Traveling couple Sasha and Vincent tell us their colorful back stories, how they met and what have been the most rewarding travel experiences to date.
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RareJaunt: What started you on your journey?
As a kid, our big family holidays (once every 5 years or so) would always be to Sri Lanka, because that’s where my parents are from. Although, admittedly, those holidays weren’t always great. I spent most of the time bored stupid sitting in relatives’ houses; fighting with my sister; getting teased for speaking Sinhala with an English accent; eating piles of rice and spicy curries when I just wanted fish fingers and chips (oh what a foolish child I was); falling into open drains (after getting off a bus of all things); getting impetigo from scratching my mosquito bites and having to wear long-sleeved pyjamas on the plane back because my parents were afraid that the sight of it would stop us being allowed back into the UK; and holding my breath when I went to use the outside squat toilet in the dark, which inevitably had a massive spider lurking around somewhere. Talk about culture shock.
I did love it when we would finally go somewhere and actually see a bit of the country: climbing up Sigirya with my cousins and aunts (and one of them wandering off into an area that was sealed off because it was unsafe) and the beautiful scenery on the Colombo – Kandy train really cemented my love of travel and I resolved that I would come back to the country when I was an adult and see it properly for myself.
My first trip by myself was when I was 18 – I decided to sell books for a summer in the US and the journey took me through Colorado and Tennessee. The job was nuts – I’d work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week hogging encyclopaedias door-to-door but through it I met some amazing people, who helped me out when I got sick, gave me shelter when an area I was working in experienced a tornado (yes, this really happened) and even took time out of their lives to help me make book deliveries.
A year later, I used the summer to go back packing around Sri Lanka with my friend where we also volunteered for a human rights organisation doing theatre work in prisons. Travelling around, I finally got to see the country for myself and it was amazing. I spent 4 days at a meditation centre in Kandy; stayed at beach shacks in Unawatuna, hung out around a bonfire with local surfer guys and explored the ruins of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. I went to the East coast and learned about the impact of the civil war on local communities and by the time I came back home, I realised that I wanted travel to be a core part of my life.
Vincent’s early travel experience was mostly package holidays in Europe and a trip to Egypt where he contracted gastroenteritis and ended up being sick in front of the Sphinx. During his later teen years, budgetary constraints (i.e. basically a lack of money) meant that his next travelling experience was a road trip to Wales with friends, where he slept in a car, camped in farmers’ fields and drank milk that was pretty much straight from the cow. Whilst this might not sound that adventurous, the concept of not knowing where he was going to be the next day and chasing the horizon to see where it would lead, gave Vincent a spirit of adventure and desire to see more places.
When Vincent and I met, one of our first trips together was a cheap package holiday to Turkey. That trip made us fall in love with the country and a couple of years (and a few more short holidays to Turkey) later we decided to book a longer trip where we travelled down the West Coast of Turkey from Istanbul all the way to Fethiye, with stops in Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ankara in between. We completely fell in love with the whole country and especially with Istanbul – its history, architecture and food still make it one of our favourite cities in the world.
After that we were hooked and we booked a four-week holiday to Malaysia where we travelled all around the country, took the 18-hour jungle train from Singapore all the way to the North-East of Malaysia, ate our bodyweight’s worth in amazing food, went jungle trekking and explored beautiful picture-perfect islands. But four-weeks just wasn’t long enough and too soon we were back at our desks, looking out at the grey skies and plotting our next escape.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
During this time I was volunteering for a small charity in the UK that focused on HIV/AIDS work in Zambia. An opportunity to actually work in the development sector came up through a competition called Vodafone World of Difference, that would give 8 people in the UK the chance to work with a charity of their choice for a year. As it was a competition, we thought that the chances of winning would be slim, but I was passionate about the work and so I applied. Vincent wanted to come with me and so he decided to give in his notice at his teaching job before I had even applied. Talk about having confidence in me! Somehow, I won one of the eight places and we ended up moving to Zambia. We were only supposed to stay there for one year but we loved the country and the work we were doing so much that we ended up staying and working in the country for three years.
After that our projects came to a natural end and we had to think about what we wanted to do next. We decided that we would move to Malaysia since we loved the food there and had enjoyed travelling around the country. We both managed to secure jobs in the country and Kuala Lumpur became our home for the next four years! We used our time in Malaysia to travel as much as we could in the region – our first trip was to Myanmar and we’ve since travelled across most of South East Asia and further to Japan and Korea too. We even managed to fit in some trips to Jordan, Israel and Oman (I promise that we worked reaaaally hard at our jobs too!)
We got engaged in Malaysia and in the run up to our wedding in the UK last year, decided to quit our jobs and travel indefinitely. (Probably not the most financially savvy thing to do, spending money on a wedding and then being unemployed, but oh well.) We have loads of ideas that we’d like to try out on the road and we hope that we can make a life out of our love of travelling and our other hobbies and passions.
RJ: What is your ultimate purpose for traveling?
For us, it’s about seeing something new or different everyday. Whether it’s fish dangling from the rearview mirrors of a bus in Zambia or an exorcism at the side of the road, when we are travelling, something new happens all the time. And we love it. We are constantly learning about a place, problem solving, learning new languages and experiencing new things.
RJ: Do you think it’s possible to become tired of life on the road?
We are really big fans of slow travel and we like to stay in places for at least a month before moving on to the next city or country – this stops us from becoming tired of life on the road. Slow travel also really gives us the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in a culture, understand the language, cuisine and the people.
