to India, I was traveling for a month in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage to the cathedral of Santiago, where the apostle Saint James is said to be buried. Nowadays, people walk the Camino for a range of reasons including the traditional Catholic. Everyone I met was walking for a different, personal reason, but many fell into similar and overlapping categories of health, spirituality, personal journey, and cultural experience.

Many of us on the Camino were far from home, but the shared intention of being there was this thread that bound us all together, beyond language barriers and cultural differences. The Camino has its own culture and so we shared that. There were lots of people who were alone, but we were together.

The most popular part of the pilgrimage to walk is the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Traditionally, people walked from their house. Although that is less common now, people do still start from their own doorway. There are many places people start the Camino besides St. Jean Pied de Port (as well as many places to end it- there is a walk to Finisterre, the coast of Spain and through Portugual, the Camino Portugués as well). I have been told there are fewer way markers- which are yellow arrows and scallop shells- before the Camino Frances.

Part of the fun of the Camino is hearing about the different ways people have done their journey. I heard of a woman walking alone, starting in Switzerland, with only a compass to guide her (there are fewer albergues too when you start from that far). I met several people who walked 1000 kilometers by the time they reached St. Jean Pied de Port, where I was starting.

I started in St. Jean, which is right at the border of France and Spain. Photo Credit:

At the first albergue I stayed in, which are essentially hostels for pilgrims, our French hospitalera described it something like this: The Camino is not about walking. Walking helps you do the camino, but the camino is an inner camino, when you walk inside yourself.

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Sharing My Summer Travels

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -St. Augustine.

Over this past summer, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity of traveling around the United States and abroad to see some various national parks. Traveling abroad–and especially, traveling to areas of natural beauty carved out by Earth–always serve as a humble reminder of how little we’ve seen and how important global conservation efforts are. I’d like to think that my summer’s travels to China and Hawaii have opened a little bit more of that book, and it’s with great pleasure that I share some of the pictures from the trip.

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Simple health tips to travel in Kerala from our Ayurvedic doctor

The first aid kit I packed to come here in Kerala is the size of a small shoebox. Except for mosquito repellent and cold cream I have yet to use it, and although I should be relieved, I am annoyed. It’s the heaviest part of my luggage and I’ll probably carry it all back home ! A lot of this medication treats tummy-aches and Kerala has a strong system of traditional medicine, Ayurveda, that handles those issues well and without the long tail of potential side effects.

“You were right to take precautions, when traveling you never know where you’re going to land and what you’re going to find.  Kerala is rich in water sources and is not at risk for Malaria. But you may want to travel to other parts of India which are less fortunate in those regards.” Dr Sulficker reminded me. Dr Pameela Sulficker is the Ayurvedic doctor here at Cardamom County, she introduces travelers to ayurveda at the Ayura Wellness Center. Continue reading

From West to East: A Road Trip Journal (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on a summer trip. Sorry it’s not quite summer anymore; things have been busy, but hopefully I’ll get the rest of these out before too long!

A little bit of background: I spent this summer studying ancient Greek language at the University of Berkeley. In late May, a few days before I was scheduled to catch my plane at Hartsfield-Jackson airport for Berkeley, I invited a few of my best friends over to bid them a fond farewell for the summer. Suffice to say, we ended up on the roof at three a.m. discussing how incredible it would be to do a cross-country road trip after my class was over. Now, we had thrown around this possibility dozens of times before, but this time, everything was a bit different. For one, none of us was a kid anymore; Tyler, my next door neighbor, had just graduated from University of Georgia; my brother, Carl, is going into his senior year at Emory University; and Nick, a good friend from high school, and I are both going into our junior years (Emory for me, Haverford for him). Moreover, all of us were itching to get out of our quiet suburbs and see some of the world before the relentless march of years and responsibility would make it impossible for us to take the trip together.  Before we knew it, we were taking solemn oaths that we’d be hitting the road in shortly more than two months. Obviously, we did, or I wouldn’t be writing this now.

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Wadi Dana – Valley of the Rising Sun

Jordan is a composite of valleys and gorges, gullies and canyons, gulches and sand. Dry, warm air is blown through every nook and cranny, a stark contrast from the moist, muggy air I’ve grown accustomed to breathing in the south of India the last two years.

In fact, the only real similarity between Kerala and Jordan in my mind is how different they are (if you have been to both and think they are birds of a feather, let’s agree to disagree) – particularly climatically. I took advantage of my enhanced ability to physically exert myself without rapidly dripping sweat as often as possible during my time at Feynan; I accompanied the guides on as many activities as possible, and also did a fair bit of hiking on my own.