Our experience of living in Malaysia and Zambia has cemented the idea that we want to travel slowly, because we got the chance to do unique things that we wouldn’t have been able to see or do if we were just there for a short visit e.g. visiting a Ramadan bazaar with friends and breaking fast with them; sitting on a public bus in Zambia where your fellow travellers (who don’t know each other) spontaneously burst into harmonious song or going with my friend to vote in the 14th Malaysian General Election! We really like the idea that lots of these countries can feel like ‘home’ – it’s a nice feeling when you touch down somewhere and it actually feels so familiar, even if it’s not where you were born or grew up.
RJ: What has been your most rewarding experience since you left home?
Our work focusing on preventing HIV/AIDS and improving education in the Southern Province of Zambia has to be the most rewarding experience we have had since leaving home.
We ran a teacher training programme in the areas of Monze and Mazabuka in seven community schools, which are basically schools that have been built by the community and receive no government funding or support. Eventually all the schools had trained teachers, a proper curriculum and we even raised funds to build proper school buildings. The best thing was finding out that our schools achieved better exam results than the nearest government schools! We also ran programmes focusing on domestic violence, sexual and reproductive health and empowering women in the communities. We loved our work because we could see that real change was happening in the communities we worked with. We still get updates about the villages that we worked with and things are continuing to improve which is great, because it shows that the work we did was sustainable and can continue without us.
What is a culinary experience that stands out to you?
This is a hard one! When we were working in rural Zambian villages we were introduced to ‘chibuantu’ that was described as the ‘only drink you can also chew’. It’s basically made from ground maize mixed with water and the maize often falls to the bottom of the cup, meaning that when you’ve finished drinking it, you can eat the grains. It wasn’t our favourite thing to begin with but as time went on we developed a taste for it and could eventually identify which communities made the best chibuantu! Be aware, if you finish your cup too quickly, it will be refilled repeatedly!
Which actually brings me on to another culinary experience that stands out to me- Turkish breakfasts. The tradition of eating a ‘serpme kahvalti’ or spread breakfast is another experience where the food just keeps coming – you basically get lots of dishes containing various types of cheese, olives, preserves, dried fruit, eggs, sausage, bread etc that is served with copious amounts of tea. Breakfast is a real event in Turkey and restaurants in Istanbul and other areas actually specialise in serving just breakfast. It’s really popular as not only do you get to eat a lot but you also get to try food from different regions in Turkey. I actually loved it so much that I wrote a whole blog post about Turkish breakfasts!
RJ: Reading a bit about your back story, it appears that you have traveled to a huge variety of countries. Is there one in particular that stands out, and if so why?
We have been to Japan twice and we absolutely fell in love with the place. The country stands out as being totally different to anywhere else we have ever been. You could spend 5 weeks just exploring different districts in Tokyo and you would still need more time!
What we loved about Japan were the contrasts – one minute you could be in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s crazy Shibuya crossing and then suddenly you are in the stillness and quiet of the Meiji shrine. It’s so interesting how these spaces coexist together.
We also had a few unique experiences – exploring the tiny bars of the Golden Gai and somehow getting my third eye ‘activated’ by a drunk bar owner; finding a Japanese pro-wrestling shop near the Tokyo Dome that was full of masks, outfits and wrestling figures (Vincent is a fan of pro-wrestling); staying in an onsen (hot spring) town near Nagano where they give you a big key to open all the bathhouses and where you walk around the cobbled streets clad in a traditional yukata and clogs; and seeing people turn up for a monster motorbike show in the otherwise fairly quiet and peaceful Kyoto!
RJ: What is something that you would never travel without?
My toothbrush. I can go without showers and I don’t have to wash my hair, but even in the most remote places, the first thing I have to do when I wake up is brush my teeth. And Vincent has to do the same!
And if I had to choose something else, it would be our appetites. Vincent and I are massive foodies and we believe you can learn a lot about a country and its people by eating the local cuisine. The ingredients, cooking methods and culinary traditions often reflect a country’s unique history, beliefs, values and way of living. We love to try famous dishes in all the places we visit and also watch how people eat e.g. do they rush through their breakfast or do they linger over it for 5 hours? Do people traditionally eat together or just for celebrations? What kind of food do people eat at festivals such as Chinese New Year or Hari Raya in Malaysia? All of these things mean we need to have healthy appetites (and stretchy pants), wherever we go!
RJ: What part of travel usually leads to the most enriching experiences for you? Scenery? Urban environments? Culture? Food? People?
I think it’s hard to choose – all of the things in that list lead to enriching experiences when you travel. Food is great because it brings people together – we love being invited to people’s houses to eat as we get a better insight into people’s lives. And the food is amazing too.
RJ: Has travel inspired you in other ways to be more creative? And if so, in what way?
I think travel does make people more creative. When you are travelling you are exposed to so many new things – religions, customs, food, languages, beliefs, cultures…it forces you to be more flexible and open minded. Our travel experiences have also inspired us to start new creative projects: Vincent is currently working on a graphic novel about our time in Zambia which we are hoping to have published by next year. I am a bit of a jewellery obsessive and over the years I’ve picked up lots of interesting pieces, particularly earrings, and I think I have an eye for finding cool, stand-out jewellery pieces. I’ve now decided to turn this into a business with my sister and we have started this year.
RJ: What is next for you?
We are currently house sitting in Malaysia which is giving us time to finish up a few projects and we have another stint in Turkey lined up for early next year. We’d like to spend some time travelling through Eastern Europe and Central Asia next year but to be honest, we both think that not knowing what is around the next corner is part of the adventure. After all who does?
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Jewellery instagram: @bitchesofbling