One of my favorite (as well as most convenient) hikes was from Feynan up the first valley to the north-east: Wadi Dana. I spent at least 24 hours walking in this valley on my own – and probably nearly that long with guides and guests. It was a boon to watch the lodge’s Bedouin guides walking through the lands they grew up in, as well as learning about the area’s natural bounties from them; every hike yielded a treasury of information on goat udder infection remedies, headache alleviation; arthritis, diabetes, and chronic headache treatments – all sourced from plants that appear to an outsider’s eyes as weeds growing from the cracks in the mountain. I learned how to sanitize my hands with “Bedouin Soap”, how to find a decent snack when feeling peckish, and what type of branch to use to make a splint if one of your goats breaks its leg (although I wasn’t taught how to actually do so, I was in someone’s tent and watched it being done), as well as several other folk remedies and fixes based on native plant life. Continue reading

Beauty of Jordan: Wadi Dana at Dawn

This is a series of posts on Jordan’s natural wonders, which will mainly include only one or two pictures and a brief description per post. I’m working at Feynan Ecolodge for this reason; Jordan is beautiful, culturally, historically, but most of all naturally. The wilderness here is something else, and it is my duty to share that beauty with the world. Continue reading

Feynan Ecolodge at the Dana Biosphere Reserve

When I stepped into the cool morning air outside Amman’s airport two weeks ago, I knew I was in for an interesting time. For the next seven weeks I would be staying at Feynan Ecolodge as a live-in writer and photographer, spending time with Bedouin locals, adventuring through the Dana Biosphere Reserve, which was established as a protected area in 1989 by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and experiencing Feynan in a way few people are able to. I hope to become familiar with both the magnificently diverse geological and biological features of the area, as well as the Bedouin culture, which is as steeped in mystery to me as their chai is with sugar. Traditions and rituals, beliefs and taboos which seem impractical or unsophisticated to the Western world all have significance which might not be superficially visible. Continue reading

The Unseen Scenes

March 2012

A morning on Kerala’s Backwaters. Although in the general sense you know what to expect in terms of how the day will play out, you are guaranteed to see some strange and possibly surreal things between breakfast and lunch. More if you rise before the sun comes up. This is purely out of self-preservation – during the heat of the day, any significant physical activity ends up being exhausting, and the locals know best. That said, it’s worth being up early to catch a number of interesting photographs that you would have been unable to were you sleeping. To the left are two fishermen – one rowing slowly while the other (suitably attired for protection from the sun) checks nettings for a catch. This was my first time seeing fishermen wearing umbrella hats, but I see workers in the paddy fields with them often. Despite this fact, I haven’t photographed them due to poor lighting conditions and a significant distance between us every time. Continue reading

Cardamom Plantations

Kerala’s hill districts are a historical hub of trade and culture – George discussed a bit of that history in his previous post. But spice plantations, which are one of the region’s main economic assets, are not very similar to most people’s view of agriculture. Enormous flat fields of rigidly regimented plants are not a common sight here (except for rice paddies), and spice plantations are quite different from this doctrine.  Continue reading

Blue Grass Dartlet

The first time I saw this species, I was dumbfounded, to say the least. We live in a 10th floor apartment in urban Cochin, which admittedly is on the banks of the backwaters. Nonetheless, I was quite surprised to see a dull-colored damselfly float through a window and over our dining room table, and out the door onto the balcony on the opposite side of the room. Fortunately, I gathered my wits quickly enough to rush back with my camera, and corralled the enigma into a corner in the balcony (non-violently, of course), and was able to get a few shots before it breezed off in the lethargic float I’ve come to associate with damselflies. The only time I’ve seen any damselfly zooming the way most dragonflies do is when they’re swooping in on their prey, at which point even the laziest, slowest, and smallest of them can put on quite a turn of speed.

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Male Trumpet Tail (Revisited)

A few months ago while staying at Cardamom County, I spent a morning with a wonderful character named Jain – a tribal man with an avid interest in insects and arachnids, working as a guide in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, and incidentally, a friend and student of Mr. Vijaykumar Thondaman‘s. Both armed with cameras, Jain and I entered the reserve just after dawn, and spent the best part of the morning hunting dragonflies and damselflies across streams and fields, ponds and gullies. Continue reading